The next day our hostel helped us organize a driver out to Leshan, where we saw the world’s biggest Buddha. We arrived at an exquisite temple that had various types of plants and sculptures of Buddha everywhere. Then, we hiked the steepest set of stairs I’ve ever seen to a tunnel that took us up to the big Buddha. One false step on those stairs would’ve entailed a life-threatening fall to the ground. At the top of the steps, we had a short hike up a hill and walk along the peak. At the far end of the hill we came face to face with Buddha. He was carved right out of the hillside and was so massive that we could’ve sat Indian-style on his big toenail. Amazing.
The next day, Jake and I split off from our English companion and got on a bus. We went down to the station and wanted to go to Dazu. Unable to find a bus for Dazu, we decided to go to Chongqing. However, we weren’t able to find a bus for Chongqing either, so we decided to jump on one that went most of the way there.
When we reached our destination, we asked which bus went on to Chongqing. There was a rickety old bus there and the driver responded to Chongqing? with OK! So, we boarded and were off. After 20 minutes in the bus and the bus driver stopping every few minutes and yelling, “Dazu!” we thought we might be on the wrong bus. At one stop, a guy from another rickety bus came running over and motioned for us to follow. Still wanting to go to Chongqing, we used Chinese to ask him if his bus went to Chongqing about 10-15 times. He said yes. So we boarded, took off, and he yelled, “Dazu!” One hour later, we were in Dazu checking into a hotel.
Waking up after a night of KTV is no easy task, but we managed to get up and make it out to the Panda Breading Research Center the next day. They housed giant pandas and red pandas in a great natural environment. Red pandas look more like raccoons than pandas and can run pretty fast. Giant pandas look kind of dopey and enjoy the finer things in life: sleeping and bamboo. We got to see some panda cubs that still needed some assistance in order to enjoy these luxuries. The staff used elongated chopsticks to feed the panda cubs bamboo shoots. That scene alone was well worth making it out of a KTV comma and trooping out to the research center.
After all of the drinking and traveling around, we needed a rest and decided to spend the next day relaxing in a local park. We walked around and joined a small crowd to watch an old man sing karaoke out in the open. He was excited to see us and handed us the microphone, which we couldn’t refuse. The small crowd of about 15 seemed to multiply by the minute, and the old man encouraged us to start dancing in order to egg on the show. We obliged and recruited a couple of 40-year-old women from the crowd in order to get some of the locals involved. At the end of the song, I looked up and realized that there were at least 100 people watching us.
Upon arriving in Chengdu, we checked into the Sweet Dreams Hostel and began exploring the city. It is so much different from Suzhou. The streets are wider. The traffic is organized. There are much fewer bicycles and way less honking. Plus, the people are nicer and don’t tend to push. I started to realize that China’s culture varies tremendously from city to city.
We found an interesting looking restaurant and stumbled inside to give it a try. It was a hot pot restaurant, which serves a boiling pot of hot pepper laden soup over an open flame. Diners boil meat and vegetables in the soup for a couple of minutes and then fish them out to eat. There weren’t any English menus at the restaurant, so some of the staff assisted us. They helped us order and cook the food and there always seemed to be at least two waitresses at our table smiling away. Although I’m not entirely sure what I ate that night, I highly recommend it to anyone who is comfortable snacking on chili peppers. While a little on the spicy side, it is a delicious meal.
The next day, we met up with three friends from Suzhou who flew into town for a kayaking trip down a nearby river. One of these friends, Shannon, was an expert kayaker who frequently led kayaking trips throughout Asia. He had some guanxi with the local government’s Expedition Department, and as such was obligated to join the government officials for a night out on the town. We joined along.
At dinner we learned how to ganbei, or dry our glass, which is a toast that is followed by drinking all of the wine, beer, or baijiu in your cup. We seemed to pick up this custom pretty well and were invited out for KTV after dinner.
We jumped on a coach bus to the airport at 8:15 am, but were kicked off at the second stop. It turned out our flight and bus tickets weren’t for Thursday; they were for Friday. I’m sure the tickets clearly stated what day they were for, but they were in Chinese and we didn’t inspect them clearly. Feeling like fools, we decided to go to Shanghai anyway and spend the night there. We headed over to the train station and grabbed train tickets for RMB 7 (a little under $1 at the time) a pop. We were happy with the price until we boarded the train and found out that we had purchased standing room tickets, and there was little to no room to stand in. Everyone was sandwiched together for the whole one and a half hour trip.
In Shanghai, we checked into a hostel and then went out exploring the city. I was blown away by how many white people were there. Within a month’s time in Suzhou, I had met every Westerner between the ages of 18 and 40. This would be an impossible task in Shanghai.
Futuristic public transportation is becoming the current norm in China. On Saturday morning, we took a maglev train to the airport. The maglev is an elevated train that floats along its tracks at 431 km/hr. We were at the airport in no time. The plane didn’t start boarding until 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time, but it finished boarding within 10 minutes and we took off on schedule. While many aspects of China look similar to the US from afar, the reality is often much different.