26 May 2016
Today we are flying to Chengdu – home of the Giant Pandas and famous for its spicy Sichuan cooking and Hot Pot dishes.
We have an early start in order to negotiate the rush hour traffic in the rain. First off though we have to negotiate the traffic in the rain, on foot and dragging our luggage out to the main street because our street is too narrow for the bus to come down.
At the airport we find our check-in counter (A) on the departures board but when we get there we are told we need to go to counter B so we all traipse over there, to be told that we need to go to counter C. But when we get to counter C a man says we should follow him – and he takes us back to counter A!! There isn’t a group check-in facility but at least we are given ‘special assistance’.
Going through security is even more rigorous than when I came through from Beijing: we may as well just empty the entire contents of our carry on luggage into the trays because they want to inspect just about everything. Of course, in trying to juggle all the things that we needed to take out, I forgot to take out my battery chargers so had to go through again.
Because it was pouring with rain and visibility was pretty bad, lots of flights were being delayed or cancelled. Our plane was there but we were delayed a couple of hours because we were behind others in the queue to take off. The worst bit was that they wouldn’t give us any indication of when we would board, just that they would update us again later. So we had just decided to go and buy some lunch when they announced that we were boarding – typical! There was quite a lot of turbulence on the flight but otherwise not too bad. I was sitting further forward than the others in the plane – the only European in that area so I got lots of stares. I was struck by how little anyone pays any attention to crew instructions: everyone just keeps using their phones even when they are told to turn everything off, seatbelts are off, window shades put down and seats reclined, people keep getting up to go to the toilet when we are taxi-ing – I think the crew just give up.
When we arrive in Chengdu we are met by a small bus and a minivan to take our luggage. But we have another surprise – we have to have an emergency change of hotel because the one we were booked into had to have its annual fire drill. I’m not sure what that actually entails but apparently it would be all too chaotic for them to check us in. So we have been booked into another hotel for one night and then we have to transfer back again. By that stage we really don’t care and just want to eat – we have been promised Hot Pot. So we just throw our bags into our rooms and walk to the Hot Pot restaurant (now further away).
The Hot Pot was delicious. I have previously known this as a Chinese steamboat and had a single pot in the middle as a communal cooking exercise (a bit like fondue but without the cheese). But this time we each have our own pot with an individual hot plate for each person. This is good because it means that you can choose whatever soup you like: spicy, mushroom, tomato, pork bone, or half and half. We are all given aprons to wear and then taken to a separate area to concoct our own dipping sauce from a bewildering array of condiments. Then back at the table they set our soups boiling and start bringing out a stream of raw meats, meatballs, dumplings, and lots of different vegetables for us to cook. A crate of beer is brought up for us as we seem to be getting a taste for the local beers – they are very light and only around 2.5% alcohol, and a perfect match to the spicy food that Sichuan is famous for.
It is clearly a very popular place with the locals and there are no other westerners there. People come to socialise and it is very loud but great fun.
Sorry about the quality of the photos – my camera was struggling with steam and glare.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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