Memories of Chengdu

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“Wow, guess where we were a year ago today?” Amaury says, looking at his phone while getting ready for work.

From my vantage point across the room, it looks like he is buried by a mountain of belongings. Stuff (clothes, kitchen things, pots, pans, appliances in their somewhat beat up boxes, shelving units, books, papers, and a rakishly perched “year of the dog” stuffed toy) is piled up on every available space in our living room in our little apartment.

Today is moving day number two. Yesterday, movers packed up our air shipments to Pakistan into our unaccompanied baggage and household effects allotments. Anything beyond the required weight limit has to go into storage.

“Where? Wait, no, Chengdu?”

“Yep.”

It’s hard to believe it has already been an entire year since our trip there. I immediately feel that sinking feeling of regret mixed with procrastination. Chengdu was one of our last trips before we left China. It feels like we only just left. It feels like a lifetime ago. Ironically, considering I never wrote it up, Chengdu was our favorite trip in China and we’re not hard to please when it comes to travel.

Amaury’s reminder immediately brings up a flurry of sensory memories. Chengdu is a feast for the senses. It is a visually stunning city of bright colors, deep history, a long culture of dance, theater, and infamous face-changing masks. Couple that with the tastes and smells of its highly complex, stunningly spicy, aromatic food, varied and like no other we’ve ever tasted.

For over a thousand years, Sichuan food has been known for being flavorful and sweet. It was only around 300 years ago that international traders introduced the hot pepper to Sichuan, which, along with numbing peppercorns, became the heart of Sichuan cuisine and the province’s characteristic “Ma La” flavor. Traditional Sichuan dishes layer flavors, showcasing the region’s complex sweet and spicy history. Of course, we made sure to try as many varied things as possible while there. While many people are familiar with Sichuan hot pot, there are so many other dishes to savor and enjoy especially if you can stand the spice.

For a taste of Sichuan beyond hot pot, we loved the delicious food at Shītúqíng Rénmín Shítáng (师徒情人民食堂). This local restaurant serves up traditional dishes like spicy mashed eggplant, delicately spiced and liberally fried potatoes, sweet Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken), and fresh cucumbers layered with coriander and red peppers. We also went on the Lost Plate Food Tour, which took us on a culinary exploration of local flavors in restaurants and street food carts impossible to find without a local guide.

If all the interesting sights, smells, and tastes are not enough, add in the giant Leshan Buddha and, perhaps most popular, the Chengdu pandas and you can spend weeks exploring Chengdu. We had just a long weekend and it was fantastic.

Settling in as the storage team arrives and begins to pack our belongings for this next move, I plug in my camera’s SD card, sit back, and start to go through the photos from just a year ago. May they inspire you to take a trip to Chengdu if, no when, you go to China:

Traditional Sichuan hot pot – the waitress brought us a bowl of hot water to clean off some of the spice! As the only non-Chinese tourists in the restaurant, we stuck out like sore thumb as lao-wai (foreigners) but the staff treated us really nicely

The Giant Leshan Buddha, just over an hour by train outside of Chengdu

We only saw the head, because the line down to see the full statue was insanely long… aka a normal day in China

The fish market down the mountain from the Leshan Buddha
Inspecting the market wares

Bridge over to the monastery below Leshan

One of many little street food carts gracing Chengdu’s streets
Spicy potatoes
Delicious spicy noodles

Dumplings – a must try!


The good life

I managed to snap this elusive red panda before it ran off into the trees

Street food time

 

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Some of those signature spicy peppers!
A taste of Sichuan opera and performance arts at the Shu Feng Ya Yun Theater ​

Shadow puppets
Fire breathing
Famous face-changing of Sichuan

 

Clearly Chengdu merited multiple separate articles to cover its myriad sights and tastes, which is really why I just never got around to writing it up. Hopefully, this quick and easy overview provides a sense of the wonderful trip we had even if it doesn’t quite do it justice. The movers are almost done and our little apartment has that echoey feeling that indicates that our time here is coming to a close. In just a month, we will be arriving in Islamabad. And so once more, I say 在见 (zai jian – goodbye) to China and  پھر ملیں گے (per malingay – see you soon) to Pakistan. Both these phrases, literally express the idea of meeting again, which seems fitting as I visit and revisit these places in person and in my mind.

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