Friday, August 10, 2007

Panda Bears and Giant Buddha

I'm in Chengdu and having a really good time so far! I like it here better than Tianjin. The city is much more tourist-friendly and seems to be cleaner and easier to get around. Not to mention all the panda billboards, souveniers, and murals that are all over town!

Wednesday we made a trip to the Chengdu Panda Research Base, home to about 60 giant pandas as well as some red pandas. I was in heaven! The research base is very nice, set up like a large zoo. Each panda habitat is spacious and equipped with ample trees and wooden structures for climbing. Later in the morning, most of the pandas were moved indoors into the air-conditioning, because it was too hot outside for them! Whether indoors or out, everybody is supplied with an all-you-can-eat bamboo buffet all day long.

My favorite part of the day was our visit to the "Panda Kindergarten," where six cubs were rowdily wrestling and playing together on a huge jungle- gym outside. It was so cute that it was difficult to take pictures quickly enough. The panda reserve also has a section dedicated to premature newborn cubs, so we got to see two tiny little baby pandas in incubators. A few times, the cubs rolled around a little bit and stuck their tongues out... awwwwww....

After the panda reserve, we walked around downtown Chengdu's shopping center and found a Subway for lunch! This may not be anything special in the United States, but after seven weeks without a sandwich, Subway tasted amazingly good. That night for dinner, we had a great Italian meal, which is another type of food I've been craving throughout my stay in China. Half the reason I love Chengdu so much is because of the food.

Thursday Scott and I rode the bus to Leshan to see the world's biggest Buddha. The bus turned out to be an air-conditioned tour bus: much nicer than the old, beat-up city bus I'd been expecting. We had a "bus attendant" (like a flight attendant) who made sure everyone was comfortable by adjusting air vents and armrests and handing out blankets. She read all announcements in Chinese and English (even though Scott and I were the only English speakers on the bus) and at the end of the ride, everyone got a complimentary pair of...


Once we arrived at the Buddha, Scott and I waited in line for about two hours to get close enough to him (him being the Buddha) to take pictures. "Waiting in line" as a tall American couple in China is an interesting experience... especially since the Chinese are not used to having an orderly line and will use every opportunity to cram in ahead of the line. We entertained ourselves by taking pictures of every Chinese person we saw taking our picture and staring back at everyone who stared at us. At one point, we saw a very overweight, blond, red-faced woman who was probably from Wisconsin. She actually reminded me a lot of my family's old 16-pound calico cat, Candy. Scott and I felt bad for her: she just looked so distressed and anxious; but at least everyone stopped looking at us for a minute when she walked by!

We snapped our pictures of the Buddha while avoiding being pushed into the river by overzealous Chinese tourists and headed back to Chengdu on the bus. Long day!

Today we took it easy: sleeping in and sandwiches at Grandma's Kitchen, another great American food restaurant. Tomorrow morning we are headed to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong, two parks located about 10 hours' bus ride outside of Chengdu. We'll be gone until Wednesday, after which we'll be back at Sim's for about a week.

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