Goodbye Dr. Panda and Chengdu!

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It’s my last working day at Dr. Panda. I’m writing this now because we will go have a little party in Chengdu tonight! :)

I joined little over three years ago, and it was quite a challenging step for me, to go from ‘IT manager’ to ‘General Manager I was an experienced IT project manager, but had only a little experience managing people, let alone a whole studio. It was tough at times, it was engaging but most of all I appreciate the team. I say this not because I work(ed) here, but Dr. Panda is able to reach a consistent high quality. I found this can only be achieved with incredible standards, relentless work and a culture that allows this. I’m very happy to have worked with such great teammates.

Slowly I build up my role, and combined the role of general manager, executive producer, a manager for production & backend team and a producer of games, all at the same time. My boss, the CEO, was very patient with me and coached me. I look back on 100’s (!) of initiatives started with many completed, and am particularly proud of the transition from a traditional production company to self steering teams that we now have at the Chengdu office. The team matured, and I feel now it’s a good time to move on.

Last Friday I went to Shanghai and said goodbye to friends and colleagues at our Shanghai office.

The reason why we are leaving is family related. We have loved every day in China for 7 years total now, we got very comfortable living here. But we feel it’s time to move on, stay tuned!

Cherry plucking in Wenchuan 汶川

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We spend the weekend in Miansi Town, close to Wenchuan 汶川. it’s only about two hour drive from Chengdu. We spend our time in the Dayu Farm House (汶川大禹农庄). The farm house received us very well, very kind and hospitable. In the afternoon we enjoyed the hot-springs. In the evening after dinner, there was a bonfire with dancing.

From early May until the first week of June it’s cherry season. As we we’re late in the season, we had to go all the way up the mountain.

 

 

Dr. Panda 8.8km

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To promote an active lifestyle, Dr. Panda’s head company TAL Education Group, prompted our HR to run a 10km run. I was very surprised with the turnout of the entire team. We outsourced the organization of the event, which was a very good idea. Not only did they provide water, they also provided the nametags, drone footage and everything. All and all a great event.

Personally I didn’t run for a while, so this event marked also a nice external motivation to pick that up again. Being one of the oldest teammates in this company, I felt I had to train well, so I got up at 6am twice a week to run besides the Jin river in Chengdu. As the event was nearing, I got worried with the temperature in Chengdu. Luckily, it rained and the temperature dropped to only 20 degrees. The whole company started running. As the track was short, I wanted to run a fast time. So I started to accelerate and I managed to finish first. I’m very satisfied! I’ll run more often. There is something about the runner lifestyle, getting in shape is just one benefit.

 

Lhasa, Tibet

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Visited Lhasa in Tibet with my dad. In the past year I visited many Tibetan communities in Sichuan and Yunnan (1,2), Lhasa represents to me the centre of Tibetan culture and definitely an important visit. We took the train, saw a beautiful lake and learned about history and Buddhism.

Xining (西宁) to Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) by train We flew to Xining and took the train to Lhasa from there. We wanted to avoid altitude sickness, landing by plane above 3,000m can lead headache, dizziness. We figured the train would take us up slowly and limit the effects. Xining is a city located between Chengdu and Mongolia. It’s centre is completely rebuild around the new train station. Majority of population is Muslim, we had the opportunity to visit biggest mosque of China, on the inside too. From Xining, we took the world’s highest altitude train line. Most of the track is above 4,500m, with a peak at Tanggula Pass at 5,200m. The special train has an oxygen supply in the cabin, emits a hissing sound. (Picture below, right bottom)

The 1,960km long train ride from Xining to Lhasa took little less than a day.

  • We took a soft sleeper (slightly more expensive, but good place to sleep)
  • We shared the cabin with two others going to Golmud (first stop), the wake up service woke me up as well! (Woman suddenly opening door and shouting to them to get ready) – I was sitting up straight before I realized what was happening.
  • There is good food on the train.
  • Watched the sunrise above the moon like landscape.
    The train left in the evening dark, but the moon light revealed the mountains outside. The next morning we enjoyed the sunrise and just looked outside for hours on end. Left my book alone, no need. The mountain moonlight silhouettes changed to blue sky with green hills, then rolling yellow hills with grass. Here and there some yak. Nomads fetching sheep with motorcycles, then finally snow-covered giant mountains in the distance. We read a book about the construction of this train line. Build above permafrost, which ice can sink meters at any time, they put most of the train line on poles, elevation and put isolating stones at critical places. Since it’s a plateau above 4,500m, there are no trees, the stretched out hills have snow on them. There is a highway being constructed along the way. A few hundred kilometers before Lhasa we passed the holy Namtso Lake (གནམ་མཚོ།) even though I took the picture though the train window, you can imagine how vibrant it was.

Lhasa ལྷ་ས་ (拉萨) – Finally we arrived in Lhasa. We had to get permits checked and our guide picked us up at the station. We had read up about this place, but didn’t know that KFC and Burger king opened up in Lhasa. I guess that can tell you enough about how this city is changing. In a lifetime, it went from a secluded place and grew tenfold and construction is everywhere. But there is still a lot authenticity to explore, and particularly trace roots of Buddhism that came here from India. We enjoyed traditional Tibet food, but also Indian and Chinese food is available. There are local restaurants that sell momo (yak dumplings) and yak butter, yak butter tea, yoghurt and meat based dishes. Potala (ཕོ་བྲང་པོ་ཏ་ལ་) (布达拉宫) Ah, the iconic the Potala Palace. There are many written books about this place, and they explain it better than I could so I won’t go into it’s significance here, just very brief. The king of Lhasa meditated in a cave in this hill. Then later the white part was built by the fifth Dalai Lama, and later the red.

  • It’s a nice mix of tourists and pilgrims visiting this time of year. (After harvest)
  • It houses eight Dalai Lama mummies inside beautiful golden tombs.
  • Tourists can only visit the red-painted wall parts, all white wall areas are off bounds.
  • The white part paint with lime and milk.
  • No pictures are allowed inside. (Fear of replicas to be switched with real artefacts)
  • In the past, up to 6000 visitors came each day, now it’s limited to 2300. Also each tourist must be accompanied by a guide. Inside you can spend 50 minutes.
    Some wise words from the 6th Dalai Lama that stuck: You need compassion, wisdom and energy to achieve anything.

In the evening there is light and fountains show. We enjoyed beers in the park. The Potala looks flat if you look up from front.

Johkang temple (ཇོ་ཁང།) (大昭寺) The center of Lhasa is Johkang temple. Our guide explained that you can compare it to Mekka but then for Buddhism. It is the original center of Lhasa. He was right, hundreds of people walk around the and pray in and around the temple, even late at night. Some bow constantly while going around, kneeling and putting their forehead on to floor. Knee protectors to keep going. Inside the temple, the monks from red, white, black, yellow sects (in order of creation) come down here to maintain the temple for several months at a time. Currently the yellow (Gelug) sect is maintaining it but they accept worshippers from all sects. The Jowo Sakyamuni statue represents Buddha at age twelve. There are many chambers with statues and art. Our guide explained that other Buddha statues everywhere are modeled after this one. When they make a statue, they come here to bless it.

Yamdrok lake (ཡར་འབྲོག་གཡུ་མཚོ་) (羊卓雍錯) We visited one of the holy lakes in Tibet, Yamdrok lake. It’s a hundred kilometers south of Lhasa, close to Bhutan.  The lake is turquoise coloured and lies at 4,441 meters. Our guide and our driver took us the 3 hour ride there.

To get to the lake, you have to cross a 4,800m pass by car. We met some Chinese tourists and took some silly photos. Then we drive down and felt the ice-cold water. Enjoyed nice Tibetan noodles. On the way back the sun was out and the fall colours came out. The lake trip offered some new sights from the bus. And you can pose with Tibetan dogs for 10 RMB.

Drepung འབྲས་སྤུངས་ (and Sera)

Two important monasteries close to Lhasa. Drepung hosts 7700 monks and nuns. This is where the first five Dalai Lama resided before Potala was build (between Drepung, Lhasa and Sera) by the fifth.

  1. Lots to see inside including an 800 years old Buddha from India.The amount of monks is decreasing. Now they all assemble in the central Hall, instead of their building. Before most young monks have teacher, and when teacher get old, they take care of them. Now amount of students are decreasing. So they put all old monks together close to assembly house to take care for them. A bit like a retirement house.

Songpan (松潘)

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Visited Songpan in north Sichuan. Getting in was little slower due to damage by the terrible rains in this region recently. 

It was worth the long journey immediately on entering, the small colourful town seemed a bit more calm than others, this small town at an elevation of 2867 meters is a center for trade and quite diverse compared to other cities with Tibetan, Han, Qiang and Hui living side by side. Songpan old town is a surrounded by a wall and a gate on each direction. North is the main gate. South is more touristic with it’s original structure with bullet holes from WW2. Then all the way on top of a hill was the west gate. As the bad road put my schedule a bit behind, I immediately found my new goal: climb up to west gate and check the view! I had no idea where I was going so I just started walking upwards and with some help found the path up from the alleyways. It takes a good hour or so to walk up. I sat a bit here and there. I felt a bit short on breath due to the altitude, took it easy. From the alleyways there were bushy pathways, followed by rocky stairs, followed by wooden stairs. I met a grand of three tourist on the way up. (That’s crazy quiet in China) only thing I could hear was the sound of a cricket or a crow. All alone on the top. Turns out, The gate is not used apart from light display. It looked quite new, a local told me west gate is rebuild in late 90s, just like large parts of the old city. Standing on west gate, I was happy i reached the top, but then i noticed another hill beyond that, with some Tibetan artifacts. So climbing continues.Horses just roam the hill freely it seems. The sheep and yak were less free but still wanted to share here. On the way down took a different path and passed a newly build Dabei temple. It was closed off for the public but it looked impressive from outside the wall. Down the hill from there is the older Guanyin Pavilion. This pavilion features a lot of interesting details, like the vase with flowers on top here.

The old town came alive in the cooler evening. Buy fruits, dried meats. Most people busy at hotpot restaurants. I only stayed one night, but with the nearby tourist attractions I would recommend to stay a bit longer. Next year there will be a train here from Chengdu, it will be more convenient but also – I suspect – busier.

Ma’er kang (马尔康)

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Home alone in Chengdu last weekend so I packed my backpack to do some travelling. I visited the Zhuokeji (卓克基) Tibetan village, a few km east from Ma’er kang (Barkam).

Zhuokeji means supremacy in Tibetan language. originally build in 1286, it housed the regions highest official for politics, economy and martial power. Every room has a story, opera, guest rooms, execution hall, one notable conference room as the red army and Mao Zedong stayed here for a week in 1935.  After the visit, I wandered around town with it’s beautiful bridge and hillside alleyways and found the Dandalun Temple.

 

 

 

 

Hilltop picnic – Outside again, I passed a group of villagers, calling me over. The group – a mom with four years old twins, a CPC army soldier, an engineer and a yak cow farmer – all early thirties, old friends enjoying the summer day outside. They treated me to some raw spicy yak meat (delicious), and local green veggies dishes. And lots of Chinese lukewarm beer. I didn’t want to overstay but they were just so cheerful, hospitable, patient and interesting. There is a pride of their cultural heritage, they sang traditional songs, dance, which they learned directly from their parents, and they tried teaching me some of their native language. (See below). When they asked me to sing one of my cultures songs, I could only think of the Dutch kids song “Berend Botje”. Yep, sang that, no dance though. Whilst connected to their past heritage, all are connected as anyone else about international pop, news, sport culture. It’s not one or the other.

rGyalrong Tibetan language Learned some ‘Jiarong’ (Zang) or rGyalrong (Tibetan: རྒྱལ་རོང).

  • Me – N’ah*
  • You – Cho
  • Nice to meet you – Cho dé mo
  • Really nice to meet you – N’áh dé mo
  • I love you – N’áh cho gah
  • Cheers – da ghi de lech

* Compared to Mandarin Chinese, has more tones. This one is compressed and hard. There is a hard (not rolling) “N’áh!”

 

 

Zigong dinosaur museum

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We visited the dinosaur museum in southern Sichuan. This was on our bucket list for a while as our kids love everything dinosaur related. The museum is a three hour drive from Chengdu in Zigong. There are three areas in the museum, first is an exhibition hall with whole dinosaur skeleton fossils, with the Tianfuensis with has a 20 meters long body. There were a lot of skeletons in one place, you didn’t know where to look. All of them from the Sichuan region. Second was the burial site, which explains the first findings and the process of excavation. And lastly there were tons of fossils on display.They also put some moving dinosaurs on the hills for kids.

World Earth Day, Camping in Andaman

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A twenty minute drive past Dujianyan train station is Andaman park. We joined QSI school on a camping trip. Andaman is supposed to host the only organic lodges in China. Sleeping in these adult sized tree houses must be an experience is expensive. Andaman quickly seemed like a weekend park for the elite. Just recently they changed strategy, adding a couple of camping sites, and a hostel in order to receive more visitors. The park features a lot of activities in nature, mountain biking, horse riding, archery. Everything is band new, and the staff is nice and attentive, clearly they knew we were coming and wanted us to have a great time. We were received on Saturday morning by a friendly host called John. He also took us on a hike through the forest. After lunch we got to explore the rest of the park, my wife tried zip lining and we all went to a trampoline park. It’s like a heaven for kids, they are all bouncing around. Then we had a barbecue. As it was earth day, the power went off at eight pm, there was live music and a bonfire. During the party I met Dino, a Brazilian and the architect and builder of the ‘adventure park’. After setting up zip lining and rock climbing, he proceeded with a miniature version these activities but then for kids. This was the second time sleeping in a tent but last time Mia was really a baby. This time she is older, just hanging around the tent with a pocket light provided heaps of fun. Our little one slept surprisingly well in the tent. We slept later then usual and were awoken early by the birds.

We immediately tried the kids adventure park that Dino made. First Kids need to wear helmets, gear, the works. They get all dressed up and whilst tethered, walk down the track. Starting low and going up about two meters eventually. The grand finish is a zip line down. Zooom! Mia gained a lot of confidence walking that track today. Andaman was really a great family trip. Not only a first camping experience, we also experienced a lot of nature (saw frogs, gekko’s) and enjoyed clean air. For Chengdu residents I would surely recommend!

Pujiang (蒲江) flower garden and ceramic village

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In Chengdu’s hot summer days, there is nothing much to do but sit inside a building or at the pool. Since this early spring weather is still really nice, we – compared to last posts, I am traveling with the family – are in Pujiang! (蒲江县), visiting a flower garden. Coloured fields of flowers welcomed us, the little ones enjoyed running around the fields of flowers. Further into the park there was a play yard and a model village showing how people used to live in this area. There is an important ‘stone elephant temple’ currently completely being reconstructed but somehow in use at the same time. The Stone Elephant Lake, Shixiang Lake, (保利石象湖景) is a lush quiet green area, a nice change of environment from the city. We rented a boat to rest our legs, the ride offered some great sceneries and was a nice variation for all the busy walking paths in the flower garden. In hindsight, this flower park probably has had tulips earlier in season, we had high expectations, as the website showed fields of tulips. However as the flowerpark is combined with the stone elephant lake it was still definitely worth visiting for a day trip. We spent the night in a nearby hotel in Pujiang. As there was not much to do in Pujiang besides the lake and golf, we visited moon valley ‘mingyue valley’ (明月) a bit far at 30km west. We rented bikes at the information center right at to main gate and enjoyed cycling through the tea field hills, I spotted some white crane birds and many other birds. The road is one big loop around the villages, with here and there a touristic activity like ceramic workshops, museums and coffee shops.

We visited a restaurant and a stamp museum. If we would have had more time, I would have liked the kids to try the ceramic workshop. Pujian is about to have a functioning train station, I suspect this area will develop a lot. For elephant lake, Tickets were 100 RMB for both the stone elephant lake and the flower garden. Boat was 60 RMB per person. Nice for a visit but our expectations were too high. Moon valley bike renting was 10 RMB. It’s unusually quiet area. Might be nice to sleep over next time to have more time.

The four girl mountain (四姑娘山)

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I visited the four sister mountains, 220 km west of Chengdu. Taking the earliest bus from Chengdu Chadianzi Bus Station (茶店子汽车站). The conventional long distance bus from Chengdu to Xiaojin offers some amazing sceneries.

The bus goes to the mining town of Xiaojin, I asked the driver to drop me off at Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟), which is about five kilometer from the town of Rilong (日隆镇) where I was going to spend the night. As I never visited this place before, I planned it out on the mercy of blog posts of other travelers and crossing fingers. Shuangqiao Valley (双桥沟) is a bit more touristy and with a road, so I knew i could easily get back. I wanted to play it safe and not ascend a mountain as it was already early afternoon. After drop off I looked around and there was no one around me. And quiet. The park was open, just not busy. Entrance was 120 CNY, with small tour buses departing every twenty minutes. It’s basically a 30km long road with a walking platform here and there. As it was offseason, the walking paths were snowed under and under construction. At one point I was crossing the water to find the bridge was gone, so I had to go back a bit.

 

 

 

The four girl mountain (四姑娘山) at an elevation of 6,250 m is the second highest in Sichuan. From this Shuangqiao Valley, you can see them well, but also Mount Abi 5,694 m, Seerdengpu 5592m, and the eagle crag at 5300 m.

The bus dropped us of at the furthest point and we walked around for a bit. There was a friendly group from Chengdu and we kept bumping into each other. As we walked in a group, we took the bus, which was driving back to the starting point, but now stopping at four other points of interest. After the second stop, although having fun, I realized the bus tour was going a bit fast for me as it was still relatively early, so I decided to alight and walk back up instead.

 

In retrospect, that was a good call. I enjoyed many sceneries at my own pace. I walked until it started snowing and getting dark. I had to wave a bus down to get to Rilong (日隆镇), a town at an elevation of 3,160m, on the way I found decent hotel online, walked in and bumped into that same group from early afternoon again. Small world! We had dinner and beers together before calling it a night. They were indeed planning to ascend a mountain the next day.

The hotel room didn’t had heating so it was a hot shower and straight to bed for me. Outside, it kept on snowing and I listened to the crackling fire on the sidewalk. Zzzz At dawn, I took the courtesy to check myself out and unlock the front door, it had snowed overnight and it was a beautiful but slippery slope to town.

The bus was something I worried about as the town doesn’t have a bus stop, fortunately, a store owner making a quick 10 CNY called and confirmed the bus was on time, and stopped as expected. I felt at ease and could enjoy the winter wonder land. For a weekend trip it was a bit rushed. I would have liked to stay a bit longer and explore the other valleys. I would recommend staying at least two nights, also to get acclimated a bit.

Side note: The tallest is Mount Gongga (贡嘎山). which I visited last year. I have to say that due to the many more magnificent views by the four girl mountains, I would recommend a visit to the four girl mountain (四姑娘山)