I’m just going to jot off a quick post today! I’m in the middle of a slew of projects for my internships, a pile of homework, and reading a book for our intern/ Political office book club!
Chengdu (as one would expect) is completely different from any other Chinese city I’ve been in. Sure there are the requisite baozi (which are sadly terrible), noodle shops, and scruffy poodles everywhere. But, in the larger picture, Chengdu is the center of western China for five major reasons; pandas, tea shops, parks, and travel.
The pandas are obvious; the world’s largest panda research center is just north of the city. Most of the world’s pandas live there, and pretty much every panda outside of China was raised there. I haven’t been able to get up to actually see the pandas yet, but honestly there are so many panda-related things around the city that I feel like I’ve already visited. You can buy panda mugs in Starbucks, panda hats, panda baby outfits, stuffed pandas of all sizes wearing all kinds of hats/ shirts/ pants, panda related food, panda notebooks, panda cell phone cozies, panda scooters, you can go to the panda bank, and heck, even all of the taxis have a panda on them. I’m on a bit of panda overload.
Chengdu is famous for its’ wonderful teashop culture. In certain neighborhoods at least every other shop is a teashop. They range from fancy fake Tang Dynasty opulence to a slightly dirty room lit by a single bulb from the ceiling. When I first came to Chengdu, I couldn’t find where all of the elderly people were. In Shanghai and Beijing, they were always in the parks dancing or playing cards. In Chengdu, everyone is in the teashop playing Mahjong. You can tell which shops are best by how loud the clicking of tiles is.
Although there aren’t nearly as many elderly people lounging about in them, Chengdu has some pretty awesome parks. Granted, the standard for pretty awesome in China includes things like; does it have a body of water, are there trees, are the flowers still blooming, is someone actively removing the trash, is the smell of rotting fish and plants tolerable, but Chengdu’s parks really are pretty cool and ubiquitous. Sichuan is pretty much known for being to grow pretty much anything (provided you aren’t perched on a mountainside), so the gardens are filled with tropical and sub-tropical trees and plants. The streets are lined with trees in bloom with sweet-smelling flowers, and every day I watch the government employees add more flowers to the overloaded beds.
Finally, Chengdu is the hub from which most travelers depart to other areas of western China. This is the last major city before Lhasa, and is often used as the gathering point for touring groups headed into the Tibetan Autonomous Region. For travelers who can’t make it all the way to Tibet, there is still a thriving community of Tibetans in nearby western Sichuan, or even within Chengdu itself. High-speed trains connect travelers to Kunming and Shangri-La, and flights connect Chengdu to just about anywhere in China, and much of South-East Asia.
All in all, Chengdu feels a bit like a stopover city for most western tourists. Land, see the pandas, tour a Daoist/Buddhist temple, drink some tea, share a spicy hot pot, and move on to your next destination. Hopefully, over the next few weeks I’ll be able to dig in a little deeper and find a few more hidden gems.