I have just got back from a return trip to Chengdu in China to visit my son. As before I was bowled over by the kindness shown to me by almost everybody I encountered and, thanks to my son’s girlfriend – Kexin – had some fantastic culinary experiences.
On my previous visit in November ordering food was quite problematic. Most menus are just a page of Chinese characters which my son could not fully translate, so we had to take pot luck most of the time. This time, however, Kexin accompanied us and we ate some amazing dishes that cost no more than three pounds ahead.
Chengdu, which is in the Sichuan province of China, is known for its hotpots. These are like giant fondues that consist of a large bowl which is sunk into the middle of the table, under which is a gas flame to heat the mixture. In the bowl there is a bubbling mixture of spicy chilly oil and chicken broth packed with mouth numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Into this bubbling mass one can put more or less anything to cook. Kexin kindly ordered things to suit my conservative Western palette – but even then my taste buds were stimulated like never before : from quails eggs and lotus plant to tofu noodles and fish balls Once cooked the morsels of food are fished out with chopsticks (or in my case a spoon!) and placed into your personal dish of sesame oil, garlic and coriander to cool down. We drunk soya milk to counteract the spiciness and the whole meal was heavenly, though very rich.
Noodles are also very popular and what we ate most nights. These are made to order and served with whatever you like. The places we ate were only frequented by locals and were very simple – the equivalent to a road side café in Britain. Most shops and restaurants open right out onto the street and have a large step up. I therefore frequently had to leave my mobility scooter outside and be helped in.
As before, I found that Chengdu has a long way to go in terms of accessibility (steps into most shops, few accessible toilets, taxis not big enough to take a wheelchair-let alone my mobility scooter) but what’s lacking in structure is certainly made up in attitude. While China is not known for its disability rights, individuals went out of their way to help me. On arrival at the airport I had no less than three people to see me off the plane – one to push my wheelchair and another two to carry my scooter batteries. When there were steps to negotiate people willingly helped without being asked even though my scooter weighs 56 kilos. I stayed in an Ibis near my son’s flat which more than met all my requirements. Outside my son’s flat were three substantial steps which we had to carry my scooter down every time I visited. Three days after my departure he contacted me to say that a ramp has magically appeared where the steps were – too much of a coincidence?
This has left me to question whether in a country where the state does comparatively little to support its disabled population, does the individual take more responsibility to help a disabled person?