Where am I?
I definitely know where I came from, I just don’t know where I am, I think as I gaze at the panda bears on the El Malecon ocean walk of Lima, Peru. This city only seems only slightly foreign after China, it being a new chapter of my life with new characters, a new setting and new plot. Today’s adventure started at a shoe cobbler on a corner near the Surquillo market. The space was crammed with forgotten luggage baring wobbly wheels, souls in search of shoes, a dusty stuffed alligator suspended by an even dustier string, and a wall-hanging made of colorful shoelaces. I handed the cobbler my leather passport bag, the clasp broken, the strap dangling. His slicked back hair was as black as the shoe polish, his mustache pencil-thin, making me wonder if he filed it with one of his tools.
I could almost understand his flirtatious conversation.
“¿Cómo te llamas?”
“Yo soy Ginger, ” I answered confidently, thanks to my fifteen minutes a day of DuoLingo.
He searches in a box of clasps and rivets and dares to asks me my age.
My brain, in desperate need of GPS, answers in Chinese. “Liù shí-èr.” I say again in Spanish. “Sesenta y dos.”
The cobbler doesn’t correct me with a waggling finger, as they do in China. As a matter of fact, no one has waggled their finger at me in Lima when I’ve mispronounced a word, and there have been many! There aren’t four tones to confuse like with Mandarin, and which I still can’t hear the difference: mā, má, mǎ, mà. Did I mean horse, mother, a question or a vulgarity? I’ve endured a lifetime of fumbled pronunciations of sinsabaugh over the years, never giving anyone the stink-eye for mispronouncing my moniker. Anyway, the cobbler’s shoulders slump. His jaw hits the floor. I guess I’m the age of his mother. Or his mother’s mother. Or whoever built Machu Pichu. His attention goes back to my bag. He flicks a Zippo lighter to burn a lose thread.
“Gracious,” I say, now in search of avocados that aren’t as hard as cannon balls.
Nope. This isn’t China. Not by a long shot. (photo: Barrio Chino, China Town, Lima, Peru, near the historic district).
I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed the contract; I just knew what I was getting out of. Lima, Peru is 11,536.79 mi (or 18,566.66 km) away from Kunming, China. Considering that the circumference of Earth is 24, 888 miles, you really can’t get much farther apart. Along with being where hikers from all over the world stop on their way to lost city of the Incas, Lima is home to several world class restaurants that put the hoity in the toity. Sadly, I haven’t eaten at any of them yet, or the ice cream, which seems to be everywhere.
Honestly? I don’t know much else about this city or country. I don’t know the history, what the flag looks like, the exchange rate, or if the toilet water really swirls down the hole in the opposite direction. I didn’t even that Peru has over four thousand potatoes until I got here (you could eat a different one every day of the year for ten years). All I knew about Lima, Peru, was that it was the next blank page in the continuing adventure of me.
I did discover Lima is actually a Rubik’s cube of forty-three districts. That’s because I have to find a permanent place to stay. Travel websites focus on just a few districts, mainly Miraflores, the pulse of the city, where opulence grows on trees. Imagine if a sliver of New York City broke off and drifted below the Equator, then replace a few street musicians with surfers walking with their boards, their skin tan, their dreads sun-bleached, their souls addicted to waves crashing on the bed of polished stones. That’s the vibe. That’s Miraflores. That ain’t Kunming.
But Miraflores doesn’t seem all that foreign compared to Kunming, China, my home for twelve plus years, where the language, toilets, and customs were all peculiar. In China, I was the tourist attraction. Me with my huge nose, light hair (I refuse to say gray), and massive size 8 shoe. Folks shamelessly stared at me, kids on bikes squealed to a stop just wanting to practice English. But in Miraflores, Lima? I’m part of the crowd, the conveyor belt of tourists and/or transplants experiencing high altitude sickness or wanderlust, guzzling bottles of bubbly water.
The physique of the locals varies: some are blond, others have Sponge Bob physiques with huge barrel chests and little legs for rigorous mountain life. Fashion is influenced by the Kardashians, where anything goes and lots is exposed, including Andes-like cleavage. All, except for Jesus. That guy is everywhere.
I didn’t bother taking gobs of pictures of the El Malecon, and I didn’t try preserving the smell of the ocean in a mason jar. However, there are loads of photographers snapping surfers with serious cameras. The waves are crystalline as the water originates from the South Pole and penguins don’t litter.
It hits me that China is on the other side of that ocean. It’s already tomorrow there. I notice several dogs walking people. I see a few naked butts of surfers changing into their wetsuits. I’ll lick my arm it tastes of salt. Yes, I really am here. I am really in Peru, a country famous for potatoes and ancient extra-terrestrials and flirtatious shoe cobblers. As for Kunming and my two boxes that are hopeless lost? That chapter of my life is over. Lima is beginning to feel like uhhhh…mi casa.