Apr 15, 2012

Chengdu, China is home to the panda and more

Chengdu was not on our list of “Gotta’ Visit Someday” but we saw a full-page advertisement in Air Asia airline magazine encouraging people to visit Chengdu to see the Panda Breeding and Research Center. So we included it on our itinerary. We stayed at the beautiful Millennium Hotel which was across the street from one of the many city parks. Walking in a park is a great way to get a feel for a city. Along with people exercising, flying kites, and just strolling along there was a man playing a traditional Chinese string instrument. Just a few short steps from the Millennium there is a wide, modern pedestrian walk with shops and restaurants.

We spent one morning at the Panda Research Center. We have seen pandas before but these Giant Pandas seemed much bigger. It was great fun watching them. The center helps to insure the survival of the species. The babies are basically born prematurely and can not survive on their own until they are several months old so their survival in the wild is difficult. Pandas are rather solitary creatures and first-time mothers do not always know how to care for the newborn right away. If fact they said the new mother may be frightened by the mouse-size, hairless baby and bat it away from them.

Chengdu is a very new, clean and green city of 9.2 million. There is a lot of building going on with many trees both large and small being planted.

We took a 13-hour day trip to the Dujangyan Irrigation Project. In the United States if something is 200 years old we think it is old. The Dujangyan Irrigation Project is 2,200 years old. The project eliminated seasonal flooding in the area and is still used to irrigate the land. Once again we were impressed with the flowers and trees. The site also has several temples, a hanging bridge to cross the river, and, thankfully, a tram ride for a short portion of the tour. We also stopped at a temple complex and a scenic mountain Taoist complex, but the most surprising stop was at a factory for what turned out to be an infomercial for veggie peelers and water purifiers. The last stop was an Ancient Village but it was really a large but beautifully built village that replicated the ancient village that use to be there. There is so much building going on in China that I think some of the old has been destroyed and this is a way to restore the past. There were many shops with people making items in the traditional manner.

We spent a wonderfully relaxing afternoon in Jinli Street, an ancient city street with shops and restaurants. We had tea at a teashop while listening to music, watched artisans create traditional handicrafts, and watch the end of a classical Sichuan performance. In the evening we went to the Sichuan Opera. I loved the variety. It started with drum and gong music, followed by a stick an puppet show, a comedy routine, hand shadow show, and traditional opera, but the most amazing was the Sichuan specialty – Changing Faces whereby the actors change their facemasks so quickly that is impossible to see them do it.
Chengdu was a wonderful place to start our month in China. The weather was warm, the people friendly, and the city was very comfortable. Chengdu is best known as the starting point for visiting Tibet.