Changdu’s and Don’ts

Chengdu by night

The thumping house music of the CC Club in central Chengdu had stopped 30 minutes ago and Matt was nowhere to be seen. I had searched inside the smoke filled interior, but without luck. Where was he!

On my third search a waiter stopped me and pointed at my t-shirt. He had recognised the same t-shirt on Matt and lead me out, through the kitchen, to the rear of the club. There, lying fast asleep, in the narrow, striplight lit alley, was Matt.

After over a month of riding across some of the most desolate landscape we’d encountered, providing the biggest mental challenge of our journey so far, we needed to unwind. We needed to party! As I looked down upon my prostrate buddy I thought that we might be a little out of practice.

The result of that evening was a second hangover. The first came from an adrenaline comedown experienced after what was a terrifying cycle along the outer ring road of Chengdu. It was like riding along the M6 motorway, no quarter was given to cyclists only blaring blasts of car horns.

Exits were the most terrifying aspect. Cars and lorries rarely indicated to turn off and would zoom across from the fast lane to exit the highway at the last possible second. I would have been biting my nails had they not been dug firmly into Colin’s Ergatron handlebar covers.

40km and several changes of underwear later and we were enjoying the attentions of 20 or so observers who had come to watch us drinking beer whilst we waited for our host, Dhane Blue, to call with directions to his place.

Despite being a suburb 10km from the heart of the city, the area was quite built-up and had the 50 year old American not been standing outside his apartment block, welcome beers in hand, we may have cycled on past and into the hot and sticky Chengdu night.

After a brief tour of his spacious apartment and listening to the ground rules (which could be summarised thus: ‘enjoy yourselves’) we sat around the coffee table and had a chat over some beers.

Dhane was a fascinating character and has spent the last 20 years travelling through Asia. We discussed his 10 year stint in Nepal and his farm in Laos that eventually became a home for Laotian street kids, both a long way from his current English teaching post. He longed to return to his beloved Nepal and was in the midst of planning a cycling trip there to visit friends.

Our stay with Dhane was one of my favourites. A gracious host, as all have been, he gave us the time and space to do what we wanted. He was also laid-back. So much so that he didn’t even blink when I arrived back at 4.30am, drunk with a comatose Matthew under one arm and recklessly snapped the key off in the door to his apartment.

We had some good times in Chengdu but it wasn’t all booze and late nights! I also enjoyed the city parks and spent the hot, sunny days wondering through the grids of high-rise apartment blocks, offices and the plethora of shopping malls to reach the green enclaves at the heart of the city.

Public parks are popular with the Chinese and where many social events take place. In the the city’s Renmin, or People’s Park, the population gathers in groups to dance, practice Tai Chi, to sing opera, paddle boats through the stagnant waters of the pond, drink tea and get their ears cleaned.

Ear cleaning is done by street vendors who walk through the tea houses to pick-up trade. I was approached by one, a dour looking, middle aged ear cleaner and decided that, after 4 weeks, my ears needed de-waxing.

Despite some fearsome looking paraphernalia, the experience was quite pleasant. Long copper wires, hooked at the end, were inserted into my ears and the wax deposits gently scraped out. It felt like my ear canal was being tickled and I had to restrain myself from giggling. The look of disgust upon the Man’s face sobered me up, then his loud exclamations about the state of my ears embarrassed me. The customers in the leafy green tea garden turned to point and laugh at the dirty roundeye!

The final procedure was very ticklish. A feather was placed in a loop at the end of a wire, the cleaner then delicately balanced the wire in my ear before using metal tongs like a tuning fork to rapidly vibrate the wire. I don’t know if this really cleans the ear or is done just to irritate extremely unkempt customers.

The ear cleaner walked off, slightly less dour, having gotten enough wax from my ears to open a small candle shop.

I was on trip to another of the city’s parks when I bumped into a multinational group of English teachers. They invited me to dinner at the favourite Hotpot restaurant of the local member of the  group, Maggie.

A Hotpot consists of a large pot of simmering, spicy oil placed in the centre of a table. You order skewers of meat or vegetables then dip them into the oil to cook them. A health and safety nightmare, but damned tasty and worth the risk. Even the pig brain wasn’t that bad, it was like eating cream cheese.

Full of pig’s frontal lobes and beer we headed back to Maggie’s house where we learnt to play Mahjong. The game is played with engraved tiles, the goal being to collect three of a kind or a sequence of the same type of tile ( See here for the rules). It’s often played in tea houses with friends and family for small amounts of Yuan and is extremely popular; the click-clack of Mahjong tiles can be heard down almost any street in China.

Unfortunately the party had to end sometime and it was with heavy hearts we packed our bags, said farewells to our new found friends and continued the journey south towards the ‘Garden of China’, Yunnan.


PS. If you didn’t catch it earlier, here’s the latest from the Telegraph: read it and let me know your thoughts.

4 Responses to “Changdu’s and Don’ts”

  1. John Robertson says:

    Glad to see you are getting the (occasional?) chance to let your hair down, especially after braving the traffic on the outer ring road! Dhane sounds like a real ‘find’ and a long suffering, good hearted host:)

  2. Lynn Robertson says:

    ‘The click-clack of MahJong tiles…’ brought back memories of my childhood! My parents + their ‘game-playing’ friends used to regularly play MahJong while my sister and I goaded them into racing to finish the ‘wall’. Haha. Good memories. So glad you’ve had a ‘go’ at playing this – if nothing else, the beauty of the look and feel of the tiles must have worth something! Again, good people everywhere! Thanks for sharing your experiences guys.

  3. Great article. I enjoyed spending some time reading through it. Sure seems that you guys had blast.

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