The Shanghai Eclipse

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So close..and yet so far away...

So close..and yet so far away...

 

I look out the window at the clouds and feel sure I wont see the Total eclipse today.  Last night the hotel we’re staying in experienced a mad roaming party as more than fifty couchsurfers from more than fifteen different countries setup parties in four different rooms on one floor.  The rooms were packed and hot as everyone shared beers and other drinks chatting with everyone around them.  One room has a soundsystem going strong, another has a game of mahjong in full swing.  It comes complete with a bevy of spectators watching how to play the game as the most of the participants learn.  One of the local CSers organized it to share this part of Chinese culture with all the visitors.Jenny checking out the sun

I’m particularly happy to see two people in particular arrive.  One is Taylor, a Canadian compulsive hitchhiker who has just managed to hitch his way from Turkey to Shanghai across a number of central asian countries.  He stayed with me when he was hitching around Australia and enjoy our collective madness.  The other is Marco, from Italy, who was with me at the last Total Eclipse in Novosibirsk in Russia a year ago.  When he arrives after one in the morning myself and Don give him huge hugs and can’t believe we’ve all made it together to the next one.  And then there’s Don.  He shared the last eclipse with me, as well as numerous other adventures over the last ten or fifteen years; he’s my brother from another mother.  There’s one more person in this unlikely gathering and that’s a French native, Alex who I only met few days ago in Shanghai.  He’s another passionate couchsurfer and I already know we will be friends for a long time to come.

The festivities were still going strong at three when I decided sleep was best, but it’s Alex who woke me up this morning with some heavy duty snoring from the floor of the room.  He surfed my couch last night.  Normally it’s me fulfilling the snoring role and I suddenly feel very sorry for anyone who’s shared a room with me….but I was talking about the eclipse.  We have just over an hour to make it to Jianshanwei beach near Shanghai.  We meet the huge group of couchsurfers in the hotel lobby and make our way to the beach in an endless series of small vans.  They are fitted with a few rows of small dodgy benches and serve as a kind of group taxi in most parts of china.  You have to pay to get onto the beach itself, no problem, it’s China; everything has a price.
Time for a rest
We set ourselves up and first contact happens a minute later.  In less than an hour we will see the black sun.  This will be the fourth time for me but for the first time I can feel a growing tension knot in my stomach because I still think we wont see it.  I’ve travelled so far to make my pilgrimage to be a part of the timeless moment…..and this one is even more special.  This will be the longest Totality in my lifetime.  To miss this would tear a large hole in my eclipse chasing career.  I look to the sky and almost can’t believe it when I clearly see the sun through the clouds.   I raise my eclipse glasses and can see the moon shadow growing slowly on its face.  Maybe we WILL see it.
Ready to catch TotalityWaiting for the Black sun
Some of the couchsurfers with us have brought cameras and the special equipment to get photographs of the celestial magic.  They are busily setting everything up wishing they got here earlier to catch first contact.  I move around the group chatting to people randomly and not really listening to anything.  I can feel my heart beating faster and the tension growing stronger.  I start wondering who or what I can pray to in order to guarantee I see Totality.  It’s something I never do, I am a solidly proud atheist with no need for any God in my life.  Well, until this moment, where it seems like a pretty cool idea for the first time.  I look up at the sun and start a simple Tibetan inspired chant and find Marco joining in with me.
“Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava, Padmasambhava….”

I stop and consider the ridiculousness of what I’m doing.  I should have researched more, I let the couchsurfing part of my life rule me and chose to stay with this huge group of friends.  If I’d checked weather maps I could have flown to the best location to see it.  I find myself chanting again quietly.  I suppose when you want something so completely, you’ll pin your hopes on anything at all.  Hope Springs Eternal.  It’s not an advertisement for durable inner-spring mattresses.  My mobile phone burbles into life, my friend in Shanghai city tells me its raining there and they can’t see anything. I look along the coastline towards the ocean and see the rainclouds coming towards us too.

The clouds are almost boiling as they shift across the face of the sun.  They’re thick enough now that you can look at the partial eclipse without the special dark eclipse glasses.  We’re not going to see it today.  At each eclipse I’ve captured one photograph with myself and the Totality in the background.  This time I get a picture with myself and the sun appearing as a tiny sliver.  There’s only ten minutes to go and I can see a patch in the clouds moving towards us.  We ARE going to see it today.  There’s a phenomena I’ve heard of where the clouds part during Totality, then close when it finishes.  It’s been documented many thousands of times and a few of my friends have actually seen it happen.  It makes the moment even more mystical.  I would sacrifice anything to have that happen for me now.
Shanghai'd at the Eclipse
The gap passes us four minutes before Totality and the sky begins to darken.  A cool wind starts up and all I can think of is that it become stronger and wash away these clouds.  The sky slowly edges to darkness and the lights come on along the walkway beside the beach.

People begin whooping and screaming and all I feel is emptiness.  I scream louder as if I could force the clouds away from me.

Totality brings darkness.

The sky is suddenly dark at ten in the morning and I wish I was somewhere else.  My eyes strain to see through the clouds.  My heart yearns for a gap.  In this moment of unfulfilled desperation I can see why people used to sacrifice precious objects and even their children to win this fight against nature.  My mind screams against this insanity, but my soul is crying for the black sun.

The sky begins to lighten and I know I’ve missed the greatest eclipse of my life.
Couchsurfers
I’m surrounded by such good people and all I can think of is the gaping hole in my existence.  If only I’d researched better, if only I’d thought more carefully about it, if only…if only…if only.

A new resolve appears.  I know when the next one is.  I have another chance.  There will always be another one.  I only have to wait a year.

I turn away from the beach and can only think of drinking more beer to fill the rest of the day with happy warmth.

 

Marco the Italian Eclispe Chaser

Marco the Italian Eclispe Chaser

 

 

New Italian Eclispegear(tm) sunnies

New Italian Eclispegear(tm) sunnies

 

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