The art market of Chengdu is an amazing feast for the eyes. Sarah brought us there so that we could see the handcrafts, jewelry, art, silk, and other Chinese novelties. Before going, she warned us that we would probably see exotic items made from endangered or illegal sources such as turtle shells, coral, mahogany, and ivory. As a tourist in the past, I don’t think that I thought much about the foreign souvenirs I bought. I never questioned how the items were made or where they came from. With a new mindset, I entered the art market and quickly saw all of the items that Sarah had previously mentioned. Although the hair pins and combs looked beautiful, I thought of the endangered turtles that had been killed to create these souvenirs for tourists. There were even entire sea turtle shells for sale. Besides these unfortunate items, the art market was full of brilliant colors of jewelry and art. I bought art from a local artist and Sarah explained how in Chinese art, they often make nature so much bigger than people or man-made structures because they want to emphasize the power and beauty of nature. An elderly man even gave us all free necklaces, much to the dismay off the other vendors trying to sell us their jewelry. I will definitely be going back to buy some gifts, but next time I hope to have my Chinese numbers memorized for bargaining!
Over the weekend, our new friend and culture guide, Alex, gave us a tour of Chengdu. He gave
us insight into the Chinese culture as he first led us through the beautiful and ancient Buddhist Manjushri monastery. The classic Chinese architecture and the peaceful surroundings of trees, greenery, and fish ponds were captivating. I could spend an entire day walking through the gardens and watching the turtles, which had been released by the Chinese people for good luck. We circled around a Buddhist statue three times for good luck (luck is a very prominent Chinese tradition) and were off to our next site. After taking the subway, we arrived at Kuanzhaixiangzi Alley. There are actually two alleys, a wide one and a narrow one. They are mostly filled with touristy souvenirs and food, but it was a really interesting and busy place to see. Following this, we made our way to People’s Park, the first gathering place known as a “park” in China first made in 1911. The park was a very interesting and entertaining look into Chinese customs. Dancing is a very popular past-time in People’s Park as well as an area dedicated for listing marriage “ads.” Apparently many parents will put their daughter’s, and sometimes son’s, resumes with information describing their physical appearance, education, and job status in order to find a spouse. Although the age for marriage and children is getting older, many parents still pressure their son or daughter to get married in their early twenties.
After walking around the park, we sat down for a traditional Chinese tea by a pond. We enjoyed our green tea and listened to people playing traditional Chinese instruments near us. I got the chance to test out my selfie stick (yes I got a self stick…when in China…) and we got to ask Alex questions about various topics ranging from school in China to irrigation in his hometown. The two hours we spent drinking tea went quickly by and I grew a deep appreciation for this relaxing Chinese tradition. Next, we were off to dinner to experience our first “hot pot.” Hot pot is a special treat in the Sichuan province and involves a pot of spicy soup to cook your own vegetables and meat. It was delicious! After eating dinner, we ventured to a Chinese night market. While on our way there, some men with baby monkeys tried to get us to hold them. Although we refused, they proceeded to throw these poor creatures onto our backs. I felt so bad for the little monkeys who had metal collars chained around their necks and wondered how these men had gotten them. Illegal animal trade and capturing is prevalent among the tourist industry and one in which I never want to take part in. Despite this unfortunate event along the way, we arrived at the market which was illuminated by bright Chinese lanterns and offered more treats and things to buy. Before ending the night, we stopped down by the river in Chengdu to see the beautiful city lights and bridge. Perfect ending to a wonderful day!