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April 24, 2014 / windlessly

China Chronicles 4.24- A Weekend in Chengdu

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Here it is. A build up of fantastic new wonders, sights, and thoughts-that-I’ve-already-forgotten from my visit to Chengdu, a renowned city in the southern province of Sichuan- famous for incredibly numb and spicy dishes, equally hot and “spicy” girls (this is a real thing by the way… apparently the whole rest of China agrees that guys and girls from this region are collectively more handsome and pretty than the whole rest of the population), and giant pandas!

We went to several super cool locations, including Mount E’Mei, the Chengdu Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding, and JinLi street. It was actually an incredible trip, the more I think about it- all the delicious meals aside, we got to see so many different things in a very short time. And of course, the company was infinitely hard to come by. There’s something about traveling with a group of other people that makes me really happy- there’s nothing like sitting on an airplane for a couple hours, or hiking up several kilometers of steps, or waking up at 5am to watch the sunrise for bonding with one another. While I was a little disappointed that this program wasn’t completely immersive and I didn’t get to stay with a host family, I am super glad that it’s given me lots of time to get to know everyone else on the trip. Our trip to Chengdu was organized by the BOSP program, and so getting all 20 of us on a plane across the country was quite impressive, and also a big adventure.

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Here is us arriving at the airport in Chengdu and having a tour bus pick us up. Ryan, our program administrator, has really outdone himself with every excursion that we take- there’s always transportation provided for us, complete with water bottles and never-ending packages of Oreos. He does SO much to make sure things run smoothly.

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Here is us at our first hotel:

 

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It was a full day of travel, so we were kind of hungry by the time we arrived there at midnight. KFC does taste better in China.

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The next morning, we woke up early to take another bus to Mount E’Mei, another couple of hours of travel. But the bus wass perfect for card games like Literature, an intense 6-person memory strategy game that is best described as Go-fish on steroids. Everyone seemed to enjoy playing, which made me happy.

Lunch was the perfect break from being on the road for so long:

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20140417_124048And of course, Oreos for desert. There are crazy variations here in China: banana, matcha green tea, and grape, to name a few.
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Here’s the entrance to Mount E’Mei:

20140417_134800Followed by another couple of hours on mini-buses as we circled further and further up the mountain. These drivers were crazy… accelerating up the mountain and passing each other at breakneck speed… IN THE FOG. It was so thick that at one stop when we got off, the road disappeared before we could even see it turn.

20140417_160644We later hiked a little bit and got our first look at the E’Mei monkeys, notorious for being hooligans and super FAT. Apparently with tourists coming so often, these monkeys have learned to drink coffee and eat all sorts of packaged snacks. And they’ve learned just exactly how to exploit the tourists… our tour guide explained that for safety, it was best to stay away from the monkeys. But if they approached you, you were to empty your pockets and show your empty palms, signalling that you had no food on you. I don’t know about everyone else, but I thought the monkeys were pretty cute.

20140417_162305We took a cable car to one of the summits on the mountain, which conveniently also had a hotel. But before retiring, we made sure to visit the Golden Summit housing the largest golden Buddah at Huazang Temple.

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20140417_173611And of course, later that evening, we brought out the Chinese chess board. Sometimes I think that I like playing board games and cards on these trips more than I like the actual trip =P

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Waking up early the next morning to see the sunrise… it was gorgeous. It’s hard to describe what it was like going up to the very summit and looking out at the ocean of clouds… first of all, we were 3,000 meters up, so the air was super thin and I could feel my heart beating pretty rapidly after only a few steps. Waking up and venturing out into the cold wasn’t fun, but once I saw the landscape, it just took my breath away. The temple and Buddha were behind us, beautiful architecture and awe-inspiring landmarks in themselves, but the view made it all worth it.

The wind was pretty strong, but I had James to huddle behind:

Our fingers did freeze after a bit, but only because we were intent on taking so many pictures. It was seriously an amazing experience to be above the cloud cover and to see all the way to the horizon. These pictures don’t do it justice at all (but it goes to show how amazing the human eye is, too).

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After our chilly morning, we ate breakfast and prepared to visit a few other historical sites on Mount E’Mei. That was fine by me… the cable car rides were really something else. It was so peaceful and quiet, and the scenery below us was beyond beautiful.

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Lunch at another restaurant on the mountain- food was delicious. Sichuan food has a good mix of spicy foods, but also freshwater fish and plenty of interesting new dishes that I never tried before.

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The mountain was huge. We took mini buses up and down for several hours in between locations. We easily could have spent several days here.

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More monkeys!

20140418_125243We went for a short 5km hike. There were plenty of small vendors all over the place, but also locations and scenery that were quiet and peaceful:

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I’ll admit that I was pretty exhausted by the end of the hike… too many photoshoots at too many locations really tired me out. Plus the mobs of people often detracted from the still beauty of the nature we were in.

We did occasionally get free time to recuperate, though. Plus we had plenty of bus rides to try to catch up on sleep, or to play even more cards. The next day was giant panda day. Chengdu, in addition to being declared a city of gastronomy by UNESCO in 2010, is also home to the giant panda! We visited the Giant Panda Research Breeding Center and had a blast watching pandas eat, poop, and sleep. But literally, that’s all we did. And IT WAS AWESOME. Pandas are such interesting creatures. I could’ve watched them eat bamboo for hours… it’s mesmerizing. They just sit on their hind legs, look cute, grab bamboo and munch for hours. They have this special technique down for shelling the outermost part of the bamboo stalk as they crunch away. It’s really cool. And then one of the pandas promptly stood up to poop out yellow bamboo paste onto the corner of his eating mat. Ahh, pandas are the best.

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The pandas in the souvenir shop were so stinking cute I wanted to buy twenty of them and bring them all back for friends. If only I had enough luggage space…

And finally, one of our last stops was Jinli street, a cultural food street where we got a ton of tasty food. Here’s Kevin and Nick being cute and going halfsies on a bowl of dandan mien (spicy noodles):

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20140419_192050And we had a fun time exploring around our hotel, which was primely situated in the heart of one of Chengdu’s major streets… there were all kinds of shops, malls, eateries, and plenty of people wandering about. It was super energetic, fairly clean, and just a really nice city to be in. And the best part- we had a Coco’s right in front of our hotel lobby!!! Bryson got his first taste of boba- a momentous highlight of the trip:

20140419_202534All in all, Chengdu was packed with a lot of great memories and experiences. Flying across China turned out to be a really, really enjoyable weekend, even if we were super busy with tourist stops and we rarely got time to sleep in. But I do think that it wouldn’t have been as fun if we didn’t go in such a big group. Sunrises and selfies with monkeys and watching pandas poop are experiences meant to be shared with others. And boba!! I can’t believe Bryson experienced one of life’s greatest joys for the first time just a few days ago- I’m so proud.

 

 

 

 

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