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Chengdu : Jasmine infused bliss in China's 'lazy' city.

Chengdu Travel Blog

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Hazy Chengdu morning

I explained to Jingjing a week or more later “Ya know, of all the beautiful scenery and experiences I have had in China so far, one of my favourite moments of all was just sitting and reading with cups of fresh jasmine tea in Peoples Park in Chengdu.  Such a wonderfully laid back city.”.  “Laid back!” she exclaimed.  “It’s more than laid back.  You know what all other Chinese think of Chengdu?  Lazy!  The lazy city.  All they like in Chengdu is good spicy food, no work and lazy time!” she explained in a well humoured, not an irritable or (too) envious tone.

Advert & Wall
  Sounds to me like Chengdu’s got it juuuust about right.

An opaque milky haze permeates the city, Sichuan provinces capital city this morning from concrete feet to sky ceiling and where the twain do meet.  The sun’s work is being hindered today.  Mist?  No, I don’t think so.  Pollution?  Possibly.  Hard to tell.  It’s warm and muggy.  My breathing slightly tight.  But Chengdu’s roads and road traffic are nothing compared to the chaos of other cities I have visited.  The sizeable, but not overpowering number of mopeds and motorbikes and even pedal cycle bikes are almost all electric (as in Kunming).  A positive on several levels.  Silent or at least quieter roads.  Saigon this is not.

Panda statue : Sichuan's most famous inhabitants.
  Standing waiting to cross the many large intersections it is like watching a video of any modern, progressive metropolis but in slow motion, and with the volume turned right down.

Taking pride in its appearance?  Well, it’s not the prettiest of cities at all.  But it seems to take care of what it’s got.  Ladies with trolleys, mops, large water buckets and hand towels stoop to wash public waste bins and advertising cases.  A man very carefully applies some kind of filler to small chips and dents in the many, relatively new looking iron benches that line the many shopping promenades in the city centre.  Spray paint at the ready for the finishing touches.  Small embodiments of the ‘All because of you, Chengdu will be better…’ epithets emblazoned on the sides of many of the public buses in town.

'Meat Hooks'
  ‘Be strong to make progress, to have bright future’ another.  Words of self-encouragement for a province that will tomorrow commemorate 1 year since a 8.0 Surface Wave Magnitude scale earth quake killed upwards of 70,000 of its inhabitants, leaving 4.8 million homeless.  

Shops shops shops.  Chengdu is definitely my first real glimpse of the ‘New’ mass consumerist ( dare I state the obvious but heretic?) Capitalist China.  But still plenty of the old, the calm, the traditional life charm in Chengdu too.  Street side food hawkers and real earthy, hectic, aromatic and visceral meat and vegetable markets to be found.  Some steamed buns.  Some “Yums!”.  A happy tum.  I carry on.

Tai Chi and Trees in Renmin Park.

Next a stroll around Renmin ( ‘Peoples’) Park.  One of those oases of green and water calm that I’ll soon learn China’s pretty good at harbouring even in the midst of its most claustrophobic of concrete Meccas.  This is a super calming place to spend your time… more time than you would at first have thought probable whilst in Chengdu.  The beautiful bonsai and grass and plant gardens.  I muse once more about the ‘Weselby Family Bonsai’ that will one day be explained if I ever get around to writing the final entry in my ‘Final days of Brum’ blog. 

Elderly Chinese stand amongst the serene vegetation calmly practising  callisthenics or administering Tai Chi gestures to the winds.  Fish in large numbers swarm gold, white, red and orange in small ponds that bewitch children as they cast towards them their magic crumbs.

'Fronds'
  A sign reads ‘Man protect the green, The green does good to man’.  “Here here I say!”.

Besides the largest of the ‘lakes’ (a pond really) at Renmin Parks heart are some of the famous Chengdu tea houses.  Chengdu apparently the historical home of China’s revered, legendary tea drinking culture.  Apparently also one of the last places where some vestige of tea drinking ‘ceremony’ can be found.  I sit me self down with Paul Theroux’s ’Dark Star Safari’ (a book I am enjoying with rapture and almost the first ’travel book’ I’ve ever read) and order a cup of fresh jasmine tea.  This is served with one of China’s ubiquitous, tall thermos hot water descanters so you are at your ease to have fresh, hot teas for as long as you please.

Mommy and boy and magic crumbs for the fish :)

It is beautiful.  The delicate whites of the china cup and saucer.  The gentle steaming.  The tiny white petals of the jasmine blossoms float like so many ghosts of tiny drowned faeries in white cotton dresses in the yellow-green waters.  A fragrant fluttering of Ophelias caught up in green tea weeds.  They hover prettily.  A final dance.  And eventually sink, their charms, their flavours warn out, to the bottom of the cup.  Men continually stroll around offering me shoulder massages and the use of some strange looking devices that one strikes with what appears an oversize tuning fork, thus vibrating its feathery point to then be inserted into one’s auditory canal.  No thanks.  I’m ticklish there… probably.

Tea.

I am so relaxed here.  Just tea, a book and people and slow life all abouts.  This is definitely one of those rare, unexpected ‘Perfect Moments’ of my journey.  Cards and Majong are being played endlessly by chattering inter-generational groups of women or family gatherings.  The sound as the Majong ’bricks’ are shuffled on the marble-top tables reminiscent of pebbles washed and rolling over one another as waves break over an English shoreline.  Brighton.  Home perhaps.  Memories.  The constant tanging, chiming of the ear-ticklers’ tuning forks ( ’tdzzing… tdzzing…’ ) adding an unintentional Zen-like air to Stevie’s gentle reading, tea drinking and thinking ceremony.  Reluctantly, a couple of hours later I down cup ‘n’ book and decide to move on, leaving the ‘Goldf ishis land Yong Ju Teahouse’ ( ‘Gold Fish Island’ d’ya think?) behind.

Beautiful jasmine tea with white floating blossoms.

Further amblings around town.  It’s a big one with deceptively long distances point to point but a good bus network for the lazy or time-pressed.  I visit the Wenshu Temple.  Notable at least for a couple of points at least.  One being that it is a rare example of a temple in this part of China that was protected from and survived the ravages of the Cultural Revolution and secondly for the fact it costs a mere 5RMB ($0.60) to enter.  An economic gesture flying defiantly in the face of most of China’s heavily reconstructed and heavily overpriced ‘cultural’ sites.  It’s good for a stroll with some fine examples of Chinese pagoda and pavilion style temple architecture.  Apparently the vegetarian restaurant and tea house housed within its grounds are a knockout too, but I’m not in need right now.

Next I decide to go for a long stroll along the Fu and Nan Rivers that thread together through the city.  This is another excellent way I find of inducting yourself into the real (slow) life pulse of a city and its inhabitants.  The less looked for public spaces.  Or those not frequented by fly-by-night, guidebook-clutching visitors anyways.  And so it proves.  One resounding positive I will cherish from my 6 weeks in China is the strength and respect for family as the basis, root, foundation and branch of society it retains.  A society on such an enormous scale too.  Extended, close-knit and cohabiting families are still the norm whether in a rural or an urban setting. 

And this closeness is not confined to the private intimacy of ones home.

'A Beautiful Repose'
  All public spaces, be it parks, promenades or riverside areas are fully populated by a harmonious and happy confluence of all generations at most times of the day.  It is never unusual to be sat at 9 o’clock at night whilst a traditional Chinese operatic group or orchestra or band practice their best numbers for free as the elderly and young mothers and their offspring, and couples and lovers watch on and roller-blading, skateboarding teenagers clatter past and circle around avoiding the mopeds and bikes that hum past too.  Scenes like this are near totally dead in my own country.  And I fear irretrievably so.  So these moments, such as the riverside life of Chengdu are profound and unusual and beautiful for me.
 
Here we have the elderly, the tired, the retired and the young all making the most of leisure time.
Doggie chained to the pavilion roof at Wenshu.
  Leisure time an all too rare or forgotten, abandoned commodity in so many of our Modern Lives, but Chengdu, the ‘lazy’ city seems to still value it well enough.  Groups of old boys play Chinese chess and laugh and smoke together.  A group of elderly women hop from foot to foot, waving and jangling bell-bushels and bright tissues in the air in a kinda Chinese version of Morris Dancing.  A solitary lady bent over a lyric sheet practices melodious singing in the shade of a tree.  Dogs run and patter about.  Middle aged men - but never young boys? - string out kites from large reels of nylon to the dizziest of heights.  Challenging Chengdu’s burgeoning population of skyscrapers with their flighty delicacy.

It’s been a simple, beautiful day.

Mao and Flowers
  You don’t always need the finest of weather and constant mega-sight stimulation to have a perfect day.  Chengdu is, without wishing to be unfair, a city of none too great charms.  It’s not super pretty.  It’s not super interesting.  There are some things to do, that I have passed by in favour of the subtler charms of Slow Life in the City.  A rare contradiction in terms.  China studies a fine art in contradictions.  I apologise if you wanted lots of cute photos of the provinces most famous inhabitants, the 1,000RMB ($147!!!) per photo-hug pandas of the Chengdu Panda Breeding Centre.  You’ll have to check other blogs for those.

It’s to the train station for me now.  I bought my ticket with some minor effort yesterday.

Night Fountain in Tianfu Square
  It’s essential to get tickets ahead of time in China.  Why?  Numbers.  The sheer volume of humanity in movement and flux at all times in China.  With a population now in excess of 1.3 billion, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody needs that seat!  Your berth.  Every single train representing a mass migration of mankind.  As I am about to find out.  And will have to get used to.  ‘Cos I’m heading East now.  The Big City trail.  The noise, the crowds, the jostling and mania of Chengdu Train Station and waiting for my first ever night train are just a taste of what’s to come. 

But whatever the madness to come may be, I will remember my jasmine tea in Chengdu, Renmin Park.  My ’Perfect Moment’ of pebble-beach-majong zen calm, and jasmine faeries that float gently in white cotton dresses until they can float no more…

Stevie_Wes says:
Thank you so much guys! :)))
Posted on: May 31, 2009
bernard69 says:
I agree with the Empress!
Posted on: May 30, 2009
Transitory says:
I've said it multi-times but I love your blogs! Keep 'em coming!
Posted on: May 30, 2009
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Hazy Chengdu morning
Hazy Chengdu morning
Advert & Wall
Advert & Wall
Panda statue :  Sichuans most fam…
Panda statue : Sichuan's most fa…
Meat Hooks
'Meat Hooks'
Tai Chi and Trees in Renmin Park.
Tai Chi and Trees in Renmin Park.
Fronds
'Fronds'
Mommy and boy and magic crumbs for…
Mommy and boy and magic crumbs fo…
Tea.
Tea.
Beautiful jasmine tea with white f…
Beautiful jasmine tea with white …
A Beautiful Repose
'A Beautiful Repose'
Doggie chained to the pavilion roo…
Doggie chained to the pavilion ro…
Mao and Flowers
Mao and Flowers
Night Fountain in Tianfu Square
Night Fountain in Tianfu Square
Stevie on his first hard sleeper…
Stevie on his first 'hard sleeper…
Sunset over Chengdu
Sunset over Chengdu
At the Bus Stop
'At the Bus Stop'
Chengdu by Night 1
Chengdu by Night 1
Chengdu by Night 2 (Tianfu Square)
Chengdu by Night 2 (Tianfu Square)
This girl, covering one eye and ho…
This girl, covering one eye and h…
That cannot be comfortable! :D
That cannot be comfortable! :D
Friends on the way to work.
Friends on the way to work.
Chengdu (abstract) 1
Chengdu (abstract) 1
Chengdu (abstract) 2
Chengdu (abstract) 2
Market in Chengdu near Renmin Park.
Market in Chengdu near Renmin Park.
Pagoda & Pond
Pagoda & Pond
Man does Tai Chi.
Man does Tai Chi.
Renmin Park Boats (abstract)
Renmin Park Boats (abstract)
Look Left, Look Right
'Look Left, Look Right'
Wenshu Temple : the worlds smalle…
Wenshu Temple : the world's small…
Part of Wenshu Temple complex
Part of Wenshu Temple complex
Chinese script (abstract)
Chinese script (abstract)
The Thousand Buddha pagoda at Wenc…
The Thousand Buddha pagoda at Wen…
The 6 Tier Pagoda at Wenshu
The 6 Tier Pagoda at Wenshu
Guardian Lion (abstract)
Guardian Lion (abstract)
My word have you learnt NOTHING fr…
My word have you learnt NOTHING f…
Old Boy sings for joy to accompany…
Old Boy sings for joy to accompan…
A little of the old & new view.
A little of the old & new view.
Chengdu
photo by: spocklogic