Largest Buddha in the World

Today, we ventured west to Leshan China to explore a rare site. We took a train, but you can also take buses or private cars. It is about an hour and a half away from Chengdu. One important thing to remember is that you need your passport or citizen ID card to get into train stations. Your ticket must match the ID or passport number or they will not even allow you to get into the station. Only one door is open for the entire station for security checks and the queues to get through the one metal detector and x-ray machine can get a little feisty.

Now, once we got into the city, I do not recall anything very memorable and there are not many large hotels or restaurants catering to foreigners. The city itself is not that interesting, but we wanted to visit the ship port on the Min river.

Like many rivers, it is a bit polluted, but there is some awesome historic scenery if when you take a public or charter boat ride on the river.

There are a lot of boats and offers available…no worries there. The quality of the boats and the amenities may be a little questionable, but I digress. Hint: use the public bathrooms at the port and never depend on the bathrooms that (may) be working on the boats…

so what was the goal and highlight of our adventure today after hours of bus and train rides? There are some enormous red cliffs along the river which are quite popular with locals, hikers and tourists. I estimate that they are 400 meters high and the narrow steps are quite steep.

It is hard to take a picture of the Buddha because it is so large..even when you are at a distance on a boat on the river. Take a look at the eyes. They follow you and watch you from whatever angle you move. He is watching you!

Apparently, this was built around or near the 1st emperor in China and took almost 90 years to carve out and complete. It is carved out of the granite of the mountain next to the river.

On each side of the Buddha are the two protectors. One is quite worn down, but this one must be 100 feet tall to his side.

It is bit of the way and in the far west of China, but is a once in a lifetime location/site everyone should go see.

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Panda Bears!

We took a day trip outside Chengdu to visit the Dujiangyan Panda Base. It is about 1.5 hours by bus outside of Chengdu.

You have two choices:

1. You can walk up the big hills to explore some of the large enclaves where individual pandas live and eat (mostly eat)

2. You can gear up into sanitized suits to go feed a panda by hand.

You can guess our choice!

I never realized that I am not sure I have ever seen a panda bear in real life before.

And then, all of a sudden, the opportunity to meet and see at least a dozen appeared! There are actually less then 2,000 pandas living in the wild or captivity in the entire world.

Yes, pandas love to eat. That is all they do. They eat like 40 pounds a day as they only retain about 15% of the bamboo they chow down every day.

They are pretty much lazy to conserve energy. But the youngsters can sometimes be different like most kids around the world. Here was two young pandas that decided it was WWF wrestling time and wanted their show to go viral.

Pandas mostly like and eat bamboo, but when they get a chance to eat a Michelin star carrot dish, they cannot resist the opportunity!

Who can resist being hand fed by a famous chef from television? Just like in a modern kitchen, you have to be careful, sticking your hand into the cage is like sticking your hand in a hot gas stove. The panda may get confused and try the hand carrot as a potential dessert!

The hidden gem of this research base was the opportunity to catch a view of a few red pandas sneaking around in the trees. They are very shy and stealthy.  Interestingly, they are called pandas, but they are really more related to raccoons. It was still a fun way to see some rare wildlife without being in a classic zoo with all the restrictions.

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First Day in Chengdu

Today was mostly a travel day to get settled in a new city.

Apparently, Chengdu is very similar to Seattle. It is almost always overcast, lots of light drizzle and it almost never freezes. Notice the similar space needle?

The St. Regis Chengdu hotel is a fantastic choice in the middle of the city near shopping and many attractions within walking distance. See – – it is just like Seattle. There is a Starbucks on every corner!

and every night they take a samurai sword and cut open a bottle of great French champagne to kick off happy hour!

Of I had to sneak in a run. It was a little challenging with all the downtown traffic, crowds, bikes and cars that ignore all traffic lights…

Oh yes, the traffic is bad. Not sure who is going to succeed getting this one remaining parking spot…16 million people and 6 million card!

But the trick for overseas runners is to find a river or water as there is likely to be a biking or running trail. Bingo!

After checking into the hotel, we got a chance to go visit and pray at the WenShu Temple and Monastery which is quite famous in the Sichuan province.

Out of respect, we do not take any pictures of Buddha or the individual prayer halls. I did capture a shot of the famous wooden fish though…

At the end of the day, we got to spend a little time walking down Jinlixi street, explore the older style area and then go visit the The Sichuan Opera scene.

We went into the Shu Feng Ya Yun teahouse.  It was was quite fun and entertaining.  A great mix of dancing, opera, and the famous mask changing characters.  One of the unusual side benefits of this tea house is you can either have your ears cleaned or get a chair massage on the sides.  I passed on this one, but many people do not!

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Xi’an Muslim Quarter

Today, we had a fun opportunity to take a stroll through the possibly famous or at least popular Muslim Quarter and market in Xi’an.

Very friendly, very safe, very colorful and entertaining area.

The hardest challenge in the market was to not purchase or sample some of the local delicacies.  Xi’an is known for its noodles and this was one shop that was hard to pass up, but we did not want to spoil our dinner plans.

Once in market, you can take a side street and go visit the famous Great Mosque.  It is certainly quite old, but represents a lot of history for the large Sunni population in Xi’an.

There are about 4 rings/walls or layers in the compound which are full of architecture and historical buildings.

You cannot enter the mosque, but it is setup for daily prayers for approximately 1,000 people.  You can see that they have prayer rugs for everyone and you do not need to bring your own.

Unfortunately, we were planned to only spend 2 days in Xi’an which is disappointing as it is a really nice city. We were really enjoying trying out some of the local foods.  Since we are taking a high speed train south tomorrow, we went to the local supersized grocery store to pick up some tasty snacks for the long ride.

The train station in Xi’an is massive in size.  There are not any shops or stores in the station like you would see in Beijing, but there are few local food stands if you are hungry while waiting for your train.  Unfortunately, we were so early, the popular “duck neck” shop was not open so we missed out before boarding our train.

I have to admit, the bathrooms on the train were actually decent in size and quite clean.  You are gently warned before using them that since they are sterilized, you MUST use them at ease!

Stay tuned to tomorrow, will be having some surprise updates planned!

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Terracotta Warriors

After a great local dinner last night here at the Hyatt Regency in Xi’an, it decided it was the time of year to begin raining.

But I could pass up the opportunity to have an early morning run in the nearby lake and park which has actually had a rubberized running trail!

It was pouring rain, but a well let and scenic set of sculptures and artwork around the entire lake. As a recovery, I could not resist have a few extra local specialty Xi’an meat pastries. They may be called “Jia-mo”. Some locals call them “Meat burgers” on the street. Yummy!

From there, we drove about an hour to get an early start to exploring some of the recently excavated pits from the first emperor of China back in the 220 BC era.

Emperor Qin builr the start of the great wall as well as the massive Terracotta warrior tombs.  All the warriors were broken and attacked vandals and they were subsequently repaired.  His empire also started the first written script in China.

Believe or not, these tombs and warriors were not found until a few years after I was born by local farmers.

Despite 40+ years, they are still performing daily research, analysis, excavation and reconstruction of the uncovered warriors and animals.

Not many officers or general warriors have been found in the tombs. This was one of the rare ones they have recovered and preserved for everyone to get a close look at the excruciatingly detailed design and sculpture of each and every warrior. There are thousands and thousands of these in the pits and only a small percentage have even been uncovered to date.

What is the worst part of this site and museum? If you are not in the site by 9AM, you will be mobbed and pushed aside by hundreds of attacking tourist zhombies. Here they come!

What was the worst and most surprisingly tourist gift that was being sold everywhere? These little figurines and “spring water” vending machines everywhere. Did not understand this one…

What was the post popular exhibit in all the museum halls? The reconstructed bronze chariot. This room was crammed tight like a Lady Gaga concert with no room to even move as everyone wanted to take selfies with it. Yes, it took 8 years to build it from all the tiny pieces, but wow, the paparazzi love it more than your favorite celebrity!

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Xi’an China

After a great couple of days in Beijing, it was time to head west to Xi’an. The airport security was one of of the most diligent and furiously chaotic set of procedures I have ever seen. They ran around and checked everything. Then we spent a full hour taxiing on the runway since the airport was so busy. The plane was a large A330 and had entertainment in every seat, but the lunch snack was a single role with 1 slice of cheese. Drink? Only a bottle of water.

Let’s talk about Xi’an. The pollution is bad. The smog is everywhere and it is felt like Beijing 15 years ago.  This photo is quite generous…the smog is much worse than it looks.

Before heading to our hotel and the city center, we stopped to check out the underground tomb of the 4th emperor of the Han dynasty I believe. The above was a recreation of one of the gates to the giant mound and compound.  I think this is the tomb of Tomb of Emperor Jingdi.

It was a great teaser for tomorrow (stay tuned to this channel) and the above is a great high level representation of the overall tomb and all the burials.

This tomb is quite incredible and what is unique is all of the burial characters are miniature people and animals.

Check out the waves of the piglets getting ready to attack!

It was a long day, but I have to admit a local beer was quite tasty to relax on the bus ride to the hotel and the city center. What was the surprise was the beer has a classic tear off opening like the 1970s in the United States…

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Imperial Beijing

Today was an opportunity to do a little more historic exploring in the classic (and political) sites of Beijing.

Yep, we went to Tiananmen Square first, and there are MASSIVE crowds.  It is not small or a small number of visitors…it is 10s of thousands of people.

What are all the people lining up for?  They all want to see Mao’s tomb.  The lines are at least 2 hours long for a less than 5 minute visit to the historic mausoleum.

However, what is the #1 reason everyone visits the square and the center of Beijing?  To go visit and explore the Forbidden City!

Oh yes, the crowds (even in late October) are huge and the lines are long.  But they move fast and you can get into the palace and begin exploring quickly.

The challenge is: how much time do you spend?  The Imperial Palace is massive and it could take you a week to see it all!

However, there is a ton of history, stories and amazing architecture for its time inside.  It is worth a couple of hours to explore.

I only wish I had more space and better Internet connection to post more pics!

We actually ran into a couple of celebrities who were getting their pictures taken outside for a media promotion I think…

We also went to visit the Temple of Heaven and park.  It is a massive park and larger than Central Park in NYC I hear…but no lake or water.

It is very popular for both tourists and locals that want to just visit and play cards or checkers.

The temple is quite large and inspirational, but the museums and the limitations to see inside the temple were quite disappointing.

You have to fight for a spot for in one of the windows to actually sneak a peak and get an idea of what the famous woodwork and decor actually look like.  I guess this is the challenge when 10,000 a people a day may come and visit this site…

Well, it was a great day, and we popped down the street (1/2 kilometer) to go check out the “Pearl Market”.  What is the Pearl Market?  A great counterfeit mall with multiple levels!  You can get automatic watches for only $15!  Overall, they were not too aggressive and if you have the experience, it is a great place to get some great deals without too much pressure.  🙂

 

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