Sightseeing

Monday September 26th Day 11

Slept until 8:30am, waking as usual to the men’s chorus. Did e-mails and internet searches.

I found a screen on my window! One of those spring-retracting screens. It was hidden to me until today. When I pulled it out, the handle snapped off. The plastic was so brittle that it just crumbled. I managed to get the screen closed anyway, and can now have the window open with a screen on it to protect me from the occasional mosquito.

At 1pm I left to meet up with Jeremy at the Anshun Bridge (aka Marco Polo Bridge). Walked through the University. Lots more students than last time. Passed a group of three American girls, chatting away in English.

I don’t stop, or really pay any attention to other Westerners. There seems to be an unwritten rule that there is not even any acknowledgment, not a nod, no smile, nothing. I do this because I don’t want to foster an “us/them” experience. I also have very little to share, being a newcomer. I wonder if the other Westerners have the same feelings? I wonder if I’ll ever ask?

Followed my GPS, until it told me to go through a tall wall. Went around. I’m getting used to relying roughly on my GPS, and using my own navigation skills for the finer details. Getting around the wall put me on a path I had already trod last time through the University. I followed the stream of people that were funneled into a narrow alleyway. The way gets so narrow that there is only a single lane of people going and another coming. At the narrowest point, there is a gate, which is so tight that I have to squeeze through. Just at this gate there is a little hole-in-the-wall vendor selling a kind of flaky fried pastry. I thought about stopping, but I was on the wrong side, and was swept through the gate and out of the University into the street.

I found my way to the street my GPS knew and got back on track. I passed a new sign going up, laid out on the sidewalk.

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I followed the road until it reached the river, passing a merchant selling speckled quail(?) eggs by the flat out of his van. I really have to get over this hesitation to take pictures of people 😦 Also passed this store. I have passed at least five others in my neighborhood, but this one is the biggest so far.

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There’s a nice tree-lined walkway along the river. Several men were fishing, though I didn’t see any caught fish. One of the men was using an old-school reel. I wanted to take a picture, but am hesitant when I know the picture will include the person. I feel I must ask permission, which I could do even with just sign language, but I don’t want to be such a disturbing tourist.

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Along the river, on the other side of the road, are bar after bar after bar, including this strange, double-decker bus bar.

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Soon I reached the Anshun Bridge, where Jeremy was already waiting for me.

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He had invited me to see “the most beautiful neighborhood in Chengdu,” so I let him be my guide. We walked back along “Bar Street.” Jeremy said this part of town was always busy at night, every night of the week, spring/summer/fall even winter.

He talked about the winter weather, and how people dress in layers. Some folks don’t have heat, or very poor heat, and so wear more and more layers of clothes to keep warm. Although it rarely gets below freezing in Chengdu, it does hang around the high 30’s for a long time. He said they even sell clothes that are made to be worn in layers. “Women will wear miniskirts, even in winter, but they’ll have several layers of stockings on their legs.”

He pointed out his wife’s apartment, near the top of a taller apartment building. He said it had a spectacular, unobstructed view of the river.

Next he took me on the subway, something that I was glad to learn how to do. Turns out, the subway is the same model of equipment as BART in the San Francisco Bay Area. The gates and trains are identical. The ticket machines offer English, and for two yuan, I could go anywhere on the line. I bought two tickets (might as well get my return ticket while I’m at it.)

The ride was uneventful. The trains were SRO, but not overly crowded, so no pushing and shoving to get on or off. I read that the Chinese government is trying to teach its citizens to let people off before getting on. There were arrows painted on the platform, showing those who get on should stand to the side to let those on the train get off first. Jeremy commented that it’s really bad getting off an elevator. People come streaming into the elevator without waiting for people to get off.

We took the subway to “The People’s Park.” There was a tea house, and I asked if he wanted to get some tea. “I don’t like tea,” he said. “I’d rather drink hot water.” I did see a woman getting her ears cleaned, a tradition in Chengdu.

We sat by the “Artificial Lake” as it was called on the sign, translated into English for the tourists. While we talked, Jeremy engaged several Chinese in conversation: a woman who wanted to take a picture, which Jeremy then convinced to take a selfie with him in it (“The word for selfie is zi-pai-zhou,” (自拍照) he tells me); a young man, who seems to be sneaking a picture of us, who Jeremy chastises, but relents when the young man claims he is taking a picture of the trees behind us; a man who smiles at him, who is walking with his family (Jeremy talks with him for so long I am surprised he doesn’t know the man); a woman who is staring at us (Jeremy asks her if he is really that ugly that she must stare).

There was also an old-fashioned newspaper hanging for anyone to read. Jeremy said it was mainly elderly folks who read the paper this way, but it’s how it used to be, in the old days.

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We left the park and headed for the shopping district. We take the subway again, but my card doesn’t work. Turns out you have to buy each ticket in the station you are leaving. The card I have I must use when I am leaving the station where I bought it. Jeremy had already gone through the turnstile, so the guard volunteered to help me.He helped me to get the right fare for the right line and the right stop.

The shopping district was not very interesting. I’m not a big shopper, and the noisy advertising of the enormous digital screens was annoying. Big name-brand stores hold little fascination for me. I did see the largest Gucci store I’ve ever seen, running half a city block. And my old friends, the Minions!

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Also saw something I’d seen many times before. Jeremy says it’s the start of the shift for the restaurant crew. The chef gives them a stern warning and strict inspection.

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We caught a free bus back to Jeremy’s neighborhood. I wanted to try using my debit card to make a cash withdrawal. Jeremy said I’d have better luck at an “international” ATM, which means it takes foreign ATM cards and has instructions in English. I successfully withdrew 500 yuan, which translates into about 70 dollars. I added the location to my GPS “favorites.” I now have my apartment, Wal-Mart, the police department, the American Consulate, Sichuan University, The Beer Nest, and an international ATM machine. What more could I need? Let’s hope the darn software keeps all these favorites this time!

It was 5pm and Jeremy needed to be getting back, so we parted ways. I walked back along the river to the University. I passed a couple students carrying musical instrument cases, listened to a flutist playing across the river, and found some interesting sculpture in a little park along the river. My guess is there is a music school nearby. I’ll have to check and see where it is and if they give concerts.

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I passed the sign-hanging workers, who had not even finished half way.

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There was an audience, now, an elderly lady and two middle-aged men, sitting on chairs. The elderly lady was looking up at the sign. I stopped to look up, too. I looked back down at her. She looked so proud of the new sign. I wondered if it was her restaurant? Or perhaps that of her family? I smiled, nodded my acknowledgement of her success. She smiled back.

At the narrow alley I stopped, watched the lady cook some of those flaky donuts, then bought one for 5 yuan. It seemed a little pricey, but she was the only vendor I had seen to date that seemed to do a particularly good job at what she was doing. The doughnut was delicious, crispy on the outside, a little doughy on the inside, and loaded with oil. If I ate one of these every day I would not lose any weight!

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I passed a fruit market with a young lady singing out her wares, holding up this strange fruit. I smiled. She smiled back, without missing a beat.

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It’s little moments like this that help me believe that people are basically all the same, that there is some small hope that we can find a way to tolerate all the different cultures. Today, I shared a smile with two Chinese. Only about 1,399,999,998 Chinese to go, no make that 1, 399,999,997 since I shared a smile with the “meat bun” vendor, too.

I stopped at Wal-Mart and bought some fruit, bananas and Asian pears, as well as some more rice (the most expensive kind this time.)

When I got home and took off my socks, my ankles were covered with rashes. Was it an allergic reaction to something in my socks? Was it caused by the heat? I took a cold shower, put on some cortisone cream, took an antihistamine. I thought about making dinner, but I wasn’t hungry. The doughnut had done me in! So I drank a bottle of water and poured myself a cup of tea.

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About jamescmarch

A child of the '50's in rural Pennsylvania, an adolescent of the '60's in southern California, and a political activist of the 1970's in northern California, I have been a husband, a college graduate, an expert witness, a banker, a father, a software entrepreneur, and a philanthropist. Today, I follow my heart by writing.
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