Pandas!

Trip Start Jul 22, 2011
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13
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Trip End Aug 12, 2011


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Where I stayed
Li River Retreat, Yangshuo

Flag of China  , Sichuan,
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

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At the breakfast buffet the dishes clearly reflect that we are in Sichuan province with items such as marinated lotus root in orange juice, brine duck and duck heart & tongue with soy sauce. There are also Japanese items such as miso soup.  We opt for a simple breakfast after last night's feast and choose the western options of eggs, pancake and fruit.

In the car, we talk with Vivian about last night’s dinner experience.  She tells us about how people eat in Guandong Province eat ants and newborn mice.  We attribute this eating style to perhaps years of famine and the need to find sustenance in any way possible.  We are glad that we were not that challenged at dinner last night!

We are off to the pandas!  As we walk in the gate, Vivian tells us that she worked here for several years, so we have no finer guide with us.  Pandas sleep in the heat of the day so we are here in the morning when they are supposed to be alert.  Our first panda was the Giant Panda and she was lazying about.  Actually that’s what they all seem to be doing.  All in all we saw this morning 13 pandas - 3 giant panda, 6 red and 4 one year olds playing in the nursery.  We learn that there are a total of only 1596 wild and captive pandas.  It is said that pandas are living fossils since their species have 80 million years where most species have a life span of 5 million years.  This puts a perspective on time, doesn’t it?  China has tried to re-introduce pandas back into the wild but not successfully.   We watched the panda movie that is really well done, but it was politically correct and what is not said is as important as what is said.  As in many areas of the world, the panda or animal population is decreasing because of encroachment on their land and food supply.  I make a note in my journal to look up the number of animal and plant species the world is losing each day, as well as the number of languages that are being lost. 

At our next stop, both Harvey & I struggled to remember the 48 session lectures on Chinese history from the Teaching Company in which we learned about the Three Kingdoms Period.  The Wuhou Temple was built in memory of Zhuge Liang, prime minister and the Emperor Liu Bei in 1672.  It was fascinating to see the large sculptures of administrators and generals during the period as well as inscribed stone tablets dating back to 805 AD. The engraved calligraphy on the tablets were just beautiful.  Walking around the grounds and through the archways was really pleasant.   When we walked into one section it was as if someone turned on the stereo and the sound of crickets surrounded us!    In the gift shop, large carvings from wood of dragons and other animals captured our attention. 

Our last stop in Chengdu is to learn about the silk brocade, called Shu Brocade, that is produced here.  It is considered a "national intangible cultural heritage".  Here we learn that in ancient times, silkworm poo on the ground was used to make tea and is said to be good for the eyes.  It is eaten for beer snacks.  Silkworms in cocoons make 1 km of thread.  Wow.  The workshop had someone working a hand loom and someone doing the embroidery.  Their skill & attention to detail was impressive to watch.  We didn’t have any intention to buy anything and there certainly wasn’t any pressure, but we purchased a silk brocade comforter with silk tufting as a gift to ourselves.  Everything in China is negotiable, so regardless of the asking price bargaining is the norm. We think we got a good deal, but in any case we will have it as a memory of our time here in China.  They manage to pack it into a bundle small enough to fit in our luggage by using a vacuum cleaner to suck all the air out of the package.  Clever.  Of course when we got home the comforter was not really American king size.  So after a few emails we have shipped it back for an exchange.  Hopefully all will go well.  By the way, USPS is one quarter to price of the other options for shipping to China.

Before we know it, we are in the Chengdu airport bound for Guilin and ultimately Yangshuo where we will put our heads on our pillows tonight.  While we are waiting for our flight check-in, Vivian & I go to the KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to purchase something to take on the plane for dinner.  This place is crowded and bustling!  At home we don’t eat fast food, but we thought it would be fun to try it here.  I purchase popcorn chicken that I squirrel away for when we are on the plane.

Two hours before the flight we can check in our luggage.  As we start through security we notify them of Harvey’s medication.  Once again we go through the ordeal of trying to explain that it should not go into our luggage.  This time the security personnel are insistent, so Harvey requests a supervisor.  After a few minutes a very attractive young woman named Tu Wu comes over and starts discussing our situation with Vivian.  Things are not going well so Harvey jumps into the discussion, dictionary in hand.  We start looking at the label to check the contents and unfortunately the medication is alcohol based.  It turns out that if the medication is taken orally it is ok.  But if it is applied to the skin it is a problem.  They took out a knife and we put a little of the medication on the knife.  They used a lighter to ignite the gel and said we could not take it on board. 

By this time Harvey is starting to speak, I wouldn’t call it fluent, but animated.  Tu Wu agrees to let us bring one bottle on board but we have to pack the rest.  Of course our bags are long gone so we hope they will relent.  On the contrary they walk us back to the counter and instruct the airline to retrieve our bags so we can pack the bottles.  By now our two hour timeframe has shrunk to less than an hour.  Tu Wu and Harvey continue to discuss the situation, and who knows what else, while we wait.  After about 30 minutes Harvey tells Tu Wu that if we miss the flight we will stay at her house!  She doesn’t know what to do with him.  At this point we are down to 20 minutes.  Finally the bags arrive and we pack the medicine.  By this time Tu Wu and Harvey are getting along pretty well.  She actually invites us over for dinner when we return to Chengdu.  She only lives about 15 minutes from the airport.  She personally escorts us through security and we are off to Guilin.  

We board our flight around 8 PM.  Aside from the first flight, the planes have all been modern and comfortable.  Even on a short flight there will be a minimum of a bottle of water and a sandwich.  We take out our KFC chicken and bite into it.  Wait for it, there’s a kick!  What did we expect in Sichuan province?  We take a bite into our last peach.  It’s big and juicy unlike any other peach we have ever had.  Yum.

We were met at the Guilin Airport by our China Highlights guide and taken to meet our driver for the 1.5 hour drive to Yangshuo.  Since it is so late and our guide has a group in Guilin the next morning we decide that it really is not necessary for him to escort us to Yangshuo.  After midnight we arrive at our small countryside hotel on the outskirts of town.  We put our heads on the pillow and fall off to sleep instantly.

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