Wo Xi Huan Sichuan Fan!

Chinese noodles

I was sweating. My heart was banging away inside of my chest, and my head was spinning. The food poisoning had probably not even kicked in yet!

Through bloodshot eyes I could see my own hand, giving another two yuan (US .30 cents) to a smiling woman for a bowl of cold noodles. I managed to get my tongue, which had given up about 30 minutes ago and was probably looking for a way to get out of my mouth, to utter some very dangerous words in Sichuan…

Wo xiang hen la, cheng…or “I want very spicy, please.” She gave me a look as if to say: “your death wish is my command” and dumped another spoon of mystery spice into my bowl. It was going to be a good night.

Tired of all the usual oily Chinese and expensive, piss-poor attempts at Western food, I made a pact with myself to eat only local Sichuan Province food for the rest of my time here. This part of China is famous for dishes and spices that can match up to Thailand’s food/pain threshold. I absolutely love the hot food and I would be lying through my teeth if I said that the food wasn’t a big part of the reason I came 1,000 kilometers north to Chengdu from Lijiang.

I am staying at Sim’s Guesthouse in the WengShu Temple district…a friendly place, but more importantly, it sits right beside a maze of narrow streets and alleys that transform into food paradise at night. The last time I made my dinner exclusively in the street stalls, I was eating bugs, a snake, and even dog courtesy of Beijing. Since I was hungry and more interested in actually enjoying dinner tonight rather than photographing it, I kept things a little less exotic.

I wandered from steaming stall to stall, pushing my way in through the queues and the crowd, and trying different things including bowls of fiery noodles, breads stuffed with spiced beef, various mystery meats on a stick, and a giant corn on the cob. I even tried some of the local candy, made from tamarinds and boiled in sugar water. By the end, I had spent a grand total of 11 yuan on tonight’s dinner, about US $1.50, not bad, especially with the adventure factor added in.

Every cook that I passed called me to come over or to at least take a look at their offerings. Some would raise skewers of tentacles, chicken’s heads, and misc other items out of boiling oil to show me with a grin. To avoid offending anyone’s feelings, I would just smile and answer chi bao le…which means “I am full.” They knew I was full of something, but it wasn’t food.

But pushing your way through the crowded street markets isn’t always fun and games.

Somewhere along the way I picked up three brown-toothed Chinese women in their late 50s. The first time they saw me, they openly pointed at me and said laowai! — which means “foreigner.” OK, no big deal. I’ve had plenty of that on this trip already. Unlike the others, however, they followed me around the market, and every time I would hesitate at a stall or try look at something, they would ramble on in Chinese, laugh hysterically, then finish the sentence with laowai!

I was ready to throat punch someone. And I think they old women were drunk.

I was trying to concentrate on dinner and not end up with another case of projectile vomiting like I was graciously given in street markets of Vientiane, Laos, last year, so I was starting to get a little irked.

Yes, we have established that I am not Chinese, thank you for taking note and letting me know, now piss off! If I knew how to say it in Chinese, I would have. Luckily for them, I did not get that far in my Mandarin classes. That must have been next week’s curriculum.

Things reached a boiling point when they started getting the food vendors in on the laugh. I looked down at the pointy skewer stick in my hand and thought for a moment about sticking it in the group leader’s throat, but there was still one good piece of meat left on it and that definitely would have ruined my chances of getting served any more tonight.

Finally, one of the brighter vendors realized that these old women were costing her my business and that my grin indicated that they had crossed the threshold of laughing at me as opposed to laughing with me. She sent them away quite aggressively. I thanked her graciously.

Everyone who has traveled China — or anywhere in Asia for that matter — knows what it is like to be in the spotlight with celebrity status everywhere that you go. It actually is fun — usually — but then again, when you are just trying to burn your tongue out of your mouth properly with Sichuan food, all the attention can get a little exhausting as well.

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  1. Is the food better than the mexican-ran chinese place in georgetown where the waitress was flirting with me?

  2. Don’t ever join the Peace Corps because this would be your life 24/7 for over two years. They call it the fishbowl effect. I call it alot of other things, and yes, it does make you want to stab people from time to time:-)

  3. No way man…she was definitely flirting with me! 🙂

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