People’s Republic of China

After crossing the Himalaya, late afternoon I arrived in Chengdu, Peoples Republic of China.
I had booked a hotel ( near the airport, but did not know how to get there.

I approached the lady at the airport’s information counter. She called the hotel and less than 15 minutes later a polite young man picked me up.
It took about 15 minutes to get to the hotel by car, through some absolutely chaotic traffic during East Asian big city rush hour (youtube is probably full of such documentation). I really admire the driver!

It turned out to be some real backstreet, backyard hotel with no facilities what so ever. No one spoke a word of English.
But the staff was extra nice and had a good translation program (youdao) and we communicated quite well.
The room, with private bathroom, was nice and clean. I paid the equivalent of US$ 15 (cash, in local currency only) including the airport transfer!!!

By the time I got there it was pitch dark. The street lighting was scarce. Nevertheless, I decided to take a little walk through the neighborhood in the intent to grab a bite to eat.
I found myself amidst a (presumably) working class quarter, in the middle of local reality. Tiny shops of all sorts (hairdresser, tailor, grocery shops, street kitchens …) all along the street.
But I could not believe my eyes, when I took off to one of the side streets. I found a lively market with stands of veggies, fruits, clothes, household items, fish, meat and anything else you can think of. Even that late in the evening (by then 8 pm) it was very frequented, though badly illuminated. I decided to take a closer look in the morning.

I was hungry and thirsty, so I sat down in one of the street kitchens. Ordering the beer was quite easy. I managed that in Chinese, the woman understood and delivered. Getting something to eat proved to be a lot more complicated.

The woman handed me a laminated one-page “menu” covered closely with Chinese characters. Luckily the prices showed in “normal” arabic numbers (at least I assumed, that this is what the numbers at the end of each row of characters meant). Fine, I could identify the character for “soups”, they had quite a number of them. So I told the lady in my very best Chinese, that I wanted some soup with only vegetables, no meat. She seemed to understand and nodded.
But then she handed me a piece of paper and a pen and insisted I put my order down in written form. I first thought this was a joke (or just malicious???). I desperately tried to make her understand that I cannot write Chinese but she remained firm: No writing, no food.
So among all the soups listed, I picked the one with the least characters, it was one with 3. The first was very easy, it was that for the number three, the second one I had no idea of and it looked quite complicated and the third one meant “soup”. I felt like a total idiot trying to copy those characters on the piece of paper.
But in the end I was rewarded with my soup. It was served in a big bowl with a scoop, I was given a small bowl and some chopsticks. With the sticks I “fished” out the solid parts and drank the rest. YES, in China they don’t eat soup, they drink it.

At least she even brought me an extra bowl of rice – all together for the equivalent of not even 2 US$!

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