After an uneventful 7 hour train ride, we arrived in Chengdu. Contrary to the nightmares we had read, usually on sites who want to sell online tickets to tourists, trains in China have proved to be easy to book, reliable, efficient and very comfortable. I must admit, I expected language issues, delays, missed trains, and unclean carriages. China is proving me wrong in many ways. (Although I still really hope one day, the use of earphones just may take on!!). We are booking our tickets online and easily picking them up at the station. Most of the trains are high speed and almost rival Japan for quality and efficiency.
After checking in to Lazybones Hostel early evening, we took a short walk around the area to both familiarise ourselves with the new city and also to get the legs moving again after sitting down for so long. It was a buzz with people in noisy restaurants and delicious smells from everywhere. I was liking this place. We were now in Sichuan and were looking forward to the famous “sichuan hotpot”.
The keeper took us inside Yashi’s indoor enclosure to give him his daily vitamins and medicine. We were given several pieces of sugar cane to feed to him, as his after medicine reward! I would have loved to have had a hug... but last winter the Government banned all physical contact with the pandas by non-professionals, as they felt it was inhibiting the relocation program (fair point I presume... but I did so want a hug!). Worley is besotted with the pandas and she had been saving up for a long time, to be able to do the panda holding, but was too late... poor thing was devastated.
We had quite a bit of free time following the feeding to wander around the rest of the park visiting the other pandas and photo taking. They were now all out in their outside enclosures, wandering around and mainly munching away on the newly smashed up bamboo by their respective volunteers. It was great to be up and close to them and see them in such beautiful and well kept enclosures. I wasn’t aware... but pandas are solitary animals, except for mating time, so each panda had its own enclosure (except for a couple of young twins), so it proved to be a large reserve. The reserve also housed a couple of very cute red pandas and a moon bear (who proved to be illusive).
Now it was time for the pandas afternoon treat, so again we headed back to Yashi armed with more sugar cane and yet again we got to feed him. So cool to be able to look eye to eye in these gorgeous creatures.
Our next duty of the day was to make “panda cakes”. These are steamed buns made of corn, starch, wheat etc that would be given to the bears the following morning.
After the cake making, our work was complete. We were issued with the obligatory certificate, souvenir postcards and informed we could keep our bright green uniforms! An hour or so later, I was back in the hostel.
As cute as the pandas are, Pete wasn’t interested in the volunteer day, so he spent the day wandering the city. He made another attempt to cash some of the traveller cheques... OMG it worked! After some confusion (of course) and lots of discussions and being sent to another branch... he finally got to cash some of the cheques! After two months of travelling, Pete took the opportunity to get a much needed hair cut. I must say it didn’t turn out all that bad for a discussion via photos and google translate!
That evening, we went in search of a good hotpot. Pete had done research on the best spots, so we headed to the area, via a walk in the main park, where a few people were still dancing, exercising and just hanging out. I tried to find “lovers corner” which Worley had described as an old school “tinder” site. Parents would write and pin up information about their unmarried children in order to find a suitable spouse, as they felt their children were working too hard these days and had no time to find a suitable partner. (Worley was not impressed about this method!) Funnily enough the divorce rate has risen significantly... go figure.
The hotpot place we were looking for was located in a bustling series of streets, made up as an ‘old town’ and heaving of local tourists. Domestic tourism is certainly alive and well!
After a bit of confusion about the location of the restaurant, where we had a very helpful young guy from another restaurant try and assist us, we eventually found our place and it was heaving with “hotpotters”. Tables full of people dunking assorted ingredients into boiling spicy pots of goodness
The next day we spent the morning on travel preparation housekeeping... it was getting too close to our trans siberian travels and we didn’t have any tickets for the important leg. We were also interested in doing a cruise down the Yangtze, and we planned on doing that close to Chinese holidays so spent some time arranging that also.
We cashed a few more traveller cheques, since we finally found a branch that did it. Then took a wander around the city, stopping in at the museum. The museum was architecturally quite striking and I was really surprised at how well the exhibitions were laid out and presented and how enjoyable they made the place. We wandered further and visited the monastery and a few other sites. Just a pretty general sightseeing day.
That evening, we had read about a Chinese chef who was breaking boundaries with the Chinese cuisine and had attempted a degustation Sichuan meal. Now as we all know, Chinese food is about big plates piled high of food, placed in the middle of the table on a big lazy Susan. This guy had his work cut out for him! I must admit he did it very well. Twenty one courses (dishes) incorporating Chinese ingredients, flavours and methods of cooking... all with a modern twist. This is a new concept in China, so it was bloody expensive!!! It is for the young rich Chinese who have money to burn.