December 08, 2009

Kingdom of Heaven

Once the largest city in the world, Kaifeng has fallen into relative obscurity. An ancient capital of China, Kaifeng was also the home of the first Jewish settlers to the region. The Jews had settled here after crossing the Silk Road, bringing with them their customs and traditions. Over time, this knowledge faded. The original synagogue no longer exists, but a nearby alleyway is still called the "Lane of the Torah". The religiously diverse city also has a mosque, a church, and many Buddhist temples.

The Kaifeng night market is where the whole city gathers to shop and eat on a Saturday night. There is a multitude of options to satiate the taste buds, but very few to relieve the bowels. I was traveling with an Argentine, who notified me in advance of his desire to defecate as soon as possible. There was a KFC about 500 meters ahead, and it provided hope of a clean washroom. As we waded through the sea of people in the direction of deliverance, he noticed a sign for a public toilet and dashed off in that direction. Minutes later he was back. It was so dark he said, that people were using the light from their phones to navigate their way through the filth on the floor. The horror was too much for him to bear, so he chose to carry forth his burden to the world famous chicken franchise. I picked up my pace, sympathizing with his situation. He complained I was walking too fast, explaining he had to walk at a certain speed to make sure nothing came out. The Argentinian was able to complete his business in time, and we continued wandering amongst the street stalls.

Soon I felt the same urge he had just experienced and the race was on again. We strolled quickly back to the poultry provider and most popular bathroom destination in town. At the crossroads of two major streets, the KFC occupied a prime piece of real estate. A queue had formed for the only toilet inside. In front of me was a man and a young boy. The young boy was in dire straights, holding his pants, grimacing, pacing, and repeatedly knocking on the bathroom door. A voice inside mentioned he was almost finished every time, further annoying the little fellow. Five minutes later a man emerged, pulling up his pants and buckling his belt as he left the washroom. The boy darted in, having received permission from the gentleman ahead of him in line to do so. The door kept swinging back and forth. The child was having trouble locking the door. He gave up and the door swung wide open as he dropped his pants, squatted, and let loose. The man in front of me wanted the cleaning squad to have a turn before he went in, so I was up next. After I concluded my ordeal, we had dinner on the street. As a safety precaution we ate within a 50 meter radius of the KFC, remaining tethered to it by an invisible rope.


Tho` much is taken, much abides and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven that which we are, we are
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

- "Ulysses" by Alfred Lord Tennyson