DSC04500I may have mentioned (maybe once or twice) that our guide was exceptionally good at his job. On our third morning in Beijing, we left the hotel at 8 a.m. and hightailed it straight to Beijing Zoo, for three very good reasons, according to our guide.DSC04503

1) The zoo opens at 8:00 am. 2) There is less traffic and fewer crowds at the giant panda exhibit at this time of day. 3) The pandas are awake, and not sleeping in a ball, curled up under the bamboo in the afternoon sun.

And yet again, our guide’s expertise certainly paid off!

There areDSC04521 only an estimated 1,000 giant pandas left in the world and 140 are in captivity. Three are at the Beijing Zoo. The three giant pandas here all have their own enclosures, as they are rather solitary animals.

At the first spacious pen, with a large wooden jungle gym anDSC04508d splashing pond, Panda #1 was lying on top of the manmade woodwork, awake and looking around at everyone. I was surprised how “unwhite” the white part was—actually rather dirty looking. But as soon as the zookeeper arrived to throw an armload of fresh bamboo into the enclosure, Panda #1 came right on down the 8-step pole ladder and ambled toward us (and his breakfast)!

DSC04522We took lots of photographs and it was fun to watch him eat, lolling around among the leaves on his back, pulling the bamboo up his belly and munching, totally unconcerned about his audience.

At the second and third enclosures it was the same story. We were able to watch each one receive his breakfast and become just animated enough for us to know it wasn’t a big, stuffed children’s toy out there. Although their initial poses were quite funny, they all rolled the stalks and leaves up their tummies to eat. DSC04518Number 2 was leaning with his back against a post at first, and I couldn’t tell if he were sleeping or not. Number 3 was lying on his back on the ground, one leg propped high up against a jungle gym support pole, looking like he was “sleeping it off” after a hard night on the town!

DSC04526Naturally, I took way too many photos, like 50 or 60, when a decent 10 would have been plenty. But I did manage to pause, step back, and take it all in… Bright blue sky above the stands of fresh spring green bamboo… Just like I felt when I saw the Lipizzaners in Vienna, seeing the Giant Pandas in Beijing was quite thrilling!DSC04543

And about that sky… Yesterday’s thunderstorm cleared the smog out enough for us to have a truly stellar blue sky day! Eighty-eight degrees and a gentle breeze. This trip has certainly been blessed in many ways.

And yes, I supported the local economy by patronizing the zoo’s gift shop!