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Welcome to Chengdu

The early-morning fog has lifted in the capital of Sichuan province to expose ... the city's grayness. The sun is peeking through the haze and the air is acceptable -- if you don't have much use for oxygen.

In case you missed my maiden Insider/China post Saturday, I have arrived in Chengdu.

Whenever I visit an exotic location, my first mission is always to take a morning walk and get the pulse of the city. So after a few hours of sleep and a hearty breakfast, I set out.

Some thoughts:

*During a one-hour stroll, I don't think I saw more than two Westerners (except in front of the tourist hotels). Chengdu is not Beijing or Shanghai.

*Like most urban areas in China, construction cranes and international business symbolize rapid economic development. Walking along the busy Remmin South Road, I pass everything from den-sized family-run shops and travel agencies to the upscale Gucci, Hermes, Cartier and Salvatore Ferragamo and, best of all, The Mutt's Nuts pizza. (Fear not, Starbucks, McDonald's and KFC are also nearby.)

*Banners welcoming the Women's World Cup hang from light posts on major boulevards and a small crowd gathered outside the U.S. team's hotel when the players climbed aboard the team bus for a late-morning city outing before practice later today. Euro qualifying highlights are available on BBC World and taped Bundesliga and Serie A matches are on Chinese TV (CCTV). The local WWC theme is "Beautiful Game, Charming Chengdu."

*Odds of getting hit by a car while crossing the street: 5 to 1. Odds of getting hit by a scooter: 3 to 1. Odds of getting hit by a taxi: 1 to 1. Pedestrian walk signals only mean that you probably won't die. Upon entering a taxi this afternoon, I am greeted by a recorded message in Mandarin and then English saying: "Hello, passenger. Thank you for taking my taxi." On the regular radio, Michael Jackson's "Beat It" is playing. Taxis are very cheap: The initial metered charge is the equivalent of about 65 cents and a reasonable trip sets you back just a few dollars.

The young volunteers working at the 38,000-seat Women's World Cup stadium are eager to test their English -- as well as several other languages -- on visitors. They do quite well. Many in the Chinese media are also fluent in English, although often the words don't come out quite right. Kristine Lilly was asked if she felt "full-bodied." She laughed and then answered politely to what she thought the reporter meant to say (Was she in good condition for the first game.)

All wisecracks aside, this city of around 11 million located in a giant basin in south-central China has energy and personality. At English Corner, a small park on the banks of the olive-colored Funan River, elderly couples are holding hands, dancing. Trees and flowers provide a narrow buffer between the river and the chaotic streets. A colossal statue of Chairman Mao presides over Tianfu Square, a few blocks south of the stadium. The panda research center, home to about 60 bears, is in the northern suburbs. The Leshan Grand Buddha, a 230-foot-tall sculpture carved into cliffs, is within driving distance.

I love exploring new cities and, over the next six days, am looking forward to getting to know this one.

By Steve Goff  |  September 9, 2007; 12:15 AM ET
Categories:  Women  
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Next: Matchday 24: Revs at DCU [Updated]


That has got to be one of the coolest parts of your job! What a fantastic adventure. I hope that readers of the post get some of the flavour you just described.

Posted by: Wow! | September 9, 2007 2:27 AM | Report abuse

You job allows you to explore the world and watch all the soccer you can stand while the rest of us are thankful if our job allows us a full hour off for lunch and an internet connection where we can occasionally check for scores. You're a lucky man Steve, but if it can't be me (and clearly it can't), I'm glad it's you.

Btw, dodging cars in China should be good practice for South Africa -- I hear it's not particularly pedestrian-friendly either.

Posted by: bbarrie | September 9, 2007 2:33 AM | Report abuse

t-minus less than 2 years and few days to SA2010 ...

Posted by: littles | September 9, 2007 6:55 AM | Report abuse

If that's what you do in exotic locations, what do you do in Columbus?

Posted by: Dave Lifton | September 9, 2007 8:05 AM | Report abuse

Mutt's Nuts -- brilliant!

Posted by: iammrben | September 9, 2007 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Ive been to eastern Europe many many times and can appreciate the low cost of transportation (and safety) compared to Los Angeles. In Moscow for example, a subway arrives every minute during most of the day and costs just 40 cents. There arent many taxis in Moscow either, jut wave at cars and people will pull over to negotiate a reasonable fee, and the best part is it is safe to do! Moscow is another city on the rise Like Chengdu sounds. New buildings mixed in with old buildings. Two HUGE malls near Red Square.. one is underground and rivals the best you will find in America and the other is above ground, called GUM and located in a 200 year old architecturally pleasing mall (built around 1820 i believe).

We all look forward to photos of Chengdu!

Posted by: shirteesdotnet | September 9, 2007 9:31 AM | Report abuse

What's up with the recent spate of 1500+ word blog entries? Has the Washington Post Soccer Fans Book Club been reading War and Peace?

Posted by: Mastodon Juan | September 9, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Oddly enough, one of the best Indian meals I have ever had was at the only Indian restaurant in is south of Tianfu Square on Renmin Nan Road about a mile or two south of the Square. I would also recommend the tea house located inside the Wenshu Temple. Enjoy!

Posted by: Indian Food | September 9, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Matadon Juan: We have long attention spans.

Posted by: I-270, Exit 1 | September 9, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Hey Juan, is this better:

RED BULLS SUCK, always have, always will.

Posted by: Rocko | September 9, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

i liked that post goff, good read, funny, interesting

Posted by: jack | September 9, 2007 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Do you need an intern or somebody to travel with you? I'm available. I'll stay in my corner of the hotel rooms and won't say anything...

Posted by: sitruc | September 9, 2007 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Dear Uncle Steve,
Thanks for the postcard. Glad you arrived safely. Have a great trip.
We miss you.

Posted by: Shari, Michael, Jackson and Noah | September 9, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

I know you're based in Chengdu with the US team, but are you going to be live at the opening game tomorrow? (Or rather, today, your time.)

You missed a thrilla at Estadio RFK, sir. But I think you're going to be seeing some pretty nice soccer.

Posted by: Stevan | September 9, 2007 5:54 PM | Report abuse

Goff - Closet Travel Writer

Great report!

Posted by: Eric in Baltimore | September 9, 2007 9:30 PM | Report abuse

You don't need to tip taxi drivers in China!

Posted by: Scott | September 10, 2007 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Heya Goff, a good tip for crossing streets in that part of the world:

It sounds completely bass-ackwards and counter-intuitive, but the trick when crossing busy streets there, is to walk VERY SLOWLY across the street... this gives the scooters and cars time to see you so they have the time to easily move around you. ("Grasshopper, you must be like the stone, who is unmoved by the waters of the river as it flows around him.")

If you try to run across a street there, you will get killed.

After being scared sh!tless in crossing the boulevards of Hanoi, I asked my translator what the trick was. After he told me, I had no problems there, or in Saigon (where the roads are even wider). It's still a bit unnerving at first with traffic flying past you, but you do get used to after a while. And, of course, you're in China, not Vietnam, so as they say, "your mileage may vary".

Posted by: swwj | September 10, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Interesting stuff, Goff. I'm a little surprised that you, a reporter, were allowed to just walk around in China by yourself. Maybe it would be different if you were something other than a sports reporter, but I'm glad no-one was looking over your shoulder.

Posted by: Jeff M | September 11, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Yes, the Mutts Nuts. A little more investigation by Mr. Goff would reveal a great pizzeria run by an English guy which puts the plastic corporate mush of The Piss Hut to shame!
Voted best Pizza in Cheng Du by local ex-pats and travellers.

Mei Guo Ren Shi Gua Wa Zi !!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Sai Jing Gun | September 13, 2007 9:08 AM | Report abuse

i'm the owner of The Mutt's Nuts Pizza in Chengdu. I have had a the delivery bizz for1 and a half years. I am from England. I was in bizz with a chinese friend, the shop u saw. But I just trained the staff there and left 2 weeks ago. So it will go back to being called Daves Pizza. Dave is chinese! But my delivery bizz is still going well and we plan to open in the north of chengdu very soon.

Posted by: simon | September 14, 2007 12:56 AM | Report abuse

i had a pizza delivered from the mutts nuts pizza delivery

Posted by: Anonymous | September 18, 2007 10:06 AM | Report abuse

while on holiday in Cheng Du a had a pizza delivered by the mutts nuts, and i truely lived up to its name as it was the dogs bollox..........

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