Actually, outside of Shanghai, I think Chengdu might be my favorite city in China so far. I love the spicy Sichuan cuisine from chili oil hot pot to the addictive dan dan mian (spicy pork noodles). But I think most of all I loved the people watching. And there is no place better to go than People’s Park to take in a cross section of city life in this sprawling city of 7 million in South West China.
Here, at the entrance to the park, you can see a woman spinning sugar into edible art.
A familiar sighting during the week days is Chinese grandparents looking after the little ones, while the parents go off to work. It is this multi-generational living that creates such a tight family network. Being from the US, I will say as families rarely live near one another, you get a flavor of what closeness could look like. It’s no wonder in China the families are so intertwined and influential in each other’s lives.
For example in the marriage market section of People’s Park, grandparents and parents seek spouses for their unmarried family members. One of the people I am with translates a sign, “….female, age 30, 160cm tall, masters degree and is an engineer in a technology company in Chengdu.” I comment that she sounds like a real catch and my friends replies, “…well she is a bit old which makes you wonder what is wrong with her and why she is not married yet.” This is China…marriage is not only a symbolic rite of passage into independent adulthood, but it is also a social requirement. And thus the marriage market…if you cannot meet the right man (or woman) the family will intervene and find one.
The park has an amazingly lush bonsai garden which is meticulously kept. In this section of the park it is a place of serenity and contemplation. You also feel as if you are in a library and should be quiet out of respect.
Locals gather around the koi pond and feed the fish.
Some of China’s most important literature comes from Chengdu, so it is no surprise to see culture is alive and well in the nicknamed “Hibiscus City.” Local groups do traditional dance in the park as well as some more modern styles. Here you see people in traditional costumes doing more formal groups dancing as well as folks who spontaneously join from the crowd to do the traditional group dances of the region.
Finish it off with a trip to the tea house inside the park and you complete the experience. Here people of all ages gather to drink tea, play checkers, read and get massage – an ear massage to be specific. Sounds strange?….it is, a bit…read on.
The ear massage is kind of massage inside the ears, although to be fair it looks a bit like ear cleaning. There are a variety of tools for this, including metal rods with bits of cotton fluff on the end as well as a metal fork. The fork is tapped to produce a subtle vibration and when the vibrating fork touches the metal, the vibration is transferred inside the ear through the stick producing a massaging effect. I couldn’t bring myself to do it after years of hearing about people perforating their eardrums with Q-Tips, but here you see a local man enjoying the traditional Chengdu tea house ear massage.
Some of us just had a tea – pictured below is lemon tea, which is preserved lemon and goji berries served with sugar rocks.
All and all it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Chengdu and get a feeling for the people, the culture and the place – a definite “must do” for tourists and visitors to Chengdu.