You Live Where? Dispatches from off the beaten path
What's it like to live across town from Sichuan University, the American Consulate, and Tongzilin—or even outside Chengdu's city limits? In this column I ask the tough questions of those who inhabit neighborhoods and suburbs you may never have heard of.
In light of the opening subway line 2 West extension we dug up a Q&A with two residents of a county northwest of the city proper, Pixian (郫县): *Danny of Xipu (犀浦), and Jane Z., who lives in Hongguang (红光镇) with her husband and three young children.
When and why did you move to your neighborhood?
Danny: In February 2010. I work there, and that's where the pimps roll.
Jane: In August 2009 because our organization placed us here. We teach English at Xihua Daxue.
What keeps you there?
Danny: It's a fun place. Every other shop is a majiang place. You can play basketball. There are a lot of colleges there, so you can find people who speak English. And the little old ladies dance on the corners. There's also really cheap, really good food at all the snack streets by the colleges.
Jane: Hongguang is in the middle between big-city life and verdant rice paddy, so we have access to the big city, but we also have much cleaner air than Chengdu. Right outside some sections of the university wall, there are small village communities of about 30 families, each with many fields. I am fortunate enough to have been "adopted" by one of the families and am helping them work one of their plots.
What, if anything, makes you consider moving?
Danny: I'm in Chengdu a lot, so I'm moving to save commuting time. Also, because of all the construction from the train they just built, it's really, really dusty. It's in the middle of nowhere, and all you can do is play majiang and basketball.
Jane: Hongguang is mostly one big concrete building after another without any cool cultural or tourist attractions or events to shake things up. Except the war-zone-like fireworks over Chinese New Year.
How often do you see foreigners in your neighborhood?
Danny: Other than my two coworkers? Never. I've seen four foreigners in four months.
Jane: There are five other foreign teachers in Hongguang.
Do you have any stories about things that have happened to you there?
Danny: I'm known as "the Great Wall" on the basketball courts.
Jane: At the open market, my sons were watching as they killed chickens for waiting customers (which is illegal inside Chengdu proper). They saw the ducks, more chickens, and bunnies lined up ready for their turn. Boom! They went vegetarian, so we all did.
What's your favorite local green space?
Danny: There's a grassy area at a university across the street.
Jane: Our town has two small teahouses with outdoor patios. There is a new high-rise next to the river that is a peaceful place, with a restaurant with patio overlooking the river, and our campus has some nice outdoor areas.
What's your favorite neighborhood restaurant?
Danny: Xiaochi Lu (a snack street) and fried rice from the little old lady on the street. But on the whole street there's pretty good food: a nice variety, and cheap.
Jane: We love eating snacks from the outdoor market.
If I go exploring in your neighborhood, which place(s) should I be sure not to miss?
Danny: 世界乐园—Shijie Leyuan (World Amusement Park). It's shut down, but if you can get in it's pretty awesome.
Jane: Hongguang's claim to fame is that Chairman Mao visited in 1958, and decreed that a university (Xihua Daxue) should be built there. A statue in Hongguang's main square commemorates this event. Also, the outdoor market is, as one Chinese friend put it, something that reminds a Chinese person of how markets were 40 years ago.
(To get to the market: From the train station, cross Hongguang's main square and walk one block to the stoplight. Turn right onto Xuefu Lu. Walk past the first alley entrance; make a right into the vendor-lined alley, which opens up into the market.)
*Danny moved out of Xipu after the Q&A