Where We Be
Crack! This panda happily munches on bamboo, which it turns out is a very noisy snack.
Chongqing
Our Yangtze cruise finishes up in Chongqing in
Southwest China, which is best known (by
tourists at least) for its panda zoo. When we
arrive in the morning, four of the zoo's six
pandas are active. One is eating bamboo,
another sitting in a tub of cool water, a third
pacing through a stone tunnel, and a fourth
nursing an aluminum pan smeared with food. All
four are adorable. The one eating bamboo
makes a lot of noise -- crack! -- as she breaks a
cane of bamboo in half and munches happily.

We also get to witness a 7-Up-drinking Tibetan
bear. A woman (I have to assume she is not a
paid zoo employee) stands above the bear’s
open-air enclosure and calls out “Za-za-za-za-
zoo!” As if on command, the bear turns in a
circle on its hind legs then gets rewarded with
a drink of 7-Up. It can’t be good for the bear,
but the bear isn’t complaining.

The zoo is an oasis of greenery, blossoming
trees, and willow-edged lakes in the midst of a
huge industrial city -- one of 13 megacities in
China. The municipality of Chongqing is home
to about 30 million people! The city itself holds
maybe 8 million, making it third after Shanghai
and Beijing. (The Chinese tend to define the
geographical limits of their municipalities
rather liberally.)

During our city tour, we find it crowded, hazy
with pollution, traffic-jammed, and filled with
people busily going about their lives. We pass
narrow alleys lined with tenement buildings. An
astonishing assortment of colorful laundry
hangs crisscross between the buildings. Our
guide calls it China’s “international flag show.”

Eventually we arrive at Chongqing’s Renmin
Square. Nearly every city in China has a Renmin
(People’s) Square. This one is large and quite
handsome, with reddish tiles and enormous
shade trees encircled with wooden benches
underneath. By and by a Chinese woman
happens to sit down near us on one of the
benches. She edges a little closer, then closer
still, until finally she shrugs and laughs and
sign-languages if she can sit between us and
have her picture taken with us! Of course we’re
delighted to oblige. The woman’s friends each
want their picture taken with us too. We feel
like celebrities!
Chongqing is rightfully proud of its beautiful zoo and gardens
We make top-secret phone calls from the Panda Booth
The zoo with its adjacent lake and gardens offers a peaceful oasis in the midst of a huge megacity
Okay, that's close enough, Siberian tiger!
Overarching branches make for a lovely walk through the park
This is a great place for people watching -- and tourists are apparently still rare enough that
we are of occasional interest to the locals, who want to have their picture taken with us!
We love this photo of a young boy spending the day with his doting grandfather at Renmin Square
Chongqing sits right at the edge of Sichuan Province, so it’s not too surprising our lunch
includes some spicy Sichuan dishes -- making it one of our favorites in China
We finish our city tour in Chongqing's Renmin (People's) Square, which is quite handsome with its red-colored tiles and large shade trees
These playful little guys are called red pandas
Too cute!
And this is the 7-Up-drinking Tibetan bear getting a squirt of his favorite beverage
This adorable Chinese kid is enchanted by all the animals
During our city tour we pass this man carrying a very heavy load