Stress Busters

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Remembering Lang Lang 郎郎

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It was September 2007 and I was on my first volunteering trip at the Wolong Panda Base. I would also be visiting my adopted panda, Feng Yi, for the first time.

As an adopter, I would be allowed to go into the kindergarten yard to spend some time with her. Photos of our first meeting have been used in the media in articles about the two of us ahead of her relocation to Malaysia in 2014.

After hanging out with her in the yard, I asked to have my photo taken with her, something of an official portrait like what I’ve seen on the Flickr website. While my request was granted, I was told I couldn’t have that “official” portrait with her because she was not allowed to leave the yard. I was told if she was let out, she would continue to walk away from the door, resist all attempts to stop her, and literally not look back. Instead, I was offered another cub to sit on the bench with me. That was when I met Lang Lang. Here are our photos together.

This photo appeared on the Pandas International web site.

I looked a little “droopy” here but he was looking at the camera!

Over the years, I would sit for photos with other panda cubs, but Lang Lang was my first panda photo buddy.

These photos are less well-known than the ones with Feng Yi from 2007. I did write a blog post about the last photo from the series with Lang Lang, one so different from the others, and so special, that I called the blog post Holding Paws with a Panda Cub.

Lang Lang went on to be voted as one of eight cubs chosen to go to the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. He and his twin Cui Cui were one of two pairs of twins in the Olympic 8. After their time in Beijing, the eight were sent to Bifengxia Panda Base in April 2009, the Wolong Base having been extensively damaged during the May 12 earthquake in 2008. Soon after, Lang Lang, Cui Cui and Duo Duo, another Olympic 8 cub, were chosen to go to live in Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo.

On 9 November 2010, Lang Lang suffered from a seizure and was diagnosed with epilepsy. His condition stabilised after treatment and he began drinking and eating as normal on 16 November. Unfortunately, he suffered another seizure on 1 December and was in a coma for more than two weeks until he died on 16 December 2010. (Source: Lang Lang dies at Nanjing Hongshan Forest Zoo)

Lang Lang was born on 25 August 2006 to Ye Ye, the older of her pair of twins that year. He would’ve been 12 today. He is one of five cubs from the 2006 birth year not to have survived to see their 12th year. His twin Cui Cui made him an uncle in 2016 and again, in 2017.

RIP, Lang Lang (25 August 2006 – 16 December 2010).

Travel in China takes a step backwards?

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It’s ages since I saw these in a hotel room in China.


Toilet paper in China. The last time I saw them was probably 2009. Rest assured, few hotels here use them now. This is one of the rare ones. It’s my first, and last, time staying here, and I am only staying here cuz my usual Emeishan hotel, for some reason, is currently not available for online booking.

But all’s not dire this trip.

I had the first of my three train rides this trip yesterday. So exciting! I had earlier booked the 7:23 p.m. train from Chengdu Shuangliu Airport to Emeishan. I didn’t think I could make the earlier 3:06 p.m. train with my flight arriving at 1:40 p.m. The flight arrived 10 minutes earlier so I thought I could change the ticket to the earlier train. But it was past 2:00 p.m. when I finally emerged from the arrival hall. Immigration now includes biometric finger printing; interesting that audio instructions to help me do the printing were in Malay, probably because the system detected my passport’s from Malaysia. I then had to walk from Terminal 1 (international) to Terminal 2 (domestic) where the train station is located. It was already past 2:30 p.m. when I got to T2. I didn’t know if there was a cut-off time for train ticket changes and decided to try – walked to the station one floor down, went up to the ticket counter, and found there was no cut-off time. By the time I had the ticket changed and in my hand, it was 2:57 p.m. When I entered the waiting area, the train still hadn’t been called for passengers to go down to the platform. God was definitely looking out for me. And then, waiting on the platform, I got a video of the train arriving. Here’s a screenshot.


The train departed on time and arrived in Emeishan at 4:16 p.m., a 1h 10min journey, including stops at stations in-between.

Then, when I exited the station, I saw its entrance and found a spot for this photo.

So, the answer to the question posted as the title to this post – no, travel in China has not taken a step backwards.

Precious May 12 Photo

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Over the years, I’ve managed to be in Bifengxia four times on the anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake on 12 May – in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2015. Of the many photos taken on that day in those four years, one photo stood out. That year, 2013, was the 5th anniversary of the earthquake. That year’s 12 May was also Mother’s Day. The two pandas in the photo are my two adopted pandas, Feng Yi and Gong Zhu. They were neighbours in the Old Breeding Centre in May that year, and together gave me a Mother’s Day memory for 12 May 2013. They both went on to give birth in August; Feng Yi at 7 was a first-time time mother giving us Gong Gong while Gong Zhu, a hero mother at 15, had her 11th cub, later named Wu Wen, now in The Netherlands.

My two girls together on Mother’s Day 2013, also the 5th anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake

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

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

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