by Tamara Rice of The Rice Paper
Some fifth grade girls like unicorns. Me? Back in 1984, I preferred the panda. So it was only natural that my parents sent my brother and me running through the London Zoo to the panda exhibit by ourselves, just minutes before it closed.
We had been on a whirlwind European tour of museums and landmarks. We had seen the Rosetta Stone, King Tut’s golden goodies and even the Mona Lisa, but none of them satisfied me. I just had to get to the rare panda exhibit (Ling-Ling and Chia-Chia, to be exact) to see them with my own eyes.
Well, I saw them, and–like everything else roped-off and caged-in on our 1984 European tour–the pandas were not quite what I expected.
Still, I couldn’t wait to drag my own children to the panda exhibit at the San Diego Zoo.
The San Diego Zoo panda habitat is completely unlike the up-close 1984 panda setting at the London Zoo (no wonder Ling-Ling couldn’t conceive). Those on a panda quest in San Diego wait in a line that stretches on forever–as if a rollercoaster is waiting on the other side of those thick privacy walls. (Only, instead of cheers, there are whispers and signs everywhere reminding visitors that noise will scare the precious beasts.)
Behind the walls, the calming voice of a park employee on the mic urges visitors to keep moving (quietly, that is); and you can feel the anticipation build as the humans shuffle through.
At last the lovely panda habitat is exposed and lucky visitors, like my family, get to see at least one panda. (Sure, there are four, but the chances of several of them being behind a rock, in a cave, or otherwise out-of-sight are fairly good.)
On our visit we saw one panda sunning himself (as seen here in my picture), but he only looked at us for a few precious seconds, then turned away. Another ate his bamboo and refused to look at us at all.
Thus, I was not surprised that my children looked slightly confounded as we exited the great and world-famous San Diego panda exhibit, because I knew exactly what they were thinking.
Yes, I wanted to say to them. Yes, I know they aren’t quite as white and cuddly as you pictured them.
And, yes, it’s true. The Mona Lisa really is that small.
Photos courtesy of Epukas (Wikimedia) and Tamara Rice.