This Time the Pandas were ALIVE!

Ciao Readers!

As I promised, this blog post is about the cutest of all creatures – LIVE pandas.  Why the stress on the “aliveness” you may ask…let me explain….

For those of you that have been following this blog (or my adventures) for a while, you might remember an ill-fated trip to the Ueno Zoo in Tokyo, where, after much panda-phanelia hoopla we were unceremoniously (well, a little ceremoniously) informed that the panda was dead (and told to have a nice day at the zoo).  You can read about it in my post about Japan (or simply scroll to the bottom where I cut-and-pasted the relevant part).

In any case, unlike my love of Shake Shack burgers, my desire to see a cuddly (live) panda remained unrequited – that is until last weekend.  Steve planned a surprise birthday weekend in San Diego, mostly to see the sea and eat seafood, but where, coincidentally, 3 of the 12 pandas in the U.S. live!  San Diego Zoo, here we come!

So, until this trip I knew nothing about the San Diego Zoo; I could not believe it when I read online that the tickets are $54!!!  For those of you also previously unfamiliar with the zoo, once you’ve been there you get the ticket price (mostly) – this place isn’t a zoo, it’s animal Disney!

In any case, the Universe decided to be generous to me – either for the disappointment I felt at the Ueno Zoo a decade ago, or maybe just for the “ack” year that was 2017 – either way, I got a panda-stravaganza!  After trying to catch glimpses of the mom panda walking back-and-forth in her area (cute, but…), we finally snapped that just a little further down there was much more excitement  to be had – the youngest panda (Xiao Li Wu) was about to eat lunch!  While I know the pictures below probably don’t do it justice, this adorable panda just sat there and ate bamboo and played in bamboo and basically acted as adorable as if he were starring in all the adorable viral panda videos (yes, I am overusing the word “adorable” on purpose).  And just to make it a little more fun was the hysterical (unintentionally) docent, who after making it very clear that she was NOT a volunteer and had been doing her job for 21 years, proceeded to tell us of all the ailments and less pleasant aspects of the pandas (things like the fact that the father panda gets acupuncture for his arthritis on Tuesdays, and how much “food” comes out of pandas).  In such a fancy zoo with such an amazing exhibit you’d expect someone peppy telling you all the great facts about how adorable the pandas are….maybe because that part needs no explaining (or maybe because after 21 years the adorableness eats at your soul), this docent preferred to tell us how the pandas would rip our faces off if we tried to cuddle with them.  In any case, her banter somehow only added to the experience (an appeal to Steve and my respective dark senses of humor), and she seemed unfazed when I motioned for permission to snap a photo of her instead of the panda (below).   (And, oh, yes there was an adorable baby koala and other cute things…..). Enjoy!

 

From May, 2012 post:
Tale of the (Dead) Panda
When we were in Tokyo we decided to venture out to the Ueno zoo since they had a giant panda (Ling Ling) and I had never seen one in person.  The anticipation built as we neared the zoo and encountered all sorts of panda-related items – giant statues, posters, vending carts with stuffed pandas, you name it!  The entrance to the zoo was similarly decorated with panda-phanelia.  When we got into the zoo, there was even a place to take your picture with a stuffed panda.  We excitedly went in the direction of the panda sign, but after at least 15 minutes of searching and walking in circles by cute (but little) pandas, we gave up and went to the information booth.  A women bowed her head and handed Steve a laminated piece of paper that said (in English) something close to “We apologize.  Ling Ling dead.  Please enjoy your day at zoo.”   It turns out that Ling Ling had passed away quite some time ago, but as we had already learned on our trip, refunds are really not heard of in Japan, so we did the best we could to heed the advice on the laminated paper and enjoy our day!  (Here is a picture of me making the Japanese “ja nai” sign [no, can’t, forbidden, not here] in front of the stuffed panda):

 

Let’s Take a Side Trip…to Japan!

Okay, I have a confession to make – I have been trying for weeks to figure out how to work a few of the hundreds of cool photos I took in Japan on our 2008 adventure into this blog.  The closest tie-in I can conjure up is that this is a blog about adventure and Japan was nothing if not an AMAZING adventure!  For some reason I fought the idea of a blog the entire 2008 trip, thinking it would be “work.”  Now that I realize I love blogging, I could look back with regret, but that wouldn’t be a very Buddhist thing to do (and Japan was as much about Buddhism as it was about food, as the pictures below can attest).  So what I will do instead is share a couple of the more amusing stories from that trip (that up until now had only been shared in an e-mail or postcard to a few) AND lots of photos!   I hope you Italy-philes will indulge me on this side trip…

Photos:

Anecdotes:

A Mountain, A Monk, and…Gorillas???

My mother-in-law (who is originally from Japan) thought a 4-day hike across the sacred mountains of Koyasan in Japan was the perfect way to celebrate her 77th birthday, starting with a stay at Haryoin Temple.  We realized we didn’t pack warm enough for the hike, so we walked into town to get thermal underwear.  As I cannot read Japanese, my mom-in-law picked out my package of long johns.  Back in our temple room I tried on the underwear, to find out they were so big I could pull them up to my neck.  Standing there in nothing but underwear pulled up to my neck (sorry, no photo) I heard a tap on the door; expecting it to be my mom-in-law and posing for her so we could have a good laugh I stated “dozo” (welcome, come in).  To my great surprise, it was the temple’s head monk that walked in the door!  In very Buddhist fashion, he made no notice of my ridiculous attire and proceeded in his task of lighting the incense in our room – but I was mortified!

In addition to the lack-of-preparedness for the temperature, my mom-in-law didn’t really research the terrain, so along the more-challenging-than-expecting hike, Steve and I would take turns carrying her pack while the other scoped-out the trail ahead (picture here, worth a thousand words):

One time when I was the scout, I heard tree branches breaking and saw 3 jet-black hairy figures bound through the trees ahead.  Not being the most educated naturalist, I could have sworn they were gorillas.  I was scared!  In order to warn Steve and my mother-in-law, I got a post-card from my pack and wrote “DANGER – GORILLAS – SERIOUSLY!!!” and put it in the middle of the trail weighed down with rocks (I specifically underlined AND capitalized the “SERIOUSLY” so they wouldn’t think I was being my usual smart aleck-y self).  As there are (duh) no gorillas in Japan (these turned out to be small black bears), they both thought I was kidding and had a great laugh, unaware of my fear and the need for caution                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Culture Shock

There are so many funny “culture shock” stories from this trip.  A few of them are captured in the photos above (e.g., the toilet, the KFC).  Another happened on one of the occasions where we would get home sick and try to do something we would do back home (like make “Mexican” food [with soy beans] or go to a cheesy matinee [36$ lesson]).  We decided to go to a gym and work out.  Just trying to be allowed in took 2 days as we could never seem to bring the proper equipment with us (second pair of clean shoes, bathing cap, etc.).  But the really hysterical part of the story happened the day we finally did work out.  As we learned, Japanese people like to work out with the heater cranked.  Combine that with my run on a treadmill and I was HOT and thirsty!  I kept trying to find a water fountain, but to no avail.  Finally, across the gym by the weights I spotted it – the ubiquitous vending machine…I was saved!  I hurried to the machine expecting to find water and all sorts of wonderfully strange exercise beverages.  Instead, right there, in the middle of a GYM, was a vending machine filled with….. CIGARETTES!!!



Tale of the (Dead) Panda
When we were in Tokyo we decided to venture out to the Ueno zoo since they had a giant panda (Ling Ling) and I had never seen one in person.  The anticipation built as we neared the zoo and encountered all sorts of panda-related items – giant statues, posters, vending carts with stuffed pandas, you name it!  The entrance to the zoo was similarly decorated with panda-phanelia.  When we got into the zoo, there was even a place to take your picture with a stuffed panda.  We excitedly went in the direction of the panda sign, but after at least 15 minutes of searching and walking in circles by cute (but little) pandas, we gave up and went to the information booth.  A women bowed her head and handed Steve a laminated piece of paper that said (in English) something close to “We apologize.  Ling Ling dead.  Please enjoy your day at zoo.”   It turns out that Ling Ling had passed away quite some time ago, but as we had already learned on our trip, refunds are really not heard of in Japan, so we did the best we could to heed the advice on the laminated paper and enjoy our day!  (Here is a picture of me making the Japanese “ja nai” sign [no, can’t, forbidden, not here] in front of the stuffed panda):

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