Tea houses, temples and trees cling to riverbanks amid the silvery skyscrapers of Chengdu’s busy commercial centre.
The city is one of the fastest-growing in the world, a magnet for high-tech companies such as Cisco and Dell and abuzz with new construction.
In 1972, following a visit by Richard Nixon that changed East-West relations for ever, the Chinese government gave two pandas to America which subsequently attracted millions of visitors.
To get our own real-life encounter, we drive six miles on the four-lane highway to the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which has had well over 100 successful panda births.
“Along the bridges on either side are fine columns of marble that support the roof; for all the bridges are covered with handsome wooden roofs richly decorated and painted in red.
All along the bridges on either side are rows of booths devoted to the practice of various forms of trade and craft.” Today, my first impressions of the capital of Sichuan province are not so different from his.
– The Journey – Once Chengdu was one of the richest cities on the silk route, eulogized by Marco Polo.
Today its temples and tea houses continue to seduce, amid the buzz of one of China’s fastest-growing hi-tech cities.“Several large rivers of fresh water come down from distant mountains to flow round the city, and through it.The branch-streams within the city are crossed by stone bridges of great size and beauty,” he observed.At the River Viewing Pavilion Park, we are treated to acrobats bending over backwards (literally) to pour steaming jets of tea into porcelain cups from a teapot with a spout as long as that of a watering can. Against a backdrop of lavish screens depicting autumnal leaves one moment, spring blossom the next, beautiful dancers with ghostly white faces and colorful brocades pirouette to percussive clanging and tinkling.“Now you see emperor become beggar,” promises our ever-present tour guide, introducing us to the ancient art of bian lian in which identities, even gender, are altered by swapping masks with great sleight of hand.Snoozing on tree stumps, posing for pictures, appearing to beam amiably, the juvenile bears are delightful.