Chengdu 2015

City of the Giant Panda

17. November 2015

A more recent adventure I have taken, led me to Chengdu, China. I used a travel notebook I have gotten for my birthday to write down things while being on the trip. This hopefully reduces my turn around time significantly. But on the contrary, it might be to detailed. The experiences are only a couple of days old and I tend to overvalue small things. Lets just see how it goes.

Day 1 - Entrance to China

Before I left for Chengdu on a Monday evening, I had the prospects of escaping the haze that had been residing over Singapore for many weeks. When I reached Chengdu 4.5 hours later, the Singapore haze, with particle-filled air was gone, but another kind of haze took its place. The first steps outside the Silkair airplane were still okay, but once I made an entrance to the arrival hall, the constant gasoline smell was ubiquitous.
During the flight and also beforehand I was a little worried that my mandarin language skills are insufficient; and I was proven RIGHT. While in the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai English is spoken at many places, in Chengdu it is not. The Chinese language course I took a couple of years back didn’t really help. The location of my first hotel was written in Chinese script on the confirmation. The taxi driver was able to find his way. Since the hotel was luckily located close to the chairman Mao statue in the center of the city, I knew when we were closing in. Taxi fares in Chengdu are even lower than in Singapore. For the 45 minute drive from the airport to the hotel, I only paid 53💰, about S$11.5.

Chairman Mao Statue

The average weather in Chengdu suggested sweater weather, but this year apparently the upper scale of the average took place and it was t-shirt weather. Since it was the first night, I had to find some food. I ended up eating at some Chinese fast food chain. The ordering went, that I had to point at pictures and thats it.

slow cooked pork with kale and a cucumber soup

Day 2 - Exploring and preparation

Slept in, had some breakfast in the hotel and prepared some of my presentation slides for the next day. After lunchtime, I went out and walked around the vicinity of the hotel and found myself in a never-ending shopping area. My search for a café in which I could continue my work, was successful, but because of the lack of a Chinese phone number to get access, not very fruitful and productive. For lunch, I decided to try something very renowned for Chengdu and the Sichuan area — Steamboat. For this I went to a shop that looked clean and as on the day before, just pointed at pictures of what I wanted. There was only one problem. I knew that the standard Sichuan food is rather spicy. I wanted to order non/less spicy option. Luckily, this was one of the words (búyàolà) I practiced before I went, and I could use it right away. After saying it 2-4 times, the waitress understood and brought me the non-spicy chicken soup. The price of an entire meal was only 39💰, while my Starbucks coffee was 30💰.

Chicken Soup, Vegetables and some beef

Days 3-5 - Conference Days

The following days were mostly conference days with lunch and dinner at the conference hotel. This was only 5 minutes walk from my hotel. I was invited to give a 90 minute Tutorial on Large-scale Agent-based Traffic Simulations. At the end of the first day it was my turn and since it was before dinner time, almost everyone stayed.
The dinner on the second conference day was the conference banquet dinner. It was accompanied by a Sichuan opera performance. This performance started of with some comedic performance, then a famous face-changing performance and ended with a very impressive shadow play.
The last conference day, was only a half day. After the conference the post-conference program included a visit to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We took a bus from the conference hotel to the 1 hour outside located base. The base itself is a zoo-like park with a lot of pandas. We were told that in the last 30 years of existence, they bred over 150 giant pandas. On our tour we saw pandas in different sizes.

large size pandas

The base is called breeding base. This means that we could also see small pandas, whose age ranged from a couple days to a couple month. The panda presented there, were mostly doing 2 things: eating or sleeping.

Sleeping pandas
Sleeping pandas
Sleeping pandas
eating panda

On the way back from the panda base, the tour guide gave us some information about China, Chengdu and the pandas.
I have recorded the two sessions. The first one talks more about the region and the upcoming giant panda breeding base, while the second one, which was recorded on the way back into the city, talks about the other possibilities we have in Chengdu.

Day 6 - Dujiangyan Irrigation system

In a neighbouring city of Chengdu called Dujiangyan is on of the oldest dams in the world. I went with Prof. Wentong Cai, Prof. Simon Taylor and Robson de Grande to have a look at this touristic attraction. The weather was said to be rainy, but I somehow forgot to bring an umbrella. This meant we went to buy one and this was a good idea. Since it started drizzling when we left from the parking lot, we thought it won’t get any worse. But half way through the 2.5 hour long track to the dam, it started to rain very heavily. The rain, other than Singaporean rain, didn’t stop after a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, we continued our walk. Since we’re already wet, it didn’t make a difference. Along the way, there were several gates and shrines where we sought refuge from a rain for a couple of minutes.

The way to the 2-thousand year-old dam and irrigation system led us over several bridges. These bridges were all made out of wood and not fixed, but rather swinging. When we reached the actual dam, we found a free shuttle service that drives people from the dam into the city. Due to the rain, the queue was extremely long. We might have gotten back at some point, but walking was definitely faster.

wooden bridge with umbrella people

We eventually made it back into the city and had a nice lunch, before making our way back to Chengdu. Since I didn’t plan to be soaking wet when coming back to Chengdu, I decided to move out of the hotel I had during the conference, in the morning. This meant, that I had to go to and check in to my new hotel, being wet.

Bridge in the City

The checking in and all other interaction with the hotel staff was not possible in English. This meant that the receptionists used their smartphone and baidu translate to tell me what to do. The hotel was very modern and located very conveniently in the city. I had some interesting things happening while I was there; One was, that people kept pushing business cards under my door for more or less questionable “services”.

Day 7 - Peoples Park

On the first day, where I could sleep in; I did so. After breakfast in the near-by bakery, going to the people park was on my list. I could have walked there, but a 30 minute walk in the heat would not have been pleasant. I took the MRT. It was only one stop, but very nice and not crowded.
Entering the park, I notice a lot of people. Since it was a Sunday, many families use the park for a getaway from the city. As an interesting fact, there are special region of the park where the noise level should be kept low. Because people are doing tai chi, with and without swords. They also put up signs for visitors to keep the noise below 60 dB and even put a noise display next to it.

Noise in peoples park

I never saw anyone enforcing the limit, even tough I expected it.

The park also contained a smallish lake where visitors can rent paddle and also motorized boats. The skill set of many boatsmen and women was not always given, especially for such a small lake.

Lake with boats

For the way back from the park, I decided to walk. I came across a wedding dress store. The first time I went by, I didn’t really notice, but the shop had a real woman in the window. At first I thought it is a robotized woman, which just moves its arms and head every once in a while, but this one also shook her hips.

Real wedding dress model

For the night/evening time, I went out and wanted to take some long exposure pictures of the traffic and also the Anshan Bridge. There are a lot of pedestrian overpasses, which a re a perfect location of photographing traffic at night. As on all of my travels, I take my gorilla-pod. I had this for a very long time already and usually suits my quite well, when taking selfies or quick group pictures. But since it was bought when I still only had a point-and-shoot camera, the weight of my 650D with any lens on it, makes mounting it securely a nightmare. But during the day it is okay, since the exposure time of the images is low, but when taking pictures at night, the problems start to occur. It manifests itself in seeing just very slight movement when mounting it anywhere, which results in ghosting effects in the images. Maybe it is time to upgrade to a more suitable version for DSLR cameras.

Anshan Bridge by night, With a restaurant on it

Day 9

When I booked my second hotel, I had to look up the time of departure and realized that I stayed one day longer than expected. This meant I wasn’t going to leave on day 9 but rather day 10. This extra day I used to see a couple of parks and temples and ride the bus. First I went to the Jinli street, a replica of a traditional Chinese shopping and eating street, with an attached park. The park itself reminded me of the Chinese grade park here in Singapore. Very large and open with several small lakes and pagodas. They also had a bonsai tree nursery, where they brought up many bonsai trees.

Bonsai tree nursery

On the touristy Jinli street, I tried to avoid the overcrowded alleys, which was almost impossible. Everywhere it smelled of delicious food and people were eating wherever you looked. Having been in this, even tough fake, traditional setting, a Starbucks was to be found. I think I’ll make it a mission on my travels to find thoughtfully placed Starbucks cafes in unexpected locations.

lucky shot of an empty alley at Jinli street

Riding a bus in Chengdu isn’t really that complicated, just that I had no transit map of the city and the online apps, were no help. I read up that bus number 1 and 99 are driving towards the attractions inside the inner city and I just entered number 1 in the direction where the Jinli street was. When you enter the bus, and don’t have a monthly or weekly card, you throw 2💰 into a metal box and that’s it. If you don’t have coins you are screwed, because the driver won’t give you change. If you put in bills, at least I did, ask the driver first. On my way back from Jinli street, I just took the number 1 as well, and stayed until I was close enough to the Wenshu temple.
This temple was much calmer and genuinely traditional Chinese. The sour ringing gardens seemed inviting to rest in the shades and escape the noisy city for a bit. I used this opportunity to read and just observe the locals, in preparing their prayers and resting as well.

Wenshu temple with large incense burner

For my last dinner in Chengdu, I chose a restaurant, that I had seen earlier. It is called urban harvest and as the name suggests, they serve locally city-grown products. In their window they present some store-grown mushrooms and sprouts. The prices were on the upper scale, but still manageable. When I arrived, I found out that the sprouts and mushrooms are actually only the decoration and the menu only mentioned some herbs and spices to have been grown and harvested in the city. I ordered some pasta with very tender slow cooked beef. The food was nice, but they could have made more out of their promises.

window grown mushrooms

Going Home

On the last day in Chengdu, I fell sick and had to leave my hotel by 12 as normal. I spend my day chilling out in cafes and driving to the airport early. The flight back to Singapore was very unpleasant, even though I had an entire row for myself. But when you are starting to get sick that dry air in an airplane together with an uncomfortable seating arrangement, makes it worse.

I want to end with a small video of cute pandas, from the Giant Panda Base in Chengdu.

As usual, all images can be found in the dedicated flickr album.