A pair of giant pandas, given by Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the mainland, arrived in the territory to a celebrity's welcome Thursday.
The pandas were welcomed by Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi- ping, who also announced their new names, Le Le and Ying Ying - which, respectively, mean "happiness and optimism" and "graceful and plentiful."
Ho and the leader of the State Forestry Administration, Zhao Xuemin, jointly signed a handover certificate officially transferring the care of the 20-month-old panda cubs to the SAR.
The pandas left the China Conservation and Research Center in Wolong, Sichuan, at 7.30am following a farewell ceremony performed by local children in traditional costumes.
Accompanied by five experts, veterinarians and their respective carers, the cubs traveled in specially designed cages to keep them comfortable and relaxed during their journey.
After their arrival in Hong Kong, the pandas, still in their cages, were wheeled to an Ocean Park truck which was renamed "Panda Truck" and specially designed for the purpose under the supervision of the Transport Department.
The young pandas, both born in 2005, with the male being eight days older, also bear the responsibility of making babies.
"We wish the pandas will live happily in Hong Kong. More importantly, we hope they will make babies soon. Better still, we hope they will follow what Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has asked of Hong Kong couples - to have at least three children," Ho said at the airport ceremony.
Ho also expressed his gratitude to the central government for giving Hong Kong a pair of young giant pandas in addition to An An and Jia Jia, which arrived in 1999.
"This fully demonstrates the love and support of the central government for Hong Kong," he said.
Speaking in Zhengzhou, Henan, Tsang said Le Le and Ying Ying were precious gifts from the central government and he hoped the pandas enjoy their lives in Hong Kong and have offspring.
Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman said Hong Kong could not have had a better anniversary gift than the new pandas.
He said there was rain in Wolong Thursday morning because the center was already missing the pandas, but the bright sunshine at Chek Lap Kok when they arrived in the afternoon symbolized a sincere welcome for the new residents.
He said Ocean Park was ready to take care of the new pair.
Asked about the names of the pandas, a mainland citizen on a business trip, Miss Zhang, said: "Le Le is a nice name with a clear meaning, but Ying Ying is not."
A Hong Kong resident, Miss To, who was with her five-year-old daughter, said she preferred the names of the earlier arrivals - An An and Jia Jia.
The names were selected from a competition run by the Home Affairs Bureau which attracted 13,000 entries.
Discounting duplications, a total of 6,700 pairs of names were collected.
According to the bureau, Le Le was the single most popular name, put forward by more than 1,000 participants, with 70 percent proposing the name for the male. The panel decided "happiness" suited the active character of the giant panda previously known as 606.
Among the 150 female names matching Le Le, the panel decided Ying Ying was best suited to bring out the lovely character of panda 610.
Nineteen people submitted the names of Le Le and Ying Ying and one of them will be chosen for an eco-tour to Wolong to visit giant pandas with two relatives or friends.
According to their carers in Wolong, the pandas were addressed in Cantonese, English and Putonghua during their training to prepare them for the sounds they will hear in Hong Kong.
It is expected the cubs will make their public debuts on July 1, the 10th anniversary of the handover.