Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chengdu: PANDAS

Janice just left, and we are once again all alone in our apartment...this time without heat. Big thumbs down. But, I found something to do: we've been so busy galavanting around Beijing the last few days that we forgot to post about the pandas! So, here goes!

After returning home at 10 pm after our 6-hour standstill-traffic bus-ride from hell, we basically crashed at our hostel. The next morning, we again woke up super early, this time to go to the Panda Breeding Center! We arrived at 8:30 am, just when they released the pandas into their enclosures (it was more like a zoo than a wild animal area). (Sid
e note: we learned a lot about pandas so will be adding fun panda facts into the post)

So basically, a few moments after we got there, this is what we saw:Little did we know this was the most movement we would see these adolescent pandas do all day--from inside to the bamboo pile. They then proceeded to start eating.
(You looking at me?) They only eat the shoots of this type of bamboo, not the outside hard part, so they do this really cute thing where they hold the bamboo and peel it with their teeth.It's pretty hard work to eat this way...especially because (fun fact) they only absorb/digest about 20% of the food they eat...and they got lazier, and lazier, until they basically were lying on their backs stuffing their faces.I love this picture because I think it looks like an Ewok, from Star Wars:
We then went over to the panda baby nursery. Turns out, pandas are born weighing 1/1000th of what they will weigh as adults, and they look like gross little white rats. Fun fact: their skin/fur doesn't turn black around their eyes until they're one month old! We didn't see any "fresh ones" (as Alison says about newly born human babies), but we did spend a long time watching a few 6-10 month old cubs (?) play.They were so cute! We loved how these twin cubs followed each other around, rough-housing.There was a third panda cub resting in a tree, looking all peaceful and angelic.Then the twins climbed up too and disrupted the bigger one from its slumber.
Turns out panda cubs are more acrobatic than we thought:We then went to watch a video about the panda breeding center and panda mating habits. What we learned is that basically the pandas would be extinct without human intervention: normally species live for about 5 million years and then become extinct, and the pandas have been around 8 million years. Then, they barely digest their food. And, if that weren't enough, female pandas are only in estrus for a short time, and are super picky about their mates, and...if a baby is born, 1/3 of the females do not know how to mother their offspring so it dies. (And, not mentioned, of course, in the Chinese propaganda video was the fact that almost all of their natural habitat has been destroyed.)

Luckily for pandas worldwide, this center has developed a new technique for semen collection that has greatly improved their artificial insemination program. As they said in the video (verbatim), in the 1990s, they only used electrical stimulation on the males, with poor results, but now they have "pioneered a new technique for semen collection, called 'electrical stimulation with massage.'" The three of us started laughing immediately; I wonder who has the job entitled "Panda Penis Masseuse"?

After the video ended, our trip returned to a PG level--we saw an few full-size adults in individual enclosures...eating.
Surprised? And we saw the red panda, which kinda looks like a raccoon. Much more active, but less impressive.
After we left the panda center, we went to a Sichuan hotpot, which is a super-famous eating style that is kinda like fondue at the Melting Pot: there's a burner on the table, and they put a vat of liquid broth/seasoning and give you what you order raw. Then you cook it yourself via boiling it, and it's all sorts of deliciousness.

We got 2 bowls of seasoning--one spicy and one not. After our first bite of the spicy, with faces that had already flushed to a bright red, Janice and I took out about 90% of the ma la (these spicy peppers that make you mouth go numb) so we could eat. We managed ok: my mouth felt like it had been burnt. As in, eating unseasoned rice was painful. But despite that, it was one of the best meals we've had in China.

We then went to a Buddhist temple that looked like all other Buddhist temples and headed back to the airport for our return to Beijing.

We're missing Janice but so thankful she was able to spend her spring break with us. Can't wait to see her back in NYC in a few months!

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