Sichuan, China Birding – February 2018

Chengdu is a very large city. Everywhere I went there were groups of little birds snatching snacks off the ground in parks and a few scattered here and there along the river. There are even a couple of man-made wetlands built specifically for migrating birds in the area. However, as mentioned in my Bad Ideas Blog, I was not able to make it to the wetlands, so my birding was limited to the city proper.

My favorite bird of the month was the Light Vented Bulbul. I spotted it while at the Panda Research Base. It was eating the red panda’s food. It was very pretty and I liked the little tuft of white feathers on its head.

Unfortunately, I did not spot many birds this month, but I’m still pretty happy to be adding three new birds to my life list. Hopefully next month I will be celebrating my 100th unique bird!


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Birding Update – February 2018

Identified: 5

New: 3

Life List: 98


  • Crested Myna
  • Light-vented Bulbul
  • Little Egret
  • Mallard
  • Oriental Magpie-robin

 

The Places We Live – Chengdu

When I envisioned how this trip would go, I saw us living our normal lives, but with different scenery. It worked out great when we were staying with our parents in Florida and Idaho, but since we’ve been here, we have found ourselves living in hostels and hotels. And, as anyone who travels a lot for work can attest, that is not living. We have been having a great time, but I feel like a vacationer rather than a traveler or a roaming expat.

Thankfully, today is the day! We’ve temporarily moved into an apartment in Chengdu, and woke up today with our own space, breakfast at the table, and computer time on the couch. We could not be happier.

Chengdu is the capital city of Sichuan, China. There are between 7.8 and 14 million people living in this city, depending on who you ask, which makes it the 5th most populated city in China. It is the home of Sichuan spicy food, Giant Pandas, the largest building in the world (by floor area), and so much more. I can not wait to explore this city!

If you get the opportunity, check out Places Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, S8-E3 where he goes to Chengdu. It is a great representation of what we are living through.

We are living on the South end of town in an area popular among expats. How? With house sitting! That’s right. We are staying in someone’s house… for free… for two full weeks! Our host is an American teacher at an international school. She has taken off for the Spring Festival holiday and left us with her lovely home and her adorable dog, Lucy.

Jen with black dog, Lucy on couch. House sitters

Our home is in an area of town called American Village, which is a popular spot for expats. There are several other foreigners in the neighborhood, an American international school, and plenty of western restaurants. The apartment itself is on a mid-level floor in a high-rise building. It has two bedrooms, den, one large bathroom, large living room, small kitchen, and a Chinese-style laundry balcony.

The apartment was provided to our host by her work. She estimates the price to be around ¥400 ($64!) per month. It came lightly furnished in a Chinese style. During her 1.5 years here, she has added some Western flair and comforts of home (hence the coffee maker). It still has the feeling of almost right that many expats feel about the Chinese attempts at westernizing. Although the lighting and accent wall papering is elegant, the painted walls are still unevenly painted and cracked. The sinks have a nice faucet with working hot water, but the seams aren’t properly sealed, so it has a tendency to leak. There are two working elevators for the 20+ story building, but there is constant debate about turning one of them off. It has its quirks, but is overall pretty great.

The little perks of home have been wonderful. We bought some groceries and have been eating home-cooked meals. Lucy is very loving and has been keeping us entertained. We even have Netflix again. After a long day of walking and enjoying Chengdu, it was wonderful to sit and stretch on the couch in front of the TV.

We are already on our last week here in Chengdu and I don’t want to leave. I already put in an application for another house sit here for this summer. Chengdu is a very cool city and I can’t wait to explore some more. What’s on the list today? Maybe a trip to see the pandas, the opera, the wetlands, the giant buddha??? There are way too many options. One thing’s for sure, we definitely won’t be bored here in Chengdu.

 

 

 

Sichuan Hot Pot

We enjoyed our first Sichuan hot pot experience last night. I’m so glad we went with someone who knew what they were doing. It would have been a little confusing otherwise.

Our host took us out for a wonderful meal of Sichuan-style hot pot yesterday that she called Chuan Chuan. We met up with a couple of her friends and their kids, ate some delicious food, and had a blast. As we were all non-Chinese, I can not promise we ate this meal correctly, but the servers didn’t seem too thrown off by our behavior, so I’m guessing we came pretty close. If you’d like to try it yourself, or if you’re ever invited to one of these restaurants, here’s a quick breakdown of how it went:

Step One: Select a Broth

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The choices we were given for broth was Spicy and Not Spicy. We went with half and half. The Spicy side was very flavorful and included some of Sichuan’s famous prickly ash. It looks like a little black peppercorn and creates an almost numbing sensation instead of heat. I can hardly stand food that has a lot of ground pepper, but I really enjoyed this broth. It didn’t burn, it was simply packed with flavor. The Not Spicy side had an almost fruitiness to it and was absolutely delightful.

You may notice the packets of oil on the left side of the picture. Those come in handy for Step Two.

Step Two: Prepare Dipping Bowl

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The only thing better than oily food, is oily food dipped in more oil. Although we shared the large broth pot as a group, we each received our own dipping bowl. I filled mine with garlic, green onions, and oyster sauce. We then squeezed the packets of oil into each of our bowls and mixed them all together. After a few minutes, the oil absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients, creating a custom-made tastiness for the food to come.

Step Three: Select Skewers

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Next up, each person grabs a metal tray and collects the food that they want to cook and eat. There were two fridges of vegetables and two of meats. Josh and I went with sliced potatoes, broccoli, lamb sausage, imitation crab, mushrooms, pumpkin, pork wrapped mushroom sprouts, and Not Bacon (it looked and tasted like bacon, but the server insisted that it was not bacon).

Each adult ordered a bottle of beer and bowl of rice (then seconds). We also had our dipping dishes that we prepared earlier and a cup of tea. Our tray (pictured above) was enough food for Josh and I along with two bowls of rice each. Next time, however, I think we will reduce the amount of rice and instead collect 10-25% more sticks of food.

Step Four: Cook and Eat

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With Josh’s past working at The Melting Pot, the rest of the evening was a little more familiar. We cooked our sticks in the broth, similar to fondue. We occasionally ate each other’s sticks of food, but that added to the fun and variety. It’s a part of the meal, being laid-back about who eats what and sharing as a group.

Once I felt like my stick was done cooking, I took it out and dunked it in my dipping bowl. From there, it either went directly into my mouth or used as a lathering brush for my rice, then into my mouth. With the two styles, I was able to eat yummy sticks of food AND a deliciously saucy bowl of rice.

Step Five: Pay

I can see how this meal could easily take up half of the day. The amount of time it takes to cook each stick encourages conversation and drinking. The two other parties with us were traveling early in the morning, so we left out the heavy drinking part, but the conversation flowed easily and we spent more than an hour enjoying the food and each other’s company.

There was a small charge for the bowl of broth, beers, and rice. The remainder of the cost was charged by the number of sticks we collected. Our host told us that she has never spent more than ¥40 eating there and this meal didn’t turn out any different. We only got a look at half of the bill, but our portion came out to about ¥30/$5 each.

A new dish is always near the top of our Fun List, but a new dish that requires a new approach is even more fun. We had an amazing time with some great people, and can’t wait to try some different variations!