» OF BICYCLES, BIRDS & SPICES: A photo walk around Chengdu, Sichuan

Photo Essayby Brian Awehali

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu – photo (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

The scale of things in China - (c) 2012 Brian AwehaliCar ownership is on the rise, but bicycle culture in Chengdu, and China generally, remains amazing. Many, perhaps most, main roads have dedicated bike lanes, and it’s really common to see things like hard-working (and exhausted) trash recyclers carting Seussian-levels of stuff around on pedal-powered vehicles (above), or a lone cyclist pedaling calmly through a terrifyingly busy intersection (left).

Fan of Babeel, former striker for Liverpoot? (Chengdu) - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

I’m sure lots of the Chinese (Mandarin) lettering on t-shirts I see in the U.S. is mangled or just downright wrong, but since I can’t read traditional or simplified Mandarin, that’s nowhere near as funny to me as the botched English translations I saw everywhere in Chengdu. There’s quite a lot of emulation and outright copying of Western culture — especially consumer culture. This teenager stalking into an underpass near the Chengdu bus station might be expressing his esteem for striker/winger Ryan Babel (not Babeel), the Dutch football player who used to play for… Liverpool (not Liverpoot)… but it’s just as likely that the kid just liked the way this looked.

At Chengdu International Airport, the wheelchair-accessible stalls in the men’s bathroom have the pictograph you might expect, with Mandarin lettering and then, below that, in English translation: “Deformed Man End Place.” Picture after the jump:

Wheelchair-accessible stall sign in men's bathroom, Chengdu International Airport

Wheelchair-accessible stall sign in men’s bathroom, Chengdu International Airport

Fast food work sucks everywhere (Chengdu, Sichuan) - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Some things are the same everywhere. Though McDonald’s and KFC are considered kind of upscale in China — a place you might bring a date for a nice treat, and the employees have stylish outfits compared to their U.S. counterparts — fast food work sucks everywhere. I’d recommend not eating at a Chinese fast food chain called Dico’s unless you’d like to punish yourself and everyone around you for several gruesome days you’ll probably never live down.

Singing to no one in particular at People's Park, Chengdu, Sichuan - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Public life is highly active in Chengdu. Riverside teahouses seem always to be packed with tea-drinking and mahjong playing. At People’s Park, there’s kite-flying, teenagers cruising, coordinated musical acts, men doing tai-chi (or qi-gong) and, in the mornings and evenings, women filling entire squares dancing along to the exhortations of lead instructors amplified through PA systems.

There are also things like those depicted above, where a woman with her mic and karaoke machine sits, with her bored-looking friend, singing to no one in particular. A few yards away, the men below were batting a badminton shuttlecock back and forth.

Badminton without a net, People's Park, Chengdu, Sichuan - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Chengdu, and Sichuan, are known for their spicy food, and “ma-la,” which is about spiciness, but also a unique kind of numbness effected by the Sichuan pepper, or huājiāo (花椒; literally “flower pepper”). I found an informative post about Sichuan spice at Asianpalate.com.

The spice markets in Chengdu are impressive, and the medley of colors and aromas you experience walking through even a relatively modest one, like the one shown below, can be dizzying.

Chengdu Spice Market - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

I’m pretty sure the guys below, who seemed to me like they ought to be speaking in Jersey accents about some effin’ guy or other, did not appreciate a laowai (foreigner) like me taking their picture as I strolled down the street.

Chengdu wise guys, wishing they could offer the obnoxious foreign photographer a very bad deal? - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Chengdu wise guys, wishing they could offer the obnoxious foreign photographer a very bad deal? – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Several times a week, one of my hosts (and probable future mother-in-law) would take me grocery shopping with her. We’d stroll down a smaller side street, where the better markets seemed to be, and she’d make a point of tormenting me by asking which dimple-skinned and beheaded duck or chicken looked good to me. I’d made the mistake of saying they all looked unappetizing to me, laid out whole. Half a block of roasted ducks, hanging upside down from hooks, often with their heads and fried-smooth, featureless eyes somehow comically horrible, was not an uncommon sight. For most of my time in China, I lived in small but persistent fear of politely accepting soup, only to crunch into a rabbit head, or the organ of something before I could do anything about it.

So my host — a lovely woman, who grew up in the country, and whose family raised and regularly slaughtered chickens and pigs — would laugh at my delicate sensibilities. I really hated it at the time, but looking back, I think she was right to laugh at me. After all, I wasn’t saying I didn’t want to eat chicken or duck. I was saying I didn’t want to see them looking so much like their actual animal selves.

Chengdu market bird gulag - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Chengdu market exotic bird gulag – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Chengdu market bird gulag - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Chengdu market exotic bird gulag – (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

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One thought on “» OF BICYCLES, BIRDS & SPICES: A photo walk around Chengdu, Sichuan

  1. Again, Brian, great photos, all of them. I particularly liked your line:But this processed, mechanized, for-profit world I actually live in too dearly loves its various cages.

    Did you see that CA voted yesterday against repealing the dealth penalty AND keeping the 3 strikes law? Disgusting! ________________________________

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