Panda Land

With the pandas in China.

With the pandas in China.

Pandas are indeed cute.  I found this out firsthand when I visited China last month.  China had never been on my list of countries to visit, but that sentiment doesn’t hold true now. After spending seven adventured-filled days in the Sichuan Province I couldn’t believe I hadn’t booked the ticket years ago.  As evident from my previous posts; I live in Japan, a country which isn’t exactly on China’s party guest list when all the cool countries want to hang out with each other.  I had been deterred to some extent by Japanese attitudes towards China, but it’s not something I took on board seriously. Secondly, as much as I like to brag about my spontaneity, this is a trait which I like to exaggerate greatly. My move to Japan was years in the planning and the idea had  intimidated me to the point of severe anxiety at the time.  My trip to China was the exact opposite, there were no plans, I just booked a ticket after a day of thinking, “why the hell not?”

So there I was in the airport taking a flight to China, it happens in an instant as soon as I walked on the plane; everything changed.  I don’t like to make generalisations, but I respect the Chinese attitude in some ways more than the Japanese. Their take no bullshit stance from others and doing what the hell they want to when they want to do it really impressed me.  Air travel is a drain mentally and physically for me. Even with a two-hour flight I need at least a day to recover. Going through immigration and customs where people care little about red-tape made it almost manageable

I feel that holidays and adventures are different, they’re two separate concepts. Holidays are margaritas on the beach, sand between your toes and watching the sun set on a beach with palm trees. Obviously, Chengdu in China doesn’t have any of these things- what I came to China for was the pandas, sacred mountains and temples. Hoping to see some crazy food (I did-cockroach shish kebab). The whole trip reminded me of those roleplaying books I used to love when I was little. Those ones that told you to turn a page when you met someone or had to make a decision. China is like that; you make a move and you could be faced with the worst outcomes, likely sleeping at an inn with the Dutch businessman (Hostel, Eli Roth).

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Near the top of Mount Emei.

One of the best decisions on the trip was to go to the Panda  Breeding Center, which is situated just outside Chengdu.  I always thought that people overplay pandas’ cuteness. This is certainly not true -pandas are just like overgrown babies.  Their mannerisms, their clumsiness, their fondness of working a crowd,  come across so child-like that it’s almost easy to forget that you are looking at animals capable of causing you some serious damage, not stuffed teddy-bears.  My friend and I just stood watching them and their ways, grasping on the bamboo then pulling the shoots apart with the elegance of a hungry infant. It felt like almost an hour each time we decided to move on. They are simply “entertaining.”

Apart from pandas, there are other things to do in Sichuan province in China, actually it holds many of China’s greatest treasures. For three days of my tour I decided along with my fellow traveler to go up Mount Emei. Mount Emei is one of four sacred mountains in China.  It’s a place of enlightenment, and while climbing and visiting some of the temples on the mountains I felt peaceful as if all my worries had simply vanished.  I doubt I reached any form of enlightenment, though it’s nice to think I did feel some power from the mountain. Unfortunately, due to a lack of research on both our parts, we hadn’t realised that the mountain was actually 52km to the top and begrudgingly took a bus the rest of the way.  We hanged out on the summit, talking and drinking baijou (a strong Chinese alcoholic drink) and just nattering about the most mundane things in life, no need for overstatements. The mountain said everything.

Myself at Leshan

Myself at Leshan

Leshan is a few miles away from Mount Emei, which is another Buddhist place and holds the biggest Buddha in the world. The Buddha is carved into a mountain and is supposed to bring protection to the town as the rivers that flow around the town are said to be quite volatile and dangerous for the residents. I didn’t look up to see if the buddha had indeed done what is was built for, one can assume though that it did give the people some sort of peace of mind.  Nonetheless it is still pretty epic to look at once you finally get to it after hours of queuing up. I know that wherever you go in the world, especially places that are said to be national treasures -you’ll find tourist traps.  Though I had hoped that Sichuan wouldn’t be like that, that it was a little area in the corner of the world that was still left unscathed by others.  Unfortunately Chinese tourists are very much like Japanese tourists, which means they are overfond of visiting other places in their own country.  This is acceptable in my eyes since China is so big and filled with various types of cultures and people. In England however, only the elderly vacation around the country and other such trips are seen as “breaks” or” day-trips.” I shudder to think of never leaving England knowing that was my only world.  As much as I love my home-country there is so much to see once you pass the channel tunnel. Even Europe with it’s variety of countries and landscapes can never fulfill my urge to go exploring in other regions of the world.

China had a lot going for it, but I had to say a relief came over me once I had landed in Narita, the courteous people in Japan makes it a country worth living in. There are other things that I could rant about in China; pollution, litter, disregard for animal life, personal space constantly being invaded. I just won’t go there though, it’s not my place to judge another country. Though from my experience in China I hope they do stop building, I didn’t see countryside that hadn’t been scathed by horrid skyscapers and dusty air. It is quite upsetting to see, I know the economy is growing, but at what cost? A negligence for the environment and the planet?  I was happy to check out some historical places, but they were all somehow ravaged by modern architecture that had no real reason to be there. If China does become the number one world power, let’s hope they develop some empathy for a dying planet.