Seeing old friends and Panda's in Chengdu (Day 44 - 46 by Chris)

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October 29th 2015
Published: December 12th 2015
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Thursday 29th October 2015

We had booked a flight with Air China from Xian to Chengdu which only cost £70 each and the flight would only take 1hr 20 mins versus a 24 hour train journey. We caught our shuttle bus which we'd located the previous evening and after a 1 hour journey arrived at the airport, checked in and sat down and waited to board the plane.

We were heading to Chengdu for 2 reasons, 1 as its a great place to see Pandas and secondly because I have a friend, my old flat mate from university who lives there and I haven't seen in 10 years. The plan was to kill 2 birds with one stone so upon arriving at Chengdu airport we were greeted by Michael, who over the years hadn't changed much despite going up a few belt sizes. Michael then drove us to the City centre where we checked into our apartment which we had rented, and we dropped off our bags and then drove to Michael's house where we met his mum and dad and his 5 year old daughter. It was nice for me to meet his parents as I'd only ever seen pictures of them and they were very warm and welcoming. They had prepared a huge meal for us for which we were very thankful and stuffed our bellies with an array of traditional Sichuan (the province where Chengdu is located) food which typically is spicy, and they didn't hold back for us. This stuff knocked our socks off and we were thankful that we were almost at the end of our colds as I'm not sure we'd have been unable to eat on account of constantly blowing our noses.

Michael's daughter was adorable. Her nursery were having a Halloween party that evening which Michael wanted to take us along to. His daughter (Shuen Shuen) was dressed up in her witch costume and was very eager to leave the house and didn't care that we were still eating. We eventually got into the car and headed to the nursery. It was very strange being the only foreigners in a children's nursery surrounded by kids dressed up in Halloween costumes along with their parents dressed the same. You can imagine at this stage that all eyes were on us, but we didn't mind as most of it was from the kids and they were having a great time. We watched as the children played party games and the parents got involved and after the night had finished Micheal drove Gemma and I, plus his daughter and his mum and wife who had also turned up, to a street where we would eat street BBQ. We sat in an open restaurant just off the street eating meat from a stick and drinking beer and just catching up and no doubt annoying Gemma with stories of University. At about midnight, Micheal drove us back to our apartment where we slept, exhausted from the very busy day.

Friday 30th October 2015

We were collected from the apartment at 9am by Michael and his daughter. We had told him that we would like to visit 'Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding' where we'd be able to see the Pandas in an almost natural environment. Rather than being in cages, these pandas had quite a lot of land to wander around in, however they only seemed to be interested on sleeping when we arrived. Michael and his daughter had never been here so it was something all 4 of us could enjoy for the first time. We strolled through the various enclosures and got to see some pandas sleeping in various poses. We were a little concerned that we wouldn't really get to see any moving around until we arrived at one enclosure at feeding time and got to see 5 Giant Pandas fighting over food and playing around. It was fun for all of us, but made even more special seeing Michael's daughter having a great time. Although neither of us spoke Chinese and she being 5, didn't speak English, it didn't matter, she immediately took a liking to Gemma and wouldn't go anywhere unless she was holding Gemma's hand. On the way out, we sat Sheun Sheun down on a wall just underneath the main entrance to the Panda enclosure to take her picture, whilst doing so a man approached Gemma with his baby and thrust his child into Gemma's arms and took a picture. Whether he just wanted a picture or whether he thought that as we were taking pictures of another Chinese child (Shuen Shuen) that we were open to taking on other kids. The baby wasn't happy and cried his eyes out, but the parents seemed very happy with their souvenir picture.

After a great day in the Panda place we headed back to the city centre and Michael, along with Shuen Shuen took us to their version of Oxford Street where we were able to walk around the shopping street with Shuen Shuen making a beeline for every water feature in the street with Gemma in tow. It was nice to walk around in the cool night air catching up with Michael. We then met Michael's wife when she finished work and they took us to a restaurant for dinner. A traditional meal in Sichuan is called 'Hot-Pot' not to be confused with Betty's Hot-Pot from corrie. Here, the hot-pot is a pan of boiling water within which there is oil and lot of chilies and spices. I'd eaten this quite a lot whilst living with Michael at university, but I forgot how spicy it actually is. The restaurant we entered was packed and we had to wait a while for our table. The restaurant works quite similar to a buffet in that you go to various counters and select your raw meats and veg and bring them to your table to cook in your hot-pot. Michael went all out and was back and forth bringing all sorts of stuff back. We ate the following things, Beef, Pork, Rabbit, Pig stomach, yak stomach, duck and pig intestine, muscles, fish (rainbow fish and whole baby catfish), prawns, pig blood (not black pudding, actual congealed blood), Octopus tentacles, chicken, veg, rice cooked in bamboo sticks, roof of an Ox's mouth, Ox head skin, Ox stomach and finally bugs. It got to the point where we had to tell Micheal to stop announcing what we were eating as it might put us off. We were quite proud of ourselves though as I manged to eat all of mine and Gemma tried all of hers. quite an experience and we were stuffed beyond capacity.

After dinner, Michael and his wife, along with their daughter took us to the Sichuan Opera where we sat for an hour watching the famous changing faces opera. Its amazing how these performers are able to change the masks on their faces so quickly that when they wave their hand over their face the mask changes. There is probably something quite simple about it, but without ruining the magic, we didn't want to know and instead just enjoyed the wonder of the show. After the opera Michael drove us back to the Apartment where we went crazy using the washing machine and washed everything we had. Its an absolute luxury having a washing machine, don't take them for granted!

Saturday 31st October 2015

We told Michael that we wanted to sleep in so asked him to pick us up at 10am. He arrived and we walked the short distance to KuanZhai ancient street which is basically a wide and narrow collection of old shopping streets. We spent about 5 hours here, some of the time walking down the streets looking in the shops and grazing on the odd street food snack. Micheal then took us to what turned out to be the most popular traditional Chinese tea cafe on the street. We spent about 3 hours just sat outside in the sun, just off the main street drinking tea and catching up again. We couldn't be sure if all the people taking photos were taking photos of he tea house sign which was just above us as this place is quite famous, or whether they were taking pictures of the weird foreign people drinking tea. Overall it was a great few hours of just sitting and talking.

Micheal then drove us to his home at about 4pm, we had some cold noodles and cake with his parents and daughter. His daughter latched onto Gemma again and they spent a good hour playing Candy Crush on Gemma's phone. After some more tea and conversation, Michael drove us back to the apartment at about 9pm. We said our goodbyes, not knowing if it'll be another 10 years before I see him again and got some sleep before our departure from Chengdu the following day.

It was a brilliant few days catching up with Michael and introducing Gemma to him who has only ever heard stories. It was lovely to meet his family and spend so much time with his daughter, but all good things must come to an end and we had to leave Chengdu to take the 25 hour overnight train journey south to a place called Guilin.

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