A visit to Chengdu can mean only one thing, visiting the Panda sanctuary, or at least that is the common perception. It is a bit of a shame actually, as the city itself is interesting.
We did of course go and see the pandas, but the day before we went for a hot-pot, as this is a traditional food in the province of Szechuan, where Chengdu is located. There are different degrees of spice as well as non-spicey, we had the non-spicey soup around the outside with a smaller spicey broth in the middle. Even the spicey broth was very low on the scale. The idea was that more of us would want the non-spicey option so it would be good to have more of that available, unfortunately in practice the middle becomes hotter, boils more violently and sends some of its spice into the outside broth.
There were a plethora of meats and vegetables to choose from as well as dumplings and noodles. Each item was placed in the soup to cook and once it was finished you fished it out again to eat. In practice our guide put most of the food in and told us when it was ready to eat. Once you had your food out of the broth you could dip it in a bowl of oil with garlic, chives and oregano to make it more tasty.
It was an interesting meal and it was nice, but it was far from the nicest meal I had in China.
After our hot-pot we headed to the old part of town, which similar to Shanghai old town had been rebuilt. This area had a completely different feeling than Shanghai old town as it was full of interesting little independent shops, bars and performances.
And now for the part my brother, at least, has been waiting for me to write about. The Pandas. (He is the biggest panda fan I know). As we arrived, the front gates were almost as impressive as the queues to get in.
Luckily it was fairly fast-moving and we were in before we knew it. After getting into the sanctuary we had to walk some way before getting to see any live pandas. There were a few nice statues en-route and my husband met an old friend.
The first enclosure we came to the panda was inside, but just as we arrived he was let out and everyone went round to see him in the enclosure. It was at this moment my husband had his lowest point in China as he was standing watching for the panda when he was shoved bodily from his vantage point. I had been nowhere near at the time watching one of the other pandas who was still indoors so I only found our after the crowd had got bored and I went to find him, at which point the panda started wandering around the enclosure, but he didn’t want me to get a picture of his head.
The next panda enclosure held the mature young pandas, which we took to mean that they were essentially teenagers. These guys were putting on more of a show. One panda was sitting just splitting and eating piece after piece of bamboo, he even looked directly over at me at one point to help me get a good picture and at another point he looked as if he was showing me his bamboo, to let me know how tasty it was.
There was another panda in the same enclosure who was just hanging in a tree, and I mean that literally. I am not sure how he was staying up there and at one point he was lolling around so much I really thought he was going to fall, but he stayed up there, so we moved on.
After this we actually went to see some red pandas, which I wasn’t quite so excited about as I had seen them before a few times at a few zoos, but they were still cute. We even got to go into one of those walk around the enclosure with the animal type of things. Just as we entered there was one on the path, unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture though. These guys are much faster than their giant cousins, but you can tell they are related by their paws and the way they walk. apparently they have pseudo thumbs, who knew?
In the next enclosure there was a mother with two cubs, apparently earlier the two cubs had been rolling around on top of each other, but I am afraid I missed that. I came along at the point when one of the cubs was flat on his back eating some bamboo and looking like the most chilled out being on the planet, while the other cub and the mum were trying to get inside.
Eventually they were allowed inside and the one cub and mum went in gladly, the other cub was having none of it though, he started making these really strange noises and then went to climb a tree as the keepers came in to shoo him in. One of the keepers lifted him from the tree and he went floppy, just like a teddy and was taken inside with his family.
We went through a few indoor enclosures after that, but I didn’t bother with photos as the light was pretty bad, with the exception of one panda who was chilling in a fountain and looked for all the world like he was in the shower.
The other indoor enclosures included a few sleeping adults and some sleeping cubs. In the enclosure with the sleeping cubs there was one, who didn’t seem sleepy at all, he started off by climbing on a bit of tree, which was just above all the others. Soon he was rolling around on top of the other cubs who just continued to sleep away, it was the funniest thing, especially when he was lying on one of them for a good five minutes and then got up and walked over it and it hadn’t seemed to have noticed.
Finally it was time for the babies, there were huge queues and a lot of pushing going on, but we got to see one panda that was only ten days old and another that was something like forty days old and looked like a ball of fluff in the middle of the floor. We thought he looked a bit lonely, but found out later that the mum will neglect one baby at this stage so the keepers will swap cubs every ten hours or so and she doesn’t notice.
They were the last pandas we saw, but we continues to walk around the grounds and saw a lovely pond with black swans in it before stopping in for some ice tea.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to see the pandas, although it was slightly tainted by the crowds and the amount of pushing and shoving past that went on, and if we did the same we got some appalled looks.
There was one moment when we were waiting to see the babies, we were walking, but people were in front of us so we were going fairly slowly and one girl went past and shouldered me out of the way so that I stumbled and she didn’t even look back. There came a time when I was about to go past her and I did the same thing (perhaps not quite as hard) and she looked at me completely aghast. It is part of the culture to push and shove or decide that you want a particular spot and stop at nothing to get it, but they are surprised when westerners do the same.
In conclusion, sometimes you have to barge your way to the front to see incredibly cute, fluffy and floppy animals. Skadoosh!