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Penguins on Chinese New Year

We were loaded up in the car ready for a long trip. Already a family of seven, we were pushing the car to it's limits with a plus one. Our uncle had decided to come along with us after some complex calculations involving:

his leg size x his body size x his fidgityness

__________________________

his happiness

We concluded that it was worth it because while he is over six-foot, he would definitely raise the group morale because of his happiness. Then we gave him the most coveted seat in the car (the front middle). With small people on either side, you get maximum leg room and seat room, plus panoramic views. However, he insisted on sitting in the back corner of the car with his long legs glued together and twisted uncomfortably against the seat in front of him in order to fit. And as if that was not enough torture for him, he tried to pull the front row's seat back so that those sitting there could be comfortable while leaning back unaware of the legs behind them being crushed.

But the drive was not a short one, so we began to play a game to pass the time. The game was called Contact, and for those of you who don't know it, it consists of screaming "CONTACT!, 3,2,1 ... " while on top of that is "NO IT IS NOT..." and others trying to yell "CONTACT!" Then the game quiets down for a bit only to be broken by a roaring "CONTACT!" and so on. This game is quite amusing for the passengers, however it is not considerate of the driver who already has the misfortune of having to deal with the steering wheel on the right side, also known as the wrong side, or not the left side. This added with driving on the wrong side of the road, not the right side, also known as the left side, makes concentration very important and six people screaming "CONTACT!" does not help. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to get us there in one piece, although some hearing may have been damaged along the way.

What do you think of when you hear the word penguin? Do you think of a six foot emperor penguin living in fear of polar bears, holding their eggs beneath their feet in the middle of a winter march? Do you think of happy penguins tapping away on the ice? Well, if you were educated on penguins solely by Disney movies, then you are like my sisters and are about to get a harsh awakening.

Upon arriving to the headquarters of the penguin center two of us were still under the impression that we would see the penguins from Happy Feet. However, after an hour of going through the gift shop with items that did not appeal with price or purpose, we regrouped outside of the overpriced tourist-trap. We were then told that we had a required touring of the museum that we had been avoiding by pretending that we could afford something in the gift shop and that we actually wanted it. When we visited the last third of the building that was home to the museum, two of us were changed forever. Like a dramatic conspiracy theory documentary, I can see highlights of text flashing out at them

"Penguins do not live in the same area as polar bears"

"Skuas (gull-like birds) will eat young penguins and eggs"

"The leopard seal is the main predator of penguins"

"Penguins that live in warmer water will be hunted by orcas and sharks"

And then the worst one of all hit them:

"Emperor penguins are only three to four feet tall"

With their childhood memories shattered and an iconic figure of their life shrunk to half its size, they walked out to see the one foot little blue penguins that we had come to see. When we met up with our guide we were handed a pair of headphones, a crazy-creek chair, and binoculars. She then went over all of the things that we couldn't do: Taking pictures with flash, taking videos with flash, taking pictures without flash, taking videos without flash, talking loudly, screaming with excitement (or disappointment if you hadn't been to the museum yet), touching the penguins, trying to touch the penguins, and running. We headed out in a group of ten, the seven of us together and a group of three we had never met. Our Uncle Bill was in another group because even with his expert bargaining and persuasion skills, he couldn't convince our guide to split up the group of three so that he could join our group. I almost thought that he was going to ask for his money back because the main reason he had come was to spend time with us, however, he accepted his defeat and left with the other group.

When we began our walk on the wooden boardwalk that ran through some of the penguins borrows, we would never have guessed how crowded it would become. As we arrived at our private bleacher and took out our crazy-creek chairs, we began to look for a brave penguin that would lead the march home. There would be an occasional "I see one" then, I, like many others, would begin to frantically ask "Where?" and "I don't see it." Then a flood of penguins came out of the water, waddling crazily. Our guide told us that this was the most stressful part of the day for them. As we ooed and awed in whispered tones, one of the penguins must have felt a wave hit his feet, unexpectedly spooking him. He then ran back into the ocean, causing a frenzy where all of the other penguins ran back with him. I could hear my uncle in the other group making fun of the penguins running away, while my dad and the guide were going over all of the shore birds visible.

When the last penguin came our direction we began to make our way back up the boardwalk. This experience was much like being a pinball in a pinball machine. Let me explain. In America everyone knows not to travel or do certain activities during big holidays; it's more expensive and a lot more crowded. In Australia, it is likely to be known not to travel or do certain activities during Chinese New Year. Our family learned this the hard way.

As we walked up the boardwalk we discovered why it was such a good idea to get the guided tour. Hundreds of Chinese tourists without guides were pressed up against the railing talking to each other with no noticeable effort to be quiet, some took pictures of the penguins, some took flash pictures of the penguins, and even some took selfies with the penguins. While our guide was trying to get us up the boardwalk, we were constantly bumped by tourists who do not even acknowledge you or try to apologize. Every once in a while we would stop to look at a baby penguin or a molting penguin too fat to walk. We would then have to leave due to the crowd of people pushing against us to see it. We would have to repeat this process of being smushed while trying to look at the penguins multiple times.

When we finally made it back to the penguin visitor center we turned in our gear and were invited to keep looking outside. My dad and I went back out to see that a penguin was crossing the board walk. As the people working there separated the crowd I heard a stern voice tell someone "Hey, there's no photography pal" in a tone that said that wasn't the first time tonight they had needed to say it. As I looked forward at the penguin crossing I realized that there was a 'guard' right in front of me blocking my view. Then I felt the push of Chinese tourists trying to see it by pushing me from behind. Finally as the penguin finished crossing, I went back into the penguin visitor center ready to leave. When we all got back together in the van we began the long ride home, with Uncle Bill in the back.

Here is a photo of a group of penguins arriving on shore:

Here is a photo of some of the other bleachers. There were more platforms from where the photo was taken, so you can see how packed it was!

Here is a picture of one of their burrows that they will return to at night: