A special day to visit Gong Zhu

Filed in Stress Busters

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

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

Getting around Guangzhou

Filed in Travels

I’m very impressed with the Guangzhou Metro. The last time I was there in September 2007, there had been none, at least not for me. It was my first time there and I had only two days, so I got the hotel to get me a private car to take me to Guangzhou Zoo to see Shi Shi, and Panyu Safari World (as Chimelong Wild Safari Park was then known) to see if a panda there by the name of Dong Dong was Bai Yun’s mother (she was).

This time I took the Metro. I thought it hadn’t existed back in 2007 but a quick google proved me wrong; it has existed since 1997, with the Hanxi Changlong station, the stop for the safari park, opened in 2006 and the Zoo station in 2009.

Back in 2007, I paid 300 Yuan for the private car; this trip, I paid a total of 40 Yuan for two day passes costing 20 Yuan each. I didn’t visit both places on the same day as I was told the best visiting time was in the afternoon for both so I did my visits on two consecutive afternoons.

There are altogether 15 lines and almost twice as many interchanges but no confusion at all in taking them. On each train, announcements for the destination and next station names are repeated in Mandarin, Chinese and English, and also rolled out, ticker style, beneath the line’s map and in sync with the announcements. The station names are also lit up on the map and dimmed as the train leaves each station. Before boarding the train, passengers can also see, above each door, the name of the station they are in, which line the station is part of, as well as the name of the next station either to the left or right which also serves as an indication to the direction of the train. There is also a line map similar to the lit map inside the train. For passengers changing trains, the line names are also colour-coded to show them the way.

At Ouzhuang station; next stop – the Zoo!

Sign above door to train at Zoo station

Similar sign at Hanxi Changlong station

That was not all. The first time the first train we took rolled into a station, I looked for the name to see which station and was surprised to see it in “handwritten” Chinese calligraphy (the main signage) and “printed” Chinese calligraphy (on pillars). However, the station names are only in Chinese.

Zoo sign in “handwritten” calligraphy

Hanxi Changlong sign in “handwritten” calligraphy

“Handwritten” and “printed” calligraphy signs for Ganding station near our hotel

One other thing which impressed me: the next train announcement features not just the expected wait time for the next train but the next three trains, and not in a ticker-style format but on a TV screen alongside the news. As with the station names, these announcements are also only in Chinese.

Next train in …

After two days in Guangzhou, I know the Metro enough to send directions to a friend who will be there soon; I mean the directions to the two stations that matter most – Zoo and Hanxi Changlong.

365 nights ago

Filed in Family

It’s a year since mother left us on 23 April 2013.


There are two things that stand out from that night of nights.

The phone call

I’d set Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the ringtone for the nursing home, so that anytime my phone rang with that piece of music, I’d know it was from them about mother. Most times, the calls were to let me know I needed to bring some item or other for her the next time I was going there. But on the early morning of 23 April 2013 when I was awakened by that familiar tune, I knew at once it was the call I’d been waiting for.

“Your mother’s gasping, you better come now.” One of the staff said when I answered the call.

I sat in bed, feeling very anxious but telling myself I needed to calm down because I needed to call my sister and to drive over as soon as possible if we wanted to see mother one last time.

In the end, we did not get to see mother one last time. Later, when I thought about this, I realised that mother passed away surrounded by the people closest to her: not her children but the carers who’d looked after her during her final year.

The moment mother passed away

We were driving past the school that was along the way to the nursing home. I was thinking about mother and realised I was thinking of her in the past tense. I would later find out that that moment was very close to when the Lord had taken her home and the Holy Spirit had prompted me that mother was now a part of my past and no longer in my present or future.

One year on

So it’s a year since mother left, and nine years and eight days since father left on 15 April 2005.

mother-1st_ann-2-apr2014Their last photo together

I used to wonder how I would deal with not having both of them around. I told a good friend I might have to move away because my parents were so much a part of where I was staying and the places we frequented together. And I did move away after father’s passing, but only from the house I’d shared with them. It so happened that the lady renting my apartment said she would be moving out to her own place so I was able to move in to mine in early 2006.

It was hard the first few months after mother left; I would commemorate the 23rd of each month, remembering exactly how many months since. Saturday afternoons were the hardest cuz that was when my sister and I would visit her. Gradually I adjusted, not even commemorating the 23rd of the last couple of months leading up to this day, the first anniversary of her passing. But some Saturday afternoons, I would find myself suddenly thinking where I was a year or so ago, visiting mother, sitting next to her, sometimes holding her hand, and always feeling some response from her as she grasped mine in return.

mother-1st_ann-3a-apr2014One of the last times we held hands

Walking Stats 2013

Filed in Health

According to my pedometer and the log I kept, I walked a total of 2,615,596 steps in 2013. Sounds impressive? This averaged out to 7,166 steps per day, less than the recommended 10,000 daily steps. Granted, I was told to walk less for the last six weeks of the year due to a broken bone in my left foot. Then again, the numbers would have been less if not for my four trips to see my beloved pandas throughout the year. Needless to say, the highest numbers were recorded during two of those four trips (May and September).

As for aerobic steps (more than 60 steps per minute measured after the first 10 minutes and continued), the total of 604,980 aerobic steps accounted for only 23% of the total.

I look forward to doing better in 2014. I think I need more black and white visits, too.