Saturday, 30 April 2011

If you go down to the woods today

Friday 29th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Teddy bears picnic -

Weather: I've not seen pollution like it; dense smog filling the air reducing visibility considerably. I knew that China was very polluted but, until now, I hadn't seen it quite as clear as today.

Even though I got awoken by a group of Chinese, at 1am, I still managed to get a good nights sleep. Hitting the sack at 9:30pm last night helped, and the fact that I'd managed to attach myself onto a tour today meant that I could sleep in until 6:45am. Whilst having breakfast I did something for the final time; as I popped my daily malaria tablet, out of it's foil case, I realised that it was my last one. I was supposed to take these doxycycline tablets for twenty-eight days after leaving a malaria zone (i.e. South East Asia) however, due to staying in Hanoi longer than I'd planned, after twenty-four days within China my tablets have run out ... I think I'll live. This topic may seem mundane and boring however the tablet I've been taken, not only counters malaria (hopefully), but it's also a strong antibiotic; I'm adamant that my lack of sickness – touch wood – on this trip has, in some way, been down to this little pill helping to fight any illness I may have contracted without it. Many people opt not to take malaria tablets, out of fear from the side affects, however I would advise against it; if people are unsure then take a few before travelling, see how you feel, and then decide to travel with them or not.

Anyway at 7:00am I was downstairs eating breakfast and taking my last malaria tablet. My tour of the 'Chengdu Panda research facility' was suppose to start at 7:30am but, alas, we didn't leave until 7:45am. Being a Friday the traffic was heavy, the space within the mini-van was minimal and I, once again, found my legs around my ears. The day was hot but luckily the air-conditioning worked; after some scary driving we made one stop, to pick up a Dutch lady, before heading onto one of Chengdu's many flyovers and towards the park. From the flyover the smog was unbelievable; the buildings were hidden by, what seemed like, a dirty mist and you could almost see the pollution, within the air, pass by the mini-van. I'd been told that China's very polluted but, until now, I hadn't seen it on this scale before.

Due to the traffic it took over an hour to reach the park. I was a little anxious as Pandas are only worth seeing early in the morning; after they have fed – from 10am until midday – they return to sleeping and any movement, of any kind, is too much effort. Our driver asked the Dutch lady, and I, if we wanted an English speaking guide; a quick 'no' from both of us was the reply before we picked up a free map and headed up the hill to the closest pens. We had stopped at a giant golden Panda statue when our driver, quite out of breathe, meet us. What we didn't realise was that, as our Chinese passengers had joined a Chinese tour, he would show us around for free. We moved from pen to pen seeing many Panda's; the animal seemed almost unbelievable and, with it's big fluffy head, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that you were viewing people inside large Panda costumes. After an hour of moving from pen to pen I had to admit that the park became a little boring; my biggest concern was the size of the pens allocated to four, or five, adult Pandas. Panda's are solitary animals with a territory around 15km squared – or so some information stated – however there were five Panda's in an area no larger than 10km squared. As I saw one Panda run up and down his pen boundary, many times, I did wondered if this was normal.

After viewing the Giant Panda we went to see a the Red Panda; these creatures, due to their size and natural camouflage, seemed to be a more believable creature. One very kindly posed for me and, as we could see a flag of a tour group approaching, we left quickly to see more Giant Pandas and a film about the Panda and this facility. The film was held within a restaurant; a waiter tried to get me to order something but I resisted, knowing that the film wouldn't last long. Once over I realised just how stupid this adorable animal is:

· Firstly, Pandas wears a white and black fur coat when it's surroundings are mainly green … hardly 'blending in with the crowd' is it.

· Secondly, the Panda eats bamboo, however it only eats one type of bamboo grown in very remote areas; if it cannot get this type of food then it will either starve or eat leaves.

· Thirdly, the food it has chosen has few nutritious properties and so it has to eat a lot of it to survive, let alone be active.

· Fourthly, due to the lack of energy, the Giant Panda can't be bothered to breed and Panda's have to be shown 'Panda porn' to get them in the mood.

· Fifthly, even before this stage the Giant Panda's breeding time is only one month long (April) and finding a mate isn't easy; Giant Panda's are fussy and just any old Panda won't do.

· Sixthly, okay so lets say a female Panda has eaten enough bamboo to feel active, become sexually motivated and found a mate then, once given birth, the mother could kill the infant – due to the fact that the infant is only 1000th of the mothers weight – by being too aggressive. If the infant survives the mothers 'hand-fisted' mothering methods its unable to do anything, including walking and seeing, for the first six months. Finally, after six months, the infant can move and feed itself though it will stick to it's mother for a while yet.

HOW IS THIS ANIMAL STILL ALIVE! As I continued to watch the film I asked myself if humans should be interfering with nature; without our intervention the Giant Panda would have died out ages ago and I wondered what effect our actions were having on the natural food chain. On the other hand, with the Panda only eating one type of Bamboo I suppose it's impact on the food chain is minimal and, if humans hadn't 'urbanised' the Pandas old habitats, the Giant Panda numbers might be higher. My only concern was that this animal was being saved because it's cute, whereas there are more, shall we say practical, animals fighting for there existence.

Once the film had finished our driver directed us to a museum, which was rubbish. Being midday it was pointless revisiting the Panda pens as they would have eaten by now and would be preparing to sleep. We met up with the Chinese members of our group and headed back to the, red hot, mini-van. I squeezed myself into a seat and waited for the off; for some reason the air-conditioning wasn't working so the windows were open fully and I hoped that we would continue moving to generate the breeze that I required. Once more the smog was still lingering heavily in the air making everything seem dirty. There was just as much traffic on the way back to our hostel as there was coming.

Once back at my hostel I met a traveller (from Canada … the first other traveller I've met in China!) that I'd first spoken to in Xi'an; she didn't like China at all and was flying to Vietnam in two days time. I told her all the best spots within Vietnam before I headed out. After an hours walk I'd arrived at Chengdu's electrical store street; as I have finished another camera memory card I needed to purchase a new one, and I was surprised to find them as cheap as £6.50. I purchased one and hurried back to my hostel where I had a chilled out before going to bed early, reading a couple of chapters of my new book.

Tomorrow is my last day within Chengdu and I'm glad; Even though I haven't seen much of the city the parts I have seen haven't been that nice; with the levels of pollution I'm looking forward to moving to the mountain city of Kumming where I hope it to be a little different. Tomorrow I plan to visit a tea house, and a Chinese herbal hospital, where English guided tours show you all the different Chinese medicines … or so my guidebook states. Investigating into Chinese medicine isn't something that I thought I would end up doing but I reckon it should be very interesting however, first of all, a lie-in is needed … no alarm for me tomorrow!

Toodle Pip!

P.S. Our hostel has the royal wedding on it's TV; even though it's dumbed in Chinese it's making me proud and, if I'm honest, a little homesick … all the Chinese are watching it. The weather looks good!

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