Sunday, 25 October 2015

Sichuan Day 4: From Chengdu to JiuZhaiGou

To be accurate, the title maybe should be "From Millennium Hotel to Sheraton Hotel".

This article is all about planes, trains and automobiles. Ok, no train, it's just about plane and automobiles. In short, road trip.

While it isn't a sightseeing day, it's day full of events that's what travel is all about, seeing the things that you would consider unusual in your own environment, but quite normal in these nicks of the woods.

{ * On the Road to Chengdu Airport * }

We took a cab to Chengdu airport from Millennium Hotel. The cabbie took 15 mins to get to the airport what would normally a 25 mins trip. Well, time's money, especially for a cabbie where time is measured by their meters.

Move your buttock!
I'm on the clock !

The tollbooths are manned (I should say "womanned") by pretty ladies in nice uniforms, polite manners and pleasant voices. Incredible feat to be so pleasant, standing in the middle of the highway all day. Why the pleasantry? I don't know. Brighten up a stressful day for drivers on the road? Maybe it makes the toll paying less painful. They know where are some of their moolahs gone into.

Tollbooth, ChengDu, Sichuan, China

Tollbooth, ChengDu, Sichuan, China
Lovely tollbooth ladies who dressed up like airline hostesses

I don't think all tollbooths in ChengDu are staffed with such 5-star presentations. This one is the 1st one from the airport, hence the need for looking good (and hence the airline hostess uniforms). After all, 1st impression lasts. Well, I'm impressed.

This is definitely not a sight you would see in Singapore (not that Singapore road authority doesn't collect tolls). On the contrary. Road tolls in Singapore are collected electronically with ERP system (ERP stands for Electronic Road Pricing officially, but one Singapore cabbie told me that it stands for Everyday Robs People. To them, it's highway robbery. The tolls aren't for highways. They're for city roads). Anyway,  in China, keeping people employed has higher priority than efficiency. And I would be sorry to see these ladies go (just like the tea ladies working in the offices in Sydney back in the 1980s). The personal touch gradually disappears, everywhere.

ERP are installed to control congestion. One time when my brother - who came to visit me from UK - complained (more like comment) about the traffic jam, the cabbie was quick to correct him, "There's no traffic congestion in Singapore. There must be an accident up ahead". A few mins later, Lo and behold, we saw an accidence. Well, living in the Lion City for 6 years, I can say that the Singapore traffic congestion control is 2nd to none (just like Singapore Changi Airport).

I think ERP pays off, even if the road users don't like paying it. This is because motorists are more willing to pay for road tolls, which they see as fees to use the road. ERP seems to be more like a penalty or a fee to pay for better traffic congestion.

{ * Lunch in Chengdu Airport *}

We were naturally hungry after a speedy taxi trip to airport. Doesn't anyone ?

ChengDu Airport concourse, ChengDu, Sichuan, China
ChengDu Airport concourse

After checking in and before entering the departure hall, we decided to find lunch out here instead of in there. After a high-speed reconnaissance of the airport for food, we decided to try out a buffet-style restaurant on level 2 (the end of the airport where all the restaurants were concentrated). We liked this smorgasbord set up because we can get smaller dishes, and more of them to try.

ChengDu Snack Food Stall, ChengDu Airport, Sichuan, China

ChengDu Snack Food, ChengDu, Sichuan, China
Variety of snack food to choose from

We ordered cucumbers, pig-noses, a soup noodle for carbo, and a Chinese tea. I absolutely love pig-ears, and so I imagined I would like pig-noses too. And I did. I haven't eaten pig-noses before. If you like pig-ears, don't miss out these pig-noses. It marinated in Sichuan chili, which gives your tongue a tingling and numb feeling, instead of the one you probably accustomed to, which gives you a sensation of hot and burning tongue.

Tie Guanyin tea, pickled cucumber, pig's noses and pan-fried dumpling
Our lunch with Tie Guanyin tea, pickled cucumber, pig's noses and pan-fried dumpling

The tea is about the same price as the other 3 dishes combined. As I was paying for the food, when I was asked if I wanted a tea, I said yes, and didn't ask for its price, thinking it would cost less than $2, typically.

Many places sell tea at ridiculous prices in China, all in the name of tea appreciation. There're many tea-houses in ChengDu that are charged by the hours, instead of amount of tea. I guess it's bottomless. People don't come to these tea houses just for tea. You wouldn't drink tea for hours. The tea houses also provides board games like Chinese chess, and checkers, as well as books and magazines that are free to use while sipping these nicely flavoured bioflavonoid Chinese traditional drink. This leisurely lifestyle is at the heart of Sichuan culture.

While tea is expensive in China and in this airport, books are cheap. With that price of tea of ¥55, I could get any of the following current popular titles in the airport bookstore,

The Dollar Trap by Edwar S. Prasad. ¥48.
The Life of Jesus by a Joseph Ernest Renan. ¥48.
Michele Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin . Hardcover ¥55.

Chinese would pay exorbitant price for tea, especially as gifts. Like the one we saw in the airport shop just minutes before, it costs ¥3000 a box. "What's the fudge!", I say. "What's the fuss?", Chinese would say.

spectators, ChengDu Airport, Sichuan, China
Locals plane spotting, ok, spectators just watching planes taking off outside the fence

{ * In the Air * }

Don't sleep on your flight from Chengdu to JiuZhaiGou. At least, not in the last 15 mins as the plane starting the descent. Set your alarm to awake you up, if you must. If you snooze, you will miss some of the best earth-porn on earth. Keep your camera ready. Smile, baby, cheers!

Here're some of the earth-porn of peaks from above.

Aerial view, JiuZhaiGou, Sichuan, China

Aerial view, JiuZhaiGou, Sichuan, China

Aerial view, JiuZhaiGou, Sichuan, China

Aerial view, JiuZhaiGou, Sichuan, China

Shadow of our plane with coloured ring of rainbow around it
Shadow of our plane with rainbow ring around it

{ * On the Road to Sheraton * }

As soon as we stepped off the air-plane, Ada and me found ourselves breathing hard and fast, my hearts pounding. This was how the Himalayan Plateau welcomed us. Fortunately, it didn't take too long for us to get used to it. My racing hearts subsided. Let's just say we were excited to set foot on the Himalayas.

Outside a little distance from the airport were where a group of cabs parked. As we walked towards it, a taxi driver approached us and asked if we needed a cab. We told him we wanted to go to Sheraton Hotel, and he asked for ¥360. It sounded about right as I read online that others paid about ¥350.

Red Bull can for ashtray in the cab. Very environmentally friendly.

.As soon as we got into his cab, he asked if we wanted a driver cum tour guide. We told them that we already had a guide who would take us around. He drove at a snail pace at about 30km / hr. Judging from his enterprising spirit, he wouldn't strike me as somebody who would drive slowly. What happens to the cabbies number 1 motto: time's metered ?

I didn't mind the leisurely pace, after all, I could now see the earth-porn that I saw outside my plane's window on the ground level outside my taxi's window. Instead of looking down, I'm looking up, getting my neck a more balanced exercise. Here're some of the stunning rugged landscape of Sichuan. All were done inside with the dirty window up.

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

Jiuzhaigou, Sichuan, China

If you think I could do such a great job taking stunning photos from a moving car, have a look at these. I don't think they will appear on any travel brochures soon. They're pretty artistic shots. Maybe they might appear in some art gallery. I called these shots, "Monkey Magic Mystery Mountains".

I soon found out my answer why he has been driving so slowly. He took out his mobile phone, steered with one hand, mobile on the other hand, looking for business from others. After 2 unsuccessful calls, he turned his full attention to his single task of driving. With the full attention, he could now moving at breakneck speed. It was winding country road that full of unending bends as one would expect.

He was impatient. In one instance, he overtook 3 cars and one luxury coach in the middle of an 'S' bend. We couldn't see the oncoming traffic because of the bend. If the ChengDu taxi driver was the typical city driver, then he was the country cowboy driver. Well, this place is something of a wild wild west of China. The Tibetan cabbies drive taxis the way they ride horses: fast, fury, and yee-haw! Mind you, I'm not complaining.

In his defence, since the whole highway is all bends, if he didn't try to overtake on a bend (with blind-spot of oncoming traffic), he really had little chance of overtaking.

For the more developed highways, there're usually overtaking lanes provided. But with the country road that consists unending twists and turns that has a really short straight section, there's really no place to put an overtaking lanes. You just do it if you can't wait.

Tibetan Yak crossing the road, Sichuan, China
Tibetan Yak crossing the road

Tibetan Yak grazing on the side of the road, Sichuan, China
Tibetan Yak grazing on the side of the road

Tibetan horses grazing on the side of the road, Sichuan, China
Tibetan horses grazing on the side of the road

He suddenly dropped to a snail pace 60km/hr speed. As I pondered for the slow driving, I quickly found my answer. There was a traffic police box on the side of the road. It seems to take photos of every car that passed, regardless of speed (judging from the constant camera flashes).

I saw quite a few highway patrol cars drove past near the airport. This should imply that speeding is rampant here. And his slow driving in the beginning would probably due to the large number of cops patrolling that stretch of the road. There were also quite a few cattle on the road early on.

While we spent the whole day on the road, but we had done as much sightseeing as we were in their final destinations. And quite eventful. Not a wasted day at all.

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