When I first walked down the street by the hotel called, "The Grand Hyatt Shanghai," I found myself looking over towards the Oriental Pearl Tower; it reminded me of the tower in Kyoto, Japan . It was a marvelous looking city—this Shanghai, I thought at the time, with its modern architecture and western fashion. Thus, the old civilization I pictured had faded away like the movies of Charlie Chan; whom I watch in the 50s; although I think they made them in the 30s and 40s. Oh, my name is Milton Carpenter, and I write travel articles for a magazine.
As I was about to say, I ended up visiting the beautiful Shanghai Huangpu River a dozen times when I was in Shanghai. Reminds me when I was in San Antonio, Texas , I visited the Alamo five times. I get this sense of wistfulness, or is it nostalgia in me and I go back to the places I love, many times; yes, I see it once, end up thinking about it often and feel it in my soul, and got to go back again and again, until my thirst is quenched. Like when I’m Paris, I usually go back to Notre Dame Cathedral, several times, each and every time I'm in Paris, and I'm normally only in Paris for less than a week each time; but that's the way it is for me, I’m spellbound by that church and its history, amongst other things, like Victor Hugo’s novel: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Anyhow, I found myself going back to the river-walk, or front, along the banks of the river over and over in Shanghai. And I should add, rivers calm me, so it is second nature for me to do this, should I find a river, and should I need calming; for example, like in Cardiff, Wales, the river runs right through it, right by its Millennium Stadium, and the Seine in Paris, seems to run right through it, as does the Tames in London, and the Mississippi which runs through St. Paul, St. Louis and New Orleans—all cities I’ve been to and adore: I end up always in a daze walking by them, or alongside of them, I should say; as if they were hypnotic.
So I found myself at the riverside watching all the cars go by, like in any big city of eight-million I suppose, such as Lima, or Cairo, but I think the worse traffic is in Madrid, and the worse air pollution is in Quito, Equator, yet I love the city and its people in Quito. As I was about to say, Shanghai has all the electrical gadgets any big city has, like in New York City, or Chicago, Rome or San Francisco. And let me add, Mai has not been forgotten in Shanghai either, his picture is everyplace, like in Havana where Che's picture is all over the place.
But it is the riverfront I wanted to tell you about, the Huangpu River, that is where it all started, and ended. It was most recently I experienced this mishap, which is the best I can call it. The year was, the year of the new century, 2000 AD. I left Beijing, did an article on 'The Forbidden City,' I traveled a lot back then. Now they wanted me (The Travel Magazine’s Editor) to go to Shanghai and do a travel article on 'The Dogbianmen Watchtower;' which I really never got to do.
When I arrived the riverfront was sparkling with reflections from the gold, red, blue, yellow and green neon lights that cover the city’s river walk area. The red Chinese flag was waving in the wind, as a mist filled the port region—it was a whimsical day.
For the most part it was a cool day in late September, and capitalism seemed to be exploding, and free expression likewise. Kids on bikes, art centers open, rolls of lights along the streets patrolling the river, like in Malta, akin to policemen. So I stood leaning against a solid stone divider between the sidewalk, the street and the river itself, waiting for the ferryboat to take me down the river on a short tour, it was near dusk.
Murder in Shanghai
I departed the bank of the river along with a crowed of others whom went directly into the dinning hall, which was on the first of the three floors of the huge ferryboat. I was left alone on the lower deck and paced back and forth in the front of the vessel—close to the bow, watching a dog run loose and listening to a man and women argue some twenty-five feet to my left, they were somewhat covered, better put, camouflaged by a winding white staircase that lead to the second and third decks.
It wasn't long before the boat and we passengers were headed down river. As I looked into the water leaning over the edge of the vessel a giggle of music came out from the loud speakers—fading back and forth with some static attached to it, as if the airwaves were being disrupted from a radio antenna; at the same time waves within the river were picking up I noticed, a storm was brewing. I started to fall, to sway a bit here and there as the vessel seemed to wobble with the influence of the torrent waters, consequently creating sluggishness to its forward thrust. Then I fell—I should say crashed into some moving objects, and found myself getting wet from the waves, and then the rains came pouring down: it was one thing after another.
As the storm started to increase so did the waves and everything on the deck became more slippery, icy, slimy, everything started to slide, or tried to slide that could slide: chairs, tables, ropes, lifeboats twisted, lifejackets tied down, once tied down, were all moved about with the rocking of the boat. I looked to the dinning hall, and many folks had gathered by the secured tables—welded into the frame of the boat, the floor, holding on tightly—as others were hanging onto railings overhead.
—There, over on the other side of the boat was a couple, in-between two small safety boats, and some life vests. And a dog, the dog I had seen before, he was now slipping and sliding trying to get to the lower deck door and each time he made it, he slide back to the edge of the ship, almost becoming airborne, and tossed into the water—by sheer luck he remained onboard. But a more serious matter seemed to dawn on me, the man and woman were actually fighting, in fact they were pushing and grabbing at each other, as the black clouds of Hades-water filled the sky overhead. I appeared to me, as if the man wanted to [he being the alleged assailant], was trying to throw the woman overboard; she looked at me as if in desperation, her attacker was an elder man in his 40s, she a younger woman in her 30s. He was much larger than her, I could see that. And should he throw her overboard, who would know but me. She looked at me again: bellowed out, “Save me, save me, please, he wants to throw me overboard!"
The man looked briefly towards me—an odd if not, indifferent king of look and went back into a guarded position with the woman, as if he didn’t have time for one quick thought, and that was all—and I thought, 'Save the woman,' my mind said, 'It's now or never.'
Even though I was having trouble securing myself I managed to hurdle myself to their side, and although he—the man, and supposedly culprit—he was quite muscular looking, but I was quicker with my hands and feet, and I kneed him in the groin, and as he bent over she throw him overboard—with a quick thrust, landing him into the hammering river—which I had no intentions of doing of course. I hesitated, trying to get my senses back and went to throw a lifejacket to him, yet I could not see him; hence, I bent over to get one and slipped a bit, grabbing onto the cold wet railing and as I did—believe it or not—the woman to the side of me took a hold, a solid grabbing onto the small boat and pushed it against me, against my side, and I flew head first through the railings into the water with the lifejacket in my hands. By gosh and by golly, I thought, can you beat that; finding myself in the torrent waters, for trying to help a maiden in need, more like a madman, or in this case, madwoman: I had come to the conclusion it was her trying to throw him in the water all this time as he resisted her, and I ended up doing the dirty work for her.
It was classical I told himself, kicking my shoes off and undressing to my bare flesh, only having my underclothes in the bogy-cold water; I told myself, 'Where now?' I was feeling more like a glacier by the minute. She was calling over the railing, "Murder, murder,' yelling it into the wild storm, into the river in somewhat of a frantic warning; sure enough, I thought, '...now she'll tell them all I was the murderer, yet she does not have my name, matter-of-fact, if I can make it to the shore before the storm lets up, before they come looking for me, whose to say I was even on the boat [?]' so I told my second self as I looked about for which course to take, a rhetorical question, I was lost as if in outer space.
My knees seemed to melt and bend along with my lower body, everything collapsing in the slapping winds and waves of the water; my neck-muscles cramped, my forehead bumped into the lifejacket several times which was halfway on me, as the waves slapped my head so bad I couldn't tie the strings properly. Then for the moment the wind was free, and it seemed to make my eyes evaporate into the thick of the fog; I could only see but a foot or two in front of me.
I had the foretaste of drowning. I put my arms out so I could get more floating buoyancy with my armpits. Yet I knew I had to make it to shore quick or die within these waters, no one was coming back looking for me. What a predicament I had gotten myself into, I admitted, and admitted and admitted—to keep my brain from slipping, hence, I felt like a murderer. I had helped kill a man for her, and airily I thought, 'who the heck was she, nobody but a stranger me?' (My heart was still hammering; but it told me I was still alive, and that was good).
Just then, just when I felt all the earth was dead and its grave was this water, something alive moving by my side touched me, touched me a few times, I looked to see what it was, and it was the dog, the dog on the ship, and he was a good size mutt—and a good swimmer, and he knew where he was going. His big dog eyes looked at me, as he kept swimming or dog paddling to the shoreline, and I grabbed onto his tail keeping abreast—it took all my energy, and every once of hope, and I prayed and prayed, and within fifteen minutes we found ourselves laying on the shore, I was still hanging onto the dog's tail.
Well, how could I leave the dog stranded on the beach, I had taken the dog to Lima, Peru with me, and he is guarding my house as I write this story for you, he lives on top of the roof in a little wooden house, I named him Tomasa.
June 9, 2005 (reedited, 2006) No: 252 (Reedited, 2-2011)