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Three years ago, I visited Chengdu as an extension of my Chongqing study tour. I was drawn to Chengdu for the same reason many tourists before me are, the pandas. What I discovered was so much more. As I stepped out of the station, the hilly terrain of Chongqing had disappeared and had been replaced with the flat urban bustle of Chengdu.
When I arrived in Chengdu, it was deep into winter. The cold dreary weather backed with the grey skies provided an almost surreal scenery to the places I visited in Chengdu. During the day, like most other cities, Chengdu was beautiful. From the Chengdu panda base, to the enormous spectacle of Tianfu Square to the green oasis that is the People’s Park. However, these were not the attractions that I remembered the most. What I recounted more often was the night time. It is where the grey monotony of Chengdu transforms into an unrecognisable version of itself.
As the night begins to fall, the streets become a labyrinth to navigate. The food vendors flood the street, filling the air with the tantalising scent of Sichuan cuisine, smoke billowing from their carts, beckoning passer-by’s to their stalls. People cluster on the sides of the roads on temporary tables and chairs, eating and drinking. Fruit and vegetable stall holders travel into the city, each selling their produce on the back of their bike or on some tarp laid out on the pavement. The apartment compounds illuminate with fairy lights, glowing bright against the dark. Every high rise building seems to have its own light display, perfectly orchestrated for the public to enjoy.
The alley ways and streets are beautiful in their own rights during the day but at night time they flourish with activity. When I visited Jinli Street, it was at night and it was spectacular. The red lanterns lining the pathways in the streets glowed with a soft, red warm light. One store had a variety of pinwheels and had placed a single bulb over the top of them. The bulb shone down and illuminated the pinwheels, emphasising each of their colours. Passing children would blow on them, creating a spiral of colours. The side shops lights radiated onto the streets, forming shadows against the pavements. The stall holders each had their own lights, drawing people in to admire their artwork.
I reflected on these experiences as my plane landed in Chengdu in early 2016. I was about to embark on a six-month scholarship at Xihua University. Chengdu had left a lasting impression, that eventually influenced my decision to make it my temporary home. There are few places in the world that have this sort of influence.
Chengdu has this power.
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