Words and photos by Mike Drummond
4 hire bikes
27,418 grains of rice
6 smog masks…
Over the course of a fortnight, Chengdu was host to not one but four BMX events of a world class standard. With each of the events book-ending the two week stint, it opened up a week in the middle to really soak up the culture of a city some five thousand miles away from home.
Before arriving in Chengdu, the journey took us via the nation’s capital, Beijing. The city looming in the distance amid a yellow acrid haze, lived up to the media’s coverage as being a very smoggy city indeed. Witnessing it first hand was something else, sprawling and impressive as it was, the full experience is surely had from the ground, on the streets and amongst the people.
Following a rushed transfer during the first of many layovers, our aerial endeavour continued. The remainder would see us crawl over vast plateaus of orange and black rock, separated by what appeared to be repeating, identical valleys of mountains, carbon copies of the previous dotted with small settlements and hairline dirt tracks laid over the impressive landscape. Fractal patterns from above, etched into the planet’s surface hundreds of thousands of years ago by flowing waters and ice. Earth’s veins now dry and arid. These views would have been the clearest of the trip and, somewhat ironically, there are no pictures.
“The full experience is surely had from the ground, on the streets and amongst the people.”
As the view diminishes into vanta black (Google it, that shit is like, way black) all scale is lost. The odd splash of light offers a fragmented idea on what lies beneath and then the sparse spotting of amber beacons grows denser and denser. The city limits then become obvious, looming towers and trailing highways illuminate the low lying smog which would become a foreboding and normal feature soon enough.
A complacency for skyscrapers soon washes over the wide eyed gazes through murky tinted glass. Like a ball of knotted christmas lights, the roads cut amongst pillars of steel, glass and marble. Wide lanes, tall buildings and brave driving, followed by braver pedestrians, (both foreign and domestic) seem to sum things up… So far.
Hotel check in was smooth, despite an obvious language barrier. We found our room and bed down in preparation for what would be the first of many days where the senses receive a bombardment like no other.
Alarm, snooze… Alarm, snooze… A clatter and a scramble as my phone bounced to the floor, under my bed.
Met with lines of rattling dishes and an odour not uncommon at dinner, a sprawling breakfast buffet catering to all timezones and mealtimes sat dotted around the hotel restaurant. Continental breads and cheese meet chow mein mixed in with skateboarders, inliners and BMX riders.
“I never made the murky leap into a spicy clam stew before 8.30am, and did my best to avoid the turtle nuggets.”
There appears to be no great distinction between meals, the venn diagram of food suitable for breakfast, lunch and dinner would appear as one large and very full perfect circle. Though delicious as much of it surely was, I just never made the deep and murky leap into a spicy clam stew before 8.30am, and did my best to avoid the turtle nuggets.
Outside of the fairly familiar hotel settings, the city of Chengdu differed from any other I had visited before.