As we sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for our driver to take us to the airport, I had time to reflect upon my days in Chengdu. Many people go to Chengdu just to see the pandas and then leave! But we wanted to see the other sights this beautiful city has to offer. I’m glad we chose to focus on one small part of China, rather than do a crazy dash around a very big country!
What made the trip so easy and unforgettable was Haba, a tourist guide we booked through Trip Adviser. Haba’s love and pride for the beautiful city of Chengdu was a pleasure to experience as he took us around town. He paced everything to our comfort, stopping when we wanted a rest and making sure all our needs were met. But Haba’s passion is giant pandas and his knowledge was invaluable to us on our trips to the Chengdu and Bifengxia Panda Bases. Haba’s love for the pandas was evident as he talked about them and photographed them with us. He seemed to know the names of all the pandas and he knew where all the overseas pandas were born. Without Haba we would not have known that one of the handsome pandas we were photographing was actually superstar panda Tai Shan! While we chatted to him about pandas he told us one of his favourite animals was the koala. He had been given a stuffed koala as a gift and it had ignited his curiosity and love for our native cutie. We had to laugh as Paul and I have always thought of koalas as Aussie Pandas. While koalas are not bears, they share similar characteristics – they are unbearably cute and climb trees 🙂
On the days Haba wasn’t able to guide us he arranged for others to take us where we needed to go. This allowed us the opportunity to meet some local people and gave us an appreciation of the people of Chengdu. From the young Kuan, who took us on a bus and to a local restaurant he liked, the driver who took us to Leshan and whom we communicated with through gestures, to the other drivers who drove us around Chengdu and Ya’an, all of our guides and drivers were charming and friendly. They were also proud of their home and happy to show us around.
I highly recommend getting in touch with Haba if you are going to visit Chengdu or the Pandas!
We left Chengdu early in the afternoon and made our way back home and back to our dogs. I expected to be blown away by the pandas but I wasn’t expecting China to change me in fundamental ways – but it did. We really admired the public places and parks in Chengdu and the way the Chinese people used them. Everywhere we looked there were locals using the public spaces for tai chi, dance, singing, creating art, sport and just simply relaxing. Our local area has public facilities such as basketball courts and table tennis tables but we had never used them. One of the first things we did on our return was buy table tennis bats, balls and a basketball. We then went out there and started using our public places. Ironically, our sporting time is often accompanied by Chinese music as groups of our Chinese neighbours are out there doing tai chi and dance. It feels like being back in Chengdu!
Another change I’ve made is to my diet. I noticed that my body really responded well to rice based meals and, with the guidance of my part Malaysian naturopath, we have devised a predominantly Asian based diet. For years I’ve struggled with finding a breakfast I like but for the past year my main breakfast has been congee – a rice based savoury soup! It’s one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had 🙂 It also reminded me that I lived on a mainly rice based diet when I was young. Being allergic to the chilli family, I couldn’t eat the paprika packed Eastern European stews my mother would often cook. But I could eat the plain boiled rice – with a good dollop of butter!
For me, the most important thing I brought back from China, apart from really great panda souvenirs, was a reinvigoration of my spirituality. Amidst all the noise and traffic in Chengdu there was also a deep sense of peace and tranquility. The parks, pagodas and bamboo reminded me of a time before modernisation and frenetic activity. It made me remember quieter times and I wanted to reintroduce those times back into my life. I’m now enjoying regular relaxing baths and pause often throughout the day to sip on green tea in my own bamboo garden. And yes, I do have a bamboo garden – you never know when pandas may visit! What has surprised me most is the slow re-embracing of my religious roots. I’ve been on a religious “sabbatical” for quite a while. But deep within my soul I hear the call to return to my old time religion. That’s a topic for another time – but not that far away – for one of the most important holidays for me is coming up – Halloween 🙂
As I finish writing about my Chinese adventure I realise just how much I deeply miss Chengdu. I miss the people, the place, the lifestyle and I especially miss those precious little pandas!