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April 9th 2013
Published: April 28th 2013
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As we arrived at Chengdu train station we said goodbye to our new soldier friends who were off to protect ********! I probably shouldn't tell you what they were off to protect in interests of national security 😉

We had arrived in another massively populated Chinese city. Chengdu, with a population of around 14 million (!), is the capital of Sichuan province, famed for its hot, spicy food and we were looking forward to seeing how spicy this actually was.

We had to wait in a queue at the underground taxi rank for ages, it being morning rush hour, then we bundled into 2 taxis, us in the one without Dennis, hoping we didn't get completely lost in this huge city without him and no real clue where we were supposed to be, other than what it said on the hand scrawled note in Chinese on the bit of paper he had shoved into Aaron's hand as we got into the taxi. It did also have the name of the hotel in English, though quite how this was supposed to help if we got stuck we never did find out.

Thankfully the hotel rooms were ready for us when we arrived, so we grabbed quick showers before setting off to the old pedestrianised street market area of Chengdu full of twisting, turning narrow streets with pretty, old buildings either side. There were loads of fast food outlets of the Chinese variety with things like squid on a stick and the like. We had fun watching the comings and goings of Chinese tourists also enjoying the area and had loads of photos taken of us with them; some people grabbing us to get a shot, all the time giggling and touching my blonde hair in amazement and then others surreptitiously getting a sneaky shot by pretending to take a photo of something else with us in the foreground! By the end of the afternoon, me and Renee had got so amused by photo taking we cheekily make a sign and stuck it on the table we were sat having our beer at 'PHOTO 5 YUAN!'.

We saw so many interesting things; a tea house with a kind of copper cauldron outside that is used to dry the tea leaves, a spun sugar stall with a 'wheel of fortune' spinner to decide what animal or flower shape the lady would make for you out of sugar. We aw an egg shell carver using an electronic drill, a bit like a dentists, to carve intricate patterns on whole egg shells. Needless to say we didn't bother buying one of those - it wouldn't have survived very far in our squished suitcases! There was also a cigar rolling guy, a candy floss spinner, another sort of candy maker and then very strange - a row of chairs outside on the street each with a guy sat down having his ears cleaned out with long stick implements shoved into his ears. One guy carrying this out was wearing a head-torch to see better what he was doing! This reminded me of the guy I'd seen having his ear hair cut when we were in Vietnam. The guy doing that had a head-torch too and a stick with a knife on it to cut the hair. We also saw a crochet stall, a paper cut-out pictures lady (I bought a peacock she had made) and a shadow puppet guy.

Later on we went out of these winding pedestrian streets to go and have a look at the Tibetan area that we'd been told about. We wandered along streets full of shops with monks robes and temple 'gold' ware. Most of the people here were wearing traditional Tibetan costumes or were in red or orange monks robes. We also saw quite a few disabled people along these streets holding out begging bowls. We didn't know if they were Tibetans with no support from the government hence the begging or whether they figured they may get more help from the Tibetan monks who would likely take pity on them.

We met up with the rest of our group and headed off to have a look around Memorial Park and what a buzzing happening place this was, like many of the parks in China. So much was going on and so many of the older generation seem to have such a great time with their friends in these little green oases in the cities. We stopped to watch a set of couples doing some ballroom dancing to music blaring out and then rounded a corner to see a competing group doing a kind of line dancing session. An eccentric, jolly guy spotted us and started writing on the ground with water using a brush on a stick 'FUN' and then an arrow and then all our countries as he found out where we were all from. He was pointing us towards a long red carpet laid out across a large open area with couples walking down as if it were a cat-walk, strutting their stuff to the cheers from the crowds watching. Of course we had to have a go and had great fun messing about going down the cat walk with partners in tow, whoever fancied strutting their stuff with us. It was so funny when this little cheeky guy grabbed first Tom, then Aaron and finally Renee to have a strut down the cat-walk with.

We eventually managed to escape and found ourselves in another area of the park where people were earnestly writing poetry in calligraphy with water using the long paintbrushes, like the guy we'd met earlier, and discussing what had been written 'book club' style. We also saw people playing badminton, one lady in high heeled boots and a leopard-print mini skirt! We also saw groups of people playing our fave card game and slamming their hands down with great gusto. There was also a kind of chess game going on as well as some mah jong.

We also got to see the dating ads that Dennis had told us about. They are put up by the parents of children in their late 20s who the parents despair of them ever finding a husband or wife. Apparently they don't always ask their children if they mind putting up these ads in the park.

We came across an ancient looking fair that seemed not to be up and running until we turned up wanting to have a go on the dodgems to find it was in fact open, just didn't have the blaring music and flashing lights we are used to. Then followed a team session of bashing into Dennis which was great fun 😊

By now it was time to pick up a quick bite to eat from a dumpling stall on the way back to our hotel (2 dumplings and a thick pancake all for the princely sum of 2 yuan or 20p) before heading off to see the Chengdu Cultural Show. We got there early so were able to watch the singers and actors getting ready, putting on their elaborate costumes and make-up. We then sat and drank our tea from little china bowls and ate our sesame wafer biscuits all laid out on little thin tables in front of our seats and waited for the show to begin. No problems with lack of knee room here. Whenever we left the lid off our tea bowls the tea servers would come to top them up using really long-spouted copper tea kettles. The spouts must have been about 4 foot long - all so they didn't have to push past people along the rows, but could just reach the bowls from each end of the row of seats.

The show opened with a group of musicians performing; with a couple of the two-string, bowed instruments called erlu, various noisy gongs and drums, a flute blown from half way down the instrument and a kind of strange curled horn. They seemed pretty good at what they did, but it was such a different sound from what I'm used to and was quite strident and jarring. The musicians then moved to the back of the stage where they accompanied the actors and singers who came on next in their amazingly elaborate costumes and heavy make up. There was a leading lady who was so expressive with her face and hand movements but whose voice could have skinned a cat it was sooooo screeching and rawkus. Such a different style of singing - it must be so ruinous of the vocal chords!

We then had an amazing display of virtuosity by one of the guys on the two stringed erlu. He mimicked the sounds of a horse whinnying and chasing and other great stuff and got a huge round of applause. Following this was a lady manipulating this life sized puppet above her who was spinning a silk circle of material. 'Yeah whatever' we thought until we realised the material wasn't attached and she was grabbing at really slippery, thin silk and feathers and the like with the puppets 'fingers'. Such incredible skill.

Another amazing act followed with the mullet hair-style guy surprising us all with his fantastic hand shadow skills. We've all messed about having a go at doing butterflies, dogs and spiders and the like but this guy was able to do a galloping horse, an amazing owl, a dog eating a rabbit. Crazy hard stuff and it worked seamlessly from one to the next.

We then had a comedy double act, a husband and wife, with the wife punishing the husband for his gambling by making him wear a lighted lamp on his head and perform various feats without it falling off. Whenever he thought he had completed the task he would blow out the lamp only to find it immediately lit again by her quick reactions.

The show ended with the famous rapidly changing faces routine. Basically this involved many masks whipped away really fast revealing a new colour each time as the actor turned or drew a fan across their face.

What an entertaining evening and far better than we had expected. The actors and musicians were all so talented and deserved their tumultuous applause at the end.

And so the weary travellers collapsed into their beds, really looking forward to the trip to see the Leshan Buddha the next day.

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