We have just hosted our fist kiwi visitors. It was wonderful! Paul is working for four weeks in Hángzhōu (with Diana joining him – she can work virtually). We agreed they would visit us first and we will go to see them in a couple of weeks when Raymond has mid-term break.
It didn’t start so well in a ‘this will be great to tell the grandkids one day’ kind of way. Mid-morning Friday, Diana wechatted me “calamity checked ticket and realised too late it was a morning flight” (that whole 7am instead of 7pm thing when booking online – we have done it too). Then she messaged to say that they had rebooked to come via Shànghăi (cheaper), arriving just after midnight. So I re-organised Joe, the black cab driver that all the Leman teachers in our apartment complex use, for later on Friday. Then calamity number two, when Paul and Diana finally got to the ticket counter to catch the fast train from Hángzhōu to Shànghăi, the last tickets for their connecting train sold out. Flight rebooked for Saturday morning! Driver arranged for the third time, and Raymond and I got an early night after all.
Saturday morning, Joe picked us up just before ten to go out to the airport to meet our important guests. As we were walking to the terminal he asked us the flight number so that we could wait at the right exit. We realised in all the drama, we only had the first two flight numbers – not the one we actually needed. Using a bit of deduction from information that we did have, including Diana’s wechat about delays in Shànghăi, we concluded that it was nearly two hours until they arrived – assuming it was the flight that we thought it was.
So, we invited Joe to have a drink with us. I also checked that he did not have another ride due. McDonalds seemed the best bet and we placed two orders – an English one, with Raymond’s and my choices, and a Chinese one, with Joe’s choice, because McDonalds’ touch button e-system does not allow you to combine languages. We then used a mixture of my Chinglish, photos we all had on our phones, wechat translation function and good old miming to get to know one another. It was very enjoyable and has taken our relationship with Joe to a nice new level.
Finally, Paul and Diana arrived – almost 12 hours later than plan a, but lovely to see them in our new home.
Joe drove us to our apartment. His standard fee to take us to the airport is 80 kuai (just under NZD20). I expected to pay twice this because we had gone there and back, plus a bit extra to acknowledge his long wait with us. He only asked for 100, which made me realise how much of his standard rate is actual costs of car, petrol and tolls and how little he values his own time. I gave him double.
A cup of tea to start catching up and plan our 28 hours together. Top priority for Paul and Diana was the pandas, with a visit to the shops around the Sichuan music conservatory a close second. Apparently, Chéngdū hosts the largest music conservatory in the world. We threw in Wide and Narrow Alleys, and the Global Centre if we had time, and our itinerary was set.
We ate lunch at a local restaurant and caught the metro to Kuānzhăixiàngzi (Wide and Narrow Alleys), one of the old traditional parts of town. In our second week, we went here with a local. But now we were the expert hosts! We soaked up the ambience and watched a show of several famous Sichuan activities, while drinking tea and nibbling sunflower seeds. The Sichuan opera face changing is definitely the highlight. Even sitting in the front row, we cannot work out how it is done. We go to a full opera next Friday so look forward to seeing it in context.
We then went to Tiānfu Square, Chéngdū’s centre, and caught the bus back so that our visitors could get a sense of the city. We ate at another restaurant within walking distance of our place and headed to bed.
Sunday, we started early, not quite meeting our aim of being out the door at 7am, to get to the Panda Research Centre in time to see the pandas eating (very successful) and beat the rush (partly successful).
When Raymond and I did this two months ago, when we came up out of the metro station nearest the panda centre (Panda Ave), we were accosted by drivers touting for business. We caught one of the many taxis lined up, naively thinking they would be metered, but we had to negotiate a fixed price, informed by the amount the touters would not go below. We noted the going rate to be able to tell our visitors how much to agree.
Well, this weekend shows that you cannot assume things will be the same two months later. This time, there was a stand set up by the metro station to sell tickets to the centre for the same price as if you bought them there, and free buses.
Once we were in, we went straight to see the baby pandas. Raymond and I had missed them last time, because the queue was too long. It was a good decision. We went straight in, although inside it was a bit of a bun fight to get to the front of the crowd to see in the window. A gentleman shouted at the crowd which seemed to motivate the security guard to shout at everyone, but nothing changed. It was worth the tussle, they are incredibly cute.
And, then we wandered around the park panda watching. Because it was cooler, many more pandas were outside than we visited tow months ago. We saw a young panda being quite active trying to climb over a small fence – not that ‘pandas’ and ‘active’ can usually be used in the same sentence. His little friend was totally inactive, and once active guy gave up on climbing and wandered around the flat way, he lay down exhausted, next to his friend .
About 11am, we headed back to the metro and on to the music conservatory. This is something we would not normally add to an itinerary, but it was nice to learn of this treasure in our midst, to see our highly musical visitors in awe of the many music shops and their contents, and enjoy our visitors’ enjoyment. It seems that this is the one place in Chéngdū one might go to buy an instrument, and possibly indicative of China’s general approach to business – have all the competitors in the same place.
We then caught a taxi to the Global Centre. The normally straight forward route between the music conservatory and metro was blocked by a massive infrastructure project (common in Chéngdū because so much development is happening). The Global Centre is the largest building in the world based on square meterage. We included it in Paul and Diana’s itinerary because, to us, it epitomises the third side of Chéngdū –non-stop development, including over the top architecture that we like but is taken to extremes with the Centre’s imposing exterior, not to mention its blingness, ‘beach’ and ice skating rink. Wide and Narrow Alleys shows the history and tradition, and the pandas illustrate the natural beauty we now realise is on our doorstep.
At the Centre, we had a late lunch. We think it was a Korean restaurant. Raymond and I had not been there, so it turned back into new adventure experience for us. We only discovered the cooking pot in the middle of the table as we sat down, once we had decided this was it. We all left rather full because we ordered too much food from the pick a picture and guess menu. But it was all yummy, no intestines, two out of the three beers were cooled, none had ice in, and I had enough Chinese to ask for medium rather than super hot. We can call that a success.
Home for a cuppa, Paul and Diana safely in Joe’s car heading back to the airport, and our ‘Being a tour guide in Chéngdū’ badges achieved. We look forward to getting them out for the next tour group.