"Gardening is about enjoying the smell of things growing in the soil, getting dirty without feeling guilty, and generally taking the time to soak up a little peace and serenity. " ~Lindley Karstens

Sunday, August 15, 2010

China Trip Part 3: A Preserved Historical Residential Area in ChengDu

In part 1 and part 2 of my China trip posts, I introduced you some natural scenery of China.  What I am going to write today is not much garden related (well, maybe still a little.).  It is a preserved historical residential area in ChengDu, the capital city of SiChuan province, where my in-laws live in.

This place is called "Kuan-Zhai Alley" (宽窄巷, meaning Wide-Narrow Alley).  It consists of three parallel alleys, which are "Wide Alley" (宽巷子, Kuan Xiang Zi), "Narrow Alley"(窄巷子, Zhai Xiang Zi), and "Well Alley" (井巷子, Jing Xiang Zi).   To be more accurate, this is a place that used to be the residential area about 300 years ago, the time of Qing Dynasty of China.  Today, this area has been restored, and preserved its old architectural style, and converted to a place that people can come to shop, dine, and feel nostalgic. They can be there to enjoy the mix of the modern time and history. 

My sister's family flew from ShenZhen to Chengdu to see me, and had a tour of this place together with my family.  I hope the pictures I shown here could also have you feel a little bit of Chinese Culture reflected in this place.  I personally felt it was so relaxing to walk on the brick paved street, and wander through those traditional Chinese architectural style stores, trying to feel how the people lived 300 years ago.  I think that is why this place becomes a popular tourist attraction.  The modern people just need a place to rewind, and slow down the fast pace in their real life.

Pair of stone lions are often to be seen in front of the gate to guard the house.

This bronze door has Chinese Gate God engraved to ward off the evil spirits and encourage the flow of good fortune.  Do you see the circle rings on the door?  Those are there for visitors to tap on the door to inform the host, kind of like today's door bell.

Some traditional Chinese crafts are shown on the street.  Those are the part of the cultures that are gradually disappearing. 

This young man was performing using the long-beak tea kettle to pour the tea for the guests.  The beak is about three to four feet long.  It is not easy to pour without the spill while still posing the different gestures.

This is another Chinese traditional craft, molding the statue using the special treated flour paste.  When we were there, this craftsman was making a face mold based on a digital camera picture, quite interesting mix of tradition and modern technology.

The commercial words in front of this pottery store says:  "Must use a good mug to drink lots of water..." 

Sculptures on the wall is another art form that gives the structures in this area very elegant and ornamental effect.

This is a restaurant with an open courtyard in the middle.  This is also typical Chinese residential house style in the old time.

The water feature and some plants setting in the courtyard...  Hmmm, after all, I do still have some garden related pictures to show you in this post.

My son found even this pair of garbage cans are also very traditional.  The left one is for the unrecyclable trash, and the right one is for the recyclable trash.

Love this trellis full of climbing vine against the brick wall...

Familiar bougainvillea and other container plants in front of another store...

This narrow pathway is used to go through between the "Wide Alley" and "Narrow Alley".

Look familiar?  Starbucks Coffee in a traditional Chinese style house!  This house has three layers in the depth.  You can see the Chinese translation of "Starbucks Coffee" in the middle layer.

Bamboos in the planter gives more Chinese touch of this Starbucks coffee.  By the way, the people drinking coffee in the picture are not my family :)

This house is completely empty, seems only for display.  I would love to have those two planters in my garden :)  That empty pond must have been used as water feature in the past.

Another stone planter that I fell love with!

Another courtyard garden in one restaurant where we had dinner...

At the same restaurant, I saw this strange looking plant in a hanging basket.  My sister, who is a professor teaching Botany at College, told me it is called Nepenthes distillatoria (Pitcher Plant, Chinese name: 猪笼草). They are carnivorous plants, and those pitcher like cavities are filled with the liquid known as a pitfall trap to capture the insects, or even rats!

After the dinner, we went to the last alley: "Well Alley".  This drawing on the wall shows people in old time playing the poker on the street while taking out their bird cages for some fresh outdoor air.   It is interesting that even this drawing is mostly flat on the wall, the desk is actually a three-dimensional item that sticks out of the wall.

Even it was dark, my boys found something very entertaining.  It was another Chinese traditional art on the street:  Shadow play (Chinese: 皮影戏, Pi Ying Xi) or shadow puppetry.  This is similar to the puppet show.  The difference is that it uses the figures in front of an illuminated backdrop to create the illusion of moving images. 

My boys were moving the puppets using the sticks that were string attached to the figure.

Here is how the figures looked like from the front of the screen.

I am so glad that my boys got some opportunities to feel close to the Chinese culture that day, which we have been trying hard to instill into their life.  Being born and brought up in America, it is not very easy for them to really understand or have the real feeling for the essence of the Chinese culture.  It is a place that definitely we were so happy to take them to.


  1. Thank you Ami for another little tour of your home country. Lovely architecture, gardens, and culture.

    I liked the different planters too and that wonderful trellis with vines.


  2. What a beautiful, rich culture you have shared with us today, Ami! There is something so peaceful about Chinese architecture and gardens, I think. And how great that you could share the old lifestyle with your boys! Looks like they had a trip they will never forget.

  3. Your boys really enjoyed a treasured experience in seeing so much of their heritage. Added to that being able to enjoy the company of their extended family members will provide memories for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing this trip. Love all the architecture and use of plants throughout.

  4. Ami this was so lovely to read and I really enjoyed seeing all your beautiful pictures.

    Ancient chinese culture is something that I only know alittle about but from reading some material recently I've discovered that even amongst the chinese people they have lost some of their ancient culture due to politics down through the decades - like the worship of Shangdi and the true meanings behind the rituals with the ancient emperors.

    Its so good that you are trying to help your boys see what living in China is about - architecture, culture and food is such a contrast to life in the USA.

  5. Ami, how wonderful that you were able to share your culture and heritage with your sons!! Yes, American culture is very different than traditional Chinese, isn't it? It looks as though they had a splendid time!

    I'm in love with the architecture, art, and gardens. That bronze door is AMAZING!!!! I like the trellis, too...giving me ideas! :)

    Thank you so much for the tour!!

  6. Chinese architecture is so spectacular, and I love the fact that so many things have meanings...such as the lions at the door and the bronze door. That bronze door is gorgeous. It is wonderful that you are able to return with your boys. My mother is from Germany and we visited their many times when I was a child and I feel a strong connection to that country even though I was born in the USA.

  7. Flowerlady: Thanks, glad that you loved it! I saw lots of beautiful planters in China, and only wish they are not that heavy to bring some over :)

  8. Floridagirl: You are so right about the "peaceful" feeling that Chinese garden and architecture give to people. I remember when I visited my grandparents over the summer/winter vacation when I was a child, and those peaceful courtyard gardens still had a deep touch in my heart everytime I thought about it.

  9. NanaK: Yes, my boys had wonderful time to take that tour, and being with their cousin, who will go to the college in the fall, made it even more fun for them.

  10. Leavesnbloom: Sounds like you are really interested in Chinese culture given the fact you are reading about it.

    I have to admit that even myself is not understanding lots aspects of the Chinese culture. One reason might be what you mentioned about the politics in the past. Although within the recent more than 10 years, I can see more open minds have been adopted, and more and more Chinese people are going back to believe in the gods. Some are budists, and some are Christians or Catholics, or other religions.

  11. Kimberly: Yes, my sons had very good time in China, and their sense of connection to China is getting stronger everytime we went back. Glad that trellis gives your some idea, looking forward to some version of it showing at your blog someday :)

  12. Susan: There are still lots of things about the Chinese Architectures that I don't know how to explain it. The long history and the rich culture made it almost impossible for me to understand everything. I am glad that when I was writing this series of posts, I was putting more thoughts to try to explain to my non-Chinese friends :)

    I can understand the strong connection that you have to your mother's home country. I know even my boys are very americanized, they do feel the strong connection to China. They show the special interests whenever they see something on TV, magazine about China.

  13. I was thinking about your journey back to China yesterday. So glad you left a comment to bring me back for this instalment.
    Ami - moss roses Portulaca, is distinguished enough to be in its own family with Spekboom jade plant.

  14. Ami, I am so happy to have a glimpse of modern China through your eyes. I have only visited China once and that was ShenZhen via Hong Kong, a long time ago. The Chinese culture I know of is through the teachings and recollections of my own parents and grandparents. I really hope that one day, I get to see this beautiful place and learn about my roots all over again, just like what you are teaching your sons.

  15. oh my gosh - it is just so incredibly interesting and beautiful. I was just thinking about how much of a blend of traditional and modern influences are all about when I saw the photo of the Starbucks! A great example! Thanks so much for showing these photos.


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