Thursday, April 30, 2015

Poets and Pandas in Chengdu


One week after the more-than-daylong return trip from China, the jet lag yet lingers. Which is why I didn't post this yesterday. But I have hopes of catching up across the board soon.  Meanwhile...


Our group of six intrepid travelers (myself, Marianne, Ellen Datlow, Eileen Gunn, Eileen's husband John Berry, and Ellen's friend Claire) began our tour of China in Chengdu.

Chengdu is a wonderful place to visit, and if it weren't far to the west, just below the Himalayas, and in competition with all the rest of China, it would be flooded with foreign tourists. As it was, a group of six Americans was a major photo op for many of the locals. There was a lot to see and, even with a tour guide, we didn't around to half of it.  But we did get to visit one of my favorite places in all China: the Thatched Cottage of Du Fu.

Du Fu was one of the two greatest poets of Chinese literature. (The other was Li Bai -- his friend.) He led a difficult and peripatetic life. Roughly 1,250 years ago, he lived for four years in a thatched cottage beside Flower Bathing Brook on what was then the outskirts of Chengdu. During that time, he wrote many of his greatest poems, including one about the cottage itself.

The cottage has been a tourist destination for over a thousand years. During that time, many great poets wrote major poems about the experience of visiting  the cottage.  Which was rebuilt, torn down, reconstructed, expanded to the size of a small palace (as befitted a poet of his stature) and then rebuilt into historians' best guess as to what it must have looked like and surrounded with the best gardens that Chinese landscaping could create.  Which is saying a lot.

If I lived in Chengdu, I would go there every day, find a quiet place to sit, and write.  Since I do not, I asked our guide to write Du Fu's name on a leaf I picked up from a walk. She did, I put it back, and then I took a photo of it.

And left it there.


Chengdu is famed for many things. (Weavers have been making brocade there for at least two thousand years and have, as a result, achieved preeminence.  Hence, one of its nicknames is Brocade City.)  Currently, it's probably best known for its panda preserve.

The preserve is chiefly a place for the study of preservation of pandas. But it also serves as a zoo.  It's a large and sprawling place with a denser population of pandas than you'll find anywhere else in the world. (Pandas are very territorial.)

The last time I was in Chengdu, I had the experience of holding a young panda on my lap. Alas, an outbreak of distemper closed down that option.  But they were still well worth seeing. As witness the brief film below:


One of the many other pandas, Gong Zai, was the model animators used for inspiration when creating the movie Kung Fu Panda.  This was a fact our guide was very careful to impart, and there was a certain amount of signage about this fact as well.  Which just goes to show that Story is King.  We were standing in the largest such facility in the world, an extraordinary place engaged on extraordinary work of great value... and its role in an animated film was being used to add luster to the experience.

If you want to be a big deal somewhere locally, write a story about it.  Or, as Du Fu learned, a poem.

Above: Photo credit me. You should see the waterfall.  And the koi.


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