Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chengdu Tibetan Quarter - unusual gifts

For the person who has everything a wad of Tibetan Prayers - these wads of brightly coloured paper are all printed with Tibetan prayers. They're usually used - confetti style,being thrown out the window when a vehicle passes over a high and difficult mountain pass - as thanks for safe passage. One of our child guests had the brilliant idea to buy these as a super unique, but cheap, gift for the other kids in her class - each of her classmates getting their own prayer. They look pretty good in a small frame on your bedroom wall.

In central Chengdu - very close and within easy walking distance of the popular tourist destination of Jinli Street and Wuhouci- you'll find the Tibetan quarter (south of Wuhouci on Ximianqiao Cross Street). This place, with it shops and people, reminds the visitor how close Chengdu is to the Tibetan Plateau, and gives an opportunity to get a souvenir or two that can't easily be found at other China stops.

A lot Tibetans come to Chengdu to stock-up on goods they'll sell in their own stores back home on the Plateau. A lot of this merchandise has a religious purpose - here we can see prayer flags and prayer wheels, but these stores contain all sorts of other useful things for life on the grasslands.

There are plenty of clothes shops - here we see a monk eyeing up a new outfit.

But its not only monk attire - here's one of Meggie's Tibetan.

Here we see a guy on the street wearing the same style jacket - those sleeves are meant to be long - giving protection in the cold, but on warm days allowing the wearer to slip off a jacket arm to tie it round their waste. The blender type machines in the shop window are the modern tool for making Tibetan Yak butter tea.

Rows of small religious idols - customers are shopping for things to take back to their temples.

There's some pretty vivid art work to be found.

Some of the more exclusive clothes shops have a pretty neat line in silks.

This really is for the person who has everything - a mini, electrically powered prayer wheel. in our pic, a blur of motion and bright flashing lights!!!!!!

The above is sitting on our dressing table - you can also buy those prayers in stone!!!!!!

Another kid's favorite - skull beads carved out of Yak bone. You can buy strings of these small skulls - 108 beads to each mala. We put them together with the turquoise. By the way be carefull when buying supposedly expensive beads. For example that turquoise is cheap color enhanced stone - but it's often sold at high prices to customers who don't know about quality difference. In the Tibetan quarter, and anywhere in Chengdu, also pay special attention to that which is supposed to be coral and amber.

And of course, with all that energy expended on shopping, we shouldn't forget food. Some great restaurants in this area selling foods you won't find anywhere else in Chengdu. Yak is heavily on the menu - this is Yak and onion stuffed bread. Tastes pretty brilliant!!!! The yak yoghurt is also a special experience - and that butter tea - well you've gotta try that!!!!!!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Chengdu street hotpot

Street Hotpot - portable and on wheels, this type of cuisine helps make Sichuan such an adventurous eating destination. here we have ingredients - vegetables and Dofu - that are commonly used in this spicy meal.

Sichuan hotpot - the main ingredient being a great pot of bubbly spice laden oil, can be likened to a huge fondue. It especially appeals to chili-pepper fans - and is often on the list of must-does for Chengdu visitors. Normally tourists take into one of numerous hotpot restaurants that are so common in this part of the world - but in these, often crowded and hectic eateries, trying to get yourself a Hotpot meal without the help of guide or translator can be a daunting task. One way out of this problem is to try the street version of hotpot - far easier here to see and point at ingredients, great fun eating on the street and lots cheaper than a lot of those indoor hotpots.

Double trouble, boil and bubble - naw it ain't a witches brew - this is the cooking oil being heated up in preparation for making that day's dishes. Note those peppers - and the red pepper induced color of this potent concoction.
Street hotpot differs from normal indoor hotpot in that all the ingredients are boiled up by a cook - while at the restaurant you're the cook and have your cooking pot - together with a gas burner - in the middle of the table.

Here's Meggie choosing our hotpot ingredients - each is pinned onto a stick and then placed into the boiling pot. The sticks in this place averaged around 0.1yuan each (yes that one tenth of an RMB) - and we chose around 60 sticks for 2 people. We had a veggie hotpot - if you want to eat meat and fish - these sticks of course will be a little more expensive.

Cooking - here the cook is boiling those sticks in the pot. There are also those bamboo ladle type contraptions that are used to boil ingredients - like bean sprouts, certain mushrooms and tofu that are impossible to boil on a stick.

And the finished meal - we chose to have our hotpot served up in bowl of hot hotpot oil - but you can also get it without. As in a normal indoor hotpot you can get a sauce made of coriander, chopped garlic and sesame oil - otherwise you can just dip into ground red-pepper - that is if you want an already spicy meal even spicier! In such circumstances a cold beer can prove a very useful antidote to the dangers of chili overdose.
In our hotpot - you can see Yellow cubes of tofu - mushrooms (oysterhat) - potato slices - kohlrabi and cabbage. Lurking in its depths is another kind of tofu - thin yellow mushrooms that look like those Japanese ones (whatever they're called) - sliced lotus root - bean spouts - cauliflower and a lot of red pepper!!!!!!!!!
But don't worry - ate that about a week ago - and still living to tell the tale.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Images from 2010

This year we've been busy with several road-trips that have taken us from Chengdu into some of the more picturesque and interesting parts of Sichuan and Yunnan.

Gongga Mountain - about 5 hours drive from Chengdu. Lying just off the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, at 7556m, this is the world's 4th highest mountain outside the Himalayas. During late July we were lucky enough to get clear evening views of this mighty peak - as it was being painted by a setting sun.

Adventure in an Emei Nunnery (3 hours drive from Chengdu) - this spring we enjoyed the company of a mother and daughter from New Mexico. Part of their trip was an overnight stay at a nunnery on Mount Emei. This proved tremendous fun for the 10 year old girl - and the nun's seemed equally fascinated by her!!! The picture was taken just before dawn - mum and daughter are watching the morning prayers - it's hard to sleep through all that chanting and gong bashing.

Wild Red Pandas at Wawu Shan - this year we've had 3 sightings of wild Red Pandas, all made in the primeval forest on the top of Wawu Mountain. This park, 4 hours drive from Chengdu, is one of our best locations for finding these animals. Out of our Wawu Red Panda pictures - this strangely posed animal was one of our favorites. With that serene and contemplative attitude it wouldn't have looked that out of place in the Emei nunnery.

The Balang Pass during late winter - here we're up over the 4300m, a place where the thin air gives you an out of breath feeling of walking in leaden boots. We hit this location during February when the weather was a contrast between freezing nights and the a pleasant warmth of sun-filled days. There hadn't been much recent rain, and the grassland had become brown and parched. This mountain pass is between two well known Sichuan tourist spots - the Wolong Panda breeding Center, which unfortunately is still completely closed due to damage suffered from the 2008 quake, and the Four sisters mountain Park (Siguniang). This year we had many trips, with our birding groups, around this area - but the summer rains, which began early in June, made conditions difficult and brought on many landslides.

Further down the road from Balang you get into Tibetan areas and onto the road for Maerkang (a day's drive from Chengdu). This Tibetan Temple can be found on Mengbi Mountain - about 20km before reaching Maerkang.

Litang Grasslands - during July and August we drove, up over the Tibetan Plateau, from Chengdu to Yunnan. The characteristic landscape of much of this journey comprised of rolling Yak grazed grasslands. The sunny summer climate up at these high altitudes makes a very pleasant change from the sticky summer humidity of Chengdu and the Sichuan Basin.

Sichuan flowers - from the mid-summer period those high grasslands are full of flowers. This year we have gathered more reference material for plant identification, and started to make a picture collection of what we find. The above plant is a stunning Orchid that we've seen both in Sichuan and Yunnan - Habenaria davidii - named after the same legendary naturalist, who in the 19th century, introduced the Giant panda to western Science - Pere David

The Crane lady of Dashanbao - these next two pics actually come from November 2009 - but they illustrate one of our most interesting trips over the last year. Dashanbao - in Northern Yunnan - is a Black-necked Crane reserve that lies a long day's motorway drive from Chengdu via Yibin. Here, not only did we find wintering Cranes, but a very determined lady called who has made it her mission to feed and protect these endangered birds - Chen Guanghui. Apparently this task hasn't come without its dangers - our heroine has had at least one hairy experience of sinking into lakeside bog!!!!

Cranes returning to their lakeside roosting areas around the lake at Dashanbao.

Food glorious food - this year we've decided to document more of our restaurant food. This project is not only intended as an interesting reference for visitors, but as a record of traditional street cuisine that sometimes has problems surviving in the rush of development that has hit modern day China. However the above dish represents the modern - a very interesting rendition of Pumpkin from a rather plush restaurant in Ya'an.

Faces (or in this case a hidden one) - this guy is a Tibetan pilgrim. We met him on the grasslands, slowly making his way down the road, much of it with his nose against tarmac. These guys prostrate themselves between each step - hence the need for hand, knee and belly protection.

And finally a face to sign off this post - this is a Yi Lady - from outside Zhongdian in Yunnan.