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Published: April 30th 2010
I left Yunnan province and then arrived 25 hours later, via sleeper bus, into Sichuan province, or more specifically Chengdu, a beautiful city and home to five million. The bus stank of feet and I was happy to escape its cramped confines. Walking through the bus station, I felt I was getting a handle on travel through China, just took more practice than many places. I had an address for Sims Cozy Hostel, and after figuring out the bus route, I was on my way. After checking in, I first explored the hostel, which in itself was quite big and had excellent facilities and friendly staff. There was a dvd room, book exchange, games area, mini gym, good food, basically a nice place to arrive after a draining bus journey.
I walked Chengdu soon after and checked out the downtown area, Tianfu Square, the people's park which had a cacaphony of sounds emanating from every direction such as dancing, operatic singing, random and varied instruments ringing out into the air. Chengdu was quite a clean place and seemed quite friendly for the pedestrian explorer. Even the air seemed more than breathable, something difficult to come across in most Chinese cities.
At this point my one month visa was going to expire and I needed to get on extending it. I didn't realize, although I should have thanks to infamous Chinese bureaucracy reputation, that getting it would prove more difficult than I anticipated. It required I submit a bank statement proving I had adequate funds to remain in the country as well as a pleuthora of other documents that thankfully the hostel was aiding me in attaining.
I rose early the next morning to see the panda conservation center, the biggest of it's kind in the world of course dedicated to China's national and most beloved animal. I was looking forward to seeing pandas! Observing panda behaviour was interesting stuff, these guys were definitely treated well. The younger ones had loads of energy, bouncing about and climbing trees, and they all enjoyed sitting back and snacking on bamboo. I also saw the red panda, that looks more like a big rodent than a relative of the bear family. I saw a movie about the work the conservation center was up to, trying to get the pandas out of the extinction list and eventually learn to reintroduce them into the wild.
But I figure the pandas have it so good there so why leave?
I walked the city with Ben, whom I'd met at the pandas, and we stopped by at the PSB so I could give in my application to extend my visa. Luckily I'd gotten all my documents together and my application was accepted. The bad thing was it'd take a whole week to process so I'd be bumming around Sichuan during that time, figuring out things to do. Ben and I walked for many more hours, stopping to eat a ton of Chinese food. That night I ate dinner with Ben and Rosa and we discussed an interesting fact about how it seems the more we all traveled the less it seemed we'd been in the world and that we actually saw. A depressing thought to be sure.
The next day was a write off. I just hung out at the hostel, exercised in the gym and watched some movies. In the evening however I went with Rosa and two American girls she met and went out nearby to eat hotpot, which is famous in Sichuan. One of those girls could speak mandarin which made things
easy when it came to order things. One pot in the middle was filled with mushrooms and simple broth, while the other pot was filled up with chillies and was really spicy. We ordered all sorts of things like tofu, shrimp, potatoes, mango, noodles, freshly killed fish, and more. I was even able to tackle some of the spice much to my surprise.
The day after however, I took a Sichuan cooking course with Rosa and two other brits that was offered right in the hostel. We began in the late morning. We started with prep work, peeling and cutting veggies, learning to make flowers out of radishes, prepping meat. The first dish was a Sichuan chicken and veggies dish. The chef demonstrated and we followed along. Second dish was eggplant in a fishlike sauce, and finally the third was sweet and sour pork. The dishes were all great tasting and extremely fun to prepare and make. We used a lot of Sichuan pepper which kind of numbs the mouth but is very tasty. After it was all said and done we thanked the chef and brought out our food to the table and ate the dishes with rice
and beer. There was a lot of food to go around.
That evening I went with Rosa to see Sichuan opera. Better than I expected, although the singing was awful and I obviously couldn't quite comprehend the comedy skits but the costume design was amazing. Hand shadows, acrobatics and the face changing were my favourites. Face changing was neat because they kept switching masks at such a fast pace it impossible to tell how it was happening.
I went to see the famous Giant Bhudda, situated about two hours away from Chengdu near the town of Leshan. The Bhudda itself was quite impressive, built more than a thousand years ago and 71 metres in height making it the largest in the world. I went with a few others from the hostel to save some money on transport costs. There were other attractions there like gardens, old bridges and different pagodas. It's getting tiresome visiting Pagodas to be honest but I guess that's part of Asia. The Buddha however was almost inspiring. Just staring up at such scale and wondering about how much work over how many years went into something like this is quite amazing.
next day, the time had come for me to pick up my passport and visa extension. I arrived and after getting a bill, was told I had to walk over to some bank to pay it and then return to collect my passport. Annoyed I left and found the bank down the street, had to wait a shitload just to be seen and then managed to get back to the PSB right before they closed for lunch. The Chinese don't make sense with they're bureacratic procedures most of the time. Nevertheless, with passport in hand, I am ready to explore more of China!
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