Impressions of Chengdu

By Toms Lee

From Southwest University for Nationalities

Chengdu, otherwise known as the “Country of Heaven” or the “Land of Abundance,” houses more than 14 million people. It’s one of the most important cities in Western China. It was voted China’s 4th-most livable city by China Daily in 2006. It is also a hotspot destination for many investors. Throughout my time in Chengdu, I have visited the “home” of the Pandas, saw the beautiful Chengdu Plains, walked across the Anshun Bridge, and experienced the nightlife strolling around Jinli Street. The more time I spend in Chengdu, the more I want to stay. It is no surprise that this city’s slogan is, “a city you don’t want to leave.”

My past four months in Chengdu has been, without a doubt, the best four months of my life. It has changed me for the better day after day. Chengdu has such a rich history that I appreciate very much. Though I am a business major, I came to Chengdu because its history and culture was vastly different than the history and culture of the Western world. Had I gone to cities like Shanghai or Beijing, the differences between China and the United States would be minimal due to the heavy Western influences. But going through the Jinsha Site Museum, I was able to read about the rich history of Chengdu. About 4,000 years ago, a prehistoric Bronze Age culture of Jinsha established itself in this region. This archaeological site was only recently discovered after being buried for thousands of years. While going through the museum, I saw a lot of “colored wooden head figures” that remained immortal for 3,000 years, many ivory tusks and pieces of jade objects. It was truly a humbling experience to read all about the civilizations that formed the Chengdu that I live in today. I had a similar overwhelming experience walking down the streets of Jinli Ancient Street. This is one of the oldest and most commercial streets in this city. It stretches of 350 meters, contains several teahouses, inns, restaurants, bars, theaters, stores, snack vendors and specialty shops. All the buildings have a very traditional appearance to them and I felt like I was living in a different time period.

Chengdu is the most relaxing city I have lived in. Coming from Seattle, Washington where people are always busy and roaming around from place to place, I have enjoyed the slower pace of life here in Chengdu. Surrounded by teahouses and mahjong tables, the people of Chengdu seem to take it one day at a time. I used to be a very busy student growing up. I was always involved in a multitude of commitments. I rarely had time to eat or relax. I was always moving from one meeting to the next or speeding from one location to another trying not to be late. Living in Chengdu, however, my life completely changed. First of all, you can rarely be late to anything. Rather than rushing from place to place, I linger around in teashops or take long strolls around the nearby parks. One of my favorite things to do in Chengdu is to sit at a teashop and sip on tea the whole day. For the first time in a long time, I was able to think, reflect, and breathe. While meandering around People’s Park and Chengdu Renmin Park, I saw groups of people singing Chinese songs with traditional Chinese instruments. On one particular class field trip, my teacher took the microphone herself and started to sing for us. The people in Chengdu are much more concerned with maximizing the present moment than worrying about the past or preparing for the future. Another aspect of Chengdu that contributes to the slogan, “a city you never want to leave,” is how welcoming the residents are to strangers. They constantly want to treat you to food and chat with you. They are very friendly generous to others. I have eaten at restaurants where people would come in and just say hello to us. So much of the culture here is community based that the individualistic society I grew up in has now become unnatural. I have started to be more generous towards people because of the kindness that I have experienced from many Chengdu people. Whenever I eat with “Chengdu-rens,” they are never in a hurry to finish eating. They sit, chat, order some food, and keep chatting some more. It is only long after the meal is finished that people begin to gather their things and walk leisurely out the restaurant. I have found so much value in living a “laid-back” lifestyle. With so many massage parlors and spontaneous dance exercises in the evenings, people are invited to simply relax and unwind. So much of my time is spent either regretting the past or worrying about the future. Whether that is in something I had said to friend before or where life is going to take me after graduation, most of my thought life is thronged with fears. In midst of all my thoughts, however, I completely miss out on the present. Living in Chengdu has revealed to me the significance of simply living in the moment, the power of being present and the gift of generosity.

The third impression I have of Chengdu is one of great hope and future. This city, without a doubt, is the fastest developing city in Western China. The 2013 Fortune Global Forum was held earlier this year in this very city. It’s commonly referred to as the “hub of the West” and has a large and flourishing hi-tech sector. In many ways, it has the potential to become the Silicone Valley of China. With a population of 14 million people, it’s recognized as the fourth largest city and one of the world’s fastest growing metropolises. I really felt the forward development of Chengdu riding in the very efficient metro systems. You can get anywhere taking the metro system. It’s a very effective and affordable system that up to one million people use on the daily. Just last week, I took the subway to the Century Global Center. This gigantic building completely dwarfed many of the buildings I have been in back in the United States. It is the world’s biggest building with a floor space of 18 million square feet. In this massive building, 400,000 mis filled with shopping areas. It also contains multiple offices and conference rooms for business meetings. There are two commercial centers and hotels. And I almost forgot to mention the “Mediterranean village” along with a waterpark, an IMAX movie theatre, pirate ship, a skating rink, and an artificial beach with a ginormous 150m by 40m screen displays sunrises and sunsets. The moment I stepped into the building, I was absolutely in awe of this massive infrastructure. Its slogan fits it perfectly: “The One of Everything.” Not only does this building have one of everything, but of everything, it truly is the one. This building symbolizes the future economic development of this city. With more than 20 tall buildings being built around the area, population growth in Chengdu is anticipated to grow rapidly over the next decade. Chengdu is commonly referred to as the land where you will be successful. Particularly for businessmen, Chengdu is a city full of opportunities. In many ways, it’s the wonderland for entrepreneurs wanting to start a business. Though most of the world is still recovering from a recession, Chengdu simply seems to be advancing very hastily. The future looks very bright for Chengdu and its inhabitants.

I am convinced that Chengdu is the most beautiful city in China. Not just because of the beautiful women that Chengdu is known for, but for its rich history, the relaxed nature of many of its inhabitants, and the bright future it possesses for many years to come. It is a city that I will always remember and forever miss. I sincerely hope to return to this city in the near future.