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A crazy day in Chengdu...

Chengdu Travel Blog

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Entrance to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center

Watching CCTV-9 (the English Language China tv station) in my hotel room last night, I learned that today (May 12) was the one year anniversary of the Sichuan Earthquake that left nearly 70,000 people confirmed dead, thousands more missing, and millions homeless.  This event would play a very interesting role in the course of the day as we shared this occasion with the Chinese people.  Second thing I learned was that the first case of H1N1 (swine flu) was discovered in Chengdu the day before I arrived.  At that point and time that was still a pretty big cause for alarm, and I was still wondering how this might effect my future travels.

First up today was the pandas.

  The Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Station is highly hyped as a place to see and it is definitely something not to miss on the China Trail.  Was up early to catch our tourist bus over to the center about 45 minutes or so outside of downtown Chengdu.  There were large crowds gathering at the entrance but not many people were entering when we arrived.  Another westerner came up to us and said that they was talk that as part of the commemoration of the earthquake that all parks and facilities would be free today.  However this word had not reached down to the Panda Center yet and hasty phone calls and meetings were going on while the crowd continued to grow outside.  We already had tickets arranged so went on inside while others waited.  Later learned that they did open the center - for Chinese nationals only.
This panda appears to be stuck but in truth may just be too lazy to move.
  My western intermediary who passed on the news to us outside probably waited for an hour or more and still had to buy a ticket while we had the center nearly to ourselves for the first hour inside.

The pandas themselves are generally very lazy creatures.  They sleep, eat, sleep, eat, and sleep and eat some more mostly.  Their biggest problem is that the main staple of their diet is bamboo and they don't digest it very well, so they have to eat a lot of it (adults on 10-15 kilos per day).  So it is apparently a somewhat rare occurence to even see a panda wandering around active in its living area.  We were lucky and saw a few walking around, a few eating, but most were just laying around on platforms, in trees, or the like.

We also saw the red panda which despite its name has little in relation to the Giant Panda other than they both subsist on bamboo.

Hey its an active red panda!
  They were cute little critters but again mostly lazy within their little habitats in the Center.  We skipped the extortionate rate to take a picture with a panda cub, visited the museum, and then made to head out of the Center after about 3 hours exploring in the morning.  As we left we noticed the large crowds coming and gathering in one area of the Center.  Learned that Jackie Chan was on hand to "adopt" a panda (make a donation to the center) and large numbers of people (mostly Chinese) were pushing to get a spot where they could see the happenings.  Being a bit taller than most people around I tried to use the zoom on my camera to get a glimpse up to the platform but apparently nothing was happening just yet.  I wasn't that desperate to stick around for Jackie and neither was anyone else so we left the Center to return back to Chengdu.
Wenshu Monastery - this was the one year commemoration to the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake that occurred on May 12, 2008.

The day was just getting started though.  Back at the hotel a group of us decided to go to the Wenshu Monastery a short walk from the hotel after some lunch.  We wandered the busy city streets, marveling not for the first time how modern Chinese cities are.  At the monastery we arrived just in time for the commemoration ceremony that was taking place at the exact time that the earthquake struck.  I snapped one picture of the large memorial in front of the temple but once the monks started processing into the courtyard, it just seemed too solemn an occasion to intrude any further.  We watched for a while as hundreds of monks streamed in chanting prayers before moving off to other parts of the monastery complex.  The monastery has a magnificent garden to enjoy and several temples to see and explore.

Wenshu Monastery

After leaving Wenshu Monastery, headed by taxi to Peoples Park, a large park about as far away from our hotel as the monastery but in the opposite direction (would have been a 45 minute walk or so).  In the taxi heard President Hu Jintao speaking on the radio from one of the smaller villages that was directly struck.  Naturally I couldn't understand a word he was saying and other than a guess would not have known who it was other than our driver said his name which I recognized.  I could smile and nod affirmative and this was the extent of our exchange but it was enough that we understood why he was talking and the driver knew we understood as well.

At the park we stopped from some tea as we looked around at families and others making their way around the parks many paths and trails.

What my back looked like after a Chinese Massage earlier in the day.
  One gentlemen helped us order some tea and spoke with us for a while in quite good English.  Again much of the conversation today centered around the earthquake.  (It's somewhat weird that as I finally commit these words that I wrote a year ago to the computer that we are focused on two more large earthquakes that have recently occurred).  Its hard to fathom what these people went through as even Chengdu was only 50 or so miles (80km) from the epicenter and experienced a substantial amount of damage although not the devastation that occurred in the surrounding area.

From the park I walked down to a Chinese massage parlor.  Enjoyed a wonderful massage that really worked out the tension for 90 minutes.  Also tried some accupuncture as the massage therapist recommended it for a spot near my hip that has also been troublesome for me.

Sichuan Hot Pot - I enjoy hot and spicy food but the half that was in the modestly hot category here was just scathingly hot
  I figured if he can pinpoint the spot that I have always had problems with I'll try something I probably wouldn't do at home.  All told the 90 minute massage and accupuncture treatment ran 95 Yuan for me (or a bit less than $13 - try finding that back at home).    I also had a scarred back for a few days as evidenced by the photo.  Had no clue at the time that the work they were doing on my back was leaving me so marked.  It was all good.

After the massage it was time for dinner.  And in Chengdu, Sichuan province, it was time for Sichuan Hot Pot.  Went to a hot pot restaurant with the group, and ordered a hot pot course, with one half mild and the other half on the hot end of the spectrum but not all out.  Essentially the pot comes out and is placed on a boiler under the table and heated.

Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
  Then comes vegetables and some meats that you dip in the pots and then enjoy.  Paul and I wore more gungho on the "hot" hot pot but it was quickly apparent that even this level of hot was intense.  I dipped and cooked some food in the oil and spices and fished it out to my plate.  Very quicky as I ate I broke out into a convulsive sweat trying to eat from the hot side.  I continued to sample from the hot side but went back to the mild more often as did everyone else.  It was evident we weren't up for the Sichuan challenge.

The final activity of the day was the Sichuan Opera.  I wasn't originally very excited about this but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.  This is not an opera in the traditional sense, but more like a variety show.

Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
  For me the two best acts were the Shadow Puppets and the Face Changing Dance.  There were several other musical and puppet acts as well but these stood out.  Here are some links to some videos that were not mine but are the same performances that I saw in Chengdu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5RiqNtSsXE - Shadow Puppets (I can't highly recommend this enough, it's amazing)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnPQeJ2lN6g - Face Changing Dancers

Enjoy the acts.

After the opera a few of us went back to JinYi for some drinks and then it was back to the hotel for the night.  No problems with the taxi on this evening, thankfully.

 

 

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Entrance to the Chengdu Panda Bree…
Entrance to the Chengdu Panda Bre…
Pandas
This panda appears to be stuck but…
This panda appears to be stuck bu…
Hey its an active red panda!
Hey its an active red panda!
Wenshu Monastery - this was the on…
Wenshu Monastery - this was the o…
Wenshu Monastery
Wenshu Monastery
What my back looked like after a C…
What my back looked like after a …
Sichuan Hot Pot - I enjoy hot and …
Sichuan Hot Pot - I enjoy hot and…
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Pandas
Panda Statue
Panda Statue
Entrance Sign
Entrance Sign
Our first Panda wandering around. …
Our first Panda wandering around.…
Playful panda
Playful panda
Panda bear sitting beside a tree.
Panda bear sitting beside a tree.
Munching on Bamboo
Munching on Bamboo
Munching on Bamboo
Munching on Bamboo
Munching on Bamboo
Munching on Bamboo
Lazy pandas
Lazy pandas
Young panda cub inside an enclosur…
Young panda cub inside an enclosu…
Young panda cub inside an enclosur…
Young panda cub inside an enclosu…
Pandas
Pandas
Pandas
Pandas
Panda sleeping in a tree
Panda sleeping in a tree
Panda sleeping in a tree (close-up)
Panda sleeping in a tree (close-up)
Different panda sleeping in a diff…
Different panda sleeping in a dif…
Red Panda lounging on a wooden con…
Red Panda lounging on a wooden co…
The red pandas are no more active …
The red pandas are no more active…
Despite their name the Red Pandas …
Despite their name the Red Pandas…
LAZY!!!
LAZY!!!
Trekking down the stairs.  Why?  W…
Trekking down the stairs. Why? …
This red panda is trying to hide.
This red panda is trying to hide.
Crowds at the Panda Breeding Resea…
Crowds at the Panda Breeding Rese…
Sign in the museum.
Sign in the museum.
On the streets of Chengdu
On the streets of Chengdu
On the streets of Chengdu
On the streets of Chengdu
Statuary on the streets of Chengdu
Statuary on the streets of Chengdu
Statuary on the streets of Chengdu
Statuary on the streets of Chengdu
Wenshu Monastery - Big Version of …
Wenshu Monastery - Big Version of…
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Sichuan Opera in Chengdu
Chengdu
photo by: spocklogic