As I ventured out this morning, bound for the Beijing Zoo, I committed the ultimate of travel blunders here in China.  I took an absolutely ridiculous route to get where I was going, only to realize there was a much simpler way to go once I arrived.  In an act of what I can only guess was an inability for my body and mind to wake up, I rode the subway for about ten more stops than necessary, which honestly was quite enjoyable.  The Beijing Subway is in immaculate condition.  

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by this considering every Tom, Dick and Harry around here is weeping or mopping a public area (including the subway, which is practically void of any trash).  These sweepers can be found on the streets, in restaurants and even in clubs.  In fact, one night, while dancing away at the local bar, my friend Dennis got particularly annoyed with an older woman who was practically sweeping her broom across his feet, and demanded in his Venezuelan accent, “Go home, Mom!” 

Anyway, compared to the "L" in Chicago or NYC transit system, the Beijing Subway is definitely five-star quality.  It was also a pleasant ride because unlike the other day when I was involuntarily squeezed onto an overcrowded train that could have merited Guinness World Record Standards, I wasn’t traveling during rush hour.  I had four seats all to myself and free reign to stretch out and enjoy the ride.

Once I arrived at Shizajuan station, I hailed a cab, ignoring the rickshaw drivers screaming, “Lady, lady, I take you to zoo!”  The concierge at the front desk of the hotel had advised taking a taxi, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to negotiate a fair price for a bicycle ride.  When the taxi driver took off down the street, I noticed he hadn’t started the meter.  Not wanting to get screwed over, I asked him repeatedly to turn it on, but to no avail.  A few seconds later, I realized why, when he pulled up to the zoo, a mere seven blocks from the subway station.  As I handed the driver the base fare, I felt incredibly stupid not taking a rickshaw, or just walking.  Honestly, did the concierge just figure I was a lazy American and wouldn’t want to walk five minutes?  Oh well, I’d know for next time.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       After I bought my ticket for the zoo, I headed straight for the Panda House.  I wasn’t sure when the pandas were especially active, and I certainly didn’t want to miss out.  When I walked into their enclosure, I encountered an unreal mass of people clawing and pushing their way to the glass.  I figured I’d read up on the information available on the opposite (less-crowded) side of the room before I did it up China style and elbowed my way in for a better view.  The panda, I read, is symbolic in China for peace.  The Chinese Army uses a white flag with a panda emblem on it when surrendering during battle.  I also read about the artificial insemination research the Beijing Zoo is taking part in to grow the panda population. 

Underneath a photo of an infant panda perched on a scale reading twelve ounces, I read through a description of panda mating. 

“Giant Pandas reach sexual maturity and begin to mate at the age from 4.5-6.5.  They usually come into heat every year from March to May, during which two to four males must compete against one another for one female.  In order to marry his sweetheart, a male has to be the winner of rounds of elimination games.”

I love the fact that they humanize panda mating by implying the giant bears actually get married.  I do like this idea of elimination games.  What if the human dating scene adopted this technique?  Match Game meets American Gladiator. 

“Today Jimbo Brown and Seth ‘the Snake’ Stevens will duke it out in the elimination ring, joisting with giant Que Tips until one opponent knocks the other from their tower, winning the heart of successful Ernst & Young accountant and single mother of two, Shera Andrews.”

Hmm…I think I’ll employ Que Tip joisting the next time too many men are vying for my attention, and I can’t deciwhich one to date.  Hahaha, file that one away in the fantasy bank.  Back to pandas.

Although the crowd hadn’t completely dispersed, a few new spaces near the glass had opened up due to a youngster throwing a tantrum (which by the way are much less annoying and significantly more entertaining to watch in Chinese) and forcing his family to move on to see other animals.  I squirmed my way though in time to see the gigantic black and white face of a panda smiling out through the glass from what looked to be a somewhat uncomfortable perch atop of a tree that wobbled under the great bear’s weight.  I reached for my camera, but just as I peaked through the viewfinder, Mr. Tubby (who I have decided to call Papa, because his stance kind of reminds me of my father lounging in his worn-out easy chair) decides to turn his head away from the crowd.  I can only assume to find a more comfortable position beneath the shaking branches.


I can’t blame him of course, I’d hide my face too if scads of people took my photo everyday.  Maybe he should start using the Blanket Jackson blanket technique.  I did manage to get a photo of his back before he began scratching his butt against one of the tree limbs and continued to do so for the next ten minutes.  Awesome. 

The attached building, housing the adolescent pandas, was a bit more active.  These cubs rolled and wrestled with brothers and sisters and climbed wooded jungle gyms and tire swings.  When I saw a teenage girl viewing the spectacle, I figured I’d see if she wouldn’t’ mind taking my photo.  I’d learned from experience that it was always a safer bet to attempt to communicate with the younger generation since most schools teach the English language, and they can usually decode my Chinglish. 

She totally understood that I wanted my photo taken, but seemed a bit confused when I started doing wild hand movements to describe that I wanted the pandas in the background.  This is what I got the first time:


After some more pantomiming, this is what I got:


Oh well, close enough.  I thanked her as she, in fits of giggles, returned my camera. 

Outside I watched more pandas play, and attempted to take some ghost rider photos of the pandas, and myself until a young guy approached me and in nearly perfect English, asked if he’s like me to take a photo.  Bless him, he got the panda in the background and I didn’t even have to ask. 


The rest of my day was spent visiting the other animals in the zoo, which I’m sad to report was incredibly depressing.  Asiatic Black Bears and Grizzly Bears sat as close as they could to the guard rails, as visitors tossed popcorn, hotdogs and basically anything and everything down to them, blatantly ignoring the “Don’t Feed the Animals” sign.  A skinny lion endured multiple hits from an adult spectator throwing plastic water bottles into the enclosure, until I shouted “Mayo!” (the closest thing to “no” that I could think of) from a safe distance and startled him.  And I watched for a few heartbreaking minutes as a lynx paced back and forth across his dark, cluttered and cramped cage.  By the time I arrived at the exit, I felt more than a little guilty for buying a ticket.