I spent two days in Pujiang County where I met up with a Nigerian family that showed me the attractions of the county they have been living in for several years.
Southwestern Chengdu is home of the scenic and peaceful Pujiang County, which is situated less than an hour's drive from the center of Chengdu. They call this place "the Garden of Chengdu" and you can understand why. Almost half of Pujiang is covered by green areas and with a small population the county appears as a rare breathing space from the crowded and busy parts of Chengdu.
I spent two days in Pujiang County where I met up with a Nigerian family that showed me the attractions of the county they have been living in for several years. Michael, the father and husband of the family, left Nigeria 12 years ago, to start up a new life in Pujiang, and he and his wife and three children gave me an insight into what have been defining their daily life since then.
As expats in Chengdu, Michael and his wife Rita understand the challenges of staying as a foreigner in China. They got their 10-year-old son to show me how to master the use of chopsticks and I can feel that I am getting more familiar with the Chinese eating utensils. Michael told me that he now prefers chopsticks to a knife and a fork. He finds them much more convenient, and for this reason he always takes a pair of chopsticks with him whenever he goes back to Nigeria. Who knows if I after 8 weeks in China will get so used to Chinese way of eating that I also will have to get a pair of chopsticks to bring home.
A walk through Pujiang
After having seen the family's home I went for a walk with the three children to explore their neighborhood. They showed me their primary school and it was interesting to experience a Chinese classroom. The tables are put in three rows and the tallest students are therefore placed in the back of the classroom. Each table is shared by two students who sit on stools. The school yard is activity friendly with the possibility of playing different sports. However, the activity area is clearly dominated by basketball courts which testifies the fact that basketball is popular in Chengdu. We completed our visit of the school with a quick game of basketball.
Pujiang County also offers a variety of food experiences which I got the opportunity to try. Iced jelly, a cold dessert consisting of a round piece of jelly served in a sauce of brown sugar, is one of the must tries when going to Chengdu. I also tried the sticky rice with brown sugar which was served with Chengdu's famous hotpot. As a foreigner, it is an appreciated variation from the spicy food and I can highly recommend this to others as it tastes quite like pancakes with syrup.
As the so-called Garden of Chengdu, Pujiang is home to large areas of tea farms producing green tea. I was lucky to visit one of the plantations and follow the process of how the leaves on a bush end up as the tea many people drink every day. Chinese tea is famous all around the world and the iconic pictures of China often show beautiful tea plantations. The tea farm of Pujiang is no exception. With endless rows of tea plants growing in idyllic surroundings, this place certainly lives up to your expectations.
The first step in tea production is to pick the tea leaves by hand. As a participant in the tea picking, I got a basket with a string attached to it tied around my waist where I could put the leaves that I collected. With millions of tea leaves around me, filling up the basket seemed like a very manageable job, but as only the youngest leaves and unopened buds should be harvested for tea making, I realized how much time and hard work the picking process requires.
After the harvesting, the leaves are laid on a flat basket to dry for several hours, so they will lose their moisture content and thereby not break apart later in the making. As a final step of the processing, the tea is being roasted in three steps at different temperatures to ensure a further drying of the leaves and a completion of the taste. The roasting process reaches a temperature of 300 degrees, which the tea producer had developed an impressing ability to sense without the need of a thermometer.
At the end of the tea processing, I got the opportunity to taste the tea and experience how it is served at traditional tea houses in China. A waiter pours the tea into colorful teacups from a teapot with a long spout while standing in alternative postures. With his back against the table, the waiter managed to pour the tea above his head and into the cups without spilling it on the tablecloth.
Another must-see attraction of Pujiang is the Shixiang Lake, also called Stone Elephant Lake, which is placed in Shixianghu Ecological Scenic Resort. Beautiful flowers as tulips and sunflowers adorn the grassland while a majestic Buddhist temple is placed in the middle of the park. The green surroundings and the clear water on the Shixiang Lake is a delightful view. We went on an old-fashioned paddle raft, and drifting slowly up the lake is a peaceful and calming moment. It is also possible to go kayaking on Shixiang Lake and we ended our visit to the park with a kayak race on the lake.