There’s no shortage of places to drink tea or play mahjong in a city with over six thousand tea houses – but there is one place that has remained in the same spot for 120 years.
The Guanyinge Teahouse has uneven mud floors, wood burning stoves and faded murals of portraits and slogans of Chairman Mao from the Cultural Revolution era. The air is thick with nostalgia, dust and pipe smoke from the elderly patrons that look as if they too, haven’t moved in years.
The owner, Li Qiang, is rarely seen without a pair of headphones round his neck, and a blue apron – returned to the area and took over the tea touse almost twenty three years ago, after a self confessed midlife crisis.
“After my midlife crisis, there were some ups and downs, and some people just didn’t understand why I wanted to take over the tea house – even my family weren’t supportive in the beginning. But I’ve always have strong connection to old things – and a tea house is like a microcosm, a safer version of the world outside.
People come and go over the years, but I try to create a comfortable bubble for my customers, a forum for elderly people to escape to a different world, a place like home to them, when they have no one left and no where else to go.
Normally I get up at 4am, open the teahouse at 4:30am, then start the fire and boil the water, putting tea leaves into cups. I close up at 6:30pm. Today I was running late and arrived at 5am, but some of the elderly patrons had already opened up the teahouse.
I don’t really have days off, we only close for one day every year. I can’t really close the teahouse, because then I will worry about those elderly folks, where will they go? To me life is not all about earning lots of money. The elderly regulars just toss 5 jiao into a basket on the side. Life is more about happiness and being content. Think about how you want your life to be and make it happen. I did.”
Photos courtesy of Li Qiang
Chengdu may be famous for many things, but you don’t have to have been here for long to know it’s really the people that make the city so special. Inspired by other Human’s of movements around the world, originating in New York – we wanted to document some of the voices of the people in the city. If you know someone with a story to tell, get in touch.
Interview by Amiee Cai
Amiee, originally from Zhejiang – is enchanted with all things Chengdu. An aspiring street photographer, she loves to capture the stories of the people that pump life into the city.