The Zoo! (da jew!) Part I

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Korea Rep.  , Gwangju,
Saturday, June 19, 2010

In the past few weeks my social calendar has become rather booked.  I'm begining to feel like an honest to gawd socialite.  Of course, one must remember that I work full time and spend a lot of time studying Korean or hanging out with that boyfriend of mine, so in reality, my free time is not what Paris Hilton's must be.  

However, I digress.  What I'm trying to say is that we've managed to make a few friends.  One of the most interesting additions to my black book is a middle aged Korean couple from our neighborhood.  I was approached by the mother, who was volunteering as a crossing guard near my school, and asked if I'd like to be "friends."  This happens to me fairly often (Austin less so... probably because he's a guy) and I usually let the Korean in question have at least one date before I chuck them or continue the "friendship."  

We aren't allowed to tutor here in Korea, or we'll be sent home.  I know one case of a Busan couple getting caught and deported last year, and so it makes me a bit nervous.  Instead I settle for nice little social perks, like coffee or a dinner.  Of course, it isn't worth my time if the friendship isn't really two-sided, and so I don't really waste my time with those who can't speak very much English, or won't let me stumble over sentences in Korean.  Think badly of me if you may, but I'm not a walking English robot.

In this case, we were lucky to find a really interesting couple.  The woman is a very active housewife, who has recently entered Universiadae Ajuma club, which is intensive English for bored ladies, and in only a few months, has boosted her English past what it was when she studied it in college.  Which is really quite impressive.  Her husband is the lone Gwangju Zoo veterinarian, and works at the Gwangju zoo near Jisan Village, adjacent to Family land.

After a few successful meet-ups, they decided to take us on a trip to see their Zoo!

We arrived via secret gate, though normally visitors reach the Zoo via small novelty train.  The entrance is unimpressive and under construction, but it was a beautiful day and less hot than the preceding week, and so I was incredibly pleased.  If you have seen or do decide to visit this Zoo, be warned: it is a bit of a sad place.  The animals are in enclosures which these days the U.S. would ban, and people walk around feeding the animals candy and junk food snacks which can't be good for their digestion.  I say this because I'm about to gush about the Zoo.  

 The poor conditions of many of the animals was partially salvaged for me by the love of our Zoo vet friend for them.  He and his wife talk passionately about the state of the Zoo, and scheme for when he will be in charge, and drag the Zoo what westerners might consider acceptable standards.  The man has written and published 5 books on the animals at the Zoo, often anecdotal stories about their specific lives and antics, and clearly really really enjoys his work.  Which just plain makes me happy.  

Our first stop was the elephants:  all Asian from Thailand, with 9 adults and two new babies.  One is still a secret, because it is refusing to drink from it's mother's teat and so being hand-fed by zookeepers.  They usually keep the larger animal babies a secret for about a week until they're out of the woods (so to speak.)  The first baby elephant was just named Wari, after the Zoo, which is Wari Zoo.  Wari comes from a Chinese word meaning "the hill where cows graze" (rough rough translation.)

These elephants don't belong to the Zoo, but rather to a private owner who supposedly imported them from Thailand, along with two Thai handlers, who work at the zoo, and manage the elephants, including giving elephant rides, which we were happy to try!  I think I rode an elephant once as a child, but it might just be a memory I created, so I was excited to add large-animal-riding to my life bucket list!  The handler walks up to the elephant, gives a command for one raised leg, mounts onto the broad neck, and then steers with foot taps while we ride on the spine.

The owner plans to transfer the entire elephant troop to Busan at some point, which appears to be a soar spot with our friends, who are very fond of their elephants.  It seems there was negotiation about the transfer, and while Gwangju Zoo was deliberating, the deal went down behind closed doors.  So now they are understandably pissed.

 Carrots were also available for elephant feeding, and we too turns getting snotty from vacuum muscular trunks and intermittently demanding "Ah!" of one elephant, who had picked up a trick somewhere.  I could have stayed there all day, but we were on to the next animals, with lots to see... before we went, we received a hair from the elephant's head, which is apparently good luck.  

Next were giraffes, of which the Zoo has three: a mother, a father, and a new baby.  I think there are about 50 new births at the Zoo in the past few weeks, if you count the fruit bat and reptile babies-- which I do. It is Spring after all, and love is in the air and such.  Our Zoo Vet friend doesn't deliver all the babies, but is present especially with larger animals in case there are complications, and omnipresent afterwards, in case, which seems to be often the case here, the parents don't feel to great about their offspring and don't give it the proper care.  

It's been a busy few weeks for the Zoo Vet.

The adult male giraffe is named Millennium, (guess what, he's 10!) and the mother a contraction of pretty and giraffe, so roughly "Pretty giraffe."    They used to live in Seoul, and bidders paid a lot of money for the right to name them.  Today the baby's name eludes me, but at only a week or so old, it is already taller than me and eating well.  Giraffes give birth one at a time... which makes perfect sense to me, as it must be hard to fit that neck in their strangely shaped abdomens, and curved spines.  Something I've never actually noticed before is that they have 5 boney prominences on their skulls, not just two!  The big two, one in front, sometimes barely visible, and two on the posterior of the skull, all topped with a bit of black hair.

 Monkeys next.  New world monkeys that is... These we also fed carrots, which again I have mixed feelings on, but decided to view this not as my judgement on Zoo management but as a lucky gift from our new friends.  As a former and current primatology buff, this was pretty special.  One small monkey spent forever attempting to take small items from my purse and our friend's hand.  It was particularly interested in obtaining her handkerchief, but ultimately without success.  Monkeys always amaze me with how expressive their faces are.  Brows furrowing in frustration, brows cocked and eyes wide in mock surprise or attention.  Teeth bared in anger or intense focus displayed as they wait to catch an incoming fruit.  

to be continued... in Part II!
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