Sichuan Hot Pot (the dish Chengdu is best known for) has four major components: Sichuan peppercorns, hot oil, hot oil, and hot oil. It’s beyond delicious. But.. it is also mostly oil. Oil, garlic, chives, and the kind of spices that make your entire month tingle and feel numb, as you reach for the barely-cold Tsingdao.
Sichuan Hot Pot was also the only thing within walking distance of our hotel room in Chengdu, so at 9pm, fresh from our delayed fight out of Pudong, we ordered a pot of boiling oil, potatoes, mung bean noodles, and what accidentally turned out to be stuffed frozen squid (what were they stuffed with? I’ll never know). I feel like there’s never really a dignified way to eat hot pot – it always turns into a spattering, spluttering mess, soup landing on every surface (mostly my jacket), my face beet-red, and the table piled with tissues for wiping off oil and the snot dripping from my nostrils. It’s not pretty. I also wouldn’t recommend hot pot as a first (or second, or third) date. But it is delicious.
Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province, is known for two things: Its hot pot and its overabundance of pandas. We didn’t get to the pandas on this trip, because I went with D to the only away game of the Shanghai AFLC Season. The AFLC is as much the American Football League of China as it is a rec league (“adult semi-professional” D calls it), but it’s as close to the real football as we’ll get in China, so I’m not complaining.
The games are usually played on soccer fields, as far out from civilization as city limits allow, but they’re also kind of great. I saw two all-out brawls on the field between the Shanghai Warriors and the Chengdu Pandamen (no, I’m not making the team name up), so this was lot more like the AFC East than I would have anticipated. And we won! I got to celebrate the win with the football team, which meant more Sichuanese food, more beer, and more baiju (D told me the Baijiu we were drinking was quality, which really makes me wonder what sort of antifreeze counts as bad Baijiu).
Overall, the weekend in Chengdu was wonderful. But you know, at the same time, one thing that I don’t usually write about, but something that still hangs over my time in China is just how privileged I am to be living like this, especially in my early twenties. It’s the kind of thought that only comes into my head when we can easily escape for a weekend jaunt to a city that is almost three hours away by plane, especially since I’ve got to travel by plane every single month of this year. It’s always exhilarating to go to new places spontaneously like this and even more exhilarating to write about it, but it’s also not something that many people in China or even back in the U.S. can do. It’s really wonderful to be able to say “fuck it, let’s go to Chengdu tomorrow”, but you also don’t want to bcome that person. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m okay with this privilege because I do work hard to live like this, but as I get older, I want to make sure that I am never deadened or disillusioned by it. Checking my privilege is something I’d quickly learned to do in college, but even living here in China, I still get pangs of ‘white guilt’. I don’t think there’s a really easy solution, or a resolution to how I should feel about this, but even writing it out, to preserve in writing makes me feel like I’m at least not doing this entirely wrong.