Tuesday, January 21, 2014

That One Time I Got Lost Trying to Find a Panda, so I Went to IKEA Instead

Getting lost seems to be a recurring theme in my travels. On one hand, getting lost is one of the best ways to truly get to know a travel destination. Walking around direction-less brings you to places you would not encounter otherwise. On the other hand, aimless exploration does not really work when you need to get to a specific place in mind.

Case in point: I missed seeing the most lovable creature in the world—the giant panda—in the city they have the utmost celebrity status, Chengdu.

But let's back up a bit.

Aren't giant pandas the cutest? Yes, they are. Look at that face!
By Paul Wolneykien in Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The Cutest Attraction Ever

I was traveling for a couple of days in the Sichuan capital Chengdu. Though I was only here for a short time, I knew that seeing the giant panda in this city, in this province, in the slice of China the giant panda was native to, was something I needed, nay, wanted to do.

Chengdu Lazybones Backpacker Hostel, where I was staying, had a giant panda tour. The fee was 108 RMB (18 USD) and it covered a round-trip van ride to the Giant Panda Research Base in the outskirts of Chengdu as well as the base's entrance fee of 58 RMB.

Now, Chengdu was my final stop on a month-long trip to China. Needless to say, I was running out of kwai at this point, so 108 RMB was too hefty for me. Don't even get me started on wanting to hold, hug, and take a photo with a giant panda at the research base. That would set anyone back 1,300 RMB. More than 200 USD!

No. Just no.

Someway, Somehow

Totally cash-strapped, I inquired with the hostel staff about directions on how to get to the research base by myself. The good news was that commuting by public transport would only cost me 5 RMB. (I know, right?) The bad news was that there were a lot of possibly confusing bus transfers. And some walking.

Option 01 (The Easy One): Get yourself to Chengdu Traffic Inn, a couple of metro stops away. Catch Tourist Bus 902, which stops in front of the inn. Get off at the research base.

Option 02 (Less Easy One): Walk to Shuncheng Road a block away. Catch Bus 01. Get off at the Northeast Bus Terminal. Catch Bus 532. Get off at the research base.

Intending to go for Option 01, I found myself at the bus stop in front of Traffic Inn one cold morning in Chengdu. School children walked by heading to the nearby school. Rush hour traffic built up every now and then. But sadly, no Tourist Bus 902 arrived. I headed to a nearby bus terminal to make sure. There, I saw an English sign for Tourist Bus 902 pointing back to the bus stop I just left. I was waiting in the right place!

Yet Tourist Bus 902 never came.

A lot of buses came, but never the buses I needed. Sad face.
By Dingli35 | CC BY-SA 3.0

Probably concerned with the foreign fellow lurking in front of their inn, the security guard waved me into the inn's reception desk. I wanted to inquire about the bus with anyone at that point so I went in. Alas, suspicions were confirmed. Tourist Bus 902 had been discontinued.

So Plan B

Still with high hopes that I would get to see cute giant pandas that day, I went for Option 02. I caught Bus 01 to get to the Northeast Bus Terminal. Problem was, that specific bus I boarded did not go all the way to the Northeast Bus Terminal. (Damn it.) So I had to get off somewhere and catch another Bus 01.

It was not looking good.

I reached the terminal after an hour, after the bus made its way all around Chengdu. In the bus terminal, I searched for Bus 532. I looked everywhere, spent about 30 minutes walking around, had a snack of hotdog and milk tea, walked around again, and still no Bus 532. And I was already in the terminal!

Resignation and Consolation

In the end, I resigned myself to the fact that I would not get to see those cute giant pandas. Not that day anyway.

So as consolation, I headed to IKEA instead. Why IKEA? Well, why not IKEA? I got to do some window shopping for the bedroom and living room I was building. In my head. I was building them in my head. (Trust me. They're really nice.) I had some trademark IKEA meatballs and hotdogs, too. Tried them for the first time!

So IKEA instead of panda. Totally an equal trade-off.

China: Chengdu
IKEA, where the bedroom was envy-worthy and the hotdogs were good

Alright, not really an equal trade-off. But I was only transiting through Sichuan this time. This trip was for Yunnan province really. Maybe I wasn't meant to see cute giant pandas this time. Maybe next time I will even have the money to hold, hug, and have a photo taken with one. Which is really what I wanted to do in the first place. Believe me. That day will happen.

For now, these cute souvenir pandas will have to do.

China: Chengdu
These panda toys are cute, too!

We have all gotten lost at some point in our travels. What's your greatest travel eff-up?

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