Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Poetry Temple on the Yangtze at Night… or we’ll buy some drugs and watch a band then will jump in a river holding hands.

Jennifer and I duck back into our room – room 308. A young man is taking things out of a backpack. We are all surprised. We have a new roommate. We must have acquired him at the waterfall port. He is Chinese. Jennifer asks him some questions in her rudimentary Chinese. He responds. I have no idea what is being said.

The ship docks, we are at the temple for the night tour. This is quite exciting to see a temple on a hill at night. Although Maureen has paid to take the tour, she decides to stay behind. There is a knock on the door. Jennifer opens it. A stranger is standing there. Our new roommate and the stranger converse while Maureen, Jennifer and I remain silent. We assume the two are friends. The roommate who will remain nameless leaves with his friend. Jennifer brushes her teeth.

Jennifer and I ask Maureen one more time if she is sure she does not want to see the temple. We have almost hit temple overload. Maureen tells us she would much rather stay in and rest. Jennifer and I head for land. We have two hours before the ship leaves. We hear from other passengers that a few travelers did not come back to the ship in time from the ghost town and they were left behind. We do not want that to happen to us.

Sometimes when the ship docks, it must tie itself to another cruise ship which means we must walk along the 1st floor deck of the ship to which ours has docked. The 1st floor, we have ascertained, is where the crew and the crews’ family bunk - and the people who are traveling 3rd class. We get an eyeful when we make our way through the first floor side deck. To see a young naked gypsy child frolicking around in a room is not unusual.

This time is no exception as we walk from our ship through another ship through yet another ship to the dock to the shore. The shore is lined with merchants selling Chinese food, trinkets, and artifacts. Some of the artifacts look interesting but I know they are actually just tourist trap crap.

Torches light the way to the temple. For the first time, I feel as if I have stumbled into the China of another time. My reverie is shattered by other foreigners yelling and taking snap shots. Jennifer and I make our way on to the temple.

On our approach to the temple, ticket stubs litter the rock path. I am annoyed that the temple tourists would just throw their stubs down at such a sacred peaceful place. As we step into the area where the ticket taker takes our tickets, the stub litter is explained. He rips the ticket in half and gives the traveler one half and throws the other half on the ground. The wind blows the ticket stubs all along the ground.

Jennifer and I walk up several flights of stairs to the temple which is perched on the top of the hill.

Once we are inside, a crowd is gathered in the entrance listening to one of the tour guides talking in Chinese. This does us no good. We do know that this is the temple famous for poetry. Wings of rooms are filled with poetry on slabs which of course we cannot read because the poetry is written in Chinese characters.

We aimlessly walk through the temple. We take in the magnificent view of the river town across the Yangtze which looks like a Lite Brite magnified and given life like a Chinese Frankenstein. “Do you think that you could make it with Frankenstein?”

We run into two other foreigners who Jennifer had met previously on the ghost town excursion. One of them is a Louisianan student studying in China. The other is from Denmark and he is doing some sort of research for National Geographic. They are both very gracious and kind. I tell them I am pleased to meet them. I do not hear the Louisianan’s accent and I ask him where he is from. He tells me Louisiana and embarrassed I laugh. I thought he was French.

The researcher has lots of ground to cover. They scuttle off. We then bump into Jack and Jeff. Jack smiles the whole time. Jeff translates some of the poetry for Jennifer. I am unimpressed but I act as if I am impressed. I am unimpressed until we enter a room with huge slabs of poetry written in wide scrawls.

This fantastic indescribable art from many centuries ago has a perfect looseness. Artists such as Steadman, Miro, Bacon, Kandinsky flash into my brain. Pop masterstrokes such as the Beatles ‘It’s All Too Much’ and Pavement’s ‘Summer Babes’ play in the my mind soundtrack. The characters are scrawled on huge slabs. ‘Someone scrawled on the wall "I smell the blood of les tricoteuses"’

I have my disposable camera I take a picture.

As Jeff explains all of the poetry slabs to Jennifer, I feign interest but then after the fourth or fifth similar explanation, I start back to the ship because the clock is ticking and we must be back to the ship within ten minutes. On the way back to the ship, I am tempted to shop for some artifacts but I do not have the energy and I do not want to lug them to the ship and from the ship to the bus and from the bus to the airport and through the airport to the plane and from the plane through the terminal in Shanghai and from Shanghai in the taxi home. I can buy any kind of Buddha I want near Songjiang.

When we first boarded the ship, our tour guide - who has only been around to give us entry tickets to attractions which we are charged double – told us the men have a separate shower on the ship if I do not want to use the tiny one in the room. Ever since we left Chongqing, I have fruitlessly looked for this mythical shower. Back on the ship, I wander around aimlessly, half-heartedly looking for this elusive men’s shower. The shower is nowhere to be found.

I head back to our cabin. Jennifer has returned. Maureen is writing. Our new roommate is in the cabin. Our cabin is turning into a clown car. Of course across the hall from us is the real clown car with what seems to be 10, 12, 16 people in a room that four people can barely squeeze into. Jennifer and Maureen try to make Chinese small talk with our new roommate but it is typically awkward.

Tomorrow we take the small cruise into the small three gorges. This is grand finale for the cruise. I love the idea of floating down the Yangtze - Chinese style – but I am ready for my own Western bed in Songjiang a district of Shanghai. For now, I sleep in my Chinese bunk on a ship floating down the Yangtze.


Post a Comment

<< Home