Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chuanzhusi 川主寺: The Friendly Town

Welcome to a place where time seems to stand still.  Where the traditions of culture still thrive and people struggle to earn a living, all the while maintaining ultra-friendly personalities.  This is Chuanzhusi.  Chuanzhusi is located in Songpan County Sichuan Province.  It is a town at the crossroads between Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong.  I can confidently say that this was the friendliest Chinese town that I have ever visited.  Friendly in the more family/caring sense.  The people are still competing for your business, which will cause them to try to make prices higher than they should be, yet stay competitive.  We bargained on everything, including food!  Just because it was so darn expensive, we felt compelled to do it.  It is quite encouraging when you can bargain better than the local nationals.  That is what we were told by two visitors we met traveling from Hangzhou.  We quickly made friends with them as they were a very young couple and quickly took fancy to our immature jokes.

Upon arrival to Chuanzhusi, we quickly noticed that the town was rather empty.  Apparently it wasn't the peak season to travel to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong and there were lots of empty rooms throughout the whole town.  These are absolutely perfect conditions to use your bargaining skills.  We went from motel to motel asking if they had hot water and what price they were offering per night.  Eventually we chopped the price from 100 RMB per night to 30 RMB per night!  That was where we bargained for our food too.  The food was so delicious, and unfortunately I was so hungry that in my ravenous ferver, I forgot to take photos of our sweet-sour fish (糖醋鱼) and Huiguo rou (回锅肉).  The Chinese couple were stunned at our bargaining skills and kept talking about it.  This strengthened my notion of Chinese culture putting heavy value on finding and obtaining the good sale.  Besides we were traveling on a shoestring and it's not like my Korean travelmates had unlimited resources.
The surrounding town does not have much in the sightseeing category, but we did manage to get to a Buddhist temple.  The temple we looked at seemed old and not kept as well.  This was delightful as most temples in China seem to be kept for tourism, this one did not have that jive to it.  Monks were walking around on the temple grounds and it felt authentic.  Being fairly close to Tibet and so high up in altitude made me think that this was the closest thing to a Tibetan town that I might come across, if I ever make it out to Tibet of course, which I intend to one day.  The ethnic minority is apparently the Qiangzu (羌族).  Women apparently act as the head of the family, and that seemed to be actively practiced in Chuanzhusi.  All business owners or at least the transactions were done with women.  Talking to the locals was quite fun.  I think they were probably very interested in us, as we were strange yet could speak Mandarin so we had the ability to discuss the differences we had.    You could tell they were authentic too.  They had real families to support who seemed to be doing ok, as I saw many children playing towards the end of the day.  Although for the most part the town seemed to be authentically Qiang, there was evidence of tourism which was expected.  The town makes much of its money off of tourists passing by.  We came across a tacky dance class that reminded me of hula lessons given to tourists at lu'aus back home in Hawai'i.  Of course this dance was not hula, but a dance of the Qiang people, which consisted of walking around in group circles, similar to Japanese Obon.     

The Chuanzhusi Experience

I was really refreshed after my stay at Chuanzhusi.  Our time in Songpan county with Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong was coming to an end and Chuanzhusi was an excellent way to close it off.  We finally got to see the culture of the 'real' people that live in the area.  Luckily we had the toursists from Hangzhou to do a little comparison.  The Qiang as well as the tourists were both Chinese by nationality yet our tourists from Hangzhou knew just as much about the Qiang as an American and 3 South Koreans.  Staying at Chuanzhusi will give you a mix of peace, relaxation, and a heckuva warm atmosphere in a rather cold place.  We only stayed one night, but I wanted to stay more.  I hope I can go back one day.

Banner at Chuanzhusi Temple

Notice the type of material used to build this structure which was next to the temple we went to visit.  Looks like clay on dried grass.  Supposedly it works very well as an insulator.

The buildings of this town aren't that impressive, but the scenery of the surrounding mountains make up for it.

Sorry about this blurry pic but I wanted to show the local beer next to the shop owner who sold it to us.  The beer wasn't quite to my taste.  Reminded me of caramel added to rum and coke with a little less rum.

Lonely Planet:  China

Below is the Lonely Planet Guidebook for China.  I would highly recommend this as I often used this as a reference for a wide range of things from finding places to sleep to transportation to eating, and more.  The important thing about traveling in China and most of Asia in general if you are on a budget is to get to know the prices of things.  Guidebooks like Lonely Planet do a pretty good job at telling you approximately what price things should be so that you don't get ripped off.  Click on the image and it will take you to where you can purchase your own copy of the book.  


  1. Thanks for sharing all the pictures and traveling experience! It is very interesting to read them!

  2. That's really cool! I love friendly people! hehehe It's interesting that women are the head of the household in the area you mentioned too. What an interesting beer ... You'll have to teach me your bargaining skills one day. hehehe

  3. John: Thanks for the support =) When is the next food special coming up?

    Mary: Yes, bargaining is definitely a skill and one that requires hands on learning. Gotta kinda joke around and smile while you do it too. I'm sure you'll become and expert this summer.


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