A month-by-month playback of the highs and lows of January to December 2012 in Sichuan province.
The year opened to the news that Chengdu's Shuangliu International Aiport had become the fourth busiest in the country in late 2011 (evidently every year ends with a milestone for Shuangliu Airport; see December for this year's). A team of four mountain climbers, two Chinese and two American, made the first successful ascent of Sichuan's 6,060-meter Yangmolong Mountain, a feat that had been attempted numerous times previously. In more biggest and baddest news, Floraland announced that it would build Asia's biggest roller coaster park, scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Is it done yet? No official opening announcement has been made.
In perhaps the biggest news of the year, Chengdu suddenly announced that it would begin immediate construction on an RMB3.4 billion bus-rapid-transit (BRT) and six-lane highway project encircling the city. Dubbed the second layer of the Second Ring Road, the project was slated for a June 2013 completion date and would forever change the face of the city.
A project spokesperson at the time said that the impact of the project's construction shouldn't be "too big." China Telecom signed an agreement with the city of Chengdu to set up a 500,000-square-meter, RMB10 billion cloud computing operation center.
The Museum of Modern Art hosted what was said to be the city's most valuable exhibit ever, displaying dozens of Picasso's oil paintings and sculptures. Critics decried the RMB160 admission price.
The forlorn and rather forgotten National Defense Amusement Park was sold to an anonymous buyer whose plans for the park's future remained concealed. Another anonymous person, this time a lottery-jackpot winner, donated RMB10 million of his winnings to charity in Sichuan's Nanjiang County. He concealed his identity by wearing a panda mask. The Wuhou District Branch of the Chengdu police launched an online campaign to find wives for some of its eligible-bachelor officers, who they described as new employees who were from rural areas with few contacts in the city.
Several countries, including Australia and Israel, announced they would open consulates in Chengdu, and to house all those traveling diplomats (and other travelers), the Mandarin Oriental said it would build the city's tallest building in the form of a 333-meter-tall luxury hotel, of course.
Mandarin Oriental isn't the only hotel with an eye on Chengdu—a joint venture between the MGM Hospitality Group and China's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse was planned to break ground for the company's largest development project, Skylofts at MGM Grand. Amid all those announcements of development, Chengdu said that it would follow in the footsteps of other Chinese cities and start imposing driving restrictions during rush hour based on license-plate numbers for the city's 2-million-and-counting private cars. China announced that Sichuan holds the world's largest shale gas reserves, potentially enough to fuel the country for the next 200 years, and Royal Dutch Shell quickly made a move to sign a contract to develop a shale gas block. Women across the country launched an "Occupy Toilets" movement to demand that males leave the stalls available for women in non-gendered restroom facilities. In April, it spread to Chengdu, with a handful of female university students prohibiting men from entering the toilets at Kuanzhai Xiangzi for two hours.
Students at the Chengdu University of Technology hosted a lingerie show à la Victoria's Secret, a video of which viral on the Chinese Internet to some heated murmurings about the appropriateness (or not) of university students parading around in underwear. A Ya'an calligrapher introduced panda-poo-fertilized tea to the world and applied for a world record for the world's most expensive tea at RMB20,000 per gram. Scientists quickly took down the entrepreneur's wild claims about the tea's purported health properties.
The fifth Chengdu Bookworm International Literary Festival took place in March, bringing some of the English-language China literary scene's biggest names, as well as other literary and cultural personalities, to Chengdu, Beijing, and Suzhou.
With great fanfare it was announced that Chengdu would host the prestigious Fortune Global Forum in June 2013. And frankly, that was enough news for the month of April.
Much fuss is made over the black-and-white Giant Panda, but its "lesser," red counterpart—also an endangered species—had its day in May when the Red Panda Protection and Research Center of the Sichuan Provincial Forestry Department was inaugurated at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Air China announced a Shanghai-Chengdu-Mumbai route, doubling its number of Chengdu-India routes (the other is Bangalore-Chengdu).
More female university students engaged in protest actions, this time by donning barely-there Tomb Raider-style outfits and assigning fake tickets to drivers who parked their cars in haphazard fashion on the sidewalk.
The Museum of Contemporary Art followed up its Picasso exhibit with a display of dozens of iconic works by 20th-century Western photographers. Finally, Zebra Music Festival held its annual concert, immensely downsized both in number of acts and attendance from previous years and paving the way for new entrant Big Love to make a big splash (see "June").
The Big Love Music Festival made a spectacular impression on attendees with its enormous scale, and after four days of partying and rocking out, it made an even bigger impression with overblown stories that organizers had escaped with all the money and refused to pay off acts, accommodations, and others who were owed money. In reality, the festival had just failed—colossally—to make back the RMB60 million it had spent on the event (final counts said organizers were RMB57 million short).
A Chengdu design student saw one of her designs come to life when Volkswagen produced a video featuring her "rice ball" concept vehicle. The vehicle was depicted as driving its passengers (the designer's parents) home by hovering above the streets of Chengdu. Sichuan Airlines announced its new Vancouver-Chengdu route, and Vietnam Airlines announced a Chengdu-Hanoi route. In the meantime, Hilton Worldwide announced it had signed a contract to open a Waldorf Astoria hotel in the Tianfu New Area, and Carlson announced it would build a Radisson Blu Chengdu East, near the TV Tower with an expected 2014 opening. And construction kicked off on the Daocheng Yading Airport in the Garzi Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Sichuan, slated to become the world's highest-altitude civilian airport when it opens in May 2013. At 4,411 meters above sea level, it will surpass the altitude of Bangda Airport in Qamdo, Tibet, at 4,334 meters above sea level. Japanese 24-hour convenience stores Family Mart announced its expansion into Sichuan. Hundreds of Chengdu women rushed to sign up to compete for a chance at marrying a billionaire. On the flipside, 36 Sichuanese businesswomen said they were running a national search for husbands who would accept their majiang-playing habits. Finally, a magnitude-5.7 earthquake hit the Sichuan-Yunnan border, killing four people and injuring 100 late in June.
The Museum of Contemporary Art nearly single-handedly continued to push the development of the contemporary arts scene in Chengdu with yet another exhibition, this one featuring works and a talk by highly acclaimed U.K. sculptor Tony Cragg. A 42-year-old Chengdu woman made a name for herself by offering classes aimed at women looking to attract wealthy husbands. Her students pay a reported RMB10,000 in "tuition" to learn how to find and impress rich men by way of dress and behavior.
A "temple" dedicated to Mao Zedong was discovered in Suining, featuring gold-painted statues of communist leaders. The shrine is run by an 83-year-old man who said its purpose is to pay homage to the leaders who improved life in modern China.
Chengdu announces yet another tallest building, the Greenland Tower, which is planned to stand 468 meters when it opens in around five years, surpassing the projection of the Mandarin Oriental, which announced just months earlier that it would build a 333-meter tower. A Hurun report announced that Sichuan is home to 25,500 millionaires and Chengdu is home to 850 billionaires.
Finally, CHENGDOO Magazine and GoChengdoo teamed up with the Chengdu Culture and Tourism Group, the Tourism Bureau of Chengdu, and the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base for A Day with the Pandas, including a tour, lunch, and photo opportunity at the panda base, which culminated in an online worldwide photo competition.
Not two years after Metro Line 1 opened, Line 2 began public operation two weeks ahead of schedule, connecting the Chadianzi transit station in the northwest to the Chengdu Administration College southeast.
Following the incident in the US Consulate in February former Chongqing vice mayor and former head of police, Wang Lijun, was sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence for "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking" by the Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People's Court.
Sichuan Airlines announced a direct flight between Chengdu and Melbourne, and Singapore said that it would invest RMB100 billion in the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park. Geely won approval for its request to set up factories in Chengdu to produce Volvo XC60 SUVs and S60L sedans. In the meantime, shopping center Raffles City Chengdu opened on Renmin Nan Lu (at the exact location where a certain Reggae Bar used to sit), becoming the fourth Raffles City in the world. A cinema for the blind was opened in September, featuring sidewalks and handrails specially created for the visually impaired, as well as films with additional narration that describes the visual clues in the film.
A rare highway shooting occurred this month in Guangyuan, leaving the gunman dead after police went to the scene. Investigators blamed the attacker's behavior on drug abuse.
Chengdu will be the home to an experimental "self-sustaining" eco-suburb that is compact, dense, and minimizes or eliminates the need for cars. The prototype was designed by architecture firm Smith and Gill, if all goes according to plan. In the meantime, China Telecom announced the launch of central and southwest China's first 4G trial network, with the first base station in the Music Park. To help residents cope with the havoc wreaked by construction of the Second Ring Road second layer, Chengdu made a number of bus routes free to ride and reduced the price of metro tickets. Finally, construction started on more railways: one that will link Chengdu to Xi'an in three hours, another that will link Chengdu to Lanzhou in four hours and Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou in two hours by 2019. Construction also began on the third High-Speed Ring Road with an estimated completion date of 2015. A scientist in Chengdu claimed that prehistoric humans in what is now Sichuan and Chongqing probably ate pandas after finding evidence on remains of prehistoric pandas that they had been killed by humans. The new Wolong Giant Panda Center opened in Gengda after years of closure due to the Sichuan earthquake, and the week-long 2012 China Equestrian Festival was held at the Jinma International Racecourse in Wenjiang.
Lastly, an outdoor exhibit featuring photos of Huaxi Hospital spanning the years 1892 to 2012 was enjoyed by Chengdu residents.
The consulates, they keep on coming. It was announced that there would be consulates from more than 13 different countries in Chengdu by 2016. Next on the list are the Philippines and Australia. Twenty U.S. soldiers visited Chengdu in late November as part of a collaboration with the People's Liberation Army to practice and disaster rescues. What would be a month without transportation-related news? The road unofficially called the 2.5 ring road was finally linked into a complete circle in November, and railway development continued, including a 75-minute high-speed train to Chongqing (scheduled to start operating in the first half of 2015). In other transportation-related news, Sichuan automaker Yema debuted its first all-electric vehicle, and it was reported that such vehicles will eventually constitute Chengdu's taxi fleet.
Chengdu can't stop with setting world records for largest things, and in November, it aimed for another with what is billed as the world's largest teddy bear museum, featuring all kinds of toy bears "acting out" various scenes from world and Chinese history and contemporary times, including the fall of the Berlin wall, tourists to the Terra Cotta Warriors, the moon landing, and the Russian Revolution. Another museum, the Jianchuan Museum Cluster, was profiled in the Art Daily for its private funder's massive collection of Cultural Revolution-era artifacts, only 5 percent of which is on display out of concerns of political sensitivity issues. A seventh museum in the cluster showcasing more of these relics is slated to be opened by the boundaries-pushing founder who also displayed various items from the rubble after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that were thought to evidence political corruption.
By the end of 2012, the foreign-resident population in Chengdu had surpassed 14,000 residents, reported the Chengdu Evening Post, with nearly half residing in the Wuhou District and the highest concentration (close to 400 residents) in Europe City. Within Wuhou, there were more than 1,000 Americans, nearly 700 Koreans, nearly 300 Japanese, nearly 200 British, and just less than 200 Australians. On an historical note, Large-scale ruins of the Kingdom of Guanghan, dating more than 2,000 years were discovered in Mianyang. Sichuan's deputy party secretary and former Chengdu mayor Li Chuncheng had the dubious distinction of becoming the first senior official to be investigated on suspicion of corruption under the new general secretary's anti-graft measures. After the buzz about fake Apple stores in 2011, Chengdu became the fourth Chinese city to have an official Apple store (two, in fact) in mid-December. Fans started lining up outside the night before the openings. Luxury hotel chain Ritz-Carlton announced it would open a hotel in Tianfu Square in the summer of 2013. Qatar Airways similarly announced it would launch a Doha-Chengdu route in March and British Airways said its London-Chengdu route would begin in September of the same year. On a related note, the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport became the mainland's fifth airport to have transported more than 30 million passengers on December 12. (It hit the 20 million milestone in 2009 and the 10 million mark in 2004.) But before everybody gets too carried away by air travel, buzz about upgrades to the national high-speed rail network abounded in December, especially the 7-hour Chengdu-Hong Kong connection.
In odd news, a bus driver won praise after he safely delivered a woman who had suddenly given birth on the bus he was driving to the nearest ambulance (the birth was caught on video).
And finally, a Swedish business traveler to Chengdu made local news when he dove into a frigid Chengdu river to rescue a woman he assumed was drowning. The local press dubbed him the "foreign Lei Feng."
This article was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 61 ("and the winner is...").
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