Our trip to Chengdu from Xi’an had all the familiar feelings of the previous overnight train to do, but with a few improvements. It was the same mosh-pit type of free-for-all that accompanied the first trip, but at least this time we had something that resembled a bed, the hard sleeper class. I vowed after our previous train trip that I will never take a hard seat (Chinese version of 2nd class, people crammed in because they actually oversell the train with more people than seats) overnight again. Once we got to our bunks, we were cramped but happy to at least have a place to lay down. About 13 hours later, we would arrive in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of China.
Dana and I checked into our hostel very early since our train arrived in Chengdu at 5 am. We had our first dorm sleeping experience, and some character from Canada made sure we wouldn’t forget it. As we tried to put our bags away really quietly, he managed to wake-up and ask us “If we were ninjas coming to take him prisoner.” I told him no, we were just trying to be quiet and we didn’t want to disturb him. “Pandas? No way man, that’s crazy.” If you can imagine a great stoner/surfer type of voice to go along with his quotes, you’ll have recreated the experience perfectly. On a side note, we’ve met more than our fair share of strange/annoying Canadians on this trip, but I’m continuing to compile more evidence before I devote an entire blog post to them. But I digress. After that diversion, we headed off to see the Chengdu Panda Research Base, home to the largest concentration of Pandas anywhere in the world. I was surprised to learn before getting there that there are only twelve pandas in four different zoos across the US. I would’ve thought there were more. Anyways, after a 45 minute minibus ride, we reached the CPRB.
Our tour began with an opportunity to view the highly-underrated cousin to the giant panda, the red panda. Looking something like a mix between a fox, panda, and raccoon, these guys are fantastic little creatures that look an awful lot like one of the power-ups Mario could get in Super Mario 3. Look at the pictures and tell me they don’t. Unfortunately, our tour leaders were pretty strict in making us stick to a schedule so I got less time that I would’ve liked with them.
The next few hours were directly involved in witnessing the giant panda in all their glory. They are exceptional creatures to watch up close. To no one’s surprise, their two favorite activities are eating bamboo and sleeping. Luckily, we also got to see a panda wrestling match! Two rambunctious young males decided to have a go at one another, which was very entertaining but hard to photograph. Since pandas are so pudgy and have short limbs, it’s hard to see what’s really going on when you’re taking pictures of two huge figures. Sadly, Dana was not able to convince any of the workers there that she would make a good foster parent for a young panda, so no luck in being able to bring one with us.
After a magnificent day with the Pandas, we had dinner in one of the most unique type of dining apparatuses: the hot pot. The hot pot is something like a Chinese fondue, where they bring out a bunch of raw meats and veggies, and you dip them into a boiling hot, oily broth. They also load up the broth with tons of Sichuan peppers, which combine with the broth to make the hot pot experience both temperature hot and spicy hot. The spicy hot is an interesting one though, as it kind of tastes like detergent and numbs your mouth in addition to being spicy. Definitely one of the more memorable meals we’ve had on the trip.