...and rode an elephant for about $1.50 US. yep. Welcome to China.
This past weekend after planning my lessons, chatting with family and friends over Skype, and catching up on some rest, I decided to get myself out of the house. And with my currently ok foot, I wanted to seize the freedom to walk again. So Jimmy and I hoped on the city bus - literally a tin can on wheels that rattled, bumped, and jumped down the bumpy asphalt roads - to the other side of Shantou. Not knowing exactly where we were, we got off, walked a few busy streets in the "old" part of the city, and found ourselves across the little river that winds around the town from the huge park in which is nestled the Shantou zoo.
The walk to the park was fantastic. Old apartment buildings, all with barred windows and decaying brown walls, loomed high overhead, crammed together like vertical sardines. Shops with odds and ends of all sorts opened to the dirty streets where people bustled by. Vendors pushed their wares in rickety carts, others camped out on street corners and sidewalks with their goods displayed on blankets, there were fruit stands, fried local dish carts, people, people, smells, sounds, colors, textures, a visual and sensual feast!
We walked around the park, passing through children's play areas, a public pool, tons of trees, flowers, a little lake in the middle, over little bridges, a rock play structure (that would never fly in the US as safe. lol), watched old men playing cards in the shade of ancient vine covered trees, grandparents doting on toddlers, families out walking, people on rented boats floating on the murky green waters, a lovely sunny afternoon. We finally came full circle to the zoo.
The zoo....was....terribly depressing. I was greeted with a wide variety of animals, all well fed, but in waaaay too small cages, that made this nature lover cringe. There was a hippo, wolves, baboons, monkeys, Asiatic Black Bears, lions, tigers, mountain lions, horses, Red Pandas, birds of ALL sorts, mountain goats, porcupines, and an elephant to name a few. I was inches from some rare species that looked bored beyond belief. A sad sad sight. We also watched their little "circus" performance complete with bears on skates, bears on motorcycles, monkeys on bikes, mountain goats on a wire, dogs and lions jumping through hoops, all scared to death of the whips that smacked the ground and their furry backs comanding a performance. I looked around to see if anyone besides myself was disgusted, but only saw tons of families with smiles, balloons, junk food, laughing and enjoying the show. It was definitely a cultural experience. No more zoos for me.
I took no photos of the circus so don't ask. It would have been a waste of my memory card space...and against my morals.
China is a crazy place.
**EDIT: I also was fortunate to witness a man peeing in the river in broad daylight - a common occurrence in these parts. My time in China could be officially complete now.