And here in the Hong Kong newsroom, I inevitably get asked for my reaction.
You see, I'm known as the resident "panda hater." Go ahead, flog me with bamboo. I have long held the view that the giant panda is the Kim Kardashian of the animal world. It has big eyes, curves in the right places, and is ever-photogenic. It gets by on its good looks alone, while more deserving animals (the Yangtze River crocodile, hello??) are simply ignored by the world's animators and toy-makers.
Unfair, I say!
Not only that, the panda behaves in ways that are simply counter-intuitive to staying alive. It eats bamboo when its body is not adapted to digest it. It rarely mates and requires human intervention to prolong the species - so much so that zookeepers have resorted to screening "panda porn" to encourage coupling.
Many others have refused to pander to the panda, including wildlife expert Chris Packham who said they "should be able to die out" and the Animal Review which gives the giant panda an "F" for "occupying valuable zoo space while bringing little to the table."
I have shared their disaste, and paid the price for it. Over the years, I've received gifts of panda candy, panda toys and "I heart panda" buttons from friends and colleagues all with the intent to wind up the hater in me. My Operations Supervisor made sure to give me a stuffed Jing Jing, the panda mascot from the 2008 Beijing Games described as "charmingly naive and optimistic."
I strung the plush diva up in my kitchen as an ironic tchotcke.
And then, I became a mother.
When my daughter was 6-months-old, I caught her searching for the swinging panda in the kitchen. Twelve months later, she would point at the stuffed doll say "panda" in both English and Chinese. I eventually took Jing Jing down and handed it over to my little one. The tchotcke became her chum.
I decided to take her to Hong Kong's Ocean Park to visit its panda habitats. Sure enough, the pandas were a no-show. They were simply too occupied sleeping in the backroom to stroll out and let a 2-year-old take in all their fuzzy fabulousness. My toddler, along with another young visitor, were in tears. And I sensed the panda hate starting to rise again.
But then, it appeared. A giant panda wandered straight toward us and sat down, just two meters away, to eat its bamboo breakfast. My daughter started to describe its eyes, ears and actions. She was mesmerized. I was mesmerized. That damn panda made my heart melt.
I am no longer a "panda hater." But I should admit, I do feel a tinge of pride when my daughter asks to see the Asian alligator instead. I want her to be a daring girl who is willing to venture beyond the cuddly... and yet willing to admit, yep, that was cute.
Just don't get me started on Kim Kardashian.