Chengdu Spice

This south­west­ern Chi­nese city is both panda play­ground and eco­nomic pow­er­house

Business Traveler (USA) - - NEWS - By Alex An­der­s­son

This south­west­ern Chi­nese city is both panda play­ground and eco­nomic pow­er­house

Chengdu, the cap­i­tal of China’s south­west­ern Sichuan prov­ince, is mak­ing its mark on the global map for a num­ber of rea­sons. The city is home to the spici­est cui­sine in China, the rare gi­ant panda and, more re­cently, the largest free­stand­ing struc­ture in the world.

The re­cently-com­pleted New Century Global Cen­ter con­tains 19 mil­lion square feet – that’s 434 acres – of in­door floor space, dwarf­ing the Burj Khal­ifa, which holds a mere 77 acres. Chengdu’s megas­truc­ture – which houses an ar­ti­fi­cial beach, a cen­tral busi­ness district, a Mediter­ranean vil­lage, 14-screen cin­ema, ho­tels, ice rink and shop­ping mall – is vir­tu­ally an in­door city, and ex­em­pli­fies Chengdu’s role as a key com­po­nent of China’s re­lent­less pur­suit of both fig­u­ra­tive and lit­eral great­ness.

In 2000, the Chi­nese govern­ment ini­ti­ated an eco­nomic pol­icy to de­velop its land­locked western prov­inces, and Chengdu emerged as a nat­u­ral fo­cal point. Lo­gis­ti­cally, the 2,300-year-old city has been a cen­ter for cross-coun­try com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­port since the days of the Silk Road, when it con­trib­uted spices, tea and silk bro­cade to the ear­li­est in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal trade.

This legacy re­mains ap­par­ent in mod­ern Chengdu, from where 34 ma­jor Chi­nese cities are reach­able by high-speed rail, whose net­work of di­rect global air links is grow­ing rapidly, and where a size­able out­sourc­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try is in place. Siemens, Mo­torola, Nokia and Eric­s­son are among the scores of in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies with a pres­ence in the city. The 50-square-mile Chengdu HiTech In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Zone alone con­tains 33,237 com­pa­nies, 87 of which rank in the For­tune 500.

But Chengdu’s charm has not been en­tirely lost in the frenzy of de­vel­op­ment. The tea­houses, tra­di­tional opera the­atres and an­cient tem­ples still stand their ground among the ever-ex­pand­ing cityscape.

First Im­pres­sions

The two-ter­mi­nal Chengdu Shuan­gliu In­ter­na­tional Air­port is rel­a­tively well equipped, with one of the run­ways ca­pa­ble of land­ing an A380 (though it hasn’t yet). Last year it han­dled 31.59 mil­lion pas­sen­gers, and upon ar­rival didn’t seem too crowded. A car ride to the city cen­ter takes about 30 min­utes, ac­count­ing for traf­fic – a fac­tor that is un­avoid­able in Chengdu at most times of day.


Nav­i­gat­ing the city’s 822-square-mile ur­ban cen­ter (its pop­u­la­tion is 7.1 mil­lion) is not the eas­i­est of tasks, es­pe­cially for an out­sider. If you can de­ci­pher the met­ro­pol­i­tan bus sys­tem’s labyrinthine net­work, you can get al­most any­where for RMB2 ($0.30). There are also two sub­way lines cur­rently in oper­a­tion, with more un­der con­struc­tion, cost­ing be­tween RMB2-4 ($0.30-$0.60) depend­ing on dis­tance. This is gen­er­ally a faster and sim­pler op­tion than the bus since you avoid the traf­fic, and the bus can be con­fus­ing for those who don’t speak and read Chi­nese.

Tak­ing a taxi is not ex­tor­tion­ate, but again, you are at the mercy of the traf­fic, and the driver, who most prob­a­bly doesn’t speak English. Most of them use me­ters, but of­ten at­tempt to hag­gle a fixed price. Rent­ing a car with a driver is a pop­u­lar op­tion, but can cost RMB600-800 ($98$130) a day. It may, how­ever, save you a lot if you value men­tal sta­bil­ity.

Most of the ma­jor ho­tels are lo­cated within the in­ner­most – and aptly named – 1st Ring Road. The air­port is 10 miles to the south­west, and the Tianfu district, which houses both the in­dus­trial park and new in­door city, is also to the south, and is con­nected by the newly-built Tianfu over­pass.

From op­po­site page left: Shu Feng Ya Yun Sichuan Opera; Tianfu Square in Chengdu; tea at the In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Century City Chengdu Cha Lounge; Sichuan Univer­sity Chengdu; Chengdu city

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