Wednesday night we went to the circus. Mark’s parents were set to leave China the next afternoon, so we thought this would be an interesting way to cap things off. My in-laws had been to the circus a few years ago in Beijing and remembered that it was in a nice theater and people had dressed up. I prefer to err on the side of civility so I forced the kids to get “snazzy” despite their loud protests. My father-in law chaffed a bit at the new family dress code and Mark decided that it didn’t apply to him and put on jeans. All three children pointed this out to me as soon as he came down the stairs.
Of course, once we got to the circus there were plenty of people in their jeans and t-shirts. The family in front of us had a handful of teenagers all in variations of the same sweatpant based outfit. One of them sat slouched in her seat with her feet propped up on the handrail in front of her. Outside the theater had been extremely crowded with scores of tour buses unloading. Guides with red flags on long sticks had been directing tourists to the entrance of the performance. Inside however, there were plenty of empty seats. People were making use of their cameras even though there were plenty of signs reminding people that photography was strictly prohibited. At least one of these shutterbugs continued to snap away once the performance started until a man came through section by section with an illuminated sign to reiterate the “no pictures” policy.
In Baltimore, we have taken the kids to the circus several times. We have even seen them march the elephants down to Lexington Market and feed them lunch when the circus comes to town. The kids loved that when we were able to go. Who can resist a bunch of clowns surrounding elephants smashing watermelons? The kids want to taste all the circus food. One year Lucas lost a tooth in his funnel cake and I had to hold it in a soggy napkin until the performance was over. Good times.
The Chinese circus isn’t really like the one we see at home. First, there aren’t any animals. Well, at this circus there was a horse in one act but no lions or elephants. I actually like this. I am not so sure circus animals are happy animals and it had started to bother me the last few times we went in Baltimore. Roll your eyes if you must, but having fewer animals relieves me of some of the guilt I feel about my circus participation.
The stars of the Chinese circus are the human performers anyway. Henry was enthralled from the moment the lights dimmed. He kept letting out this astonished little “wow” every few seconds. There were all sorts of contortionist and acrobats all set to an old Shanghai theme. Most of the stunts were just daring enough to make me uncomfortable. There were people being catapulted onto each other’s shoulders. There were those guys in the big wheel running and flipping around, occasionally acting like they might fall (or maybe actually losing their balance, I am never sure). They had eight or nine guys on motorcycles riding around in the giant metal ball. I always tell myself that they are professionals, that they won’t turn that millimeter to the right that brings the whole thing crashing down. This is the only way I can watch. Apparently, in the previous night’s performance one of the motorcyclists did crash and the show had to be stopped. I am glad I didn’t know this before we went. That would have made me close my eyes instead of appreciating all of the people constantly floating down from the ceiling.
They had a ten minute intermission and Henry was convinced that the show was over and it was time to go home. He lobbied hard for us to pack it up and grab a taxi. I told him people weren’t leaving, but that they were going to the bathroom. Mark shot me a look. He apparently didn’t want to take Henry on a tour of the theater toilets. Henry then decided he was dying of thirst and spent the remainder of the show vacillating between amazement over the circus and pleading his case for a bottle of water. He survived through the final act but just barely. Once it was over, slips of paper with fortunes written on them fell from the ceiling like confetti. The kids scooped them up and shoved them deep in their pockets. Lucas read a few of his and commented that some of the translations made no sense. Some of them really were horrible interpretations of what might have been expressed in the Chinese characters. “Time waits for no man” he read. “See? That makes no sense.” Oh, Lucas. That one actually does, kiddo. That one makes perfect sense.