In the era of Three Kingdoms China, beginning around 220CE, the combined provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan comprised the vast kingdom of Shu and the saying goes, "When young, avoid Shu." The natural abundance of the region was thought to spoil and pacify the young with its alluringly mellow culture of tea-drinking and story-telling. The saying still has sway in the city of Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, where tea-drinking is still a civic pastime and it's true the agricultural hyper-production in the surrounding countryside supports one of the most culinarily diverse cities certainly in China possibly in the world.
In reality it's not so mellow and the city is, on its surface, a bit unremarkable - sprawling and flat with bad traffic and a valley effect that seems to magnetize and trap all of Asia's smog. Though mitigated somewhat in the summer months, it occasionally gets so bad that respiratory risk and low visibility make going outside unadvisable. It is also somewhat near the fault line that spawned the horrifically fatal Sichuan earthquake that killed around 70,000 people in 2008.
So we're in Communist San Francisco minus the view, plus the traffic, sprawl and air quality of Los Angeles, with the approximate population of Illinois. This is more awesome than it sounds. It bustles in a way that drags you with it.
"When young, avoid Shu," is modernized beautifully, I think, with the words of JRA, who considered joining us but having visited last summer decided against it, saying "I want to go back to Chengdu with something to do."