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Pandamonium – by all of us

by on July 20, 2016

We’re in Xi’an now, but we had quite an excellent time in Chengdu.

We’ve all been excited to blog about it, so let’s all put our spin on the day and do an extra long blog.  We can’t get all the photos we would want into this post (given that we’re hacking to be able to post at all), but there are some.

David’s view:

You may have never heard of it, but Chengdu is China’s 5th largest city (14 million), and it’s quite a combination of two thousand years of history-meets-the new China. Two major impressions that we all got immediately were:

– The apartment buildings. OMG, there are hundreds (thousands?) of 35-story towers, in huge complexes, everywhere inside a one-hour radius of the city center. It feels like a District in the Hunger Games!

– The insanity on the roads. Any square foot of a street or expressway can, at any time, be occupied by a car (no matter which lane it was supposed to be in), a bike, a scooter holding a family of 4, a Mom pushing a stroller across the road through traffic, a 3-wheel bicycle-truck loaded with old CRT TVs going the wrong direction, a street cleaner sweeping the road with a straw broom, etc. It’s odd that they don’t drive all that fast…. In fact, they use their right foot as if they’re trying to squeeze every mile out of each drop of gas. But when it comes to turning or passing or just navigating, it is a constant game of “chicken”. NEVER look the other driver in the eye, honk your horn all the time (whether you have a reason or not), and just go for the spot you want to take and trust that nobody else will take it. It’s just stunning that there aren’t more accidents, but we did see 5 fender benders in 45 minutes on the freeway, so it does happen.

Sunday was Panda Day. We visited one of the (4 or 5?) dedicated Reserves for pandas in China. This one isn’t for breeding, it’s more of a “retirement home” (they called it a “hotel”) for pandas that can’t make it in the wild. We went “all in” on the experience (Happy Birthday, Anna) and got very up close and personal with many pandas. Quite a difference compared to waiting in line at the San Diego Zoo to see one from 100 feet away,

– We got the “Volunteer Experience”, which let us help the keepers with their chores. Which means we scooped poop, pulled weeds, hosed out the enclosures, smacked bamboo on the ground to shatter it so it would be easier to eat, etc. In return we got to hand-feed a bunch of them.

– Then we all did the “hold a Panda” experience. It wasn’t exactly holding, but as Renee’s sister said, “wow, they’re bigger than I thought, I’m sure glad they’re vegetarians”. It was truly amazing to look a big bear in the eyes from 8 inches away.

All in all, pretty special.

Day 2, our guide gave us an amazing taste of the city, from ancient Buddhist temples, to great food (Chinese Chinese food, especially Sichuan, is a LOT more flavorful than the American version, but the kids did great), to massages, ending with an “Opera” with many flavors of things they used to entertain the emperor with.  And many fun little memories along the way.

We would never in a million years have had this day without our guide, Ling, and three thumbs up to her.

Day 3, we spent a few hours at a panda breeding facility, and saw all the little tiny babies that have been born this summer. Adorable!

Another impression: China is very good at building very very big things…. Freeways (especially interchanges, with 10 lanes 200 feet in the air), factories, etc. Along the freeway we saw a factory complex that just kept going and going… and of course we wondered what the heck it was, until we saw the “Foxconn” logo… it’s where they make iPads apparently. And, this convention/office/shopping/entertainment center is the largest standalone building in the world.

Alex’s view:

We had a very good time in Chengdu, China. Unfortunately, WordPress is blocked in China, so it was hard to blog.  Anyway, here is a roundup of what happened.

Chengdu is one of the largest cities in China, and is a massive center for Foxconn manufacturing. Computers and other electronics are made in Chengdu including the iPad. In 2013 United started operating a nonstop flight from SFO to Chengdu (UA 8).

On our first day, we flew in on Air China to Chengdu airport. We did not do a lot that first day, because we were tired and our hotel was outside of the city. We did start to experience a common concept in Chengdu, or, in this case, a lack of a concept. Chengdu drivers do not use lanes. They have them, but people ignore them completely. People drive half in one lane, half in another, and other such tactics to move quickly. This goes for freeways and city streets. Since there was almost a constant stream of honking, just dispersed enough so that I did not get used to it, it could be described as Pandemonium. However, since Chengdu is the home of the Giant Panda (including the animal, bedspreads, and taxis), we shall call it Pandamonium. It was complete, uncontrolled chaos.

On our second day, we went to a panda reserve to be a zookeeper/hold pandas. This was on July 17th, so we went intentionally on Anna’s birthday. Our first thing we had to do was pick up panda poop and clean the cages. It is not as bad as it sounds. I did, however, learn that zookeeper is not the top of the list of things that I want to do when I grow up. We then had to clean out the old bamboo. After all of this, we got to look at some of the pandas. They tended to be older pandas. One of them only had 3 legs. Another one was 140 kilos when she came in, most pandas die at 130 kilos. We did see some in trees, which was really cool. After that, we got to sit next to and hug a panda. It was less soft than I would’ve thought. It felt a little bit spiny, but that may have been since it looked very wet. The panda put its paw on Mom’s leg, and she was very surprised. After all of this, we watched a documentary on pandas. There were lots of very cute clips of pandas, and a couple of clips of pandas giving birth. Did you know that they are only fertile for 2 days a year? We ended the day by cleaning more and breaking bamboo by smacking it on the ground. All in all, the day was really cool.

The next day was even more interesting. We went on a tour of Chengdu with our guide, Ling. (Who likes to be called “Rowling” after J.K.) We started the day by going to a Buddhist temple in the middle of a very crowded area. I loved the architecture with the curved roofs. It was some important festival on the day we were there, so there were lots of people in the temple. It still felt very relaxed. There were amazing Buddha statues, some of which had multiple heads and hands. Also, there was a park which was extremely relaxed. Overall, I loved the temple.

You rub the part of the lion that feels bad on you and it cures your pain.  Mom and Dad both rubbed the knee.

Next, we went to the “wide and narrow street” area. It was a very old market that has been updated, with lots of local shops. Anna got a sugar lollypop where the design you get is chosen by spinning a a spinner. She spun Dragon, which apparently is considered lucky. It was basically solidified sugar in an awesome design. I did notice that there were lots of flags of the Communist Party, probably because it is a good idea to remind people of the ruling party where the people are. There was even one on a Starbucks building.

At the market we had lunch. The lunch was at a restaurant for locals, and it was amazing. The food in the province tends to be very spicy, but we asked for non-spicy. It was spicy, but edible. We had lots of food (for 5 of us with extras), and the total was $18 USD. Overall, it was an amazing deal.
After lunch, we decided to have a Chinese massage of our feet, legs and arms. We asked for soft pressure, but it still was extremely hard. My feet did feel better afterwards and it was a very relaxing hour.
Tibet Town was close to the massage place, so we took a walk through. Tibetans are more religious than people in the rest of China. There were gold Buddha statues in almost every shop, some of them costing as much as a high-end BMW.

After Tibet Town, we went to the People’s Park. At this park, we walked around, went to the oldest Tea House in Chengdu, and had some tea. I had lemon, which was extremely lemony. Dad had chrysanthemum which was extremely chrysanthemummy. 

There was a match-making corner which was not in session, but there were some written advertisements by parents looking for mates for their kids. Most of the choices wanted someone between 1.6-1.7 meters

This one says “Boy born in 1990, 1.69 meters tall, college, owns 2 shops, has house with parking. Looking for girl, younger, university degree, with job in the city.  Call parents at xxxx”

We had Mongolian Hot Pot for dinner. For those of you who do not know what hot pot is, you order raw meat, and cook it in spicy or non-spicy oil. You then dunk the cooked food in more oil before eating. It was really good, but really oily. We asked our guide if she had heard of fortune cookies, since we knew that they were invented in San Francisco, and she had not.
The day ended with a mask-changing opera. There were several parts, but I could not understand it, since everything was in Chinese. There was an amazing hand shadow puppet show, and then the coolest part came. Chengdu is famous for mask swapping and clothes swapping during shows. Basically, someone would wear a yellow gown and some fans would cover them, and about ½ a second later, they would be wearing white. I do not know how this works, but I figured out how the mask swapping works. There were masks and you could see the mask switch without a fan covering them. I think that the actor pulls a string, and then the mask falls down. However, I am not completely sure, and how it works is officially a government secret. Overall, I loved Chengdu.

A few notes from Renee:

Travel in China is challenging…. more than any other country we’ve visited. It is crowded, hot, humid, smelly, chaotic. In particular, landing in Chengdu was quite a departure from Hong Kong and Singapore. No signage in English…which made me glad that we had the hotel pick us up at the airport. The food, as Alex mentioned, is spicy and oh, so oily. We managed a few local meals and both kids did eat some of the local dishes…but only after they were ordered with no spice, which was hard for the cooks.

The pandas were amazing! Getting to sit next to 2 year old Bing Jiang was really something special. The other great thing about being a volunteer for the day was spending a lot time near the pandas. We were assigned to clean the habitat of LingLing, a grumpy old lady at 25 years old. She bit a volunteer last week so we had to be very careful! We didn’t hand-feed her, but we did feed the other 3 pandas.

The weather continues to be very hot and humid…which makes the trip challenging. However it should be less humid as we move on to Xi’an.


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  1. Lucy permalink

    Renee got a massage? I’m shocked! 🙂

  2. Nice to see a new post even though you’re behind the great firewall!

    P.S Did you use tor?

  3. Sofie Vandeputte permalink

    How are the knees, Renee and David? Did the lion do his job? Glad to see
    Renee is not walking with crutches.

  4. Virginia permalink

    Love the Pandas!

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