The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is a short taxi ride from my downtown hotel. An elaborate park-like setting lays before me as I board the tram at the entrance and wind my way up to the top of the hill. I amble down the paths I’ve just traversed via tram, stopping at the many enclosures of pandas along the way back to the bottom of the hill.
The Center is responsible for both panda research and breeding for zoos all over the world. With many different dens, there are pandas everywhere you look. They are not really doing much, mind you. I can easily see why they have the reputation of being the laziest of animals; even while chewing their bamboo they move at a glacial speed.
Cute, almost cuddly looking, cubs play together, clumsily climbing on one another and falling often. I keep reminding myself that these are bears and not a snuggly pet.
In a slightly less enclosed area, the red pandas – who look to me more like raccoons – scamper across my walkway from one wooded area to the next. I assume that means they are even more disinterested than the black and white pandas but it is hard to know for sure – they appear to be far more active than their cousins.
The area around Shanghai is a intricate lacing of waterways – rivers and streams of the Yangtze River Delta making their way through the landscape. Small villages and towns flourished along them over the centuries. These days larger cities have sprung up alongside the smaller communities relegating them to “old towns”.
These water towns have preserved their ancient roots and locals still live off the water as it traverses their town on the way to the East China Sea. Despite its brown/green color, the water is used to prepare food, wash clothes, and for transportation to the other side of town.
Stepping into the cool limestone caves is a relief from the warm day that has been made warmer by the long walk uphill from the taxi stand. The tree lined pathway along the Yi river is pleasant and my midweek visit affords a smaller crowed than is common in China.
The Longmen Grottoes in Louyang were carved starting from the 5th century and at one time housed more than 100,000 statues of the Buddha and other spiritual figures. Some consider this the most impressive of the grottoes in China. One of the larger caves took over 150 years to complete. Many of the statues have been removed or destroyed over the ages as was the fate of the Yungang and Mogao grottoes as well.
My favorite carvings are the teeny, tiny ones. They fill the space between the larger pieces – sometimes in ordered patterns, sometimes haphazardly. They go all the way to the ground, are hidden by stairs and railing, and vary in size – some as small as my thumbnail.