A new friend

Last night I met my new friend Fred – that’s the English name he uses. We met on Fridae, the “Empowering Gay Asia” website. He’s my first gay friend in Chengdu, in fact, the only local man I’ve met on the site. Fred is 26, works in sales and marketing for a chemical company, and he’s a truly sweet guy. We chatted in broken English over dinner of pepper steak at a vaguely American restaurant, then he took me to his apartment. It’s a lovely 2-level loft space on the 21st floor of a building, with a huge window and a killer view of Chengdu. The lights were coming on in the evening, and the flashing neon signs blended with distant traffic noises below. Fred told me about his life, and at times seemed a bit sad. He wants me to help him improve his English. If I get a photo of him I’ll post it here.

After I said goodbye to Fred, I did some shopping at the nearby Carrefour store. It’s a French-owned company, and sells housewares, clothing, groceries, and just about everything else. I was excited because some teacher friends told me that they’d bought some authentic French brie there, and my mouth was watering for some cheese. Alas, there was no French cheese in sight. I was vaguely repulsed by the sight of customers handling meat with their bare hands in the butcher section, and then throwing it back. It’s self-service, and most of the food is uncovered. There’s none of that pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped, sanitary stuff that we’re used to in American supermarkets. I said goodbye to my plans to buy some meat for dinner.

I finally managed to catch a taxi and got home about 10:30 pm.

My new home decor

I bought my first item of home décor. I managed to find the Chengdu antique district the other day, and spent an hour or so shopping for “antiques,” many of which were mass-produced (I recognized some items from a museum shop!). My eye isn’t trained yet to spot the real thing, but I did see a few pieces I admired. Nothing has a price, and everything must be negotiated. If you look foreign, I suspect that the price doubles or triples. I did, however, purchase a hanging scroll (see photo). I bargained the price down to 180 yuan, a little more than $20, the shopkeeper and I writing down figures until we agreed on one. Now that it’s on my wall, I’m not sure if I like it. The picture looks a bit like gaudy wallpaper, and the mustard-yellow color clashes with my sensibilities; still, it’s kind of nice from a distance.

A beautiful park adjacent to Du Fu’s Cottage

After the antiques, I visited Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, a museum shrine to a famous Chinese poet who lived about 700 AD or so. It’s a beautiful scenic spot in the midst of one of the most beautiful public parks I’ve seen anywhere. I took some pix of lily ponds that would have made Claude Monet proud.

Water lilies – hommage to Monet

Tower of One Thousand Buddhas, Du Fu’s Cottage park. There wasn’t a single Buddha in the joint.
Today I’m meeting Connie, a UESTC grad student and friend of Sue, to go shopping for a used bicycle. Bicycle theft in China is so rampant that the sale of used bikes was outlawed, but it didn’t stop the practice. The trick is to find the ugliest, most rusty, unattractive one-speed bike possible to discourage theft. Oh, how I miss my Giant 18-speed bicycle! I did visit a Giant store the other day, and even the deluxe models were only 700 yuan, about $100, less than a third of what I paid for my bicycle in L.A.!
I was surprised to find an Italian Renaissance church in Chengdu! I don’t know what its original purpose was, but now there’s a restaurant under the dome, and the rest of the building is a fish market. The used bike “black market” operates here as well. I almost got squashed by a taxi as I was test-driving a bicycle. I didn’t buy one, even though I had 2 students doing the bargaining for me.
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