For several weeks now, Mrs. Zhao and I have been planning our field trip to our city's zoo. This year was going to be on a slightly grander scale than last year, since we had invited the 2nd/3rd grade English Support classes to come too. There is a surprising amount of things to be done to prepare for a field trip, and some of it involves calling, re-calling, and re-calling to confirm and reconfirm what you already know...or at least what you think you know. The customer service at the zoo informed us repeatedly that they opened at 8:00 in the morning and closed at 3:00 pm. Thus, we planned to leave at 7:45 and take the forty minute drive to the zoo. However, when we arrived at the zoo, no one was around. This was rather infuriating, especially when you have a van full of 17 eight-year-olds who are going stir crazy.
It wasn't until 9:30 that a zoo employee arrived to the ticket building. What made it frustrating to me was that there were other ticket counters open at 8 o'clock, but the employees were completely unhelpful. They would not take our money and give us tickets, since we were paying for the group rate. They wouldn't even let us know what time the zoo ticket people would start working! It's a little maddening to control a van-full of kiddos when you have no solid information to give them. They can hardly be controlled when there is no goal in sight. It's hard to be patient when you are just sitting in a humid van for indeterminate amount of time. It's hard to be the blind leading the blind--not a situation I would consider ideal.
Which brings me to a flashback. Suddenly I remembered last year's field trip to the zoo--how we also had to wait for an hour in the van. I remembered all the mindless nonsense I had invented to keep the kids occupied, and how bored and crazy they were. Last year, we were told that the workers were merely "late" because of the rain. Yes, it was pouring for the first hour of the field trip last year, so it was actually a good thing that we were trapped in the van's purgatory.
On a side-note, while sitting in the van, I learned a lot about the different Korean and Japanese dramas that my students watch on TV. I am surprised at the content--doesn't seem to be entirely kid-appropriate, but they think it is fantastic. There is one show about a girl who is also a wolf with nine tales. She has magical powers but wants to be human. She marries and her husband promises her to not say that she is a wolf for 10 years--if he keeps his promise she will become a full human. But the day before the 10 years is over, the husband forgets and calls her wolf-with-nine-tales and everything is lost. That's the theme for this sitcom/drama. Field trips provide chances to bond with students; we're not constrained by a schedule or routine.
Apparently, the zoo does not open at 8 o'clock as advertised online and repeatedly communicated over the phone. Putting this year's experience together with last year's, I coming to the conclusion that the zoo has a later opening time during the autumn months. Geez--for unprofessional service and poor communication, I hardly expect to pay such steep prices. For goodness gracious, I'm used to touring zoos for free!
What the dill pickle, is what Adam would say.
So--around 9:30, we were finally able to purchase our tickets, drive to the main entrance of the zoo, go through the gate and walk into the first exhibit.
A word of warning:
Having lived near some fairly decent zoos in America, I must admit I have a certain standard for cleanliness, creativity, and humane treatment towards animals. When I was a nanny for a little girl in the Gold Coast, we used to walk to Lincoln Park Zoo a few times a week to see the animals. I have that zoo mapped out by heart.
Even though I had several warnings from team members here, nothing could have prepared me for the zoo last year! However, this year I had strapped on my mental armor before walking through the front gate. I was going to be strong, tolerant, and accepting. I was going to remain calm and unshaken by whatever sights, sounds, or smells assaulted me. I am not an animal lover by any means. I have no deep-seated desire to save the animals, protect the whales, or join PETA. My aversion to eating meat has more to do with bacteria than animal's rights...but this place makes me feel eerie and uncomfortable. I snapped some pictures to share with you. Once again, there are no pictures of the students themselves because of a school policy--I wish that I could share some of the pictures with students in them because they show a whole different dimension of the zoo. Plus, some of the pictures are hysterical to look at! I have such funny students!
Back to the first exhibit....the first exhibit contains what I assume to be stuffed animals. Lions, tigers, deer, baby elephants, alligators, and horses are stuffed into misshapen figures and put on display in darkly lit halls. It's a little creepy--it makes me wonder if those animals died of natural causes or if they were poached (in some cases)
(these kinds of displays, out in the open, with poor lighting, and obviously deteriorating hides, makes me feel sad for these animals. I really wonder if these animals were once alive--it's hard to tell since they are stuffed so poorly.)
(creepy looking deer--their bodies look slightly askew, especially their faces. The marble eyes freaked my students out.)
After walking through the "gallery of death" (basically), we hopped onto a safari bus that would take us through the wild-life portion of the zoo. Guess what time it was? 9:40. Guess what time the driver said we would start the safari? 10:15. It seemed pointless to wait 35 minutes, since we were obviously the only people in the zoo at that time. But, right before we left, a few folks showed up and joined our group on the bus. Last year, the bus took us through different sections--in the tiger and lion sections, the bus driver fed the animals chicken legs out of his window. I think a sign of assimilation in me was that this year, I was looking forward to the chicken leg feeding. While we were waiting---it seemed like all we had done all day was wait---we gave our students permission to eat their snacks. It wasn't the cleanest bus in the world, eating a few snacks was definitely not going to hurt it. Snack time seemed to occupy the students for a while, as well as teasing each other that the tigers were going to eat the students.
One cute little 3rd grader said to me, "Do tiger like creamy thing?" I laughed and asked, "Why are you asking? Are you creamy?" She smiled, her little dimples showed, "Yes, I am creamy". What does that even mean?! I love English language learners! I loved to tease my students that the lions or tigers were going to eat them--they think that it is hysterical!
The bus ride itself was very different than last year's. Most of the dangerous animals (tigers and lions) were caged in small areas. I found out later that this is because they are re-designing their habitat area. I'm not so sure though--I didn't notice much renovation happening. This also meant that we couldn't feed the animals chicken-legs. Yet another down-point in the day.
(Now that I think about it, most of the animals were caged up on the safari ride--which was a little lame since there was absolutely no need for us to be on the bus. There were fences and electric lines everywhere.)
(I think this lion was one of the only animals that wasn't entrapped)
(bones of prey that the wolves ate--it was a little disturbing to see carcasses and sheep skulls everywhere--the students were shrieking, "that animal so poor!")
I love field trips. I actually like the Shenyang Zoo--it's growing on me. It's small enough so that we can conquer it in a few hours, but big enough so that we feel completely exhausted by the end. There is always a 'but': But it is a sobering place. This year, I wanted my students to notice the exhibits in a way that would make them somber. I wanted them to focus on how habitats could be improved. I wanted them to propose design improvements. After we got off the bus, we started touring the main part of the zoo. Because it is beginning to feel quite cold here, many of the animals had been removed from their outdoor habitats.
(The students were hilarious as they interacted with these emus. The emus actually looked a lot better than last year, when they were basically living in a mud hole and were soaking wet. They are a little freaky looking and students kept getting a little too close--close enough for the emu to reach them. The kids quickly figured out that they should stand a good distance from the fence)
(Vultures in a tiny cage. There was no space to fly, only a branch to walk across, no food was present in their cage either.)
(these geese were so bored...or maybe hungry...that they ate part of their exhibit sign. It could also have been that they had nothing to play with in the little space)
(This sheep needed to be sheared very badly. It also was extremely dirty. I'm guessing by the length of it's wool, it was never sheared in the spring. There were huge sections of feces hanging from it's body.)
(These monkeys are smart enough to beg for food. They thought that we would feed them, and so were begging quite desperately. Their exhibit was below us, and some were throwing themselves against the concrete walls, trying to get closer to us. Then they would have to climb out of the trench which they had fallen into after trying to jump up to us.)
At least, that is what I would like to think. There was a scandal last year involving siberian tigers dying from starvation at this zoo. They were not being fed. If you look at the different exhibits, you never see any food for the animals--and if you walk around all day, you never see a zoo keeper feeding any of the animals. This is a major difference, even in comparison with the Lincoln Park Zoo; it seems like zoo keepers are always feeding or preparing food and supplements for the animals there. Here, the majority of the workers are street-sweepers. So, I hope that the animals have been removed to another location--because otherwise, they might be dead.
One of the most shocking places is where the elephants, rhino, and baboons are kept during the cold months--which is at least half of the year. It smell horrible inside the building--we literally had to force some of the students to enter. It's sad to see such large animals held in such small cages. This is when I feel like joining an animal rights activist group. The rhino was so depressing--it really makes me want to cry for them! Poor baboons too--what a sad existence. I hope that they get to exercise in larger areas during the winter. I don't know how the animals are rotated through locations throughout the entire year, but I hope that this place is not their winter home.
(I have some really sad pictures of this exhibit, but since they include the faces of my students, they are not posted here.)
(The rhino was very upset in his exhibit. He kept attacking the bars with his horn--it was very loud and aggressive sound--made the exhibit feel extremely eerie and uncomfortable. He had no food or place to rest or play. He hardly had space to turn around and his floor was soaking wet. The lighting was extremely dark in this building and the smells were horrible. The students were shocked--one girl said, "It's like he's in jail".)
(I hope that the baboons do not live in these conditions all winter)
(This is a young elephant, but they also had a female and a ginormous male elephant in even smaller cages. The male elephant had huge tusks--he could not even turn around.)
When it was time to break for lunch and recess, I thought it was interesting how the kids choose to sit on the ground or steps instead of the tables and chairs. They thought the chairs and tables were too dirty. They are such clean freaks! They would wash the flag-stones or wooden steps with their wet-ones/anti-bacterial before sitting down--and most of them sat on tissues so that they would not have direct contact with the ground. Although I also did not sit in the chairs, I did not sanitize the ground or sit on tissues...thank you very much.
(Gifts of food given to me by students. I had also brought my own lunch and snack, so I felt extremely full all afternoon--but how can you pass up delicious kimbop?)
Now for the signs. Of course, there were some great translations around the zoo, and I wanted to share some of them with you.
We finished the day by looking at each of the exhibits, drawing lots of observations, and working on design proposals in small groups. We also bought some ice-cream treats. What a cold day (high was 60 F) for ice-cream! We loaded ourselves back onto the school van and headed back to our drop-off/pick-up spot. We were right on time for the parents to pick their kids up. On trip back, four of the students fell asleep--it was a quiet ride back--everyone was tired.
(this is what the beetles looked like that were crawling around the area were the students were working on their improvement project. I had never noticed this kind of bug around here before--the kids kept shrieking and saying that they were "poisonous lady bugs")
(Since I didn't get to drink my usual cup of coffee that morning, I was very excited about my coffee flavored ice cream treat. Even though it was a crisp fall afternoon with no sunlight to warm us, ice-cream tasted good after our busy afternoon)
Besides having to wait a lot, not being able to see all the animals, and having a brisk day outdoors--the field trip was a lot of fun and a welcome break from our usual schedule. I am blessed to have such a great class and an opportunities to go on field trips. I never thought I would go to a zoo in China!
Did I mention the decor? The whole place is decorated with military weapons and vehicles. Especially the wild animal safari area. There must be hundreds of items around the zoo--even huge transport carriers and tanks. It's not in the best condition--some things are falling apart and rusted over--but it is definitely genuine. It makes me wonder about who once operated them, what happened to those people, and what conflicts they were used in)
What a fun day!