One of the locals favourite pastimes in Chengdu is hanging out at tea houses and drinking tea. The parks are full of tables and on the one sunny day we spend here, the scene is lively. Unfortunately the rest of the time it's a bit grey and chilly. Still, we are ready for a break from travelling and although the city's not the ideal place for some 'beach time' , there's no sea, no sand and no sun, we end up stopping for a fortnight. The time flies. There are a few sights to see and thankfully Chengdu's enlightened authorities have made them all free entry with a Panda Card. The Panda card costs 10 pence. So civilised. We visit a couple of museums that are located on the sites of two remarkable archaeological finds both from China's early Zhou dynasty (about 1100 to 700 B.C.). In China's typical grandiose way, the museums are on an epic scale, and the finds are well displayed. Sanxingdui is thought to have been the capital of the ancient Shu kingdom of China and most of the finds here are incredible masks, mostly bronze and some gold. They look like nothing we have seen before and are very large. There are a couple of life-size bronze figures too. At Jinsha, the finds indicate a later capital, as if the Zhou moved west. There are an inordinate number of elephant tusks found in the sacrificial burial mounds. What's excited the Sichuanese is that there is evidence of connections with China's central plains, which was the most developed area in ancient China. What excites us is not so much the history, but the sheer art and craft of some of the pieces. There is a large amount of jade knocking about these sites too - something the Chinese still seem to be partial too, judging by all the jade jewellery and carvings we see for sale everywhere.
Whilst we're here we also become acquainted with Sichuan pepper. Now we thought Sichuan was the place for spicy hot food in China, when in fact everywhere we have been seems to dollop chilli into the cooking. What is special here is the mouth-numbing peppercorn which has a flowery fragrance when you bite into it, just before its numbing properties spread across your tongue and mouth. I love it. Gayle hates it.
We have become very comfortable and settled at Sim's. It's great to be able to dip into a huge dvd library and pull out a few very good films - something we have been starved of for so long. But ultimately it's not a reason to prolong our stay here. We have got another 30 day extension to our visa and, despite the cold, Beijing calls.