Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pandas, babies, baby pandas

I realized I forgot to write about the pandas, or at least I think I did. Since I can't go back and read my own blog whilst in a communist country, and I am too lazy to go in and reopen my posts in edit mode, you may feel a little deja vu.

Chengdu is home to a big panda breeding center, where they are raising pandas to breed with other pandas around the world and also supposedly to release some in the wild. Anyhow, we got there early to take advantage of feeding time, and it was pandapalooza. Since usually you are lucky to get a glimpse of two pandas hiding in the corner of their cage in a zoo, this was like hitting the panda jackpot. We saw pandas eating. We saw pandas hanging out. We saw pandas lying on their bellies staring forward like Satchel does when he wants to convey he his too bored for words and why are you doing this to him. We saw red pandas (more like raccoons, but still cute). And we saw a baby panda in an incubator, one half of a pair of twins whose mother could only care for one at a time. So while his brother was being nursed (we could see it on closed circuit TV, but not live), he was hanging out in the incubator being gawked at. He was adorable and so teeny tiny.

Another Chengdu note: on our way out from the panda exhibit, we decided to buy some panda souvenirs. We were quoted a price like 40 yuan for what we wanted. Nisha and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said back, "Four for 40 yuan." The woman shook her head no, we shrugged again, and we walked away. Five seconds later, she yelled, "Ok, Ok!" and waved us back. I'm not saying we got the deal of the century on our schlocky souvenirs, but Nisha and I are beginning to feel this haggling thing is getting a bit too easy.

It was hard to say goodbye to Chengdu, and even harder to leave it. Literally. Our plane took off late, and there was a lot of confusion because our gate said Beijing and we thought we might be missing our flight. We finally boarded, and after about two hours in the air and about twenty minutes of circling, we were given an announcement, the English version of which said something about the military, something about landing, and something about another airport. They repeated this message three times, and we finally landed and sat on a random runway somewhere and refueled. We still have no idea where we were. We were the only English speakers on the plane.

We finally got into Guangzhou, checked into our super hip hotel, and headed down to Shamian Island, supposedly ex-pat central and home of a bar which serves buffalo wings. Since I'm travelling with a Buffalo native, it seemed like we had to go. What we found instead was a family restuarant. Side note: Guangzhou, and this island in particular, is where Americans who adopt Chinese babies end up, because it's the location of the US Consulate which specializes in the paperwork for these adoptions. So instead of the usual Nisha-and-Julie-get-stared-at-as-the-only-non-Chinese-people-in-a-restaurants, we got stared at as the only people who were there sans Chinese baby. Every single table was happy American families, some with older kids fussing over their new sibling, and one Chinese baby (90% girls) sitting in the high chair. On this island, almost every store has children's clothing, many boast "stroller available for borrow" (we love broken English), and the Starbucks has a changing table. The fancy Thai restaurant where we had our dinner even had a menu of dishes for babies, with lots of pictures of babies on it. It was quite a sight.

Today, we bought our Hong Kong train tickets, but can't leave until tonight so had an unexpected full day here. We just got back to the hotel from an hour's sojourn at Starbucks. Our decision to visit one Starbucks per city (and to count the Tibetan milk tea in Jiuzhaigou as a tall latte) has been a fun one. This one had some sort of back room you needed a key card to get into, and I theorize that this was the training headquarters for all of Starbucks China. Many people came and went, and from what we could see it was still decorated like Starbucks back there-- a veritable Starbucks U if you will.


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