often referred to as “The Real China,” by expats, is a satisfying mixture of traditional values, relaxed pace and growing metropolis. Situated as a Gateway to Western China, Chengdu is the home of the world famous Giant Pandas as well as some of the spiciest food in the country. With a population of close to two million in the city itself and another nine million in the surrounding Chengdu proper, it is the fifth largest city in China, growing by leaps and bounds. Following are a few verbal snapshots of the city touching on areas that may be of interest to an foreigner. For further information, try this link.

People here are very friendly and helpful, especially compared to other larger cities. Chengdu people enjoy a much slower pace of life, but not one that by any means drags its feet. Tea houses, foot massage parlors, Karaoke TV rooms, parks, and mahjong tables are in abundance as people here like to enjoy life whenever possible. In the evenings it isn’t uncommon to see women gather in large open areas for a dance workout, or to see couples ballroom dancing outside large department stores, or to see people gathered to sing traditional songs at a park. Chengdu still has an active community life.

As a foreigner, you will often hear about “English Corners” as college students and professionals are looking to sharpen their English skills. However for the vast majority, their primary language is the Sichuan dialect. So, don’t be afraid to giving learning Mandarin a try, it’s a great way to meet new people.

When it comes to food, Chengdu serves it up spicy! There are noodle shops, dumpling shops, small convenience stores, and even a few specialty carts on every street for convenient meals and basic staples at very low prices. The cost of eating and getting around in Chengdu is much lower than in any of the East Coast cities. For example, taxi fares begin at Y7-8 here as opposed to Y20 elsewhere. There is quite a listing of “Western” restaurants, specializing in food from outside of China, often started by an expat. Chengdu also has a sampling of Western fast-food, but not as much as out East (i.e. McDonalds, KFC, Subway, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks). To satisfy your "native" side, locals will most likely offer to introduce you to Hot Pot, Rabbit head, and Twice cooked meat. Yum!
Shopping in Chengdu ranges from Gallerias with expensive name brands, to mom and pop shops in local neighborhoods. Reasonably inexpensive and stylish clothes and shoes are easy to find if you don’t require larger sizes. The most famous area for shopping is Chunxilu, a walking street with just about every kind of store imaginable. Other than a mall or the walking street, if you’re looking for a good price on something, items are often grouped together. For purses or accessories, go to “ladies street”, for a pet, go to “pet street”, for electronics, go to an area that sells electronics, and so on. For groceries and western import items (i.e. cheese, canned goods, etc.), there are large brand stores that will feel a bit like home: Carrefour, Auchan, Ito Yokado, Century Mart, Metro, Ikea and Sabrina’s.

Chengdu has a variety of concerts and traveling groups that visit each year. Events are advertised on billboards and also promoted on websites. Once you know where to look, you’ll find Chengdu is buzzing with cultural exchange. Movie theatres are plentiful and there are several IMAX screens as well, though Western movies in English have limited engagements. There are cultural things to experience as well in a few “tourist” areas: mask changing, tea pouring, and Sichuan Opera. For those who enjoy thrills, there are a few pretty good amusement parks; and for those who like animals, there are a few animal parks as well as the Giant Panda Research Base. If you like the outdoors, there are several mountains to “climb” as well as hot springs to enjoy. If Chengdu doesn’t have it, there is a chance a neighboring county might.

China has two major holidays every year that generate a mass exodus from the cities to the countryside. Other than at these two times (National Holiday-Oct, Spring Festival-Jan/Feb), travel is reasonably priced. There are loads of weekend destinations one can visit from the heart of Chengdu ranging from Tibetan grasslands (half a day's coach ride) to ancient towns (less than an hour's coach ride).
Sporting a large international airport, direct domestic and international flights are increasingly availability. Additionally, Chengdu has fast train service to a few destinations, with more routes in the works. Coaches, an inexpensive way to travel, and regular trains service further destinations.
Around the city, above ground bus lines shuttle people efficiently for a very low fare (Y2) while two subway lines deliver passengers below at the same rate. For shorter distances, other than using a taxi, one might find a three-wheeled motorcycle a quick way to go. Some find that investing in an electric bike or a standard “push bike” is a more convenient way to get around which often is just as fast as using a car during rush hour…if not faster. Of course, there are paths and sidewalks everywhere for those who might prefer to walk. As you can see, Chengdu has all the bases covered.
All in all, Chengdu is a great mix of old and new, East and West. If you want to experience China, the “Real China,” and yet still enjoy some of the conveniences of home, this is the city for you. If you have further specific questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You may also like to check out some of the expat community forums on Chengdu as well as visit a local online magazine,