Thursday, 22 October 2015

Sichuan Day 1: Chengdu

While its nearby city of Chongqing (also within Sichuan) is twice as large and busy as Chengdu, which nevertheless is the provincial capital city of Sichuan. This province is blessed with so many unique natural wonders big and small. The small I refer to is the GIANT panda.

What Tier Are You in?
While Chongqing is much larger and more rapidly developing than Chengdu, they're both 2nd tier cities, according to the Chinese city tiers classification. Only 4 cities are considered 1st tier cities, and they're Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Motorcycles waiting on the road, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
2 (or 3) wheeled vehicles traffic in the Chengdu's CBD

While you can look up such statistics as GDP, population, etc to see which tier a particular city falls into. I rely on the more simpler, down to earth, eyeball method. As soon as you arrive at the airport, its size should tell you which tier Chengdu belongs to. If you haven't been to many airports, then look at the traffic when you get into a taxi. Look out the windows of a taxi, especially when you're close to the city centre (there will be fewer cars further from city centre). If you see very few, and virtually no bicycles or motorbikes on the road, it's likely to be a 1st Tier city like Beijing. If you see around 20-30% of the vehicles on the roads near the city centre are motorbikes, chances are, this is a 2nd Tier city. According to my eyeball method, Chengdu is a 2nd Tier city.

I think given the size of Chongqing, it should rank closer to the 1st than 2nd tier city. It should be a 1.3st Tier city. There's no fractional ranking because people can't handle fractions (fractions and truths are 2 of the things people handle poorly).

Motorcycles and bicycles waiting on the road, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
At least the 2 wheeled traffic aren't moving in a kamikaze style.
I'm having slight problem in understand the rules regarding these bi/motor cycles.
Since there's no precise official definitions of the city tier classifications. My eyeball method is as good, probably better, than any.

Fog or Smog ?
Like Beijing or Guangzhou cities, Chengdu is hazy most of the time. But unlike those 2 former cities, Chengdu's haziness is due to fog, not smog (which caused by pollution). Actually fog and smog are responsible for the haziness in the 3 cities, only the composition is quite different. With Chengdu, the smog is probably accounted for less than 20% of the haze, while in Beijing and Guangzhou are the reverse.

Aerial panorama, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Aerial pano from my hotel. This is considered a sunny day.

Chengdu is always hazy. Chongqing, which is only 269 km (straight line) away is also always hazy. Chongqing was chosen to be the Provisional Capital during WW2 for this reason. The haze provided a blanket of low visibility to make the Japanese aerial bombardment difficult.

Aerial panorama, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

In addition to the fog, Chengdu has the honour of being the city that receives the least amount of sunlight in China (sounds like Singapore, which is good because it's so hot. But Singapore doesn't have a single day of fog in recorded history because of its temperature and flatness of the land).

Both Chengdu, Chongqing are located in the Sichuan Basin, where fog builds up.

Chengdu Road Traffic and Public Transportation
While Chengdu have built their metro system recently, the best way to get around is still taxi. The metros maybe better for some cities (such as Paris, HK or Singapore), in Chengu right now, taxi is the best public transport for the following reasons:

1.  Cheap rates. The flag-fall/drop is only ¥8 (that's about US$1). We could get to anywhere within the 1st Ring Road for less than ¥15.
2.  Traffic is reasonable okay outside peak hours. So unlike most SE Asian cities of Bangkok, Manila or Jakarta where the rates are cheap, but the taxis are likely to be caught in a traffic jam for half an hour or more just within a few kilometres of roads.
3.  About 20-25% of traffic on the road are taxis. So you should have no problem getting one. Outside peak hours, you may have to wait a little longer to get an available cab.
4.  Like most cities - especially 2nd tiered - cities in China, just walk onto the street and extend your hand. No need to look and walk to the nearest taxi stand. They even drive into opposite traffic just to get your fare. Quite the exact opposite situation in Singapore (where the cabbies have it good. Very good). What's good for traffic, safety, and cabbies are in general bad for taxi passengers. And Chengdu is very friendly to taxi-passengers.
5.  The Chengdu cabbies are reasonably mild mannered. Sichuan people is known for their leisure lifestyle and pace. This is unsurprisingly rubs on the cabbies as well. Many of the cabbies in the world are rude because of their stressful working condition. The traffic condition are somewhat better here than those in the 1st tier cities of Beijing and Shanghai's cabbies are quite rude because they work long hours and under prolonged stressful working condition.

After the 1st ride, it became the choice of public transportation for us to get to everywhere. Of course, in the future, say 5 years or more from now, things might be different.

Traffic, Aerial panorama, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Taxis near the city CBD. They're in green.
To get an average percentage of taxis on the road, simply take a random sample of a snapshot 
of the traffic, and count the number of taxis out of total number of 4 wheeled vehicles.
In this photo, it's 5 / 22 = 23% of taxis are on the road.

Traffic, Aerial panorama, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
A bigger photo to get more stats about the taxi distribution on the road of Chengdu.
Total taxis = 16, total cars = 70, so taxis = 23%.
It depends on time of day, and day of week. On busy time, average is about 20 - 25%

Better Watch Where You're Going
The city is far more taxi-passengers friendly than pedestrians friendly. If you walk around Chengdu city, you better watch where you're going. Just because you're across a zebra crossing during greenlight doesn't mean you have the right of way like the rest of the world.

While you're walking what we thought as footpath/curb/walkway as we did near Chengdu's Lang Kwai Fong, suddenly motorbikes brushed past me from behind.

Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Top:  Chengdu's Lan Kwai Fong of HK fame. But far smaller than the HK district.
Left:  The motorcycles that driving on what seems to me to be footpaths near LKF.
Sculptures, Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Sculptures at LKF
Sculptures, Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China

Halloween installation, Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Halloween themed installation in LKF

As a tourism capital, there's no question that Chengdu is a metropolitan city with strong external cultural influence. Not only it's imported Lan Kwai Fong from HK, it's also imported Halloween from USA.

The Bridge Over River Jin
Not far from LKF (within 7 mins walking distance) is the Anshun Bridg, aka Lang Bridge. This is what I said to the cabbie, "Lang Qiao". The word "Lang" (廊) means "corridor" or "gallery" or "veranda".

This is a reconstruction of an similar old bridge that was destroyed during the flood in 2003.

Anshun Bridge, Lan Kwai Fong, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Anshun Bridge or Lang Bridge as locals call it

Lights in the City
We stayed in Fraser Suits, which, in my view,  is the best looking building in the city. The Chengdu's thing or  trend is that all the tall skyscrapers are fitted with dancing led lights. If it aren't done right, the cityscape could look more like Macau or Las vegas than a CBD. And Chengdu is bordering on Las Vegas. Another thing that I like about Fraser Suites building is that it has lights, but it's more understated, and are static.

Skyscraper building, Chengdu, Sichuan, China Skyscraper building, Chengdu, Sichuan, China Skyscraper building, Chengdu, Sichuan, China 

Skyscraper building, Chengdu, Sichuan, China 
Skyscraper building, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Fraser Suites
While it's the best looking building, and one of the largest, and supposed to be a high-profile serviced-apartment few taxi drivers know its name. I think its Chinese name has something to do with it. I'm having problem remembering it.

What's in the Name ?
One example of a memorable name for business is Dico's, especially if you're an English speaking teenager. Dico's is the 3rd largest fastfood restaurant chain apart from KFC and McDonald's in China. I didn't notice any Dico's in my previous trips to the 1st tier cities of Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. Because Dico's is founded in Chengdu, I couldn't turn a corner without seeing a Dico's. In Chengdu, there're far more Dico's than Colonel Sanders or Ronald McDonalds.

No, I haven't tried Dico's, but I should at least enter one for a quickie. There's always next time. After all, China is filled with Dico's.

Dico's fastfood restaurant, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Chinese name suggests it should be pronounced like "disco" with the letter "s" being moved from 3rd to final place.

Another good suggestion for name is the hotel opposite my hotel. It's called Cheng Long Hotel (成龍酒店). "Cheng Long" is Jackie Chan's Chinese stage name. "Cheng Long" is a made-up name like "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson). So there's only one "Cheng Long" in the world (there maybe hundreds, if not thousands of Jackie Chan, however). Yes, the Chinese word for "Cheng" is the same in "Chengdu" and "Cheng Long".

Chan Long Hotel, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Cheng Long Hotel

These are just 2 examples of memorable business names. Remember that!

Ah, yes, Fraser Suites's Chinese name also has the word "Cheng" in it, but it's not the same Chinese word. Close, but no banana. And it isn't following with the word "Long". So it's impossible to remember. Not humanly possible.

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