Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PANDAS! And less cute places: Shanghai and Chengdu

After Yunnan, we spent 36 hours on a train to get to Shanghai. It was our longest ride yet, but was surprisingly comfortable. Arriving in Shanghai at 5am on a Sunday is a bit like getting into Manhattan at 5am. No one is up yet and the entire downtown has a strange, deserted feel to it. After having some problems finding a hotel room, we ended up in a rather questionable hotel, though it was central and we could see many very nice hotels from our window. Then we were off to see a few sights before meeting Tara's sister, Brooke, at the airport.

Here is the Bund at night. Shanghai was home to many foreigners in the past, with each major country controlling part of the city. The British section along the river, with the main street called the Bund, is home to many of the oldest buildings in Shanghai. Also some of the least Chinese-looking.
After successfully locating Brooke at the airport and getting in a fight with our hotel because we weren't supposed to have three people in our room (they were technically in the right, but who would have thought that the dirtbag hotel would enforce such a rule? Had she been a prostitute, we are fairly certain that she could have stayed for free), we moved to a better hotel and went to explore the Pudong section of town across the river. A fellow traveller had tipped us off a few weeks earlier that the bathrooms in the World Financial Tower are really amazing. Tara and Brooke spent about a half hour in the bathroom playing with the high-tech toilets.
Tara and Brooke then decided (well, Brooke decided and peer-pressured Tara) that they would do a jumping picture. After about 20 shots, I gave up on ever getting them to jump at the same time. Here's the best that I got.
We visited a famous temple in Shanghai that turned out to be much more touristy than expected. It was here, however, that I was introduced to the word rockery. You pile up a bunch of rocks and then maybe add some cement and you have a rockery. They really like rockeries in China. In New York, the pigeons would really like them, too.
The Jing'An temple is a famous monastery and temple right in the middle of Shanghai. It was originally built in the 1500s, but appears to have been almost entirely rebuilt about five minutes before we arrived. That is often the case with China's historical sites. It still looks nice, though.
China has exercise equipment everywhere. At first, this seemed like a good idea for America, but it isn't like Americans would use them, so it would just be a waste of money. The best machine was similar to log rolling. Tara has captured me falling off it in this action shot. Putting these in parks in America would have the same result as hiding very sharp swords all over the playground. Brooke seems to be better balanced on her machine.
We sought out a Uigher restaurant for dinner. The Uigher are a Muslim ethnic group in Western China with a reputation as very friendly and with very different food. About 10 seconds after arriving, they tried to pull us all on stage to learn their traditional dance. Tara and I fled. Brooke, being a professional dancer, danced with them for maybe 15 minutes. Then they asked her to perform some ballet for them--solo. So, she did. Despite my hopes that this would lead to free food for the table, she received only their appreciation.
The Pudong business district gets lit up like a Christmas tree at night. A gaudy Christmas tree. Lights go out at 10pm, though, which we discovered about one minute after this picture was taken.
From Shanghai, it was off to Chengdu. The superfast bullet train got us there in just 16 hours. We were then off to the "village" of Leshan (only a couple hundred thousand people) to see a really big Buddha. Built in the 800s along the river, it was meant to appease the river and make it less turbulent. Amusingly, all the rock that fell into the river from the construction did end up calming the waters. It is the "largest carved stone Buddha" in the world. Nearly every big Buddha statue has an equally ridiculous title, but it is really big. Tara is either trying to wink in this picture or is developing a droopy eye.
Just next to the Buddha is a beautiful bridge over the river to a monastery. If you could get rid of the apartment buildings in the background, it would be just about what China might have been like 500 years ago. Or at least just about what movies about China that are set 500 years ago look like.
From the Buddha's feet, he looks even bigger. The holes in him were actually put there as a drainage system. I wonder: if you pee on the Buddha's head, will it spit the water out at the bottom?
The next day, we decided to hike Mount Qingcheng, one of the sacred Taoist mountains outside of Chengdu. Taoism and Buddhism both have several sacred mountains scattered around China. My guess is that most are as much of a tourist magnet as this one, but the signs claimed that the air is purer and healthier here, so at least our lungs got a break. A few nice views existed, though the top of the mountain was closed for construction. They forgot to mention that when we bought our tickets.
Many urinals in China have funny messages. Apparently, Chinese men aren't very good at hitting the urinal. And every Chinese person wants to be civilized.
This sign was a bit more difficult to understand. Let us know if you understand it. I know what all the words mean, but then you put them together and I am confused.
The main square in Chengdu gets lit up at night in a tasteful Vegas style. The hotels and office buildings suddenly al look like Casinos.
Looking over the glitz of the square is Mao himself! Hello, Mao!
Ever wonder what your poop would look like if you just ate bamboo all day? No, neither had I, but here's the answer that a panda gave.
The Panda Reserve in Chengdu has more pandas than anywhere else in the world. Something like 100 of them, of all ages (except for newborns at the moment, which are born in July and August). Here are two of last year's cubs trying hard to get mom to play.
We didn't know it, but pandas can climb. Adults aren't so good, but the young ones really like to climb trees. It probably takes 3 days of eating bamboo to have enough energy to climb a tree.
The reserve also has red pandas, which aren't really related to pandas, but are nearly as endangered. Only about 5000 left in the wild.
Tara swears some of the pandas were guys just sitting around in panda costumes. We learned at the panda center that in addition to only eating bamboo, pandas don't like each other (even to mate), and that mother pandas have no idea what to do with their babies. We saw video footage of a mother trying to swat its new baby out of its enclosure because it was scared every time the baby cried. Makes us think that panda survival isn't so likely and also to wonder how they made it this long.
Back in Chengdu proper, Tara and I explored the May 1 (Labor Day) celebrations. About 30 different acts were set up in the park, all right next to each other. Each tried to blare their music the loudest (some with live music), so you had grannies waltzing to techno next to women performing classical dance next to men singing Chinese opera. It was amusing to hear all the sounds blending.
After the cacaphony of sounds, we sought refuge in this traditional tea house. You can read about our tea in the next food article.
Shanghai and Chengdu were both impressively developed cities. We didn't really know what China would be like, but it was far more orderly, clean, and developed than India, for instance. Coming up next is the remainder of our time in China. Don't miss it!

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