The sun shone again in Chengdu yesterday and we took advantage with a nice long walk around town before the Consulate Halloween party in the afternoon.
We visited a little ally near the Consulate full of fruit and vegetable sellers, meant and poultry vendors, and tiny pop-up restaurants. At noon its a bustling scene. I’ll come back again with my real camera next time.
At some point I’ll get over hipstamatic, but its not happening anytime soon. I still haven’t figured out my favorite lens/film/flash combinations yet. Until I do, expect lots of hipsta’.
Generally speaking, Chengdu’s perpetual winter cloud cover plus the Armageddon-esque pollution smog kind of sucks. It’s gloomy rather than cozy. Today though we caught a break. It was rainy and cold for the first time this fall. Rain means clean air. Cold means no more mosquitos. Rainy plus cold equals cozy in my book.
Nevertheless, Ashley of Ma La with a Fork fame, Will and I bravely ventured out to my tailor’s shop across town to see about a red qipao.
I love visiting my tailor’s shop even though I’m mostly there to introduce new people to her shop rather than to buy for myself. She’s not located in the main expat area of town so there aren’t as many foreigners who know her shop. I like visiting because her neighborhood has some great food, her dresses are so gorgeous to look at, she’s a fantastic seamstress, and, most importantly, that woman just loves to butter me up.
According to her, my Chinese is “very good,” I’m “so thin.” my insanely pale Chengdu skin is “beautiful,” my baby is “beautiful.”
People, with the exception of the bit about my baby, none of those things are true.
My Chinese is earnest but laughably poor, I’ve still got a good 5 pounds of baby weight left, and ghost-like would probably be a better description of my skin tone right now. But, it never hurts to hear otherwise. 🙂 Besides, she does give me the “old friend” discount so even if she lies to my face about some things, I know she likes me enough to charge me somewhat fairly.
Once she bought me lunch which was, while embarrassing, also very tasty. Her mother worries about my baby being too cold even when swaddled tightly across my chest in 7 layers of fabric. They are nice people.
We spent a few hours this morning in her damp, cold shop. We giddily talked qipaos, fabric colors, babies, and helped to translate for an Indian woman also getting some alterations done. As the Indian woman and I talked dupattas and kurtas, and I tried to explain to the tailor why she wanted everything less fitted, I mentioned that we would be leaving Chengdu for India in a few months. Strange when and how you meet people.
There is no larger point to this story except that, sometimes on a rainy cold day there is nothing more perfectly satisfying about living abroad than driving across town with a good friend, speaking Chinglish with an “old friend” and meeting a new friend all in a tiny little storefront, in a tiny little neighborhood, in a city of 14 million people. It makes a place feel homey and yet still full of newness all at the same time.
On another somewhat related note, after a cold rainy morning out on the town, there is also perhaps nothing more satisfying than coming home, putting a loaf of bread in the oven, putting on a pair of sweatpants, bundling the baby in a cozy blanket and snuggling up to read a book together and take a little nap. Insert happy sigh here.
I finally broke down and joined the masses who’ve fallen in love with Hipstamatic and its ability to turn any old i-phone photo into a vintage-y looking masterpiece. Do I prefer my real camera and with it my ability to fine tune aperture, shutter speed, etc? Of course. But I have to admit, it’s sure a lot easier to use the i-phone when I’ve only got one free hand and I’m busy baby-wrangling. Either way, this funny little app is the most fun $2 I’ve spent in awhile.
We ate falafel…
We took a sleepy walk…
We went to the grocery store… (the price of parking in this neighborhood has more than doubled since we left! Chris and the parking lady had a nice little chat/laugh over China’s everyday life inflation. Its kind of insane. I’d say we’ve started paying nearly 30% more for our groceries since I left in June.)
Chris found, wonders of wonders, salmon. Salmon that looked and smelled edible. So he tried a gravlax cure:
We looked around the random indoor soccer court for the Cambodian-French man who knows how to cut laowai hair. We may have found him.
We also made beef pot pie, some oatmeal raisin cookie dough, I took a much needed nap, and we got “booed” as my sneaky Halloween activity finally came full-circle back to us.
And of course we took wayy too many pictures of Will who has decided that sitting up is the new laying down. Woe is he or she who tries to make him lay on his activity mat and play with his toys these days. No way, not when there is sitting up (with help) to be done! Even more fun? Standing up!
He was skeptical about meeting Chengdu’s Hash House Harriers last night…
But then decided that if we promised to put away the camera, he’d go and sleep through it.
So I took a picture of his daddy instead…
Yum, the “rabbit place.” I will miss this restaurant when we leave.
Some thoughts on the ‘Du now that we’ve been back for a month now:
1. We are officially the “old hands” here now. We are the people whose good friends have already up and moved on and we are now starting over with new friends among the new people-the new people who we will ultimately leave behind the way our old friends had to leave us. I’m sensing a cycle here.
2. Chengdu changes so fast, there is always something new to explore. I’m gone 3 months and I come back to a falafel stand, a new Japanese grocery store, organic rice available at Metro (albeit full of bugs) and countless other developments. The Hong Kong development that was half empty when I left is now THE night-out hot spot. What will this place be like by the time we leave?
3. My Xiang La Bing vendor still recognizes me even sans preggo belly. I will miss him and his wares dearly when we leave.
4. I still don’t love Chengdu, I don’t love China, but I’ve become familiar with this part of the country in a way that borders on affection. In the same way you can’t pick your family, you can’t pick your post. But its possible to learn to love or at least embrace both.
5. The “Victorian Brothel” style of “luxury decor” here does not seem quite as hideous to me as it once did. That or the aesthetic is gradually becoming less gaudy. I sincerely hope its the latter.
6. I now think of Chengdu as a really pretty great post, minus the pollution and food safety issues. Were it not for those two things, I could stay here much longer I think. Otherwise the traffic isn’t bad, markets and grocery stores are conveniently close by, the people are very nice, its cheap to live here, etc. Sure we miss a good restaurant scene and more interesting things to do on the weekend but having a baby now, we don’t miss those things quite as much these days. Or rather, we do, but we wouldn’t be going out doing them even if they were here 🙂
7. Having a baby makes me view China and the Chinese people differently. On one hand, see point #6. On the other hand, I’ve never had so many pleasant and wonderful interactions with people on the street as I have since we brought Will back. I was terrified of Sichuanese grandmothers scolding me for my child-care, but I’m finding its actually usually fellow parents that come up and make conversation. It’s nice.
8. My Chinese is getting better again now that I’m home all day without the opportunity to speak as much English.
9. Not related: but our new ayi is fantastic. Seriously. She cleans even better than I do (hard to do), she’s smart, she’s thoughtful and she’s just really nice to be around.Whoever hires her when we leave is a lucky, lucky family.
10. I had a profound #10 but the baby just woke up and I gotta get moving! Next time!
He up and learned to roll over.
I won’t torture you all with my horrid high-pitched baby talk in the video evidence but it happens every time we put him on his tummy now.
And seriously, he still hates tummy time. We’ve tried getting on the floor on our tummies with him, toys, music, distraction but he still cries if we make him do it for more than a minute or so at a time. Thoughts?
OMG its a non baby post. Read on.
We had a completely uncharacteristically insanely beautiful weekend here in Chengdu. Blue skies, clean air, a BREEZE. Obviously, there are important people in town. 🙂
We also had a baby who has fallen in love with my stupidly-overpriced-but-omg-so-worth-it-hippie-earth-mama-moby-wrap. Kid loves the thing. I love the thing because he gets to drool all over my chest in snuggly slumber while my hands can hold things besides his (super-cute) bum.
Added bonus: its so big I can throw on a plain black tshirt underneath and still look “put together.”
Sorry, I’m ruining the non-baby-post vibe. Anyways, back to the point of this story.
Beautiful weather + baby who will sleep through jackhammering as long as he’s in his moby = Chris and Dani walked around all weekend on a glorious quest to fulfill food and adventure cravings.
Among other things we sampled:
a new Fujianese wonton shop (we were aiming for DongBei dumplings but missed somehow)
a new Baozi stand with delicious bok choy stuffed buns (autumn in China makes me crave filled steamed buns like woah)
a bowl of my favorite hand cut noodles
a bizarre fluffy little blackberry pastry
a not-bad-for-China croissant
and most importantly:
chocolate mousse and honey lemon mochi from the Mochi Sweets stand in the basement of the new Japanese department store at Tianfu Square.
My mind is blown. Sure some people might think Chengdu “made it” as a city when we got the world’s 3rd largest Louis Vitton store. Whatever. For me, Chengdu became a legitimate metropolis the day I realized that we now have BOTH a respectable falafel stand AND the world’s best frozen mochi.
Never heard of Mochi Sweets? I hadn’t either until we stumbled upon one in (again) the basement of a Japanese department store in Hong Kong last Christmas.
I’m fairly sure its just a Hong Kong/Kowloon thing, probably not even remotely related to Japanese mochi but oh wow. It’s hard to describe what these little gelatinous balls of I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven-goodness are but imagine really rich and smooth frozen ice cream like fillings surrounded by a fluffy shell of rice dough.
Eh, I’m not doing it justice. Just rest assured, they are fantastic. And ignore the obvious bite marks in the photo above. These mochi made my day. They will also likely make our last 6 months in Chengdu far more pleasurable than I ever though possible.
I just said 6 months left until we head back stateside and then onto Delhi. Wow. Time flies.
In other news, Chris introduced Will to our hammock today:
Ha just kidding!
Somebody is very happy his Nai Nai is here.
Oh yea, and somebody’s started teething already. Seriously. I know. WTF. Where did our itty-bitty baby go?