We arrived at 8:30 am and the Research Base was already open. The road our taxi had driven to it was under heavy construction, as was the future entrance to the Base. We bought our tickets, walked in, and made our best guess which pathway to take. At this point the air was crisp and very few visitors had entered the park. After 20 minutes and quite a walk, we finally found an area with some awake pandas. A crowd of approximately 15 visitors had already gathered around the spot. We then walked up the hill to the nursery to see more pandas. Going early was a good call as most of the pandas were asleep by 11 am and the park became much more crowded as the day went on.
The "Giant Panda Nurse Experience Center" opened at 9:30 am and a donation of 2000 RMB reserved my sister a spot in line to hold a panda (I believe I heard the staff say there is a limit of 20 people a day allowed to hold the panda). We returned at 10:30 and she, along with the other donors, went into the nursery to hold the panda (I wasn't allowed entry as we had only paid enough for one donation). The donation not only got my sister a two minute panda hug but also a sweatshirt, certificate, and official photo with accompanying commemorative picture frame.
My favorite moment of the visit to the Base was the viewing of a documentary in the 'Panda Theater.' The documentary was about the breeding of the pandas and went something like this: "Pandas are too solitary in the wild and thus are not genetically diversified enough so we have to help them diversify, and they don't really like to mate so we have to help them mate, and their babies are all born premature so we have to raise their babies ourselves or else they'll probably die, plus panda moms just don't really even know how to care for their babies directly after birth and thus just sort of slap the premature babies across the floor and so we have to rush in after the babies are born, grab them from the panda moms, and raise them ourselves the first few months. The average amount of time a species exists before it naturally dies out is 5 million years. Pandas have already been around 7 million years. They can't really keep surviving on their own not because of humans but because they don't really want to mate and they don't really know how to take care of their babies. They're really cute though (like really really cute, right?), so we're spending millions of dollars (and RMB) and millions of man-hours to keep them from themselves making themselves extinct."
The Panda Research Base was very nicely maintained (and will be even nicer once the new entrance is complete) and the opportunity to hold a panda is a pretty amazing (and pretty expensive) opportunity to have presented to you. Best of all, they have red pandas (which I personally think are much cuter than the giant black and white pandas).
Below is my sister holding a six-month-old panda. More photos of the Research Base can be seen in the gallery.
January 26, 2009. Chaoyang, Beijing.
August 16, 2012. Sanlitun, Beijing, China.
Below is a selection of photos I took at the 2013 Hong Kong CNY holiday fireworks display. I watched the display from Kowloon and it ran about 20 minutes starting at 8 pm. The display was not as big as the one I viewed in Korea last year but it was still a lot more impressive than I was expecting. Below the following photos is video I took of the display. All photos I took (and at full resolution) can be found in the gallery.
Hanging out during the holidays.
Until I entered the stadium, followed my friends to the VIP section, and saw a program on my seat featuring Jay Chou's face, I hadn't even realized this was the concert I had been invited to. So I can't complain too much. The concert featured five semi-superstars singing 3-4 songs each (a short video would introduce the singer, the singer would come on stage, the singer would sing for 15 minutes, the singer would leave the stage, a short video would introduce the next singer, and repeat) followed by super-superstar Jay Chou singing a set. So not too bad of a deal.
That said, I was a little disappointed. Disappointing because Jay Chou only sang for 15 or 20 minutes at the very end and he wasn't even the best act of the night.
Some observations from the concert:
Big Screens with Karaoke-like Subtitles - It was useful being able to watch the big screens while each singer was onstage and follow along with the lyrics. This seemed to transformed the stadium into the world's largest karaoke room; everyone, even those who didn't know the songs, were able to sing along.
Little Use of the Stage - The stage was huge, and yet most of it was rarely utilized. Only one of the six singers even used the stage's lone staircase during his or her act. Both singers and dancers alike stayed solely on the stage's ground floor. So why the need for the big setup?
Lots of Lights in the Audience - Many people on the streets leading to the stadium were selling light sticks and glowing rabbit ears. These creations created great atmosphere in the stadium during the concert. This is normal during concerts in China, but has this caught on in the US? It hadn't yet when I was living there.
Cool Cars - Ferraris. Mclarens. Lotus. Matte black Audis. Good.
No Encore - When the concert was done, it was done. Not even a hint of an encore. The might have been for the best considering the number of children I saw at the concert and how many of them were probably getting tired by the end. The length and pacing of the concert was very much tuned to the attention span of a normal child.
Why Jay Chou? Why - The whole night built up to his set. His video introduction elicited roars of excitement. Jay Chou then rose out of the floor, danced a little bit, rapped very quietly, sang a song at a piano, and wished everyone a good night. Twenty minutes later the concert had ended. Everyone else around me seemed satisfied. Maybe this was par for the course. I was left unsatisfied. I thought the first two singers of the night (the girl at the top and the boy with the tie in the advertisement above) were great, but all the following singers, including Jay Chou, weren't as good as I had hoped.
Shenzhen Bay Sports Center Is Beautiful - Beijing has the Bird's Nest and Shenzhen now has the 'caterpillar.' Built for the summer 2011 Universiade competition, the complex is stunning. I need to find an excuse to visit it again soon.
Below are some photos from the concert. Enjoy.
Three floors of deliciousness. Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
After the R8 LMS Cup completed its second race of the weekend Sunday morning, I was able to walk through the pits before the beginning of the 6 Hours of Shanghai. Drivers were signing autographs as teams prepared the cars. No one was in the grandstand. It was at this time I got to take the Audi R8 hot lap. I then made my way to the huge temporary Audi pit/auditorium where I watched the beginning of the World Endurance Championship race. It lasted from 11 am to 5 pm. I watched the last 3 hours from above the pit lane and was able to see the cars up close as they were inspected by the WEC tech staff after the race. Toyota ended up dominating but one team of Audi drivers secured the championship with a third place finish. Overall, not a bad way to spend a weekend.
I arrived early in the morning to find a light rain falling at the track. After the R8 LMS Cup and Lamborghini series races, the cars of the FIA World Endurance Championship took to the track for their qualifying session. Toyota qualified first in front of the two Audis. I watched it from the grandstand across from the pit and had a long conversation with a husband and wife sitting next to me. They had received free tickets and although they knew very little about motor sports, they did tell me they enjoyed listening to the cars as they raced by. The photo of them is included below (old man with the camera).
After qualifying, I headed up to the large (and temporary) Audi Ultra pavilion. That night Audi was putting on an RS-brand introduction event for VIPs and Audi Shanghai customers. Everyone was treated to finger food and car models before being whisked into the 2nd floor auditorium. The Audi China presidents gave some speeches about the RS brand (including the drop-dead gorgeous RS5) and then stepped aside for a pretty amazing driving demonstration (the video of which I'll upload later). At the end of this demonstration, an R8 Spyder drove onto the stage, lowered its top, and Jet Li jumped out. The crowd naturally went crazy at his surprise appearance. Then superstar singer (at least I think she's a superstar) Keri Hilson, whose music I sort of recognized, came on stage and performed. At the event's conclusion, everyone was invited outside for food, drinks, and more singing and dancing.
Lastly, I exited the building to find a long line of people waiting to take hot laps around the track in R8s and RS5s (last photo). I went to get in line but the Chinese hostess told me no more people were allowed and the line had been closed. As I depressingly walked away, I turned around to see a group of five Chinese men muscling and begging their way into the line. The hostess finally relented and let them through. I could have done the same myself but I guess I'm too nice/passive; I thought I had missed my opportunity to take a hot lap around the track. Tomorrow would bring better luck though...
This weekend I am in Shanghai as a guest of Audi for the R8 LMS Cup / World Endurance Championship race. I'm passionate about the brand (in high school I drove an '89 manual Audi 100 AWD). Each guest was given a schedule and it made mention of an evening event at Audi's VIP Lounge at the race track. Below is the fun adventure I had tonight.
1. I was picked up from the airport and the driver asked me if I wanted to go to the hotel or the track. We finally decided on going to the hotel first and then he'd take me to the track for the reception.
2. When we arrived at the track, he didn't know where to go and it turned out he could not enter with the pass he had on his car, so I got out and walked to the infield myself, having no idea where to go. It was great though as I have been to the Shanghai circuit the past 5 out of 6 years for the Formula 1 race and here I was by myself walking around freely in the track's infield.
3. I naturally went to the huge, colorfully-lit building with "Audi" scribed on its exterior. It was a huge temporary building with pits for the R8 race cars on the first floor and a presentation theater and lounge on the second floor. This had to be where the Audi reception was being held, right? There were a hundred construction workers still putting the finishing touches on the building. I hung out in the theater and watched the construction of the stage and the presenters run through a practice of a presentation. After an hour of hanging around and looking at all the amazing cars, including the new S5 and lots of R8s, I concluded this was not where the reception was being held and left the building (but not before a security guard mistakenly directed me into the actual race car pits when I asked where the bathroom was, to which the race crew members present did not appreciate).
4. I walked towards the pit building and heard music and loud voices. I then found a reception. Maybe this was it? I walked up and had a glass of wine. Most of the people there seemed to be from the race teams though, including Wolfgang Ullrich (Audi's motorsport boss) and Tom Kristensen (the most successful Le Mans racer of all time). I didn't see any non-racing team people, so I started thinking this wasn't it either. Hmm.
5. I asked a waiter at this reception if he knew where the "Audi VIP Lounge" was and he pointed to the top of the large race control building. He said, "it's in the bridge at the top." Great, maybe this was the breakthrough I finally needed.
6. Before I made my way into the building, the gate to the track's pit lane was open right in front of the building's entrance. I walked through the gate and suddenly there I was all alone in the actual pit lane on the race track. Awesome. Picture taking ensued.
7. I entered the race control building and went to the 9th floor. Upon exiting, I found myself in a mostly empty media center. Definitely not the right place. I asked a woman at the media center about the Audi VIP lounge and she told me it was on the second floor in the same building. I'm close!
8. I exit the elevator on the second floor and walk through the only open corridor I see. I found an open door at the end and walk through it. Bam... I'm at the winner's podium. What? Okay, obligatory photo on the top step. After retracing my steps, I found another corridor snaking around the outside of the building.
9. Success! I finally find the Audi VIP Lounge (I think, I mean it must be, right?). I walk in, and... it's still being constructed. No reception here. Well, what else to do but sit down and play a round of videogame racing. So I did.
10. At this point, I'm at the track with a non-existent reception and dinner at the hotel ends in 2 hours. So I make the decision to leave the track and try to find a taxi. I end up walking more than an hour to the nearest populated area (though listening to a podcast made it an easier walk) and after much searching (I finally took a motorcycle cab to get to a more populated area), I finally found a taxi.
11. Except for the taxi hitting a big piece of plastic on the highway and the driver having to stop and remove it from the front grill, it was a smooth ride and I made it back for dinner with 30 minutes to spare.
So no reception (well, except for the race team reception I happened to accidentally joined in) and I had to walk more than an hour to find a taxi but I saw hundreds of amazing Audis and other race cars, walked freely around the infield of the racetrack, and stood on the winner's podium. So in all, not a bad night. Tomorrow the actually racing starts.
My flight to Hong Kong was at 8 pm and another friend left shortly after noon. We had an early lunch of Korean BBQ and then went go karting. After some tea and coffee, we said our goodbyes and I boarded the airport bus for a scenic sun-setting ride to Incheon Airport. I arrived in HK well past 11 pm and took a bus to the HK-Shenzhen border crossing. Even though the time was fast approaching 2 am, the border was packed with travelers and locals crossing both ways.
October 13, 2012. 8:40 PM. New Heights Restaurant. The Bund, Shanghai.
Shanghai's Pudong district, as photographed from New Heights Restaurant on The Bund at nightfall and night.