We visited the national zoo in Washington D.C. over the 4th of July long weekend. It was over 95 degrees of heat & humidity, and as you can imagine, my children didn't appreciate the long march under the sun that we put them through. However, the short visit with the beloved baby panda Tai Shan made all the suffering worthwhile.
When we visited the zoo, Tai Shan was a few days shy of his 1st birthday. Considering he only weighed a few ounces at birth (at his one-month-old check-up, he was only 1.82 pounds and 12 inches long), he has grown amazing leaps and bounds within a short year!
When we arrived at the Giant Panda House, there was a huge crowd oohing-and-aahing over baby Tai Shan, who was walking proudly on a thin branch of a small tree in his habitat. The branch is very thin compared to his round body, but Tai Shan seemed to balance himself very well. The little fur ball is just sooooooo adorable! (well, he was almost 60 pounds, so technically, not very "little" any more, but that doesn't affect his CQ -- "Cute Quotient"). Tai Shan seemed to enjoy the attention from the crowd and was putting on a good show for all of us.
Then, all of a sudden, he lost his footing.... the crowd gasped! As you can see in this picture, his hind legs are hanging off the branch now.
Tai Shan tried to pull himself back on the branch, but his hind legs had nothing to grab on...
The situation went from bad to worse..... now little Tai Shan was hanging on to the thin branch with his front paws, and desperately trying to pull his heavy body up with no avail. Everyone became very anxious for him, some were cheering for him: "Com'n baby, YOU CAN DO IT!", and some were pleading "Where is his mom? Can somebody help him out?!!!"
Yeah, where is his mommy???!!! I looked around and saw Tai Shan's mommy Mei Xiang standing right outside of the Giant Panda House, hundreds of feet away from her baby cub. I thought she would come running to rescue her baby, as ANY human mommy would've by now. But, no, she seemed very cool and calm the whole time. She stroded a few feet toward her baby, looked at Tai Shan for perhaps half a minute (or less), then walked back to the house. She did came out to check on her baby the second time, but just like first time, she didn't even walk very close to Tai Shan at all, and again quickly retreated to the house.
I must say I was a bit puzzled by Mei Xiang's behavior. Perhaps I'm sometimes a little over-protective as a mom, just like my mom was when she was raising 3 daughters. Still, I couldn't believe how relaxed Mei Xiang seemed, as her first baby was losing his grip on a thin branch and about to fall to the ground any minute.
Tai Shan hung on to the branch for what felt like eternity. The inevitable finally happened.... as the crowd screamed in horror the baby panda fell flat on his back, on a pile of leaves & small twigs, etc. on the grass. He s-l-o-w-l-y picked himself up and dusted himself off. To our relief, he was not hurt. WHEW!!!!
Then-- I couldn't believe my eyes-- he proceeded to walk to a bigger tree nearby, and started climbing AGAIN!!! Well, this time he didn't get very far, because all the big trees are all wrapped with metal sheets that prevents him from climbing up. I bet the zoo keepers had a lot of experiences dealing with this highly active and adventurous baby panda. LOL
Then, it dawned on me -- NO WONDER Mei Xiang was cool as a cucumber while those of us in the audience were all freaking out. She must've seen this "routine" hundreds or even thousands of times during the past several months. All the past experiences gave her the confidence and assurance that her baby is very adventurous and very capable, and he will be all right. And her composure and confidence in her baby must've given Tai Shan even more self-confidence to explore the world and find his own way. It's almost like a mother's faith -- you've got to have tremendous faith (in your children and in the higher power) to be able to "let go". It's an act of love and acceptance to show your children that you believe in them and that's a lesson I learned from Mei Xiang today.
I thought about my own mom. Even though my sisters and I always consider her to be over-the-top over-protective of us, she did do something when I was little that was anything but. When I was 10, my mom sent me and my 9-year-old sister on an airplane to fly (from Taiwan) to Japan to visit our grandparents. Back then, Japan had very strict regulations that allowed only one visitor per person for foreigners that lived & worked in their country. That's why my grandparents could only invite the two of us, and my parents couldn't accompany us on the trip. I remember weeks before the trip, my mom tried her best to prepare us for the trip. She sewed hidden pockets in our undershirts to store our grandparents contact info, went over her "safety instructions" over and over again, and tried to teach us a few words in Japanese. So, we learned how to say "good morning", "how are you", "thank you" and count from 1 to 10 in Japanese, but that's about all our little heads could remember. Looking back, now as a mother of two myself, I can't imagaine how nerve-wrecking it must've been for my mom to hand us to the flight attendants, and wait painfully for 4-5 hours until they heard from our grandparents that they had picked us up from the airport (remember, this was pre-cell-phone era). We had a great time on the plane with all the toys & attention we received from all of the flight attendants, totally forgot about our parents waiting anxiously at home (so typical of kids, riht?) When the plane landed in Tokyo, we did have a little trouble because the customs officer asked for our passports and I of course couldn't understand a single word he said!!! Anyway, we had a great time with our grandparents in Japan that summer. Happy ending.
My daughter is 10 (almost 11) this year. If you ask me, there's NO WAY I'm going to let her fly to a foreign country either by herself or with her little brother (who is 8). In fact, I wouldn't even let her fly domestic on her own. I guess, as a mother, I'm not as brave as my mom, after all.
Tai Shan continued to try climbing a few other trees nearby. Meanwhile, Mei Xiang walked out of the Panda House again, and walked toward Tai Shan as if she was beaconing him to go home with her. Finally, Tai Shan decided to comply and walked toward his mommy. Then the two of them met up and walked back to their house. The crowd sighed of relief and satisfaction, and slowly scattered to go to other attractions.
My children got their own "pet Tai Shan" to bring home with them, and I've got all the photos & a great story to tell. I know I will never forget this amazing little panda and his admirable mother.
Tai Shan Photo Gallery
Watch Live PandaCam
Giant Panda Facts