How Pandas Won Me Over (by Carmen)
We were not going to see the pandas. They may be one of the major attractions of Sichuan but we would not be swayed. “They are endangered! They’re so cute! You can even hold one!” These exclamations would not move us. At least we thought.
But we had some extra time in Chengdu. In our walks around the city we saw panda faces everywhere as they are the symbol of the region. Maybe it was subliminal messaging. Eventually a couple of travelers invited us to share a taxi with them and before we knew it we were on our way to watch some black and white bears roll around.
Turns out they really are cute. Ridiculously so. These huge bears just sit around eating bamboo all day and seem to smile about it. Despite their size, they almost seem vulnerable with their slow movements and dopey looks. Nathan kept saying they look like giant stuffed animals come to life. An apt description.
They eat about 40kg of bamboo a day which at their pace takes a looong time. As a special treat the sanctuary gives them little mooncakes filled with grains and vitamins. I like how the pandas have a Chinese diet.
Of course the cutest pandas are the mini-versions – the babies! Well, they’re not cute when they just come out. They are pink little rat looking things. Pandas have one of the highest mortality rates. Their cubs are born weighing only 90g (3oz). The mothers sometimes crush the little guys since they are so fragile. Oops.
But then they grow into little fluff balls that just want to climb things and gnaw on their mother all day. You can imagine the oohs and ahhs coming from the crowd as we all watched this play session. You are allowed to hold these tiny guys but it costs somewhere around $200 for just a couple minutes of time.
Even the teenagers are adorable and perhaps even more playful. Since they’re a little bigger they can get into some mischief like toppling their sleeping friend out of a tree just for the fun of it. But they’re resilient. I watched one fall from a tall branch and just shake it off.
Did you know that pandas come in red too? Kinda. They are a fraction of the size and remind me more of a racoon than a panda. But apparently they’re related and have a spot at the sanctuary. However, they definitely don’t get the same love as their black and white cousins.
So we didn’t buy any panda hats or sweaters or tails, all of which are available at the many gift shops. Not that we’ll wear out in public anyway. Hey, it’s easy to be won over by the panda craze.