...even though we turned in "early." Traveling is not so easy on four hours sleep.
17.08.2013 - 17.08.2013 97 °F
We woke up at 6 and cracked the whip on the girls to make sure that we were downstairs for breakfast at 7 o'clock. Sandy was going to pick us up at 8 because he informed us that the early bird gets to frolic with pandas. The breakfast buffet was truly one of the best we have had so far, but I'm not sure the hotel is very full from the sparse crowd that showed up at that hour. More on that later. The girls didn't need a lot of encouragement to keep things at a quick pace because today was the day THEY had been waiting for: PANDAS!!!
These hybrid western-eastern breakfasts are kind of interesting, but I think we are all beginning to long for our home cooking. For my part, it's probably good. I rarely have had a good appetite, and Bruce has done his best to prevent me from "guilt eating." You know...."there are 1.2 billion starving people in China and I refuse to finish my octopus tart." I guess after watching the buddhist monks pound it down, I felt better. I mean, they looked great. Perhaps they work out...
We headed upstairs and jumped into the van with Sandy and Mr. Mrmphstchen or whatever and headed off into Chengdu rush hour as the Panda Reserve is 30 mins outside of Chengdu proper. You walk up to the ticket counter and it's like a green oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle that is the modern Chinese city. Greeted by boulevards of bamboo-sheltered roadway, a three car tram takes you to the first of two main stops on your tour. You can walk on your own if you want to, but our Holy Grail, having the kids able to hold a panda, goes to the first 50 persons to sign up. You arrive at the main panda facility, where families abound and incubators hold the babies, and sign up with the hope of trying to be one of the lucky fifty.
It's at this point that the full import of the "deal" begins to become clear. We knew that this was a pricey activity, but they don't tell you the FULL deal until your are there. You will put on protective clothing (to protect the pandas from "our diseases") on your feet and bodies, go view a lot of the daily panda care, and pose with a one-year old panda for some great pictures. And they really were! The photographers who did the work did a great job, and the Reserve puts together a nice package of photos, some in Lucite, and other items that made this a nice memory. I'm not going to say the price (if you are that determined you can look it up) but what they DON'T tell you is that parents can't go along to photograph the experience unless you pay also. Uh...yea. Some did, but that was pushing it for our group.
So here we are ,hoping Hayley is smiling and Laurie truly enjoys it as much as anticipated, and we don't know how it's going. It's like waiting for the birth of your child! The girls were the last to come out and the last to get their package, but it was worth the wait. Bruce has the pix up on his blog and it was an awesome experience that I feel certain the kids will enjoy even more as they look back on it. Good times...
While we were waiting our turn for the girls to do the panda thing, we went over to another area of the reserve to see the endangered Red Pandas. No, these aren't ones that Chairman Mao converted in the Cultural Revolution, they have kind of a red fox color to them but are actually more closely related to raccoons than they are to bears. That was a fun time as well because they move like a lumbering beast. Their communication is often by touching or bumping and we got to see them also happily munching on bamboo. It's best to walk carefully around their habitat as they are like a librarian at an old school.
Once we left our panda experience, we headed over the the tourist trap for some reminders of our good times, and a dinner at the restaurant by the gift center. It was nicely tailored to our western tastes (thank you Sandy!) and reasonably priced. That is starting to change in China. The bargains that abounded just 8-10 years ago, have since disappeared...or so we have been told.
We next went to WuHou Memorial Temple. While many warriors and wise men who fought for the emperors during what was called "the Time of the Three Kingdoms" it's most particularly built to honor Zhuge Liang. He was a wise man and a warrior who served the emperors of the time most honorably. Wisdom and kindness to the poor is considered by the Chinese to be at least as valuable as wealth, success, and victory in battles. We are unsure when his temple was erected but others over time were put there as well. The 17th century saw the huge 400,000 sq. ft. grounds and walls completed to protect this area. The grounds contain huge gardens of varied types of bonsai and other ornamental greenery. Today it is a convenient and healthy green area inside bustling Chengdu, and the massive crowds there speaks to that something intangible in the stories of men who were unselfed and sacrificed for something greater than themselves. The Chinese seem as fascinated with the grounds are we were, since their concentration...was...so....uh...nevermind.
Next, we quickly went to Du Fu Cottage(but not too quickly). It was named for Lord Du, who later was given a honorable title which made him Lord Du Fu. He is kind of a combination Da Vinci and Shakespeare. He is most known for his wisdom and his poetry. Waterfalls, small ponds, small creeks, all find their way through the grounds. The Chinese value these essential elements of beauty and tranquility. Most of these places also contain likeness statues of other people who were either contemporaries of the main revered person, or others who were known for some of the same characteristics. After a while, admittedly, you lose track of who is who. I'm sure Jefferson, Washington, Madison, etc. begin to make an Asian's eyes glaze over. The Chinese have a culture of a certain type of civilization going back thousands of years when my ancestors were throwing sod at each other. But that's not what it's really all about.
This trip is helping me to think through what is our "ancestry". Who are my "parents?" What is my "heritage?" We look back at Judeo-Christian heritage, as it were, because of the lessons we learn from the examples of people who wrestled with the same issues we do today. Nothing is new under the sun. The Chinese I talk to think that the "new China" is bringing new opportunities into their lives. I just hope that they don't lose the best of what they have learned over time. That means a sense of spirituality, unselfishness, and giving for a higher purpose. That means connecting with God. It will be interesting to see how this plays out when boomtimes scale back (it may be beginning now. There are a lot of silent cranes on those big buildings.)
We finally decided we had done enough for one day. It was long but rewarding. We went back to the hotel, where our Dorsett Grand experience took yet another bizarre turn. We came down around 8, after a nap, for a dinner at the same restaurant that we have breakfast in. There were wonderful choices if you took the buffet, but it was a little pricey for us. We decided to order a la carte, and you would have thought we informed them we wanted to drag a maggot-infested carcass in the door. American culture has often define the Chinese as "inscrutable." Perhaps in the past. We find the Chinese of the "new China" extremely "scrutable." Shortly, we saw why: we were the only ones there. And would remain so until we left 90 minutes later.
The comedy of errors began with a "kids burger" that Laurie ordered. It was a small bun with two slices of bacon, a fried egg, and a piece of lettuce. Okkkkkkkaaaaayyyy. When we made clear to us that we expected beef, we were informed that they were sorry that we didn't understand the difference of what a burger was in Chinese culture. We were not born yesterday and were ready to make a more serious stink when we were informed that they would fix her something else. She got a simple sandwich and was happy. Now, we began to worry about the pizzas we ordered. Ten minutes went by...20...30...40...Bruce went up and wondered if perhaps the chef didn't know how to fix what we had ordered off the menu. We thought of this problem because we saw the chef come out, ask to see the menu, and walk away as if someone had just sneeze on the salad bar. Bruce was told, it was not a problem, and it was clear that when we left that night, and the chef walked by us as we left, that we were glad that the decapitation machines from WuHou Park were not available to the staff at the Dorsett Not-So Grand.
The smell of fear (for their continued employment) was in the air. You would think we got great service, since we were the only ones. Wrong, you would be...hmmmm . (read in Yoda voice) Bruce and I discussed how, other than the wild party from the night before, that we saw few people in the hotel. This seems like a candidate for "pruning" in the next Chinese recession. I intend to keep an eye out for the future of the "Dorsett Grand"
We hit the sack, confused, but tired and looked forward to the next morning's flight to Xi'an and the day at the City Wall, Bell Tower, and the sights of this ancient imperial Chinese capital!
See you then,