Chengdu Culture Can Be Disorienting

At the People’s Park in the centre of Chengdu, China, on Sundays, an incomprehensible Chengdu culture show, a sight that’ll make your head spin, unfolds.

Chengdu Culture – In the Park

In the centre of the park, in a round, tree lined square, a group of women stroll on a catwalk in their everyday attire, as if they wanted to ridicule fashion shows.

Steps away from this show of irony, forty women – and a handful of men – of all ages are dancing a dance that looks like a mix of high-speed tai chi and a square dance. The music is also a hybrid: traditional Chinese songs coupled with an EDM beat.

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Everywhere around the centre of the park, on the edge of the circular road, broken sound systems are pushed to the maximum and blurt out distortion and feedback. Several concerts are presented side-by-side in an incomprehensible and bellicose cacophony of Chengdu culture. The level of decibels is very, very high.

Here, a spectacle of Chengdu culture: a band, its singer and a whole theatre troupe are involved in a piece of nationalist theatre explaining the glories of Chinese communism. Just blocks away, a comedy: the voice of the comedian is completely buried by the sound of the concert right next to her; this other concert involves a band – drums, guitars, brass – and the horribly flat crooner voice of a singer; he too is praising the Communist party.

Barely a meter away and separated only by a poorly attached plastic tarp, a group of musicians and three singers in their fifties are singing on top of their lungs. The men are screaming into the microphone and the sound is relayed by a PA that’s on its last legs. The voice of the singers is so distorted and loud that nobody can hear what the band is playing. They’re looking at the drummer – instead of hearing him – and are trying as best as they can to keep the same pace.

Right next to them, a woman is speaking into a microphone that emits a particularly assaulting shrill feedback which forces people who pass in front of her to cover their ears. She speaks, alone, without spectators – because the shows aforementioned have dozens of spectators – and doesn’t seem concerned about the screeching sound she produces.

The park is nevertheless relatively large: past a row of street food stalls, a pond is filled with families on rented small boats; they paddle, push the neighbour’s boat, paddle harder, and then are pushed back by the neighbour, causing them to deviate from their original path. All of this is going on with a background noise that combines the sporadic feedback emitted by the lady who’s alone with her microphone, the bass of the dance beat on which the hyper tai chidancers dance and the shrillest notes of an opera singer has just begun her burlesque representation.

A young man alone in the middle of a path leading to a small bridge is smoking a pipe while robot-dancing and is grimacing while staring at passersby.

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Then, a little later, several teahouses offer tables outside. The atmosphere is a little quieter; however families and couples eating there are throwing their garbage on the ground. Mounds of sunflower scales, tangerine and mangosteen peels, plastic bags and dirty wooden skewers litter the terraces. Some men, walking between the tables, are knocking a metal clip together that looks like a pair of giant eyelashes, and the sound of the metal clips hitting together rings on and on: they’re offering ear massages and ear cleanups performed using metal rods covered with feathers and other pieces of cotton.

There’s no way out of the park. It’s imperative to get out the same way we got in, which means passing in front of the loud concerts again. The noise seems to be getting worse! This time, it’s impossible to walk past without covering our ears. A woman sings in a falsetto and adds a stuttering tremolo to her voice, her voice is warped, interspersed with feedback, the pre-recorded music is blasted out of tired speakers, and a drummer – with real drums, outdoors, in the park – seems to play with gusto, but nothing can be heard from his set except when he hits on his largest cymbal.

Yet twenty people are listening avidly.

I simply assume that Chengdu culture is what a “cultural shock” really is.

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That’s not all: dozens of badminton players play without nets; there are several public outdoor karaoke stands; a small amusement park; men write traditional Chinese letters on tiles with water and a giant brush; and, of course, since we’re in China, two huge construction sites border the park, so the sound of cement mixers and jackhammers can be heard as soon as one leaves the centre of the park.

This post first appeared on Go4TravelBlog. Read it here.