Monday, April 13, 2009

An Unusual Easter Dinner, Featuring A Spicy Hot Pot, A Poodle, A Family From The Netherlands, And A Cab Driver Who Didn't Know Where He Was Going

After closing down the Panda Research Base/Giant Panda Breeding Center, our next move was Easter dinner. We had the idea of giving Chengdu hot pot a try, so I asked a cab driver at the front gate to take us to a distinctively local joint of his choosing. Shifu did not disappoint!

Twenty minutes later, the place we walked into was loud, filled with smoke, and definitely promising. In one sense, it was just an ordinary two-hour hot pot feast, similar to the ones we enjoyed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But four little vignettes reinforced that we were not in Beijing anymore!

When the pot came out, the spicy side barely had any liquid in it. It did, however, come with this big, orange, frozen block, which the fuwuyuan quickly broke into pieces and dumped in. Turns out that, along with a packet of spices that was also squeezed in, this strange-looking stuff was the stock for our dunking pleasure. We watched as the block slowly heated up and changed into liquid form. Seeing all of that oil/grease served as a stark visual for just what it was we were about to put into our bodies!

Another little fascination during our meal were these two poodles who were wandering around the restaurant during our meal. Both dogs belonged to this big group of at least ten people who were dining a few tables away. And these were not just your ordinary poodles. The hair on their heads was dyed orange and pink. As far as we could tell, the poodles were enjoying themselves, as they alternated between sitting on the laps of their owners and roaming the restaurant in search of fallen scraps.

And then there was the moment when a fuwuyuan walked up to us and asked me to come with her. Apparently, there were some waiguo pengyou (foreign friends) who didn't speak any Chinese and who needed help ordering. I did my best to help these nice Dutch folks get the food they wanted...vegetables, no fish, and definitely not a spicy pot! A little while later, I was called back for an encore performance, to overcome an impasse in ordering yinliao (drinks...water, actually).

The night ended with us stepping out into the beautiful Chengdu evening and hailing a cab. Now, as new arrivals in town, we had no idea how far our hotel was from the restaurant. Moments after jumping into the taxi, we began to recognize buildings and almost drove right by our hotel. This shifu, however, obviously had no idea of that fact and kept on driving. We were kind of embarrassed, both for ourselves for not knowing we were steps away from our hotel and also for shifu for being no better informed than us newbies. So we just let him go a few extra blocks, and then jumped out in a random place. This allowed us not only to save a little face for everyone, but also to enjoy one last stroll through Chengdu on a most unusual Easter...

~Steve

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