"Where Pands Live" (Chengdu, Day 1)
Chengdu is known for being the home of Giant Pandas, and the city is very proud of that fact. A brochure Huo brought me at the airport read "Where Pands Live. Chengdu: Real China." (It was one of the less egregious English errors I saw while in China). There are panda statues and souvenirs everywhere in the city. So logically, our first stop was the Research Base for Giant Panda Breeding in the north part of the city.
The base is a sort of park and zoo that provides a beautiful green space in the city. The pandas themselves were cute, but seeing them lethargically laying around in their cages made me kind of sad.
After we left, Megan and I headed to the mall to get some clothes for me to wear since my suitcase was missing. Of course, right after I bought clothes (from H&M—malls in China are pretty similar to malls in the States), we got a call that the airline had found my bag and would send it to the apartment that night. I was relieved, since the bag had all my favorite summer clothes in it. I had not been looking forward to trying to replace all of them.
We headed toward the town center, where we saw yet another panda, but this one was climbing up the side of a building.
We did some more exploring in one of the biggest malls I've ever seen, which was apparently built right over top of some ancient ruins. According to Huo, the Chinese government is usually more interested in making money than in preserving ancient sites, which is really too bad.
Huo had bought us all tickets to a traditional Sichuan opera. I didn't understand much of what was going on (there were translations, but they weren't that helpful), but the costumes and sets were amazing.
Apparently, every province in China has slightly different traditional forms of opera, and Sichuan opera is known for "face-changing." It's hard to explain exactly what this looks like, but basically, it involves performers changing their masks so quickly, you can't even see the change. They have one mask on, then they kick their leg in the air or jump as the drums bang and suddenly their mask is different.
It was mesmerizing. I kept trying to see how it happened—I think the masks came out of their hats somehow—but I couldn't spot them changing, even when one of the performers came out into the audience and changed his mask while shaking my hand.
After the opera, Huo dropped Megan and I off to get some dinner at a part of town that looked more like how I (in my naive, American way) had pictured China.
We had some various fried food from a stand. And for the hundredth time on my trip, I thought, "Well, if I get sick, I'll know what set it off." (Miraculously, I didn't get sick at all the whole time). But, just for the record, stinky tofu is disgusting.