Monday, August 6th, 8 am: I had successfully arrived at my hostel in Chengdu and spontaneously decided to join a group of 5 westerners (2 English, 2 American, 1 Australian) on a day trip to Leshan, home to the world's largest Buddha. We arrived a couple hours later to a misty morning in the mountains. Due to the tiny droplets of moisture saturating the air, the surroundings had a hazy glow like in those Chinese kungfu movies where people fly through bamboo forests. Needless to say, it was absolutely breathtaking.
According to Wikipedia, construction for the Buddha was started in 731 by a monk who hoped to calm the adjacent waters with the Buddha's presence. The monk lived in a cave next to the construction site and gouged his own eyes out to show his piety. The Buddha was completed 90 years later and actually indeed made the waters safer as a result of the massive amounts rock removed from the mountains and deposited in the river. Photos as follows:
We waited almost 2 hours to get to the foot of the Buddha. The queue zigzags down the cliff next to the Buddha.
Tuesday, August 7th, 9:30 am: I arrived at the Panda Research Center after about an hour on two buses with the Australian from the day before. We decided to forgo the hostel organized tour to save money (him) and to experience the life of the common Chinese (me). We went in the morning because that is apparently the only time in the day when the pandas are awake and frolicking. We wandered around a bit, trying to squeeze ourselves between the throngs of squealing foreign tourists with their fancy cameras, and took a bunch of pictures ourselves. Here's a selection:
This is an adult panda. It was smaller than I imagined a panda should be. I got within a couple of feet of it while it was munching bamboo in its enclosure.
A bunch of cubs reclining on a tree house thing. Pandas are incredibly lazy creatures, at least in captivity. All they do is eat and lie around all day. A worker coaxed one down, and it just climbed over the other ones in its way.
For 1000 yuan, you could hold a giant panda cub for photos. For 400 yuan, you could take pictures right next to a giant panda. I opted to hold a red panda (the kind nobody loves) for only 50 yuan. It was very soft and fluffy and came to nuzzle my feet before I held it.
Tuesday, August 6th, 8pm: For the sole sake of convenience, I payed 80 yuan to tag along with an organized trip to see Sichuan opera, an art famous for bombastic displays of fire breathing, acrobatics, and face-changing. The show turned out to be a watered down variety show catered mostly for foreigners, with excerpts of opera, erhu, puppets, and other pyrotechnics. All the performers were extremely talented, but the way the show was presented had a decidedly contrived feel meant to impress tourists. I suppose that this is the best way for practitioners of old Chinese arts to make money these days- to cater to rich, foreign tourists...
Dance of the puppets. They twirled their flowing sleeves to flowering sounding music. Very pretty. At the end of the show, the same puppets did face changing along with the actors.Tuesday, August 6th, 10pm: I had met a couple of English boys at my hostel and decided to go out with them that night after the show to a Dave's Oasis bar. The cab driver didn't exactly know where it was, but by a stroke of luck, I ran into my new friends on the street as they were coming out from dinner. What follows is an adventure that kept us up the entire night involving a pool, cards, a cafe resembling senior house, and conversation in the garden of the hostel.
Patio of the garden, where I pulled an all-nighter with the two English boys, a Canadian, and later a couple of French.
Finally, a brief list of people I hung out with in Chengdu by country: