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Sichuan Opera

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Later that night, we thought we'd take in the Sichuan Opera. After a fair bit of research yesterday and consulting people, we found one that was close enough to where we were staying. It was a tea house in the swanky Intercontinental hotel complex. We walked around the complex first, a bit intimidated, then decided to go inside and pretend that we didn't stick out like sore thumbs, just long enough to get directions and marvel at the holiday decorations. The guys at the front, dressed in uniforms, helped us without issue.

Still then, we managed to get lost and had to consult another host at a restaurant who spoke little English, but recognized the name Shunxing and mimed the directions for us. As we walked up to the carpet leading to the tea house, a group of uniformed musicians picked up their instruments and provided a soundtrack for our arrival. We were greeted by a friendly hostess after that.

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The restaurant was nice with wood panels carved into nice designs and different sections to make the place seem huge. It looked too expensive to eat in, but we got ushered to the back to see the opera performance area and to pick our front and center seats. We went exploring to find a cheaper restaurant that also had an English or at the very least picture menu, but found little except an Italian place so we went back to the tea house.

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We split an eggplant dish and rice that was almost reasonably priced, but Ryan's appetite still hadn't returned. It had a good rich sauce with that famous Sichuan heat. Other than taking a really long time to come out of the kitchen and our waitress disappearing conveniently as we wanted to pay before the show started, it was a nice experience.

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Our front row table was nice and they even brought us tea and sweet snacks. The first act featured dancers with long feathers coming from their heads and colourful outfits.

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Ryan's favourite act was a woman performing shadow puppets with her hands. She had an array of birds and animals to mimic to the gentle music. In one shadow puppet, she managed to even incorporate her pony tail and it was quite impressive.

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An acrobat came up next to juggle and twirl various items like umbrellas with her feet while lying on her back.

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Dancers with flowing green sleeves who performed as if they were scarves.

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An intense tea pouring demonstration featured a man and woman who would spin long beaked kettles without spilling a drop. They managed to perform for around five minutes to show their skills.

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Next came a play in Mandarin and from what we could discern, there was a marital dispute happening and the husband had to perform different ridiculous requests from the wife like balancing objects on his body. He was a bit cheeky about the whole thing but she wouldn't let him get away with slacking off.

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A woman played music for us that nearly lulled us into sleep. It was beautiful, we had just had a really long day visiting pandas.

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The final act was my favourite, the face changing opera. The whole show was less an opera and more a display of cultural performances. For the final one, the loud group of Chinese people behind us ended their show-long conversations to be captivated as well.

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The actors and actresses wore bright colourful cloth masks. If you've seen Chinese face masks, you've probably seen them before. The different colours and patterns indicated different personality traits or emotions. The music was loud and epic as the performers would quickly turn or twirl to reveal a completely different mask while the previous had vanished. They continued to change faces as the show went on to the audience's delight. By the very end, the performers came into the audience and people were ecstatic to be in pictures with them. We were too tired to fight for our chance before the opportunity vanished, but one masked woman did thank us for coming.

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Posted by Sarah.M 03:16 Archived in China Tagged china opera shadow face lost sichuan changing teahouse puppet Comments (0)

Chengdu Museum

overcast 8 °C

Our first full day in Chengdu, we ventured out to the Sichuan museum. It was much trickier to find with Google maps being blocked by the Chinese government, but luckily, two parking attendants and a random man who spoke English came to our assistance after we started asking for the provincial museum. It was kind of in the direction we thought it would be. It was just a matter of finding our bearings after getting off the subway.

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The museum was a nice collection of pottery, ceramics, bronze painting and a section on Tibet since we were so close yet so far to intriguing locale. The free museums did begin to resemble one another given their content, however, this one differed in some areas. Their pottery exhibit focused more on the death rituals, including the tombs as well as their doors and various tomb stands to encourage wealth, good fortune and immortality in the afterlife. There were depictions of everyday life on different slates. The bronze exhibit had more weapons than the previous ones had.

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A famous Chinese painter was featured, Hou Baochuan, along with his landscape paintings, one of his favourite subjects being Da Liang Mountain. Sometimes the snowy landscapes would remind us of home with their whiteouts. Others really brought out the texture in the painting.

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The Tibetan exhibit had some recreations of temples or sections of them, including the many coloured flags ascending to the summit and the wheels that would be spun for good luck. The clothes looked warm as well, made of mostly animal fur and skin. The Buddism in their culture was slightly different too, based on Bonism.

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With our winter coats, we ventured out to find a historic thatched cottage to visit in the area. Instead, we ended up at a small river and walked through a narrow park where men were fishing with long fishing rods. Then we ended up in a residential area with schools and figured we were quite lost. On the way back we saw the sign for the cottage, go figure. China's signage only existed sometimes, not consistently enough to get people where they needed to go, at least not English speakers.

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We made it to another park, encompassing more than just the river this time, and enjoyed the big pond and beautiful trees. There were some neat statues around and a ton of fish swimming in the ponds. We found the cottage, but it would be closing shortly and we wouldn't get our money's worth for the admission, so we headed back for supper instead. We had dumplings and noodle soup. Ryan enjoyed the dumplings, but I was missing the flavour of our first Sichuan meal packed with heat, good spice and rich flavour.

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  • *Please bear with us, the internet in our current country Myanmar isn't the most stable. We'll try to keep up as we can. Thanks for reading. Cheers**

Posted by Sarah.M 02:00 Archived in China Tagged park museum lost sichuan chengdu Comments (0)

Lost, late and just plain lucky

Hangzhou, China

overcast 22 °C

Our first mission of the day was to go get hard sleeper train tickets to Guilin from the Train Ticketing Office. It was a nice 20 minute walk from the place we were staying. We passed a university with a large billboard of Yao Ming, a famous Chinese NBA player, on the front of it. It was easy to find the train booking office as the sign was in English. Unlike the sign, the lady working there didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily we came prepared with Sarah’s Mandarin book and a note written out by a helpful Chinese person. We booked two hard sleeper tickets from Hangzhou to Guilin for 6:53 p.m, thinking that that would give us plenty of time to explore for the day and get to the train station early.

We were feeling pretty good after we booked our tickets, so we decided to pick up some treats from a local convince store for our 18 hour train ride. We would later discover that they were all expired, as most of the junk food is in China. We made our way to the metro to spend one last day in West Lake.
We now set our focus on trying to find some bikes to rent. There was certainly no shortage, but we wanted to find bikes close to the lake. After we decided which bikes we wanted to ride for the day, we headed off to find the Tiger Springs.

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About an hour later we discovered we had went too far and made it to a pagoda we didn’t intend to see. We decided since we biked all the way here, we might as well climb it. The original pagoda had long since been burned down and many attempts at rebuilding it had met the same fate. The pagoda we climbed had been rebuilt from the ground up in the mid 1990s, and had about 8 levels. From the top we got a bird’s eye view of the polluted and smoggy Hangzhou.

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After climbing down we tried to grab some lunch. We found a restaurant that looked promising, armed with the mandarin book, we attempted to order. All seemed to go well until we received our food. They placed two meat dishes in front of us and a large bowl of rice. I only ordered small chicken plate and Sarah had ordered a vegetable dish, which never came. We tried to explain to them but after some arguing between the cooks and the waitress they just took away one plate and Sarah didn’t get to eat lunch that day aside from a bowl of rice. We did snack on some expired Oreos though. They were okay. We would need the energy for the bike ride.

We made it to Dreaming of the Tiger Spring Temple area shortly after leaving our disappointing lunch. We locked up the bikes and away we went to explore the springs and temples. As we entered, we were greeted by a very nice pond with some large Crane statues and decorations hanging from the trees. Again, there were some nice temples to view and large incense burners everywhere. The area was also the burial site of the monk Jigong. After some exploring we discovered the main attraction, a scene chiseled out of the stone of a man lying down dreaming of tigers across the spring. We checked the time and decided we should head back so we time to get to the train station. We finished taking our photos and hopped on our bikes to head back to the city.

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What should have took us only 15-20 minutes, ended up taking just over an hour. An hour we really didn’t have. We had little trouble navigating the city for the last few days, but today we just couldn’t figure which way was up today, even with our not so helpful English tourist map. After much frustration and feeling almost helpless, we were pointed in the right direction by a security guard when we asked where the metro was.
We finally made it to the bike rental place, only to find that the man that rented us the bikes was no longer there. We tried to return them to the man that was there, but after looking at our receipt he said it was from a shop 1 block over. Having been down that block only just minutes earlier, we knew there was nothing down there. Thinking we were getting scammed for our 200 RMB deposit, we walked up and down the street trying to spot the guy that rented us the bikes. Luckily, he ran up to us a few minutes later with our deposit. Running very short on time, we began sprinting to the metro to make it back to pick up our belongings.

We had become pros at using the metro systems in China, so we got to our hostel quite quickly. We loaded up and bolted to metro one last time to make it the train station. Time kept ticking by and as we went to leave the metro, for the first time, Sarah’s metro pass decided not to work and we had to find an agent to help us out. We made a mad dash to the train station once she was let through.

With less than 5 minutes to spare in a large and unfamiliar train station, we ran as hard as we could with 40 pounds of gear strapped to our tired bodies in what we hoped was the right direction. We got our passports and tickets checked – the woman waving us through without even checking mine after noticing the time on the ticket -- and made the final dash to the end of the terminal. Of course our gate was the very last one there. It was like someone had planned out just how to make us sweat one more time in Hangzhou down to the last detail.

They had already stopped boarding our train, and were preparing to board the next train. Fearing we had already missed it, we ran to the front of the line waving our tickets and asking “Guilin?”. I’m sure we looked comical to everyone who arrived well in advance for their train. Out of pure luck, our train had not left yet and the staff rushed us through. Within a couple minutes of boarding the train, it began moving. We threw our bags under the bottom bunk and collapsed from exhaustion. We both slept very well that night under nice soft comforters.

Posted by Sarah.M 03:20 Archived in China Tagged temple train metro china bike lost hangzhou vegetarian Comments (2)

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