Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I really can't even imagine this place so empty as that.
It does, however, seem likely that if an outbreak of 'zombie-ism' did occur, it could easily occur here, or in one of the many other overpopulated parts of China. (First) SARS, (second) Bird Flu, (third) Zombie Flu.
Not so far beyond the realm of possibilities as we would wish. Unfortunately, I doubt that the local branch of the PLA would take kindly to me arming myself with either shotgun or chainsaw. I wonder what manner of ZDDs (Zombie Deterrence Devices) can be procured from the ruins of an English training school?
China is, definitely, one of the more dangerous places to be if/when the zombie outbreak happens. You can't turn and spit without accidentally taking a bite out of your neighbor's brains. I can well imagine the tidal hordes of rotten, angry flesh unleashed in the mall squares.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
I have mentioned before, there are places in Zhangjiajie park where not very many human feet tread. There are gorges where the only sound, echoing from wall to stony wall, is the call of the subtropical birds. These are places where perhaps the stealthy padding of snow leopard feet can sometimes still *not* be heard... just before the pounce.
I had crept away into just such a remote corner of the park, and merely by steadily climbing further and further away from the paved roads and snack stalls more easily accessible to tourists. There were, as far as I know, no other backpackers there. Considering later events, perhaps that is a good thing indeed.
In solitude I sat at the pavilion of the moon, a crag in that sliver shape rose above me. I rested, and allowed the sounds of the wilderness to immerse me. This pavilion sat on a sheer ridge between two different valleys on one axis, and below yet higher cliffs on the other axis. A stairway descended into a green abyss ahead of me. Descending those stairs, once my breath had been caught, I found that corner of the park which in my time there I always felt some claim to. There was, quite simply, no one walking, talking, or treading here besides myself. Rose red cliffs shouldered their way up through the greenery on either side of me.
Having reached the valley floor, wherein a stream rushed, I then proceeded to scamper like a lamed and aching goat up a trail that climbed up the side of a crevasse snaking its way from the main valley. I hadn't seen anyone in hours. I was beginning to wonder if this was a particularly wise turn of events, given that late afternoon was already upon me, but the map indicated that civilization (and the main trails) couldn't be too far away from me by now. Past trees rooted in the merest of cracks in the cliff walls, and up past formations with names like 'cat fishing' or 'tiger fights dragon', I climbed onwards.
On the upper trails of this particular canyon, I did eventually find humanity--whether I wanted to or not. Fortunately for me, I found an urbane woman and her young daughter, guided by a local fellow who was taking them back down the crevasse I had just climbed, and then further down the valley to where a little village could be found. I joined them, in hopes of a relatively cheap place to rest for the night, and my hopes were eventually rewarded. As we climbed back down the canyon I had just laboriously climbed up, I passed the time by teaching English words to the woman and her daughter. The daughter was somewhat reluctant--and very cranky from a day spent clambering in the wilderness--but the mother already knew a little English. As dusk descended, however, we had arrived at a little farm house-turned-motel. The prices were a bit ambitious for such a small, unkempt place, but then again: location, location, location.
The next morning I avoided the guide altogether by getting up around 5:00 am. Surprisingly, this was actually when I fell naturally awake--not a natural condition for me, as I'm sure many of you know. The guide had been keen to guide me around the park, make the best use of time, and get his cut of my money (through overpriced meals, no doubt). I was having none of it. It was fair enough that he and his friends were overcharging me for a convenient place to rest for the night--and a place to leave my larger backpack during the day, no less, since I was feeling stiffer this morning than the previous one--but quite another for them to expect to get anything more of me and the coin that dwelt in my pocket. I am, as you have already seen, quite capable to take care of myself, and not at all interested in guided tours--much less those in a language I barely speak.
The morning was humid, and, despite being cool, I soon grew hot as I hiked back up the valley--my valley. And here is where my real brainwave occurred. For I realized that not only was this an extremely remote part of the park where no one came, but also this was a time of day not likely to see travelers pass through these parts. And best of all, Chinese tourists can always be heard from miles away: shouting, scuffling, hooting, and generally attempting to show loud bravado in the midst of the powerful wilderness. So I sat down. I pulled off my shirt. I pulled off my pants. I was standing in my boxer shorts now, with my backpack slung across my back. Mischievous imps implored me to go all the way, to explore what Adam might have felt like as he traversed Eden, but I ignored them. This was quite enough. The chill morning air kept my flanks cool as I climbed up the crevasse. I figured that if I heard even a peep of human activity (as doubtless I would), I could be back in my pants and shirt in three twitches of a mountain lion's tail.
At the top of the crevasse I was rewarded with a skinny trail that snaked along the flank of the cliff, eventually culminating in a rocky promontory with glorious views and a wind that smelled sweet, that smelled of the vast lands it had traversed that morning. I sat down and began to make myself a well-deserved (so I felt) breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as the dawn's light caressed the nobbly peaks and mountain ramparts on the opposite side of the valley. Oh yes, I did feel a bit of that 'king of the world' vibe that the movie Titanic speaks of. To stand naked (or half-naked) before the enfolding fury of nature's chasms, peaks, jungles, and winds... there are few such chances in life to let loose one's hair (figuratively speaking, in my case) and behave as a barbarian without a care for the judgments of society's mores.
(Below I will try to capture some small sliver of the feel of that place and time, with a series of pictures meant to emulate my view as I sat and ate sandwiches, from right to left.)
When breakfast had been finished, and I had drunk my fill of the winds, I clambered upwards and onwards. Not far above this place, I came to the first signs that other humans were not so far off--hoots echoed across the vastness of a labyrinthine system of canyons. The people were not close, but they weren't so far either. I pulled on my pants.
Helpfully, a pinnacle nearby had been scaled by ladders to allow for yet another superb view of the subtropical labyrinth. I was still quite alone, and could enjoy the view in absolute peace.
With care, and slow steps to savor it all, I walked along the dragon-backbone ridges towards the land of man and buses.
(to be continued)
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
* * *
At the beginning, there was light. Or was that God? Or was God, in fact, composed of light? There were no other commentators there at the time, so perhaps we will never definitely know what happened at the beginning. But I suppose I might admit that God was there: as both a particle and a wave.
Shortly thereafter, when all the heavens and earths and various mostly-harmless creatures had been birthed, God made his first mistake.
What, God makes mistakes? No, we can’t say that, can we?
The mistake is a common one that when filtered through the hipster shades of Greek myth comes out as the story of a minor deity named Narcissus falling in love with and drowning in his own reflection, or as the robotic genocide of lazy human masters in the telling of sci-fi space opera. God definitely fell fatally in love with himself that day. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really. He had after all just created the entirety of existence where previously there had only been a tiny black hole—a pinprick of a place which quite frankly had sucked. Oh yes, God had plenty to be proud of, and so to commemorate his good work thus far, he formed a statue in his own image out of the dirt. To some of us, it still might have appeared to be little more than a reclining lump of loam, but this was hardly the end of God’s plan.
Not content with a merely three dimensional self-representation, he did what no other artist before or since has ever dared to do—he breathed life into his own self-portrait.
Thankfully, he withheld godlike powers from this naked dirt-boy (we’ll call him Adam), or else the newly formed universe might have had a godly clone war on its newborn hands. Such cataclysms rarely lead to satisfactory solutions—more often leading to rips through time and space (convenient peepholes for Cthulhu and his brethren) or endless tug-of-wars over the TV remote when Thursday evening comes around.
No, God at least had the sense to keep a bit of his breath to himself and I just bet we’re all thankful that he did. Because there was another imperfect bit of symmetry to this living statue called Adam. Perhaps it was the original substance he’d been made of—dust to dust, loam to loam, as well as some roach carcasses and rat droppings accidentally swept up in the proceedings—but Adam had a single-track, dirty mind.
Now Adam was released into a sort of safari park named Eden, to play happily with the lambs and yetis and giant squids (Whoever said that Eden was an entirely land-based garden?) that resided there. After a brief seventh-day siesta, God sometimes even came by to chat and check up on the frisky automaton he had installed there and to lavish him with love and gifts such as we all no doubt will do when we each have a pet clone of our own.
Not long after, Adam grew tired of playing soccer with the hedgehogs or ‘find the tonsil’ with the lions. He was really and truly bored. His dirty mind began to wonder what fun he might have if only he could have a clone of his very own. After all, God (the ultimate role model) had done just this in creating Adam in the first place. What wonderful games could be played, Adam imagined. Why, he’d even seen some dogs playing a strange and frantic game the other day that had given him ideas… and when he and his new pal were through playing, his buddy should have convenient, natural pillows for him to rest his head upon. This was a win/win deal, Adam figured.
God was amused. He supposed he could see some possible problems with an infinitely expanding infestation of his lesser likeness, but that eventuality seemed to be a long way off. And he could handle that problem when it occurred. Indeed, He was God, wasn’t He?
“Okay Adam, we’ll give you your clone, but this is going to be on my own conditions, alright?” God is God, and his intentions at this time were neither good nor bad. His intentions were Machiavellian.
Adam couldn’t figure out what God was smirking about, but he didn’t really care and he agreed with the conditions. He was surprised of course when God, still smiling, yanked out one of his ribs, but didn’t have much time to ponder the matter since he immediately fainted into the anesthetic stupor of sleep.
Sometime later, Adam was awakened in a rude manner. His face was being pummeled on each side by something fleshy, something he had never before encountered in all of Eden.
“Pfah!” He cried, opening his eyes and attempting to fend off his jiggling attacker.
Soft eyes regarded him from a short distance away. Equally soft hair the color of a baboon’s ass in full blush, a gentle heart-shaped face, and… (Adam looked down at what his hands were groping) …it seemed that all his dreams had been answered.
“Sorry,” the-woman-soon-to-be-called-Eve said, looking down at the breasts Adam released with some reluctance, “I hadn’t the faintest idea what these things were for, and since I just saw you lying there….” She trailed off.
Yes, Adam decided, this woman had been a great idea.
What a crap idea, Adam thought, looking over at his everlasting mate, Eve.
In the summery garden it would be hard to say whether several years had passed, but in all likelihood many, many years had passed. Things had progressed as they usually do whenever a non-asexual creature meets another non-asexual creature. Of course the results of such a progression are not what we know so well in our modern age. God, wise as he is, had endowed Eden with a magical contraceptive quality in order to ensure the happiness (and generous territory distribution) of all his eternal creatures living within. As fundamentalists can attest from a strict reading of scripture, there is no mention of a need for either fig leaf diapers or porcupine abortion nurses in that sheltered instance!
And so things had certainly been great for both Adam and Eve in the rose-colored twilight of their vacation from reality.
But now Adam was yet again bored. Many a married couple that has not chosen wisely when the full strength of their hormones had been upon them can attest to a similar feeling as the trickster nucleotides in their brains have worn off. I’m not certain that Adam’s problem was one of elapsing hormones, however, as God had not yet gotten quite angry or capricious enough to think of making such essential things elapse. Adam’s problem was that God had spoiled him silly. Let this be a lesson to those of us even now thinking of feeding our little clone pancakes--with melted mars bars, peanut butter, and lucky charms on top--for breakfast tomorrow. This had been God’s second mistake, but one we will forgive him for as most every good grandparent since has repeated the mistake of overindulgence.
Yes, Adam, despite receiving his greatest wish (a version of himself with breasts and more delicate features), was hopelessly bored with Eve. All she wanted to do was talk! But he had recently had a genius idea for how to get rid of her.
The idea had come the previous day when God had been reporting unto them the monthly news and gossip. It seemed that God, scientist that he was, had a special biogenetics laboratory not far beyond the walls of Eden, and a particularly pernicious plant had escaped from therein, crawling upon sinuous roots not properly hitched to the ground (the events that later transpired would convince God of the necessity of ‘rooting’ trees more properly), and climbed over the fence and into the otherwise perfect garden of Eden. The tree had turned up between a Chimera’s den and a field of artichokes.
“What is so wrong about this plant?” Eve asked in interest and innocence.
“Well… um… never mind that,” God said with a sheepish grin, “let’s just call it ‘The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ‘ and leave it at that, shall we?”
Both proto-humans thought this name was odd and cumbersome. They’d also never seen God embarrassed before.
“So does it do anything interesting?” Adam asked without too much hope. He was on the lookout for any suitably interesting toys or activities with which to replace the inevitable hand-holding or ‘eating’ of inedible body parts which Eve was always insisting on.
“Yeah… you could say that.” God noticed the gleam in Adam’s eye and decided to head the subject off before he accidentally destroyed the naivety of his two clones, “and of course it is a very dangerous plant that you should both stay well away from! I want you to promise me, Adam, and you too, Eve, that you will leave the poor plant alone. And absolutely, on pain of death, you will not eat the fruit of that dangerous tree!”
Eve nodded her head in agreeable fashion, and (a bit slower) Adam did too. He was wondering what these words ‘death’ and ‘dangerous’ meant. He was also pondering the possibilities of getting God angry at Eve. If God was angry at Eve, Adam thought, perhaps he would agree to transmute her back into the form of my rib. Or perhaps a backscratcher. He then had a pleasant daydream about playing a new game he had just invented called “boomerang” with the Eve-rib and pretty much tuned out of the conversation that Eve and God were having about the special tunneling properties that subatomic particles sometimes have.
Neither of the two thought to ask God why he didn’t just uproot the damned tree and take it back to his laboratory of biological monstrosities. God, it must be said, is not just a scientist but also an artist. The tree, coming to rest where it had, had brought just the right shade of deviance to an otherwise bland corner of the garden. God hadn’t the heart to remove it from a place that somehow the tree seemed cosmically destined to occupy.
So it was that soon thereafter, Adam and Eve went for a picnic near The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam mysteriously forgot to bring any fruit jelly for their intended peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
This otherwise simple fellow was rubbing his hands together in glee. It was true, of course, that he would miss his favorite headrest when she was gone, but there were plenty of amiable minks in the garden that could be pressed into service in a jiffy. Oh, nothing could have brought Adam down to earth now!
The blankets were laid out on the grass, the hampers unpacked. Eve discovered with dismay (and Adam pretended dismay) that there was no jam for the sandwiches. There was no argument against the fact that peanut butter sandwiches without the corresponding jam were simply not edible. As Eve put it, the stickiness of peanut butter requires a less viscous counterpart to ease it past the troublesome area of a mouth’s roof. Adam just thought that it was a good thing that his overly-verbose wife would soon be a goner.
They debated their options. Adam argued that he had in fact not just forgotten, but lost the fruit jam. There was certainly no time to squeeze and prepare jam from the usual sorts of fruit either. Both of them had a hankering for good old PB&J. Then Adam made the obvious suggestion. Eve looked doubtfully at the fruit tree in question.
The fruit looked nothing like apples, of course. The plump-to-bursting globes dripped golden nectar from their pores; all the colors of the rainbow arranged themselves into mesmerizing, arousing designs that shifted across the skin of the fruit. The contour of the fruit seemed to shimmer in a haze of effervescence that smelled of forbidden desires. The fruit was irresistible. But Eve, like many women after her, had an iron will that could still have desisted from such pleasures.
It has to be said that, in the traditional telling of this story, undue attention is given to the serpent. A serpent is said to be the instigator in the matter of forbidden fruit eaten, and even quite literally demonized in the process of casting blame. Let me set some facts straight then: (1) The devil, curiosity of horror though he may be, had not been invented by God yet—his biogenetic research had not gotten that far; (2) Man has no need of devils nor serpents to blame for falling flat on his own face, as he does that quite well on his own; (3) the snake was only one part of the tragicomedy that was to follow.
Namely, one third of it. A chimera is a strange beast, perhaps another escapee of God’s laboratory of biogenetic wonders. The front head and body is that of a lion, the middle (including a head sprouting from its spinal cord) is that of a goat, and the hind region (ass and tail, to its disgust) is known to be a snake. The beast as it was then, rather than being dangerous or frightening, was a bewildered creature. Never quite sure which direction it was moving in, or which direction it should be moving in, thanks to the rival operations of three fully functional brains countermanding each other in the space of one body, the chimera moved about the earth in a sort of awkward dance one most commonly sees from a mime who has imbibed hallucinogens.
Upon ambling from its burrow that day, the chimera had headed towards the scent of a bizarre new tree that now sprouted nearby. Although the carnivorous lion and snake parts had been not at all interested in a new vegetarian option for their diet, the goat controlled the hind legs and dug in with his hooves until he had propelled them towards the tree. While the lion sniffed at the wind, and the serpent let out a horrifying fart, the goat reached up and was the very first earthly creature to nibble upon the forbidden fruit. The succulent skin of the fruit broke easily at the first nip of the goat’s teeth and an intoxicating liqueur poured forth. The ecstasy of that first taste shocked all three, however, and the extreme dose of sugar in it left the entire beast feeling a bit woozy, so it sat down. And so it remained, dozing there quietly for several hours until Eve happened to come under the shade of the tree to inspect the fruit she was about to denounce as unsuitable for PB&J sandwiches.
Unfortunate Eve reached up, not to pluck a fruit, but to gesticulate as she formed her starting arguments, and the shadow of her motion disturbed the half-sleeping chimera. The chimera woke up, saw Eve, and had exactly three reactions.
The lion—now conscious of the fact that this woman constituted a lot of supple, delicious meat—bounded forward with a yawning roar. The goat bleated a warning at a dumbfounded Eve, a cry of inarticulate anger at the sky, and then attempted to dig in his back heels, not really wanting the addition of meat to his belly. As a result of the mixed signals from the front and middle of the beast, the chimera now went into a sideways somersault and the head of the snake grabbed the nearest thing it could find to hang onto to for dear life: a branch of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A good shaking of the tree as the beast dragged down on it sent a shower of fruit splashing down all around, including into Eve’s outstretched hands. Golden goo covered everything, and the fruits’ perfume was… somehow… deafening.
Eve, now covered with droplets of the fruit, holding the fruit, smelling the fruit, had a whiff or a glimpse of something far more fascinating to her than mere natural sweetener. Knowledge. Saturated knowledge, uncensored knowledge, knowledge without filters, boundaries, or the limits of taste, knowledge to corrupt angels, enlighten devils, and quantify the mysteries of the world. Knowledge of all kinds just mixed up together in one gigantic grab bag constantly there for the looting. Eve loved knowledge, a little more than she loved Adam to be honest. So she licked her lips, where the dewy essence of the fruit had been flung, and took a big bite out of the fruit clutched now in her hands.
Adam, through all this, was also dumbfounded… but entertained. This was perhaps the funniest thing he had witnessed in a long while. And his plan had worked! Whoopee!
Eve looked over at Adam. She now had the knowledge not only to judge him based on the size of the shriveled squirter between his legs, but to guess that the events of the day hadn’t quite come as a surprise to him. She thought quickly and decided that as bothersome as Adam could be, she really didn’t want to face Godly punishment alone. Time to implicate him as well—which was fair, given that he bore plenty of guilt for Eve’s situation.
Knowing Adam’s love of games, Eve threw one of the fruits directly at his face. He put up a pathetic hand, and the fruit splashed all over it. His hand went into his mouth before he controlled himself—or at least that’s what he told himself later. A look of horror spread over his face, but not for the reason that Eve supposed. A hissing, bleating roar shook the ground behind her.
Now again our story departs from the prescribed one, as Adam and Eve fled across the garden from an enraged Chimera. Despite their newfound knowledge, neither quite realized that the chimera had only managed to follow them a short while before its muddled assortment of brains tripped it up. The pair cowered beneath a canopy of fig trees when God found them, as they had been for the last hour.
He knew something was up. Here they were, trying to cover themselves with fallen fig leaves and wipe the juice stains from their fingers. It doesn’t take a god to figure that one out.
Thus Adam, Eve, and the Chimera were all banished from Eden. Adam and Eve lived a life accursed by all manner of things they’d scantly noticed before, such as mosquitoes and menstruation. The Chimera merely lived a life accursed by its own twisted nature, eventually settling on the southern coast of what is now Turkey, spawning legends among the Lycian city-states as it devoured various heroes in its embittered old age.
And the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Whatever happened of that source of forbidden fruit, that source of knowledge that can be consumed utterly unfiltered, unrated, and with the good unsorted from the rotten?
Adam types in the URLs, clicks the hyperlinks, with only one hand on the keyboard. His dirty mind has found troves of titillating things for his perpetually bored, perpetually dirty mind to engorge itself upon.
In a nearby building, Eve pores over the latest entries in Wikipedia.