Monday, October 31st, 11 days left
Woke up at 5am to drums beating, calling me, but it was only a guy down on the street cleaning out a dumpster. Fell back asleep until 9:30am call from my dad, then 10am call from a friend, and 10:20am call from my wife.
Warmer today! In the mid 60’s. I opened the door to the kitchen to let in some fresh air, but had to close it when honey bees kept arriving. I wasn’t sure why, maybe to keep warm?
Researched my black shirt shopping trip. I’m going to go down to the shopping mall at Tianfu Square then come back via the Tibetan Quarter, which means taking subway line 1 back towards home, but getting of at Gymnasium, switching to line 3 and going down two stops. I found where I wanted to go on map.Baidu.com, but everything on that map is in Chinese, not pinyin or English. I wanted to be sure of the subway stop, so searched for a Chengdu subway map with pinyin and/or English. Like the map at WikiPedia (on the left), most of the subway maps in English didn’t even have line 3 on them (the line opened earlier this year). And one site published the map on the right as a subway map for Chengdu. First, the map is oriented with East pointing up (normally it’s North at the top of a map). But as you may notice, what are all those subway lines? Chengdu currently has four subway lines. Line 3 is not even finished yet, its end points moving a little further out every year. But the map on the right shows the full subway system as planned by the government, 17 lines, to be completed by nobody knows when. Interesting far-range planning. Useless map.
I did find a map that was accurate, I think.
I packed up my bag, made sure I had the 6 yuan in change I would need for the fare, and headed to the subway.
Had a nice ride to Tianfu Square. Didn’t know where the store was, and the mall is an underground maze, so I started by taking every right-hand turn, circling back when I reached the exit of that branch of the mall.
About half the mall is restaurants, all shapes and sizes, all types of cuisines from McDonald’s and Starbucks to pizza joints and Japanese. Most of the places to eat are what we would call Chinese restaurants.
After walking for about 20 minutes, and passing my second playground for children, I got discouraged. How many stores could there be? How big was this mall? Then I noticed that the exits were numbered. I had seen exit 7 and exit 6. I was at best only 1/3 of the way through this mall.
Then I remembered that Matt had said the store was on the 4th or 5th floor. Were there really five more levels? I hadn’t seen any elevators or stairs, so maybe I had misunderstood. Maybe the store was close to the 4th or 5th exit? I pressed on. Much to my surprise and delight the store, Uniqlo, showed up within the next five minutes, close to the 5th exit.
I scoured the store for the advertised “blowout” prices I had seen on the internet, looking for the hidden tables at the back, but did not find any. I did find some shirts on sale for 199 yuan, including a black long-sleeved dress shirt in an XL size. I snagged it, went to the fitting rooms to try it on. It was a tight fit, but it was going to be the best I could do. So I bought it, handing them my Discover Card, telling their quizzical faces that it was the same as UnionPay. They shrugged, swiped the card, took an electronic scratching for my signature and voila! I had a shirt for Thailand.
Shirt in hand, I got back on the subway, changed trains, and got off near the Tibetan Quarter. It was strange, because I knew right away that I was in a different culture. People looked different, more like I remember folks from my trip to Nepal. The women also wore much brighter colors, had squarer faces. The men looked much less friendly and seemed bigger, taller and stockier.
As I walk around, I take pictures. Some might say I take pictures of strange things. Certainly the Chinese are often staring at me as I set up a shot, like this close-up. I laugh with them at my strange taste in photography, and often ask myself the same question: “Why are you taking a picture of THAT?”
I had no plans on where I was going to go, so I just wandered. I ended up going down this road that dead-ended. A man, who was sitting outside his apartment had watched me going by, was now watching me come back. I nodded, smiled. He smiled, said, “Hello.” I answered in my best Mandarin, “Ni hao.” He then started up a conversation in fluent English!
He asked where I was from, was I lost, was I looking for something. I said I was just wandering in the Tibetan Quarter, on my way to the park and temple. He played very coy for a while, asking me about this “Tibetan Quarter”. “Is there a temple nearby?” he asked. I played along, telling him about the significant Tibetan population in Chengdu. We both tried to keep a straight face, but in the end, I broke into a big smile. I knew he was pulling my leg.
I asked him how he learned to speak English so well. Turns out he is a professor of Tibetan Buddhist texts at the Southwest University for Nationalities ( 西南民族大 学 = Xīnán mínzú dàxué ) aka Minzu Daxue in English.
We had a nice chat, including a short discussion about vegetarian Tibetan food, and where to find the market street. After about 1/2 hour, we shook hands and parted. “See you again,” he said. “Undoubtedly,” I called back.
I followed his directions to the main Tibetan market street and immediately knew I wasn’t in Han Country any more. Every 8-10th person was wearing Buddhist robes. In fact, every store had Buddhists sitting at counters examining (and buying?) goods. This seems a bit odd to me, especially the Buddhist monk buying high-end jewelry. But what do I know.
I passed by a vendor selling a Tibetan bread. I pointed, nodded, paid my 3 yuan and continued down the street, munching on my newfound snack (eaten before thinking of taking a photo) 😦
At the end of the street, which was quite crowded, there were even more people going into the park. I followed the crowds and soon turned a corner to find 10 people taking a picture of the entrance to what looked a bit like Frontierland in Disneyland. And I’m not kidding. There were several shooting galleries, most with air rifles or laser-shooting guns, but one stand with crossbows. And then I found this.
It was all very pretty with red lanterns hanging and old doorways framing entrances to courtyards. It’s just that I’ve never been anywhere where everyone is taking so many pictures: selfies, artsy shots, group shots, etc.
It was fun, mainly because I was the only Westerner and I was fascinated watching all the Chinese tourists.
I did find some good food to eat.
No, not the squid. This tofu, covered in hot and numbing spices!
The park was extensive, lots of little lanes and walkways, all lined with stores and food stalls. I finally made my way to the center of the park where there was live music and these three men (haven’t found out who they are, yet).
There were lots of folks, for a Monday night, and they seemed intent on enjoying themselves, as if they had never been here before. But who are all these people? Today is Halloween, but it’s a work day. It was as if they were all visiting from out of town, but that doesn’t make much sense.
I finished my tofu (yum!) and decided it was time to head back. I was going to walk home, which was four miles. It was already dark, and I wanted to get home before 9pm. I had no idea how to get out of the park, so I followed a promising flow of people heading towards honking horns of a busy street. I was out of the park and walking home in no time.
Passed the new basketball stadium, where hundreds of women were doing dancing/ exercise in the entrance-way courtyard.
Just about home and I saw this woman staring wistfully out at the passing pedestrians. She could use a new wig, or at least comb the one she has.
Why did I take a picture of THAT?