It’s around 7am in Chengdu China, and we’re boarding a train in the massive Chengdu station — a major city of around 14 million people and capital of Sechuan, the province known for spicy food and beautiful women with hot tempers (some say it’s because of the spicy food).
We are boarding a train to the ancient city of Langzhong, a place that is still kept up to look much the way it did over 2,000 years ago. It’s also the hometown of my wife’s grandfather, as well as an ancient site of scholars, and a town with a mosque and a Catholic church.
The scenery from the train’s window is right out of a film, with the sun rising over misty fields. As sun rises and the mist disappears, you can see lush green fields growing vegetable oil.
After a two hour ride that only costs around U.S. $20, we arrive at Langzhong station, and the first thing we notice is that the air is much clearer than in the large cities — likely because it’s near mountains, and there don’t seem to be many factories there.
We take a taxi to the nearby old town, and walk through a maze of streets, passing bright red lanterns and hundreds of food stalls selling everything from grilled meat to iced tea to fried dough to cakes made of walnuts.
We arrive at our hotel — a 100 year old house converted into an inn, which looks like something you’d see in Kyoto, Japan. The first person we meet is “Guai Guai” — an adorable — yet dangerously overweight — golden retriever.
While Guai Guai seems to be treated OK, and hangs out with staff behind the front desk, dogs in general are not treated in China like family, as they are in many Western nations and Japan. Guai Guai is well fed — but too well fed, as tourists constantly give him treats as they walk by, everything from fried chicken to ice cream. No one at the hotel seems to understand how unhealthy this is for him, and no one seems to try to stop it.
There’s not much education in China about how to treat domestic animals, and it seems to go in one ear and out the other when we explain to staff that golden retrievers are prone to hip dysplasia. If they are overweight, it makes the problem worse, and can cause a great deal of pain as the dog gets older.
The staff seems confused when we gave Guai Guai an ear massage and scratched his back, which he seemed to love. It seems he doesn’t get this kind of attention that much. It’s common these days in developing countries — from Thailand to Turkey — to buy golden retriever puppies because they’re cute and cuddly. But many owners don’t realize how much work they require when they become adults, so many just turn them loose and expect them to fend for themselves. Since goldens are a domestic breed whose DNA makes them dependent on humans to survive, they rarely survive long on their own.
Guai Guai had been abandoned as a puppy by his previous owner, but was kindly taken in by the owner of the inn where we were staying. There are also several other golden retrievers in the neighborhood.
After hanging out with Guai Guai, we decide to have breakfast at the hotel, and eat a spectacular meal of fried tofu with garlic, spicy beef with peppers, “mung bean” jelly, and fried eggplant that melts in your mouth. You can see it all in the video above.
From there we head out, and I was the only non-Chinese in the area, which was a show for the elderly people there.
Langzhong is a tourist destination, but it seems most are local tourists from the area, so seeing a Western face was something unusual for them. We hear many point out loudly that a foreigner — or waiguoren — is walking past.
From there, we go to see the ancient guard towers that the place is known for. Check out the video above and stay tuned for part 2!
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