Sunday, October 21, 2007

Tipping Uncle Liu

Back to Zac’s and a Green Tea Frapp
Next day, after a late start, I decide to go for maximum shock factor – my hair, sunglasses, my longji sarong dress, and crocs. I exaggerate not when I say mouths drop as I walk along the street.

We head over to Zac’s. He doesn’t actually know I’m still in Chengdu as he doesn’t have a phone and Yi Jun doesn’t have internet access. Should be a bit of a surprise. Yi Jun explains that blue taxis are apparently cheaper than green taxis, which are supposed to be slightly more luxurious. Not much in it though, surely it’s more complicated to maintain dual systems than its worth. Like the Indians bumping up postage by a cent or two when it’s a public holiday.

Cool sunglasses!

Surprise! We bump into the Germans, but Zac’s not here. I write a short note explaining none of the long story, but just saying we were going for something to eat and would be back later. Of course, there’s only one place to eat in the area, Mamas, and so just as our food arrives, Zac turns up.

Zac’s “How can I get rid of this guy” look

Yi Jun has ordered “balsam pear” – a bitter vegetable with egg. As usual, she’s surprised we can eat it! Sigh!

She’s also ordered fish-tasting chicken. Doesn’t taste of fish at all, but is very nice.


Tasty good and cheap food

After lunch, we walk back to his, so I can sort out my flights using his internet. Then its time for goodbyes, errr, again!

Yi Jun and I take a bus to Tienfu Square, the centre of town. It’s all been recently redeveloped, as has everything in China, and is a good open space.

I spot a Chairman Mao statue across the square, looking distinctly leaner than I remember him being from his biography.

Yi Jun points him out, and tells me he is a great former leader. I probe slightly but don’t want to get her into any trouble with my opinions. I have, however, read his unofficial biography written by his personal physician, and I can tell you it makes interesting reading. So interesting that Shu Chang borrowed it from me about 15 years ago and hasn’t given it back yet! Perhaps she gave it to the People’s Security Bureau to be censored.

The Great Leader

Why are we really here? To see Mao? Well, no. Of course, the internet in Zac’s also gave me access to the Starbucks Store Finder! So at one end we “stumble” across an outlet. In Chinese, they’re called Se Bu Ke (Se meaning Star, Bu ke just sounding like Bucks). We get a Green tea frapp and a muffin, plus small bottle of water (20Y!). Zac says I converted him to GTFs! I’m so proud! It’s Yi Jun’s first Bucks moment, how special.

I notice that the toilets have a sign saying no toilet paper down the bowl, please use the bin, in a Bucks! This is the only sign that this is China. They also have free wi-fi. In Starbucks! This is also unbelievable – have T-Mobile not persuaded them to charge twenty quid a minute for it yet?

Next we cab to her sister’s place, for some cold Fish hot pot, but there’s not much left, and her sister has already gone out! A nice place anyway. On the way back to Yi Jun’s place, we pop into a large Western-style supermarket. I notice that in their alcohol section only Chinese wines are available. Something to investigate. We look in the DVD section for Su Zhou Hur (Su Zhou River), a beautiful sad film which is set in Shanghai. We can’t find it, but the girl knows it.

We talk about bread – Yi Jun says she doesn’t like bread because it’s so sweet! This is the Asian idea – as the only bread you can buy in Asia is basically like extra-sweet brioche, which of course Sandychan would approve of, but for the rest of us is pretty awful. Wouldn’t go well with sandwich spread! I explain that this is not the way it is in the West! Actually there are lots of boutique bakeries opening up in Asia – there’s a Singaporean chain called Bread Talk which is appearing everywhere, with good tasty bread. Things are changing.

We walk home via a tea house, which has already closed so we go to a restaurant in the same complex, where we have incredibly expensive tea in a pot the size of a shot glass! Outrageous!

Tipping Uncle Liu
Today I fly to Nanjing. Out of Yi Jun’s, tipping Uncle Liu, who is already up, to open the gate ten minutes before the official time of 6:30. I guess the whole opening the gate before the official time is a nice little sideline for him, though I get the impression he was so surprised by a Westerner appearing at that time that he would have opened it for me anyway!

I find a taxi in no time. He doesn’t understand airport, so I do a plane along the runway take off mime with sound effects. He laughs and gets it. He whizzes along the quiet streets and arrives after only 25 minutes, half the time it takes in rush hour. Inside, I check in, go through security, and pass lots of adverts for the “Best Tourism City in China”. It’s so good, they don’t feel it necessary to tell us the name of it in English on any of the dozens of illuminated posters that line the terminal! What a place, makes me want to go there more!!

It’s a secret!

Then I settle down in B.C. Coffee. Amusingly the menu card has sandwiches on one side and noodles on the other. The card comes on the noodle side, but the girl quickly flips it over and tells me “sandwiches” pointing at the pictures of sandwiches. When I turn it over and look at the Chinese offerings, she expresses surprise as she warns me “noodles”, and seems much more comfortable when I turn back to the approved side for foreigners. And to be honest, I don’t want seafood noodles at seven in the morning, but I’d like her to think I considered it!

Before they bring my cappuccino, she comes back over with a worried look on her face. Lhasa? The Lhasa flight, at the gate adjacent to the coffee shop, has just started boarding. No no, I say, Nanjing, though it was kind of them to ask as the flight is almost all foreigners and there was a reasonable chance I’d be taking it. Service, eh?

I tap away on the blog, gazing out at the overcast day. At least it’s not raining, possible the first morning in Chengdu I’ve been able to say this! I wander down to my gate when it’s time to board, only to find it’s one of those bus to plane gates, and everyone’s waiting. I’m not the last though, phew. I’m flying Air China again, and once again they offer excellent service and nice planes. Chengdu airport is world-class too, the flying experience is so different to India.

An article on the front of the English-language China Daily newspaper says that according to a recent UN study, China leads the way in reducing poverty in Asia, and I believe it. I suspect what is left is mainly in rural areas. In 1990, 1 in 3 lived in poverty. Now 1 in 10. When you consider the scale of the challenge, that is impressive. One worry on my mind when I look at the development of the country is that this is all being funded by western consumerism. How long can it last?

No comments: