Wednesday, September 14, 2011

China -- Day 6

We had a later wake up call today but I ended up awake a few times during the night so I finally got up a little before 7 and got online before I took a shower and packed. Today we are moving on to Ya’an where the Bifengxia Panda Center is and where we’d be working the rest of the week.

I had a breakfast similar to yesterday’s and made it to the bus by 9. Suzanne Braden, the co-founder and director of Pandas International is riding with us to Ya’an, which is about 2 ½ hours away.

We stopped for lunch at a roadside place and again were treated to a lazy susan chalk full of Sichuan specialities. There was a great celery dish, only the celery was really thin and it had some sort of sliced up bacon with it. There was also a specially ordered spicy dish for the hot and spicy girls (of which I am one) that was a whole lot of Sichuan peppers and some beef. It was excellent and probably the hottest I have had yet. I also liked an egg dish with diced tomato.

It was great having Suzanne at lunch with us. She told us about how Pandas International sprang into action after the 08 earthquake at Wolong and got them supplies for both humans and pandas within 72 hours. She said it was chilling to receive the first email from Wolong that said “send medicine to stop the blood.” I got the impression that that was more a figurative than literal statement but she said one that still gives her nightmares. Last month rain and mudslides washed out the bridge to Wolong so she won’t be making the trip there during this visit to China. She feels Mother Nature hasn’t been too kind to the Sichuan region since 08 because in 09 and 10 they had flooding and this year there was the horrible snowstorms the crushed bamboo. She’s asked us for our list of topics that she can cover at dinner tonight and I expressed my interest in breeding especially given the pseudopregnancy of Mei’s that I just witnessed on panda cam.

After lunch we went to Shangli Old Town which I can’t decide whether it is a tourist trap or an actual working town. It seems more like the latter, and I think maybe my skepticism taints my view of it to even think it’s the former. The town seemed really dilapidated but I’m thinking instead it is just not developed. There were lots of really small local shops and restaurants and locals just hanging about.

We made the short drive to the Bifengxia Panda Center. Getting to Bifengxia means a lot of driving along slow roads with many hairpin turns through the Bifengxia gorge. It was gorgeous scenery but more than a little precarious in spots in our tour bus. Once we were there, it was obvious that this isolation and desolation, so far from society as we know it, is exactly where the pandas belong. The center is so vast that they have golf carts to transport volunteers (us) from the entrance to the volunteer center. Because we arrived here so late today, we were “only” going to go see the panda kindergarten. David and Stanley came after us and warned us when our golf cart left first to wait for them at the top. Well, like hell I say (and I have to say, others were with me, I was not alone!). I started to wander and I think I found Tai Shan’s enclosure since I recognized a very new play structure I’d read was recently installed for him, but there was no sign of Tai himself. I wandered further past that building and found three adult pandas sitting eating bamboo. Already I’d seen three more than most people see in their lifetimes. But turn around again and about 6 feet away from me was who turned out to be Fu Long. What a handsome guy he is…just leaning against the log, sniffing at us as if to check us out. Of course it took me no time to take his glamour shot. And I thought I could die happy with my photos yesterday? Oh, today would be so much better!

Once Stanley found us out and dragged us back to the group, we went to the panda kindergarten where we passed by another nursery, this time only with one newborn in it, but we could take photos. A little further on, we found out that we had lucked out and arrived just in time for feeding. The keepers put pans of milk out and the little one year old pandas wandered over to drink it up. When they were done, they sat up and the keepers would wipe their mouths off and hand them a biscuit of some sort. Then came bamboo and what looked like carrots. These little ones were so fun to watch as they toppled over backwards, eating with their front paws up in the air. It was hilarious. One was significantly smaller than the others and I learned his/her name was Mao. We circled up, over, around and down, finding pandas sleeping precariously perched on tiny little stubs of branches, lounging against logs, walls or the steps. One was hiding in a ditch, thinking that we wouldn’t find him snuggled against the wall.

David summoned us for our orientation, which was really just picking up uniforms (a styling UPS brown jumpsuit) and gloves and signing a waiver. Tomorrow we start work at 8:10, which means leaving the hotel at 7:15. It is all just too exciting for me to put into words, to be honest. I’m crazy with anticipation now that it’s finally here!

Dinner tonight is with Suzanne in the hotel.

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