We’ve just returned from a trip of a lifetime — a Viking River Cruise appropriately named Imperial Jewels of China — with an itinerary spanning several cities from Beijing to Shanghai including sights and sounds we had only hoped to see. In the next few weeks, we’re posting highlights of the trip and our impressions of the scheduled tourist destinations. But we’ll also be telling you about the people and places of this faraway land we discovered on our own. We hope you’ll join us!
Because we arrived one day early, we headed to the Beijing Zoo for a hoped-for morning glimpse of a Chinese panda who, we were told, might only be visible in the cool early hours of the day.
Panda attire was everywhere — the children mostly (but adults, too) wore hats, shirts, even shoes with pandas to show their love of what must be the official Chinese mascot.
Some posed for my pictures, gesturing with their hands and smiling adorably. And almost everyone looked happy. After all, it’s a day at the zoo!
Visitors poured in, crowding the entryways in order to get there in time. They, too, had been told to move close to the pens where pandas dine heartily on bamboo shoots before going in for a nap.
Once we found the panda section and then the back side of the pens where the green areas were, we moved in close to get a good shot. The pandas, however, were elusive, not in the least interested in performing for tourists from Tennessee . . . or China. We started watching the people also, because wherever there was a large gathering, we knew we might have a chance at a glimpse. Sure enough, it worked!
We crowded in with a lot of other people holding cameras and then it happened: we spied our first panda! He was sitting pretty far away, but within our range of visibility, eating nonchalantly and ignoring the excited visitors, not realizing how energized the crowd was to see him (or her) outside munching away. And to that panda, nothing else mattered.
After watching the panda from the side, we were graced just briefly with an almost frontal view, and the crowd got more fidgety and noisier, getting closer to the fence to take a better shot. Well, so did we! We were like excited children seeing this sight!
Our faces were flushed, not just from the heat. This was big. Really big.
One panda dipped into cooling waters and playfully entertained us with brief pats on the surface.
And then the first panda said Enough . . . and sauntered back inside to the quiet (and privacy) of his domain. That was it. Our first — and only — glimpse of the Beijing pandas.
We moved on, satisfied that we had seen pandas in China, even if only for a brief moment or two. Looking down the pathways, we watched families snapping pictures of little ones posing in the way only children can do.
Then we ducked into a gift shop where panda-monium broke loose! From umbrellas on the ceiling to purses, key rings, stamps, books, and backpacks on the shelves, panda souvenirs reined supreme.
We didn’t, however, see anyone asking to try on these hats — not in the 95-degree heat, I guess. But they definitely had the cute factor going for them.
In this heat, we mostly saw lots of ice cream eating . . .
and posing for pictures on the beautifully landscaped grounds of the zoo.
Seeing a Chinese panda at the Beijing Zoo — it doesn’t get much better. Or does it? We headed through an arched walkway searching for other animals before negotiating the real zoo for us — the Chinese subway and other adventures in Beijing!
If you’ve been to the Beijing Zoo, tell us what you saw. And if you’ve been to China, we’d love to know your favorite spots. It’s an adventure, for sure.
For more information . . .
Viking River Cruises http://www.vikingrivercruises.com