Guanyinege Old Teahouse in Pengzhen county just outside of Chengdu is a century-old tea house that doesn’t seem to have changed with the times. Faded murals of cultural revolution era artwork and slogans adorn the walls and neighborhood seniors camp out with tobacco pipes and sip bottomless cups of tea from sunrise. It's become popular recently with domestic tourists, so it's best to beat the crowds as the local seniors do, and arrive before 7 am.
Sunlight trickles into the room through gaps in its wooden structure and a bright red stained glass cutout of a red star on the roof, hitting the smoke rising from tobacco pipes and the coal-fired stove just right. Kettles of boiling water are always on the ready to refill your cup as soon as it's dry. If you're lucky, they might even pour it for you from a traditional long-spouted teapot, which is really something to witness.
You may not understand anything being said around you, even someone like me who speaks Sichuanese can have a hard time getting the hyper-local dialects, but just sitting there, sharing a cup of tea and a smile is often enough to give you that essential feeling of connectedness to that moment in time and space. Guanyinge Teahouse has been around for a hundred years, but there's no guarantee it will make it through the next one hundred. Every time I visit, I approach with trepidation that I might find an empty structure, or worse, none at all.
Teahouses are everything in Chengdu, a city of leisure and relaxation. They represent the gathering of communities and the epicenter of culture. As the city races towards modernization, these are sometimes becoming collateral. While it's still there, go and experience it for yourself.
Find this and hundreds of other things to do in the city on our Guide to Chengdu, available for download now.