Chengdu and Sichuan
Chengdu is the capital city of the Sichuan province in China. Sichuan is well known for its delicious spicy food, as well as for its Panda breeding research.
We arrived on the train at about 3pm and ran into someone from our hostel who was picking up some other guests, so we were able to tag along. While we were waiting for the other guests, we were approached by 2 other people from other hostels asking if we needed a room. We decided to stay with our first choice, called The Loft. But when we got to the hostel, they informed us that an electrical transformer had just exploded next door and had taken out the power for several buildings, including the hostel. This would be restored in 2-3 days. Luckily, they had a sister hostel down the road and so we went to a place called the Dragon Town Hostel.
The hostel is located down a road that they say is the oldest in all of Chengdu. However, it is currently being rebuilt. It appears that almost nothing survived of the old road, and that it is an entirely new alleyway constructed to look old. It is still under construction and was being worked on from dawn to dusk, and even later where they had spotlights. The concrete was being mixed (in wheelbarrows and on the street), spread, and leveled while we were there, but most of the way was dirt. If we hadn’t known exactly where the place was, we never would have found it.
They have a ping-pong table and a couple of picnic tables outside, a couple of computers and a TV inside, and a pet Golden Retriever named “Tiger” who likes to play with an old soccer ball. The rooms have heaters which don’t work, but it didn’t get as cold at night as it did in Kunming.
We met a few people that night and decided to go to see the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center, the world’s only such place. We ended up waking up 45 minutes late the next morning (the alarm didn’t go off) and barely caught the “bus” — a car driven by someone at the hostel. The GPBaRC is pretty nice, there are several different areas for the different ages of Pandas, nursing, sub-adult, and adult. They also have some Red Pandas, which look like red racoons. It was the coldest that it had been yet, reaching 3.5C (a little under 40F).
We got back from the GPBaRC at around noon and went out to buy our train ticket and find someplace to use the Internet — the service at the hostel was out. We walked around and didn’t find any Internet cafes, so we went into a Sheriton hotel. They had Internet available, but it was 160 Yuan per hour, or over $20! Typically prices vary from 5 to 10 Yuan per hour. They recommended another place that was less expensive and wrote it down so that we could instruct the taxi where to take us. It seemed to be difficult to find someplace to use the Internet, contrary to what the Lonely Planet says.
The Internet cafe we were directed to was on the top floor of a building in a shopping district. It was very nice and we recognized immediately that it was probably not the place to get a coffee and use the Internet we were looking for. But we decided to give it a shot anyway. They presented us with a menu and described the choices as best they could in English. There was a section of drinks which, as they explained to us, had free refills. We explained that we just wanted coffee and the waiter suggested one that we heard as “best color.” However, when it arrived, it became clear that he was, in fact, saying “best cola.” We had a couple of refils of the small cup, but the computers were slow and the mouse would sometimes stop working, so we decided to go somewhere else. The misadventure cost us 56 Yuan total, or about $4 each.
We caught a taxi to the train station and got our ticket easily, though due to a misprint, we had to figure out that we really wanted the K6 train at 19:42, not the K61 train at 9:42. With that behind us, we headed back to the hostel for a bit. We ran into the girl who’d given us a ride from the train station to our hostel the day before — her name is Joyce — and asked her about places to eat. Her English was excellent and her local knowledge was very good, and she was able to direct us to a fantastic eatery right around the corner. They didn’t speak English there and she had to leave, but we managed to order some of our favorites (which we have written in English, pinyin, and Mandarin characters).
Then we went to The Loft hostel again to hang out in their cafe/bar (which was running on generator power) for a while. We had a few beers and talked some more with Joyce about Chengdu, Sichuan, Xi’an (our next stop), and China in general. After a couple of beers and a cappuccino, we decided it was time to call it a night and walked back over to the Dragon Town.
The alley was alive with weekend sounds, sights, and smells. It seemed that most of the workers had stayed around to eat, drink, and talk. Though it was already past 10pm, many people were still out enjoying themselves. In front of our hostel, we ran into one of our fellow travelers who was from Germany and a new one who was from just outside Paris. We sat down and joined them, ordering more beers. Both of them speak Mandarin well, which was handy. But all that was required was to hold up a number of fingers corresponding to the number of beers desired and to say “Tsing Tao.” We had a great time sitting and chatting, then we went off to bed.