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From pandas, to pagodas, to the Great Wall, the Bad Pennies trip to the IVV Olympiad in Chengdu, China, followed by touring in Xian and Beijing, was a trip to remember.
Rather than give a laundry list of where we visited and what we did, I’d like to just share some of my memories of the trip:
-Our Chinese Olympiad hosts in Chengdu provided many enthusiastic volunteers, eager to practice their English and to ensure that our stay was pleasant.
-I wonder how many of us are now part of a Chinese “memory book,” since many Chinese walkers and volunteers, as well as random people on the street, wanted photos taken with the “lǎowài” (foreigner).
-How happy the volunteers and young children in Chengdu were when a group member presented them with an American flag pin or an actual American flag.
-What a HUGE amount of work went into the opening ceremony for the Olympiad! We had acrobats, gymnasts, athletes, dancers, costumed dragons and pandas. It was a spectacular welcome for all the visitors.
-The trend of wearing little plastic flowers, fruit, or Chinese flags attached vertically to the top of one’s head with bobby pins. Too funny!
- Unique items to eat, available from street vendors/shops: “barbecued rabbit skulls”, smoked pig snouts, whole “fried?” birds, and beautiful, intricately crafted dragon “lollypops” made of what looked like melted sugar. (No, I didn’t try any of them….)
-Eating Hot Pot, the signature Szechuan dish of Chengdu. I knew how to say “not spicy” in Chinese. That, combined with an English-Chinese translator on my phone and a patient waiter, made for an enjoyable and memorable evening.
-While driving to the Panda Base, our Chengdu guide explained the panda lifestyle and why they are endangered. Part of her description involved panda reproduction and how panda researchers use “panda porn” to interest the “lazy” male pandas in breeding. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time!
-The humbling experience of not being able to read a menu, store or street sign, if no pinyin (western alphabet) or English translation” was provided.
-The amazing craftsmanship of the terra cotta warriors and the immense size of the pits; and more are still to be uncovered.
-Walking on the Great Wall was my favorite part of the trip. Being on the wall, walking up and down steep steps and ramps, thinking about how people built the wall on top of these mountains and along steep ridge lines was incredible. We had a crystal clear, blue sky day. Perfect for photos (and for breathing!)
-We were prepared for haze and pollution (which we had to varying degrees) but were pleasantly surprised by the blue sky days at the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.
-Riding a bullet train that reached a speed of 300kph
-Seeing the massive numbers of high rises under construction in some of the cities, and many that appear only partially finished (perhaps temporarily abandoned as evidenced by lack of construction cranes).
-How friendly most people were. Chinese students learn English in school, and some of the younger children were anxious to practice, saying “Hallo! Please to meet you.” Very cute!
-Sharing many meals at 10 person round tables with lazy susans in the middle and seemingly endless supplies of delicious Chinese food. The key was learning how to rotate the lazy susan without the serving utensils knocking over anyone’s beer!
-Getting to know all the folks in our group and having lots of new faces to look for on the walking trails!