Trip to China 2019-2020. Wuhan. December 1st & 2nd. Pandemic outbreak.

I do not understand what it is said on TV, but it is a new year’s show. The clock strikes twelve o’clock and everybody seems happy and there is dancing and singing. Also, there is an official discourse, that is later available on the web. I am too tired for celebrations, and I think that Chinese new year’s celebrations are the real ones, anyway.

In the morning, I change my tickets. I planned to take a train at 10AM to Nanjing. Stop there for four hours. And then take another high-speed train to Shanghai. But I will not have enough time to appreciate Nanjing and I am too tired after so many days around. So, I refund my tickets and get a new one directly to Shanghai. It is a shame to miss Nanjing, but I feel that I am making the right call.

After a long trip, the first day in Wuhan I just have time to take a walk around the lake.

[I write this paragraph on 20th July 2020, with the insight of what has happened]

While walking, I read an article about a mysterious virus has affected a few people in the city. The hospital is investigating the issue. The news gets my attention, but I do not give them a second though. Wuhan is an eleven million souls city, the outbreak seems unimportant. I have no idea on how important this news would be for the world at large.

The second day, I visit the Yellow Crane Tower. The Tower itself is a beautiful building that dominates the place. But my favorite part is the gardens. In this place, there are some of the most artful gardens I have ever seen. I take the opportunity to purchase a couple of small paintings at the shops in the park.

My next stop is a very interesting looking museum: “The 1911 Revolution Museum”. The institution offers one of the few parts of history that Taiwan and China agree upon. My knowledge of Chinese history is limited, I will add some books to read to my list once I go back to home. The last days of the Chinese Emperor are shown in different exhibits, and the struggles to out him.

Just one last museum before going to the hotel, the Wuhan Museum. I get strength from where I though there was nothing left and spend as much time in the museum as I can before it closes. All the artefacts, paintings, and figurines talk about a distant past that I know little about.

Once at the hotel, I take a long warm bath. Tomorrow, I will take my last high-speed train of this trip.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Chongqing. December 31st. Three Gorges Museum.

The Three Gorges Museum is really three museums in one. It has the history museum, the city museum, and the museum of the Three Gorges itself. I spend a few hours from exhibit to exhibit. After a enjoying all the artefacts and exhibitions I visit the Great Hall of the People located accordingly in the People’s Square.

I go to a thrift market. It is mostly empty. I guess that many buyers would do purchases on-line. I see a couple of people selling items to the shops, not the other way around. Some items are fantastic, and costly accordingly. My lack of price negotiation skills shines again. I am interested in some coins, the shopkeeper tells me that are not authentic, and that is why they are so cheap. I purchase a few, anyway, as they look interesting.

To finish the day, I visit a Bookshop. I know the dangers of that, as I am prone to accumulate books during my trips. I end purchasing just one book about the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It has many pictures old and new, I cannot read the text, thou. It is in Chinese.

This is my 18th day travelling, and I feel very happy but tired. Also, I had a bad sore throat for most of the trip. The only energy that keeps me going is providing by my enthusiasm to visit as many places as possible.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Chongqing. December 30th.

I have free breakfast at the hotel. I go early to the restaurant, and it is almost empty. I get a mixture of everything and a mug of coffee.

I jump into the subway and travel to a traditional Chinese neighborhood. It is a popular attraction for shopping. I start my shopping here. The trip is getting closer to the end, and I have now some idea about what reasonable prices are. I am sure that I would still pay too much, thou, as I am not used to negotiate prizes.

I visit a temple at the top of a hill. It is different from many other temples I have visited probably because of the physical limitations of the location. A couple of tourists are here, most people is somewhere else shopping.

Afterwards, I follow a sign towards a museum. Again, the place is almost empty. It is a shame, even that I enjoy the tranquility. The museum is very small, just three rooms really. But it is incredibly well designed and tidy. Around the museum, there is a small beautiful park. The lackluster views are result of the fog, or is it smog, that has followed me all the trip. The greenery is terrific, thou.

After shopping, I visit a new park. I had it marked on the map as a must visit. It is a big park with several interesting landmarks. I specially like how many trees adapt their roots to the terrain creating interesting patterns over the paved stones. Again the views would be impressive, but the fog limits its beauty.

My last stop is the “Hongya Cave”. The buildings have an interesting architecture that reminds of the Spirited Away house. I do some extra shopping in the place with lower prices. I still manage to get some extra stuff for free, as the shopkeeper probably felt bad about me paying full price. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Trip to China 2019-2020. Chongqing. December 29th.

Chengdu is a tidy orderly city that was a pleasure to visit. Chongqing feels as chaotic as interesting. I see many similarities with Hong Kong. It is packed with tall buildings, surrounded by water and the old and the new mix together in an unpredictable mix.

I have already checked in and leave my backpack, I am free to take the subway and roam light around the city. As I exit the subway station, I see a massive building in the horizon. I start walking in that general direction.

I find myself at the feet of more than half a dozen tall skyscrapers. And, at the street level, there is one of the largest shopping malls I have ever seen. A constant in my trip in China is to see that many shopping malls are half empty. The shopping malls have a lot of activity in some floors meanwhile others remain almost closed. My guess is that as newer places open, the older ones stop growing or even lose some shops. This one is the newest and all shops are open and there is an absurd amount of people shopping around. I decide to buy a fancy belt in one of the fashion shops. I pay with cash again. The cashier takes the money and leaves it in a drawer with just a few notes. I feel out of place paying not able to pay with my phone like everybody else.

Back at the hotel, I am still marveled at its curious set up. There are two towering buildings, both are hotels. By that, I mean that there are several hotels in each one of them. In the lower floor, the lobbies of each brand open to the street. Some lobbies are big and classy, others small and kind of cheap. Everybody takes then the same elevator and stops at the floor of their hotel. My hotel starts at the twelfth floor. I have a pleasant room in floor twenty-seventh. I have a good night of sleep.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Chengdu. December 28th.

Today, I start the day later than usual. I have seen what I came to see in Chengdu – the pandas – and today is going to be a relaxed day.

I start at the Jinsha Museum, it is an excavation site. There are many wild animal bones and tusks, probably gathered for religious ceremony.

In the next building, the museum shows artifacts unearthed at the site. It struck me as a surprise that the unearthing has stopped even after some incredible findings. The archeologists seem to have a hard time avoiding decay after exposing the site to the air. They have seen enough and are experimenting with different types of conservation. A solar disk made from gold is at the center of the exhibition. A golden mask also attracts the visitors’ attention.

The site, as many other I have visited, doubles down as a park. I take time to walk around. The park even has an enclosure with deer, some kids are trying to touch an albino deer thru the fences. The animals are calm and probably used to have kids around.

My next stop is a temple. It is dedicated to the Three Kingdom’s, but I have not enough background to recognize the stories. I take a mental note to buy ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ novel when I’m back at home. Most people are tourists.

At the exit of the temple there are some old-style streets. And where there are traditional streets there are more tourists and shops. I am hungry, so I purchase a sweet that tastes like quince cheese. I use cash to pay, as I cannot us my phone like the locals. I have all the apps installed and configured, but my non-Chinese credit card is not accepted for purchases in Yuans. By now, I have started to get a sense of what is a reasonable price for certain objects. It is not easy, thou, as the same craftwork made from a noble material my be ten or a hundred times more expensive than on made of cheaper stuff. I do not purchase anything, yet. I still must travel for a little longer, and I do not want to carry too much on my backpack.

Even that it is already getting dark and there is not much time left, I visit my second museum of the day. The artefacts are like many ones that I have seen before, but, there is always something new to discover. Here, I find a Kermit the Frog puppet. It was a gift to the museum by the Jim Henson Company.

I end my day at a close by restaurant. I go for a Hot Pot. I am not used to spicy or too hot food. This is both. I enjoy it anyway.

Trip to China 2019-2020. Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. December 27th.

While preparing the trip, I found a few ways to get to the top attraction at Chengdu: the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. The research base is in the outskirts of the city but there are many group tours that make it easy to get there. I also see taxis arriving at the entrance. But, I decide to go by bus number 198A. It seems not very popular, at least at this time of the day, but there is a couple of parents with their kinds.

I got early to the base, and not just to avoid the crowds. Early in the morning, their caretakers bring the bamboo and the pandas are more active. Later on, most of the panda activity limits itself to lay on the ground and do very little, or – if one is lucky enough – the panda will lay on a tree making for a slightly interesting picture.

The place is quite big, so, the first difficulty is to know where to go. There are many signs, but it is not clear how interesting will be the place. “Giant Panda Nursery” sounds cool but “Giant Panda Enclosure” seems a more sure place to find the pandas. I follow the guided groups and pass them when they stop here and there close by some sign for extra information.

I finally get to the “Giant Panda Nursery”, unluckily for me, there are no cubs. The newborns came to the base in September, by December all of them have left the nursery.

I continue walking around the park. After reading a few more signs, I get that there are two enclosures for Red Pandas and two more for Giant Pandas. There are also the nursery, science buildings and exhibition buildings.

Giant pandas become more active and playful. I catch several of them climbing trees and playing with their siblings. In the middle of all this activity, the caretakers bring the bamboo. I snap many pictures and some high-quality videos of the pandas eating.

It is an experience to see them use their opposable thumbs to slowly get the bamboo to their mouths or rip leaves apart. The only other time that I remember seeing pandas was at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. But, there, I only saw the panda from really far away. I was happy to get a glimpse of the animal, but, today, I got to see them very close, active and eating.

The red pandas are also beautiful animals. Their smaller size makes them harder to see, but, after eating they just lay still and one got in a perfect place for some pictures.

The rest of the base is a lovely park. Bamboo forests are crossed by the many paths. There is a big lake where black swans and other aquatic birds swim around. A cafeteria close by offers warm coffee and tea. Touristic shops are full of panda-themed clothes, cups, and all the usual tourist trinkets. And, there is also a museum with an art exhibit. All the art is panda-themed, as expected.

There are many hours left on the day. So, I go to visit the history museum. After so many visited museums, I start to get how artefacts have evolved in the history of china. Bronze, jade, pottery, and paintings narrate the country’s history.

In my way home, I pass by a big park with a market. I decide to purchase some Russian sweets, these imports make sense as China borders with Russia. I just take 3 or 4 pieces and the shopkeeper tells me that I can keep them for free. I feel bad about that and insist on paying. She adds up the amount and then rounds the price down. This time I smile and say thank you, that was a very nice gesture. Interestingly enough, I do not think that the woman spoke English. Everything became clear just using gestures.

I walk back to the hotel, it takes a couple of hours and I see some more interesting buildings by the river. It has been a long and interesting day.