China: Spicy Pandas

We continued our exploration of Chinese culture and history in Chengdu, home of the pandas… obviously a highlight. Finally, we visited Chongqing, home of my maternal grandfather, where we embarked on the Yangtze River Cruise. We concluded with 1 1/2 weeks of relaxation in Japan for Cherry Blossom Festivals in Kyoto and Tokyo.

Chengdu 成都
03/26-28/16: Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, renown for spicy cuisine, and home to the giant pandas. Upon arrival, we took a walk to Chen Mapo Tofu for dinner. On our first full day, we volunteered at the Dujianyan (都江堰) Panda Rescue Center which housed 15-20 pandas. What a memorable experience spent in such close proximity to the giant pandas: sweeping the enclosures, feeding an injured panda, enjoying a photo op with a baby panda, and exploring the expansive grounds in our free time. The next day, we visited the Chengdu Panda Breeding & Research Base (成都大熊猫繁育研究基地) in town. This was a much larger operation with around 80 pandas, including the playful cubs in the panda kindergarten and red panda wilderness preserve. Afterward, we lunched and shopped at the Wide & Narrow Alley (宽窄巷) and also visited People’s Park (人民公园) in historical district of Old Town.

Chongqing 重庆
03/29-31/16: Chongqing is the starting point for Yangtze Cruises, former capital of the Republic of China, and hometown of my paternal grandfather. Thanks to immense hospitality of extended family, we were treated to sumptuous feasts of fine seafood, fancy delicacies and flowing wine. The welcome was overseen by my great aunt, an incredibly vibrant and sharp lady, who also managed to obtain special permission to tour our ancestral home, a hotspring now turned government resort with two museums where Chiang Kai-shek stayed overnight and the Chengchi University campus. Due to the upcoming Qing Ming holiday, we also stopped at the family cemetery to pay respects and observe ceremonial tomb sweeping rituals. The kids then enjoyed a class of soccer drills arranged by their great uncle. The next day, we visited the impressive Dazu Rock Carvings (大足石刻) with 50,000 buddhas and an 1,000-armed golden Guan Yin. On our final day, we explored the restored Hongya Cave (洪崖洞) mall and the pedestrian walkway near Liberation Plaza (解放广场). Of course, we had to taste the famous Chongqing Hot Pot. Such an incredible time spent with newfound family!

Yangtze River Cruise 长江游轮
04/01-04/16: We sailed the newly commissioned Presidents 8 Cruise down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Yichang (宜昌). After skipping the first morning’s excursion to Fengdu Ghost Town (丰都鬼城), we crossed the Drunken Bridge and visited the Shibaozhai (石宝寨) Pagoda in the afternoon. The second morning’s excursion to the White Emperor City (白帝城) provided a glimpse to the historical setting for the Three Kingdoms Novel. In the afternoon, we embarked on a 3-hour outing on a Shennong Stream (神农溪) ferry then transferred onto a small wooden rowboat where we witnessed how the old boatmen pulled the boats by ropes. On the English tour, we met quite few families, including a number of young Star Wars fans. We purchased CD recordings of ethnic songs performed by the guides. On the final day, we took a bus up to the 3 Gorges Dam (三峡大坝) for the scenic overview of the locks, ship elevator, and hydroelectric dam. Due to a storm in Guangdong, our flight was delayed by several hours, so we were relieved when we finally arrived back in Shanghai, concluding our epic journey around China.