Friday, 1 August 2014

Chengdu Panda Research Base

An Unexpected Communist Party

It is the evening of July the 31st, 2014. Jimmy, the hotel manager rushes towards me whilst I eat my dinner (I do not recall what it was, but it would have been spicy). Jimmy seems really glad to have discovered me.

'I remember, you say you are going to Tibet?' he asks, with anxiety in his voice.

'No, I am not going to Tibet,' I say truthfully.

'Oh, because I think I remember you tell me you go to Tibet. I have customer - he go to Tibet, and he need help.'

Jimmy takes me to the lobby, where I am introduced to a handsome, yet confused looking European man. His name is Antonov and he is from Siberia, and he is wishing to go to Tibet - he came to China for that purpose. After the greetings are finalised, Jimmy advises that I should help him with his trip to Tibet, and he leaves us to our business. I am thoroughly confused at this point - not just because I haven't a clue about entering Tibet, but I am unsure whether Jimmy genuinely made the mistake that I knew how to do so, or if he was just making things up in order to get this customer off his hands. Be that as it may, I was left here in the lobby with this stout Russian man who could nearly speak English, and I was supposed to organise a trip to Tibet for him, despite knowing nothing of it myself.

We did a bit of web surfing (using a computer during the Sichuan summer is unbearable enough as it is) and I was trying to relay everything back to him in the most comprehendible English possible. At this point I was certain of only two things - one, he wasn't understanding enough of what I was saying and two, it was unlikely he would be going to Tibet. For a tourist to enter Tibet they have to be a part of a tour group - and not many tour groups speak Russian, which is surprising, as I would have thought it's close proximity would result in many groups being formed.

Just when I thought I should tell him not to get his hopes up, two Russians walked in, declaring that they wanted to go on a trip to - Tibet! I was speechless, although more than happy enough to hand Antonov over to them. They didn't end up going to Tibet, but it was an amazing coincidence that they happened to walk in at that moment, and I was able to refer him to someone who spoke his language -  and actually knew what they were talking about. Suzanne always said that on journeys, the world tends to provide things - if hope seems lost, you will find a way, and something will pop up to save the day. This happened for me many times on my trip, and it happened to Antonov too.

We ended up getting on jolly well with the Russians, and decided to visit the Chengdu Panda Research Base together (2) the following day. We ended up going our own ways, but we were fine. The Base is a great attraction - it's not just a zoo for pandas - it's a museum and park, as well. We went to the bamboo restaurant (33) and concluded that it was the best meal we had ever had in China. We ended up spending all day at the base - Antony was thoroughly sick of the pandas soon but Suzanne and I couldn't get enough of them. We didn't just get to see those playing and climbing trees outside. There was a feeding session, a couple of pandas play-wrestling, and a baby being nursed in the lab (59).

The Chengdu Panda Research Base is a must-see for any visitor to China, because it's more than just a tourist attraction. It's educational, entertaining and heartwarming at times. It's also a modern landmark - something that China, a nation swimming in relics of the past, can be proud of in the world as a significant milestone in the 21st century. (hint: some people don't like communism but everybody likes pandas)