Today we woke up bright and early to get to the Panda Breeding centre for when it opened.
We ate our breakfast in the taxi on the way and were on site by 8.10am. The queue to buy our tickets was really short and we were served quickly (although they wouldn’t accept our student cards for half price tickets) and we were one of the first people in the park!
I was a little apprehensive about visiting the breeding centre because at first it just seemed like another way to justify a ‘zoo’- exploiting animals for money making gains but the centre itself was really well run! Leah loves pandas so I had a little private tour guide as she explained to me all of the work that the centre had been doing and how a lot of their breeding programmes in recent years have been successful (evident with the Cubs that we saw).
There are information centres which explain why pandas are struggling to survive in the wild (global warming and farming is destroying their habitats and they need to eat large amounts of bamboo to survive – they need to eat for around 12-14 hours a day!) and also their natural breeding system seems destined to fail (only being fertile for 3 days and fight the males away the rest of the year). It seems like they’re not very good at adapting to new environments so it’s likely that all wild pandas will be extinct in a few years.
They’re a lot smaller and had similar features to a bear, a dog and a cat. They were adorable but If I didn’t know better I would love one for a ‘pet’! The red pandas were a lot more active than their giant counterparts and were scaling the trees using their large tails for balance.
The park was laid out really well and it was easy to walk from one enclosure to the next (although there was a shuttle bus service for the less able/ really lazy people). The walk was actually part of the fun though! Along the route there were stone posts with powerful statements about respecting and loving animals engraved into them.
Some seemed a little ironic at being in China which is not famed for having a great animals rights record but the sentiment was right for the breeding centre. Hopefully it will inspire the people reading it to be more ethically aware of animals rights.
The calm of the centre was shattered by 12pm when bus loads of tourists arrived. It turned the breeding centre into the ‘zoo’ that I feared. Children and adults were running around the centre being noisy (when it says explicitly that pandas don’t like noise), throwing food into the enclosure (when it says explicitly not to feed the pandas) and heckling the animals so they did something ‘photo worthy’.
We left shortly after!
It was definitely a good idea getting a taxi to the breeding centre because we failed at getting the bus back (we ended up in a taxi anyway- after trying to get the bus back for over an hour).
By the time we got back to the hostel it was lunch time so we are directly opposite in a restaurant recommended by the international relations teacher. I ended up eating a whole plate of broccoli which was delicious seasoned with garlic (amongst other vegetables and rice but the broccoli was the star dish!)
The Tibetan Quarter
In the evening we walked to the Tibetan area of the city (almost via the train station which was 3 hours walk away because we put in the wrong gps coordinates…).
The little area is set back off the Main Street by a Tibetan style gate and opens up into lots of different alleyways; all lined with shops and food stalls. We found one street which had lots of different food stalls on that was rammed! People were joining long queues for each of the individual stalls, buying one piece of food (e.g. Meat on a stick), eating it on the edge of the street and then joining the next stall to repeat the process. It was really interesting to watch and a lot of the food looked vegetarian (at least) and pretty tasty!
After walking around the Tibetan-esque streets a little more we headed back to the main food street for dinner.
We tried so much food! Stinky tofu (which was covered in spices and tasted really good), sticky rice in lotus leaves, lotus wrapped bean curd, vegetable spring rolls… We were pretty full by the time we’d walked from one end of the street to the other.
After walking a little more- past bars with live music, and over cute little bridges lined with people and red lanterns- we were offered free henna at one of the stalls we past ( we were clearly used as promotion because as soon as we sat down at the empty stall for our henna it became rammed with people taking photos of us and joining the queue!).
We made our way to the main Street after as we started heading home and passed a really sad thing. There were monkeys tied to string being walked along the road by men trying to charge passers by for photos. Leah and I quickly walked past because we didn’t want them to think that they’d drawn our internet and that their animal exploitation was a good tourist attraction!