Four days before the Year of Dragon bid its farewell, I flew in to Chengdu (成都), from the coastal city of Qingdao. I had been in China for two weeks, revisiting several cities before my final stop of my ‘homecoming’, the heart of the heavenly kingdom of Sichuan.
From my earlier posts of Chengdu: “Country of Heaven” and Heavenly Kingdom Sichuan(天府之国四川), you would have learned something about this wonderful Chinese gem. Today, I shall reveal more of this mega city’s attractions, especially how the people there welcome the Chinese New Year, seeing off the lucky Dragon and embracing and welcoming the auspicious Snake.
The day after my arrival, my best friend from school Min came to visit, and so did my nephew Kaikai. With my Mum and her nanny, we all went out for a meal.
“What would you like to eat?” Mum asked me.
“Anything,” I replied, honestly. There are no culinary delights which have ever disagreed with me and my slightly Westernized but still non-discriminatory stomach.
“Is there anything you can’t have in the UK?” Min enquired, smiling.
“Well, everything,” I half joked, “You pick, please.” As a far-away visitor, I was allowed the last word on the matter.
No sooner had the waitress taken our order, the dishes quickly appeared on our table one after another, a large bowl of hot and spicy river fish, a tasty plate of steamed spare ribs with glutinous rice, the fish-flavoured pork and stir fried four-season beans, with a tofu vegetable soup to finish. Simple but utterly delicious!
“My treat,” I insisted at the end of the meal. Min did negotiate a discount and she explained to me, a ‘foreigner’ to modern China: “If you pay cash without asking for a receipt, you get a discount. The restaurant didn’t want to pay the tax man, so no receipt, no proof of income. This way, they split that fee with their customer, “win-win” situation, Chinese style.”
Every day in China, I learned something new.
On the morning of 9th of February, 2013, mother told me the ‘plan’ for the day: “Your Uncle and Auntie will collect us at 2.30pm and we’ll go to a pre-booked tea house to play Mahjohng, then dinner is at 6.30, in a Hot Pot place just across the road.”
“Wonderful!” I cheered. They had wi-fi at the Tea Rooms, so I was quite happy to surf the net via my iPad, my saviour, as the hard-core small time ‘gamblers’ enjoyed their games. “Just for fun, small change within the family,” smiled my mother. I knew why she felt the need to explain to me, knowing how much I disapprove of but tolerate such activities.
The Chinese New Year Eve’s feast began, as the 18 adults of my extended family (the smallest gatherings in years – perhaps my attendance put some of them off , with four children (the number is important, as they were the ones who would receive red envelopes from all adults.). “Times have changed,” Mum said to me, “Nowadays the lucky money inside these red envelopes are in their hundreds.”
“I know, mum,” I replied, “Guess I have no escape but to part some of my cash to those kids I have never met before, and without even knowing their names.”
It was true, two young babies there belonged to the kids of one of my aunts’ sister’s children’s – are you confused? I certainly was! I wasn’t even sure what they would call me if they could speak!
Following the excitement of handing out the hundred RMBs with Chairman Mao’s head shot, we sat down to the feast. Just take a good look at these photos and tell me that they look damned tasty and mind-blowing, even, in terms of variety and temperature. In true Sichuan style, we opted for a Hot Pot treat, keeping us warm for the rest of the year!
Goodbye, the Year of Dragon – we had a dragon dish to symbolise that.
Welcome, the Year of Snake – I’ll order that dish of delicious eel after all !
Here are more pictures of the feast – I will be making a short video and can’t wait to share it with you in the near future!
Our celebration of the Snake has just begun! Pop in for more virtual feasts on China’s sights, sounds, smells and tastes