Day 41

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Today we woke up and got packed up to leave the guesthouse we were in. Sam's guesthouse is just not the backpacker haven we had hoped and we're hoping to meet more travellers by switching. I read a blog which raved about the Mix Hostel in the North side of Chengdu so we headed there. I just wanted to check out a park in the South first so we took a stroll in rush hour down there. I wanted to take some photos (with my new camera!) of the park-life which can be found in nearly all parks - the tai chi morning exercises, dancing, and martial arts. We didn't read our guide books and it turned out this park was some sort of amusement park charging 16 yuan to get in. It was plenty popular with the locals, but at just over one pound was too much for us budget travellers!

We picked up our main bags and walked all the way across town to the new hostel. On the way we passed all the sports shops. Most Chinese cities have little pockets of similar shops, be they lock-smiths, fruit shops, bathroom furniture etc etc. The sports shops were significant because Steve and I were on the look out for some shuttlecock thing we'd seen locals playing with. Larger than a shuttlecock, and with a heavier base, you basically play keep-me-up with a group of people until everyone gets bored I guess. We'd seen it being played in Luoyang and we'd asked Jason (our Kaifeng guide) what it was. Like most Chinese words he taught us we'd forgotten it so we resorted to our amateur dramatics in the sports shops. People knew what we wanted, they just didn't sell it. We persevered until one girl looked at us blankly then reached for the exact thing! Success! I bought it, the only one they had, and we now had a new prop to ask other shopkeepers for one for Steve. Three shops later and we were all sorted. All the while we'd been pretending to kick imaginary shuttlecocks in the air with our main back-packs on so we were knackered.

We found the hostel about 30 mins later and checked in. We could sense this place would be much better as it was full of westerners and more like the ones we'd stayed in in Xi'an and Beijing.

Since we'd done no sightseeing at all in Xi'an we walked 10 minutes to the local Wenshu temple and monastery. The temple was really good, a significant one for Zen Buddhists in China. There's a popular phrase among travellers - that of being "templed out". There are a lot of temples to see in Asia, and often they're the only thing worth seeing in the surrounding area. I am not "templed out" yet, but I'm getting there. We met a funny old man in there. He was a friendly Chinese sight-seer and he latched on to Steve right away.

"Where are you from" he boomed, so that everyone in the courtyard could hear.
"England" Steve replied, in a higher than normal voice too.
"Ah, England" then a pause, then "London..... Oxford..... Canterbury" a few nods from Steve then "West Scotland..... Ireland"

I wondered if Steve should join in this game of "say-place-names-from-in-or-around-your home-country" but thankfully for him more normal chit-chat followed. He was a nice old guy, and was only being friendly. He was a bit dishevelled with wispy facial hair and a single crooked decaying tooth. You know the phrase "to undress someone with your eyes", well with my eyes I was giving him a shave and straightening and brushing that tooth of his.

The temple was nearly fully explored when we found a massive pagoda, after a tour of that the same old guy appeared.
"Where are you from" he boomed, so that everyone in the courtyard could hear.
"England - we met over there, before" Steve replied
"Oh yes ha ha ha, well, Welcome again to Chengdu"
We all shook hands for the second time and I just had to get their picture. He knew to keep his mouth closed so you won't be able to see it in the pictures that follow.

We got back to the hostel and met some Israeli girls who recommended we go to the local Sichuan Hotpot restaurant for dinner. Sichuan food is famous the world over for the spices they use. Apparently the spices are used so much to combat the water-bourne ailments in the area. Either way, it sounds like you get a bad belly, it's just whether you want the prevention or the ailment. We'd tried the Mongolian Hotpot in Beijing, (that's not a mistake, it was Mongolian and it was in China) so we knew what to expect and what was expected of us. That place was up market and we got our own private room with raw dishes brought in for us to cook in the boiling water. Here it was more a buffet style canteen affair - and there were no hot coals heating the water, just a cas canistor and hob built into the dining table. All the raw produce was in tin trays at the front, and you took a smaller tin tray and got it piled up. Steve wasn't up for the fiery Sichuan spices so we got a hotpot that had two compartments, one with the hot stuff and one with water more like the Mongolian one we had. The heat from the Sichuan spice is different to normal chillis or curries, it's more rich, complex and more palatable for it. Anyway a full hour later we headed back and met some more people at the hostel. Arjen and Audrey are a great couple form Haarlem near Amsterdam, and we spent the night drinking with them, and the Israeli girls when they arrived back from their massages. It's good to be back with a crowd again.

Earlier in the day Steve and I talked about going our separate ways sometime soon. Two reasons really, whereas I want to be in Thailand for New Year's Eve, (to meet up with friends) Steve doesn't want to rush anything in order to get there. Secondly things are a bit too easy when there's two of you, and the sense of achievement we're both looking for doesn't always come after doing something tricky. We both said we felt the other was leading more than following which was interesting. Still, I think we'll be doing the same thing till Kunming then who knows. I had to remind myself I started this trip on my own, since meeting Joanna and Lisa back in Moscow I'd always felt part of a little group. What I am getting at is, I want to know I can do this on my own even if most of the time I'm not. Anyway, enough girly feelings stuff - I'm off to see the Panda's tomorrow!
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