Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
My experience entering the country of China was exhilarating and terrifying. I had many nightmares leading up to our China travels. I talked to many people who had traveled to China and I read a lot of reviews from travelers. I knew we would have a great time and be blown away by the history, be facing massive amounts of people, traveling independently we would have little trouble if we stuck to seeing the ‘big tourist’ locations, and we would probably get stared at a bit. When we landed I was feeling uneasy, but hopeful I could face this beast and find the joy that lies in exploring this powerful place in the world. The history of China is so ancient, complex and vast it is hard to wrap my head around. As we entered the baggage claim teeming with people I had to step back and work to breathe. To my surprise Leo (the shy one) had no problem finding his way to the front of the baggage mob to retrieve our bags. Nice. I knew traveling would challenge us to open up and learn in different ways. It was great to see Leo stepping up and taking charge of his personal space. I relaxed a bit and realized it wasn’t all on me, we were in this together. And the learning taking place was going to happen in ways I wouldn’t have expected.
Our hotel was located in the center of Chengdu (link to our hotel) , within the first ring, and it had a wonderful old but updated sense. The neighborhood we were in was right across the street from one of the most popular Sichuan Opera venues and the street was lined with the old style Chinese architecture. (Hutong information) Mind you the buildings are relatively new, but it was fun to see the old style Hutongs are still in existence amongst the giant high rise buildings and large chain hotels. The Hutongs are old and come with some of the problems with aging buildings (if own a home you can imagine) they are a unique and dying part of a new modern world. Often run by families for generations it is becoming harder and harder to compete with big chains. (Hutong article)
Over the next few days we managed to find a city park, use the subway and even ride a public bus. When we talked to the kids at the hotel front desk about riding the bus to the Panda sight they looked at us like we were crazy. But from what I had read others had made the journey with their children via public transportation so I thought if they can so it, so can we! And we managed, but it was a bit scary and I was extremely grateful to have my iPhone with maps!!
The highlight of our time in Chengdu was definitely the Panda Research Base. It was much larger and well developed than I had imagined. We spent about 5 hours wondering around. The day was rainy and cool and the pandas were mostly outside. We managed to catch the keepers feeding a few of them which was quite entertaining. The pandas were adorable! And really were a blast to see in person. After our day exploring Pandas we returned via public transportation. We manage to travel during rush hour and got smashed in the subway. We opted to get off the subway which meant a 2mile walk back to our hotel. It was exhilarating and exhausting.
As we ended our time in Chengdu I felt a bit more at ease, but still very much on guard. I enjoyed getting out to see the sights but felt so relieved to get back to our room where I felt I could let down my guard for a moment. Then I would panic about what to do if there was an earth quake. (and there was one after we left!!) I woke up one night and had to locate the consulate on the map. I oriented that place and realized we could walk there. I was able to go back to sleep. The interest in my children by strangers, especially my daughter had my stomach in knots. I didn’t feel threatened but I couldn’t help feeling overly protective. I was very aware of our being ‘foreign’ and I felt vulnerable and often a bit scared. This isn’t a bad/good comment simply a reflection of how I felt. It made me wonder how many people feel that way in the world. Unsafe, unwanted, foreign…. It reminded me of the need to extend my smile and my heart no matter what. There is no knowing what people are going through. The sense of relief and well being that came when one person was willing to look me in the eye and extend a smile was priceless. I felt hopeful. I felt like it might be possible to survive if one person was willing to help us. It was a poignant reminder of my humanity, my vulnerability, and the power of kindness.
We are off to Beijing!
Until next time…
Stay present and
Enjoy the moment!