Day 6: Chengdu
This morning we visited the Giant Panda Breeding Center & Research Base located northwest of Chengdu. Its scientists are devoted to helping pandas breed and care for their young in a safe, controlled environment with the intention of eventually re-introducing some into the wild. The grounds are covered with trees, flowers, and 14 species of bamboo. We read that the pandas were most active in the morning, so we got there early and headed straight for the cub enclosure.
Four cubs were out, eating bamboo leaves and climbing around the various trees and wooden structures placed around their enclosure.
We left the cubs to their snacking and headed for the other enclosures: Panda “Kindergarten” (even younger cubs, living with their mother), sub-adults (2-5 years old), giant adult, and red (lesser) pandas. There were no newborn pandas available to see; they’re generally born between July and December.
On our way out, we stopped by the cub enclosure again and happened to arrive at feeding time. One of the keepers threaded “panda bread” and apples onto a long skewer and held it out to the cubs, who fell all over each other trying to snag the treats.
We followed the keeper to the sub-adult enclosure and watched two more pandas have their lunch.
While looking for lunch back near the hotel, we noticed a long line of people at one of the food stalls. Since that’s usually a sign of good food, we decided to buy whatever it was and were pleased to find it was a kind of giant dumpling, stuffed with beef and vegetables and fried until crispy. We noticed a cameraman videotaping the cooks making the dumplings, and as we were walking away we were stopped and asked if we could be interviewed for Sichuan television. We were asked where we were from, if we’d been to Chengdu before, and if we had something similar to this fried item in the States.
Our hotel had a lovely spa, so we booked traditional Chinese massages and proceeded to have every muscle in our bodies pummeled into oblivion. It was fantastic. 🙂 We had dinner at the same noodle shop we’d visited the first night, this time sampling all three kinds of noodles they offered.
We had tickets for the Sichuan opera, which features singing, elaborate costumes, fire-breathing, acrobatics, stick puppets, and the famous bianlian, or “changing faces”. We purchased the cheapest tickets (of course) and were surprised to find our seats were front row, right in front of a digital display that translated the lyrics (we figured they’d put us in the “foreigner seats” – nice!). There was a “mistress of ceremonies” who gave a brief explanation before each act.
The opera was outstanding – the costumes and makeup were gorgeous, the music was fantastic, and the best part was the face-changing act, where the performers changed their masks in the blink of an eye. (How they do this remains a well-kept secret!) The 90-minute performance was over much too quickly and was one of our favorite things we’ve seen in China.
We’d come to Chengdu for the pandas, Sichuan opera, and spicy food, and while we didn’t see any of the famous temples and other historical sites mentioned in all the guidebooks, we’re pretty happy with the parts of Chengdu we did see. Tomorrow we’re off to the mountainous Yunnan province for a few days in the city of Lijiang!