Staying in the old part of Chengdu (about 400 years old), gives you a real slice of history with an authentic experience – even our hotel felt like a museum.
This meant hunting & gathering meals was also a purely authentic experience – with nothing in English. With stubbornly unhelpful staff and no picture book menus, we ventured into the streets for some curb stall food instead. We had an incredible array of choices from meaty rabbit skulls, to scorpions on sticks, insects & stale noodles. Usually we’re pretty game, but after assessing the hygiene levels, we decided to settle for some non-descript “meat” kebabs. We didn’t dare ask what type of meat it was, we’d hate to think we’re eating Mr. Cho’s cat from down the road!
Prowling the streets like two hungry stray dogs, we eventually bumped into our guide who took us back to the restaurant and ordered a variety of local dishes for us to try. Ravenously we tucked into our food – only to be joined by a middle aged local man. He glared at us for a short while before scanning our meal with great detail (he was either amazed that we managed to order what we did, or was wondering how two people could eat all of this). With the look on his face, we thought he was going to help himself to our delicious food but instead he whipped out a pair of nail clippers and started trimming his finger nails right in front of us. Shielding our precious meal the best we could, the last thing we wanted was a sprinkling of fingernails seasoning our already mysterious yet lovely dumplings.
Continuing with our Chinese History 101, the rest of the evening was spent at the local Chinese Opera to watch a 2000 year old ‘Face Changing’ performance. We had a sneak peak behind the scenes and got to watch the actors put their ‘faces’ on so to speak. Even after closely watching the show (with video replays) and scrutinising the costumes, we couldn’t work out how the actors could change their masks so quickly.
The show was a beautiful pageant of music, puppetry, comedy and face-changing with colourful, intricately crafted garments. The actors put on such a great performance, but instead of applause and standing ovations at the end, it seems like the Chinese custom is to get the f*ck out as soon as the music stops. The poor performers were waiting patiently on stage for photos with the audience (for a small fee 20 RMB per photo of course), which seriously was not going to happen!