Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (21)

The boat-ride down the Lijiang was well underway when the children passed Elephant Rock, a popular Guilin tourist attraction. This massive natural structure arched into the river, leaving a perfect hollow beneath. It had the appearance of a huge, prehistoric mammoth, whose trunk was sucking greedily from the sparkling, clear waters of the river Li. The children were euphoric, having earlier seen off the wicked turtle soup seller, courtesy of Abigail Newton’s frenzied shrieking. Shooing him away with her banshee wailing, the poor man had thought she was possessed by some guimei ghost and paddled rapidly away in fright, lest the ghoul find a way to cross over and invade his body, too. The schoolkids had cheered at this apparent victory for nature, despite Deputy Principal Gavin Hewitt’s obvious disgust at the vegetarian teacher’s hysteria. Some other folk would still be eating the flesh and broken bones of the dead creatures in the man’s voluminous tureen, after all.

Neither Brad Taylor nor Sally Henderson had fully witnessed this episode, taking the opportunity of its distraction to instead sidle around to the other side of the boat for a quick grope, and exchange of tongues. They had always had eyes for each other back at the Cape school, but neither had quite expected the rapid acceleration in the intimacy of their relationship that the trip to Guilin had brought on. Its romantic atmosphere had already seen him visit her room at the Goldfish in the still of the first night, while the children were fast asleep after the exhaustion of their journey. And this would prove to be not the last time that red and white watches were absent from duty.

The boat continued to pull slowly up the river, past some local children with their makeshift fishing nets, for who school was an abstract concept, something outside the world of harsh realities that formed their eat-what-you-kill existence. Then further upstream, the party arrived at the chili pepper farms that gave the local food its distinctive, fiery flavour. Laid out to dry on matting, the vivid red of the peppers contrasted with the verdant hues of the spiky hills in the background. Formed two hundred million years earlier, when huge crustal movements thrust limestone rock thousands of feet upwards from the seabed, through the oceans and beyond, to burst into the brightly-lit sky, these mountains were an essential part of the Guilin experience. The group of seven-year-olds was only half interested in this natural spectacle, however, being perhaps a little young to appreciate its grandeur. In stark contrast, their joyful enthusiasm was rekindled when, a while later, they arrived at their lunchtime destination – a Chinese imitation of Kentucky Fried Chicken, where Chairman Mao took on the cameo role of Colonel Sanders as the silent, plastic greeter. “Yay! KFC!” squealed Sophie Blake, delighted, recognising the familiar red-and-white colour scheme but not understanding the blatant theft of intellectual property. “Woohoo!” the other kids yelled, in their excitement.

But as Sophie then sat in her own private world, oblivious to all around her while happily munching through a chicken leg, something funny happened. Suddenly, she stopped eating and instead probed around her front teeth with her tongue. Nothing. Frowning, she half-shrugged before resuming, only to feel the sensation again. Yes, there it was. Once more she felt with her tongue, slightly afraid now of what might happen if she pushed too firmly, or in the wrong way. And then it was confirmed. Yes, it was true all right. Sophie Blake had a wobbly tooth.

posted by Kirk at 11:32 pm  

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