Sorry i havn't updated this in a while - i have been a tad busy... as you will find out if you read on!
Friday 12th March cont:
On Friday afternoon we met a man called Henry Nicholls who was researching pandas and interviewing volunteers for his book about pandas ''The Way of the Panda - The curious History of China's Political Animal'' which will be released in October this year. Henry joined us for dinner and explained a lot about his book and the research he has done which was really interesting. He is at the centre now to try and find out the future of the panda so he can finish his book! (I like to think we helped a lot....!!) After dinner he joined Mel, Helen, Helen and me in my room for some poker and beer :) !
Saturday 13th March:
We got up really early, quickly ate breakfast and made our way to the mini-bus we had booked to take us to Leshan for the day. However, when we got their the driver seemed determined to squash the 5 of us in the back of his car!! We conplained a lot and Teddy (who speaks a lot of chinese) said that as we were paying and had booked a mini bus he would have to take us in that - and eventually he let us get in the mini bus though he didnt seem too happy about it! It turns out that going up hill it slows down SO much it would be quicker to walk! Also, it drinks petrol and we had to stop about 3 times on a 2 hour journey to refill! When we arrived, we diceided to have lunch straight away so i had some yummy sweet-and-sour pork in a cafe near the entrance to the park. First of all, we went to see the famous giant buddha which is over 200ft. (Not 200m as i had been thinking!!) The buddha was carved into the side of a cliff in AD713! There were hundreds of steps and up and down to see the buddha from different angles and you can get on a boat and see it form the front but as it was SO hot we decided we would just look form the top and eat ice-cream rather than having to climb up and down the cliff! At the same site, we also saw some caves and other temples and shrines. We walked through the surrounding parks all afternoon which was really nice and saw the other famous ''sleeping buddha'' (buddha on his side!) which is so big it curves round the top of the cliff/mountain edge and you see his head on one part and feet on another! At 5pm, we got back into the mini-bus and started our marathon journey home - it ended up taking 5hours! We had to stop for petrol twice, each time having to get out of the car and wait by the side of the road for about 1/2 hour (this seems to be the done thing in China!) and Helen and i decided to buy some fresh pinapple on a stick from a little old lady and some other snacks as we had nothing else to do! Although it was a very long and tiring day (and quite expensive!), im really glad we made the effort to go because it was really good to see and nice to get out of the panda reserve for the day and see some more of China :) ! Vicky slept in my room when we got back becuase the hostel had overbooked for the chinese tourists and didnt have enough beds/rooms for everyone to stay in!
Sunday 14th March:
Breakfast was burnt porridge :( but yummy dumplings :) and Helen and i decided to go to breakfast in our PJ's becuase we couldnt be bothered to get up any earlier than needed!...We got a few strange looks from the Chinese visitors but im used to that now anyway! As we dont work on Sundays, Helen and Helen and I walked down to the office and decided to look at our star signs becuase earlier on the week Mel (who is really into star signs and tarrots etc) was describing our star sign personalities to us! If you type in the time and location of your birth, you can find out your ''rising sign '' which apparently also have strong influences on your life...!! Back at the restaurant at lunch time, we met two new volunteers Mel and Andy, both 27, and have recently got married :) . After lunch, I went to Ya'an city with Mel, Teddy, Vicky, Helen and Helen. We bought fruit and chocolate and then walked to the massage parlour Teddy went to a few days ago :) . It was LOVELY and very posh and all the masseurs were very friendly. We were all in the same room which was good because we were all a lot more relaxed and we good chat/laugh together through it! The staff brought us lots of fresh orange slices and warm water with sugar cubes and topped with up every time we drank some! It was a two hour full body massage using acupressure techniques and hot stones. Although some of it felt quite rough it was total bliss and afterwards i felt 10cm taller! And the best bit was that it only cost 8pounds! After dinner, i text Mum saying 'happy mothers day' and she rang me back straight away! Although i was very excited and happy to hear from her, i couldnt help but cry when i heard her voice.. and then Dad walked through the door at home and i spoke to him too! Though i think he got a bit emotional bless him! Afterwards (as i was still crying - though i didnt really feel sad!) i went and got big cuddles from Helen and Helen and laughed it all off! :) So glad they are here at the same time as me - they are my best friends here (apart form the pandas of course!) !!
Monday 15th March:
I didnt really do much on Monday. When i wasnt working, i got to know the new couple Mel and Andy better with the rest of the volunteers here - they are very friendly and interesting to chat to which is obviously good! When i was in the office, the Malaysian lady Chet came in and showed us a book she had made with pictures and captions she had taken with the pandas last year when she came here. She also gave us all a small booklet about the birth and first year of a pandas life which was lovely :) . In the afternoon, we all just chatted a lot and after dinner Mel and Andy joined us all in my room for another night of poker and card games! My room seems to have become to ''common room'' - especially at night when its too dark and cold for us all to sit outside. I actually really like this becuase it means im never lonely - and they all add to the heat in the room as an added bonus!!
Tuesday 16th March:
When i got up i realised there was no running water in the whole hostel which means no flushing toilets, no showers, no water in the taps etc. We were told it would come back at 9pm the same day. Although not so long without water, the toilets did start to smell just becuase the whole system in the hostel was stagnent! Apart from this though, it was a normal working day - although its pretty much the same jobs each day, I am really enjoying it because im always learning new things about them and getting to know each pandas individual personality! It was a very hot and sunny day and so we decided to visit a near-by medieval village called Shangli. It was a lovely village with lots of quaint streets and little shops. It was like it had been frozen in time many years ago! I bought a bright pink silk scarf (made in China!) and after the shopping, we all sat by the river and drank tea and ate some local dumplings (Yumi) from a street stall! We also bought Teddy some underwear to say thank you for all the translating he has been doing for us since he came! (We bought him pants as we found out he didnt have very many of his own with him... just the 1pair, so we thought it would be a useful gift!) After dinner, we met the new volunteer that Sophia had brought to the centre earlier on in the day. He is called Jorgen, is 44 and from Sweden. I ended up telling him quite a lot about my Swedish aunt and he seemed quite taken about the (few) things i knew!
Wednesday 17th March:
Helen had paid to play with a panda for 5minutes so after work in the morning i went to watch and take some photos for her. At the same time, i also had to say goodbye to another volunteer Mel who we all got on really well with...i cried but we have agreed to meet up in the Summer when im back for a BBQ with the two Helens as we all live very near to each other!! As it was such a nice day, in the afternoon, the other Mel, her husband Andy, one of the Helens and I decided to go on 3hour walk around the outside perimeter of the panda reserve. The walk was beautiful and we saw some amazing waterfalls and stunning views of the mountains and gorges. Near the end of the walk we had the option of either going up the mountain in a lift or by walking up hundreds of steps... we chose the lift! From the outside it looked like a typical appartment block lift but when the doors opened we were shocked to find a plush, wooden interior lift with fake windows (pictures of scenerey on the walls) and a view of the stars and planets on the ceiling (strangely including the earth!!). The only thing missing was hotel lift music! We got back from our walk just in time for dinner and afterwards everyone came back to my room for poker. Minutes later though we had a power cut so we ended up playing poker with headtorches, another torch taped to the heater (which obviosuly wasnt working) and we angled it to shine light onto the table, and we were also given some candles by the hostel owner. We also snuggled up under blankets and sleeping bags!!... all in all in was actually quite amusing...! To ''keep warm'' we also decided to try some of Helens Chinese alcohol that she brought with her - it was DISGUSTING and tasted like cheese - though we seemed to drink quite a lot of it anyway! Later on, when everyone was leaving my room, we noticed the stars in the sky. They were beautiful - so bright and so many of them! We even saw Venus (the brightest light) flickering away and as we were a tad tipsy we all started singing any songs we could think of that had stars mentioned in thre lyrics! A very fun night in the end...!!
Thursday 18th March:
Again, it was a lovely hot and sunny day so we made the most of it by sitting outside and sunbathing as much as we could! Even when we are working and picking up panda poo no-one seems to mind as much when its sunny because it's so nice jsut to be outside! :) One of the pandas i help to look after, YoYo, has a long section of windowed enclosure outside. Eer since i arrived it has been quite dirty and smeared with mud in places! I asked my keeper Liu if it ever got washed - he said no, but that i could do it! So, later on in the morning myself and the 3other keepers washed 10HUGE windows in YoYo's pen! At first, it looked liked we had done a good job but as it dried it went all smeary again... i blame the equipment as the size of the windows and the size of the sponges and drying-scraper-thing werent really compatible!!...But at least we tried...! When we were sitting in the sun after lunch, the cutest puppy ever ran up to us and started playing and rolling around! We later found out that it belongs to one of the hostel owners and had gone missing 1 MONTH AGO and it had suddenly come back by itself! At work in teh afternoon, Mel and Andy came to see where i work on New Leopard Mountain becuase their keeper wasnt very good and didnt really get them involved. My keeper let them cut the panda cake and feed the pieces to the pandas and have their pictures taken with them...! They said that the afternoons feeding was the most they had done since arriving and were very grateful for the experience and my offer to come to my section i think! I was very happy i could give them the opportunity before they leave on Saturday as it was such bad luck about which keeper they were assigned to.
Friday 19th March:
In the morning it felt hot since the moment i was out of bed - which was great...but made cleaning the panda enclosures quite sweaty work!! In the afternoon, because it was still very hot we washed out all 6 of the panda enclosures as they would try very quickly due to the heat. I got absolutely SOAKED but it was worth it becuase my keeper let me hose down the pandas too as they were feeling quite hot themselves... not sure they appreciated that much though! To wash the enclosures (inside only), first of all the walls and floors are made wet by squirting them with a hose. We then use thick wirey brushes to scrape the mud and dirt off the walls. Then we rinse the walls and brush soapy/chlorine-smelling water onto the walls to kill any bacteria and germs that could potentially harm the pandas. Once the walls are cleaned, the floors get scrubbed with the brushes, rinsed and then have the chlorine-smelling water brushed onto them too. After this everything is rinsed again to get rid of all the chlorine-smelling water and all the excess water is brushed/pushed into the drain and the side of each enclosure! Sounds dull but i enjoy it! :) After work in the afternoon, Mel and Andy, Helen and I went to the local 'shops' to buy alcohol and party nibbles for the party we had been planning. (On Saturday, both the Helens, Mel and Andy and Vicky would all be leaving the panda base so we decided a party was needed to send them off on their way!) We bought about 4 bottles of Chinese spirits and lots of mixers like coke, sprite, and cold tea in a can (weird but good)! 1/2 litre of (unknown) spirit cost us just 80pence! BARGAIN! Once back at the hostel we decorated my room by pushing the beds against the walls in order to make a ''dance floor'', setting up a drinks table and seperate food table with lots of bowls of different nibbles like weird chinese crisps (seaweed flavour!), nuts, little chocolates and we taped toilet roll around the edge of the walls and ceiling to make bunting!!....It was very effective!! :D We put my Ipod on shuffle, plugged in the speakers and we had a ready-made DJ too! We played drinking games like ''have you ever'' and Andy, Mel, Helen and I ended up getting very drunk and staying up until 2.30am ish! (It seemed a lot later as the week before i had gone to bed at 8/9pm!)
Saturday 20th March:
Before breakfast i tidied up the aftermath of the party the night before... again, Helen and I couldnt be bothered to get up early enough before breakfast to get dressed so we went in our PJ's and after breakfast we got dressed and packed my ''weekend bag''. As most people were leaving on Saturday, Teddy was already in Chengdu for a few days and Jorgen was spending the day in Leshan, i decided i would go with them all to spend the weekend in Chengdu and go back to the panda base on Sunday afternoon with Teddy. We had a two hour coach ride to Cengdu and on the way Helen and I wrote down the lyrics to our new song ''Panda Cake'' (which is to be sung to the tune of Lady GaGa's ''Poker Face''!) !When we arrived in Chengdu, Sophia's husband collected both the Helens and I from the bus station and ordered a taxi for us to take us to the Mix Hostel where we would be staying with Andy and Mel (who travelled to Chengdu in a car and had to drop Vicky off at the airport on their way first). Once we were all together in our dorm in the hostel we decided to have a late lunch and go to Pizza Hut and then onto MacDonalds for those that didnt fancy pizza! It was so nice not to have rice again and it was quite funny becuase Andy and Mel accidently ordered two JUGS of coke rather than two GLASSES - we had wondered why the waitress seemed confused and checked it was definately two they wanted!! After pizza and MacDonalds, we went to the Carrefore which is like a Chinese-type-Hypermarket-thing that sells clothes, food, electricals etc... I bought some dog biscuits for Bracken (my doggy at home!), chinese tea, cellotape, youghurts and some peanut butter...YUM! Once we got back to the hostel we all decided to try and ''dress up'' and look nice for the evening.. we went down to the hostel restaurant/bar and had some cocktails and chatted to other travellers. Later on in the evening i went on the hostel computer and found there that last week there had been a cyclone in Fiji and there had been quite a lot of damage. Obviously it was quite worrying but so far i still havnt had any more news from Frontier (my travel company) about the state of the campsite where we would have been staying (on the North-East island of Gau - on the the Fijian islands)...so i will just have to wait and see and keep my fingers crossed it will all go ahead and be OK!
Hope that wasnt too tedious a read...!! (If any of you have any up-to-date information on the aftermath of cyclone Tomas in Fiji or know the extent of the damage i would be very grateful if you could get in touch becuase it is quite hard for me to find out any information here...!)
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