Happy Halloween from Chengdu

halloween in Chengdu china

I was wondering if anyone here knew what Halloween was…I guess at least one person does!

When I first arrived in Chengdu, I thought that I had made a mistake.

Sure, it was a few degrees warmer than the mountains of Yunan, but not by much. The sky is the usual big-Chinese-city polluted gray, and at first impression this place reminded me of Zheng Zhou, another major provincial dump of a city in Henan where I studied Shaolin kung fu.

Like a lot of places here, however, the longer I stay the more that they grow on me — kind of like a tumor. But in a good way. There is a vibe here beyond just the concrete and construction cranes sprouting towards the sky in what seems like all directions.

chinese man in Sichuan

I came to Sim’s Guesthouse, owned by a very friendly Japanese guy and staff. Fortunately, it is not in the 2007 Lonely Planet, so the crowd you get here is slightly different than the usual. The same can actually be said for China as a whole. In the last three months, I have met much more experienced, mature travelers than you would typically encounter in Southeast Asia or elsewhere. Sure, I like watching the sun rise with a Thai bucket in hand as much as the next guy, but it is nice to talk about something other than Full Moon parties and “magic” pizzas for a change.

There is no spoon
As a bonus, there are two white rabbits that have their roam of the place here. They walk around without fear and check everything and everyone out through beady red eyes. I did try trusting my Neo instincts and followed the white rabbit, but it only led me to a pile of cabbage on the floor near its bedding — no rave or Trinity. Quite the letdown. If you haven’t seen The Matrix, forget everything you just read.

Sim’s sits in the WenShu Temple district, which means that there are plenty of touristy food places and shops within walking distance. All are Chinese, of course, and cater to the multitude of Chinese travelers. There are some nice Western-owned places dotted around the city, but most are in the south and are a good 45-minute walk (which I have done several times now) or a two-yuan bus ride away. I always choose the walk; we see enough life through glass (TV, car windows, etc) and you miss the smells, sounds, and chi that a place has to offer by always using the transportation.

Even a bike moves too fast for me sometimes. As long as these two feet will keep going, I will keep using them.

china walmart supermarket

Chinese Wal-Mart
I needed to buy some supplies, so I wandered the main road dodging motorcycles and crazed taxi drivers until I came to a large supermarket called “Trust-Mart.” I went inside and the place was absolutely huge…it took me hours to find the few things that I needed. There was no doubt that it was Chinese, but at the same time, things seemed oddly familiar. I was looking through the toothpaste, past the Chinese 15% fluoride you-will-be-dead-but-have-white-teeth brands, and there it was:

Great Value brand toothpaste. Aka…..Wal-Mart brand. Busted! This was a Chinese Wal-Mart.

There were the price rollback signs with the ridiculous little smiley face…only, rather than blue, they were red. Also, the employees wore red aprons rather than blue — very fitting for China. I had just patronized Wal-Mart (once again) without realizing, rather than helping out a local Chinese family. Damn. Looks like the Waltons have set up camp here too, under a slightly disguised local store front.

The Road to Tibet
Most people here at the guesthouse are queued waiting for permits to get into Tibet. Chengdu is quite a gateway to that corner of the world, so many people start here. The government stopped issuing the permits for a couple of weeks because of a conference going on but seem to have started them back up. I have met six travelers here who left the guesthouse and planned on entering Tibet without the expensive piece of paper, like my friend Amanda did. I assume they made it OK and didn’t end up in a Lhasa labor camp milking yaks to make butter tea. Yuck!

Oops — I’m going to get my blog banned again. Or it still is blocked here in China. Once again, you didn’t hear it from me. Get the permit for Tibet! After all, what else do you need nearly $300 for? Don’t waste money on stupid things like food and beer!

Chengdu Hotpot
I’ll leave you with a picture of a Sichuan hotpot. Imagine extremely spicy, boiling oil sitting in the middle of your table, then you dump five kilograms of catfish (including the heads and tails) as well as vegetables and tofu into the mess. Then everyone reaches in to get what they want, which means lots of hot oil splashing about. I felt like a soldier in the Dark Ages trying to besiege a castle — hotpots hurt! Despite the third-degree burns, and ridiculous amount of saturated fat that oozed its way to my heart, hotpot was quite delicious.

Since I was the only white customer in sight, they even let me back into the kitchen, where I witnessed cooks taking live catfish out of a trough and bashing them on the counter to stun them long enough for the chop-chop. There was a large box of noodles, the same noodles soon to be going into my hotpot no doubt, sitting on the floor. The raw noodles were hanging over the sides and one cook got his feet tangled in them among the ash and cigarette butts on the floor. Yes, they were smoking in the kitchen. He simply untangled himself and put the noodles back into the box. Yum.

Maybe visiting the kitchen before dinner wasn’t such a good idea. There are just some things you don’t question, like what’s inside of an eggroll. Or what goes on in a commercial Chinese kitchen. It’s better not to look, just eat!

chengdu sichuan hotpot

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3 Responses to “Happy Halloween from Chengdu”

  1. Ahh… I just left Chengdu a couple days ago. Guess who I ran into there… Coy from the shool! In Tibet now, met two guys who met Wing from the school also. Small world… in a big China!

    So… the permit is BS. Just get a Chinese person to buy the train tix for you and forget spending 450 kwai… I’ve met so many people here who didn’t bother and they have no problems. What I’m trying to say is get your ass up here… it is sooooo cool! I haven’t exactly found how to put it into words yet, but it’s definitly the highlight of the last three months in China. DON’T MISS IT GREG!!!!

  2. I agree with Adam 100%!!! I don’t know why you’re so resistant, but you won’t regret it. It’s something entirely new, something you’ve never seen or experienced, and it will be gone soon. Even if you have to sit hard seat for a few days, DO IT! GO! There’s still time!!!!


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