... time to sleep, eat (a lot) less, exercise, visit the cats... and keep working hard.
The Great Wall of China. Mutianyu, Beijing.
Arrived to Shanghai this morning, took the subway straight to the race track, enjoyed the Chinese Formula 1 GP, took the subway back to the airport, and am now sitting on the airplane ready to travel back to Shenzhen.
Not a bad day. Not bad at all.
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.
The Maiji Caves of Tianshui, Gansu Province. Photos taken from display at Beijing Capital Airport, Beijing.
Panda Research Base, Wuhou Temple, and spicy Sichuan hotpot. Chengdu, Sichuan.
And just like that, Shenzhen's population has increased by 50% within 48 hours. Everyone around me is carrying luggage and edible treats from back home.
Coco Park metro station. Futian, Shenzhen.
Where'd the blue go? Hollywood Road, Hong Kong
Gulou Museum, Fujian.
You can step outside your apartment an hour before you should be at the airport, knowing full well you'll find a taxi right away and arrive on time.
In Beijing, you know full well you should know better.
If there's any question how important and attractive Chinese tourists are becoming, check out the official Flash advertisement (I took a screenshot as quickly as I could) that I came across tonight from Las Vegas advertising their city to potential Chinese tourists for the upcoming February Chinese New Years holiday. The Mandarin in the advertisement to the right says, "quickly plan your journey." Below is a picture of the official Las Vegas website.
I then went to Google and searched for Las Vegas/Chinese New Years-related articles. Here's some of what I found:
The holiday ranks among the busiest times on the Strip, along with New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl weekend, which coincides with the beginning on Chinese New Year.
“Chinese New Year very important to us financially, maybe not in terms of overall visitor count, but clearly for gaming volumes, especially baccarat. The financial impact can rival what the town experiences for New Year’s Eve,” said Greg Shulman, vice president of international marketing for the Bellagio.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority's international sales department has been working closely with tour operators to bring more Chinese tourists from mainland China. Casinos along the Strip are displaying elaborate attractions to welcome the visitors.
The Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has five hand painted dragons with more than 20,000 scales each. They also have more than 22,000 colorful flowers.
The Palazzo will display a 128-foot fire-breathing dragon. And the atriums at the Wynn will have about 8,000 red and yellow mums, silk dragons and lots of sculptures.
While there are no precise numbers, tourism officials here estimate tens of thousands of Asian and Asian American visitors - from the Bay Area, Beijing and many places between and beyond - are ringing in Lunar Year 4706 not in their homes with large extended families, but in Sin City, where extravagant feasts, themed entertainment and, yes, a little gambling fit in with long-held traditions for the holiday.
OK, a lot of gambling.
Casino owners, firm believers that you make your own luck, have been raising the stakes each year - elaborate exhibits; banners around every corner wishing good fortune, prosperity, long life; concerts by pop stars from Taiwan; lion dances; and culinary festivals with food prepared and served by staffs flown from Beijing - to make sure that, win or lose, guests still feel lucky.
In a single night during the Lunar New Year last year, Wynn's Las Vegas resort won $16 million in table gambling, the biggest tables-game night in its history. Asked at an investor conference about the Chinese business in Las Vegas, Sands' CEO Sheldon Adelson described gambling as a "linchpin" of the Chinese culture. "In my second life, I'm coming back as Chinese," he said.
Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised to come across a Las Vegas Chinese New Year travel ad.
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.
My friend had to work, so my other friend and I took the Seoul City Tour Bus. Buy one ticket and you can hop on and off as many times as you want during the day, with a new bus coming every thirty minutes. We took the downtown tour bus route and stopped at the new City Hall, Seoul Tower, and a large shopping area. We finished up the day by eating some kimchi fried rice and tofu soup and catching up on some work at Tom and Tom's Coffee. Even at 9 pm on a Friday night, there were many university students at the coffee cafe studying. Apparently midterms in only two weeks away.
We arrived in Seoul with only a few hours to spare before bedtime. This was a return home for one friend and the start of the vacation for another friend. This was my third time to Seoul (fourth time if you include the airport transfer from Incheon to Gimpo I had to make on my way to Japan) and I enjoyed being back. We walked the college area around our hotel, ate Korean-infused Cantonese food and went to a batting cage that happened to be situated above a small parking lot.