Panda attack in Chengdu, 2010

The second day we were in Chengdu was the day my mom and I had been eagerly anticipating: a visit to the panda breeding center!


It was 2 hours of cooing and ogling fluffy, pudgy panda bears. Never have I seen so many pandas in one place! I think there are about 80 or so now. The best part about going to Chengdu to see pandas versus simply going to a zoo with pandas is that you get to hold a panda cub! At a hefty price of USD $60. You’re handed the panda cub and given 3 minutes of intense cuddling. What happens is that you hand them your camera and the caretakers go crazy with it to get as many shots of you with the panda as they can. Is it worth it to shell out $20/min? Oh yes. It melted my heart having this warm ball of fur in my arms, happily munching and squealing in delight at its juicy piece of bamboo. So cute.


Once our time with the bumbling teddy bears came to an end, we visited Dujiangyan 都江堰, an irrigation infrastructure that has been present since 256 BC and built during the Qin dynasty. Levees were constructed to prevent fast-flowing spring melt-water from bursting the banks. Long sausage-shaped baskets of woven bamboo filled with stones called “zhulong” were what the levees were made from. Also particular to this impressive piece of hydraulic engineering is the “Yuzui 鱼嘴”, which is so named because it resembles the mouth of a fish and divides the oncoming water into inner and outer streams. panda2

It was a lot more beautiful in the fog: gave it an air of mystery. Once the fog lifted, however, there wasn’t much to see since the river was so small.dujiang

I always find it funny how Chinese men like to eat with their shirts rolled up over their beer bellies. As a woman, I’d simply be too self-conscious to do anything like that. While the engineering of Dujiangyan was fascinating, I definitely took more interest in the 15 different types of chilies proffered at the stand nearby. Would’ve loved to take some home, yet I never really had any good experience with eating food sold on the street in China…dujiang2

Ironically, we spent a good hour of the afternoon just street food shopping on 錦里古街 [jin li gu jie], or Jinli Old Street, a street with Qing Dynasty-styled architecture. The running theme is “Three Kingdoms”.


There was food, arts, and games. Delicious fast and fresh Sichuan food made to order. Beautiful woodwork and glassblowing by street vendors. Crossbow shooting games–like an older version of the plastic water gun games we have at carnivals in the US. So much to do and see! But we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, so after exploring the Chengdu bazaar, we finally left to eat a late lunch.


Wish I had good things to report about the delicious food we ate, but I honestly don’t remember what we had! There wasn’t much for vegetarians since our tour guide apparently forgot to order for us…whoops!

Chengdu, 2010

firstAn A.M. flight out of Shanghai into Chengdu, Sichuan Province. First class, baby! Frequent flier programs, in my book, provide the most pay back out of all the reward programs. Couscous, surprisingly, was on the menu during our flight. Even more shocking was how tasty it was! Never knew the Chinese could make couscous, or had any knowledge of it.


Tour bus picked us up after we landed, along with the rest of the tour group. We then proceeded to check into one of the most stunning hotel lobbies I had seen. An entire, traditional Chinese garden as the backdrop, with a running stream and tropical birds chirping through cages (that was a bit sad for me).

Chandeliers the size of a small garden hung from the ceiling, with their light refracting off the marble floors. Simply extravagant. The InterContinental Century City Hotel in Chengdu–if you ever happen to be in Chengdu and am willing to pay a little extra for a great stay, this is the way to do it. Not that much pricier than Vegas hotels.

After we had settled in, it was time to hit the dinner table. Traditional Sichuanese hot pot is vastly different from the hot pot most people are acquainted with. There is no broth. There is no soup. It is essentially a large, boiling vat of chili oil with chili peppers and peppercorn. You dunk your meat in it; you dunk your veggies in it.


The name of the restaurant is 川 院 火鍋 ‘chuan yuan hot pot’ , basically meaning “Sichuan hot pot garden”. Supplementary condiments to the hot pot include: sesame oil, more chili oil, garlic, pepper, scallions, salt, and a small dish of MSG. Ah, MSG. Never before had I seen it served so blatantly and proudly. Oddly enough, the food never really got to be overwhelmingly greasy despite the fact that I probably had a cup’s worth of oil in me by the end of the hour. There’s no denying that fat is delicious, though.

chengduhot2To add to the oleaginous meal we had soldiered through, we also ordered a plate of fresh white cabbage–topped with chili sauce. My mouth had completely numbed by this point from the chili hot pot; all I could taste from the cabbage was its delightfully crispy texture. Mmm. Also served at the end as dessert for all of us was deep-fried sesame rice balls, 芝麻湯圓 ‘zhi ma tang yuan’. Sichuan is particularly famous for the tang yuan it produces because of how “Q” or toothsome/chewy they are. Like the kind of chew you’d find in an authentic NYC bagel.