Jennifer, Maureen, and I walk along the sidewalk and enjoy the Chongqing night. We pass peddlers peddling fruit and foul. Jennifer buys a bundle of lychees. Gangs of teens pass as we walk toward a cross we see sticking out above the rooftops. We pass couples walking, holding hands. We walk down a street off of the main road. We turn a corner and see the church which turns out to be nothing special. We continue our walk around the block. A department store is having a sidewalk sale. I briefly check out the cotton blend clothing which has the relevancy of a coke dealer. While Maureen looks for t-shirts that will fit her small round body, I find a perch on the edge of a planter planted with bushes. In these bushes, I see rats scurrying for cover. I have come to close to their home. Jennifer comes over. I point out the rats. We see a discarded cigarette pack. I tell her the rats are smokers. Maureen comes over. She did not find a t-shirt.
We walk on into the night. We hail a cab. We head back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, Jennifer sees several missed calls on her cell phone from the woman who is giving us our tickets for the cruise. This is worrisome that she called so many times. We assume we will have tickets.
Maureen fills in some of the blanks regarding her life for us. She was a music teacher for many years in Australia until a kindergarten teacher plowed into her which messed her up. She can no longer play piano. She now has a constant ringing in her ears.
When she could no longer teach music, she decided to teach Japanese. Of course, she had one problem. She did not know Japanese. For three years, while she was raising her son and daughter, she studied Japanese full time. This amazes Jennifer and me. Through sponsored Australian school trips, she has visited Japan several times.
I brush my teeth and ready myself for bed. We do not drink the water from the tap in China. I boil some in the kettle. I have to wait for it to cool a bit before I can rinse. I write in my journal. Maureen and Jennifer are playing a solitary Japanese number game. I rinse my mouth with hot water. Maureen puts her number game down and goes to sleep. Jennifer and I follow suit.
In my dreams, I dream of my friend David (‘Walk Softly,’ ‘Dive into the Sea’). It is a warm Christmas. I have a present for him - a Beatles poster, a black and white copy of the ‘Hello Goodbye’ picture sleeve single. While I am wrapping it, my mother tells me she is sorry that she has not bought me anything. I am younger when presents mean something. I tell her I don’t mind; she has been sick. I think in my mind in my dream I am a bit disappointed but then in my mind in my dream I think about it and I am not. I take the present to David. The room in which we open the present is bright and airy with no furniture. He opens the present and it is a black and white poster of a racing horse. Somehow I wrapped the wrong present. I am embarrassed. I wake. I am in a hotel room in China
This feels like a drug deal. The morning is a hot one. The air conditioner is not cooling our room. Our room feels how I imagine a seedy hotel room in Thailand would feel during some ex-pat coke deal gone awry. Our cruise connection (Suzy Cruise) is ushered into the room by Jennifer. She has entered a hibernation tank. All of us are starting to move. The time is 10 am. I am in my gym shorts. Suzy Cruise tells us our options for tours within the cruise. She is very efficient. She rattles off our options in clipped English. She tells us we pay 80% of the advertised price for the tours within the cruise. The three of us opt for the temple, the ghost town and the cruise within cruise through three gorges. Jennifer decides to take the bus over the dam as well. This does not interest Maureen and me. Dams do nothing for me. I saw Hoover Dam when I was 10 and I was unimpressed. Suzy Cruise keeps fanning herself and saying ‘hot’. She tells us the hotel where we are staying is not the best. We ask her if we paid too much. She does not understand or does not want to tell us. We pay her the money for the cruise. Mine comes out to 827 rmb. Suzy Cruise exits as quickly as she came in.
We quickly pack our bags and take them down to the lobby. We check out of the hotel and leave three bags a jacket and a pillow (both of the latter items belonging to me) with the concierge while we look for a bus to the zoo. The bus station is just around the corner from the hotel. The taxi driver who dropped us at the hotel dropped us in the bus station parking lot and overflow area last night when we came in.
For ten minutes we wander around fruitlessly looking for our bus. We go into the bus terminal but are shooed away by a guard. I tell Jennifer and Maureen the bus terminal looks more like the long distance kind and not the local kind. Finally we see some busses in a line pulling into the parking lot and overflow area. The bus we are looking for is one of those. We had walked right past it when we left the hotel. Maureen says the Chinese word for zoo when we get on the bus. The ticket taker nods her head yes.
Chongqing is green like Atlanta. The road the bus chugs along at points lends views to the Yangtze River. What we have in store on the river keeps entering my mind. I have never taken a cruise. This cruise will be even stranger than other cruises because we know that it will mainly be the Chinese.
The bus ride to the zoo is 45 minutes to an hour which anything over 20 or 25 minutes makes me wonder if we missed our stop. Recently, I have learned to be mellow. I do not let those sorts of things bother me. If we miss our stop, the worst thing that could happen is we don’t have time to see the zoo and we must get a taxi back to the hotel to pick up our bags. I keep this in mind as we chug along. At points, I do forget that I am in China and I wonder if I am in Jackson, Portland, Birmingham but then I see all of the Chinese and I remember I am in China.
A block from the zoo, the ticket taker points and nods. We get off the bus and head in the direction she pointed. We follow the crowd. We see the tour bus parking lot. We walk past trinket hawkers into the zoo.
Maureen and Jennifer want to see the pandas. We head for the panda area first. Pandas are nocturnal. They are sleeping. We see panda butt. We head on into the depths of the zoo. I am hungry. We walk out of the panda area up a steep hill toward the giraffes. Maureen after we have climbed almost all the way up the hill sees a hippo on its side in a pool at the bottom of the hill. I stay behind and people watch. I realize I do not mind walking (as an ex-New Yorker you must be somewhat passionate about walking) but I hate inefficient walking. That is why I stay behind and people watch. People walk by and say hello. Some people take photos of me. I am as photogenic as a chimp. I lose Maureen and Jennifer. Now, I realize I should have set up a rendezvous point if we got seperated. I try to spot them. I have lost them. Again, the worst that happens is I figure out a bus to the hotel by myself or a cab to the hotel by myself. I try not to hyperventilate. I see them. They are walking up the several flights of stairs from the hippo to where I am. I ask them if they want to get something to eat.
Down near the hippo is a food stall. We walk back down. We will not be seeing the giraffes on this trip. Various cups of noodles are available along with hotdogs or something that resembles hotdogs. I almost order one of these meat mysteries and Jennifer advises me not to. I follow her advice. I buy a cup of noodles for 3 kuai . While I eat, I listen to old men hawk loogies. The noodles set fire to my lips. I would like to have a soda. I ask Jennifer and Maureen if they saw sodas sold at the food stall. Maureen said they did not sell beverages at the food stall. People are sipping beverages all around me. Jennifer looks more closely. They do sell beverages food stall. I go and get a Pepsi.
We see a sign that says ‘Ape’s Hall.’ We follow it. The monkeys are pinned up in a dank building which looks as if it was quickly slapped together back in the 1950s. This monkey building has paint or repair work since Buddy Holly’s plane went down. This is truly a sad sight. The monkeys are being pelted with corn puffs by kids and adults. There are no rules about conduct anywhere that I can see. Of course, it there are rules, I would not know because they would be written in Chinese. Jennifer is captivated by the monkeys. The smell and the despondency of the monkeys depress me. Maureen tells me corn puffs are not what the monkeys should be eating like I did not know that. The remainder of our zoo time is darkened by the monkeys’ sad captivity.
The majestic leopardess sits with her cub in a concrete cell and stares down the onlookers. She is the Queen of Sheba caged. She is Eartha Kitt’s muse.
Sometimes it seems as if the world I once knew has been wiped out, the culture of the past wiped clean. Suddenly, the Wizard of Oz, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Black Sabbath, Judy Garland, Cary Grant never existed. Back Street Boys, J, Angela, and Westlife replaced the idols of yore. I walk through this. I cannot tell anyone because they would not believe me.