Its been a long time waiting and before I could even prepare for it, I got off MU5407 here in Chengdu (airport code: CTU) on a one week and a half trip. Total I will spend outside Shanghai will be 2 weeks and this includes Guilin which will be the subject of another post once I get to it. Flight was bearable, food was Crap as usual, and again full of oversized babies and their grandparents. Inflight meal consists of a paper box filled with an assortment of buns, crackers, pickles and strange mix of edible stuff. Thank god for ipods.
8 November 2008, Shanghai to Chengdu: From the airport, bus 303 seems to go to Chengdu city. Was reading about bus 300 but I did not see it. Bus trip cost 12 RMB and comes with insurance, although it seems lost in my mind how we will claim our own insurance should something untowardly happens along the way. As with any bus in china, this bus even comes with its own tour guide. In my half baked putong hua, sounds like its 30 minutes away. Good. Nap time.
Spent the afternoon walking around Chengdu and there is a nice street where everything is old and has a market. Naturally my leica came out to play there. Chengdu definitely looks more refined than other cities in China, other than Shanghai and Beijing of course. Its quite obvious this is not a poor place.
Everywhere you go in Chengdu there are hotpot restaurant. I'm tempted to try them but I travelled alone so it will be wasteful to gobble down a whole load of soup with floating chilies. But I promised myself I need to try it or I have never been to Sichuan.
Language: I swear I don't have too much of an issue with the local Sichuanese dialect, at least I understand it as much as I do putonghua, which is not too bad, but people I meet here sometimes tell me its difficult to understand locals. The dialect sounds like a bastardized version of putonghua in a song singing way.
Staying at Sim's Cozy Hostel in the north of Chengdu. Corny name but met Mr Sim himself and a very helpful guy. Had a chat with him to find out the best itinerary for my next week in Sichuan. So the plan now seems to be 4 days in Rilong around siguniang shan and a day in Danba, before returning here for a night and then the long bus trip to Jiuzhaigou National Park. His place can book bus tickets for 20 RMB commission and I'm sure for many other things in this area. Good to not have to run around to get tickets.
9 November 2008, Chengdu to Rilong: Awake early in the morning at 5:30 am and before long, left my main backpack at the hostel and made it to Chadianzi bus station to Siguniang Shan. Taxi driver was a local with bad teeth and cab smelling of strong local cigarette smoke. Very chatty but seems to be honest. Chadianzi is quite a distance outside Chengdu to the north west of the city. By the time I got there, there is a sizeable crowd outside the station before 6 am. Looks like the waiting hall opens only after 6. Anyway, will continue this post on the dedicated Siguniang post.
Continued in Part 2...
15-16 November 2008: Arrived in Chengdu from Danba in another bus station. This is a small little one south of Chadianzi and west of town inside the ring road. Never bothered to do any research on its name.
It was time to stop a taxi and go to the hostel and make myself comfortable and pick up the ticket I ordered for tomorrow's trip to Jiuzhaigou. The night of the 15th was the time to pamper myself and go have some full texmex dinner. There is one recommended by Sim's cozy at the west gate of Sichuan university.
Finally getting free Wifi, it was time to send out all my phone pictures onto flickr while eating.
After an evening recalling my trip to the coordinator who recommended me the trip to Siguniang, it was time to repack clean clothes and get a hot shower before heading out the door at 7 am to Chengdu's xinnanmen station to Jiuzhaigou on the 8am bus at the tourist bus station. Sounds corny but its just like any other bus station and the bus looks the same as well.
19 November 2008: Back in Chengdu from Jiuzhaigou. Got off the bus in the north of Chengdu, and fired up my GPS and realised the hostel is only 2 km away. A short walk and half hour later I'm back. Am too tired after the 10hrs bus ride where I went thru 7 hours of War and Peace on audiobook so had a simple dinner at the hostel and started preparing for the day trip in Chengdu tomorrow. I admit I didn't spend too much time in Chengdu proper, and it is just like any other large Chinese cities except this one is cleaner and doesn't look as cramped.
20 November 2008: My last day in Chengdu and it is time to visit the Giant Panda Research Center, something not to be missed by anyone coming here. How can you not see Pandas here? The day tour is arranged courtesy of the hostel using their own car. For 80RMB, I get entrance fee included and a guide plus transport to the park. It should be possible to get a taxi there or bus, but considering the getting on and off, I think 80RMB is quite worth it.
Morning is the best time to go, 9 am is feeding time. For pandas that means they get to spend their energy in the morning crawling to the bamboo and actually eating them. There are 3-4 pandas to enclosure and obviously plenty of foreigners there with cameras. Usually I only get to see 1 or 2 in action, either wrestling or eating bamboo, and the rest would be sleeping. Being the famous sloths that they are, their sleeping style are quite interesting. Sometimes perched on a tree branch, or lying spread eagle on the ground. Interesting creature. Very high on the cute factor. In a while the Cantonese tourists would arrive and scare the pandas to sleep with their loud conversations.
Then its time to move on to the baby panda station. Photos are not allowed but with my leica M6, I snapped anyway masking the shutter sound with coughs. It was a cold morning! On 2 joined cots, about 8 baby pandas with coats of fur already grown, sized like a medium sized fat dog would be sleeping, reminding me of the panda mascot on some of the current ANA aeroplanes... Like in a flying panda position. For little girls this would be the best place to work in the whole world, job being to pick up the baby panda one by one, stroking them and cuddle them for the tourists to see behind glass. There's even an armchair to sit down while stroking the animal.
Next would be the red panda enclosure. it was difficult to get a good picture of them as we had a large group of rowdy chinese school students coming through, the panda looking confused with all the commotion. One of the guy in my group always wanted to hold one, so a 'donation' of 200 RMB gets it done. I volunteered to man his dslr while he gets to feet the red panda apples while cuddling it. Apparently not too far from 200 RMB will get you a photo op with a giant panda and the baby pandas will cost a little more, 400 or upwards. They will make you don a surgical suit and latex glove before touching them.
Then there's a video presentation and a museum, but hey, its not a tourist center till you see those isn't it? I breeze through then as soon as possible. Started at 830am and by 1130am the trip was over, happy to have seen my first live panda. And finally those animals will two repeating single syllable names are no longer foreign to me.
Back in Chengdu its time to burn some time in the afternoon. As I have not taken breakfast nor lunch, I grabbed bus number 1 across to the other side of the ring road to the south and found a restaurant where I ordered dry chilli noodles. As it was not enough, a second bowl of spicy beef noodles was in order. With a bowl of sweet dumplings the total cost was only 17 RMB. Cheap.
Next was time to go to the only computer center in Chengdu, not to look for computers of course but to look for some LR44 batteries for my leica M6 meter. 4 of those made locally cost 8 RMB. Now I have juice for the meter before my next leg of the journey.
I confess I do not plan to spend too much time in Chengdu. It was never in the plan. Man made modern things do not interest me. Nor is the largest buddha statue in the world and so on. Only pandas are in the plan for this trip and at 7 pm I will be on my way out, flying off to Guilin.
Move on to part 2 of this article...