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PANDA-MONIUM

19 May 2011

I am writing this at 11 p.m. in Xian.  We are at the 5-star Kampinski hotel, which means nothing comes with your expensive room except the room.  This is the first place we have stayed in China which provides no free bottled water in the room (and you can't drink the tap water).  It is so expensive to use the internet that I'm writing this tonight but since we are flying to Beijing tomorrow, I will post this and tomorrow's entry there.  I hope.

I wandered the ship's halls for the last time at 4 a.m. this morning, though had nothing to post, since I'd done all the journaling and e-mailing the afternoon before.  At 3 I had watched us pull into Chongqing and parallel park next to the dock.  Pretty impressive, lemme tell you.

After breakfast and check-out, we were ready to head to shore.  This was the first big thing I'd worried about on this trip--would I be able to get from ship to shore without pooping out.  It was a long way to shore and then 100 steps up to the buses.  I wanted to start early so I wouldn't be the last behind.  You walk across this long path (outlined) atop some pontoon-like thingies...

...over to where the X is, which starts the 100 steps to the street level.

But the "stick men" were waiting for me.  These very aggressive men won't take no for an answer, both to carry your bags and help get you to the street.  One guy grabbed my 2 bags and my elbow, another guy grabbed my other elbow and we set off.  The 2nd guy's function seemed to be to tell me to watch my step every few steps.  Behind me two more guys were escorting Walt across the narrow walkway.  When we got to the steps we made it up the first 30 before I had to stop. I insisted Walt take my picture with my two guides.  (He had his own two guides who insisted on helping him with bags and steps as well)

It was the guy in the dark shirt who did all the work and the guy in the white shirt already was asking for money to let his picture be taken.  I didn't really like him much.  But by God, I did it.  I climbed those 100 steps and not only was NOT the last to the bus, I was there before they OPENED the bus.  That was a problem too because the vendors were on you like mosquitoes, selling all sorts of junk and services.  Two wanted to polish my shoes and would not take no for an answer.  I had to finally walk away.  Another guy was selling kites "5 for one dollar..."  Someone on the bus got 9 for one dollar. We did buy 5 (cheap at half the price!) but they are so flimsy I have little hope of them actually making it home without breaking.

We finally got underway and our local guide gave us information on Chongquing, with >30 million people, the largest city in China.  She says that to drive from the north to the south of Chongquing prefect would take eight hours.  Like everywhere we have been, it is a city of stark contrasts. There are those ubiquitous boxy high rises everywhere but below them are the old houses that are being torn down to make way for the new.  Not entirely a positive thing, in the eye of the older residents, but everyone is fiercely proud of what has been accomplished in the last 20 years.

But our first stop was the Chongqing Zoo to see the pandas, the thing I had been looking forward to the most.  Jenna had warned that all we might see were their backs and it sort of looked like that might be the case.

But then we found a second one who, while not exactly cooperative, was at least able to be photographed as she paced back and forth by her cage, waiting to be fed.

Still not what I was hoping for when we signed up for this trip, but then I saw another panda in the adjoining enclosure and this one seemed a bit more lively and a bit better to photograph.

And then we saw what the guide described as "the star of the show," sitting on a platform just chewing her bamboo and posing for all us panda-hungry tourists.  I took lots of photos.

I finally had my panda fix, though I really could have stayed there for a long time and watched them...but you don't have that luxury on a tour!  We also visited the zoo's art school before leaving, but for me the visit was over once we left the pandas.  No time to stop in a gift shop, so I grabbed something on the fly as we were boarding the bus, because I really wanted something from the zoo.

Our next stop was lunch at a restaurant in a hotel.  It was examples of real Sechuan cooking (spicy) and some of the best food I've had since we got here.

Then we were off to the airport, where we had a whopping 15 minutes to get from the bus to our gate to catch the plane for Xian.  Jenna was pleased (and surprised) that we took off on time.  It's about 40 minutes from the airport to our hotel, which gave our local guide, Kevin, plenty of time to tell us about Xian, which was one time, along with Athens, Rome, and (somewhere in Turkey) one of the major civilizations in the world.  But here, too, things are being built at an amazing rate.  The bustling downtown Xian didn't exist 20 years ago.  You can't really see it clearly but every single one of those high rises has a construction crane on it.  It's the same situation in every city we have visited on this trip.

We had about an hour and a half to kill after we settled into our HUGE room.

Walt wandered around and I took a nap, which I seem to be doing a lot of lately!

We had reservations for a dinner show in the evening.  This was the "Tang Dynasty Show," in a theater setting similar to some Las Vegas shows, with terraced table levels.  The show celebrated the Tang Dynasty, one of the shortest, but most culturally enriching of all of the dynasties.

Both the multi-coursed dinner (including the sweet rice wine) and the show were excellent, but we were all dragging when we were dropped off at the hotel at the end of the night.

Breakfast at 6, bags out by 6:15, and departure for Terra Cotta warriors at 7.  Jenna says it will be 3-4 hours of walking, but the high temp is only predicted to be 75, which is lovely.  In the afternoon we fly to Beijing.


Flicker sets

  • Day 1 (flying and arrival in Shanghai) is  here
  • Lots and lots and lots of pictures from Day 2, Shanghai is here

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