Exploring Chengdu and Emei Shan
10.30.2011 - 11.03.2011
The Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center has almost 90 pandas. That's enough to satisfy some people's panda lifetime quota. It probably fulfilled mine. You can see the adults, the youngin's and they even have the tiny babies in a nursery that you can walk by and see through the glass. They sleep in a giant crib. Precious! I went through a tour so that I could get there earlier than the public bus runs. The earlier the better so you can see the pandas doing what they do best: eating bamboo. Yeah, they basically just lie around eating bamboo the whole time you're there, but they're just so cute when they do it. Some of them like the attention and sit right in front and stare right back at you. This video at the center explains the complications of getting pandas to procreate in the wild - they're too concerned with saving energy because they get like zero nutritional value from all that bamboo. Researchers have stepped in and if pandas don't hit it off naturally, they artifically inseminate them. Sadly, after some of the artifically inseminated moms give birth, they have no idea what these newborns are all about and some of them even swat at the babies. The breeders then have to take over nursing the babies.
I met a boy from New Zealand named Daniel on the panda tour who was also staying at my hostel. We decided to take off for some lunch after the tour. We were able to order our meals from the menu which was only in Chinese by using a food guide our hostel had given us on the maps they provided. It had a list of the most popular Sichuan dishes. So we ended up with some sweet and sour pork filets, some shredded potatoes with green peppers and rice. Not too spicy and it was yummy!
Daniel and I then walked around the Tibetan Quarter which is touristy, but interesting to see some of the Tibetan stuff. Some restaurants there even serve yak butter tea. We were really wanting to try some, but couldn't find any. But we met some others later who were successful and said it was pretty nasty, saying it tasted surprisingly like butter We headed to People's Park, and had some tea at one of the tea houses there. A man offered to stick some metal wires with furry ends into our ears to clean them. Cleaning one's ears seems an individual activity so I didn't partake in his offer, even though he claimed it was "very comfortable." Uh huh. We met 2 girls and a guy from Hong Kong who were in town for the weekend. They were heading to Tianfu Square to see some fountain light show so we tagged along. Unfortunately, we discovered once we got there that they don't do the show in the rain. Daniel and I headed back to our hostel for some downtime, then ventured out looking for spicy food later. We couldn't find exactly what we wanted, but settled on one place and he ordered from our map menu (aka our bible) and I tried some Sichuan spicy noodles.
After spending the next morning debating and researching getting to Mount Emei, aka Emei Shan, a 2.5 hour bus ride away, Daniel and I decided to do an overnight up on the mountain and try to wake up to see the sunrise. Figuring out the best way to do this was a lot more complicated than when Zin and I did Hua Shan. First off, Emei Shan is bigger, so there are several possible routes involving up to 2 cable cars, a series of buses and/or hiking. It was already kinda late in the day, so we bused to the base of Emei Shan, then bused as far up as you can. We were hoping to hike up another hour or so from there to a monastery near the summit to sleep for the night. However, due to bus schedules and our quasi-poor planning, we ended up having to stay right where the bus dropped us off at some hotel. The fog was extremely thick and it was already pretty dark and we couldn't communicate with anyone well enough to get a full understanding of how far the monastery actually was. So we got a little room with 2 beds, a tv and electric blankets (yes!) cause it was pretty freezing. We had bought some noodles at the base and enjoyed our wonderful freeze dried meal whilst watching some crazy Chinese war reenactment show. I fell asleep super early. We were aiming to wake up around 5:45 am to get hiking. But when we did, the weather was still super foggy, dark and rainy. We thought the sunrise would not be worth it, so we slept another hour and then headed up. After 2 hours of hiking up stairs (we were too cheap to pay for the cable car), we made it to the summit. Some hikers heading down told us they had seen the sunrise, but that the sun was only there for about 5 minutes before the clouds took over. But supposedly the summit was still worth it, so we mushed on. After making our way through multiple Chinese tour groups following their leaders with flags and loud speakers, we were able to enjoy the summit. And it was more spectacular than I had imagined. A giant gold steeple with buddhas and elephants on it sitting atop this mountain which is so high up you could make out the cloud line on the horizon. If the sky had been more blue, it would have been an amazing contrast. But still impressive. We explored around for an hour or so just taking photos. There was one cliff off the side with mist and clouds crawling up it that looked like something from Dracula. The sunrise would have been awesome, but I still felt like the summit was quite breathtaking.
While hiking down we encountered some monkeys which are rampant on this mountain and known for being aggressive. We saw one monkey grab someone's water bottle, puncture a hole in the bottom and start drinking. Another one grabbed at some woman's bag while she was taking photos. A baby monkey swooped down all ninja-like and grabbed someone's food. And yet another monkey grabbed for some guy's bag of food. The man dropped it and ran for his life. Then Daniel and I witnessed a dirty deed between two monkeys that was a true Discovery Channel moment. I won't go into detail cause it's most graphic, but suffice it to say that monkeys are nasty.
Daniel decided to stay on the mountain at the monastery which we finally found near the summit so he could see the sunrise again. I took the bus back the Chengdu and had a productive night of laundry and emails. The next day I did my final tour of the city as it was my last day in Chengdu and China. I explored Wenshu Temple/Monastery which I really loved. It was raining, so there were fewer tourists. It was very peaceful, had pretty gardens and you could read interesting tales and the basic tenets of Buddhism on some posters. It's one of the first temples I've been to in Asia that felt actually spiritual. It wasn't starkly different than many of the temples I've been to, it just had a different feeling to it.
I stumbled upon some little restaurant on Cuisine Street nearby and haphazardly ordered some steamed beef, and pork spicy noodles. I also sampled a couple random things on skewers. One, I was told, was spicy and one was not. I couldn't quite figure out what type of meat or non-meat they were. With my luck it was probably something like monkey ass flesh. I enjoyed more chrysanthemum tea in People's Park, oh so relaxing.
I found this little street called Big & Small Alley which is a taste of old Chengdu with older wooden buildings now housing expensive restaurants and such. They had some photo exhibits up on easels throughout the area, and one was all of Hua Shan which was cool since I had just been there. A man in the alley was playing this recorder that had a beautiful echo to it. Or maybe it was just the acoustics in the alley. Either way, it was lovely accompaniment to my semi-spiritual day
Next I walked down Quintai Rd., also known as Jewelry St. which is full of temple style jewelry shops as well as the famous Sichuan Opera Tea House. At the end of the street is Baihuatan Park, which was surprisingly lush. It sits right along the river, and it has a couple small ponds inside where you can relax by or rent boats on, a bamboo forest and bonsai garden. It was yet another peaceful escape in Chengdu for me. I haven't seen this much greenery in China at all until Chengdu.
Now, I couldn't leave China and especially Chengdu without trying the traditional spicy hot pot. So Valence took Daniel and I to a place near our hostel. You get one pot of spicy, and one pot of non-spicy. Valence ordered for us and surprised us with some type of "rare" catfish (with its skin still on it), dried duck blood (!!!) and then a bunch of veggies including potato, lotus root, bitter melon, sea weed and some potato noodles . The spicy hot pot is really greasy (they actually put animal fat in huge chunks in it that melt down mmmm) and spicier than I envisioned. When I took the ladle and scooped up from the bottom of the pot, it was chock full of peppercorns and chilies. Yep, that should sufficiently numb my innards! I tried potato, lotus root, melon, the weird fish and yes, even the dried duck blood (the consistency of tofu, but turns from bright red to brown when cooked) in the spicy pot. Thank goodness for the non-spicy pot to alleviate my tongue. I'm proud of myself for trying they spicy version, but it is no easy task. I can't imagine eating it often. Once may have been enough for me. If I'm going to cook my own food in a vat of boiling liquid, I'll stick to fondue and the Melting Pot back home