Jiude buqu, xinde bulai (If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come)
A Melancholy Trip Down Memory Lane
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.
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.
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.
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…