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Red hot and green: Are you ready for Chengdu

Mention China and immediately visions of Beijing pollution and Shanghai traffic come to mind, ringroads, lots of cars and construction everywhere. Well guess what? There is another side of China – and it seems to be succeeding in being a real green city.

MANILA, Philippines — Mention China and immediately visions of Beijing pollution and Shanghai traffic come to mind, ringroads, lots of cars and construction everywhere. Well guess what? There is another side of China – and it seems to be succeeding in being a real green city.

Welcome to Chengdu! I was pleasantly surprised to discover that besides Yong Yong and Ling Ling and other famed pandas, Chengdu has a lot more to offer, like…

The bikes. I have never seen a city with so many FREE bicycles that, with an app, you can just take and ride, and then leave it at your destination. They are systematically color-coded in hues of blue, yellow orange – apparently coded by district. People take the bikes and just leave them at the next corner, the next district or as far in the city limits as you can bike. Now, that’s going green. It makes the people use less motorcycles (I saw just a few) and cars.

The street food. I could spend two days in this “food court” they have at the Wuhou temple and Jinli road area. Jinli is a pedestrian street with shopping, food and entertainment. There are various noodles, rice in cored-out pineapples, dumplings and exotic insects, innards and other “meaty” stuff that were red with chili, yet people still dusted them with even more chili powder!

Hotpot. For serious eating Sichuan style, you must visit a hotpot restaurant. There are many kinds to choose from – a streetside eatery where the conversation and camaraderie are as hot as the steaming broth and generous supply of bright red chilis or an air-conditioned full-service restaurant like where we went, The Way of the Dragon, on the street lined with souvenirs, more street food and even craftsmen making wooden combs, pottery and what have you.

A few days in Chengdu is all you need if you want to eat good food and see the famous huggable bears (pandas are, in fact, vegetarian bears) in the Panda Breeding Station. The convenient transport system allows one to take a taxi, a bus or the hotel car to get to the Panda Town. Tickets cost RMB28 (approx. $4) per person and inside you can choose to walk around the huge reserve or do a quick trip riding the shuttles for another RMB5 (80 US cents) each way. The shuttle takes you to see the Big Panda, the smaller younger ones and the Swan Lake (yes, there are real swans there!).

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I happened to be there to attend the International Slow Food Congress and loved the food prepared by the hotel chefs using local produce, especially the authentic Mabo Tofu (hot tofu cubes in Sichuan pepper sauce), the vegetable pao (which reminded me of Shanghai) with lotus root, cauliflower and other vegetables in season.

The Chengdu Shangrila did not disappoint. Breakfast was a full spread of congee (red, white and chicken), dumplings and some Sichuan street food samplers. The dinners and lunches featured some dishes familiar to us like Kung Pao Shrimps and Sesame Balls for dessert.

Now I get it – these hot dishes all use the special Sichuan peppers, so I brought home some dried chilis, peppercorns and other local spices.

The Slow Food Congress chose Chengdu as the site because indeed, Chengdu is leading the change in this huge country. From using bikes to using heirloom rice varieties, local vegetables in season and having a supportive infrastructure like local government’s help in bringing 400 people from 70 countries to this interesting city to talk about Menu for Change and Biodiversity, Chengdu is all about positive change and moving towards a sustainable economy and lifestyle.

No wonder they are home to the endangered pandas. It’s the mindset – save the old and put something new to add to the menu. Chengdu is indeed the right place to plant the Slow Food movement and allow it to radiate out to other parts of China and to the rest of Asia.

Visit Chengdu – give it a try. If you’re expecting the gaggle and the crowds you may forget you’re in China. But be ready for the hot stuff – and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

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