China Part Two: Chengdu

We arrived in Chengdu a few hours late – thanks for an epic flight delay from Shanghai. This was disappointing to say the least – Chengdu immediately struck a chord with us.

Yean in Chengdu

Sugarcane Vendors, Chengdu

Its slower pace and colder climate made for a lovely atmosphere to explore the city, and as soon as our bags were set down at the Traffic Inn, we hit the streets. Using a rough tourist map as a guide, we managed to find the Wu Hou Ci Temple, dedicated to the great Zhuge Liang, a prominent military leader in the Three Kingdoms period. All of this of course found out after the fact – I must say my research for Chengdu was vastly under prepared, as I had seen it as a quick stopover to see the Pandas. Nevertheless – stepping into the temple immediately had it’s effect. Suddenly the noise from the street was cut off. Quietness reigned.

Yean and Chengdu

We had managed to find the temple at just before 6pm – the sweet spot between the huge crowds of tourists and closing time. In the gathering dark, the temple grounds took on a very meditative air, and we slowed our frantic tourist pace to a wander, taking the time to see the gardens, the alleys, the ponds, and all the great halls, which by day may house souviner shops, but at that hour, the shops had mostly shut up, and the courtyards they overlooked were still. Not wanting to waste the incredible atmosphere with reading the information plaques around the place (most of these were in Chinese in any case), I resolved to instead research it after the fact. I’m so glad I did.

Monastery Pool

Love Locks

Temple Architecture

Temple Grounds

Temple Statue

After the temple, we exited unwittingly through a side gate, and ended up in the Jinli Ancient Street markets. Beautifully recreated to reflect the style and feel of old Chengdu, here we found an exciting assortment of candy modellers, calligraphy artists, and a shooting stall with a recreation of the repeater crossbows used in the time of the three kingdoms.

Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

Brush Seller, Jinli Night Markets

Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

Chinese Repeater Bow, Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

Just as our stomachs were starting to rumble, we came to the food street. I had been told prior to leaving Singapore that Chengdu is the spice capital of China, and that there’s so much of it, even the air is spicy. The food street at the Jinli markets kept true to these claims – with my eyes tearing up as we made our way along, cross sampling many of the delicacies – with the clear favorites being the skewers of tender beef – with trays and buckets of spice where you could apply your desired amount of spices with a paintbrush.

Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

Jinli Night Market, Chengdu

After the night market, we consulted our friendly Lonely Planet, and refound the paragraph regarding the world renown Sichuan Tea Houses that are spread liberally through Chengdu. One particular name, Shufengyayun, grabbed our attention with an opera, puppetry, and dance performance included, and seeing that the performance was about to start in 10 minutes, promptly hailed a cab, jumped in, and spent the rest of the trip explaining to the driver how to get there – clearly he really wanted to take us to his favourite tea house instead.

Chinese Opera, Shufengyayun, Chengdu

I’ve never understood Chinese Opera. I’ve always attributed this to the fact that it’s in a language I don’t understand, set in scales and time signatures that to my ear make no sense at all. It turns out it’s all about context. Sitting in Albert Park in Auckland each year at Lantern Festival, the Chinese Opera was merely a filler before the martial art displays came on. Here, in the middle of Western China, on the other side of the world from Albert Park, seated in a cushioned wooden armchair, sipping a lovely green tea that was kept full by kettle bearing ushers, one can easily get lost in the moment. The melodies that seemed random and tasteless previously suddenly made sense – the emotion and drama of the pieces were expertly conveyed, and even without the occasional translation from Yean and Kuang, the overall story was able to be followed.

Shadow Puppetry, Shufengyayun, Chengdu

Shadow Puppetry, Shufengyayun, Chengdu

Comedy Show, Shufengyayun, Chengdu

The acts kept rolling through, and we saw some incredible abilities. The hand-shadow puppetry was magical, the slapstick a welcome light-hearted relief, and then the mask changing came on. If you ever go to Chengdu, ensure you get to the Shufengyayun tea house, if only for the mask changing performance. Most magical tricks these days are well published, well documented, and generally elicit a bit of a yawn from an audience that sees them. This was something different. To this day, the secrets of the seamless and instant mask change is shrouded in mystery, and known to only a few expert practitioners. To someone like me, seeing it for the first time, it was flawless, incredible, and completely magical.

Mask Changing, Shufengyayun, Chengdu

The next day, we woke early. This was meant to be the pinnacle of our side excursion to Chengdu – the sole reason for going in fact. This was the day of the Panda. Boarding an early morning shuttle, we made a lap of the central city lodges before hitting the highway to travel about half an hour out of the city to the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Center. We chose the morning tour, as all the guide books had recommended, to avoid the crowds that can clog the park. On arrival at the park, we found we were one of two groups there. After making it to the first feeding of the day, we somehow lost our guide, and ended up wandering the park on our own. This was a welcome relief – I’ve never settled well with guided tours, usually ending up frustrated at not being able to move at my own pace, and never actually LOOKING at anything in particular.

One to remember.

After a couple of documentaries, and several enclosures featuring Pandas at various ages (including the ‘awwwww’ inspiring panda cubs) I can safely say I now know much more about Pandas, their idiosyncrasies, their qualities, and most important of all, their fragile position on Earth today. They really are a unique, beautiful animal, and the people at the breeding center are doing an amazing job at postponing the extinction date for the species.

Panda, Chengdu

Panda Cubs, Chengdu

Panda Climbing Tree, Chengdu

Pandas – Emotional Eaters

We returned to the lodge in the early afternoon, with enough time to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea/beer in the dining area, before packing our bags and heading to the airport.

A good drop to try – Snow Beer

Traffic Inn – Highly recommended place to stay for people of all budgets. Cozy, friendly, and serves great Sichuan food in the dining area.

“Diary Entry – 11 October 2011

I am sitting in seat 12C, on flight CA4477, bound for Jiu Zhai Go, there to spend 2 1/2 days exploring the area. I’m extremely excited at the prospect – it has been some time since I last saw stars. I hope it will be underdeveloped, and as sparsely populated as the rumors are. Our last night in Chengdu was spent drinking beer and chatting to the late shift hostel girl. She reflected well what an aspirational country China can be. Hailing from a small country town outside of Chengdu, her dream is to move to Beijing, there to live the ‘Hard and Fast Life’. The Panda sanctuary has left a great impression on me – it really seems like the Panda is the most pathetic, cute, and all round toy-like animal in the world. Due to it’s almost strictly herbivorous diet of bamboo, couple with a carnivorous digestive system, the Panda spends most of it’s day sitting on it’s rear, eating bamboo shoots. As bamboo has little nourishment in itself, and the small intestine of the Panda unable to draw much nutrients from the food, the Panda is also reluctant to spend excess energy, going as far as shying away from reproduction – because of the energy involved. In this light, their only prospect for the future is an artificial life in zoos around the world, acting as a cash cow for China’s Panda Lending Scheme. I’m almost tempted to say extinction would sound pretty attractive given that option. The plane is taking off now – on to Jiu Zhai Go.”

Yean and Sichuan

104 thoughts on “China Part Two: Chengdu

    • Well-done partner, your photos are gorgeous. As an artist, I’ve traveled and around parts of the world also, but I must admit, your photos are exquisite. In the last few days I’ve been doing a few blogs on Kyoto and thereabouts. Unfortunately, most of my photos are flawed because of transferring from 1970s slides to CD’s. No excuses, but just the fact. I taught art for 30 some years and I compliment you on your China blogs.

  1. Really nice photos that capture the feeling of the city. I especially liked photos 5,7 and 15. Just shows what you can do with the kit lens even in low light 🙂

  2. I love this post, its colorful and the best part is the Pandas! Pandas Rule!!! But not for nothing how do you find places like this over in China? I mean really they have so many beautiful places and that place is so huge. Must take a lot of research huh?

  3. Some great shots up there …great work

    …I was, quickly, looking through your older posts and noticed you stayed at the Elegance in Hanoi …totally agree with your comments as we stayed there last year.

  4. What a great blog… My class are learning about China just now and I think I’ll share your photos and comments with them tomorrow 🙂 We are a small school in Scotland and are learning all sorts of things about China old and new!

    • Thanks for the kind words! I’ve got much more photos of other areas of China as well (including the terracotta warriors and Great Wall) if that helps your class! Just let me know if you want more 🙂

  5. Pingback: China: Chengdu | Asian Heritage Society

  6. I’m planning to visit Sichuan and Yunnan one of these days, your post makes me want to take the next flight to China. =D

    Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  7. Incredible photos! China has always seemed such a fascinating country. I have no words – it’s so beautiful. And the pandas are so cute…I could go on :D. Anyhow, congrats for being on Freshly Pressed!!!

  8. Wow! A lovely post, and great photos. It reminded me SO much of my visit to Chengdu a few years ago – the bamboo park, the opera, the pandas – wow! I’d so love to go back!

  9. It always amazes me that such a beautiful country that has such deep wisdom and spiritual philosophy can be so oppressive and practice such barbaric and inhumane treatment of not only people but also animals. They actually have cat and dog farms where they raise them in steel barren cages and brutally skin them alive! They actually drive around and gather domesticated animals for skinning! Don’t believe me, check it out:

  10. I must say that your photos are incredibly alluring and captivating-I feel they truly do successfully capture the beautiful atmosphere of Chengdu. The writing was also enchanting and very fun to read, I felt as if I was catapulted out of my native America and brought right along with you on your trip! Even though I have never been there myself, your post has inspired me to add China on my list of places I would like to travel! Thank-you soo much for sharing!

  11. Ahhh, Chengdu, I remember it well!!

    Thanks for this post; it’s brought back SO much that I’d forgotten when I visited a few years back! (I had forgotten about the mask thing; that really WAS awesome!)

  12. Reblogged this on The Lady Expounds and commented:
    Ahh, Chengdu….it is everything this lovely traveler describes on her blog! Sad to say, I have no pictures of my own of that time; I have no good explanation as to why. 😦 Perhaps, if I’m lucky, it’s on a roll of film I still haven’t developed yet…but I fear the worst for those. 😦
    I am hoping and praying that, one day, I can go on a walkabout, re-experiencing ALL these things, and taking many meaningful and awesome pictures! 😀

  13. Beautiful photos, The one with the baby panda literally makes my heart melt! My boyfriend and I are heading out on a 2 year backpacking trip this September and we’re hoping to spend six weeks in China — we’ll definitely be stopping in Chengdu!

  14. Your temple grounds picture, the one where the vegetation on the bottom looks like it’s larger than the people, is utterly trippy. Are those things really that large?!?!

  15. What a beautiful and culturally rich place to visit. I would have loved to visited here. Your photos look as though it was very foggy and only add to the allure of the land.

    • China on a whole seemed to be quite foggy – especially in the cities. Wether this is pollution or just a natural haze, I don’t know. It was also overcast most place we went, except up in the mountains, and in Beijing and Shanghai (they were having big events at the same time we visited, so I suspect the weather rockets had a part to play…)

  16. Thank you sooooooo much for sharing! China is such a rich and fascinating country. You’ve captured all the diversity that lies in this captivating land. I especially love the nature pictures with the bamboo and, of course, the cute pandas 🙂

  17. Very nice photos, I’ve recently been learning a bit about the Ming dynasty, the Boxer Rebellion, etc. Its nice to have some modern Images in my thoughts now. refreshing.

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