Back in Chengdu, I met an American guy, George, whom I had met when I was in Chongqing for that unsuccessful job interview. He had worked for a cruise director for a month but was just recently laid off, supposedly for criticizing the wrong person in one of his weekly reports. He was putzing about Chengdu without a plan, so we rented bikes and headed up to the Panda Research base.
The base was unlike any other zoo I had seen in China. The pandas were actually in a semi-natural environment and looked well-fed and even comfortable. Talking with George, similarly, was a surreal experience.
Normally I would have taken his story with a handful of salt, considering how he was not what I would call an attractive man. He was in his 30s, rather portly and hairy, and seemed to enjoy wearing a denim shirt completely unbuttoned in order to show off this portliness and hairiness. Normally, I would pick the odds of him getting laid without any financial transaction involved rather low. But after hearing the stories Harvard boy told, I thought anything was possible.
Uneasiness grew on me as his stories began to become more outlandish. He stories soon took a turn for the pedophilic. He went on about how he taught English in Taiwan for six years and all the things that happened to him/learned about while in Taiwan. He claimed that one time a six year-old girl walked up to him in the middle of class and began to stroke his balls. He also claimed how it was once customary for 12 year-old girls to perform sexual favors for teachers while they're sitting at their desks. Then he started going on about how he read a Pearl Buck book and learned that Chinese people approve of doing all this to children because children contain pure energy. He continued this thread into how Americans were a bunch of Puritans and the Chinese truly understood the sexual potential of children. It was utterly disgusting, but I continued to listen with a morbid fascination, like how you would slow down to watch an ambulance load a corpse from an accident scene.
At the panda base, we ran into a 9 year-old girl looking the pandas with her family. He walked up and started chatting with the dad. Then he walked up to the girl, put his arm around her, and started asking her in broken Chinese, "Hey there. You look cute. Do you want to go out to dinner?" The parents were having a grand old time, laughing at George, thinking he was up to innocent foreigner hijinks. "Aren't foreigners so goofy?" the father asked to no one in particular. The girl was (understandably) wide-eyed with fear. Little did her parents realize that if they were to turn his back to him for just a minute, George's would drop the goofy shenanigans and try to tear the girl's panties off. He made a big deal about buying her an ice-cream cone and then hugging her. At this time, I thought it was prudent to say our farewells and I dragged him away. Afterwards, he bragged that she was cupping his ass.
We headed back to the hotel. Hanging on the bulletin board was some advertisement looking for foreigners to hang out at some bar. Having no plans for the night, I decided to go with him to see what kind of trouble he would stir up.
At this point, I began to have reservations about the place. Back in my Beijing days, I had a couple of friends who were hanging around the Sanlitun foreigner ghetto one day when they were approached by someone advertising a girlie bar. They decided to check it out (Um, I swear this was, uh, my friends.) They walked into this room, ordered one beer each, and began to snack on some peanuts. The prudent one of them insisted on seeing the menu: while moderately inflated, the prices were not completely unreasonable (40 kuai, or about $5, per beer). So they were sipping on their beer, two girls cooing on either side of them, when 15 minutes later, the owner came back with a knife and a bill for 2000 kuai (about $250): 80 kuai for their beers, 20 for the peanuts, and 1900 for the room they were drinking in. They didn't have nearly that much on them, and they told me that they were only able to escape by giving all the money that they had on them (about 600 kuai) because they were able to speak Chinese. This is the story that flashed to my mind when the bouncer told me I couldn't go to the bathroom.
I walked around the dance floor a couple more times thinking of what I should do. I expressed my reservations to George, who was thinking with a part of his anatomy not directly connected to the brain and he clearly did not care.
I took a taxi back to the hotel. I never did find out what happened to George since he said he was taking a flight to Lhasa early the next day.
That day I had thought hard about which way I wanted to go. One option was to head straight north from Chengdu and into Gansu province. The LP said that there was Jiuzhai Gou, an incredibly beautiful national park, and Xiahe, an intimate town with a large Tibetan population. While that route sounded appealing, the very reason that it was extensively documented by the LP was a disadvantage. It was certain to be overrun with whiteys. Indeed, my hotel had about seven travel agencies all advertising guided tours through Jiuzhai Gou and Xiahe. On the other hand, I could head straight west from Chengdu, through Kangding, hook it northwest towards Yushu and then book it up to Xining. I only wanted to do this because I had a friend in Beijing who was studying Tibetan with a Tibetan monk from Yushu and he had heard that Yushu was cool. Although there was a distinct possibility that this route could turn out to be a complete dud, it was definitely more adventurous. The LP did not cover that far west into Sichuan. Although I was a bit nervous with the uncertainty, I knew there was only one choice I would be happy with. So the next day, I threw my guidebook in the trash and bought one ticket for Kangding. As Robert Frost once said, I took the road to Yushu and that has made all the difference.