On our way to Lhasa, Tibet, we first went to Beijing, then Chengdu, then Beijing, then Lhasa through Chengdu, back to Beijing through Chengdu and home.
This is Judith addressing Prison Officials, that came from every province in China, with her interpreter. She talked about the spread of AIDS by drug users using her research in Chicago as the basis.
The most prominent feature of Chengdu is its lack of sun. The day starts with grey fog and ends with brown fog due to the day's pollution from traffic. There are 300 days a year where the sun, stars, and moon are not visible. It does get light and the fog is less dense as the day progresses, but I found the brightest part of the area around the hotel was at night when all the commercial lights were on. It’s kind of like Times Square Lite. There are mountains to the west and to the east and there are no updrafts to clear the skies. When we left, we felt it was a big relief to feel the sun and see the stars and moon again, although at the time we didn’t think about it too much.
We were surprised to find Chengdu to be such a large and modern city in the interior of the country. Most of the wealth of the country can be seen in the eastern and coastal cities. In one of the very modern shopping areas very near our Holiday Inn hotel (4 ½ stars), young people were everywhere shopping. There were dressed very fashionably, western styled, walking around with cells phones to their ears.
The people of Chengdu (Chengduians?) are much more "laid back" than people in the East, or so we were told.
Our hosts take good care of us, picking us up in a police van every day and taking us to what there is to see.
Du Jiang Yan Irrigation System
We traveled outside the city to see the UN World Heritage acclaimed Du Jiang Yan Irrigation System and saw that the country side was rich with vegetable crops. We passed Motorola and Intel factories along the way, located just outside the city.
About 250 B.C., Li Bing (governor of Shu Prefecture) built a flood control and irrigation system on the Minjiang River that stopped flooding of the river and diverted water for irrigation. It is an absolute amazing feat of hydraulic engineering. It took 23 years to complete. Basically, it was “divide and conquer”. The river was split, and then split again, etc. and depending on the height and flow, water was diverted for irrigation without flooding. The system uses earth levies and dams and silt is automatically carried away by the rapid flow, deep channel part. Originally, the dam supports were made of logs formed like tank traps, weighted down by stones which had to be replaced periodically. Today, only the dams have been replaced with modern ones.
The cool thing is that the scenery surrounding the river is really beautiful and there are temples high up the surrounding river bank, honoring Li Bing, and lots of flower gardens and fountains in the tourist area.
Water in China flows from the high mountains near the Himalayas to the east through gorges which cut through mountain ridges. Flooding has been very long standing problem in China and the really big Three Gorges Dam project to control the Yangtze River is a resultant response. However, back in 250 B.C., Li Bing conquered the Minjiang River.
All of the giant pandas come from Sichuan and the two neighboring provinces. About 6 miles from the center of Chengdu, there is a Panda preserve, complete with an educational film, museum, and panda nursery. They have about 45 pandas kept here. We saw Pandas sleeping, eating, and playfully wrestling. Also in this preserve were some red Pandas, which are from the raccoon family.
The Giant Panda can be traced back 8 million years and therefore they are considered a living fossil. (Are you creationists paying attention?) They are considered a national treasure and for China to give the gift of two pandas to another nation is truly a gift of friendship. We arrived in the morning and the morning mist was still burning off and the pandas below were just waking up.
Sichuan cooking is somewhat different in China than the US. They create this hot pot of oil and chilies and start throwing all kinds of “marginal” food in. Our hosts treated us to a couple of meals. One had freshly disemboweled small fish inserted. Just before insertion, our hosts called the waitress over to make sure the fish would not jump out of the hot oil. I whispered to Judith to add to our list of things not to do in China, “don’t just throw fish into the hot pot, use chop sticks to insert them and keep hold of them for a bit.” We had two kinds of eels, tripe, et al, in the hot pot also. About everything tastes the same (spicy). The spicy quality was not a problem, but the sameness made the experience less than wonderful after a few meals. We ended up eating a pizza from Pizza Hut and KFC chicken two meals.
We did learn about Kung Pao chicken. I comes from a man who was governor of Sichuan Provence in the late 19th century, Ding Baozhen whose title was Gong Bao (palatial guardian).
From Chengdu we flew to Beijing so Judith could present the same talk to the National Communicable Disease Control officials. They met us and drove us to a 3 star “Stalin Hotel”. We ended up with this name for this kind of hotel because they were built when China and the Soviets were buddies. The lobby is usually nice, but the rooms have no western amenities. In this case, they did not even supply soap in the bathroom. The beds are really hard and if you are lucky you can get the English, China TV channel and maybe CNN on TV. No broadband Internet in the hotel. No English newspapers in sight. These hotels are usually used to put up Chinese officials traveling about and they like to smoke. And Chinese cigarettes have a most foul odor.
It was clear and sunny the next day and I got a taxi to the Peninsula Place Hotel and checked in while Judith presented her AIDS/drug presentation. She came later.
In our book, the Peninsula Place is a great 5 star hotel. All western amenities are available with wireless Internet in the room. It is convenient to the western and China shopping. I watched the baseball playoffs in the morning live due to the time difference on ESPN. We met up with the group of people doing to Tibet the next morning and ate together that night. We then when to the “dirt market” to bargain and shop. The dirt market did start out in the dirt, but now is covered and very large. We were there about 2 ½ hours and only covered about 1/3 of the place. We were told that items sell for about 60% of the original asking price. When the seller comes out with their original price, you must come out with your own ridiculous counter price. Then you go up equally as they come down. It takes time and does not guarantee a great bargain, but you leave with some satisfaction that you weren’t ripped off and got what you wanted. If you deviate from this process, you probably will pay more than you should have.
Below are some minorities selling their wares at the Dirt Market.