After over a week of staying in 兰州 wrongfully thinking it is one of the better cities in China, I decide it’s time to finally move on. Next target is 成都 (Chengdu) although it’s a bit out of the way. The main purpose is to see the aftermath of the May earthquake. I don’t have much skills in the way of assistance but maybe they could need a photographer. My roommate Eric was just there about 20 days prior and said the city’s full of action and that he left the same day of arriving since he can’t do anything to help and everyone else is busy at work.
For me, the trip to 成都 is a bit filled with the unexpected. First the trip in via railway. One of the main annoyances in China, perhaps reflected by the inertness of its media, is that when something goes wrong, you’re never told what’s wrong or offered an explanation especially in the state owned sectors such as transport. I got on the train thinking an easy overnight trip but waking up in the morning ready to leave, the city is nowhere in sight. Later did I find out from fellow passengers that the path is detoured through 西安 (Xi’an) due to impassable tunnels in the previous route because of the earthquake. A totally reasonable rationale but only if they’ve told the passengers in advance. I would have planned to stop in 西安 to visit first instead undertaking this 24+ hour trip.
Arriving finally in Chengdu, I quickly dropped my stuff at a hotel and started walking around to see if there are any visible consequences of the earthquake. By this time, the throng of these “agents” who try to get you to stay at their hotels are becoming less of the nuisance and can be actually useful. All the crazy stories that I’ve been filled with about China where following one of them will end up with me in a dark corner attacked and robbed is simply becoming less and less likely. These people are simply people like me trying to make a living. They may be pushy to do business but nothing shamefully dishonest or illegal.
Expecting tents and rushing supply trucks etc, the city looked like nothing had happened more than anything else. The most discernable thing was a crack in the wall of my hotel room. After a week of staying in proper hotels in Lhasa, this habit is becoming hard to lose and comfort hard to give up. I have mostly stayed in hotels instead of hostels from this point on. Not a particularly regrettable thing now that I realize how much more expensive everything is here in Canada compared to the difference of prices in the accommodations.
The next day was going to be my only day in 成都 and what a day it was! Still unused to the idea of taking taxies for short hops, traversing 成都 on foot definitely turned out to be quite a walk. The city had a rather interesting layout where major streets are eccentric circles.
In a Buddhist temple in the middle of the city, I have enjoyed one of the least touristic religious environments in China yet. Monks are there seemingly to pursue a higher purpose than to serve as an attraction, people are praying as a part of their routines, religious scholars from the Southern and Tibetan disciplines are present to learn and exchange teachings. In the back garden, the old are doing Tai Chi and the young are debating the purpose of life with Monks.
Despite this, commercialization is even more present. As I’ve learnt in Lanzhou, almost every city in China has a “technocity” or a massive conglomeration of malls that sell nothing but cameras, computer parts, gadgets, a geek’s dream coming true. Here in 成都， 盐市口. As almost every other Chinese city would have, 盐市口 is a shopping district. Paved with stone patterns, this roughly 4×4 blocks of plaza is lined with multistory shops or big domestic and international brands. A microcosm of new ideals, clean, modern, shinny, open, capitalistic, this center is a big attraction to China’s new middle class.