Monday, May 03, 2004

And Your Bird Can Sing
So, I was sitting on a street corner in Guangzhou (85-degree heat/88-percent humidity) the capital city of Guangdong Province and one much larger and older than Shenzhen, with a Chinese newspaper-wrapped rectangular, blue plastic cage stuffed with eight fledging rare birds on my lap.
Just another day in China, thought I.
Chirp, chirp, replied the endangered gray collared myna birds, which at that point were more at risk from dying of C02 poisoning from the passing vehicles than anything me or Peter-the-SZ-fixer would do with them. Actually, they were for his long-suffering, bird-obsessed American wife back in SZ - a woman I've met briefly only once - and while Peter, who held the other wrapped cage in one hand while trying to hail taxis with other, would rather saw off his nuts with a chop stick than give her flowers, was eager get out of the apartment for the day to fulfill her request for endangered species take-out, a task that took two hours by bus and another 30 minutes on a subway until we found the Endangered Species Outdoor Market. Besides birds like eagles, rare parrots smuggled from South America and Africa and the mynas it also included a small ocean of fish, some scorpions, a few dogs and a tarantula or two.
Kind of a World Wildlife Federation nightmare or a Chinese Petsmart, minus the air conditioning and ambience but worth the trip if you like squalor and enjoy watching a woman pick up scorpions by their stingers and place them on her arms to show off the merchandise.
I was sitting on the street corner because my feet hurt and Peter was having trouble finding a taxi. We'd considered coming back to SZ using the same methods as we'd came to Goughzou, but it seemed the subway cops didn't look favorably on transporting live animals - endangered or not - and he didn't want to risk that leg of the journey.
There'd also been a series of those universal signs of no-nos on the subway that, due to the poor graphics, to me seemed to ban popular subway riding activities such as projectile vomiting, crucificifixions and cats humping dogs. Nothing about crucifying gray collared mynas that were projectile vomiting and humping, but we weren't going to risk it.
A taxi was found and the next stop was the bus station where Peter decided to use the barbarian curiousity factor as a diversion to get the two cages of mynas past the dozing guard at an X-ray scanner that appeared to have last seen use during the break-up of the Soviet Union.
"You put my back-pack through and talk to the guard. She won't understand, but it's OK. It's OK. I will go behind and pass you very fast."
I tossed the bag on the conveyor belt and made eye contact with the uncomprehending guard and began my spiel.
"See nothing of note up my sleeve! Or in my back pack. And please ignore that guy slipping behind me with two cages full of rare birds! He's harmless. They're harmless and his wife promises to give them better care than the wretches he bought them from at a ridiculously low price. Did you know you can buy a gray collared myna for less than a bottle of beer?"
She smiled and shrugged.
The belt wheezed and belched out the back-pack.
I vaguely heard "cheep, cheep" as Peter slithered his way toward the buses, cages still in his hands.
I grabbed the pack. "Thanks! Gotta run!"
We made it to the bus where the conductresses seemed to think nothing of a guy hauling two parcels of bird sound effects on board.
The next obstacle was at a checkpoint between SZ and The Rest of the Province where a People's Liberation Army guy who appeared to be all of 14-years-old climbed on the bus to scrutinize IDs and passes needed to get into SZ.
After throwing about six people off - one of whom was a couple with no IDs at all - he studied my passport as if he could read it and then gave Peter's particulars a once over. Meanwhile the birds sang on, something that made me tense but Peter only laughed at after I said something about a "close call" and then watched the couple with no IDs climb back on the bus, apparently after greasing a few palms during their brief interrogation.
"China is very funny. Some rules they ignore all the time. Sometimes only a few times. Not like USA where everything is a law. We have laws, but nothing is real."

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