Descend, Descend!

photo-1-3Heading back to Chengdu in dubious style: a car with the driver and me in front, three adults and one baby in the back seat. A sign for Huanglong – I wonder if I will ever make it there.

Random glimpses: Prayer cloths, prayer flags, snow, Moslems, Tibetans, yurts and sad, roadside makeshift tents. Massive elevated road or train track construction, the engineering feats in China are astounding. Goats clinging to hillsides, sad yaks waiting to give tourists rides, and happy yaks grazing in fields. Horses with riders, pulling carts, grazing. Islamic places of worship with the classical ball spires topped with crescent moon, (in China that is what they all seem to have regardless what the actual buildings look like) one pagoda, mountainside dwellings.

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Racks and racks of dried yak meat in Songpan outside nearly every shop, and in the hole in the wall place we stopped at to eat, rampant tourism gimmickry, Chinese flags prevalent again, ancient lookout towers -or so I assume. We were halted to. Bare crawl in a 4000+ metre tunnel, sirens blaring and flashing, along with impatient drivers who seem to think honking horns will make things go faster – it does not. I never did figure out why we were down to one lane.

The whole trip back was relatively quiet, I was not feeling too friendly due to the headache and having to make the decision to leave early.

Final assault on my nerves was being informed the the driver could not take me to my hostel because his license did not allow him to enter city limits. A bit of an argument ensued, a taxi was flagged down, my original driver thrust 100RMB to the taxi driver out of what I had paid to take me to the hostel. I my sweater behind in one of the vehicles. Good thing I was heading south. My headache was gone. Amazing.

More Pandas, can there ever be enough?

As already mentioned in my previous post, after managing to squeeze into a space that had been vacated, before someone else faster could snag it, I managed to watch the pandas for a while, snapped the requisite photos, then extricated myself from the undulating crowd, checking carefully that all my limbs and bag were indeed intact. There was not a single place where I did not encounter people.

The next enclosure, remember these are more like areas to keep humans out rather than pandas in, we were rewarded with two pandas. Only one can be seen in most of my photos as the smaller of the two had rolled down the embankment, pandas are indeed hilarious to watch as the lumber about. These two eventually had a bit of a rumble, then rolled down the embankment together. No idea if they were fighting, mating or just playing. Whichever it was I recommend for a prize in least resistance.

Then there were the baby pandas. It was extremely difficult to get close enough to the fence to see them let alone take a photo. The pathway outside the enclosure was quite narrow and packed from fence to retaining wall, 6-10 people deep, with a frightening scene of arms, legs, heads, cameras, bags undulating to an unheard rhythm, like a swarm of bees under glass – moving with purpose yet appearing to be going nowhere fast.

This was a bottleneck and little chance of leaving unscathed. Once in it there was no turning back and it was like swimming in honey to move toward the enclosure rather than be pushed ever upstream to who knew what new torture. I actually started to feel panicky with the crush of people. Ah, but the baby pandas and the ones munching away on their bamboo were so damn cute.

Enjoy the photos.
Tips:

  • go early to avoid the crowds

Cost:

  • city bus – 4
  • Entry – 58

Pandaemonium: my trip to the Styx

They got their ticket-so excited!
They got their ticket-so excited!

Two buses took me to the Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding for the low fare of 4 yuan and easy enough instructions, with a dose of common sense on my part to follow the crowds when I had to board the second bus. It is minor details like these that can derail an outing.

Arrived about an hour later to catch a glimpse of what was in store for me. Whoever said “Sally forth! Had not encountered the Chinese hordes intent on fitting in as much holiday pleasure as possible even if it kills them.

Once again everything was well managed. I felt rather like one of the damned being sent through one last maze oftorture at first. Then the line started snaking its way to the ticket booths at a fairly quick pace – I think I was in line no more than 15 minutes, bought my ticket, 58CNY is a steal.

The Panda Base is a non-profit facility, founded in 1987, has created a natural habitat for giant pandas. After paying and wending I was spat out the other end and into the maw of a beast writhing with humanity.

A toddler panda

I kept reminding myself I made this decision knowing full well it would be busy. As usual there were silly women wearing ridiculous shoes and outfits. This was not a Sunday outing!

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They got their ticket-so excited!

I carried my day bag supplied with plenty if water, a granola bar and a banana. Others brought full picnics, not by Canadian standards of a picnic, but ready for battening down if necessary.

I sallied forth on foot rather than take one of the open mini buses whose drivers announce their approach with a soft jingle of chimes. This was to encourage another level of maintaining quiet for the peace of the pandas.

Many signs reminded park attendees to refrain from loud noises, frightening or enticing the pandas, and no climbing into the enclosures. Parks personnel were quietly watching for any trouble.

Pandas are easy to find, just listen for thousands of oohs and ahs, search out everyone carefully rushing in that direction, then attempt to squeeze in to actually see what all the fuss is about. Pandas are indeed cute, and the Giant Pandas is a large, round, dirty white and black mass of cuteness.

They are also lethargic. To my knowledge pandas cannot be trained. Just imagine, ‘lie down’, what, oh nap time, okay! ‘Roll over’, good idea, must get more comfortable.

‘Look at the people’, naw, I will stayed rolled away from that bother and chew on my bamboo, thank you anyway. No cajoling by the writhing mass reaching for the depth and length of the relative sanctuary and comfort the pandas are in.

Arms extended, pleading, raised in strange apparatus supplication – ah yes, mobile phone selfie sticks – to capture a brief pose with a disinterested, distant panda. The first enclosure was a crush yet controlled – I can only assume not a single soul knew what torture was ahead – I certainly did not.

 

Cue the cuteness factor to entice the crowds further. I will post the remaining entry to the depths of craziness to pander another day.

A little Housekeeping (and some photos)

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Ancient park, this tree was not that old.

Before catching up on my visit to see the pandas and to Jiuzhaigou it is time to catch up on my expenditures. Fastidious record keeping is necessary whenever travelling, more so when on a, albeit self-inposed, strict budget. At least every other day I add up how much money I have left, and I try to balance what I have spent every day. However, for three days I only kept track rather than adding it all up. Now for some money reckoning.

I have 5800CNY left. At first I could only find 5400CNY then phew, did another search, found 400CNY, I knew I had tucked money in another place, and I get my 100CNY deposit when I check out = 5800CNY left. I expect I will spend about 100 today if I go to the Qingyang Palace and eat at the hostel again. It is so easy just to order here and I do have a cold.

It appeared I spent 6525CNY (rounded up) with 5800CNY left from my 11,000CNY. Pretty nifty trick to be ahead by over 1300CNY. Which is why trusting a calculator is not always wise. Back to the drawing board and my ineligible scribbling to do everything by paw. The balance was a little closer and I was not short money which is always good, my calculations still came out ahead by about 700CNY which seems rather excessive. I certainly did not spend that much in Xiamen!

However I look at it I seem to be over my budget by $8CAD per day over 11 days of travel. Most of that was a result of the 200CNY I paid for a private car to leave Jiuzhaigou a day early, which of course meant I wasted my return bus ticket, plus a loss on my room for the same reason, and paying an extra night in Chengdu. Basically those losses increased my daily budget, overall, by $120.00 – that is CAD! It is a good thing I spent less elsewhere.

If I were to do a similar trip I would spend more time in each place rather than only 2-3 nights. The travel part is exhausting, which means losing some time just trying to get some proper rest. So far I have been extremely careful with how I watch my money, the scariest place so far was the Chengdu North train station. It was teeming with people going hither and thither, some appeared to be just like gerbils running around a wheel going nowhere.

I did take the precaution of only having enough money for my train ticket and the bus fare back to the hostel, plus my passport because without ID a ticket cannot be purchased. I will seriously consider taking a taxi in the morning if it will mean getting dropped off closer to the departure area. Now that should be fun to ask about. Cost should only be, tops, 30CNY.

Another consideration, if I do go onto Guizhou and Guangxi provinces and need more money I will have to take it out before I go as neither province has international currency ATMs.

NEWS FLASH!!!
I looked up flights to Chiang Mai, Thailand from Kunming – my next stop. Talked with my youngest daughter and we booked the flight for October 11th. I will have an excellent excuse to return to some of my favourite places at another time and give enough time to seeing Guiyang. I had only booked five nights, need several more to see the villages.

Tips:

  • If you have the freedom to make changes go for it.
  • If you become unwell use common sense to get well and back on the road again.
  • Take Rx for the possibility of illness as it is always better to be prepared.

Money:

  • I will go into more detail with the next couple of blogs.

The Red Shoes (and every other colour and style under the sun)

Before heading out for sightseeing I headed to the bus station to buy a ticket to Jiuzhaigou, ended up having to get a return ticket. I think it has something to do with being a National Park. No matter, the main thing is that I have it. Very easy to get there, one bus, hop off, walk back a bit, ticket and a little note in hand to let the station at destination know when o plan to depart. Back to hostel, maybe took just over an hour.

I am not really concerned with vanity nor fashion, I am just questioning the wisdom of wearing shoes with absolutely no support for all the walking up and down stairs, across cobblestone walkways, uneven courses and tripping over people wherever one turns while visiting a popular site during a Golden Week in China.

It would be interesting to do a day of photos of what women are wearing in China these days, especially when on holiday. I admit that even some of the fashion forward young men could easily be included. Not sure I will approach it, not much fin asking permission. I was at the Wu Hou Shrine when I noted all of this. I am not sure where to begin my visit. Perhaps the description on the ticket will provide enough background for when I make my observations.

“The Wuhou shrine…built in 223 AD…covers..150,000 square meters. It consists of … Memorial halls in honour of Zhuge Liang and other ministers in the Shuhan of the Three Kingdoms. …The Wuhou Shrine has brilliantly existed for over 1780 years, and accumulated a rich and profound heritage of Chinese culture and history.”

Sorry, formatting on my iPad is not easy so I put that in quotes. I do believe the people of Chengdu are quite proud of their shrines. This one is easily accessible and backs onto the very busy Jinli walking street where pedestrians can partake of all sorts of delights from food, clothing, toys, drinks and noise. Everywhere there was noise from hawkers, tourists, garbage collectors – do they ever clear a path with their choice of clarion. However, that was after I had gone through the shrine.

photoOne bus, I think I was given the incorrect number of stops but just followed the majority of the people I could see. I did make a detour down a quiet street, one building appeared to be in the process of being gutted, imagine my initial shock to see someone standing on one of the balconies. Closer inspection found it to be a statue of someway Romanesque feature. It is always a wonder what can be found in China. The building appeared to have been apartments.

Back on the main thoroughfare I rounded the corner to head straight into the mass of sightseeing automatons. I believe some were on overload. Little did I know I would soon encounter the same feeling and that look of too much, too many, too far. In earlier posts I mentioned the hundreds waiting for taxis and thousands for trains, these numbers made sense. The same numbers seemed to have converged on the Wu Hou Shrine.

I had a little giggle when the ticket sales woman looked up at me, paused to decide which ticket to give me, looked again, then took my word that I am not yet 60. At least she did not make an automatic assumption. I have been told I do not look older than my current age of 59. After winding my way to get the ticket, then the same to be allowed inside I made a quick decision to go right, there is a set pattern to how structures, gardens and memorials are laid out.

There is a central section, with surrounding areas for walking, or resting, in relative comfort and peacefulness to enjoy the one of the tablets inscribed on the walls or the steles. In addition to these ancient feats of calligraphy, there are clay sculptures of the various ministers that were erected between the mid-1600s to 1800s. Except there was not relative peace with nearly every section for seating taken by someone and the enclosure for the most famous steles difficult were to access when the crowds were five people deep.

Signage is in Chinese and English which made it simple enough to decide what to see. I was quite taken with the bonsai garden, as were half the other thousands of sightseers. However, I did find some tranquil areas that lasted for a few breaths.

Some of the statues atop the cement railings were baffling in their apparent attempt to be included as part of an ancient shrine while made in modern poses. The panda holding a soccer ball was just ridiculous. It was sad to see this as many of the other statues really do appear to be original to the space and the fake ones just undermine what was once an important shrine.

As expected where there are ancient wooden structures smoking is prohibited. I told of three people for smoking. Surely they could wait until after the leave. Such disrespect for the history and anyone in the vicinity. I was rather sad to discover there was one smoking area – with relatively seats too.

Overall the shrine seems to be run down, areas are cordoned off, ostensibly being repaired but a quick look through a partially open metal door I saw the mass destruction seem far too often here. There just did not seem to be any rhyme or reason. In addition, areas that might have been inviting for perhaps tea or a picnic – I did not stay to find out – were shabbily scattered with rattan chairs and tables alongside piles of the same shoved into corners.

My favourites were the calligraphy chiseled into stone. My least favourite, the crowds. I did go to Jinli Street, I was so happy to finally get away from it. Back at the hostel, easy decision made to wait until the next day for anymore outings. At least having my own room I can shut the world out for a while.

Tips:

Take public transit, but do make sure your number of stops is correct. I get cranky when someone says ‘maybe’ so many stops. I try to pin down the exact number, which could still be incorrect. DO NOT travel during golden week unless you enjoy being tortured.

Spent:

  • Bus – 4
  • Return bus ticket to Jiuzhaigou – 260
  • Wuhou Shrine – 60
  • Bus – 4; water – 2
  • Lunch at hostel – 15.