PandaTastic Voyage

Prelude to a Journey

Tomorrow I leave for China. I’m not sure why I think this will be such a game changer, but I do. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a trip, for the new visual imagery that I know I will find there, since my first trip to Italy in 1988. That trip changed my artwork significantly. Not so much in style, but in subject matter, color palette, and general zest for life and art.

31 days

Mini Bob in Oxford England. Is he ready to romp on the Great Wall of China? Hold my beer.

Since that first trip to Italy, I’ve been back five times. I’ve visited the South of France, Holland, Belgium, the UK, and Canada. On every trip, I’ve acquired years worth of subject matter for paintings . But Asia is a whole other ball game. The language will be completely different and unlike Italian, there are no common words or sounds. And if you think Italian drivers are crazy and undisciplined, the Chinese say, “hold my beer.”  Or is it bear?

And then there are pandas.

Lots of pandas. Lots and lots and LOTS of pandas. China owns pretty much all the pandas in the world. Pandas have been pulled back from the brink of extinction, and for that I am grateful. Panda rentals at zoos around the world all contribute funds to the panda research and breeding centers in China. Wild panda population has increased and the captive breeding program has been very successful in the last 10 years. The opportunity to see many pandas at once is something I have been thinking about for that long, when I read James Fallows’ article about the panda bases in December of 2007.

I have been thinking about pandas for a while.

There is also the particular aspect of traveling with a group of friends. I’ve been getting to know our band of panda trekkers since I went to my first panda convention in 2013. Yes, Virginia, there is a panda convention. There are actually several, if not many groups of panda fanatics fans who meet regularly for the love of, and to visit pandas. While those in our group have met multiple times, this will be the longest amount of time we have spent together. I’m sure it will be…um…interesting at the very least.

Remember to tag your luggage!

I’ll be spending some of my time writing a journal of the trip, and sketching, as well as taking photographs. Many, many, many photographs. So many photographs. (when I’m not bouncing baby pandas on my knee.) All of that will end up here on this page, which will be the home of my travels in Pandyland.

So, grab some popcorn, and maybe a cuppycake or two, and get ready to watch the show.

The Journey Begins…

Beijing has 24 Million People

..and all of them were on the road between the airport and the hotel last night.

What surprised me: yes, the air was as visibly dirty as everyone says; the heat hits you like a sauna when you walk out into the area outside the building. The airport is humongous, very modern, and well signed in English, Chinese, and picture symbols. The number of new, modern cars on the road (6 million, according to our guide) was astounding, as was the fact that it took almost 2 hours to go the 35 kilometers from the airport to the hotel.

We are heading out to the old city and the Great Wall today. More tomorrow along with a picture or two.

One more thing

I’m sitting in our Executive floor snooty lounge, looking out over the modern city, having a wonderful breakfast. I’m in heaven: Chinese food for breakfast!

Hanging in the grown up travelers lounge!

The Only Great Wall is in China

It’s true. The Great Wall of China is really, well, Great. It’s a bit of a travel stereotype, that if you go to China, you MUST see The Great Wall, but it is truly magnificent. You really gotta see this thing.

Of course it was a hot, humid sweltering day. Our Chinese guide was fit and so nimbly zipped up the (very) steep path to the cable car, which takes you up to the wall. Predictably, there is the gauntlet of tacky souvenir vendors that rush out from their stalls to implore you to buy their wares. Ice cold water can be had for the equivalent of $4 per bottle. This was a better seller that the Great Wall tee-shirts and pandas in various forms that lined the walkway.

Now THIS is a Great Wall!

The Great Wall took 2000 years to build and once ran the length of China, more than 6000 kilometers. It looks just like it does in the pictures. Building it most likely killed as many people as have walked on it over the years since its completion.

Alas, no pictures today. (Till now!) I was so hot by the time I got up there, that I couldn’t get my phone out to take pictures. I did take a bunch on my camera, but those will have to wait till I get home and can unload them into the computer.  I am sorry to say, that Mini Bob and Babette did not get their pictures taken on the Great Wall, even though they made the ascent with me.

It does go on and on, doesn’t it?

 Another 4 Hour Travel Day

Today’s adventure took us on the bullet train to the zoo where Yun Zi, Mr. Wu’s next older brother, is currently living. It was a long day (and another hot one) but it was good to see him. Tomorrow we head for true panda territory in and around Chengdu. Panda kindergarten, here I come!

Yun Zi in repose

Did Someone Call for the Panda Kindergarten?

The Panda Kindergarten has arrived!

I know it’s been a couple of days since my last post, or has it? It’s so easy to lose track of time when you’re traveling. We checked out early from our luxury hotel in Chengdu, which is a hop, skip, and a panda rolling down the hill from the Panda Base at Chengdu.

In the lobby of our very fancy hotel…

Chengdu is the center of the panda industrial complex here in China. There are panda things to buy everywhere. Much of it is the same manufactured stuff, but there is the occasional really nice piece.

One of the things we all really wanted to do, was to visit the giant (GIANT) panda sculpture which is located on a very fancy shopping mall in the center of Chengdu. Our guide, who was not accompanying us that day had written out instructions for the non-English speaking driver about where we wanted to go.

Sure enough, he got us to the building and most of us trooped out into the mall, and rode the escalator up to the first or second floor. We made our way to the elevator, wondering how we would know which floor to go to, but when we got in, we saw that there was a picture of a panda by the correct button. I guess we were not the only panda pilgrims wanting to say hi to the front end of the giant (GIANT!!!) panda.

He turned out to be a happy panda!

The very nice hotel we stayed at for a mere two nights even has an entire floor of panda themed rooms. We are also going to be going for about 4 nights to the Panda Inn, which I’m pretty sure has a panda in every room. Meanwhile, we arrived at the Ya’an Ibis hotel, which is clean and functional, but a decided come down from the Crown Plaza.

The panda kindergarten is definitely planning something naughty. This is from the Chengdu Base.

More tomorrow after we head back to the BiFengXia panda base, some to volunteer, and some to hang out. I am taking my art supplies to take advantage of the beautiful base and surroundings and maybe even draw a panda or two.

I have to apologize. The Internet connection seems to be slow enough that I am having trouble posting pictures. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some soon. Also, China does not recognize Google or Facebook, so I am not able to access email. I think if you send a message here, I might get it.