Bear hugs in China, panda-style

Posted by Dawne Andrews on 7/12/2012
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: China, Pandas, Sichuan Province

I travel for a living. In my role as a product manager for Tauck, I have the privilege of road-testing unique experiences for our guests in some pretty exotic locations. I am always delighted by the genuine hospitality I receive wherever I go, experiencing warm welcomes, even bear hugs, from the locals. I’m not talking about the kind of all-encompassing embraces that traditionally define bear hugs, although the ones I experienced on my exploratory, ultimately hands-on visit to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in China’s Sichuan Province were no less powerful.

Of course, just the mere thought of seeing China’s iconic panda bears in person was enough to make my pulse race.  I think it’s safe to say that no wild animal has captured hearts as much as these loveable creatures. And while many of us cuddled their stuffed toy counterparts as children, with fewer than 2,000 pandas in the world and less than 350 in captivity, it is the rare few that actually get to hug and snuggle with the real deal! I was here to make that a once-in-a-lifetime reality for Tauck guests who travel with us on our new Best of China trip for 2013.

It goes without saying that I was very excited about my visit and it did not disappoint.  After feeding the pandas – an amazing experience in itself – and hearing about all the wonderful work and progress the Center has accomplished in their quest to save these beloved panda bears, the magical moment of actually holding a baby panda was dawning.

Hold A Panda

I was asked to put on what can best be described as medical scrubs so I could safely hold one of the Center’s precious panda cubs. Then I sat down on a designated bench. I couldn’t help but break into a huge smile as I first set eyes on the baby, a little ball of black and white fur about 7 months old and truly beautiful. As the staff placed him into my arms, it was a natural, maternal instinct for me to hold him close and cuddle.  His warmth radiated against mine as he rested his head on my shoulder. He gently took hold of my hand with his furry paw and looked intently at my fingers. Once the novelty of looking at my fingers wore off, he switched his focus to my face and I found myself staring into these deep pools of dark brown eyes flecked with gold. The only ones who existed at the moment were the two of us.

I fed him sticks of bamboo all the while cameras and flashes were clicking away. He wasn’t bothered in the least and was far more concerned about getting every last morsel of bamboo into his mouth. When the time came to hand him back to his keepers, I’ll be honest and let you know it was difficult. This was an experience and moment that you want to last forever.

I have shown everyone who cares to look photos of me holding “my” baby panda. I can still feel those special bear hugs and I often think – really – how many people will ever get to do what I just did.  Happily, if you travel with Tauck on our newest China trip in 2013, now you can too.

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