The effects of globalisation on the Chinese culinary experience

We have been naughty. Very, very naughty. In our defence I can state that we were only following the instructions given to us by my colleague P2. But really, there is no excuse for our behaviour in a province with such reputation for its cuisine. For today we ate at McDonalds.

We made a mistake staying two nights and three days in Chengdu. We could easily have seen the sights we wanted to see in two days and spent more time in Shanghai or Hong Kong, but that’s what you get for rushed planning in a travel agent’s office.

The hotel finally kicked us out of our room after midday. We wandered through the centre of the city aimlessly, through posh department stalls to markets in narrow laneways. At Tianfu Square a big statue of Mao stood, right hand raised, in front of the Sichuan Museum of Science and Technology.

We were tired of walking and had no small change for lunch at the street stalls. So, heads hung in shame, we climbed the stairs up to the McDonalds overlooking Tianfu Square and the Mao Statue. There’s a message there somewhere, though I’m not certain if I know what it is.

Using the picture card at the counter for language loosers like us, we ordered a medium spicy chicken sandwich (chicken breast roll) meal, a pineapple sundae and a sweet taro pie. The chicken was real chicken, the french fries not so good, the Coke Coke. But the pineapple sundae was really nice, must be the synthetic pineapple flavour. The taro pie, like an McDonalds apple pie on the outside, had purple and white chunks of taro, a root vegetable, on the inside. Very good!

So we went back and ordered chicken nuggets and a pineapple pie… It was good.

We wandered back to the hotel, past the GiGi bakery where a pastry chef was doodling around with the cream, making what looked to be an animal. She smiled at us, not having any idea what she was making either. We sat around in the hotel lobby for a while, bored.

Later we walked to a nearby Sichuan fast food restaurant and order a meat (or was it tripe?) bun and local style fried rice. Most of it remained on the table uneaten. It was too hot, but also the flavour was not to either of our liking. The only really good Sichuan food we ate was at the Fishermen Village at Leshan. Sadly, the McDonalds and the Pizza Hut meals were enjoyed far more than the local fare.

We would have left Chengdu with disappointing memories for the day, but as we sat there in the lobby a couple of musicians began playing a Chinese flute and lute (pipa?). The male flautist provided strong melodies while the female lute player’s finger literally danced over the strings. It was both beautiful to listen to and to watch.

For RMB10 each we caught a bus from next to the hotel to Chengdu airport. I was amusing to watch the taxi touts chase us as the bellboy wheeled our luggage out the bus. The looks on their faces as we caught the bus said it all.

Chengdu airport is pretty nice. We bought a few lo quats from the fruit stall prior to security. The helpful staff even let us try the fruit first. Sweet, a little like an apricot.

We were bused to the Sichuan Airlines ERJ-145 sitting far out on the tarmac. It was a small jet, three abreast and the service was basic, with water, peanuts (The Lingdom of Foods) and sour dates. But the flight was pretty smooth and there were good views of Chengdu as we took off.

Yichang airport shut down straight after we exited the airport. Ignoring the taxi touts we caught a minibus to the city for RMB20 each. The driver said he could take us to our hotel, the Xixzhou (and how do you pronounce that?). After a long and bumpy ride past industrial wastelands and into a city preparing for sleep we were told by another passenger, a young lady, that we should get off and catch a taxi for a short ride to the hotel.

The taxis were trailing right behind us, so it was easy to catch one, the cost was, just as the lady said, RMB5. The hotel staff don’t seem to speak English, but we were met in the lobby by “Shirley”, our very chirpy young CITS tour guide for tomorrow. I have to say that I’m highly impressed by the CITS service we’ve received thus far, despite the impression given by some travel references. Should be a fun day cruising up the Yangtze tomorrow.