Five chickens in Chengdu

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China. June, 2019

It was a long drive down from Litang on the Tibetan Plateau to Chengdu in the Sichuan basin. A nine-hour journey on a difficult road. Travelling with three Tibetan friends: Medok (the driver), Yinbo, and Qumei. Plus five live chickens in a bag.

 

Five chickens in Chengdu

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Medok and her husband Dada have a farm in an isolated valley to the east of the Litang-Daocheng highway. It’s called Xiamula, and that’s where they raise free-range pigs and chickens for a Chinese market which is beginning to demand better food safety and quality.

Dada is the farmer, and Medok is the business-manager and customer service officer. She also makes and markets a barley-based spirit; and runs a small hotel in Litang called ‘Medok’s Inn’. She’s a busy lady.

Anyway – about the chickens. They were being personally delivered to a family in Chengdu who had asked for dressed rather than live birds. Although it was a big ask for only five chickens, Medok was adding ‘goodwill’ to the business. An example of the personalised service she also offers to her Medok’s Inn guests. That’s her and her Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in action.

It was peak hour traffic when we arrived in Chengdu, and we had difficulty finding a parking spot close to the market where we hoped to find someone who would prepare the feathered five for sale.

No such luck. The only spot was a couple of blocks away, so we and the chickens transferred to a small battery-operated, unsprung, three-wheeled ‘san lu che’.

This quiet metal machine took us along a busy road before turning into a narrow lane where it sliced through the traffic – cars, karts, small trucks, and pedestrians – and delivered us to a sprawling market ready to cease trading for the day. A bone-jarring experience for a bloke with a bad back.

A hurried search for someone who would do the chickens. Medok negotiating a price with a peasant couple who drove a hard bargain because they were shutting up shop. Other proprietors stacking boxes, sweeping up discarded vegetable leaves, and hosing the concrete floor. A few preparing their evening meal (the family sleeps on a small mezanine balcony in the rear of their hole-in-the-wall premises) while some kids kicked a ball around. This market is their universe.

Deal done, I’m offered a small stool to sit on under a tattered canvas awning which juts out over a common thoroughfare. Meanwhile, the feller takes the five chickens into a back corner (squawking now, for they seem to know what’s coming) where he beheads them.

At the same time his wife – who has a loud raucous voice, and through the force of her character alone, seems to be boss of this corner of the market – has lit the gas-ring and is boiling water in a small copper tank. That’s where the chickens will be dunked in order to soften the feathers so that they can be plucked easily.

Meanwhile she carries on a one-sided conversation with the whole neighbourhood. In her own mind, she is a personality. However, I’m not so sure that her associates would agree with this self-assessment. They are quieter and keep a polite distance. Yup, it’s true. Ignorance is bliss.

One of the neighbours, a friendly-looking middle-aged woman, crosses the lane to get some gossip. She asks Miss Personality where the foreigner (me) comes from. No answer. She’s busy. Anyway, she asks the questions round here. Not her.

So the lady approaches me and asks:

“Ni Meiguoren?” (Are you from the USA?)

I shake my head: “Wo bushi Meiguoren. Wo shi Aodaliyaren” (No, I’m not an American, I’m an Australian).

“Oh…hen hao…Audaliya hao” (Oh…very good…Australia good).

I respond generously by saying that “Zhongguoye hao’ (China is also good). I know how to play this game.

And that ended our brief conversation, for as soon as she got what she wanted out of me, she scurried off to pass on this vital piece of intelligence to her neighbours. Gossip is social currency. 

By this time, the chickens have been transferred to a plastic bucket filled with cold water, where the couple strip them of their feathers. A man and a dog stop to watch. 

Miss Personality then does some minor surgery on their stomachs with a short sharp knife, and before too long we are handed a plastic bag containing five dressed chickens ready for delivery to Medok’s customer who lives not too far away.

When we meet, I can see that he is very appreciative of the extra service he has received. Maybe he will buy more next time.

That job done, we invite Yinbo and Qumei to join us at a local restaurant for a hot meal and a cold beer.

Good company, and a satisfactory end to a long day.

 

 

San lu che 

Medok’s Inn (Litang)

 

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