Our first proper day in Chengdu we rented a transport card from the hostel, however pretty much failed to use it other than a brief trip to the main square – all of one metro stop – and the way back at the end of the day. I’d wanted to check out the biggest Mao statue in China, expecting it to be pretty huge. I was a touch disappointed, anticipating something monumental and finding a statue maybe 2.5 or 3 metres tall. It was a letdown.
It was a short walk from there to the People’s Park. We’d heard that it was the place to go to have your ears cleaned. It sounded novel, and we didn’t really know what to expect. People’s Park also has a number of popular tea houses as well as a beautiful park setting, so it wasn’t only the ear cleaning that tempted us.
Entering the park we were pleasantly surprised at the beauty surrounding us. It was tamed and carefully maintained, in Chinese style, but it was clearly a popular place for locals of all ages. We passed groups of older men and women doing tai chi, and other groups of middle-aged women participating in ballroom dancing classes. Extended families picnicked in the shade of the trees, and young couples hired pedal-boats or row-boats and paddled around the artificial lake. Arched bridges crossed the lake, and weather-worn pagodas hid among the gardens surrounded by vines.
Exploring the park we stumbled across a relaxed looking tea house, with half the tables taken and a few still beckoning. We were approached by a uniformed man offering ear-cleaning, and, curious, we agreed to the price printed on his form. It had both English and Chinese characters and we weren’t sure if we were supposed to bargain, but decided that at 20 RMB each we could cope with the asking price.
We settled into a shady table and ordered some tea – 15 RMB a cup with unlimited refills. John’s green tea came out in an interesting bowl/cup/saucer combination, while my hot lemon tea came with a plastic straw. Apparently that’s not considered bizarre here. John volunteered to go first with the ear-cleaning.
John’s ears must have been pretty dirty and disgusting, as our ear-cleaning-technician seemed a little horrified. He certainly spent a good deal more time on John. It was quite fascinating to watch him, with a handful of metal sticks, going through the process of a traditional ear cleaning. He carried a little box of cotton wool, and would pull out a bit and wrap it around the end of a stick and start with that. He had sticks with flat brushes, sticks with puffy brushes. After the initial excavation a plain metal stick was inserted into the ear, and was tapped by another metal rod. The sound was like a delicate bell chiming, and the rod in the ear vibrates and apparently does something to continue the cleaning process.
After about fifteen minutes it was my turn. I was done and dusted in about five minutes, and our technician did not seem quite so horrified at the state of my ears.
We enjoyed our unlimited tea refills for some time – it was of course terribly hot and we were quite comfortable in the shade. We realised that we did eventually have to keep going, and explored the park for a while longer before moving on.
I wanted to visit the Wuhou Temple, and we’d planned to take the bus. However, for some reason we decided to walk instead as it looked to only be about 2km away. The streets were less interesting than hoped for, but we eventually made it. The temple is mostly surrounded by a very touristic ‘old town’ district called Jinli Gujie. It’s interesting and quite attractive, but entirely artificial and quite expensive. It is rather pretty though, with red lanterns lining the street. We wandered through part of the district to get to an entrance to the temple.
It had started to rain slightly when we entered, but stopped quite quickly. We’d entered just before one of the many temples in the complex, and before the temple itself was the usual container for incense sticks. There seems to be some competition in China regarding incense sticks; the bigger the better. I’m not sure if the size relates to the sincerity of your prayers.
The complex at Wuhou Temple is extensive, and feels like something of a maze. They have bonsai gardens, small lakes covered in water lilies, winding paths between red-painted walls, pagodas and shrines.
Old temples have been converted to museums, including one with an exhibition of royal and governmental clothing. It was quite incredible. The detailed embroidery was beautiful, and the way that social status and power was ingrained in clothing shows how strictly hierarchical Chinese society was.
It was another few kilometres walk from Wuhou Temple to Qingyang [Green Ram] Temple, Chengdu’s oldest and most atmospheric Taoist temple. It’s really quite a large complex, with five halls or temples and a pavilion. It was quite and peaceful, with few visitors.
The grounds were beautiful, but of course working from the entrance each hall or shrine was up another set of steps! We were quite exhausted by the time we got there, and will admit we skipped the last hall.
From Green Ram Temple, we walked to the nearest train station to head back to the hostel. We both decided that we’d walked far enough and probably wouldn’t make it back to Lazybones on foot!