Getting lost in Chengdu

I arrived in Chengdu and immediately ate spicy food: Gong Bao jiding (Kung Pao chicken).

Then, I walked, and got lost, seriously lost.

After exploring the streets around Wenshu Monastery, I accidentally traveled north on Jiefang Road, walking perhaps for an hour or two, when instead I had wanted to travel south toward the center of Chengdu. The streets were lined mostly with corner stores, and industrial-sign shops. If you ever wondered where the huge letters on the sides of buildings are made, they very well might be made in Chengdu. You’d never find a guidebook that recommended visiting the outskirts of Jiefang Road; however, seeing the everyday life, the working class, the arguably mundane existence about which there is not much to say, and even less to see, is to me often more interesting than navigating throngs of tourists at the stereotypical must-see destinations.

I knew I had traveled too far in the wrong direction when I saw that the price of a 550ml bottle of water was only 1 RMB (~15 cents). In central Chengdu, it would have been probably twice that price, or maybe three times, and in some stores the price would have been unmarked so that they could charge foreigners more. I bought three bottles, and hailed the nearest taxi to a wide-lane pedestrian street, full of teahouses, restaurants, shops, and almost exclusively Chinese tourists. It reminded me of the more touristy hutongs in Beijing.

From there, I tried to find Tianfu Square, to find a nearby noodle shop that I had been told had the best noodles in all of Chengdu, which with TK million people, is quite high praise.

I got lost again.

Along the way, I met Yuan Hui, from the Jialing district of Nanchong. I explained that I wanted to walk, and she explained that walking was probably not the best idea. Eventually she convinced me to let her escort me to the correct bus, and together we ride to Tianfu Square, where you can find the largest statue of Mao in all of China, standing guard in front of the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum.

I feigned interest in Tianfu Square, and after a few minutes of walking around and a couple of photographs, I asked her if she knew how to find the noodle house. We ate together. I had Sichuan style noodles with beef slices, and Ceylon milk tea with pearls. She tried not to laugh at my mediocre mastery of chopsticks. She asked the waiter in Chinese if he could get me Western utensils, a request that admittedly wounded my pride. She didn’t know that I had understood what she said, although, language aside, her body language and expression of concern would have made it no secret to just about anyone.

Yuan Hui told me about Nanchong (small), and the Jialing district (even smaller), and she was surprised to learn that her small little district had nearly the same population as San Francisco, a city well-known by many Chinese.

We took the bus back to her neighborhood, which is where I had originally met her, and from there I managed to find my way home on foot. Having walked all day in flip-flops, my feet her, so later that night I walked around Chengdu in search of a foot massage or reflexology.

I was unable to find a foot massage, but I did manage to get lost again.

Street performers near Wenshu Monastery; Chengdu, Sichuan province, China.

The largest Mao statue in China, located in Tianfu Square.

The ubiquitous Asian scooter, and across the street what I suppose you could say is Chengdu’s version of a rundown strip mall.

Ordering Chinese food with Yuan Hui.

On the bus with Yuan Hui, who took the time to write down her name and mine, in Chinese and English, along with her phone and QQ numbers. 

Typical Chinese bus (2 RMB); Chengdu, China.

Construction workers taking a break from the August heat and humidity in the capital of China’s Sichuan province, Chengdu.

Female landscaper and passerby; Chengdu, Sichuan province, China.

A typical summer scene in China: man with shirt rolled up (although, usually, the man is fatter).

An even more typical summer scene in China, with an appropriately fat man exposing his belly at the restaurant. 

Nearby Wenshu Monastery, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China.

Days later, I came across a foot massage place, but my feet no longer hurt, and I didn’t have time.