Monday, August 5, 2013

Swimming, Fighting and Dancing

John had prepared a complete agenda for my visit, building in plenty of rest time. He had booked a suite in a fine hotel: the living room offered a couch and a mahjongg table, with four of the most comfortable chairs I’ve seen in China so far. The bedroom was standard, with the unusual inclusion of a computer, that I made no use of.

During one of these downtime periods I reflected how much more I enjoy spending time with male companions. While females are just as obsessed with lavish entertainment and indulging my every whim, they go wayyy farrr overboard in assuring themselves they are taking good care of me. because the contrast is so dramatic, I’d like to talk more about that later. For now…   

Guys are solicitous, but not to the point of mania. Note such care in John’s selection of accommodations, in his plans for entertainment with downtime built in, and the remorse he felt when I made a splash at the swimming hole. Not a good splash, either. That story is coming up.

After showing off Chi Bi’s three bridges, he introduced me to his family at a fine restaurant in Old Town. There I met his mother (who chided him for not taking proper care of me), his best pals since childhood, his aunt, his cousin and a few other relations. Of course this meal was a lavish affair, designed to impress, no holds barred, red wine included. The table fairly groaned under its load of food and we groaned over our distended stomachs at meal’s end.

Time for a rest. Off to the hotel, where I am shown my room and accorded a generous 3 hours for a nap. After that, we (John, his friends and me) went off to the swimming hole. Unfortunately storms were brewing and the official swimming area was closed. We drove around the lake and over the dam while gentle rain pattered down. Didn’t stop us from getting out, admiring the view and taking pictures. Chi Bi has very scenic outskirts. John offered an illegal trespass into the water so that we could at least dip our feet in. A timely rumble of thunder sided with my discouragement. We got back in the car.

We went swimming the next day. I have to tell you that, although I am an enthusiastic swimmer and a fan of all water sports, I am leery of chancing a dip in the waterways of China. If the water out of my tap at home has the ability to eat the first layer of skin off my fingers (and it does!), what might untreated water do? And then to submerse myself?

Again John proved determined. Did not matter that I had no swim clothes; he assured me of a plan that would involve my enjoying the water while staying dry as a bone. When I protested the cost and the effort he shrugged my concerns off. After my forth attempt at nixing the idea I relented. This young man had it in mind that I should enjoy the water and I was going to, no matter what. He rented an inflatable raft for me and a life preserver for himself.

Actually, because swimming is such a novel pastime in China, all who enter the water are mandated to have a life preserver. This is an extreme I’ll talk more broadly about in our next post.

As I’ve often iterated, anything Chinese-sized is much too small for me. Same applies to rubber rafts. It would have been OK had I followed my original plan to kneel in it, or sit in the middle tailor fashion. In this instance John and his cohorts felt it necessary to instruct me: I should sit with my legs pointed directly in front of me, putting my center of gravity at one end of the raft. That did not work well. Nothing about the raft idea went well.  

In the States all entertainment venues, from wildlife parks to casinos, all manner of regulation, caution and barrier to possible physical (and even moral) harm exists. Not so in China. There may be steps carved out for easy access into the water but these steps have no handrails and are smooth concrete, overgrown with slippery algae. Step at your own risk – and there isn’t a sign saying so. That’s what happened.

Stepping onto that first slime covered step I upended myself, thoroughly soaking everything I was wearing. While me and my audience, all the bathers, laughed our fool heads off, poor John and his friends were absolutely mortified. Instantly they surrounded me, each doing their best to pull me up. Their efforts meant that I was literally being tugged in three different directions at once, the effect of which, between the flux of water, the slippery step I was sitting on and their tugging, was my bobbing to and fro like a tethered buoy.

I finally persuaded them to just let me be so I could get up on my own. Tremulous, remorseful, nearly unable to restrain themselves from helping, they stood back while I scooted myself up to an unslimy stair, where I was sure I would be able to regain my footing. In the time it took for me to do that, someone else wiped out exactly the way I did and the crowd laughed anew, this time with me and my group joining in.

Slimy Concrete: 1. Krejados: 0. Battle wounds: 1 raw toe and one dislocated knee that did not manifest itself in its full, glorious pain until later.

Battle wounds! Battle wounds? Yes! A battle!

That is what we saw that morning, while visiting the Battlefield of the Red Cliffs. Not really a reenactment of a battle but a presentation of costumes, customs and dance.

Between divergent annals and the obliteration of all heritage through the years, very little is known about the Battle of Red Cliffs. Historians presume the significance of the locale based on the size of the fort and the relics found there. It has been speculated to be a conflict of major importance because of the known alliance between the two southern warlords and the numerically superior and better organized troops of the northern warlord. The most detailed account of the battle comes from the biography of Zhou Yu, written in the 3rd century AD.

Due to the lack of records I cannot give a proper accounting of this battle or of its historical significance, but I can include pictures of the magnificent structures that have been painstakingly restored. I can also positively assert that the city, formerly called Pu Qi adopted the Chi Bi name in 1998 to tie the area to the Battle of Chi Bi. I can’t tell you why the battle was called Chi Bi.

What I can tell you is that the residents love their city.

At night the People’s Square is filled with dancers, strollers (people walking, not baby carriages) and folks just enjoying the night. A jumbotron bathes the square’s center with light, broadcasting topics of interest such as the current wildebeest migration in Africa. In a less illuminated corner children skate, the lights on their rollerblades and scooters giving a surreal impression of hip, modern day cool to their ghostly figures.

John chose this corner for us to launch our paper lantern. With audience present, he offered me a marker to inscribe my wish. I rose to the challenge, writing “I love China and all my friends” in Chinese. Onlookers nodded their approval as my small verse went from mouth to ear throughout the crowd. John wrote his wish, and then an onlooker lit the fuel cell while John and I held our balloon aloft, waiting for the air inside to heat up enough to carry it heavenward. Then, we spent about 15 minutes while I posed for pictures with those from the crowd proffering cameras. Till then, neither John nor his friends believed people reacted to me that way. Alternately bemused and called into service as photographer, they later conceded I was not exaggerating about foreigner fever – that odd syndrome where people feel compelled to stare and gape, perchance even reach out and touch.       

I don’t think Chi Bi sees very many foreigners. I drew more than a normal share of attention while there and did not see any other foreigners. Why John chose to highlight my presence in the park by adorning my head with a flashing pink bow I have no idea. As though being foreign, nearly 2 meters tall and twice the size of anybody else in the park weren’t enough to draw attention to myself.               

He honestly did everything possible to insure my comfort, pleasure and entertainment. He worked very hard to cover the highlights of his hometown in the short time I planned to be there.

While I have good reason to be leery of someone who is so adamant that I come to visit, John was pleasantly laid back and non-controlling, all while coordinating the whole event from transportation to food. Now that I know I have nothing to worry about while visiting this delightful, eager young man I will gladly make another trip to Chi Bi and spend more time. There really is a lot to do and see there. Not only that, I have friends I have to visit.      


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