Chengdu 1991 –2006

Old Chengdu 1991

Jiude buqu, xinde bulai (If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come)

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A Melancholy Trip Down Memory Lane

Chengdu 1991


It was February 1991 and we had arrived the night before, after one of those long bus rides from hell, and quickly installed ourselves in the comfortable Traffic Hotel. The weather in Chengdu was cloudy and grey, the sun was never to show its face for the whole week we were there. There was a slight winter chill in the air and we kept expecting it to rain, but it never did. Our first impressions of Chengdu were not overly enthusiastic, it seemed like most other Chinese large cities at that time, drab and featureless. Sterile government buildings lined the main boulevards, a testimony to the worst of Soviet style architecture. However, as we strolled aimlessly around, it quickly became obvious that the real Chengdu was just around the corner. And literally! Diving off a main street into a side ally you would find yourself in the midst of bustling street markets, full of the hustle and bustle of frenetic street trading. Vendors sold everything from black-market jeans and watches, to bags of freshly crushed chillies and pungent pickles. Street artisans plied their ancient trades, from basket weaving to dentistry, and small home industries ground sesame oil or produced vinegar. The smell of kerosene from the impromptu food stalls filled the air. The whole city beyond the main thoroughfares heaved with tremendous vigour. Every street offered something different, enticing the curious traveller to delve in and discover something new.

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Huanglongxi China’s Little Hollywood

Huanglongxi: Where Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon was Film

Huanglongxi: China’s Little Hollywood: Close to Chengdu is the town of Huanglongxi. Though not on the foreign tourist map, it is definitely a must for domestic tourists. Huanglongxi has been the stage set for many of China’s most famous soap operas, TV series and historical dramas, as well as some of Hong Kong’s biggest Kung Fu blockbusters. More recently, the box office hit ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ was partly film in Huanglongxi.

Huanglongxi: China's Little Hollywood sweet-maker
Huanglongxi: China’s Little Hollywood sweet-maker huanglongxi

Huanglongxi: China’s Little Hollywood

Huanglongxi Old Street
Huanglongxi Old Street

It is a small town with a number of perfectly preserved streets and traditional Qing dynasty houses. Unfortunately, some of the streets have become slightly tacky, due to the proliferation of souvenir stalls.

Playing Board Games Huanglongxi
Playing Board Games Huanglongxi

Nonetheless, if you stroll a few hundred meters away from the main tourist drags, you will find yourself in equally beautiful, but quiet, back streets that even now preserve their artisan shops.

Quite Streets Huanglongxi
Quite Streets Huanglongxi

You’ll find places where they build paper spirit-houses, make bamboo fans, crush chillies and braid rope from straw. If you’re lucky, you may catch an opera performance in a side-street teahouse, or musicians rehearsing with traditional instruments in a back room.

Huanglongxi Impromptu Music and Tea
Huanglongxi Impromptu Music and Tea

While at weekends and lunchtimes the village can be a bit overrun, we found our afternoon visit rather relaxing. Next to the river are a host of teahouses, where snacking on spicy shrimps and fried fish and slurping gallons of tea are the order of the day.

Restaurant by the River: Huanglongxi
Restaurant by the River: Huanglongxi

Huanglongxi: A good place to Chill Out

A cold beer by the river Huanglongxi
A cold beer by the river Huanglongxi

Most of these places will also do a good cold beer, if you fancy a change. Besides the teahouses, traditional architecture and flagstone streets, Huanglongxi also has a few interesting temples that are definitely worth a visit.

The Temple Where they Filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Temple Where they Filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

In fact, one of these temples boasts a real theatre in its courtyard, where you can partake of tea on the stage. This is also where they shot some scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The Temple Where they Filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The Temple Where they Filmed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Return to Sichuan Province

Zigong / Salt and Dinosaour City

Zigong: A Gem.

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As you approach Zigong, sculptures and posters of dinosaurs announce that you’re arriving in “Dinosaur City”, as the city is known by the Chinese. Zigong is a pleasant modern city, built along the banks of the Fuxi River that has so far managed to maintain large areas of traditional and interesting architecture, despite its recent development and prosperity.

Besides Dinosaurs, Zigong has an abundance of sites, and is definitely worth spending a couple of days. The city owes its prosperity not so much to dinosaurs, as to salt and, in particular, the important role this product played during Imperial times. The salt mining techniques developed at Zigong were among the most sophisticated in the ancient world. They included building precision drills,…….

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Excursion to Litang

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The journey to Litang takes about 7 or 8 hours and takes you through some pretty rural scenery. For the first two hours or so, the bus goes through farming land and past some gorgeous two-or three-storey Tibetan farmhouses; these are sturdy stone and wood dwellings with a courtyard and….

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Guiyang贵阳-Chishui赤水-Zigong 自贡-Bamboo Sea蜀南竹海

Chishui

This triangle linking the south of Sichuan province with the north of Guizhou is a great combination of lush subtropical scenery, traditional villages and impressive architectural monuments. Yet, in spite of its attractions, the area has not been put on the tourist map, which only contributes to its charm.

Zigong

This route is equally feasible from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, or from Guiyang, capital of Guizhou, given that the bus connections are good both ways. If you start from Guiyang, like we did, you may find the first part between Guiyang and Chishui, a bit long and tiring, though you could always break up the journey in the historical city of Zunyi….

There is now a high-speed train operating between Chengdu and Guiyang bringing travelling times down to just a few hours.

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Bamboo Sea

Langzhong

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This small town, with a big history, is situated on the banks of the Jialing River, some 225 kilometres from Chengdu. It is all at once the burial place of the Three Kingdoms general, Zhang Fei, birthplace of the Han dynasty inventor of the Chinese Calendar, Luo Xiahong, and home to a wealth of traditional Sichuan architecture. In short, Langzhong has plenty of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for two days.

Your first priority on arrival, is to find accommodation in one of the many traditional family mansions that…..

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Sichuan Teahouses 四川茶馆

Sichuan Teahouses 四川茶馆

There are few pleasures more enjoyable in China, than reclining in a bamboo chair sipping freshly brewed tea from a porcelain cup in an traditional, old teahouse. Whether you are just people-watching, reading a book, planning your next destination or chatting with friends, it’s one of those memories that will stay with you, long after you have left China. Teahouses are commonplace throughout China; Beijing, Shanghai and other big cities all have their own, and many are extremely fashionable, but it is in Sichuan where you will find the genuine article. Many Sichuan teahouses have managed to retain the timeless atmosphere we associate with Ancient China and continue to form part of people’s daily lives.

Teahouses in Sichuan can range from the humblest hovel to a restored Qing mansion, a converted old theatre or a Buddhist or Taoist temple. The simplest teahouses are often set in rickety, old, wooden buildings on the verge of collapse, they…

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