Friday, 20 February 2009

Chengdu and the Shadow of the Earthquake: Part 1

The next part my exploration of China had been changed quite substantially from the one I had intended to do. Originally, I was planning to head to the panda reserve at Wolong. Unfortunately the earthquake had completely destroyed the reserve and killed many of its staff.

The city of Chengdu had not suffered any major damage but almost everyone here knew someone who had been killed or injured in close by towns and settlements. Indeed, only a few miles away a town had been completely destroyed. After the earthquake the population of Chengdu had slept on the streets in tents for weeks with many too afraid to go inside their houses.

After reaching the beautiful Tibet Hotel I was determined that now we were actually staying in the city (instead of merely passing through on the way to Wolong), that I was going to explore it. The city is somewhat of a hidden gem. Walking around the streets revealed a vibrant and friendly people who seemed to be proud that I was taking the time to see them go about their lives. There aren’t many lights in Chengdu but at no time did I feel threatened.

The friendly atmosphere seemed to be spread right across the city. People gathered outside office buildings for evening Tai Chi, danced in groups in the streets and played Mahjong in bars, all the time waving and smiling as I went about my exploration.

I have never been in a place before where the people seemed to be so happy that someone from the outside had taken the time to simply look around. I had this feeling a few times in China but it was never stronger than here. Despite, or maybe because of the earthquake I found Chengdu to be one of the friendliest places I visited. If I lived in China it would be here.

Eventually I left the warm welcome of the back streets and headed back to the Hotel. Tomorrow was a real highlight as we would be heading up into the mountains to the Panda reserve at Ya’an.

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