Friday, September 12: It all starts when my Chinese student assistant, Angela, brings me my university-issue bicycle. The color of an old camouflaged mini-tank, it looks like a relic of World War II. The seat is too low and so rusted that it’s impossible to raise. Because of the low seat, my legs pedal in a circumference about the size of a gerbil wheel. It veers to the right while in motion. The brakes squeal with painful effort, but they don’t stop the bike.
Angela, who is eager to please, volunteers to go to a place called Doghole to buy a lock for it. I graciously take the lock and pay her back, thinking I’ll use the bike if I’m desperate and unable to get anything better. Luckily, a better offer comes along.
Friday, September 19: During the week, a colleague named Nancy told me that back in the day, she lent one of her bicycles to a teacher who has now departed China. The bicycle is locked in a residence building across the street from ours. She told me I could borrow it if I could get someone to open the locked door to that building so that she and I could go in together to identify it. This would take coordinating three people, no easy feat.
Today, I ask a teacher who lives in the said residence building to open the door. Nancy has what she believes to be the key to the lock. Inside the lobby area, Nancy picks her bike from the lineup. Alas, the bicycle has two big locks on it, one on each wheel. Nancy’s key doesn’t work in either. What to do?
Normal people might give up. But Nancy is friends with the bike repair lady at Doghole. She believes the lady will cut the locks off based on their long-time acquaintance. There is no way she will suspect Nancy of stealing the bike. It’s quite a walk to Doghole, and we don’t know how we can get the bike there. Finally, we figure out a way to wedge the bike across Nancy’s large scooter (it has a large but lopsided back seat). Nancy can drive her scooter to Doghole with me walking alongside holding the bicycle steady.
We manage to do this. The students milling around campus seem to find the sight of two ladies carrying the bike on the scooter quite humorous. But we plug along, determined to reach our goal. At Doghole, the bike lady doesn’t question Nancy at all. She takes her metal-cutting saw and, sparks flying, slices right through those two locks. She raises the seat as high as it will go, not quite high enough for me, but higher than the other bike. The brakes work, it has a basket, and it doesn’t look like a WWII tank. I’m in business.
I know what you’re thinking: It doesn’t look that much different from the first bike. And you’d be right that in some respects these bikes LOOK similar. But believe me, this bike is better than the other in every imaginable way. I wouldn’t tell a lie. 🙂
In the evening, I take a long bike ride all around the East Campus. I already walked around the East Campus, and I thought it was huge. Little did I know. The campus sprawls north, east and west through farmland, lakes, bridges and tall apartment buildings. After an hour of biking around, afraid of getting hopelessly lost, I retrace my bicycle tracks and make it safely back to the West Campus and my apartment.
Sunday, September 21: This afternoon, I take my “new” bicycle for a ride down the busy Daxue Road, a major road made more congested by the new railway construction, to visit the Nanning Zoo. It takes me about 40 minutes. I have to ride over brick walkways, dodging pedestrians, motorbikes and loose bricks. When I get to the major intersection of Daxue Road and Luban Road, it takes me quite some time to figure out how to cross. When I do, I walk my bicycle around construction barriers, and then ride on the main road for a short distance along with the motor scooters. By the way, no one wears helmets in China, neither motorbikers nor bicyclists. When I do this, it’s with full knowledge that I’m putting my life on the line.
At the next intersection, I pull out my map of Nanning, because I believe the zoo should be nearby. A young man on a motorbike, with his little boy clinging to his waist, looks at me quizzically, and I point out the zoo on the map. Just then his wife materializes magically from a nearby shop and speaks a few words of English. She tells me to follow them as they’re taking their son to the zoo. They take off at a good clip. I pedal furiously to keep up.
We finally make it to the zoo, which is quite obvious because of the two giraffes at the entrance. It costs a shocking 50 yuan (~$8) to get in. I’m a little surprised at this as it cost us only 10 yuan (~$1.63) to get onto QingXiu Shan, which is MUCH nicer!
The young couple and their little boy want to pose for pictures with me next to the statue of a strange creature just inside the entrance. After we take photos in various combinations, I take one of the little family. I so appreciate their kindness in taking me under their wing. The young man takes my phone number and his wife tells me he wants me to teach him English. I don’t want to do this, as my time outside of the classroom is valuable to me, and I’m not desperate for money. I hope he doesn’t call because I really don’t want the extra work.
I walk around the zoo, which is tropical but a tad bit shabby.
I first walk through a dreamlike walkway with strands of vines hanging down. This is the entrance to the monkey area.
I love the striped tail of this “lemur catta.”
These little fellows are industriously dismantling logs, one piece of bark at a time. They’re intent on getting the job done.
At one cage, a huge orangutan is standing up against the bars of the cage, and a big guy is feeding the orangutan crackers and some water from a plastic water bottle. People are standing around taking pictures of him. I keep looking around for a zookeeper to come and tell him to stop, but no one appears. He obviously is quite amused with himself.
Across from the monkey area is a pond swimming with crocodiles. Many of them are sunning themselves on the concrete “beach” with their mouths hanging open.
Click on any of the pictures for a full-sized slide show.
It’s quite warm and some of the animals are acting frustrated and hungry, pacing back and forth, looking like they want to escape. The panthers and tigers are held in small spaces. One of the panthers paces circles in his cage.
Some of the big cats are having a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The animals don’t seem to be neglected. However, the Chinese visitors are feeding the animals junk food: crackers, bread, cookies. This really upsets me because I know people shouldn’t feed animals at a zoo. However, I don’t know what the rules are in a Chinese zoo and I can’t speak any Chinese to tell them not to do it. It’s not my business, but it does annoy me to no end.
In the bear enclosure, the bears are pacing and looking up at the visitors on the bridge above, waiting for them to toss some food down. They obligingly do. It’s obvious the bears are used to getting food from visitors because they seem frustrated when they’re not getting any.
I’m not sure what these cute little animals are, but people are throwing all kinds of food into their enclosure, and the animals are scrounging around to get in on the action.
When I come to an enclosure with a camel, some young adults have put some greenery on its nose and are feeding it various things. One of the boys picks up a rock and tosses it to the camel, who tries to grab it out of the air to eat. I can’t speak Chinese, but I do what I do best: glare at him. He sees me glaring but chooses to ignore me and picks up another rock. He tosses it at the camel and I’m so irritated by this that I have to leave.
At the petting zoo, people are encouraged to feed and pet the animals.
I do find some happy raccoons and some interesting statues on the rest of my walk through the zoo.
Along the perimeter of the zoo is some kind of water park, with some interesting sights.
I don’t normally like zoos at all, but I wanted to get out and about to explore Nanning. This gives me something to do on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t like seeing animals cooped up in small stone or barred enclosures and not in their natural habitats. Some zoos are nicer than others at making the animal habitats as close to their natural environments as possible. What makes this experience unpalatable are the actions of the visitors. I don’t think I could return to Nanning Zoo because this kind of human behavior angers me too much.
When I pick up my bicycle from the motorbike parking area for a 1 yuan fee, the kind lady attendant, who doesn’t speak a word of English, pats the seat, indicating that it is hot. She then runs and gets some water and pours it over the seat to cool it off. She wipes it dry with a cloth, and I’m on my merry way.
The best thing about my trip is my bicycle ride. Even with all the people, motorbikes and traffic, I love the feel of the wind on my face as I pedal through time and space. Though harrowing, it’s an adventure. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I push myself out of my comfort zone. After all, that’s what I’m here for. 🙂