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The Leisure Evolution

In burgeoning cities like Guiyang, Chengdu and Wuhan, China’s ongoing transformation is delivering a new era of downtime for locals and unique discoveries for curious visitors.

It’s a curious, almost surreal image. Groups of ladies exercising together in public squares in cities across China. They move through yoga poses in perfect sync—their mats neatly aligned. Yoga is one of the most common pastimes and just one example of China’s changing leisure scene, where free time is being transformed in unique and unexpected ways. Thanks to high-speed economic growth and more purchasing power, the burgeoning middle class is doing more, traveling more and spending more money simply hanging out.

Game on in Guiyang
Virtual reality (VR) cinemas are a new favorite among China’s tech buffs. Unlike Western countries, where people usually enjoy VR at home with a personal headset, VR gear in China is most often rented for 100 CNY (US$15) per hour. VR arcades are filled with all the latest headsets and equipment.

VR entertainment is not limited to big cities: Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province, is at the heart of this new world of tech leisure activities. Oriental Science Fiction Valley, China’s first VR theme park, has won rave reviews since it opened here in April 2018. The VR Roller Coaster has received a lot of attention, as has a giant robot that looks like a Transformer.


Guiyang’s Oriental Science Fiction Valley is a virtual reality theme park that opened in early 2018; this giant steel robot is the tallest in the country

New leisure scenes in Guiyang are also encapsulating the integration of futuristic design with a resurgence in more cultural pastimes. Scheduled to open in 2020 and attached to the Guizhou Culture Plaza development, the Hebin Theater Performing Arts Centre will be a cultural hub. Part of Guiyang’s evolution also includes a new Fairmont hotel, scheduled to open in 2019.

Chow Down in Chengdu
The capital city of Sichuan province in China’s southwest is envied by millions for its vibrant quality of life, its leisure pursuits diversifying as downtime trends evolve. Nowhere is this evolution more prevalent than in the city’s culinary scene, where traditional Sichuan street food and fine dining both continue to break new ground. Visitors and locals are spoiled by the city’s laid-back atmosphere in places like Wide and Narrow Alley and the nearby Kui Xing Lou Street.


Delicious crayfish deep-fried to perfection; Chengdu is the birthplace of spicy Sichuan cuisine, with some of the most popular street snacks in the world

Old meets new at Chang Yi, an elevated Chinese dining experience at Fairmont Chengdu, where diners get a taste of traditional Sichuan cuisine presented in a totally modern way.

The leisure evolution isn’t limited to the city. With more leisure time, residents are escaping to the countryside. A plethora of hiking and biking trails, such as those near Mount Emei, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are perfect for weekend warriors. The site is famous for its indigenous flora and for the Buddhist temples.

Soak Up Chongqing
Another principal city in China’s leisure evolution is Chongqing, which is 250 miles (400 kilometers) east of Chengdu. Although the two cities are often mentioned in the same breath, the way residents spend their downtime is vastly different.

While outdoor experiences like the massive, tropical-themed Chongqing Caribbean Water Park really draw in the crowds, what’s beneath the city is more surprising: an “underground city.” The extensive network of air-raid shelters was built during the Second Sino-Japanese War.


Clockwise from top left: A museum is housed in a former nuclear facility; hanging out in the underground city; splashing out at the Chongqing Caribbean Water Park

In more peaceful years, these tunnels slowly transitioned into subway stations, parking lots, shopping malls, warehouses, wine cellars and restaurants. Often, a seemingly dull square is actually the roof of a shopping center, and a busy ice rink is hiding under the bare rocks of a non-descriptive hill.  “If you don’t go underground, you only see half of the city,” says Yang.

Built across 24 bomb shelters, Chongqing Jianchuan Museum in Jiulongpo District demonstrates the intriguing history and culture of Chongqing, with exhibits on the Anti-Japanese War and the quota tickets system during China’s planned economy era.

Wake Up in Wuhan
In the port of Wuhan in Hubei province, leisure activities range from breakfast indulgences to late-night music. The city’s unique breakfast culture has won Wuhan the moniker of China’s breakfast capital, with residents waking up to the aromas of hot dry noodles and sticky rice chicken. Street food is so plentiful here, residents eat out instead of cooking at home.

In the spring, the fragrance from more than one million tulips lures people to the photogenic Dongxi Lake Tulip Park. Springtime also draws the kite-flyers to the parks.

Wuhan’s reputation for new music signals another big trend in the city. In the 1990s, China’s higher education industry kicked into high gear and enrollment at universities expanded. By 2016, there were more than 80 universities and colleges in Wuhan. With that came a surge in music. Many singers and bands have become famous, such as punk band SMZB, Dada, Hopscotch, Gaia and Hu Mage. VOX Livehouse on Lumo Road is the mecca for music lovers, as is Feel 100 and Club Local.


Wuhan’s Club Local is a live-music favorite; kites along the Yangtze River

As the number of travelers to Wuhan continues to grow to take in its many attractions, so does the city’s hospitality offerings: Visitors will soon be able to check in to Fairmont Wuhan, which opens in 2019.

Step Out in Shanghai
Considered China’s cultural capital, Shanghai takes great pride in its artistic environments, which continue to evolve. Art, history and music are just a few of the societal recreations that pique the interests of both residents and visitors.

Shanghai fosters a variety of arts projects on a regular basis, even in outdoor spaces, where locals and tourists can de-stress. Installations like Lindy Lee’s The Life of Stars and Arnaud Lapierre’s Ring - Chain—both collaborations with design firm Urban Art Projects—are just two of many examples.

A renewed interest in history is also evident. History has always been a way for visitors to get to know China better, and the exhibits at the Shanghai History Museum, which opened in March 2018, are packed with more than 1,000 artifacts that document China’s rich past.


The Shanghai skyline; the Old Jazz Band from The Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel draws a crowd

Music continues to be a staple pastime in Shanghai, with even live music icons enjoying a surge in fans. People flock to the iconic Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel, which draws a steady stream of locals, tourists, celebrities and heads of state to its 1920s-style room.

Taken all together, this growth in creativity in China mirrors a national transition. And as the economy soars, so will the scope of China’s leisure pursuits, giving locals and visitors new ways to come together.  

 

By Yanhong Mao

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