“Awwwww, look at the baby pandaaaaa”
10.27.2007 - 10.31.2007 63 °F
Tim Chen, an old friend of mine from Microsoft, told me that if we were going to visit China, we absolutely must visit the city of Chengdu. “You see,” Tim explained, “There is an incredible Panda Research center in Chengdu, and Microsoft sponsors one of the baby panda’s so, I will make sure you have your pictures taken with a baby”. It was a done deal. How could we miss out on that? Griffin is in love with all animals, and Pandas, well, they’re simply the cutest and cuddliest.
So, we flew to Chengdu from Lhasa for a two night stay to go the Panda Research Center. Julie, Tim’s assistant, also arranged for us to visit the San Xin Dui museum where we would see the relics of a 5,000 year old civilization that lived there, right on the site. The museum was pretty amazing, proving this civilization was the first to cast bronze in China 1,000s of years before it was thought to have been done. And we’re not talking about small things being cast, some objects were over 10 feet tall – and they were ornate and beautiful. This ancient culture designed and crafted statues, pots & pans, wine vessels, wine glasses, heated tea pots, etc.. with jade and metal that were hard to fathom for the period. Our museum guide was super hard to understand, even though his English was very good, and the kids grew tired of it rather quickly, in spite of the historical significance. So, after an hour or so of touring, off to the Panda Research Center we went.
I was a little freaked out about whether the Panda Research Center visit was actually going to happen. You see, I had raised expectations for weeks about this visit, especially with Griffin, and when we arrived in Beijing I found out that Tim had left his post as President of Microsoft China to take the role of CEO of the NBA Greater China, (yes, the basketball NBA) that very week. I thought – uh oh…. I hope they didn’t forget about us! Well, Tim and Julie came through big time, even while he was digging into his new role. We showed up at the entrance and were immediately provided a great English speaking guide who showed us the Research Center and exhibits and the big payola… pictures sitting right next to and petting a 14 month old Panda (60 lbs). The panda reached for Griffin’s face, just like a human baby would, but a helper came and stuffed some bamboo into it’s mouth and hands just before contact was made, and ya’ know, that’s probably good news, cause the pandas paws would have scratched his eye out or something….. it’s easy to forget it’s a REAL BEAR with big claws and not some cuddly stuffed animal. We saw just how REAL BEAR they are about 20 minutes later when the Pandas were fighting. They’re not to be played with.
As real bear as they are, it turns out that the tone and approximate pronunciation for “Awwwww, look at the baby pandaaaaa” are universal, and you can tell people are saying it no matter what the language. People from all over the world were there, and we heard “Awwwww look at the baby pandaaaaa” in German, Chinese, English, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish and Thai to name a few…. It all sounds alike. There was a viewing area of newly born Pandas and there were four or so sleeping in a crib just like little babies. We weren’t allowed to take pictures. And you know, they looked and acted just like little human babies. One baby was picked up and bottle fed by an assistant and the panda held the bottle, touched the face of the woman feeding him, and it looked just like Parker when he was a baby.
Griffin was ecstatic – and we were all genuinely thrilled. Chengdu was a home run and we could now get on to our next city. We arrived at the airport the next day and were ready to head to the Jiu Zhai Gou national park when we found that all flights were being cancelled because the weather had turned foul and icy in the park. Of course we had to stay at the airport for 4 hours to confirm OUR flight had been canceled.
Carol and I consulted with each other and decided that we’d rather stay a few more days in Chengdu than try to jam in the park, leaving a day late or trying to take the 10 hour bus ride to the Park. We had no snow clothes and trekking around in sub zero weather wasn’t appealing without warm gear. We had met a great local guide named Kevin that was showing us around Chengdu and we decided that we would all be just as happy hanging out in the city. The hotel was awesome, the people were super nice, and the kids would just as soon skate some city sites than tour a national park. So, Chengdu became our home for a few more days – and Jiu Zhai Gou fell off the itinerary. Chengdu boasts about 10 million people, contains a big university, has a produce section in the airport, has great “hot pot” and features gorgeous people who are relatively short, so I am finally tall, though still not good looking. Damn! The city also has great Sichuan food everywhere, as it is in the heart of the Sichuan province.
Chengdu had some fun places to stroll and visit, and it really doesn’t have a big tourist business in the city, so we were pretty happy to just hang out with the locals without sticking to an agenda. Growing tired of Sichuan food, we even went to a Tex Mex restaurant in Chengdu which was pretty damn funny, and pretty darn good. As an aside, it was really fun and empowering to just blow off an entire city on our schedule. We had no pressure to go to Jiu Zhai Gou, just because it was on the schedule, and blowing it off made us all feel better. Think we’ll do that again.