Giant Pandas and Magical Masks

08:18 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

The province of Sichuan has been suffering from torrential rain recently but the downpours did nothing to dampen my experiences there. The frequent rain kept away the stifling heat and for the first time in weeks, I wasn't sweating through my t-shirt.

The trip began in the provincial capital, Chengdu. My girlfriend and I visited the Sichuan Panda Research Centre. China isn't known for protecting Animal Rights, so I didn't have high expectations for the panda centre. It turned out the centre was really well run and all the animals were really well cared for. The centre was easy to navigate and comfortable to stroll around. It didn't really feel like the China I know; a feeling that would be with me for my whole trip around Sichuan.
 The feeding of the giant pandas was the main attraction and drew a big crowd. The pandas are very playful and docile. They seem to know that despite being members of the bear family, they are terrible climbers and they almost looked embarrassed as the struggled to climb a few trees. The have very human mannerisms and their global appeal is obvious.
 The research centre is also home to red pandas, black cranes and a range of other coloured animals. The rain poured but that didn't stop our enjoyment. I did my best to juggle an umbrella and camera whilst trying to get that perfect wildlife shot.

With China's continued development, there will be little panda habitat left in the coming century. The panda's plight is perilous. However, the pandas at the research centre have everything they could every need, from incubators that are better than those in most human hospitals to scientists on hand to wipe their bum. The pandas in captivity have it a little easier.

We spent the evening watching Sichuan Opera. The show is famous for 'Face Changing' and fire breathing but it also incorporated gymnastics, kung fu and dance. I've seen a few shows in China and the Sichuan Opera has been my favourite. The music is thrilling and the costumes are mind-blowing. The colours and the sights really caught my imagination.

The highlight and show finale was the face-changing. Dancers wear elaborate silk masks which change colour in the blink of an eye. The technique is a closely guarded secret in China but I think I have the gist of how it works. The masks are all attached to the costume by individual silk threads. The actor pulls at the cord and secretes the mask in a hidden pocket whilst distracting you with some fancy hand movements, leaving behind another layer of masks on his face. I had to force myself to stop over-analysing it and just enjoy the spectacle. However it's done, it's a lot of fun.

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