Thursday, October 22, 2009

Crocodiles in China

Ready  for something wild, we recently joined a small group of families who had organized a bus tour up to the Panyu Xiangjiang Safari Park in mainland China.  There we saw lions and tigers and bears and got to experience a Chinese style safari.

Once on the bus, we hit the border with China in one hour. From there, we drove another two hours into the Guangdong Province of China, staying in the main city of Guangzhou. We first stopped at Crocodile Park, a large outdoor venue with approximately 100,000 crocodiles, the animals those crocodiles ate and a number of other randomly assorted animals. On the way to watch a crocodile wrestling show, we came across a trained dog show performed in front of caged golden retrievers and poodles. The crocodiles themselves were impressive, sometimes kept in enclosures with about twenty other crocodiles and sometimes in larger pens with thousands of other animals. It was all interesting but more than a little sad and our kids were happy to play at the Crocodile Park’s playground rather than go look at more caged crocs.

While the Crocodile Park had a run-down Soviet feel to the place, the rest of the animal park/resort, called Chime Long, did not. The entire area of some 60,000 hectares includes a couple hotels, an amusement park, a water park and an animal safari. It is said to be able to host 50,000 visitors per day. Clearly, it is not getting those numbers. The park had other visitors, mostly tourists visiting from northern China but was not particularly crowded, at least compared to Hong Kong. The Chime Long complex was built about 20 years ago with the aim to attract wealthy visitors from Hong Kong. Everything has changed since then and Chime Long seems to be adapting. Lots of new roads, new hotels and plenty of commercial development.

On our first night there, we went to another one of the local attractions, the Chime Long International Circus. The circus was held in a huge outside though covered stadium. We really had no idea what to expect and were definitely awed. The circus was an acrobatic circus like Cirque de Soleil but without the safety nets and with lots of trained animals thrown in. At one point, zebras and giraffes ran through the circus while white doves were released into the air. The “international” in the show’s title came from the many non-Chinese performers in the show, though the kids wished some of the “international” would have shown up in some English language during the longer skits and routines.

We rolled into the Chime Long Hotel fairly late at night, not really noticing our surroundings. In the morning on the way to breakfast, the kids spotted about ten white tigers prowling around the inner courtyard of our hotel! Though we didn’t really get many details, we found out that the hotel has 70 white tigers, all inbred for the white coloring. Again, fairly sad to think about but hard to not watch the tiger rolling around on the ground as you have your coffee. At breakfast, the kids successfully negotiated in Mandarin for ice cream. We said if they could make themselves clear they could eat that rather than the sticky rice cakes offered. Tori even managed to buy the only four Diet Cokes in Guangzhou for us. We were proud but mostly grateful.

Our final stop was the Panyu Xiangjiang Safari Park, home to 400 species and 20,000 animals. As we entered the park, we were told that our tickets were tied to our finger prints, taken earlier at the hotel. The whole system was barely functioning and caused a sizeable delay. At one point, a park attendant grabbed Tori’s hand and was pressing all of her fingers on to the electronic pad. Tori was in tears and we all realized that the customer relations bit still had a ways to go. We all recovered once we found out the Safari Park was home to the only known koala twins in the world. Excitedly, Adam and Royce let fellow park goers know they were twins too. Adam was less pleased to learn that the koala twins were both girls. As the Hong Kong Zoo is fairly modest, it was fun for the kids to see some animals. But after a couple days, we were all relieved to leave the man-made safari land for the urban jungle we call home.


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