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Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 3

feeding time with the daddy pandas Jo Wedlock
panda watch in chengdu Jo Wedlock
panda watch in chengdu 2 Jo Wedlock
colourful sichuan foods Jo Wedlock
sichuan food is legendary for its peppercorns Jo Wedlock
sichuan food is legendary for its peppercorns 2 Jo Wedlock
sichuan food is legendary for its peppercorns 3 Jo Wedlock
local delicacy of rabit entrail stew Jo Wedlock

Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 3

story by: Jo Wedlock

Chengdu, Sichuan & Beijing
Day three I woke up very excited as I’m in Chengdu which is home to the giant Panda and the Sichuan pepper!  To view the Pandas feeding we have to be at the breeding centre very early so it was a 6am start when we grabbed a quick breakfast at our hotel – the Sofitel Chengdu. Once again, another stunning hotel and great breakfast.

It’s an hour or so drive but at this time of the morning the traffic is light and we make good time.  I thought that I’d experienced Smog in Quangzhou, however that is nothing compared to Chengdu which is the worst smog we get in our entire Chinese trip.

At the Panda breeding centre we are in a zoo type environment but it’s very natural and there is plenty of greenery and cover for both us and the Panda’s that we are here to see. First stop is to the ‘kindergarten’ which is where the 1 year old Pandas are.  The facility is really well done – it looks like a misty rainforest jungle although on closer inspection the ‘mist’ is actually smog! Still – the effect visually was the same and I fool myself into feeling like I’m in the movies of old China.  We spent the morning at each of the Panda watching sites encountering teenage Pandas, adults and then the little babies in the incubators.  As with most things in China, for a ‘fee’ you can hold a teenage Panda which is a huge experience. They are quite heavy and a bit on the smelly side, but what a wonderful opportunity!

After the morning spent here, we were off to experience Sichuan spicy food! I’m so excited about this as Sichuan food is the stuff of culinary legend. We are going to a local restaurant that normally doesn’t take in tourists.  We sampled local delicacies such as sweet and sour pork and fish scented egg plant (much nicer than it sounds) all flavoured with the local Sichuan pepper which is actually a red peppercorn that numbs your mouth rather than burns it – very nice in small quantities but I’m not sure I’d be keen on some of their hotter dishes!

After a quick lunch we race off to the local Sichuan food markets.  I’ve been looking forward to these since I first heard I was going to Chengdu. These markets are in traditional alleys and are supposed to be great for local snack type foods and some of the more exotic eating experiences.  Naturally the first sign I see on arrival is Starbucks! It’s less than traditional but they have air-conditioning and toilets with paper and soap so we all pile in!  I never thought I’d be grateful to see a Starbucks, but a western toilet is not to be underestimated. The aircon is also appreciated as its now around 40 degrees and very humid and under the sun is even hotter.

We visit several of the food stalls, and I get some great photos in the little kitchens of local chefs cooking staples like rabbit stomach skewers and pig intestine soup!  I’m not too keen to try it, but ‘when in China...’ so I give it a go.  The broth is actually quite nice but the texture of the intestine which still hasn’t been cleaned out leaves me feeling nothing but nauseous!  I’m quite grateful to be saved by the clock and we pile back into the van to head out to the airport, smelly and tired, for our 3 hour flight to Beijing. 

The flight to Beijing is just under 3 hours and my boarding pass tells me I am seated in 44B which I find puzzling since the plane is a 737 300.  44 Rows?  I don’t think so.  Sure enough, they start the numbering at 33...?  Either way the flight was fine however there is a lot less legroom on the CZ domestic flights that any other flight I’ve ever been on.  My knees touch the seat in front and I’m only 5 foot 5 so if you are a tall passenger, pay the extra for a premium economy seat which looks much better from my end of the plane.  Also, it’s a bit like Domestic Air NZ with Koru hour. If you fly between 5 and 6 you get dinner, but as we are flying at 7.35 you get a bread roll and an orange.  I look around and notice several seasoned Chinese passengers have brought their own food which is smart as it’s a long way with no food!

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