After seeing the city walls and the Terracotta Warriors we are done with Xi’an and head off to the airport for a short flight to Chengdu (another small town of less than 8 million).
Wandering round the town centre we see some of the oddest markets of the trip to date. We are used to seeing lots of food for sale that we are unaccustomed to back home, but here it is the level of live animals kept in quite awful conditions that surprises us. This is particularly true for the fish, that literally look like a sardine tin in terms of the density of them in a single tank.
Next we visit the Kuanzhaixiangzi alleys, an area of traditional streets filled with shops and cafes. Though like the French Concession area of Shanghai, it has been subject to a major refurbishment and ends up feeling like another theme park at times.
Chengdu is the home town of our tour guide, who has recently become a father, so we force him to abandon us for the afternoon and head to his recommended entertainment for the rest of the day, People’s Park.
It is simply bonkers and a source of great amusement and bewilderment.
And a lot of noise.
PA systems compete with each other, seemingly in a war of who can turn the volume up the most, to provide music to accompany laughably bad exercise classes, allow karaoke singers to torture your ears, and provide backing to what appears to be a cross between Strictly Come Dancing and the Kick-Ass movie.
Noise and colour assault the senses and you get a sense of what the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party on LSD might look like. In addition to the PA systems you have men in leather jackets and cuban heels showing off their weight-lifting skills and inebriated whipping top demonstrations.
And the strangeness just keeps on coming. Round the corner where the noise fades to a dull pounding of bass you stumble across the Chinese version of Blind Date. There are hundreds of A4 laminated sheets attached to bamboo canes which people, though mostly parents and grandparents, post information about their single children (age, height, income and telephone number etc). They then walk up an down taking down the details of potential partners in what must be one of the oddest match-making system we have ever seen.
The final sight of this crazy place is a small group of old men, who using a brush a couple of feet long and bags of water, write poetry on the footpaths in Chinese traditional calligraphy. A simple and beautiful process to watch and our memories of this place will last far longer than their words which dry to nothing in the sun.