When you went to the zoo as a kid, which animals were you most excited to see? Monkeys? Lions?
How about dogs? Or a pig?
If you visit the small zoo attached to the Guanlan Mountain & Lake Garden Farm in Shenzhen, China, you won’t find the first two, but you’ll find plenty of dogs, cats, pigeons, pigs and other similarly exotic animals. And their sad eyes will bore into your soul from behind the rusty bars of their tiny, filthy cages.
Right after entering, you’ll see cats in small glass boxes. Next to them, mice fill another glass box. I looked for a removable divider between the boxes, figuring the owners simplified feeding time, but couldn’t find one. Maybe I should have made a suggestion. After the cats, comes the dog above and a bunch of other dogs who don’t even get their own cages.
Then the zoo’s most exotic animal:
It took ten minutes to get that photo, since I had to wait for a steady stream of peace-sign-flashing Chinese tourists to finish posing in front of his cage. You can see how excited he is by all the commotion.
Following the popular alpaca, several rarely-seen species:
Many of the cages were affixed with this sign:
You might think this is a cruel joke, but it’s China. They’re completely serious; not the slightest hint of irony.
After all the exotic animals comes the main attraction, the reason everyone enters this zoo: the animal show and its spectacular grand-finale:
The show begins with a goat walking across a high-beam. Then a goat-tamer (AKA teenager working her way through college) places a vase on the beam. The goat steps up onto the vase and maintains perfect balance. Next another vase goes on its head. Then a ball. Perfect balance.
Finally, the goat’s shining moment. A monkey climbs on its head and poses. Just when you think it can’t get more amazing, the monkey does a handstand on the goat’s head while the goat balances on the vase, and the whole lot balance on the beam.
The crowd eats it all up:
Then comes the moment you’ve been waiting for. The moment everyone’s been waiting for. It’s time to force some pigs off a diving platform. They call it “pig diving,” but it’s more like “pigs falling off platform and flopping into water.” The Chinese crowd goes crazy. They jump out of their seats and lean over the barrier to get the best photo possible. I got shoved out of the way and ended up with photos that look like this:
After their dives, the pigs are supposed to swim to the end of the little river and line up for an exciting pig race. They didn’t. Two ran off in the other direction, one decided to stay in the water and another found a clump of flowers for a pre-race snack. The staff chased after them with bamboo rods and eventually got them to line up at the start.
One pig false started. No one cared and the others were quickly chased forward. The false start made no difference, since that pig found a new clump of flowers to snack on. The others flew past the frantic spectators and their clicking cell-phone cameras.
A pig won. Another pig came in second. A third kept eating flowers. My heart was pounding. And then…it was over. The pigs went back to their cages and the onlookers filed out of the zoo. But they didn’t stop chattering about the historic photo finish they’d just witnessed live and in person. A pig beat out another pig by a snout to take the title of Shenzhen’s Fastest Hog. I’ll never forget the day.
If you’re ever passing through Shenzhen, go see anything else. If you’re stuck there for a longer period of time, there’s still plenty of other things to do. If you work there and your company takes you on a trip to the Guanlan Mountain & Lake Garden Farm, you might as well pop into the little zoo and watch animals suffer.
And then go for lunch. The park is famous for its restaurants and coincidentally, they all feature multiple pork dishes. Just in case you were wondering what became of the flower-eater…
For suggestions on far more interesting things to see and do in Shenzhen, go here.