Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pandemonium: Ying Ying and Le Le are here!

Earlier this year, Ocean Park ( the rides plus animal shows venue close to our home) received two young pandas. Ying Ying and Le Le arrived from China with much fanfare. The new pandas were much anticipated as the current pair of pandas An An and Mei Mei are both twenty plus years old and rather inactive. The new pandas came to Hong Kong in April, were passed to Ocean Park in July and were only recently made available to the public. We viewed the pandas over Ocean Park’s webcam, waited for the results of the panda naming contest and finally got over to see them this week, courtesy of a couple school holidays. As usual, Ocean Park and the pandas did not disappoint.

China gave the pandas to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the occasion of the ten year anniversary of the hand over of Hong Kong to China. We were out of the country for the actual ten year anniversary celebrations this past July but read many of the articles reflecting on the occasion. The general consensus is that while nothing disastrous happened, nothing fabulous has happened either. Companies that moved their headquarters prior to the handover have done well as have companies that voted for Hong Kong and stayed put. Regardless of its overall fate, Hong Kong welcomed the new pandas. The media carried many stories about them, demonstrating the continued strength of China’s so-called panda diplomacy. Through the gift of pandas, China has long sought to make and keep friends around the world. It definitely seems to be working at Ocean Park, though of course many of the visitors there are tourists from mainland China.

Ocean Park definitely whipped up panda excitement with a new panda habitat plus plenty of other extras. The kids immediately noticed that all the horses on the merry-go-round had been replaced by pandas. The kids also could not help but notice the many more panda toys, trinkets and t-shirts for sale throughout the park. I noticed that the new panda habitat has relaxed some of its old rigidness. The old habitat enforced a strict no talking rule. The new panda habitat, while patrolled by workers holding signs that say “no talking,” was full of visitors, including us, talking excitedly about the pandas.

We looked at the new pandas and tried to see who was who. It was hard as they were both asleep. But the old pandas were in rare form. An An, the male panda, perhaps sensing a little competition, sat up, ate bamboo and ambled over to look at us. An An came over to the glass right in front of us and then pressed his face up against the glass. We were as close to a panda as we have ever been in our six plus years of zoo going. All kids, remembering previous reprimands in the old habitat, asked me, and then the workers, if An An was allowed to do that. It appears he can show an interest in his audience and we are now happy to show an increased interest in him. (I did not take a photo as I was too shocked by his closeness and the kids kept telling me that photos were against the rules!)


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