This weekend, for Jared’s birthday, we went to the Beijing Zoo. We saw all sorts of animals, walked our feet off, and got cotton candy just because we could (though, for the record, I still think it’s weird. It’s like eating disappearing insulation or something).
It was definitely different from American zoos: it wasn’t nearly as well-kept up (the lion and tiger pens were overgrown, and every outdoor pen was covered in weeds) and in some of the indoor cages, paint was peeling off the walls. And then, of course, there were the extremely modern, newly-built exhibits, like the panda exhibit, which was built in 2008 for the Olympics. China doesn’t do in-between well.
There were thousands–it felt like half of Beijing–of people there. It doesn’t look like very many in this picture, but let me assure you: there were plenty of people there. If you want some peace and quiet, don’t go to the zoo in Beijing on a weekend. Half the country will accompany you.
Of course a trip to the zoo in Beijing would be incomplete without visiting the pandas. So visit them we did, even though some, like the friendly fellow down there, didn’t seem to want to be visited.
Everyone surrounded his pen, knocking on the glass, trying to get him to move. He (or she, I’ve no idea what it is!) was having none of it. So enjoy your look at some dingy black and white fur taken through some dirty glass that’s been touched by millions of Chinese kids. Yes, you’re welcome.
Oh, you say you want to see a better picture? That’s not good enough? All right, here’s a better picture of another panda for your enjoyment.
He seemed a lot happier to pose among the changing leaves for all sorts of tourists to photograph him.
China’s obsession with pandas doesn’t stop with the live animals. Every surface of every gift shop was covered with them also. Panda hats, panda bags, panda umbrellas–even steamed panda buns (yes, of course they only LOOK like a panda!). If you like pandas, head to China. You’ll get as many as you could ever wish for.
After the pandas, we headed towards a gorgeous lake in the middle of the zoo. Instead of keeping their water birds in pens, they let them swim around in a giant lake. It was gorgeous, especially with all the fall colors.
These ducks were very interesting birds–I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like them before. They were very colorful, and have a ridge on their back that sticks up almost like a fin or a sail.
After the lake, we stopped for some lunch. All the food stands around advertised their chocolate syrup-covered french fries, and some even had strawberry flavor. We were mighty tempted–but you’ll be glad to know we stood firm.
Sorry for the bad photo quality–I didn’t even think to turn on the flash.
Instead, we solaced ourselves with a barbecue chicken pizza, which wasn’t really like any pizza I’ve ever had before–but it was still good. It was more like Chinese barbecue chicken (with soy sauce and stuff) on a biscuit-like crust, with cheese and lots and lots of peppers and onions. Jared kindly ate the peppers.
We then continued on around the zoo. Next up was the bears. They looked small, like bear cubs, and they were very alert. Random Chinese people kept throwing them oranges and other foods, and they would go crazy fighting over them. I’m pretty sure oranges aren’t usually in the diet of brown bears.
However, they loved them so much that they even started begging for them. Small and greasy though they were, they were still pretty cute. I can’t imagine any US zoo letting people feed the animals. There would have been a security person there immediately to stop you if you tried.
Next up was a very interesting and different animal–the maned wolf. Its pen stank like a skunk had been somewhere around, but we decided that’s because they really didn’t like being penned up. We watched them for twenty minutes and all they did was pace the whole time, when they weren’t peeing on trees. They looked sort of like a cross between a fox and a greyhound–with really long, slender legs and body and reddish-fox colored fur. Its head and tail looked like they were too small for its long legs.
When we were done feeling sorry for the poor maned wolves, we walked on to another lake. Instead of just ducks, this one had pelicans and swans on it. And boy do pelicans have huge beaks. It almost makes you want to see what they look like full of fish!
After that, Jared declared we had to go see the penguins, on the other side of the zoo. So over we went. And we figured out where the security officer who should have been guarding the bears was. He was standing in the middle of a field, guarding some trees. Because of course they were going to run away and take all their fruit with them. Or maybe some misguided zoo visitor would have fed them some food that was bad for them!
It’s nice to feel so safe in China.
Sadly, when we got to the penguin house, they tried to charge us at the door. We were having none of it, so the poor penguins were deprived of our company. I’m sure they missed us, seeing as they only had about 10,000 other visitors that day.
As a consolation, we went to see the reptiles and amphibians (mostly turtles and tortoises, with a few alligators and crocodiles thrown in for good measure–we skipped the snakes). It was amazing to see the giant tortoise, though. It was huge, and very slow moving. It moved its head a couple times for us, and that was it. No wonder they live such long lives!
At the end of the day, worn out with seeing so many animals and making our way through so many people, we decided to get some cotton candy. I’m not sure why it’s so popular, except maybe for its oddity.
We wended our weary way homeward after that, with only a few accidents like getting on the bus going the wrong way and not realizing it until we came to the end of the line. At least we were on a bus that had some available seats. Now we’ve officially done three touristy things in China, after two and a half months. Maybe we should get out more.