Today was Sunday, and it was a whole new adventure. It was also the first day of my “vacation,” free from the stress of classes, and free to spend all on my own. I spent the morning at home, cleaning my apartment until it was spotless. It was more of a spiritual cleansing than anything else, and a stress-release exercise. I also read some more of my first English-language novel, purchased at a foreign-language bookstore close to Sichuan University. Until now, my only bedtime reading has been textbooks. Yawn. Warren, my downstairs neighbor and fellow English teacher at UESTC, dropped by to give me some information. We had become acquainted by email when I lived in L.A., and he gave me some advice that helped me to decide to accept the job here.
I then had my first haircut adventure in China. As a prelude, I had shaved off my goatee, as I was sick of looking at all the white hair. Besides, my beard trimmer was destroyed when I plugged it into the 220-volt electrical outlet, twice the voltage we use in the States. Whoops. I chose a local barber shop – they all have big, revolving “barber pole” signs – deciding to take my chances with sign language.
And what an adventure it was. The first step was to lie on a reclining couch with vibrating rollers, which relaxed me while my head was being shampooed – twice. The second shampoo was combined with a relaxing scalp massage. Then to the stylist’s chair, where I mimed how much I wanted taken off. A friendly young man cut my hair to perfection, trimming endlessly with his scissors like a sculptor creating a work of art. At one point he took a call on his cell phone, then for some reason put the phone to my ear. There was no sound on the line, and I wondered what I was supposed to do. Finally someone said a halting “Hello?” and I spoke a few words. I guess it was one of his friends wanting to try out their English. After the haircut, it was back to the shampoo sink for the third time. I though this was overdoing it. Then back to the chair for a final blow-dry. The whole process took an hour, and cost all of 10 yuan, or about $1.25.
I walked down the street feeling like Fred Astaire must have, as he sang “When There’s a Shine on Your Shoes” in The Band Wagon. I turned down the street that would take me to the Funan River, which I intended to follow through a series of winding riverside parks. On the way I came to an amusement park, where there’s a giant Ferris Wheel. I walked through the park reveling in its carnival atmosphere and trying to be totally in the moment, Zen-wise. I did pretty well, snapping some interesting pictures along the way.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through Chengdu, along the river through neighborhoods old and new, but mostly new – Chengdu has virtually reinvented itself in the last 15 years as a “modern” city, a city of high-rises, luxury condos, and brand new apartment buildings. Much of it is impressive, some of it is beautiful, but it’s all rather soul-less. Many of the tall buildings are, in fact, vacant. It’s a stage set for capitalism, sparkling and modern, but it leaves me wondering how much of historical and esthetic value was lost in this mad rush to build over the past.
A traditional Chengdu building
Before I knew it I was in Chunxi Road, the glitzy pedestrian shopping thoroughfare. I’d been here a couple of times before, but this time I had WALKED all the way downtown. My feet were feeling the miles I’d put in. I stopped in an insanely busy department store and bought a cheap bedside lamp (my fluorescent ceiling light is hell on my eyes), and then wandered over to the Starbucks close to the city’s main drag. There are pedestrian tunnels under the huge intersection here, and even a whole underground shopping city offering rather shoddy merchandise, a far cry from the luxury shops on the street level above.
I hung out at Starbucks, resting my feet, reading my book, and trying to ignore the American-looking tourists who chose this spot as their hangout. I eventually dragged my tired self to a bus stop, and boarded a #1 express bus. I’d taken this bus once before, but was not at all sure where to get off. I ended up getting lost, but at least wandered through an interesting neighborhood I hadn’t seen yet. I had a devil of a time trying to hail a taxi, but eventually snagged one, showing the driver my handwritten instructions to get back to campus.
I arrived back at the university at about 7, too late for anything but a bowl of soup at the dining hall. At least it was nourishing, with an egg and some vegetables in broth. I picked up a couple of things at the campus store and headed home, pleased with my day.