One year ago my partner Paul and I celebrated 25 years of not being married by going to Chengdu in China to hug a panda! I can’t believe a year has passed so quickly and I can’t believe I haven’t written about this extraordinary trip. So I’m going to do something different. If all goes to plan I’m going to do a daily travelogue recounting each day in China only one year later 🙂
We left Melbourne just after midnight and landed in Chengdu early that afternoon. We wanted to hit the ground running so arranged for our guide to pick us up from our hotel not long after we arrived.
Our first adventure was to catch a local bus which would take us to the People’s Park. The ride was fun although my purple hair and panda tattoos were getting lots of attention! The park was a huge, wide open space where the locals could ride canoes, dance, sing and play games. A stunning Tea House by the lake offered refreshments. One of the more fascinating things we saw was an unusual form of dating service. Laminated A4 sheets of paper containing personal ads were hung on bamboo stakes. Prospective daters could stroll leisurely through the park while perusing the ads. What I loved most about the park was that it had the sense of really being a people’s park. The locals used and enjoyed everything on offer.
After the park we went for a walk down some old parts of town. Our guide took us to see a 3D art mural wall which was fascinating. It was time for tea and a few locals watched as Paul tried to work out payment. Fumbling with the Chinese money, he finally got it right and was rewarded with a round of applause! I found the locals to be curious but friendly, shyly asking if they could touch my hair and my tattoos. It didn’t take long for me to bond with them and within a few hours I had fallen in love with Chengdu.
It was time for dinner and I was a little nervous. I love Chinese food but am allergic to chilli. Chengdu is in the Sichuan Province known for its hot and spicy food. Our guide took us to a place where he would eat so we were really looking forward to sampling truly local cuisine. I played it safe and ordered plain rice with a dessert – sweet cornmeal fritters! They were divine. Paul could be more adventurous and the dishes he ordered, according to him, were delicious.
After dinner we were driven to Tianfu Square in the centre of the city, famous for its giant statue of Chairman Mao. Like many major cities, Chengdu came alive at night with lights and people. We sat by a fountain and watched the nightlife. It was a picturesque place to spend time while waiting for our next adventure – a night at the opera!
I had read all about the Sichuan Opera and couldn’t wait to see the face changing magic the shows are famous for. As we waited in the theatre for the show to begin I could feel jet lag creeping up on me and actually started to doze off. But then the lights came on and the performers came on stage. I woke up immediately. The colourful costumes, singing, dancing and music were enough to keep me awake! We couldn’t follow the story lines but we enjoyed the show. What amazed me most was the face changing spectacle. It is hard to describe but one moment they have one face and then they wave or flip a hand and another face appears. It was so quick and yes, so magical. The actors came close to the audience so we could see them up close but it was still hard to see how they did it. One performer had a head piece with little puppet faces on it and with one movement his and the puppets faces all changed!! I’ll never forget that show. We left exhausted but exhilarated, happy to see a guide waiting to drive us to our hotel.
We had a great night made all the more special by the adorable stuffed panda waiting for us in our room. Chengdu Panda – as we named her, was a welcome gift from hotel staff and the perfect way to end our first day in Chengdu.