Pretty sad to be leaving Chengdu even after feeling quite unwelcome here at the beginning...

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Asia » China » Sichuan » Chengdu
May 19th 2013
Published: June 10th 2013
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Before deciding to take on the 24hour bus journey to Chengdu I did look at different options of getting there and obviously flying would’ve been the best one but it was way out of my budget, then there was an option to take a bus to Panzhihua and a train from there (which didn’t seem that bad but there were a couple of risks involved like delays and hence a necessary overnight there…) but a direct bus from Lijiang all the way to Chengdu sounded like a much easier way to travel so finally went for the 24 hours journey! I knew I was getting an upper seat (it was actually a bed rather than a seat) but still was quite surprised to see the way the beds were arranged in the bus – my ‘seat’ wouldn’t have been that bed if only I could sit there also, but the ceiling was way too close to my head, so I knew that I would just need to lie down the whole way – the whole 24hours that is! Ah well… What can you do? No wonder why it takes so long to get to Chengdu as the road is very narrow and curvy all the way through Yunnan, I say the average speed would be 60km p/h maximum! The views were amazing though – beautiful canyons, rice paddies everywhere, really stunning scenery all around! Despite the narrow roads, just like in Nepal, driving falls into a crazy category as once again there was constant honking and taking over on the curves. Still the drivers are not as understanding towards each other as they were in Nepal for sure as we did have a bit of an incident on the road while overtaking one of the trucks. Another truck was coming face on towards us and it didn’t seem to be slowing down at all, so our bus driver stepped on the gas and tried to get back quickly on the right lane, forgetting how long the bus was it would seem as suddenly there was a loud bang… and all the cars around just stopped. One of the windows in the bus hit the mirror of the truck, it didn’t break but it definitely would need to be replaced at some point as it was completely shattered. There was quite a bit of shouting between the drivers but soon after we were back on the road. Later on we stopped at the station to fix the window – amazing what you can do with duct tape! 😉 The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful. One thing that surprised me though was when around 1 or 2am we stopped on the side of the road and just waited there until 5am as both drivers went to sleep – he? What’s the point in having two drivers then? Only in China...

We arrived in Chengdu about 3 hours earlier than expected. Not bad at all and on top of that the journey actually went by very fast! So a pretty good start but that would be about it as I had a bit of a problem with finding my way to the hostel after that… First of all they dropped us off at a different station that I thought we would be going to but besides that it was totally my fault… I couldn’t open my email with the address and I actually didn’t write it down anywhere else! I was able to check my old emails without the internet connection before but this time it just wouldn’t work. I remembered something that it said on the website that the hostel was located right next to the PSB office, so looked for it in Lonely Planet and thought I would just head there. It wasn’t an easy task though as nobody seemed to know what PSB was, even after I showed them the Chinese address from LP. Quite a few tuk-tuk drivers offered their services to me, but it didn’t look like they knew where to take me, just wanted to make some money on me taking me wherever I guess… I was getting quite annoyed about that so just decided to walk around and find some internet instead… Well that wasn’t a good idea either as only got to some market full of people but when I asked someone for help, they just laughed at me – I know quite hilarious being lost in a city of 4 million people! I thought then that it was time to try to take a taxi. Asked two drivers to take me to the PSB office – showing my LP but they just didn’t want to take me there! What the hell? Didn’t really get why though – was the name in Chinese written wrong in LP or what? I was feeling more and more helpless by the minute… Then saw a few women on bikes and tuk-tuks so decided to try with them… Once again showed them the map and where I wanted to go and finally one of the women seemed to know the place so just told the tuk-tuk driver to take me there. He took me to the wrong place of course!, but thankfully two young Chinese girls were just passing by and saw I was having a bit of a problem going on with my tuk-tuk driver so decided to help me out and what’s even more important they spoke English!!! I told them the name of my hostel and they quickly looked it up on their phones, caught a taxi for me and told the driver where to take me… So helpful! Big thanks to the girls as otherwise I don’t know if I ever got there… Pretty exhausting morning that was… Well, first round went to Chengdu! But I wasn’t giving up yet! China wouldn’t break me, no matter what!

After nice long, hot shower I was ready to face Chengdu again! Wasn’t really planning to see anything in particular that day, just walk around really and get to know my surroundings a bit… After passing lots of expensive shops and banks, Mc Donalds, KFCs and Starbucks I thought I might actually have a look at the map to check if there’s anything here to see at all! And it looked like I was actually walking in the direction of Mao statue. I saw on the map that there was a park nearby – People’s Park, so thought I might go there as at least I could chillax there a bit after that rough morning and have a bit of peace and quiet. I couldn’t be more wrong! Lots of people, little stands with toys, food and drinks but what’s more lots of ‘artists’ and shows all around – drag queen show, fashion show and of course people singing and dancing everywhere! The performances were so close to each other that they were simply interfering with one another – I guess that explained the full volume on, whoever is louder will get more crowds right? No surprise that most of the Chinese are so loud all the time as their eardrums simply must be destroyed after events like that! Still it was pretty funny to see all this madness… I just can’t call it any other way – total madness actually! Later on walked to the Mao statue – lots of police around, not sure why, were they afraid someone might throw some tomatoes at it or what? 😉 I walked around a bit more and decided to call it a day. It was a pretty exhausting day after all…

Next day proved to be even more exhausting as I was running up and down from one PSB office to the other – including a trip to Leshan to the office there… At some point even thought I would just leave it and was thinking about leaving China for that matter as well as it was just becoming ridiculous – misleading information everywhere or none at all for that matter and after all I needed my visa to be extended for 5 days only so all this running around just seemed like way too much hassle. Still I have paid for the next leg of my trip already, so it was either losing money or sticking to the plan and extending my visa… Eventually decided to leave my passport in PSB in Chengdu which meant I would have to stick around for another week around here… Ah well… All this running around was so exhausting that I actually was looking forward to hanging on to one place for a couple of days and just doing nothing for a while really… Just needed to change the pace of traveling for a while as China was dragging all the energy out of me at this point…

Apart from a 3 days/2 nights trip to Leshan and Emei Shan, I really didn’t do much that week in Chengdu, visited a couple of places but mostly just walked around without a particular goal in mind (and drove around a bit also as using public buses turned out to be pretty easy in here, don’t really have to mention that I was the only tourist on the bus each time, do I? 😉). I really liked walking around searching for breakfast in the mornings and seeing the city slowly waking up and going back to its daily routines, not that much traffic yet, some people already working sweeping the streets here and there while the others rushing to work on their scooters. What really amazed me each time was seeing all the scooters and motorbikes but hearing absolutely nothing – so many of them on the roads, still no noise pollution at all! The bikers definitely do feel superior on the roads though… and pavements for that matter as well! They are coming from every direction possible, so as a pedestrian you need to have your eyes wide open at all times, as they surely won’t let you through anywhere and will only speed up to get somewhere right in front of you…

One morning I visited Wenshu Temple(Tang dynasty Buddhist temple) – it actually turned out to be the only peaceful place around, was quite surprised about that, but maybe it was just the morning hour? Anyway I really liked this place – quite a few older people chilling in the gardens, chatting, drinking tea and playing board games. Then there were a few practising tai-chi here and there as well – just can’t get enough of that! Next time I’m in China I’ll definitely have to sign up for some tai-chi course as would love to be able to do that – it just looks so peaceful, but it sure demands a lot of focus and self-discipline as well – and there’s never too late to learn that I guess. 😉 Really lovely temples in here as well – the smell of incense in the air, the sounds of ‘Om mani padme hum’ coming from the souvenir shops, a few friendly monks around, some of them chanting mantras and playing instruments in one of the temples, really nice and peaceful place with almost an enchanting aura to it. I chatted to one Chinese couple there as they seemed to be really happy to see a foreign face around. It turned out that the guy was teaching English in Chengdu… Hmmm… No offence as I’m not a native English speaker either, but I think he should’ve taken a few more lessons himself first before teaching. I really had troubles understanding him. Ah well… Still his level of English was way better than that of half of China. 😉

The same day I went to another temple – Wuhou Temple. Well… I actually skipped the temple seeing that you had to pay 60RMB for the entrance and just walked around Jinli Ancient Street instead which is right next to the temple. It sure was very commercial with many tourists (99,9% Chinese of course!) around, but I really loved this place. Lots of stands with handcrafted items for sale and even more stands with typical local snacks – some sounding quite adventurous (like octopus balls for example!) while the others were just weird combinations of food (I tried quite a bizarre ‘dessert’, looked very nice, but I would just never put these ingredients together in one bowl – it had jelly pieces at the bottom, then on top of it a layer of cherry tomatoes, pineapple, apple and mango pieces and all was topped up with a bit of mayonnaise?! It sure was hard to swallow…). Even though I didn’t eat at any of the restaurants there it sure was nice just to sit outside and listen to the guys playing the guitar and singing inside. I bumped into a bunch of young girls studying in Chengdu who were more than happy to practice a bit of English with me. One of them was actually recording the whole conversation on her phone! And of course later on they took a bunch of photos with me as well! Then one guy from Shanghai, also studying in Chengdu, came over to me with a huge video camera and asked me to wish a happy birthday to his friend as he was preparing a surprise video for her… ah well… why not? So quite a few celebrity moments that day as well… 😉

My stay in Chengdu wouldn’t have been complete if I didn’t go see the pandas of course, so just needed to fit a visit to Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding somewhere is my super busy schedule. 😉 I saw my hostel was offering a tour there – but it seemed a bit pricey though, taking into account that an entrance was 58RMB and they were charging 125RMB for the trip, well it looked like they were taking quite a lot of money for the transport then. I thought I might try to get there on my own instead. I was feeling pretty confident moving around on public buses already, so thought it would be best to try the buses first and only if I got totally lost I would have taken a taxi then. Well it turned out to be pretty easy in the end and cost me only 8RMB – on the way to the Panda Centre I took bus 1 and 87, and on the way back bus 198A and 64 – piece of cake! 😉 I got there early as apparently it was the best time to see the pandas. I started having doubts at the beginning whether it was really a good time as it seemed like there was nobody around at all and couldn’t see any pandas either, but after circling around for a moment finally there they were, gorgeous huggable teddy bears all around, munching on bamboo sticks. 😊 They are just soooo cute!. Each time one of the pandas did some kind of movement, you could hear ‘awww’ all around... I walked around for quite a while coming back to my favourite pandas a few times – loved Li Li with her two little twins – they were just adorable – and thy sure were providing quite a bit of entertainment to the crowd as were constantly moving around, trying to get close to their mum climbing the platform she was sitting at and falling from it a couple of times as well. It was funny to see reaction of people to that as well as it just didn’t matter where you came from or how old you were everybody was behaving in exactly the same way – smiling with their eyes glued to the little fellows. 😊 I loved the way each exhibit had a little board next to it describing the personalities of the animals inside as well – at least you had a chance to know a thing or two about the pandas you were looking at. There were two exhibits with red pandas here as well – it’s hard to believe that these two belong to the same family as they are so different. There is no doubt about one thing though – whether they are red or giant pandas, they sure are absolutely amazing animals!

Besides that I walked around the markets and shops a bit. It was funny to see in one of the shopping malls (it actually looked more like an inside market but with clothing and shoes) quite a number of stands offering hair extensions and what’s more all of them were full – lots of girls around having their hair and nails done. Besides that I just couldn’t believe how much noise there was inside, it was just overwhelming! All the sellers were shouting on top of each other trying to catch an ear of the costumers passing by. I just couldn’t get the smirk out of my face, it was just so different and bizarre to me!

I got used to Chengdu very quickly actually but then the moment I started getting really comfortable, it was time to leave… Ah well… New adventures were awaiting and the next leg of my travels through China was starting – I wouldn’t be travelling on my own anymore, but first needed to get to Xi’an somehow…

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