What seemed like a good deal for Noah turned into a financial disaster (in his head), due to technological misunderstandings. Noah’s yelping, “Hello?” bounced off every wall, corner, cave and corridor inside the Kunming Zoo. Every animal inside the establishment was aware of Noah’s failing communication attempts.
Crumples of pixels surfaced on his new Iphone X as he restlessly tried to connect with his family. Moving away from home was not an easy decision for Noah, but financial misfortunes cornered the then-unemployed zoologist into decisions he would wonder whether or not were truly his. After a long parade of curse words, the pixels ironed themselves into two recognizable faces that calmed Noah’s short temper.
– “Hey, honey”
– “Hi, dad”
After six months of not seeing each other’s faces move at any frame rate, Noah’s homesickness finally felt cured (to him). The animals stopped being of interest a month into the job. Noah realized a group of furry cute animals in cages could never cure the sensation of opening a door chalked with darkness and emptiness after a long day’s work. But his daughter was finally able to put on braces, due to the financial sum of both his, and his wife’s earnings. Noah moved his phone up high above his head in an attempt to frame both him, and the sleeping panda bears behind him.
Before Noah left to China, he had given his daughter a stuffed panda bear he bought at Toys R Us for fifteen dollars. Compressed gasps exploded through the phone’s speakers. Following his family’s shock, the sweet sounds of excitement scented the atmosphere with familiarity to Noah, but not the Panda.
The blob of fur that was pressed against the cold mossed stones stood up tall; equally confused, as it was sleepy. Overwhelmed by his success in getting his daughter’s attention, the giant’s awakening did not catch Noah’s attention, but his daughter and wife’s instead. The couple over the phone violently gestured for the soon–to–be victim to turn around. As his torso twisted over his right shoulder, the panda bear yawned, and from the depths of the mammal’s mouth a foul stench of bamboo and stomach acid waltzed into the zoologist’s nose. Not a second after this exotic encounter, Noah turned around and ran towards the exhibit’s door, scratching himself against an old pine tree in the process.
As he ran up the stairs and out into the pedestrian paths, Noah glanced at his phone and noticed his call had been interrupted by a large terrestrial bear. Noah leaned against the cold iron rods that separated him and the bear and a part of him started to feel naked and exposed. Noah examined his arm, and noticed a large scratch surrounded by bark, blood, and dead skin. But he didn’t mind because the zoologist’s attention had been directed at the loss of his daughter’s bracelet. The same one she made before Noah left, the one he vowed never to lose.
On all fours, Noah waddled his way around his general area in a faint attempt to find the bracelet. As he stood up and peaked into the panda cage, he noticed the fat animal playing around with the object; slapping it around like a rag doll. Noah knew he had to get it back, but his fear of Giant Pandas was something he felt was out of his control.
As an enthusiastic zoology student, Noah used to have a great interest in the Chinese mammal that roamed the mountains of central China. More specifically Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu. After landing a solid internship from a friend of a friend of a friend, years ago Noah was on his way to the study these beautiful creatures in the wild. On a hot summer afternoon, while Noah observed the bears rolling around and eating bamboo, an unexpected visitor appeared nibbling on Noah’s Timberland boot; a baby panda. Moved by the plumb like belly and the soft round black marble eyes of the baby giant panda, Noah did the fatal mistake of picking it up. What followed was a roar that shook the foundations of every person and animal at the site. Mama giant panda was not happy. Dropping the baby on the ground, Noah scrammed along with his love for pandas. The only thing he carried with him from that moment was the memory of the bear charging at him, claws out, and an internal rage that hazed around the bear’s eyes. That is why Noah refused to take pictures of pandas with his daughter. They promised to take a picture with every animal on the planet (not including insects), but never the panda.
Nevertheless, the love for his daughter moved him enough to talk to a janitor that was cleaning one of the cages nearby, despite the language barrier.
– “Help. My bracelet,” fumbled Noah gesturing at his scratched hand, followed by a sharp precise point to the bracelet in the panda’s cage.
– “什么啊?” replied the old man.
After failed attempts of communication, and unrecognizable signs exchanged between him and the old man (one of which seemed to be offensive) Noah realized he was all alone. Noah knew now that those extra Chinese language courses he could have taken in college would have been useful to him, but he was young, broke, and foolish (a student stereotype Noah loved to indulge in). With no other option, Noah dove into the cage.
After the Panda had finished its thorough investigation of the bracelet (carried out by its nose, paws, and tongue) it turned around and walked back inside the cave. Seeing his chance, Noah leaped for the bracelet. As he picked it up with a smile across his face, Noah was suddenly faced by what seemed like a Panda army of four. Mamma panda, Papa panda, Baby panda, and Baby panda Two looked Noah dead in the eye. To the pandas’ understanding, Noah’s bracelet is theirs now. Dashing towards the door, Noah’s arch nemesis the Pinus armandii, appeared before his very eyes and he dropped the bracelet again. The pandas stood and watched in shock at how fast Noah was able to get from point A to point B.
Up again hovering the pandas, Noah’s phone started to beep. Picking up the video call and trying to hold his tears back, Noah pointed the camera to the pandas playing with the bracelet. A smile stretched across his daughter’s face. The panda fidgeting with the bracelet somehow managed to fit its fat paws around the foreign object.
– “Look dad! That panda is wearing my bracelet!”
The mother quickly screenshot the skype call, and the picture was later printed and framed.
Photograph by Ami Vitale