Chengdu Worldcon 2: The pandas

Chengdu has many points of interest, but probably the most famous is the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to the north of the city. I was lucky enough to go on a trip there last Saturday morning, hoping that these shy creatures might appear for us. Most of the pandas in Chengdu have been rescued and in turn get released into the wild. They are short-sighted and not really aware of the gaze of visitors; the first group that went to see them, on the Tuesday, were unlucky as the pandas mostly dozed off due to the good weather. As we arrived at the base, I wondered if the sculpture at the entrance might be the best view we got of them.

But no, we were fortunate, and the temperature being just a notch above 20° meant that several them were wandering around their enclosures, munching bamboo. One was sprawled out on his or her platform, indifferent to the admiring crowds.

Another sat with his back to us, but at an angle where you could selfie.

My best shot of all was the very last one I took, of a panda casuallymunching away in an enclosure within the visitor centre.

The institute also apparently has red pandas, but we didn’t see any, and I won’t complain. To be close to the giant pandas for an hour was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced.

I don’t know what it is about them that stirs (almost) everyone to go “Awww!”. Certainly I am not immune myself. One of my favourite childhood toys was a stuffed panda, which I unimaginatively called “Panda”. There is something about these gentle creatures that appeals to the better parts of our nature.

My companions on the trip included Wendy Aldiss and her son L, and Carole and Ken MacLeod.

Much later on, in the bar after the Hugo ceremony, Carole suggested that next year’s Worldcon in Glasgow should make a similar trip to the Haggis Research Centre. I passed the suggestion to Glasgow 2024 Chair, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, and I think I can honestly say that all possible efforts are being made to make this happen.