The Trip to Changde

So we made a trip to the nearest major town, that of Changde. Its about an hour and a half to two hours away from us, just depends on traffic. The actual capital of the province we are in is Changsha, which is about four hours away. We’ve been told there is a Papa Johns there that does pizza correctly, so its on our to-do list. But for now, the story of the trip to Changde.

The first bit of fun was finding out where to go for our bus. Seems there are are several buses and figuring out which was ours took the help of more than one group of people. The buses also don’t leave at any scheduled time. Once the bus is full, it goes. So you could end up sitting for a while, waiting for the bus to fill. Or get to the bus only to see it drive off because it just filled up.

The round trip ticket was 52 kuai per person, just under 9 dollars American. The ride itself was bumpy, and hard to sleep because folks love to smoke and talk on their cell phones. The Chinese, however, seem used to this, I’ve seen folks sleep just about anywhere. After an hour and a half, we finally got to the bus station in Changde.

We weren’t aware of just how big the town was. Lixian has 8 bus routes, Changde has at least 42. We knew the bus route by the station would take us to the pedestrian street, what we didn’t count on was the fact that there were multiple bus routes outside the station. We took the wrong bus, ended up going to the wrong direction, and didn’t realize it either till we were heading outside of the town itself. We exited the bus, and found a nice local lady who spoke enough English to explain to us we wanted bus number 3.

After boarded bus number 3, we drew us a crude map of where we’d be going, and let us know which stop to get off on. Finally in the right place we spotted the McDonalds and went to go have some food. Although expensive, it was good, and the milkshake was the first time since coming to China that it really tasted like a milkshake should. Previous milkshakes had been either too watery rather than frozen, or make with ice rather than milk. I ended up causing myself some nasty brain freezes.

After that we headed down the pedestrian street. Its rather big, and we were stopped twice by students who were doing some type of survey for a class project. Sadly, we couldn’t read Chinese and they couldn’t explain it all in English. But they still took pictures of us so they could show their teacher.

Then Amanda found this guy:

And older gentleman was sitting on a bench with this little tiny dog. Vash, who we had taken with us, was not happy that Mom went nuts over this dog, but it was short lived and we moved on. On the street corner I found a vendor selling balloons.

He’d made turkeys out of animal balloons, and also had the apple style balloons as well. So I know they can be found in ChangDe somewhere, I’ve just no idea where to even start looking for them. As we went along you’d find other street performers, such as this guy:

He had this stick in his mouth, and would catch the basketball on the end of the stick, then flick his head to toss the ball back up, and catch it again. It was neat to watch, and like elsewhere, anything the foreigners decide to stop and look at tends to draw a crowd.
After a while of walking, and having spotted two KFCs and one McD’s we had not found our original goal in coming to ChangDe. We started going around city blocks in circles, and finally called Colin for help. He explained to us that the pedestrial street is actually very long and we’d only hit the halfway mark. So we kept going and came along what I’d call the Supermarket Row. Just one Supermart after another. But finally we found this amazing sight:

Wait? What? No not the pagoda! Stupid pagoda blocking the shot. Its behind the pagoda.

The choir of angels decended from the sky, there was much rejoicing as we had found our goal. Yes, the whole reason I’d been lugging around a carry-on travel bag the entire time was within our sights. We wandered around the square for a bit (finding another KFC and McD’s) before learning that the Walmart wasn’t any of the buildings here, but in fact was underground.

So we took the escalator down underground to get to the Walmart.

So here is the Walmart. Clean, bright, and boy was it huge. Most of the folks who work here are of college age, and as such know some english. Helps when trying to ask things like “Where is the dog food?” Most Supermarts we’ve been too have a to-go meal section, however the Walmart has a pizza section. That is if you like your pizza with corn, green beans, and peas.

There is also a “Make your noodle dish” section. I’ve no idea how the pricing works, people would just line up, take a bowl and start dumping what they wanted into it.

GENTLEMEN! BEHOLD! CORN! Yes, the Chinese love corn. Candy Corn (no really, it tastes like corn). Corn snacks, popcorn, and Corn drinks. Both in the juice format (seen below) and in the carbonated style. Think of like a Fanta drink, but instead of orange or grape, its corn.

Here is the Christmas section. Its a pallet on the floor, and yes the entire Christmas section is in this one shot. I suppose we could have moved around to get a picture of the other side to try to make it look bigger…

The meat section of Walmart. This would be the biggest difference between Chinese Walmart and American Walmart. In China you can get your meat fresh off the hog. Amanda decided to wait until after they were done cutting to take the picture.

That’s it for pictures. Time for the list of things we got:
#1 with a bullet, Itallian Seasonings. We had not found this anywhere else and its been great. We’ve used it to make “French Bread” and Spaghetti. Both have been delicious and are now a staple of our current meals.
#2 Frosted Flakes. As good as back home. You could say that they’re Grr..nah.
#3 Milk. Amanda found a milk that isn’t bad. Its not grrrr…no. Its just okay. Something she can eat cookies with until she finds a better milk.
#4 Alcohol, in the form of Bacardi coolers. I’m not a big fan of them, but they don’t make me wretch like the local alcohols I’ve tried. We’ll grab some when we go back just to keep handy for the next few times I get invited out.
#5 Donuts, although they were missing the holes, they were still oh so good fresh.
#6 Microwavible pizza. Not as good as expected so far. We’ve still got one to try, but again its got corn, peas, and other things that Americans would not expect to find on their pizza. I might get more, but Amanda doesn’t care for it.
#7 Macaroni and Cheese, the big disappointment. The cheese sauce tastes like liquid cardboard. Cheese is one of things that is really hard to find here, and when you do its usually not that good.
#8 Skippy peanut butter & chocolate. Yep, the one that is swirled together. We haven’t broken it out yet, the Macaroni and “Cheese” has us a little gun shy.
We also found some other things. Cat Litter, we’ve found cat food in Lixian but not cat litter. We also found name brand dog and cat food. Also on the list, Crab flavored potato chips, as well as Shrimp and Seaweed. I’m thinking I need to bring some home for friends. It’ll go well with the Bijo that I’m not going to bring either.
So while we wandered Walmart for a good two hours, folks would try to talk to us, sneak in pictures and such. We did have one college student come up to talk to us. He’s an english major at the ChangDe College of Science and Arts. His English was very good and when we were buying the pizza at the deli he was trying to explain to us that the little eatery on the way out would heat them for us. We explained back that we were getting them for the bus ride back home.
So with a carry-on suitcase full of goodies we caught a cab and went back to the bus station. By Five thirty we had purchased tickets and managed to be the last two on for the next bus to LiXian and were on our way home. It was dark by this point, and the traffic was bad so it took us two hours to get home.
The gentleman sitting next to me turned out to be a solider who had been serving in Beijing, and was now on his way home. I am always suprised at how good people’s english turns out to be, and always feel bad that my chinese isn’t good enough to carry on a conversation. However, I told him how impressed I was with ChangDe, he was happy about that, but said he was sure it wasn’t as impressive as American cities. I assured him it was on par with many cities, which made him happy and he recommended we try ChangShai next.

So just before we got to the bus station in LiXian there was a large crowd gathered outside the Better Life Supermart. So we got off the bus there to see what was going on.

There was a family wearing bright red clothes/jumpsuits. The two boys were going around with these bowls and people were dipping their fingers into it and rubbing the liquid onto their skin, joints, and hair. Over on the table in the middle were a pile of snakes.

The woman was the leader of the show and she was selling vials of the liquid. This is when we realized that this family was a group of Snake Oil salesman. The fat from the Chinese Water Snake is used as an old Chinese cure all. When the Chinese came over in the mid-1800s they brought the oil with them. When they tried to make it using American snakes, the snakes didn’t have the same kind of fat, so the oil didn’t work. This is where the term Snake Oil came from. Amanda was so amused to see that Snake Oil Salesmen were still around in these modern days that she bought a vial. Which when opened smells pretty vile, lemme tell you whut.

So that ends another story. We managed to make our way home to put away our stash of goods to slowly try over several days. Amanda experimented on and perfected a recipe for spaghetti. I think if we ever have people over, it’ll be the dish to fix and serve for folks.