The little fluffy guys, the big stone guy and the guys with magic faces

My first stop in China – and one of the only ones I had actually decided on before crossing the border – was Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, and I was basing this decision purely on the fact that they have baby pandas. I knew for a fact that they have baby pandas because the Madventure crew came through here in September and reported on the presence of the almost newborns then in existence, so I got to go one better and see them at 7 months old. Old enough to be exploring and playing!

I seem to remember when I was younger and my pre-retirement dad was still architecting that he did something on a panda centre in China – was it this one Dad? I keep forgetting to ask whenever I’m online.

The Chengdu panda breeding centre has red pandas as well, and honestly, I feel kind of sorry for them. They’re so pretty, but they do pale into insignificance beside the main event.

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I’m still cute right? Why does nobody care about me?

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Because you’re not as cute as meeeeeee! Mwah hah hah

Really, you can’t get much more adorable than panda toddlers bundling on top of each other. No words for this, just look at the fluffy. Gah.

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Once you get bored of looking at panda babies (ha, as if), there are various other bits you can check out – the vet centre (there’s an interactive game where you have to try and diagnose diseases. My autocorrect tried to write that as ineffective and given that there’s minimal English that’s fairly accurate), the bakery (for panda bread, not human treats, though you can try some if you like. It’s made of various grains and… stuff and tastes very health foody. Like extremely brown bread. But hey, the pandas like it apparently) and a rather boring museum with some horrendously bad stuffed animals.

The main point I got from the museum is that pandas are basically only alive because of humans. They’re technically carnivores but they’re too lazy to hunt so they just eat bamboo which they can’t digest properly, they’re extremely picky with their mates, and then when they do procreate they have a habit of rolling over and squishing their babies. If humans hadn’t decided they were adorable enough to save them they would have gone extinct ages ago. Which I am of course happy about, but I can’t help but picture God sitting on his cloud saying ‘Damn it humans just let them go! Stop messing with the master plan! I can’t introduce the fire breathing mantis bears until the pandas are gone!’

The other Chengdu attraction offered by most of the hostels is tickets to the Sichuan opera. I can’t recommend this highly enough, although I have no photos – at the beginning we were told in heavily accented English ‘Lady and gentlemen, please do not use camera or mobile phone without espress permission. Sinks for your corporation.’ Can’t argue with that. I went along not really knowing what to expect and just thinking it would be a bit of traditional dancing and mildly interesting, but I was totally blown away. I can’t say I really understood much of the plot – there were English subtitles on screens beside the stage but they were rather… unenlightening. Things like ‘beautiful girls, 30% are beautiful and the rest are dexterous’, and the wonderfully obscure ‘plum blossom cock loft’. The action on the other hand was brilliant, a mixture of pantomime slapstick humour and graceful dancing, which shouldn’t work but totally did, along with fire breathing, acrobatics, stick puppets (better than it sounds) and breathtaking double act corde lisse.  The star attraction and what Sichuan opera is known for is the face changing act, where actors change masks without touching their faces at lightening speeds. They’ll spin round and suddenly be wearing a different face, or swish a cloak in front of them, different face. Then they up the game and change without concealing their faces at all – I was on an aisle seat and one actor came up to me, shook my hand and changed a foot away from my face. Then just as I was thinking, OK that’s cool but I think I’ve worked out that they’re removing the masks to reveal new ones underneath, someone put a mask ON without me seeing how and I was totally baffled. Very clever stuff.

But since I have no photos you can enjoy this picture of a man practising calligraphy with water in the local park.

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Nearby to Chengdu is Leshan, home of (I think) the world’s biggest Buddha statue. Well, in theory it’s nearby. It’s supposed to take two hours to get there, but that doesn’t include walking to the metro, metro across town, walking to the bus station, finding the bus from the bus station to the Buddha, and walking to the correct gate when you inevitably get dropped off at the wrong one. It took me nearly 4 hours in total, and stupidly I decided to do it as a day trip before catching an overnight bus out of Chengdu, so I was rushing round like a mad thing worried I wouldn’t get back in time. It is pretty big and impressive though, even if I didn’t get my money’s worth (there are various other bits and pieces included in the ticket price if you have the time)

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So by all means go as a day trip, but don’t try and do it on a time limit.

Sinks for your corporation.

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