Luckily, from the moment I stepped inside, I could tell this was more than just a zoo. There were lakes and gardens and wide walkways, lined with bamboo. There was even a museum that informed visitors of the history of giant pandas and of conservation efforts. But of course, I had come to see the pandas. What were they like?
The more I travel, the less I like zoos. The magic of seeing animals in cages is gone, especially when said cages are far too small for the megafauna they're housing. So it was with much reservation that I decided to visit the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, China. I just couldn't resist the draw of so many pandas in one place.
The three of us boarded a train bound for Kunming, a small city of three million, about five hours away. Our tickets were for a sleeper car, with beds stacked three high. But instead of using all of the bunks, everyone sat on the bottom one, four to a bed. I ignored this convention and went straight to the top bunk, where I organized my backpack. Soon I felt a yank on my foot, and then I heard a continuous, angry shout. I turned around and saw a train employee who reminded me of Nurse Ratched. Apparently, the “convention” of sitting on the bottom bed was actually a “rule.” After I climbed down, Nurse Rached yelled at me some more, then stormed off. Per an eery custom in China, everyone else around us was locked into a distant gaze, as if completely unaware of the scene unfolding before them.