Saturday, November 21, 2009

Much Ado about Communication with Pandas and Dogs

English a must for S'pore-bound pandas

Thu, Nov 19, 2009 The New Paper

IT is time for her furry charge to learn a new language: English.

Attendant Xu Yalin has been caring for - and speaking in the Sichuan dialect - to the 2-year-old male giant panda cub she has named "Wujie".

Together with a 1-year-old female cub, Wujie will be sent to Singapore for joint research in 2011.

And Ms Xu is worried that Weijie will not understand his new attendants here if they speak to him in English.

Now, when she calls out to him in Sichuan, "Wujie, Wujie, come out to eat!" he immediately responds and leisurely ambles out of his "house" within the Ya An panda reserve in Sichuan province.

The moment he spies the "wo wo tou" snack Ms Xu has for him, his movements speed up and he runs to the centre of the outdoor yard, reported Lianhe Zaobao.

A "wo wo tou" is a small, cone-shaped steamed bread made of corn.

Wujie then grabs the snack with his paws, plops down onto the ground and starts munching.

As the crumbs drop all over the cub, Ms Xu explains that giant pandas have poor sight and have to relyontheir hearing and smell.

She says that she has always spoken to Wujie in the Sichuan dialect and wonders how he would adjust to English-speaking attendants in Singapore.

"It is now time for the attendants to train them to understand English," she says, glancing over as Wujie starts licking the "wowotou" remains off the ground.

Ms Xu and Wujie were both transferred to the Ya An panda research centre from the Wo Long centre after the massive earthquake destroyed the latter.

Many pandas had run off during the earthquake.

When things settled down, many of the pandas returned to the centre on their own.

For their safety, the Chinese authorities decided to move all the pandas to Ya An.

Ms Xu is in charge of caring for four pandas, including Wujie and his twin brother, Wujun.

With a smile, she says: "Wujie is lively and more obedient. He likes doing these little actions, like licking his feet and kissing other pandas' faces."

She says Wujie's father was born and bred in the wild so the young panda is of good stock.

Of Wujie's imminent move to Singapore, she says: "I feel very emotional and can't bear to see him go. If I have a chance, I'll definitely visit him in Singapore."

I smiled when I read the above article in the New Paper. What a relief! The male panda is called Wujie, and he is going to be bilingual in Chinese and English. Animals are clever and they learn fast!

My first pet dog, Kamlette, a mixed Golden Retriever, which had since passed away was multi-lingual! She learnt the words, "Kai kai." Later, she associated "Jalan Jalan" (Malay meaning walk, walk). As I did not want to get her overly excited, as it would take me a while to get ready, I decided to use different words when communicating with my siblings, so that Kamlette would not understand. However, Kamlette was a clever dog and soon picked up all the words in different languages associated with going out!

Once, I was going to send my ex-student, Carrie, back as it was quite late. However, I could not find her leash as it was not in the usual place. If I could not find her leash, it meant, I would not be able to take Kamlette for her favourite car-ride as well. I always took Kamlette along when I sent friends home or off at the airport. Kamlette loved to feel the wind on her face.

Seeing that I was desperate, Carrie suggested, "Ask Kamlette where her leash is", and she started to giggle, laughing at her own ludicrous idea.

Half in jest, I asked, "Kamlette, where is your leash?"

To my surprise, I could see her bending her head down as she squinted her eyes and racked her brains, and soon she lifted her head up and ran to the kitchen and started barking at the window panes.!

True enough, there was her leash, hanging from a handle on the window pane.! Carrie and I laughed with joy. It suddenly dawned upon me that dogs can think and recall!
I later found out that my tenant had taken Kamlette for a walk earlier in the day, and he had hung the leash at the window pane, instead of putting it back in its usual place.

Once I visited the Spastics Association in Ipoh, a centre established by Datuk Jeyaratnam. I visited one of the member's home. He was Raju, an Indian man who had fallen down while climbing a rambutan tree. His leg was badly injured and he had to be on wheelchair and crutches. Suddenly his pet dog, Shanti, was excited, and Raju said something to her in Tamil, and the dog got even more excited and ran towards the windows and started barking. Raju had told him that mother had come home. Shanti loved Raju's wife, and would always eagerly await her return from work.

How I envy Xu Ya Lin for her wonderful job of looking after some giant pandas. She will definitely be sad to see the pandas leaving for Singapore. Pandas are such gentle giants, and they will certainly bring joy to visitors at the new River Safari.

I am happy that we have so many things to look forward to in Singapore now - the new Integrated Resort, Entertainment Parks, new and additional MRT lines, and of favourite - the gaint Pandas!

Gan Chau

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