A favourite thing to do

It’s one of my favourite things to do at Zoo Negara Malaysia’s giant panda complex – watch the visitors as they get their first glimpse of their first giant panda in the fur.

The first group into the exhibit hall; the girl in pink was the first to have her ticket
scanned at the entrance

Fu Wa and Feng Yi don’t even have to be doing anything but the visitors would still be excited. All of them would just stop at the railing just past the entrance, whip out their phones and start taking photos of the panda in the first yard, which for now is Feng Yi. They don’t even mind if it’s just a panda back they’re photographing.

This group got Feng Yi’s side profile as their first view of a giant panda in the fur

Eventually they will get past that first excitement and move along to get a different angle or look for the other panda. If both Fu Wa and Feng Yi are sleeping, there would be comments that “pandas are lazy”. If I’m within hearing distance, I would explain that they are not lazy but are resting to conserve their energy.

After having been in the panda complex as a volunteer four days a week since their public debut, I have come to this conclusion – of all the visitors coming to see Fu Wa and Feng Yi, 50% will see them inactive and 50% will see them active. The most “unfortunate” visitors are the ones who are being ushered out of the panda hall just as either Fu Wa or Feng Yi get up and walk around. They are then reluctant to leave, moving slowly and stopping to take one more photo. (Note – for now, up to 150 visitors are allowed into the hall for 20 minutes per group; this is to prevent over-crowding but at the same time allow as many visitors as possible to see Fu Wa and Feng Yi.)

This group is part of the 50% who saw an active panda

I have enjoyed seeing families visit Fu Wa and Feng Yi, especially those with elderly parents. There are also visitors from outside Kuala Lumpur, including a man from Penang, an elderly couple from Ipoh who have seen pandas in China before but a long time ago, and a family of five from Sandakan, my mother’s hometown in Sabah. There was also a family of six – parents, grandparents and grandkids; the mother said they will visit again, and when I asked if the children have the Loyalty Card, she said yes, and that they have been visiting the Zoo for the past two years. We need more families like this one!

Visitors who were only able to see Fu Wa and Feng Yi sleeping have asked when they are active. There’s really no way to pin down actual hours of activity, but generally it is from around 11:00 a.m. onwards to about 3:00 p.m., when they are more active but still rest on and off.

Those who did not get to see Fu Wa and Feng Yi being active have been understanding about it. There were two scares, tho.

On Thursday, a rather fierce-looking man came up to JJ and asked “Where’s the panda?” It so happened at the time both Fu Wa and Feng Yi were in corners of their yards not visible to visitors on the bridge. Soon after his question, Feng Yi came into sight and the man gladly went over to her side to look at her.

Yesterday, as a group left the hall, a man turned and looked at me. “I only saw one panda, can I have half my money back?” he asked. When he saw my face, he smiled and said, “Just kidding.”

Phew …