BLESSED ARE THOSE THAT CLEAN THEIR TEETH!

Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
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Trip End Feb 28, 2013


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Where I stayed
Chengdu Lazy Bones Hostel
成都懒骨头青年旅舍/旅馆/背包客栈

Flag of China  , 四川,
Thursday, December 1, 2011

成都 Chéngdū: December 2, 2011
Sōngpān to Chéngdū; 450km by bus 8:15AM to 3PM
5 Nights at Lazy Bones Hostel, 160 RMB (double room)  

 
WHERE IS THE BUS?
Conveniently, the Sōngpān bus station is within sight behind our hotel so we rolled out of bed at 6:15 for the 7AM bus to Chengdu. It promised to be another scenic ride along a route that had been closed due to landslides from the 2008 earthquake. We chose the 7AM bus over the 6:30 bus because it was said to be more luxurious.  There seemed to be a problem with the 7AM bus. It hadn't arrived by 7:20. Finally we were directed to a bus parked in the lot by the fence. We stood outside in the morning darkness. Several guys were working feverishly by a dim flashlight to repair the bus’ engine. None-to-soon, we were allowed to get out of the cold morning air into the ice cold bus. Here too frost flowers had formed on the windows. Our hot moist breath soon condensed on the window and built up a nice layer of frost.  We were happy to hear the engine fire up. The mechanic and his helpers put the tools away. But they weren't done yet. The engine still was not running smoothly. For another 15 or 20 minutes, they’d tinker, start the bus, turn it off, then tinker a bit more. At last, at 8:15, they decided it was good enough and we rolled out of the station into the morning sun. It was a beautiful morning and our late departure meant we wouldn’t be driving in the dark at all. Our substitute bus was anything but luxury and we kept our fingers crossed hoping it would keep running for the 6.5 hour journey to Chengdu.

FANTASTIC MOUNTAIN SCENERY!
I used a credit card to scrape enough of the frost from my window to see the fantastic landscape; meandering terrain, plenty of sheep, yak and herders, gorges, high meadows, and giant limestone walls towering above us. Slowly, the surroundings turned greener. I noticed different ethnic dress. We were going through Hakka? area. We stopped in a pretty village for a brief break, long enough to use the bathroom, stretch legs or buy a few things from the store. We dropped out of the mountain onto a never ending flat plain. This part of Sichuan province is called China’s food basket due to the land’s fertility, longer growing season, and overall better weather. Even though it was still sunny, the sky now had a hazy grey hue.


ROTTEN TAXI DRIVERS OF CHENGDU
We arrived at the bus station at the northwest of the city and switched to city bus 61 that would take us into the center of the city. We didn’t know when to get off and were expecting to see the Mao statue landmark or something that would tell us we had reached the square at the center of town. Chengdu has grown into a much larger place (14 mil pop.) than we had last been to in 2003. Nothing looked familiar. As the bus drove down a canyon of high rises, we began trying to ask our fellow passenger for Mao Square ('Tianfu') or 'Laomashi' metro stop. We didn't expect anyone would speak English, but we surprise to be so thoroughly shunned. They ignored us the best they could and would even look down and turn their backs toward us when we spoke. We figured we must be close and decided to hop of the bus and hale a taxi. The first driver saw our destination in our guidebook and told us to cross the street and catch a taxi going the other way. A taxi there said it was close and we should walk. We were among a labyrinth of tall buildings and none of the street signs matched names on our pitiful LP map. Then another taxi driver boldly asked for 100 RMB, eight times the going rate, to take us to our hotel. Lugging our packs was getting tiresome and we could not comprehend why so many taxis did not want to take us. Was the drive too short to be worth their while? Or perhaps they just didn’t know where it was? Then Dave went into a hotel where a nice English speaking desk clerk told him it was still about a 20 minute walk to our hotel and we definitely needed to take a taxi. She offered to write down instructions in English for the taxi driver. The handwritten note helped and the next taxi we were able to stop took us to the block where our hotel was. None of us could see the hotel and the driver didn't know it. But he assured us we were near the address and we got out. First we guessed wrong and walked the wrong way while trying to decipher the addresses. Then we doubled back in the reverse direction and spotted a big dog bone shaped sign above a door. We had found Lazy Bones, at last! 

 
WARM WELCOME AT LAZYBONES HOSTEL
Wow! This was the first hotel desk we have seen in a month that had a queue! We waited our turn and were greeted warmly by the friendly English speaking desk staff. We had not made a reservation and the double rooms were all booked. But they had a twin room available. They gave us our key, free welcome drink coupons, and asked if we wanted to join the dumpling making party that would start a 6:30! Sure! Why not? The staff had quickly made us feel at home. They have a cozy common area with a small bar, TV/DVD, and pool table. Ping pong in the patio area. The kitchen serves a nice western breakfast and has a good variety of western and Chinese dishes. Our room was spotless, sheets clean and the hot water shower properly separated from the rest of the bath by glass doors. We were happy!

December 2 to December 9th in Chengdu

 
AROUND CHENGDU
Chengdu hasn't escaped China’s rapid build spree and growth. We didn’t feel compelled to see the famous Pandas or the Sichuan Opera of Chengdu again. We have fond memories of seeing those on our prior visit when they were more authentic and before they were modernized to handle the onslaught of tourists of recent years. We contented ourselves to explore the city by bus and on its new metro subway system. The Laomashi metro stop is conveniently across the road from the Lazy Bones’ front door.

We fell into a routine of daily walks through different areas of the city, became familiar with the metro and clocked many miles a day walking. Our Netbook computer was getting worse with its intermittent display power interrupt, my  compact camera that quit working in Mongolia when it got wet still hasn’t resurrected, and now, the USB cable for my iPOD is missing.  First, we went to the cell phone area of the city, with literally thousands of cell phone shops, and picked up a new cable for 10RMB ($1.50). Then we went to the computer market and found a camera repairman. He took the camera apart and did continuity checks on different components. He said one of the flex circuits was dead and needed to be replaced. He quoted 500RMB/$80US to fix it – due mostly to the cost of the repair part. We decided forget the repair and put the money toward a new camera.  We shopped for cameras and new netbook with the thought that we would now know the China prices and availability before we went shopping in Hong Kong. Conventional wisdom told us electronics would be better to buy in Hong Kong. By the time we left Chengdu, we had narrowed choices to a few…


BLESSED BY LOVE!
One day, a bi-lingual sign advertising a teeth cleaning special for 59RMB ($9.35) caught our eye. We took a brochure back to the hotel and asked the girl at the front desk to make appointments for us. She scheduled the first appointments of the morning on Thursday for us.   

BLESSED ARE THOSE THAT CLEAN THEIR TEETH!
A few minutes before 9AM, we rode the elevator to the second floor dentist office. We were greeted by a young man wearing formal attire including a bow tie. He asked us to wait a few moments. The staff was in a meeting. The female staff uniforms included Florence Nightingale white caps, and white aprons over old timey black dresses that might appear in a Norman Rockwell painting or a Charles Dickens novel…..

 
We commented to each other about the life-size Madonna and angle paintings decorating the foyer. Did we go to a nuvo-Catholic church, monastery or a funeral home by accident? High Gothic quinto acuto or "pointed fifth arches decorated the entries of hallways and other rooms.  This place was weird! If we hadn't made appointments already, we would have politely excused ourselves and left. This was not like any dentist office I have encountered before. We craned our necks to see what looked like a morning sermon going on in the next room. A young lady came out and escorted us to the third floor to continue waiting for 'the meeting’ to end.

We thumbed through a coffee table booklet while we waited. The booklet began with a few credentials and words about the foreign trained dentists at the practice and their use French P5 laughing gas. Then it transitioned to a 1000 word essay on an inspirational meeting with Mother Teresa the owner had had when she visited Chengdu. The owner was among 230 lucky VIP's and dignitaries invited to the meeting.

 
Dao, the Director of the Hygienists at the office explained that the religious theme of the office décor was due to the founder’s faith and left it at that. Ahhhh, Feng Shui by Mother Theresa, Dave thought! Then he launched into a sales pitch for upgrading our appointments. He said ‘we will start with an examination’. (No Thanks, we want just the cleaning). ‘Well, you should know if you have cavities or other dental work that needs to be taken care of’, he insisted. (No! We are sure we just want the cleaning). 'You should know, the cleaning does not include polishing and you should add the polishing. It is just 30RMB.'  (Cleaning includes polishing in all other parts of the world, but if you want to charge extras, we decline. We will settle for the basic cleaning.) ‘Okay, then’, Dao relented. ‘Let me look in your mouth’.  We, in turn, opened our mouths for him. This must be in lieu of an exam we thought. He handed us 5 page medical information forms and pens. Fortunately, all we were required to complete were name, phone, nationality and signature.

 
CHURCH HYMNS PLAYED ON
We were escorted to different rooms for our treatments. With church hymns playing in the background, Dao had Dave read though a laminated card advising cleaning could not be performed on hemophiliacs, those with extreme hypertension or diabetes. Dao then presented the sealed package containing sterilized cleaning tools and opened it while making sure Dave watched. In addition to the bib for drool, Dao draped a heave cloth over his face that had a circular mouth opening. What is this, surgery? That is a first! Were these added barriers intended to protect him from tooth fragments, large hunks of plaque, or broken tools? It was just part of the show……… They used ultrasonic cleaner and randomly cleaned different teeth. After about ten minutes of cleaning, the job was complete. The easily accessed teeth were done well and the ones in the back, less so. What should we expect for $9.35?

We returned to the hostel and reported a taste of our experienced to another traveler. But we advised her to go for the show and not the quality of work. She went and returned delighted! 
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