9 May 2013

Chengdu: Malls, Cinema & Hot Pot!

Having originally planned only a one night stop here before heading to Guilin via Chongqing, we immediately knew this would not be the case when we checked into the fantastic *Sim’s Cosy Garden Hostel*.  The hostel alone is worth staying on an extra night for, and as we began to explore the city we realised that it too has plenty to offer.  Having had something of a cultural overload recently we unashamedly decided to catch up on some eating and shopping therapy.  First stop was the enormous Wanda Plaza Mall, and more specifically the Haagan-Daaz and Zara outlets!  Bloated on commercialism, we bought tickets for the 9pm showing of Iron Man 3 at the 3D IMAX and then headed downtown for some sight-seeing.


Chengdu city is not big on sites and the principal monument is the ubiquitous large statue of Mao.  From his pedestal sandwiched between lanes of traffic, he reaches his arm out beseechingly.  But these days no-one pays any attention.  His appeal is superseded by that of the boutique shopping arcade, the facades of which reflect his corpulent figure – Cartier, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s to name but a few.

Back in the mall, we were initially dismayed to find that Iron Man 3 contained scenes in Mandarin with no English subtitles.  Fortunately, they were few and far between.  In fact, we subsequently discovered that these scenes were exclusive to the Chinese release, having been added to appease Chinese censors.  Apparently they were insignificant to the plot.

The next day we trawled malls again, before sampling a traditional Sichuan Hot Pot for dinner.  This comprises a gas burner on each table on top of which sits a copper bowl containing a second smaller copper bowl in the middle.  These are then filled with a fiery hot broth of oil and chillies and a cooler soupy broth.  Depending on your taste buds, you can choose whether you want the large bowl or the smaller one to be filled with the hotter of the two broths.  Having been warned of the self-combusting nature of the Sichuan Hot Pot, we opted for the “milder” one.  John maintains to this day that he could have tackled to hot one alone!  Into this fiery pit you dip whatever goodies you have chosen from the extensive menu.  The menu here was Mandarin only and with none of the helpful pictures upon which we have become so reliant.  Wondering how we were going to avoid ordering duck intestines, pigs penis or frogs (all available options), we were relieved to be introduced to a bubbly Chinese American woman who walked us through the menu.  She erred on the side of caution, and into our pot went lotus root, needle mushrooms, shredded beef, sliced potatoes, shrimp balls and cabbage.  Not bad, but nor was it a style of cooking that either of us fell in love with.



This form of “assisted ordering” became a regular occurrence in Sichuan.  On several occasions either a fellow diner, or more bizarrely, a complete stranger dragged in off the street, would be asked by the waitress to help translate for us.  In one case the helpful citizen even brought our dishes to us from the kitchen before asking if we needed anything else and then leaving to continue with her shopping.

The following morning we took the highspeed train from Chengdu to Chongqing.  Given our previous train experience we were impressed with the train and it's interior!  The best bit, however, was that it was a short journey - only 2 hours and averaging around 120 miles an hour.  Nice.


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