I had adopted Feng Yi in September 2006 when she was just a month old, through the non-profit US organisation Pandas International which works closely with Wolong Panda Center. It wasn’t until a year later that I went to Wolong to see her. The visit was two-fold; in addition to meeting Feng Yi, I would also be volunteering there.
As I set about confirming the trip and making the necessary preparations, I thought this would be a once-in-a-lifetime visit that I would never experience again. But as soon as I stepped into Wolong, I felt I had come home; thanks to the documentary I’d watched in 2000, Wolong just felt so … familiar. There and then, I promised myself I would be back again every year from then on, a promise God has let me keep every year since that first trip.
And so my first face-to-face meeting with Feng Yi on 12 September 2007 (at approximately 10:20 a.m., if you must know) would not be our one and only meeting. I would see her once a year every year after that, and twice last year, once in Guilin on her last day before flying back to Bifengxia via Chengdu, and a month later in Bifengxia itself.
Wolong Panda Center, September 2007
Keeper Ni XingMao trying to lure Feng Yi down from her favourite spot
In September 2007, Feng Yi was living in one of the two kindergartens in Wolong. During my breaks from my volunteering chores, I would go to both yards and try to figure out which cub she was. After learning she was in the first yard, I went there, saw a keeper in the yard and called out to ask which one was her. He looked around before pointing to a cub up in the trees. When I told him who I was, he went and got a piece of wowotou and tried to lure her down with it. She wanted the treat but she didn’t want to get down so she hooked her back leg on a branch and stretched as far as she could, got the treat and went back to her perch again.
Later, I was taken in to see her. (At that age, slightly more than a year old, it was still possible to have contact with her without serious injury if she decided to bite or claw. At the same time, cubs that age were still vulnerable to infections and so I had to be disinfected and suited up in a blue disposable coverall, disposable gloves and disposable booties, too.) So into the yard I went with the keepers. I looked around me for other cubs; I had told myself I wanted Feng Yi to be the very first panda I touched. When a cub walked up to me, I stepped back to discourage it from hugging my legs; till today, I still cringe when I think of what I did (or didn’t do) to that cub.
Meanwhile, where was Feng Yi? Up in the trees, of course! I was given a piece of wowotou to lure her down. She came down, got the treat and promptly turned around to go back. And so our very first photo together shows me trying to block her from going back up the tree.
The keepers eventually got her down on the ground. Everytime I went near her, she would run away. Apparently, she was not a very people-friendly cub, and if given the chance, would walk off and keep walking, not turning back when called. Thus, when it came time for the official portrait, I was told I could not have my photo taken with her. The place for the photo was beyond the fenced-in yard, where she would wander off so that the keepers would have a hard time getting her to go back inside the yard. Instead, from our first meeting in September 2007, I have a series of “action” shots with my adopted panda.
Clockwise from top left: first photo together; “let me go!” says Feng Yi;
finally getting her to sit still; helping her up a slope (see her right paw
clawing at the sleeve of my blue disposable coverall)
There is another very, very special photo from our first meeting.
Happiness is having my little girl wrapping her paws around my legs
Subsequent visits, and more photos with Feng Yi