Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dinner and a Show

Once upon a time, in the great midwest, there lived a girl who loved Chinese food.  And then she moved to Shanghai, and let me tell you, Shanghainese is the world's worst Chinese food.  It is disgusting.  It kind of ruined Chinese food for this girl, in spite of the fact that she also had great Xinjiang food, and Taiwanese food, and Cantonese food...
And street food was the worst, by far.  In Shanghai you couldn't get within a half mile of an old town without smelling stinky tofu.  Well, I am happy to report that I didn't smell stinky tofu once while I was in Chengdu.  Maybe it's just not a Sichuan thing.  Instead, on Jinli "Old" Street they have street food that looks absolutely delicious...
...but this one wasn't from Jinli Jie.  Would this be what Grub Club would eat in China?  The world will never know.  Needless to say, Bear Grylls would be in heaven.
 I already mentioned that the streets of Chengdu have the perfume of spicy food wafting over them, and that I was going to do a cooking class at the Traffic Inn.  It was NOT cooking class with Bronte.  It was, however, interesting and we made some delicious food.
Kung pao chicken, sweet and sour eggplant, and twice-cooked pork.  I haven't made it down to Merkuri yet with my list of ingredients, but I'm dying to try making the kung pao chicken on my own.  Although - big news up here in Zaisan - a new Chinese restaurant just opened.  It's swank and the food that's been tried was good.  It's a relief to know that there is a finally a good restaurant up here.
After cooking class I set out looking for Wenshu Temple, and to a Sichuan opera performance from there.  I took the subway to the temple, since there weren't any taxis available (I already mentioned Chengdu's dearth of taxis, eh?) and THAT was a fun experience (not really).  The temple was kind of cool, I found a restaurant that served roasted bugs (see above), and eventually made it to the Jinjiang Theater.  I originally planned to go to Shufeng Yayun Teahouse, but the Lonely Planet listing didn't have an address, and the Jinjiang theater turned out to be just fine.  I think the acrobatics were my favorite...if I ever end up buying a house I'm going to be sure it has a big old tree that I can tie some long strips of silk to and teach myself how to do these things...or, more likely, break my neck trying!
They had a performance of various kinds of wushu (aka, Kung Fu).  The whip sword was really awesome.  Also fun was watching ripped men run around with their chests showing.
The best "opera" performance was a short comedy piece about a scolding wife making her "cockscomb" husband (that was their word choice - not sure what we'd call him.  A fop?) do a bunch of stuff with a lit oil lamp on his head.  He'd make a great belly dancer.
The big finale was a mask changing performance.  These guys have some sort of device in their hats, as far as I could work out, that swap the masks they are wearing.  The one above also did a "costume changing" performance, where layer after layer of cloth was whisked off him from behind until he was left with what you see here.
The costumes these characters wear often have these huge voluminous sleeves, which they whip around quickly to hide the change.  This guy had six faces (their presentation was a little over the top, as you will see below), so big sleeves didn't cut it for him - he had a flag to whip around.
To me, the craziest, most over the top part of the show was the fire-breathing, face-changing puppet.  Give.  Me.  A.  Break.  The face changing performance is magical enough without pulling out all the stops.  I saw one when I went to Beijing in 2005, and it was the best part of the show (actually, I was really pleased with, otherwise, how different the two shows were).  The whole point of this performance seemed to be to see how many wild and crazy mask things they could come up with.  And this is how we ended up combining face-changing, fire-breathing, and puppetry.  Which is not to say it wasn't cool.  Hell yeah, it was cool.  Just, you know, a little unnecessary.

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