From Lijiang to Chengdu, our transport options were limited. We could endure a 20 hour to 5-day(!!) bus ride; we could backtrack 13 hours to Kunming and catch an 18 hour train; or we could take a 1hr flight. We chose the latter, but not without a few discussions about our options. I eventually convinced Chris that the extra expense of the flight was worth our time saved. (By the way, the flight was only US$100 each. But, Chris is quite the penny pincher. He viewed it as 10 days worth of lodging. I viewed it as saving my sanity and therefore his—-priceless.)

In the end, we flew Air China to Chengdu (different from the accident-prone, Taiwan-owned, China Air). I don’t enjoy taking flights, but I can’t find any faults with Air China. The plane and cabin seemed brand new; the service was excellent; we left and arrived on time; we even received a meal and beverage! On our flight, we met a lovely couple from Washington DC. Easily in their 70′s, they manage mutual funds in China and take a trip twice a year to check up on their investments. They shared all sorts of tips with us, and their eyes lit up when we told them about our trip. “What a lark!” the woman kept saying. They jumped all over Chris when they heard we were planning a move to the Baltimore/DC area. Eagerly trying to help him get a running start at finding a new job, they pounded him with questions and gave advice. We said our goodbyes as they headed off in their chauffeured limo and we headed to the awaiting public bus.

We spent our first day in Chengdu running errands. It seems like one to two whole days usually get spent in big cities running errands. We needed to get money, purchase train tickets, and wash laundry. Those three items took us a good portion of the day. Around mid-afternoon, we went in search of lunch/dinner. That particular excursion took us another three hours. Why isn’t anything easy?!? For lunch/dinner, we decided to check out a dumpling restaurant recommended by our hostel, Sim’s Cozy.

(As an aside, if you’re a budget traveler in Chengdu, stay at Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel. After eight months of travel, it’s hands down the best place we’ve ever stayed. We LOVE Sim’s Cozy. In fact, we ran 8hrs down a very strenuous trail [post to come later] just so we could spend another night at Sim’s Cozy).

From the map, it looked like the dumpling house was just a simple bus ride away. So, we jumped on the bus and headed across the city of Chengdu in search of dumplings. Luckily, this restaurant was somewhere near a large temple. I’d point every now and then to the temple on the map and gesture if it was time to get off. The answer was always a shake of the head “no”. Nearly 45 minutes passed before the large temple complex came into view. We happily got off the crowded bus and searched for the restaurant street. Unfortunately, none of the names in the area matched our map. Ugh.

We then began our regular process of pointing to the Chinese characters on our map to narrow in on our location. We eventually got ourselves within a one block radius of the dumpling house’s location. We figured out long ago that we don’t understand the Chinese address system; my guess is that they name the cross street and not the actual street location. If you read Chinese, I’m sure it would make total sense. But, we always end up on the wrong street. This was no exception, we wandered back and forth. Asking directions as we went, people would point back up the street. We could see the cross street, but no one pointed us down it. We finally just decided to give the cross street at try, but decided to ask the local old hands sitting outside a shop. They ignored us at first, but Chris was persistent. At first, they shook him off but he attempted again. He was certain they knew the dumpling house. They finally read the address again, and then let out a chuckle. Repeating the restaurant’s name, they pointed us just down the block.

We high-fived each other when we finally located the dumpling house. Three hours had passed. Ironically, the restaurant staff thought we needed directions; they didn’t understand that we wanted to eat there! With the help of Sim’s suggestion for their sweet dumplings mixed with our usual method of pointing, we managed to convey our intent though. They served each of us a steaming bowl of sweet dumplings and beef noodles. Each dumpling contained a different filling. We honestly have no idea as to their contents. We liked all except one; it contained a black filling that tasted strange. I think most of them contained a sugary meat filling, maybe mincemeat? One contained peanuts. We often find ourselves in these situations, debating what’s in our mouth.

Dumplings, however, were not our main reason for coming to Chengdu. We came to see the PANDAs!!!!

Pandas are far cuter than we expected. We fell in love with them.

Although their stomachs are capable of digesting meat, bamboo serves as their main diet. Unfortunately, bamboo holds little nutrients so the pandas must eat great quantities of it to remain full. They eat nearly 20-30lbs of bamboo a day and live a rather sedentary lifestyle.

Although bamboo holds little nutrients for Giant Pandas, they’ve adapted to eating it. Their modified thumbs (more like a wrist bone) allow them to strip leaves from branches as well as bend the shoots and stems for eating. Their round shape (when compared to other bears) acts as an insulator and allows them to forego hibernation during winter months.

China set aside 11 reserves to protect the Giant Panda’s habitat and operates several breeding facilities. The biggest threat to their extinction is loss of land. Every 25 years or so, bamboo species die off in large numbers. During these die off years, the pandas must have access to at least one other area or home range where another bamboo species lives in order to survive.

To see more of our panda pictures (we took quite a bit), view Jodi’s and Chris’ flickr pages.

One Response to “We ♥ Pandas”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I have a friend who just had a baby. “Everything takes so LONG,” she says. “It takes me all day to do one thing.” “Wow,” I said, “you could be talking about RTW travel right now!”

    I would have taken the plane, too.