Friday, July 6, 2007

Exploring Chengdu

Actually, exploring Chengdu is an overstatement, given that we only had one day. Yesterday after the pandas we were worn out and napped for three hours – yes, me too! And despite that, we slept late. Maybe I’m getting used to these soft beds. . . .

It was raining when we got up this morning, so we got an even later start on our sightseeing. The weather has actually been wonderful while we’ve been here – cloudy and cool the whole time. Gray days may seem a tragedy to many travelers, but y’all know my opinion of the heat, and I wasn’t looking forward to Chengdu’s reputation as one of the “Three Ovens of China.”

Once the rain died down, we took a quick taxi to the Wuhou Temple, which is dedicated to Liu Bei, the founding Emperor of the Kingdom of Shu (one of the three kingdoms fighting for supremacy at the tail end of the Han dynasty). The Shu Kingdom included Sichuan Province, so he is a hero here. His statue took pride of place among similar statues of generals, administrators and scholars of his time.
We enjoyed wandering around the temple, despite frequent misting rain. It wasn’t very crowded, which enhanced my pleasure. Zoe was on a dragon craze – she was born in the Year of the Dragon – and found each one in the rather large temple grounds.

The temple included a small museum of cultural relics of the Shu Kingdom, which were very interesting. It must have been a fun place, because many of the small statues depicted happy, smiling people, including musicians and their appreciative audience.
I loved this little fellow, the description of which read, “Musician sings and talks with audience.” Given his posture, it looks more like the Shu version of vaudeville!
Then we hit the motherlode – a concession with costumes people could wear (for a price) for photo ops. Zoe has been scouring China for one of these – she remembers dressing up in Nanning to have her picture taken as a Mongolian princess (ok, the geography was all wrong, but the costume was cute!). This time she and Maya got to dress up as princesses of the Shu Kingdom.

All the workers were also elaborately robed, so I thought this picture of them preparing the girls probably looked pretty authentic, with royal ladies helping the princesses get dressed.

We took pictures on the throne (BTW, a commenter asked about my camera – don’t judge it by the next few photos. It was confused by the setting – I was standing near the outdoors while the girls were deeper in the shadows of the open-air corridor. It couldn’t make up its mind whether to use a flash or not . . . .)

. . . and engaged in the maidenly pursuit of making music.

I love the beads swinging in front of Maya’s face, and Zoe’s head kept tilting sideways because of the weight of the headdress.

But I much preferred my own staging (or no staging, as the case may be):

Yes, Zoe found it as difficult to walk in that get-up as one would think. And yes, Maya was ready to get out of her dress as soon as it was put on.

Just one last one:

(See, the camera does much better given a smidgen of light. I especially love it in the outdoors. It’s a Canon PowerShot S315, with a 12x optical zoom built in. So it’s just a point-and-shoot, but I’ve been really happy with it. I also love the editing software that came with it. End of commercial!)

Even after shedding the dress-up garb, Zoe was fascinated by the zither (zheng or guzheng in Chinese). I thought I’d never get her away from it.

So, that was the Wuhou Temple. We walked around a bit in that neighborhood, which is near the Southwest University for Minority Nationalities. The neighborhood includes lots of Tibetan shops and restaurants, but we found things awfully touristy and I bought nothing. Sigh. I love the textiles of the minority peoples in China, and felt sure I’d find something here. Oh, well. Maybe the next time I’m in Chengdu . . . .

We took a cab back to the hotel, and we caught sight of an interesting place as we neared the Sheraton. So after a short rest, we walked to find it. Here are some pictures – where do you thing we are?

OK, here’s a big hint:

The wall around the structure had niches every few feet with statues – we stopped at this one in honor of home (-;) If you haven’t guessed it now, this one will do it:
You’ve guessed it – the Chengdu Catholic Church! (No, Maya is not having a conversion experience, she’s trying to catch the airplane that flew over just as I snapped the shot.) I loved seeing the marriage of Chinese and Western styles in the church – just as it should be in a local church, it seems to me. Inside the church this Friday afternoon were 8 or 10 elderly Chinese ladies saying the Rosary – about what we’d see in our local church in Fort Worth (minus the Chinese!).
We walked back to the Sheraton, and as we were about to cross the busy street, an older Chinese lady clutched my arm, and said in perfect English, “I need your help to cross the road! I can’t do it on my own!” I said I’d be happy to help, thinking she must be Overseas Chinese staying at the Sheraton (I figured she might have even seen us there, since we kind of stand out!). But she goes on, “I’m looking for the Catholic Church.” I was able to tell her she didn’t need to cross that nasty street after all – the church was behind her! We walked her back there to a chorus of effusive thanks. I hope she made it back to wherever she was going next. We made it across the street without any difficulty at all – we’ve become quite expert in strategic street-crossing.
We by-passed the Sheraton heading for the market we’d seen behind it to buy fruit. It was a typical Chinese market, and we bought plums, but there were also some new items for us – lots of chili peppers and buckets of red paste that smelled hot, hot, hot. The hanging meats at the meat sellers were familiar to us, except for the pig snouts (I’m REALLY sorry my picture of that one didn’t come out!). We also saw these dumpling makers at work.
The girls and I can’t agree what the little pointy dumplings look like – Zoe votes for hats, Maya for boats, and I’ve weighed in for those fancy napkins in fancy restaurants.

With plums in hand, we headed back to the hotel.

Staying at the Sheraton has been a treat. We’ve had yummy buffet breakfasts and I’ve introduced the girls to the joys of room service – we’ve eaten in the room all three nights! When I call room service, I get instead the “Guest Service Center,” where everyone speaks English. They then relay my order to room service. If we never left the Sheraton, we could almost believe we weren’t in China any more. But this evening, having plumbed the rather shallow depths of the Kids Menu here, Zoe insisted on Chinese food from room service. Maya still wanted ANYTHING that came served with French fries!

We leave tomorrow morning for Xiamen. Chengdu was just the mini-vacation we needed. The temperature was cool, the sights were interesting, the hotel was a pampered oasis, and the pandas were fantastic!

1 comment:

mimifrancoise said...

It seems that Zoe will miss Chinese food. We'll have to go to the Asian markets in Arlington.
I see music lessons in the girls future. Thanks for the great photos.