Taipei Zoo's two giant pandas made their debut yesterday, but visitor numbers were below expectations, with people from central and southern parts of the country complaining they had to wait in long lines while Taipei residents were able to get in without much delay.
In anticipation of viewing the two giant pandas, Tuan Tuan (團團) and Yuan Yuan (圓圓), some visitors arrived at the zoo before daybreak yesterday. By 8:30am, before the gates of the zoo were even opened, hundreds of people were lined up outside.
However, many visitors from outside Taipei complained of unfair treatment as holders of EasyCards — which are widely used for mass transportation within the city — could get in easily while the remainder had to wait in long lines to pay for their tickets.
A woman, surnamed Chen, said she and her family hit the road at 4am to arrive in time for the opening. Chen said she thought it was unfair that they had to wait in the cold, while they watched Taipei residents swipe their EasyCards.
“[The zoo] treats us like idiots,” she said angrily.
In response, the zoo said that of the 22,000 people allowed into the zoo per day, 4,000 spots were reserved for residents from central and southern Taiwan.
“This is how the zoo's rules have always been. We issued press releases way in advance,” Taipei Zoo director Jason Yeh (葉傑生) said.
Commenting on the political connotations of Taiwan's acceptance of the pandas from China, high school teacher Pan Wen-liang said: “Tensions have indeed eased, but we are the ones to determine our own future, and no charm offensives can sway us.”
Businessman Chang Chang-chun welcomed the easing of hostilities with China as he took his two children to the panda house.
“Now the Chinese are sending pandas rather than repeating their military threats against us, and that's a welcome sign,” he said.
Other visitors complained they were rushed past the panda enclosure in a matter of seconds, while vendors lamented that umbrella sales were greater than their panda merchandise.
“We were a bit disappointed,” said one woman, who came with her husband and two-year-old daughter. “There were lots of people and you couldn't see much. They were just sleeping.”
Some visitors also complained that it was not worth the long wait. The zoo had arranged for each visitor to spend 10 minutes in the Panda Hall after obtaining a number from one of the eight counters outside the entrance.
However, some said that because of the large crowds, they were hurried out of the Panda Hall after seeing the pandas for only one minute.
Visitors were not the only ones disappointed.
“The economy is bad. No one wants to part with their money,” said one vendor selling panda dolls outside the zoo.
Visitors also said that the parking rate of NT$50 an hour was too expensive. Some said they had to pay NT$300 in parking fees alone.
A man who had parked his car in the zoo said: “It doesn't seem reasonable to charge these rates during the holiday.”
“It's impossible to stay at the park for only an hour or so,” another said.
Taipei Zoo said a total of 18,580 people visited the zoo yesterday, about 3,000 short of expectations.
In addition to the outdoor and indoor display areas, the panda facility includes a gift shop, media center, tourist service center and a convention center.
Until the Lunar New Year holiday ends on Sunday, the zoo is open daily from 8:30am until 5:30pm. Normal operating hours (9am to 5pm) will resume on Monday.