Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chengdu and the Australia Game

In Chengdu there’s confusion as we come off the plane, as at the bottom of the steps passengers from Kathmandu are directed to a different bus to those from Lhasa, the reason being that we need to go through international customs with our bags. Most Chinese ignore this instruction, get on whichever bus looks more empty, then have to be moved.

The airport is nice and modern but they don’t seem to be using the gangways to board planes, always slightly annoying. There are lots of planes sitting on the tarmac from airlines I’ve never heard of, but being Chinese, are probably the world’s 3rd biggest airline or something crazy. Zac is waiting for me outside, now with dodgy beard and suave hair; we hop in a cab into town.

Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan region, is much bigger than I expected, based on LP’s suggestion that it is a small manageable nice city. It has a population of 4.1 million and including the metropolitan area is China’s 5th biggest at 13million plus! We whizz along clean new concrete roads and past bright lights. It’s a world away from India. Zac is studying and living at the South West Economics and Finance University, which has quite a few foreign students, most of them apparently Germans on exchange programmes. Inside the functional buildings, it’s smart and clean, and his room is good with decent shower, broadband, flat screen TV etc, and in fact a double room that he has to himself for space and to accommodate guests.

Rugby World Cup Quarter Final: England vs Australia
We leave our things and head out to Shamrock Pub, an Irish bar that should be showing the game. It’s a taxi ride away, and luckily Zac has the business card from the place, otherwise it would be impossible to convey where the bar was. More than any other country in the world, if you can’t speak the local language, you’re really stuck here, as I was to find to my cost later. The taxi driver isn’t sure even with the card and map, but it’s on a main street, so it’s not long till we’re there. The London equivalent would be asking a taxi to take you to somewhere on Park Lane and him frowning as if you’d ask for an alleyway in Park Royal!

I’m surprised to find the match starting just as we walk in, I’d got the hour wrong, but luckily we didn’t miss any of the game, just build-up.

There had been a wedding reception earlier, so half the bar was decked out with flowers etc, but after picking up a jug of beer we found seats outside in the garden area where a large TV had been rigged up. We’re sitting surrounded by Aussies and Brits, all very good-natured. The jugs of beer don’t seem to be so big, and we’re soon ordering another one, with some food, and err another one, and...

So what delicacies did we eat for my first meal in China? Fish eyes with chicken feet hot pot? Dim Sum? Nope, I had Malaysian Kway Teow noodles and Zac had a burger! The shame! Then again, how authentically Chinese is a Irish bar ever going to be? There’s no time to feel guilty, the game is too tense – with England behind for a fair bit of the game, but always so close, so a penalty either way could flip the result.


Final result England 12 Australia 10! We celebrate, or rather continue celebrating. What a fine game, and great performance from both teams.

The glory!

The next quarter final, France playing New Zealand, is on at 3am. Don’t think we can stay for that one – Zac, what time is it now? 2:15am! Crikey! For this one, the French appear in numbers around us, and they’re all very French, garlic bulbs strung round the neck, berets and wine. When this game also turns out to be a nail-biter, we join in supporting France, though cannot believe it when they pull it off. What must the odds have been for both of those results?

Inevitable victory fingers with an oriental in shot

Lost and helpless
Chatting with all sorts of people by now, I end up going for some food with a waitress called Lynn (cough), but not before swapping several of my useless 100Y notes (7 UKP) for small change, which you need on a regular basis in China. We cab in the rain to a local restaurant where we have some sort of spicy noodles.

Lynn eats some sort of meat with a plastic glove that is provided for the purpose. She doesn’t offer any to me, and when I ask, she says I wouldn’t be able to eat it, and apparently it’s rabbit. Defiant, I snatch a piece and try to tuck in. There’s no flesh, all bones and hard bits. Defeat!

We say goodnight, and I have to head back to the Shamrock to find Zac. Lynn says it’s round the corner to the bar, and asks me if I’m sure I’ll be able to find it. No problem! I trudge carefully along in the rain, round the corner and.. nothing. I walk along the street, still can’t find it. After walking quite far, I decide this can’t be right and head back, asking along the way, including in a big hotel.

I only know it’s called Shamrock. No one speaks English. Writing the spelling out on paper helps not one jot. Even other bars on the street have never heard of it, despite (I later find out) being practically across the street from the place!

Back where Lynn sent me off, she has gone into her block. I don’t know where she lives, but I could phone her. I ask in the convenience store where a payphone is (sign language of course). Either she doesn’t understand this, or there are no phones around either! In desperation I ask for an internet café (more sign language, picture me desperately typing in the air), and she sends me up the street to one not too far.

Online, I find the bar. Their own website is down, but there are others with the address. It’s on Renmin Lu, the main street through town, and I have a number. You would have thought this would be the end of it, right? Nope. Because even with the address, if it’s in English it’s no use to anyone, taxis only understand Chinese script, and buildings are numbered in crazy ways, with the same numbering often starting at both end of the street and heading towards each other. Frequently mid-street a few buildings will reset the numbering just for fun. I’ve never been in a country before where the address is useless if written in English!

Despite some amazing sign language on my part, the internet café girl can’t help. I’m starting to panic by now, so email Zac, an email which later is the source of much amusement.

From: Sam Crawley
Sent: 07 October 2007 06:58
To: Zac Hinton
Subject: Re: Don't panic!!!


Went with Lynn for some noodles

After she points me in direction of Shamrocks but I can't find it

No one speaks English


Am in internet cafe somewhere!!!

Now though, it’s 7am and I’m honestly stuck until Zac checks his email. With nothing else to do, I decide to walk again. It’s getting light.

Crossing the street there is lots of water about as it’s been raining all night, and I get soaked as someone drives past fast. Suddenly, I find the bar, it was on the other side of the major road, and I’d missed it because the Metro construction in the middle was blocking my view! Hurrah!

And it’s still open! And Zac’s still there, practicing his Mandarin with another of the waitresses (incorrigible I know)! It’s now half seven, so we leave with Darcy and cab to a place for some food. It is actually a respectable time for breakfast now!

We’ll take two plates of your fine buns please, madam

Coming right up

We have bao zi steamed buns, and something like Jiao zi, wet dumplings, both very tasty.


Who needs sleep anyway?

So home, dropping Darcy off on the way. She asks us how we are so vigorous (her choice of words) after a whole night without sleep. Good question Darcy, good question.


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