Diary 3 (or how cute can a panda be !?*!)17/7/2001 First, some impressions of China.China is big. That's big, with a capital H, capital U, capital G, capital E! The cities sprawl, the countryside is endless, the scenery is magnificent and they just don't do things by halves around here.Rural China and Urban China are two very different places. A lot of the cities, like Guilin and Kunming have been extensively rebuilt over the past 10 years so the architecture is very western and neon lights glow all over the nighttime scene. Despite this tho, they manage to introduce a lot of green, with trees shading most pavements - and numerous "keep off the grass" signs keep the lawns looking gorgeous. Rural China is very backward, with a very simple standard of living and an amazing depth of green in the fields. The rice paddies are lined with maize corn, and increasing amounts of wheat as we make our way north through the country. Even here in the north at Luoyang where they are suffereing from 120 days of drought the fields are still a deep green, and the crops are getting enough. The farming is unceasing, with fields in every valley, and most of the hillsides being terraced into paddy fields as well. Traffic, oh the traffic! China supposedly drives on the right hand side of the raod and that is mainly true. However they don't understand ther concept of lanes, every journey is accompanied by a symphony of horns and priority at junctions is decided by weight and speed. Lorries get first priority, then buses, vans, cars, motorbikes, bicycles and finally pedestrians. Sometimes trying to cross the road is like taking your life into your own hands! AND the chinese cross the road soooooo slowly! It's like they are trying to get beeped at and narrowly avoid having their heels clipped by a passing motorist.Food. Food. Food. Chinese food back in blightly is not just a distant relative of the original - it's like comparing me to Michael Jackson cause we both have white skin. It's so different. Everything is fresh, bought from the free markets each morning and cooked with a wide range of flavours. Spicy is spicy. Chillies are hot! The soup's have a real depth of flavour and every meal can be very different, even from two shops on the same street. Best of all are the hot-pots where you cook your own meat and veg in the boiling broth in the middle of the table in front of you.Friendly. To say that the Chinese people are friendly is a very big understatement! Whether you are in rural or urban environments, nearly everyone wants to say hello. I've managed to encounter several groups learning English on the street - normally free from a retired government official or businessman and the standards of their spoken English is excellent. Getting away can be difficult though as the immediate benefits of speaking to them are apparent and they are soooooo much fun!Volume. Everything in China is set to volume 11. Including the people. I don't think that there are Chinese words for whisper, quiet or ssssssssssshhh! Around temples, panda reservations or even in the lift - everything is at top volume. A guide speaking to a small group will still use their megaphone, even though the echos make them un-understandable. I'll finish this off with some notes on my travels tomorrow, but right now I'll end with a real jealousy trigger. 3 baby pandas, sitting about 2 feet away, drinking milk from baby's bottles. How cute is that!!18/7/2001Right, on with the travels. The over-night train from Kunming was a giggle. We had vodka and coke and G&Ts with us so the compartment turned into a bit of a gin palace. The crush of people trying to get on the train was something else too, luckily we had sleeper cabins (4 to a room) and I grabbed a top bunk :-)So Monday morning finds us in Leshan. After a bumpy bus ride through the city we boarded a little tourist cruiser and headed across the confluence of 3 rivers to see the Great Buddha. It looks out over the river and is 71 metres tall. Seriously impressive. After disembarking we walked upto it on land and then through the "Paradise of Buddhas", a really nice park set into the hillsides and full of buddhas. I left the group when they took the bus back to the hotel and climbed upto the sleeping buddha, found a whole load of erotic sculptures that the guide had failed to mention and then walked back. Our tour guide was wrong; the 15 minute stroll back turned out to be a 90 minute march along the main road, but I got some great photos of a sampan on the river and found a dead dragonfly so it was worth it. After dinner we played ten-pin bowling in the hotel and I came second! :-)Tuesday. I have never known a bus have less suspension. We could feel every bump and hole in the road. How uncomfortable ?!*! The road from Leshan to Chengdu is not a short one either :-( Checked in at the hotel and headed off for a photo of the giant statue of Chairman Mao in the city square. Had a long walk round the eastern half of the city, with loads of street markets and a lovely park alongside the river. Managed to order a meal in a restaurant on my own, but I resolved to give up pointing and waving and learn some proper chinese instead. Still the translucent noodles and freshly fried bread were delicious. Quick shower and its off to opera in the park. With singers, musicians, acrobats, puppeteers and "changing masks" it wasn't opera as I know it, but a great night out and an education in just how unsuited Mandarin is to being sung. Panda's tomorrow...Wednesday is Panda Day! We left for Chengdu early in morning as the Pandas are only really active first thing in the morning whilst it's still cool. Most of them had been moved into the breeding pens away from the hoards of tourists, but we still saw 3 adults and 3 babies! The babies were being fed from bottles of milk, and they rolled over still clutching the bottle between their paws. God I hope these photos come out! All the rumours are true by the way, pandas are the cutest thing alive. Wasn't too sure about the panda museum though, which had an in-ordinate number of stuffed pandas, chinese taxidermy needs some development. More bumpy roads (in the same bus) to the cliff sculptures at Dazu, and then onto Chongqing to board a boat for the next 3 days. I'm sharing a cabin with Jane, our aussie tour leader - does she know what she's letting herself in for? After a two beers we discovered a hidden talent for karaoke. Jane snores after she's been drinking.So we are cruising down the Yangtse river and there's about 120 passengers on the boat. Us eight, a load of Taiwanese and Derek! More about Derek shortly. The scenery (called the 3 gorges collectively) is magnificent, though the river bank is quite populated and has patches of heavy industrialisation. You definitely wouldn't want to swim in the river here; the 13 million inhabitants of Chongqing upstream dump their untreated sewage in the river! Stopped off at Fengdu to see the Ghost City. This buddhist temple has some really graphic depictions of hell, kind of like Dante in 3-D! After dinner I had my feet propped up reading on the stern deck, very relaxing, until we hit another boat. Never mind; it was only a small dent!Friday, and the stop-off today is to take smaller boats up the lesser gorges. These are normally rapid running and have a few exciting rocks in the way but the river was in flood so it was actually quite sedate. Yet more gorgeous scenery, does it never end ? When we stopped for 1/2 an hour before we turned round to come back down the tributary I got told off for having a swim. Apparently the tourists are only allowed to wade. Oops! It was a nice swim tho. Derek is lovely, a retired construction worker from Surrey. He invited me to sit with him on this little cruise, and we chatted about lots of interesting subjects. He didn't repeat himself once. Lovely bloke. Still I managed to kip on the way back down the river - that swim must have taken it out of me. Off the boat to see the 3 gorges dam project. This is the largest hydro-power project in the world and will flood the Yangtse back to Chongqing when it is finally operational in 2009. No more gorges then so book your trips folks. I can't write much, it was a big construction site, so we caught another over-night train to Luoyang.Sunday morning in Luoyang. Lovely. Well maybe if we didnt get off the train at 4am. Checked into the hotel, had a quick shower and was back on the streets by 5.15! The hotel overlooks the Peony Park where chinese of all ages gather every morning for their morning exercises. As well as Tai Chi and keep-fit they were doing kungfu, ball room dancing, fan dancing, sword dancing, halberd dancing, dancing with maracas, ribbons and outdoor massage. All this activity exhausted me so I went back to bed for the morning. After a quick snooze, we visited the White Horse Temple and Longmen grottos. Loads of buddhas, ranging from 17 metres high to 2cm short! The little ones look like loads of little chocolate buddhas. After a delicious hot-pot for dinner where we cooked our own food in a boiling broth in the middle of the table, it was back down to the park for a stroll. I got collared by a bunch of guys and girls from 20-29 years of age and we chatted for hours. Everything from my name, how old I was, where I was from; to computers, gene technology and the chinese government's control of the stock markets. Needless to say, the conversations were in English. My Mandarin is improving now though. I can shop, greet and meet and order beers!Monday morning sees me back in the park giving English lessons, this time for primary and early-secondary school kids. I just can't get away from them, they are so cute and friendly. Instead they take me to an internet cafe and then babysit me round the city until it's time to catch the train at noon. Destination: Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Warriors! "The fragrant grass say stand no pain"  where there are no traffic lights  where farmers sell their excess produce  I can't think of the right word at the moment (un-understandable = unintelligible. Thanks Washy)  I hope the photo's come out!  This will become something of a theme  The tallest buddha in the world  I hope!  in the middle of no-where  Sarah: I got some photos!  Hahahahahaahaha!!!  Well, we were better than the Taiwanese tourists anyway!  Not my Dad, now that would have been scary!  ECWS: No I'm not kidding  The first buddhist temple in China  There's a marketing ooportunity for a chinese entrepeneur there!