Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Day 4: Beijing Zoo and Acrobats

Alex had to work Tuesday afternoon, so we spent the morning shopping for souvenirs together on Wanfujing street. If ever it was in doubt before, this was when I fully cemented my position as master haggler extraordinaire. Some hints to those of you who will be in haggling situations in the near future:

1. Don't need the item. If they think you are likely to walk away from it, they will be much more likely to offer a plausible asking price.

2. Give them your money to hold. If you'd really be willing to pay $10 for something, give them $5 to hold. If they won't come down to $5, ask for your money back. They really don't want to give back money they're already holding!!

After lunch, Alex went off to work and I went off for my own solo adventure: the Beijing Zoo! I love animals, and I couldn't wait to see the famous pandas, so I was really looking forward to this excursion. The zoo itself was built like most others--a maze of sidewalks that don't follow any discernible pattern or organization. Thank god there were English versions of the maps! My first stop, of course, was at the panda exhibit!

Apparently it was lunch time for the pandas. If you don't find this video of a panda chowing down one of the cutest things ever, you don't have a soul.

I couldn't get very many good shots on the inside because of the poor lighting, crowds, and the fact that the pandas were very clearly "so over" their notoriety and were mostly interested in eating and sleeping.

There were a couple of other pandas outside.

This sign made me laugh...always good advice at a zoo!

Here I am, thinking about leaping across the rails to pet the fuzzy panda!

The rest of the zoo was ok. Having been to the San Diego Zoo before, I know what an outstanding zoo is like, so the conditions here were a little depressing. There was not much at all in the way of habitat replication for these animals. Most of them, if they were outside at all, were lucky to be on hard-packed dirt. Many just had cement. However, they were still the lucky ones. The vast majority of the animals were inside in cages. Even the rhinos and elephants were inside!! Most of them were caged individually, not even allowing for socialization (or commiseration). Here, spectators are feeding this bear bits of cotton candy (this goes back to the locals' complete disregard for any kind of rules!):

Other than that, the only other thing of note was that there was a dog pound as part of the zoo! I guess people in Beijing (or all Chinese??) don't really have large dogs as pets, so there was a kennel full of medium- to large-sized dogs--Dalmatians, German Shepards, St. Bernards, Labs. I thought it was a funny sight for a zoo, but I guess those animals are just as exotic as camels!

Click here if you'd like to see other shots from the zoo, including some funny-looking birds and monkeys and other, more pedestrian zoo sights (camels, tigers, turtles, etc...).

After meeting Alex back at the hotel for dinner, we took one last trip--the Beijing Acrobats show! We arranged this trip through the hotel, so we had a "guide" and had a cab arranged to pick us up and take us to the theater. Our "guide" was a young girl who had at least four large shopping bags with her--I guess we had interrupted her shopping for the day. She went with us in the cab, purchased our tickets for us from the box office, and took us to our seats. Then she left! That was her whole job! I wondered how much we would have saved if we had just done it ourselves.

The different acts were entertaining and there was a fair amount of "Ooooh and Aaaah" moments, so all-in-all the show was worth it.

Click here if you want to see other pictures of the Beijing Acrobats in action!

We packed our things when we got back to the hotel and got up bright and early the next morning for our flight from Beijing to Shanghai. We had a long layover in Shanghai, so we took the MagLev train into the city and walked along the Bundt, the boardwalk of Shanghai. The sea breeze was either idle or reversed that day, so the pollution was hanging over the city like a thick fog. We saw a street sponsored by Pepsi and ate lunch at a Pizza Hut, which was fine dining there! There was even escargot on the menu!

Here's a video of the MagLev train in full swing: 432 km/hr!

The view from the Bundt. As you can see, the pollution is even terrible on a coastal town!

The Pepsi Street:

After a few hours in Shanghai, we took the train back to the airport for our flight home! The flight back wasn't nearly as grueling as the flight over. That's the benefit of traveling with your best friend instead of alone!

All in all it was a whirlwind, fantabulous trip! We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to go, even if just for a couple of days.

Thanks for keeping up with our journeys! Now that I've got a little more free time on my hands, I can catch up with all the blogs I've fallen behind on, including the MS150 (a two-day bike ride from Houston to Austin) and my half-ironman race!!

I hope your lives have been less busy but just as wonderful as mine has these last few months!


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