A Weekend Adventure

Katie McGee
May 11, 2016
Nap time

Hey everyone!

This past weekend, my parents were kind enough to fund a weekend trip to 成都 Chéngdū, the capital of 四川 Sìchuān province. I had originally intended to travel the weekend before as we had a long weekend, but the long weekend was because of a Chinese holiday, so all Chinese shared the same long weekend and both airfare and train fares were triple their normal prices. Luckily, one of the other girls on my program was also down to save money, so I had a travel buddy. 

四川 is one of the Chinese provinces famous for their spicy food. Because it is a southern province, the summer involves particularly hot weather. The Chinese tend to believe that eating spicy food in hot weather (and drinking hot tea) helps to cool off, because the resulting sweat cools the body. As a result, spicy foods are one type of specialty found in 四川 cities. In all honesty, this was one of the major draws for me, as I find the Chinese variant of spice particularly pleasing. In comparison to Mexican spice, Chinese spice (often called 麻辣 - málà) tends to be both more peppery and more mouth-numbing, due to the wide usage of 胡椒子 hújiāo zi, black peppercorns. For anyone planning on visiting China, a word of warning: do not eat the peppercorns. I repeat, do not eat the peppercorns. I don't know anyone who actually likes the taste of them, but when you bite into one, they actually make your mouth numb. Chinese people don't actually eat them either; they are just a very good way to add an intense amount of spicy to the dish. 

As we were in 四川, of course my friend and I had to eat 火鍋 (huǒguō - hotpot). Although it was definitely no hardship, it was a requirement. Unlike some of our male classmates who ended up travelling to 成都 the week before us, we were smart about our hotpot choices and ordered a pot with half spicy stock and half non-spicy (they, on the other hand, went with a fully spicy pot, and from what I heard went to bed hungry because they had to cede victory to the intensity of the heat). When eating hotpot, it is important to remember that vegetables will soak up whatever broth you put them in like crazy, so putting vegetables in the non-spicy side is the safest bet. On the other hand, meat doesn't soak up the broth as much, so it tastes better when cooked in spicy broth. 

Pandas were the other reason I wanted to visit Chengdu. 成都 itself is best known as the home of the pandas. From the moment you land in the Chengdu airport, you start to see just how much the city capitalizes on this reputation. Pictures, trinkets, statues, pandas are featured everywhere. As a matter of fact, as far as I know China has an official claim on Great Pandas worldwide. What this means is that pandas in zoos across the globe are simply “on loan” from China, so technically they can be “recalled” at any time. While I find it odd that a country can claim ownership over an entire species, I must say that from a business standpoint it was a pretty brilliant move by the Chinese government. This claim is why baby pandas don’t tend to stay in the zoos where they are born, as China tends to ask for them back as soon as they are old enough to travel. 

One of the questions that everyone will ask after a trip to 成都 is “did you hold a panda?” Yes, it is possible to hold pandas at the research and conservation facilities. However, in order to hold the panda, a period of volunteer work and a $300 donation (at least $300. I’ve also heard $500are required to hold/hug a panda for 2 minutes (or 30 seconds, depending on the source). Yep, that’s right. $300. It is for that reason neither my friend nor I held the pandas. However, since we went early in the morning, we were able to see the pandas eating and hanging out, and there was even one baby that was all over - climbing trees, climbing its friends, and just generally getting into trouble. Also, in my opinion, simply walking through the park made for a very enjoyable morning. Although the pandas have plenty of space to roam and hang out, the people-part of the park felt like one of the nicest zoos I’ve ever been to. In fact, I found myself impressed by all of the parks and gardens we visited in Chengdu. They were all very nicely maintained and were very clean, especially compared to those in Shanghai.

Overall, I had a wonderful time in Chengdu. There is a very laid-back feel to the city, so although my friend and I did plenty of things while we were there, we were also able to have a very relaxing weekend. If you’re in China and want to get out of the giant cities but only have a weekend to do so, I would definitely recommend making a trip to Chengdu. Hang out, eat some delicious spicy food, see the pandas, and meet lots of super friendly people. As a tourist destination rather than city of business, I found that the Chengdu locals were much more willing to chat and were very open to the idea of tourists and willing to help. One caveat: don’t necessarily trust people for directions. We got lost at one point, and the people there are so invested in being helpful that they will point you in a direction even if they don’t actually know how to get where you want to go. We ended up walking for about an hour before we gave up and found a taxi, which then proceeded to follow our footsteps exactly until it passed our starting point (we were very, very lost). 

Anyways, that’s all for this week! Until next time!

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Katie McGee

<p>Hello! My name is Katie McGee, and I am a junior at the University of Puget Sound, located in Tacoma, WA. I am a Chinese major with a Japanese minor and a Global Development Studies emphasis. I am a Chinese adoptee, and although my parents did their best to expose me to Chinese culture as a child, I grew up in a community with very little diversity. I have devoted this year to traveling East Asia (South Korea, Taiwan, Mainland China, and Japan) and improving my Chinese along the way. I have already learned so much during my travels, but continue to look forward to what adventures lay ahead.</p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
University of Puget Sound
Chinese Language
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