Sometimes you have an experience that, no matter how small, leaves behind an indelible memory.
This weekend, I had one of those experiences when I held a nine-month-old panda.
Now, everyone had been teasing me because I have a weakness for all things cute and fluffy and they knew how much I wanted to hold the panda. Though it wasn’t inexpensive, it was worth every RMB to spend five minutes with the panda and get to interact with one of the most beautiful species on this planet.
Out of our entire group, only six of us wanted to hold the panda. Thus, while everyone else went to see the pandas throughout the exhibit, we went behind the scenes to help clean the bamboo for the pandas, learn about panda anatomy and history, and hold one of the young pandas.
We had to don hospital attire (scrubs and shoe covers) before we were allowed to hug our panda. There was a keeper nearby with bamboo to make sure that Xixi, the panda of the day, behaved and didn’t try to climb all over the visitor stroking her head. When it was my turn, I was in a breathless state of happiness – finally I was stroking a panda’s head. The best moment came when Xixi decided to turn towards me and began to climb into my lap, and my surprise and delight was perfectly captured by the lovely Chinese woman waiting behind me in line.
The keepers distracted Xixi with bamboo (one of them thought I was scared – psh, scared, more like delirious with happiness) and I happily spent the rest of my time stroking her fur while she gnawed away on some bamboo.
Once we had all of our time with Xixi, we received our professional photographs and a goodie bag (a thank you for our donation to the Panda Research Base) and watched pandas nearby wrestle in their trees. Granted, the others were able to see more pandas (including red pandas), but I would not have had my experience any other way.
After our visit to the Panda Research Base, we went to Ludai Ancient Market. It was a long street lined with antique streets and food shops, and for the first time the entire trip, I spent more time shopping and observing than taking pictures. First and last time, I promise.
The marketplace gave us a sense of separation from modern-day Chengdu in the bustle and cries of the street vendors showing off their food and goods, and though we pleaded for as much time as we could, we didn’t spend nearly as much time as we wanted.
The only pictures I did get from the trip were ones Marthe took of me by the nearby waterfall. She has this notion that I don’t have enough pictures of myself here, and her photoshoot attracted the attention of several Chinese locals. Though I’m still adjusting to the paparazzi, who are genuinely excited and curious about my conspicuous American-ness, I did appreciate the chance to get pictures with two adorable girls who begged their parents for a picture. I’m still amazed at the parents’ enthusiasm about a stranger hugging their only offspring, but it seemed as though the parents were just as thrilled as their children.
We’ve got another week of classes before our next excursion, and that includes finally meeting my host family!
I HELD A PANDA,