Chengdu is a wonderful city in Sichuan province (yes, that's Szechuan as in the spicy Chinese food) of China. It's far less Westernized than Beijing and much mellower than Shanghai. It's just more Chinese. The locals wear white flowers (some kind of small magnolia), just budded out, on their lapels. The smell is heavenly and the effect of the pristine white buds strung together with red thread is exceedingly nice. You can buy the flowers from vendors who walk the streets between taxis, and pin them on yourself, but it's better to let your friends and admirers buy them for you, and vice versa. Quite romantic. Who has a tradition like this anymore? It's a good way to live.

Chengdu is the in-China jumping-off place for visits to Tibet. In fact, it's still thought of as sort of "the frontier" by Chinese who live in central or "Han China," a sort of oval area encompassing Beijing and Shanghai.

Several major advances in early Chinese technology were made in Chengdu. Among them: the Dujiangyan Irrigation Project, first in the world (250 BCE) and still working; natural gas as an energy source (61 BCE); the foot-driven weaving loom (Eastern Han Dynasty); the first paper money and bank (Northern Song Dynasty); and the world's first relief printing (Tang Dynasty). Check out the University Museum for examples.

There's also a great multi-story bookstore in Chengdu (tip: buy art books, they're extremely cheap and you don't have to know how to read Chinese at all), and a record shop where I bought a bunch of Faye Wong CDs. And a very posh Holiday Inn (five stars...weird). I would love to go back, and I will someday. (Minus the Holiday Inn, which, capitalist pig that I am, I enjoyed very much but can't afford. If YOU stay there, make sure to order the chocolate mousse from room service. It's totally incredible.)

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