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Emeishan, Part III, IV


Part Three: Three little piggies go to the market.



The city of Chengdu is not much to see, especially if you try to see it towards dusk. One thing I noticed as I got bounced around in the back of this Chinese made minivan was, that there were a lot of bicycles on the street. Lots of them. But our driver, who didn’t seem to speak a word of English, didn’t seem to bother with them. I think he went to the same cab driving school that I went to. If it has more wheels, it has the right of way. Minivans have four, bicycles have two. That settles that. There wasn’t a bicyclist who got into our way. And as for the almost near and constant potential carnage, Fred just didn’t seem to get alarmed. Nothing seemed to bother him. All that concerned Fred was his plastic container filled with tea. A container which just didn’t seem to get less and less as time went on; actually, the more he drank out of it, the more the fermenting liquid seemed to procreate and expand. And those things that seemed to be swimming inside. Whatever they were, they must have tasted good. Fred would just swirl them around in his mouth for what seemed to be minutes on end, and then, in a violent act of expulsion, propel them viciously back into the container.

“Want some tea?”

I tried to be as much of a man as I could, but this was really turning my stomach. I wonder if Fred knew the Buffet Queen? I was going to have to introduce them one day. But, as always, when things seem their darkest, salvation is always around the corner. And my salvation was just behind us. On two wheels. It was the absolute wildest thing I have ever seen on a tiny motorbike in my life.

Now, in Shaolin village, back in 1997, and before, it was not uncommon to see entire families ride on one tiny motor scooter. The husband would drive this one or two cylinder engine device, the wife would sit side saddle behind holding an infant, and one, possibly two, depending upon how illegal the man was with his nocturnal activities, small children would stand upon the running boards, between the father’s knees, holding onto the handlebars or each other. Quite the sight, five people on a tiny motor scooter. It was a fairly common occurrence, and has since become even more common, now that the Chinese economy has improved to what it is. But, as we inched forward in heavy traffic, a mass of tissue on wheels slowly but surely approached our minivan on the right side. I frantically burrowed through all hundred and sixty pounds of crap in my bags to find my 35mm camera. I just had to have a picture of this. Fred continued to suck and spit on his tea, in a rhythmic and cyclical pattern, completely ignorant of the karate pants, underwear and socks that flew throughout the minivans interior.

I had found it, but it was out of film. Again, more clothing was desperately flung around as I searched for a roll, any roll, of film. My target was slowly but surely approaching the right side of the minivan, and because the traffic was so tied up, I was only going to get one chance at this shot. And how many times do you get to see three very huge, very tied up, and very alive, pigs, lying crosswise on top of a motor scooter, with only the drivers head visible over the top of the uppermost pig? Talk about balance. Shi De Cheng would have been proud.

I finally found the film, loaded it into the camera, and slid open the door of the minivan, as there was no way my head and shoulders were going to fit out of that window. The tiny driver of the motor scooter had passed us already, but was still visible in the fading light. I was going to get this shot, if not because a lack thereof would lead to a terminal disbelief in anything that I ever say in the future, but because it just had to be the absolute funniest thing I had ever seen. Not even the Buffet Queen of Chengdu with her plate piled high could compare to this. This was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ shots, and I was going to get it.

But, he was slowly pulling away from us, and I found myself leaning further and further outside of the minivan to get the picture composed properly in the viewfinder of my camera. And then, I had to make a decision; I had gone past the limit of balance, and it was now necessary for me to put one foot outside the minivan to stabilize my large frame, just as I was about to shoot the almost perfectly composed picture.

I had completely forgotten that we were still moving.

Fred hadn’t even put his tea down, even after he realized that I was sprawled all over the road. I quickly picked myself up, tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, and scrambled back into the minivan all the while hoping that some madman on a scooter with three pigs wasn’t driving at some high rate of speed in my direction. I shut the door and just didn’t say a word, as I repacked my bags.

“Want some tea?”

Nothing razzled Fred. It was then that I decided I had a new mission. Thoughts of seeing and experiencing Emeishan turned to thoughts of making Fred lose his composure. Or, at least, his tea.