Another River


In a few days, Sheen and I will be celebrating our birthday. We haven’t had a satisfactory birthday for many years now. Last year, I was in prison, but I’m not going to go into that now. The year before that, Heen was in psychiatric care and I wasn’t allowed to see her. The year before that, I was living in Bangkok and Sheen was living with Soraya and we were both seriously screwed up. So, this year, we decided to celebrate the fact that we are both more or less OK and to enjoy our birthday in the most special way we could think of.


Not long ago, I stumbled across some spooky statistics. It turns out that the Chinese city of Chongqing has more twins than anywhere else in the world, which maybe isn’t surprising when you consider that it has something like 35,000,000 inhabitants (that’s the whole city region, not just the city centre, obviously). Click here if you doubt me, o reader of little faith: I got an email from a friend of mine who told me about a couple of twins called Hin and Xin who used to have a blog, sadly no longer available since Hin has been imprisoned and Xin is in some kind of mental home. After a few weeks’ investigations, Sheen and I decided to pay them a visit.


The city of Chongqing is on the river Yangtze. The Yangtze has little in common with the Ebro, and Chongqing is nothing like Zaragoza, but still, there’s a curious parallel. The Yangtze is an amazing 6,300 kms long, and the locals refer to it as the Chang Jiang. As it flows through the heavily industrialised city of Chongqing, it is a greasy yellow colour and the stench is foul. The only river that smells as bad is the Barada which forces its way through the city of Damascus, but that’s partially understandable because it practically dries up in summer and is fed almost exclusively from the untreated sewage that pours into it from the houses and Damascus has a population of nearly 2,000,000. The stink of the Yangtze is largely due to the chemical plants that abound in and around the city of Chongqing, maybe the price China has had to pay for its economic boom.


Compared to the Yangtze, the Ebro is beautifully clean. Compared to Chongqing, Zaragoza is small and green.


I had the idea of sailing to Chongqing, cruising merrily up and down as many rivers as we could to reach our destination, but our finances didn’t allow it, so we ended up flying to Shanghai (another smelly city – vast, inhospitable and chaotic) and getting a train to Chongqing.


We were unable to visit the “Chongqing Twins”, unfortunately. Both Hin and Xin were out of bounds, but we were able to speak to their elder brother, Dennis. (His real name was Yi-Liang, but he insisted on being called Dennis, for some dumb reason.) Sheen couldn’t help winding him up, saying things like, “Are you a menace, Dennis?” and “Fancy a game of tennis, Dennis?” but he didn’t speak any English and Sheen’s jokes fell flat as I translated them into Mandarin. He showed us some of the articles they’d written on their blog before it was closed down by the authorities and we were stunned to find alarming similarities with our own blog. There was a section called “The Opera and the Beverage”, for instance.


Hin and Xin had a friend called Wu whose photo bore an uncanny resemblance to Soraya. We asked Dennis if we could visit her, and that evening we made an appointment to meet her at the Funky Dragon Club.


The place was teeming, but I recognised Wu immediately. Her pigtails were the most outrageous I’d ever seen and her outfit (bright pink, Gothic Lolita look) was horribly familiar.


“Heen! Sheen! I love you! Cool!!” she screamed, violently assaulting us, hurling her glass of vodka into a crowd of dancers.


Sheen fought her off politely and said, “Hi, you must be Wu”.


“You call me Soraya now, OK? I love your blog! Sheeny baby! Cool!!”


“I beg your pardon?”


“Heen! I gonna marry you!” she screamed, grabbing me round the neck and biting into my jugular vein.


It turned out that Wu was/is a big fan of the Zaragoza Twins blog and has adopted Soraya’s persona. Just what we needed!


We sat and chatted/screamed about Hin and Xin for about half an hour. The music was deafening so I didn’t catch everything Wu said, but I got the drift. She promised to let Hin and Xin know we’d been there, asking about them, and we ended up inviting her to Zaragoza.


“I meet Soraya!”, she screamed.


“Yes, that’s right, you can meet Soraya. I’m sure you’ll get along like a house on fire”, I said.


“Cool!!”, she screamed.


We walked back to the hotel (The Golden Jade Princess or something, I forget). In the foyer there was a big sign announcing a concert by Chi’ang Wao, also known as The Szechuan Monkey.


“Oh, look,” remarked Heen, “Maybe that’s Hin’s Somontano Monkey!”


I could feel my migraine coming on. Maybe this birthday celebration wasn’t such a great idea after all.



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