Reporting from Chengdu
01.04.2013 - 04.04.2013 19 °C
It's the Spring Break or Easter Holidays from school this week, and we have had Nannie and Granddad visiting from Wales. After suggesting a few places we could go, and with some consultation with the short people we decided to visit Chengdu, so we could see the pandas. Technically, our little family have been here before, we came here on our very first Chinese adventure... But Didi was in utero and Jie Jie was only 20 months old, so not surprisingly didn't remember it too much, or at all.
We have practically relived our first trip as on our first full day we went to see the pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Base. And they were as cute as Mike and I remembered. Playing with their friends and eating bamboo and chilling out in the gorgeous scenery, the pandas were a joy to watch, and quite mesmerising. We arrived and there was a mystical fog coming through the bamboo, but when we got to the first enclosures, we couldn't see any pandas and we were peering in, looking hard into the depths of then enclosures only to realise we'd arrived before the pandas were out for breakfast. All of a sudden, three pandas entered the enclosure and immediately launched upon some bundles of bamboo and stripped them bare of leaves and crunch up the stems. We walked around the Research Base looking into all the enclosures which were grouped roughly by age. Interestingly their behaviour as cubs, sub-adults and adults kind of corresponded with similar age groups in people. The Red Pandas also had a section of enclosures, and interestingly aside from the common name of panda, the Red Pandas and the Giant Pandas are not related as species at all. This visit to Chengdu we have come in the spring, whereas last time we came in the autumn, and so this time the youngest pandas we saw were about nine month old toddlers, compared to three month old tiny babies. It was lovely to see the babies playing with mum and having cuddles and tumbling with their siblings. And our kids are now the proud parents of a new red panda and also a giant panda, super cute and cuddly!!
That night we went to see a performance of the Sichuan Opera, which is famous for face mask changing, and was super impressive. Even though it didn't start until 8pm, and after a busy day the kids stayed awake until the very end, although Didi fell asleep in the applause, which I think was really just a ploy to be carried home! The show was amazing, and had a number of acts including acrobats, illusions, singing and dancing and the face changing act was remarkable. Instantaneous mask and costume changes, all by sleight of hand. Truly amazing, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Yesterday we went out to see the Giant Buddha at Leshan Mountain. The Buddha was carved out of rock at the junction of two rivers, with the belief that Buddha would help calm the currents of the two rivers, remarkably it worked, although according to our guide book, it might just be because that was where the leftover rock was tossed. We took a speedboat out on the river to look at the full Buddha. The trip only took about 15 mins in total, but we got a fun speedy ride along the river and a good look at the Buddha. After that we climbed to the top of the mountain to see the Buddha from the top. It had been raining so was a little slippery in parts, but the well worn steps were easy enough to climb, and we all did it, grandkids and grandparents together! It was even more impressive to see the Buddha from level with his 9m ear as it gave a true scale of just how big he is, at 74m tall!! We enjoyed looking in the temple on the top, although Didi was a little scared of some of the carved wooden guards with threatening eyes. And also tried to blow out the incense sticks and oil burners. There was a fish pond with enormous carp which the kids fed... Not that they looked hungry at all. We then had to climb down, and went through an ancient fishing village and saw a gorgeous old bridge across a river. Our driver came to pick us up, and we promptly all fell asleep on the three hour drive back to Chengdu.
Sichuan cuisine is among my favourite of the Chinese cuisines, and we thoroughly enjoyed trying Gong Pao Chicken and Ma Po Tofu in situ. The flavours were exquisite, although a bit too much for Nannie and Granddad, who also struggled with chopsticks, and not being Shanghai, western cutlery was not readily available.
Now we are just packing everything up, and getting ready to head back to Shanghai!!