Sometimes the internet in China sucks…like the time I finished this post only to come back to proofread it and learn that only the first 1/3 had saved. Yay VPN or WordPress fail (jury is still out). So here I sit, redoing it because I lack for other things to do with my time. Oh wait, no I don’t! Anyway, here goes…Take two. Action.
When I thought about how I wanted to share our Chengdu adventures I started pulling out photos like I always do. It did not take long before I realized that I needed to break Chengdu into two parts: the city itself and its most famous inhabitant (giant pandas/大熊猫/dà xióngmāo/big bear cat). It was a strange realization to me that I was excited to return to China after our visit to Cambodia and Thailand, but there is something very familiar and comforting about China now. The things that used to irritate or confuse me are now familiar and even inviting in very peculiar ways.
Located in Sichuan province, Chengdu is famous for its spicy food and giant pandas. The city itself has a lot to offer in terms of parks and pedestrian walking streets and you cannot hardly walk a block without running into at least one hotpot restaurant. Our first stop after we arrived was to see Wuhou Temple as well as the adjacent Jinli walking street. Inside the walls it became clear that there were actually several parts to this temple complex. This site originally housed just a temple and mausoleum for Liu Bei the former Emperor of Shu (think early 200s AD). Later on Zhuge Liang, one of his top advisors, also had a temple erected in his honor at the same site. These two worked together in establishing the short lived Kingdom of Shu, so it seems fitting that they should have neighboring temples.
One of the highlights at the temple is a very famous set of carvings. Despite my ability to read a fair amount of simple typed characters, when it comes to written or highly stylized carvings, I am hopeless. I could not begin to tell you what any of this says, but it is quite nice to look at.
I was in the process of taking a photo of some interesting stone carvings:
There were several temples, buildings, statues, and gardens to gawk at here, but this was one of my favorite parts. The high red walls and bamboo walkway were just stunning. It helped that it was almost empty at this moment, so we got to enjoy it all by ourselves!
You will be hard pressed to go anywhere in Chendgu without encountering Pandas plastered all over everything. From chopsticks, to childrens clothing, to art, and even beer you will find the allure of the giant panda. As mentioned above I will be putting several of my >200 photos of pandas in a separate post because this post would simply be overwhelmed by the cuteness that is about to ensue. Side note, this beer was one of the best I have had in china. It had a really nice flavor and higher alcohol content than your standard Tsingdao. Bravo!
Pedestrian Walking Streets
Chengdu happens to be full of some of the nicest pedestrian walking streets we have ever encountered in China, and trust me we have seen our fair share at this point. While it is hard to compete with 平江路 and 山塘街 along the canals in Suzhou, the touristy streets of Chengdu truly hold their own. JinLi ancient street was more or less attached to Wuhou temple, so we took a stroll through these streets after our temple visit. The buildings along the street were either fairly new or surprisingly well maintained and full of souvenirs and restaurants for you to enjoy. We made a stop in a beef hotpot restaurant which had received good reviews and were not disappointed to have a seat and put some food in our bellies. We were highly amused as the waitress’ expression changed from one of surly concern to pure delight as we talked to her. It seemed she was highly relieved, as is usually the case, to find out that we were content to pantomime our way through Chinese as opposed to staring blankly and uncomfortably at her.
We spent the afternoon along Kuanxiangzi (宽巷子) of “wide and narrow alley” fame after our visit to the Panda breeding base the second day. There are 3 main walking streets here that are all connected by a network of small little pathways that make up this section of wide and narrow alleys. The streets themselves are all full of street food, restaurants, and some really nice shops. We even picked up some hotpot soup mixes to bring home to
test out on some unsuspecting share with our friends.
QingCheng Mountain (青城山)
The last major stop in Chengdu was about 1.5 hours outside the city. I had read that there was a mountain nearby that was worth a visit, so we decided to forgo the rest of the city and spend a day exercising out in nature. We managed to sort out the bus schedule and after a bit of confusion here and there we found our way to the mountain!
If you are feeling particularly lazy they have strong men with massive calves to Sherpa you up the mountain (for a fee of course). They asked me if I wanted to be carried, probably because I am small, but I declined. Everyone in our party declined and then one of us promptly fell up the stairs right past them. I do not think they were convinced we would be able to climb very well after that!
A short walk later and we reached the cable car that would take us most of the way to the top. Being pressed for time we opted for the express climb and figured we would take our time on the way back down.
A little ways further up the mountain we came upon an interesting sight. Three of our friends we had just met, and had our pictures taken with, were throwing coins into the middle of a pond. Upon further inspection they were actually throwing them into the mouth of a small frog statue sitting in the middle. We arrived just in time to see two of the three land their coins in the frogs mouth successfully. Thinking this was something worth spending money on, David grabbed a coin and tossed it right into the frogs mouth. Not wanting to be left out and the gauntlet thrown, Larry wasted no time and made it as well! At this point Ellen and I decided to waive our participation in the frog mouth coin toss championships because we sagely concluded that the best we could do was tie for first, not claim outright victory. We chose to save our efforts for something more worthwhile later on: dumpling eating.
There is a fun story to go with this image. The character in the middle of the lock is 福 (fú/good fortune or luck). This character is often times written or hung upside down in many Chinese homes. It was after a coworker suggested I rotate the one on our door at home 180 degrees that I had him explain the significance to me. Upside down in Chinese is 倒 (dào) which is pronounced the exact same as 到 (dào/to arrive). Thus, in spoken Chinese, an upside down 福 means good fortune arrives! Who wouldn’t want that?! Obviously I went home promptly after that discussion and rotated my door sign.
And of course no good trip is complete without making a new friend on the bus to the airport who compliments you on your nose (of all things). I definitely did not see that one coming…