For most, the attraction of Wuhou, an area just west of downtown Chengdu and sandwiched in between the ancient Wuhou temple complex in the north and the campus grounds of the Minority College to the south, is that it has traditionally always been the Tibetan quarters. A little bit of Tibet in center Chengdu, complete with a good supply of beggars on every street corner, never tired of reminding you of the ancient tradition to give to the poor -and to those pretending to be. But for me, there is more.
An exotic atmosphere quickly envelops you when strolling its sidewalks. Pedestrians here are mostly Tibetan -if you don’t count the policemen who stand at every street corner ever since the Tibetan uprising some years ago. Many are still dressed as if they just finished milking their yak on the grasslands this morning, chattering their version of Tibetan in a subdued and intimate way. Quite a contrast with the often shouted shrieks of the Chinese. Tibetan men in their large long-sleeved winter coats (always leaving one arm and shoulder uncovered because to them, Chengdu in winter is a summer resort), hang boyishly on each others’ shoulders and loiter around the streets like stray dogs. Their eyes challenging, with a mischievous-little-twit-smile twisted in somehow, but hard. A hardness that is also reflected in the deep groves on their sunburned leathery face and hands and the wildness of their long hair. Women wear long thick dresses with colorful aprons and there isn’t a part of their body not ornamented with handmade silver jewelry. Hair that is always elegantly braided in long tails wrapped in circles on the back of their head. Some are waiting for hospital treatments that can not be performed in town hospitals in the Tibetan area. Most are here for their yearly shopping. Shops, all run by Chinese, are loaded with Tibetan costumes, daggers and temple ornaments, and often claim large parts of sidewalk as extended showroom. Rows of colorful dresses and long-sleeve coats are varied with handmade traditional jewelry and wide-rimmed cowboy hats and 3-meter high copper plated prayer-wheels and Buddha statues.
But all that being said, what I like most about Wuhou, really, is that the place is infested by outdoor shops. I know, I know: when I carped on in an earlier writing about the predicaments of shopping and how unbecoming I thought it was for me – for a man like me, a man of my standing, I should say- I wasn’t totally honest with you. There are, you see, 3 shopping establishments I will never be able to resist: a good bookstore, the high-end camera shop and virtually any outdoor shop. I just want to be honest with you. What got me thinking on this path of repentance was a recent visit to Wuhou. The place is an outdoor heaven. And, just between you and me: I love it!
Well, that’s out. Wasn’t at all that difficult -being honest, I mean -and it feels good! You should try it yourself sometimes, it really isn’t that difficult, especially with an audience far away. But while I’m at it, there is something else that needs of my chest. You see, lately, I’ve noticed more and more people telling me explicitly when they are actually honest. Not too often, that much I can tell you! They fancy phrases like “if I’m honest” or “now let me be honest” or “to be honest” and at times, the word ‘frank’ is used. I’m sure you know what I mean. It really worries me. So often I’ve been listening to people for hours, taking in every word as truth and nothing but the truth (and this is really true!), when suddenly they announce to be honest. How shocking! Couldn’t you be that from the start?! Why bother now?! Honestly! I don’t know about you, but to me, and let me be honest now, just this once, this honesty honestly shows anything but honesty. So, now that that’s out too, we can move on.
As I was saying: I just love those outdoor shops in Wuhou! I can wonder in, touch the sleeping bags, fiddle with backpacks straps, try the winter hats, admire the mountain shoes, glance over the compass and knife shelves (I especially love those 20-inch teeth-edged Bear Grills types but never quite know where I would put them if I had one) and walk out without buying anything at all, only to repeat the exact same process and be looking at the exact same items again in the next shop. And given sufficient coffee stops, I can comfortably spend a whole day with this and be quite content at the end. This addiction, apart from being hereditary, may well have come about by an initial chronic shortage of these shops in Chengdu. Just as with coffee in the early days of my Chengdu life, outdoor shops were a rarity. So, whenever I saw one, I would inspect it thoroughly and take note. I would even change my daily bicycle route just to pass the shop, that’s how rare and special it was in those days. But China’s middle class (funny how that has come about in a supposedly classless society) is quickly catching up. With both coffee and outdoor. And that, to me, has made Wuhou the paradise it now is.