Cui Jian, the father of Chinese rock, is not known to be sentimental. With albums such as Vagabond’s Return, Nothing Left, and Power of the Powerless, the aging rocker is something akin to an anti-establishment figure for China’s post-60s generation.
But even Cui Jian couldn’t resist the sentimental charms of one Chinese city: Chengdu. In fact, he felt so passionate about the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan Province that he made a film about it. Chengdu, I Love You, directed by Cui and Fruit Chan, premiered at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. It traces two love stories centered around Chengdu that span a 52-year period from 1976 to 2029.
Teahouse, Mahjong and Delicacies
That Chengdu should capture the heart of a rock-star rebel is nothing surprising. Over its 2,300-year history, the city has wooed countless travelers to come to take a break – and quite often stay – in its leisurely surrounds. The climate is pleasant, the produce is fresh, and the landscape is stunning. For male travelers, it also helps that the local women enjoy the reputation of being among the prettiest in all of China.
There is an old Chinese saying that “people should spend their twilight years – but never the young days – in Chengdu.” The reason is that life in Chengdu is almost too comfortable: what do you reach for when you’re already in heaven? Strolling the banks of Chaoyang Lake; whiling away an afternoon in a teahouse, immersing oneself in a serious roadside game of mahjong – while the temptations of leisure in Chengdu sit at odds with the dynamism of youth, for seniors, there’s no place better.
Relaxing in teahouses is one of locals’ favorite pastimes. A teahouse full to the brim – at three o’clock on a workday afternoon – is nothing out of the ordinary. Establishments serving up the finest varieties of local tea produce are everywhere: on the sides of roads, under bridges, in the parks and even inside temples and other sites of historical importance.
Conservative teahouse culture still exists in many parts of China. But in Chengdu, it’s hard to imagine anything about the art of drinking tea has changed ever since the brew was invented. Locals sit on quaint little bamboo chairs and drink from traditional tea sets that could well be antiques in their own right. Teahouse waiters scurry around with trays of a dozen-odd tea sets, and top up brews with hot water poured from long-spout kettles.
Teahouse culture isn’t all about the tea. Chengdu locals flock to teahouses not only to partake in their favorite beverage, but also to chat with friends, play card games, and try their hand at mahjong.
Before newspapers, the teahouse was the place where locals would find out the latest news from their town and beyond, and perhaps even share juicy tidbits of gossip. Today in Chengdu, this tradition is alive and going strong: locals read the news at home, then head down to their favorite tea haunts to discuss stories with friends. For those who don’t like to read newspapers, merely sitting in a Chengdu teahouse should be sufficient to get an idea about what’s happening in the world.