Sunday, May 8, 2011
As a creature of the night you’re either prey or predator. At least that’s how I feel during my long walks around Beijing. I’m training for the Camino and my evening strolls are pushing the three-hour mark at this stage in the schedule. By the time I finish with work, go home, eat dinner and check my email, I’m hitting the streets past nine or ten at night. And with that, I’ve really learned my area, which I won’t deem as a neighborhood because there is nothing remarkably characteristic of it, just never ending sameness. My area covers roughly an 8 mile diameter, and is growing wider as my schedule demands more time.
The area is surprisingly quiet past 11p. The traffic wanes, pedestrians are few, and often I’m the only one on the sidewalk. This is especially true if I let my route take me through a park, like it did tonight. I wasn’t feeling like charting new territory beyond the current boundary so I stayed close to home winding through the long park that runs parallel to the airport expressway. The parks in Beijing are well manicured with brick-paved paths and pruned shrubs. Despite the tamed landscape there is still something wild about the isolation it affords in such a bustling city.
On this particular night just after a long rainy day, the park was foggy and smelled clean like a forest. Headlights from cars shone through the trees and cast jesus style beams in the air. I turned along one of the meandering curves and spotted a small sapling that I mistook for a person. Chills ran through my body and I wondered to myself, why am I so freaked out?
I was, like I always am during these walks, listening to This American Life podcasts through headphones. My brother gave me all 400 episodes that he downloaded and I started at the bottom working my way up. The nightly walks have me moving through the episodes at a steady clip. But as a creature of the night, and as a species’ with poor nocturnal eyesight, my only other worthwhile sense is sound, which I’ve obfuscated through this podcast habit, and most certainly rendered myself as prey. My body knows this.
It wouldn’t take much for me to kick into full flight mode and shriek like a schoolgirl if someone or something jumped out of the bushes. I actually consider this a possibility and speculate on the availability of weapons the park has to offer like stacks of old paving bricks. I also question my ability to run, to run really fast, faster than most predators. Would I even notice the weight of my own backpack? Or would I chug along the way an obese person is encumbered by excess? Of the few stray cats that crossed my path tonight, each one gave my heart some extra juice. This got me thinking as I looped back and forth along the linear park. What would it be to take up the role of the predator? Speed? Yes. Arms flailing? Yes. Growling? Yes.
On my long walks there are others like me too. Often it’s a couple, enamored with one another on a park bench feeling like they have the whole place to themselves, and I approach stealthily only breaking the silence with the scuff of my boot on a lump in the path or kicking a stone to cause them to jump. Arrrghhhhhrrrrooowllllllalalalalala! I run towards them, flailing. That’s all it would take. That’s all you need to simulate a predator, and then I’d just keep walking like nothing happened, while they considered death in a gust of fear. A boogie man, who prowls at night boogifying unsuspecting strangers; feigning an attack, but swooping away reducing his victims to nervous rodents narrowly missed by the grasps of talons. I could do that. I could really scare people in the park, and I would no longer be prey.
Jesus. What two hours in a desolate park will do to the mind.
I think I’ll stick to the streets next time….