Monday, August 08, 2005

I Am The Ocean
It's been just a tad claustrophobic at the ol' Lucky Number II what with C's mother extended stay, so C and I decided on Friday to hit a beach and hotel for an overnight. Our destination was Da Mei Sha (see: Sea and Sand, July 22, 2004) where we'd fled a year before and while my memories of it were lukewarm at most and getting there involved a 90-minute bus ride on wooden seats, it offered a change of scene and some privacy in the Airland Hotel, room 2222. The sign behind the check-in desk proclaims that the Airland (also China's largest mattress manufacturer) is a "Four Star Tourist Hostlery Establishment" but two is more like it.
Still, the AC worked and even if we had to call four times for ice (ice machines are non-exisistent in 99.9% of China's hotels) and twice for more toilet paper it was a cushy relief.
Following a dinner of squab (nearly all Da Mei Sha's tourist restaurants, save McDonald's and KFC feature baby pigeon), brocolli, tofu embedded with pork, barbecued oysters and scallops with vermicelli noodles we waddled back to change for the beach and to make an important purchase - an inner tube.
C, like seemingly most of the rest of her countrymen, cannot swim and while any self-respecting adult in the US would rather be caught molesting an armadillo than be spotted at a beach or pool packing a bright yellow, red and blue plastic child's inner tube, the Da Mei Sha beach was awash with unashamed tubers. There were thousands of beachgoers, young and old alike bobbing and thrashing with tubes circling their midriffs and under their armpits stretching from the shore to a bouy line nearly a half mile out. It was nearly 9 pm by now and I'd never seen anything like it -- a Dada-esque version of D-Day.
On the shore, tube hawkers, reed beach mat vendors, women and children selling grilled corn and hard boiled eggs competed for space with beachcombers - the women all clad in "bathing costumes" that were fashionable in the US circa 1961 (lots of skirted bottoms, absolutey no cleavage or - gawd forbid - butt floss) and potbellied and rail thin guys in skimpy Speedo knockoffs and a few in their tighty whities.
We squeezed into a space near shoreline and took turns guarding our bag as the other went seaward. The tide was nearly nonexistent but the water was just the right temperature - cool enough to sooth and not enough to shock.
I'm not a swimming fan (thrashing around in a box full of water is how I usually describe it) but after doing a slow breast stroke through the armada of tubes, waving arms and kicking legs and getting into deeper water I found myself in a strange, blissful state. The unaccustomed exercise was triggering bursts of pure euphoria. Irrationally, I felt as though I could swim forever -- memories of a wonderful short story, The Swimmer by John Cheever, about a guy who swims across an entire suburban neighborhood from pool-to-pool came to mind -- and I kept stroking toward the bouy line until I recalled that, oops, I also had to swim back.
But the farther I went, the fewer the people -- another plus.
I drifted on my back for awhile, occasionally cringing and twitching at the slimy touch of a plastic bag or discarded condom slithering against my feet and arms and then began a relaxed, slow return to shore.
"Hello! Hello!'' hailed a creaky sing-song voice. I spit some water out and rolled to my left and saw an elderly, balding white haired man, also swimming and bobbing, sans tube. He'd apparently learned his English and swimming from pre-Revolution Canadian missionaries, or that was as much as I thought I understood as we exchanged some brief sputtering pleasantries before the tons o' tubers forced a separation and I returned to C and the sand.
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