Today was quite an adventure for us here in China. After staying at our friends’ (very nice) apartment in XinJin yesterday and basically working most of the day, we set out in the evening for Ya’an, an old-fashioned town about an hour from here that is home to China’s single largest population of Pandas — a world-renowned location.
We arrived last night and had a late dinner. Since we’re in Sichuan province, the local culinary specialty is called “hot pot.” Basically this involves a large table with a gas burner in the center, upon which a large stoneware pot is placed, then filled with broth and all manner of ingredients. The contents are brought to a boil and everyone partakes in what’s being cooked inside. Last night, the particular variety of hot pot that we enjoyed was like a big chicken soup: Chicken-based broth filled with tons of wild mushrooms local to the region. Lest you think it was simply chicken broth, allow me to add that an entire chicken was cooked in the pot as well. It was quite simply delicious.
Afterwards we spent the night at what is probably Ya’ans nicest hotel, an extremely posh and modern place — one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in, even. They had very fast high-speed Internet, a huge spa bathtub (the first bathtub I’ve seen since I’ve been in Asia, actually), fantastic furnishings, and a tremendous array of buttons, switches and electronic convenience doodads. To gain entry to the room you just waved a keycard at the door, and there was a console outside with a bunch of telltale indicators on it that were linked to switches inside the room. You could indicate that you didn’t want to be disturbed, or that you needed something, or a bunch of other situations that I didn’t have time to investigate.
Today, as I said, was the real adventure — we journeyed to the Ya’an wildlife preserve and got to see quite a few real-life Pandas, most of them from close up. In fact, we even got to sit next to one and pat him on the head while we had our pictures taken. It was pretty cold out, so we’d bundled ourselves up in multiple layers of clothing, even including more than one coat. It was quite a switch for us Florida residents.
After seeing the Pandas, we decided to hike through a beautiful gorge back to the front of the wildlife preserve. The hiking path led us on an amazing journey down steep, moss-covered stone steps, past waterfalls and temples and tall, leaning trees as we delved deeper into the gorge. It was amazing. We took so many pictures that our memory card filled up and our camera batteries all died. Fortunately, our friends were there to pick up the slack with their own cameras, and we plan to swap pictures tomorrow — all said and done, there’s a library of hundreds of photos (and some videos) to see.
We were pretty weary after our ecological adventure, so we stopped and had lunch at a noodle shop that is famous for its homemade noodles. They’re so renowned that even one of the former Chairmen of the People’s Republic of China used to frequent this place. They lived up to their reputation, I’m happy to say — the incredibly fresh noodles came in two flavors, seafood and beef, both of which we tried and enjoyed.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in downtown Ya’an, and even toured our friends’ new apartment in a high-rise complex right on the water. The entire time, I swear I’ve never been stared at so much. This is a pretty out-of-the-way part of China where not too many Western folk venture; you should have seen the peoples’ faces as we marched through town. At one point, we were near a high school that was just dismissing for the day, and some of the kids excitedly shouted “Hello!” and “American!” as they went by on their way home.
Tired from our big adventure, we eventually made our way back to XinJin to our friends’ apartment, where we watched three hours of 24 (freshly downloaded from New York’s Fox affiliate!) while eating homemade lotus root soup and dumplings for dinner. And now it’s 11:59 p.m. here in China, so we’re officially wrapping up the day here with an Oddball Update. Which may not be so odd, but is definitely more exotic than most.
I’d also like to officially wish my mom a happy birthday — and my grandmother too, whose birthday it will be in just a couple of days! To Mom: We have a gift picked out for you and will be sending it to your attention soon. 🙂