Prologue: A couple of years ago, Nancy hosted a couple of “thirty-somethings” visiting the bay area from Chengdu which is the capital of Sichuan Province. I wonder how many Americans have even heard of Chengdu which has a population of 10.5 million people compared to the most populous city in America (NYC) which has 8.5 million yet Chengdu still ranks as only number five in terms of population in China. Two million more people than New York. Now, repeat after me: “rén shān rén hǎi” (人山人海) This translates as: “People, mountain, people, sea” and that’s the Chinese phrase for: “It’s crowded.” It’s what I usually mutter under my breath repeatedly when I’m taking the subway. For those who are astute observers, yes, the upside down wishbone above does mean “people.” See, you just learned your first mandarin character; stick with me!
Where was I? Oh yes, Richard and Agnes hit it off with Nancy when they stayed with her in Marin and when she contacted them months ago to tell them that she was coming to China they were quite thrilled and without too much convincing, Chengdu was on our short list of places to visit. Besides, it’s the home of the Giant Panda and Sophie is somewhat animal-crazed having grown up on a steady diet of “Animal Planet” (ask her about “Dogs 101.”) So we actually had friends to visit in Chengdu who were quite excited to show us around. How lucky can you get?
We arrived in the early afternoon of Friday, October 28. On an aside: It’s already been one month since then. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago; time flies! This was the arrival where no one met us at the airport to pick us up. We were on our own to secure a (much dreaded) taxi. How I loathed walking out of the airport, assaulted by people trying to get us into their cabs. Ugh, it was like being in a Middle-Eastern rug market. “Armed” with my “limited” Chinese (“limited” in the same way you’d say Donald Trump has limited empathy, which is none, really.) I negotiated a fare about twice what we were told we’d pay. I certainly could have used Trump’s “really good brain” to negotiate a better deal.
We got to the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Chengdu without any problems although I distinctly remember the taxi driver laughing as I paid him. At that point, I knew I had paid too much. Either that or I gave him more money than we had agreed upon because, although I have learned Chinese numbers, I probably screwed it up in his favor. Or both.
So, about the Ritz-Carlton. It occupies the top floors of a 41 floor building. You check in on the 25th floor and not surprisingly, it’s a pretty luxurious lobby they have there on twenty-five. It is the Ritz, after all. There was a large corporate group that had checked in and apparently that resulted in the rooms we had paid for not being available and therefore, we were told we were upgraded. OK, I thought, an upgrade is always welcome. We were given keycards and directed to our rooms on the 41st floor. Yes, the top floor which is usually a good sign in any nice hotel. As you can see from the photo below, that’s the floor housing the Presidential Suites. Now I was getting a bit excited about our upgrade as we ambled along the elegant hallway. We had adjoining rooms, with the usual doors separating both. However, I was given a presidential suite and they got a “standard” presidential room. Surely this was a sign that I have been truly blessed by Ceiling-Cat himself from above- See this blog’s header for picture of “C-C” although do NOT attempt to recreate his image in anyway! (“fleas be upon him.”) Well, it isn’t often I get to stay in a presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton, or any other presidential suite for that matter (once, to be exact!) so you’ll have to indulge all of the photos of my suite I have posted. Sweet, indeed!
I quickly changed and went to the exercise room. My only issue with staying in high-end properties is that the staff tends to be overly obsequious to the point of ridiculousness. I could barely exercise in peace without having someone come over to ensure my well-being and happiness with everything. Furthermore, I hate having someone open a door for me or bring me a towel. To be blunt, I hate being waited on and of course, that is the whole point of staying at a Ritz. I blame my ex-wife. I asked her months back why she wanted to stay there and she said a Ritz stay was on her “bucket-list” and as it was far more affordable in China than America, the Ritz is where we would stay: Without knowing for certain, I’m pretty sure I said: “Yes, dear” or words to that effect.
I’m not complaining, just explaining.
Richard and Agnes picked us up later that evening and took us to one of their favorite restaurants. We had a private room overlooking the river and dined grandly (see photos).
The next day they picked us up, early morning and took us to a Panda preserve. It was an interesting experience. The preserve was beautiful and the Pandas seemed well-pampered, not that they are very demanding creatures. Too, mobility and agility are most certainly not their strong suit. They are famously phlegmatic and at times it seemed to me as if I was photographing large, stuffed animals, their movement, especially ensconced in the trees- very, very minimal. The Red Pandas on the other hand resembled foxes more than Ursines and they appeared quite frisky. Signs abounded that although they appeared cute and playful, they were quite fierce and therefore, be aware!
After the Pandas, we headed back to town and stopped by a high-end mall for some potential shopping and lunch. We went to a hotpot restaurant but this one had a twist, as you can see from the pictures. Everyone had their own mini-hotpot and all of the food items passed by in bowls on a conveyor belt. Think of those sushi-bars with the sushi floating by on the little boats. It was by far the best hotpot experience I have had to date and I was disappointed to learn that this chain didn’t have any restaurants in Beijing.
After lunch they took us to a very touristy part of town which was comprised of several blocks jam-packed with stores and tourists. What do the Chinese say? Ah yes: “rén shān rén hǎi.” This is where we picked up gifts for friends and family.
It’s also where I somehow managed to lose my Chinese ATM card which as of this writing still hasn’t been replaced, as the replacement process is quite daunting. It first requires many phone calls and a few visits to the bank replete with lots and lots of paperwork. No one seems to be sure but some say that I will next get a visit at work from someone from the bank to make sure I’m me (apparently, if you have over a certain amount in your account, there are additional precautions taken.) Then, I will go to the bank later in the week to pick it up. Mind you, it won’t be ready to pick up. Rather, once I go in and they are completely satisfied that I am me, they will then strike a blank ATM card with my name and new account number. It’s actually easier to get a home loan in America than replace an ATM card in China. Just so you know.
We got back to the Ritz which is right next to a stadium which was hosting some teen heartthrob that night as you can see from the throngs of teenagers, mostly girls. What a kick!
So, this is probably an “overshare” but when I got back to my room I took a bath. Why not? Hell, there was a TV screen built into the wall and all sorts of salts and bromides to put in the bath although it wasn’t a jetted-tub. Sheesh, C’mon, Ritz; up your game, please! I cannot remember the last time I actually took a bath. I watched a CNN interview with a Hillary surrogate talking about what she will do once she’s elected. Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, we couldn’t luxuriate too much longer in this particular lap of luxury as we had to get up at 4am to catch a 6:30am flight to Guilin on Sunday morning, October 30. The cab driver deposited us at the wrong terminal and that was the one big hassle of our entire trip because it wasn’t too easy to figure out how to get to the terminal we needed to and it was too far to walk. We eventually found someone who spoke enough English to explain how to take the inter-terminal shuttle and soon we were on our way to Guilin in Guangxi Province. Guilin started out life as a small town founded in the first century, BCE. Now THAT’s old!