Thailand: Panda-monium for newest Thai superstar

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    The pride of Thailand, with mom, Lin Hui.
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A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Soap opera divas here suddenly look minor-league celebs next to Thailand’s new superstar. Only a few weeks old, she’s still just the size of a guinea pig, with a mangy, amorphously babylike appearance.

It’s love at first sight for Thais, who have gone gaga over the country’s first native-born giant panda cub. Her daily doings at Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand have captivated the nation.

“We’ve had so many problems in Thailand, and this little panda is such a welcome change,” says Kannika Yuyen, a government administrator in Bangkok.

Media outlets invariably lead the day’s top stories with breathless updates about the cub’s progress. “Panda cub learns to suckle,” blares a front-page headline in a mass-circulation daily one day. “Lovely mom Lin Hui teaches her cub to crawl,” announces another headline the next day.

A closed-circuit TV system monitors the 1-1/2-lb. cub’s every movement. Images of her are becoming standard souvenirs as Chiang Mai cashes in on her fame to revive its flagging tourism industry.

The cub was born May 27 to Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui, pandas on loan from China. The Thai Foreign Ministry is already busy lobbying to keep the pandas beyond their planned return in 2013.

Despite her fame, the cub doesn’t yet have a name. She’ll get one in mid-August on Thai Mother’s Day after a national naming contest. Her caretakers, though, already call her Thai-zin-oheh, or “Thailand’s little superstar.”

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