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There are several "old towns" that ring the city of Chengdu. A few to the west in the Hengduan Mountains (Héngduàn Shānmài, 横断山脉), and a couple to the east in the red clay jungle hills leading toward Chongqing and a couple more to the south, in the heartland of the old Shu Kingdom.|
One of the more famous ones is Luodai (Luòdài, 洛带), an old Hakka outpost built up over the several hundred years of Hakka migrations from the east coast to Sichuan. Most of the old towns have become tourist traps that eerily resemble each other and every other "old town" in China. That's unfortunate, but there is something worthwhile to extract from Luodai: its rich Hakka heritage.
The major draw here (besides throwing darts at balloons and eating bad barbecue) are the Hakka guildhalls. The guildhalls are beautiful Qing Dynasty country clubs for the Cantonese, Fujianese and Jiangxinese Hakka tradesmen who came out here to civilize the heathen, backward yokels more than 400 years ago. The buildings served as a place of refuge from the crowds and an anchor for the social, cultural and economic traditions of the Hakka tribe.
Alas, the Hakka have long since been assimilated into the wilderness that swallowed up the guildhalls and made Luodai into Calzoni's Carnival.
Most of the guildhalls have been turned into peaceful teahouses, like the beautiful two-story Jiangxi Guildhall (Jiāngxi Huìguǎn, 江西会馆). Old women hawk from a small alley beside the guildhall, so if you are accosted by women making tea-sipping motions, follow them, they might well lead you to one of Luodai's most beautiful places.
The Huguang Guildhall (Húguǎng Huìguǎn, 湖广会馆), imposing from the outside, stands empty and neglected within. Grass grows in a courtyard once bustling with pioneer activity and the walls are cracked and sodden. You can have a very quiet cup of tea here and there is a nice little water-filled stone basin inwhich to toss coins.
The massive Guangdong Guildhall (Guǎngdōng Huìguǎn, 广东会馆)is imposing both within and without. The structure rises up over the city and is the focal point for life in Luodai today. Many of the remaining Hakka sit here and chat when the weather is nice and visitors from Chengdu and surrounding towns swarm here to take pictures.
There are a couple of great food streets in the back alleys of Luodai. Most of the food is Sichuan style, but there are some stalls selling traditional Hakka dishes like deep-fried goose, light cakes and steamed meats and vegetables.
The Dongshan Hakka Museum (Dōngshān Kè Jiā Bówùguǎn 东山客家博物馆) is small but very informative. You may be surprised to learn that Deng Xiao Ping himself was a Hakka, and that the Hakka may well have introduced some farming and irrigation techniques to Sichuan as well as many words now considered "Sichuan dialect."