Tuesday, September 19, 2006


After my breakfast of peppered peanuts and noodles I decided to head out to the Chengdu Panda Research station, just outside of town. My map said that the 302 city bus would do the job. The man at the hotel front desk who spoke some English said that I'd need to take 2 buses just to get to the 302. He wrote it all out for me but I decided that I'd be lost forever and maybe even crushed and steamed, those buses look awfully hot and packed. Some of the Chengdu buses say "City Boat" on them, others "City Bus". I don't get it. I'm all for public transportation but in China I can't read, write or speak and that makes public transportation a big problem. Besides, taxis in China are cheap. So I took a taxi. Driving in China is like the Chinese language, it's based on a philosophy that I just don't understand. And like the Chinese language Chinese driving works, sort of. The last time I was here I was in province and I didn't see a stop sign. Chengdu has stop signs but I might be the only one who's noticed them. Moving obstacles, either other cars or people are avoided in a kind of mechanized ballet that looks deadly to me, because I don't understand it. We dodged pedestrians and trucks and buses, nothing unusual for China. My driver was yacking on his cell phone when he cut off a cop. No problemo, the cop had been yacking on his cell phone too and may not have noticed. On the way I saw 3 wheeled trucks and some guy hauling large slabs of meaty ribs piled onto the back of his bicycle. Chinese driver lay on the horn so much that it's just background noise now and some drivers have taken it to the next level by installing incredibly loud truck horns in their cars. How bad is the driving? This morning when I walked in on the local TV news in the hotel's dining area they were showing a scene of burning devastation. News from Iraq? No, some awful traffic accident that involved trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and burning store fronts. Vehicular safety here must be in its infancy with no Communist Party version of Ralph Nader to prod it along. I've only seen one motorcyclist wearing a helmet, he was a cop. Kids riding as passengers on bicycles sometimes stand up and hold on to the driver for balance. In the US their parents would kill them, in China their parents are pedaling the bicycle. The panda has some problems. Their habitat has been encroached upon by China's 1.3 billion citizens. Pandas are finicky eaters too, they eat only several species of bamboo. They have a reproductive problem too. How can I put this gently, if male pandas had email they'd be awash in spam claiming the ability to help them. Male pandas just don't get the job done. But the panda has an ace up it's sleeve, it's cute and we as a species love cute animals. The panda is a bear but he's given up the eating of meat for a peaceful life of chomping bamboo, lots of bamboo. But they still have big jaws (bamboo is incredibly strong stuff) and big claws and they don't call them Giant Pandas for nothing. The red panda is so small I thought it was a fox. But it's a shrunken bear that's very endangered. More about the Chengdu research facility and pandas here: http://www.panda.org.cn/english/eindex.htm

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