The City of Chengdu is rich with food, culture, history, entertainment and wonderful people. Our trip hardly did it justice but I hope you enjoy seeing some of our grand adventures in a strange and beautiful new place!
The Longemont Hotel of Chengdu, China
Travel Day 1 We arrived to the Boise airport 3 hours early, mostly thinking we were being ridiculous. As it turns out, United Airlines was experiencing a system-wide baggage tracking issue. Without that extra time, our bags never would have made it to China. The ticket attendant had to reprint our baggage tags three separate times to ensure the computer system would correctly route them from Boise to San Francisco to Chengdu. Lesson learned: ridiculously early is on-time and safe is better than sorry.
During our 8 hour layover in San Francisco, we had the rare privilege of hanging out in the United Lounge (we saved our 2 free passes for this trip.) With each new international departure or arrival, new languages, passport styles and mannerisms came and went while we sat at our little table working on what seemed like our millionth cup of hot tea. It was so interesting to share space with so many different people- small things to learn or notice, mainly taking note of how similar we all are at the end of the day.
On board the transcontinental flight, 14 hours passed by in short waves of sleep. Still, Greg and I had lucked out- as no third passenger ever joined us in our tiny economy row. Walking to and from the mid-plane restrooms between naps provided lots of entertainment and interesting inspiration for sleeping in an airline seat. In brief summary: all the options seemed very creative, but none were particularly comfortable. Gradually, our in-flight hobbies deteriorated to watching the live flight tracker which marked our progress throughout the night- directly over Anchorage, across the Bering Strait, and even into the Russian mainland. Eventually we crossed into Chinese territory via the eery Gobi Desert, where there were absolutely no lights to be seen for miles and miles.
China Day 1: Taxi drivers await you at the Chengdu International Airport terminal exit like you could be long-lost family. They wave, are very friendly, and immediately try to give you a cab ride. Through broken English and Google translate, several tried to convince us that, “..many others await hotel shuttles that never came. They waited hours, so you need taxi. You really really need taxi.” At this time, we also learned that even Google translate cannot even, when it comes to the nuances of Chinese names for businesses. For example, we were staying at the Longemont Hotel. When I told a taxi driver this- via his translation app, he replied via Google “Ah yes, the Dragon’s Dream Hotel! I know it.” For obvious reasons, we weren’t convinced that we were both talking about the same place. We later learned that “Long” is generally translated as Dragon and “Emont,” as Dream, when translating Chinese characters to English. It’s safe to say that this was well beyond what my brain could handle at 5 am after a transcontinental flight but it was definitely entertaining and he clearly meant well. Thankfully we ran into the UCI’s shuttle service before we got too lost. Once at the hotel, we didn’t accomplish much except stay awake (barely), haphazardly order lunch/dinner from room service (Dan-Dan Noodles), and take a short walk through the neighborhood surrounding our hotel.
China Day 2: Jetlag was relatively kind to us and we got an early start. We started with the hotel’s Chinese Breakfast- which I could definitely get used to. Hot noodles in savory clear broth, topped with spicy and pickled...well, things I guess, still not sure but they were tasty. I recognized the peanuts, cilantro, bok choy, and green onions but most of the other toppings were a bit of a mystery. We also had fried rice, tea boiled eggs (which are basically hard boiled eggs that were cracked once mostly cooked and simmered in strong black tea for flavor), fermented milk (the alarming and literal translation for yogurt), and thankfully coffee.
Next stop were the pandas at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research Facility. The mountains outside of Chengdu are the only place in the world where Giant Pandas still roam wild. They are complicated creatures who aren’t very interested in anything except eating bamboo (which is appropriate since they have to eat half their body weight in bamboo daily to survive!) Short of bundling one up in my jacket and taking it home, our visit to the research center was everything I had hoped it would be. Pandas are playful, silly and clumsy creatures with a true eye for mischief among their siblings. Next stop was the Leshan Buddha in a nearby province. We drove about an hour and a half to the riverside town of Leshan. Along the way we watched as miles and miles of rich farmland passed by- the Sichuan region is famous for its fresh produce and tea. As a side note, there truly are no road rules in China. There are little mopeds everywhere and the highway is gripping. I recall driving 120 km/h while watching countless heavy truck drivers (there are many due to the rich surrounding agricultural areas) lighting up cigarettes and generally looking anywhere but the road, which was a bit alarming (to say the least). Amazingly, I can only think of a single car accident that we saw in the entire time we visited!
As we neared the rolling foothills of the Himalayas, the terraced tea hedges flanked both sides of the road for miles. After a quick lunch, including Mapo Tofu Fermented Bean Curd and Sichuan peppercorn- spiced bok choy (which makes your food taste cold and our mouth tingle), we boarded a tour boat to see the 1500 year old Giant Buddha, carved over 3 generations into a sandstone mountain at the confluence of three major rivers. We learned that his job was to protect the villages from flooding and watch out for the safety of watercraft. He was quite the sight to behold!
We worked hard to get our touring in quickly and fight off the Jetlag but it was totally worth it. That evening we went to the Shu Feng YaYun Sichuan Opera- and let me just say, it’s probably not what you’re thinking of. Chinese Opera is much more about entertainment-there are acrobats, vocalists, dancers, puppeteers, a life orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments and unique to this region, face changing performances or “Bian Lian.” I had read about Bian Lian and absolutely had to see it- actors wearing layers and layers of painted cloth masks literally change them right before your eyes. I’m still trying to figure it out, but it was so much fun to watch- the performers were so engaging! A must-see if you ever find yourself in Chengdu.
After a busy and exhilarating exploration of a city that could take a lifetime to properly explore, it was time to focus on our goals and get ready for the course pre- ride the next day.
Red Date “Fermented Milk, aka Yogurt
Shu Feng YaYun Sichuan Opera
Regional Specialty: Mapo Fermented Bean Curd
Unsurprisingly Endangered Giant Pandas
Entrance to the Sichuan Opera
Walking around the preserve at the Chengdu Giant Panda Base