Chengdu by Cecilia Schulz
Are we there yet?
Getting to Yingkou will be easier to access once they have their high speed rail and their airport. Both are currently under construction. Today, it isn’t available so needless to say, getting out was laborious. It took almost three hours by bus (barf) to get to the airport in Shenyang. What should have been a couple of hours to Chengdu, ended up to be six hours. I fell asleep on the runway and woke up two hours later. “Are we there yet?” We hadn’t even departed Shenyang. Ugh.
Chengdu was a big “Wow!” to us as we had come from a tier three city and could really appreciate what a tier two had to offer. The sky was dark, but skyscrapers were moving with light shows. This metropolis almost looked like it was breathing. That in itself was scary as this was absolutely the worst pollution I had ever seen. Once I counted the blocks and stopped when I couldn’t see beyond. You won’t believe it…three blocks. That’s as far as I could see. My eyes burned. Our guide Sammi Li said the city is in a basin and manages to hold air steady. It’s too bad because it is a pretty city surrounded by rivers and mountains. Can’t see ‘em much though.
I’ll just say it and get it over with…we went to see the Giant Panda Breeding Research Center to learn about these beautiful bears and…for 1,000Yuan, I held one. A few of us did. To entertain the panda as tourists lined up to cuddle, the researchers dipped bamboo into honey and handed it to the bear. At that point, the bear didn’t care where it was, who was holding it and why all the fuss. Meanwhile, I donned a lovely blue smock, plastic deli gloves and AC repair technician blue footies. Wasn’t I the fashionable one? I didn’t care. I wouldn’t have cared if you put honey dipped bamboo in my mouth. So, after getting ready, I walked into a room staged with a bench and some greenery behind it. One attendant stood in front of me ready to take photos and another attendant came from stage left and put a panda on my lap. The panda was happy (like I said earlier, he had bamboo and honey) and lied pretty still. He was about 18 months old. He felt like he weighed about 20 pounds. He was not as soft as he looked, but his hair was thick so that my hand disappeared into his fur. I landed a kiss on his ear and that was it. We bonded. I’m pretty sure he’s thinking of me right now.
After the preserve, we walked through the Wangjianglou Park which is full of over 150 species of bamboo planted tastefully around brooks, bridges, pagodas and paths. The park is dedicated to a Xue Tao, a female poet. Many of her works were displayed in small Qing dynasty buildings. A short walk led us to a tea house where we enjoyed hot green tea, shoulder massages and the company of locals.
After this relaxation, we were ready to travel out of the city to see what shoppers do in the Xindu Shopping District. It was an example of what China developed for those who live outside of a major shopping area. The 45 minute drive took us to a residential area complete with department stores, specialty shops and grocery stores. Students are beginning to get an ability to compare. For example, the popularity of brands is a constant across China. In the middle of nowhere, far from the masses, people still want Gucci. Grocery stores consistently welcome you just beyond the diamonds and Prada bags. Urbanites in China still dress better than your average American.
Chengdu is located in the Sichuan province which is known to culinary aficionados as home to the spicy food. Chengdu’s hotpot is just that…spicy. The hotpot is a gathering of friends who cook their food over a boiling pot of peppery soup. Our dinner started at the beginning of a long line of meats, fish, tofu and vegetables. Most of what was available to cook was new to me. The idea was simple. Pick out what you want to eat (or what you think you want as most was unrecognizable), walk it to your table, sit down and cook it in the peppery soup. Then eat and enjoy…or eat and cry because it was an eye-watering experience! The restaurant was packed with people and spice. Fun!
Today marked a busy day for retail study. It began with a tour of the Bestton IT Mall conveniently located above the cross roads of the Chengdu subway system. The store was several stories high and boasts second in sales in China. The Mall acts as landlord to tenant. Higher paying tenants tend to have the better locations on the bottom floors. The cost of rent decreases as vendors ascend in the mall. It isn’t one store, one policy. Instead, each vendor operates their business with their brand’s policies. What struck students was the busy design of the facility. Every available space was occupied with gadgets, signage, lighting, screens and flowers…flowers? Empty space had to have something on it and here’s why: it was explained to me that abundance meant prosperity and success. Less merchandise means shortage, failure and famine. The Chinese have been through enough…they like to pile it high and watch it fly. Good for them. It’s fun to shop in profuse lavishness.
The Hongqui Supermarket was worth a stop because it is an extravagant convenience store. It sells no produce or fresh meats (dried meats and sausages are sold), but otherwise it is well stocked. Located on prime real estate, it’s no place to find a bargain, but it does offer a variety of groceries for such a small space. In fact, this was elegant convenience shopping. This was also the only place I’ve shopped (and we’ve been through MANY grocery stores) where I’ve been offered a sample! An associate wandered the store with samples of a hot local tea. Oh yes, I tried it (twice…burp) and then bought it…made her day and mine.
Wal-Mart. What can I say? I understand there are two Supercenters in Chengdu and both are always busy. Really, there’s no surprise here. Wal-Mart sells merchandise for less. It’s simple and people like it. It has worked for as long as I’ve been alive. There…now you know my age. We entered the store from…waaaait for it…a ground floor department store. I kid you not! Once inside the department store, I almost couldn’t find the Wal-Mart entrance. Hilarious!
Produce was the first department upon entering and it was massive. The Chinese love produce and the variety here was endless. Basically, the ground floor of the Wal-Mart (albeit the second floor of the building) was dedicated to grocery, produce, meats. Upstairs was everything else. My focus was a cheap bag because I’m buying too many ridiculous souvenirs and they are not fitting in my baggage. So where do I go?…just say it. WAL-MART’s luggage department! Oh…get this…there was someone there to help me. Niiiice. Anyway, the store aisles were large (unlike my Wal-Mart in Gainesville) and the merchandise was piled very high. To me, the stacks looked junky, but I understand why it is merchandised this way and I appreciate it. There was signage, but no slashed prices (EDLP), no smiley faces, no “attention Wal-Mart shoppers”. Good…that’s really obnoxious. The clothing was (if I can quote Steve) polyester city. The cotton tops I saw were very thin cotton fabric. Electronics was a large department as was health and beauty aids. There were a lot of women there. Like the Wal-Marts in the US, it was crowded, bright and seemed to function efficiently.