Sunday, June 03, 2007

First Attempt

The humidity hangs heavy in the air even at seven this morning. I step out of the shower, dry myself off and then wonder if I have actually done so. Undoubtedly it will be another day of Beijing belly, and I’m not talking about the Beijing belly one gets from eating the mystery meat. No, this is the local style amongst the men here…a T-shirt rolled up to halter status and glaring Buddha belly sort of look. Nice. At least it's not a Speedo.

I glance out the window and for a moment watch the locals hustling about their business. The men’s Mahjong boards are already set up on a makeshift table under the shade of an unstable umbrella and a few sparse trees. They study the board with brows furrowed as seriously as if they are generals of armies deciding on great strategic defense. A woman stands in the doorway of her shop, arms crossed, surveying the street for customers. Another man quickly sets up his portable shoeshine business…a rickety old stool and a few rags.

I decide that if today is the day, I best be off. I make my way out into the narrow alleyway and am surprised at the intensity of the heat so early in the morning. Propaganda blares from the speakers through the open doors of the shops wafting out into the streets along with a variety of distinctly pentatonic sounding songs and a symphony of continuously blaring horns in the background. Putrid smells ooze up from the sewers smacking me suddenly as they intermingle with the smell of the fried ducks hanging in the windows, various bodily odors of those passing by me, stale urine alongside a building. Everything is so much bolder in this heat…in this country. It screams at me. It thrusts me into sensory overload.

I stand and take it all in before I make my way over to the confusion of taxis just off the road. I address the first fellow. No English. I was prepared for this. I rummage in my knapsack until I pull out my map. I show him where we are and then point to a place way up the map…the Great Wall, Mutiyanu. He jabbers at me in Mandarin, flailing his arms about. I have no idea what he’s getting at. Another fellow walks over and asks if he can be of assistance. I explain that I would like to go to the Great Wall and was told that I could hire a taxi for the day. I ask the fellow if he would ask the taxi driver if he would take me and for how much. They engage in conversation pointing at the map. One hundred Yuan, it’s a deal.

I hop comfortably into the back seat and securely fasten my seat belt. The driver doesn’t like that. It’s an affront on his driving skills, but I’ve now been in enough Chinese taxis to not care how he feels about it. The traffic is horrendous. We zigzag in and out. At times there are no discernable lanes, just the flow of endless vehicles pulsating towards their destinations. We continue on for what seems like forever, yet we have not yet reached the city limits. Suddenly the taxi driver turns onto a side street and pulls up in front of the Sheraton. I’m confused. He stops the vehicle, turns around and in stilted English says, "get out." It must be the only English he knows. I try to glean even a small level of comprehension. I am totally lost. He points in one general direction and continues to excitedly speak. I still have no idea what he's getting at. What am I to do? It’s his taxi. I get out.


20 comments:

sandi @ the whistlestop cafe said...

And.......?

You have painted a perfect picture~ I can smell it from here!

Steffi said...

Wonderful pictures!I enjoyed to read and see your pics,Carla!

PortraitofPeter said...

An awareness given your powerful writing that I feel as if I am there too!!

An educational experience that I must admit I prefer to learn from someone as knowledgeable as yourself - rather than from such an actual visit.

Carla said...

Sandi, I'll finish the tale when I have a moment...but the quick version is that I didn't make it to the wall that day.

Steffi, Thanks. I enjoyed your pictures today as well.

Carla said...

Peter, It was a very educational experience and one that I'm glad I had the opportunity to participate in, although, as you have probably guessed, there were moments I questioned what I was doing there.

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

Wonderful, Carla, I wanted to go to China to see what its like for myself. And you're taken me there without me leaving my armchair, Thank you.

Annie

tkkerouac said...

This is wonderful Carla, thanks for taking me to a place I will probably never get too
but then again
who ever knows.
I really enjoy all of your insightful comments.

thailandchani said...

Oh, very interesting! I will definitely be back many times! :)


Peace,

~Chani

tkkerouac said...

Do you have a "To Do" list to share?

Emma in Canada said...

Oh my that is a lot of traffic! Thanks for the comment over at my blog. I notice you are from Nelson, my brother lives there and I am very excited to be visiting there this summer. It looks gorgeous.

Carla said...

Annie, Let me tell you, it is quite an experience. If you ever have the chance, I would check it out...oh, the adventures you would have.

Tracy, Never say never. It just might happen.

Carla said...

Chani, Thanks for dropping by. I look forward to seeing you again. Peace to you as well.

Tracy, I have many "to do" lists. I need to focus just a little more.

Emma, Nelson is a wonderful place full of many treasures. I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself.

The Fool said...

Ah, a cliffhanger. "To be continued." yes? Very nice writing, it takes the reader into their senses. I particularly like the last photo. I am enthralled by this style of roofing (common among the temples & shrines in Japan)...and the ornamentation - water spouts, demons, ying-yang synbols, etc. I'd love to have such a roof on my home...it would be just awesone on a log cabin. I really need one.

:)

Dan said...

a T-shirt rolled up to halter status and glaring Buddha belly sort of look. Nice. At least it's not a Speedo.

LOL!! As Yogi Berra would say, it's deja vu all over again! :)

Carla said...

Fool, speaking about senses, one book that has fascinated me is Perfume by Suskind (a German writer, but it's been translated). This murder mystery, set in 18th century France, explores the plot through the sense of smell and its relationship with the emotional meaning scents carry.

Yes, I love that roofing style as well. But I am sure that you will find in Japan the style is much cleaner, more minimalist. China in many respects is over the top.

I for a long time thought it would be very cool to have a house that looked like a stave church. I love the roofing on some of those buildings as well: http://www.thu.no/stavborgund.htm . Perhaps not so practical, but esthetically pleasing.

Carla said...

Dan, go look at the pictures of the food...look at the pictures of the food. And don't drool on the keyboard.

Sirdar said...

Wow...great imagery...both in the written word and the pictures. Very good story. Is this what really happened?

Carla said...

Hi Sirdar, yes, true China experience...one of many. Everything there is an adventure.

Fede said...

Hi, Carla.
I didn't have much time lately but I enjoyed your story. I felt like you were holding my hand and at a certain point I lost you...waiting for the follow up...
Good night and good luck.

Carla said...

Fede, It's very easy to get lost and separated in China. There are so many people. Don't move, wait where you are, I'll be back.