It is said that the Great Mercy Temple was the first place that Du Fu, eminent poet of the Tang Dynasty, visited after arriving in Chengdu, and that he ate the free porridge given to the homeless there. In the dynasties following, the temple served as both a Buddhist sanctum and a place of recreation for both officials and the populace. It is only in Chengdu that Buddhism and human society blend harmoniously. Today a Chengdu Museum and teahouse have been built inside the Great Mercy Temple. After ordering a pot of jasmine tea at a nominal five yuan charge, the customer may spend the whole day in the traditional-style teahouse, with its winding corridors, carved beams, painted pillars, and broad fanlight. Waiters serve tea in a particularly skillful manner, from a distance with a long-spouted brass teapot, from which a narrow arc of hot water pours directly into the cup without spilling a drop. Besides tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a full range of Sichuan dishes is also served at the Great Mercy Teahouse. Casting a glance around the parlor, you may see young lovers billing and cooing, middle-aged men reading the newspaper, and elders tending their pet birds.
The teahouses in Chengdu reveal a particular attitude towards life: that of acquiring the best service at the least cost. Social demarcation within the social strata is blurred in the teahouse. Sipping tea at the same table, people from different regions become friends.
The carefree life in Chengdu greatly benefits local women, who are generally of a sweet and charming nature. A Chengdu-based writer has portrayed Chengdu girls in this way: "Chengdu girls sound delectable and tender, even when they are squabbling. Many of my friends are true Chengdu women. Despite having different dispositions and interests, they all radiate feminine charm."
The same writer also made observations on Chengdu beauty: "Chengdu is known for its pretty women, but Chengdu girls are not beauties in the traditional sense. Most of them are of small stature, with round faces and undistinguished features, but nevertheless have great charm due to their coquettish appeal. Such loveliness does not stem from delicacy or humility, but a kind of vigor and power that combines assertiveness and compromise." She gives an example. One of her friends has a sharp tongue, and often inadvertently gives offense. One day, she argued with a colleague over a trifling matter, and exasperated him with her loquacity, but after half an hour, she felt sorry, and tried to make amends with the man, who was still simmering with rage. She passed by him, carrying a cup of lukewarm water, pretended to trip, and spilt the water over his arm, and hurried to dry his clothes with a tissue, making abject apologies. In the process of apologizing and fussing over this spilt water, all hostility faded away. This is Chengdu woman, charming, smart, and smooth. They may get it wrong at first, but eventually come through.
During their first days in Chengdu, visitors may wonder at the prettiness of the local girls, and the idleness of the local men, but they soon find out why this should be: good food, sound sleep, warm weather, rich resources, fertile land and low prices. In Chengdu even the smallest business can ensure a reasonable standard of life. This also explains why relaxation and mah-jong are so prevalent in this city.
Click to see Travel Express Vol.65: Chengdu
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