Upon journeying into Sichuan province, two things quickly became apparent:
1) My tastebuds would remain in overdrive thanks to the region’s blisteringly hot cuisine.
2) What constituted a ‘good’ toilet became one that had a door (oh trough style toilet bonding adventures…)
In spite of these obstacles, I really liked Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital. The city is the fourth most populous in mainland China and the most important economic zone in Western China. Despite the 14 million people (and polluting coal mines in abundance) that reside there, it has a famously relaxed feel to it and after two nights there, I was unsurprised to discover it has been named one of Telegraph Travel’s 20 places for 2104.
The city itself is famous for its proximity to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Go early and be prepared to fall in love with the adorable cubs.
The hotpot dish is also well known, with the somewhat intimidating restaurants located on every street corner. Dipping meat and veg into the sichuan pepper-filled broth is not for the faint-hearted, but it is delicious.
What I liked most about Chengdu, however, was the sprawling People’s Park in the city centre. Even on a gloomy November afternoon, the attractively green area held host to a hive of activity for Chengdu’s chilled out residents.
One of the main attractions is an artificial lake boasting boats to rent. Though only excitable selfie-taking Chinese tourists seemed to make use of them, their jolly presence gave the park a nice touch.
The tea house there is a great spot for people watching. Locals spend hours playing mah jong, chatting, snacking and, erm, making use of the slightly scary ear cleaning practitioners.
Another lovely sight was the old men using water to practise their calligraphy on the park’s pavements.
But the most touching aspect of the park’s attractions were the loud, jovial, informal dance classes taking place almost everywhere I turned. I’d seen sights such as these before, but never in such large numbers and with such vibrant participants.
Standing alone, enthralled by the dancing, I was approached by one of the water calligraphers I mentioned above. He wrote the word ‘fun’ and an arrow to the dancers, to which I fervently agreed. He then wrote ‘UK or USA?’ on the ground, smiled at my response and ambled off into the distance.
What struck me was how the Chinese people, often more reserved in day to day life, cast their inhibitions aside, especially in terms of dancing affectionately with their significant others.
Different ages came together, as did fathers and daughters, friends and all sorts of couples.
The loveliness of it can be summed up from a review of the park I later read on TripAdvisor:
In western countries once people pass a certain age they disappear from view, not so in China. Parks are the best place to visit to see the retired Chinese people at play.
It’s so true. In the west the general impression you get of the elderly is far from flamboyant. If spotted they are more likely to be shy, retiring (literally) and shuffling around slowly for groceries.
Contrastingly, China, a culture that values and celebrates old age much more, had its elderly on full display: doing taichi, dancing for exercise and enjoyment, and generally enjoying life.
This is why I like Chengdu and its people so much. The park and its dance devotees, to me, represent everything that’s right about celebrating old age, health and happiness.