Published: February 6th 2007February 3rd 2007
...fat, lazy, but SO cute!
I arrived in Chengdu after a 20-hour train ride, which wasn't so bad except for the businessman across my bunk, who had a 2-hour Chinese yellfest with his colleague (according to Philipp's translation, "Why are you unhappy with your job?!?!"). My ipod helped drone it out... so my sleep was not entirely sacrificed.
We checked into Mix Hostel, which is a nice place I would recommend for travelers on a budget (Y15/$2 for a 6-bed dormroom) or for meeting people. It has a clear openness to it, but the Bob Marley/Jack Johnson on repeat got old after awhile-- but added to the hippy atmosphere. It has a diverse crowd of Chinese travelers and foreigners from all over, and a nice fireplace pit to chat all night (till they turn off the music and the nights). I wish I took pictures there, but you can check it out here
First off, Chendgu is not China! It's too clean, open, organized and peaceful to be part of China! Well, actually, that's the nice, peaceful part of Chengdu. The others include a modern area, a "Chinatown" (dirty/crowded) area, a rural area, and a developing area (where everything is chaotic and dusty with
on our way to see the pandas. So yummy!
new projects), so it's really diverse. I had such a great time in the city, and the food... oh the FOOD! Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine is, out of China's eight major cuisines, by far the culinary delight of them all! The tastes are just sensational ad the spice really takes it up a notch. I think it has to do with its location, which is in south central China, making it a fine location for farming. All around the region, I saw farmlands. In Korea, the Jeollah province has the best food in all of Korea because of its abundant and prosperous farming location. I will go back to Chengdu for its flavors... mapo tofu, spicy glass noodles, meat/veg stirfry... unfortunately, I don't know the names since Philipp ordered all the time because he started to know what kinds of things I (Koreans) liked-- spicy and sweet! All this good food was so cheap too! Like Y50/$6.50 for dinner and beer for two. Speaking of beer, I need to zap that out of my diet now! I brought two jeans with me on my trip, and one no longers fits me (something DK would be happy about), so I'm wearing the
same old stinking jeans!
Chengdu is really easy to navigate around because their bus system is pretty extensive. So much of the time, we were on the bus or walking. Du Fu's Thatched Cottage Museum was conveniently located near the place I was supposed to pick up my ripoff Tibetan permit (grumblegrumble), so we went there afterwards. I later on found out that some paid Y400ish, and some paid Y600ish. So since I was in the Y500 range, I had some consolation knowing I wasn't the biggest sucker of the bunch. Anyhow, Du Fu's Thatched Cottage Museum is one of the biggest sites in Chengdu, as its the former residence of the highly respected and admired poet, who lived there in 759 for some 4 years writing 240 poems, as he was taking refuge during the Tang dynasty. It was Y60, but I think I got in for Y30 with my ISIC. I have no knowledge of the poet or his works but I am glad I went! It is a beautiful retreat, where the ponds, bridges, pavilions, pagoda, bamboo, plants, and trees create such a sense of tranquility and peacefulness. Its very utopia-like, as the arrangements
within the compounds are very feng shui. It was a very elegant place to spend the afternoon, but not everyone appreciated it (an unimpressed kid said o his mom, "Dufu? You mean tofu!"). After that, we visited the Mao statue (who happened to be playing with the moon), and unsuccessfully shopped around for pants that would fit me (damn delicious Chinese beer!)
Panda Research Center
The reason I came to Chengdu initially was to visit the Panda center! Yay! So that morning, I, the lazy ass, woke up at 7:30 a.m. to make it there for the early morning feeding! Whoo hoo! Go PANDAS! The research center/zoo is located 10 km out of town, and takes roughly an hour. Instead of paying for the tour, we hopped on bus #1 until it reached the end of the line. Then at the bus station, we transferred to #523 for the rest of the trip. If you can't speak Chinese, just bring a picture of a panda with you and they will point you to the right bus (which has a pic of a panda on it!). It cost us Y4/$0.50 each for the roundtrip bus fare and Y30/$4 for the
entrance fee (I think that was with the ISIC discount). Do it like this if you go so you can spend the whole time doing what you want, rather than following the group around.
The zoo has both pandas and red pandas that are reddish brown and look kind of like a dog/cat. Really cute-- I wondered if I could raise them as domesticated pets. For the pandas, there were cubs at 6 months, 12 months, and full-grown adults. This UNESCO site is sort of like a zoo that only has pandas.. but it doesn't get boring, even if all they do is eat and sleep... eat and sleep... and eat and sleep, in that order. They are soooooo cute and astonishingly lazy, which sort of adds to the appeal. Now I know why they were near extinction before the Chinese gov't intervened. Apparently, the panda population was dwindeling not only because of illegal hunting (which is punishable by death), but also because many were starving to death. Not that China is short on bamboo, but pandas are really picky about the type of bamboo they eat. So for them, they would rather die than eat "nasty" bamboo...go figure.
We watched a film on the breeding and reproduction of pandas (who apparently "fall in love"...haha, love that), which was gravy until some oblivious Chinese people came in during the English version of the film, and chatted with each other and on the cell phone! WTF? After the pandas, Philipp and I went to buy train tickets, which was the unfortunate realization that in two days, I will have a 48-hour trainride to Lhasa. This was the only time I used my Tibetan permit-- which you need to present when you buy a ticket to Tibet. A hard-sleeper cost Y700/$90. Boy, this trip to Tibet is costing me a fortune!
Leshan Giant Buddha
We were off to visit the famed Leshan Giant Buddha, another UNESCO site built in the 8th century, 803 AD, which is about 2 hours out of Chengdu (bus was Y30/$4-ish). The town of Leshan was very pleasant, and I wished we hadn't made it into a day trip, but rather spent two days there as the town has lots of things to offer. When we got off the bus, we hopped on a local bus (#30?)and rode through the town and over a gorgeous bridge
that took us to the Giant Buddha, which at 71m (220 feet) high, its the largest Buddha in the world. The whole Mount Emei area, which is one of Buddhism's holiest sites, was stunning with beautiful greenery and river views to make the trip worthwhile beyond just visiting the Buddha. I read that the World Bank offered a $8 million loan for the maintenance and protection of the Buddha! The climb down to the base of the budda was gut wrenching (never knew I was afraid of heights!), and the walk up was exhausting. After a walk around the compounds, we left to catch the local bus (#13) back to the bus station.
We arrived 10 minutes before our departure, so with that extra time, we bought some beer and snacks for the road, and leisurely walked to the entrance. The ticket collector gave us a confused look and told us that we were at the WRONG BUS STATION! ...the WHAT station?!?! But it looks so freaking alike, who would know the difference?!?! With 4 minutes left till countdown, we hopped into a taxi, in which the driver told us would take 20 minutes since it's across town!!! By
the time his ancient VW crawled to the correct station, we found it deserted. It was already locked up! So the driver, sensing our distress, came to our rescue and offered to take us back for Y300! WTF? I was pissed and wasn't in the mood for Chinese bargaining with that obscene price, and told Philipp, let's hitch! I think we played the cards right, and after much talking... yelling... getting the driver's whole family involved (yea that really happened, sister, brother, everyone!)... getting in the car... then back out... them driving off... coming back... talking... yelling... them threatening to desert us... then us getting back in the car... talking... yelling... pounding fists... etc, we agreed on Y140/$18 for the both of us, with two extra passengers-- if they were able to find some while Phillip and I ate dinner. As we assumed, they found a family of three to cram into the car with us for the 2-hour ride back. Oh the joys of travel!
There are more photos below