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Introducing Chéngdū

Judging by the laid-back attitude, admirable green space and pockets of, well, ‘old’ Chéngdū, you’d hardly know that the city is China’s fifth-most populous city (the greater metropolitan area has just broached 13 million and is growing fast even by China’s hyper standards). ‘Charm’ – not a word often used with Chinese supercities – is not altogether inappropriate. In 2006 Chéngdū was rated by several Chinese media as the nation’s second-most liveable city.

Oh, true, the city is still in China. Traditional wooden architecture and tree-draped streets have been gradually giving way to neon-drenched malls, glassy high-rises, or resolutely practical new apartment complexes. That same survey above glumly noted that Chéngdū, while eminently liveable, is also choking on exhaust fumes, ranking third in cars per capita.

Yet bustling side streets chock-full of gingko trees and hibiscus flowers do exist, bicycles for the nonce almost equal cars and buses, and eating out with mates still trumps all else. You’ll stumble upon markets, countless tiny restaurants specialising in Sìchuān snacks, and parks where old men walk their song birds or hunch over a game of chess (as auburn-haired seen-on-the-scene hipsters yapping on their mobile phones stroll nearby). A dash of old-time artisans – cobblers, weavers, itinerant dentists and the like – scattered throughout and you’ve got your lively-yet-relaxed Chéngdū.