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Letter From Sichuan

After the world's most comfortable trans-Pacific flight, happy adventures in Beijing, and a taxi cab ride from the Chengdu airport that brought me closer to God, we've arrived in Sichuan and the outlook is good. Goodbye to ferocious Siberian winds blowing down every avenue, but goodbye as well to Western-style toilets. Hello to fantastic and amazing Sichuan cooking.

In case you've never eaten Sichuan food, you can tell that a dish is well made if it is very spicy, pleasantly filling, and causes you to fall asleep for fourteen straight hours after you eat it. We arrived in Chengdu hungry and full of ambitious plans, and ended up asleep in our clothing at four in the afternoon, happy and sated, not destined to wake up until just before dawn. You wouldn't think it possible to spend fourteen hours on a Chinese mattress ( midway in hardness between gypsum and quartz ), but a fine Sichuan meal makes anything possible.

Chengdu is full of curious tea houses, back alley markets, and has at least one stunning Buddhist temple in the northern part of town. The whole ensemble -- all of China in general -- bears an unexpected resemblance to what Poland looked like to me when I first went back in 1990, immediately after the fall of Communism. Except that the capital is much richer, and you never tasted such food.

Now we go to book a trip down the Chang Jiang ( Yangtse ) river, from Chongqing to the Three Gorges dam, and then it's time to find the restaurant that looked so promising to me last night. Each table has a propane stove under it, and there is an enormous banner over the windows with a picture of happily grazing goats.

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