Gimmick or not, soothsaying pandas are a big draw at Asian Games | other | Hindustan Times
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Gimmick or not, soothsaying pandas are a big draw at Asian Games

other Updated: Nov 18, 2010 02:33 IST
Ajai Masand
Ajai Masand
Hindustan Times
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Paul the Octopus, may be dead, but the 12-odd giant pandas, especially brought to Guangzhou from Sichuan province, in southwestern China, are keeping the art of prediction alive!

Housed in the Chimelong Giant Panda Centre, Xiangjiang Safari Park, Guangdong, these not-so-gregarious animals have added to the attraction of the Games. A dozen or so buses go to the protected area, a good five hours from Guangzhou, daily.

But those who have seen these animals say they are cuddly creatures.

"Paul the Octopus (which predicted the result of matches in the football World Cup, even calling the ultimate winners right) is passé. We have our own version of prediction-makers," says Zhang Qin, a volunteer at one of the computer kiosks at the Main Press Centre.

Though she has not visited the safari park, Qin says she has seen pandas in flesh and blood, but never knew they could predict the results of matches.

Of course, the burly animals get some 'help' from their handlers in 'predicting' the results but on quite a few occasions they have come up with the name of the winner right.

It all started when, before the opening ceremony, panda Bo Si, was given to predict the first gold-medallist at the Games.

A bamboo shoot represented the Chinese player and an apple a player from another country. The panda picked up the bamboo shoot, and Chinese wushu exponent Yuan Xiaochao won gold, leading to speculation that it could be the rightful claimant to Paul's job.

Critics say it is a gimmick to attract people --- who have largely been absent at the venues --- to the Games. Each panda has been given the task of predicting the outcome of a specific discipline.

Bosi, who is described as smart and quick by its handlers, is predicting the results in martial arts, while Hui Hui predicts winners in the pool, for, handlers, say, she loves water.

But Zoi, another volunteer, says, bamboo shoot is the staple diet of the pandas, "so whichever side the shoot is placed, the voracious eaters will choose the name of that competitor". Moreover, with China already nearing the 100 gold-medal mark, picking the bamboo shoot is only a formality.

Paul the Octopus, perhaps, had a tougher job.

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