China’s Furry Relationship with Animals

It was once said, in the Lonely Planet China Guidebook, that Chinese regarded beaches with some level of bemusement. They’d roll up their slacks and go ankle-deep in the waves. The beach was more an occasion than an activity. Pretty young things would pose for photos in front of the expansive ocean and show loved ones miles away back home where they’d been. Nervous laughter would be shared when waves crashed a little too violently near fully clothed patrons.

You could say that animals fit into a similar category of bemusement. Sure, there are plenty of people that keep pets and these animals are well looked after, judging by their shiny coats and rotund bellies. My good friend, Mr. Hill, has a cat. Sure, he’s Canadian but his wife is a local. The cat is like an adopted son and enjoys imported snacks from around the globe. His fur is shiny too. Yes, the locals love their pets. But…

One only has to visit a wet market here to see how some animals are treated. You know what a wet market is, right? I think we all do after the emergence of COVID-19. It wasn’t a familiar word to many people outside of China 12 months ago. Hygiene standards have improved markedly here in Guangzhou since the crazy wild animal market was shut down in 2001. You could buy anything you wanted be it armadillo, alligator, civet cat, skunk, snake, squirrel, baby tiger, raccoon or monkey. Some people thought that such exotic animals were delicious. The neighbourhood restaurant offered Cat N’ Cobra, near our apartment in 2003. I still remember the look on that cat’s face. There’s not much to be happy about on death row.

Animals were for eating, not keeping. In ’02, I got more attention from the others visitors at the local zoo than did the animals. No wonder the chimpanzees got jealous.

Then along came SARS.

Pied stilt soup, crocodile steaks, and braised snake were banished from the menu. An awareness was growing among the wider population of the need to leave animals in their natural habitats.

Fast forward to July 2020 and a world in the midst of a global pandemic. Our daughters needed some cheer so we took them to the catchily-named Gelin Dongzhuang Farm Park. We’d been to Disneyland and been impressed by the magnitude of the place but this was something else. You wouldn’t see wild animals here, rather the ones that might populate a farm back home.

Gelin Dongzhuang is a 40 minute drive south of Guangzhou. It’s out in the sticks so there’s plenty of parking (so long as you go during school hours and not during a public holiday – perhaps 2am might be best) and friendly local staff.

Chick Interation – according to the sign

First up, it was a visit to the bird area. The website had proudly mentioned peacocks and turkeys. We didn’t quite expect to see them sharing the same enclosure.

“Come now everyone – look! The peacock has just opened his tail feathers!” bellowed an attendant’s voice through a muffled megaphone. Most people were trying to avoid the tropical rain and thus ignored the staff member’s enthusiasm.

For a set fee, you could feed chicks. This smelt of a ripoff, but exhausted parents were more than happy to send their offspring over to the gated area to kid-handle tiny birds. Anything to buy a few minutes of peace. It was awful to see just how strong a grip little hands might have on a bird’s neck or wings. I rescued a few dazed chicks and put them to one side under a tree. One-by-one, they came to, regaining consciousness, only to be hit by a second wave of children. Perhaps this is a kind of metaphor for COVID-19.

Brings new meaning to the term “scoring chicks”

Next it was the rabbits. Again, you had to pay for the privilege of feeding the park’s animals. What a win-win for the owners. Not many business models would be that fail-safe. There were more cellphones than bunnies inside the gated area – primarily for photo-taking. This is Mei-ling with a white rabbit, this is Mei-ling and her husband with two black rabbits, this is Mei-ling’s daughter holding a brown rabbit, this is a humourous shot of Mei-ling pretending to eat a rabbit etc.

The bloated budgies weren’t interested in our food and perched themselves high up in the cages to digest half the province’s grain supplies. You had to watch out for their little backsides lined up in a row, though it’s good luck to get plopped on by a bird (apparently). We wandered off. People-watching was more interesting anyway.

There were goats and a sheep. And a large artificial grass hill for kids to slide down on. Again, great for people watching.

Dazed but (thankfully) not dead

The park wasn’t particularly large and we came to the star attraction, the headlining act if you will – the pony rides. Not sure where the ponies went but two largish horses were in a paddock that also housed a lake. One mare seemed to be unemployed, snacking on carrots (for a fee you could feed this aging white horse) and the other was getting rather stroppy in the 35 degree heat. The line began to grow as the poor horse walked repeatedly on a one kilometre track around the lake. The park attendant responded by booting it in the ribs. Karma will be a fine thing one day…

You’re not allowed into China just yet but when the borders eventually reopen, make sure you head to Gelin Dongzhuang Farm Park to see just how the locals interact with animals. They find foreigners fascinating and here is your chance to do a bit of staring in return. Just remember to smile and say “Ni hao!” They’ll then turn their attention back to the animals and everyone will be happy.

A Quick Word….

Thanks for waiting nearly three months for this post – one that has been beset by WordPress, VPN, and photo editing troubles. And don’t forget that kids (and life) get in the way!‘s last post I Knew Wuhan Before It Was a Virus had the site’s record number of views. Very encouraging for the editorial team. A massive thanks to you – the reader!