For many travelers who venture beyond the East Coast of China, it seems that the city of Chengdu is a natural stopping point and with good reason. As capital of the Sichuan Province, it’s a gateway to a number of great adventures and a popular jumping off point for Tibet. A day on the bus will take you through beautiful valleys to go horse trekking in Songpan or to trek up the popular Emei Shan, one of four famous Buddhist mountains.
For us, Chengdu meant being back in the comfort of a pleasant youth hostel where we could take hot showers, watch DVDs, read an English menu, and wash clothes after many long bus rides. The city itself is large and modern with little by way of sites that interested us. Two exceptions were pandas and Mr. Wang’s Tiny Museum. The latter we only heard of through our hostel when we arrived. When I asked if their was a Pinyin (as opposed to Chinese characters) version of the street name and whether or not it was difficult to find, the girl at reception said, “It’s hard to find and not very good. It’s very small and you have to pay.” Well, you have to pay to go to the toilet in China so that’s hardly a deterrent. But something about the way she tried to discourage us like it was an embarrassment, made us believe that it’s just the kind of thing we wanted to see.
True, it wasn’t easy to find, but it was well worth it. Mr. Wang has a wall to wall, ceiling to floor collection of Mao crap. You name it – pictures, buttons, badges, posters, statues, books, hats. It’s all there stuffed into a musty little room where he, his wife and his feisty cat live. Yeah, he fleeced us for some additional cash after he insisted that we take several pictures of him with his Mao collection, but it was still worth it. It’s not every day you get to meet the Head of Mao Tse-tong’s Medal Research Society!
Chengdu is also the place to see those big black and white furry pandas. It was recommended that we visit the giant pandas at the Wolong Nature Reserve north of Chengdu rather than at the touristy Chengdu Panda Research Center, but sadly our time was limited so we had to opt for the touristy panda visit. I have to say that at first, I felt a little ripped off. I mean I can walk to the National Zoo at home and watch Tai Shan and Mei Xiang chomp on bamboo for free! My niece and I even went to their first birthday party and ate cake….for free! But alas, we’re supporting much needed panda reproduction with our entry fee. And they are incredibly cute. Baby pandas rolling around on top of each other and lazing about with their big bellies full of bamboo. Some things really are worth paying for!