(Translated from a Chinese entry on 出于不俗.)
Pick a city, any city, and Chinese people will tell you it has the most beautiful girls in all of China. Harbin girls, with their Manchu blood, will brave subzero temperatures to wear whatever strikes their fancy; beautiful ice queens, they are without question the most magnificent girls in China. Suzhou and Hangzhou girls, who once sang and danced for emperors, are refined and elegant; there can be no doubt that they are the most enchanting girls in all of China. Shanghainese girls may be shallow and so insatiably demanding that they greed their men into submission, but nobody can deny that they’re absolutely the most gorgeous girls in China. (Beijing girls seem to be an exception: I’ve never heard anyone say anything nice about them.)
Before I went to Chengdu with Kun, I’d heard a lot of people say that Sichuan girls were hotter than huajiao peppers. But because of all the conflicting accounts I’d heard of various places, I paid no heed. It was only after arriving in Chengdu and looking around that i found that Chengdu girls were indeed truly…ordinary. Maybe a little better on average, 6s instead of 5s, but on the whole nothing all that special. (To be fair, we went in winter, and nobody’s beautiful in winter.)
Actually, what I wanted to go to Sichuan for was the food, not the girls. Sichuan food was my favorite when I lived in Beijing, and hotpot, and when I went back to Philly I dreamt of them. Chinese food in America is mostly bastardized Cantonese food, and finding stuff from any other region is almost impossible unless you live in New York or San Francisco. So when Kun and I were planning my winter vacation this fall, Sichuan was my first choice.
I’m really interested in linguistics, even though I’ve never really studied. I’m especially interested in Chinese dialects: when I was in Beijing, any time I saw a new book about Chinese dialects – or topolects, as DeFrancis translates the term ‘方言’ – I’d buy it and, after reading it for a while, put it up on my bookshelf, never to be looked at again. To this day, if you look at my bookshelves, you’ll see a bunch of titles like 《中国方言调查》 A Survey of Chinese Topolects， 《中国方言语言学概况》 A Linguistic Overview of Chinese Topolects， or 《中国方言鸡汤》 Chicken Soup for the Chinese Topolect. It was from these books that I learned that the dialect spoken in Sichuan is a member of the northern guanhua dialect family, which is to say that it’s relatively close to Mandarin.
As I lay on the hard-sleeper bunk on the train to Sichuan, straining to follow the conversations of the Sichuanese around me from the one word out of every three that I could catch, I began to suspect that on this point, as with the most-beautiful-girls thing, I had been misled.