A Night at the Chinese Opera Sichuan Style

 When we woke up the countryside was pretty mountainous running down to a big slow moving river. There were small traditional hamlets on the mountainside with small patches of canola it was quite picturesque with the reflection on the water. There were a few mines and the seats in passageway on the train were all filled with mine workers who’d got on during the night and were now waiting to get off. As we pulled up at the mine station there were heaps of workers lined up waiting to get on. The train traveled through heaps of tunnels and we got small glimpses of the countryside. There was heaps of mining and quarrying being conducted on the sides of the mountains. Further along we discovered why the river was so slow moving when we passed the dam and a hydroelectric plant.As we traveled on the landscape changed with smaller hills growing tea, eucalyptus, vegetables, rice, canola.  If you’ve ever watched any action films set in the eastern bloc the only way to describe the countryside was communist grey. The sky was overcast, the buildings were all grubby black and grey, the countryside was dark, gloomy, and foreboding. In the middle of this there were patches of bright yellow canola, it really looked out of place. Obviously canola is a good cash crop here, they grow it in even the smallest patches absolutely everywhere.
The conductor came along to exchange our blue passes for our tickets and was in a state when she found sleeping beauty was not in the cabin, and of course wanted to know where he was. We had no clue so she departed muttering under her breath, probably thinking we were hiding him somewhere.  She returned about 30 minutes later but he’d been and gone. She started going on at the Chinese guy in the bottom bunk but he just shrugged his shoulders. I pointed to the left and held up two fingers signifying he was up two cabins, she didn’t return.
When we arrived in Chengdu, we were amazed at the amount of people who were actually  on our train, the crowd was heavier than a western derby.
The exit from the station has a big fenced off area, like a bull pen which no taxi driver or tour van operator  is allowed to enter. They hover around the outside yelling in Chinese holding up signs. Outside the bullpen is a large concourse which is full of groups of people waiting, they seem to be of different ethnic backgrounds. There’s a a long cattle race which feeds the taxi rank with only one entry and fences that are too high to just step over.(they are serious fences)
We’d booked transport to Hello Chengdu Hostel formerly known as the Sim’s Cozy Guesthouse, however it didn’t turn up. We rang the hostel to check and grabbed a taxi instead. The taxi only cost ¥16, which the hostel paid for. The hostel staff were so friendly, asking us to first check the room before taking it, and offering a self serve laundry or a full laundry service. We booked a tour to see the Pandas and front row at the Chinese opera for a 20 percent discount. The hostel had a great feel about it with rustic settings, and lots of activities. The Bar/restaurant had a games room with pool table. Ping pong, foosball, indoor basketball, and the meals at the restaurant were pretty good.
We stayed in a Tibetan room, clad on the outside with split logs and decorated with Tibetan artefacts (and even a miniature yak guarding the door).lol
A nice hot shower was so refreshing after the train journey, and after dressing in some clean clothes we organised our dirty laundry, and loaded up the washing machine before checking out a local restaurant. Every day there is something to smile and laugh about, today was the lady in the restaurant.  She handed us the English menu and when she came to take our order Michele  ordered Pulled Pork and I Yibin Style Noodles, and we were trying to explain she didn’t want it too spicy. The lady came back with lettuce in one hand and Chinese broccoli in the other, and was making an air sucking noise (like a sudden intake of breath). We looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. She disappeared and came back with a tiny little dish of something which looked spicy so I put my thumb up and said ok. A bowl of beef pepper soup came out first fooled by a bowl of rice for Michele and a plate of Steamed Chinese broccoli in garlic sauce. A heaped plate of round noodles came out with all the sauce underneath. I started turning the noodles over, to mix all the ingredients together, but obviously wasn’t doing a good enough job so the lady grabbed some chopsticks and joined in. The meals were pretty good and set us back ¥18. I gave the lady a  ¥20 and started walking out the door (leaving a small tip) but she called after me and ran up to give me the change. I think she enjoyed having two superstars at her restaurant and would be the main topic of conversation amongst her friends for the next couple of weeks.lol

Chinese Opera

After a nice tasty  BLT and coffee at the hostel we headed off to Shu Feng Ya Yung Teahouse for Chinese Opera . A Japanese couple also staying at he hostel joined us and we had a front row table.
We were served green tea throughout the show by a waiter with a teapot with a spout about a metre long. (we just had to make sure we weren’t sitting behind the cup because sometimes the water came spurting out missing the top of the cup)
The dressing room was open so we could see the performers putting on their makeup and beautiful costumes.
Chinese Opera is actually more of a variety show that a bunch of fat people singing in high voices. It’s a mixture of all sorts of elements.
The opera started with a traditional song with a lady singing in a traditional singsong voice, backed by a traditional Chinese opera orchestra. The performers had pink face makeup and the silk costumes were heavily embroidered and absolutely stunning.  The next act was a man playing a Chinese violin. I’ve never heard anyone play the way that this bloke played, he could’ve taught Jeff Lynn from ELO a thing or two. His played two tunes one called Romeo and Juliet which was a beautiful melody and the last tune was called the Horse. In this one he really showed off his abilities as he mimicked the horse with his playing.
This act was followed by a hand Hand shadow performance a Chinese Puppet Show and a bloke playing a local trumpet. He showed off his skills with this and what seemed to be a Duck caller. This guy also did some weird noises just using his voice. It was really funny.
The gambling husband was probably our favourite Act. Throughout Cambodia and Vietnam we’d been watching a show called “Kung Fu Motion”. It’s the story of an American- Chinese fitness coach Harry Yuan who’s travelling china learning all different motion skills. In one episode called the  Rolling Oil Lamp skit Harry is in Chengdu at this very tea house.
The skit is about a hen pecked husband who by mistake tells his wife he’s been out gambling when he meant to tell her he’s been studying (the two words are the same just the tone is different)ooops…..
His wife makes him balance a burning oil lamp on his head, while dancing around making rubbery moves with his body. Then she makes him crawl under low  bench seats which involves sliding the oil lamp from the top of his head onto his forehead, which takes a lot of skill. Then do minor acrobatic moves between the two benches. He then has to slide the oil lamp back to the top of his head as he stands up. It really shows off his balancing skills.
It was great to have watched the episode to understand what the skit was about and to finally see it live with the performers who’d trained Harry in the show was really amazing.
The last performance was Bian Lian, the ultra-quick mask changing act that is a signature of Sichuan opera. The act started with a group of about seven or eight performers all dressed in warrior costumes with one changing costume within the blink of of an eye. There was one guy doing fire breathing to coordinate the costume change. The act then progressed to mask changing where they’d look away then look back and have a different mask. It was an awesome act.
We really loved the show but were glad to get into bed at the end of the night. Tomorrow we are heading to visit the Pandas.

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