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A Chengdu Day

Popularity 1Viewed 2630 times 2018-10-11 16:02 |System category:Life

​​I awoke on the sunshine flooded balcony. Rising up from my Hello Kitty towel that served as my make-shift bed, I witnessed the dawning of a new day in one of the most beautiful cities, at least in China, but perhaps in the world, Chengdu. My immediate view was of grey-bricked traditional Chinese architecture with modern skyscrapers acting as a backdrop, the prolific green of trees lining the streets and a rare but clear blue sky, all invigorating my spirit to seize the day. My body yawned as I raised my arms into the air and stretched my neck one side to the other.

“Morninnng!” I slid open the balcony door and greeted my friend, who was busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast. A cup of coffee, a glass of orange juice, a glass of water and a piece of toast appeared on the table within minutes after sitting down with his two cats on the black love seat. It was a refreshing breakfast to compliment my al fresco night’s sleep.

We walked down to the “People People Happy” (人人乐) supermarket to get necessities for the day. The quiet morning suddenly evaporated in the Saturday morning bedlam that pervaded the ‘happy happy people’. The elderly shuffled in unpurposefully blocking the quicker-footed, children screamed impairing the hearing of the unimpaired, and stationary shop attendants incurred the lazy to feel energetic, all coalescing to form a peacefully chaotic microcosm of Chengdu. As we approached the checkouts, it became evident that only one was open, the long line peppered with grey heads and screaming kids. “Oh for God’s Sake!” spat my friend. Exiting ‘People People Happy’, we saw yawning shopkeepers and work-resistant food stall operators unshuttering their business establishments. The city was gradually waking up.

My friend had to work later that morning so I opted for a stroll. Although Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi (宽窄巷子), a famous so-called historical attraction in Chengdu was only a stone’s throw away, I didn’t feel like battling the early arisen tourists. People’s Park was a no-no too, the ubiquitous ‘People’ acting as a deterrent, so I opted for a relaxing saunter along the arresting beauty of a local canal that fed into a park without the word ‘people’ inserted into its name.

The one thing Chengdu constantly delights is the charming parks that are dotted throughout the city, with canals and streams flowing within, punctuated by arched bridges and intersected by pavilions, which most likely contain elderly citizens, those who aren’t shopping at ‘People People Happy’, performing Taichi. Being passed by joggers, I walked along the canal, filling my nostrils with the fresh morning scent of ancient trees, my ears with the sounds of birds and my eyes with the shimmering glory of the sun reflecting off the waters. I truly felt at peace.

After lazily strolling for a few hours, I headed back to the subway station near my friend’s house. But thinking about having a tea and not wanting to take part in the Starbuck decadence situated in the densely-packed center of Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi, I opted for the alleyway adjacent to the thronging tourist area. This little alleyway and Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi are worlds apart. Unlike the always-packed Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi, where replicated ancient Chinese buildings welcome, daily, thousands of tourists with their multitude of accents and dialects from all over China, this alleyway is a quiet respite lined with sun-shading vibrant trees. The locally owned cafés, tea houses and restaurants, painted in pastel colors and adorned with verandas, shrubbery and flowers, and haphazardly discarded crates of empty beer and wine bottles outside the establishments from the revelry the night before, all beckoned me with that lackadaisical Chengdu charm to sit and enjoy its quaintness.

Delighted, I wandered up one side and down the other of this hidden away street, unbeknownst by the tourists trapped in the next-door tourist trap, and decided to sit on one of the many teahouse verandas lining this local gem.

I ordered green tea and sat at a sunny table and opened my book. The family who ran this tea house were chatting lively while enjoying their tea too. Teahouses are on every street in Chengdu. They aren’t only for tea but also for playing mahjong, conducting business meetings, engaging in afternoon dates, and for simply whiling away the day. The clicking sound of mahjong tiles pervades the afternoon air along with the spicy aroma of red chilies emanating from another one of Chengdu’s mainstays, that being the hotpot and chuanchuan restaurants that are just as prevalent as the teahouses.

A few hours later I returned to my friend’s house and was informed that we were invited for chuanchuan. Darkness fell and neon signs lit up, welcoming the Chengdu nightlife. After exiting the subway station, we followed the directions given to us trying to locate the restaurant, which soon unveiled itself with the aroma of chuanchuan becoming more pungently apparent. We heard a holler and were greeted by our friends. The restaurant itself was a hole in the wall with two small seating areas inside and one table that was half inside and half out. Our friends were sitting at the ‘fresh air table’.

Many people ask what’s the difference between hotpot and chuanchuan. Chuanchuan (串串), as the character suggests, are bamboo skewers piercing small chunks of vegetables or meat, whereas hotpot ingredients are served on plates, though both are boiled in a thick spicy oily red soup with schools of red chili peppers and chunks of ginger floating about. Many restaurants that serve hotpot and chuanchuan have the heating pot laid into the actual dining table, however, this small dilapidated ‘greasy pot’ of a restaurant had a massive vat where the chuanchuan was boiled by an older plump woman. As we sat at the table, the skewered meat, intestines, animal organs and vegetables were placed in a large stainless steel bowl drowning in the hot oily mixture. The small dingy restaurant quickly filled as we sucked in the spicy feast with the enthusiastic chatter of patrons drowning out the traffic noise from yet again another tree-lined road that I and my friends were sitting a spit’s throw away from.

As we sat outside enjoying the spicy feast, customers all eating, drinking and chatting enthusiastically, my male companion and his friend drank icy cold Harbin beer to douse the burning sensation within their mouths. After satiating on chuanchuan, we felt eager to enjoy more of the Chengdu delights that awaited us on this warm evening.

We headed to a charming bar just down the road, which had a massive international collection of bottled beers lining the oak cabinets on either side of the light but cozy lit room that resembled a miniature beer hall. The awning outside, suitably enough, was decked out with flags of the world. We sat drinking at a long wooden table adjacent to the window and chatted the night away, though my male companies couldn’t help but secretly glance at the occasional Sichuan beauty walking by. My male friend, I once heard him say, stated that Chengdu and indeed all of Sichuan should be made a UNESCO heritage site, not for its stunning scenery but rather for its stunning females.

Next morning, instead of hunting for bras and dresses, a hobby for many of Chengdu’s beauties, at some boutique store on Yulin Xilu (玉林西路), another gem of a street also famous for its ‘Xiao Jiu ba’ (La Petite Bar), I decided to check out the new IFS shopping center in the heart of Chengdu. I found myself wandering around an underground portion of the mall, where nestled in a corner, I found a bookshop called Fangsuo (方所). The entrance was dark, but on my first visit I even questioned myself as to whether it was a book shop at all since the entrance was dimly lit with tables showcasing clothes and snacks but as I passed through the end of the tunnel-like entrance, I was amazed to see a sea of bookshelves under an arched ceiling that housed a second level of bookshelves accessible by a metal walkway. The last time I was in Chengdu, it would have been impossible to find such a huge and exquisite collection of books but it seems Chengdu has begun to give the Eastern cities a run for their money. ‘Welcome to new Chengdu’ I thought to myself.

People were leaning against shelves and sitting on the floor comfortably reading. When I passed a small corner, I was surprised to find a compact but substantial English section. Tucked away in a subterranean world away from the bustling hordes of the city above, a budding metropolis 2000 miles inland, I could not only stay here and read until the end of time, I could also live here and forget the world.

What a perfect life you could lead in Chengdu. No wonder they say: “once you come to Chengdu, you won’t want to leave (成都,一座来了就不想走的城市)”.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report GreenNanning 2018-10-14 18:12
This city made and broke the State of Shu along with its dream of restoring Han Dynasty in China's Three-Kingdom Period thanks to its rich resources and indolent lifestyle.

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  • Limpy, The Egyptian King 2018-10-17 10:57

    It seems your boy is fonder of a stray cat than of you. Since pet animals contain many germs that might harm human body, I think it is good to leave them alone before a girl like you have your own babies. We can always have good relations with animals, but they should stay in a zoo or in the wild, not in our home.

  • Welcome to Macao 2018-10-14 18:16

    If you do not have enough money to cover the expense for a Europe tour, Macao is absolutely a good choice for enjoying flavor of Southern Europe. You can also relax yourself in the nice casinoes there, much better than Genting of Malaysia and elsewhere, as far as I know.

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