Testbed is the English name given to an old factory site that was restored into a cultural and recreational complex that’s been hot on the Chongqing tourist trail for a few years now.
It’s located on a hilltop in the central district of Yuzhong渝中区, very close to the beautiful Eling Park, the pagoda of which is highly recognisable for miles around in the city.
The Chinese name is 贰厂 (er chang), 贰 being the anti forgery version of the character for number two 二. This set of characters are more complex and distinguishable in handwriting, but mean exactly the same as the normal characters used for the numbers zero to nine. I’ll cover these in a future post. 厂 (chang) means ‘factory,’ so 贰厂 literally means something like ‘Factory Number 2.’
A very noticeable aspect of Testbed is the absense of any branded chain outlets. The concept from the beginning was for all the shopfloors and offices to be individual and unique, and the owners followed through on this to the letter. Many major brands offered virtually any amount of money to set up here, but were refused.
Day and evening, streams of visitors from all over country alight buses and taxis to explore this fascinating attraction, many staying for hours to explore the buildings and alleyways, as well as taking in the Yangtze River and surrounding city from the viewing platform.
In the main square where people first set foot, you will immediately notice the giant OurFilm sign posted on building 2 to the right. On the second floor, up the boarded staircases that maintain a wonderful blend of antiquity but modern practicality, you can look around a studio run by the famous Chongqing film director Vernon Chen, who is often here in person. There are countless posters and exhibits displaying his work, a coffee bar to order from, plus an open area where open talks and events are regularly held.
Across the square is an exhibition centre by another famous Chongqing director called Yibai Zhang张一白. As well as learning about his works, there’s also a photo exhibition of ‘Old Chongqing,’ which will be the theme of another future post. Among the towering skyscrapers and bright lights, it’s still possible to dive into an old alleyway and get an authentic taste of how life was like before the modern city was built up.
Further along, there are some snack restaurants offering specialities you should definitely try out. A favourite of mine is called oil tea油茶, a delicious porridge made from pulverised rice and a variety of condiments, with streaks of savory biscuit mixed in.
It would take almost a whole day to fully explore all the shops, exhibitions, cafes, restaurants, snack stalls, bookstalls and so on, and even more time to write about the experience.
I was invited to visit a friend who runs an office on the floor above Ourfilm, and promotes cultural tourism in Chongqing Municipality.
Unlike most winter days here, it was a balmy 13 degrees with clear blue skies. The clement weather had attracted even more visitors, making for a slight wait for a parking space. However, the atmosphere felt bustling, yet far from overcrowding. There are plenty of attractions for thousands of people to disappear into.
Once darkness falls, the whole area is lit up in a variety of colours, but unlike the blazing neon lights of the district centres, the alleyways are lit up with a slightly dimmed blue tinge which allows you see where you are going perfectly well, but also gives an inviting aura and ambiance that makes you want to explore further.
Over dinner, we quickly zipped out to a German run bar, and ordered some draft beer brewed locally with a touch of prickly ash peppers, a quintessential condiment used in Sichuanese cuisine that gives you a slight numbing sensation on your lips. Having never tried this before, I asked and learnt that this was the best selling variety, so we went ahead and ordered. Sure enough, the beer was amazing!
I have visited Testbed a number of times, and there’s still much I’m yet to explore there. Coupled with the fact a new access road is open from Yuao Bridge (渝澳大桥) that reduces driving time when you come from the north, I’m already looking forward to my next trip.