Our flight to Chengdu was delayed. Considering panda viewing was at stake, I was less than amused. However, when we reached the two hour mark of waiting for our flight, the attendants announced that we would be receiving a free meal. Now, I know airport food tends to suck. But I still envisioned noodles, wontons, or perhaps even a nice fried rice. Chinese food isn't always fancy so surely they could throw together a little instant noodle cup for us, right?
We got this. Rice, buttered cabbage, mystery meat, and a cracked egg.
Located in the old city of Chengdu, Jinli Ancient Street is an area which features old style hotels and stores. Though most of the buildings are actually new (and yes, that is a Starbucks).
We ventured to this street not for the architecture but rather to see if Jinli lived up to its other nickname, Snack Street.
We sampled our way through the street, tasting noodles, dumplings, and finished off our meal with walnut cakes. While not as impressive as the street food we sampled previously in Xi'An, Jinli Ancient Street is not a bad place to grab food while traveling through Chengdu.
We arose early on Saturday morning and headed to Mount Emei, one of four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. Mount Emei is home to China's first Buddhist temple and over seventy monasteries now dot the side of the mountain.
We boarded buses at the base of the mountain and rode for two hours towards the 10,000 foot (3,000 meter) summit. Along the way, we caught glimpses of the mountain but were mostly met with rain and mist.
After the bus ride and a 15 minute hike, we arrived at the cable car which would take us to the top. Sadly, we were greeted by rain and thick fog. At this point, I wasn't exactly sure what kind of view we were going to see.
We disembarked and found that snow was lining the sides of the trails. We stopped for a quick milk tea to warm our hands and continued the short hike to the summit.
Unfortunately, upon arriving at the top, we found ourselves standing among the clouds that we were supposed to be peering down upon. Not exactly the picturesque view we had hoped for.
At times, the clouds were so thick that we could barely make out the silhouettes of others at the summit.
We wandered around for a bit, visiting the gold and silver temples which sit upon the mountain top. We also saw countless locks fastened to the railings along the summit. Called Lovers Locks, the Chinese engrave their initials and that of their loved one onto the lock. Then they fasten it to the rail and throw the key off the side of the mountain, signifying their eternal love.
And just as we prepared to head back down the mountain, our fortunes (or perhaps just the wind) shifted and the cloud forest began to appear below us.
We started in awe at the view below for a few minutes and watched as the sun melted the snow around us. Heading back down the mountain, we remarked how serene and peaceful the mountain had seemed. That is, until K got bitten by a monkey. Then the rest of our trip consisted of blood, shots, and four letter words.
I used to have what I thought was an irrational fear of monkeys. Turns out, my aversion wasn't so irrational. While visiting Emei Shan, my college friend was bitten by a wild monkey.
And while his ordeal became a common tale at bars throughout the rest of his stay, I'm pretty sure he would have preferred to leave China without this rather painful memento. So in honor of K and his monkey bitten arm, here are a few tips on how to avoid adding a monkey bite to your medical history.
Yep, you read the correctly. Monkeys, smart as they are, don't know the difference between showing off your pearly whites for a photo opportunity and baring your teeth as a form of aggression. If a monkey does appear aggressive, avoid eye contact and back away slowly while facing it. Running will only invite the monkey to attack.
Here is K getting waaaay to close to a monkey. And no, this wasn't the one which later bit him.
Don't feed the monkeys.
Sure, it can be tempting to hand the monkey a piece of food when you see dozens of other tourists doing it. It's even kind of cute to watch their little hands fumble over the treats. But it's not a good idea as monkeys can become aggression when food is involved (as K found out). If you still insist on feeding the monkeys, refrain from doing so by hand and place the food on the ground instead.
If the monkey wants it, let him have it.
This was K's mistake. He attempted to feed the monkey (error number 1) and when the monkey appeared disinterested in his offering, K attempted to take the food away to share with another monkey. This was when the monkey bit him, breaking the skin, and sending K on a pilgrimage to multiple doctors which would end with over a thousand U.S. dollars worth of medical bills.
So if the monkey wants it (or maybe even doesn't), let him have it. Apparently the majority of tourists are bitten in situations when the monkey grabs onto something, such as the strap of a camera, jewelry, food, or a water bottle, and the human tries to get it back. If you let the item go, chances are the monkey will drop it after a quick inspection.
Don't touch the monkeys.
Monkeys may climb onto your shoulders. Terrifying, I know. Don't panic and try to remove it. Instead, stay still and allow the monkey to jump off when it’s ready. This is easier said than done because I'm pretty sure I would run away shrieking had one of these little buggers climbed onto me.
So what should you do if you still manage to get bitten by a monkey?
First, remain calm. While monkeys can transmit rabies, Chinese monkeys rarely carry the disease. That being said, get your butt to a clinic pronto. Here, the doctors will ensure that your wound has been properly cleaned in order to avoid infection. They will likely also recommend a course of rabies vaccinations. K was able to visit the clinic located directly on the mountain where he received his first round of rabies vaccinations.
Rabies immunoglobulin, a rather important part of the post bite treatment, is not widely available. When it is available, it’s expensive. We visited the international hospital upon our return to Shanghai, where K was able to get the immunoglobulin shots. Directly into his thighs. Additionally, he had to undergo more shots upon his return to the US as well as screenings for additional diseases like hepatitis and herpes. Not exactly the type of souvenirs he had hoped to bring home from his trip.
In the end, remember that monkeys are wild animals. Sure, they may be used to the droves of humans that frequent their habitat, but that doesn't make them pets. Exercise caution should you encounter one and for the love of God, try not to get bitten.
After viewing the Giant Buddah, we tucked into some local cuisine and spent the remainder of our evening at the Sichuan Opera. If you want to view a traditional opera, this isn't going to be your cup of tea. But if you want to watch shadow puppets, contortionists, acts of incredible strength, and some cheesy dancing, you've come to the right place.
My favorite part of the night was the changing of the masks, a staple of the Sichuan Opera. Called biàn liǎn (which literally means face changing), the changing of the masks is an ancient Chinese art in which performers wear brightly colored costumes and masks which they change from one face to another almost instantaneously with the swipe of a fan, a movement of the head, or wave of the hand.
The secret for how to accomplish this quick face change is a closely guarded secret among performers which is passed down from one generation to the next within families.
Is the show touristy? Absolutely. But I still enjoyed myself and was pleasantly surprised to understand more of the language than I would have expected. I guess all my Chinese lessons are paying off! But don't let the language barrier stop you from seeing this over the top spectacle if you find yourself with a free night in Leshan.
We are incredibly fortunate to have a number of friends visiting us this spring. Just one day after saying goodbye to our friends in Hong Kong, a good friend from our college years arrived in Shanghai.
With a love of spicy food and cuddly animals (we'll get to that in another post), we traveled to the Southwestern province of Sichuan for a few days of exploring.
Our first morning, we drove to Leshan, home to the Leshan Giant Buddah. Carved out of a cliff face that lies at the intersection of three rivers, the Giant Buddha sits 230 feet or 71 meters high.
Construction of the Buddah began in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Haitong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued ships traveling down the river.
When funding for the project was threatened, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show his piety and sincerity. That's dedication, people. After his death, construction stopped due to insufficient funding. 70 years later, construction was completed by Haitong's disciples.
Apparently the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships, just as Haitong had hoped.
Our guide informed me that touching the eyebrow would ensure there was always happiness in my marriage. I'm not overly superstitious but I figured it was worth playing along.
After viewing the Buddah from above, we walked down a set of rather treacherous stairs to the base of the Buddah.
Fellow travelers have told horror stories of waiting hours to see the Giant Buddah. We simply walked up, making March the perfect time of year to view this stone masterpiece.
After a morning in Stanley, we wandered to Kowloon for the remainder of the day. Our first stop, high tea at the Peninsula Hotel.
Tea service starts at 2pm but following the advice of other travelers, we arrived around 1:30pm. After a short 15 minute wait, we were seated. Fellow diners who arrived after 2pm were treated to a wait of over an hour. While the tea was delicious, I'm pretty sure my feelings towards it would have soured had we needed to wait that long for a table.
After filling out bellies with scones and finger sandwiches we retired to our hotel for a short rest. Then it was back to Kowloon to check out the Temple Street night market, a colorful street fair full of food and wares being peddled by locals.
After exploring the night market, we made our way to Aqua for dinner, drinks, and incredible views of Hong Kong.
We capped off the night with a ride across the harbor on the iconic Star Ferry. And with that, we bid farewell to a fabulous few days in Hong Kong.
We headed to Stanley, on the south east coast of Hong Kong Island, on our second day in Hong Kong. It was quickly clear that this area of Hong Kong was dripping with money and reminded me quite a bit of the California coast.
Our first stop of the day was Stanley Market. There was stall after stall of ornaments, pictures, artwork, and clothing including a selection of both Chinese goods as well as western brands at discount prices. I can understand the appeal of this market to many tourists, but I found the items to be much the same as I can find in Shanghai and we found ourselves walking through rather quickly.
Our next adventure was perhaps my favorite of the entire trip. As we rounded the corner, we suddenly heard the excited cries of children and promptly saw a heard of small schoolmates running towards us, limbs waving wildly.
They were students at a local school, working on a project about tourism in Hong Kong. They asked us questions about where we came from, how long we planned to visit, if we liked Hong Kong, and what our favorite attraction had been thus far.
We finished our interviews with the first group of children, only to be approached by another group seconds later. And then another. And another. And another.
I debated hiding from the kids at this point, but then I would have missed out on amusing photos such as this one.