Gunter and I have been members of The San Diego Zoological Society for decades. At the San Diego zoo, we often stood in hours-long lines to see the offspring of pandas that had been loaned to this zoo for breeding. Eventually, these delightful pandas would be returned to Chengdu. The panda program has been conducted in partnership with the Chengdu Panda Base. During dozens of visits to the exhibit in San Diego, I never dreamed I would ever visit the sister facility in China!

Imagine my surprise when Chengdu was included in Great China Tour by Australia’s Intrepid Travel!

During our tour, we flew to Chengdu on China Southern Air and checked into the Tibet Hotel there. The ethnic décor of our room would surpass that of any five-star hotel. A lone lotus bloomed in a pedestal vase; a quilted headboard covered one entire wall; dimmed halogen lights glowed above the bed and below the nightstands; moody lights backed the sofa; and the bathroom featured two sinks and counter that ran the entire length of the room.

The day of our arrival, we had a “free” afternoon before dinner, so we immediately went for a city walking tour. Although Chengdu has more greenery than most Chinese cities, the sky is always gray. Angi, our local guide, told us that the lack of sunshine is the result the city’s low altitude (500 feet) and the 82 percent average humidity. “The girls from Chengdu are considered beautiful because they have light skin,” she told us. “It is because they don’t have sun.” I suspected the gray was smog, not fog. Although Chengdu is not an industrial city, it had 4 million inhabitants (11 million including the suburbs) when we visited in 2006. By 2017, the city had grown to 7.8 million with 14 million in the administrative area.

Excerpted from The Long Way Back: “Chengdu, nevertheless, is a delightful city. Old men walk their songbirds in the part or sit around in their teahouses playing cards and having their ears cleaned. Old women play Mah-Jongg. Both men and women participate in outdoor exercise sessions. They appear content in their old age; wisdom lines their faces—as if they know more than they can possibly tell. And they do. During the Cultural Revolution, most of China’s park lands were torn up. We observe how Chinese love and appreciate their flowers and parks and birds; the terrible loss must have stripped them of all joie de vivre.

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Photo Credit: Intrepid Travel

Motorbikes, electric bikes, and pedal bikes are everywhere. One must be careful crossing the street or entering a taxi for fear of being hit. These are the machines of Chengdu’s youth, for whom life is fast-paced, determined and busy. How they survive the onslaught of the traffic here is a miracle, but they do manage to drive those electric bikes up to 50 kilometers to work, where they plug them in for recharging before the precarious ride home.”

The next morning, our Intrepid group toured a part of the extensive grounds, but not all of it.  The Chengdu Panda Base covers an area of almost 200 hectares! Since the center isn’t crowed, I revel in taking one photo after another, something I could never do in San Diego.

While the cubs frolic, the parents pose as if they aim to please their visitors.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was founded in 1987 with six giant pandas rescued from the wild. By 2006, it had over 100 panda births. Its stated goal is to be a world-class research facility, conservation education center, and an international educational tourist destination. It has partnered with many organizations to improve ways to conserve giant pandas. The research center has not taken any pandas from the wild for over twenty years.

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What a precious opportunity! If you travel in China, be sure to take one day to walk around the city of Chengdu and another to visit the Panda Base.  You won’t regret it!

 

 

 

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