Work has been going really well, and on the days when I’m not quite dead enough to just hole up and watch Project Runway, America’s Next Top Model (2.0, Guys and Girls!), or Avatar the Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, I get itchy feet. My explorations have taken me to many interesting places in our area. Here are some of my discoveries:
1. Yonghui Supermarket
Up until now, we’d been shopping at Renrenle, and been terribly disappointed by the vegetable selection. Last week, I went for a walk after dinner over to Yongling Park, which is a quiet little park next to a cultural site which is home to an underground palace! That’s on my list of places to check out. But while I was over there, I discovered Yonghui Supermarket, which is superior in all ways to Renrenle. The veg selection is to die for, and I was visiting it at 8pm! I picked up some discounted flavoured mantou for my breakfast. I haven’t come across ones like this before: one was pumpkin flavoured, and the other purple potato, both with chunks of vegetable in them. They’re my breakfast of choice now! Yonghui also had some good deals on wine, and a pretty comprehensive international section, compared to Renrenle.
2. Yongling Park’s “nightlife”
On the same walk as my supermarket discovery, I wandered into Yongling Park to discover it absolutely hopping with people. Outside the park were families strolling through the statues with toddlers, and in another section a group of dog owners gathered. Inside were several dance groups, my favourite being the group of old ladies (and couple men!) at the northwest entrance. Their dance was Chinese classical dance, and some of the moves were quite athletic! Not that many of them could kick higher than their hips, but it was impressive. I also discovered a music group full of classically trained musicians and singers. They had traditional Chinese instruments and were singing Chinese songs, and the were good. They gathered quite a crowd, however those sitting in the pavilion with them all seemed to be part of a special clique.
3. Zhazha mian 渣渣面
Food discoveries cannot be missed out from this list! Zhazha mian is a bowl of spiced-up egg noodles topped with something strange. According to the internet, it’s supposed to be dried-out chaoshou filling, which in restaurants these days means pork or chicken crumbles. The place I went to however, I am still convinced topped my noodles with cheese. I asked my friend about it, and she said it could not have been cheese, so maybe it was tofu? It definitely had a sour tang to it. I am still on the fence as to whether I enjoyed the strange taste of spicy, prickly combined with sour, but am willing to give zhazha mian another try… at a different restaurant.
Carrefour is about a 20-30 minute walk from the flat, but well worth it. Last weekend I took an epic explore of the Babao Avenue 八宝大道 area, mostly pricing out post-payday purchases at Carrefour. We got paid on Thursday (a day later than we were supposed to due to a glitch), so this weekend I made my purchases: a set of new pillowcases to liven up my white sheets and allow me to change them more frequently to help my skin, a 2kg bag of oatmeal for ¥21.40, and COFFEE. I was super pleased with my coffee purchases. I bought a big box of 1+2 sachets for the office, and got a free thermos! Then I got a great big bottle of instant coffee granules, and was gifted a free reusable shopping bag. Win!
5. Mirako Fitness
On my scouting trip last weekend, I got handed a flyer for a gym. I was about to throw it away when the line “pay for swimming, get everything else free!” caught my eye. A gym with a pool, plus spinning bikes, gym equipment, and as I read further, endless choice of fitness classes. In addition to hot-room yoga, there’s a whole course of spinning classes, plus Pilates, dance, aerobics, AND Zumba. I’d love to try them all! So I rang them up the next day, and arranged to go check it out. I couldn’t get a price over the phone, and when I arrived, I discovered why: the gym wasn’t finished yet.
I was given a photo tour of what it will look like in a month’s time, promised that it will be matched one for one, 100% the same. I was dubious. But then we got down to the price. My friend had gotten about 3 months for ¥1000 at the gym near work, but that place didn’t have a pool. They were offering a year membership for ¥3499, but I whined that I might not be here for a full year, my contract, blah blah. So I got 10 months for the same rate, ¥2999. This is not a small fee compared to my wages, but it got me unlimited access to everything ‘til July. I was sold. Plus, I can use my contract to test out the facilities at other Chengdu branches of this gym until my location is open. I’m psyched! I paid a deposit the first day, and yesterday went to pay the balance. I got a free gym bag, a towel, and a water bottle, which left me feeling quite chuffed.
6. Qinglong Street, Platinum City, Changshun Street
The gym is located just behind Carrefour, and the area is really quite fascinating. Qinglong Street 青龙街 was where my Manchester colleague’s gran used to live 80 years ago. It doesn’t look much like it must have looked 80 years ago. The place is dominated by Platinum City (Bojin Cheng 铂金城), another mega-mall/apartment/office building. The area must have been lovely 80 years ago, away from the centre of town, but not too far away. There seems to be a higher concentration of Guangdong restaurants here.
In order to get to Qinglong Street, I walked along another historic road, Changshun Street 长顺街. Apparently, this was the road that the Qing dynasty Eight Banner Army used to travel northeast through the city. There was a lovely historical plaque, and commemorative flagstones with a calligraphic “顺” character every few meters. The road is now an 8-lane monstrosity, so perhaps some of the military speed lives on in those motor bikes…
7. Chivor Grilled Fish
Yum. I’ll say it again: YUM. On payday, Steph and I wanted to treat ourselves. So we went out for dinner and discovered Chivor Grilled Fish. I wanted to check it out because I had seen people consuming French/American-style chips (frites, fries, whatever ya want to call them!) But it turns out that their speciality is grilled fish. And wow. Was. it. good. There wasn’t much to eat on the menu by way of vegetables, so we ordered fries and some lotus root, and two half-litres of beer. For the price, it was a substantial amount of beer! Then I was asked if I’d like to be taken to the kitchen to see our fish. Steph passed, but I said “hell yeah!” We went back to the kitchen where the chef scooped out a fish, flopped it into a bowl, thwacked it on the head twice with a metal baton, and slapped it onto the scales. I was a bit taken aback by the price of the fish, but with the side dishes and beers being so cheap, it was an affordable meal: ¥152 total, ¥76/person.
And the fish was divine. We opted for the house specialty “spicy” seasoning, which mean the fish graced our table loaded with chilli, prickly ash, peanuts, cucumber, celery, and pineapple chunks. Yet all that did not overpower the melt-in-your-mouth joy that was the fish. The skin was blackened to perfection, and there was more than enough meat for the two of us. Let’s just say, “we’ll be back!”
8. Local tradesmen and women
Last but not least, my wanderings have unearthed some great local finds. The first is a man who makes trousers. I can get another pair of custom fit jeans for just ¥200, he quoted, and am thinking about having him make me some work pants too. (Gurl u workin’ hard in dem paaaaaaants)
The other is a shoe repair shop, run by a very nice lady. I stopped to make an inquiry, and discovered she’ll clean my leather ankle boots for just ¥10!
Yesterday evening was also the first meeting of what I’d like to call Hongmeigui Cave Exploration Club, Chengdu Branch. Four cavers in Chengdu, making plans for weekend and holiday caving! We met a great little place out in Tongzilin (a swanky, expat heaven) called The Lazy Pug. I had a sooper delicious burger which really hit the spot. The conversation was familiarly awkward, as per usual amongst cavers, where we talked about life in China, computers, robot submarines, and relationship statuses, but only really became animated when we talked about the great underground unknown. Some of us will probably be heading out to Wulong over the National Day holiday, which is exactly what I wanted! Onward, to caverns measureless to man!