the old custom of presenting foreign dignitaries with a baby panda has
ended, this gorgeous bear is still associated with, and something of a
symbol for, China.
It is unknown how many pandas remain in
the wild today, but estimates put the figure at as few as 1,000, the
majority of which can be found in Sichuan.
Although numerous reserves have been
established to protect the giant panda, poaching is numerous and not
even the death penalty is a sufficient deterrent.
These animals consume 45 pounds of bamboo
each day and are extremely sensitive to their surroundings. In the
1970s, the bamboo harvest failed and almost 200 pandas died as a
result. The problem facing the fate of the panda today is equally
tragic. Researchers here recently announced that they plan to give the
Chengdu pandas the drug Viagra in an attempt to increase
These creatures are notoriously reluctant
to breed and scientists hope that by giving the pandas Viagra, they
will boost the bear's sex drive and improve the chances of
reproduction. Until now, captive breeding has not proved successful
and the future of these wonderful creatures looks bleak.
The best place in Sichuan to see these
beautiful animals is at the Giant
Panda Breeding and Research Base in the mountains of Futoushan in
the north of Chengdu.
Chengdu is one of the few remaining cities with a really authentic tea house (Chadian) culture. The thousands of teahouses dotted about Chengdu are hugely popular with locals, especially the elderly here, who spend hours on end sitting around sipping tea and playing games or cards.
Although tea houses are popular throughout China, the ones here are especially well known with a distinct and unique atmosphere. Chengdu teahouses were once traditional working
men's clubs, where local men met to conduct business transactions and deals or to listen to storytellers and singers.
Today, huge crowds surround card games in these places and the noise can really get quite overpowering! Others prefer to lounge around in the Sichuan bamboo chairs, chewing seeds or nuts. Teahouses throughout the city are still important locations for social gatherings.
Local opera lovers and performers gather in many of the cafes although the "men only" atmosphere about the traditional tea house has long since disappeared.