We leave the hotel early for another trip to the immigrant medical center, before returning back by taxi for a whirlwind breakfast and then into the shuttle bus we go. We travel with three other families, sharing the hour long bus ride to Chimelong Safari Park, Southern China’s biggest and best zoo experience and the home of their famous triplet panda babies who are now one year old.
It rains and rains and rains. At first we are all “fun!” “adventure!” “dance in the rain!” but after getting soaked almost to the skin we become slightly less optimistic. Even our rain resistant windbreakers give up in disgust and begin wicking the rain water towards us instead of away from us. We stop at the gift store to purchase very asian style ponchos covered in cutesy animals in bright pinks and blues. The children are delighted. We share hot meat balls in broth, ice creams and caramel corn for lunches, thankful for the break of a covered table.
But despite the rain we have fun. A lot of fun. Jing Yun gets our little mini camera for the day and it is so fun to watch what he chooses to capture in (very blurry) film. I follow behind him listening as he shares his excitement with me in very rapid fire Chinese. I catch some words, missing many, but his enthusiasm is contagious. The train that takes us through a safari journey seats us just behind the bilingual tour guide who speaks for all the train to hear through a loud microphone. For every question he asks of the train, Jing Yun shouts the answer, and for every question Jing Yun asks, the tour guide answers on microphone for the benefit of the whole train. I smile wide. That’s my boy. Always right up front. Always first in line, first to speak. Fearless, assured and not big on manners.
We walk through the dinosaur area, full of roaring sounds and vast moving prehistoric figures, seeped in mist. Ava cowers, leaning into me for support but Jing Yun moves us quickly ahead. When I pretend to worry about a super-size dinosaur, telling him in Chinese that I am afraid, he quickly responds that I shouldn’t fear that dinosaur since it is a plant eater not a meat eater. This boy who has grown up in a group home with such limited experiences is still so bright! I am proud.
He asks repeatedly about the snake house but when we reach it he fights me just inside quickly declaring that we have missed something important and we must go outside again. I grab him tight and tell him in mandarin “you’re scared but it’s okay we are going to go look anyway.” He emerges, moments later, proud in his victory over his fear, shouting to the others about how “hen da da” (very big) the pythons were.
The tigers capture his imagination. They are his favorite animal and he tells me about everything he sees in them. The koalas he declares “hao ke ai” – so cute – and buries himself in my arms to pretend he is the koala baby too. I hug him tight. But the panda bears are our very favorite. When we finally reach the panda triplets he surprises me by asking the zoo keeper on duty in the room a question, which one is older? She tells him that the oldest is the girl and the two brothers are younger. We leave the enclosure with him repeating to me over and over “yi ge jie jie, liang ge di di”, one older sister, two younger brothers.
Just before leaving the zoo we stop in the gift shop where the youngest two each pick a tiger, hers white, his the typical orange. As the rain continues to fall on the long bus ride home the two play with their tigers in the farthest back bus seat, sharing the stories of their day.
Home. Hot showers. Noodles and a movie. Bed.