Pandas and Pilgrims

Flying Longhorns Explore China and Tibet

How on earth did they do that? This was the question 10 Flying Longhorns asked over and over again during 13 whirlwind days in China and Tibet. They asked it while touring the ultramodern Olympic Village in Beijing, where the Bird’s Nest stadium makes 110,000 tons of steel look light as a feather, and they asked it again at the 2,000-year-old Great Wall.

In Xi’an, where thousands of ancient terra cotta warriors still stand guard over the tomb of China’s first emperor, the travelers wondered about the laborers who painstakingly crafted the life-size ceramic army over 38 years.

They saw a different kind of construction project in Shanghai. “I never thought I’d see a city that could surpass Las Vegas at night,” says traveler Brad Duggan, BA ’72, Life Member, “but Shanghai did.” The city, Duggan says, is filled not only with towering skyscrapers, but also with half-finished, abandoned construction projects—a sign of the international recession.

“We spent a lot of time trying to understand China’s transition from an old agrarian economy to the huge economic powerhouse it is now,” Duggan says. “Just walking on the street, you can see how fast China is growing.”

Tibet moves at a slower pace. There, at Lhasa’s Potala Palace, where the Dalai Lama used to live, they huffed, puffed, and complained on the steep stone staircase—until they saw a man carrying his friend up all 1,000 steps. The men were religious pilgrims who had trudged hundreds of miles to pray at the famous temple.

“The architecture was stunning—both the ancient kind and the futuristic kind,” says traveler Darlene Cozby. “But even more than that, what amazed me was the people and their sense of community.”

Because Chinese restaurants seat guests at round tables and serve meals family-style, Cozby says, strangers become friends by the end of the night.

The group also discovered that real Chinese food is a completely different species than Panda Express. At one meal, they feasted on 18 varieties of dumplings.

In Sichuan Province, they watched pandas munch bamboo at the Chengdu Panda Base. With the goal of helping the severely endangered species rebound, the world-class research center has bred about 300 pandas.

Duggan was one of several travelers who got to cuddle with a young panda at the center. “We sat on a bench together and he just snuggled up in my lap with his bamboo,” Duggan says. “I never thought I would hug a panda.”

Photos by Darlene Cozby


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