Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province, is a nice and laidback city. Due to anti-pollution regulations, it is quite difficult to obtain a motorcycle licence here, hence the large numbers of bicycles and the dangerously silent electric ones, seen everywhere on the streets.
Like in the rest of China, recycling is big in Chengdu, but not in the way we’re used to it in many western countries. In China, no eyebrows will be raised when people rummage through garbage bins in search of plastic bottles or aluminium cans - it has become a way to earn a living for many.
I spent a couple of days exploring the city and the fantastic Sichuan cooking, although saying it is extremely spicy is quite an understatement. I quite like spicy food, but most of the Sichuan cuisine has such an enormous amount of chillis, chilli sauce and/or chilli powder, that it takes quite a while before you regain any feeling in your mouth, tongue and lips.
One morning, I took a bus and then a motor-rikshaw, which took me through small alleys of a village, to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, close to Chengdu. Those giant pandas are beautiful, and it is impossible not to find them cute. How they lean back as if in a lazy chair, and slowly munch on bamboo, holding it with both their front paws. There are a number of baby pandas, with nine months old already quite large, playing with eachother and tumbling down from logs and trees in the process. Companies had adopted some of the pandas, providing funds for their habitats, and giving appropriate names to the pandas like “Mei Mei". The US company Microsoft has done the same, but their choice for a name boggles the mind: believe it or not, one of the giant pandas is now called “Microsoft".
South of Chengdu, there are a couple of interesting sites to explore. One of them is near the small town of Leshan. There, looking out over the Min River, is the enormous Dafo, or the Great Buddha. A monk started work on this statue in the 8th century, and it took over 90 years to complete it, hacking it out of the red sandstone cliffs. From near his head, you can descend a tiny staircase to get to his feet, and there, one can really appreciate the scale of this 71 meter tall structure. Tourists gaze at the statue, a single toe bigger than a handful of adult men, and almost fall into the river when trying to get it all onto one photo.
Closer to Chengdu, Emei Shan is one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains. I went for a full day of walking over the mountain’s forested ridges, the small paths leading me to hidden temples, past waterfalls and small villages where the locals were selling medicinal herbs, mushrooms and roots. The walk was arduous, through dense vegetation, but the views of the lush green mountain slopes were wonderful.
Back in Chengdu, I would soon leave the China as I knew it, and fly to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Considered by the Beijing government as part of China, it couldn’t be more different than any part of China I had visited.
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