Monday, October 1, 2012

Panda (and hotpot) time in Chengdu!

The next day we did a quick local hike before heading to the airport. We were flying to Chengdu in Sichuan province. Todd wanted to see the Pandas and Juli was looking forward to spicy Sichuan food and especially Kung Pao Chicken. We landed that afternoon and headed to Mr. Panda hostel where we were greeted by free dumpling night. The cook from the hostel had made the filling for vegetarian and pork dumplings, which all the guests were busy stuffing into rice papers. It made for a very social and cheap dinner. 

We woke early the next day to get to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. We wanted to get there early, when the Pandas are most active, and we did see them chow down on lots of bamboo...they seem to love just lying down and mowing through as much as they can (apparently they can only digest about 20% of what they eat, so they have to eat a lot to get any energy).

We spent a couple hours watching the pandas devour their bamboo shoot breakfast. We also spent a lot of time looking at the newborn pandas which were 2 to 6 weeks old and incredibly cute (I’m sure you can guess who is writing this blog post).

The reserve also had a lot of Red Pandas that we visited. Red Panda is an interesting name for these animals that look a lot like raccoons. Juli has negative impressions of Raccoons as they used to come into her college apartment in Isla Vista and scavenge through the trash. They can be very aggressive.

After the pandas we headed back to town to enjoy some ‘hot pot’. Hot post is like shabu shabu but with spicy oil and Sichuan peppers. Luckily, our waitress took pity on us and helped us figure out how to work the side dishes of sauce, garlic and coriander (cilantro).

We wished we had gone with others from the hostel because our appetite wasn’t big enough to try all the foods we wanted. Todd did pick Ham which ended up being gelatinous 1 inch ovals that looked like bologne.  The beef and vegetables were really good and we left full.  But the real kicker in the hotpot is the Sichuan peppercorn - just one of these makes your tongue go numb if you end up eating them, but it was a slightly addictive feeling, at least for Todd

In Chengdu we spent a lot of time visiting tea houses, local parks and temples and ate a lot of food including yak in the Tibetan area of town (Chengdu is often used as a jumping off point for travelers headed to Tibet). Unfortunately, we had hoped to do some day trips but public transportation was packed because of the national holiday - we peeked inside the bus station and decided it was not a challenge we wanted to deal with.

Our hostel in Chengdu also proved to be the most social. We played foosball, shuffleboard, and asshole with various different guests. And of course consumed numerous beers. The beers cost about the same as the soda’s and had slightly more alcohol content :). Seriously, Chinese beers are around 3% alcohol, so as much as we tried to create a major pile, we just ended up having to go pee more!  Our favorite night was playing asshole (the card game) with 2 Canadians and 2 Eastern Europeans. We were really happy to see that we still knew the games and could keep up with the 22 year olds.

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