A student I did not know entered the office today.

“Hello,” I said, briefly looking up from my computer.

“Hello,” she responded, looking like she wished she could talk to Bill.

“What can I do for you?” I prompted. It turns out, she wanted me to be in her project. A student movie for class – I would play the part of the hiring manager for a hotel company. I’m intrigued – why would she want me to be in her project? Did she see my work in “A Klingon Christmas Carol?” It’s a rhetorical question.  The obvious answer, which I gloss over a lot here at my job, is that if you can snag the American you get bonus points. I agree to be in the project – will I need a costume? No. Does she have a script? Yes – she hands me a single piece of paper. I smile at her, and assure her I will have it memorized by tomorrow at lunch when she’s filming. She thanks me, but there’s no real happiness in her. More like relief. Bill told me she had asked him to ask me, and he said she had to do it herself.

I look over the script. Basically, a young woman goes to a hotel corporation with her resume and asks for a job. The hiring manager asks five questions, and says the company will tell the girl in two days if she has a job or not. And I thought I romanticized things….

It’s a high school video project, I chide myself. Not everyone translates parodies of Eminem into French (I was a driven nerd in high school. I still am).

But here is my conundrum – do I correct the problems with the English? This girl is not my student, and I have no influence over her or her project. I am just playing a part. On the other hand, I am an English teacher, and a grammarian. If I allow some of these sentences to be said aloud, the project remains weak. But is it my place to improve them – does that give her an unfair advantage over the other students? They don’t have a native speaker in their projects.

Here are two brief samples:

A:What job would you like to apply for?

B: Any job that has something to do with hotel management.


A: Why do you want to work in our company?

B: Because it’s a leading company in the field of hotel.


For the level of English I work with, the whole thing is pretty good. There are proper tenses and question variety. But is should really be “for our company” and “field of hotel” is weak. On a larger scale, asking for “any job” at an interview would make a candidate look weak as well. I can’t imagine even getting an interview based solely on “I don’t have a real idea of what I want to do, but you guys are cool and I want to work for you.” Maybe a tech start up, but not an established company. The whole conversation reads very stunted – there is no depth, and as a job interview practice script it falls woefully short of what happens in the real world of hiring.

I guess that last thought is an assumption on my part – maybe that’s how hiring works in China. I should ask someone.

It’s not my place to correct here, but it’s my job to teach proper English.  I don’t mind doing it gently outside of school, when people ask for advice. I think my hesitance is that this would be treading on another teacher’s toes. Someone taught her this, and my corrections might be construed as presumptuous or arrogant.

The overarching idea of “playing a part” repeats in my mind.  As the trophy Westerner at this school, I am the star to have in a video which needs a managerial sort asking the tough job questions. It’s pure typecasting – like making Christopher Walken the off-balance guy, or Tommy Flanagan the second-tier badass who dies. It made me uncomfortable at first, but I’ve gotten used to being trotted out to visitors.  But I am also wanting to play my actual part – that of a teacher. We all must play our parts I tell myself. Which part should I choose?


Final aside: I don’t actually get trotted out. They bring groups into the space while I’m working. My office has this big glass window, and they all stare at me like I’m one of the goldfish we occasionally have. I used to go out and say hello, but they’d back away from me or ignore me or use my getting up as a reason to leave. It is uncannily like how people react when animals are not in their cages – now I understand both celebrity status and what it’s like to be an exhibit.

So much learning.

Emeishan Day 2: The Summit

When I decided I wanted to get to the Golden Summit of Emeishan, I had it in my head that I could hike the whole way. I’ve never been good at judging distances, so ten-thousand feet sounded daunting, but entirely doable. Over a full weekend – two days, with the idea I’d sleep in one of the monasteries along the way.
Then I modified my desire – I wanted to see the sunrise on Golden Summit. It’s supposed to be one of the unparalleled sights in China. This meant getting to the top by Day 1, in theory, or close.
I started at the bottom of the mountain both days. Grudgingly, I admitted I couldn’t climb ten-thousand feet in a couple of hours, and paid to take a bus. Now I’m up in the dark, groggily pulling on clothes and grabbing my two coats. I wait for Vega for fifteen minutes, until I worry about missing the bus and have to leave him behind (to my credit, I called, texted, and knocked at his door). I feel a little bad about it, but just a little. I was very, very clear about my plan after all. The sun will not wait for me.


Neither will it wait for smokers. Want to see Jean get cartoon angry? Give her sore legs, a very lofty goal with a strict timer, have people grab her into lines and onto a bus like she’s a suitcase (much easier to pull than try and communicate) and then make her sit through someone’s smoke break. I swear to God, I thought I was going to lose it. The bus was making decent time – the light is growing quickly, but it’s just that pale blue of the potential sun. Then, twenty minutes in, we stop. I think maybe we have to switch buses, but no – outside the men are smoking, the old people are buying cup-a-noodles and steamed corn cobs. Twenty minutes in, and we’re taking a break?! But – the sun! The sun is on a faster schedule! I will not watch the sun rise over this ugly little strip mall on the mountain!


We’re off again, careening up the mountain. My ears pop – we’re climbing fast, but so is the light. I can make out individual leaves and trees now. The grey is turning blue. Up and up we go. And when we get to the bus stop, I can see the peak. It’s another thousand feet up – I can see the steep cable cars mounting the distance.
And the loading area is packed with people. Tour guides scream into megaphones, a man lights a cigarette at my shoulder, and everyone is funneling to a single set of stairs. Sometimes I wonder what my version of Hell would be like. I think this would be part of it – the horrid realization that getting up before dawn to see something will not only not yield what I want, but that all the normal hazards of Chinese tourism apply. I let myself get surged forward, souring in temperament further as people spit and smoke.

It's too early for this nonsense. I wanted a moment of transcendence so early, not more shoving and cigarette smoke...

It’s too early for this nonsense. I wanted a moment of transcendence so early, not more shoving and cigarette smoke…

Then I see a woman stop, and have to be taken off the path. Soon I see another person, squatting near a building. I hear it in the breathing of those around me – wheezing and coughing, labored inhalations. We’re around 9000 feet up – the air is a little thinner, and altitude sickness is not to be taken lightly. Oh, I shouldn’t have felt so sanctimonious, but as a man blows cigarette smoke in my face, clears his throat and spits in front of my feet, then starts wheezing in the cold mountain air, I do.
Up we climb, the mass of people. I am working hard to be in better spirits. After I get away from the smokers a little, the air is magnificent. It’s crisp, clean, and cold. I’m glad for my heavy coat. And the sun is up, but only just, and it illuminates the cliffs and ledges around me. I am glad to be there, to see it. There is something awe-inspiring about the sun and heights. They go together in a way that makes men and women pray. As the monks are doing here as they walk.
Vega finds me at the cable cars, still pulling out of a sour spiral. We get tickets for the cable car, and I direct him to the smaller, perpetually moving cars. They seat six to a car, and are a little terrifying. But not, I reason, as scary as the single car, which carries one hundred people and boasts of being “the longest cable suspension system without a support pillar.” Yeah, I like support pillars. And the climb is steep. We’re all a little frightened as the car shudders at each transitional support beam. I distract myself by debating where would be the best place for the cable to break – the nuts and bolts of certain death.
At the top, there is more climbing. I will not be resentful – it’s too cold and wonderful. Vega is amazed by the snow, but I can’t be. Having just survived the Polar Vortex in Chicago, I look at the snow as a nice decorative element. And it’s already starting to melt in the morning glow. Suddenly, I see it –the Buddha on the Golden Summit. Or one of the heads of the Buddha. Rounding a bend, I catch my breath.

The final climb up to the Golden Summit

The final climb up to the Golden Summit

Absolutely incredible - the scope of it was a perfect match for the location.

Absolutely incredible – the scope of it was a perfect match for the location.

Majesty would be a good word. This is what you build on the top of a mountain – this statue, and the temples surrounding it. This monument to the sky – I can feel the significance and power of the place, which settles deeper than the tour groups can hope to overcome, try as they might. I climb the last flights of stairs behind the Buddha, and then there are to more steps. I am on the summit. I feel my face relax into a smile as I go to the ledge to look over the mountains. It’s breathtaking, sunrise or no. I can go no higher, and it’s the best feeling I’ve had in a while. It’s completion and satisfaction, coupled with admiration and delight.

Here is the admiration

Here is the admiration

Here is the delight (or goofy - they are close friends)

Here is the delight (or goofy – they are close friends)

Here is the majesty

Here is the majesty

I break out a celebratory Snickers, saved for just this moment. I should have waited till I was alone – Vega has been eating my trail food (he would continue to all day), since all he brought was a hoodie and some misplaced Pokemon cards in his backpack. He asks if he can have some. In the spirit of giving and being a decent person, I reluctantly share my Bar of Satisfaction with him.
I walk around the site, basking in the morning glow. Children are building a snowman with what melting snow is left. Men are smoking, and being chastised for doing so by the women with them. I light candles and incense for my family, and pray. I feel slightly awkward. While I like to think that Jesus and the Buddha hang out all the time, I’m not sure if God would want me talking to strangers, as it were. So I pray to my God, which also feels strange because I’m not at a Christian shrine. So then I awkwardly ask Buddha if he can do what he does as well. I don’t know any prayers to Buddha specifically. It’s so much easier to pray to spirits and deities of specific qualities – you just ask for those qualities. Since I’m already grappling with faith problems, feeling out of place is not new to me. My hope is that if a deity was listening, that they would take care of my family. Still, I felt like a faith switchboard operator.
After basking and walking and basking some more, we start our descent. Two female monks pass us. They’re dressed in grey shirts and pants, and they’re wearing thick gardening gloves and knee pads. Every three steps, they stop, kneel down, and put their heads to the ground. Heads shaved, I would not have known they were women, save for Vega pointing it out. Emeishan was, in its time, a sanctuary for female monks.
It’s steep and long and I don’t know why I didn’t just take the cable car back down, except perhaps to save the money and spend more time on the mountain. Do my time, though my calves genuinely hurt and wish I wouldn’t. The clouds move in, and we’re so high they blanket our walk in damp and fog. It’s nice, in its way. And there aren’t many people on the steps – it’s a long, difficult trek down. I can imagine what it’s like trying to climb the thousand feet up, with steps that are so steep and few platforms to rest.

It's beautiful, and the cool air was a nice addition. I could address shaky legs later

It’s beautiful, and the cool air was a nice addition. I could address shaky legs later

Still, we make it down. I’m wobbly. We hop on a bus, which gets us back to the main bus terminal. Bill and Sam are somewhere behind us, so we stop to get some dim sum. Except it’s not – every time I say I want small dishes, I invariably get full meals. I would be happy with dumplings and rice balls, but my translators seem to think I don’t know my own language. It’s good though, so I can’t complain too loudly.
My legs can. That night, after the three hours in the car back to the hotel, my legs cramp up. It’s bad – I can’t touch roll my feet without wincing.  I tried stretching them in the car. I knew that it wouldn’t be good to work them and then sit them for three hours without a cool down, but I don’t do enough. I feel like my legs have shrunk a few inches, and I limp to my room.
So worth it.

Emeishan Day 1: Monkey on my Back

Emei Mountain is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in China. I’ve been harboring a desire to climb it since I read about it – the photos of foggy peaks and sweeping vistas tug at my heart. Bill and Sam decide to make a weekend of it, inviting Vega and I along. At first I was a little torn – going with a group means you don’t get to set your own pace, and you have to make small talk while you’re climbing. I put aside such (admittedly selfish) thoughts, and agreed.

It’s about a three hour drive from Chengdu to Emeishan. Sam brought me a loaner coat, since I had not checked the weather, and the summit was still at freezing levels. The scenery was pretty, but also abruptly industrial. There would be long stretches of green hills and then some sort of unpleasant looking factory or dilapidated series of buildings. I did see my first terraced tea hills!

My recommendation was to stay at the Teddy Bear Hotel, as recommended to me by Fodor’s guide. I immediately like the place as we enter. There are free English maps of the mountain on the counter, and the walls in the common room are coated in autographs and cartoons. They have their own restaurant, and a nice lounge. The place is a step up from a hostel, but it definitely has a backpacker vibe. The room is functional – the beds are hard and smell of cigarette smoke, but since it’s only for one night I don’t feel like pushing the issue. I really don’t like that ashy after smell, though. Should you ever go to Emei Mountain, I recommend the place. It’s convenient, but not particularly luxurious.


This is the lobby of the Teddy Bear Hotel. If you’re ok with roughing it a little (even the towels were like sandpaper), this is a really friendly place to be.

We take a bus to a lower temple – the driver doesn’t seem to notice that the road is full of steep switchbacks, nor that he is driving a giant bus. Disembarking, we pay for our entrance fee and a cable car ride up.

Now, this is a point where I get torn about money. The bus drive was 40rmb, a two-day park ticket is 185rmb, and the cable car ride was 60rmb. Then they tried to charge 10rmb to go into a temple which was already in the park. It adds up, and while I appreciate the upkeep needed at such a large site, there is nothing like feeling nickel and dimed to take away from any spiritual appreciation one might have for a place. It dampened my initial impression that everything cost money – at least at Disneyland they punch you in the wallet hard to start, and then you can ride any ride you want, and Disney isn’t arguably a religion.

Note: this doesn’t apply to food. Both parks inflate food prices to ridiculous amounts. Instant milk tea should cost 3rmb, not 10.
List of things you could buy walking through this holy site:

  • Birds to release (Bill says they catch them and resell them immediately afterwards)
  • Fish to release (see birds)
  • Photos in “traditional” garb by scenic spot
  • Photos with monkeys
  • Transportation – two men in loafers will carry you up the mountain in a woven seat
  • Giant fungus (local) and/or loose green tea (local)
  • Food: apart from instant cup-a-noodles, you can buy corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, smoked sausages, eggs, ribs, hot dogs, Chinese tomales (dough in corn husks), steamed bread, potato shavings, pineapple skewers, and other fruit and veggies. Be prepared to pay triple what you would normally.
  • Religious tokens – the only store I actually liked was at White Dragon Cave. Anne said there would be more stores like it, but that proved inaccurate. If you want little statues, White Dragon Cave has a good selection and surprisingly reasonable prices.
White Dragon Cave - actually a temple with a holy stone inside. Also nice souvenir shop, and peaceful compared to paths.

White Dragon Cave – actually a temple with a holy stone inside. Also nice souvenir shop, and peaceful compared to paths.


Like I said – it detracts from the beauty and majesty of a holy site when there are hawkers every ten feet. This also applies to the other hawkers – people spitting all over the place. It takes work to find peace amid the jostling. And the jostling seems so out of place for a site which actually has official signs up saying to be nice to each other:


Maybe don’t shove that girl out of the way…? For Buddha’s sake, stop spitting on things!


But the views are beautiful – can’t argue with the scenery. I’m glad for my new walking stick – I didn’t stretch and my legs start complaining before I’ve gone very far. There aren’t many temples packed in along the way. It’s a trek to White Dragon Cave from our starting point. According to my guide books, there used to be dozens of temples, but most were destroyed all those “improvements” courtesy of Mao. The fact that Emei lasted at all is a testament to the work of the monks – and the fact that it was really hard to reach this place back in the day. Still, I am happy to be out in the trees. And the water! I’ve seen mountain streams, but here the rocks and lack of algae make the water so clear it’s white! In California it’s blue and clear, but here it’s actually clear like glass. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen water so perfectly clear.

Natural beauty - can't argue with that!

Natural beauty – can’t argue with that!

Then there are the monkeys, the second reason for the walking sticks. The guidebooks suggest a stick to keep them from stealing. After much walking we reach the monkey “sanctuary.” I’m not a big fan of monkeys, but they’re a big selling point of the sight. So we cross this suspension bridge, and all of a sudden Bill is flailing about. A rather large monkey has attached itself to his back unexpectedly. A woman with a stick shows up and knocks the monkey off with a series of prods and shouts. It’s unexpectedly violent looking, but the monkey doesn’t seem to mind. It goes back to poking around in pockets.

I give a small monkey some corn which I picked up from the ground. It eats it, then gently climbs onto my shoulder. I don’t mind – it’s lightweight and doesn’t smell like I thought it would. I’m more surprised by the tame behavior than anything. In retrospect, that monkey was the feint. I feel a larger weight on my back for a moment.
“Oh, Jean, it has your…” Vega haltingly starts.
“Water bottle.” I finish for him, turning. The larger monkey has neatly removed my Gatorade from the side pocket and has already punctured the bottom. Vega, concerned that I am now the monkey mark, suggests we keep moving, even though I had not really stopped. Moving doesn’t seem to stop them anyway – they are agile after all. The little monkey does not want to relinquish my arm – I’m a friendly, gullible human with a nice personality. Again, out of nowhere the woman arrives with her stick. I wish I knew enough Chinese to say I could take care of it. I’m good with animals normally – I bet I could have gotten the monkey off on my own.

His larger siblings on the next suspension bridge are not fooling around, however. One grabs a woman’s sweater pocket firmly. She yelps and calls out, even though the monkey isn’t doing anything. I can see why it’s there – the woman has a packet of monkey food she bought (the aforementioned corn). The monkey wants what it has been conditioned to get. It grabs the packet and runs to a safe spot, ripping open the paper and eating the corn.

I feel a weight on my back again – walking stick flipped around I calmly nudge the monkey, with a firm “Get off me, please.” The monkey does so – too easy. I check my other pocket, where I was keeping two pieces of fruit to hand out. One is gone. A second weight on my back – I don’t bother to stop the monkey, though everyone else seems greatly concerned that the American has attracted so many simians. The second piece of fruit disappears – I have to get them credit. I’ve been pickpocketed a few times, and all but once did I catch the thief in the act. These monkeys could give the best Parisian pickpockets a run for their money. I mean, I knew what they were doing, but I didn’t feel them removing the goods from my bag.

The sun (a rare treat) sets as we head back to the hotel. I’m achy and tired from an improper start to the climb. Tomorrow will be tougher – I want to catch the first bus to the very top of the mountain. That’s a 5am wake up call. After dinner and some numb window shopping, I take a shower and hit the hard mattress.


Look at this little urchin. Oh, I'm just a poor, poor, monkey! Let me ride on your arm while my friend here steals anything loose in your pockets. Just like a real pickpocket team, there's the ruse and the actual thief.

Look at this little urchin. Oh, I’m just a poor, poor, monkey! Let me ride on your arm while my friend here steals anything loose in your pockets. Just like a real pickpocket team, there’s the ruse and the actual thief.

Joke's on us.

Joke’s on us.


Easter Sunday

It’s raining – luckily the hotel staff gave me an umbrella to use.

The concierge said something nice to me. He said, “I can tell you’re a teacher. You speak very clearly, and slow enough that I understand everything you say.” That takes work, a lot of work. I’m a fast talker by nature. I have to remind myself constantly to speak at the pace of translation. Speak unto others…

Navigating the streets in Chengdu is a little maddening. One wrong turn and you can’t fix it – you have to retrace to the beginning. I found the Church of the Immaculate Conception by following my photo of Google maps – later I would realize the second metro exit lets out literally a block away, and I had just spent twenty minutes of damp walking for nothing but the exercise.

Weather cannot dampen the call.

Weather cannot dampen the call.

I didn’t think mass would have begun, but it had. I arrived just in time for the First Reading – an adorable child read it in Chinese, and then again in English. The church was full – ushers in red sashes kept the crowd at the doors, and I joined them. There was constant shuffling, and children running in and out, but it was not too packed. I stood in the doorway, trying to be reflective. It’s difficult when you’re not entirely in the church to focus on the sermon, doubly so when the sermon is in Chinese only. I start looking about, at the painted windows. I realize that many of the angels have blond hair and Asian features. I can’t figure out why they didn’t just make the angels Chinese and give them black hair. Christian and Caucasian go hand in hand?

There is a lot more singing in this mass – and I can’t tell if people are singing the mass responses or songs. I do recognize giving the sign of peace – everyone starts bowing to everyone else, palms pressed together. Only one old man grabs my hands in his. I notice an old woman enter  the crowd, willing herself through people. At the start of the pews, just before the rope, she genuflects. Her umbrella is slippery on the marble floor, and it’s clear her legs are not good. She’s too far away from me, but I don’t understand why no one helps her. Everyone just watches her almost topple over, make the sign of the cross, and then painfully clamber to her feet again. I can’t tell if it’s cultural or just plain old willful ignorance, pretending like you don’t see someone who clearly needs help (like we do with the beggars and street urchins).  The Eucharist takes a little while. Not only is the church full, but I’ve found that queuing is simply not a skill here in China. The gaggle in the back, of which I am included, surges towards the red rope. I recognize people from the side doors as they shove themselves forward. Like there might not be enough Body of Christ for everyone, and everyone wants to be the first of the last.

Then, at the end, they all sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today,” in Chinese, just like at home. I’ve sung this song so many times, I know most of the words by heart. So I just start singing in English – the “Hallelujah!” translates, so we all sync up then – Chinese and English, all singing that one Latin word. We all rejoice together.

Outside the church, I found the Sunday school. The church itself is done as a Western church, with arches and candelabras and pews. But the school, and the informal compound attached to the church, are modeled as an Eastern temple. Pagoda like structures and tiled roofs create courtyards and quiet spaces. I like the mix – I believe that faiths and architecture are two things we should try to blend more often.

I hadn’t intended on going to mass. My thought had been to stop by, say a prayer for my family, and leave. It’s in the quiet holy spaces that I work harder to rediscover/locate my faith. When there are people, I am more aware of them than myself, and I let myself get distracted. Still, I have not been to mass in some time, and it’s nice to participate in the patterns of Catholicism.

The rest of the day was getting back to the hotel, taking a nap, and pretending like I didn’t have to leave. I really wish I could have stayed another day or two – being able to relax and just look out a really high window. It was exactly what I wanted – another day and I would have actually done some writing.
I really need to do some writing….

Living it Up

Happy Easter weekend, everyone!

As part of my celebration, I cancelled classes on Good Friday and headed to Chengdu. No budget hotel for me this time – I booked a room at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Chengdu. By Chinese standards, this hotel is super luxury, like one rung below a Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton is in the heart of the city, where the Renaissance is a little ways down the Renmin Road. If it were Chicago, one is Michigan Ave, the other is Illinois or Ohio by the Lake.

In any case, the room was still only 120/night US, which is just out of my normal hotel price range. Because my dad has been accruing Marriott points for several years, and has almost achieved permanent platinum status (brass ring, Dad!), I got a free upgrade. They put me in a suite on the 31st floor – the view was incredible. You know it’s chic when the water bottles cost $5. I mean, seriously?! Walk half a block up the street to the WoWo and buy a giant bottle for $.75 – that’s what I did. I might be imitating the high life, but I’m not stupid.



Yes, I did open my curtains and cry out “Behold! I am Jean – and I am really high! In the air, I mean…” Yeah, I self-censor even when I’m by myself.


I had to force myself to go out – all I wanted to do was set up my computer in front of the window and write and stare. But I do – I go to the mall to look at clothes for when I get my next paycheck and can afford to buy them. After sunset I return to my one room palace. The TV plays HBO – English movies! I mean, they weren’t good movies. I watched “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “The Man with the Iron Fists” (the latter is horrible, except for Russell Crowe). No “Game of Thrones” unfortunately, but I was happy anyway. The hotel was like a bi-lingual oasis.

Yes, again I have to admit that I see the allure of greater Western influence here. It was nice not to have to struggle through every single bit of dialogue, to say things three or four times in Mandarin, only to have my attempts brushed off because I don’t speak Sichuan dialect. And not only did the breakfast buffet have a really great spread of dim sum and Asian dishes, it had Western food – pancakes, bacon, bread. REAL BREAD – not sponges. And there is butter and cheese! I haven’t had cheese since I got here (I don’t think – actually, I might have had melted fake cheese on something. Hmm…) Is it wrong to be so happy to see foods from my side of the ocean? Perhaps. But I have been a really good sport about eating local – I’ve sucked down catfish heads, feet, knuckles, blood, and brains – most of coated in chili oil, and most of it tasty. I think having a bit of brie for breakfast is a reward.

Today I went to see the pandas.


The Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Center - great for Panda and tourist spotting!

The Chengdu Panda Research and Breeding Center – great for Panda and tourist spotting!


Pandas are not on my radar of favorite animals. Red pandas yes, but the panda itself? I feel it gets a lot of attention without me. But Chengdu has an internationally recognized breeding center, and so I catch a cab and head out. I’m glad I did –the weather was perfect in the morning, and the center is actually more like a zoo/park. Things were blooming, there were peacocks and wild birds singing. Technically, the peacocks weren’t singing – they were making that “a-ah!” noise they do. The pandas were awake and rolling about – they’re cute and all. I guess I look at them and see a creature that over-evolved. They only eat bamboo – one food. It’s not just that rapid industrialization has wiped out most of their territory, but bamboo forests die off every ten years or so. Whole forests – just gone, and the pandas have to move and find new food. The panda evolved to live in China so well it cannot live anywhere else, and China is destroying their only food source.

Yes, they're cute - sort of.

Yes, they’re cute – sort of.


D'aaww look at this widdle guy wiv his red fur and his white face patches...whosa widdle wed panda?... Ahem, I'll stop now.

D’aaww look at this widdle guy wiv his red fur and his white face patches…whosa widdle wed panda?…
Ahem, I’ll stop now.



Now, I am going to give you some travel advice: If you’re going it alone, and you make a mistake, try to do it where no one can see you. Specifically, if you say no to the taxis because you want to take the bus, be damn certain the bus stops where you think it does. Because if it doesn’t – if you have to pull a 180, and those taxi drivers see you, it’s game over. They have you.

Did you know that the number 25 bus does not stop in front of the Panda Research center? It doesn’t.

It cost me 70rmb to cross the whole of the city – from my hotel in the south to the center in the north. It took an hour to get through traffic. To go from the center to the nearest metro stop (on my map, it looked like the number 25 would do just that) – perhaps a twenty minute drive, tops, cost me 50rmb. The driver knew that I had no options – he observed me walk confidently to the bus stop, cross check some numbers, and walk back. What else could I do? He was one of the last taxis there. He said his price, smiling. I gave him a look that said “If I didn’t have to do this, I would slash your tires for charging me at least twice what you should.”

Then he made small talk. It was the most casual Chinese I’ve ever practiced saying. Jerk.

I went to the Tibetan Quarter to look for this bracelet I wanted, but I did not find the store. The sun was setting – I hadn’t meant to spend all day walking. I meant to be back around lunch time, so I could sit and be queen of Chengdu and write. Oh well. For dinner I ordered room service and took a bath – yes, my room had a tub. It also had – and this creeped me out – a little red light in the mirror. I noticed it when I went to use the bathroom. There were some exposed wires under the mirror leading up into it, and they didn’t seem to be related to the mirror lights. So, I gave it the finger – the red light, that is. If it’s a camera, then that is not cool and I want them to know. If it’s just a motion sensor so the light doesn’t stay on – well, I gave myself the finger and I’m paranoid.

Tomorrow is Easter. I’ve researched and found a Church which looks easy to find (ha) – the Church of the Immaculate Conception.


For my last picture – a peacock in the trees.

A-ah! A-ah! A-ah! You know, the bird sound used in movies to designate a place as "exotic."

A-ah! A-ah! A-ah!
You know, the bird sound used in movies to designate a place as “exotic.”