Adventures in Panda-land

14 Nov

The first thing people ask me when they hear I’m living in Chengdu is if I’ve gone to see the pandas. (Despite what others may think, the Chinese government doesn’t actually hand every visitor a baby panda to hug once they land in the mainland.  I was disappointed too.) Sichuan Province is the native habitat of the giant panda and some 1600 pandas still live in the wild, eating bamboo and hanging out in the mountains.

It may have taken me almost three months, but I’ve finally gone and seen the pandas here in Chengdu. This past weekend, the international students went on a little “cultural field trip” to the local zoo, featuring everyone’s favorite Chinese giant bear-cat!  (The Chinese words for panda, daxiongmao literally means big bear-cat.)

I wasn’t technically supposed to be on the field trip – it was for language students and I’m a member of the History Department – but much like how the average Westerner has a hard time telling Asians apart, the vice versa is also true. There was no one who knew each and every one of the students and could point to me and say, “hey, you don’t belong here!” so I got away with sneaking along. This was a good thing, but I was willing to pay the 50 kuai entrance fee if everything fell apart.

Inside the park, the giant horde of foreign students meandered our way up to the top of the hill, where the baby panda enclosures were located. And omg they were so cute. Eight little fuzzballs were sleeping by some logs, looking absolutely adorable. There was much squeeing on our part. Katia, Kay, and I considered the dimensions of my bag and the size of the average baby panda. Surely we could fit one in? Unfortunately, there was a vigilant guard standing nearby. Boo, I say. No panda-napping for us.

Baby panda playing peek-a-boo.

We moved around the park by age: after we spent a lot of time cooing and squeeing at the panda kindergarten, the adolescents were next. These three pandas were just hanging out, eating bamboo. Bamboo is practically worthless in terms of nutrition, so the vegetarian pandas have to eat a LOT of it to keep themselves alive.

There were a few other pandas hanging out in trees, which is a kind of weird thing to see. I mean, pandas are super ungraceful on the land, and yet able to snooze up in the branches. Rock on, pandas, rock on.

 There are three pandas in this picture. Can you spot them all?

We asked a guard how much the fully grown male panda weighed. He responded, “hmm, about 228 kilos.” Oddly specific, but there you go.

The park also had a collection of red pandas hanging out and doing red panda-y things. This enclosure was full of the mostly-ignored red headed step-children of the park. They were pretty cute, for raccoon-type animals with super fuzzy tails.

This was definitely a fun trip. No, I did not get to pay an aburd amount of money to hug a panda, that’s at a different breeding reserve. (Also, I’m a broke college student. What makes you think I can afford to hug a panda?) It was definitely a good way to spend an afternoon. And hey, it’s only a 30 minute bus ride away, so I can come back and visit the pandas again.

More information: this article on the Wolong Panda Breeding Reserve by James Fallows is pretty interesting and informative.

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5 Responses to “Adventures in Panda-land”

  1. Karen Luksich November 14, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    The pandas are soooo cute. I remember seeing them at the San Diego zoo. Who wouldn’t love them? I’m glad you were able to sneak along on this field trip. What the heck? You are doing some fun stuff, good for you. Did you buy a panda souvenir?

  2. Monika Clauberg November 15, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    You are doing all the things I wish I could be doing. I am so impressed. And you sound pretty happy. How is the homesick deal??? Lots of wishes for (Panda)hugging.
    I just had my daughter, Claire’s mom here, and for a while, Andrew, that would be her brother. We went to the city, 6 casinos, into Red Rock for a hike. I cooked my heart out.
    Now I am doing mountains of laundry. The bottom line: We all had a fabulous time.
    It is sunny and warm in LV after a few days of winter weather and clouds. All is good.
    Stay happy and healthy. Love you, my China doll. Hugs, Monika

  3. Karen Luksich November 18, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    I read your blog to Grandpa, he really enjoyed it. I also read him the article you linked at the end of this entry. He said to tell you he liked it and that he misses you.
    Hugs,
    Gramma

  4. Dani November 18, 2011 at 7:05 am #

    WHERE’S THE THIRD PANDA?!?!??!

  5. Trish November 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I can has panda?

    Thanks.

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