As the fog of jetlag continues to wear off, I'm starting to realize what an absolutely incredible experience I was lucky enough to have in China. As an animal lover, it would have been spectacular just to visit the two panda bases in China and see more pandas (more than 80 by our estimation) than most people see in a lifetime. I mean, really, you see maybe two, or six, if you travel to DC and San Diego and visit the best zoos in the US. We saw over 80! That alone made the last two weeks a breathtaking experience.
Never in my adult life would I have even dreamt that I'd get to hold a panda though. Living in such a litigious country as I do, the thought of even touching a panda is so verboten that I would never even consider it. To be honest, the thought would never have even crossed my mind. Going into the trip, my expectations were that I'd not only see more pandas than the average zoo-going American but that I might, just might, get closer too. Even after doing some reading online and writing to others who had already done it, it still really hadn't fully sunken in that others had really up close experiences and that I could participate in these photo opps that they did too. I just had no idea how profoundly it would strike me.
Holding a panda cub, or sitting with one while he munches away and I am able to rub his back, scratch his chin and look into his eyes, is like nothing else I've ever done. There are just no words sufficient enough to convey how magical it was. I've been fortunate enough to have had some pretty amazing travel experiences, but this one tops them all. I look at the photos now and it feels like it was all a dream, but its one that can still make me smile.
Pinch me, I held a panda!