First, we saw the old town of Songli upstream from Ya’an where the local though minor royal house of old built an irrigation system to divert water from the mountain stream into the farms. It also got water into the home gardens from an upper stream, and we see a settlement that had a functional feng shui, a balance between humans and nature, that prevailed long before the rest of the world became ecologically conscious.
Now, we write from another old town, Pingle (pronounced “ping-leh”, not ping-gle), where the local royal house did similar irrigation work, save that farms were more extensive and the waterway was more a river than a stream. Shenghe Country where the town is located has obviously decided to put a number of its eggs on the tourism basket, had refurbished the old town section and made it into a commercial attraction, on the principle, it seems, of “if you build it, they will come.” The county uses ancient architecture in constructing new town buildings still in progress, and built a housing development by the old town that would make the developers of Fairfax, VA proud.
In between, we moseyed over to the Bifengxia (xia = gorge) Panda base16 miles outside of Ya’an where the government runs a World Heritage park of the furry bearcat known around the world as the giant panda. After spending a whole day watching the “cuddly” animals corralled in home grounds complete with platforms, trees to climb, playground for the young ones, and meal delivery of bamboo shoots, we understand why the animal has become such a popular symbol to represent the preferred Chinese way of life—of ease and comfort as the state of a happy and satisfying life.
Our thoughts are intended to be descriptive, not judgmental, existentially true generally though allowing for certain exceptions. China promotes a lifestyle of ease and comfort, in our observation, taking the pivot point of the yin-yang more as a place of stasis and equilibrium rather than as a point of tension to launch innovation and creativity. The Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting (critical) times,” means that life be strewn with wild unexpected surprises, and change be the rule rather than the exception. Change is a curse. Similarly but stated another way, the children’s words of exchange at parting or in a vow of promise are: “May you not change in a hundred years.”
The panda’s image as “cuddly” is really not a bearcat’s quality, nor is it demonstrably true. They have been known to maul unwanted intruders into their pens. They are also a cross between two species, the bear and the cat. Its ferocity comes from its feline origins, and its bear genetics seem to be the source of its being idle and “lazy” on a sunny day! In fact, we lucked out to visit on an overcast day since they were inclined to frolic and climb trees. On a sunny day, they keep to “indoors” or in the shade and lounge or sleep.
We now write from Pingle, after we missed the flooding that has occurred in the last 24 hours in Songli and Bifengxia. We thought we would catch a bus to the famed waters and nine villages of Juizhiagou Nature Preserve with numerous lakes, valleys, gorges, streams, and grasslands at the edge of the Tibetan plateau. There is an eastern and western route to the place. Another preserve nearby, familiar to the touring crowd, is Huanglong. Both had been our destination.
The rain has extracted a heavy toll on Dujiangyan already devastated in last April’s earthquake, as the river and stream waters overflowed their banks, and have wreaked havoc on the transport system. TV is now advising against planned travel to Jiazhiagou, an otherwise 8-10 hour scenic bus ride from Chengdu.
We have dealt with pandas under confinement and though the wilds of Jiazhiagou offered the prospects of running into the specie in the wild, we were heading there more at the bottom end of playing tourist on the cheap, an opportunity we had not had since we ventured north of Prince Albert in Saskatchewan and got lost in the dead cold of winter where one can see the optical illusion of two suns shining.
As we move out to Chongqing to head back to Dong Bei, it is clear that the panda image is stuck with us. It was not so when Saipanda was the CNMI mascot. Now that the prospects of returning to Saipan is most unlikely anytime soon, we decided to shed the “PinoySaipan” email handle we’ve used for a decade. In its stead, we are starting our “PinoyPanda” email address.
At the Bifengxia Panda base, there were three distinct grounds: the adult giant pandas, the kindergarten grow-up section where a month-old panda no bigger than a mouse laid in an incubator, and the overseas-born pandas. This glocal PinoyPanda joins the third group.
Jaime R. Vergara is an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church and was pastor of Saipan Immanuel UMC at the second millenium’s turn. He now writes from China.