How to spend 3 weeks in a comfy chair

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, October 5, 2007

 I came back to Chengdu intending to stay at Mix hostel again, but on the strength of so many recommendations opted for Sim's Cozy Guesthouse instead. I'm glad I did - it's the best guesthouse I've stayed at in China for sure, and would rate highly anywhere in the world. And cozy it definitely is. Though the historic building is slowly crumbling and lacks much in the way of heating, it more than makes up for any shortcomings with buckets of character and a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone seems to stay longer than expected, despite not really ever seeing much of the city. It's enough just to laze around in the comfy chairs, take advantage of some great food (including the best burgers and brownies in China!) and talk rubbish with the many, many interesting people that seem to pass through here. I feel it my duty to enlighten you all about ligers - they're a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, and there's something in the cross that suppresses the growth restricting hormone present in the parents, so they grow to be enormous! And they do exist. For all you doubters out there -

After a couple of weeks, I finally got around to doing some of the touristy things one has to do in Chengdu. I went to a strangely extravagant celebration of minority song and dance, which was fairly impressive if a little bewildering at times, though perhaps not worth the ticket price (which I didn't pay anyway). My favourite moment was right at the very end, amidst the big final song with the entire cast in their elaborate costumes, when members of the audience felt it would be a suitable point to get up, stand in the middle of them all and have friends take their photo with the (apparently) famous members of the cast. Classic Chinese moment.

 In a similar, evening show style, there was the 'Sichuan Opera', fortunately less of an opera (which is mostly incomprehensible and unpleasantly high pitched wailing) than a variety performance incorporating many traditional Chinese, and specifically Sichuanese, talents. I could quite happily marry one of the foot juggling girls, but the face-changing/fire breathing show was probably the most impressive performance, even if I do know how they do it. Not that I would reveal their secrets ;) 

I also did the one thing everyone (apart from Cat) does in Chengdu - go to see the pandas, animals who seem genetically inclined to extinction. With an abundance of possible food sources surrounding them, they choose to survive (and I use the term loosely) on just one variety of bamboo, so lacking in nutritional content that 90% of it is excreted. That's like if you or I were starving, going into a nice restaurant, having a look through the menu and saying "No, there's nothing I really like the look of here. I'll just starve, thanks all the same." If that weren't enough, there's also the much reported problems in procreation. Pandas only get in the mood, as it were, once a year, and their numbers are so few in the wild and their habitat so large in comparison, that it's only by luck that they stumble across each other at the right time. That, I can forgive. What I find hard to believe is that, given the fortunate occurrence of them actually finding each other, they're really picky about their prospective partner, and most of the time can't even be bothered! And even given this increasingly unlikely coupling actually happening (which looks comically like teddy bear porn, as anyone who has seen the exceedingly graphic 'informative' video in the visitor centre can confirm), the chances of pregnancy resulting are still quite small. To quote a museum sign - and you have to feel sorry for the male pandas here - "One of the problems pandas have in procreation is that the male panda's penis is very short in comparison with the length of the female panda's vagina".
You can't help but love them, though, even if by all rights they should be extinct. They're wonderfully lazy creatures. They sleep for about 18 hours each day, and in the few hours that they are awake, they just sit around eating nutritionally deficient bamboo, as if slouched on a sofa watching TV. Think Homer Simpson surrounded by snacks, and you're pretty much there. Besides that, they do absolutely nothing. Kind of similar to me here, actually. At least I have an excuse, though - all the people that have come through the hostel recently.

I don't know if it's something about Chengdu, or something about Sim's, but there has been an abundance of interesting people here. 1 or 2 years of travel seem fairly common, but the way in which people are travelling is different as well. To give you a broad cross section of people I have come across here: many photographers and filmmakers; dozens of cyclists (one of whom decided that, as a warm up before spending a good two years on his bike, he would enter a bicycle marathon in the alps on his heavy touring bike, panniers attached, with no prior training, and still managed to not only finish, but also beat a significant number trained athletes); an eccentric English professor (claiming to be a Nobel peace prize winner) intending to export anything and everything to Norway, including the 'different' tasting Chinese wine, and pump the profits back into hospitals in Chengdu; an modest and self effacing artist from New York who has travelled more than almost anyone else I've met, with the exception of a dutch guy who seems to have been living this life non stop for the past 20 years; some really, really lovely Israelis; a Slovakian international kayaker over here to train the Chinese national team for the Olympics; a guy almost accidentally beginning a career in travel writing - check out his website, ; two guys overlanding from Stockholm to India in 6 weeks, instead of taking their usual holiday in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and so many others it's would take far too long to write about them all.

So that's how it's possible to spend three weeks in a comfy chair. Just find the coziest hostel in the country and fill it with great food and some of the most interesting people you're likely to meet. Simple.  
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