Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Panda-monium

Day Nine

After breakfast and a lazy morning, we went to the airport and caught a two hour flight to Chengdu (flight number five).  We checked into the hotel and had a couple hours to ourselves.  I spent the time walking around the shops outside the hotel and buying us a pair of  Coke Zeros.

We were picked up and went out for dinner before we went to the Sichuan Opera (I hadn't eaten lunch and I only picked at my dinner - no appetite). The Chinese opera was not what I expected.  It felt more like a variety show.  We took our seats a few rows from the stage.  There were tables with tea cups in front of all the seats - the Chinese sure like their tea.  Before the show performers sat in front of mirrors in a room off of the main seating area putting on their makeup.  A crowd, including me, gathered around to take their pictures and to see how the colorful makeup was applied.

Actress putting on her makeup.
I returned to our seat as the show began.  Men with long spouted teapots - I'm talking three to five foot spouts - went around filling and refilling the tea cups.  Watching them fill a tea cup from a distance away was a show all by itself.

The show started with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments.  This was followed by puppetry, singing, dancing. performances resembling opera, and comedy routines.  One of the most interesting was a man doing shadow puppets on a big screen.  He was amazing.

Chinese opera dancer.
The show ended with the amazing face changing dancers (Bian Lian).  The dancers have amazing costumes and their faces are covered.  In a split second the masks change over and over.  It is so fast you can't really see what it happening.  Their method is a secret - only males are taught because would marry out of the family and take the secret with them.  As with all secrets, more outsiders are learning the trick.  It was so mesmerizing I didn't even take a picture of them, the main attraction of the Sichuan Opera.

That night I didn't sleep well.  I think I was suffering from a lack of food, water, and the drop in altitude.  I was in a weird mood and I had difficulty clearing my head enough to sleep.  I was awake at 3:00 AM to hear the people cheering the Euro 2012 games in the bar next door to the hotel.

Day Ten

A terrible night's sleep meant a crappy start to day ten.  I was tired, cranky, and a little wobbly on my feet.  I felt sick.  I tried my best to hide it as we boarded the bus to go to the Chengdu Research base for Panda Breeding.

The Giant Panda - a relative of the raccoon, not the bear.
The morning was drizzly.  This means it was hot and humid.  We arrived at the research station and followed a guide as he took us to the panda enclosure.  The guide was not familiar with what General Tours' groups did but our guide Malinda knew and she let him know exactly what she expected.  The station guide was taken aback but did exactly what she told him.  (Our guide said that Beijing women are known for being pushy and you could hear it in her voice when she talked to the station guide.)  We were led into a building with cages (We were followed in by Chinese tourists who were curious where these foreigners were going.  They were shooed out by the station guide - Chinese can be a little pushy at times).

Inside the building we were given smocks, booties, and gloves to protect the pandas from any strange diseases we may be carrying.  I put this extra layer on and my temp went up immediately.  We helped cut apples for the panda.  Fortunately we'd arrived at the station a little late and the cages had already been cleaned out (cleaning out the cages is one of the things the tours usually did).  A couple panda cubs were called into a cage and, one at a time, we each placed a piece of apple on the end of a stick and fed it to the pandas.  We then went outside and, using a much larger stick ( 'pole' would be a better word), we fed other pandas in the open air pen.  The pandas were trained to stand on their hind legs to get food - this helped them get exercise.  Not feeling great I stood back and skipped this part and just watched the others feed the pandas.  After this it was back into the enclosure where we gave the cubs a bath with a hose.  I skipped this as well.

Panda standing to get a treat and to exercise.
As soon as our panda volunteer experience was over I tore of the smack, booties and gloves and practically ran next door to a small shop and bought bottles of water (and a magnet of course).  I downed my water on the way to our next stop - the babies.  For a $200 donation you could get your picture taken holding a baby panda.  The "baby" was larger than most teddy bears.  The Wife and I decided not to hold the baby.  All the other women in our group payed up and held the baby.  None of the men did.  As we were waiting for the women to cycle through the baby holding experience I found a chair in an air conditioned space and slowly felt myself return from the dead.

It was getting close to lunch time and we headed for the center's restaurant.  Along the way we saw a relative to the panda, the red panda, which showed very clearly that pandas were not bears.  Panda, both the black and white ones and the red ones, are most closely related to the raccoon.  The red panda were more raccoon-like and very cute.

Huge, and hungry, koi.
We ate lunch at the center in a small restaurant not far from a lake.  The lake was full of huge koi and black swans (a first for me).  I decided to go western at the restaurant and ordered spaghetti.  Best. Damn. Spaghetti. Ever!  Well it wasn't that great but it did complete my resurrection.   I'd obviously not eaten enough or had enough liquids in the last twenty-four hours.  I decided to top off the tank with one of those mystery Magnum ice cream bars - the Chinese description apparently said vanilla with dark chocolate coating - Yum!

As we were leaving the drizzle that had been lingering all day turned into a light rain.  We huddled under umbrellas while people of our group went through the little panda center gift shop where all things panda could be purchased before boarding the bus and heading back to the airport.

Flight number six took us to Xi'an.  Our guide was born near Xi'an in, what she described as, a small town ... of 200,000.  When you have a population of 1.35 Billion your idea of small becomes a bit skewed.  I think she was happy to be in a more familiar place.

On the bus to the hotel, for the first time, our guide suggested that there were parts of the city that were not safe for tourists.  This convinced most of our group to stay in the hotel that night and not go out.  We ended up ordering burgers from room service - something almost everyone in our group did - and had a satisfying western meal.  The burger, after almost ten days of Chinese food ... was awesome.

Pictures from days nine and ten (07/01 - 07/02/2012) can be found in my 2012-06 China Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

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