CNN reported today that a pair of pandas arrived in Taiwan Tuesday. It is quite amusing this has finally happened. It made me recall fondly my sister Maple's photo of the pair, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan (see below), taken in July 2006, when we visited the Wolong Panda Conservatory together. Maple titled the photo "爱要不要", which means "want me or not, who cares."
I thought the title caught the pandas' leisurely and carefree manner quite true-to-life. Apparently, Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan were unaware of their predicament. They didn't seem to care that a great responsibility had historically fallen on their cute shoulders. In ancient times, Chinese emperors used beautiful girls, often princesses, as diplomatic tools, marrying them against their will to tribes in remote places, in exchange for border peace. I can't quite decide if it should be considered progress in civilization that pandas have now replaced girls.
At the time of our visit at Wolong in 2006, Taiwan refused to accept the two pandas, while Beijing waited for a change of heart. As such Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan became sort of orphans, because they were the only pandas not put up for "adoption." Apparently, "adoption" was a fund raising scheme: an organization or individual pays a large amount of money annually to become an adopter of a chosen panda. Each adopter's name appears in a plaque hanging on the wall of the panda's house, and the adopter is given privileges such as free visits, even hugging the panda. (Otherwise, a visitor has to pay 500 RMB, or about $65, for a hug. My daughter considered buying a hug during our visit, but gave up the idea for the fear of infecting the cute animal with an American cold.) A panda can have multiple adopters, but the number is limited to prevent excessive disturbance. When we visited, we saw lots of Japanese names on plaques. I asked a staff member why, and she said for some reason Japanese are really fond of pandas, even more so than Chinese.
The Wolong Panda Conservatory is in a peaceful suburb of Chengdu. If you've read Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian's novel Soul Mountain, you might remember the book spends many pages on the place. "Wolong" means "crouching dragon."