Picture taken Feb. 12, 2014 - Beijing, China
My selfish decision to work with pandas and some statistics.
I admit, selfishly I planned China just to get the pleasure of the experience of working with panda bears, a species that is nearly extinct. Depending on which statistic is looked at, there are approx. no more than 1,500-3,000 pandas currently in the wild and there are only 239 living in captivity in China with only 27 others living in captivity outside of China. Btw, if they are located in another country, they are on “loan” from China. Here’s a link to more info. on pandas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_panda
After I met Leo, came Sam (Samantha from the England). She was very young and kind. She’d been there about 2 weeks before I arrived and was staying at least 1-2 weeks after I left. She had dreamt of working with pandas all her life and then made her dream a reality.
Picture taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
Sam and Apple (his name was pronounced slightly different in Chinese but no matter how many times Leo told us how to say it, we still thought it sounded like "Apple".
Picture taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
We were then taken to our “hostel” on the property. It had about 5 bedrooms with multiple bunk beds in it but it was an uninsulated ice box at that time. There was a big room in the front with a sitting area for volunteers to hang out together and to watch movies, but that wasn’t an option at this time. To put it into perspective, we had to think twice if we wanted to brave going to the bathroom and let alone to shower (which I couldn’t muster doing daily as there was no heat in the bathroom at all). When I first got there Sam quickly explained how she barely did anything at night other than sleep by about 5pm because it was so cold in her room that she couldn’t even leave her arms out to read a book, so she’d cocoon under her blankets and go to sleep. There was an “aircon heater” on the wall but it didn’t seem to be doing it’s job. So then I picked another room that only had 2 beds in it and Leo turned on my aircon heater and then took Sam and I to have dinner.
That’s when I first met Mr. Ding, the kindest and funniest chef around. It didn’t matter that we didn’t speak a word of each other’s language, we managed to laugh all the time. The system was you come, he feeds you a freshly cooked meal, then you pre-order you next meal and then you come back at the next feeding time for the next meal (being spoiled Westerners, the idea of figuring out what we wanted ahead of time seemed like a daunting task). The room we ate in was something like a cantina. It was literally a tin hut, but they burned coal to keep the room warm for us and the workers that came to eat there. Our meals were all covered through the volunteer fees we paid for our weekly stay on the property.
In the morning my panda project would officially begin.
Saying hello to Ching Chyuan (my "talker").
Here's a video of Ching Chyuan talking
while I was cleaning his cage and singing to him for the first time, he was in the holding cell next to me barking away. Eventually as I kept singing, he stopped barking!
Video taken Feb. 19, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
HERE IS THE LINK TO THE VIDEO: http://1drv.ms/1nPDX8H
The very last day I was there he let me feed him apples directly into his mouth which he took with his huge teeth ever so gently from my hand. I even pet his paw and though he pulled it away, he was very gentle and not aggressive at all. This was a great privilege as they don’t usually let you touch the pandas because the pandas don’t know their own strength and while they don’t normally set out to hurt you, they are very strong and can be forceful and their teeth and claws are very dangerous. But Ching Chyuan and I had formed a bond and it was clear that he knew I truly cared for him and he was ever so gentle in his last interaction with me.
Pictures taken Feb. 28, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
HERE IS THE LINK TO THE VIDEO: http://1drv.ms/1lEAnCY
Michael was a very special little monkey. Both Sam and I fell in love with him right away. One of the prior volunteers from the UK helped pay to build him a large play house that he now lives in (located to the side of the moon bears and leopard). Unfortunately, though there are "golden monkeys" on the property (many of them in fact), Michael cannot go live with them as golden monkeys only socialize with their own family members. Even if another golden monkey were brought into their space, they would not accept it and in fact would fight it, so Michael cannot go live with them.
Michael was found abandoned in the wild. They feel that someone may have found him when he was a baby and raised him and later abandoned him. He couldn't care for himself so he was brought to this property to be cared for. Unfortunately, they will not bring him a "friend" as that would mean they would have to intentionally capture another monkey of his same bread, from the wild, in order to bring it to live with Michael. And apparently he cannot be released back to the wild. So sad!
So Michael lives in solitude and we wanted to make sure we visited him regularly and gave him special treats. Apparently, he had a mirror in his cage before which he loved to look at himself in, but had broken at some point. So I asked if I could replace it and when I got the green light, Sam and I went walked to town to try to find a mirror. Within a couple minutes of letting him hold it through the cage (he's not allowed to have it inside with him for safety reasons), he had already broken the handle off. So we found a way, with the assistance of his caretaker, to attach it nearby so he could still admire himself on a daily basis!
We also bought him lots of monkey nuts and other treats that he loved receiving and would reach through the fence to take from our hands.
We also helped the large Moon Bear who had broken his swing.
Another project that Sam, Leo and I took on was fixing one of the large Moon Bear's swings. He had broken it and the caretaker couldn't fix it alone so the 3 of us went in one day (of course, he was removed from the cage while we were in there) and we fixed it. Such a rewarding experience. He immediately got back on it afterwards but my camera battery died and I wasn't able to grab a picture.
The leopard has an injured tail. She is here to be protected as she is in danger if she's in the wild in this condition.
We were not allowed to touch her or come closer than the outside of her cage. The very first time I saw her, I felt I connected with her. She seemed so sad and like she given up, when I first saw her. I know she felt me feeling sorry for her and then she looked at me and let out a low and very weak sounding roar ("meow"). As soon as I heard her, tears started to stream down my face, knowing there was nothing I could do to help her. :(
Here's another panda whose name is Lola. Cute short video.
Video taken Feb. 20, 2014 - Shaanxi Province
HERE IS THE LINK TO THE VIDEO: http://1drv.ms/1nPE83I
IMPORTANT FYI, re the pandas on this property:
By 2015, they are moving their property up into the mountains where there will be acres of land and they can start to introduce the pandas back to the "wild" in hopes of eventually releasing them, if the pandas can do well finding and gathering their own bamboo on the big property that they will roam free within its enclosed area. One can pray that this will work and they will be completely released one day soon! Nonetheless, this is a big step up from where they are now, but at least they are not confined to cages only and do have access to yards as well on this property, but they still deserve to be free! The yards in “the circle” area are HUGE btw! And interestingly, the pandas rarely walk around that space, they just park it where the bamboo is and they eat all day.
Traveling back to Xi’an to start my volunteer teaching project.
David, was the one who ran the volunteer project and his parents helped to cook and clean for us.
HAD A ONE DAY SIDE PROJECT WORKING WITH MENTALLY DISABLED ADULTS, PRIOR TO STARTING MY TEACHING PROJECT AT THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.
As soon as we got there, I used the limited Chinese I had learned so far, to greet the teachers. "Nee-how" (hello) and "Nee-how-ma?" (how are you?). They immediately lit up as soon as they saw I was trying to communicate with them. Soon we were interacting with the kids (some are actually adults but their brains have never developed) and we were teaching the alphabet and drawing with them. It was a wonderful experience and I wish I could've gone back to work with them more but I was already assigned to teach at the elementary school and couldn't switch projects. I did help Emily with more ideas and chipped in to buy supplies for them when we went shopping in the evening together.
Working with my teacher at the elementary school.
My teacher, Qi-Yuan literally let me take over her classes by the 2nd day. The kids were wonderful. I got to teach 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade. I don’t know if I touched one particular student or not during this time but I do know there was one girl who made it a point to try to talk to me regularly and clearly truly liked me and there was a little girl from the US whose parents had moved to China to teach and she spoke English and Chinese fluently and she was soooo happy as soon as she saw another “white” face around and she automatically knew I spoke English and then she could barely catch her breath to talk to me the first time we met while all her classmates stood around her in awe as we had a little conversation (she was in 2nd grade so I didn’t actually get to teach her myself but she was already fluent in English, so she really didn’t need my help).
Right after the lunch was over, my teacher surprised me by insisting that we would walk together to her home so I could meet her baby boy. We had just had a large meal with the administrative staff so I wasn't expected to be greeted with an entire meal's worth of fruits and snacks and tea, but this is part of their culture, as it would be improper of them to invite me to their home without treating me. I was greeted by her mother and her mother-in-law, who both help her while she is teaching during the day (she's blessed to have them both helping and that they both get along with each other).