Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chengdu (aka- Panda Extravaganza)


This story really begins about 3 1/2 years ago with me sitting in our living room watching the Travel Channel and screaming across the house to Julie about holding a panda.  It’s all right here.

China has eluded each time it came up on the schedule and when we finally got it, all I thought about was that I was finally getting to hug a panda.  Seriously.

#1 on my life list is officially crossed off!!!  And so is #70, although I’ve added like 7 new ones.  I digress.  

We spent about 6 hours at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding on Saturday…







Yeah. 6 hours of pandas- it was beyond incredible!!!!  I mean, look at this guy…


Are you kidding me?? I can barely handle the cuteness of this photo, so you can imagine what I was like seeing it in person.  I thought my head might explode at any moment from sheer joy.

We were the very first in line to do the holding.  Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite as planned. We were disappointed  because we weren’t told until we got into the room (and had paid a lot of money) that we couldn’t actually hold the panda.  A person had been hurt by a panda and they decided the pandas were much more comfortable sitting on their own.  Fair enough, panda.  Fair enough…



Now, I realize anyone sitting next to a dang panda shouldn’t be complaining.  The thing that bothered us is that we had paid the same price they use to charge for holding a panda and the charge for sitting next to one used to be half of that. And since we were the first ones in a long line, we only got about 10 seconds next to the little guy before being ushered outside.  We’ve just been hustled so many times since arriving in China and well, we’re just tired of feeling cheated all the time. 

As we were about to leave we decided to ask them about it and they eventually (read: after a whole lot of pleading)  let us each have 4 more pictures with another panda.  Hugging 2 baby pandas in one day was more than enough to make up for not physically holding one…



It was just an awesome, awesome day. Awesome.

That night we somehow missed out on what is supposed to be amazing Sichuan food and went to yet another hot pot.  This one being the worst one yet.  The restaurant was a beautiful area of Chengdu though and the majority of us enjoyed walking around the cobbled streets after dinner.  You never know what you’re going to run into in China and in just a few short blocks we saw some bbq-ed rabbit heads for sale, people getting their eyes cleaned with really long metal needle-looking things and I was randomly handed a baby to hold for a picture.  Good times.

Sunday we made our way to Leshan to see the giant Buddha.  It was a 2 hour ride, but totally worth it…


He’s the largest pre-modern statue in the world and the largest carved Buddha anywhere. 

The line to see him was both hilarious and painful.  You are reminded very quickly just how few Western tourists really come to China, especially to cities like Leshan.  A little boy came right up to me and pointed at my face screaming something in Chinese to his mortified parents.  Everyone stared at us like we were aliens.  As the first American they’d ever laid eyes on I found it my duty to represent us as a cheerful, friendly people. What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right? They would stare at me and I would just smile and say “ni hao”.  They would laugh, embarrassed and excited, and say it back with huge smiles on their faces. Moments like this, when two strangers so different and so unknown to one another find common ground through smiles and shared laughter, those are the moments I truly love most about traveling.

The painful part was the crowd (personal space doesn’t exist here) and the snail-pace movement of the line as we made our way down the narrow staircase…


Once you get to the single file area of the stairs it is much more pleasant though…



and being at the foot of this Buddha you can’t help but be in awe of the sheer size…




We ended up getting very lost on our way out and wound up about two kilometers away from where we needed to be. And no, I have no idea how this happened, except to say really bad signage and maze-like staircases don’t usually make for an easy exit. Just as I was on the edge of panic we found ourselves in a fishing village.  It was so pretty out there and through some creative charades we negotiated 3 tuk-tuks to take us back to the ticket office.  As we sped along through the village and then through the busy highway on this rickety little tuk-tuk we were quickly reminded how getting lost can lead to the best unexpected experiences…



This was by far my favorite weekend in China.  Obviously, the pandas had a lot to do with it, but I think they’re all going to be amazing going forward.  We’ve got a friend coming in from Atlanta (yay!!!) this Friday and we’re headed off to Guilin this weekend to float down the river and hopefully see some rice terraces! Can’t wait!!

Pics from the weekend…

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