Chengdu : Jasmine infused bliss in China's 'lazy' city.
Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 165 of 268 › view all entries
I explained to Jingjing a week or more later āYa 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.ā. āLaid back!ā she exclaimed. āItās 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!ā she explained in a well humoured, not an irritable or (too) envious tone.
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 sunās work is being hindered today. Mist? No, I donāt think so. Pollution? Possibly. Hard to tell. Itās warm and muggy. My breathing slightly tight. But Chengduās 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.
Taking pride in its appearance? Well, itās not the prettiest of cities at all. But it seems to take care of what itās 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 āAll because of you, Chengdu will be betterā¦ā epithets emblazoned on the sides of many of the public buses in town.
Shops shops shops. Chengdu is definitely my first real glimpse of the āNewā 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 āYums!ā. A happy tum. I carry on.
Next a stroll around Renmin ( āPeoplesā) Park. One of those oases of green and water calm that Iāll soon learn Chinaās pretty good at harbouring even in the midst of its most claustrophobic of concrete Meccas. This is a super calming place to spend your timeā¦ 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 āWeselby Family Bonsaiā that will one day be explained if I ever get around to writing the final entry in my āFinal days of Brumā 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.
Besides the largest of the ālakesā (a pond really) at Renmin Parks heart are some of the famous Chengdu tea houses. Chengdu apparently the historical home of Chinaās revered, legendary tea drinking culture. Apparently also one of the last places where some vestige of tea drinking āceremonyā can be found. I sit me self down with Paul Therouxās āDark Star Safariā (a book I am enjoying with rapture and almost the first ātravel bookā Iāve ever read) and order a cup of fresh jasmine tea. This is served with one of Chinaās ubiquitous, tall thermos hot water descanters so you are at your ease to have fresh, hot teas for as long as you please.
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 oneās auditory canal. No thanks. Iām ticklish thereā¦ probably.
I am so relaxed here. Just tea, a book and people and slow life all abouts. This is definitely one of those rare, unexpected āPerfect Momentsā 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 ābricksā 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-ticklersā tuning forks ( ātdzzingā¦ tdzzingā¦ā ) adding an unintentional Zen-like air to Stevieās gentle reading, tea drinking and thinking ceremony. Reluctantly, a couple of hours later I down cup ānā book and decide to move on, leaving the āGoldf ishis land Yong Ju Teahouseā ( āGold Fish Islandā dāya think?) behind.
Further amblings around town. Itās 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 Chinaās heavily reconstructed and heavily overpriced āculturalā sites. Itās 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 Iām 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.
Here we have the elderly, the tired, the retired and the young all making the most of leisure time.
Itās been a simple, beautiful day.
Itās to the train station for me now. I bought my ticket with some minor effort yesterday.
But whatever the madness to come may be, I will remember my jasmine tea in Chengdu, Renmin Park. My āPerfect Momentā of pebble-beach-majong zen calm, and jasmine faeries that float gently in white cotton dresses until they can float no moreā¦