Tag Archives: panda



Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan province in southwestern China. What it is most known for nowadays is that it is the global home of the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base…the launching point for the world’s largest (Leshan Giant) Buddha…and the home of Sichuan (or Szechuan) cooking. All of these things you would probably have seen on documentaries of lifestyle type programs on the box.

We arrived on a national holiday weekend so the place was nutty and we hid from the crowds for the first couple of days. Planning the next legs of the journey which seems like it will take us into Kyrgyzstan for my birthday in downtown Bishkek. Added to this Jill downloaded the bits that she needed for her next assignment.

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Sichuan province is the home of about 80% of the 1500 pandas that are alive today. It is also where they established a breeding research base about 10 km from the middle of town… which is awesome. It costs about $10 to spend a day there, but the early mornings are the best time as they are up and about and active. For about $120…($140 on weekends) you can volunteer providing keeper duties (shovelling $hit and lugging bamboo…I presume) and be shown through some of the studies…and get a certificate. For double the price…you can do it for two days. For under $350 (2000 yuan) you can have your photo taken cuddling a baby panda. In any case your $10 buys you great views of lots of adult and baby pandas doing panda-esque activities.

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The Leshan Giant Buddha is a 71 metre tall Buddha carved into a cliff face and is the tallest Buddha in the world. Wiki tells me that construction started in 713 and finished 90 years later. A Chinese monk named Haitong hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. As it happened the carved away stone removed from the cliff face got dumped in the river below…changing the currents…making the water safe for passing ships.

The Buddha was pretty darn big and the hike from the top to the bottom and back up again was not too onerous. It was however made amusing by a hoard of Chinese women attempting to do it in the ridiculous high heeled stripper shoes that they all tend to wear. This is a common theme of hikes within China…Chinese women attend in short skirts and 4 inch+ high heels and climb mountains etc.

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Sichuan (or Szechuan) cooking is possibly the hottest food on the planet. The use of spices and rear splitting chillies puts shame to the hottest of Indian vindaloo’s. The real issue is that everything on the menu is like this…so there is absolutely no respite from the chilli onslaught.

Our first night we hit a joint around the corner and pointed at the pictures of what seemed like three fairly innocuous dishes. The first we both agreed was a photo of crab claws…what arrived was the skull of a small mammal… drenched in chilli and oozing chilli oil…Jill laughed and left it to me…I ate it…and we took the photo back to the hostel to ask the guys there to name that animal…it was a rabbit…much happier now.

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The next was a mushroom dish that had large red and green chillies and seeds throughout… Jill managed three mouthfuls of this while I ate bugs’s skull…before she quickly began downing her amber ale. After splitting the skull apart and eating the meaty bits I moved to the mushrooms which were milder than the skull…then our main came which was a pork and mushroom deal…OMG…this one had a bite to it…

Safe to say that not one of Jill’s side of the family would survive here…some of my lot would be ok…but even the kamikazes will find this joint on the challenging side. The key issue is that there is no respite and the cumulative effect is debilitating. In addition to the chilli there is a special Sichuan pepper which adds another numbing dimension. We did another cooking course…where we learned to use the murderous items from the night before. So upon our return (whenever that may be) we are equipped to replicate some of these gems…any volunteers?

I hate to admit this but I am actually developing a taste for eating tofu… Tofu for me was always tree hugging, hippie, vego freak, meat substitution, rubbish to be mocked mercilessly…along with the people who eat it (cos they don’t get enough protein so are too weak to lift their arms in objection to the mocking). It actually tastes ok when done right…don’t get me wrong… big slabs of cow is still king…but maybe the mocking will be reserved to the stuff like tofurkey or faken.



Well we took another overnight sleeper carriage from Xian to Chongqing which again was very good. The reason for coming to Chongqing was that this is the departure point for a 4 day cruise down the Yangtze River through the 3 gorges and other generally good looking things. We had planned to do a side trip to Chengdu to check out the Pandas but our extension in Beijing kinda threw a spanner in the works on the timings.

As it turns out we have about 5 days here in Chongqing which on the face of it seems about 3 and a half days too long. The main tourist attraction is the Szechwan Hotpot. Which you can find almost everywhere so is not a real challenge. The main challenge is to be able to order and eat one without irrevocably destroying your colon. Now many of you would be aware that I am not shy of chilli and with Mike, Brad, and the occasional Scotty (sometimes fuelled by and other times quenched by beer) however this trip is pushing even my limits at times. I think mum’s mate from Sydney is the only bloke I have met who would do this comfortably.


On our first night in Chongqing we took an evening stroll along the Yangtze River to find a meal and then further again to let the meal settle and see what else was to be seen. We walked along the River bank, for about 8 Kms, and admired the obscene amounts of lights that get lit as they have a full time light show on ALL of the city buildings. Chongqing is a river city at the junction of the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers built amidst the mountains, as such it is steep, very steep. Now we have recovered from our stair traumas and are getting fitter each day with the walking etc…but steep is a whole other challenge. On the up side we have learned to walk to (or close to) exhaustion and pay the $2-3 cab fare back.

On our hike up the mountains (or city streets – depends on your perspective) this morning we had the best dumplings that I have ever had. Now, both fried and steamed dumplings have been a breakfast staple and we have had many including some great variations but today’s were sublime. On our walk yesterday evening, our side of the River was really dull and the other side looked really good. So we took the cable car from one side to the other. As it turned out our side is the cool side.

There is a zoo here so I will go and get a panda and tiger fix in (probably tomorrow). They sell a type of hoodie meets vest thing here that looks like a panda and we are wracking our brains to think of somebody who would appreciate such a thing. Dylan and Sky (Sao) come to mind but they are both too little and the others are all too big. The other challenge would then be to traverse the china postal service to send anything back home.

The next day came and went and we did in fact hit the zoo. It was incredible. Initially we were a touch disappointed when we got to the panda exhibit as the first exhibit was of an empty pen with a sign saying that this was Ling Ling’s pen and he moved in 2003. The second was a similar story but Yum Cha or Dim Sum or something had moved in 2007. The third pen had a panda up a tree. You could get a photo of the white blur of a panda’s ass (which we got) up a tree. We decided to see the rest of the zoo and come back later. The rest of the zoo was sensational with a minor issue of pen sizes for some bears (the only blight on an excellent zoo).

There was a tiger that took exception to a bird in his enclosure and was stalking it like prey and pouncing (unsuccessfully). His other 3 mates were in their own enclosures but were much less animated. The lion had a roaring session (not while we were watching but it could be heard throughout the park) that sent Chinese people racing for the enclosure. The orang-utans were old but were still way cool. And there was a horny pig getting his rocks off in the petting zoo. All of this was in addition to the regular zoo fare of elephants, zebras, camels, ostriches, monkeys, birds etc.

4 hours later and we gave the pandas another crack. The blur had left the tree and was munching on some bamboo but was mostly obstructed. An old couple came past with a guide they had hired who said that they would get better pictures from the other six upstairs…other six…upstairs…what the…I became a stalker waiting for them to leave so I could follow them to this mythical place that was…upstairs.

I didn’t have to wait too long and around a corner we went…then there were stairs to a gift shop…then another corner…and then the mystical stairs of which he spoke. Upon arriving atop the stairs six (count em six) open pens with platforms covered in fresh cut bamboo each housing seemingly famished great pandas munching away. All in clear plain sight, no camera impediments, no throngs of tourists just happy pandas having a feed. Claudia Naug would have been in utter bliss as we stood for about 30 mins watching, photographing and videoing them.

A final point on the zoo. It costs 30 yuan in peak season and 20 for us as it was off season. So based upon today’s exchange rate we got hours of entertainment for $3.46 each. These costs blow out considerably when you add the 4 yuan each, each way on the train. Jill had a 15 yuan ice cream and I had an 8 yuan mystery meat on a stick. All this adds up to the fact that 2 people had a 25km train journey to a zoo, paid entrance, got fed and got home for $13.66.

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