First things first:
A week into our program we visited what is officially called the “Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding” basically for non-scientists, panda heaven! Live pandas of all shapes and sizes were on display, from little pink week old hairless pandas in incubators to full blown adult pandas chomping down bamboo with gusto. There must have been several dozen pandas sitting around in this facility, probably too domesticated and helpless to ever to be released into the wild, and perhaps destined to be gifted to other nations’ premier zoos as a gesture of goodwill in times of diplomatic need.
A few years ago I read some criticism of this program because the number of pandas bred here is completely unsustainable in the sense that china’s current natural bamboo forest coverage could never keep up with such a sudden spike in pandas if they were sent back into the wilderness.. or something like that.. but it doesn’t really matter because these pandas were SO FREAKIN CUTE!! Environmental Ethics be damned
Now onto a funny story, one that inevitably involves lots of alcohol (because this is china and all interesting stories involve some amount of beer or baiju in china). After class one evening, I head to a local bar Savage that has great deals for foreigners (50% off drinks, though an instructor later told us Savage is notorious for its use of fake alcohol… omg gross..) with my new BFFs. We get a mint hookah to share and some 5RMB Tsingtao beers, which is the ultimate bargain! after a few beers, Hugo and I get up and dance around to the euro-pop music (the girls were wisely too self-conscious to look like idiots so early in the evening). This dancing attracts the attention of a table of 20something year old Chinese kids, and the guys there get up and start a bit of a dance off.
The situation escalates quickly when they approach our table with four beers and insist we drink. We drink and buy them beers to return the favor. Several rounds of beer chugging later, things are starting to get wild and we lose face (mianzi, kind of a concept of ‘honor’ in china) in record amounts in a very very short span of time. Arm wrestling match? Hugo lost, we lose face. Clapping push-up contest? I lost, more face down the drain. Female vs Female beer chugging? Jessica and Iliana took a few sips from their bottles, whereas their female chinese counterpart emptied hers in approx 15 seconds. American face dragged by the weave to the ground. SNATCHED. Edges showing and whatever.
On the upside, this guy we met was really cool, and he was a Sichuan opera singer!! He showed us some photos of him in costumer and makeup and invited us to see his show the next night- what a nice guy! We exchanged weChat information and were able to get in touch with him the next day to see his show, gifting him a pair of headphones (mianzi restored!). The opera was great- as with Opera at the Lincoln center in NYC I didn’t understand a word of the story, but the costumes and scenery were of the highest quality. In summary: Bizarre 24 hours, total loss of face, nice recovery with the $50RMB headphones but unforgettable memories nonetheless. Welcome to china!