My humble home in the arroyo is coming together. I hung my prayer flags today, for the first time since buying them in Shangri-La, China—four years ago. I was on my way to the Hundred Chicken Temple—a guidebook footnote who’s quirky name demanded my attention.
At the foot of the hill was a small stand in a dirt lot. For sale: various sizes and qualities of prayer flags. In crude, gesturing communication, the man asked where I was from. I answered in kind. “Oh!” he cried, “United States!” followed by, “Shaquille O’Neal!” He pretended to play basketball and continued yelling “Shaquille O’Neal!” “Yes,” I replied, stunned, “Shaquille O’Neal!” and joined him in the act. I wish I had known an outdated Chinese sports star who’s name I could have yelled while miming badminton. Or that Chinese basketball player—what was his name? I could have played the odds and yelled “Wu!” while miming ping pong. So inappropriate! But, though I spontaneously joined his charade, I was nonplussed, a deer in headlights, a hypnotized chicken. What does one say to a man pretending to be Shaq? The conversational dance soon came to a standstill. I smiled, laughed awkwardly, bought some flags, and continued up to the Hundred Chicken Temple, which was beautifully draped in fluttering colors, and now had one hundred and one chickens.