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Situated on the fertile Chengdu plains against an impressive backdrop of the Longmen and Qionglai mountains is Chengdu, the capital of western China’s Sichuan province.
Nicknamed ‘Turtle City’, Chengdu’s original architect is purported to have based the city’s design on a turtle motif, evident in the city’s shape. Its borders, however, are rapidly changing as the city experiences unprecedented growth.
As the birthplace of paper money, it is fitting that the Sichuan capital is now recognized as one of China’s most important investment centers. Chengdu now houses more than 200 Fortune 500 companies and the thriving high tech business hub continues to attract multinational heavyweights from a spectrum of industry sectors.
With success comes wealth and hedonism often follows. Historically famed for literature and opera, the city has more recently become renowned for its passion for partying and its laid back attitude. Chengdu boasts more teahouses and bars than Shanghai, despite having half its population.
Being in Sichuan, Chengdu ren (people) like it ‘hot.’The dishes here are extremely spicy, varied, and incredibly tasty. The local chefs are wonderfully experimental, and the flavors reach beyond the taste buds to the imagination; every dish has a story. It is worth noting that the roots of Chengdu’s tea culture run incredibly deep; the city lies at the starting point of the Silk Road and the once-thriving tea trade.
Those moving to Chengdu are in for a cultural treat; its plethora of temples, shrines and monasteries hint at the city’s ancient culture, which dates back 4000 years. The region’s temperate climate makes exploring this richly diverse city a pleasure. If you feel the need to get back to the future, Chengdu’s Chunxi Road is lined with hip boutiques and trendy malls. Afterwards, you can rest your weary feet and dine in Han Dynasty-style in the wonderful Jinli district.
What is special or unique about your city?
Located in south-western China, Chengdu is a city where traditions and rapid transformation coexist.
New buildings spring up nightly and large multinationals are establishing themselves here to take advantage of the large, inexpensive skilled labor force (which is supported by Chengdu’s 16 universities). But don’t be fooled. Despite the incredible economic transformation in and around the city, Chengdu is best known for its relaxed attitude. Teahouses, temples and parks dot the city providing people with plenty of options to put up their feet and watch the world go by.
What are a newcomer’s first impressions of your city?
Even though Chengdu is Southwest China’s most economically developed city it still has a long way to go before it compares with Beijing or Shanghai. This has its advantages as it allows Chengdu to retain its unique culture. Coming from faster paced societies Chengdu can be a shock. Fortunately Chengdu’s citizens are more than willing to help.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Yes, your impressions of this city will change the longer you stay here. After you have a little Mandarin under your belt, find your favorite Sichuan restaurant; learn how to navigate the city and become accustomed to Sichuan’s spicy or “ma la” style of cooking.
What is the local language?
The official language of Chengdu is Mandarin but you will find Sichuan hua, the local dialect, is also used.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
If you don’t speak Mandarin you can still enjoy life in Chengdu, but you will encounter occasional challenges. For example, navigating the city is possible because signs are both in English and Chinese. When heading to a place, you can always rely on the free taxi-books that can be found throughout Chengdu. The street vendors and many cashiers, however, may not have English and you may have to rely on your charades skills to get by. That being the case the staff at Chengdu’s several Western bars, restaurants and coffee houses generally speak English.
Here are a few Mandarin words and phrases you may find helpful:
|Hello||Ni 3 hao 3|
|Goodbye||Zai 4 jian 4|
|Thank you||Xie 4 xie 4 ni 3|
|What’s your name?||Ni 3 jiao 1 shen 2 me ming zi|
|Do you speak English?||Ni 3 hui 4 shuo 1 ying 1 yu 3 ma|
|How much?||Duo1 shao3|
Chinese writing is a very complex subject. Below are a few common symbols that you may find helpful:
男人 – Male, and the sign for Men’s (lavatory)
女人 – Female, and the sign for Ladies (lavatory)
电话 – Telephone
公共汽车 – Bus
医院 – Hospital
飞机场 – Airport
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Below are some tips to help you avoid offending residents of Chengdu:
- Don’t shout if you are trying to get a point across, the Chinese will think that you are mad.
- Use your whole hand rather than your index finger to point. Using your index finger is seen as offensive.
- The Chinese generally dislike being touched by strangers. Hugging is not accepted among opposite sexes.
- Avoid putting your hands in your mouth, such as nail biting, as it is considered distasteful.
- Pushing in queues and spitting in public are common in China.
- The Chinese will often nod or bow slightly as a greeting.
- If you are asked “have you eaten” answer “yes.” This question is more an enquiry about your general wellbeing, such as “How are you” rather than about the food you’ve eaten that day.
- If you are asked questions you are uncomfortable in answering, such as marital status etc., simply give vague answers and remain polite, never become angry or annoyed.
- Avoid conversations about Taiwan and never refer to it as The Republic of China. Also, avoid using descriptions such as Communist China.
- It is impolite in China to give direct negative answers, therefore when answering a question do not say “No.” reply “Maybe” or “I’ll think about it.”
- Learning a few words or phrases in Mandarin is always appreciated.
- It is always polite to express compliments about food when you are dining.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Chengdu has long summers and winters with brief springs and autumns. On summer days the temperature normally ranges between twenty to thirty degrees Celsius with relatively high humidity. This can make life uncomfortable without the use of air-conditioning. Winter days tend to be cool and are made colder due to the lack of central heating and insulation. Seasonal changes aside, what will affect you most about Chengdu’s weather is the lack of sunshine. Regardless of season Chengdu’s sky is almost always covered by a grey blanket and it has been suggested that Chengdu actually receives less sunshine than London.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
In addition to its well documented relaxed atmosphere, the Sichuan and Chengdu love of spicy food and food in general is equally noteworthy. Hotpot, a fondue style concoction combining boiling oil and a generous amount of chillies, is a local favorite and unique dining experience. Tamer, but equally popular among locals and foreigners alike are gong bao ji ding (chicken and chillies with peanuts); ban bian si ji dou (spicy green beans) and yu xiang qie zi (fish fragrance eggplant—which despite its literal translation does not involve fish). The people of Chengdu also spend a lot of time drinking tea, hence the all teahouses. Nothing calms you down better than sitting in a tea house surrounded by one of the many gardens, or along the river banks drinking tea.