After our program in Kunming ended, my roommate and I stuck around for a few days. Her mom was flying in, so while she adjusted to the time difference, we showed her around the city and I also took my Chinese final which I had missed when I had my migraine a few weeks earlier. One of the days, I made a trip to an outdoor store to buy hiking boots and pants for my upcoming trip to Tibet. After managing to find a pair of shoes that fit me, I then turned to the pants. Knowing that I would have to buy a bigger size than usual since I was in China, I started with the larges. Nope, they were too small, so the owner sifted through many boxes to find different sizes for me to try. Six or seven pairs of pants later, I finally found ones that fit – Men’s XXL. The owner and I had a few laughs over the situation, he kept saying “Chinese women are too small, no problem though, I can find something that fits you.” (All of this was in Chinese, of course). Once I had my two items, I tried to bargain since I knew that the merchandise wasn’t authentic, but it didn’t work. I didn’t have enough money so I tried to go to the ATM, but then my card wouldn’t work and it was pouring down rain, so I was only able to buy the shoes, but I came back the next day once I got more money and bought the pants. I had put too much effort into finding a pair that fit, so I was definitely going to buy them. If I had bought that pair in the US, they would have been a women’s medium or large, but nope, in China, that translates to a Men’s XXL.
So on that Tuesday, my roommate, her mom, and I all flew to Chengdu, in Sichuan province. The moment we stepped out of the airport, it was steaming hot even though it was 9pm at night. Having spent most of the summer in Kunming where the weather is between 65-75 degrees every day, this heat was a significant change (despite the fact that we spent three weeks in Southeast Asia, where it was also ridiculously hot). After having a little trouble trying to find the bus to take to get to our hostel, we gave up and got in line for a taxi. Between the three of us, we had a lot of baggage, which then gave us more trouble to get a taxi that could fit all of it. But we finally found one and were on our way to the Mr. Panda Hostel. When we arrived and had checked in, we immediately signed up for a trip to the giant panda conservation park the next morning.
That Wednesday, our van was supposed to leave at 7:30am, and I had set my alarm for 6:40 so I could eat breakfast and be ready on time. Well, my alarm definitely went off then, but I turned it off and closed my eyes for one second and next thing I knew, it was 7:20. Not even 30 seconds after I rushed out of bed, my roommate was knocking on my door wondering where I was. I quickly got ready and ran downstairs and we were on our way to the park. It took about 30 minutes to drive there, so we got there right after it opened. Our driver/guide took us to the first few panda enclosures, which each had one panda. Apparently pandas don’t like hot weather, so they have air conditioned areas they can go into when they get too hot. Why pandas live in Sichuan province or why the panda park is in Chengdu is a complete mystery to me, as it was so hot. As in it was so hot that my roommate and I came to the decision by the end of the day that Chengdu was hotter than Southeast Asia. But back to the pandas – we arrived at the first panda house, and right as we walked up, the panda came out and walked over to a huge pile of bamboo, sat down and started eating. Our group only had 6 people, so after watching the cute panda for about 5-10 minutes, we moved onto the next one.
The next panda was inside his air conditioned house, laying on his back. He looked pretty comfortable and did not look like he planned on moving any time soon. One of the workers came to try to get him to move to eat an apple, but all the panda did was sit up. By this point, it wasn’t even 8:30am yet, so we thought the park was pretty empty until we walked around the corner to the next panda area, where we found a huge crowd of people trying to get a look at three pandas who were sitting and eating bamboo. When pandas eat bamboo, they tend to lie on their backs and pull the bamboo towards them – it’s pretty cute and everyone was trying to get a good picture. We finally managed to sort of get near the front, enough to get a few decent pictures, and then we walked onto the next area, which was filled with Red Pandas. Red pandas aren’t related to giant pandas at all, except for their name, but they were still cute.
After that, we headed over to the panda nursery, where there was another crowd watching a mother panda play with her cub, who was small, fluffy, and adorable (probably a year old or so). We then walked around the nursery and saw a few pandas sleeping here and there in trees or tucked into crevices, but no other baby pandas, because they were all in the air conditioned areas. If you wanted to, you could pay 1300 kuai (approximately $200) to hold a baby panda, but I didn’t have that much money with me and it was a really long line, so we walked around the rest of the park where we got to see many more pandas either eating bamboo or sleeping in their air conditioned areas. They were all adorable, and in one panda house, two pandas were sleeping and the third was trying to wake up one of them. We thought he wanted to play, but once the panda was woken up and had moved, the third panda took his spot and promptly fell asleep. Around 11:30, we headed back to the entrance, found our driver and headed back to the hostel.
The rest of the day we explored the area around our hostel, which included a large square with really cool sculptures/fountains and huge statue of Chairman Mao, and a local park. The park was really cool, some areas had people dancing and singing, others were playing badminton, and throughout there were several tea houses. We stopped to rest at a tea house, which was just a big outdoor seating area that served tea and snacks, and we ended up staying for two hours drinking tea and chatting. Many of the Chinese people there were playing mahjong, cards, or just chatting, but in that heat, it was totally understandable why so many people were chillin in the park. That evening we went to a hot pot restaurant down the street from our hostel, and the food was absolutely delicious. When we got back to the hostel, they helped us arrange a driver to take us to Leshan on Friday to see the Leshan Buddha, which is the largest statue of Buddha in the world.
So Friday morning, my roommate, her mom and I were driven two hours to Leshan. After we bought our entrance tickets, we began the short hike up to the temple, which was built right next to the buddha. The Leshan buddha was carved into the side of a cliff, so you walk up to the head, and when we got there, the line to climb down to the bottom was ridiculously long, so we walked around and looked at some of the other temples and sites for a bit before figuring out what to do. We knew you could take a ferry to the buddha from the other side of the river, so we tried to walk down to the dock, and kept going down and asking people but couldn’t really find it. We finally found a path down which we thought would lead to the dock, but tons of people were walking up it while we were walking down and all of sudden when we got to the bottom, we found ourselves at the feet of the buddha. We realized that we had taken the way back up down, and had avoided the really long line. At the feet, we took a bunch of pictures and rested for a while before heading back up, finding our driver and driving back to Chengdu. In all, we were in Leshan for about four hours.
The next morning, I flew to Beijing to stay with a friend from W&M for a few days before I had to be at my program on Sunday afternoon to go to Tibet. My roommate wasn’t going on the Tibet trip, so she and her mom traveled around China for the next two weeks.
Next post: Tibet! So sorry it is taking me so long to update my blog and upload pictures, but the internet here is 不太好 (not very good), so combined with having to use a VPN, it takes a while. Also, classes have started and during the week I have a lot of Chinese homework to do, but I will try to update when I can. Next weekend we are traveling to Northeast China for two weeks, so I will try to upload a post on Tibet before I leave, but I can’t promise that will actually happen.