Birth­day party of firsts for panda

DC-based Bei Bei gets wishes on 1st birth­day from first ladies of China, US

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Bei Bei, the gi­ant panda cub at the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Zoo in Wash­ing­ton, had a very spe­cial first birth­day party on Aug 20.

The first ladies of China and the United States both sent their greet­ings. China’s first lady Peng Liyuan said she was send­ing greet­ings from China, the home­town of pan­das a world away.

“The gi­ant panda is China’s na­tional trea­sure. Bei Bei’s birth was the fruit of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween China and the US and a strong sym­bol of our friend­ship,” Peng wrote in a mes­sage read by Chi­nese am­bas­sador to the US Cui Tiankai at a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion in the zoo’s panda yard.

In Septem­ber 2015, Peng and US first lady Michelle Obama vis­ited the zoo and named the new-born panda cub Bei Bei, meaning “pre­cious one” in Chi­nese.

Peng ex­pressed her ap­pre­ci­a­tion to the staff of the Na­tional Zoo for tak­ing such good care of Bei Bei and to all Amer­i­can friends who love and cher­ish pan­das.

Michelle Obama tweeted in the early morn­ing, say­ing: “To­day we cel­e­brate the Na­tional Zoo’s ‘pre­cious trea­sure’ as he turns one year old. Happy birth­day, Bei Bei!”

The zoo and the Chi­nese em­bassy held a spe­cial zhua-zhou cer­e­mony, a tra­di­tional rit­ual to honor a baby’s first birth­day that dates back to the Song Dy­nasty about 1,000 years ago and in­volves choices to foretell a child’s fu­ture.

Three ban­ners, with draw­ings and cal­lig­ra­phy sym­bol­iz­ing long life, health and habi­tat, luck and friend­ship, were placed in Bei Bei’s yard. The art­works were cre­ated by chil­dren of Chi­nese diplo­mats in Wash­ing­ton. Panda keep­ers doused the poles of the ban­ners with honey to get Bei Bei’s at­ten­tion.

Bei Bei ap­peared to be in good spir­its when he strolled into the yard, but climbed a tree far from the ban­ners and hung out de­spite the keep­ers’ ef­forts to nudge him to­ward the ban­ners.

Fi­nally, it was the mother, Mei Xiang, who did Bei Bei’s zhua-zhou for him. She picked the ban­ner of “luck and friend­ship,” then moved to the next of “health and habi­tat”.

Laurie Thomp­son, panda keeper and bi­ol­o­gist at the Na­tional Zoo, said they had been try­ing to train Bei Bei to go out into the yard in past days, adding that Bei Bei feels more com­fort­able when his mother is out there too.

There was a line of hun­dreds wait­ing along the Asia Trail to get a look at Bei Bei on his first birth­day.

Suzy John­son, wear­ing a red T-shirt with the words “Happy Birth­day, Bei Bei”, said she had tweeted about Bei Bei’s birth­day that morn­ing.

Like many of the vis­i­tors on Satur­day, John­son has been a panda fan for a long time. She said that back in the 1970s, her mother took her to see Hs­ing Hs­ing and Ling Ling, the first pair of pan­das to come to the US af­ter Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s his­toric trip to China in 1972.

John­son said she was dev­as­tated when Mei Xiang lost her baby in 2012 af­ter be­ing preg­nant for a few days, but the next year Bao Bao was born.

“We love Bao Bao, ev­ery­body loves Bao Bao. And Bei Bei was born and ev­ery­body loves him too,” John­son said. “He’s got a dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity, a very easy­go­ing guy,”

“We love the pan­das, they are very peace­ful. It’s all about peace and friend­ship and love. The world can use a lot more of that,” she said.

It is a birth­day week for the pan­das at the zoo. Bei Bei’s birth­day was ac­tu­ally on Aug 22. His el­der sis­ter, Bao Bao, will turn 3 on Aug 23, while his fa­ther, Tian Tian, will be 19 on Aug 27. Mother Mei Xiang cel­e­brated her 18th birth­day on July 22 with an ice cake.

Chefs at the Chi­nese em­bassy pre­pared dan­dan noo­dles for guests on Satur­day. The noo­dles orig­i­nated in Sichuan province, home of the gi­ant pan­das. T-shirts, post­cards, pins with birth­day greet­ings to Bei Bei were made avail­able to vis­i­tors.

Am­bas­sador Cui said that pre­serv­ing the gi­ant panda mir­rors the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the US and re­flects the con­certed ef­forts by the two coun­tries to pro­tect en­dan­gered species and nat­u­ral habi­tat and fight cli­mate change.

Den­nis Kelly, the zoo’s di­rec­tor, said the two coun­tries have con­ducted good co­op­er­a­tion in pre­serv­ing gi­ant pan­das, calling them im­por­tant bridges of US-China friend­ship.

Un­der the cur­rent loan agree­ment, gi­ant panda cubs born out­side China also be­long to China. Thomp­son, the panda keeper, said it will be hard for them to see the panda cubs leave the zoo when they are 4 years old, as the agree­ment stip­u­lates.

“We know from the time they are born, they are go­ing to go to China. We try to pre­pare our­selves,” she said.

“The good thing is that we com­pare it to be­ing just like send­ing your child to col­lege,” she said.

Thomp­son said they are giv­ing the panda cubs all the tools needed to be an adult.

CHEN WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY

Chi­nese Am­bas­sador Cui Tiankai (left) reads a mes­sage from China’s first lady Peng Liyuan at a cer­e­mony on Aug 20 cel­e­brat­ing the first birth­day for gi­ant panda Bei Bei at the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Zoo. Also at­tend­ing are Den­nis Kelly (cen­ter), the zoo’s di­rec­tor, and David Ruben­stein, the Amer­i­can fi­nancier and phi­lan­thropist who funds the gi­ant panda at the zoo in Wash­ing­ton.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY CHEN WEIHUA / CHINA DAILY

Mei Xiang takes a taste of her son Bei Bei’s first birth­day cake on Aug 20 at the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Zoo. Panda cub Bei Bei and his mother Mei Xiang play in Bei Bei’s yard on Satur­day morn­ing at a cer­e­mony on Satur­day cel­e­brat­ing Bei Bei’s one-year-old birth­day.

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