Adventures in Asia

by Greg & Francie

Pictures of Pandas!

We were finally able to get some of the Wolong pictures up on the web.  This is a picture of the heavily forested hills that make up the Panda’s habitat. 

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Oh wait! There wasn’t a Panda in that picture. I will make up for that but first here is the panda that we consider to be the big exhibitionist–here he is letting it all hang out while eating a biscuit with each hand…duh, er, paw.

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It turns out that a Panda cannot exist on bamboo alone. Not even the super good stuff called Arrow Bamboo. The San Diego Zoo discovered that they (Pandas in captivity) needed other nutrients so they created these ‘biscuits’ which are really much more like a multi-grain bread. Well, that is what they smell like but we haven’t determined exactly what is in that special sauce.

Here are a bunch of 2 year old Pandas chomping down on some bamboo. Give them fifteen minutes and they will all be fast asleep.

Six 2 year old Panda chopping down

So, there is a lot of space at the Wolong Panda Center and many Pandas share incredibly large enclosures (that are heavily forested) with only one other Panda. The only real exception to this are the 1 and 2 year olds. The sixteen 1 year olds are split between two enclosures. People go in and make sure that the one year olds get plenty of exercise. In one of these areas there is a large stout tree stump and it seems like, every now and then, a panda will realize the ‘stump is open’ and run over to it and climb up. Here is a one year old Panda climbing the stump.

One year old Panda climbing

Here are a couple of one year old Pandas playing their version of King of the Hill (stump).

Pandas playing King of the Stump

Here is a one year old Panda checking us out!

One year old Panda

Hey sexy! You want some of this?

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More pictures of the one year old Pandas having fun.

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Bird on a wire.

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This last picture is of the two year old Pandas. It is clearly after lunch and three of the Pandas have decided they will sleep high in the tree. There are a lot of trees in the 2 year old’s enclosure but many of them are wrapped in that slick, dead, bamboo to keep them from climbing (to protect the trees).

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July 31, 2007 Posted by | China, Panda, Wildlife, Wolong | 5 Comments

Day #2 at Panda City

At Wolong today, Greg & I got to continue our feeding and cleaning routine of Haizi and Lingling, plus we got to observe Haizi getting an ultrasound! (she is pregnant with twins)  All I can say is, it’s good to be a volunteer at Wolong.  You might be wondering how they get a 200 lb. panda to lie still long enough for an ultrasound…  it turns out that the pandas are trained from a young age to do things that facilitate necessary medical procedures such as injections and blood draws.  For Haizi’s unltrasound today, the keeper lured her into a special small cage and then asked her to lie on her back, grip the bars of the cage in her paws, and lean her head back.  She was then distracted by the keeper feeding her apple bits one by one and the vetrinarians were able to do their work on her tummy.  They don’t really know when Haizi will give birth, but it sure would be neat if she had her cubs while Greg and I were here.

Here’s a photo of the ultrasound in progress:
Ultrasound

The other highlight of our panda-riffic day was watching the 1-year olds and their antics.  There are 16 of them at Wolong split between two separate enclosures.  They spend their days wrestling with each other, honing their climbing skills, running around, and sleeping.  Sounds like a good time to me.

There’s nothing to do in Wolong other than work at the panda center so that’s all we’ve got going on at the moment.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

July 31, 2007 Posted by | China, Panda, Wildlife, Wolong | 6 Comments

First day at Panda-ville!

Today was our first day volunteering at the Wolong Giant Panda Breeding & Research Center.  Our duties consist mostly of keeping 2 pandas (Ling Ling & Haizi) well fed, which makes for a relaxing day as far as full-time volunteer work goes.  You may think feeding would be boring, but it does not just consist of sticking giant piles of bamboo into their enclosures.  Ling Ling for example, gets hand fed special biscuits, one bite at a time.  (which means me, francie, gets to touch a giant panda tongue!!!).  The other panda, Haizi, is pregnant and could theoretically give birth while we are here.  Speaking of which, another panda at the center, Hua Mei (who, coincidentally, used to live at the San Diego Zoo), gave birth to twins just 2 weeks ago!  Because we get to go ‘behind the scenes’ we can to see her with 1 of her babies and see the other one lying in the incubator in the panda nursury.   Double sweet!  🙂

Sadly, the computers at the 1 place in town with internet access do not work with Greg’s digicam, so it’s gonna be several weeks before we post any photos of cute baby pandas.   But when we do finally get them up, I promise they are going to be totally RAD!

July 30, 2007 Posted by | China, Panda, Travel, Wildlife, Wolong | 2 Comments

Climbing Hua Shan

July 25th, Greg & I climbed Hua Shan, one of the 5 sacred Taoist mountains in China. Unfortunately it’s more of a souvenir stand these days than a sacred place, but that’s ok, because it was still a fun hike, and while we did get elbowed and pushed by chinese tourists, none of them knocked us off a cliff so we are happy. (just a little joke 🙂

The route we wanted to do is about 8 hours of hiking so we got an early start. We only encountered a few other hikers in the first couple hours of the ascent. It was quite misty, which fit well with the lush vegetation and occasional temple along the path.

Huashan

The first 4 km were easy going with just a slight incline. After that though, it was 2 km straight of stone steps.
Greg on Huashan

Some of them were really steep! Risk-averse Greg did not like them, but pro-risk Francie did!
Francie climbing Huashan

The actual arrival at the top was a little dissappointing… we hiked up in near solitude, but because the peak has a CABLE CAR going up to it from the other side of the mountain, it was absolutely mobbed! There were women in dresses and high heels, little babies toddling around, men in their business attire, and there we were still out of breath, soaked in sweat, carrying our heavy backpacks. The souvenir stands all sell medals for getting to the top. I don’t think the cable car riders should be allowed to buy them, hehe. But I won’t begrudge the cable car, because it was going to take it down the mountain to save our legs from walking down all those stairs…

About to have anxiety attacks from clausterphobia, we decided to continue up the steps another 1200 vertical feet to get to the East peak of the mountain, which does not have a cable car connection. The further along we got the more the crowd thinned out.

The east peak:
East Peak-HuaShan

Around this time the mist started to clear out and the resulting view was very beautiful.
View from HuaShan
View from HuaShan

There is a tradition on the mountain of purchasing a piece of red cloth and a padlock and leaving them on one of the peaks. You are then supposed to throw the key off the edge of the cliff. I don’t really know what the significance of this tradition is or where it came from. Greg and I decided not to partake. I didn’t think I could bring myself to toss a key off the mountain because of my deeply ingrained “anti-littering” sensibilities.
Huashan

After some peace and quiet and snacks on the beautiful east peak we climbed the 3km of steps back down to the first peak and queued up for the cable car.

Cable car to heaven

What a great adventure! We’re both sore today from the stairs, but it’s ok because this evening we hop on a train for 16 hours which will give us plenty of time to rest. 🙂

July 26, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel | 3 Comments

Do you remember this thing called coal?

When I saw this in the courtyard of our guest house in Hua Shan, my first thought was; “Hmmm. I wonder why they have such a big pile of these dark colored rocks. Maybe they collect them?” and then I realized that it is COAL! I think this was the first time I’ve seen coal in real life.

Pile of Coal for Christmas

July 26, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel | Leave a comment

“Put the lotion in the basket!” Thank you Chinglish!

What is Chinglish? Chinglish often refers to when a Chinese person creates a sign, or text message of any kind, that doesn’t convey the intended meaning. For instance:

Be Careful of the Safe! Is it a warning for thrill seekers to ‘keep it real’ or is it a warning about dangerous safes in the area?

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Soft waiting lounge refers to the First Class area on trains, but Rigidity? I don’t think I would want to go in there!

Chinglish

The other day we saw this excellent example of Chinglish–especially for you Silence of the Lambs fans!

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OR IT GETS THE HOSE AGAIN!

July 25, 2007 Posted by | China | 1 Comment

Problems in China – just how bad are they?

China has lots of challenging issues to face, which have become more salient to me after actually being here; e.g. I could read everyday in the newspaper about how there are horrendous pollution problems, but it wouldn’t really hit me till I saw it for myself. And now I have! If you’re interested in news about China’s “dark side”, this is a good website to peruse: www.waysthataredark.com.

Also check out this hilarious account of a day in the life of a Brit living in Beijing.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | China, Rural, Travel, Urban, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Is travelling in China difficult? Setting the record straight

Before leaving on this trip many people told me that the answer to this question is “Yes”, because of a lack of English, difficult transportation, and that in general people aren’t overly willing to help out the culturally and linguistically challenged foriegners. Now that I’ve been in the mainland for almost 2 months I can answer this question for myself; and my answer is No! It is not difficult to travel in China. It’s no Thailand in terms of convenience and “ease of use” so to speak, but it is absolutely not hard. It is true that outside of urban areas few people speak English, but there are many things you can do to overcome this even if you don’t want to learn some chinese (although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to ;-).

I was prepared for unhelpful, intimidating people yelling at me in Chinese whenever I tried to get anything done like buy bus tickets. My experience has been the exact opposite of this. There have been so many times when Greg & I were lost, confused, on the wrong bus, etc. and someone went out of their way to help us. For example, in Lijiang we tried to buy tickets for a bus that left at a different station that the one we were in. A random lady waiting in the station talked to us, figured out what the problem was, walked oustide and hailed us a taxi, then explained to the driver where we needed to go. I’ve been amazed at how often this kind of situation has been repeated, and just how friendly, welcoming, and helpful people are everywhere we go.

Transportation all over China is easy. Domestic flights are inexpensive and you can book e-tickets online with your credit card. The trains are fast, efficient, on-time and comfortable. The soft sleeper cars are nicer than some of the guesthouses we’ve stayed in. And the buses… well, they are buses, but at least longer routes have the “sleeper” option where you get a bed instead of a seat. Which is better than all the cramped long bus rides we took in Myanmar and Laos.

So if you’re thinking of going to China but are intimidated by what you hear from other travellers, you should reconsider because it’s not nearly as hard as people make it out to be. 🙂

July 22, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel | 3 Comments

A Walk through the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an

Francie and I took a stroll through Xi’an’s Muslim Quarter. We wanted to have a little lunch and then go on to The Great Mosque. The Muslim Quarter and The Great Mosque are heavily influenced by Chinese culture and it is a really cool part of Xi’an.

Muslim Quarter-Xian

Food stall in Muslim Quarter-Xian

Woman using a scale to weigh a slice of watermelon. That piece probably costs 15 cents.

Watermelon on the scales in Xian

A butcher in the Muslim Quarter

Butcher in Muslim Quarter

Roasting Walnuts

Nut warming machine

Door in the Muslim Quarter

Door in Muslim Quarter-Xian

At lunch I ate a pita bread sandwich with cumin seasoned steak (delicious) and Francie had some noodles with Sesame sauce ($2 for lunch). Here is a snapshot of some noodles and bread.

Noodles in the Muslim Quarter-Xian

Breads in the Muslim Quarter-Xian

We finally made it to the Great Mosque. I really was surprised by how much I enjoyed the architecture of the place. Here are a few pictures.

Great Mosque-Xian

Prayer area at Great Mosque-Xian

Bicycle and broom at The Great Mosque

Bicycle at Great Mosque-Xian

Francie and these little trees/plants

Francie at The Great Mosque-Xian

Round door in courtyard

Round Door at The Great Mosque

July 22, 2007 Posted by | China, Photography, Travel, Urban | 2 Comments

I went to dig a well, and look what I found!

The Terracotta Warriors were discovered by a farmer who was digging a well in a field 30 years ago. It turned out that the first Qin Emperor decided that he needed an army to protect him in death. It was impressive–even if we did get elbowed by a lot of Chinese tourists. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. “Talk, Now!”

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The Chariot behind the horses was broken.
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I made new friends
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In a strange twist–Katy, Texas decided they needed replicas of the army (scroll down to the bottom of the link above)

July 21, 2007 Posted by | China, Travel | 5 Comments