Wet Sunday

door & vegetables, old lane, Chengdu


Woke up at 7; had coffee and some good, chewy bread.

Meditated 30 min.; finished reading Hesse’s “Siddhartha.”

Braved the wet cold day to take the bus to Lianna’s Bakery. It was closed. Damn, for once in my life I had a taste for a grilled ham & cheese sandwich, apple pie, and coffee.

Went to Roma Square, which is now occupied by many antique sellers. Didn’t find nuthin’. Looked at electric heaters – too expensive. I can freeze for a while.

Went to Namaste Indian Restaurant for lunch; wrote in my journal for the first time since Aug. 30. Food just OK: chicken tikka masala, curried tomatoes & potatoes, garlic naan, masala tea.

Walked home, took a nap.

Went out to get a roasted chicken, bread, eggs, garlic. Gave chicken to Xiao Gou Gou for dinner. I had scrambled eggs. Walked dog.

Studied Chinese 20 min.

Typed blog entry; posted blog. The end.

New or old? You guess

new or old?

Kuanxiangzi and Zhaixiangzi (Wide and Narrow Lanes) in Chengdu were originally built during the Kang Xi period of the Ming Dynasty, about 1700.

During the past several years the area has been transformed (some would say “restored,” others would say “Disneyfied”) into a tourist attraction and upscale shopping / restaurant / nightclub district. Some original elements of the neighborhood were retained – old brick archways, fragments of ancient walls, even a couple of entire courtyard houses of the “nobility” – but much was simply swept away to be replaced with mediocrity or fake ancient-style buildings housing Starbucks and the like.

Visiting this area always gives me mixed emotions. Yes, the entire area could simply have disappeared (as is currently happening to Shuijingfang), but couldn’t the process have been handled with less clumsiness? Do you really need a 3-story “ancient” shopping mall right beside a one-story courtyard house?

The area also has some interesting early 20th-century buildings that I believe were built under French “cooperation” – France has a long history of influence in Chengdu – in western classical styles.

Looking at this building, I thought “Oh, it’s an original doorway that’s been preserved.” When I was processing the photo, though, I noticed that the wood support above the carved bracket had been rather badly “distressed” using streaks of dark-gray paint. Does this mean that the whole structure is fake? Is it a combination of old and new elements? Is it live, or is it Memorex?

China isn’t alone in re-creating historic districts like this; any number of American cities have “tarted-up” older areas that attract yuppies and tourists, with fake gaslights or new “old” brick streets. Such areas are popular for a while, but they often lapse again into decay.

Still, how can you enjoy an authentic Ming or Qing-era atmosphere with piped-in Michael Jackson music and signs that say “Foxy Club?” I’ll sip my caramel Frappuccino and ponder this.

another Wenjiang


route to Wenjiang

I made another bike trip to Wenjiang today. This time I hung out in the city park at a teahouse with a tall glass of jasmine tea. This statue was located nearby.

On the way back I, well, fell off my bike. I appled the brakes too hard, the bike stopped suddenly, turned sideways, and sent me to the ground. A skinned knee, elbow pain, headache, burned eyeballs, and sore legs are the legacy of this trip. I looked like a hobbling old man trying to take Xiao Gou Gou for a walk. Now I’m hungry, but I don’t think I can face 4 flights of stairs.

Moving day to Sichuan University will be Aug. 25. I’m already half packed….

Dacheng Monastery, Wenjiang – Sunday, Aug. 9


getting a light

I did a heck of a lot of bike riding this weekend. The highlight was a day trip of about 70 km round trip to the Wenjiang district, to the west of Chengdu.

The day of cloudy, and after a morning caffeine fix at Starbucks, I hit the road. It was smooth sailing most of the way, as the Chengdu-Wenjiang expressway has ample bicycle lanes on each side. The terrain is also perfectly flat. After passing a set of toll booths, the bike path veered away fromt the highway, but I somehow managed to navigate my way under overpasses to end up on a semi-rural service road parallet to the main road.

Driven by some vague indications that the town offered some historic sights, I eventually ended my journey where the road dead-ended at a run-down gas station, then became confused by a major intersection that offered too many possibilities, none of them seeming to go anywhere.

Long story short, I didn’t discover the “real” Wenjiang that day, only some suburban outskirts that feature an attraction called “Floraland,” which seems to be an amusement park or public garden. Then, in the middle of a busy street market, I stumbled on a pretty temple, Dacheng Monastery, which I thought would offer a soothing respite from the noise and my physical exhaustion. But no.

The temple was a beehive of people, activity, color, candles, incense, and firecrackers. I wandered around, nursing my right knee, tender after the long ride, and eventually ended up at the dining hall for a 3-yuan vegetarian lunch. It was communal, shared with a table of Chinese people who cheerfully pushed all the extra food toward me. Then I adjourned to the teahouse to chill for a while.

On the way back to Chengdu, I realized why the bike route felt familiar: it bore a strong resemblance to the L.A. River bike path, wedged between the noisy 5 Freeway and the graffiti-spattered concrete wasteland of the L.A. River. I felt at home. It was good to be moving, good to have 2 wheels rolling beheath me, and good to have made a new discovery.

BTW: I found out that Sunday, Aug. 9, was Guan Yin’s (bodhisattva of compassion) birthday, which accounts for the hubbub at the temple. Why am I the last one to know these things?


world’s biggest incense



carved support


arch, Dachengyuan