as i was running around the streets, taking photos, i was struck forcefully by how many people were using their phones to take photos. more generally, i noticed how many younger people in particular had their eyes fixed on their screens, even when they were in groups. at the risk of sounding like an old fogey (and a hypocrite), this struck me as a serious problem. if steve jobs had wanted to enslave the population by turning them into appendages of technological devices, he succeeded.
as something refreshingly not telephonic, here is a photo of two girls and their dad playing with a parakeet at the song xian qiao antique market:
so, i’ve blogged about food, and i’ve blogged about pandas … what’s next? temples. mount qingcheng had taoist temples, but there were plenty of buddhist temples in and around chengdu as well.
first, we’ll look at daci temple, which is located in downtown chengdu. daci temple was built approximately 1600 years ago, and is now surrounded by high-rise buildings. the day i visited, there was some kind of celebration going on, possibly related to the mid-autumn festival (what we think of us the mooncake festival). the place was mobbed with people lighting candles and burning incense, listening to a buddhist monk preach, and generally hanging out.
in my first post, i mentioned sichuan hot pot. hot pot is a meal of meats and vegetables cooked on skewers in boiling, flavored oil. the best hot pot restaurant i visited had a brightly-lit refrigerated room full of food – as elegant as anything i’d find at trader joe’s, if trader joe’s did hot pot – and aprons on the back of each chair.
most of the time, it was obvious what the meat on the skewer was. but not always; just because something is “chicken” doesn’t mean it’s the part of the chicken i normally eat.
this was a pretty nice hot pot place, as they go. others were less fancy. and then there were restaurants that i didn’t want to try at all.
the markets had a lot to offer, too, including a good place to nap during the day.
the most interesting “destination” restaurant i visited was in the city of le shan, a few hours away by train. le shan is the home of a giant buddha statue carved into a cliff (more on that later), and my guidebook included a listing for zhao family crispy duck:
foodies flock to this tiny barbecue stand for its speciality – sweet, crispy roast duck (jin ¥22). the draw is the skin, which is best described as duck candy, a miraculously ungreasy bite of heaven. eat it while it’s hot – in the middle of the sidewalk with your bare hands, if necessary.
naturally, i went. it was not “miraculously ungreasy,” but the proprietor hands out cellophane gloves with the bags of duck, so i could indeed eat it in the middle of the sidewalk. i didn’t get a “pretty” shot of the duck, but it was pretty awesome.
so, food. eating is a pretty intimate affair – you can be elbow-to-elbow with the next table, or with passing cars, but everyone’s gonna eat. and for my money, a plate of pork dumplings with chili oil is about as close to heaven as you can get.
after a week, i returned to chengdu, to begin work.
the state department measures the quantity of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, and suspended particulate matter in the air at its china missions and publishes an air quality index daily. for most of the time i was in chengdu, the air was rated “unhealthy,” with index values over 150 and particulate matter concentrations of 50 μg/m3. (as of the date that i’m writing this, the aqi in chengdu is 186; by comparison, the new york city region’s aqi is 38.) i was warned off exercising outside, but even just walking to work each day, i felt a slight burning in the back of my throat. i got used to the sensation fairly quickly and forgot about it, which was a good thing, or it wasn’t, depending on how you look at it.
of course, when you live with this kind of air day to day, you get used to it and don’t let it hold you back. i saw lots of people enjoying the outdoors, particularly at night.
whereas the front side of the mountain is known for taoist temples, the back side of the mountain is known for hiking. there are 20 km of pathways up and across the backside of the mountain.
scenes from tai an, the old town at the foot of the mountain:
there wasn’t much sun on the day i went, but there was a lot of green.
apiaries; lots of waterfalls; prayer flags
there are food vendors along the paths to cater to the hikers (also selling toys to distract the kids from being dragged up the side of a mountain). one of the snacks they sell is a pancake made from ground corn, freshly cooked in a wok. delicious.
whereas the front side of the mountain is dedicated to taoism, the temples on the back side are buddhist.