My last entry about pandas was short because I think it would be much more interesting to show you pandas than write too much about it. After a great day with the pandas and really enjoying the tour I decided to book another tour from my hostel for the next day. There was a lot more to see in Chengdu than I had read about and I didn’t realise the Leshan Giant Buddha was so close to Chengdu and that was a site I had read about and wanted to see but didn’t think I would be going near that area to see it.
The Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone Buddha in the world, it is carved out of the cliff face next to a river. There were many boats that were lost in the river near that area and so a monk decided to carve a Buddha statue out of the rock next to the river to calm the waters, after the Buddha statue was completed there were few boats lost and the river became very safe so the statue became a very sacred site. The amount of stone moved from carving statue is thought to explain why the river became much calmer and safer after construction of the Buddha was completed.
I had a look at the tours and decided to book one that included Mt Emei as well, the guy behind the hostel desk said “it’s a Chinese tour”, I asked him “they can just drop me there and I can wander around on my own and meet the group later” and he replied “sure, but there’s no English on the tour”. The previous tour at the panda base was basically just a driver picks up and drops you at the place, then picks up from the same place later in the day. The driver didn’t speak English and we didn’t have a tour guide so I assumed this would be the same and it wouldn’t matter. I also was over confident on my Mandarin ability which I now know is really only fluent for ordering a bottle of beer and saying a price is too expensive.
The tour guide picked me up in the morning and we drove around and picked up lots of other Chinese people and nobody spoke any English. We got to the first stop and met the tour guide who asked me if I spoke any Mandarin, I replied “I speak Mandarin a little but not very well” in perfect Mandarin, she then asked me another question and I had absolutely no idea what she was saying, so I replied in perfect Mandarin “Sorry, I don’t understand”, that would be the phrase I would use the most for the rest of the day. I really overestimated my Mandarin abilities and underestimated how much time would be spent with tour guides and people who didn’t speak any English.
The tour guide took us around explaining the history of the mountain in Mandarin and for the first 15 minutes I pretended I was really interested and understood everything she was saying. When other people made noises as though they were impressed or interested by something that was said I would copy, when other people took out their cameras to take a photo I would do the same, I was really blending in well, nobody could tell I shouldn’t have been on that tour. Until the first stop when the tour guide started speaking to people and they all walked off in different directions and I was standing there still pretending to look fascinated by what was being said.
“Toilet” the tour guide yelled at me, “Ok” I said, assuming she was telling me that where she was going, “No, you go”, I was confused for a second as to why she was demanding that I go to the toilet, “No, I don’t need to go” I replied “I don’t speak English real good” she replied and walked off seeming frustrated that she was stuck with an idiot who couldn’t understand basic sentences. This was the first hour of an 8 hour day, it’s going to be a very very long day I thought.
The tour guide spoke more English than she was letting on but couldn’t do the tour in English, she was helpful after the first stop and said I could walk ahead if I didn’t understand and meet the group later. This was what I was expecting the tour to be so I was happy with this, I met the group at the entrance to the stairs to walk down along side the giant Buddha.
The The Leshan Giant Buddha is huge, it’s hard to tell without the comparison of a person for size but the a human standing upright is shorter than it’s smallest toe. It really was so much bigger than I was expecting, I was more impressed with this than the terracotta warriors.
After the Leshan Buddha we went for lunch, our tour guide stayed and I was again back with nobody who spoke English. I was presented with a menu in Chinese characters, there were no pictures and nothing that implied what the items were. Good luck trying to figure out what anything is on that menu I thought to myself, should I just point at something and take a chance. After seeing a 24 hour donkey meat burger restaurant in Beijing and knowing donkey penis was a delicacy I thought this was a terrible idea.
I can’t believe I didn’t learn to order any food when I was learning Mandarin, it now seems like the most obvious language phrases to learn, I ordered a beer which I knew easily and not a single word for food. The waiter looked annoyed at me and I said in Mandarin “Sorry, I don’t speak any Mandarin” he said “kung pow” and I nodded my head agreeing, I knew kung pow was a speciality of Chengdu and so I was happy with this. I just hoped I would get kung pow chicken and not kung pow donkey penis.
We finished lunch and headed to Mount Emei, the new tour guide was really lively and fun until she realised I didn’t speak a word of Mandarin, she stopped, looked at me and in an accent that for some reason sounded Italian she said “I no a speak a English”. I laughed and replied “I understand Mandarin a little” she then said something in Mandarin to which I replied “Sorry, I don’t understand” she laughed in a manner that was half amused and half wondering why the hell was I on her tour.
Luckily one of the younger Chinese girls on the tour spoke English and starting speaking to me, she was able to translate and that made the rest of the day a lot easier. I got on well with my tour guide with the help of the girl translating, the tour guide was very funny and amusing and I kept in touch with her after the tour through the use of google translate of course.
While I will make sure I listen next time a person at the tour desk says there’s no English on a tour, overall it was a good day, I saw the Leshan Giant Buddha, I met a very funny tour guide, I realised my Mandarin was nowhere near as good as I thought it was however people were actually really nice and helpful to someone who didn’t speak the language and was probably an annoyance to everyone on the day.
Click here to see photos of Chengdu and the Leshan Giant Buddha
Click here to see my next destination of Thailand for Songkran