The People’s Park // This is Chengdu, China
The People’s Park: Get your Ears Cleaned in Chengdu, China
One of the most interesting places to visit while in Chengdu is the first public park in the city and the largest green space downtown, the People’s Park (人民公园). Located only 1 kilometer west of Tianfu Square, it’s a menagerie of sights. The place should be called the People-watching Park. You’ll see lots of locals doing interesting things, and some just relaxing with friends and family, playing games like mahjong, jianzi (Chinese hacky sack), badminton, cards, and chess.
There are a few historical monuments and statues, but to me the more interesting stuff is what’s going on around them. For example, the Railway Protection Movement Monument memorializes an important time in Chinese history, but I’d much rather watch the calligraphy writers in front of the monument than look at the monument itself. They use a large water brush to practice their Chinese characters by writing with water on the pavement. It’s an art form that’s pretty hypnotic to watch.
Not far from the writers, you’ll find a bustle of people huddling around various pieces of paper on the ground. This is a marriage market -- a lot of anxious mothers and fathers scrambling to find their “aging” child a suitable spouse. The sheets of paper have a profile of the potential suitor: photo, name, age, height, weight, occupation, education, and an outline of what they are looking for. Absent from all this chaos is the actual unmarried people. It’s interesting to see, but I should mention that I am totally against these parents. In China, if you’re a 28 year old woman and unmarried you are considered a shengnu, a leftover woman. This is just a sad thought. Marriage is not for everyone. Maybe some parents are acting on the request of their children, but I’m sure the majority of them are not. It’s a selfish act. It’s about grandchildren. It’s about financial security. It’s not about the happiness of their children. Watch this video for more (and if you want to practice holding back tears).
For music or “music..?”, there are a bunch of performance areas. Honestly, traditional Chinese music sounds awful to me, but these shows gather large crowds. Each of these performance sections has a digital decibel meter that measures the amount of sound being pumped out. If it gets too loud, an alarm goes off. I really wanted that alarm to go off, but other than the 79 decibel wailing coming from the performer, I heard no alarming noises. We also saw some ladies chaking their butts to modern music. I believe it was Zumba, but it could have just been twerking.
If you want a sweet snack, try a caramel animal on a stick. This isn’t a skewered duckling covered in caramel sauce. There are actually booths around where you spin a wheel someone will draw the animal you land on in dripping caramel. I can’t vouch for the taste, but it is one of the more artistic sweets I’ve seen.
Another snack show is sandapao, a glutinous rice ball covered in a sweet syrup. The name translates to three cannonballs. A man will make the balls then bounce them off a table with small cymbals, making a little gong noise. The balls are then rolled in sweet bean flour before being plated and sauced up.
You can also enjoy amusement rides, boating on the lake, bottle feeding fish, or just pretty greenery.
Personally, my favorite activity is to just sit and watch people. A great place to soak in the People’s Park is at one of its many tea houses. Shao Cheng, Heming and Nonyin are popular ones. Grab a seat, order some tea, and sit back for a mixture of zaniness and relaxation. The tea is usually pretty good. It costs about $2 for a cup with an unlimited amount of water. You can top your cup up with water a lot before the tea leaves lose flavor. Many people come to the tea houses to play mahjong or cards. They’ll bring their own snacks, socialize with their friends, and sit for hours.
While resting at a tea house, you’ll surely hear a chime-like noise (unless your ears are very dirty… which is ironically unfortunate). These are ear cleaners knocking their tools together and letting their presence be known. An ear cleaning is pretty simple: a person sticks metal tools into your ear-holes and scrapes out the wax. It makes me nervous, but some people find it relaxing. Others (Sara) find it straight up gross. You can also get a head rub and some other pampering. The tea house/ear cleaning combo (or as I like to call it, the Chengdu Special) is more popular in Chengdu than most Chinese cities. It’s a must if you want to be an authentic Chengdude.
Location: The official address is 9 Citang street, but taxi drivers will know it by its name in Chinese Rénmín Gōngyuán. From Tianfu Square you can walk to it in 15 minutes, or take metro line #2 west for 1 stop to the easy to remember name People’s Park Station.
Hours: 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Entrance fee: Free! Unless an event is going on when they might charge a couple RMB.