Three-year-old Florian Naumann makes new friends in Chengdu (and tries to sneak in some spicy food, too)
Did you know that pandas eat 40 kilograms of bamboo a day? I learned that when we went to Chengdu.
We flew to Chengdu from Shanghai in the late afternoon and when we got there it was already dark. I was disappointed, because I wanted to go see the pandas right away but Mommy said we needed to get to our hotel to check in. So, we went straight to the brand new Intercontinental Hotel. The hotel is so new so it took us a while before we found someone who knew where to go. Finally, we arrived at the hotel. It's so big that there are little old houses in the lobby and lots of fish in pools too.
The next day we hired a taxi for the whole day--the concierge said that it's difficult to find taxis in Chengdu. Chengdu is much more spread out than Shanghai and it took one whole hour to get to the pandas but I knew we had arrived when I saw a huge white panda statue right before the entrance.
The Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base has bamboo for miles. Finally, we got to the Giant Panda enclosure. There was a mama panda playing with her baby cub and another funny guy was trying to dig a hole through the wall. Maybe his friend lived on the other side? You can get close to the pandas because they play near the pedestrian paths and they weren't behind bars or anything. The little pandas were hilarious--one had climbed way up in a tree and was asleep. It looked so uncomfortable.
We also saw a lot of Red Pandas. They are also endangered, but they aren't really red, more like a brown color. They look like raccoons and have white masks on their faces and rings on their tails. There's also a big panda museum and learning center, a
tourist center and a restaurant at the base. We walked around a big lake after we saw the pandas and saw a beautiful peacock. I tried to make it put up its tail but it wouldn't. They also keep endangered birds at this lake, so you could hear them in the trees. It sounded like being in the jungle.
After that we ate some lunch at a little local restaurant across the street from Wuhouci, our next sightseeing stop. Mommy had dandan noodles that were really spicy so I couldn't try them. Then we went to Wuhouci, a garden complex full of small temples and shrines to rulers during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.). There is a short sacred way to Zhuge Liang's tomb with stone animals and lots of stone animals decorate the temple railings. The flowers were all blooming and there were a lot of fish in the streams. It was fun to try to catch them with a stick.
Right next to Wuhouci, there was an interesting alley called Jinli Street that we enjoyed walking down because the buildings are modeled on the architectural style of ancient Sichuan. It is full of little shops selling all kinds of Chengdu treats like long chao shou, which are similar to the wontons we have in Shanghai but they are famous in Chengdu, as well as lai tang yuan, which are essentially boiled dumplings. We watched locals sitting outside eating snacks and drinking tea. They drink a lot of tea in Chengdu. Mommy said that they invented tea in Sichuan. As the agricultural center of ancient China, they were the first to domesticate tea plants so there's a history of tea-drinking that spans over 2,000 years.
That night Mommy let me stay up late because we were going to see Sichuan Opera at the Shunxing Ancient Teahouse. The restaurant was really fun; there was a big man dressed in dark blue and yellow traditional silk robes banging wooden blocks together and welcoming us. After we sat down, another man with little fluffy ear cleaners came to our table and asked if we wanted a massage. The best was a man with a teapot with a spout that was really long. He did all kinds of tricks and poured the tea behind his back. I tried to do it with my chopsticks but no tea came out.
I couldn't eat the ma la ji (spicy chicken) that Mommy ordered because it was too spicy. I did like the guo ba zhu pian, which is a crunchy rice cake in a yummy pork and vegetable gravy. After she finally finished eating, we went next door to the opera house.
I chose the table and then a lady brought us some dried sweet potato and peanuts as well as jasmine tea in little teacups covered with lids. That's the way Sichuan people drink tea. On stage, dancers came on wearing beautiful silk costumes and there was a funny show with a man doing acrobats. The finale was the famous Sichuan bian lian, "changing faces" dance where they change their masks really fast without using their hands. There was also a man wearing a red mask and robe blowing fire from his mouth. It was awesome!
The next day we went to the Jinsha Site Museum, which has old relics that they dug up from huge pits. I liked the gold mask and the sundial. My mom liked the old pots. What's so great about old pots? She said they are from the Shu kingdom that ruled from 221-263AD. Well, I also liked the big park outside the museum. There is a "Boulder Path" that has really big rocks I could climb on.
After lunch outside the museum-another bowl of rice for me, and lots of spicy stuff for Mommy, this time called "hotpot"-we went to Wenshu Yuan. It is the best-preserved Buddhist monastery and temple complex in Chengdu and it dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Then, we walked along another alley off the temple that had lots of souvenir shops selling things like Sichuan Opera masks, local snacks and tea. I liked it there too; I had a chocolate ice cream cone.
Chengdu is a fun place to go, especially if you like pandas. Oh, and if you like spicy food, Mommy says it's the best. The ice cream is pretty good too.
Stay: Intercontinental Century City, 88 Century City Boulevard, Chengdu.
Eat: Sichuan snacks at old Jinli Street outside Wuhouci; locally for dandan mian (spicy Sichuan noodles) or Sichuan hotpot; Shunxing Ancient Teahouse, 198 Century City Boulevard, Chengdu, Tel: (028) 8538-0007S
Florian Naumann attends the Julia Gabriel Center for Learning and will one day conquer spicy food.
by Sara Naumann. Photo courtesy of Sara Naumann.