Published: May 13th 2010April 28th 2010
This morning, we checked out of the Yibin Grand and went to see the Shenhai salt well and accompanying museum. The town of Zigong, home to the well, museum, and local dinosaur fossils, represents the largest well-salt producer in the country, but you would never guess that from driving through the small town.
The production of salt in China has old roots, and learning about the history behind the well in the museum was a lot more interesting than I think most people expected it to be. The ingenuity of the people who created the world's first salt well more than one thousand meters deep can't be overlooked, and seeing the old well, still in operation, still bringing up hauls of brine, was an experience I've never had before and probably won't have again.
Before our long drive back to Chengdu, we once again had lunch at a "Fire pot" restaurant; now, the fire (or hot) pot is a very traditional, extremely popular Sichuanese meal, but so far, our experiences had not lead us to believe we liked this tradition very much. How happily wrong we were today!
As it turns out, not everyone in Sichuan likes their hot-pot mind-numbingly spicy, or endlessly numbing, for that matter. Sure, our very considerate Chef Cheng or ever-vigilant Lisa may have talked to the restaurant beforehand and mentioned that the American kids couldn't quite take the heat anymore... but we prefer to think we simply found a place that just didn't use as many Sichuan peppercorns as the main areas of Chendgu. The pot had two chambers, an inner chamber with a tasty broth with no spiciness, and an outer chamber with more traditional spicy flavors. Both were absolutely delicious today, and we were pleasantly not at all dissatisfied with lunch. We spent the whole meal dunking in the meat balls, the various pig parts, eels, beef strips, vegetable and mushrooms to our hearts' content, and were greeted with perfectly cooked rice, cold water, and a sweet, crispy flat bread that we ended up getting more of just to please our collective sweet tooth.
The four hour drive back was made very entertaining by almost two hours of singing, some good and some... not so good, but eventually we made our way back to the wonderful Wen Jun Mansion hotel. It's so different here, but we spent what felt like so long at Wen Jun that coming back today was almost like some strange new homecoming. There were many exclamations of "we're home!" that one may have thought we actually live here, but honestly, it's nice to just be in a place you recognize sometimes.