Hello there, Alex here.
This post is part of a series of posts detailing my week-long trip to Sichuan (if you don’t get the title, try reading it out aloud). In my previous post here, we had just arrived in Chengdu, the provincial capital.
It’s the second day of our trip, and we’re in Chengdu. Our hostel is located incredibly close to Tai Koo Li, an upmarket open-air shopping mall, and we’re situated at what is essentially Chengdu’s Orchard Road. Suffice to say, the people around here are dressed well. As for me, I looked like a hobo, with my disheveled hair and plain black shirt. It didn’t help that I still owed the sleep monster a few hours of naptime – coffee was necessary to salvage me from my dysfunctional state.
The day started with a hunt for breakfast – there were a few places nearby that served breakfast, but we all gravitated to this humble noodle store at the end of the street. It was small and cozy, and amazingly had Alipay (Wechat Pay seems to be the winner around here). We all ordered rather light meals – if I recalled, no one ordered three servings of noodles (it’s usually two for a standard size) – to pace ourselves for all the food that would soon come our way. JJ was still somewhat ill around his time, having been sick since we left, and lacked the appetite to finish his meal – this was monumental, because JJ is a man after my own heart. I absolutely adored food, as did he, and it was surprising and somewhat heartbreaking to see him not finish it. You could hear the frustration in his voice. Terrible.
After breakfast, we headed to Tai Koo Li to take in both the atmosphere and the architecture. The mall had been built around an old temple (although it was seemingly refurbished ala CHIJMES, although I suspect it still served its function as a temple) and had some rather interesting designs. The stores were individual buildings, no taller than 2 stories, with bigger brands occupying the entirety of it. Linkways crisscrossed between these buildings, forming unbroken paths from store to store. I skulked the lanes seeking caffeine to rejuvenate my withered form, first spotting a Pacific Coffee. Excited, I rolled in, only to be baffled by the menu – it was full of strange, fancy sounding drinks, and devoid of good old coffee-to-go. I hadn’t had the guts to ask – a function of my sleep-deprived state – so I simply slipped out of the store, seeking something familiar. Something like Starbucks.
Yes, I am in fact a white upper-class girl.
Like a hungry ghost, I drifted through the lanes, my eyes darting from building to building, desperate for caffeine. It started with a whiff of overly-roasted coffee beans (Starbucks tends to do that for the smell but this ruins the coffee’s flavour), then a hint of a familiar green. My gait quickened, and my heart thumped as I slipped through the crowd toward my salvation (you can almost hear the nyoooom as I slipped and slid through the human tide). There it was, in its upper-class, overpriced and sugar-laden glory. Starbucks. Lovely.
I strolled into the store, glancing at the menu for something that wouldn’t give me diabetes by the end of the cup. The baristas were all dolled up in typical Starbucks fashion, with earthy tones and all. Nothing stood out apart from their name tags – they all had English names on them. Perhaps they were appealing to the internationally-attuned upperclass, I thought, and that they really just spoke Chinese. When my turn came to order, I instinctually ordered something in English – I can’t remember what I ordered, but it was probably a macchiato or a latte because I’m a basic white girl like that – and upon realizing what I did, prepared to try to explain what I wanted in Chinese. The barista just eyed me (I probably look like some Chinese dude who’s just trying to show off his English), took out a cup, and replied, “Okay, your name please?”. I was startled for a bit, not quite understanding him because of his accent, which was frankly quite embarrassing. I gave him my name, thoroughly bamboozled, and waited for my
See lah, Alex, underestimate people some more.
Anyway, with coffee in hand and caffeine in my blood, I made my way out to the walkways to explore the place. The main lanes were chock full of people, and you could see some real big names in the stores lining it – the likes of Givenchy, Bathing Ape and Tesla (surprise surprise it’s Elon Musk!). I circled the compound, slipping into the back lanes to start exploring. Fountains and statues peppered the place, which made for some photo opportunities.
Eventually, us SUTDents all coalesced at the earlier agreed-upon time. It so happened that there was a fountain nearby, and there was a show at that time. It was plenty nice – I had recorded some of it – although it was nothing compared to the one I saw in Hangzhou (to be fair, that was for the G20 meetings, so it had to be mindblowing).
Our next destination was Decathlon – Chen Ran and Dan were planning to climb one of the Siguniang, the four tallest mountains of the Qionglai Mountain Range, and Chen Ran, being a first-timer, needed mountaineering gear. Decathlon was always an entertaining place to be, with all the equipment that you could play with, so why the hell not? Some of us chose to walk, and the others, myself included, opted to cycle.
I don’t have footage of us while cycling, because I preferred to not place myself in harm’s way over getting pictures for this blog, but I’d be damned if I don’t acknowledge how much of a joy it was to cycle to Decat (yes, I’ll just call it that because it’s easier, and also because cat). The roads were clear, the cycling lanes were generously wide, with cracks and humps being almost impossible to find. As we cycled through the streets, we eventually passed into a stack interchange (it’s like a lot of flyovers stacked on top of each other with lots of slip roads to help you change to other roads) where the entire underside was a verdant green – creepers, obviously placed by human hands, hand blanketed the pillars. Quite a sight to behold indeed. It was a smooth ride, and it didn’t take long before we reached Decathlon.
Decathlon was located in this mall called Wanxiangcheng (Ten Thousand Impressions City? It doesn’t translate well into English). The cycling group arrived far earlier than our pedestrian counterparts, so we proceeded to lurk about the area.
Arriving at the basement, across of Decathlon was an upmarket supermarket, blatantly displaying its international bent with English quotes (from very dubious New Age hippie sources) plastered on its walls. With time on our hands, we made our way into the supermarket in search of amusement. I was delightfully surprised, because it seemed they did stock it.
Eventually, the walking team reached Decathlon, and we joined them shortly after. While the mountaineering duo proceeded to look for everything they needed, the rest of us went gallivanting about the store. Saw a ball? Kicked it. Saw a pullup bar? Pulled it. Saw a bench? Sat on it. Anyone who’s been to a Decathlon knows what I mean – there’s this pull to just try things out (it’s obviously intended). We had plenty of fun, and I even snagged a small bag for 15 yuan. Life was good.
Next up on the schedule was lunch, and in Sichuan, one must eat hotpot. We found this rather classy looking place, cramming thirteen people into two tables. I had never eaten an honest-to-god Sichuan Mala hotpot, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. There were individual bowls, with little sealed bottles of sesame oil, bowls of garlic and corriander placed beside them – Dan explained that we were expected to dip our ingredients into the oil after cooking them in the hotpot. What a strange custom, I thought, surely no one would need to douse their food in sesame oil before eating, right?
The meal was great – thick cuts of marinated meat cooked in a rich, but devilishly spicy, soup, now slathered with oil, garlic and coriander made for a fantastic lunch, but the piquancy (understatement of the year goes to…) left us feeling a little uncomfortable, even for those who’ve built a tolerance towards it. Dessert was in order, and in the summer heat, there were few better options that ice-cream. A section of us, including Dan and Ran, carried on to another mountaineering store to pick up some things that Decat didn’t stock. The rest of us headed back to Wanxiangcheng for ice-cream.
At JJ’s suggestion, we tried this matcha ice-cream from KFC. Now, I’ve heard some pretty disappointing things about KFC in China, but I had faith in JJ’s love for all things edible. A few minutes later, I stood in the middle of a mall, with a fast-melting ice cream in hand, desperately trying to keep it from going to waste. The matcha ice-cream was unassuming at first – just ice cream in a thin cone – but it soon proved to be a bit more than that. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, as I had first thought it to be, but rather quite finely balanced, much like the legit good matcha ice-creams I had back in Singapore (JJ insists it’s quite close to the one in Hokkaido, which is the standard to beat). As I reached the cone, I was in for another surprise – firstly, the ice-cream melted with surprising speed, and it began to leak through the paper-thin cone. It made for some messy moments, and I thank my mom for inculcating the habit of always having tissue on hand. The next surprise was the cone itself – sweetened innately, and further enriched by the melting ice cream, the cone exploded with flavour (mostly just daaaaaang sweet stuff). I thought it was pretty ingenious, having a sweet cone – just as the tongue is getting used to the ice-cream (which was less sweet than usual), you hit it with more sugar to keep up the enjoyment. Healthy? Probably not. Delicious? Definitely so.
Anyway, with dessert out of the way, we scrambled for bikes and cycled back to our hostel to rest up, with the next thing on the menu being dinner. It was already 3 to 4 by then, so dinner would have to come soon.
JJ had a list of recommendations, and we’d be heading towards it for dinner – a noodle place on the corner of the street. After a short stint of desperately searching for Hellobikes (not very common in Chengdu) we made our way to the store – only to find out it had closed not too long before. A shame. Plan B came into play – we headed back, snagged noodles and other delicious things (like Shengjian, a fried version of xiaolongbao), and headed back to the hostel.
And of course, we ordered fried chicken.
The World Cup was ongoing at that time, and it was Russia vs Spain. Watching soccer and eating good food in good company made for a good close to the day. And also watching the Russians beat the Spaniards by penalties? Exciting as hell, especially for someone who wants the underdogs to win.
Tomorrow, we’d be heading into the mountains. Having booked a tour bus for the next few days, we’d be driving to the Siguniang region, making the 3000m ascent within a few hours – the perfect recipe for mountain sickness. That would entail waking up early again, which really sucks.
But hey, mountains y’all.
See you in the next post. But before you go, behold some fluffy things that we spotted.