Friday, 5 September 2014

M.I.A. Pandas

Tea Pouring Ceremony
We’d spent the previous day being boringly productive trying to get somewhat organised as the realisation that in only two weeks we’d back home had hit us. We’d busied ourselves all morning updating résumé’s, tax returns and job applications etc, then we broke the day up with a stroll to the Pedestrian Shopping Street and after a bit of searching found a cheap lunch. It was entertaining again as when we entered the ‘English Speaker’ was summoned and it was fun trying to communicate and order what we wanted, they were all very helpful and smiley and made our lunch time enjoyable and tasty. Afterwards we tried to shop for some gifts to take home but we found nothing that inspired us so we trudged back to the hostel as we needed an early night - today we’re off for our free trip back to see the pandas again. 
We had to be at the Kempinski Hotel by 8am along with about 50 other expats who had also won the competition. This time our trip to the pandas was much more comfy and we didn’t have to worry about whether we were headed in the right direction so we could relax and enjoy the ride. We were handed out itineraries on the way and it wasn’t till then that we realised the day was actually going to be a bit of an event and not just a free ticket in.

Amazing Mask Changing Dance
The first thing on the list was the official Opening Ceremony, complete with a traditional tea pouring ceremony and mask-changing opera which was amazing. No matter how carefully we watched the performer we never picked how he magically changed his mask in less than a split second – and there were at least ten! Apparently it’s an ancient technique only taught to students dedicated to the profession and they are sworn to secrecy once they learn it.

Colourful Dragonfly by the Lake
The speeches from the dignitaries were typically long and not overly interesting, and disappointingly many of the rude expats got up and left at this stage, but despite the long presentations a few stuck around and at the end of the talks the new website was launched (and now seems to already be deactivated and replaced with We had free time after the ceremony to explore the site and visit the pandas before a banquet lunch was to start. Unfortunately it was mid-morning by this time and most of the pandas had already finished their morning feed and had gone inside their enclosures to escape the heat. We were glad on our previous visit we’d made the effort to get there early as peering through glass inside the enclosures trying to spot pandas was not nearly as cool as watching them eat and play.

It was a bit of a long wait for lunch as we hadn’t managed to get breakfast, so we were eager to get to the restaurant when lunch was scheduled. We were seated at a round table full of very strange expats who hardly interacted with anyone else for the entire meal. Fortunately, even if the company was not, the food was excellent; mapa tofu, garlic prawns, stir fried beef and many other dishes that were hard to describe but delicious! Even a glass of wine was included, something we hadn’t had any of in China, and it wasn’t half bad.

Panda Lunch Place Settings
We were disappointed not to receive 1st prize in the lucky door prize as the winner got to hold a baby panda which would have been amazing. This annoyed us a little as the lady who won was at our table and she actually won with the extra tickets we’d given her since our table wasn’t full as one of the organises just handed us all the left over tickets so we thought we had better distribute them rather than keep them all, then we really regretted that decision!

After lunch was finished we had more free time so we explored the lake and then met our tour which took us around the facility before it was time to head back to town. We have to admit we were glad to leave the hordes of expats when we got into town as they really didn’t seem to appreciate the day and complained the whole way back about small things that could’ve been improved which is pretty slack when you consider it was a free day and quite a good one at that. Overall, we left with a less than favourable view of the expat community in Chengdu - and we’ve met our fair share of whiny and arrogant expats over the years!

That evening after a light dinner it was time to again pack our bags and get ready for our next flight, the time was passing quicker and quicker and it seemed that soon we’d be packing our bags not for another new place but instead for home. This gave us quite mixed emotions as we were still loving the experience but really keen for to be home at the same time.

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