Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Baby Pandas! – Day 4, November 18, 2015

Before I tell you about the adorableness we saw today, let me share a few observations about the Chinese people and culture. One thing we learned last time (from some not so subtle Chinese who scolded me a few times) was that children need to be covered and bundled up at all times. Before I thought it had to do with modesty, but now I’m realizing that the Chinese people do not like cold, AT ALL! Remember how I told you that our hotel room was really hot? Well I learned that it’s because this is their winter so they have the air conditioning disconnected. And none of the Chinese seem to mind! Every morning at breakfast everyone is eating with winter coats on, and I’m sweating in just a long sleeve shirt. The weather here is cool, which is a nice break for us, but not cold by any means. We Floridians are wimpy, and I haven’t felt the need to wear a jacket yet. But you better believe that every time we go outside, we put our kids in jackets so we don’t get stares. It’s actually really funny, our guide asks us every day if we have jackets for the kids before we leave the lobby. Actually, she doesn’t ask us, she tells us that they need to have them and we assure her that we have them in our backpack. It’s just hot and we don’t want to be sweating in the van! And also, apparently it doesn’t really matter what Caroline and Matthew wear because they aren’t Chinese. I guess we Americans can’t be expected to be held to Chinese dress code. But it does matter what Lily and David wear! Today at the Panda Park when we got out of the car she told us that we needed to put jackets on Lily and David. Not Caroline and Matthew, just Lily and David. So funny!

I have also learned that the Chinese people are very creative and resourceful. Because not many people can afford cars, and even then you can only drive if you get picked from the lottery, most people ride around on bikes and scooters. The things that people have done to modify their scooters are hilarious and innovative. We saw one man today with an umbrella sticking straight up from his handlebars and spanning the length of his scooter. Tons of people have an obscene number of boxes stacked on the back and tied with one flimsy looking rope that apparently must have hidden super strength. Every time I see one of them I think of how that would make a great Amazing Race task. But I think my favorite scooter accessory is something we have termed the “scooter snuggie”. This is basically a giant quilt complete with hand warmers that look like oven mitts that goes between the rider and the scooter to keep their legs and hands warm. They are in all different colors and patterns. Whoever invented those suckers seriously hit the jackpot!

So on to today. We managed to get some pretty good sleep last night. Every night there’s always someone up for part of the time, but if you can get a good 6 hours straight that’s pretty successful. We went down to breakfast, or what I will call “The Napkin Struggle” for today. Our large table was taken so we sat in this private booth area, which was great because no one could really see us. David is really good about wiping his mouth and hands when he eats, except what he usually chooses to wipe them on is his shirt. At lunch yesterday Susie had him tuck a napkin into his shirt, and since the shirt he was wearing today was brand new and white, I decided to do the same. Well apparently it wasn’t ok when I wanted him to wear the napkin. I am quickly learning that he’s a pretty well-behaved and obedient kid, when you are able to communicate with him. Every time Susie or someone else who speaks Mandarin talks to him, he listens and does what they say. You can see the problem that arises when I try to get him to do something. Google Translate works great in our hotel room, but I can’t use it when we are out anywhere. So I put the napkin in his shirt, and he yells and pulls it out. I put it back. He pulls it out. I put it back. He pulls it out. We have now begun to enter a power struggle, and while wearing a napkin is not actually that important I do want him to learn to listen to me and do what I ask. So, every time he pulls the napkin out I move his plate away. I put it back in, push the plate back to him. This happens several times, and then my mom gets smart and has Lily and Matthew tuck a napkin into their shirt. It works like a charm. He leaves it alone and goes on with his breakfast. He did take it out a few more times, but quite slowly while looking at me to see if I was going to do anything. I would shake my head no, and then help him tuck it back in and praise him when he left it there. He usually gets upset when it’s time to stop eating, so when everyone was done I quickly picked him up and we left with minimal crying. 

Today was a sightseeing day and we went to the Research Facility for Breeding Pandas! Chengdu is famous for this Panda Park, and Sichuan Province is home to the most wild pandas (at least I think that’s what Susie told me). While we haven’t seen more than 2 Americans or heard hardly any English this whole trip, for the most part people are very friendly and smile at us when they see our entourage. There have been less people trying to take pictures of Caroline, and those that want to ask very politely. Caroline of course always hides and wants nothing to do with it. While we were waiting for Susie to get our tickets, a mom asked if Caroline would take a picture with her daughter, who was an adorable toddler in a furry panda hoodie. Of course Caroline didn’t want to, so my dad offered to have his picture taken with her. He was joking of course, but they took him up on it! When we got inside the park there were some panda statues, so little miss personality herself of course wanted to pose with them. I swear this girl cracks me up. She is totally going to be some type of performer at some point in her life. Then we headed to see the pandas!

We opted to walk through the park instead of take the bus, because we pretty much wanted to stay there as long as possible. There’s really not anything to do once we return to the hotel in the afternoon and it gets really boring really quickly. The weather was nice and cool, and the whole park was beautifully landscaped so it was like walking through a bamboo forest. There are two different panda nurseries there, and there were four babies outside in each of them. Most of them were sleeping, but they were so adorable! We also saw two little ones who were only two months old and still in a crib. Then there were tons of adult or slightly older pandas in habitats all around. The kids loved it! Lily kept telling us which panda each family member was. For example, “That Mommy panda. That baby panda. That Daideo panda.” I guess she was guessing their age and gender. She was definitely loving every second of it. Oh, and of course I forgot to mention that she was wearing her panda hat, and Caroline put on her panda shirt. No trip to China is complete without panda clothing.

David seemed to be having the time of his life. He walked the whole time always holding someone’s hand without complaining, just taking everything in. He would catch my eye and smile, and I’d see him smiling at the kids, Brian, and my parents, like he was thinking “I can’t believe all these people are here hanging out with me!” My favorite pictures of the day were taken at the end when Matthew and David were holding hands with their new stuffed pandas. In one picture they are looking at each other, and in the other they are both looking at the camera and grinning like Cheshire cats.

The last exhibit we saw was the red panda habitat. So if you didn’t know, red pandas hang out in trees and look kind of like raccoons. And apparently they are also mean and aggressive, at least according to the multiple warning signs posted around the exhibit, along with one that said one person has already been injured by a red panda, please do not chase them. Super comforting when you have four kids with you. Thankfully we didn’t experience any angry pandas, but they are definitely free to walk around EVERYWHERE! We saw two up in the trees directly above our heads, and then right at the end there was one just walking along the boardwalk 100 yards in front of us. We had wondered what an earlier hole in the chainlink fence was for. Well apparently it was so the pandas can get out. Great. The one that was walking was right by the exit, and heading toward a huge mass of people with cameras so we quickly exited before they noticed it and came running, which surely would have caused mass confusion and red panda aggressiveness resulting in injury. Of course we couldn’t leave the Panda Park without buying stuffed pandas, so we let each kid pick one out. Somehow they all managed to get different ones, which will be greatly beneficial in determining whose is whose!

We drove back to our hotel, and then walked across the street to a restaurant we had seen yesterday called Hot Pot. Thank goodness Susie was with us to order, or not only would we have had no idea how to order, but also no clue how to each this meal. We kept thinking it was similar to The Melting Pot, where you dip your food into a pot of hot oil and let it cook. Well, it was similar but not the same. Somehow I was tasked with ordering our food which is really not my forte. Susie asked me if we wanted a spicy or not spicy broth, and then told me to choose what I wanted off the menu. I had my mom take a picture of it, because it was really too crazy to be true. Here were some of my choices to add to our hot pot: the original ecological pig throat, Im fine goose, fresh duck tongue, fresh duck web, connected to the same flesh and blood, pee cattle pill, flower fish head, the best fish consumption son, and my personal favorite, fresh hairy belly. To say I had a hard time finding something that I considered edible was an understatement. I ended up ordering mostly vegetables, along with some shrimp dumplings and pork meatballs. So here’s how the whole process works. They bring out a huge bowl filled with a broth and seasonings and vegetables. It starts to cook in the middle of the table. In the meantime, you have a small bowl of oil in front of you which you add garlic and salt to. When the hot pot is boiling, all of the other things we ordered get dumped in. Then when they are cooked you scoop them out and put them in your bowl of oil. Then you eat it! It sounds gross and it kind of looks a little gross, but it was actually delicious. We also made sure to order the ever-safe-and-faithful fried rice for the kids and any less adventurous grownups.

I had planned to go to a grocery store when we arrived here to buy snacks and water, but we really haven’t found one nearby. We were totally out of any snacks with substance, so we went to the little convenience store next to the restaurant and let the kids each pick out a snack. They all chose a different type of cookie, and David was ecstatic to find some crackers that he was familiar with. I decided to give Chinese Oreos a try. FYI they are nowhere near as good as the ones in the US. Of course being the Americans that we are, we took a picture with our snacks outside of the store. Then it was back to the hotel for the afternoon. Pretty much every afternoon kind of drags on, and we are all counting down until we go to Guangzhou and stay at the Garden hotel. What we wouldn’t give for a playground and a fish pond for entertainment! We put a movie on for the kids and they kind of went back and forth between the two rooms playing. Around 3:00 the girls seemed pretty tired so Brian took the boys for a walk and I tried to get them to sleep. Of course I also ended up falling asleep for about an hour. We decided to head downstairs for dinner in the hotel again. No one was really hungry, but we knew David needed to eat and to be honest, we really had nothing else to do. Poor Matthew only lasted a few minutes. He has adjusted the best to the time change, not napping and sleeping at normal hours, but he’s still pretty tired. He asked if he could go back upstairs and go to sleep, so I took him up for bed. I think he also wanted a little alone time with me so I was happy to let him have that. Everyone else had a nutritious dinner of fried rice, beer, and French fries, and once Matthew was asleep my dad and I switched places so I could eat too. I was very thankful, because the freeze dried peaches I was snacking on weren’t really cutting it.

Tonight was Matthew’s turn to sleep in our room with David, so since he was already asleep we sent the girls next door and got David ready for bed. He is happy as can be all day, but as soon as it’s time for bed he completely loses it. Although I must say, his fits don’t hold a candle to Lily’s. Thank goodness! He was much harder to settle tonight. I don’t think he likes when we separate, because every time he starts crying it’s pretty much when the other kids go next door. Tonight I did the same thing I did last night, putting him back in bed when he got out, rubbing his back, trying to comfort him. Nothing really worked until I remembered the phonetic pronunciation for sleep that I had put on a picture card and started saying “Go to sleep, I love you” in Mandarin repeatedly. I seriously need to learn more Mandarin. It works every time.

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