Being away from my family and friends for almost a month now has obviously been difficult, but it seemed to get even harder as my birthday got closer and I wondered if I would have anyone to celebrate with. Luckily my team members came to the rescue!

I mostly spend every day with the 2 other people in my subteam, but every Tuesday evening at 7:00 we have an overall team meeting to share our status and experiences. Honestly, I was kind of dreading having this meeting on my birthday because sometimes they can last quite a while (and they last through dinner and sometimes I get hangry). After work, I started plotting what I was going to get for dinner when I got a text message that our team meeting was going to be held at a restaurant since it was our last week. Since things constantly change last minute in China, I really didn’t think much of it.

After we got to the restaurant, my team revealed that it was actually a surprise birthday dinner for me! They took me to an Italian restaurant with unlimited pizza (how perfect!) and got me the cutest birthday cake ever. I was so grateful that this group of people came together to make sure I felt special on my birthday while I am on the other side of the world.

 Seriously, have you ever seen a cuter birthday cake?

This past weekend, I gave myself a birthday present – a full day of pandas! The first weekend we were here, we went to the panda base in the city of Chengdu. It was wonderful (as all things with pandas are) but it was very, very crowded which sometimes made it hard to see the pandas. I went to a different one this weekend called Dujiangyan Panda Base that was about an hour outside of Chengdu, and it was totally worth it.

The program I signed up for was a “volunteer program” where I got to be a panda keeper for the day. The price of the program counts as a donation to the panda center. I got there a little early, so I wandered around the base by myself and found a mom and her baby!

Soooooo cute

Once I got signed in, we started off by cleaning out the enclosures and putting in bamboo for the pandas. So yes, I paid money to scoop poop and I have NO REGRETS. Also if you’re wondering, panda poop really doesn’t smell since their diet is mostly bamboo. Sorry I don’t have any pictures to share of this part 😉

After our hard work, we were rewarded by getting to feed the pandas. It was an amazing 30 seconds – so worth all the poop scooping.

I like to think the panda was as happy to receive the bamboo as I was to give it to him.

We then had some free time to roam around the base to visit the other enclosures. Even though it was a weekend, it was barely crowded at all and I was sometimes the only one watching a panda from 10 feet away. It was so cool and worth trip out of the city (even if you aren’t doing the volunteer program)

Nom nom nom

In the afternoon, we watched a documentary about China’s efforts to increase the panda population. Humans have destroyed a lot of the panda habitats, and natural disasters have also played a role in the low numbers of pandas. China’s goal is not just to increase the number of pandas in places like zoos and research bases, but eventually to release them back into the wild. We learned about a recent panda cub that was born at the research base, but that they raised to live in the wild. In order to make sure it didn’t get used to humans, everyone who interacted with the panda wore a panda suit covered with panda poop and pee smells! Kind of crazy but I appreciate the dedication.

It actually looks a little creepy…

It was a really big event in China when they released him into the wild. They are monitoring the panda by GPS and so far he appears to be doing well! They are hoping he will breed with other pandas and increase the population.

We then had to do a little more physical labor, but we were once again rewarded with feeding pandas.

Best day ever

At the end of the day, we made cakes for pandas that they give them as treats. I got really creative and made mine in the shape of…a panda!

Does this even look like a panda?

I’ve learned so much while I’ve been here -professionally, culturally, and about pandas! This week has been really busy as we wrapped up all of our project work and prepared for the closing ceremony. More updates coming soon!


2 Replies to “Birthdays and Pandas”


    Did you learn how to sing Happy Birthday in Chinese? Seems like you are having a great time and the memories will last forever. I am really jealous. If you get to Beijing, my only contact is a baseball program director (shocker). He lived in Alexandria for a while too…his name is KK and the academy is Jiapao (means Homerun in Chinese I was told). Any way I can not wait to hear about your project results.

  2. Thanks Phil! And unfortunately I still haven’t gotten much farther than “hello” in Chinese! Haha

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