Part 4: Chengdu – Meeting the Giant Panda
After we left the outdoor teahouse on our first shoot day in Chengdu, we made our way to the Panda Preserve. The preserve looks a lot like the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., with hilly walkways lined with bamboo that form shaded archways. Imagine the entire National Zoo being dedicated to one animal and that\’s the preserve. The guide here, Helen, came in on her day off to work with us. She\’s lovely and has given us amazing access to the animals.
Our first stop was the nursery to see the infant pandas. There were three cubs sleeping in a large wooden crib. At first glance, they looked like stuffed animals until you noticed the rise and fall of their little bellies. They were so sweet. After we shot a quick bit with Sam, we made our way to the 1-year-old area, where Helen told us that we could hold one of the Giant Pandas! What? It\’s true! For around $125 (1000 RMB) I was able to hold a giant 1-year-old panda for about two minutes!
(TIP! We were at the Panda Preserve in Chengdu in September of 2007. This was almost a year before a devastating earthquake rocked this area. Please check to make sure that the preserve is open.) First, they suit you up in a medical robe and give you plastic gloves for your hands. Then you sit down, and they plop a bear on your lap! He just sits there eating away at a bamboo shoot dipped in honey and you, well, you simply have one of the coolest moments of your life! The panda that was on my lap was really big and I thought he was going to be soft and cuddly. His fur was actually really coarse, but there were a couple of times that he looked back at me, and you could see that he just loved being snuggled. What a thrill!
After the pandas, we went to a typical Chinese restaurant for dinner. One of the producers ordered for all of us. I really liked the steamed flounder in soy and the duck. (TIP! If you are a little scared of ordering in China, you can never go wrong with the most common dish on every menu — Kung Pao Chicken! The dumplings are also a safe bet!) Most of the dishes in this region are spicy, so I was careful with my choices. The last thing I needed was an upset stomach.
After dinner, we then set up the last location for the day at the Marco Polo Bridge. There was a beautiful pagoda all lit up with red lanterns. I quickly realized that this is the pagoda that I was looking out at this morning where the people were doing their Tai Chi! It was really beautiful and very Chinese. We all lost steam fast after dinner and we were all relieved when Greg called wrap at 9:30. Sam and I walked back to the hotel, and I went up to my room for a hot shower and a good rest, because tomorrow we travel to Beijing!