“Panda Ambassadors” in Malaysia

LAST MONTH, TWO giant pandas from China arrived in Malaysia and made the National Zoo their new home (see article “Pandas arrive in Zoo Negara).

The furry pair, Fu Wa (male) and Feng Yi (female) are on a 10-year loan to the country to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China – Malaysia this year. They are expected to be renamed soon. [On June 25th, the PM renamed the pair Xing Xing (Prosperity) and Liang Liang (Pretty)]

Treated as its national  treasures, China has extended this “panda diplomacy” to other countries, including the United States, which received its first panda pair back in 1972 after President Nixon’s historic visit to China. The  giant pandas were placed in the National Zoo in Washington DC; the female Ling-Ling lived till 1992 while the male Hsing-Hsing died in November 1999. I recall my sister and niece visited us in DC that November and we’d gone to the National Zoo but didn’t get to see Hsing Hsing who was already sick at that time.  He was eventually euthanised on 28th November 1999. The pair had bore 5 cubs but none survived.

My first encounter with the black and white endangered species was in their homeland of Chengdu, Sichuan province, China with my parents in 1996; and subsequently in Hong Kong’s Ocean Park between 2009-2010.

First encounter with pandas in Chengdu, Sichuan, which has a Panda Breeding Research Center. Besides Sichuan, pandas are also found in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. 

First encounter with pandas in Chengdu, Sichuan, which has a Panda Breeding Research Center. Besides Sichuan, pandas are also found in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

One of Big M’s numerous encounters with pandas in Ocean Park, Hong Kong, between 2009 and 2010. (19 Oct 2009)

One of Big M’s numerous encounters with pandas in Ocean Park, Hong Kong, between 2009 and 2010. (19 Oct 2009)

Little Em’s first encounter with a panda… ok, she knows it’s not a real one. (8 Jun 2010)

Little Em’s first encounter with a panda… ok, she knows it’s not a real one. (8 Jun 2010)

Where are the pandas? Oh a mere panda mascot and panda soft toys.

Where are the pandas? Oh a mere panda mascot and panda soft toys.

Finally! Arrived at the “Giant Panda Adventure” and Little Em fell asleep! But the furry bear was too great to miss, so I woke her up to see the real thing.

Finally! Arrived at the “Giant Panda Adventure” and Little Em fell asleep! But the furry bear was too great to miss, so I woke her up to see the real thing. (8 Jun 2010)

Paid the pandas another visit in the same month in Ocean Park. (30 Jun 2010)

Paid the pandas another visit in the same month in Ocean Park. (30 Jun 2010)

The girls’ prior visit to Ocean Park in January 2010.

The girls’ prior visit to Ocean Park in January 2010.

And here's a panda in Ghana! “Pandy” which Little Em brought home from HK, had travelled with us, nicely tucked away in her handbag, to our new home in Accra. (April 2014)

And here’s a panda in Ghana! “Pandy” which Little Em brought home from HK, had travelled with us, nicely tucked away in her handbag, to our new home in Accra. (April 2014)

 

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National Day of China

THE FIRST OF October marks the National Day of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

We were in Hong Kong when China celebrated its 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC in 2009. It was held on a grand scale across China as well as on the island. Besides the customary flag-raising ceremony held at the Golden Bauhinia Square, there was also a display of fireworks at night at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, HKCEC.

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(Top) The ceremony underway at the Golden Bauhinia Square, HK ; (Bottom) After the flag-raising ceremony, guests adjourned to the Grand Hall, HKCEC for a reception. (1 Oct 2009)

(Top) The ceremony underway at the Golden Bauhinia Square, HK ; (Bottom) After the flag-raising ceremony, guests adjourned to the Grand Hall, HKCEC for a reception. (1 Oct 2009)

View of HK Island taken from the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2009)

View of HK Island taken from the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2009)

Not to miss out, the kids followed the news coverage at home – on TV and in the newspaper. (1 Oct 2009)

Not to miss out, the kids followed the news coverage at home – on TV and in the newspaper. (1 Oct 2009)

TV news coverage of China’s 60th Anniversary celebrations in Beijing which took place in Tiananmen Square, attended by then-Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin.

TV news coverage of China’s 60th Anniversary celebrations in Beijing which took place in Tiananmen Square, attended by then-Chinese President Hu Jintao and his predecessor Jiang Zemin. (1 Oct 2009)

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At the National Day Fireworks Display Dinner in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, held at the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2009)

At the National Day Fireworks Display Dinner in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, held at the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2009)

The following October we attended our final flag-raising ceremony… same venue, same routine, same friendly faces.

Besides the guys being colleagues, this group shares another common thing… while one is Russian, the rest have been based in the Russian capital before; with friends Rebeka and Daravan. (1 Oct 2010)

(L) Besides the guys being colleagues, this group shares another common thing… while one is Russian, the rest have been based in the Russian capital before; (R) With friends Rebeka and Daravan. (1 Oct 2010)

Another view of HK Island taken from the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2010)

Another view of HK Island taken from the Grand Hall, HKCEC. (1 Oct 2010)

Related post: The Establishment of Hong Kong SAR (link)

Yangtze River Cruise, 1996

THIS WAS MY first trip to China back in September 1996. I went with my parents (and their friends) and an aunt. I had just returned from my postgraduate studies in the UK and had a little time remaining on my sabbatical leave before I resumed my job at a TV station. This trip also took us to the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Wuhan and Jingzhou (a prefecture-level city in Hubei Province), Chongqing and Guangzhou.

After the trip, I diligently did up two albums of photos of this trip, complete with captions and details of the places we went to. However, a few years ago, some of my photo albums were damaged due to poor storage. Thankfully I was able to salvage some of them, including these from the Yangtze trip.

Our 9-day journey began on 31st August 1996 at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport, Subang. Our chartered place was however delayed and we finally took off at 1:30am on 1st September 1996. We arrived at the Shanghai International Airport, China, about 8:30am (there is no time difference between KL-Shanghai).

Day 1

At the Soong Ching Ling Residence and Mausoleum, Shanghai. Madam Soong was Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s wife (1893-1981).

At the Soong Ching Ling Residence and Mausoleum, Shanghai. Madam Soong was Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s wife (1893-1981).

From Shanghai, we took a domestic flight to Wuhan, about 1 hour 20 minutes. Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, is the largest industrial and trading city in central China. We stayed the night in Holiday Inn, Wuhan.

In Wuhan, we visited the Yellow Crane Tower and the Chinese Rarestone Museum (newly opened in 1993), followed by dinner-cultural performance afterwards.

Day 2

Checked out of the hotel and headed to Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou, 2 hours bus journey through villages and farms. The museum has a huge collection of cultural relics, many are national treasures, including the largest collection of ancient silk materials. The museum is also home to an almost perfectly preserved male corpse of a Han Dynasty official!

At the Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou.

At the Jingzhou Museum, Jingzhou.

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(L) A local guide briefed the group about ancient coffins in the Exhibition of Ancient Corpses & Its Burial Artefacts in Jingzhou Museum; (R) For 7 yuan per person, we were entertained to a 15-minute cultural performance by staff of the museum.

Bingyang City Tower, Jingzhou; view from the top of the tower.

At lunch time, we boarded Princess Elaine at Yichang bound for Chongqing. Our journey on Asia’s longest river and third longest in the world at 6,418km, covered a distance of over 200km. Our upstream journey along Yangtze River – from Yichang to Chongqing – took four and a half days; compared to the downstream journey which takes three days. Princess Elaine is one of the three German-made ships of Regal China Cruises fleet built in 1993 (the other two were Princess Jeannie and Princess Sheena).

About to board Princess Elaine; some members of the group wasted no time in enjoying themselves out on the deck.

(L) About to board Princess Elaine; (R) Soon after, some members of the group wasted no time in enjoying themselves out on the deck.

We were met on board by Kevin our river guide and a band made up by the ship crew. For the record, there were only 26 passengers on board the ship that could accommodate 258 passengers. Apart from our group of 18, there were three Canadian couples and an American couple. We were told that the ship crew totaled more than 100!

On our first night on the cruise, we stayed up past midnight to witness the ship lock at the Gezhouba Dam. The massive 70-m high dam arrested Yangtze’s flow and forced all shipping up and down the gorges to pass through one of its three ship locks. The water level in the dam rose 60 feet in just 12 minutes. It was the largest dam in China till the Three Gorges Dam was scheduled to be completed in 2009.

Day 3

We cruised passed the Xiling Gorge which zigzags for 76km. It is the longest and said to be historically the most dangerous of the Yangtze Gorges.

Sceneries along Xiling Gorge.

Sceneries along Xiling Gorge.

Just before lunch, we anchored briefly at the entrance of Wu Xia Gorge @ Witches Gorge, the middle Yangtze Gorge that stretches 40km. Here we went on an excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges in Wushan – the Dragon Gate Gorge (3km), Misty Gorge (10km) and Emerald Gorge (20km) – voted as one of the top 40 tourist attractions in China in 1991.

An excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges on a motorised sampan.

An excursion to the Lesser Three Gorges on a motorised sampan.

Day 4

An early start with the wake-up call at 6:30am. By 7am, the ship approached Qutang Gorge @ Wind Box Gorge, the last of the Three Gorges. At 8km, it is the shortest but grandest of them all. Significant sites along the 20-minute passage are Bellows Gorge, Hanging Monk Rock and Meng Liang Stairways.

(Top) We had an early wake-up call and managed to catch the sunrise; (Bottom) Dad enjoying the morning breeze while the ladies were contented indoors.

(Top) We had an early wake-up call and managed to catch the sunrise; (Bottom) Dad enjoying the morning breeze while the ladies were contented indoors.

At about 4pm, we passed Wanxian @ Gateway to East Sichuan. The city, apart from Yichang and Wuhan, was most affected by the building of the Three Gorges Dam. Two thirds of its 1.2 million populations were relocated.

(L) Cruising past Wanxian, Dad with our guide Kevin, a Nanjing University graduate; (R) In the background is a bridge, under construction along with new roads and buildings further up the mountain.

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Every meal was a feast… more reasons to hit the gym!

Day 5

We woke up to find Princess Elaine already anchored at Fengdu @ Ghost City since the break of dawn. A shuttle bus took us to Feng Du Ming Shan, the site of a temple rich with local folklore, history, legend and superstitions, and popular with tourists since it was declared the Three Gorges tour district in 1982. (However, despite being located on a hill, part of Fengdu is reportedly submerged in water when the Three Gorges Dam project was finally completed and fully functional in 2013).

At the foot hill of Fengdu before taking a chair lift (RMB12) up to the hill.

At the foot hill of Fengdu before taking a chair lift (RMB12) up to the hill.

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(L) Testing the authenticity of money – a big basin of water was normally kept by shopkeepers, into which customers threw their coins. If they sank, they were genuine; if not, they were ghost money and therefore, not accepted. I threw a 20 sen coin into the basin which hit the target – a bowl at the bottom, an indication of luck! Others tried but were unsuccessful; (R) Mom & Dad posed by the Xing Chen Dun, a stone believed to be capable of “telling” the good and the bad. It is said that if a man could lift the stone and place it on the tip, it means he is a good husband, otherwise, he is believed to have been unfaithful! A few of the men tried, none could lift an inch! Apparently there was a certain way of lifting the stone, as demonstrated by a local later.

We returned to the ship for lunch. Later in the afternoon, the group was given a tour of the Bridge, the workplace of the Ship Captain and his crew. In any normal circumstances, there would be at least five people on the Bridge. At 6pm, the Captain hosted a farewell party for passengers on the sun deck.

(L) A privilege visit to the Bridge; (R) Relaxing on the deck.

(L) A privilege visit to the Bridge; (R) Relaxing on the deck.

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A group photo of members of our tour group.

(L) The Captain’s farewell party on the sun deck; (R) Our last dinner on board at 6:30pm, followed by a film show at 8:30pm, and a cultural performance-cum-farewell dance in the Jade Ballroom.

(L) The Captain’s farewell party on the sun deck; (R) Our last dinner on board at 6:30pm, followed by a film show at 8:30pm, and a cultural performance-cum-farewell dance in the Jade Ballroom.

Day 6

Princess Elaine anchored at Chongqing by 7am as we were having breakfast. We disembarked at 8:45am, and went on to visit Chongqing Museum and the Dinosaur Museum. Chongqing, located in eastern Sichuan, is surrounded by mountains.

(L) A picture outside Renmin Hotel which resembles a grand palace and is a landmark of Chongqing; (R) Dinner of Sichuan’s popular spicy hot pot steamboat. We were fascinated by the teapot which looked more like a garden watering can!

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A visit to Chongqing Zoo to see pandas which are natives of Sichuan province.

Day 7

(L-R) At Eling Park (built 1909); Liangjiang Pavilion; Yellow Hill where Guomindang head General Chiang Kai-shek built his war-time residence.

(L-R) At Eling Park (built 1909); Liangjiang Pavilion; Yellow Hill where Guomindang head General Chiang Kai-shek built his war-time residence.

Checked out of Holiday Inn Yangtze Chongqing, and took a domestic flight to Guangzhou; arrived late afternoon and checked into Garden Hotel.

Day 8

(Top) The People Memorial Hall, Guangzhou; Bottom (L-R) The Five Rams Sculpture and Five Fairy Statue in Yue Xiu Park; the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall built in 1925 to commemorate the 1911 Revolution hero, upon his death.

(Top) The People Memorial Hall, Guangzhou; Bottom (L-R) The Five Rams Sculpture and Five Fairy Statue in Yue Xiu Park; the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall built in 1925 to commemorate the 1911 Revolution hero, upon his death.

Day 9

Departed Guangzhou for home sweet home 🙂

Postscript:

Following this trip, I wrote an article entitled “Enchanting Yangtze River” (link) for a magazine a year later in 1997.

I had the opportunity to re-visit Shanghai (link) 12 years later in 2008, and Guangzhou (link) in 2009.

The Establishment of Hong Kong SAR

1st JULY 2013 marks the 16th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China.

A flag-raising ceremony has been held since 1997 to celebrate the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) at the Golden Bauhinia Square. It is officially HK’s National Day and has been a national holiday since.

We had the opportunity to attend the annual flag-raising ceremony during our stay in HK (hubby attended all three occasions in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while I accompanied him twice). We joined senior government officials led by the Chief Executive (then Mr. Donald Tsang till 2011), community leaders, uniformed groups, members of the diplomatic corps and other invited guests, to celebrate the event.

On all the occasions (even till this day), the programme would be the same and very precise down to the minute details – 23 minutes in all.

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The 13th Anniversary of the Flag-raising Ceremony on 1 July 2010.

It begins at 7:41am when the HK Police Band marches in; followed by the march-on of Guard of Honour of the Disciplined Services at 7:45am, along with the Flag and Escort parties.

The Chief Executive makes his entrance at 7:55am; all guests rise and stand on attention and solemn silence; and at 7:59am, the National Anthem is played while the national and regional flags are hoisted. At 8am, salutation comes from the sea and air formations (all eyes shoot up to the sky to see the helicopters carrying national and regional flags fly by and across to Victoria Harbour as decorated ships sail by); at 8:03am the Guards of Honour and the rest marched off. And the ceremony is officially over at 8:04am. The historic event is over in 23 minutes.

Guests then proceed to the Grand Foyer of the HK Convention and Exhibition Centre for a reception (many with the maroon-coloured umbrellas in hand).

The programme is the same for 1st October which is the National Day of China.

These photos were taken on 1st October 2009 on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The HK Police Band.

The HK Police Band.

Members of the media.

Members of the media.

A section of the crowd gathered at the designated viewing area for the public.

The Golden Bauhinia; the flags about to be hoisted; the Guard of Honour of the Disciplined Services marching off, marking the end of the ceremony.

 

Guilin, China, 26-28 Jun 2010

GUILIN IS 45 minutes by flight from Beihai. Upon arrival in Guilin, my first impression was “what a mountainous land”!

Arrival Guilin

(Top) Guilin Liang Jiang International Airport; (Bottom L) Mountainous scene; (Bottom R) The first toll booth that we passed after leaving Guilin Airport.

We checked into Sheraton Hotel (RMB880 a night) and after lunch, went to Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill.

Reed Flute Cave is so named because reeds used for making flutes and pipes are grown in this region. It is a natural limestone cave with stalactite and stalagmite formations which resemble animals, plants and things, all given rather interesting names and descriptions. (The cave reminded me of Luray Caverns in Virginia, USA, which we visited back in 1999.)

(L) At the Reed Flute Cave, Guilin; (R) One of the many formations in the cave, this one is named “Lion seeing off his guests”!

Elephant Trunk Hill has a legend that an elephant belonging to the Emperor of Heaven had descended to earth, it angered the Emperor who stabbed it and turned it into stone! There is a cave between the elephant trunk and leg called the Water Moon Cave. Sitting on top of the hill is Puxian Pagoda said to be built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

(L) Elephant Trunk Hill; (R) Nearby, a pair of birds rest on a bamboo pole before taking another dive into the river to catch fish.

At the Elephant Trunk Hill, same spot 20 years apart… Hubby and I in June 2010; my parents there in April 1990 when they toured Guilin.

At the Elephant Trunk Hill, same spot 20 years apart… Hubby and I in June 2010; my parents there in April 1990 when they toured Guilin.

That evening, we met with Guilin municipal leaders, followed by dinner and a boat tour on Two Rivers Four Lakes. It is named as such because two rivers and four lakes are connected to form a waterway network around the city of Guilin.

(L) View from Sheraton Hotel room; (R) The Meeting Hall where we met with Guilin municipal leaders, I love the huge wall mural that depicts Guilin’s famed scenery.

(L) View from Sheraton Hotel room; (R) The Meeting Hall where we met with Guilin municipal leaders, I love the huge wall mural that depicts Guilin’s famed scenery.

(L) The famed twin pagodas on Shan Lake (one of the four lakes) called the Sun and Moon pagodas – the former a 9-storey tower made of solid bronze and the latter a 7-storey tower made of wood and glazed tiles; (R) A pavilion on the lake.

(L) The famed twin pagodas on Shan Lake (one of the four lakes) called the Sun and Moon pagodas – the former a 9-storey tower made of solid bronze and the latter a 7-storey tower made of wood and glazed tiles; (R) A pavilion on the lake.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and headed for a boat cruise on Li River.

The three-hour cruise was truly an enchanting experience (another is the Yangtze River cruise I went with my parents in September 1996).

Our guide who’d been on the cruise numerous times swore that the sceneries that day were the best ever he’d seen! It had just stopped raining and the effects of the mist-shrouded mountains made the landscape very scenic and even mystical. The temperature was pleasant enough for us to enjoy our time out on the deck.

As a good friend SQ so aptly described it and shared… “the mysterious cloudy hills inspired thousands of poets to take up their brush and pen down their innermost song, pulled another thousand artists to dip their ink onto rice paper to record the rapturous feeling bursting in their hearts.”

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While I didn’t come up with any poems or paintings, it did inspire us to click away; between the two of us with two cameras, we took hundreds of shots! We were told that the RMB20 note carries a scene of Guilin mountains and we managed to get a nice shot of that.

(L) A group photo on the boat cruise: (R) This is the scenery that’s printed on the RMB20 note.

By late afternoon, we arrived at Yangshuo and checked into Green Lotus Hotel (RMB620 a night).

(Top) Green Lotus Hotel in Yangshuo county. Even the domed ceiling boosts of paintings of Guilin’s mountainous sceneries; (Bottom) Views from the hotel room.

The road leading towards Green Lotus Hotel.

These are some of the restaurants on West Road (not far from Green Lotus Hotel) which is also a lively shopping spot.

We were taken on a tour to Great Banyan Tree. Scores of tourists flocked there to see the 1,400 year old banyan tree which is 17 meters high. The centuries-old tree has been regarded as a miracle tree, with people writing their wishes on pieces of red paper and sticking them to the tree. This is also the place where legendary singer the Third Sister Liu pledged her love for a man; and the location of the 1960s movie based upon her.

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A short drive south from the Great Banyan Tree is the Moon Hill, reachable in 800 steps on a marble –paved path. Adventure-seekers might find it more challenging to rock-climb instead. We were contented admiring the rock formation from afar.

The Moon Hill.

The Moon Hill.

These two sceneries caught our eyes on our way back to the hotel. (Top) The hustle and bustle of activities conducted on bamboo rafts; (Bottom) More bamboo rafts in store.

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In the evening, we watched the performance Impression of 3rd Sister Liu with Li River as the natural stage against the backdrop of Guilin mountains (12 peaks to be precise). This is the first of the four “Impression” shows by acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, created in 2004. (Subsequently there were “Impression Lijiang” (2006) in Lijiang, Yunan Province(2006); “Impression West Lake” (2007) in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province; and “Impression Hainan” (2009) in Hainan Island.) We were indeed fortunate to be able to enjoy the whole show before heavy rain came down like a curtain to end the 2-hour show.

(L) “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu” is held here in the 2,200-seat Natural Theatre, Yangshuo; (R) Looking at the actual stage – some 2km sq of Li River against 12 hills.

(L) “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu” is held here in the 2,200-seat Natural Theatre, Yangshuo; (R) Looking at the actual stage – some 2km sq of Li River against 12 hills.

Just as “Impression Hainan” left me impressed, more so did “Impression of 3rd Sister Liu”. The scale and enormity of the production that involved some 700 locals of the Zhuang and Yao minorities, employing both natural resources and modern technologies, is summed up in one word  – impressive.