Teahouses hold much the same place in Sichuanese life as a local bar or pub does in the West; some are formal establishments with illuminated signs; others are just a humble spread of bamboo or plastic chairs in the corner of a park, a temple or indeed any available public space. Whatever the establishment, just sit down to have a waiter come over and ask you what sort of tea you’d like – the standard jasmine-scented variety costs around ¥5 a cup, up to ¥40 or more for a really fine brew. Most are served in the three-piece Sichuanese gaiwancha, a squat, handleless cup with lid and saucer. Refills are unlimited – either the waiter will give you a top-up on passing your table, or you’ll be left with a flask of boiling water. In a country where it’s usually difficult to find somewhere to relax in public, teahouses are very welcome: idlers can spend the whole day chatting, playing mahjong, reading or just staring into space, without anyone interrupting – except cruising masseurs and ear-wax removers.

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