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Chengdu: Hotpot, Pandas, and Old Pals

December 3, 2018

By Alexa L., Stonehill College, TBC Student 2018

During my time in Beijing, there was one destination I knew I needed to go to: Chengdu.  Why you might ask?  Well, there are several attractions within the city of Chengdu that suit all kinds of people.  The most famous attractions are the panda parks.  Chengdu is known across China for hosting the most renowned breeding grounds for sustaining China’s prized animal.  Additionally, Chengdu is an up-and-coming city with thriving streets and night-life.  The main streets are home to fashionable stores and lavish restaurants; however, alleys leading you off the main roads guide you quaint mom-and-pop shops where you can find authentic trinkets and dishes.

My friend Justine, who accompanied me on this trip, said she heard from more than one person that Chengdu is a ‘calming city.’  Being from rural Vermont, I thought that statement was an oxymoron.  Come to find out, Chengdu is a city that even I felt at home in!  It has the look of a city in regard to the tall buildings and wide streets, but does not have an overwhelming, hustle-and-bustle vibe that other cities possess.

[Mom, Arthur, Me, Eva] A photo of when Arthur came to live with us back in 2012!

In addition to the panda’s and to the positive atmosphere of the city, I had two old friends I needed to visit.  The first was a past exchange student my family hosted 8 years ago-crazy how quickly time fly’s! Arthur is from Chongqing but goes to college in Chengdu.  We have stayed in touch these past 8 years and we finally had an opportunity to reconnect!

I had a math teacher back in high school named Mr. Rico.  After I graduated, he left my high school soon after for a job offer in Chengdu!  Now, he teaches math (still in English) for 6th graders in a well-established international school.

So, it was destiny.  I needed to take a weekend to visit Arthur, Mr. Rico, and panda’s.


There were three of us: Francesca, Justine, and I.  We arrived around 1 am Friday and spent a solid 15 minutes trying to find our Air BnB.  We had a sense of where the BnB building was but figuring out how to navigate to our specific apartment took some reorienting.

My friends and I met Arthur and his girlfriend, Yuki, at the bus stop in Chunxi road.  Chunxi Road has a lot of beautiful window displays and is, as Arthur says, “entertainment for the locals.”  It is easy to spend all your time wondering the streets!

We boarded the bus which lead us to the panda base; it was a 30-minute drive.

Arthur and I before entering the panda base.

Arthur and I reconnected as all five of us gawked over how precious the pandas were.  There were fully grown giant pandas and a handful of baby pandas.  Crowds of people “O”ed and “Aw”ed  as they suspenseful watched several panda’s attempt to get down from the tree’s only to find they were simply resituating themselves to continue sleeping.  We stared in satisfaction as the larger pandas freed entire bamboo stalks from the ground and devoured them in less than 10 minutes.  Intermittently, birds, including peacocks, ducks, and swans, would cross our paths as they roamed loose around the zoo grounds.  It was heavenly.

Before we left, we visited the red panda exhibit.  The red pandas are in an enclosed section of the base.  In order to see them, the visitors go through a series of doors which prevent the animals from getting loose.  However, once you are in, red pandas can be anywhere, including on the panda with you.  While we were walking through the exhibit, most of the red pandas were asleep high in the tree’s or deep in the forest.  Nonetheless, I was utterly entertained.

We finished walking through the park within 4 hours.  Arthur thought it would be fitting to treat us to Sichuan hotpot.  I don’t know how much my readers know about Sichuan food, but if there is anything to know, it is that Sichuan is notorious for spicy food.  So, our Sichuan hotpot was quite a big deal for me, as someone who did not eat spicy foods back home!  We ordered lotus root, potato, cow stomach, tripe, kidney, liver, and duck blood pudding to cook in our hotpot broth.  I am glad I got to try these organs; I would also be glad never to try them again (I came to China a vegetarian with a very open mind).

We ended our Friday exploring the rooftops of Chunxis’ malls.  We found a giant panda:

And an outside art collection:

Friday was very Chengdu focused; Saturday was more lenient.  We ate Vietnamese food for lunch and ate so much we practically waddled out of the restaurant.  The egg rolls were so delicious that I wanted to cry.  The secret ingredient (which I had never had in an egg roll before) was mint!

After lunch, we explored more sections of this area of Chengdu before hoping in a Didi to drive us to Mr. Rico’s apartment.  The drive was 20 minutes; we were dropped off in front of a pet groomer shop.  Naturally, we pet every dog within reach before we went on to find Mr. Rico.

Mr. Rico lives in an apartment complex that resembles something I’ve seen in Disney World Florida.  The landscaping was stunning, playgrounds were lining the walkways, grandparents were watching over their grandchildren… it was amazing.

We started by helping wrap lumpia which is a Filipino version of an egg roll.  Then, Mr. Rico brought out a massive rice noodle dish as well as two pizzas.  We ate, once again, to our fill and passed the time with old stories and some live entertainment from Justine and Mr. Rico’s daughter. 

I have truly enjoyed my semester here in china.  It was beyond fulfilling to reconnect with two old friends who have connections to where I come from.  It was a rejuvenating way to wrap up my semester and gave me enough motivation to finish my semester strong.  It was comforting to have those conversations despite how far from home I was.  I owe them both many thanks for taking the time to make my stay in Chengdu so gratifying!