I have been living here in Chengdu for a month now, and have had the great pleasure of exploring the city and its outer boroughs on the weekends and occasionally weekdays after class. Some of this is done with my host family (more on this amazing, welcoming family later), some with my program or friends, and other adventures take place on my own. Here are the highlights thus far:
San Xing Dui archaeologic site: 70RMB entrance fee
This is about an hour by drive outside of the city center. It is located at the site of bronze age ruins from the mythical Shu dynasty of china, which flourished some 3,000 years ago. This doesn’t fit neatly with the traditional narrative of Chinese history of one dynasty succeeding another (was this after the Shang dynasty? Before the Zhou? Or coexisted with one or both??), and records are spotty from 1,000 BC.
The bronze relics are most interesting to me for their non-chinese-ness. The gold plated heads don’t look han Chinese! There is something almost mayan or Olmec looking about them. Everything else in 2,500+ years’ worth of Chinese art is impeccably covered in dragons and phoenixes.. and these are just very otherworldly and beautiful in their own way.
Bailuwan Wetland Park: free entrance, 20RMB bike rental fee
This is a massive park best traversed by bicycle, located on the outskirts of Chengdu city. There are all sorts of lily filled lakes, bird watching hotspots, tourist watching hotspots (the fashion here is really enjoyable!) and flower beds to meander through for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately I went on a day that was probably 90 degrees at least, and the humidity made breathing difficult. To make matters worse, I was still hungover from the night before. oops.
WenShu Monastery: free entrance, it is a working temple
Beautiful temple complex in central Chengdu! Walking around, I didn’t feel like I was in a city of 14 million people at all- the chaos of the city melted away and the complex is tranquil with all sorts of pagodas, temples, ponds, and trees. It was originally built in the Tang dynasty 1,000+ years ago, but renovated by the Qing Qianlong Emperor in the 18th century. I try not to ask how much of what I see is actually from imperial china, because a lot of times it turns out that everything was destroyed 60 years ago, and rebuilt in the past two decades when foreigners began flocking to china. So to save myself the disappointment and misery of the truth, i prefer to not look online for the facts, and instead imagine that what im stepping into is from 500 AD or 1500AD and not 2005.
Ming Dynasty Mausoleums 10 RMB entrance
This is a secret of Chengdu that even my host family had never heard of. Apparently in the park across from Chengdu University, a bit outside of central Chengdu, there are the tombs of the Shu princes from the Ming dynasty. I went to take a look, and was really impressed at what I saw.
No photos allowed inside (i was tempted to take a shot but freaked out at all the video cams inside), but: imagine walking a series of steps until you are deep underground, and the air is much cooler (though equally humid), and inside the tomb there are facades of temples carved in stone, and on the ceiling of the tomb a swirl of dragons and phoenixes (of course) are carved out of a massive, single slab of stone. A stele is located in the front of the tomb explaining the significance of this particular prince, but it was way too advanced for my comprehension
Jinli Street (free!)
Lots of old style buildings line these streets, and the shops downstairs either sell inexpensive, small snacks, or really expensive artisanal souvenirs (hand crafted tea pots, premium silk scarves jade bracelets, hand picked organic jasmine tea.. you get the idea) the highlight was a small red-walled walkway on the edge of the neighborhood, with bamboo groves towering overhead, swaying in the gentle wind, filtering out the sunlight. a most relaxing stroll
Anshun Bridge (also free)
I biked here one night, during the week that the G20 was in town for a meeting. International development/ economic forums are always good news for the Chinese- this means the lucky city hosting the event is guaranteed to have blue skies for a week or so, since the government mandates that half the cars are removed from the road everyday (normally determined by the odd or even number on the end of a car’s license plate) and nearby factories are shut down as well, all for the sake of providing picturesque skies for the overpaid foreign diplomats and their underpaid entourage.
So yeah, we had beautiful blue skies for a week! And the night photography for anshun bridge came out STUNNING! Marco polo *allegedly* crossed this bridge in his travels, though Wikipedia told me this current version was built it in – get ready – 2003. 😦