Tuesday, January 01, 2013

China Winter Tour - December 29

Robin Reif - December 29
“Panda Day” . . . my daughter’s first words this morning. For the 8-to-12 set, this is IT, the moment they’ve been waiting for: “Panda-monia!” as Bobby, our guide, puts it.

Snow comes down hard as we start up the mountain to the Bifengxia Panda Reserve. We go at a crawl over the winding, icy roads and get whacked on the windshield by bamboo trees, freighted with snow. We stop mid-mountain to put chains on the wheels and then again for a terrified driver who narrowly misses a ravine while skidding downhill across a bend in the road.
At last, we arrive and suit up in volunteer coveralls. Looking like a squadron of astronauts, we get to work shoveling snow with large twig brooms, preparing the pandas’ lunch then feeding them carrots, apples and “cookies” made of fruit and bamboo powder.
But nothing compares with what comes next: holding the baby pandas. The best “yes” yet on this trip is “Yes, I’ll pay $170 so you can hold a baby panda, get your picture snapped and send it to your friends to make them jealous.” But “yes” it is and every kid (and grown up) who goes in to hold a baby, comes out over the moon with delight.
Returning to Ya’an, we stop in the ancient town of ShangLi. This, folks, is the China of National Geographic: picturesque and primitive, a place time and China's economic miracle forgot. It’s harsh village life as it was lived centuries back and continues to be. When Levi’s celebrated roll-up-your-sleeves workers in its recent “Go Forth” campaign, they should have chosen ShangLi over Braddock, Pennsylvania.
To watch them chop dried pork on the cold street or saw lumber by hand, sweep with twig brooms or sit outside unheated noodle shops at open fires chopping garlic for soup, is first, a gratitude check, then, cause to deeply question what I just spent on a panda photo. This, on the very day Party Chief Xi Jinping visits an impoverished region of Hebei province and calls for new resolve in achieving more balanced development. We say "Right on!".

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