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Published: September 30th 2010
Catching the train from Lhasa I can now lay claim to having travelled on the highest railway in the world. They even provide oxygen for those passengers suffering the effects of high altitudes. It takes 2 whole days to reach Chengdu which can be easily found by taking a pin and sticking it in the centre of any map of China.
Aside from the mouth numbing, spicy food that the Sichuan region is know for Chengdu is famous throughout China for its pandas and when you arrive they don't let you forget it. There are panda cigarettes, panda restaurants, panda toys, clothes to make you look like a panda (this may be cute on a child but it is just odd for an adult to dress up as a panda) and lets not forget the real thing.
It is estimated that there are around 1000 pandas left in the wild but with their habitats decreasing and their future existance at threat the Giant Panda Research Centre was set up. The centre houses the largest number of captive pandas in the world and as we were shown in all too explicit detail they do whatever they can to ensure
actually more of a racoon but has been given the name because of its love of bamboo
that the pandas can reproduce. This includes electric shock therapy!
45% of panda births are multiple and all are premature, meaning that panda mothers only ever bring up one baby at a time. The centre staff take care of the cast offs and the panda nursery has baby incubators for those which are to be reared by hand. Those born in August are now about the size of kittens, and are just starting to get their distinctive black and white fur. The centre is also home to the Red Panda which looks nothing like a giant panda but are worth a mention as they seem to always play second fiddle to their larger cousin which I think is rather unfair.
Returning from the panda sanctury, quite by accident Tom and I partook in a historic moment for Chengdu which opened its underground system during our stay. Consisting of one line Tom and I took the tube on its first full day of business. Most of the locals clearly did not actually want to go anywhere in particular but instead wanted to say they had been on this new contraption.
Everything sparkled and all of the passengers clinged
Messages were written on the foot path in water
to the handles for dear life in case the train did anything unpredictable such as take off. Whole families had obviously taken the day out and there were huge queues at the bottom of the esculators not because of the numbers of people - indeed the esculators themselves were empty - but because most passengers weren't quite clear about what they had to do so the blockage was created by voyeurs getting tips on how not to fall off. Luckily the esculator was slightly slower than the treadmill at my local gym so I managed to maintain my dignity and show the watching crowd just how it should be done.
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