Stopover in Chengdu, China

September 29 - October 5, 2006







Chengdu is the largest city in southwest China (population four and a half million, and growing). It happens to be the main gateway to Tibet, and the cheapest and easiest place to get a Tibet foreign visitor permit and catch a flight to Lhasa. We spent several days here, touring the city under perpetual gray skies and a deep haze.

We arrived just in time for National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China, which coincided this year with the week-long Golden Autumn festival, apparently the major shopping event for what seemed to be a million exuberant residents and out of town visitors! Our short stay in Chengdu dispelled many misconceptions we harbored regarding China. It's very modern here, the streets are clean and relatively quiet, thanks to the electric motorbikes, the temples are crowded, we rarely saw foreign visitors, and very few people speak any English, though many seem eager to learn. We discovered fancy department stores, sleek malls, Starbucks (with free wi-fi), and an Ethan Allen furniture store, in addition to hundreds of small shops selling clothes and food. Mass consumerism has hit big time in the Peoples Republic.

Strangely, our thundercloudstudio website seems to be blocked in China. We can't see the site from here, but hopefully it's online back home. I guess it's all that subversive content (must be the Tarsiers, or ...?) We feel honored!












At Chengdu's Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, we joined a steady stream of happy Golden Autumn Week vacationers cooing over the eight one-month-old pandas, nestled in their individual incubators, tended by a full-time nurse in sterile garb (no pictures allowed...) Outside, in the very un-zoo-like grounds, young teen and adult Pandas munched happily on their favorite bamboo, lolling on their backs, ripping through massive piles of bamboo sticks--they eat about 20 kg a day. Only a thousand or so Pandas exist in the wild, almost all in northern Sichuan Province. Scientists still argue whether they have existed for 600,000 or several million years, and whether they are related to raccoons, bears, or sloths, or belong to a separate family of their own.

The endangered Red Panda (aka Lesser Panda) lives in temperate Himalayan forests, in western China, Burma, Nepal, and in Sikkim, India, where it is the state animal. They have similar habits to Giant Pandas--they escape predators by climbing trees and, since they can't digest fiber, must consume enormous amounts of bamboo to survive.







Bangkok, Thailand (plane) ► Chengdu, China