Ah, China. Though I left your borders a month ago, it feels as if I never left, even down to the chilly temperatures that we are experiencing here in Chengdu, the capital of the famed Sichaun province. From the stark language barrier to the only TV option being the state run media and Mao’s mini cult-of-character…it’s all coming back to me!
I should note that Sichuan wasn’t part of my original plan at all, but when I was retooling my trip to add a second visit to China, I couldn’t resist what are supposedly some of the greatest sites in Southwest China.
Given my late arrival time last night, I did the rather unthinkable (for me, at least) and made a reservation at the truly fantastic Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel, which simply brims with charm and really nice touches!
Though a bustling metropolis, Chengdu has a relatively calm feel. It’s a city built for walkers and has joyous surprises around every corner! Be it expansive modern pedestrian shopping streets or areas turned into upscale areas, complete with faux traditional Chinese architecture.
One of the highlights of my day of exploring was a stop by the historic Weshu Temple, a Zen Buddhist temple dating back to the Tang Dynasty (6th-9th Centuries) that actually survived the Cultural Revolution. Chinese worshipers flock to the massive grounds, filling the air with clouds of burning incense. A wonderfully peaceful garden wraps around the 7 or so temple chambers, a spot where local Chinese sit and socialize as the songs of monks and lay people in some sort of ritual are heard in the distance.
I know I mentioned last time I was here just how absent religion seemed to be in society, but this completely changed my view on that. If you’re keeping track, this is also the third different sect of Buddhism I’ve been exposed to in the past week! But with no useful guide to explain the large cast of characters to me, all I could gather was that it was quite different from Buddhism practiced in Bhutan (and Tibet, which is actually quite close to Chengdu), which also fall under the Mahayana shool. Yes, there were some similarly named deities, like the Avalokiteshvara, who in Bhutan was the Bodhisattva of Compassion and here represented Wisdom (and appears quite different).
The second highlight of my day was finding my way to the People’s Park, which, unlike it’s counterpart in Guangzhou, hadn’t been ironically taken over by American fast food chains! This People’s Park was quite large and bustling with activities, be it large scale “jazzercising” (with a live band!) to people playing badminton and even live performances from the famous Sichuan-style of opera (that came complete with its own dedicated cheering section)!
I will spend the next couple of days exploring this fascinating city before starting my long journey southwards back to Kunming, where over a month ago I had a brief stop in before heading south to Laos. All I can say thus far is that, after a month of being in places that were super easy to get around (in other words, everyone spoke English), it feels damn good to be back in China!