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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Monkey Drum – An Unsettling Introduction to Chongqing

CHINA | Monday, 7 April 2014 | Views [854]

It was muggy disembarking the intercity train from Chengdu. Crowds of people pushed through the gates exiting the station. Emerging the other side, we made our way down to the subterranean leg of the metro network, Chongqing. Underground, the air was thicker in the enclosed space. I gathered with my family as we rested our packs. My father joined the queue to purchase tickets for our onward journey to the city centre. A pearl of sweat crept down my forehead. I understood why they referred to Chongqing as one of the Three Furnaces of the Yangtze River.


The ticket hall was dim, aside from the glare of a few artificial lights. Despite this we stuck out as tourists, a group of iridescent white sore thumbs, sweaty, impeded by our travel packs, hindered by lack of experience in the city. Locals milled purposefully about, up and down the tunnels to and from platforms. A tall man, casual, but well dressed in jeans, and a collared shirt, a sports jacket hanging open around his slim form joined the queue behind my father as he keyed our destination in to the touch screen of the automated machine. He paid and took the tickets. The man glanced across at my family as we readied ourselves to move. We locked eyes for a moment, a curious, wide-eyed stare. His hands fidgeted as he spun, unconsciously, a monkey drum between the palms of his hands. The timbre of the drum travelled a little through the white noise of the bustling crowds; tick-tock tick-tock. Odd, I thought. We picked up our packs and headed off towards our platform. Seeming to have changed his mind, the man stepped out of line and slipped off into the crowd.


The carriages on the metro were clean and modern. We found seats together easily and settled in for the first leg of the journey. The train sped off down the dark tunnels. As we reached our station we gathered up our baggage and clambered out of the carriage to make the change on to the next leg of our journey. Disembarking ahead of my family I turned back to check we were all there. While they assembled on the platform I cast my eye up and down the length of the train. The last few people exited the doors as I noticed a tall slim figure step out from the next carriage, head down; his jacket blew loosely around him in the wind from the train as it disappeared down the tunnel ahead, in his palms rotating from side to side, a monkey drum.


My senses were tingling, then again I am always hyper-vigilant arriving in a new place, at least until I have got the feel for it. I tried to push it to the back of my mind so I could enjoy the rest of the trip in to town. At the station we made the change on to the monorail. It was a bit more packed than the underground and we struggled to find a seat together in our carriage. My mum pointed down the train, there were seats available on the other side of the joint between carriages. We moved down and settled in our seats. Placing my pack between my legs I looked up. Tucked in next to the pillar at the joint between carriages, directly across from me sat our curious companion. His wild, wide eyes darted quickly down to the ground as his hands fidgeted nervously with the wooden stick of his shiny red monkey drum. This was beginning to feel like too much of a coincidence. I looked around at my family as the train set off, weaving its way through the mountainous terrain of the outer suburbs, towards the great metropolis of central Chongqing. No one seemed alarmed or even to notice as they spoke amongst themselves. A young man sitting beside us struck up a conversation with my father and between the chatter and the dramatic scenery outside the windows everyone seemed happy enough, I decided I should be also.


To my relief as we pulled in to our final station, our peculiar companion sprung up from his seat, out the door and off down the platform, disappearing from sight. Glad to see him go, I began to loosen up a little, thankful that it had all just been in my head. We followed the tunnel up a flight of stairs towards our exit. At the top of the stairs the tunnel swung to the right and diverged towards two exits. People milled about us as we stopped for a moment to check for a sign indicating our exit. Scanning the space at the landing of the stairs my eyes came to rest on a tall slender figure. I looked him up and down; jeans, sports jacket, his back turned as one hand pointed at a map on the tunnel wall, the other rotating methodically back and forth the stick of a shiny red monkey drum. This was it. I could know for sure now. Was he following us? If he took the same exit as us it was confirmed and something needed to be done. We moved towards our exit. His back remained turned. At the top of the stairs we emerged through the exit and in to the jostling streets of down town Chongqing. I kept my eyes fixed ahead, my whole body charging with adrenalin. If he was behind us, I didn’t want him to know that I knew he was there until I could be a hundred percent sure he was on our trail. We sauntered up the street and rounded the corner. I walked next to my sister as we climbed the incline towards our hotel.


“Jess, have you noticed a man following us on the metro?” I asked.


“No, why? What are you talking about?”


“A man with a monkey drum. He has been following us since we got on the metro”


“What seriously?”


“I am pretty sure he is behind us now. I haven’t looked back yet because I want to be sure he is following us, but I am pretty sure.”


“What the fuck.” My sister stopped dead in her tracks and swung around. I turned at the same time and there he was. He stopped, motionless in the middle of the footpath, like a deer in the headlights. “There, him”, I pointed, “with the monkey drum”.


“Right!” My sister growled defiantly as she stormed back down the street in his direction, “Jess, wait!” I called after her. Without hesitating she came to a halt just centimetres away from our pursuer. Fluent in Mandarin, and tougher than a box of nails, she launched in to a tirade that would make the staunchest of men quiver in their boots. Pedestrians stopped to take in the sight of this pint-sized foreigner laying down the law. She finished her piece, the man nodded his head obediently and scuttled off across the road, up a side street and disappeared in to a throng of people.


My sister made her way back up the street towards me, while the rest of my family stood around dumbfounded, unaware of the circumstances surrounding the altercation.


“What the hell did you say to him?” I probed.


“I just told him, I knew what he was doing and that if he didn’t stop following us I would call the police. He agreed, and said he was sorry”.


“What? Are you serious?”


“Yeah, people here, if they know they are doing something wrong won’t usually argue about it. He knew he was busted, so he just admitted it.”


I stood there bewildered for a moment. My family gathered around as we recounted the events leading up to the incident. It was for all of us, an unsettling introduction to Chongqing.

Tags: chongqing, monkey drum



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