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Pandas Return

In Updates on February 13, 2011 by triotriotrio Tagged:

This week another set of Pandas were returned to the People’s Republic of China. Although I noticed this story was not covered on CNN, Fox News or even USA Today. Perhaps it is not as famous as the return of Tai Shan (Wonder Panda from the Washington National Zoo), but to me it was nonetheless a significant event.

The Giant Pandas in question are a ceramic pair of salt and pepper shakers (Made in China) that I bought when my first grade class visited the National Zoo. The figures depict Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, the two pandas given to the United States as gifts by the government of China following President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972. They were delivered to our apartment from the cargo company that shipped all of belongings from Washington, DC to Hong Kong.

These pandas are important to me for several reasons. And without a doubt they are the item that I would grab if the preverbal house was on fire and I could only save one thing. Here is their story:

It was a bright spring day in 1976 when the first grade class from Sacred Heart Elementary School pulled into the National Zoo. The bus was filled with excited young children in matching blue and green plaid parochial school uniforms. We were at the zoo for one primary reason, to see the new Giant Pandas on display. I remember in particular a girl name Debbie, her family ran the local Chinese restaurant, was ecstatic. She told everyone how important the Panda was to her culture. This in turn made everyone charged with excitement.

In preparation for the trip my mother was kind enough to give me two dollars (a small fortune in those days) for lunch and other necessities. But when I approached the concessions stand, I saw those two ceramic pandas up on the stand. And the price was two dollars. I decided to forgo lunch and instead bought those mementos.

As the bus rolled back to Baltimore later that day, Sister Francis was monitoring bus activity when she noticed me clutching my prize.  She inquired what I was holding and I proudly told her my tale. In one of the most turd sandwich comments that I have ever heard she said to me, “Just because you have two dollars, doesn’t mean that you have to spend two dollars.” Those of are fifteen words that I have never forgotten.

So nearly thirty-five years later, those two pandas are dearer to me than any other material object in the world. Take that Sister Francis … It was the best two dollars that I have ever spent.

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9 Responses to “Pandas Return”

  1. Love this story! Robert, can I share it with the Museum Project class? We’re studying the “impact” of museum experience and your panda story certainly had/has impact!

    • @Ruth That’s funny. I have never thought of myself as a “case study.” Of course not of this impact is a positive one. Deep seated loathing is rarely taught in Museum Studies classes. Of course it does speak to my propensity to collect. 🙂 Please share with anyone.

  2. i’m trying to remember sister francis.. she may just be another repressed memory?
    what people will not appreciate about this story is that a Trio always eats.. ALWAYS. a true sacrifice on your part!

  3. Robert, I too had many nub-related experiences in elementary school. I think what you just touched on is the seed of “Catholic Guilt” being planted. When it happens it stays with us for a lifetime.

  4. What a wonderful, warm, charming, memory. I’m sure the pandas have a special place in your new home. Do you have enough bamboo to keep them happy?

  5. Robert, this is hilarious. Love the panda figurines, too.

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