Pandas and The Ancient Shu of Chengdu

Trip Start Jul 06, 2012
Trip End Jul 29, 2012

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Fraser Suites

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Thursday, July 19, 2012

We three mothers fly into Chengdu to bring our girls to see Giant Pandas and their babies at the best place to see them in the world, outside of their natural home in the wilderness of the Himalayas. The Panda Research and Breeding Center grounds are vast, and somewhat surprising since the Center is not far from the heart of this city of 7 million, fifth largest in China.

While I spend the morning taking the three girls to see Giant Pandas with their adorable cubs and Red Pandas ( these red and black-masked guys turn out to be all three of our girls favorites of the day and are not pandas at all, but of the raccoon family), the other two mothers in our traveling clan spend the morning and afternoon in long lines in the Emergency Room at the Chengdu Hospital. Traveler's Affliction has visited one of us, and she is attempting to receive treatment for serious dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

An unexpected lesson we learn while in Chengdu is that each panda's well-designed and well-stocked outdoor wilderness-like apartment has it hands down better than a patient in a wheel-chair hooked up to an IV bag in a 3' by 3' space in an over capacity room filled with over 200 patients and family members.

In this emergency room for mostly IV treatment, one doctor attempts to meet critical and diagnostic needs and four nurses sit behind a counter or move throughout the room trying their best to manage more moment by moment needs and crowd control.

Fortunately, our friend from Seattle is in the very capable hands of another of our traveling companions who is Chinese, lives in Beijing and speaks the Mandarin language fluently.

During this experience, our sick friend observes the critical role that family or friends play in hospital care here in China. For example, a nurse teaches family members how to adjust IV flow, since she doesn't have time to do it herself. Family members buy a plastic dishpan and rags from the hospital and fill it with water from faucets down the hall. The pans of water and rags are used by family/friends for cooling or bathing the body of their loved one. There is no bed and no button beside it to call for nursing assistance.

Amidst the noise and confusion and lack of what we Americans would consider the most basic of emergency room care, both of our friends - one patient, one advocate - observe the most tender acts of compassion throughout what appears to be uncontained chaos.

This is a face of Chengdu we did not expect.

Another surprise is the larger than life statue of Mao Tse Tung, father of the Communist Revolution, that stands in the center of the town square at the heart of this city. Somehow, we were of the notion that Chairman Mao's form and face of communism had faded and was considered a bit threadbare in this new China we see emerging everywhere.

We travelers agree that Mao at the heart of Chengdu, one of the most technologically advanced and progressive cities in China, is an apt metaphor for the confusion we feel about what we see in incredible economic and social advances (since some of us were here nearly thirty years ago)  and the communist policies at the heart of this change.

We see pros and cons of a communist China everywhere. Because the government owns all the land and water ways of China, they are able to build damns on the Yangtze River for additional power and relocate hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens without one environmental impact statement.

There are thousands of new homes and modern hotels and business complexes being constructed in every region we have visited in China. Across the street from our newly constructed Fraser Suites Hotel in Chengdu is one of many Starbucks Coffee shops in this city.

At the same time, power goes out more than once in our travels, not because of high winds or storms, but because we are told some Wizard of OZ type behind the scenes is determining who in China needs more power than someone else.

And, while all this social, economic and political drama is happening on the stage of 21st Century Chengdu, artifacts from a sophisticated three thousand year old culture are being discovered just below the surface of this city in two major archaeological digs. The first ancient Shu culture site discovered in the late 1990s is called Sanxingdui, just north of Chengdu. The second, an ongoing archaeological dig site that is part of The Jinshu Relic Museum, is located in west Chengdu and was discovered in 2001. This site appears to have been sacred and where the Shu people made gold, jade and other magnificent works of art offerings to their Gods.

A few years ago, Huizhong - one of our traveling companions and a longtime friend - accompanied a group of archaeologists to this site. She encourages us to grab a cab and go see it. The girls and we moms are so impressed by the shade trees and beauty of the parklike grounds of this museum (on a steamy hot Chengdu afternoon) and the exciting tour given to us by our English speaking guide, that we spend most of our first day in Chengdu traveling back three thousand years to visit a Chinese culture advanced beyond what any of us could imagine.

At this site, there is the actual archaeological dig that is under the museum roof and is ongoing and continues to unearth precious Shu culture artifacts. In addition to the archaeology site, there are three beautifully designed and state of the art exhibition halls telling the story of the ancient Shu culture through thousands of priceless jade and gold artifacts, and other bronzeware relics revealing the cultures's traditions and glimpses of the Shu people's life before they disappeared, much like the Mayan culture, and about the same time in history.

Two of the most famous of the pure gold relics found at this site are The Gold Mask and the Golden Sunbird. The Sunbird is the most famous of Ancient Shu relics and is currently the symbol of China's Cultural Heritage Projects and Sites.

Next, from Chengdu to the Shangri-la region of Yunnan Province, home to Tibetan Buddhist villages high in The Himalayan Mountains.
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Redd on

It is amazing how similar the mask is to a pre-Columbian gold mask we saw in Peru.

Vicki on

Thanks for sharing your trip...Stay well...Be Safe. What an adventure!

Sloat on

What a wonderful adventure! I love hearing about the ancient sites being excavated as the new city is being built. It has been so much fun to travel with you all and share the experience.

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