We arrived in Chengdu at 11pm on February 2nd (after 24 hours of grueling airplane travel with a 2 year old and 11 bags of luggage filled with research equipment). Chengdu is about 2 hours by car outside of Ya’an city, so a driver had to come and pick us up on the morning of the 3rd. In case you were wondering where Ya’an is:
We got into Ya’an at about 1pm and had to sign papers for our apartment and get settled in. I’ll share some photos of our apartment in a couple of days (I feel compelled to blog about local life in China since Diana and Julia shared local life in their neck of the woods!).
Nate, Dee, and I will be stationed in an apartment in Ya’an and I will commute up to the Bi Feng Xia Panda Base every day by the staff bus (about a 30 minute drive into the mountains). Ya’an city is considered a “small” city by Chinese standards but has a population of 1.5 million (about twice the size of Portland), so to Americans it is still quite sizable. We don’t have to live “in the field” like Julia. In Ya’an we get all the conveniences of city life in America. Easy access to shopping, food markets, internet, as well as hot water!
We met with the Dr. Zhou Xiaoping, one of the directors of the panda base, on the 5th when visited the base for the first time. We enjoyed our short time outside of the city and took the opportunity to walk around the base, say our hellos, and show Dee the pandas.
That night we went to the traditional Chinese welcome dinner. Typically, when guest researchers fly into China they have a very large dinner with all the directors. The dinners are situated around a large round table and huge quantities of beautiful and delicious food is brought out. Each person gets three different drinks; one glass of red wine, one pint glass or beer, and one shot of baijiu (the rice liquor here in China). You are expected to toast each person individually and they’re expected to toast you back. It is your choice which drink you take but you must drink the entire glass! The dinner we went to last night was pretty low key as most of the base members were still on holiday (secretly, I was a little glad as I’m not a big drinker and usually don’t hold up well during these dinners). Last night also marked the “Lantern Festival”, the end of the Chinese New Year festivities and for desert they traditionally eat Yuanxiao (glutinous rice ball) or Tangyuan. The fireworks in the city were incredible (and incredibly load) from our apartment.
And now I wait for the female pandas to go into estrous . . .stay tuned!