Since arriving here, I have awoken each morning with so much excitement to explore this amazing city. Chengdu has beautiful architecture, varied restaurants and shops, and a million and one other activities to enjoy. Each night I plan an adventure, and each morning I wake up ready to put my plans into action… and then each evening, I come home tired and disappointed. These aren’t just Jen’s Less Than Totally Epic Adventures, these are Jen’s Laughably Failed Adventures.
Bad Idea #1: Coming to Chengdu During the Lunar New Year
Do not come to China for the Spring Festival. It would be like going to Utah only on Sundays or to just about anywhere in the states only on bank holidays. The large majority of Chinese are home with their families for the holiday… which lasts two full weeks. That means only one in every 15 stores are open, prices are inflated for anything that is open, buses are limited, and all events are on hold. We are living in an enormous ghost town.
It is difficult to express how strange it feels to walk along a nearly empty eight lane highway between sky scrapers. It’s like a scene from a zombie movie, with the survivors making their way down empty, eerily silent streets. Sure, the freedom of movement is nice, but it’s a little spooky. How is it possible to feel so alone in a place with 14 million residents?
Bad Idea #2: Going to Tourist Attractions Over the Weekend
The only thing worse than seeing none of the 14 million residents, is seeing all of them at once. The few people that stayed in Chengdu for the holidays are facing much of the same problem that we are. The other day, we decided to do something other than cook another American meal at home and watch TV. We needed to get out of the house, so we went to the only place we knew wouldn’t be closed: the streets of downtown. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones…
I made a walking tour with six stops. We made it to four of them before we started to slowly lose our minds. Every square, sidewalk, alley way, shop front, and park were all packed with people. You could hardly take a step without bumping into somebody. The above picture was taken at what looked like a very nice set of storefronts built into a section of the old city. But the narrow road was so packed with people that we had no time to stop in any of the shops, or even to just look at them. The strangest thing of all was how happy all of the locals were to be there, as if this was just a pleasant day trip. The two of us were so keyed up and anxious by the time we got out that we were visibly shaking. Never. Again.
Bad Idea #3: Trusting Maps
China has been in a state of constant construction for many years. They build up suburbs, then ship in whole villages of people to live there. They claim it is to reduce poverty. I don’t know and I won’t comment. The point is that China is very much under construction.
After a failed trip downtown, I decided to ride my bike to a park a little farther afield. I have an offline GPS map and a paper map (they do exist!). I was ready for a two hour, round trip bike ride through an impressive neighborhood of new sky scrapers to a non-touristy park.
Instead, I ended up getting stuck in a little sub-village that was so deeply under construction that, despite the number of bridges and streets, there was only one way in or out. I needed to go either North or East. I circled the village for over an hour before I realized that all 12 of the through-roads were closed except for the one I came through on the Southwest side. I never did find my way to the park. I rode my bike for four hours straight, only to come home with a few pictures of buildings and lots of pictures of blocked-off areas the size of a whole town.
Bad Idea #4: Letting Your Bad Ideas Stop You
I’ve had three full days of failed adventures now. My feet hurt, my lungs hurts, and my pride has been wounded. Despite our attempts at nearly all of the top ten sights in Chengdu, I don’t have a single blog-worthy adventure to report. I haven’t missed a single blogging goal since we left three months ago, but in the last week, I have missed two.
But, we are still chugging along. I have another adventure planned for today and another planned for tomorrow. I forced my way through this post, despite disliking how negative it is. I want to be truthful about the negative side of this lifestyle, but this post by itself isn’t necessarily an accurate representation of our lives. Yes, we haven’t had any great adventures since we have been here in Chengdu, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t having fun. No matter how tough it gets at times, I’d still rather be out here, chasing my dream and failing, than to have never tried at all.