It took me 30 minutes to check in and get through security. The most frustrating part was having to install a special app and enter every address i have stayed at over the past 14 days, which includes 3 hotels and my own house. I don't know all those addresses, and because Chinese map apps are fucking garbage (disclaimer: might also happen with rest-of-world map apps) you can't copy/paste addresses.
Here's a breakdown of security. Before entering the airport, bags go through a scanner and IR temperature scan is done. Then check in, checked bag goes through another scanner. Walk to first security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked. Walk to special virus security gate and get another IR temperature check. Guy in a hazmat suit scans the QR code from the app where you entered the last 14 days of movements, and checks each address. Put cabin bag through another scanner. Walk to second security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked again, also facial recognition scan and fingerprints are taken. Walk to third security gate, passport and boarding pass are checked again, facial recognition is confirmed. Finally there is the standard take off your belt, tip out all your water, take your laptop out security scan and pat-down. Lordy.
There were no lines, which is why it was so quick. Finally through the gate... and nothing is open. There is nowhere to get food. There is a Starbucks which is supposed to be open at 6:30am but it's now 8am and it's still not open.
Good times. Now, what have i been doing in Chengdu the past few days?
After my last entry where i blasted Chengdu for having bland and overpriced food, i decided to bike out to the outer suburbs to see if things were any better there. I found a couple of small worker communities and wet markets, which are usually good spots to find food, but the meat problem persisted. All the noodle shops were proud 肥肠面 (intestine noodle) shops. All the canteens only listed meat dishes.
So i did what every sad foreigner does in China does and got bread.
This is a corn bread i have never seen before, and some rice-based 发糕 sponge cakes. A bit later on i found a place doing roadside cold noodle, but it was nothing to write home about. I got a 冰粉 iced jelly topped with everything to cheer me up.
By this point i was pretty far out, around a new reservoir with a view to some mountains in the distance. I did a loop around the lake and then headed back to the city.
For dinner i resolved to consult my emergency resource - Happy Cow. Happy Cow is a site that lists vegan restaurants in all cities of the world. Normally i don't like to use it because i think going to vegan restaurants ghettoizes the food. I prefer to order plant-based food at regular restaurants so that it becomes normalized. But i was on my last thread.
As it turns out, perhaps thanks to its proximity to Tibet and the various temple tourist attractions dotted about the city, Chengdu has a fair few Buddhist restaurants. That means: cheap, vegan, buffet-style.
I hate buffets, but i can't deny it is a huge relief to just be able to grab whatever food i want and not feel guilty there might be some animal products in it. I tried two different places on Sunday and Monday.
This one had a whole bunch of different fake meats.
This one was more humble and veg-forward. They also had mapo tofu - hooray! An unexpected benefit of buffet-style is there's no chance for the cook to tone down the spice for foreigners. It was delicious.
Yesterday was my last full day in China. I got 担担面 dandan noodle from a Happy Cow approved vegan place for breakfast.
After eating i took a share bike and headed in the opposite direction from the previous day. I went all the way along the river, past the high speed train station, and out into some rural fields that were rapidly being devoured by new housing developments. I kept going and going until it started to rain.
Coming back on the tram, i remembered the reason why i liked Chengdu the first time i visited. It wasn't because of the food or the scenery, it was because it felt like an "easy" city. It's very flat, which makes cycling pleasant. It's largely a grid layout, so you can't get lost. It has all the hustle and bustle of a major city in the center, but when you head out to the suburbs, they're legit suburbs that lead out to the country, not false suburbs that just merge into the next city like in the Pearl River Delta.
After an early dinner i walked to the big Mao statue that i remembered from my first time, and tried to retrace my steps. I saw the alley where the cold noodle lady was, the one who made it spicy for me 3 years ago. I found the little wet market where i sat on a plastic stool and ate BBQ after dark. I found the steam bun guy and the coffee shop. And i remembered how the first time i was in Chengdu, it was the first time i developed a bit of a daily routine in China. The first time i thought, hey, this is a place i could live.
Last supper? Beer, tea, bread, tofu.
I suppose i should write something meaningful now, some kind of deep reflection on my time here, but the truth is... I fucking need coffee. And that's probably the most Chinese shit that could happen on my actual last day. China. Land of share bikes, security theater and no fucking coffee.