Day 3 : Chengdu Pandas & Park Life
Chengdu Travel Blog› entry 3 of 24 › view all entries
The wake up call has the phone ringing already one and a half hour prior to today's excursion to the Panda Breeding Center. I do not need this much time in the mornings so I treat myself to stay in bed a little longer. There's a bit of light coming from the small space in between the curtains but it doesn't look really bright nor sunny and if I listen well, I believe to hear raindrops. Sadly that's a correct guess. I open the curtains to a grey sky and a serious downpour. The few people on the street are clad in rain ponchos or are carrying umbrellas. That's such a pity, but yet we still have about an hour before we go so it might clear up by then.
After yesterday's not so successfull diner I am really hungry and in the mood for a hearty breakfast! Downstairs at the restaurant I spot already quite a few group members seated together at one of the large tables.
Now I think fried rice and the likes can be quite delicious, but not early in the morning on an empty stomach for me! I feel my spirits lower but then quickly realise there's that little shop right next to the hotel. Thank goodness it is already open and I score crackers, a package of cupcakes and another yoghurt.
Luckily there appears to be a coffee machine with some mixture of ready made nescafe with milk and sugar. This will surely do to wake up! As soon as my fellow travellers notice, they almost literally raid the machine. So when we later on go for seconds, the machine appears to be empty and none of the staff know how to refill it.
It is still raining cats and dogs when we leave for the panda breeding center. But it's still about a 45 minutes' drive so I keep hoping it will clear out eventually. Sadly it still hasn't stopped raining when we do arrive to the centre.
I had expected we'd start this visit with the video about the breeding center, but Simon insists on starting with the giant pandas as it is feeding time and this is when they are most active. There are already lots of visitors at the pandas and I try to get through the crowd to have a look and try to take some photos but that's easier said than done. I need to hold the umbrella to keep my camera dry but at the same time I need both hand to keep it steady because of the high zoom ratio.
Luckily the pandas don't seem to care about the dreadful weather. They just sit there being photogenic and enjoying their bamboo meal. With trial and error I do manage to get a few nice shots of the animals and in the end the raindrops on their fur make for a rather artistic effect on camera.
After a little while we continue to the building where the little ones are residing. I had hoped to really see the nursery with the new-borns but instead we get to see a giant toddler of about 8 months already. It turns out that it is possible to visit the real nursery at extra charge, but sadly we do not get the time to do so. That's one of the disadvantages of going on an organised tour...
We then continue to the little red pandas; the kind you can also find in our zoos and we end our visit with the movie about the breeding centre and how the little ones are being born and taken care of. When we get out of the small theater, it finally stopped raining. Thank goodness! Before we get back to the bus I use the toilet stop to have a look at the small museum at the entrance.
We return by bus to the city, where we have lunch. It's a large restaurant looking rather inviting so I hope this lunch will be more of a success than yesterday's dinner. Again we are spread over two giant round tables. One by one the dishes arrive. To my disappointment I again do not notice anything familiar or appealing. At least there are more vegetables this time but the cabbage is nevertheless rather tasteless. I stick to a few scoops of plain white rice, a few veggies and a slice of watermellon. I really don't understand why we don't get any of the famous Chinese dishes to the table. There could at least be something with chicken or something Cantonese with a sweet and sour flavour? Or even just fried rice or noodles could have done the trick.
After lunch we are dropped at the Wenshu temple. This one looks a lot like the Lama temple in Beijing, but it is smaller scaled. We take a look at the different temple buildings and pagodas and end at the bamboo tea house in the temple gardens. A few fellow travellers would love to order tea but sadly there is no time. As the big square with the Mao statue (Renmin Square) as well as the People's park are still on the program for today.
At the Renmin Square it is not the Mao statue but the Starbucks we notice first.
After our coffee shot we visit the square and try to catch Chairman Mao on camera. To my delight even the sun is trying to burst through the clouds. On the square we seem to be popular with the Chinese tourists who love to have their picture taken with us funny foreigners.
We then join the group again for our last stop of today: People's Park.
It's already past 5PM when we finally get to the park but there still seems a lot going on. There are people paddling in little boats on the giant pond, a group of women practicing Tai-chi... Another couple is waltzing through the park on the tones of their portable music player. When our group continues their walk again, Ils and I decide that we want to continue on our own. Our Chinese guide doesn't quite onderstand why we want to leave. We try to convince him that it's not because we don't like him but because we prefer the freedom to explore the park on our own.
We notice some men playing badminton and a bit further another group is dancing. While we are watching the dancers, one is motioning for us to come and join. I try to refuse politely but in vain; I have to dance whether I like it or not :-) Not an easy task. I was born with two left feet and zero sense of rhythm!
The dance is some kind of waltz and while I try the best I can not to step on the man's feet, his Chinese friends take pictures and make little films with their cell phones. It seems to go on forever and ever and I am anxiously waiting for the end of the song. At long last my dancing partner thinks it's enough and we can go on to explore the park.
Eventually we end up at the bamboo tea house for which this park is famous. We order jasmin tea and find a nice table by the pond with the little paddle boats. Almost immediately a little woman arrives with our tea and a thermos of hot water. It's quite interesting to see her prepare the tea, it's not a matter of merely pouring the water.
In the mean while we are amused observing the many "professional ear cleaners" Unbelievable but true, equipped with a long stick of which the ends are covered in a cotton ball sort of substance, they go from table to table to clean the ears of the patrons. To me it looks like extreme torture but the Chinese customers seem to thoroughly enjoy it and even tilt their heads so that the "cleaner" can dig even deeper into their eardrums.
After our tea break we decide to walk back towards the People's Square and then look for Chunxi Road, the main shopping Street of Chengdu. So it seems like a good idea to first try and get some more yuans from the ATM. At the first bank the ATM doesn't accept my card. Bad luck, but at the second bank it doesn't work neither, nor at the third! My friend Ils does manage to get cash from the 3rd bank and I start to get really worried. What if something is wrong with my bank pass? Or even worse, what if my account has been emptied? I cannot get the doom thoughts out of my head while we desperately look for another cash machine.
In the mean while we pass a Mc Donald's and realise we are a little hungry again.
With a full stomach we make our way towards Chunxi Road. Along the way we spot another ATM and thank goodness it is supplying me with lots of yuans. There was nothing wrong with my card after all. What a relief!
A little further there's a large overpass and then we finally end up at Chunxi Road; a pedestrian shopping street. I recognise some stores from previous China trips but it seems that in the mean while prices have gone up.
We decide to haul a taxi but since we cannot stop one right away, it seems a good idea to walk back towards People's Square. The many fountains are now nicely lit and spout in sinc with the music. A real sound and light performance. We stay and watch for a while but then we really need to look for transport back.