What a week. We did make it out to Kuan Zhai Alleys on Tuesday night, where we mostly just ate dinner and were unsuccessful in finding an affordable bar. The area itself is absolutely lovely. Constructed of newly built traditional Chinese buildings, it is the tourist version of a traditional Chengdu alleyway. It is made up of three alleys, Wide Alley (宽巷子 Kuan Xiangzi), Narrow Alley (窄巷子 Zhai Xiangzi), and Well Alley (井巷子 Jing Xiangzi). There is a Starbucks hidden in their midst, possibly the most well-disguised ones I’ve ever seen, as well as kitschy souvenir shops and overpriced bars. Our colleague Annie S. had recommended a place called Mug, but we ended up leaving because we couldn’t afford the beers and they had stopped serving desserts. It had live music, but the sound was too loud. We walked past a couple of other bars that appeared to have Sichuan opera and other miscellaneous performances going on inside, packed with people.
While we were out, I got a call from Jack that brought great news: we were to pack up our things tonight, because in the morning he would come to the hotel to take our cases to the new apartment! Packing that evening was surprisingly easy for me, although I felt very embarrassed when I had about as much luggage as both Stephanie and Jon combined. There were four of us moving to the apartment, three of us here for one year, and Will, who is based in the Manchester office, but was here on a business trip. He might be joining us back in Chengdu in October though.
Wednesday after work, we took a taxi to the new place. Since Will’s only here for a short while, he decided it’d be easier if we just got a taxi each day and either split the fare or just let him cover it. The cost of the taxi is between ¥15 and ¥20, split between 4 people would be ¥4-5 each, but split between 3 people is ¥5-6 each, while the bus is only ¥1 with your transportation card. However, the taxi takes 15 minutes while we’d be on the bus for an estimated 40+ minutes.
The apartment is luckily in the same vicinity as Kuan Zhai Xiangzi, and the neighbourhood is quite nice. Quiet, clean, and all the essentials are nearby.
When we arrived the first order was selecting our rooms. Stephanie went straight for the one with the great big bed made of red wood, I jumped on the one with plenty of closet space, and Jon got a small one with great fengshui. Jon and I have an excellent view of Chengdu. Our flat is on the 13th floor, which is perhaps the perfect height: not too high as to induce vertigo, but high enough to be a good vantage point. Will was told which room was his, and there’s still a large fifth bedroom with two single beds in it. The living space is large, though dominated by a dining table and lacking a sofa. I am of the opinion that all we need are a few beanbags. The kitchen is nice and large, with four hobs (gas), a decent fridge, plenty of storage space, but no oven. We tried to talk the company into getting us one, but apparently it didn’t fit in the budget for us. If we really want one, Will was up for going in together on one if he comes back. However, Stephanie also shared the wisdom that it is possible to bake bread in the microwave, or even in a wok on the hob!
After a brief introduction by Jack, we were whisked back downstairs to get dinner and shop for essentials. We found a restaurant around the corner that was a little pricey (¥43 each, rather than say, ¥10) but absolutely lovely. We nicknamed it “Rice Granny’s Place,” because aside from the clone-like youthful waitresses, a few wizened women were employed there, and came to serve us our white rice. This place had the best kungpao chicken I have ever had in my life, and I have had a lot of different versions of that dish. It was light and lemony instead of heavy and soy-saucy, and had great big green onion chunks in it. I also discovered an amazing new dish called tender beef with coriander (香菜嫩牛肉 xiangcai nen niurou), which was a divine dish of thinly sliced beef bits in a lot of chilli. After a jocular time, we left with full bellies to do some shopping.
There’s a great big supermarket around the corner, called 人人乐 Renrenle, which seems suspiciously like a Walmart to me, as it carries a lot of the same things as the Walmart in Wujiaochang, Shanghai. (I suspect the supermarket at the Xidan Shopping Centre opposite our office is also a Walmart for the same reason). Regardless, it has everything we need. Shopping was really difficult as I hadn’t had time to make a list, and therefore felt very uncomfortable. We were all very tired from moving in and sleepy after eating, but we got some TP and washing up liquid, clothes hangers and sponges, and returned for our first night in our new beds. Which are hard. as. rocks.
But we all slept soundly and were ready to face the last half of the week. On Thursday after work we went to a wine bar that is Annie S.’s favourite hangout. It is very near to work, so dinner was at a nearby Uighur restaurant with delicious daoshaomian. I’d been past it a few times and had been wanting to try it, despite the fact that it often appeared quite empty. The food was great, so we concluded it was because it was a Muslim restaurant that the Han Chinese seemed to want to avoid it; or they just preferred to eat Sichuan food.
The wine bar, called Vino, is now one of my favourite places. For comparable UK prices, one can sit in a cosy, dark lounge and sip fine wines. We got three bottles between 7 people, which came to ¥65 each. The area seemed very comfortable to us, because it was very modern, that kind of blanket international/non-nationality modern aesthetic that is becoming quite common. Places like that are great for homesickness.
Finally, it was Friday. The plan had originally been to hit up some bars in town, as it was Will’s last night that he could party, as he has a flight on Sunday morning. For lunch we went to “Jon’s place” (he became friends with the owner when he first arrived), where we had chaoshou and tried lianggao, a rice jelly/pudding with brown sugar sauce poured over it. It’s like a Chinese crème caramel, with the distinctive Sichuan brown sugar (hongtang) taste. Apparently hongtang is good for women, for period pain. I absolutely love the taste, which is good because the Sichuanese seem to love putting it on everything, from san da pao to bing fenr to hongtang lollies like the ones I saw being made in Kuan Zhai Xiangzi.
After work, we ended up getting dinner with a manager called Eric, who is basically the assistant to Lina, the GM. He was born in Shanghai and grew up in Wuhan, and took us to a Chinese restaurant called Mum’s Sign of the Rabbit (老妈兔头 Laoma Tutou). It was funny because the “rabbit” was a Playboy bunny. But the food was excellent. Eric ordered a Wuhan dish of lotus root and beef brisket soup, a sweet corn dish where the kernels were battered and fried, and a fish dish, perhaps bass, that was just wonderful. We had beer and baijiu with dinner, but ended up going back to the apartment to drink in instead of going out. We bought many beers from the convenience shop at the apartment block gate and played Kings/Ring of Fire until the wee hours. Will and I stayed up late talking after the other two purportedly went to sleep, and my loud American voice and candid manner may have put me into a spot of trouble. But it has now been resolved as of this afternoon, although it did require some peace offerings…
Today, after sleeping off the hangover, me and the boys had some “strange taste” chaoshou downstairs (怪味抄手 guaiwei chaoshou), and I went to Renrenle for things to make my place more my own. My favourite purchase was a mug that says “神马都是浮云”“shenma dou shi fuyun” with a Pegasus on it. The saying is an internet joke, a play on the phrase “everything is floating clouds,” a phrase like YOLO or Everything must pass, with “everything” (actually “what” 什么 shenme) replaced with “magical horse”, or Pegasus (神马 shenma). I have also put my maps up, so now I have one wall for China (all of China and one map of Chengdu), and one wall for the UK (the Peaks, the Dales, and Edinburgh). Mallorca is on a short bit of wall near my closets.
Tonight we plan to go out with Geoff and Eric. I really should have been working on my lesson plans rather than writing this, but, priorities!