China · 135 Days · 131 Moments · February 2018

Chengdu 2.0

1 July 2018

LEAVING My last evening in Chengdu was spent with Mei Ling having another Korean BBQ. Much like the No. 18 bus, after a long wait two had arrived in very quick succession! In the end, my bag weighed in well under the 23kg limit on Sunday morning.... sadly it didn’t arrive in London with me later that night. But that’s another story.... Goodbye China.... until next time.

30 June 2018

PACKED AND READY I’d arrived here in February with two very full cases each weighing close to 23kg. I now had to whittle this down to one 23kg case for the trip to London. Fortunately I’d offloaded a case full of stuff yesterday evening with my Chinese family, things that might come in useful if I return here next year - my modem, bedding, cutlery, some winter clothes etc. It was still quite a struggle to squeeze everything into one case, but I managed it, and my luggage scale read about 22.5kg, so I hope it is accurate. For my last night in Chengdu I’ve relocated to the hotel where I spent the first six nights of this trip, the Ibis Chenghua. Checking out of the dorm a day before my flight will hopefully mean a less stressful morning tomorrow. And besides, my money had run out, so I now have my refunded deposit to see me through.

29 June 2018

A last Hot Pot with some of the Chinese rellies. None of the “meat” dishes selected this evening passed as edible in my opinion, so I stuck to vegetables and tofu.
FINAL EXAM The semester has flown by. Can’t believe I’m leaving in a couple of days although it will be nice to see everyone in England and Australia. And eat some cheese on toast. I thought today’s exam was particularly difficult, but I was more than happy with the final mark. After the exam we all wrote cards for our fellow class members in our own language, as a souvenir of our time together. Fei Long is also returning home, to Thailand, in a few days. LiYa and FaNeShi are staying in Chengdu, so perhaps we’ll meet up in the future... Earlier in the semester I thought I’d prefer to be in bigger class, and it certainly would’ve been easier. But I think the small class has meant that we’ve all improved quicker, and it’s given us chance to get each other better. It’s a little sad to say goodbye to them. I’m just about out of money, phone data, supplies brought from Australia and even my WiFi hasn’t worked for the last 36 hours. So perhaps it is time to go...

28 June 2018

THE END IS NIGH Our penultimate class was the listening and speaking exam on Thursday. With two students no-shows, only three students actually took the exam! We’d also decided that we should have our farewell meal today, and for a change from Hot Pot we found a Korean BBQ place nearby (perhaps in tribute to their stunning win over Germany overnight!). It was the last time we’d see our Listening teacher so there were gifts passed around and lots of photos taken. With such a small class we’d all become good friends over the last four months. My exam mark was easily the best I’d had for Listening and Speaking in the last two years, and just recently I had noticed a very slight improvement. Still a long way to go... maybe next year :-)

26 June 2018

The last week of class (and two exams to look forward to on Thursday and Friday), and also Fei Long’s 22nd birthday. I could be his father... actually grandfather almost! Plenty of reasons to eat too much cake....

25 June 2018

Maybe a good week to be transferring from Chengdu to Birmingham!

24 June 2018

FETE DE LA MUSIQUE Today’s dilemma was how to fit in England vs Panama, when I had already committed to spending the afternoon and evening with Carol at a French festival.... In the end though, our last meet-up before I leave China didn’t go too long as she had to get back to study. Which was a pity as the Fête De La Musique was actually really good... live bands, dance classes, water fights, free tattoos.... When it came to taking part in the group dancing, most of the local Chinese seemed about as reserved as me... or perhaps they just realised that Mambo No.5 isn’t a French song....

23 June 2018

SIHE, NOT XIHE Sometimes I can still get confused with the Chinese characters. Last weekend I was supposed to be meeting Mei Ling at SiHe Metro station, but I misread her message and went to XiHe, about 20km in the wrong direction! The Chinese characters for the two places are quite similar SiHe is 四河 and XiHe is 西河. Easy mistake... Anyway, after some pizza for lunch we finally got to SiHe this weekend for Chuan Chuan... and it was very hot!

21 June 2018

I met up with last year’s classmates Yana from Russia and FeiSi from Togo for lunch on Thursday. Some relaxation was most welcome after being the only student in class for most of the morning!

17 June 2018

EAST CHENGDU MUSIC PARK Most of the day with Xiao Mei Ling and Zhou Wei was spent at a place I hadn’t really heard of until yesterday when my classmate Fei Long visited, but it turned out to be one of the best places I’d visited in Chengdu. Although the toilets were pretty disgusting... It is an old factory area of Chengdu that has been turned into an entertainment precinct with art galleries, museums, cafes, cinemas and live music areas. It also seemed to be - at least today - a place for Cosplay fans to gather. I think I’d like to go back on my own on a quieter week day and ensure - OCDesque - that I’ve seen everything here, as I’m sure there was stuff we missed today. And maybe the toilets will be cleaner too.
I’ve met up a couple of times this week with one of the sisters I met last weekend, Xiao Mei Ling. Today she brought along her friend Zhou Wei, and we had a day of eating and galavanting around Chengdu, including a visit to my Uni.

16 June 2018

Saturday night and the first game I had a real interest in - Australia v France. I received a late invite to watch it with Victoria (the Chinese family’s third sister) at her tea house. There were plenty of chicken feet to nibble on while watching the Aussies brave attempt....

15 June 2018

The World Cup begins... my study book says to drink beer while watching, and who am I to argue with that sound logic.....
This weekend is Duan Wu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival), and on Friday the class ate some of the typical snacks eaten at this time - Zongzi - glutinous rice with meat or sweet fillings wrapped in leaves and steamed....

13 June 2018

WORLD CUP The last lesson we will study this year... and I couldn’t have come up with a better suggestion. Being in China is not the same as being in Australia or (especially) England, as I haven’t really experienced any of the build-up in recent weeks. But it seems there are plenty of places planning to show the games, so I should take the chance to try out a few new venues :-) Unfortunately the time difference means many kick-off times aren’t that good. But at least they are two hours better than if I was in Australia. I should be able to go out to watch two or maybe all three of Australia’s group games, but two of England’s games look like they will need to be watched online - assuming I can get a decent connection via the VPN to BBC, ITV or someone else broadcasting the game...

9 June 2018

RANDOM MEETINGS My uncle had plans today, but it still turned out to be very social - one of those days when I seem to meet a lot of people. During my morning coffee at Starbucks I had a good chat with the Duty Manager as he wanted to learn more about Australia. Then there was the lunchtime interview with the students - why isn’t every day so easy? I was back at Starbucks in the evening and got chatting to a couple of sisters. The elder was visiting from Shanghai, and the younger was very keen to learn some English. The three of us had a good chat (mainly Chinese), then the girls bought me dinner. Later the girls wanted to visit the Lan Kwai Fong bar district, so we went for a stroll around (I was far more familiar with the area than them, haha!), and paid a visit to the JellyFish nightclub that I’d been to with my classmates last year. At 2am I was wandering the streets with sore feet aimlessly looking for a taxi, just like the young ‘uns.... Chengdu’s not so bad :-)
This Changsha-style Stinky Tofu was very hot! I seem to like it more than a lot of the locals. While having lunch some Uni students asked to interview me about my experiences in China...
The pandas are out in force today....
I enjoy writing Chinese characters and I got some practice yesterday, not only in class, but also when I went to MuMu for my after-class coffee. I helped Dong Xue write up MuMu’s latest Specials blackboard. Although not exactly sure what those drinks are!

8 June 2018

This week’s dining... Friday... Hot Pot...

7 June 2018

This week’s dining.... Thursday... Thai...

6 June 2018

This week’s dining... Wednesday... Hong Kong food....

5 June 2018

This week’s dining.... Tuesday.... At Eldest Sister’s house...

4 June 2018

There hasn’t been too much noteworthy in the past week but my uncle arrived yesterday and they will be in Chengdu for about a week. So as is often the case on their first night here, the whole family got together for dinner. I avoided the Frog in picture 6....

29 May 2018

A common sight at public squares in Chengdu every evening is the group dance class. Usually frequented by women of a certain age (probably my age, actually). I’ve yet to join in...

27 May 2018

I had another day out with Carol today, we went to an ancient Chinese town called Luo Dai, which was about an hour and a half by Metro and bus. While it has some similarities to some of the touristy ancient streets in Chengdu, this is a ‘real’ town of 20,000 or so, most of whom identify as Hakka people. It was a pretty hot day, so wandering around the old streets, museums and shops was interspersed with plenty of eating :-)

26 May 2018

I spent a few hours of a rainy Saturday at the Sichuan Museum of Science and Technology. Some of the reviews online weren’t too flattering but it has been renovated recently and is quite interesting. And free. For the record, the basketball-shooting robot never missed, but the one solving the Rubik’s Cube had a good look at all sides of the cube and then - much like me - gave up.

25 May 2018

Another class lunch to farewell a classmate - Jin Xian Shu is returning to Korea and today was her last day. We went to Pizza Hut, although we didn’t order too much pizza. After a couple of slices I was left wanting at least another dozen or so. Another classmate is returning to Israel for three weeks, so the classroom is going to be quite empty in the coming weeks... I wonder if they are just trying to avoid Monday’s exam....?

22 May 2018

Always something interesting to see at Tai Koo Li (other than the girls and an unparalleled shopping experience). Even a visit to the Starbucks toilets is an education...
Sichuan Opera is famous for it’s “face changing” where the performers change their masks at lightening speed so that it is almost impossible to see. The class attempted to paint their own masks... My effort in the last picture confirms that my artistic ability is on par with my Chinese. But my finances are currently pretty dire, so it might come in useful if I need to hold up my local ICBC Bank Branch...
The class wrote Ni Hao in their native languages - I think on balance I had it pretty easy...
Interesting story about Bill Gates, but you can see that for yourselves...

18 May 2018

JULIAN AND LINLIN I had some rare overseas guests to meet with last night. Julian, a work colleague from Sydney and his Chinese girlfriend LinLin are spending 5 or 6 days in Chengdu. It was no surprise that LinLin chose Hot Pot for their first dinner in Chengdu - I think just about everyone visiting here does likewise. Our first recommended restaurant was indeed very popular - we were told there were already 113 groups before us waiting for a table, so we moved on to another place nearby. It was a very enjoyable Hot Pot too, bar a few duck innards and some plump fish that were easy to avoid, most things that she chose were entirely edible. Although very very spicy. Afterwards we strolled around Chunxi Rd and Tai Koo Li, places I know very well. I’ve heard it said (by very shallow people no doubt), that when you get to Chunxi Road the number of pretty girls increases three-fold. I can’t confirm that though, as I only go there for a great shopping experience ...

12 May 2018

TEN YEARS ON Today is the 10th anniversary of a massive earthquake in Sichuan that killed around 70,000 people. The largest number of casualties were in Mianyang, including thousands of children buried in their schools. I had planned to go to a memorial museum with Lucy when I was in Mianyang recently, but it didn’t happen in the end, I’m sure it would’ve been very interesting. Coincidentally on the day I returned from Mianyang, I was talking to a girl in a coffee shop, and her home town was Tangshan, which had a far more deadly earthquake about 40 years ago.

11 May 2018

Dinner last night was a welcome change from offal, haha! I met Carol at the Liulin campus, and she took me to a really good Thai restaurant. I was really impressed with the food actually. The area around this campus seems a lot more lively compared to the Guanghua campus that I’m based at - lots of bars, nice coffee shops and interesting restaurants. But it’s another 45 minutes out of the city, so not particularly convenient for regular visits. After dinner, Carol found us another cat cafe nearby for a coffee and a chat (60% English, 40% Chinese - perhaps!). She wants to go and study overseas in either England, France or Australia, but her dad thinks it’s too dangerous, and he’s the one with the money for tuition fees!

10 May 2018

AN EXAM... AND A GOODBYE We had our first listening and speaking exam this morning. I performed as expected (poorly) although I’m sure I will get a more than generous mark from the teacher. My listening and conversation skills are definitely the worst in the class, but c’est la vie... (my French is crap too). Our Korean classmate Li XianYin has to return to Korea as his mother is sick, so today was his last day. I particularly struggle to understand Koreans speaking Mandarin, but despite this I’ll miss him as he has a really good sense of humour which (as they say) transcends language barriers. The class went out for lunch to say goodbye to him. Much to my disappointment, the planned pizza venue was closed, so we had Hot Pot. The second Class Hot Pot confirmed that my teachers don’t attempt to compensate for (soft) Western palates, and as usual I spent a slightly stressful hour trying to fish out potato slices rather than pig leg tendons and assorted offal.

6 May 2018

Dongmen Bridge district. Pretty good pictures for a phone!
A cute street near “Wide and Narrow Alleys” (KuanZhaiXiangZi), one of Chengdu’s popular tourist attractions.
Some little friends who wanted a selfie at the Metro station.

5 May 2018

CINCO DE MAYO Rarely does a year go by when I don’t celebrate this famous Mexican festival. Actually, I’ve never heard of it before, but many Chengdu bars appeared to be celebrating it, including Moka Bros. Miya and I both like this bar, so we arranged to meet up for our latest language exchange. Actually I had already had 2 or 3 hours of language exchange with Zhu Han at lunch time, so I was more than happy to drink mojitos, listen to the music and get away with as much English conversation as I could. Lazy? No - just helping Miya with her English....

1 May 2018

That’s dinner sorted then. Ten minutes in the Hot Pot and it’ll all taste like chicken.

30 April 2018

PEOPLE’S PARK PEOPLE My original plans for my second day in Mianyang didn’t come to fruition, so I spent the afternoon walking around People’s Park in the middle of the city. After yesterday’s grumbles about how hard everything can be here, it was nice to be reminded that it’s not always that way. I think I must be about the only Westerner in Mianyang, and throughout the afternoon many people approached me either for a photograph or to swap WeChat details. So I have several new WeChat friends although it’s unlikely we will ever cross paths again!
NOTHING’S EASY....STILL My first day in Chengdu back in February was particularly difficult and two months later many days are still quite challenging. It’s not all nice food and pretty girls, you know ;-) Whether it is a long weekend or a birthday alone, or just trying to figure out what the heck most of the stuff in the Hot Pot restaurant is, I rarely feel relaxed!! The communication problems some days can be quite disheartening and there have been plenty of those these last few days. If it wasn’t for some good friends and a plentiful supply of alcohol I would’ve probably lost the plot a long time ago! Anyway I’ll keep plugging away....

29 April 2018

More from Mianyang
BIRTHDAYS After the hour train trip from Chengdu I arrived in Mianyang and spent the afternoon with Lucy, Eli and Lucy’s mum engaging in a typical Sichuan pastime - drinking tea and relaxing. This province is supposedly the most laid-back area in China, and the locals like to spend their afternoons in tea-houses playing Mahjong. In the evening Lucy’s mum shouted us an all-you-can-eat / drink Hot Pot meal to celebrate the two birthdays this weekend (mine yesterday, Eli’s today). Most of the food tonight was totally scary, and I was delighted when I could fish a little head of broccoli out of the pot - I had absolutely no idea what most of the other stuff was. Much alcohol was needed and consumed. Afterwards, Lucy played tour guide and showed us around parts of her home city, including a stretch of the river with many painted murals which provided great photo opportunities.

27 April 2018

I thought I might be asking for trouble turning up at one of Chengdu’s main railway stations at 6pm on a Friday of a long weekend. But instead of being greeted by a crowd the size of the population of Brighton, there was barely anyone in the ticket office building, and I was able to collect my tickets ahead of Sunday’s trip with minimal fuss.
Our second exam today, and we’re just about half way through the course. Further evidence that you don’t need to be able to listen and understand, converse in nor pronounce Chinese correctly to get a good mark! And that the teachers are very generous markers! I’d gladly swap a string of 90+ exam scores for some of my classmates’ conversation skills!

26 April 2018

BEGGAR’S CHICKEN AT JIN LI Before my visit to Mianyang at the weekend, Lucy had brought her friend Eli to Chengdu. We took her to Jin Li which is one of the most popular tourist spots. It’s a long street built in the style of Qing Dynasty China, with many places selling souvenirs and local snacks. It can get really crowded at times but today wasn’t too bad. I’ve visited several times now, and it’s one of my favourite places in Chengdu. We tried a traditional Chinese dish called Beggar’s Chicken, which is a chicken wrapped in lotus leaves, encased in mud and then cooked on an open fire. And very good it was too. Like most Chinese, the girls seemed to be happy to eat all the parts of the bird that I avoided... so between the three of us there was very little left within ten minutes or so! Jin Li is a little expensive, so given it was Thursday night, we finished the night off with a few happy hour cocktails at Commune. We’ll meet up again on Sunday in Mianyang.

25 April 2018

A NEW LANGUAGE PARTNER While frequenting the Blue Frog’s happy hour, a few of the staff had indicated they’d be interested in meeting up to practice English / Chinese. But of course they are usually working (serving people such as me) during evenings and weekends. But in the last week I’ve managed to meet up with one of the girls, Miya, a couple of times. Our language skills are about on par, so there is plenty of chance to practice each other’s language, but we can communicate pretty well in a bit of a half and half language. She took me to a “cold chuan chuan” restaurant tonight, which is another variation on the skewered food theme, but this time the chosen meat and veg is just soaked in the spicy sauce for a couple of minutes, then served cold. I think I prefer it hot! But no complaints, it was certainly a better choice than one restaurant we passed...
For the first time - almost half way through the semester - all seven students showed up. Not on time, but still worthy of a class selfie.

23 April 2018

MIANYANG Next weekend is a 4-day long weekend with public holidays on Monday and Tuesday. I would’ve liked to have flown to another city, but don’t really have the money, so settled instead on visiting Lucy in her hometown of Mianyang, about 120km from Chengdu. I assumed I would be visiting some small town, but this is China, and this unknown city actually has a population of 5.5 million! Yesterday I spent a couple of hours trying to secure train tickets online. First attempt through the CTrip app I aborted as the booking fee was relatively expensive (20RMB on a 45RMB ticket), and Lucy said I could do it on WeChat without any fees. I thought I was going quite well with this, but most of the available tickets by this time were standing only, and it seemed like the WeChat app wouldn’t process standing ticket bookings. So it was back to CTrip, and by this time there were barely any return tickets to Chengdu on Tuesday..... but I “think” I managed to book the last standing ticket.

22 April 2018

CLASS OF 2018 All of the classmates and our two teachers went out for Hot Pot last night. Over the last couple of weeks we seem to have got to know each other better and the classes have been really quite fun... but still challenging to say the least. Hopefully we can do more things as a group, although arranging a gathering of Chinese, English, Korean, Israeli, Thai and Ukraine students where we’re relying on our Mandarin skills for communicating is far from easy!

21 April 2018

Be greedy when others are fearful (or the food is cheap...28RMB)
Three Bud for $1.40... it’s almost worth buying a fridge for...

20 April 2018

LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE I’m trying to force myself to watch some Chinese language television every evening. If I want to relax and watch some UK TV, I have to watch at least as much Chinese content first!! As previously mentioned, my listening skills are probably the worst in the class, so my teacher suggested watching simple cartoons such as Peppa Pig! I’d never seen it before (and not even sure I was aware Peppa was female!) but all the episodes have been dubbed into Mandarin and can be found on YouTube. I probably understand about a quarter of the dialogue, but actually really enjoy it! I’d always thought the idea of watching TV over and over with children would be mind-numbingly boring, but I think I could quite easily do a Peppa Pig marathon!

17 April 2018

I think I found my right level for Chinese conversation with these two girls at Starbucks on Sunday! I think the 4 year old’s Chinese was about on a par with me, and I was possibly marginally ahead of her little sister! Maybe. Very cute!
PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING It’s been quite a busy week. I’ve met up with Zhu Han five times to help prepare her for her IELTS tests later this week. It’s been good to have some social company and a chance to have some nice food at the LiuLin cafe and other places. I think she’s quite a clever girl, as she came top of her year in the entire province for Maths... so that’s probable a million students or so, haha! I’m yet to be convinced though that her calling is as a Chinese teacher. We had a little time last time for me to practice a presentation I had to give today, and after my grammar and pronunciation was ripped apart for half an hour I felt quite deflated. I’m sure it was unintentional, but not exactly the lead-in to today’s lesson I needed.... My teacher seemed pleased with my ten minute effort - and first ever PowerPoint - though. All of the Chinese teachers I’ve had have been really good; supportive and able to manage a range of personalities and differing abilities.

13 April 2018

There’s a new resident in our dorm block... but I’m yet to get acquainted as I feel their English skills might be lacking....

12 April 2018

Every time I have Hot Pot I feel completely justified in wimping out and having Western food for a couple of nights. Tonight, Beef Bourguignon at Commune, perfectly matched with a couple of Long Island Iced Teas....

11 April 2018

IELTS Several of my Chinese friends have studied for the IELTS (English proficiency test) and have told me how difficult it is. And how important it is - for example for studying and remaining in Australia. My language exchange partner Zhu Han is taking the exam next week and needs a pretty high pass mark if she wants to continue her studies at her chosen university next year. So for the next week we are going to practice English, then after the exam we’ll do some Chinese. She found us another really nice cafe close to her LiuLin campus. And the food was delicious, my beef and vegetable risotto had a nice thick layer of cheese that you rarely find on Chinese menus! There are a huge number of topics that Zhu Han could be asked about in the oral exam - 18 pages worth - so I asked all the questions and got to find out her life story in the process! Apparently it is quite normal for Chinese students to be at high school from 7am til 10pm every day. I don’t like the sound of that!

7 April 2018

After the museum we went for Hot Pot at a place that Carol reckons is quite famous in Chengdu. I stupidly let her go and choose the “food” and there were at least a couple of dishes she brought back which didn’t look edible in the slightest. But I agreed to nibble on a tentacle or two, and a bit innard here and there. In these situations the longer you can leave it stewing in the burning hot spicy broth the better..... My second stupid move was to offer to pay - it was relatively expensive at 242RMB, but then again tentacles don’t come cheap.... Picture #2 demonstrates how far my chopstick skills have progressed...
JINSHA SITE MUSEUM After a fairly unsocial week, Carol and I arranged to go out today. She’d already suggested going to see the Leshan Buddha and Luodai Old Town, but I’d visited both. I’d actually already been to the Jinsha Museum already too, but didn’t want to spoil her plans for a third time! The Jinsha site and museum is actually very close to the Uni - only one stop on the metro away. It’s an archaeological site, and while not in the same league as the Terracotta Warriors that I’d visited in Xi’an last year, it was still an interesting place to look around and continue my rather cultured long weekend ! A lot of the artefacts excavated here are from around 1600BC - or so we’re told :-)

6 April 2018

Teppanyaki - delicious. Curry chicken, omelette, rice, pasta and vegetables. And ice hockey training.
Pretty cold and miserable today, so good Museum weather. This is the Chengdu Shu Brocade Museum, and it’s actually pretty interesting (no, really!). I’ve been here before and watched them weaving the silk. And I bought some panda drink coasters :-)

5 April 2018

Chengdu 339 - named after the height of the TV tower - Chengdu’s tallest building. After a couple of happy hour cocktails at Commune (I knew I’d return!) it was photo time....
Wenshu Monastery
HOLIDAY TIME After missing out on the Easter public holidays last week, now it’s our turn! Thursday to Saturday is 清明节 (Qing Ming Jie) Tomb-Sweeping Festival. Strangely, Sunday isn’t included, and the local Chinese students at the Uni have to go back to class on Sunday! On my first visit to Chengdu three years ago I went with my uncle, his wife and family to their family’s grave site, where the family cleans up the grave of passed family members, burns fake money and other papers, and sets off fire crackers. This year I thought a 4-day long weekend could be a chance to visit another city, but I don’t really have funds for flights / hotels, and up to a couple of days ago I wasn’t sure whether I’d need to work, so I will just find local things to see and do, and hopefully get to meet up with one or two friends over the weekend. The weather has turned cooler today, but it’s actually welcome after three days over 30. It’s definitely been much warmer than at the same time last year.

1 April 2018

My first pizza in two months - at the Uni cafe - and not too bad actually. Happy Easter :-)

29 March 2018

I passed this place a couple of times when visiting Lucy, so I thought it was time to pop in. I’d hoped there might be some happy hour drinks but the waiter pleaded ignorance when I tried to explain the concept of happy hour in Chinese. But the prices were very reasonable - 35RMB for a Long Island Iced Tea. I perused the menu and decided to stay for dinner and another drink. Glad I did, a different person took my order and explained that Thursday night was happy hour 2 for 1 cocktails. So I got a freebie... 2 LIITs for $7AUD - I’m in!! I think they cater more to Westerners, a point underlined when I asked for some chopsticks and was told they don’t have them! Expect to hear regular Thursday evening updates from Commune :-)
We have a new class member this week, Fei Long from Thailand. He wanted a photo to send to his mum, so this our (small) class from last Thursday...

28 March 2018

FIRST EXAM Yesterday’s class was one of my worst, a real struggle. I felt like giving up!!! But today’s first exam went surprisingly well. Last year I found that I could consistently get good marks in the exams even though I felt I was really struggling with the listening and conversation. And today proved the same - I got the same score as Li Ya, who is by far and away the strongest student in the class, with excellent listening and speaking ability. So all it really proves is that my reading, writing and grammar isn’t too bad... but when it comes to stringing together a decent sentence in a conversation, or understanding what the teacher is saying, it’s still a huge struggle.

26 March 2018

WHAT LIES BENEATH... I had another hot pot with my Chinese family this evening. Just finding the restaurant was a challenge... I ended up in some gated apartment complex unable to escape.... Once there, inside the bubbling pot of chilli broth were all sorts of crimes against animals... duck tongue... congealed pig blood in handy slices... cow intestine... Not to mention a variety of seafood and fish. Never have I been more relieved to fish out a bit of tofu or unrecognizable vegetable. A few glasses of Rawsons Retreat Chardonnay helped though, and it was a good chance to speak Chinese all evening (不喜欢!Bu Xihuan! I don’t like!)

25 March 2018

My classmate Fa NiShi (Chinese name, she’s Israeli) told me about this cafe. It’s right next to the gym, so not sure why I hadn’t tried it out last year. Anyway, I like it, the coffee is good, student prices are cheapish and it’s got a nice feel to it. Plus when I arrived yesterday they were playing “Vincent”... I’ve bumped into Fa NiShi there a couple of times already. She seems to do a huge amount of study, and pays for some additional private tuition. At the moment our Chinese level is reasonably similar, but I can’t see that remaining the case for much longer!
A NEW (LANGUAGE) PARTNER IN CRIME... I read on WeChat this week that SWUFE’s (my Uni) population is 70% female. It was probably no surprise then when I got notice of my new language partner, Zhu Han, and a quick check of their WeChat profile confirmed she was a she. We met at a very nice cafe close to the other campus at LiuLin. Just to underline the gender imbalance, I was almost the only male in the cafe. Zhu Han (she needs an English name!) is from Anhui province, this is her third year at SWUFE, and she turns 20 next month. Her English wasn’t too bad - better than my Chinese, certainly - which is a bit of a mixed blessing. It’s always nice to be able to talk to people in English, but obviously the idea of the language partner is that we both get to practice using each other’s language. I must try harder! After lunch we spent an hour or two walking around the campus. Probably a welcome break from study for her, as she told me at weekends she often studies from 7am - 11pm!

24 March 2018

RIP I have links to two Chinese cities. Chengdu is due to my Uncle’s wife coming from this city, which is what prompted my first visit to China three years ago. The other city I have visited multiple times and have quite a few friends in is Changsha. This came about after meeting a group of Changsha people at an Australia Day BBQ two years ago. The group consisted of university professor Xu Nan and eight of his students. At the time I was planning my second trip to China and they invited me to visit. I accepted the offer and spent 5 days in Changsha, including at Xu Nan’s invitation a visit to his university to talk to a class of students about life in the West. I became friends with Xu Nan and a number of students, and returned to Changsha on two more occasions within a year. Xu Nan had been uncontactable on WeChat recently - I had hoped to visit Changsha again on this trip. One of my friends told me that he passed away unexpectedly yesterday at the age of 43. RIP Xu Nan

23 March 2018

GOODBYES A couple of friends are leaving Chengdu.... Today QiQi flies home to Korea, as she only has a tourist visa. I’m not sure she will come back and continue her Mandarin studies... I’ll miss her despite our communication difficulties! So earlier this week we had dinner with Chinese friend Su WenDa. He is also leaving, going back to his hometown outside Chengdu. I spent a bit of time at the end of last year’s semester with him, and we had some interesting times... Riding third pillion on his motorcycle helmet-less through the busy streets of Chengdu was a little scary... Even more so singing Jessie’s Girl on a night out at a “KTV” Karaoke Bar. And I’m sure our appearance on a podium in a Chengdu nightclub would have topped the lot had it not been for the presence of some alcohol in my bloodstream... This gathering was more sedate, dinner, and then a couple of frames of snooker, and ending the night at a Chinese coffee shop... which quite bizarrely didn’t sell coffee....

21 March 2018

Hands up anyone who thinks the English is probably more difficult to understand than the Chinese....

20 March 2018

THE SHRINKING CLASS Over the last couple of days there have only been a maximum of four students in class at any one time. We’re even being relocated to a smaller classroom from tomorrow. I think there are still around 8 students who will attend, but apart from one girl who has been there every day so far, everyone else’s attendance seems to be somewhat spasmodic. Although many students are also doing business degrees at the other campus, so they need to put in a little more effort than my three minute journey. There was a Korean lady who’d been in class every day, but it seems that she turned 60 last week, and you’re not allowed to carry on studying at the Uni past that age. So I’m not really sure I have enough time left to master Chinese!

18 March 2018

Much like a night out in Brisbane, dinner with Qi Qi and our teacher (from last year) tonight saw me sitting quietly while the ladies chatted away. However tonight it was because I only understood 20% of the conversation, whereas in Brisbane it’s usually because I’ve had my Listening Face engaged for a couple of hours...
Because a man can’t live on hot pot alone...

17 March 2018

After the cats it was obviously time to eat again.... And then a spot of shopping at Chunxi Road. “Adam, how do you pronounce Dolce and Gabbana?”
CAROL AND THE CAT CAFE Each semester the Uni offers you the chance to have a language partner to meet with, a Chinese student who wants to improve their English. Some of my classmates already have plenty of Chinese friends, or their conversation skills are already quite advanced, but I’m always keen to have new people to practice with. I’m still waiting for this semester’s partner to be organised, but I’m still in touch with last year’s, Carol. We probably met about half a dozen times last year, including once in Xi’an, close to her home town. She suggested we meet up today at a Cat Cafe close to the Uni. It seemed like a bit of a novelty but it seems there are a few of these places in Chengdu - cafes with loads of cats roaming around. My mom and sister would love it... other than the extortionate 38RMB for a coffee! Glad I wasn’t paying.... There must’ve been a dozen cats in this cafe. Whether such a thing would be allowed in the West, I don’t know, but this is China!

16 March 2018

Some more really tasty food last night, especially the big dish which was almost numbingly spicy, but delicious. Just thinking about it again and my head has begun to sweat! Qi Qi has decided to return to Korea so this might the last supper for the three of us, but hopefully we can fit in another dinner before she leaves on Friday :-(

14 March 2018

TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD... I’ve now had a couple of classes with each of two new teachers. This week has certainly been an improvement on last, and it feels a little more like last year - the Monday / Wednesday Intensive classes I managed to keep my head above water, but the Tuesday Listening / Speaking class yesterday was still quite a struggle. I’m getting to know my classmates a little better. Three of them speak well as well as better Chinese than me! None of them speak Brummie (as far as I know) so I’m one up on them there in the multi-linguistic battle :-). And there’s a lady from Malawi, and a new guy today who looks Japanese. I doubt they speak Brummie either. Today almost felt like summer, so a good excuse to have a couple of al fresco Happy Hour mojitos while doing the second half of today’s homework. Let’s not focus on the air quality... it’s probably less dangerous than the constant passive smoking I’m engaging in!

12 March 2018

Today’s lunch was called Mao Cai - another derivative of Hot Pot. This one involves choosing your raw meat and vegetables from the fridge, it is then weighed and cooked in a spicy broth by the staff. And the cost is based upon the weight of the meat and veg. This cost 50RMB for the three of us. I met up with two of my classmates from last year for lunch, FeiSi from Togo and Yana from Russia...

11 March 2018

WHEREVER I LAY MY HAT... I had to return to Lucy’s abode today as I’d left my cap there yesterday. I’m glad I did, as I’d had a few tasks waiting on some Chinese assistance, so I got Lucy to help out. First was setting up internet banking on my iPhone for my Chinese bank account. I’d expected this task to be a tad painful, and requiring a two hour bank visit similar to when I first set up the account. But she managed to sort it out without us moving from the sofa. Spurred on by that success, it was onto my OFO bike-sharing app, which Magnolia had set up for me last year when she visited, and I’d never used again. So we managed to get my 199RMB deposit refunded, and set me up with a new account using my new phone number. And then I was shown a couple of ways of recharging my mobile phone account. All of these things would be virtually impossible without local help. The district where she lives seems quite nice, close to the river and some bars and cafes worth investigating.

10 March 2018

Lucy is living / working at an International Travellers Hostel, so I went for a look around...
Chenghua Park
Last night’s Korean was really good, as was the Chinese Pizza today...

9 March 2018

One of my regular locations for an alcoholic beverage (while studying, of course!), Blue Frog at Tai Koo Li. Between 4pm and 8pm daily it’s Happy Hour, buy one drink and get one free on a good range of drinks. I usually go for a Brown Brothers Chardonnay, but when the need is for more “bang for your buck” alcohol (like this week) a Long Island Iced Tea is the way to go... two for 55RMB.
LUCY’S BACK... AND MORE CHUAN CHUAN The first week of class and fitting in work too has meant it’s been a little full-on this week, so it’s been good to have a couple of nights out. Lucy arrived back in Chengdu yesterday, “fresh” from a 19-hour train journey from Kunming, the Chinese city her cheap ticket from KL got her too. We arranged to meet up with Qi Qi and went to the same Chuan Chuan restaurant as I’d visited on Tuesday. Qi Qi brought her Korean friend with her, who had no English or Chinese skills whatsoever, so any attempt by me to speak to her meant I spoke to Lucy in English / Chinese, Lucy relayed the message in Chinese / Korean to Qi Qi, and then she could talk Korean to her friend. So the conversation flowed. If it’s possible to consume any calories from nicotine, then they were probably the only calories the friend consumed all evening, but to find out why was just too difficult... I seem to be getting more resilient to this spicy Sichuan food though...
GOT THROUGH THE FIRST WEEK.... But it’s been quite a struggle. Even the B1 class I’ve been in these last two days has been really difficult. I suppose changing classes doesn’t help - I’ve had 4 different teachers already, and apparently we’re going to have another one next week! The B1 class doesn’t feel noticeably easier than B2, but at least I’m a little more familiar with the vocabulary, and I think the average capability of this class is marginally lower. Which is good. The more duffers the better! Join the club! Like my class last year, it is strongly weighted in female numbers. Perhaps 6 females and one other male. Three of the ladies are in their 40s or 50s, which is a bit unusual for this place. Nationalities include Israelis and Kazakhstanis... and a couple of students seems to be able to converse in multiple languages, so I haven’t quite worked out their background. I think it will be a challenging semester! Only Week 1 though, I might suddenly “get it”...

7 March 2018

IN TOO DEEP Three days in and I’d reached the conclusion that I was going to struggle in this class. The nail in the coffin was possibly the arrival of a new student who had moved down from the C1 class to ours (B2). He seems very fluent to me. While the composition of students doesn’t really affect the material taught, the relative proficiency of the students obviously influences how quickly the teacher progresses, and it now feels like a class with far higher levels (particularly in conversation) than I can reach currently. So I’ve indicated I might try class B1 from tomorrow. A little dis-spiriting, but probably better to make the change before the new class is too far established in their coursework. I’ll be re-learning material already covered last year, but that might allow me to focus more on the conversation side, if the grammar and vocabulary are already familiar.

6 March 2018

CHUAN CHUAN WITH QI QI Tonight I had arranged to meet up with Qi Qi, my Korean friend and classmate from last year. She has just returned to Chengdu after a couple of months back home, but isn’t coming back to Uni this semester. She loves Hot Pot, as well as tonight’s similar cuisine, Chuan Chuan, which is skewered food cooked in the Hot Pot. Again there are all sorts of food harpooned onto sticks, but thankfully we had mostly vegetables tonight. When it comes to paying, it’s usually a case of them just counting up the number of dead skewers in your bucket. And we had a lot, together with 5 beers for 140RMB. Qi Qi doesn’t speak English, so we have to get by on our limited Chinese, but we spent enough time together last year that we can kind of get by with those limitations. If we don’t understand each other it’s usually time to top up our beers and say “Cheers”. I think she might return to Korea in a couple of months, so hopefully we can meet up a few times before then.

5 March 2018

So first day’s homework is finally finished. Did you notice the deliberate mistake? There are approximately 67...
FIRST DAY OF CLASS.... ...Not to forget it was also back to work today, so before class I did an hour’s work, which will probably become my early morning routine. I am in a very small class for the Intensive Chinese course (Mon/Wed/Fri). I think 6 students are registered, but today there were just 5 in class... which is great from a student / teacher ratio, but not so good when you’re struggling on the first day, and every fifth question is coming your way! The first (of four) 45 minute period was particularly tough, and I really thought that the pace would be too fast for me. I managed to get by though, and the remainder of the morning was slightly less painful. After class there was another three hours of Work, and at least an hour and a half of homework to fit in, so the weekdays are going to be especially busy. At least I can combine doing my homework with one of my favourite leisure activities - drinking coffee!
Class about to begin! Just six students apparently!

4 March 2018

And some nice Chinese food for dinner too...
CRAMMING! So yesterday I started reading the first lesson of the new book. It follows directly on from the book I studied last year, so looked quite familiar and not too daunting. I discovered that I’ll have the same teacher for listening and speaking classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays as last year, so I sent her a WeChat. In our conversation I discovered that we will be starting this semester from lesson 16, not lesson 13 (the first lesson in this second book), as the students who were here last semester had already done the first three lessons. Slight panic... lots of new grammar and maybe 50 to 100 new words that I hadn’t covered! So today I’m trying to go through the three lessons that my classmates will most likely be familiar with. My other teacher from last year always creates PowerPoint presentations of her lessons, so I got in touch with her and she sent through half a dozen documents and presentations for me to review. So a busy last day of my holidays!
A bit of Chinese breakfast today.

3 March 2018

THE PRICE IS RIGHT Despite my daily complaints about the price of coffee here, it has to be said that spending 4 or 5 months studying in China is a very cheap way to pass a few months. So far I’ve only spent around $4200, and this has covered: - return flights from Brisbane to Chengdu - Visa - Tuition fees for the semester - 4 months accommodation plus another month deposit - A year’s gym membership - Travel Insurance - 6 nights in a hotel - The first fortnight’s spending money and most of my one-off set-up costs (Figures don’t include friends’ gambling / drug debts racked up in SE Asia) At the very minimum I will need to spend about the same amount again on living costs (budgeted at $250/week for 17 weeks). On top of that I might need to buy a monitor and keyboard to make work a little more comfortable, and with any luck I’ll have enough money to do a little travelling in China, or at least a trip to the UK in July....
GYM I’ve been back to the Uni gym that I used last year quite regularly. They’ve added quite a few new pieces of equipment since last year. I’m often in there alone, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 3 other people at any one time. Last year I just paid 10RMB for an hour’s use each time I went, but I was talking to a guy called Fred in there and he told me you could pay 400RMB for a year’s membership. I asked about monthly or six-monthly options (given I’ll only be there for one semester, or four months), but annual was the only option. Still, I intended going around three times a week, so over the next 17 weeks the membership should easily pay for itself, and it might encourage me to visit more often now!

2 March 2018

TICKING ALL THE BOXES Ooh that saying irritates me! It’s taken a little longer than I’d hoped but I think everything is in place for Monday. I had two more visits to the Internet Office today. I’d actually left two routers with Lucy, and the one I got back via her friend wasn’t compatible, so it was off to the supermarket to buy a new one, and then back to see my new geek friends again! I also bought my text books for the new semester, and found out my class details. There are a lot of different classes, maybe 20 or 30, each with around a dozen students. I’ve progressed from A2 last year to B2. Or B2-2-1 to be exact - probably code for crap at reading but even worse at listening and speaking... In fact my name wasn’t on the class list at all, so i was wondering whether that was a not-too-subtle hint that my Chinese career was best wound up... Looking at my classmates, I may actually find it easier to use their Chinese names!

1 March 2018

HOT POT I’d brought some stuff from Australia for my uncle’s wife Yan’s family, so arranged to meet up with her third sister and husband for dinner. They suggested Hot Pot, which is probably Sichuan’s most famous dish (certainly within China, although I’d never really heard of it in Australia before I came here). I always find it a challenging meal, and not just because of the spicyness of the broth that you cook the food in. It also seems to be an excuse to throw in random animal body parts, in the hope that they will become edible once cooked. I’d learned during a previous Hot Pot with Annie that the thing that resembled one of my Nan’s necklaces was actually some sort of intestine.... I tried most things on offer - fortunately there wasn’t too much seafood - and the combination of cooking everything in the chilli broth, and supping a bottle of red wine, meant I survived another Hot Pot experience. And I got plenty of chances to practice my Chinese...”l’m not eating THAT!”
As is often the case, lunch was half the price of the coffee that preceded it!

28 February 2018

JUST LOOKING FOR...A CONNECTION Earlier in the week I’d been to the Internet Office on campus to arrange access in my room. Very reasonable - 80RMB for my 4 months. In fact they didn’t charge me a connection fee, presumably because I was still on the system from last year :-) However, when I got back to my room, even though my computer said it was connected to the internet, I couldn’t actually get to any websites. And more importantly I couldn’t connect to the Sonic network. No work connection = no work = no money = swift return to Australia! This morning I thought it had resolved itself - but strangely was the only site I could reach! So I was back to the Internet Office where a geek a third my age and twice as clever, sorted me out. Apparently my connection was still expecting to go through a router like last year... I’ve arranged to meet a friend of Lucy’s later to get the modem router back, but I’m not game to go back to the Internet Office again today!
LUCY IN TROUBLE! IN FACT, SHE’S IN INDONESIA... I’ve been waiting for my Chinese friend Lucy to get back to Chengdu after a month or two travelling around Asia. Not least because I left my modem router with her last year and I could do with it now... I awoke to some slightly panicky WeChats from her as she tried to figure out the best way back to China. Something akin to how I felt a week ago with no hotel to stay at! As I gave Lucy her western name (a lot easier than Luo Nan Yue), that probably makes me a Godparent of sorts, so I was happy to help, and with WeChat it is very easy to transfer money between friends. Of course, there is a small chance that she has amassed huge gambling debts in Jakarta and I’ll never see her again. I’ll be very angry not to see that modem again... Anyway, she now has a flight to Kunming... a mere 19 hour train journey away from being home in Chengdu :-)

27 February 2018

Hot... Very hot. I think the guy cooking was trying to steer me towards something more mundane... but would I listen? (Well I was, I just couldn’t understand) Then again he might have been saying “ancient Chinese custom say: never eat this dish in a white T-shirt”
SPRING HAS SPRUNG - EARLY Still one day of winter to go, but most of my time in Chengdu has been very Spring-like. It looks like we’re in for a run of days in the low 20s for the rest of the week - Brisbane-esque early Spring weather! Not so warm in Brum this week I notice :-(

26 February 2018

TALKING TO THE LOCALS Sometimes people seem very happy to engage with me... and then there are days like today... At lunch time I found a Japanese place where I could understand one or two things on the menu. It was very tasty actually. A girl asked if she could sit at my table and I was quite accommodating. So I thought I’d try a little chat. ”看起来很好吃!” ”好吃吗?” “That looks good!” “Is it tasty?” Not a word in response, not even a grunt of acknowledgement. Then tonight I was in the supermarket for about the 17th time this week. In front of me at the checkout we’re a couple of girls... ”我们都买了相同的卫生纸。今天很便宜!” “We’ve all bought the same toilet paper. Very cheap today!” That conversation didn’t go far either.
A VISIT TO THE POLICE STATION No, not for a misdemeanour... I haven’t been caught yet ;-) Every “alien” in China, must register their address at the nearest police station. If you are staying in a hotel you are saved from this formality as the hotel passes on your details. But for everyone else - such as in my case when moving from a hotel to the Uni dorm - a visit to the police is required within 24 hours of moving. Actually, I left it about 40 hours, and so far I haven’t come to any grief.... It is a relatively painless experience - just take your passport and a copy of both the photo and visa pages, along with a form identifying your new address, and it’s done in 5mins or so. I actually remember the police officer from last year...he was quite a happy chappie - as far as... well you know...
A nice selection of Aussie wine... Usually Rawson’s Retreat is about the cheapest you can get here, at a pricey 88RMB. But today I found it in a new supermarket for 59RMB! Only the second bottle of wine I’ve bought since being here... very well behaved!

25 February 2018

TWO HOURS IN A CHINESE LIBRARY... ...time passes very slowly. Sunday afternoon I had arranged to meet one of my friends from last year, Ma Li. She lives quite far away, so I was glad on this occasion she had to go to the library in the city centre. When I eventually found her she still had a couple of hours of research to do, so I was left to my own devices. She thought there might be a selection of English books on level 5 that I could take a look at. Nope. And apparently a cafe on level 2 where I could while away some time. Nope. At least we had Subway afterwards. The third time since I got here - I eat it far more in China than I do in Australia!
FRIENDS NEW AND OLD Sunday was Uni Orientation Day. Given that I wasnt totally new, I’m not sure it was that necessary to attend, but I did anyway. On the way out afterwards, the guy who had been sitting at the next desk asked me where the canteen was, so I showed him around the campus and gave him some advice on other stuff like getting online and where to do the laundry. He was from Switzerland but his mother was from Chengdu, so he could converse in Chinese pretty well, but not read or write it. As my “skills” were the exact opposite, he might be a useful friend to have, and his room is only two doors down from me... I enjoyed a free coffee courtesy of MuMu’s owners, who recognised me from last year. I think I’m good for business as I mention them on WeChat quite often! They wanted me to have a chat to their daughter / grand-daughter, as she is finishing school soon and wants to study medicine in the UK (along with 999,999 Chinese students with similar ambitions no doubt!).

24 February 2018

MOVING DAY After six days at the hotel it was time to move to the Uni. I’d considered doing a couple of journeys on public transport to get my suitcases relocated, but it seemed like too much hassle. The 20km taxi journey only cost 50RMB anyway, and it gave me the chance to practice some Chinese with the driver! After hauling my cases up three flights of stairs, I settled into room 405 and started unpacking. Lunchtime saw a return to the canteen to organise my canteen / security access card, and then it was time to go shopping to kit out my room... I made a couple of round trips to the local Metro supermarket, around 15mins away, and bought most of the essentials I’ll need - pillow, quilt, sheet, kettle, cups and dishes. By the end of the day I’d just about got everything organised, and it was looking quite cosy!

23 February 2018

CHECKING IN After lunch I was able to have a first look at my room. The whole block had been renovated since I had to leave in April last year, and the change in both the common areas and rooms was very apparent. My room looked like it had been totally renovated from top to bottom, including new cabinetry, bed and bathroom. I was quite pleased with it actually, although as I won’t move it until tomorrow, I’ve yet to test that everything works! So this is why the rent has increased from 500RMB to an outrageous 800RMB per month! Not a fair comparison, I know, but for the rent I’m receiving for my place in Brisbane, I could rent a dozen or more of these rooms!
LUNCH TIME I needed to get a card for the canteen, more so because it is also used as a security access card to the dorm block, and can be used for topping up electricity. As it happened, I couldn’t get one today, but a man I recognised from last year suggested I should come back tomorrow to sort it out. As the canteen doesn’t accept cash, he also organised for me to use one of his friends cards to buy lunch. You really can get a huge amount of food for very little money - my lunch cost 7.50RMB and was more than I could eat. I doubt whether I will use the canteen much (as was the case last time), but it is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the local students no doubt get three large meals a day for about the same amount I’m prepared to spend on one coffee!
COFFEE TIME With time to kill before I could get into my room, it was a chance to return to my regular coffee hangout from last year, MuMu Teapresso. Most days last spring I could be found here (at least) once a day, perched up at the window watching the world go by, or doing my homework. The coffee is usually very good (by Chinese standards), and at 14RMB it is half the price of Starbucks, so I’m sure today will be the first of many visits in coming months.
REGISTRATION TIME Today was the day when I had to start getting organised for Uni, including registration, paying my fees and checking into the dormitory room. As is my way, I arrived early in the hope of being the first student processed. There are only two official registration days so I didn’t want to be in a long queue of people hanging around all day. The plan worked, and I was first in, just before a group of about 8 students arrived! The Chinese seem very efficient at these things, and it took just about an hour to get through the four stages of registration, payments, language assessment and checking in at the dorm. Actually I wasn’t asked to sit a language assessment (as they had my details from last year), and the room wasn’t quite ready, so this was part of the reason why I was finished up by 10am! The tuition fees were 7000RMB for the semester, and the dorm room 800RMB a month, so together with a deposit, I handed over around 11500RMB to cover the next few months.
Plenty to do today...

22 February 2018

Baihuatan Park

21 February 2018

KFC IT AIN’T... After a few days on my own it was nice to have lunch with a friend arranged for today. That friend being Annie, the mother of my friend AJ who runs the sushi shop where I have lunch most days in Brisbane. She’s one of the loveliest people I know and we’ve met up a few times previously both in Chengdu and Brisbane, but after recently getting remarried she now loves in Adelaide and was just back here visiting her family. She took us to a place close to her apartment, a restaurant that is apparently quite famous for it’s range of chicken dishes. The place was tiny but packed with people. Annie ordered all sorts of chicken dishes - soup, shredded chicken, chicken skewers and the dreaded chicken feet - as well as some taro, pumpkin and other vegetables. All of the food was really really good... well, apart from the foot that I was persuaded to try. At least there was a little meat that I gnawed on in a token effort...
WEATHER After a week of temperatures in the mid 30s in Brisbane, I’ve been enjoying the cooler weather. But it hardly feels like winter - cool and crisp in the mornings and pleasantly mild in the daytime. And the forecast for the last week of winter is promising too... I’m wondering whether I really needed to bring four jumpers! But I remember last year the first two or three weeks in class were freezing, and that was the second half of March, so I suppose there’s still time for a cold snap.

19 February 2018

WUHOU My hotel is situated in the suburb of Wuhou, south of the City Centre. I think there is actually quite a bit to see and do around here, as I’ve read of things nearby on Trip Advisor... although this week is particularly quiet due to the holidays. Last year I’d visited a couple of coffee shops listed in the top 10 in Chengdu, and there was another, Bookworm, here in Wuhou, so it seemed like a good chance to try it out. It’s apparently very popular with ex-pats, and is not only a cafe and bookstore, but also hosts evening events such as comedy and music I think. Despite all of the above, I doubt I’ll be a regular visitor when the coffee costs 35RMB. I’d like to say there’s no way I’m paying $7 for a coffee, but the reality is that it happens quite regularly in China, and occasionally even closer to $8! Outrageous!

18 February 2018

NOTHING’S EASY 3/3 As the hotel wouldn’t help me book a taxi, Yan organised a DiDi (Uber-type car), but even that isn’t easy... I thought I could see the car across the road but it drove off and then the driver called me. But of course we couldn’t understand each other, and that was another drama as I tried to run around with two 22kg cases in tow, looking for his car while trying to tell this driver that I couldn’t understand him... Eventually we found each other, and I was very tempted to ask him (in my best Chinese) “how much to the airport, mate?”. However, the Ibis hotel seems pretty nice. The lady on reception was lovely and very helpful despite not speaking much English. A total contrast to the other place. The location seems pretty good too, within a five minute walk I’d found a shopping centre where I bought some beef noodles for dinner, and a bottle of Chilean Red Wine that I had every intention of demolishing before bed. Perhaps it’s character building :-)
NOTHING’S EASY 2/3 This was a process I thought I could manage myself, but it was not to be. I got the impression from the receptionist that there was a problem, so it was back onto the phone to Magnolia... and it wasn’t long before I received the news that I couldn’t stay at this hotel as it was only for Chinese nationals! Why hadn’t they told me this at 7am this morning when I showed them my passport? And more to the point, why hadn’t listed it as Chinese-only? With only 9% of phone battery left I was a wee bit frantic... this time I called upon my Uncle’s wife Yan, who as well as being a Chengdu local is also very good at organising things! Between the two of us we managed to find an Ibis Hotel that would take me. More expensive than the initial place, but my options were somewhat limited during Chinese New Year.
NOTHING’S EASY 1/3 I had hoped that my Chinese SIM card would still be active, but it appears not. And it’s very difficult to do anything here without your phone. Just trying to get from A to B when outside of a Wi-Fi area is a bit of a challenge! I found a China Mobile shop (not difficult!), but knew that I’d need some help to get through the process. Once connected to the shop’s WiFi I was able to call my friend Magnolia back in Queensland and she was able to make sense of the plans available and what would be best for me. There was another Western guy at the counter next to me and he seemed to be similarly relying on a Chinese friend on the end of the phone! So the mobile phone is now back in operation, at a cost of 48RMB a month for 5GB data. It was then back to the hotel to check-in... or so I thought...

17 February 2018

新年快乐! My first day back in Chengdu, and the third day of the Chinese New Year. It’s the year of the dog, so I’m sure I’m going to be in my element. There were plenty of free seats on the Air China flight from Sydney to Chengdu, no doubt as most Chinese were already back home with their families. Which was also probably the reason why I got a return flight for $588 :-) A driver had been arranged to pick me up at the airport, and that all went smoothly. At the hotel though I was told that I wouldn’t be able to check in until 2pm, so I set off to roam the streets in the dark... only 7 hours to kill...

16 February 2018

BACK BY UNPOPULAR DEMAND Welcome to Journi. After the sad demise of Travelpod during my time in China last year, I’ve been looking for an alternative. None I’ve trialled seem quite as good, but I’ve settled on this one. It doesn’t seem that good at sending email notifications of updates, but we’ll see how we go...