Li was the youngest in his family. He had two older brothers, Tian and Han, who thought they were stronger and more beautiful than Li. They had trouble relating to their little brother. They were always competing in games to see who was stronger but Li was not allowed to join them.
Li also looked a little different than his siblings. His right ear was longer than his left and it often fell into his face when he was running, making it so that he couldn’t see anything out of his right eye. Most pandas have small ears that stand upright on their heads. The others often made fun of Li. They called him “floppy ear” or “one eye.”
This made Li sad. His parents tried to comfort him by telling him that he was special. They always said they loved him as much as his brothers. But as nice as it was to hear, it didn’t comfort Li for long. Somehow, he always felt that all the other panda bears were watching him.
“Something is wrong with me,” the little panda thought to himself. He didn’t want to be different from the others. There was a place where he liked to go when he wanted to be alone, which was the case this morning. Li walked to the beach where an old wooden boat lay in the sand. It had not been used for a long time. In the boat, he could forget all his worries and let his fantasies run free.
Over time, Li had brought some things to the boat to make it special—an old blanket and a big bamboo pole for exercising. Today he was looking forward to the delicious bamboo shoots he had brought for lunch. After playing and exercising in the sand, he crawled into the boat and ate the goodies he had brought. He was exhausted and his belly was so full that he fell asleep. This had never happened before.
Suddenly, a strong wind began to blow, but the little panda didn’t wake up. Big waves carried the boat from the beach and into the open sea which raged as Li floated within what now looked like tiny walnut shell.
Li woke up the next morning on a beach, drenched in sea and rain water. In order to see, he threw his head back, keeping his long ear from blocking his view. Around him lay the bamboo pole and a few remaining broken boards from the boat. Everything looked so strange.
Li shook himself vigorously to check whether he was really awake or just dreaming, and to remove some of the water from his fur. There was no doubt about it: he was awake.
“Oh dear!” he cried in despair. “How did I end up here?” There was no one around to answer as he stood alone on the sandy shore of an unfamiliar island.
It was still raining heavily so Li sought shelter under a tree. When he was out of the rain, he realized that he was very hungry. At home, there would have been a delicious breakfast waiting for him right about now. Instead, he’d have to go in search of something edible in this strange place. Li felt queasy.
Suddenly something rustled in the nearby bushes. A creature with a small head and long neck slowly began to emerge.
“Is that a snake?” Li thought, frightened. He remembered his parents’ warnings about how some snakes are poisonous.
But no, this had to be something else because after the creature’s long neck emerged from the bushes, next came a large shell. The creature moved rather slowly on four small feet. Fortunately, it did not look dangerous, and the little panda gathered up all his courage to speak to it.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“My name is Patricia and I am the oldest turtle on this island. Who are you and where are you from? I have never met anyone like you before,” said the turtle.
Li told Patricia his whole story. He told her about his home and his family and that sometimes he felt sad because he looked a little different from the other panda bears. Li told her that he had accidentally fallen asleep in the boat, and hadn’t noticed the bad storm that left him stranded on this island.
“How am I going to find my way back? I miss my family already,” Li sobbed in despair.
The old turtle listened to Li very carefully, then said, “I wouldn’t have even noticed that you have a longer ear if you hadn’t told me. I also have a very different pattern on my shell than my fellow turtles do. We all have things that make us each unique! Don’t worry, I’ll help you figure out a way to get back home.”
Li calmed down a bit and nodded eagerly. Suddenly there was a lot of noise because a family of curious monkeys had surrounded the newcomer. They swung from one tree to another, screeching wildly and asking questions. The little panda didn’t know which of their questions he should answer first. The monkeys were so loud that more and more animals gathered around to meet the new visitor.
There was a tiger, two mighty elephants, a fox, a kangaroo, and a parrot with beautiful colorful feathers. Even the furry capybaras popped their heads out of the water, but quickly dived back under the surface again when they heard the commotion. All the animals had lived on the island for a very long time and were very curious about Li.
Li was overwhelmed. He was so exhausted from the journey and all the new impressions that his eyelids felt heavy, and he simply fell over. When he opened his eyes again, he was lying in a softly padded nest of grass. In front of him were ripe bananas, fresh leafy branches, berries, and many other delicious things.
He was so hungry that he tasted a little of everything. “Everyone is so kind to me here,” he thought. “I could get used to this.” Unfortunately, the good feeling didn’t last long. Li got a stomachache from all the treats. The animals had been very thoughtful, but they didn’t know which foods panda bears should and shouldn’t eat.
When Li told them that bamboo was a panda’s main source of food, Patricia let out a deep sigh. She said, “Unfortunately, there is no bamboo grass growing on this island. I know that for sure. But I will bring you some herbs to help make your stomachache go away.”
The parrot flew all over the island to doublecheck, but the turtle was right. “No bamboo in sight!” he confirmed.
Patricia was an old, wise turtle. She knew that one could not stay long in one place without the right food. So, she went to the elephants and asked them to get some logs from the forest to build a raft so that Li could go home. The other animals were given instructions on how to help build it. The capybaras, with their sharp and strong teeth, proved to be masters at working with the logs.
The monkeys thought it was great that there was finally something happening on the island. Instead of bickering and eavesdropping amongst each other, they could now observe the exciting goings-on. Everyone was busy assembling the raft as quickly as possible. Even the flamingo helped, although he usually did not like to get his feathers dirty.
With everyone’s help, and the raft was finished that same evening. The tiger checked the joint work, stood on the raft as a test, and said proudly, “You could go around the whole world in this. Well done, friends!”
Everyone cheered. Then Patricia approached the raft with a very serious look.
“I agree,” she said, “You’ve all done a great job. But the most difficult task is still ahead of us. We now have to find out where Li’s home is and find a helper who can swim very well to push the raft in the right direction.”
A silence spread over the group. Everyone was thinking hard.
“I have an idea,” said the parrot. “When I circle the island every day, I always see a dolphin in the water. Why don’t we ask him if he can help us?”
“Why didn’t I think of that? I must be getting old,” Patricia muttered to herself. “The dolphin is an old friend of mine. I’m sure he’ll be happy to help us.”
So, the parrot flew off to track down their helper. After a short time, he returned to the shore with the dolphin and Patricia explained Li’s situation.
“Of course I’ll help you! Someone just has to show me the way,” he said.
To be continued…