Sunday, November 30, 2008

A day of Chinese mascots - pandas and acrobats

Day 4 (Sat, 22 Nov 2008)

After three consecutive days of ancient history and culture, it was time for a little warm and fuzzy... pandas! None of us had ever seen a panda in real life, so we thought we'd take a little trip to the Beijing zoo, home to the largest, umm, collection? group? den? *checking wikipedia*... guess what, it's a pandemonium of pandas!

Andre prepared for the trip by watching Kung Fu Panda four times in two days on dvd at my cousin's place.

It was sunny and warm, a nice change. The zoo was rather crowded, maybe because it was a Saturday. Entry to the panda enclosure costed an additional RMB 5 (S$1.10), probably since 90% of visitors are only interested in this attraction.

It did not disappoint, there are three different enclosures just for pandas - an outdoor one, an Olympics one and another for the Asian Games. There is also an extensive exhibition and display area. Each enclosure had a few pandas although seeing them at close range could be a bit of a challenge. Anytime a panda waddled near the glass, a tornado of excited visitors would instantly swarm towards that area, armed with flashing cameras. Pandemonium is right!

Can't blame them though, those creatures are just so darn adorable. Everything about them, from their lazy, lumbering gait to their tear drop black eye patches, screams "cute". Their unelegant-ness has an uncanny human quality - check out these poses.

And here's the money shot. All together now, "awwwwwwww"!

We didn't visit the rest of the zoo. We passed by a couple of other enclosures and it was pretty awful. Only the pandas have landscaping in their luxuriously spacious enclosures, due to their esteemed status. All other animals are caged in cold, tiny spaces. We saw a few monkeys in a bare, cemented cage clinging on pitifully to a radiator for warmth. Pretty upsetting, especially for animal lovers.

By the way, we came across more funny signs (the left one was above a toilet roll dispenser).

Some left us scratching our heads, especially the last line of the left sign below.

We took a cab to Shin Kong Place 新光天地, on the recommendation of Kenneth's friend. It turned out to be a super luxury shopping mall, fronted by Prada, Gucci, Bvlgari, blah blah. Not her fault, she wouldn't have known that this is so not our gig. Pearls to swine. Swine without cash to burn. We didn't really feel like eating at a posh restaurant, so we walked around a bit and came across a familiar sign - KFC. I usually deride Andre if he asks to eat fast food in a foreign land, as I think it's a wasted opportunity for a culinary adventure, but for some strange reason that day, we gave in pretty quickly, much to his delight. Maybe it was a subconscious rebellion against the snootiness of that mall.

Our one lapse and we paid for it. It was by far the worst KFC fare I've ever had. The chicken was soggy, very greasy and very salty. The mashed potato didn't even taste like potato, it was like watered down cardboard with some tasteless, starchy gravy. But obviously this opinion is not shared by the Chinese because KFC opens one new outlet EVERYDAY in China. So it's more likely just another case of differences in tastes.

Anyway, lesson learnt. DON'T EAT FAST FOOD IN CHINA! After a short rest and dinner back at my cousin's place, we headed back out to catch an acrobatic show at Chaoyang Theatre. The tickets were rather pricey but we thought since we were here, we should at least catch what is an iconic activity in China. We called beforehand and asked for the cheapest tickets, which were RMB 180 (S$40) each. Interestingly, when we collected our tickets at the door and entered the theatre, we were ushered right in front to the centre portion of the theatre with seats marked "VIP".

Looking around the theatre, they appeared to be best seats in the house. Eh? But we bought the cheapest tickets! Then we noticed that the section where we were sitting was all occupied by foreigners - groups of Chinese tourists were relegated to the side and back seats. We suspect that foreigners are automatically given the best seats so they would leave with a good impression, regardless of how much they paid. Either that or we didn't actually buy the cheapest tickets. Whatever. I'm confused.

The show itself is quite nice. I'm sure you would have seen many of these feats on tv, acrobatics have been televised for the longest time. But just as with concerts, there's always something special about seeing it live - the atmosphere just makes it more enjoyable and exciting.

You're actually not allowed to take pictures during the show, but this being China, nobody obeyed the rule. So here are some shots Kenneth took.


Lilian said...

We just watched Kungfu Panda again too, on Friday night when Brian's friend was here for a sleepover.

The acrobatic show must be pretty amazing; stunts by chinese acrobats leave angmoh performances in the dust. If I ever get tickets for the acrobat show, will learn from you and buy the cheapest tickets available.

Alamak, bad KFC ah? In Moscow, McD is pretty bad, but their KFC is really good, and they give me all the thighs and drums I ask for.

monlim said...

I just spoke with a relative, he said they all enjoyed the KFC tremendously in Shanghai, so I dunno!! Maybe it's just us? But Andre hated the potato too, and he's the least discerning member among us so it can't be that... But we didn't try another fast food restaurant in Beijing after that!

Alcovelet said...

I love the last panda pic - what a cutie! But aside from that draw, it'll be hard to pull me to a zoo in China - kind of an oxymoron, "zoo in China", hmmm.

But wah - you got the VIP seats? Lucky thing! We were, yap, given the seats in the back. And we watched the angmohs in their seats with these little side tables to place the snacks and tea they can order. Can't believe!

Still, the acrobatic show is AMAZING! How do they train these kids? I wonder if this will persist though - in days of yore, acrobatics was one way to improve your station in life. it probably still is, but the lure of capitalism probably calls louder now.

monlim said...

I guess our mandarin was so bad that they could instantly tell we were foreigners! Hahaha!

I wouldn't want to know how the kids are trained. Many of them are from very poor families so that's their way of earning their keep. And the training can be pretty brutal. This group we saw was from the Earthquake-hit areas in Sichuan.

My cousin said previously, the show featured a lot of kids, but now they're mostly adults. We suspect they changed the format for the Olympics cos they didn't want human rights issues to be raised...