`HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM!!!! Before you ask why you have a picture of an orangutan - it's because there isn't a photograph of a giant panda! Arrived safely in Chengdu after a marathon journey on the bus. Staying in a lovely hotel (again - the accommodation on this trip has far exceeded expectations). Chengdu has a population of 11.3 million and is the capital of Sichuan Province. The city has a subtropical humid climate. On average it has a frost-free period of about 337 days, annual humidity of 82 per cent and sunshine ratio of 28 per cent. It is renowned for its fertile land and agricultural wealth. The Jinjiang River runs through the city. Nationalities are Han, Hui, Tibetan, Man, Meng and Yi. Well, that was for those of you who like all the details! Yes, it has been very humid today, a stark contrast to the coolness of the mountains. Coming to Chengdu has been quite a culture shock as we return from rural Tibet to modern China and city life. Off at 7.30am this morning to visit the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, which has been in operation since 1990. The research station and breeding ground forboth Giant and Lesser pandas was first opened to the public in 1995. The aim is to promote their numbers and eventually expand the site from the current 36 hectares to a more adequate 239 hectares in the near future. It was such a privilege to see the pandas today. Apparently, you have to go early because they are very lazy creatures and, after breakfast at about 8am, they go back to sleep for most of the day! I can't remember how many pandas she said are at the centre but we were fortunate enough to see the youngest - eight month old Ying Ying. We watched with delight as he chased his keeper around the compound, played with a space hopper in the water and tried to climb the trees as she tickled him and played with him - it was lovely and I took masses of video footage and photos. We also watched an adult panda having his breakfast of bamboo leaves. Apparently there are many different types of bamboo, but pandas are fussy about the ones they like. Here in Chengdu, the pandas are living at a lower altitude than they would be in the wild. China loans out pandas to other countries for periods of so many years, to aid the breeding process I think, but there are only approximately 1,500 pandas left in the wild. Due to their laziness, pandas are not keen to mate and, due to the respective anatomy of male and female (the male organ is too short and the female's too long!), conception is quite difficult. This is the first option, but if the pandas fail to mate, the female is artificially inseminated with semen taken from the male - we watched a video showing us what is done. Also, the female is usually most surprised to find herself giving birth and, in captivity, the experts have to rescue the baby shortly after she has it, so that she doesn't kill it. Baby pandas are very underdeveloped when they are born and need lots of care to survive. Female pandas often produce twins. At the centre, they have a panda that was born in 1992, Olympic year - this panda's baby has been born this year and is therefore the mascot for this year's Olympics (think I got that right). The panda is China's national treasure and you can see why - they are beautiful creatures and it's sad to think they could become extinct in the near future. Can't remember any more panda facts at the moment! Oh, they have an extra thumb which helps them hold things, and they like climbing and sleeping in trees. We spent about three hours at the centre and this afternoon has been dedicated to souvenir hunting. Pleased to say I have found some lovel gifts for my nearest and dearest. Very strange, but we found ourselves being photographed by Chinese tourists today - quite common for them to show this interest in foreigners apparently. Jane has had several ask to have their photos taken with her! Leaving the hotel at 5.30am tomorrow to catch a flight to Guilin. The China part of our trip is almost over. Well, that's all for now. Love to all. PS Some humorous translations from hotel guest book: We are 'Honorific guests' Rules: 'no accepting of exquisite poison' 'the gun and ammunition will give the local police to keep it' 'for quiet reasons of the hotel guests, don' thit the bottle (hit the bottle?), fight, make trouble, full mouthed, for badly violator, hotel will cancel his lodging qualification and call police' 'don't prostitute oneself, wench, gambling, hit the pipe and spread obscene goods' 'don't set goods on fire' Lastly, Ailsa warned us that we might get a phone call during the night in our room from women offering a 'massage' service. If a female answers, she hangs up! Didn't receive any calls - must ask the guys if they did! Bye!