Well the day had finally come. It was time for our visit to China to begin. Our flight was going to leave around 3 PM and go to Guangzhou China where we would have about a two hour lay over and then on to Chengdu. We would arrive about 11:30 PM. Cocos parents had graciously agreed to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. We flew on China Southern Air and our first flight was on time. We had to go through immigration in Guangzhou. Once we got off the plane we followed everybody else. By the time we stopped and filled out a couple of forms the crowd had already gone through. We went through immigration without a problem and then went to the lounge using our Priority Pass. We had a few snacks there and finally we boarded our flight to Chengdu.
We landed in Chengdu collected our checked bag and within minutes we saw Coco’s (Coco is our International daughter that we hosted a couple of years ago.) Mom (Xi) and Dad (Hong) waiting to pick us up. Xi speaks some English and we speak virtually no Chinese but after handshakes, smiles and a little conversation we were off in their car to our hotel. By the time we arrived at 1:00 AM it looked like our hotel was closed up. Xi yelled something through the gate and the next thing we knew we were being booked into the hotel. After saying our goodbyes Xi told us that she had taken Friday off from work so she could tour us around the next day. Coco by the way goes to Berkeley in California is actually taking summer classes in Shanghai so we will see her later in our trip.
The next morning Coco’s Mom had a driver take us to the Panda Breeding center. She arrived at our hotel and actually gave us a SIM card which was really nice since you cannot buy them here as easily as you can in the other countries we visited. It took about 30 minutes to arrive to the Panda area. There is a lot of research on Pandas here and of course there lots of places where you can observe the Pandas doing what they do best which is eating bamboo and just lounging around. The center is large and has bamboo forest everywhere. It was not too hot and we enjoyed trying to find pandas. We found lesser known red pandas and the usual black and white pandas. We even had a chance to see a 13 day old panda which is a pretty big deal since they have so few to show. After that we headed to lunch.
By now it was 2:30 and we were all good and hungry. We sat down for lunch and the dishes started to come out. Xi had ordered us a set that included a lot of small dishes that we could sample. They kept coming and coming. Finally I think I lost count at around 34. It was all delicious and we actually ate most of it. Then we walked around Jinli Pedestrian Street! It’s is an area that was recreated to look like Ancient China and has shops, all kinds of street vendors and of course restaurants. When we arrived we saw a face changing show which was really cool. You can see an example of a face changing show by clicking here! It is almost like they are matadors the way they move and the way the people respect them. After the show they come out in the audience and take pictures with anyone who wants to have their picture taken with them.
This street was so fascinating to us. We saw so many things that were so different than back home in the USA. Even after over 30 dishes for lunch we still tried a few more samples of street food! One we had that was really interesting. It was called San Da Pao which means three cannons in English. They were all delicious and we were so full there was no need for dinner. We got home around 10 PM and had a couple of drinks in the courtyard of our hotel. What a day and what a great introduction to Chinese culture and hospitality.
The next day we had the first part of the day to ourselves. We decided to walk around the shops at our hotel and buy a few souvenirs. We also liked Jinli Street so much we got our hotel to call us a cab to take us back there. Most of the people here do not speak any English and of co course we speak little to no Chinese so for the cab driver to understand us we needed the hotel to tell him where to take us. The hotel even gave us a business card that we could hand to any cab driver that said “Please take me to my hotel and had the hotel name written out so they could understand it. Super helpful! Jinli road was only about 15 minutes away and we had fun walking around enjoying the sights, sounds and the food. We tried several things. One of them was like a mozzarella hot dog stick covered in a delicious bread type crumb outer layer. We also tried things that we had no idea what it was. It was fun to say the least.
One other thing that is interesting is little to no cash is used over here. Most people pay everything with their phone. They just scan the QR code and they are done. They even have some places they just show their face to the screen type in their phone number and they are done. It works like Apple Pay in the USA but it is at a new level here. The main program here is WeChat and it is like Facebook, Instagram, Whatsup, and Apple Pay all wrapped into one. Even if there is a guy just selling water on a bike he will have a QR code where you can pay for the drink with your phone. We cannot not do this as tourist because you have to have a China bank account connected to it. If we were going to be here for months we would get one but its not worth it for the time we are staying here. Anyway that means that we are one of the very few people using cash so change is sometimes hard to get. We only have big bills from the ATM so we tend to cause extra work for the smaller vendors anyway. Here is a short video if you are interested how it works. Just click here to watch it.
After we walked around for a few hours we went back to the hotel and at 3 PM Coco’s Mom picked us up and took us to another walking street called Kuanzhai Xiangzi (Wide and Narrow Alley) It was really cool and had a different look to it then Jinli. While it has been restored in recent times the history on this one goes back to ancient times. It was so much fun just seeing all the sights trying a few of the foods and just taking it all in. At night we all met Coco’s Dad Hong at a Hot Pot restaurant where they also had a face changing show. It was so much fun having a real hot pot meal. We have done this at home with our girls over the years but this takes it to a new level. They brought out all kinds of food and had 4 pots in the center of the table that were even with the table so it was easy to put food in and take it out. This is similar to fondue but instead of oil they use other seasonings almost like a soup. Anyway the food just kept coming out and Lyn and I kept trying everything. I liked it all and about half way through dinner the show came on. It was so much fun having dinner and being able to watch the show. We had a great time and after the show we leisurely walked back to our hotel and called it a night. Tomorrow we were going to catch a 9 am train to China.
After a good nights sleep we packed up our bags and met Cocos Mom Xi at 8:50 AM at our hotel. She had a driver take us to the train station and she came along as well. It was packed and resembled more of a large airport than a train station. Our tickets had already been purchased and all we had to do was go to a ticket machine and put in a code and get the tickets. They left me outside with the bags while they went to get the tickets. Little did we all know that because we are foreigners we cannot not use the machines because we have to show ID’s and the machines are not set up to read passports so they came back out and told me that they had to go to the counter and get tickets. As you can imagine the lines were long and now things were looking tight. I stayed with the bags but Lyn went with Xi and I stayed with the bags. Lyn said Xi saw the big line they were facing and knew we would miss our train if she waited in it, so she did what any super host would do she cut to the front of the line. Lyn said everyone was yelling around them but guess what she got our tickets in record time. Thank you Xi! While they were doing that I am standing by my bags and look like a real novelty at the entrance of the train station. I got a lot of stares and a few people actually took pictures of me but the most interesting one was when a family just walked up all smiles and put their sevenish child beside me and took his picture with me. I gave him a high five and they were on there way.Loving my new status here! Somewhere between celebrity status and freak show ha ha. Xi was able to come in the station beyond security and walk us to the gate we would leave from and we got inline with about 300 other people.
We knew now that we were going to make this train with 5 minutes to spare. However if you know Xi and her super host personality then you would know that she would not settle for just leaving us there. She asked if anyone spoke English and all of sudden we hear this quiet voice say “I speak a little.” Xi tells this young lady to make sure that we got on the right train the right car and finally that we had the right seat. The girl replied that she would. Then Xi asked to see the girls ticket and we could not believe what we saw. Out of 300 plus people in about 14 cars of trains ….her seat was not only on our car she was seated two seats away from us on the very same row.We thanked Xi profusely for everything she had done for us but words could not really relay our gratitude. So I will say it here one more time….Thank you Xi and Hong for everything. We had such a great time and really loved everything about our stay in your beautiful city! Then the gates opened and true to her word the nice young lady made sure we made it to our car and made sure we were in her seats before taking her seat. We later found out she was a college student in Chengdu. At 9:00 Am exactly the train left the station and just like that we are off to see Emily and her family in Xian!