I have spent my entire 'China career' living and working in the north and up until now have only spent a few days in a few cities in the south, most often passing through on my way to somewhere else. As a result, this trip along the back roads and to the smaller cities of Sichuan has been somewhat of a cross-cultural experience for me.
Different regions of China do have distinctive cultures (or should I say sub-cultures), much as we do in the US. Minnesota and Mississippi are quite different, as are California and Connecticut. To be sure, on the surface there is a sameness (both here and in the US), but close observation reveals definite difference -- in food, language, and even lifestyle.
One of the things that has struck me about Sichuan is that everywhere you look there are people sitting around drinking tea and playing cards or ma jiang (mahjong, as it is called in English). People in the north certainly engage in both of these activities, but what's so striking here is that they are outside, and everywhere. And all ages are participating.
Drinking tea + playing games = living!