Siberian tigers and bad Russian food

4 02 2010

Siberian tigers are big. Real big. Big enough that the African lions in the cage next door look somewhat small – or at least mid-sized – by comparison. I’m sure you ask yourself “Why are there African lions in a cage in a wild animal park in Harbin, where the temperature routinely drops in the low negative-20s or 30s? Suspend disbelief, my friends…

So after the snow festival, we took a cab over to the wild
animal/Siberian tiger park. Both of us had heard mixed reviews about the park, which was originally started to help the endangered tigers start repopulating but evolved into more of a curiosity. After a short wait at the park, we were herded onto a mini-bus, which was outfitted with lots of iron bars – either to keep tigers out or us in, I’m not so sure. Apparently several people have been killed by tigers at the park since its inception, but we thought we’d test the fates, and since I’m blogging now, it’s safe to say at least one of us emerged unscathed. So the mini-bus cruised around the park, and the tigers and some lions ambled up. The way it works is, if you pay extra money, you can have animals – ranging from a 50 RMB chicken on up to a 1,000 RMB ox – fed to the tigers. If you pay for an animal, you ride out in a small jeep, and the live animal is flung out of the vehicle. The tigers pounce, and sometimes, to sexy it up a little bit, they end up jumping on top of car trying to get to the food. In our case, no one bought an animal to be flung, but we got a good amount of up-close views of the animals. After the ride, we wandered around a walk-way where we encountered an old woman selling chickens – live chickens – out of a small cage at her feet.
Here is how it works: You pay 50 RMB and the woman takes a chicken, squawking, and ties it by the legs to a big stick. This stick is lowered through the bars out and over the area where the tigers roam around. If they’re hungry, the tigers leap up and eat the chicken, or attempt to, and you have the option of letting the tigers feast, or you can pull the chicken up, sort of like you’re fishing. We didn’t buy a chicken, but an American teacher who was part of the party named Owen did. In Owen’s defense, and according to him, due to his “liberal guilt” he decided just to toss the chicken in the air and let the tigers chase it, as opposed to letting them maul the bird on its stick. (I know this sounds crazy) So he lofted the chicken up, and, well, let’s just say that tigers’ reputation as killing machines is not unjustified. Unfortunately, while he was doing it, a group of children saw him and decided they wanted to feed a chicken to the tigers as well. They of course had no qualms about holding the stick over the hungry tigers. I decided that I had seen enough at this point, so I headed down the walkway, where I saw Missy almost get attacked (saved by the metal chain link protecting her) by a jaguar which leapt up at her when she was taking a picture. The jaguar was waiting for its chicken, you see. After I had comforted her, I turned around to see a 500-lb Siberian tiger leaping on top of the walkway (protected by some all-too-thin metal bars and tarp) to eat the childrens’ chicken. For a moment, I thought I was going to get to watch a Sibertian tiger eat some small children and then get to test my reflexes and ability to fight it off, but luckily, the tarp and metal held, and apparently the tiger was sated and headed back to the ground to pluck the feathers from the chicken before he ate it (yes, they do this).
After the tiger park, Missy and I (with Owen in tow) bartered to find a taxi not trying to rip us off and headed back to the hostel, had a brief respite, then all joined up to eat some stunningly mediocre Russian food at this place called Tattoc. I hope Tattoc is not a measuring stick from which to measure Russian cuisine from, because, oh lordy, not exceptional.
And that was our night.
Alright Missy, you’re up.




One response

4 02 2010

The Russian food I had in Russia was pretty good; the fruit soups and borsch were fantastic!

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