Pushy people and pandas

Pushy people and pandas
Chengdu, China
Chengdu, China After visiting the amazing great wall, we caught a flight
straight to Xi’an to check out some terracotta warrior action. Our hostel in Xi’an,
7 sages, was incredible. It was a traditional Chinese compound with circular
doorways and all. The girls at the front were also absurdly helpful and nice.
When we arrived, they even offered us a glass of plum tea. Yum yum. Pretty much the only reason that we went to Xi’an was to see
the terracotta warriors so we figured we go ahead and get it out of the way. We
hired a private driver to take us out to the site and wait for us. I know what
you are thinking. Bad backpackers. Well, to be honest, we could go by public
transport, but it required changing buses three times and it would have taken
three times as long. No thank you. The warriors themselves were incredible. The sheer scale of
it all is overwhelming. In pit one, there is row upon row of them. I could only
imagine the time and effort to construct such an army. Unfortunately, there was
row upon row of tourists crowding around to take a look. This was the first
time that we witnessed the full savagery of groups of Chinese tourists. One on
one, Chinese people have been nothing but lovely and friendly. I don’t know
what it is, but get them in big tour groups and all semblance of manners and
decorum go out the window. They would push right in front of you to take a
photo. If you were trying to take a photo, they would shove you out of the way.
Utter madness. In order to save a bit of money, we decided to take a train
down to Chengdu. It was only 11 hours and we were able to procure a soft
sleeper cabin for the day. Our time on the Trans Mongolian had really prepared
us for this little jaunt. It was fairly painless and easy. The funniest part of
our trip was our cabin mate who slept for the entire day. No joke, the entire
day. Snoring and all. She did wake up for about an hour to sit and munch
through 2 kilos of sunflowers seeds. It sounded like she had smuggled a
squirrel into our cabin. Our first day in Chengdu was spent planning the rest of our
China trip. We have decided to cut out Hong Kong as we are simply running out
of time. We also wandered around the Wenshu monastery which was a tranquil
oasis in the middle of a massive city. Surrounding the monastery were quaint
streets that were so Chinese that they looked like the set of a movie. We even
managed to take in some overpriced tea at a very Gucci little establishment. For dinner, we wandered to a restaurant around the corner.
Little did we know that we had wandered into a hot pot restaurant. If you aren’t
familiar, hot pot is a boiling vat of the spiciest substance known to man in
which you cook meat and veggies. Think of it as Tabasco fondue. It was the
hottest think that I have ever put in my mouth. We knew it was bad when locals
around us were chugging milk and leaving with napkins plastered to their heads
to soak up the sweat. Our real reason for coming to Chengdu was to go and see some
pandas. About an hour out of town is a panda research and breeding facility
where you can get up close and personal with these giant teddy bears. We
wandered around seeing pandas young and old doing their thing. We got to see
feeding time for a group of teenage pandas and let me tell you, they love their
bamboo shoots. We decided to pay an exorbitant price and actually be allowed to
hold a baby panda. We got kitted out in nurse scrubs and waited to hold the
little beast. We were expecting a small little thing, but he was a little
bigger than expected. I kept wandering what was keeping him from turning around
and scratching my face off, but he was so docile and sweet. He really felt like
a big teddy bear. It was an incredible experience and the three of us had stupid
grins plastered to our faces for hours afterwards. After Chengdu, we went to Jiuzhaigou national park on Joel’s
recommendation. He had seen a Getaway
special about the park and it looked amazing. The bus ride up to the park was
anything but that. I have never feared for my life so many times in one day nor
have I been so uncomfortable. The bus driver believed it was his personal
mission to overtake every car, truck or bicycle in his path. Oncoming traffic?
Not a problem. On a narrow bridge? Why not. Over a blind hill? Sure. At one
point we got stuck in a tunnel for about an hour. We kept pinching each other
to make sure that the build up of carbon monoxide didn’t knock us out. Our hostel was right next to the town dump, which didn’t
leave us with high expectations about our accommodation, but it turned out to
be not too bad. Right before we went to bed, Joel and I heard a yelp coming
from the bathroom. We had assumed that Jason had fallen over on the slick
floor, but he had actually managed to electrocute himself. The lamp had fallen
off of the wall, which he caught and tried to put back up only to realize that
the lamp was attached to bare live wires. He was not too happy about it. He had
trouble sleeping that night because he said that he could still feel
electricity coursing through his body. The next day we arose early to get to the park. We really
should have gotten up earlier because we were greeted by thousands of tourist
waiting to get into the park. We eventually made it onto a bus to take us all
the way to the top of the valley, where we would then make our way back down to
the entrance. That was our plan, but like many things on this trip, that is not
what actually happened. At the very first stop, we were kicked off of the bus
with the rest of the tourists to start the hike up. The park was absolutely
beautiful. There were waterfalls and lakes of vibrant blues. Lofty peaks
floating over us covered by wispy clouds. It was truly magical. Unfortunately, the beauty and serenity of the place was
absolutely destroyed by the thousands upon thousands of tourists. On almost
every path, there would be a sea of people who would push and shove you out of
the way. People would be yelling at the top of their lungs to others in their
group even if they were two feet away. Again, we got to witness utter savagery
as people would rush en masse towards an oncoming bus and try to literally claw
their way onto it. Young children and the elderly were pushed out of the way or
squashed against the bus. Despite the utter beauty of the landscape, by about 1
o’clock, we had had enough and decided to leave the park. We stopped at a little restaurant where Joel got to eat Yak
for the first time. He said it wasn’t half bad, but nothing that he would eat on a regular basis. We
whiled away the afternoon playing cards and trying to soak up the serenity of
our surroundings. I say trying because despite this being a small country town,
we heard enough horns to make us think we were in the middle of a NYC traffic
jam. The cacophony was deafening. The drive back to Chengdu was much calmer and without
incident. There were only a few heart stopping moments when our bus driver
would slam on the breaks so hard that it would send everyone’s belongings half
way up the bust. Joel and I both lost our shoes only to be found a couple of
rows up. We stayed at the same hostel in Chengdu and as luck would
have it, we arrived just in time for a dumpling party. The whole hostel was
given a bowl of ingredients and about 300 dumpling wrappers and told to get to
work. It was delicious. We got to chat to our fellow backpackers and we all had
a good old vent about some of the things that were bugging us about China. The next day, we headed to the airport to board a flight to
Guilin and hopefully a little serenity.


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