Stress Busters

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Three generations of a panda family

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When I adopted my second panda Gong Zhu in 2008, she was 10 years old and already a mother of three sets of twins and two single cubs. Nine years later, she’s not only added four more single cubs to her family for a total of 12, but has also become a grandmother and a great-grandmother, too. Of her 12 cubs, Zhu Hai, one of her 2007 cubs, perished in the aftermath of the 2008 earthquake.

Gong Zhu’s mother died in 2010 but her father Da Di is still with us, living in Beijing Zoo. I had been looking forward to visiting him on one of my trips to see Gong Gong, my first adopted panda Feng Yi’s son, who lives in Taiyuan, just six hi-speed train stops from Beijing.

For my previous two visits to Taiyuan, I had flown in via Fuzhou (November 2015) and Wuhan (May 2016). I recently made a third trip there. This time, I flew into Beijing to take the train to Taiyuan, with a couple of stops along the way. From Taiyuan, I flew to Chengdu enroute to Dujiangyan to wait for the arrival of Gong Gong’s sister, Nuan Nuan, who was being returned to China from Malaysia. Gong Zhu is also in Dujiangyan; I would be seeing both her and her father this trip.

Before I left for Beijing, Leo in Fuzhou said I should go to Dezhou to visit Gong Zhu’s youngest cub, Xian Xian. Dezhou is located between Beijing and Taiyuan; after looking at train schedules and despite timing being a bit tight, I decided to add Dezhou to my itinerary. And this was how I came to see three generations of my second adopted panda’s family recently.

The following, in chronological order, are photos of my three visits with them.

Da Di in Beijing Zoo – 6 November 2017

Born in 1992, Da Di is the eldest son of the famous Pan Pan who sired 30 offsprings in his lifetime while Da Di himself sired 19.


My first sight of “Big Earth” (what Da Di means in English)


Slumped against the door after eating; too full to move?


Classic panda sleeping position


A youthful-looking 25-year-old panda


Nice smile for his daughter’s adopter

Xian Xian in Dezhou Zoo – 7 November 2017

Dezhou was not on my original itinerary. I had to be somewhere else the next day in order to arrive in Taiyuan by a certain date, so it could only be a day trip, with the morning train from Beijing and then the evening train to Shijiazhuang, the next stop. Despite the quick visit, I’m glad I went to see Xian Xian, Gong Zhu’s youngest cub, at the zoo there. I was going to visit a movie star; both Xian Xian and her mother were featured in the 2016 Disney movie, Born in China.


Feeding time with one of her two keepers


Dirty glass display but I’m glad the smudge didn’t hide her face


The keeper had put her treats in a little basket in the yard and she came out to enjoy them


I kept thinking Gong Zhu throughout the visit because Xian Xian looks so much like her


Back inside and I managed to find a clean part of the display to get this shot


So happy to see the Zoo’s panda exhibit has a poster about Xian Xian’s movie credentials in Born in China

Gong Zhu in Dujiangyan – 12 to 15 November 2017

I had three whole days with Gong Zhu, plus a bonus afternoon due to my early morning flight from Taiyuan and my decision to stay at a hotel within walking distance of Dujiangyan panda base.

I had helped look after Gong Zhu for a whole week during my first volunteer trip to Bifengxia in August 2008. I couldn’t stop thinking of her when I returned home; after looking at, and re-arranging, my financial commitments, I informed Pandas International of my decision to adopt her.

I’ve visited Gong Zhu at least once, usually more, every year since adopting her nine years ago. Even when she was transferred to Ganzhou in February 2016, I kept up with my visits with her. My first adopted panda Feng Yi’s arrival to live in Malaysia as part of a panda loan agreement with China has often overshadowed this second panda adoption of mine. It is only recently that I’ve discovered Gong Zhu is just as important to me as Feng Yi.


19-year-old panda plays peek-a-boo with her adopter


She can still climb trees when she wants to and stand firm on a slim branch, too


Perfect panda ears!


Not the first time she’s given me the eye


At her drinking fountain, which a visitor (not me) had described as feng shui

Note:
This is not the first time I’ve visited three generations of a panda family, but it is the first time I planned to see two of them and then was gifted with the third. The first time I saw three generations of a panda family on the same trip was during my very first panda trip in 2007. In those days, there were no direct flights from Malaysia to Chengdu. I had flown through Guangzhou and had stayed over to visit San Diego Zoo’s former papa panda, and Hua Mei’s father, Shi Shi, in Guangzhou Zoo. Before the trip, Nekomama on the Flickr photo site had said someone told her there was a panda by the name of Dong Dong living in Panyu Park (as Chimelong Safari Park was known in those days); she wondered if this Dong Dong was Hua Mei’s maternal grandmother. Since I was going to be in Guangzhou, I decided to visit Panyu to find out; the Dong Dong there was indeed Hua Mei’s maternal grandmother. And then when I got to Wolong, I was taken to visit Hua Mei who was in the maternity ward at the time, a visit arranged by Pandas International. And so, not having preplanned it, I ended up seeing three generation of a panda family on my very first panda trip to China 10 years ago.

I have been, and continue to be, so blessed.

A special day to visit Gong Zhu

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Before I left for my recent 17-day trip across seven cities in China, a friend asked if I would be in Ya’an on 12 May this year. In previous years, I’d been in Ya’an on that day to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. But not this year. This year on 12 May, I would be with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu, in her new home in Ganzhou Zoo. But looking back on the trip, and especially the two days I was with her, I realised I had commemorated this year’s 8th anniversary of the 2008 earthquake, but in a different way than previous years’.

If not for the 2008 earthquake, I would not have gone to Bifengxia Panda Base where I was assigned to the keeper looking after Gong Zhu. I would not have helped look after her for a week, formed a bond with her, and later, after returning home, decided to adopt her after rearranging my financial commitments.

God works in mysterious ways. I commemorated the 2008 earthquake’s 8th anniversary by spending it with the panda I’d adopted as a result of the earthquake. I’ve visited her almost every year (sometimes twice a year) since 2008, except for the year she was sent to Hetaoping.

Gong Zhu and another panda, Han Yuan, were moved to Ganzhou Zoo in early February this year, in time to go on public exhibit during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holidays. I think this is the first time Gong Zhu’s lived away from Sichuan Province while Han Yuan has lived in three other places – Shanghai Zoo, Shanghai Wild Animal Park and Ningbo Zoo – before coming to Ganzhou Zoo, and she’s only eight this year.

Gong Zhu and Han Yuan are also the first pair of pandas to live here. Ganzhou Zoo has never had pandas before. The panda house is new, with both indoor rooms and outdoor yards, one of both for each of them. Perhaps due to lack of space, the panda house is built on a slope with no path for visitors to walk around to see the outdoor yards. Instead, the panda house is a two-storey structure, with the top storey providing a viewing area from which to view their yards. The result is an aerial view. Not exactly the best view of Gong Zhu and Han Yuan when they are outdoors.

While the layout of the panda house may not be the best for visitors, what’s important for me is that the pandas are well cared for. I think they are, although it could be better.

Mr Ren, a keeper from Dujiangyan, had accompanied Gong Zhu and Han Yuan to Ganzhou Zoo, and scheduled to be there for six months. He is a good friend and I was looking forward to see him as well as Gong Zhu. Unfortunately, two days before the start of my trip, he was called home on some family business. I was disappointed not to see him and to discuss with him my impressions of the panda house. Instead, I got to meet Mr Fu, the local keeper who would take over the pandas’ care after Mr Ren completes his six months in Ganzhou Zoo.

Of the two pandas, Gong Zhu has adapted better than Han Yuan. She has a very good appetite. Unlike the usual panda habit of eating and sleeping, she ate more than she slept during my two days’ visit. When she was not eating or sleeping, she was walking around a fair bit.

Han Yuan has not adapted as well. She hardly eats the bamboo provided for her but has no problem with the supplement food – the carrots, apples and bamboo shoots. Unfortunately, because bamboo is the panda’s main diet, if she goes too long without it, her health will be affected. Ganzhou Zoo’s panda team needs to find a source of bamboo that will meet Han Yuan’s taste.

Han Yuan was also a big surprise for me. I’d assumed Han Yuan was male, and even when Mr Fu mentioned both of them were in estrus the previous month, it still did not click for me. It was only after I returned home that I found out Han Yuan is female. But that’s not the surprise. The surprise – a happy one – is that she is our Fu Wa’s younger half-sister, born of the same mother. I was so happy to find another family connection to Ganzhou Zoo.

For sure, I will visit Gong Zhu and Han Yuan in Ganzhou Zoo again, the same way I visited Feng Yi when she was living in Guilin. The next time I visit, I hope to see Han Yuan enjoying her bamboo.

Gong ZhuGZ-gz-160512-1

Han YuanHY-gz-160512-1

Outside view of the Ganzhou Zoo panda house, with a partial view of Gong Zhu’s outdoor yard
and the viewing area on the first floor
ganzhou_panda-outside-may2016

Aerial view of the two yards from the first floor viewing areaganzhou_panda-outdoor-may2016-1

Overdue blog entry, no thanks to Facebook

Filed in Stress Busters, TravelsTags: ,

A month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo visiting Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong. I was on a 17-day panda trip to visit 22 pandas in seven cities. Taiyuan was the fourth city. If I’d been a bit more organised, this post would’ve been written at the time I was there.

If I’d been more organised, I would’ve written daily posts about the various cities and pandas during the trip. The first time I thought about writing a blog entry, I realised I’d forgotten my password for my Chet’s Chatter blog. Not surprising as my last blog entry was more than a year ago in April 2015. And I blame Facebook for it.

The reason I thought about posting on my blog was because Facebook is blocked in China. Facebook has taken over the need for a blog. It’s only when I’m in China and have no access to Facebook that I remember Chet’s Chatter. It’s not fair to my blog. But I’m digressing …

So a month ago today, I was in Taiyuan Zoo. It was my second day there. The entire 17-day trip had actually been planned so that I would be in Taiyuan on the 17th and 18th of May. Why? Gong Gong turned 33 months old on 18 May. That’s why.

I’ve been visiting Bifengxia Panda Base every May since 2009. I’ve tried to be there every 12th of May, the anniversary of the 2008 earthquake. When I was there in 2014, I also visited Gong Gong and was with him when he turned 9 months old on 18 May 2014. Although I returned to Bifengxia in August that year to celebrate his 1st birthday, I knew I would not be able to be there every year for his birthday which is only five days before his mother’s. So I made a promise to myself to be with him every year on 18 May instead of 18 August; at least, I would be with him on the right date, even though not the right month.

So I was with him on his 9th and 21st “monthdays”, both times in Bifengxia. And I was with him on his 33rd “monthday” this year. This time it was not in Bifengxia; he and his buddy Shun Shun had been moved to Taiyuan Zoo in October last year. There was no hesitation in choosing to be with him instead of being in Ya’an on the earthquake anniversary.

As it turned out, I did not miss the earthquake anniversary – the eighth this year – but spent it in a most meaningful way; I was with my second adopted panda, Gong Zhu. At the time, I didn’t realise how significant it was that I should be with her on that day. If I’d blogged about it a month ago, that significance would’ve been missing from the write-up. It was only after I returned home, when I thought back to my visit with Gong Zhu, that it became clear to me why I was with her on 12 May 2016. So maybe it was just as well that I forgot the password to my blog and didn’t get round to writing up about my trip until now. Again I digress …

So I got to be with Gong Gong on his 33rd “monthday”. That’s 2 years 9 months. The last time I saw him before this trip was in early November, the earliest I could see him after learning that he’d been moved there with Shun Shun.

Enough rambling. Here is Gong Gong’s 33rd “monthday” photo and a couple of videos from my visit a month ago. Hopefully, I will write about the actual visit to Taiyuan, plus my visit to the other six panda places, in a more organised manner soon.

Feng Yi’s firstborn, Gong Gong, at 33 months old on 18 May 2016GG-160518-1

Photo of the day

Filed in Stress Busters

meisheng-2-nbc-130910-1

Bai Yun’s #1 son, and my favourite overseas-born boy panda. His name? Mei Sheng, which can mean “Born in the USA” or “Beautiful Life”. From his cheeky grin, looks like he’s living the beautiful life in Bifengxia Panda Base, China.

Yes, I’ve arrived. As usual, it was a night in Chengdu, followed by a relatively early morning bus ride to Ya’an, check-in at hotel, lunch, and then it was up to Bifengxia.

It was a busy afternoon visiting pandas in the various “neighbourhoods”. The only place I didn’t visit today was Bai Xiong Ping or White Bear Plain. I usually start each visit from there as it’s the closest to the entrance. But this time, I was eager to visit Feng Yi and her baby at the new breeding centre turned maternity ward.

The population there at the moment is about half mothers and half possibly expectant mothers. With one exception – Mei Sheng. He’s the only male there. Maybe that’s the reason for that cheeky grin.

And yes, I got to see Feng Yi cuddling her baby in her right arm. And I saw how when the cub vocalised, Feng Yi immediately bent down to nuzzle her baby. More on this in another post, possibly over at myPandas site.

New bedsheets await 2013 cubbies

Filed in News, Stress Busters

Bifengxia Panda Base took delivery of three new incubators from Pandas International on 13 May 2013 (what a lovely date).

Each incubator comes with a bedsheet.

bedsheets-bfx-130513

When I saw the bedsheet, I was reminded of the familiar one I’ve photographed over the years.

September 2007 (Wolong Panda Centre)
incubator-sept2007

August 2008 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-aug2008

September 2010 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-sept2010

September 2012 (Bifengxia Panda Base)
incubator-sept2012

There is no incubator photo for 2009 as I’d visited in May that year when the nursery was closed (no cubbies until after July), and for some reason, no incubator photo/s for 2011 even though I’d visited in August and September that year.

I look forward to seeing the 2013 cubbies resting on the new blue bedsheets.