They will be the alpha and omega of this post. They are to Chengdu what the Great Wall is to Beijing or the Egyptian Pyramids are to Cairo. People actually fly to Chengdu to stay for less than twenty-four hours, simply to stop in at our panda research base. Some are even willing to pony up the nearly $300 (that’s USD folks!) to hold a baby for mere moments.
All of this means I wouldn’t be a CLO worthy of the city if I didn’t organize at least one community trip to see the monochromatic creatures of Sichuan. Due to our recent rocking and rolling, thanks to Mother Nature, the trip entailed an initial reconnaissance phase, followed by a twelve-hour panda-riffic adventure. (The first attempt was not meant to be just an information gathering leg, but rather a real excursion that was abruptly called to a halt when the earthquake turned our winding, narrow road through the gorge into a lesson in dodging increasingly larger and larger rock slides.)
A month later, with our backpacks refilled with snacks (a lesson learned after a recent CLO outing that included what was possibly the worst meal I’ve been presented with in China), it was back to BiFeng Gorge and the pandas that awaited our much needed volunteering efforts.
Rather than bore you with the minutiae of my panda volunteering experience, I’ll rundown the schedule of the day and then provide you with what everyone really wants anyway, the pictures!
8:30AM- Arrive at the base, buy entrance tickets for our entire group, buy shuttle tickets for the entire group, hold on for dear life to not fall out of the shuttle I just bought tickets to ride
8:45AM- Climb out of the shuttle, say a little prayer of thanks for my safe arrival
8:46AM- Skim (barely, as nothing it says is going to deter me from getting up close and personal with the pandas) the safety waiver and sign away any liability on the part of the base for the loss of fingers, toes, and my life (apparently poisonous snakes are rather common in the area)
8:47AM- Shimmy into a lovely gray jumpsuit lacking in all fashion sense, which instantly reminded me of my sister-in-law’s late grandfather, whom we lovingly called Grandpa Jumpsuit
8:48AM- Crack several jokes about needed a Bedazzler to add some serious bling to my jumpsuit
9:00AM- Join the fabulous Team Bam-poo for a day of panda cage cleaning
9:05AM- At the first moment we are left alone without the handler, reach into the panda cage and pet YuanYuan, breaking the first (and possibly only) rule of panda volunteering
9:06AM- High fives all around Team Bam-poo for the close encounter with our assigned bear
9:10-10:10AM- Sweep up panda poo, which is surprisingly fibrous and not too stinky, although it is clear the creatures don’t digest the carrots they are fed on a daily basis. Also, sweep up the tree leaves that litter the ground outside the cages. (This hour of work was interspersed with as much stopping to watch the pandas and to holler at the two other work groups as it was filled with actual exertion.)
10:30AM- By hand, feed the pandas their morning bread and carrots
Noon- Lunch at a wonderful farmer’s restaurant and then some basking in the brilliant sunshine
1:30PM- Visit the panda kindergarten to see the babies, which were all draped over tree branches, twenty feet off the ground
2:30PM- Again, by hand, feed the adult pandas their afternoon meal of panda bread and bamboo shoots
3:00PM- Return to the panda kindergarten in anticipation of watching the little ones enjoy their lunch. Instead, enjoy the comedy of two panda handlers chasing a six-foot long snake, whacking at it with a broom to defend their tiny charges who are munching bamboo leaves as if there isn’t a ridiculous commotion taking place just a few short yards away
3:30PM- Pick up certificates for all of my intrepid panda volunteers and head back to the vans for the return trip (or nap, as it turns out, for many) to Chengdu
It took two attempts to get there, but I have now officially touched China’s national treasure. Maybe it was just for a second or two, but it happened. It was awesome.