We started the morning with coffee at 5 a.m. on the second story terrace outside Dan and Nancy’s room. Lovely to have coffee so early in the morning. Sim’s Chinese set breakfast followed.
Panda Research Center
We left early for the Panda Research Center. The guidebook suggested that it is best to go for the 9:30 morning feeding as the pandas sleep most of the day. We took a taxi to the research center for 23 yuan.
The Center was quite modern and the pandas had natural-like habitats that still allowed visitors an up close and personal view. They rolled and tumbled down trees, hills and play equipment as if they had no bones and weighed more than their frames could carry. When they ate, they reclined more than they sat, peeling the bamboo sticks with their teeth before eating the tender center. We also saw red pandas, small animals about the size of a cat, reddish in color with a ringed tail like a raccoon. They look like a cross between a bear and a cat. In fact, the Chinese word for panda is XiongMao – Bear-cat.
Leaving the Panda center a man offered to drive us back to Chengdu. I thought at first he was a taxi driver. Turned out, he had a minivan and wanted 50 yuan to go to our next destination – Tomb of Wong Jiang. Since the taxi ride to the center was only 23 yuan I was quick to bargain him down to 35. My Chinese was poor but was able to tell him we only paid 23 yuan from Wen Shu Temple, not the 30 yuan he said it would be.
Tomb of Wong Jiang
The Tomb of Wong Jiang is a rare above ground Tang Dynasty tomb. It was especially of interest for Dan because the outside of the tomb is decorated with 26 musicians carved into the stone each playing a different ancient instrument. The museum section was well done with examples of the ancient instruments and good English explanations of how the instruments are played.
We had lunch near our final destination for the day, Wen Shu Temple. We happened on Liang-fen Ager Jelly Restaurant, recommended by Sim’s. No English, but very friendly staff who suggested dishes off a big menu board above the cash register. I didn’t recognize a lot of the dishes on the wall. We ordered a spicy dish – turned out to be pork with green beans and mushrooms, shu cai – greens, eggplant (my favorite and old standby), and pointed to one dish on another customer’s table, which turned out to be garlic cloves, tripe and celery in a peppery light creamy sauce – quite tasty. The restaurant itself was a flurry of activity with locals slurping down their lunch.
Wen Shu Temple
After lunch we visited the Tang Dynasty Wen Shu Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Chengdu. The temple is amazingly well preserved and oozing with ornamentation – highly carved and painted beams and ceilings, large Buddha Halls with walls of foot-high gold Buddhas, each in its own glass case.
On the way back to Sim’s we found a hotpot restaurant for dinner and bought some pi pa fruit from a fruit seller. Pi pa seems to be the favorite fruit in season at the moment. It’s a small fruit about the size of s plum, yellow-orange in color, mild tasting, soft flesh, skin like a peach or plum but relatively easy to peel.
For dinner we went back to the hotpot restaurant – a bustling place filled with young males drinking beer and eating hotpot, but no English. The wait staff was very eager to recommend the most expensive dishes – tripe, intestines, fresh eel etc., 10 to 12yuan each. I tried to choose the more “normal dishes” – beef, lamb and vegetables – mushrooms, potatoes, tofu, but did go with a couple of unknown recommendations. We ended up with seaweed – actually quite good, fresh eel – very fresh but too bloody and too bony, and duck intestines – I didn’t figure this one out until after dinner. (The characters for sausage and intestines are very similar.) The broth was much oilier than other hotpots we’ve had. The larger outer pot was very hot and “ma” – a seasoning we don’t have in the US that makes your tongue tingle. The inner pot was more of a fish/meat broth.
May 17, 2006