I just returned from Sichuan Province in Southwestern China. In 1993 I lived in Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan. This was my first trip back to China in 23 years. Needless to say, a lot has changed in China. It was shocking. A small shop where I once bought barely edible sweets is now a Versace. Underneath the Mao Zedong statue in the major city center intersection is an enormous metro station. Starbucks dot the city. In the old days, coffee was a rarity discovered in a long awaited care package from home.
The city I had lived in was virtually unrecognizable. Yet, there were still hints of the old Chengdu. It seems China has matured enough to recognize that old buildings are worth preserving. In many parts of the city, the old buildings have been artfully restored, lending Chengdu its charm. Furthermore, Chengdu is a lush, sub-tropical environment. Trees and flowers grow in abundance, compensating for the not so clean air.
China is a complicated place for me. I’m concurrently repulsed by and attracted to the culture. It can be so difficult to comprehend and so isolating and yet so rewarding.
The nicest thing about the trip back to Chengdu was that we were able to find our friends Gao Biao and Zhu Zhen. It was because of these friends that I was able to live in Chengdu. They helped me find a job teaching English, they helped me find a place to live, and most of all they helped me find my path to acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. I am so thankful for their friendship and I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them again. We had lost touch, so finding them in a city of 30 million people was no easy task! (I have my husband, who speaks and reads Chinese fluently, to thank for that.) I even got to meet their 22 year old son, who was born shortly after I left China.
Here is a picture of our reunion:
Despite the rapid development of Chengdu, it has still maintained some of its old world charm. The tea houses are very popular. Chengdu has a relaxed lifestyle compared to Shanghai and Beijing.
Many people come here to enjoy the delicious, spicy Sichuan food – myself included. Here is a picture of the various types of chili sauces available on the street:
Gao Biao, is a well known sculptor. He has installations in various cities across Sichuan. He was kind enough to take us to many interesting places in Chengdu. He took us to what is considered the largest (by volume not height) building in Asia. It is called Global Center. It is a shopping mall with many hotels, a water park and an ice skating rink inside. It was impressive:
We also traveled to western Sichuan, to the border of Tibet. This is a mountainous region with peaks over 15,000 feet.
We visited Jiuzhaigou National Park with 8,000 other Chinese tourists. The Park averages 8 million visitors per year. It wasn’t exactly paradise. There were a lot of near misses with selfie sticks in the eye. Pictures are deceiving.
I hope you enjoyed my little rant on China. It was fun to revisit a time and period of my life that was so influential to me both as a person and professionally.
Mostly, I felt very proud of my “hometown” city of Chengdu. It is a special place. And I was proud of myself – proud that I was able to navigate that difficult landscape by myself all those years ago. And yes, I even remembered how to speak Chinese. Impressed yet?