We've had a long break since our last posting, but I'm here today and on we go.
The thing to remember in this episode is that Ting Ting is one of the four Security Council members and her interactions with Dr. Wong, other than a brief encounter when he paid a visit to the Shrine to make offerings and prayers, have been of an official nature, highly moderated by Mu and Feng. She is also the one who initially snuck him out of the Princesses' "sweat lodge." She is playful and a risk-taker and has a sense of humor. And she wants to test what kind of a man he is and if he can at least keep up with her on her turf.
I have not put it into the text, but if you imagine the path she is making him follow (i.e., following her climbing trees), he is constantly looking at and smelling her bare crotch and ass. Don't think she's clueless enough not to be wondering or even calculating what kind of effect that will be having on him. Me? I'd be a quivering wreck at journey's end with balls bluer than arctic ice. But I digress ...
We pick back up as Ting Ting leads our favorite geologist-engineer deeper into the forest.
The story continues ...
Now don’t get me wrong. I am one of the first to tell you that the biosphere interacts with and is a part of the geosphere and therefore worthy of study; but all in good time when I am properly dressed and equipped. Climbing trees butt naked in a forest canopy does NOT get you worthwhile documentation. It yields only the vaguest of anecdotal recollection. And on top of that, I was increasingly worried that my psychopath jailer Qi would get back the Hall of Justice before me.
Nevertheless, I owed Ting Ting one. I would just make her stick close by me so I can hold her out as an alibi. Ting Ting and Qi both have knives, but I’d put my money on Ting Ting in an all-out fight. Being with Ting was like being with an Edgar Rice Burroughs female protagonist—a jungle maiden, a cave girl, or some other version of a noble-savage, wild, but tame-able. Those heroines (and all of the others that have followed in their wake from subsequent novelists and screenwriters) would get the reward of being taken to civilization by the Great White Explorer who found them and wooed them. Such authors never get around to writing the epilogues where they die within 90 days of getting “home” because they’ve succumbed to flu or measles or some other civilized disease. Any guy who would pry this indigenous girl away from her forest needs to be terminated immediately. When I look at the joy on her face as she climbs, she's happier than a cold pig rolling in hot shit--a true “monkey princess,” I realize I have never been that happy in my life about anything.
So she took me into yet another stand of Teak trees that stood yet even straighter and taller than the earlier group we had passed through. These must be the most ancient cultivars. We ascended one particular specimen that towered above the rest and she told me we were going to the top. We climbed and we climbed, breaking through the canopy. She led me to an odd division of branches which, in conjunction with a hollow notch in the trunk, allowed us to sit and take in the panorama, as well as lean back as if we were on a love seat couch. It was the tallest tree on the Island—we could tell because nothing else was above us except the central mountain. The view was spectacular. She pointed out some of the distant features in the landscape to me.
“You can see the rocky outcroppings out beyond the shores of the Island that make it hazardous to navigate into our waters, and which have claimed so many shipwrecks.”
We were at a point where I could look straight down to the Grove’s floor. It was like sitting on top of a telephone pole, but the height was more like a communications tower. The way these trees had grown into each other over the decades apparently gave them all lateral support.
“This tree! It is so goddamned straight. I know a tall ship enthusiast who would kill to get his hands on this trunk for a mast. Add to the fact that it’s Teak, a piece of wood he could probably pass on to his great grandson, you could squeeze $2 million out out of that rich mother-fucker easy, especially if we have an third-party stress test. In fact, if you were to harvest just your mature Teaks, you will have more than enough financial resources to send all of your girls to top-10 private colleges.”
“You will have to talk to the Sea Witch about that. She is the Royal Forester. However, I think the Great Prince was a pious man and was not thinking of commerce when he envisioned The Grove.”
“Not much of a businessman, was he? What’s his story?”
“I will tell you a little. There is an entire legend about him. He was a wise and just magistrate in one of the southern provinces. He was married to a noble lady, our ancestor, but because of her, their lives were put in danger, so he set her aboard a boat to send her to safety. To this island. He told her he will eventually come to the Island and take her home, and they will live together after that.”
“That’s a pretty typical fairy tale.”
“It’s so typical I’m having trouble understanding why it’s a secret. By the way, I hate fairy tales.”
“They set you up to expect happy endings. And that’s bullshit.”
“Who said it was happy?”
“No. I said they ‘will live’ together after that. He has NOT come yet. And after he does, I am sure we will fight and make each other unhappy at times."
"But if he takes you away, back to China I suppose, away from the Grove, you'll be very unhappy, right? And, for that matter, I've been to China. At this point in your life, I"m not sure it's a move up compared to here. Sure the health care is better, but the food quality, the building construction, the pollution ..."
"But you want Jie to go to an American university."
"Trust me, she'd fit right in at Cal, UCLA, or UCI especially. I'm partial to my own alma mater though."
"There are no happy endings. That is why we are always reborn."
"And that's why your god is a circle and my god is a line. I get one shot at doing it right or else."
"Or else what?"
"Hell? Gehenna? Lake of fire? Being cast out from the presence of God. Nobody's ever come back to tell."
"That's funny. Because in my way of thinking, everybody comes back to tell."
“Well, I hope that when your Prince Charming shows up, and hopefully you'll catch him this time around, here's to getting the ending you want. Just tell the guy I’ve got a buyer for his tree when he does come. You got something to write down down my phone number and office hours? Oh that's right, neither of us have shirt or pants pockets.”
“So if it were up to you, would you cut down and sell all of the timber here?”
“Do I look like that kind of capitalist? I'm insulted. I don’t mine resources just to squeeze every penny out. I wait until I have an advantageous purchase contract. BUT if denuding this island served a greater purpose than preserving this artificial environment just for its own sake, I’d do it in a minute. Beautiful and old as this is, this is not any more authentic than a field of genetically modified corn in Iowa. God only knows what this place would have been in it's so-called natural state."
"That island on the horizon that you can see to the west? It is similar to this one the sailors tell us. No fresh water is captured. Only one kind of tree, several grasses and vines. Insects and birds is all. No land animals."
"For real? Hell, if Jie wants a doctorate in geology or environmental science, her thesis is sitting right there. But there you have it. Since this is a cultivated environment, it needs some forest management. You need to harvest some of the mature trees so that so the little ones can grow. So you may as well extract some value and at least buy a better grade of generator fuel. But, this grove is sacred right? It is your Island’s graveyard isn’t it? If all these trees all are the living tombstones of your ancestors’ vitality, then it would be hard to put an axe to any of them.”
“No, not all of the trees are resting places. There is an order to it. There are only eight grave trees. We all know them. Even so, we believe that although we owe the dead their respect and honor, the highest use of abundance is to serve the living. We are isolated so we’re very practical. No Dog Islander would ever let his or her spirit haunt another because his or her tree was cut down to nourish or protect their descendants. By the way, this tree does have a couple of names.”
“We call it the Washington Monument."
"OK I get it. What's the other?"
"The Young Man.”
“The ‘Young Man?’ Doesn’t its height suggest it’s old?”
“There is a certain part of a young man that is always tall and straight. Or at least frequently.”
“HAH! I don’t suppose there’s an ‘Old Man’ too?”
“There is. Would you like to see it?”
“NO thanks. I am sure it will be the depressingly all-to-familiar profile that I see in the mirror all the time. It ain’t tall and straight. God, you ladies can be very earthy at times.”
“Earthy? I don’t know what that means.”
“Comfortable discussing all of the functions the body, not just in the abstract, but about your own and of the person you’re talking to. As we were talking about earlier—you are the opposite of me.”
“So I am your opposite. Right?”
“I am sure we have something in common.”
“You did not correct my usage of the word ‘right.’”
“I was being polite.”
“I do not want your politeness where that is concerned.”
“So that misstep was on purpose?”
“I wanted to see if you cared about my improvement.”
“Give the games a rest. I’ll correct you then. Lee can’t stand it when I do that.”
“I am not Lee. I am different.”
“Do not treat us the same. Go on. Tell me more ways that you and I are alike. Please.”
“OK. Hm. I got it. We both like Jie.”
“You like Jie?”
“Do you like me?”
“Are we back on that again?”
“I did not get an answer the first time.”
“You know that single words have many meanings.”
“I may not have four college degrees, but I know that. You are worried that I will commit the logical fallacy of shifting meaning. The fallacy of definition, aren’t you? ”
“Goddamn you! More games. Logic this time! You sneak. I apologize for being a condescending bastard.”
“You do that type of thing so I will not become a close friend. I am right, right?”
“That’s a correct but awkward construction. Say, ‘I’m right, aren’t I?’
“I am right, aren’t I?”
“What are you? The Island psychologist?”
“I think you are afraid to use the word ‘like’ because it is the word you really want to use about me.”
“OK OK. I like you. Both in the sense that I am fond of you as a pleasant person in the same way as I like your daughter. And I like you because you are an attractive female who is age-appropriate for me. Got it? Is that precise enough for you? Does that help you understand? Does that reassure you as to my motives now? And do you even believe what I’m saying?”
“I believe you. I think you are being honest now.”
“Because you stopped using the sarcastic voice.”
“Am I that easy to read?”
“Maybe only to me. Clete? Do you think I am strange or odd?”
“Compared to what? Scratch that. Unfair question to ask me. Question refused.”
“My cousins think I am odd. They call me “The Monkey Princess.”
“Because you like to climb trees? How original.”
“Is that so odd?”
“Act like a monkey … you finish the sentence. On the other hand, you’re the only woman my age whom I know who swings in forest canopies for a hobby. But I do know a lot who hike or take wilderness walks. So it’s not that weird.”
“So I am not odd? To you?”
“Compared to the ladies I know who taebo box, do hot yoga, or take spinning classes? Hell no. And locally? The whole fuckin’ island and everybody on it is odd. Chill. You seem to be in your element up here. You’re fine. Are we done? Can we go now?”
She leaned over and rested her head on my shoulder.
“That was nice thing to say about me being fine. Indulge me just a bit more and put your arm around me please.”
“Because it will be pleasant, I think. And it will help me with my day dreaming.”
I did so. She wrapped her foot around mine and relaxed into me.
“You need to relax Clete! You are tense. You are sitting on a stick.”
“English lesson #2. The proper idiom is ‘You got a stick up your ass.’ Sorry, I don’t normally relax in five-storey trees.”
“Thank you for your correction. ‘You got a stick up your ass.’ I will remember it. When I was a girl, I imagined what it would be like when the Prince returned to be my mate, and what it would be like to bring him up here to see everything I like to see. I am closing my eyes and trying imagine that you are him.”
“Are you seeing it? Him?”
“In my mind’s eye as a child, he was always tall, extremely broad, pale, strong. He could ride a horse on the western plains and grasslands and shoot a bow and arrow with deadly aim from horseback.”
“We are a nomadic plains people by blood.”
“But you’ve been on a Pacific island for centuries. Why hold on to that? Well, whatever. So, adjust him for age. What do you imagine he looks like right now?”
“For some reason, I think he … he winds up looking like you.”
“That’s a Goddamed letdown! Sucks if that’s the best your imagination can do. I’m a sorry substitute.” My body remembered how I used to cuddle Rico in moments like this, so I pulled her in close and took her hand in mine. “But I know what it’s like to indulge an old dream. It’s why I’m here.”
“Coming here was a dream of yours?”
“Not here in particular. My master and mentor was a specialist in South Pacific geology. He was definitely interested in subduction zones like this one. I was excited about doing some of his field research. Then I got sidetracked into the business of looking for oil . . .”
“Was that a bad thing?”
“No, not at all. I told you I have a talent for it. It pays the bills. If that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be here enjoying this tree climb with you now. So it’s ALL good.”
We descended to another stand of Bo trees but came to a dead end. “The juncture branch is no longer here,” she tells me.
“There is evidence of a jagged break; probably came off in a storm a few years ago. It’s weathered, but I should remember this and come back, give it a clean cut, and dress it. There is rot. I haven’t been to this part of the Grove in a long time.”
“This a problem?” I ask.
“There’s another path, but we would have to backtrack and take the southwest leg, and it would take a while. We are so close. I think we should chance going to the ground. We only have to go 50 meters.”
“There’s another broad limb over there,” I suggested.
“The receiving limb would require a leap to get to. I don’t think we should try it. It would be about a 20-meter fall to the ground if you missed. You have not been lucky in the chances you have taken with your body lately.”
“I’M THE ONE TAKING CHANCES WITH MY BODY? Gimme a break!”
“That is what we are trying to avoid.”
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.