May, 2006

I’ve droned on and on about China. But could never tell every story of my 278 days spent in that country.

Please indulge me one more.

Chengdu (pronounced CHUNG DOO) is the capital of Sichuan, a western province of more than 110 million people.

Let me begin by saying that Chengdu is a place where I would like to live if I found myself residing in China. It’s a beautiful place with rich history, laid back people, nice weather and amazing food.

A good friend of mine arranged for my time there to be extraordinary. Chengdu unlocked.

I touched 4,000 year old relics on a shelf in a store room where they were still being catalogued – straight from the dig, which was still in progress. I visited the thatched cottage of Dufu – a Chinese poet, and my picture was taken in front of the ceremonial entrance. That picture is in their gallery at the site. I ate hotpot with the vice governor.

But the best part? Pandas.

Chengdu is home to roughly 650 of the world’s 2000 pandas. I put on a sterile apron, hat, gloves and booties, entered the gate, sat on a bench and held a panda. Their bodies are tiny, but the large amount of fur makes them seem much larger. They have scary claws, but only use them on bamboo.

Blah blah blah. Let me get to the interesting part.

After holding the pandas and touring the preserve, we were escorted to the screening room for a private viewing of their trademark film.

You know, like the little muppet movie at Disney or cute little dolphin movie at Sea World or the Six Flags movie where you feel like you’re riding a roller coaster.

But somehow, the budding capitalists of China missed the part about making a cute, entertaining little movie.

Our pre-dinner treat was an extremely graphic movie about panda mating and birthing.

Some things you should know:

1) They are very very rarely in the mood.

2) Even if they are feeling ready for a little action, they won’t just do it with any old panda that’s thrown into the pen.

3) Part of the answer is to show them what I call “panda porn” – hoping that they’ll get the point.

4) A big reason why pandas are endangered is that they so rarely have baby pandas that they get terrified and agressive.

That being said. Here’s what we saw as our pre-dinner entertainment:

Panda in a cage. Almost ready to have a baby panda. Preserve worker walks into

the cage to wait for the birth.

Pink piece of flesh comes flying out of the panda. Panda swats it and kills it because she’s so shocked. Next panda in a cage. Same process. Pink piece of flesh flies out of the panda. Preserve worker races the mama panda to try to rescue the baby. Too late.

This goes on with a variety of pandas on film for about 15 minutes until one is finally snagged by a worker in time to keep it alive and care for it.

Then we went to dinner.

We had delicious hot pot — a spicy soup in which one cooks vegetables, meat, fish, the occasional slug, etc.

Among the items on the menu to cook in the hot pot? Some sort of pink item flayed into flower-shaped, decorative food. After I ate a few, our host fessed up as to the actual identity of this delicacy:

A male donkey’s … er… member.

But that’s a different story.