27.11.2013 - 28.11.2013 14 °C
Chengdu has been here a long time, with its history traceable back at least 4,000 years. One reason for its establishment is that the the Chengdu Plain is extremely fertile, so much so that it has been called the Country of Heaven, or Tiānfǔzhiguó. But walking, bussing, training and metro-ing around you would hardly know it - the city has encroached on the agricultural lands for tens of kilometres in every direction - to the north it seems to go for 50 km. It has undergone a huge amount of modernisation, with a compete rebuild starting in 1949, so that looking at the architecture you'd hardly know you're in a Chinese city. Of course, the people have made their mark - the foods and the signs in particular make it clear this is China. But I don't think I saw anyone dressed in any clothing I'd identify as Chinese - unless young Chinese women have traditionally dressed in puffer jackets (black, bright pink and bright yellow seem to be the preferred options), tights and skirts (again black, often a bit frilly). The older Chinese women tend to dress a lot like my late mum did, although their jackets have a bit more bling and brocade.
Museums are of course one way to maintain a record of what has gone before, and I do regret not getting to any - I was very interested in the Sichuan Provincial Museum in particular, but it closes at 4:00, so that when I arrived there just a bit later than that (hoping to get in at least a quick look), I was faced by a finger-wagging, shouting policeman: I needed no language skills to know I was not to enter. But something else that China has done is that it has designated "Ancient towns" and, in Chengdu, ancient streets - the most well known are Jingli and the Wide and Narrow Lanes. These are places of great historical signficance, where some of the ancient architectural features have been retained but more commonly they have been recreated, and turned into Olde Worlde shopping and entertainment precincts. Since the Wide and Narrow Lanes were very close to where I was staying, I chose them over Jinli Street, and it was certainly an interesting experience - I have no idea what was old and what was new, but it looked pretty good to me. There were a few bars and restaurants, but most of the shops seemed to be quite elegant, selling literature, crafts and the like (quite what many were selling was quite obscure to me). I didn't take many photos because I planned to come back during the day (which never happened), but these will give an idea of what has been done.
Here is the entrance:
And now just a few shots as I wandered around:
I have to say - I had my worst meal of the trip here. I went in to something styling itself as a Hong Kong cafe, and I decided to go for an old favourite: combination roast duck and roast pork. When the dish came, there were just a few pieces of duck and the pork had somehow become boiled chicken (and not very much of it). As for the duck, it looked like it had been training for the Olympics - now if it had been for the shotput, that would not have been so bad, because shotputters tend to be lushly fleshed - but this duck was obviously trained as a gymnast, with not a gramme of fat.
Around the outskirts of Chengdu, there are a number of these ancient towns: after dithering for a while, I picked Luodai, which is one of a handful of Hakka communities in China today - the story goes that centuries ago, it was a small village when the Shu Han emperor Liu Shan passed through and dropped his jade belt into a well - this led to the town being called "lost belt". The directions from the internet as to how to get there were even more complicated - go to a certain metro station, then walk a bit ("if you know the way") to a bus station and yet I mastered this voyage with no problems.
There was one main street, built around three guild halls (all of which had been re-built in the mid 18th century), but the shops were mainly selling food or souvenirs, which gave the place the aura of a theme park - and there were several of these sorts of places, which didn't help dispel that notion:
I liked the idea of the guildhalls - they are gathering places for families, hang out with friends, network, settle disputes and make sacrifices.
As I was walking around, something very confusing happened to me. Last night, at the Wide and Narrow Lanes, a couple of men, quite a bit older than me, insisted on taking my photo. Today, I had the same thing happen several times, but it got even more extreme: I was MOBBED! About six women in their early twenties (maybe they were doing the Chinese version of a hen party and had been given a red card to get a freak shot) all clustered around me as one of their friends took our photo. I have no idea what anyone is going to be doing with these photos.
I'll finish with a cluster of photos I took as I wandered around - the first two are cute (the first one obviously, but the second one because the guys in the cafe noticed me taking the photo and obviously had no problem):
Now some random shots of various buildings to give a sense of the place:
But it wasn't all old stuff - there was a bit of an arts precinct happening, just off the main street: