I always marvel at how different my situation is at each authoring of a successive blog post. Right now, I’m sitting in a cafe inside the Chengdu Panda Research Base, sipping a cappuccino with an adorable and delicious foam presentation.
So since I last left you, my flight finally departed from Xi’An and I arrived in JiuZhaiGou, SiChuan Province. The airport is about 3000m in elevation and was much much colder than anywhere else on the trip. After joking around with some local taxi drivers who couldn't believe I understood them when they were talking about the foreigner wearing the funny looking shirt (tank-top with poop emoji), I took a bus with a cool French couple and a mother and daughter from ShenZhen to the park entrance where our respective hotels were. After about a 2 hour bus ride, we finally arrived and settled in for a lazy afternoon. I spent my time exploring the town which was pretty touristy. It was quaint and nice though. Tibetan prayer flags everywhere and a river running parallel with the road. My hostel was cozy and I shared a bunk room with Phillipe from Brazil, a Canadian couple who had just finished a law school program in Beijing, and a middle aged couple from Korea who were the sweetest people ever. Quite the motley crew.
I woke up super early the next morning and took a shuttle to the park entrance and started to walk on my own. JiuZhaiGou itself means Nine Village Valley, referring to the nine Tibetan villages along its length. It is a pristine oasis of crystal clear waters, bold mountainous landscapes, and herds of tourists. While visitors almost ubiquitously take buses to get around the park, I walked the first part myself. I was literally the only person on the trail and it was so peaceful. I just put in my headphones, jammed out to some tunes, and took in the surreal scenery.
When I approached my first lake, it was simply breath taking. I stood there and just looked out. What a sight. And as you continue, it just keeps getting better and better. After about 4 hours at it, I reached some great waterfalls and thus the Tourist Center. From there, I ate my lunch (a healthy and nutritious Snickers bar) and took the bus up to the Primeval Forest where I set up my hammock and made some friends (pictured below). Then I took the bus down to check out some more of the lakes, and went lake hopping until at 4pm, by which point I was wiped and threw in the towel and went back to the hotel. I chilled out in bed and got cozy because it was pretty cold at night.
The next morning, I said goodbye to my new friends and got on the bus to Chengdu. This bus ride sucked. It only takes 5 hours to drive to Chengdu, but every 30 minutes, the bus driver stopped at some rest stop to take a break and smoke. It was very frustrating. I finished my book , The Sympathizer, which I highly recommend, and looked at the scenery and slept. When I arrived in Chengdu around 6pm, I was picked up by PeiZi, the woman whose family I was supposed to be living with, her daughter, her daughter’s friend, Xiang Xiang, and their new dog 小黑 (little black). Somehow, the mother of my roommate back at school, Preston, knew PeiZi from the small Chinese community in Boca Raton, FL and arranged a homestay for me. Thanks Mrs. Huang! However, PeiZi had a business conference the few days I was planning to be here, and asked her neighbor (Xiang Xiang’s family) to take care of me. Chinese hospitality is truly remarkable that I think we in the West have much to learn from the importance of Guan Xi (relationships) in Chinese culture.
I went out to dinner with PeiZi and the kids and the dog peed on me while we ate frog. Then we went back to their neighborhood, and I went home with Xiang Xiang and promptly passed out. The next day, I met Xiang Xiang’s mother briefly before going out with PeiZi and her daughter and Xiang Xiang. We visited her office briefly in the largest building in Asia. This Global Center has in it a Intercontinental hotel, a water park, a shopping mall, and tons of office space. We met up with PeiZi’s friend and her daughter and all got lunch. Afterwards, we went to a down town area and walked around this really cool shopping area.
After that, we went back home where I had dinner with the remainder of Xiang Xiang’s family. He has two older siblings, a brother who is my age who studies at Arizona State University, and a sister who is 21 who goes to school in Singapore. We all went out to a nice restaurant and had a feast and played Chinese drinking games.
The remaining days were much more slow paced. I have really enjoyed just being in a home. Something about being in an actual family living space just makes one feel so comfortable. I'm getting the real homestay experience, although, a rather short lived one. I'm hanging out, playing mahjong, watching Chinese television, eating meals with the family, and just really learning what real life in China is like. It's a pretty different perspective than travel and I don't know how I've found myself here, but I'm super grateful.
Oh, and I've become an official REAL Housewife of Chengdu. I think it was Sunday that I was hanging out with all the mom's by the pool as their kids swam. They sat, drank tea, gossiped, etc. as I sat nodding and understanding a minimal amount.
I've been taking it pretty easy in Chengdu, but I'm excited to get back out there. I leave tomorrow morning early for a 12 hour train ride to Shanghai. There, I will be picking up my lovely girlfriend Catherine at the airport on Friday morning. We'll spend a few days in Shanghai before flying together to Guangzhou. I don't think I ever wrote this on the blog, but an opportunity opened up on the teaching program that Cat's participating in, so I'll be teaching again! This time for 3 weeks. After that, Cat and I will travel together around Asia a bit and spend some time with her family in Changsha, Hunan Province. After that, I'll start on my way back stateside. I wish I had time to check my grammar and there's a lot more I could write. I recorded a lot of videos on my night hike up HuaShan that I want to make into a video and share it with you. I have a lot of thoughts and observations about what it means to travel and travel in China and to be a foreigner in any culture. I have musings about the challenges I have faced on this journey. About the people I have met and the stories I have heard. About wild ride that life truly is. But alas, I have to head back now for a final dinner with my host family. I'll try to post more photos and blog more frequently as I'll be moderately stationary for the next few weeks. Again, thank you for reading! As a small token of my gratitude, I leave you with a this....a Giant Panda taking a giant dump.