What brought us to Langzhong? It’s a pretty small city, certainly by Chinese standards, just a little over 100,000 people in northwestern Sìchuan. But we had a few days to kill before heading back to Hong Kong and wanted to get a little off the beaten track. It’s got a reputation as a place to see great, traditional Chinese architecture in its old town – the real “old China” that’s quickly disappearing beneath massive new development projects – so we hopped on a bus and took the four-hour ride.
And yes, the old town was attractive and atmospheric; lots of activity and color and traditional architecture. The only problem is that it only takes maybe 45 minutes or an hour to kind of walk through the whole thing and we were here for three days. We’d debated whether to spend two or three days there and settled for three. The good news was that the weather turned really nice on the third day, after some pretty chilly and damp weather the first two days, so we got to enjoy just hanging around the last day.
One of the challenges here was the very limited English spoken. There was precisely one person at our hotel who spoke English at all and if he wasn’t around we were pretty helpless; the rest of the staff didn’t understand even when we asked for something pretty simple, like a taxi (we were a couple miles out of town). Restaurants were even worse; typically no English whatsoever. Here, then, more than most places we’ve been so far, Mark’s rudimentary Mandarin came in really handy. By the time we got to our last dinner Mark just ordered the stuff we wanted – Kung Pao Chicken, eggplant, and a traditional Sìchuan beef dish – without relying on a menu or pictures at all.With little else to do, then, our days centered around eating and reading. My book right now is amusing. I’m reading a biography of Charles de Gualle and it’s pretty rare to read about such a heroic, historic figure and find yourself constantly thinking “What a dick.” It appears to have been a pretty universal reaction to him. When I search my Kindle for “son of a bitch” a number of quotes from American officials pop up.
As we hoped in our attempt to get off the grid a bit in Sìchuan Province, the star of the show was the food. The peppers – the Sìchuan peppercorns and the various green and red peppers – are becoming addictive. We had a particular green bean dish a few times, always with lots of peppercorns and red peppers and garlic, that was just the best bean dish I’ve ever had. Some dishes I wasn’t entirely sure what part of the animal I was eating and was probably just as happy not to know, but boy was it good. The prices, meanwhile, were unbelievable. We’d order maybe four dishes for dinner, along with tea, and it would come to under $15. For a really good meal. That’s why we came to Langzhong!
And so that’s Langzhong: great food, a quaint old town, lots of time to read, and a chance for Mark’s Mandarin to blossom. From here we have a quick two-day stop in Changqing and then a three-day detour back to Hong Kong for Mark’s surgery before we come back to Sìchuan for a three-day cruise up the Yangtze River. We’re pretty excited about that (the river part, not the surgery part).