Tag Archives: Chengdu

Sichuan Earthquake 2013

22 Apr

My old hometown of Chengdu was rattled badly on Saturday with a 6.9 magnitude earthquake. The epicenter was to the west in Ya’an, which sustained the worst damage. They’re reporting over 200 deaths, 12,000 injuries, and an estimated 100,000 people have been left homeless.

 chengdu earthquake mapMap via GoChengdoo


This is the same province that was hit by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake that killed nearly 70,000 people, many of them schoolchildren. The reduction in the mortality rate this time around has been credited to an aggressive earthquake safety program enacted by the government.


21 Nov

While in the UK, I managed to head up north for a few days to see some friends of mine from China. You might remember Kate from that trip to the Leshan Buddha? University of Newcastle had sent three students to Sichuan University at the same time I was studying there, and I figured that I should go say hi, seeing as we were in the same country and all. Besides, I thought it would be nice to see more of England than just London.

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Chengdu: A Retrospective

15 Jun

I leave Chengdu tomorrow. My bags are (mostly) packed, my train ticket bought, and I leave with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.

It’s been a long year here. I don’t think it’s any big secret that I was rather disappointed and depressed during my time here. While I met a lot of really cool people and learned a lot of new things, it never quite balanced out the miserable weather and Kafka-esque graduate program.

The scholarship that brought me here was a really nice opportunity, but it didn’t quite pan out the way I had hoped. Instead of this being the first year of a masters, I spent a whole lot of time knitting. My classes were a joke, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to learn another insane language when you feel no real pressure to. My progress in Chinese stalled out and then plummeted. The only real bright spots were hanging out with an awesome group of kids, forays out of Chengdu proper, and watching a ton of DVDs.

I am grateful, in my own little way, that I got to come back over to China. This year off gave me the perspective necessary to realize that, no, I really don’t want to go to grad school right now. I really don’t want to continue living in China. And I really don’t want to continue with Chinese.

It sucks, since that’s what I got my degree in, but hey. Now I know and I can move on and do something different.

Life is all about the journey, right? You gotta take the good with the bad. This year wasn’t ideal, sure, but that’s life. And hey – I got to see baby pandas, Sydney, Jiuzhaigou, Bangkok, Leshan, and a whole bunch more of China than this time last year. So it wasn’t all terrible.

I don’t want to leave this on a downer note, so here are some random highlights from my last year here in Chengdu.



So long, Chengdu.



Zebra Music Festival

2 May

I went to another music festival this week. China being communist and all, we had a long weekend for May Day. Some people went on trips to locales near and far, but I stayed in town and hung out with friends. And, of course, rocked out.

Music fests here are half-picnic, half-concert. The whole ambiance is basically everyone sitting around, drinking beer and hanging out with friends, and very occasionally going over to the stage and partying. I went with my buddies Kate and Cecelia, and we ended up hanging out with a larger crowd of Cecelia’s friends.

Sitting around and drinking beer.

The tickets were thankfully cheaper than advertised – 80 kuai instead of 120 – and so we split the difference on Budweiser and baozi. The baozi was terrible. Clearly, I’ve been in China too long if the Budweiser actually tasted good.

Enjoying the sun. 

Also enjoying the gorgeously sunny day.  Kate won those speakers by being the best at a DDR-wannabe game at the Red Bull tent.

If it seems like the music was a little secondary to our outing, well, that’s because it was. I mean, yes, some of the bands were good. I wholeheartedly recommend seeing the French band Nasser if they’re ever in town. But the rest of it? Ehhh. It was more about the day in the park than the music.

Nasser’s set. Notice what everyone else in the crowd is doing? Answer: NOT DANCING. Lame.

Some Taiwanese boyband. It was, uh, choreographed well?

The end of the night.



Food Friday: Kaffestugan

27 Apr

My favorite cafe in Chengdu by far is Kaffestugan. It’s a cheery little cafe just out of little north gate. The entire shop is well lit and bright, the crowd is usually pleasant, and they have free wifi Plus, the coffee is fantastic.

A nice vanilla latte.

Kaffestugan is run by a pair of Swedish/Korean expats, so the place is very foreigner-friendly. The menu is in English and Chinese, and the food is straight up Swedish. This is a good thing because oh my god this stuff is delicious. They have a lot of Swedish delicacies, but I mostly go for anything with salmon in it because I am starving for seafood.

I spent a fair amount of time here back in November writing for NaNo. The bagel with cream cheese and lox is a nice snack.

 An open-face salmon sandwich. Mmmm.

I usually save Kaffestugan for a bit of a treat. A coffee isn’t too expensive – a cup will run you about 25 kuai, plus cheap re-fills. They have other excellent drinks, like a hot cocoa that is probably the best I’ve tasted outside of the Ghiradelli factory coffee shop in San Francisco. Cakes and other sweets are about 20 kuai a plate.

Huge cup of hot chocolate.

Apple Cake. Spongy, with just the right amount of cinnamon. The vanilla ice cream doesn’t hurt, either!

The one and only downside is the location. Kaffestugan is on the third floor, above a number of Chinese shaokao and hot pot restaurants. This means that the smoke from all these little individual barbecues starts to rise around dinnertime. It gets downright smoky inside the cafe by eight or nine and has driven me out once or twice. But Kaffestugan is a fun place to spend an afternoon and I highly recommend you visit if you’re in the area.

Chengdu Spring

23 Apr

 Well, after the longest winter ever*, it is most definitely spring. No longer must I wear five layers and coat, my leggings are firmly relegated back to the bottom of my drawers, and any scarf that I put on is firmly for aesthetic purposes only.


The local flora and fauna** seems to agree. After months of depressing gray, Chengdu is downright pretty this time of year. Sunny, occasional blue skies, warm temperate weather. This is the sort of weather that encourages people to pack up and move house. Of course, this is a cruel, cruel trick, given what the weather here is like the other eleven months of the year. But frankly, I’m enjoying Chengdu’s decent four weeks of weather while it lasts. And I swear to Odin, I actually smelled night-blooming jasmine the other day. It’s a miracle, I tell you.

Behold: greenery. And flowers! I have never been so happy to see flowers in my life.***

Okay, technically this was part of the razed community garden. But still, flowers!

A flowering tree over by the cafeteria.

I think we have these flowers in NY, actually.

The fenced-in field by the dorms.

A close up of the flowers just outside the dorm gates.

Magnolia flowers, I think?

*Not actually hyperbole; even long-time Chengdu residents were appalled at how long winter lingered on. Like a bad cold.

**Well, I’m not sure about the fauna. I haven’t seen much in the way of wildlife here outside the zoos, just stray cats and dogs, and rats. Oh, and bats.

***Somewhere in Vegas, my grandma is extremely happy for no apparent reason.

I’m Back!

13 Feb

Well, everyone, I’m back. How’ve you been? It’s been a long and busy month for me. My Dad visited. I went to Australia with my Mom. There was even a side-trip into Thailand, due to the vagaries of fate and space available airline travel as my overnight layover in Bangkok turned into a four day visit. Yeah. Wasn’t planning that one, but hey. And then, in order to get home, I had to buy a ticket on China Southern from Bangkok to Guangzhou, leading to the pressing question after I landed, “So, uh, where exactly am I? Is Guangzhou the city or the province? Maybe I should look at a map. Yeah, that would be a good idea.” Turns out that Guangzhou is in the south-east of China, just north of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and was originally known to the West as Canton. The more you know. (Don’t give me that look. I was tired and desperate to get out of Bangkok by that point.)

For the next two weeks or so, my posts will be mostly travel centered, so if you have a pathological fear of, oh say wombats, now’s the time to click away. (And really, wombats? We’re no longer friends, internet-land stranger.)

As for right now, how about some more panda photos, courtesy of the trip Dad and I took to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Reserve last month? Since it was rather chilly out (in the low 40s, I think), the pandas were exceptionally chipper and active. Protip: go to the zoo in the cool weather and drizzles, people. The animals are way more interesting when they aren’t lying there, wishing for air conditioning.

Here’s a medium-sized one, nomming on bamboo.

This little guy kept trying to climb up the rope upside down. It was too cute for words. 

These three were pacing in circles around the entrances to the cages.  The little one kept bugging her big sister.

This was one of the fully grown males they had on site.  Very big dude, but they get fed quite well here.

You know, for someone whose only natural predator is the very
nearly extinct snow leopard, you’d think red pandas wouldn’t be so rare.

As Dad and I were wandering around the zoo, we heard a bird call.  Specifically, we heard Kevin’s birdcall, from “Up“.  Since I had just watched the movie, I freaked out.  It took a while for us to realize that the call we were hearing was a peacock (left center) wooing his lovely peahen (upper right).  You clever Pixar animators, you.

The Tea Market

11 Jan

The Chinese have been boiling the leaves of the camellia sinensis for thousands of years. It’s understandable that they’ve figured out the tastiest variations by now. Personally, I love tea. It is so much more than “hot leaf juice”. A nice Earl Gray with milk and sugar? A green tea so sweet you don’t need any sugar? Yes please. You’d never imagine I spent three summers working at a tea shop.

this is basically exactly what I did at You, Me and Tea.

The tea situation in China is a little different. Yes, you have individual shops here and there, hawking tea and various accoutrements, but the majority of the sellers in Chengdu are located in a small neighborhood north of the train station. To get there, you can either take the no. 55 bus or the subway. Chengdu’s fledgling subway (only one north-south line is currently open) costs more than the bus, but the ride is much smoother. We took the subway, if only because driving in Chengdu is insanity in practice and kind of terrifying, in that “whaddya mean, road test? Rules? There are rules to driving??” *swerves into oncoming traffic*.

I went with Ann and two other kids from UW. (Go Huskies!) The subway dropped us off at the train station, which is a total shitshow these days due to the looming Spring Festival. (Chinese people go home for the Lunar New Year. This means public transportation is mobbed with millions of people who each want a ticket on that last train home and are willing to trample someone to get it.) We fought our way past the train station and headed off into the decaying industrialish neighborhood. Ann’s sense of direction did not fail us, so after fifteen minutes of walking, we made it to the small tea market.

a typical tea store

We spent a couple of hours wandering around, going from one favored shop to the next. We spent a lot of time at two place, just drinking tea and making small talk about the quality of the leaves and aromas and whatnot, which is customary, before actually purchasing anything. I went with a sweet osmanthius green tea, which is a flower that the Chinese have been cultivating forever. It tastes delicious. Next door, I looked at various dried flowers and whatnot, before asking for 20 kuai worth of what appeared to be chamomile. (You pay by the weight.) I should have remembered that chamomile is light.

Assorted interesting things: my purchases

You pour the discarded tea out onto these things. It’s lucky to keep the penny in the frog’s mouth.
(Other places had the ever-so-classy peeing-baby. Think “Pissing Calvin”. Potty humor is universal, I suppose.)

This is a far cry from the storage facilities at You, Me, and Tea.

Tea is a fundamental part of life here in Chengdu. In ancient times, the water here was unsafe to drink unless boiled. So, tea drinking was widely adopted by pretty much everyone who didn’t want to die of dysentary. (I don’t actually know if it was dysentary back then, but you get the point.) Even today, hot water for tea is seen as a basic right and not a privilege.

Christmas Abroad

21 Dec

Shockingly, China doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I’ve been told that Chengdu only started Christmas about five years ago, which kind of a funny thought. It seems someone decided that they needed to get on the end of the year economy-boost gravy train too and started marketing Christmas here. Their best efforts means there a few half-hearted fake trees here and there.

So far, the best display of crass merchantilism is just outside of the Shangri-la Hotel/ Lan Kwai Fong shopping district. No pictures, sorry, but it involves a giant snowman and wrapped gifts ranged in height from three to six feet. There’s nothing quite like being shorter than a gift, which begs the question of what exactly is in there, anyways? Chunxi Lu gets an honorable mention as well, what with being the luxury shopping district downtown. I haven’t passed through Tianfu Square to see if they’ve put a Santa hat on the giant Mao statue, but I’m guessing that’s a big no. Mostly though, there are little fake Christmas trees in random businesses. It’s not beginning to feel a lot like Christmas at all.

Personally, I’ve decorated Cicero, my not-yet-dead cactus with an ornament and have a small stocking next to it. All courtesy of Michelle, who is awesome and need more recognition of being as such. There’s a package of gifts from home, which miraculously made it to my room yesterday after a long adventure in the Chinese postal system. (Thanks, Mom!)

This is my third Christmas abroad and frankly, I don’t recommend it. Maybe if you were in a country that celebrated Christmas or with family, but China? Not so much. I’m not religious at all, but even I get nostalgic for midnight Mass. I’m going to be hanging out with my friends here, which will be nice, but it’s not home. Mostly I’m just pissy because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything important here. If my advisor had been clear about this break in classes instead of trying to get me to “volunteer” at her daughter’s school, I would have been on a flight to NY rather than bum around in Chengdu. I’ve talked to other people about this: something about Chengdu makes the people here fundamentally opposed to concrete schedules. Maybe it’s the “relaxed living style” they love so much.

Bah humbug.

The Lotus Market

19 Dec

The first thing you notice about the Lotus Market is the crowd. Chengdu’s a big city, but it has a long way to go to get the sort of “seething mass of humanity” feel like Beijing. The Lotus Market is the closest I’ve been to that sort of massive crush of people. The cheapest way to the market is the north-bound 55 bus; the end of the line is the Train Station stop and the warren-like streets around the station make up the Market. People are everywhere, the wide streets narrowed with stalls and stands and tiny little tables full of merchandise. Walking in a group of three is an effort, weaving in and out of the steady stream of humanity.

The Silk Market of Beijing is a tourist trap full of goodies and fake leather bags, cheap Prada and Gucci knock-offs, and enough panda paraphernalia to make the WWF blush. The Lotus Market of Chengdu is nothing like it. This is where the locals shop, where the locals do business. I have seen exactly two other foreigners there. No one speaks English at you, everyone assumes you have a rudimentary ability to converse in Chinese and the normal “laowai fee” isn’t too high.

I bought some gloves this weekend. I know, it’s not exactly a glamorous purchase, though I did buy some cheap pearl earring studs, in the rare chance I might tire of my silver hoops. Katia and Ann bought some Christmas presents. I was exceedingly happy that I’ve already got my present-situation covered. It’s been a nagging thought at the back of my mind for two months so when I sent off my Christmas parcel it was a blessing to finally get rid of that worry.

I like visiting the Lotus Market, provided I have already had my preemptive aspirin and that I am thoroughly caffeinated. Unfortunately, yesterday I did not manage to drink any tea or coffee in the morning as we ventured out and so I got steadily grumpier as time went on. Katia and Ann deserve medals for putting up with me. (I think they’ll settle for chocolate, though.) I really, really don’t like the sound of horns or cars beeping, which is a staple of China in general and the Lotus Market in particular. The streets are a de facto pedestrian area but there’s always some asshole in a Mercedes who thinks they can drive through or the scooters piled high with merchandise in a rush to deliver on time.

Visiting the Lotus Market is an exhausting affair. After two or three hours, even the brightest of spirits have flagged in the open-air chill. The temperature might be in the forties, but it is a bitter , wet cold that goes straight through your coat and sits in your bones. It is a dishonest cold. So, moderately triumphant, we left the market with our spoils and decamped to McDonald’s for hot chocolate and french fries. Any day that ends with hot chocolate is a good day.