Panda Express

Lots of catching up to do here, and I'll start with what's fresh, which would be an extended weekend in Sichuan. Chengdu, like most cities in China, is a big city (around 11 million people), though it certainly seems small compared to Beijing and Shanghai. Maybe that's just because it has fewer tall buildings.
That's the view from the 31st floor of the Sheraton, which is right in the middle of the city. The haze is only partly due to the weather.

Not far from the hotel is a big public square.
As with other Chinese cities I've seen, there's lots of construction, as well as a lot of stalled construction projects where there doesn't seem to be any work going on. You can't see it in this picture, but there's a big opening in the ground behind the golden spiral thing (I think it's a fountain, but there was no water going) with some below-ground shops and an entrance to the future Chengdu subway.

Adjacent to the square is a major shopping area, which was pretty busy – no sign of economic downturn here. There's also a lot of public art.
I liked these sculptures of shoppers mixed in with the real shoppers. Looks to me like the guy in the red shirt is using his mobile phone to take pictures of the pretty girls.
The shopping is a bit less glitzy than Wangfujing in Beijing, and features more Chinese brands and fewer international ones.

One of the things Sichuan is famous for is food, and (within China, at least) hot pot is the most famous dish.
We had four different kinds of meat, so we got a pot divided into four sections. It was at a restaurant that apparently doesn't get many foreigners, so the staff felt the need to take care of all the cooking for us. I've had hot pot in Beijing often enough that I would be fine, but it was fun having them help. Arrayed around the pot are a variety of mushrooms and vegetables waiting for the meat to get done. It was very spicy, but not overwhelming. Very tasty, though I'll admit my stomach felt a little jumpy the next morning.

Of course, you can't go to Sichuan and avoid pandas. Graphically, they are everywhere, featured on signs, logos, and almost every available space.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is not too far outside of town, and actually features both giant pandas and red pandas.
Giant pandas mostly sit around munching on bamboo. This day it sprinkled on and off, but was relatively warm.
Here are some of the red pandas. They're more active than the big ones, and more social as well. And they don't spend so much time eating.
Yes, there's definitely something about pandas. I know they're not the gentle cuddly giants they look like, but they sure are cute.
Here are a couple of the sub-adult pandas. It seems they've already learned all they need to survive: they can sit on their butts with their bellies up and gnaw on bamboo.
The baby pandas were all indoors, and the lights were kept really low, so it was very difficult to get a good picture.
Added later: I forgot to mention that the Panda Center started one of the recurring trends of the Sichuan trip: map confusion. The reserve is arranged with a maze of paths, and the maps are not all oriented the same way, so it is very difficult to navigate. There is also no good path for seeing everything without having to backtrack. Entrance ticket is ¥60. We paid a Chengdu taxi driver ¥60 per hour for the trip and to wait for us while we went in - we spent about two and a half hours inside - and return us to the city. A little more research (and more helpful hotel staff) might have allowed us to use a city bus, but having a driver wait was certainly convenient.

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