My overnight train journey from Xi’an to Chengdu passed, somewhat unusually for me, uneventfully. I even managed to get some sleep, despite being on the top bunk and therefore about 2 inches away from the aircon. Still, on the bright side, I didn’t need to blow-dry my hair in the morning. Every cloud. The only slight hitch came when I waited and waited at the train station for my promised free pick-up from the hostel I’d booked at – even more of a hitch when I phoned and they had no record of me. Still, they had rooms available and they honored the 10y deposit I’d paid, so all worked out in the end. The hostel, called The Loft, is quite a cool place, renovated by three young people, it has free internet access, a big loft area at the top, quite a nice place to stay.
However, I didn’t get much sleep the first night as I had to be up at the crack of dawn (don’t worry, she didn’t mind) to go and visit the nearby Panda sanctuary. Basically, they start feeding the pandas at 9am and, after they’re done at about 10am, they fall into a bamboo-induced stupor for the rest of the day. I can identify with them, for sure. We got there well before 9, and spent the first few minutes just cooing and oohing at the bears who were up already. They’re so cute and also, well, wierd. Seriously, it could have been a guy in a Panda Suit (it might well have been). They’re so strangely agile in the way they use their paws, and they sit up to eat, leaning on logs and posts. So funny. My favourite moment was when we saw the young adults (amusingly called sub-adults), who act like typical teenagers from what I can see. Two were up a frame that had been constructed for them, but another one, climbing up, decided he wanted to be where they were, so pushed them out of the way, forcing one to shuffle backwards along a pole. Then they tried to get down a ladder but just couldn’t master it, despite giving it a go headfirst, backwards, one leg at a time, two legs at a time… any which way, they just couldn’t do it. Plus, any activity just gets them so tired they have to sit and pant for about 10 minutes. Again, I identify with them. In my next life, I’m coming back as a panda, definitely. Think about it – you’re fed, you sleep, you head-butt your friends, you have your love-life decided for you by the government, and you get to be on ‘Newsround’. What could be better?
As at the Pinnewala Orphanage in Sri Lanka, I started off with no restraint whatsoever on the photo-front. Luckily for you, though, my battery died after about 10 minutes, so the pain will be limited to about 10 shots. They really are fabulous creatures, and I feel lucky to have got so close to so many of them.
Later that day, I got chatting to Carmen, a German girl staying at my hostel with her boyfriend who is from Tibet. Carmen is 6 months pregnant, and is having her baby in China so she can stay with him. They’re a lovely couple, and I really wish them happiness in the future. She’s still trying to decide on names for her baby. Following the recent examples of the Beckhams (Brooklyn) and the Paltrow-Martins (Apple), I suggested Chengdu Lychee, and I don’t think it was discounted out of hand. Carmen also took me to a lovely place for dinner, where we stuffed ourselves silly on big bowls of tomato and egg noodles for ridiculously cheap prices.
I was leaving the next morning, so didn’t really get to see a huge amount of Chengdu. However, I’m happy to give a generalised opinion, as always, and I can say that it’s a big, sprawling, hot, polluted industrial city. However, it does have its charms – the Pandas, for one, but also a lovely park, Renmin Park, where I sat one day for a couple of hours with my book and had much tea at the teahouse there. The teahouse culture is one of my favourite things about China so far. You order your tea, usually between about 5-10yuan for a standard brew, and then they bring you a big flask of water for unlimited free top-ups. Most of the other customers are locals playing cards or Chinese chess, and it’s such a lovely way to pass the time.
Still, I dragged myself away from the tea (and one of the best snacks so far – huge, fist-size dumplings, filled with cabbage and minced pork, for about 3p each), and left Chengdu. And I was most excited about my next stop, a 4-night cruise on the Yangtze River. But first I had to get to Chongqing, where the boat left from…
Tags: China, Travel