Steve's China Blog

Monday, October 20, 2008

Trip to BiFengXia

This last weekend I went to a place called BiFengXia with about 150 co-workers. BiFengXia is a lushly-forested gorge near the town of Ya'an, about 2 hours south of ChengDu. Besides the gorge, it also includes a temple, a big zoo, and a panda research center. The gorge has an interesting history too. Legend has it the gorge was formed by the body of Nuwa, an Eve-like figure in Chinese mythology who created humans and saved the early world.

We arrived on Saturday morning and got the keys to our rooms and then had lunch. After lunch a few of us went down to the gorge. To get to the bottom we took an elevator that is 99 meters tall called the Stairway Through the Clouds.

Elevator to and from top of gorge

From the bottom of the elevator you can take several paths around the gorge, and we decided to take the one going east. I'm not sure if the one going east was more uphill than if we had gone west, but it sure seemed like it.

Entrance area at bottom of gorge

All around the gorge there are steep cliffs and waterfalls of all sizes.

Some friends pose by a waterfall

A very fast waterfall

At the base of a tall waterfall

Taking the paths, we eventually we came around to the panda research center. There are a lot more pandas here than usual, since many of the pandas from the Wolong panda center (which was heavily damaged by the earthquakes) were moved to BiFengXia.

A couple of pandas snacking on bamboo

A panda who seemed to like having his picture taken

We went through several panda living areas, and also visited a place that had several panda cubs.

Some panda cubs napping and crawling about

A very young panda cub having a warm place to take a nap

After visiting the pandas we set out to walk around the west side of the gorge. We wanted to get back before dark, so we were going along at a pretty good pace. We made it back with plenty of time to spare, and had a little time to relax before dinner. After dinner there was an ethnic song and dance show.

Painting depicting life of ancient Mosuo peoples with their god and goddess flying about

I've been told that Bifengxia is the abode of the queen of the matriarchal Mosuo people, and there were dancers that did some Tibetan, Qiang, Yi and Mosuo ethnic songs and dances. Some of the people in my group wanted me to come join the dancing, but my feet were hurting after all the hiking we did all afternoon. One guy of our group got pulled into tying the knot in a fake Mosuo-style wedding at the end of the song and dance show.

On Sunday I got up early and went walking around for awhile. The sun was trying to come out and the views of the mountains were really nice.

Nice view

It seems most of the people in my group were either sleeping in late, or wanted to play cards after breakfast, so I went to the zoo by myself.

Map at the entrance to the zoo

When you first enter the zoo you go by bus which rolls through some areas with lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!).

Male and female lion lounging about

A pair of female lions

After that we get off the bus and walk through the rest of the zoo. Most animals seemed to be living in open areas, but some were in caged buildings. About half way through the zoo you come into the aviary, which they say is the largest "bird paradise" in Asia, a huge net-covered enclosure that is home to 50 or so species ranging from seagulls to exotic pheasants and elegant cranes.

At one point they have a bunch of white tigers, white lions, panthers, cheetahs, leopards, etc... They were really pretty.

A white tiger taking a nap in the sunshine

Nearby there was a small building that had a little sign that said, "tiger and lion injured in earthquake". I'm not sure if we were really allowed there, but I went over to take a closer look. The building had two doors covered in bars, and as I approached the first one a big white tiger jumped up and hissed at me! What big blue eyes it had! I am not sure who was more startled... me or the tiger. There wasn't really anything to stop a person from walking right up the door (except the tiger and the lion in the other door). I wanted to get a picture of the tiger whom I could get very very close to, but I discovered my camera battery had died. Drats.

I made it back from the zoo in time for lunch. After lunch we turned our room keys back in, and got back on the buses to return to ChengDu. Mostly everyone slept on the ride back to ChengDu (including me). I think I got more exercise walking around the gorge and walking around the zoo then I did all year. I was pretty exhausted when I got back and my feet still hurt a little this morning.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Vacation in the US

I arrived back in ChengDu Sunday night. Let the jet lag begin! Actually, I don't feel too bad, but we'll see how I feel later. Zzzz... huh? Oh! Yeah, have to finish this post.

My first week vacationing in Maryland was filled with lots of eating, shopping, and seeing my parents and some friends. The weather was pretty nice for the most part, but we did get some rain from a hurricane that rolled up the east coast later in the week.

On Saturday I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival with my friends Greg and Les. It was raining off and on all day, but it was still a lot of fun.

The Pyrates Royale play at the White Hart Tavern

That particular weekend was the pirate weekend, so there were a lot of people dressed as pirates, which is always fun to see.

Hanging out with a couple of pirates

Enjoying the company of a lovely pirate girl

On Sunday I watched the Redskins/Cowboys game with my parents. It's been a long time since the Redskins have beaten the Cowboys in Dallas, so it was fun to watch them do that! I also played some Everquest II, since it was a double experience weekend.

My Paladin gets some new fancy armor

My Paladin made level 30 and my Coercer made level 40, so I was pretty happy about that!

Jinxerbell in her new dress

On Monday we drove down to Raleigh to visit my brother Jay and his son Nicky. We even had a Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday since I will be in China during Thanksgiving in November. After dinner we watched Iron Man on DVD, which had gone on sale that day. I had not seen Iron Man before, and it was better than I thought it would be. On Wednesday we drove back to Maryland.

Jay, Nicky, and me

On Thursday my parents and I went down to the new Inner Harbor that is near where they live to go to have dinner. The place we went to had a special seafood dinner and we had lobster, clams, mussels, clam chowder, etc... It was really delicious. The Inner Harbor is really nice. I wish I had taken some pictures of it.

Most of Friday was spent doing laundry and packing for my return trip. On Friday night I took my friends Amy and Greg out to a little Greek/Italian place near my parents' house for dinner. The food there is always good and the atmosphere is really nice and cozy. It was a nice way to spend my last evening before my trip the next day.