Trip Start Jul 16, 2012
98Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
We booked the panda tour as soon as we arrived at our hostel so as to waste no time getting to see the big furry black and white bears, annoyingly pandas are most active first thing in the morning so this meant a 6am start. So off we set on our mini bus through the usual manic Chinese traffic and arrived in one piece at the pandas. We seemed to have beaten the busloads of tourists so had some time to wander around the enclosures, sadly the pandas seemed to be having a lie in so by the time they eventually decided to wake up and eat the bamboo, every tourist in Chengdu had descended on the enclosure and it felt a little like we might end up in the enclosure with the amount of pushing a showing going on, I had a camera from behind balanced on my shoulder, Tim had one pushed through which ended up in his pocket, we eventually admitted defeat and fought our way out in favour of some other enclosures
That evening we went to see the other speciality in Chengdu the Sichuan Face Changing Opera, we were not really sure what to expect, but it didn’t start well when we were taken to a nice looking building and ushered into a strange looking room and given cups of jasmine tea
The next day we decided to explore the town to see what was around, our hostel had suggested that we visit Peoples Park. Thinking of Peoples Park in Jersey as a patch of grass with the odd drunk tramp hanging around we were not inspired but had no better plan so set off, and were we glad we did. Peoples Park is possibly the closest thing to a nervous breakdown you will ever experience
Next we sought out Big & Small Alley, again we had no idea what this was, but it turned out to be a traditional old hutong, full of the proper old stone buildings which has been preserved and filled with nice shops and restaurants. I personally prefer the charm of the real hutongs, but it is good to see something being preserved and not knocked down and replaced with skyscrapers.
After our brilliant free day out we got back to the hostel and found on a note on our door telling us to please come and collect our money as we could not be panda volunteers the following day. Seemingly there was some conference going on and they had to cancel the volunteer programme. Gutted. Nevertheless we decided to go back to the pandas for the day and this time we would get a taxi back when we were done rather than being rushed off at 11am.
So off we set again at stupid o’clock. Once we got to the panda sanctuary we binned off the driver and set off on our own, we decided to avoid the young adult pandas which are the main attraction for the breakfast feed and we set off to the nursery to see the babies, we got there before they were ready and so stood at the glass window laughing hysterically when three baby pandas were carted out into the nursery in a big plastic Tupperware box
We also managed to go to the panda cinema to get fully educated about pandas. This was very interesting and I have a few factoids for you:
Did you know that pandas are actually built to be meat eaters but nobody quite knows why they have chosen to eat bamboo instead. The reason that they are so sleepy all the time is that their bodies only absorb 20%25 of nutrients from the bamboo. There are a few stories of pandas in the wild still eating goats and sheep, but in captivity they only get meat when they are old and sick.
Pandas have been around for 8 million years, whereas the usual life expectancy for a species is 5 million. The reason that pandas are dying out is that they are not very good at finding mates in the wild or captivity. Also the average gestation period for a baby is between 80 and 200 days so most babies are born premature and don’t survive in the wild. Also baby pandas are 1/1000th the size of the mother so they can easily be killed by accident. It is very difficult to tell if a female panda is pregnant and the centre has honed the skill to identify habits they have which show they are pregnant. The problem is that pandas are pretty clever and some of the females have become experts at pretending they are pregnant to get special treatment. Sneaky!
After one more circuit we said our final farewells to all the pandas and even got one more peek at the babies. Tim still thinks they are people in suits!
Along the road from our hostel was Jinjiang River and we would stand for ages watching the men fishing, they didn’t seem to catch much very often, but what we found peculiar is when they did catch anything it looked suspiciously like a gold fish
We had been lucky in Chengdu in that our hostel did cheap and good Chinese and western food so we didn’t need to venture out to find dinner. We had seen that there was a Thai restaurant opposite our hostel so we thought we would give it a try. We googled it and the only reviews that we could find were that the food is good but it is Thai food with Sichuan spicing so it is really hot. This was no exaggeration; mine was so hot it was almost inedible and gave me heart burn for 3 days, now that is hot!
Another city done and it was time to get back on the train, we headed to Chengdu South station ( we had arrived at north), and oh what a difference to every other station in China. It was shiny and clean and big and looked like you would expect an international airport to look. But it didn’t take long for us to remember we were in China when every man walking past us spat and emptied their noses on the beautiful clean marble floors. Eugh.
This train we were back in the soft sleepers and sharing with two other people, when we arrived there was a business man in one of the top bunks looking very stressed over his laptop and a little smiley Chinese lady on the bottom bunk. The business man got into bed at 6:30 and went to sleep in his suit and everyone kept themselves to themselves so this was actually quite a nice journey. In Chengdu we had found a Carrefour supermarket and had cheddar cheese sandwiches and Heinz tomato soup for dinner, lush, best train dinner yet! Next stop Guilin & Yangshuo.