We were used to attracting huge crowds, for we were white people riding fully loaded bicycles with a white-handed gibbon, and especially the circus atmosphere that accompanied us everywhere we went, to a large extent children, made it difficult for us to have any time alone. Our description of this was “living in a fish bowl.” This happened throughout Asia, less so in India.
To our dismay, guards prevented us from taking Chunnie, our gibbon, into a museum in Bombay. But it must be admitted that she didn’t belong in a museum, even astride Peg’s hip. However, we were shocked by the confrontation, really upset by it, because up until then we had been able to take her everywhere with us and without a single complaint.
Having the gibbon, as I’ve said, was wrong. It should’ve upset people. We shouldn’t have been able to travel around the world with her, much less get her into churches, hotels, restaurants, mosques, museums, temples, watts, wherever. But the world was different in the early seventies; and we were less sensitive about such things.
Chunnie slept on the far side of Peg, not in the middle of the bed but on the edge; and, if I ventured on Peg’s side, the gibbon would bite me. Other times I could handle her, but she definitely bonded with Peg as her mother. Taken far from her South East Asian home, she used to go out in cold weather with a sweater on. She never complained except when she ran into snow. Once, on top of a mountain near Innsbruck, she did a summersault when she touched snow and hopped to the safety of Peg’s hip. Her one and only run-in with a camel was even more dramatic. She immediately lost control of her bowels.
Our having Chunnie sometimes challenged Austrians’ sense of order. More than once some stranger, typically a middle-age woman, encountered on a sidewalk or in a park, would lecture us about the gibbon climbing up a tree or running across the grass (with her arms high above her head). I say they weren’t upset about our having a gibbon. I daresay they were more concern about the grass or the trees. I don’t know if my assessment was fair.