We have ended up staying in Chengdu for the week and this morning were in the queue waiting for the PSB office to open after the holiday break to lodge our visas for another 30 day extension and we were the second ones to be attended to. They will be ready to pick up on Thursday, 14th October. However it says on the receipt that we are not to leave Chengdu but we have already booked a train ticket to Xi'an for tomorrow night. We have however found out that the hostel we have booked in to are quite happy to accept a copy of our passports as well as the receipt from the PSB about our Visa extension. When we check into our accommodation our passports and Visa are scanned and then sent off to the PSB.
Last weekend we did a fair amount of walking around Chengdu and visited some of the old traditional parts of the city and also the big square with a large statue of Chairman Mao over looking the square. There was an area in the middle where people were lined up and systematically let down below street level into this area. We were very curious as to what was happening down there and wondered if there was some sort of show or exhibition down there. A few days later when not so crowded we went and had a look to find that it is one of the stations on the new underground metro system that has only opened up this year.
On Sunday when down in the centre of the city we discovered that the Russian Ballet were performing Swan Lake for two nights so Joy and I booked tickets and we went to see it on Monday night - loved it but there it was certainly not a full house by any means, although there were a lot of young people and children there.
We are staying at the Mix hostel here in Chengdu and they are very switched on and arrange tours etc. so on Tuesday six of us left in a mini van just after 6am for the 160km trip down to Leshan to see the Great Buddha. We were there just before 9am and already there were thousands of people there. After getting our tickets we waited in queues for 2.5hrs to go on down to see the Buddha. The enormous (71m) high Dafo (Great Buddha) is carved into the red sandstone face of Lingyun Hill which overlooks the treacherous confluence of three rivers below. It was started in AD713, finished in AD803 and is a UNESCO world Heritage site. His statistics are: feet 8m, each ear droops 7m, shoulders span 28m while his nose measures 5.6m. the statue must be restored every decade to survive plant invasion and pollution. To get down to it we had to negotiate what is called the Nine Turns staircase which is a steep, narrow set of steps down to the toes. There are lots of caves and grottoes surrounding the hillside as well as several temples. We arrived back at the hostel just before 4pm feeling exhausted as the little minivan that we went in was not the most comfortable.
On Wednesday Dave and I caught a bus down to the southern area of the city as we had read that in that area you can get prescription glasses for very little cost as when Dave had his couple of falls at the boat he has bent and damaged the arms of his glasses, although still just wearable! We got down there but oh dear was it hard trying to explain what we wanted, even though we had a translation for some of what we wanted. We went into a music shop to see if there was someone there that spoke English and could write down in Chinese what we wanted. A girl there could speak English and in the end she came along with us to translate. The upshot was that we were told that because Dave was "old" they could not give him progressive glasses and that he would need two pairs of glasses and that there was a problem with his eyes. We then tried to get some new frames for his current lenses there plus a couple of other places but had no joy. After having some lunch we then went and had a look through a Computer Megamall - it was huge, just like a Harvey Norman store but with only computers and every make and model that you can think of. Prices were only a fraction cheaper than what they are in NZ but then again you could probably negotiate and as we had no intention of buying one didn't try to get any prices.
Yesterday we decided we would try out the new Metro and so opted to go to the northern most station and have a look at the area. It was certainly in the low socio economic area and we wondered around the market and a bit of the town after doing the circuit on the local bus. Went into a place for lunch - no English spoken but we were the star attraction, tried to order one plate of dumplings which appeared to be their specialty and got two, ordered a bottle of water and got a lychee drink and then Grandma who was the dumpling maker wanted to have photos with us. All rather entertaining.
After doing the Visa thing this morning we have had a quiet day but tonight at the hostel and every Friday night they have a dumpling night which is a free meal for guests here and we all help make the dumplings - Joy and I joined in last week and will do so tonight but the men seem to want to go elsewhere to eat. The dumplings yesterday had a meat mixture in but there was not a lot of flavour to them but the ones we had last week were very tasty with a finely chopped cabbage, cooked egg and ginger mixture inside with a tasty, spicy sauce to dip them in.
The construction that is going on in China is amazing with new buildings, pavements and roads. All the pavements are being replaced here because of the new underground and most of it is all being done by hand with the digging up being done with a pick and coal chisel and the concrete all mixed by hand. Even saw buckets of concrete being hauled up 7 stories in a 5 litre bucket using a pulley system. There are even women out shovelling concrete and breaking up the old concrete. Paving stones are being used to replace the pavements. At pedestrian crossings when the lights go green for pedestrians you do battle with at least 10 cars and 50 e bikes (electric bikes) and cyclists. Cars and buses never stick to their lanes and are often coming at you on the wrong side of the road.
Last Saturday morning we had some exciting news when we received an email from our eldest son Cameron, saying that they had a new baby daughter, Amelie Jane who was born at 11.19pm on Friday, 1st October weighing in at 3275 grams. I am really looking forward to seeing her when I fly from Auckland to Christchurch on 10th November. Amelie is now the fifth grandchild for us.
On Monday we caught a 10.30am bus from Shangri-La to Lijiang and we were lucky enough to be on a double decker bus which had luggage stored on the bottom and passengers up top and it was certainly a faster and more comfortable trip than the one we had going up to Shangri-La and once again had lovely views of the Yangzi river and some of its tributaries. Arrived in Lijiang mid afternoon and used the same accommodation as the previous time - a bit of a dive, but cheap and right in the middle of the square. Once in our accommodation Joy and I went to try and sort out train tickets from Panzhihua to Chengdu (with no success) and bus tickets from Lijiang to Panzhihua (with success).
Tuesday morning we caught an 8.30am bus from Lijiang to Panzhihua. We were hoping we were going to get a nice coach like the previous day but no such luck. However we had a great trip and the scenery was wonderful until about the last 50km when the landscape was marred by predominantly coal mining which is absolutely huge in the Panzhihua area. I don't think I have ever seen so many trucks on the road, mostly loaded with coal, consequently they had really damaged the concrete road so the last 30km especially was pretty rough. Cars and buses never stick to the right side of the road so had some pretty close shaves - they move over to the right side when they see a vehicle coming - no wonder we find the Asian drivers shocking when they come to NZ. Finally arrived in Panzhihua just before 2pm and then caught a bus to the railway station which was 28km away so took an hour. Got to the train station and as we are now in peak holidays for 2 weeks - China Day today, 1st October - the only tickets we could get were stand up ones and with a 14 ½ hr trip ahead of us there was no way we were going to do that so booked for the next day but could only get a hard seat so we had to be satisfied with that, which was not something to look forward to. We then went and found a hotel for the night. Had a bit of a look around the area the next day before catching the train at 3.15pm. Was a terrible trip and we virtually got no sleep and the train was absolutely packed. We have no desire to take a hard seat for a journey like that again! Arrived here in Chengdu at 5.45am yesterday morning and got a taxi to the hostel we are presently staying at. As they serve meals here we had breakfast and I then had a shower and had plans to go and have a sleep. However that was not to be as our Chinese Visa has to be renewed for another 30 days as it expires on 8th October so we headed off down to the PSB (Public Service Bureau) to get our Visas done. The computers were all down and we could not hand them in and they are going to be closed until next Friday and it takes five working days so are not sure what we are going to do but went back to the hostel and had a sleep for a couple of hours after lunch. We can visit the Big Buddha which is 160km from here and one staff member told us that we can get it done in that town in a day, but then today we heard from a different person that it takes two days so we do not know what to believe. With the holiday season being so long no matter where we are we are going to have a problem so we are in a bit of a dilemma.
This morning we did a trip out to the Panda Research station and saw the pandas which are lovely. Saw some baby ones in a protected environment inside but could only look through a window at them and were not allowed to take photos. They are doing a great job there as out in the wild they are just about becoming extinct as the baby pandas chance of survival in the wild is minimal as they only weigh 100grams at birth and are usually born prematurely. If a mother has twins one of them usually dies as she can only take care of one at a time. This afternoon has spent relaxing as it is a wet day here and not very inviting to go exploring.
This morning we had breakfast at Helen's Cafe and then we went off with a guy in a mini van with Helen as our English speaking guide to do a couple of farm visits. We ended up being taken to the driver's property where we partook of some Yak butter tea which is a traditional drink, along with yak cheese (quite tart), yak yoghurt, Tibetan traditional bread and ground barley. We weren't too fussed on the yak butter tea and the ground barley is usually mixed up into a ball with the yak butter tea. The house is three storied with animals being kept under the house in winter, living quarters in the middle section and the upper story is used for storing hay. The walls are made of mud brick and lightly plastered and the inside is lined with wood. They have very few windows in their houses, in order to keep warm in winter. The living area in the house we visited was quite large and the walls were quite ornate with carving etc. as you can see in the photographs. Our driver was the grandfather, daughter served us the food and Grandma and son-in-law were out doing the farm work.
We also visited another farm which was using a small 17-18hp tractor to plough a paddock but only using a single furrow plough, also in the paddock were two yaks pulling a single furrow plough. Until we came to Shangri-La we had not seen any tractors in use. Dave and Jim were pretty intrigued with the tractors as they have a flywheel and are quite different to what we are used to, not sure how many cylinders they had. They also grow a fodder that looks similar to turnips and these are also put on the drying racks along with barley straw. Generally it seems that the women do most of the physical work on the farms and these are always the older women. None of the young women seem to work on the farms so unless in the next few years the farms become more mechanised there is certainly going to be a shortage of labour.
This morning I was suffering from altitude sickness but we had met an Irish couple yesterday and we saw them again this morning and they gave us all a tea type thing to drink in a glass of hot water which they had been advised to use by a Tibetan monk so after having taken it and drunk the tea type mixture, within a couple of hours felt much better. When we arrived back to Helen's cafe she gave us a tea mixture which is also for altitude sickness and we had several cups of that. Jim was feeling pretty terrible and he had to agree that after taking it he felt much better. Dave is the only one that hasn't had any effects from the high altitude, other than every now and then having to take a deep breath.
Tomorrow we head off back to Lijiang for the night and then on Tuesday morning hope to catch a bus to Panzhihua and from there do a 13hr trip on an overnight train to Chengdu. It is a long and arduous trip to do it by bus, something like 28hrs.