Giant Pandas and an Old Friend

Posing for pictures with my Oral English students and my co-teacher.

Posing for pictures with my Oral English students and my co-teacher during our Christmas party.

Well first let me start by saying it’s great to be back. I’ve had several adventures during my hiatus and I’m excited to share them with you. But it’s far too much for a single entry so I’ve decided to write three posts in quick succession. In this one, I’ll fulfill my long overdue promise and tell you about my Christmas and New Years experience–even though the holiday spirit has all but faded away for now. In my second entry, I’ll tell you about my amazing trip to Hong Kong with my younger sister. And in my last one I’ll tell you all about the explosion of culture and fireworks that is Chinese New Year. You play your cards right and I might even share a video or two.

So Christmas isn’t nearly as big out here as it is in the states, of course, but there definitely is spirit in the air. Businesses are adorned with decorations and the lobby at my school was transformed into a winter wonderland. We had a Christmas party to celebrate the occasion where we sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the beautiful ladies sang Silent Night. The children decorated cupcakes and made stockings for themselves and I performed a poi light show in a Santa suit. We concluded with a feast of spaghetti for everyone that we got from Pizza Hut. (Yes, Pizza Hut sells spaghetti out here; they also put ketchup on their pizzas–no, I don’t understand why either).

Never thought I'd be dressed as Santa so young, but that's China.

Never thought I’d be dressed as Santa so young, but hey, that’s China.

On Christmas, I met up with several other foreigners at our Canadian friend, Matt’s, apartment for a Christmas dinner complete with a turkey, mashed sweet potatoes, real artisan bread with cream cheese and of course, wine. We mostly just talked and played card games, but I also brought my guitar to serenade everyone with the few Christmas songs I can play. As the night went on, this turned into everyone bellowing the wrong lyrics to ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ until the neighbors knocked on the door and everyone headed out to the bar. I decided to call it a night, however, and packed my guitar back home. It was a great Christmas and one I won’t soon forget.

Before I tell you about my New Years adventure, I need to jump back in time to the Summer of 2011. I had just gotten accepted to a month-long internship/stewardship project called Earth Corps in the Sangre de Christo mountain range in Southern Colorado. There were 10 of us students who were accepted into the highly intensive trail restoration project above 12,000 ft.

My fellow Earth Corps companions hiding from the wind at the top of Blanca peak just over 14,300 ft.

My fellow Earth Corps companions hiding from the wind at the top of Blanca peak just over 14,300 ft.

Now I could go on for a long time about this adventure, but the point is that one of the students that I met was a wonderful young Chinese lady named Lin who was one of the reasons I decided to come to China in the first place. I’m still friends with most of my fellow Earth Corps companions, but we are rarely able to see each other. Every once in a while, however, our paths cross again.

When Lin said she’d be coming back to China to visit her family for New Years, I decided to take some time off and fly to her hometown of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of Southwestern China.

Chengdu is, by Chinese standards, a pretty small city with only 14 million people including the surrounding area. It’s big by American standards, but not when compared to Beijing or Shanghai. They are known very well for their pandas and spicy food.

The first restaurant that Lin took me to. So much food, so little time.

The first restaurant that Lin took me to. So much food, so little time.

While I was there, I got a full taste of the incredible Chinese hospitality. Lin and her family took me to several restaurants where I had at least 30 different Chinese dishes that I’d never had before. And believe me, Chengdu and the Sichuan province are known for their spicy food for a reason. I wish I had pictures of the many dishes, but unfortunately I lost my cell phone when I went to Thailand and my current phone doesn’t have a camera. Nevertheless, it was a great time.

I was only in Chengdu for about 3 days so I was very happy that we were able to take a trip to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which is the world’s leading facility for breeding pandas. They have just under 120 pandas in captivity and have won several international awards for the excellent work they do there.

I had never seen a panda in person since there are only 4 zoos in America that have them, but they are definitely one of my favorite animals. Although wild pandas spend the majority of their time foraging, the pandas in captivity looked as though they spend most of their time sleeping and eating. They seem to be able to sleep in any position including hanging out on tree branches and It’s estimated that adult giant pandas eat around 40kg (88 lbs) of bamboo shoots everyday!

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We were also able to see some baby pandas, but there were no cameras allowed in the nursery because they disturb the newborns. They looked like little fluff balls rolling around wrestling with each other. The whole trip to the facility was incredible and I’ll never forget it.

The next day was New Years Eve and after another day of exploring the city, we met up with Lin’s parents as well as her good friend, Cong Sheng, and his mom for yet another delicious dinner. He is a filmmaker and teaches at the university there so after dinner he took us all to his brand new art studio that he shares with a couple tattoo artists and  painters. We had a good time and didn’t get too crazy, which was nice because I had to catch a 7:30 flight back to Hefei the next morning.

Giant painting inside the studio. You can see Lin at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.

Giant painting inside the studio. You can see Lin at the bottom to get a sense of the scale.

Lin’s parents were gracious enough to wake up at 5:30 with me and give me a ride to the airport along with a gift bag full of various high quality cured meat for me to take back home. The whole time I was in Chengdu, I didn’t spend any money at all. It just goes to show that Chinese people are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.

Today is my 1 year anniversary of coming to China and to celebrate the occasion, I’ll be going to open mic night at a friend’s bar to perform a few songs on my guitar as well as possibly doing a light show. It’s hard to imagine that it’s been a year already and in many ways, it’s just been a blur. But I’m so grateful that I’ve kept this blog as well as my journal so that I won’t forget the important parts.

I want to thank everyone who has been living this journey with me by reading my stories and give a big cheers to another year of adventures and excitement!

Till next time,

Josh

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3 thoughts on “Giant Pandas and an Old Friend

  1. Pretty awesome dude! I’m pretty sure you have experienced more in the last year than most do in their entire lives. It’s crazy it’s been a year since you left! Can’t wait to see you when you return to the states!

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