Located in southwest China, Chengdu is a city combining history and modern changes. Old, yet vibrant, the city enjoys a slow lifestyle in the name of relaxation.
For 2,500 years, Chengdu has never changed its name, which is quite rare among the ancient metropolises. Even the city moat, known as the Fu River and Nan River, has never changed its course. The Ancient Shu Civilization, the Sanxingdui Culture and Jinsha Culture, as well as the Baodun Culture, all tells the brilliant history of Chendu as an eminent historic city.
Kuan and Zhai Alleys -- Epitome of Old Chengdu
If we unfold the map of the central urban area of Chengdu, we can see a centipede-shaped block in the embrace of Fu River and Nan River. This unique place is called shaocheng, the former residences of high officials of the Qing Dynasty. Located in the southeast of shaocheng are the kuan and zhai alleys, where we can trace the history of the city and appreciate the leisure life.
The kuan and zhai alleys are the epitome of old Chengdu. They are two ancient streets restoring the old architecture in Ming and Qing styles. The kuan alley was called Xingren Lane during Qing Dynasty, and it is the representative of Chengdu folk culture, with the theme of travel and leisure. Featuring boutique hotels, unique restaurants in folk styles, traditional teahouses, taverns and distinctive inns, the alley provides visitors an opportunity to experience the life of old Chengdu. There is a museum called "Chengdu's Real-Life Experience Hall" showing the daily life of a common family during the Republic of China, such as the scenes in kitchen, study, central room and bridal chamber. There, visitors also can relish the night snacks and barbecue under old trees, and watch puppet plays and Chinese calligraphy demonstrations in the night.
Walking across the south-north passageway of the kuan alley, visitors reach the zhai alley which was called Taiping Lane during Qing Dynasty. There are western food, coffee, retails and themed culture salon in the courtyard and the long alley. Decorated with elegant ambience of fashion in German, Japanese, American, French and Indian styles, the zhai alley really reflects the slow life in Chengdu and is a great place to spend the quiet afternoon.
Leisure Life in Tea Houses
China's teahouses originate in Sichuan. Documents dating from the Qing Dynasty list hundreds such establishments on Chengdu’s ancient streets. Today, teahouses can be found around tourist attractions, main streets, lanes and parks, where no empty seats can be found. So, it is really true that half of the Chengdu people spend their life in tea houses while the rest are in the hot pot restaurant. For this reason, tea houses are the key to understand the real Chengdu.
Tea houses in Chengdu are not only renowned for its long history and large number, but also famous for its unique styles. No matter which tea house you walk in, you may sense a strong Chengdu flavor -- bamboo arm-chair, little square table, tea set, stove, red copper kettle, and the tea waiter. Tea waiter is also crowned as “tea doctor” for their rich knowledge and superb skills on serving tea. They can pour with much flourish from a long-spouted teapot without spilling a drop.
The most important aspects of enjoying tea are flavor of the brew and comfort of the tea house. Naturally, there are countless kinds of Chinese teas, ranging from commonplace to rare and extravagant. Tea houses also offer snacks and pastries, and guests often sit and play chess, watch Sichuan opera performances and other folk arts. Every tea house has its own character, but their relaxing atmospheres are perfect for forgetting the time and soaking in the chatter of Chengdu.
Searching for Treasures in Antique Markets
Located in the affluent Western Sichuan Plain, Chengdu enjoys unique advantages endowed by nature, which prevents it from the flames of wars, leaving it considerable antiques and historic treasures in the changes of history. This has given birth to a leisure way of living in Chengdu – searching for treasures in antique markets.
It is said that there are 300,000 antique collectors and dealers in Chnegdu. Like drinking tea, Chengdu people are also addictive to searching for antiques. But they are not like the Beijing people who are very serious about antiques. In their eyes, searching for antiques is just a recreation. For them, finding a genuine antique is not the most important, and the true pleasure lies in the process of searching.
In the markets, people from all works of life, various accents and sound of bargaining create a hilarious atmosphere. From silver earpicks to huge carved stones, from ancient works to folk paintings, just a glance or touch of it will satisfy the antique buffs.