No matter how many times I promised myself I’d make it to Jinli Street in the daytime, it just never happened. Every time I visited, it was just before sunset, and Chengdu after dark is a scary place… Before I’d leave my apartment, I’d ask myself, “Okay, do I really need to go out tonight? Maybe I can just wait until tomorrow… No, no. I should go. It’ll be worth it. I can do this. Deep breaths. 1… 2… 3!”
Chengdu after dark is a dangerous place, but not for the reasons you might imagine… It wasn’t people I wanted to avoid. In fact, there was no crime at all to worry about. It wasn’t the heat I was too afraid to face. The temperature was close to perfect after the sun set… But hot summer nights in Chengdu can only mean one thing… The cockroaches are ready to come out and play. Yes, it’s true. And when I say cockroaches, I don’t just mean a few here and there, I mean lots and lots of cockroaches. Cockroaches that run quickly, some that don’t run at all, and others that fly. It’s like a nightmare you can’t escape. You feel like they’re all over you, at all times. A leaf blowing by in the wind is enough to make you jump right out of your shoes. You’re always on high alert, but determined to explore anyway.
Yes, Chengdu after dark is only for the brave.
Jinli Street was only a few blocks away from my apartment in China, and while it was tempting to take a cab some nights, I usually chose to walk briskly instead with the flashlight app on my phone illuminating the sidewalk in front of me and taking extreme caution with each step. “What was that!” “Oh, God.” “IT’S FLYING!” “Walk faster!” “Okay, just a leaf.” “LOOK OUT!” These are common things a group of American girls can be heard yelling while walking arm-in-arm down the street.
Okay, I may be exaggerating just a bit, but when I think about my time in China and I remember the sights and smells of Jinli Street, I always have to giggle a bit thinking about the way we’d all squeal every time we crossed paths with a cockroach. Aside from those nasty little buggers, we all adored Jinli Street. It was magic.
There was so much to see, in every nook and cranny. We always stayed late because it felt like we never had enough time to explore every alleyway and shop we passed.
I talked about Jinli Street a little bit in my food diary post, but I’ll post a few photos again here because so much of the excitement of Jinli Street has to do with the fun and interesting foods you can see and eat there.
Just like in Beijing, whenever the four of us got together to pose for a photo, total strangers would start taking photos of us, and some would try to sneak in our photo while their friend snapped a picture of them standing next to us. I will never forget the teenage girl who ran up to me with tears in her eyes, yelling, “Beautiful girl! Beautiful girl! So beautiful!” and then she asked for a photo. She was with a large group of other teenagers, and they all took their phones out and started snapping photos with me. (I can’t say I ever got used to that very strange feeling.)
One evening on Jinli, I was with Erica, Morgan, and Anna, and we decided to see a performance at one of the theaters. We heard there was a face-changing show, so we got our tickets and settled in. If you’re not familiar with what a face-changing (Biàn liǎn) show is, it’s “an ancient Chinese dramatic art that is part of the more general Sichuan opera. Performers wear brightly colored costumes and move to quick, dramatic music. They also wear vividly colored masks, typically depicting well-known characters from the opera, which they change from one face to another almost instantaneously with the swipe of a fan, a movement of the head, or wave of the hand.” (via Wiki)
I was lucky enough to see a handful of 变脸 Biàn liǎn performances while I was in Chengdu, and I was blown away every time. They really do change their faces quicker than you’re able to process how they did it! It’s beautiful and mesmerizing. The rest of that show was great, too. We were blown away by their athleticism!
It was fun having girl time, sipping hot tea and hanging out in the air conditioning for an hour or so! At one point, we even got to go on stage. Between sets during a performance, an old man would come to the stage and start writing Chinese characters on large banners and his assistants would start the bidding process and try to convince the audience members to purchase these banners. We saw it happen a number of times. The banners sold occasionally but usually, the audience wasn’t paying much attention and they would go unsold.
Morgan and I headed to Jinli Street another night and caught an intimate face-changing performance from the front row at a restaurant we stopped at to have a drink. It was so cool! You can watch the video below. Click here if you’re having issues seeing it!
I know I’ve mentioned this in past posts, but it was so nice being able to see and hang out with Anna in China. We’ve kept in touch via WhatsApp over the past few months, but sometimes blogger friendships like this are hard since you’re never really sure when you’ll meet again. WELL, I am happy to report that I will be seeing her again in less than a month! I’m super excited. :)
When I went to Jiuzhaigou with Erica and Morgan, we met the girl in red in the picture above. We were riding a shuttle in the park and she approached us, asked if we had a tour guide, and said she would show us around if we wanted. Her English wasn’t very good, but she was really nice and we were grateful to have met a new friend/translator for the day! (Even if she did want to stop for selfies and group pictures every 30 feet…lol.) We struggled a bit communicating with her throughout the day, but it did push me to use and practice my Chinese. She was impressed by what I could say and how I was able to respond sometimes which made me feel good, haha. Sadly I can’t remember what her name is, but we all exchanged WeChat usernames after saying goodbye at Jiuzhaigou, and she met up with us a week or so later for dinner on Jinli Street. She really wanted to take us to traditional Chengdu hot pot, but because Morgan, Erica, and myself are all vegetarian, we had heard it was safer to try Tibetan hot pot since their broth is vegetarian. It turned out not being all that good, unfortunately, and things got a bit scary when one of our favorite little creepy crawlies came scurrying out from under the pot our broth was bubbling away in. Eek!
Ah yes, I definitely won’t forget the excitement of Jinli Street! I also won’t forget spending time with these awesome ladies and exploring China together. I sure do miss them. As always, thanks for reading! xo