Chengdu, the city that is known for the pandas and is also a perfect hub to explore the biggest buddha in the world. Two reasons why Chengdu is already a perfect stop on a journey through China. But I have to admit, I didn’t know a whole lot about Chengdu itself. When I searched on the internet I couldn’t find much about this city and I haven’t heard anyone raving about it, but that surely doesn’t have to be negative thing. China is a country that is full of gigantic cities nobody has heard from. Names like Chongqing, Lanzhou and Chengdu doesn’t ring a bell with many people. These are not some small villages, but big cities with millions of people. Luckily for us, ‘unknown Chengdu’ turned out to be a great city. A green city that didn’t feel that chaotic like Shanghai or Beijing. I mean, yes, it was crowded, but then again which city in China isn’t crowded. Chengdu just left an overall good impression and I think that had something to do with the mix of old and new. A good example of this Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi, an artistic alley complex in the centre of Chengdu.
Wide and narrow alleys
Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi means ‘wide and narrow alleys’. And actually, that is a clear description of what the area looks like. The wide alley is the entrance to the 45 courtyards that you can find in this complex. In this alley you can find souvenir shops, old Chinese tea shops and Sichuan restaurants with lovely gardens. Oh, and don’t forget about the ‘professional ear cleaners’ that love to stick a needle in your ear to remove everything that is bothering you. I was scared to try it, because the image alone of a needle in my ear was haunting me. Would you try it?
Right next to the wide alley you have several narrow alleys that show a different side of China, the modern one. These alleys are used by the local artists and are full of surprising elements. For instance, I saw panda street art in the corners, I sat on a 3D bike that was sticking out of a wall and walked across several portraits of Chinese paralympic sportsmen. The layout of these alleys reminded me of the hutongs in Beijing or the Shikumen in Shanghai. The same gray colors, characteristic doors and courtyards. Only in Chengdu, the artists took over.
Street food at every corner
Not only art made its way to Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi, the area also offers great snacks for the foodies among us. Spread out through the alleys there are little stalls that offer freshly baked street food. Chengdu is known for its spicy Sichuan kitchen. Hot pepper and chili are the main ingredients that are often used in the local dishes. But don’t worry, besides spicy tofu and hot pot there is also soft flavors available like fried banana and potato slices on a stick. There’s something for everyone. It’s the perfect place to gather your evening dinner. Even as a vegetarian I loved this place.
Bonus: square dancing
Besides eating Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi also offers ‘high-class entertainment’. I say this ironically, because the entertainment consists of dancing women. In China, it’s pretty normal to dance in large group in public places in the late evening. For us, foreigners, it looks kind of weird, but for the Chinese it’s part of the everyday course. It’s healthy, cheap and moreover, they have fun doing it! The square in front of Kuan Zhai Xiang Zi is actively used for square dancing at night. I just loved watching this and secretly I was a bit jealous of their stamina. They easily keep it up for hours!
Is Chengdu on your radar? Have you travelled to Chengdu? Let me know!