Chicago elevated train platform, August 2014
Line 1 of the new Chengdu Metro opened in October, after years of excavation and torn-up streets and sidewalks. The north-south line runs under the city’s main street, Renmin Lu (People’s Road) roughly from the North Railway Station to the “New City” in the south, including a convention center and software business parks.
My friend Mark and I went exploring on a weekend afternoon a couple of weeks ago, and descended into the sleek, efficient netherworld of the new subway system. The ticket machines offered transactions in Chinese and English, and there were many employees stationed at access points to make sure the ride was smooth for everyone.
This was the first subway I’ve encountered that has sliding doors at the edge of the platforms as well as on the trains, like an elevator. Although good from a safety standpoint, the glass walls guarding the tracks also make it impossible to look down the tunnel for oncoming trains (always good photo ops), or to feel the welcome rush of air that signals a train arrival.
For our first stop we chose “Incubation Park” in south Chengdu, primarily for the name. Envisioning some mysterious, looming factory where human cloning or secret research was carried out, we were a bit disappointed to find merely a big banking center called “La Defense,” roughly modeled after La Grande Arche de La Defense in Paris. Apparently, the center was for incubating new business, not new life forms.
Descending back into the depths, we rode northward to the Wenshu Monastery area, 文殊坊 or Wenshu Fang, the new-ancient shopping and tourist area. We were hungry, so we chose to have lunch at the Lotus on the Water vegetarian restaurant, which neither of us had tried before.
After a rather large meal, we adjourned to a coffee house nearby, then browsed a bit before deciding to try to find the street where stereo systems and sound equipment are sold.
The street proved to be elusive, and when we finally stumbled upon a row of shops selling high-end stereo speakers home theater set-ups, my feet were killing me.
We spent a couple of hours cruising for the sound system of my dreams. My friend explained why stereo equipment is much more expensive in China – something to do with import-export duties and shipping costs allows it to be manufactured in China, shipped to the U.S., then shipped right back to China, along with an exhorbitant markup.
Wandering into a rather dark older building, we came upon a small business where the owner sat burning some music CDs. I’d followed my ears to the source of some classical music I vaguely recognized, and the owner was more than happy to demonstrate his theater-size speakers to us. I was amazed to find that he not only collected vintage 1970s American record albums, but that he was something of a connoisseur of jazz vocalists, one of his favorites being – are you ready for this? – Miss Peggy Lee. I sat open-mouthed as he cranked up his system and let loose with Miss Lee’s rendition of I Don’t Know Enough About You, in a depth and crystal-clear definition that I’d never heard in an individual music system before. I was in Peggy Lee heaven.
That was the end of rather unforgettable day. Come to think of it, I should visit the music man sometime and give him a copy of my favorite June Christy CD. I think he’d like it.
A general view of my travel route, Summer 2010 [click to view larger]
Chengdu to Lhasa (by plane)
Lhasa-Yamdrok Lake – Gyantse – Shigatse – Everest Base Camp – Tingri – Zhangmu (by 4WD Land Rover)
Zhangmu – Kathmandu (by car)
Kathmandu – Sunauli (by bus)
Sunauli – Gorakhpur – Varanasi (by bus)
Varanasi – Delhi (by train)
Delhi – Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj) – Manali – Chandigarh – Delhi (by bus)
Delhi – Singapore – Chengdu, China (by plane)
TRAVEL TIME: 6 weeks
WEATHER / CLIMATE: high altitude, blinding sun, heat, humidity, monsoon rains, mud, dust, pollution, clean mountain air