‘AAAH! Watch out!’ cried Pola and pulled Rascal back towards the pavement at the last minute.
A rickshaw, pulled by a slim Chinese boy passed right next to the travellers, followed by several cars and motorbikes trying to overtake it using whichever lane they could.
‘Are you blind?!’ Rascal barked at the Chinese boy but didn’t get the answer.
Members of the TUP brigade found themselves in a really strange place. There was heavy traffic and hundreds of people were walking along the street.
On the right, they saw low wooden buildings with sweeping roofs painted black or red. On the left, there were huge buildings made of concrete and glass. They were so tall that Rascal could barely see their roofs when he raised his head.
‘Are we in China?’ he asked Pola hesitantly.
‘Well… I guess…’ answered his little guardian. ‘I’ve never been to China before.’
‘So how are we going to find the dragon now?’ asked concerned Rascal. ‘Granny didn’t tell us how to do it…’
Suddenly, to Rascal’s surprise, a duck showed up right in front of his snout. It was amazingly colourful. The dog has never seen so many colours on one animal. The mixture of colours looked so funny that Rascal, instead of getting scared, started to laugh.
‘Who are you? Ha, ha, ha. Have you escaped from a fancy dress ball?!’ He laughed even louder.
‘What?!’ yelled the bird. It waved its wing, grabbed Rascal’s paw and pulled, jumped, cried ‘Aiaaah!’ and knocked the dog to the ground.
‘Hey! Watch out, I’m carrying a wounded kitten,’ cried Rascal with his snout pressed to the ground.
‘Oh, I’m sorry… I’ve lost my temper… sorry…’ said the bird, a bit startled. ‘I’m Zhangyang, it means “the vast ocean” in Chinese. I’m a mandarin duck Kung-Fu master. Granny Amalia sent me here to protect you and help you get to the dragon’s parade when the time comes.’
‘Protect us? But you’ve just attacked us!’ called startled Pola.
‘Rascal attacked me first, I was only defending my honour. But forget about it now. Get up from the sand and follow me.’
The Kung-Fu master turned around and started to walk quickly between pedestrians. He didn’t even turn around to look at the confused travellers who ran after him, despite their concerns. They passed several streets, a small wooden bridge, another busy street, and after a while they reached a very calm area.
‘Alright,’ the mandarin duck finally spoke. ‘You’d better eat something because the dragon’s parade will take place later, in the afternoon. You need to have enough strength.’
Suddenly, Pola and Rascal spotted arrows flying towards their heads.
‘Catch them!’ called the duck.
Pola and Rascal jumped to the sides just in time to avoid getting hit.
‘My dear friends,’ said the Kung-Fu master, amused. ‘Why didn’t you catch them? These were wooden chopsticks, not arrows. In a minute, Ms Yu Tian [You Tsien] will bring you delicious Baozi dumplings. You can’t eat them with your hands.’
Pola and Rascal looked at each other knowingly. This master would rather kill them than protect them…
Meanwhile, the master bent down to grab chopsticks and gave them to the friends.
Steamed dumplings with soy sauce tuned out to be delicious and jasmine tea was really tasty. Ms Yu Tian [You Tsien] with almond eyes and big glasses was smiling friendly at her guests and kept on brining them new portions of dumplings.
‘OK, the celebrations of the Chinese New Year will begin in a few minutes. Take a look at all those amazing decorations in the streets of Shanghai.’
The animals looked up for the first time since they had landed in Shanghai. Trees, buildings and streetlights were decorated with red ribbons, strips of material and… red monkeys.
‘Red monkeys…’ the Kung-Fu master looked at them with proudly, ‘are the symbol of the incoming New Year. It will be the year of adventurers and explorers, the year of breakthroughs. In China, a different animal is assigned to every incoming year. The year of the Goat has just passed, and those years before, were the years of the Horse, the Snake and the Dragon… this year is the year of the Monkey.’ The duck seemed to be lost in thought for quite a while but then he looked down and added, this time more vigorously, ‘OK then, let’s go, we have to cure your friend.’
The duck immediately stood up and headed towards the busy street where he started to slip between pedestrians. Pola and Rascal barely managed to follow him, after waving Ms Susi goodbye and thanking her for the food and drink.
They reached a square where many people had gathered. Everything was red. People and animals were carrying red banners or red toy monkeys.
A loud noise was coming from the distance. Bangs, sounds resembling explosions, shots of cap guns and metallic sounds of cymbals could be heard everywhere. Sounds were only an indication of what they were about to see.
‘The dragon’s parade is finally coming,’ said the duck cheerfully and pulled Rascal and Pola after him.
After a while, they reached the first row of the audience gathered in front of cones preventing people from walking into the street where the dragons were supposed to march.
‘Sushi,’ said Pola hesitantly. ‘Are you sure we’re safe here?’
‘Safe?’ echoed the cheerful duck. ‘It’s the Chinese New Year, everybody’s safe here today.’
After less than 2 minutes, Pola and Rascal saw a huge dragon. A group of boys was marching right in front of it, beating drums and playing the cymbals rhythmically. Bah! Bam! bam! – they heard the sounds. The closer the parade was, the louder and more unbearable the banging was. At the same time, they saw the dragon coming up between people. It was huge! Its head, eyes and teeth were so big that our afraid travellers felt the urge to step back. But when the dragon got closer and was a few metres away from them, the Kung Fu master pushed Rascal to the front, right under the feet of the dragon!
‘Aaaah!’ cried Rascal.
‘Aaaaah!’ echoed Pola.
‘Aaaargh!!!’ The dragon roared fiercely and looked as if it wanted to swallow Rascal.
‘Run!’ yelled Pola.
But terrified Rascal started to quiver and was not able to move. The dragon leaned towards the dog and his friend, roared loudly and it seemed like it was going to swallow them. But then, it raised its head and moved on along the street, following the noisy parade. Eight or so legs of the dragon stepped above Rascal’s head. When the dragon waved its tail, something strange happened.
‘Oh dear, where am I? Has something just tried to eat me?’ Tola asked weakly, opening one eye.
‘All that is good, all that is new, now take us home and hide all the truth,’ whispered Pola, tossing her compass and covering friends with her wing. Within a second, they were back home in Sudovia, all safe and sound.
‘I’m sorry for the hurry but when Tola woke up, I thought it would be better to come back home as fast as possible, instead of waiting for any other surprise from our Kung Fu master…’
Pola and Rascal laughed cheerfully. These were truly special Orthodox Christmas and the Chinese New York.
Will Pola and Rascal become friends? Will they be eager to travel in the future? You’ll find out next week…
Questions to careful listeners
- What is the name of the duck with colourful, red-blue-mandarin feathers?
- What country did Tola, Pola and Rascal travel to?
- Did Rascal and Pola eat dumplings with a knife and a fork, or maybe they used something else instead?
- Why was Shanghai, one of the cities in China, all covered with red decorations?
- What was Rascal afraid of?
- Did Tola wake up?