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Panda-mania grips Taiwan as Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrive
(China Daily/Agencies)
Updated: 2008-12-24 08:47

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan arrived in Taipei gripped by panda-mania Tuesday. You would think David Beckham or Tom Cruise had just flown into the city.

Local TV stations announced the arrival of the two giant pandas with the rolling headline: "We're coming!" TV anchors working the story have given viewers across Taiwan every detail imaginable about the four-year-old pandas -- from the fruit and corn buns they love to eat to hopes they will mate at the Taipei zoo and produce a cub.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, the two giant pandas from the mainland, are seen in the quarantine area at Taipei zoo in Muzha December 23, 2008. The panda pair from southwest Sichuan Province is a goodwill gift from Beijing. [Xinhua] Click for more photos

The panda couple were sent as a gift from the mainland to Taiwan in the latest sign of rapidly improving relations across the Straits.

The couple touched down at Taipei Taoyuan airport after a three-hour flight from Chengdu in Sichuan. Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, with their combined name meaning "reunion" in Chinese, were carried aboard a special Boeing 747 plane of Taiwan's EVA Airways with three pilots and 10 stewards in line with "treatment for a head of state".

They left a breeding base in Ya'an of Sichuan at around 8:20 am Tuesday and were taken on a truck to the provincial capital of Chengdu, about 120 km from Ya'an, and from there, left for the island by air.

Seventeen Chinese dove trees from the Beichuan Qiang autonomous county in Sichuan also arrived with the pandas. They were presented to express gratitude from earthquake victims to Taiwan people for their help after the May 12 devastation.

The pandas arrived a week after expanded transportation and postal links across the Taiwan Straits started.

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Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan "will sow the seeds of peace, solidarity and friendship on Taiwan's soil, with the good wishes of 1.3 billion mainland compatriots," said Zheng Lizhong, vice-minister of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office at a send-off ceremony at Chengdu airport.

"They will also witness with us the beautiful prospects of peaceful development of cross-Straits relations and the future of common prosperity," Zheng said.

The pandas' voyage was minutely chronicled by Taiwan's effervescent media. Newspapers carried front-page photographs of the pandas in their native Sichuan habitat, and TV stations followed the flight of the green-liveried Eva Airways jet carrying the animals to Taipei.

The pandas have become "sweethearts" on the island, with their cartoon images being displayed at bus stations and the airport entrance. Merchandise of the two pandas has been a big hit in Taiwan.

At the Taipei airport, softball-sized ceramic images of the pandas sell for $100 in the departure terminal. At shops in the city, stuffed pandas or panda mobile phone ornaments are on sale. Taipei's zoo, where Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan will be shown to the public, is also stocking up on toys with as many as 30,000 people expected to walk through the panda' garden-like hillside enclosure each day.

The pandas are expected to remain in quarantine for 30 days before making their public debut.

The island's largest bookstore chain, Elite Books, put DVDs about the bears on a highlighted counter. Most department stores on the island are selling stuffed panda toys and stationery bearing their images.

For their first meal, the zoo prepared a specially-made menu including Sichuan bamboos from the pair's birthplace, bamboos grown in Taiwan and also 1.2 kg of steamed corn bread blended with Sichuan and Taiwan flavors.

Eager onlookers awaited their arrival, though all they saw was the red, panda-ornamented tarpaulin covering their cages.

"I am sure the panda enclosure will be the most popular destination in the zoo when Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan complete their quarantine," said a woman surnamed Lin at the zoo's media department.

Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan - and their new, two-story habitat - will be unveiled to the public during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday late next month.

Taipei Zoo said Tuesday that Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou and honorary Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan would be invited to attend the opening ceremony.

Li Jiaquan, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the arrival of the pandas in Taiwan well explains the meaning of the Chinese idiom - a good task takes a long time.

The mainland's panda offer, made as early as in 2005, had been rejected by Taipei until this March when newly-elected island leader Ma Ying-jeou said Taiwan welcomes the pandas.

KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung said at a forum in Shanghai over the weekend that the pandas are "the most lovely angels of peace".

However, some members of the pro-independence camp led by the Democratic Progressive Party have called the pandas "a tool for the mainland's reunification bid" and asked people not to visit them.

"The pandas are just lovely animals without any political belief. There is no need to create tension," Li said.