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Goodman's Travels

Chengdu China

CHINA | Tuesday, 1 May 2012 | Views [1506]

Saturday 28th April 2012 Chengdu, Sichuan, China

We woke on the train from Zhangjiajie to Dazhou at about 6.00am and we were still the only two in the compartment. Train Was due in at 09:26 so we had a leisurely banana sandwich and a cup of coffee for breakfast. Wendy played some solitaire on the card table and Allan watched the scenery go by. At about 08:05 the train slowed into a station, the conductor sidled up to the compartment and gave us our tickets back saying Dazhou, Dazhou. Bloody Hell. We were at Dazhou and we weren’t ready. A scramble to repack the bags and get off the train. Little did we know (the conductor knew) the train would be there for 15 minutes to replenish supplies. We had plenty of time but didn’t know it.

So, we had 3 hours to wait around Dazhou Station. We checked our luggage into the baggage area and went for a stroll looking for something we didn’t know what, mainly a western toilet. Walked slowly until about 09:00 till the fast food chain called DICO’S opened. It is a very clean and well run Chinese version of McDonalds. But no western toilet. Never the less, it was far better than anything else on offer.

We then went into the ‘special’ waiting area for those passengers boarding train D5183 to Chengdu. You show your ticket, they then scan you with a wand, you then put your luggage through an airport style x-ray machine, you then walk through an archway that scans you. Only to get inside and find nothing more than some ordinary seats and disgusting toilets. The security is all for show. When any lights go off, they ignore them. We noted one lady set off three lights, one of the rail staff confronted her, she told her where to go and walked away. It keeps people employed.

We boarded bullet train D5183 on time at 11:15. The seating is tremendous. Rows of 3 and 2, with at least 8 inches of leg room. Very comfortable and smooth. Top speed of 195klm/h but mostly cruised at 155klmh. Reached Chengdu 5 minutes early - best train ride we’ve had whilst travelling. At Chengdu Station, we told the taxi driver to take us to Yangshi Ji. We don’t know how he knew where it was, Chengdu is 3 times the size of Sydney, but somehow he knew and about 30 minutes and 35RMB later he deposited us across the road from the Lazybones Hostel. That would not have happened in any capital city in Australia.

Sunday 29th April

Nothing planned for today, needed to take it easy for a day. Decided we needed a good walk. Located Wal-Mart on the Chengdu map and started out. Thought we might get some western things like Nescafe and real bread, not the sweet stuff the Chinese make. Our hour long walk took about 90 minutes but it was a nice day and it did us good. Got to Wal-mart and got some western things and also watched a fellow in a small booth, dissect and slice the most beautiful Peking Duck we have ever seen. We had to have one for lunch. Or at least half a duck. Allan put in our order and videoed the entire operation. The butcher then put the meat and carcase into a bag along with a bag that contained the Peking Sauce, shallots and wafer thin bread wrappers. Yum Yum. The half duck and accompaniments cost A$5.90. Lunch at its best, took it back to the hostel and pigged out.

Had a lazy afternoon catching up on emails, blogging, surfing the net etc. At about 5.00pm, wafting up through our open window, were the aromas from the back alley below us.

The locals had started cooking. The smells were many and varied but all great. All fresh produce being cooked on the spot below our window. That’s where we went for dinner that night. For the two of us, two mains meals, some rice and a bottle of local beer cost 23RMB (6RMB = A$1). Allan took a video of the girl cooking and the bloke waitering. He gave the video camera to the waiter so he could take a scene of us at the outdoor dining area. He didn’t have a clue what to do. He looked through the viewfinder, He seen everything that was down the alley-way, his mates inside eating and his feet and the sky, but nothing that we wanted. We missed out on being videoed but it made his day.

Monday 30th April

We went on a walking tour of Old Chengdu. This was a free activity organised by the Hostel. There were about 15 in the group. They took us through the local markets and back-alleys of old Chengdu. There was a Restaurant that specialised in Rabbit Head (stewed and fried) and we thought we would give that a miss. Bugs was not welcome on our plate.

There was nothing else there we hadn’t seen before however they did take us to a Nunnery for lunch.

The Nuns have a vision of ‘always think of the peasant‘. This was peasant food. This was a special treat. Before we entered the dining hall we collected our bowls and chop sticks, sterilised them in boiling water and then went quietly into the dining room and sat at the bench to quietly wait for the Nuns’ to serve us. Whilst waiting, Monks came and sat. Other Chinese came and sat. Other Nuns came and sat. All with their bowls and chop sticks sitting in front of them. One of the junior Nuns’ started a very calming chant and the other Nuns’ and Monks joined in the ritual.

Then other Nuns brought in very large pots, each containing a separate dish. There was boiled rice with kidney beans, cabbage, spring onions and vegetables, sprouts and vegetable, a soup of some sort and a few other pots that we couldn’t identify. Each diner was to place 5RMB (A$0.90) on the table. The Nuns would then take around a pot at a time and dole out as required. If you didn’t want a particular dish, you waved it away, however, if you received it, you HAD to eat it. The principle being that there should never be waste, if you accept it, you eat it. After everyone had been offered a second helping, the Nuns again started a chant whilst they and the Monks cleaned their bowls and sticks.

We both finished everything we accepted but there were a few, (Chinese) who couldn’t eat one particular dish. It had bean sprouts, preserved ginger, garlic, onion etc. It had a very ‘tart’ ‘acrid’ taste and whilst not one you would ask for seconds, it was edible. The entire ritual was a privilege to be part of. No photo’s were allowed of course. After that our Old City tour took us to a Chinese Tea Shop to be ripped of to the tone of 4RMB for a cup of green tea. (when compared to the 5RMB for the meal) Then back to the Hostel to get passports to go to the station to buy tickets from Lhasa to Beijing. It turned out the sleepers on the train we wanted on Monday 7th May were booked out so we took sleepers 2 days later which means we will spend an extra 2 days in Lhasa.

Tuesday 1st May - Panda Day.

Left the hostel in a mini bus at about 7.30am which took about 45mins to get to the Panda Research Station. We were again in a group of about 12 travellers and were escorted into the park. There are only so many photo’s you can take of this beautiful creature. Thankfully digital crap photos can easily be deleted. The Research Station is well set out and the benefits of it are evident right throughout. The animals are obviously well looked after and their insitu and exsitu breeding programmes are well documented. The Chinese go to great lengths to ensure there is no inbreeding in their programs. The photo’s tell the story of how impressive they are..

The Red Panda or Lesser Panda is also researched at the centre. It is a beautiful little Panda that looks like a Fox when it runs.

On our 5th day we were to travel from Chengdu to Lhasa Tibet at 8.50pm. So we had a leisurely day, made sure all the washing was done, blogging up to date and supplies for train trip bought.

The map shows our train route.

Got to the train station at about 7.30pm. We were told to go to the special gate for Train T22 to Lhasa. At the special gate we had to show our train tickets, passports and Tibet Tourist Visa, then through another useless scanner that went off for everyone and then into waiting hall No.1.

It was chockers. Estimated about 1000 people waiting to leave Chengdu. Not all on our train we hoped. Allan went for a walk in search of a toilet.

The one in waiting hall No.1 was out of action as they made way for a MacDonalds ??. So he went up stairs. It turns out there are four waiting halls at Chengdu and they were all full. Waiting Hall No.1 cleared a little when train K2123 to Chongqing was called.` Then it was our turn. T22 to Lhasa was called. There was ‘panda’monium. The line was 6 abreast, they were letting them through the gate one at a time and the natives were getting restless. There were hundred of people who had bought ‘standing’ tickets and wanted to be the first on board to find the best corner to stand in. There was nearly a revolt. Some jumped over people to get through, some jumped the gate. They were all pushing and shoving, it was like a rough mosh pit. (we’ve been told about them)

At one point, there were fisticuffs on the other side of the gate. Apparently someone didn’t get their own way. The queue lessened.

We joined the end of the queue and the line dwindled to an orderly crawl.

We were in Car 3, bunk 10, lower and middle. Settled down for the night and had a reasonable sleep.

Thursday 3rd May - on train

Woke around 6.0am. Toilet at one end was overflowing and the other end was heading that way. It turned out some people didn’t know how to flush. It settled down after a while. Allan discovered a clean western toilet in the next carriage. Instant noodles, banana and apple the order for the day for brekky and lunch. The people in our cabin didn’t speak English but sign language normally got us by. We had good travelling companions all the way from Chengdu to Lhasa. We met one young lad Zong (Pron Zoong)

who said he had first seen us in the Chengdu Subway the day before and so he attached himself to us for the rest of the trip. He was 21 and tickled pink that he could practice his English on us. We seem to attract this sort of person. He was a likeable young fellow who lives somewhere near Shanghai. He is studying economics and banking and will start work later at the Construction Bank of China. That night we dined in the buffet car. Allan had an excellent fish soup and Wendy had a very nice plate of chicken and nuts. Then to bed and the climb through the mountains via Xining to Lhasa. The train went around and through mountains, over bridges and took its own sweet time having engine changes and the dining car replenished. As we started to climb to altitude was starting to affect most of the passengers. It wasn’t until the next morning (Friday 4th May) that we climbed to 5072m. Altitude sickness kicks in at about 3000m so we were well and truly up in the rare air. One young lady Zu, in our cabin was so sick she needed the oxygen. She had spent over 12 hours in her top bunk without stirring. We didn’t know she was ill until she came down to go to the toilet. We were both quite lethargic and had strong headaches, especially at the highest level. We arrived into Lhasa train station (3750) at about 4.30pm (20m early) still worse for wear.

Out train trip was a fascinating one. The landscape changed so many times. We seen Yak, pony, deer, sheep, goats, shepherds living in their nomadic tents. Small hamlets, large cities, enormous mountains, green flatlands, barren hills, very large lakes, rivers and streams. It was a magical trip, pity it was in a hard sleeper.

Wednesday 2nd May.

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