Friday, March 02, 2018

City Review: Chengdu

We had a window of time to travel out of Guangdong and despite my having been there twice already we decided to go to Chengdu. Not that I was disappointed. My previous two visits impressed me and this visit was not any different. In my previous trips, I'd done some of the "key experiences" like seeing pandas, going to teahouses and eating spicy food. But had also done two specific out-of-town experiences Emei Mountain and Leshan's big Buddha. This time we spent it all inside the city and still found a lot to do.

Hotel review: Buddhazen (near Wenshu Yuan (Manjushri Monastery): 4 stars out of 5

A beautiful classical building right next to a large monastery? It's as good as it sounds. Everything is old wood, perpendicular corridors and spiritual. The emphasise the connection with Zen Buddhism. The service was humble and quick. We would stay there again without hesitation. The only drawbacks were a slight odour from the plumping, a seemingly non-live TV broadcast and an average quality foot massage. But those are minor compared to the enjoyment of living in and returning to such a comfortable place.

Favourite placesDu Fu's Thatched Cottage: 4 stars out of 5; Shujing Fang Baijiu Museum: 5 stars out of 5

These were two places I went to for the first time on this trip and both would be high recommendations, although most appropriate to people with a bit of a knowledge of Chinese and Chinese culture. Du Fu was never one of my favourite Chinese poets. (For the record, I loved the alcoholic poets more, even when I was teetotal, namely: Tao Yuanming and Li Bai.) But after going to his recreated thatched cottage and the grounds around it I may finally have gained an appreciation. The poems I liked best were his war-time poems. During his life there was a large-scale rebellion against the Tang Dynasty and a lot of his works focus on the pains of war that any modern reader could see are just as true today. One non-war poem that took pride of place on the cottage grounds was a dedication to Spring in Chengdu:
Good rain knows its time,
It falls when it becomes Spring,
It follows the wind and enters by night,
It moistens all with fine, silent drops,
Its mists cloak the rural paths.
All that can be seen through it are the lights on riverboats,
And when it dawns the red of the sun can be seen through the moist fog,
The damp, heavy flowers decorate this city of Chengdu.

The poems were great but the grounds themselves are beautiful. Highly recommended.

Now an alkie like myself has to love Sichuan province. Of the top 4 baijiu brands by market share, 3 are made in Sichuan. Number three is Shuijing Fang which is made in Chengdu. And a few years ago when they were expanding the factory, the diggers revealed that the same site had been used since the Tang Dynasty. (Which incidentally could mean that Du Fu might have drunk wine from there!) It's one of the oldest proven places of Chinese wine production. Archaeologists have even shown that the bacteria that was present at the time is the same as is used now.

The museum itself takes you through the production process and even gives you a sample of the first drawn spirits, at about 68% alcohol. Wooooo! One sip is enough. They show you the art of their bottles. (And in fact Chinese wine bottles are far more artistic than the simple elegance of western wine and spirit bottles.)

Restaurant review: Bashu Dazhaimen Hotpot (Caishi Street, Qingyang district, Chengdu): 5 stars out of 5.

I'll throw in a restaurant review because simply it really shows service mind, which had been a rare thing in China. Every trip to Chengdu requires a trip to a hotpot restaurant. At first I baulked about walking far to one with a good review arguing that we weren't connoisseurs, and there were places on every street. But I was persuaded and we went to this one. My arguing and the required persuasion had probably delayed us to the point that we had to wait for a table. This was the first impressive point though. If you have to wait, they give you a voucher that takes 15 yuan off your bill, provide you with cordial, sunflower seeds and another snack. We didn't have to wait long and the waiter was very attentive. In fact there was one moment that I thought nailed attentiveness. A staff member gave us our cutlery and I thought I noticed a small smear of chili oil on my cup. I checked with my finger and no sooner than I did the waiter switched it without a word. The food was great, too. Overall, there are lessons even a New Zealand restaurant could learn from them, which is rare.

City review: 5 stars out of 5.

Chengdu. Three visits and three pleasant times spent. But there are so many small things which make you feel good. Whether it be the main at the guokui shop who used tongs to handle money and plastic gloves with food. The general cleanness of the surrounds. The proliferation of bicycles. The unobtrusiveness of people and service in general.

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