Trip Start Aug 31, 2008
47Trip End Apr 30, 2009
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Where I stayed
It was a rather nice night out for the moon festival and knowing how packed the train-station waiting rooms are, we elected to spread out a large plastic bag and set out camp outside of the train-station. I picked up some snacks from a variety store nearby, as well as a large Hans beer. What I thought was dried papaya fruit, turned out to be "jerked sweet potato" but it actually tasted fairly similar to what I was expecting. I believe that the beer was the cheapest I have yet purchased, at only 3.5 RMB for 600 mls
We decided to head to the waiting room about 30 minutes before the train was due and every seat seemed to be taken. This also happened to be the first train that was late, although only by about 15 minutes. Once we boarded the train, we soon figured out that our seats were in different compartments, at least in the same cart. We were both bunked up with the members of an extended family so at least we knew our stuff was pretty safe from a security perspective.
We both had the bottom bunks of the hard-sleeper variety and the family had already preoccupied our beds for their own use (eating, sleeping, etc.) There was one small girl that the whole family simply adored, because she seemed to have absolutely no rules and did whatever she pleased. She was very excited to be on the train and was singing and yelling until around 11 PM. Lisa and I shared her bed and watched "3:10 to Yuma" (great movie) and then watched some Oz. Everybody was curious about what we were doing, including the train security, so we decided that watching Oz was probably not the best idea and watched Lost instead. By midnight we were both tired enough to go to bed.
This family only had one moderate snorer, so we were quite happy in that department. I slept quite well until I was woken up by the train security at 6 AM
The family was up by 6 AM and had no intentions of going back to sleep. They sang songs and hollered as they ate their breakfast, using my bed as a bench while I was trying to sleep. It is a good thing that I am a hard sleeper because they were constantly tapping me and even spilt some water (I hope) on me. I was still a little concerned that security was concentrating on me though, so I woke up each time they disturbed me.
Lisa didn't have it quite as bad as me, but told me that the little girl decided to play with her toes in the wee hours of the morning and these parents didn't like to discipline their little girl, so it was allowed. The worst part of the trip for me was when the mother decided to pick at her feet and cut her toe nails all over the floor. This lasted for at least a half an hour and left me feeling ill. Although the customs of China are quite different than in Canada, most of the people we have run in to have been very kind and considerate towards us
Fortunately things turned for the better once we got off of the train. We were greeted by a representative of Mix Hostel at the station entrance and they actually paid for a taxi to take us to the hostel (9 RMB). It was 5 RMB to get in the taxi and then 1 RMB every once in a while. Considering how cheap this was, I suspect we will be taking the buses less frequently than we had until this point. I had paid attention to the rates posted on the taxis previously though, and it has gotten considerably cheaper on our way through China. In Shanghai, it was 4 RMB; Beijing was 2 RMB; Xi'an was 1.5 and now Chengdu is only 1 RMB. They don't post the starting rates on their doors though, so I'm not too sure how they have changed.
Once we arrived at our hostel, we booked a double with A/C for 100 RMB/night. We were both feeling rather grubby from the 16 hour train ride, so first thing was a shower and shave (for me). This time our room does not have a private bathroom, but the communal showers are very clean and the showers had great pressure with hot water. Shortly after we were cleaned up we headed down to the restaurant in the hostel for some Sichuan cuisine.
I ordered a pork and green pepper dish, that was not labeled as "spicy" but it was still quite spicy and absolutely delicious (15 RMB). I will have to look up what Lisa ordered, because I am sure that I will order it myself. It was labeled as "spicy" but Lisa got them to make it with just a little spice. Her dish was also 15 RMB, but we noticed the beer here was very cheap. They have a brand that we have not yet tried for 4 RMB for a large bottle and the large Tsingtao beers at 6 RMB.
After our meal we went for a walk through Chengdu and soon discovered the old city which is a tourist area that still looks very traditional. We were both rather tired though so within an hour we headed back for home. We found some ice-cream treats along the way that were only 0.5 RMB each. Considering it is hot and humid here I think we will be eating lots of these treats.
We actually fell asleep for almost 4 hours and it was 8 PM by the time we got back to consciousness. We decided to try the hostel food again, only this time I got a spicy noodle soup (8 RMB) and Lisa got a fried rice dish (12 RMB). The soup was seriously spicy and I am still sweating when I think about it. It was also absolutely considering the price and I could barely finish it. I was really looking forward to the food of Sichuan and so far it has not been disappointing. I plan to find even spicier dishes in the days ahead. There is a restaurant nearby that specializes in serving rabbit's head; I doubt I get brave enough to sample that though.
I am pretty much caught up to where we are with our trip now. There is a nice gated off garden area at the front of the hostel with a porch full of pillows for seating. We have spent the last few hours chilling on this porch, drinking a couple of Tsingtao beers and using the free Internet (which seems faster than what we had in the last two cities surprisingly). There has been mice (and/or other small creatures) scurrying around the roof and the bamboo trees and we hear many bats feasting on the mosquitoes over our heads. It is nearly midnight though and tomorrow we want to book a tour to the panda bear breeding center nearby, so I will pick up this story again soon.
We did not end up going to the Panda breeding center the following day as planned because it was raining when we got up around 6:30 AM. I didn't get a great sleep the night before, because it rained overnight and the roof had a leak directly over where I slept in the bed. I woke up to dripping water on my arm, but it only dripped a few drops a few times a minute and all of our electronics were safe. I just moved a little closer to Lisa and made it through to the morning.
Sept 21, 2008
We didn't really do much on the following day, other than laze around the hostel drinking beer and fruit juices and sampling Sichuan food dishes. Lisa met a Buddhist nun that gave her some type of greeting with a special type of handshake. I have left too much time in between writings to remember any particular details of this day, but the next day sticks out much better in my mind. One detail that I do remember is that we moved rooms, from the third floor to the second floor (where there was no chance of a leaking roof.)
We woke up very early the next day, so that we could make it to the Panda Breeding Center early enough to see them being fed. We have read that this is the best time to see the pandas, as they generally like to sleep the rest of the day away. We were up and out the door for 7:00 AM and started making our way to the main road where we could catch the 902 tourist bus that went to the pandas. We had looked ahead of time to see where we could catch this bus, but we did not observe that the first bus left downtown at 8 AM.
Since we had an hour to kill, and it was the first sunny day of our stay in Chengdu, I decided to go back to the old part of town to take a few pictures. I didn't take more than one or two before I noticed a Buddhist nun sitting down next to Lisa and speaking with her. I asked her if it was okay to take a picture and she seemed very happy to pose with Lisa. After that she started talking with me and followed us around talking for the next half hour.
We wandered through the streets of the old town and made our way to McDonalds, the Nun sharing stories with us the whole way. She was one of the happiest people that I've seen in my life; constantly laughing, smiling and saying "thank you" (in Chinese of course, she didn't speak a word of English). She showed us some bracelets and offered us a couple of them, but they were much too small for Lisa's wrist. Once we were at McDonalds, we tried to offer her something to drink but she declined. While Lisa was in McDonalds, I believe she offered me some money. We tried to give her some money as well, but she would not accept anything from us.
Due to the language barrier, I am really not sure what happened early that morning. She made several motions that indicated she was interested in my earrings. She posed for pictures sort of like she was from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and generally seemed to be having a lot of fun. I wish I had the opportunity to print out some of the pictures so that I could give her one, but we did not bump into this Nun again.
By 8:40 the first #902 bus came along the road and after paying (2 RMB/each) we were on our way to see the Pandas. Most of the other passengers were Chinese, but they got off at various places (including a large beautiful park) before the Panda Breeding Center. It took us until around 9:30 before we were finally at the front gate, which was the time we heard the Giant Pandas got fed. Fortunately there wasn't any type of queue for tickets, so we were able to pay our 30 RMB and sprint for the Giant Panda pavilion.
It took us about 10 minutes to find the right spot, and there were a number of Giant Pandas all lined up about 10 feet away from where a group of tourists were gawking them. They were feeding on the bamboo sprouts in various positions and it couldn't really have been any better for taking pictures. A couple tour groups came and went while Lisa and I shot pictures and video of the Pandas that seemed to almost be posing for us. I was very glad that we had decided to take the bus ourselves instead of joining a tour group; otherwise we would not have had nearly as much time in this perfect spot. The tour actually cost 80 RMB, so we saved ourselves more than half the cost by doing it on our own as well.
After an hour or so, the pandas were fed something from one of the keepers. Since Giant Pandas only eat bamboo, it must've been bamboo, but it really looked like processed as they were cubes of dark matter. The pandas all knew what was coming and reached out to grab their own. These animals were so friendly with each other that there was not any competition for the first feeding. Instead they cuddled together and waited for their turn.
After watching the adults feed (and taking over one hundred pictures of the process), we headed off to the next pavilion where they kept the baby Giant Pandas. There were several in cribs (behind glass windows) that were only a few weeks to months old. We were not allowed to take pictures of these little guys; probably because of too many dummies that left their flashes on. Lisa snuck out the camcorder though and stealthy grabbed some footage. I am not sure how well it'll turn out, but with a guard watching us constantly; it was as good as we could do.
At this same pavilion, there were a few other giant pandas that were a year or two old. It was with these pandas that you could pay to be let into the cage and actually have one sit with you so you could take some pictures. The cost was really expensive, at 1200 RMB, but there was still seemingly an endless supply of older American tourists willing to spend the money for a few minutes of joy. 1200 RMB was about as more than we spent in our five days in Chengdu though, so obviously this was not in our budget.
We eventually wandered away from the Giant Pandas to the next Pavillion, Red Pandas #2. Red Pandas were not nearly as easy to photograph as the Giant Pandas, so I spent quite a bit of time here trying to grab the perfect shot. During this time, we saw a red panda try to hunt two peacocks that were in its cage. We also saw two of the red pandas get into a bit of a territorial dispute, although it didn't too vicious. Their behavior somewhat contrasted the giant pandas that all seemed to thoroughly love eachother. These guys did not cuddle and hug each other; nor did they pose for pictures like the giant pandas did.
It was sort of fortunate that I spent so long looking for the right picture, because right as we were ready to leave, one of the keepers approached Lisa and asked if she'd like to have some time with one of the Red Pandas. At only 50 RMB, this was a much more affordable option than the giant pandas, so she accepted and followed the keeper to the back of the pavilion. We would not have found this deal without the keepers offer as there wasn't any signs or crowds to indicate the opportunity.
Lisa got a few minutes with the red panda on her lap, feeding it several slices of apple, which the red pandas seemed to really enjoy. I managed to take about a dozen pictures with the good camera and grab some video with both the instant camera and the HD camcorder. Lisa was beaming from the experience and it was well worth the 50 RMB cost. It is good to know that this money went to breeding these endangered species, rather than enriching a private commercial enterprise.
There were many more buildings at the Panda Breeding Center, but it was the hottest day so far in Chengdu and we had already seen more than we had hoped to. The tour groups would've spent half their day at these other buildings (panda museum, etc) and we felt fortunate that we could spend our time how we wanted to. We made our way to the entrance and after waiting for about five minutes we were back on an air-conditioned bus back to our hostel.
By the time we got back, the sun was high in the sky, which is quite unusual for Chengdu during this time of the year. It was also very hot and humid, so we went back to the bamboo garden for some cold beer and delicious Sichuan cuisine. A European girl came by and told us about a dance party at her club for the following day. We decided we would go and so did a couple other people at the hostel. We ventured out to a local restaurant for dinner and then spent the night chatting with our fellow travelers.
The next day we decided to take a city bus to downtown Chengdu. The bus was only 1 RMB, but was not air-conditioned. The route it traveled looked extremely long for this price, but we only had to go for a few kms before we hit the downtown area. From downtown we wandered around, but there wasn't too much to see. It was mostly a modernized city and the smog/fog was quite severe. Even the shopping was not great as the electronics mall had similar pricing to what I would see in Toronto.
Lunch was quite an interesting affair this day, as I finally hit some food that was not very good. We had grown so accustomed to finding great food that I was feeling braver and went to a popular food stall outside of a mall. Lisa pointed to some yummy looking dishes that got put into a pita like shell for 5 RMB. Lisa tried one bite, than I had one bite, but neither of us wanted to swallow what was in our mouth.
We threw it out and then I went to the next food stall over where they were serving meat on skewers. I used the Chinese <-> English phrase book to ask for "chicken" and I even heard somebody say it in English. This sounded promising, and they looked great, so I ordered two for 3 RMB each. I noticed all the local young girls were eating these with chili sauce, so I did the same. They looked great, but unfortunately you cannot always tell what something will taste like from looks alone. I believe it was likely chicken neck that I tried to eat. I did manage to eat most of the first one (Lisa didn't want hers for some reason) and then I tried to give the second one away to a man collecting empty plastic bottles. He grabbed my empty bottle, but did not want the food, so it got thrown out as well.
After these two awful meals, I decided to play it safe and we headed over to McDonalds. It is nice to know that a hamburger from McDonalds will always taste the same and after a couple of these I was able to forget that gristly chicken and awful sandwich from earlier. McDonalds also happens to be air-conditioned, so the 5.5 RMB hamburgers are a good deal. We walked all the way back to Mix's hostel from downtown over the next couple of hours and were exhausted by the time we got back.
After a nap, shower and shave, we headed down to the hostel lobby to gather up everybody heading to the club that night. We noticed that the party didn't get started until 10PM, so we ordered some Tsingtaos (6 RMB each) and watched some Oz on the laptop. The Aussie girl that had been so excited about the party earlier no longer felt well and bailed out. The others followed suit, so by the time we were ready to go, it was just Lisa and I going.
We took a cab to Club Paname which cost around 12 RMB and it seemed to be in the middle of a clubbing district. I noticed a Hooters restaurant, but Lisa didn't want to look inside. Chinese girls are not really known for their hooters and Hooters is a restaurant that is not really known for its good food, but it seemed to be a pretty busy place none-the-less.
Club Paname was not a big place and it was filled to near capacity by the time we arrived. The flyer had advertised a 10 RMB cover-charge, but it turned out to be free to get in. The music was a combination of different styles, ranging from hip-hop to house to grunge, all the while with DJs scratching records in the background. Shortly after Lisa picked us two small local drafts (10 RMB/each), we saw Norri, a Scotsman that we had hung out with in the Xi'an hostel.
The bar was filled with some of the dorkiest looking white guys that made it to China as well as what must've been all the best looking girls of Chengdu. The white guys were dancing in style that embarrassed anybody of European descent, but with ear-to-ear grins because the beautiful Chinese women were all over them. Nori and I took turns buying rounds of beer, which ranged from 15 RMB for a large local draft to 25 RMB for a large Carlsberg until after 2 AM. It was quite a sight and I was amazed at how well the local girls could dance to the house music (despite the drunk white guys falling on them and the furniture).
The taxi back was a little cheaper and quicker than the ride there, probably because it was quite late out and the traffic actually subsided. By the time I was back in our room, I knew I was too drunk to not feel it the next day but at least I was sober enough to realize the dilemma (and drank lots of water).
The next day we woke up around 11 AM and we had to check out for noon. After some Advils, we were pretty much back to our normal state and we quickly gathered our stuff and stored it in Mix's storage area. We spent the rest of the day eating lots of rice dishes and watching TV and movies in the Bamboo Garden area. We found out that there was a bus (#300) that would pick us up nearly in front of the hostel and take us all the way to the airport for 6 RMB. It took about an hour but we were not pressed for time anyhow.
I will truly miss the cooking of Chengdu, except for the two awful dishes from the downtown mall. Some of our favorite dishes included the "beef and potato" (spicy dish, bite-sized pieces of beef, potato was shredded into thin pieces and fried in oil, served with rice) and "spicy chicken with peanuts" (very spicy chili peppers, roasted peanuts, bite sized pieces of chicken, spring onions, green peppers, and diced celery.)
Chengdu has a very nice and modern international airport and we arrived so early that we had time to watch most of a movie that I had downloaded, Forbidden Kingdom. The plane left on time and it was a smooth ride with Sichuan Airways. We used a website that an Aussie girl shared with us, called 9588 Online Travel (http://ticket.9588.com/FlightTicket/Main_E.aspx) to book the tickets at a 70% discount, so the cost was $151 for both tickets.