Ahhh.. Good old China.. I am back here again because the 1 month trip last year barely covered even a quarter of the massive country. Chengdu (成都) was my first destination this trip round, to start my exploration of north western China. Whilst Chengdu was part of the 2008 earthquake affected Sichuan (四川) in 2008, there’s certainly very little evidence of it. Whilst I imagined this place to be more laid back and traditional than the eastern parts of China (like Beijing & Shanghai), it was quite the opposite. In fact, my first impression of this place was that it’s for the VERY rich, in line with the ever developing and growing China. Why did I think that? Let me show you. My parents and I normally stay in ‘average’ hotels. This usually means 3 stars hotel, in an average location, with average neighborhood, with average prices. What we didn’t expect when our taxi driver took us to our hotel, was this entrance…
To my surprise, we landed right in the center of, for the lack of a better adjective, ‘super-luxury’ precinct (人民南路). I was literally 10 meters from Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Tiffany & Co., and just about every international luxury brand you can bloody imagine!! Every car that came out the car park nearby here was either a BMW, Porsche, Mercedes and any European luxury brand you can think of!
Now, walk through the Chinese sign ’巴斯迪集团‘ in the previous photo, and you will get this instead…
Yes that’s where we stayed, and it certainly looked a little out of place, given it is directly behind all those super high-end shops! It made us look rather out of place too, with our rather casual dress in shorts and thongs!
Putting that aside, people come to Sichuan, apparently for Sichuan cuisine or 川菜. If you don’t know what that usually involve, this usually means ‘hot’ or spicy food. Normally, when I order food back home, I would ask for chili to be added. Not over here. We ordered a dish supposedly known as “cool noodles” or 凉粉. You would think, this means the noodle is perfect to cool yourself down, in the currently drenching hot weather. Instead I got this..
Yeah, that’s hot chili on cold noodles! How is that suppose to cool you down? The general lesson? If you can’t take chili at all, ALWAYS ask for chili to be excluded! Here’s just some other cuisines we had..
Assorted Chili Sticks 麻辣串串香 Chili Tofu Dessert 麻辣豆花
Chili Chicken 钵钵鸡 Chili Wonton (麻辣抄手)
Yes they all had chili.. if you didn’t notice. Apparently, as a result of all these hot food, the ladies in Sichuan are ‘hot’ too. That’s hot in temper, mind you, in case you think I mean hot as in sexy/cute. But that’s not to say, there aren’t any hot/cute Sichuan girls!
Now, if you are after something more ‘western’, e.g. a coffee, there’s no shortage of Starbucks & McCafe either. In fact, there’s so many Starbucks, it almost feels wrong. Some Starbucks store went so out of the way to ‘integrate’ themselves into local environment, and you get this….
That’s a Starbucks store near an old part of town (武侯祠) where one of the old 3-kingdoms (三国) used to be. So how about it.. let’s have a cuppa by that ancient residence that used to belong to some 6th century merchant, eh?. To be honest, I have something against that. There is just something wrong about this!
Happy Mountain (乐山)
This is the other reason why people visit Chengdu, is to visit this sacred mountain not too far away. It’s a rather popular destination for the locals, and the devoted Buddhists. Admittedly, if you are not much of a history buff, or a keen Buddhists, you probably won’t find this place very interesting at all. The average tourist, probably came here to do silly poses like this…
Yes the 71 meters tall statue of “Happy Mountain Buddha” is impressive, and the story of the monk (海通和尚) that made it happen, even MORE impressive (he had his eyes dug out to avoid paying corrupted officials to build this statue!). And if you came here on a tour (like we did), the tour guide will sit you down and attempt to introduce you to Buddhism (宣传). It’s all good, as long as you are open to it all. After all, we were treated to some pretty nice local tea (竹叶青):
Here’s an interesting fact about the local 竹叶青 tea. The quality of the tea comes in 3 grades (Emperor 皇帝, young lady 姑娘, young married woman 媳妇). The ‘married woman’ grade is the cheapest tea you can buy, whilst the ‘Emperor’ is the most expensive. Like a Canadian would say, “Go figure!”
Happy Mountain (乐山) is one of the 4 major Buddhist mountains, with this one dedicated to the bodhisattva of “Samantabhadra“ (普贤), or the bodhisattva of action. It will test your patience, if you’re not into statues. There is a LOT of statues to go through!
The nearby Emei Mountain (“峨嵋山”) was similarly littered with temples and statues, with one addition. You get monkeys as well!
Whilst they claim these are wild, I swear it’s quite the opposite. For some reason, these monkeys will hang on to you and won’t let go, until you buy some snacks for them from the locals. If that isn’t a scam, I don’t know what is!
Yeap.. this is one other reason why people visit Chengdu or Sichuan in general, the see the all cute and cuddly Panda bears! Sichuan is one of the last few remaining places in China where pandas exist in the wild. We went to the local so called ‘Panda sanctuary’ (熊猫基地). It apparently has over 100 panda bears! We certainly didn’t know where they kept them, and saw a grand total of just 4 pandas!! Regardless, the one that we did get to see drew quite a crowd.
But in case you think these things are always cute and pretty, here’s probably a more ‘realistic’ side of pandas.
It is a rather un-flattering side of pandas you probably would rather not see. And much like an Australian Koala, these things give me the impression that all they do is eat bamboo leaves and sleep all day! Nothing like the ‘Kungfu Pandas’ the recent animation make them to be!!
Chengdu has been quite a start and a great ‘warmup’ to the rest of my travels here in China. But it is time to move away from the metropolitan city to a slightly quieter side of Sichuan. Hopefully I won’t see so many Starbucks & McCafe, robbing me of a more authentic’ experience!