Exploring Chengdu, China

My hostel gave me a colorful and user-friendly English map of Chengdu highlighting the main bus routes. After deciding on a couple of places to visit,  I studied the map thoroughly, jotting down some bus numbers on an index card. With a basic image of the map etched in my mind, I hopped on a bus the next morning to begin my exploration of the city.

The streets were bustling with life. The blaring sounds of horns echoed from every direction with motor vehicles weaving in and out of lanes in wild abandon. My bus was packed, but I managed to squeeze through the crowd next to a pole, which I grasped as hard I could to stay upright through the jolting ride. I got off the bus at a massive intersection where I quickly learned the importance of taking a 360 degree glance before crossing any street. Not only do bicycles and motorcycles seem to come out of nowhere when they zip through turns, but they do not yield to pedestrians.

The subway entrance was nearby.  I walked down the steps expecting to get swallowed by swarms of people only to find the opposite. Modern, immaculately clean, and highly organized, the metro station resembled a small airport terminal. Flat screen TVs playing television shows hung above the platforms, entertaining passengers waiting for their train. Platform glass doors, which automatically opened when the train arrived, screened the platforms from the trains. On the intercom, a pleasant female voice could be heard announcing train arrivals. Aboard the train, that same voice announced the various stops in both Chinese and English, a welcome touch as far as I was concerned. The train glided smoothly along the tracks as if it were floating in the air. Pity that my destination was only one stop away.

I visited the Wenshu monastery first, a Buddhist temple dating back to the Tang dynasty, known for its cultural relics and classical architecture. I was fascinated by the locals who quietly took turns at the altars to burn incense candles and offer their prayers. The chants of the monks reverberated throughout the monastery, adding to the sense of timelessness that permeated the surroundings. I sat in one of the courtyards for some time, just watching and enjoying the moment.

Next I found my way to Du Fu’s Thatched Cottage, a scenic park surrounding the former residence of the revered 8th century Tang Dynasty poet, Du Fu. The park was more expansive than I had anticipated, and I spent most of the day strolling through the serene bamboo-lined paths that meandered by the Huanhua stream, past gardens, bridges, and pavilions. Along the way, I encountered Chinese locals practicing their Tai-Chi, breaking into song, presumably inspired by the beauty of the surroundings, or indulging in lively conversations over a picnic with their friends and family.

Then I walked over to the Sichuan museum next door, which contained a large collection of Sichuan artifacts, crafts, and art. At one point while I was absorbed by the ceramics collection, I was suddenly filled with the familiar sensation of being at the Freer gallery of Asian Art in Washington DC until I remembered that I wasn’t actually in Washington, but in China! I had visited the Chinese art collection at the Freer gallery many times, only imagining what China might be like, yet there I was in a museum of Chinese art in China, thinking I was in Washington DC.  I smiled at the irony.

At around 4pm, my rumbling stomach and aching feet prompted me to call it a day. I looked at my map again, then read in the back of it that I could get to the hostel by taking a different bus from the one I had taken on the way over. The only thing was that I didn’t really know where to get off to catch the second bus. Before I had any time to decide, the bus arrived and I just climbed into it. The bus rode on and on; eventually, I couldn’t figure out at all where I was. All of the street intersections started looking the same, and since all of the street signs were in Chinese characters, I had no way of knowing which road I was on! I finally got off the bus and walked to the nearest taxi stop. If I didn’t know how to get home, surely the taxi driver would.

My hostel map is very handy. It has the address of the hostel as well as the Chinese translation to say “please take me to [address of the hostel],” which in my case, and I imagine many foreigners’ cases, is a lifesaver in China. It was my last resort and I had to use it. The only thing was that I had never in my life hailed a taxi cab before, so every taxi that passed by didn’t stop for me. Several minutes later, a Chinese man with heavy bags arrived at the taxi stop. In a blink, he was off in a cab and all I could do was watch. Fortunately, I had kept my eyes open and figured out that for a taxi cab to stop for you, you have to thrust your arm out assertively in the air when you see one. Well, I didn’t exactly thrust my arm out–it probably looked more like holding a limp arm out to the side, but a cab finally stopped. I gasped: I had hailed my very first cab.

Soon I pointed to the magic Chinese text and abracadabra, I was on a my way home. Though it was a heart-thumping rollercoaster-from-hell of a taxi ride in which speed limits, lanes, and nearby cars didn’t seem to exist in the driver’s world, I made it home, just in time for dinner.

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3 Responses to “Exploring Chengdu, China”

  1. Paula April 28, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    The photos are great and the baby pandas are so cute!

  2. Natasha April 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Glad you made it back to the hostel. I can’t imagine trying to get around in a Chinese city. So exciting!

  3. Cinthia May 2, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    Paula — Yes, they were so cute, especially the baby ones. They were perched on a tree branch and one of them was trying so hard to get comfortable. It was too adorable to watch!

    Natasha — Thank you! It was a bit daunting at first, but I guess you get used to it. It helps that all the hostels write out their address in Chinese characters in their brochure/map so that if you get royally lost, you can always fall back on that.