The flight from Shanghai to Chengdu took three hours (about 1,100 miles). The taxi ride from the airport to the city quickly highlighted the economic prosperity of Chengdu, with Jaguar, BMW and Lexus dealerships lining the highway. On one of the major avenues you saw modern, high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Dior. Skyscrapers and huge billboards, like at Times Square, were everywhere.
My “foreign expert” housing is located on the older, urban Sichuan University campus, surrounded by major streets lined with small stores. You enter the campus through several guarded gates. After receiving an e-mail indicating I’d need to take a rickshaw (pedicab) from a gate to my campus housing, I prudently decided to stay in a downtown hotel for my first night in Chengdu. I went to Sichuan University the first day with only one big suitcase to get my apartment key. The older man still got a workout pedaling me about a half-mile to my four-story apartment building.
The next morning I got a call from a Chinese lady who works at the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu with Fulbright Scholars. She kindly convinced her husband to drive to my hotel and transport me and the remaining bags to my foreign experts building. What a pleasant relief. I had planned to hire two pedicabs for myself and my remaining luggage!
She phoned a young, English-speaking Political Science colleague who teaches in my school. He took me to lunch and then helped me shop for basic household goods and a few breakfast items. We had an interesting talk over a Sichuan meal of fresh and boiled vegetables (some I didn’t recognize), a sliced beef dish and a whole fish. He joined the CPC (Communist Party of China) at age 27. In joining, he had to agree not to embrace a religion. In the country of 1.3 billion people, he told me only 70 million are Party members.
The apartment that Sichuan University kindly provided has two bedrooms, a large dining/living area, a small kitchen and a bathroom. It also enjoys 24-hour hot water, but it’s not drinkable. I was advised to close the doors of the unused bedroom, bathroom and kitchen to preserve heat. Two electrical heaters near the ceiling of the master bedroom and living room direct the heat outward to warm the apartment. That night, it dropped to 31 degrees. I was glad I brought wool socks, long johns and a ski shirt for sleeping.
The next morning I went to the “supermarket” and bought a four-cup coffee maker. I returned to my apartment and promptly made some fresh coffee. Now I could face any new challenges. Tea is still a novel experience for me, but since Chengdu is known for its teahouses, I will probably become more civilized by July.
The next evening I invited my Chinese colleague to dinner. This time we dined at Pete’s Tex-Mex restaurant just off-campus and I knew what dishes to order. The restaurant had just won the award for Best Western Restaurant by the English-language magazine “Chengdoo City Life.” Although the restaurant is popular with ex-pats, that evening mainly young Chinese filled the tables and booths. Sombreros and serapes hung on the walls while Chinese girls wearing Lone Star shirts politely served customers. Ole!
On Thursday I decided to explore the city. I first visited the lovely old pagoda at the main Sichuan University gate. After you leave campus though the East Gate you can walk along the Jinjiang River path for the view and exercise. I took a cab to see the huge statue of Chairman Mao at the city’s center, surrounded by red flags and blooming flowers. Down the street was the People’s Park, full of families enjoying the colorful flowers and Spring Festival displays.
I then visited the Wu Hou Temple. It was first built in 223 A.D. to respect the memory of Emperor Liu Bai, who founded the Shu-Han Kingdom in this region during the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China. I was impressed that the shrine also honors his key counselor Zhuge Liang for his wisdom, justice and loyalty. While a guide was explaining the deep popular respect for Zhuge Liang throughout China, a lady next to me suddenly clapped, brought her hands together, and bowed her head in prayer to his statue asking for good fortune.
As a political scientist, I enjoyed the partial translation of a couplet, written during the Qing Dynasty, lauding Zhuge Liang for his great statesmanship that still garnered broad respect so many centuries later: “Only virtue and ability can convince the people….”