Nǐhǎo from Chengdu, China

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We flew into Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan province, arriving around midnight and got a fake taxi to our accommodation, Flipflop Hostel, a pretty cool, funky wee hostel in the centre of Chengdu. After a good nights rest we took it easy the first day researching what to see and do in the city. We joined a free walking tour with a guide from our hostel and walked around the city for a good 4 hours with a French dude, Thai girl, Vietnamese girl and an Indian Londoner. While we were walking we were approached by a Hong Kong TV crew who were filming a tourism documentary on Chengdu to air in Hong Kong. They lead us around and made us look interested in the sights and sounds of the city, later filming us eating random street food from  dingy back street dinner.

Food in the Sichuan province is notably different from the Yunnan province we left the previous day. It is famed for it’s Sichuan pepper, a spicy, zingy heat with an almost numbing effect on the tongue. Not necessarily hot but it’s similar to licking a nine volt battery, making the tongue feel slightly numb and tingly. Having cooked with it a lot back home I was surprised at the intensity of the effect, although I’ve read that the packets of sichuan peppercorns in the west lack this distinctive trait.

We chilled again that night over a few drinks chatting to some other backpackers, played some foosball and pool and hit the hay for an early start the next day. As our time was limited we decided to squeeze in a visit to a panda sanctuary as well as checking out the world’ largest carved Buddha, chiseled and sculpted into the side of a mountain. The panda sanctuary was pretty good. A  few hundred docile pandas and cubs chilling and munching bamboo all day. That’s all it really was, although seeing them strip bamboo with their teeth so efficiently while sitting up and using their belly as a  plate was cool to watch.
The cubs were more entertaining as they climbed trees, rolled down banks and ran around wrestling with each other. We also checked out the smaller cousins of the pandas, the red pandas, probably the size of a raccoon but much cuter.
We managed to get there early enough but soon after we were standing shoulder to shoulder with the usual noisy Chinese tourists, who in their packs dominated the viewing decks. There are signs everywhere saying “please remain quiet” but of course they scream and shout constantly. I asked a guide if they were arguing, and she was confused and just said “No, they are talking to their friends.”  These people are from another planet and although this sanctuary was set up like a zoo, the humans seemed more wild.

Afterwards we headed to Leshan, a small town 2 hours outside of Chengdu. This town is famed for the Leshan Buddha, a giant 70 metre carved Buddha embedded into the sandstone cliff overlooking the huge river dividing the city, acting as a guardian saviour to sailors who pass by. Decades before sailors were killed out in the waters when their boat capsized. The monks felt terrible for the sailors and families affected and decided  to build this monument to provide a watchful eye and protect sailors there after. A pretty amazing sight to behold as its detail was intricate and remains well intact. We joined the hordes of Chinese tourists once again and made our way down and around the feet of the Buddha, and climbed steps up to the head. Had to bite our tongues a couple of times as rude middle aged women pushed past us and dragged us out of the way purely to get their dumbass photos taken. You know the score, queues of them pushing and standing posing with a hand out trying to give the effect they are holding the Buddha’s chin or covering one of its eyes from a distance. Think ‘Kissing the sphinx’, or ‘holding up Pisa’. We’ve all done it, but really EVERY.SINGLE.ONE.OF.THEM.WANTED.THIS.SAME.BLOODY.PICTURE! It took each of them a good couple of minutes standing like a bunch of goons while their inept partner holding a cheap mobile phone shouted orders to raise or lower their hands to get the forced perspective just right. All we wanted was to stand at the barrier and marvel at the statues amazing design and grab a quick snap. That simple request was short lived as some rude bitch literally grabbed Veronica by the arm, pulling her back and shouted because V was in the shot. On a side note, Chinese women are a force to reckon with, definitely the domineering sex, loud, rude and abrupt. Regardless, we found a couple of quieter spots and got some decent shots. We had a guide on our trip and she was extremely informative about ancient Chinese history, the difference between the Buddha designs, the architecture changes throughout different dynasties, explaining indepth the beautiful background and philosophy of Buddhism and Taoism, which, contrary to common belief, technically are not religions but a way of life, a thought process, based solely around the ethos of being a good person, promoting inner peace and total open mindedness. They have no god and their effigies of Buddha and Laozi and other great thinkers of their time are respected for being ‘enlightened’ as they pray to follow this same path to enlightenment. The general background and core of Buddhism is incredibly beautiful, and one can easily see why it spread so openly through Asia from its origins in Nepal. But like all ‘religions’ it does have its farfetched ideologies and beliefs, but simply put Buddhism is all about being enlightened to what is righteous and if it means changing beliefs based on new findings, scientific or otherwise, it seems open to it. I’m definitely no expert and know very little about it but from an introductory perspective, it’s a very interesting belief system. Regardless of religion and history, this giant Buddha carving is as impressive in terms of structure, as it has managed to retain so much detail after so many years. Sandstone is easily erodible so to have this Buddha still in top notch condition (with some preservation of course) is damn impressive. Its ear alone is 7 metres in height! It was a great experience seeing what could arguably be deemed more impressive than ‘Christ The Redeemer’ in Brazil which just tips the scales in its favour due to its awesome location over looking the city of Rio De Janeiro.

We arrived home around 6pm feeling pretty burnt out after a full day walking and enduring Chinese tourists. But after one hour back in the hostel we were out again on our way to check out a Sichuan Face Changing Opera. This show was AWESOME!!! Apparently I use the word awesome A LOT, but to be honest I’ve run out of superlatives, and the word awesome really does apply to everything we’ve experienced, and this show was another for the list. At first the idea of an opera wasn’t overly intriguing but the pictures of fire breathing, acrobatics and insane masks looked great. The show was divided into multiple sections with an entire storyline running in tandem, about a couple in love, fighting adversity and ultimately becoming reunited again after a kidnapping. The mix of fire breathing, singing, dancing, acrobatics, puppetry and martial arts along with live Chinese drums and wooden instruments was great leading to the final performance of ‘face changing’ where 5 or so performers dressed in crazy Asian outfits with creepy masks danced and changed their faces at the flick of their head. It was incredible as they simply waved a hand or a fan a cross their face and their mask would completely change in an instant without us seeing how they did it. The entire atmosphere of the show was brilliant and totally worth it! Chinese stage shows never disappoint.

We chilled again that night and planned a random trip to Jiuzhaigou, a Tibetan town 10 hours west of Chengdu. We had planned on going the next day and also planned to fly from Jiuzhaigou to Xi’an but these flight tickets were literally selling out front of me leaving only the really expensive ones. We decided to stay another day in Chengdu and leave a day later to Jouzhaigou in order to avail of the cheaper (but still rip off ) flight prices from Jiuzhaigou to Xi’an three days later.

The next day was my 30th birthday so was happy to be spending it with Veronica in Chengdu rather than on a 10 hour bus ride. We didn’t do much other than wander around and check out the city more. In the later afternoon we wandered through the old quarter of Chengdu in hope of finding a bar, which are hard to come by unless you go to one street full of them. We randomly checked out a deserted cafe that had bottles of beer on a shelf so we thought that would suffice. There was a young enough dude working there and was quite surprised that two whities walked in asking for gin and tonics. After some broken dialogue and some chat through an online translator he asked if we would like to join him for dinner. Not knowing if this was mistranslation and if he was asking if we wanted to eat there, we said yes. Turns out he actually meant to sit and eat dinner with him as his guests. He seemed very excitable and pretty nervous about entertaining us.  He asked what we would like and then off he ran outside the cafe and up the road. He came back 5 minutes later and then ran into his kitchen and we heard clattering and banging and out he came with a bowl of egg and tomato soup, a few bowls, and some chopsticks. Sounds random but it was actually really nice. As we slurped away in came a woman holding a tray with a huge bowl of fish hotpot, a plate of stirfried beef and peppers, a plate of sweet aubergines, tofu in a savoury sauce and rice. The food was amazing!!!! And this guy bought all this for us, as a mark of respect and out of complete beautiful generosity purely because we were foreign. We chatted and laughed away and he asked how old we were. Once I explained it was my 30th off he runs again coming back with a small and completely stunning wee dark chocolate cheesecake from a local bakery and he sang happy birthday in Chinese (which weirdly has the same rhythm and flow as the English version). This guy was a total gentleman and enamoured we spent time with him. Apparently he called his friends to join us but they were too shy to sit with us and talk English. After a load more cheap drinks we headed home thanking him for such a great memory on my 30th. Totally unique and random but a brilliant experience hanging and laughing through broken vocabulary. Language may be one restrictive form of communication but facial expressions and polite gestures speak volumes. What a total legend of a dude!

Next destination; Jiuzhaigou.

One Comment
  1. Hey dude!
    Awesome post, I am really digging this place you are in. It looks really nice and clean, loving some of them buildings, the mix between old style China and modern design!
    That sounds like an amazing 30th to remember man! What a really nice guy, really great to see that people are so humble and open to cater for you just for passing by!
    That big buddha is really impressive! Really like the look of it, great colour to it as well!
    Enjoy man!

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