Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pandas in Singapore

Singapore is quite a new city (and thus has no important historic monuments to speak of); it also doesn't have much of an arts/cultural scene. There are no mountains or other dramatic natural features and while there are beaches, their close proximity to one of the world's busiest container ports and oil processing centers (the world's fifth-biggest oil refinery is here) means they are not very appealing. Yet the government very much wants Singapore to be a tourist destination. What to do?
One answer is apparently zoos. Singapore is better supplied in this area than any other place I have been or heard of. There's a national zoo, a bird zoo, a turtle zoo, an insect zoo, a night zoo and two aquariums (one of which is the largest in the world). And because that is obviously not enough, the government just recently built a River Zoo, which showcases animals living in river environments (mammals, lizards, fish, etc). 
The star exhibit of the new zoo is the Panda Enclosure (which confuses me, as I think of pandas living in remote mountains in landlocked central China: certainly they seem completely non-aquatic when viewed). It is a huge (over 16,000 square feet) air-conditioned "bio-dome". That way the pandas can enjoy their pool, waterfall and multiple enclosures (linked by tunnels) without having to suffer through Singapore's tropical weather. It is really nice (I would totally live there!).
Naturally I've taken R to see the pandas several times (I think three?). I have seen them elsewhere (at the San Francisco Zoo, when they were visiting, and at the zoos in San Diego and Washington DC, which is pretty good considering only 41 pandas live outside of China!!). Plus in China (in fact, my mother got to hold a baby panda IN HER LAP, feeding him bits of bamboo dipped in honey. It cost about $250, a bargain considering there are only about 2000 giant pandas in the entire world). They aren't quite that accommodating in Singapore, but you CAN get quite close to the red pandas at least.
Pandas are actually not that cute in person. This is because while their basic physical appearance is so cute it looks engineered, their personalities are not especially charming. When very young, they tumble around actively (leading to seriously darling action like this), but as they age they become more and more sleepy and comatose, until they barely move at all. Their lives (at least in the zoo) are: sleep, eat, poop (often more than one at once). I prefer the red pandas, which are also extremely cute but actually move around and seem aware of their surroundings.

R has therefore not yet been interested in pandas. What she likes is the associated branding: the next-door cafe serves quite decent Chinese food (at least by zoo cafeteria standards), including darling panda-themed cappucinos and red bean buns, which you can eat sitting on a panda chair. Then you can go next door and buy some panda souvenirs (so far R has a hat and little purse, but I'm sure will acquire more shortly). 
Honestly, I think I like panda branding and artwork better than the real ones too.

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