Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CHENGDU - Pandas, Paul's Legacy, Peppers, and Peter's Tex-Mex

January 17-19, 2011
Eng: Chengdu, Sichuan, China 
Chn: 成都,四川省,中国
Written by Dan

Our stay in Chengdu was short but sweet. We decided to stay at Chengdu’s legendary hostel Sim’s Cozy Garden (their website seems to be down so see some pictures and a review here). Our friend Paul Janizcek, who’s doppelganger is currently residing in Xining, once traveled here in late 2009. His only souvenir from the trip was their copy of the most recent edition of the China Lonely Planet. In fact, we are using ripped-out pages of that very book as out own travel guide on this trip. Upon our arrival at the hostel, we instantly spot the library and go take a look. Lo and behold, all the travel guide books are in their own bookcase, the only one covered with doors and locked with a padlock – no doubt a result of our good friend’s actions ;) We chose not to return the butchered remains of their treasured guide book.

The Travel Guide stash under lock and key - thanks Paul!

We finally got to see some Yellow Hat Monks - in a picture in our room...

That night, we accompanied fellow backpackers on a hostel-organized trip to the “spiciest hot-pot restaurant in Chengdu” – probably a label given to attract foreigners. Well it was spicy! Almost too much to handle. Even the air was spicy! Everyone sampled the food which is basically veggies, tofu, meat or whatever you want dipped into a boiling pot of spicy pepper soup (like fondue). But only those who had developed a taste for it after years of being in Asia, which included only a small handful of us, really enjoyed it. Em and I continued eating way past everyone else to the point that people were waiting for us to finish so we could go.

We were originally going to spend about 10 days in Sichuan visiting the Giant Buddha in Leshan and the beautiful Tibetan villages and mountains of Western Sichuan such as Kangding (Dartsendo), Dege, and Ganzi (Garze). However, due to the extreme cold, risk of altitude sickness and most places being closed, we decided to come back in summer when we can experience the beauty of the area in full bloom and enjoy some Tibetan festivals.

So, we chose to make the most of our day and a half in Chengdu. Our first stop was the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base just outside the city. We joined an organized tour with some other backpackers and got to the base just in time for breakfast. Pandas have the digestive system of carnivores but over time they became almost completely dependant on bamboo as a food source. With little nutritious value, they have to eat a lot and rest whenever they are not eating. They also can’t store enough energy to hibernate so they are able to be visited all-year-round. To conserve energy while eating, they generally lie on their backs or lean against something which makes for an interesting site. We got to see 1-year-old and 4-year-old giant pandas as well as a few adult red pandas. There was one named DanDan so naturally I took my picture next to its name plate.

This one's doing the "momo" pose

That little bamboo stump is their toilet - 
that red panda just took a poop in it

Real-life Kung-fu Panda training ground

Big-ears Pan-du

no shame

For an additional 1000rmb ($150 USD) each, we could have held and played with the infant giant pandas. Emily’s love of cute things almost cost us a chunk of money but we eventually gave up the opportunity of a lifetime. Apparently, there are many people wh gladly pay the price. Later, I saw that you could intern at the base for day, not only holding the pandas but also learning how to care for them for about 600rmb ($90 USD).

Local Staff holding a baby Panda

After the panda’s we explored the city for some food and final souvenirs. We went to the Tibetan quarter and had a great meal of Yak meat and Potato pie with some yogurt, fried rice and veggies. We bought a few small gifts for Em’s family in Guangdong and then headed out.

We stopped by the legendary Bookworm restaurant and café known for its great western food and endless bookshelves. It reminded us of the Moganshan Lodge where we had just been working for a little while and was a great place to relax for a little while.

Finally for dinner, we decided to go for Tex-Mex in the Expat quarter. We got nachos, burritos, apple pie and fried ice cream. It was amazing!

The next day we packed up, again, and flew out to Shenzhen where we will take a bus into Hong Kong. We will wait in Hong Kong until we receive our bikes and gear for the bike tour being shipped to us from Specialized Bikes in Shanghai.

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