Tuesday, January 25, 2005

China | Sichuan Province | Chengdu

On to Chengdu the next morning, December 20. The plane was jammed and like all domestic Air China flights there was simply not enough leg room for me. I finally got a bulkhead seat after a lot of fuss. I have been in Chengdu probably fifteen or twenty days in the late five years (always in December and January) and the weather has always been exactly the same: just above freezing, very foggy, with a a light on-and-off misting rain. I have never seen a clear day here. Checked into the infamous Traffic Hotel near the bus station. The clerks behind the check in counter are wearing thick down jackets (there’s no heat in the hotel). The same young ladies are in the lobby trying to sell trips to Tibet as last time I was here last December.

Then I popped over the Wenshu Monastery for lunch at its famous vegetarian restaurant.

Wenshu Monastery

Had what was the hottest meal I have ever had in my life. It was a kind of soup which seemed to consist entirely of chili peppers. Sichuan food is famously hot but this was way over the top. The way the waiter stood in the corner and keep smirking at me I had to wonder whether he and the cook weren’t playing some kind of practical joke me.

Statue at Wenshu Monastery

Then to the Sichuan Opera for the afternoon. This was held in a low key little theatre holding only two or three hundred on a side street near the train station. For the matinee the theatre was only about half full, almost all retirees whiling awhile an afternoon. All the tea you could drink, served by a woman who came around with a big thermos, was included in the price of the ticket. The oldsters sat around chatting, drinking tea, and eating sunflower seeds, only bothering to watch the opera for the highlights. The opera went on for over three hours, the exact plot being impossible to follow. I just sat back and let the whole thing flow over me. I noticed a lot of people going backstage so I thought I would try too. No one said anything to me. In fact, the actors seems to expect people to come back and take photos . . . Actresses in the opera:

The opera's Good Queen

The Evil Hussy in the opera