Saturday, 2 August 2008

A temple, pandas and bus rides

Beside the bears, Chengdu also has a pretty nice temple right in the city centre, the Wenshu temple. It has a fully reasonable entrance fee too, 5 yuan, unlike the 40 or so you'd expect in Beijing. The nicest thing about this temple was the garden, well, maybe I'm biased towards gardens but to me anyway. It's not very large compared to lots of other temples in China but still has a relaxing feel to it, despite the large number of people going about. This is one of the main temples of Zen or rather Chang Buddhism, and it's completely self-financing, running a vegetarian restaurant and a guest house.

Right, so I saw a vegetarian restaurant and I started thinking that since Sichuan food is rather famous it wouldn't be quite right if I had none while there, would it? So I gave my fruitarianism a miss for the day and had an oversized lunch at the restaurant. Sichuan food is supposed to be spicy, I picked one dish that they marked with one chili pepper on the menu, meaning slightly spicy, and another with three, for very spicy. But to my surprise even the spicier one wasn't all that spicy. They also bring rice with all orders, which I didn't expect as that is not the norm in China, so I really shouldn't have ordered dumplings... although those were possibly the best part of the meal. Feeling stuffed after my first warm meal since leaving Beijing and I was more convinced on the goodness of fruitarianism than before.

One more thing about the temple actually, they had quite interesting cartoons on the wall, in English to my surprise. It was quite easy for me to associate with these.

On to the pandas then. At an animal welfare dinner in Beijing a few weeks ago I happened to meet someone working at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu and she promised a tour of the place. But unfortunately she missed her train to the city and wasn't in town to give me the tour, she called her colleagues to do that though. Panda breeding centre really doesn't sound nice in my ears, breeding another species kept in captivity, but I came to the place with an open mind. It's a large area about 10 km from central Chengdu, to get there take bus number 1 all the way to the terminal in the north, then change to 532 and don't jump off the bus as soon as you see the words "panda base" and notice you have turned to Panda Road! I did that and had to walk for about 4 km along the Panda Road to reach the centre.

The panda base has a large garden-style area with a lake and waterbirds, as well as lots of bamboo of course. But actually they don't feed the pandas with the bamboo grown there as the pandas are very picky about food and want certain types of bamboo that grow in an altitude of 2 - 2.5 km. Chengdu is only around 500 m from the sealevel. That also means it's often too hot for the pandas, and that's why they tend to be inside in the hot summer days... and inside they don't have a lot of space to stay in. It's not absolute abuse like the moon bears and the staff clearly care about them, but it still feels so wrong to me to see innocent animals in cages.

I was lucky as I often am and there were pandas born just the day before! Now I'd love to put here some pictures but there was a sign saying no pictures, and as a Finn I tend to bide by the rules... although the others didn't. However, I can tell you that newborn pandas look much like rats. Some white hair but none of that distinctive black and white stuff, that comes at 20 days of age, I was told. I was also told that the official number of pandas in the wild is 1,600, but the reality is something much fewer as local officials are given incentives of having large numbers of pandas in their area so if they see panda droppings in two places it must mean two pandas, not one panda going around.

The panda base hosts 71 giant pandas at the moment, and they're all offspring of 6 pandas taken there in the 1980s. Beside giant pandas, they also host 30 or so red pandas, who actually don't look much at all like giant pandas but more like foxes. The big idea of the base is indeed to breed pandas, and they also hope to eventually release the pandas in the wild, which makes it more of a reasonable conservation effort and less like a zoo. They released one panda a couple of years ago, but she got into a fight with a wild panda, fell off a cliff and died.

Otherwise the time in Chengdu went with work. I was planning on continuing to Emei mountain, but you know how I am with plans, so that didn't actually happen. Instead I took a bus to Lijiang, in Yunnan province. The only thing was that the bus ride would take 24 hours, which was a bit off-putting. Never mind though. The bus was one of those Chinese sleeper buses that have three rows of bunk beds, 5 in each row, making up 30 beds. But make that 30 beds made for Chinese people. For me they are too low for sitting, too short for lying, and so narrow they squeeze the shoulders in a nasty way once you do manage to settle there somehow. And of course Chinese people always smoke on the long distance buses, drivers included, despite that being forbidden. So make sure you have an openable window next to you for fresh air.

But the scenes were awesome. The mountains of Sichuan and of Yunnan made the trip almost worth the pain. If you're 175cm or shorter I think I could even recommend that to some degree, but for us taller than that... not sure. Maybe bicycles.


dreamy said...

"Our mind shapes our world views" if u think the meal is good it will be good :D

Luaay said...