Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Chuck Strolls Down the Sacred Way and Almost Flies a Kite

The Sacred Way to the Ming Tombs in Beijing, China

“Are we there yet?”

That’s what Chuck would have asked, if he could have talked.

Instead, he meowed and gave me that typical Chuck look.

The kid likes to go on long walks, but I have to admit that the Sacred Way that leads to the Ming Tombs does seem to go on and on forever.

  I wasn’t quite sure if Chuckie knew where we were going when we started walking.  We were outside of Beijing, it was a hot afternoon, and luckily the place was not crawling with tourists.  All Chuck knew was that I’d said something about flying a kite and that sounded like fun to him.  

It was true.  At the end of what would turn out to be a very long walk--fascinating, but long--we would reach the Dragon and Phoenix Gate, which leads to the Tombs (which we had no intention of actually seeing--I’ll explain why later) and there, it seems to be always windy and the perfect place to fly our official Chinese kite.

We hadn’t realized that the Chinese were so “into” kite flying.  

I was noticing with appalling frequency that whenever there seemed to be a wind and a way to climb high, you could spot someone flying a kite.  Not like here in America.  Here you must be in a park or some kind of recreational place and usually children are involved.  But in China, the adults seem more into “kite flying” than the kids.  

Nevertheless, I’d shoved a kite I’d received as a special gift into my bag and was carrying it as we entered through the huge stone memorial archway, the entranceway to the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs.

Of course, I’d done my homework and discovered that this Sacred Way was built as a road centuries ago to lead the Chinese people to one of the tombs built here.  Ironic, for this place was, indeed, a cemetery for thirteen Emperors from the Ming Dynasty.  It covered an area of 80 kilometers or approximately 50 miles. This cemetery had taken around 200 years to build, beginning in 1409 and ending in approximately 1644, when the Ming Dynasty fell.  I’m always amazed by these big numbers when I do research into Chinese history. 

So as we strolled along the the Sacred Way, which means, incidentally “the road leading to heaven,” I let Chuck scamper in front of me.  This road is not your typical road lined with bushes and shrubs.  The Sacred Way is lined with larger than life stone statues.

The Mythical Beast - The Qilin

In the beginning you pass 24 animal statues--of lions, camels, horses, elephants . . . and there’s even a Qilin, a mythical beast that is composed of parts from a number of different animals.  Chuck was very curious and I could tell he wanted to leap on top and give these statues a good sniff.

The Camel

The Horse

But I’m a bit superstitious.  

The design of this Sacred Way and, in fact, the entire Ming Tomb complex follows the Feng Shui principle--in an effort to keep the evil spirits out.  If Chuck jumped on a statue, I think the spirits might just try to get even.

After the animals, we passed the human figures--the guards--meant to guard the tombs.  

Finally, we reach the Dragon and Phoenix Gate, walked through this magnificent structure to the other side, and sure enough--I realized that we’d been walking up hill and had landed in the perfect spot to fly our kite.

The Dragon and Phoenix Gate at the entrance to the Ming Tombs

A Chinese kite is not just one kite but a series of kites all strung together, connected by line.  Flung into the air, and held up by the wind, the kite makes quite an impressive sight in the air.  The trick is to hold the kite out in front of you, catch the breeze that is blowing and then manipulate it so that it unfolds and flies higher into the sky.

I hadn’t flown a kite in years.  

Chuck had never flown a kite.

In fact, at that moment when I held out the kite to my fearless cat, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to do it . . . unless he clutched it in his teeth.  Chuck seemed to instinctively know it was “mission impossible.”  He stepped back. 

“Sorry, bud, I thought . . .”

He shrugged.

“Do you want to watch?”

He settled down in the shade, near the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.  

Okay, then.  

After a few minutes of fumbling around, the kite seemed to take on a life of its own.  Like a bird, it lifted itself on a breeze and began to go higher and higher.  The string began to uncurl faster and faster.  

A close -up view of our Chinese Kite

I was flying a kite.  

Chuck stood up, his gaze glued to the sight.  I was happy that he was enjoying himself.  So he didn’t seem the least bit disappointed that he wasn’t able to fly a kite.  I tried to catch his eye.  “Chuck,” I yelled.  “Hey, Chuck.”

Suddenly, he turned toward me.  Then he started running, past me, toward  . . .

In my preoccupation with Chuck’s feelings, I’d taken my attention away from the kite, and it had crashed to the ground.  

Chuck stood over the kite, sniffing.  

“Sorry . . . I didn’t mean to crash the kite.  Do you want me to try again?”

But it was time to go back to the hotel.  

I noticed some tourists were wandering over to the Ming Tombs.  Three are open to the public, and I saw them the last time I visited China, but frankly there’s little to see.  Unfortunately, the tombs that have been opened have not been well preserved.  Items have been removed to the museum, or they were damaged by weather.  At this time, the Chinese Government is not opening any more of the tombs. 

I picked up my broken kite.   It was fun while it lasted.  

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