Thursday, June 14, 2007

Move over, Beorn. Make way for Jing Jing!

There are pandas (xiongmao, or “bear cats”) at the Panda Adventure. Lots of them! I was overwhelmed by the xiongmaoness of it all, for it is everywhere, from the giant metal panda when you enter, to the pictures of pandas on every flat surface in the park, to the pandas themselves.

Pandas, by the way, are not nearly as interesting as the Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club would have you believe. It turns out that these once mighty carnivores now subsist on a diet of about 40 different kinds of bamboo, supplemented in the park with apples, milk, and some coarse wheat buns. In the wild, it’s all bamboo, all the time. One might think, thus, that pandas are very good at digesting the fibrous stalk of the bamboo tree, but they are not. For every kilogram of bamboo that they eat, as much as fifty to sixty percent is excreted undigested. And yes, there’s a picture of that too, because Panda Adventure is nothing if not thorough.

Panda Adventure (or, rather, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding) is also the home of Jing Jing, a several-year-old panda who has the distinction of being the official mascot for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing. Not to nitpick, but I cannot think of a less appropriate mascot for athleticism than a creature that spends over two-thirds of its day sleeping and the remaining third ingesting and excreting bamboo shoots.

At any rate, Caitlin and Kina had the opportunity to meet Jing Jing today. See, the Research Base gives individuals the ability to support their efforts by practicing “Beneficence Towards Pandas”, or some such tripe. What it means in practice is that you fork over 400 yuan (about $50) and the authorities frog march a panda onto a bench, where it sits munching bamboo whilst you pet it and the authorities take pictures of you and the recently bribed panda.

[Please note: I am not some tree-hugging activist, but even I thought this was a little over the top. But not so over the top that I wouldn’t participate, as you shall see.]

So Dave pays 800 yuan, and Caitlin and Kina get to have their picture taken with a panda. But not just any panda; it’s Jing Jing herself! The authorities indicate that only one camera may take pictures of this moment, and they enforce this rule by leading the girls onto the island in the middle of Jing Jing’s habitat.

I am not, however, about to tolerate that. For 800 yuan, we’re getting as many pictures as we please, thank you very much. The authorities have Caitlin’s camera, so I grab Kina’s and Andrea’s. Andrea sees me do this.

“Jared, what’re you doing?”

Getting pictures of the girls, that’s what.

“You little anarchist.”


The pictures, by the by, are lovely. Jing Jing has nothing on those girls. Nothing.

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