Maria Holland

No Take-Backs!

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2010 at 11:30 pm

We left Wuhan early this morning.  We certainly weren’t sad to part ways, as the day wasn’t looking much better than the previous one had been – cold and gray.  The taxi ride took us out of the main city towards . . . Siberia, apparently.  It was about the most desolate thing we’d ever seen; Dad even said it would be a great place to film a post-apocalyptic movie, if they fixed the place up a bit first. 

The airport terminal was definitely not heated and, in true Chinese fashion, I think they were circulating fresh outside air through the waiting area.  Basically, it was freezing.  You know how when it’s really cold outside and you go inside and you have to take off all your layers or you’ll burn up?  Well, the good news is that in southern China, you don’t have this problem.  You pretty much wear all your layers, all the time.  And then (if you’re Dad), you still complain about the cold.

But soon enough we were on a warm plane headed to Chengdu in Sichuan province.  Sichuan (usually Szechwan in the US) is where the spiciest food comes from; you’ve probably eaten Szechwan chicken and maybe cried afterwards.  It is considered western China, despite being significantly closer to the east coast than to the western border.  Chengdu is more specifically known as the site of the May 12th, 2008 earthquake.  Somewhat less well-known but also very important, it is the site of Sichuan University, which was my first choice when applying for this full-year scholarship.  Obviously, I ended up in Xiamen, but I was definitely looking forward to coming to Chengdu to see where I would have lived if things had turned out as I thought I wanted.

After finding a hotel, we had a Chinese lesson.  My parents are learning a few words each day, and so far they know:

  • thank you
  • hello, goodbye, goodnight
  • excuse me, can I ask a question?
  • can I?
  • I don’t understand
  • good job
  • wait a moment
  • foreigner
  • ladies, gentleman
  • me, you, he/she/it
  • America, China
  • good, bad, delicious, cute
  • spicy-hot, temperature-hot
  • extremely, a little bit, too
  • how much
  • numbers 1-10
  • don’t need
  • frustrating
  • Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)
  • know, don’t know
  • hotel
  • water, tea, coffee, beer, glass, bottle
  • please bring another
  • West Point, artillery, infantry, tank, cannon, security
  • units of money
  • today, tomorrow, yesterday
  • left, right
  • sit down, return
  • have, don’t have
  • almost/almost the same
  • expensive
  • train, fast, slow
  • tired, hungry, really hungry (starving–to-death)

Once class was over (because the students were whining), we went out to find lunch.  We found a restaurant and I ordered a few dishes — eggplant something, miscellaneous chicken parts, and a pot of goose.  So I was pretty surprised when a plate of beef and green peppers was placed in front of us.  My parents dug in immediately and, since it didn’t have any vegetables they don’t regularly eat or strange parts of unrecognizable animals, declared it the best thing they’d eaten in China.  This was followed by two more mystery dishes, none of which resembled what I thought I had ordered.  About the time Dad was eating the last piece of green pepper, the waitress came over to tell us that they had messed up, that they given us three dishes that we hadn’t ordered. 

I felt vindicated, but also a little concerned because Chinese customer service isn’t really the best.  Earlier during the trip, we ordered drinks and paid for them before the worker told us that they didn’t have what we had ordered, and we couldn’t unorder.  No take-backs! 

This was a similar situation.  In an American restaurant, they would have allowed us to eat the food we didn’t order without charging us for it, and would have brought our original order as well – at the very least.  In China, we were made to pay for the food we’d already eaten, and were ‘asked’ if we still wanted our original order.  I put that in quotation marks because we managed to get them to give one of the dishes to another table, but they kept insisting that the other was really delicious and we eventually caved.

After our interesting lunch, we bought a map and headed to the train station.  I can read maps in Chinese (which is two things my mom can’t do) and managed to get us there in one bus ride. 

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The train station was crazy in this pre-Spring Festival period.  (You know, there’s actually a word for the massive movement of Chinese people during the Lunar New Year – 春运.  The Chinese have a word for everything!)  I can’t even guess how many people were in the train station, but I can say with certainty that Dad was the tallest person there – and we have a picture to prove it (he’s near the left side of the picture):

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In the midst of the chaos, though, we successfully bought tickets for next week from Chengdu to Xi’An.  Victory!

Just for fun, we took a motorized sanlunche for a ride – it is, after all, pretty much a mandatory experience while in China.

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When we got off, we found ourselves in the military district of Chengdu.  There were about 3 blocks of military surplus stores, and we went in every single one looking for an artillery patch.  It turns out that there’s an army base in Chengdu, but it turns out they don’t really like foreigners asking too many questions about it.  It was interesting walking around the area, though, so much like its counterparts in America that we’re familiar with.

Walking a little bit more, we saw an ancient gate and went in to look around.  We had happened upon the Wenshu monastery, which is a really beautiful oasis in the city.  It’s quiet enough to hear birds and the smell of incense overpowers the random smells of China. 

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As we were leaving, we heard the monks chanting in one of the pagodas.  It was my first time hearing Buddhist monks chanting, but it’s very similar to how the people at my church chant the rosary, so I’m guessing that’s one way in which China’s other religions have influenced the Catholic Church here. 

After exploring the little shops around the monastery, we started to walk back to our hotel.  We stopped along the way for dinner at a hotpot restaurant.  Hot pot is a famous Chinese dish similar to fondue – you order raw meat and vegetables, which you cook in boiling flavored water.  Chongqing and Sichuan are the hot pot capitals of China, so it was definitely on the bucket list for our week in Chengdu.

It was a bit spicier than the hot pot I’d had in Chengdu, but it was delicious.  We had two kinds of meat, noodles, potatoes, cauliflower, cucumber, quail eggs, and lettuce.  It warmed us up and cleaned out our sinuses; actually my cheeks still feel red. 

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We’re back in the hotel right now.  We’re in another Super 8 (since we are VIPs, after all) but are not getting star treatment.  So far we’ve had to make them change our phone, two lamps, and a light bulb in the ceiling, and are still waiting on them to bring us a new desk chair and fix the internet.  Too bad we can’t go somewhere else, but — after all — there are no take-backs in China!

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  1. Keep those stories coming- they are better than any comedy show on tv- past or present! Maria- be patient with the “children” and someday they will grow up and leave – I mean – go home. I need to get a map and plot this trip so I can actually picture where you have been. Safe and happy trails!
    Love, Aunt Pat

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