the state department sent me on a work assignment to the consulate in chengdu, china for the month of september, to help out in the consular section. two weeks before i was scheduled to fly out, they asked if i could start one week later and work only for three weeks. i said yes, but kept my original flight plan and traveled during the first week.
i left athens at 8:15 am on a sunday, landed in chengdu at 1 am (athens time) on monday, dropped my bag off with a colleague, and then went straight to dujiangyan, a short train ride outside of chengdu. dujiangyan is best known for a major water irrigation project, which i didn’t visit, and for one of the bases of the china conservation and research centre for the giant panda, which i did.
first, however, i spent the day walking around the town itself. like many cities and towns in the area, dujiangyan has a rebuilt “old town” that is at oriented toward tourism, although there are plenty of places for locals to hang out as well.
games – mahjong and checkers – are a big deal.
so is food. every block has at least one restaurant in it, and some streets are devoted entirely to little stalls and eateries. one of my first meals was sichuan hotpot, where you choose raw food on skewers to take back to your table and cook in boiling oil that is flavored with chilies and spices, but there were plenty of grilled meats, dumplings, noodles and other items on offer.
occasionally, i just pointed to a picture on the wall or to something that someone else was eating, and took my chances. this usually worked out pretty well.