Chengdu is the China that you imagine. It has old ladies playing mahjong, green tea in tiny cups, many-tiered pagodas with pointed roofs and dragons, pandas galore, a massive Mao statue in Tianfu Square, and Buddhas. It was one of my favorite places in China, and I lived and traveled in China for 2 years! We also went to Sichuan’s wavering opera with lots of colors and mask-changing, and for “cupping” to remove toxins through vacuum sealed cups on our backs. People seemed friendlier there too, or maybe I just had one too many mini cups of green tea! Nearby is the village of Huanglongxi, where they filmed “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” too. Chengdu is also famous for ma-po dou-fu. It’s located in the Sichuan province, which is infamous for insanely spicy hotpot and spicy… well, everything else too. I do miss that numbness that only a Sichuan peppercorn can evoke. Four experiences from the trip stand out in my mind the most.
First, we visited Renmin Gongyu, or People’s Park. It was full of lush plants, bamboo and trees. In the center, there was a little green lake with little rainbow row boats. There were lots of paths winding peacefully though the various stone arches, fish-filled ponds, and forests. There were arched bridges with rounded holes in the center and pagodas with their roofs like fingertips pointed up to the sky. Around every single corner was a quaint tea garden full of elderly people playing mahjong or having tiny cups of green tea. The mahjong tiles make a fun clink against each other as the table is reset. It’s strangely homey. When you drink from the tiny cups, there is an important ceremony of washing them out with tea before drinking out of the cups. It’s a beautiful little dance between fingertips and teacups. We also found a section with stalls of little gimmicky park-appropriate toys, bonsais, and other fair-style goods. Nearby, the paths were lined with twine strung about eye-height. There were papers with calligraphic strokes delicately painted, papers with hand-written pen carefully applied and papers printed from a computer. We later learned
this was like the personals! Old fashioned Chinese match.com! In the park there are also men with a collection of sharp metal tools that will happily and cheaply clean out your ears! They stick their contraptions deep in there and pull out hunks of wax. We declined their services repeatedly. We were very content to sip hot tea and stroll through the peaceful park.
Tourists in China playing word association games would probably answer Chengdu with the word PANDAS! Most tourists visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. You can walk around and see pandas in various sections of bamboo forest, including adorable babies rolling over each other. You can hold a baby panda while wearing a blue poncho for a photo too (in exchange for a serious donation to the cause). My sister and I found out months before our Chengdu trip that we could book in advance to volunteer with the pandas through our hostel, Lazy Bones. We’d been excited just to see the pandas, but this possibility left us bouncing off the walls. Pandas are definitely our combined favorite animal. In DC, we ditched our parents to go with all of the other toddlers to the zoo, exclusively to get a peek at the big lazy beanbag-esque bears. So on the day of our volunteering, we were thrilled and full of energy and enthusiasm. First, we cleaned out the cages in Panda House No. 1 where some of the pandas sleep. We met a star: Wu-yi. Wu-yi means 5-1. He was born only 51 grams, instead of the typical 100. He became the most famous panda in China for surviving against the odds and has starred in many movies. Next in the Panda House, there was a delivery of fresh-baked panda cakes, which we personally sampled. Then we looked for the pandas so we could feed them each a cake on the end of a bamboo pole. It was amazing but the black and white motif really is good camouflage! The 2 teenage twin pandas were the cutest because they would squeak and stand on their hind legs to get their cakes or apples. We also had about a million and 6 questions for our guide/panda-keeper. Did you know that all pandas everywhere belong to China and they can ask for them back at any moment? Did you know that in China, you can call someone a panda to show their plush lifestyle OR as an insult? “You’re being such a panda!” It’s because pandas eat until they’re full, then nap, then eat some more. There are still about 1300 pandas in the wild, mostly in the Sichuan province.
Tune back in next week for more on Chengdu! I loved it too much to fit it all into one post!
Here’s a link to the other Chengdu post.