Chengdu, in the Sichuan province, is my first destination in South-West, which also includes the Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces. It is generally considered the most interesting part of China, for many reasons: unique landscapes (mountains and natural parks in Sichuan, canyons, tibetan plateau and tropical forests in Yunnan, karst peaks and grottoes in Guizhou and Guangxi), historical and religious sites, minorities (Tibetans, Naxi, Bai, Miao, Dong). The most important reason, though, is probably that this part of the country has only been marginally hit by the wild development which pervades the east coast, so it is more authentic. I'll have the chance to see all these provinces and this makes me so curious: this is one of the most interesting parts of my journey.

In the evening, few hours after arriving in town, I wander without a goal - the town is nice but it lacks a "landmark". It's raining but, by now, this is not a news. I end up by chance in the Tianfu square while an aquatic show is taking place: the fountains sprinkle water with the Sichuan Opera music in the background and lighting effects and steam all over the square:

Everything happens under the blessing glance of Chairman Mao:

I am not sure whether Mao would have really blessed all this magnificense and display of wealth, but it is certainly valued by the Chengdu citizens: the square hosted at least one million people .

Here, like in Xi'an, they are building the first metro line. This is a source of major inconveniences to the traffic. Inconveniences, however, are temporary while the benefit will be here to stay, so it is definitely worth it - maybe Chinese understood this more than us in Europe, who are more reluctant to bear some disconfort, even if for a relatively short time. Or, simply put, they have no choice because someone else takes decisions in their place.

In the hostel I meet several nice and interesting travellers, with whom I exchange opinions and suggestions. With some of them I will also take the one-day trip to Leshan where there is the Giant Buddha. As usual, there is the exception: a guy from South of Italy who, when I greet him with a resounding "Ciao", answers, in English, "I do not want to speak Italian" and continues to speak with the others in English. As soon as he goes out of the room we burst with laughing and give him the well-deserved nickname "The nice one".

One morning at the Chengdu bus station, when leaving to Jiuzhaigou, I run into this sign:

I don't feel up to it, so I go and seat someplace else. It's still not clear to me what qualifies a passenger as an "Important Passenger". The clause is so clumsy that I did not even dare to ask. Next time I take the train at Arcore[1], I'll introduce myself in this way: "Hello, I am an Important Passenger", just to see what happens - nothing good, I am afraid.

One of the "must-see" in Chengdu - like Murano glass making on a visit to Venice - is the Panda Research and Breeding Centre. Pandas live only in China and, within China, in the Sichuan province only. The Centre hosts many of them, looked after and petted 24 hours a day.

Pandas are unusual animals: they are bears but they are vegetarian (they eat bamboo, and only some species of it). This type of feeding has several consequences:

  • they spend most of their time eating. And when they are not eating, they sleep.
  • their movements are very slow
  • their reaction time is similar to that of sloths

Add that they are not prolific at all, and it'll be clear why they are on the verge of extinction. I believe that, for Pandas, the human activity is not the main contributor to their extinction risk. After all, after seeing the Panda, I think it's not strange it is risking extinction, rather it is strange that it is not yet extinct. That's why it is being referred to as a "living fossil".
Since when they are looked after and petted, Pandas behave like Hollywood stars. They look at visitors with a self-sufficiency expression, they show off, boast, then they turn their back to you and disappear. They make you feel like kind-heartedly kicking them in their ass . You don't believe me, do you? Look at this:

In fact, they are very very tender animals. Their taints make them pleasant, if such a term can be used for animals. You look at them while they are doing something, for example climbing a tree, then you turn your eyes for a second and, when you look at them again, there you see them sleeping, in that same place, while they were doing that same activity:

The Centre also hosts Red Pandas who are, in my opinion, as much beautiful, tender and nice:

however, with such famous neighbours, they are mostly ignored by tourists. A big thank to Helen for the Giant Pandas pictures. My Canon Powershot A80 digital camera inexplicably stops working just when I am about to take the first picture of a Giant Panda - they will later tell me that the optical part is out of order so the camera can't be repaired. Helen is so kind to send me her pictures, which you can see above. I'll have to run back to downtown Chengdu to buy another digital camera so as not to miss the chance to take pictures in the following days. I am just in time to take a taxi to the airport. The taxi driver drives like a crazy (no kidding or exaggerating here, I am absolutely serious) so I manage to get there 35 minutes before my flight to Lijiang, in the Yunnan province. Thankfully, that's enough time to catch the flight.

A final note: for the third washing in a row I take out of the washing machine an odd number of socks. Does it happen to me only, or is there a "Fundamental Theorem of the Washing" which predicts this outcome?

  1. ^Arcore is where I take the commuter train to go to work.