Thursday 20 September 2012

Days 536-538 & 543-544: Chengdu

The new 'old' street and high rises in the background.  The high rises aren't hazy because it's a bad photo - this is really how everything looks.
  Our plan was to use Chengdu for rest and recovery between some excursions.  It would be a very pleasant city if it were not for it's perpetual pea-souper and air in which the smell of cement powder is all too detectable.  It doesn't help that it's rather humid as well.  Apart from that, it has nice temples, a new 'old-style' district and a huge pedestrian street.  Now that it's been a while since I arrived in China, I've forgotten how wonderful it felt to have pedestrianised streets again.  It's been the first time in over a year.  We have figured out by now that Chinese people use the temple precincts as parks, quiet and beautiful places to relax, chat or study.  It's a bit hard to tell what part the religious activity that still exists plays in all this. Anyway, we decided to make like the Chinese people and go and hang out in the temple near our hostel and take photographs.

More old and new.
What people do at temples: the old guys under the bandstand are listening to an orchestra of birds hanging in cages from the trees.  Mike is photographing the bird cages to remind himself they're for real. I'm photographing the lot of them.  Antonia is commenting adversely on the level of kindness to animals involved in this activity.

Having discovered temple restaurants in Kunming, we were a bit disappointed to find that the famous restaurant at this temple was closed for renovation.  Not to be deterred, we looked up vegetarian restaurants in Chengdu and discovered a Taiwanese chain called Vegetarian Lifestyle within walking distance of our hostel.  After that we went there for dinner every day, timing our arrival for the late afternoon when they were in the middle of their team building exercise!!  The food was very, very good, and although everyone says it's a bit expensive, that's expensive by normal Chengdu standards. After dinner, we went back to the hostel and drank cheap beer in the common room, while wondering if our laundry would ever dry and trying to learn Chinese characters.

Antonia picks out her next book in Chinese in Chengdu's pedestrian shopping centre (ahem!)
We also bought two trips from the hostel, one to the Sichuan Opera performance.  This is really a varied selection of snippets from operas rather than a full opera, but that surely makes it more suitable for a short performance to tourists.  Much later, in Guilin, we saw people performing real opera around the lakes at night which of course involves a lot of talking you need to understand to follow the plot. We weren't supposed to take pictures at the Sichuan Opera but I guess someone did anyway. This is the only one that came out.

Our other tour, of course was to see the pandas.  I was feeling seriously tired of being herded around in tour groups by now (see the Jiuzhaigou post, when it turns up), and would have gone independently but they make it hard, so off we went.  Sure enough our guide got us in front of all the panda enclosures at the most photogenic moments, offered us the opportunity to have our photos taken with a baby panda for several thousand yuan (I'm not kidding!) and led us through the museum at a jogging pace.  As usual, I felt we could have done with another couple of hours and Antonia got really into drawing the pandas but kept getting interrupted half way through a drawing, but there you go.

Pandas eat like Romans

The red panda is wondering why it's sharing a path with us.

What pandas mostly do.

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