This morning I was awakened by a call on my cell from a woman speaking rapid fire Spanish repeatedly yelling “Hola, hola, hola” into my drowsy ear. Wondering for a moment where the heck I was, I mustered my best “Tu tienes un numero incorrecto” but she wasn’t having it, switching instead to an equally emphatic “Hello, hello, hello.” Freidman is right, the world is flat.

Did I mention the other day that the street cleaning trucks here play the first four notes of “How Dry I Am” as a warning of their approach?

Still trying to kick the last of my weekend malaise, hoping to put the bugs to rest before I board the plane on Thursday. Looking at the IP Cluster map on the sidebar of my blog, I noticed we’ve added a viewer on the west side of Hudson Bay. Do they have internet access up there? It’s turning into an eclectic little community. On our side of the world we have Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and somewhere in the middle of the country. That plus upstate and downstate New York, Massachusetts and southern Mexico. One reader visited from Brazil. On the far side, Ireland, Sweden, the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey. On the very far side, China of course and the Philippines. Our small world continues to shrink. I’m reproducing it before in an act of oddball recursiveness, but to check on it in the future, just click on it and so ye shall be delivered. When you do, spend a moment thinking out our visitor in the Arctic reaches of Canada.

Work ended early enough for me to consider an adventure. I was thinking of testing my hand at riding the other northern subway route to the end, but didn’t really feel like going solo, so I decided to walk to the zoo, it having been on my to-do list for more than a year.

One minor problem, it was a bit of a scorcher out there, the temperature hovering in the 310 C range (880 F) with humidity out the window. Not to be deterred, I put on a lot of sunscreen and went out.

The walk was long and tough, made longer and tougher by the fact that I had not ever really noticed that the zoo was not located on Ya’an like I thought it was. I finally snapped to the fact that I wasn’t getting there when the cross streets stopped matching so I got out the map and realized I’d been walking a parallel route to where I should have been. Not so bad, only a few blocks of divergence so I headed up Hanmi Lu and found myself near the entrance. At this point I was about to cave – there was a great deal of construction destruction between me and the entrance and I was hot and tired. But I took a deep breath and walked up to the next available crosswalk and decided to at least to go and have a closer look.

The entrance was very strange – a big arch that led you into an even bigger paved lot with the ticket booth about ½ miles across on the other side. I guess the lines get long on holidays? So I made my way across the burning surface and got in line. I was second. The guy in front of me appeared stunned when he turned around and saw me behind him. The vendor gave me a 2 RMB discount, no doubt due to the trek. Forming in the second leg of the triangle I headed back across the Plains of Despair and handed my ticket to the ticket-taker who didn’t seem to grasp the concept that ticket once given, he should stop blocking the entrance and let me in. I think the heat was frying everyone’s brain on this day.

The grounds were absolutely beautiful – clean, well tended and lush. Lots of opportunities to wander down shade lined paths “visiting” the animals.

The condition of the animals was another story. It was not bad, but not as enlightened as most modern zoos are today. The pens were clean; the animals appeared well fed and most had plenty of room. I would say though that this was much like an American zoo in the 60s or 70s, not yet improved by the desire of zoo managers to present a better product.

The selection was great and the zoo was very big so I decided to randomly wander and find some more interesting things.

I came upon a strange aquarium within which all the fish were those giant, porky goldfish you see in Petsmart. Goldfish I believe has a special significance to the Chinese and these fish were clearly treated well judging from their size. The aquarium itself was odd too – multiple water filled columns forming a Plexiglas Stonehenge around a big round tank in the center. All of this out in the sun.

I stopped and had a brief chat with this Cassowary “chick” who was very interested in me and the camera.

Next I paid a quick visit to the Butterfly Pavilion which was interesting both for the fact that the doors were wide open and that there were absolutely no butterflies.

The Penguin sign grabbed me next as I didn’t think there was any way I could avoid seeing how the Penguins were handling the heat. I came around the corner and was hit in the face with a cool rolling fog smelling dankly of fish and rank water. Taking a deep breath of what fresh air was left, I charged ahead and found the Penguins standing on a rock platform while a worker power-sprayed their enclosure, this being the source of the cooling mist. Coughing up my too long held breath, I staggered back out to the fresh air zone realizing I had to have a picture of this. So I took another breath and sped in, got the shot and staggered out, exhaling a giant cloud of CO2, feeling a bit silly since all that dank mist didn’t seem to be bothering the 20 something woman and her child who were in there looking at the birds. Call me silly, but there is just something bothersome about decaying fish, Penguin poop and high pressure Shanghai water producing 2 micron sized water droplets ready for inhalation that just rubs me the wrong way.

Next stop was the aviary which was very nice, so nice that you wondered who was luckier, the birds inside or those trying to get in. Nothing too unusual about this exhibition other than the lung scorching smell of acetic acid that was associated with both the entrance and exit doors.

The sign indicating the presence of Pandas got me motivated and so I walked on, passing a lake and a pond, the former populated by the largest white pelicans (Dalmatian?) I’ve ever seen and the later by some cheery ducks. Hanging out with the pelicans were a dozen or more Black-crowned Night Herons, more than I’ve ever seen in any of the swamps I’ve visited looking for them back in North America. Some sort of black and white raptor flew overhead causing me to make a mental note to check it later. Which I forgot until right now and will probably forget again once I am on to the next paragraph.

The Pandas sadly turned out to be Red Pandas but cute nonetheless. He sat there gladly munching on the bamboo leaves that the park visitors were handing him.

Leaving the Panda Park I headed back towards the center of the zoo and saw a place where a vendor would allow your child to sit on a fake zebra and have its picture taken with a Peacock alongside. Figuring I had to check this out and much to my amazement (horror?) I realized the Zebra was actually a stuffed Zebra. As in a former resident of the zoo, Zebra. Couldn’t decide if I was violating some sort of franchise agreement but I needed the shot so I took it surreptitiously. No one yelled.

Still reeling from the Zebra encounter I sat on a bench and tried for a while to get a picture of an Azure-winged Magpie. They’re the common “jay” in these parts and I was thrilled the other day when I found one in Flower Pot Park. This place was dirty with them.

From here it was on to the grazers. I saw an Anoa, known and loved by crossword puzzle solvers the world over. It’s a big black cow-ox thing.

Their Giraffe collection was mighty impressive, a dozen or so animals. Like many others, this bunch was looking for some shade. All looked healthy and beautiful.

The Rhinos were passed out in the shade and hard to discern from the rocks they were sleeping with.

It was getting late and I was getting bushed so I started looking for an exit which I finally found, having deciphered the international sign for exit which looks something like an arrow bursting out of the side of a box.

The walk back was brutal. Take the heat and humidity of Borneo and out in the shadeless Sahara. Replace the jungle breezes and sounds of exotics birds with clouds of exhaust and honking cars. It was so hot that I hugged the wall around the endless subway construction project so that most of me could be in the two feet of shade on the sidewalk. It didn’t even bother me when a crane swung its big hook six feet over my head. The went on for a while until I hit the tree shaded sidewalks along the expansive Hongqiao State Guest House grounds and that respite was nice until I walked into a pine tree branch that had been snipped at just the right angle to spear me in the scalp. Not much damage being done, I kept on moving as the skyscrapers loomed and the hotel was no more than another mile or so up the burning pavement.

When I got back and chugged a large bottle of cool water it all seemed like a feverish dream, the only evidence being the ever so subtle hint of Penguin water lingering the back of my throat.