China Series

A version of this story was published as part of monthly series that ran in the Warrensburg, MO The Daily Star Journal from Oct. 2000 through May 2001.

The Boy on the Bridge: The Path Mistaken

I told my sister there were three things I felt I must see in China. Top of the list was the Imperial Palace. The pandas at the Beijing Zoo did not make the "must see" three, perhaps because we had gotten a glimpse of one at the San Diego Zoo. However, when we learned that the zoo was within walking distance of our campus, we scheduled it for our first non-teaching day.

It was a beautiful fall morning as we strolled the wide sidewalks and enjoyed the array of potted plants and smelled the delightful aromas from the street vendors preparing food. We stopped at one and bought, for the equivalent of twenty-five cents, what we have come to call our Chinese burrito-- a spicy fried egg and a wafer rolled in a thin soft shell. The Chinese name is jianbing guozi. It is a meal sufficient for two.

On our return that afternoon, we stopped at the DQ along the way and had two peanut buster parfaits. Here they are smaller, by about half, than the U.S. version and the peanuts are larger; but other than that they are the same. The price for the two, of course, was considerably less than we would have paid for one in the states.

In San Diego, we waited in a long line for our momentary sighting of the sleeping panda. Here it was wonderfully different. We walked leisurely inside the panda house seeing some sleeping peacefully and wandered outside where others romped playfully.

The zoo stretches across lakes, with exotic water foul, and across delightful streams, covered with Chinese bridges.

As we were walking across one of these bridges, a young Asian lad of about six hurried toward us. He was alone, obviously separated from his parents. But why did he think we could help him?

Unable to communicate with him, I summoned the first Chinese I saw and left him with her. However, as we walked away, she looked at me as if I were deserting my own child. She apparently could not understand him either.

The next weekend, we met Lucy, a delightful woman from Xian who had recently come to teach in Beijing. We arranged to meet her at Tian'naman Square, across the street from the entrance to the Imperial Palace, over which is a large portrait of Chairman Mao.

As we walked through the various gates, like tunnels, I appreciated its alternative name, The Forbidden City. Standing before the Palace itself, it was impossible to shake the feeling of disbelief that we stood where European nobility could rarely visit just over 100 years ago.

So much for the eye to see! The sheer size is enough, but so are the little things like the figurines at the tips of the eves high on the roofs.

Still, my mind returned to the mystery of the boy at the zoo. Lucy suggested that he was probably Korean. Separated from a tour group, he was looking for another foreigner!

I was amazed and embarrassed. Of course, I knew that all Asians are not Chinese. Then, he could have been Chinese who spoke a dialect not understood in Beijing. How easy it had been to shift his problem to another. Fortunately, the Chinese woman took the less easy path.

From the Forbidden City, we rode a bus to Sci-Tech, an upscale shopping area and we had pizza at Pizza Hut. We could have been in Overland Park, except, again for the low prices.

Come Monday morning, we headed off to class. Sara commented, "Mondays are Mondays around the world."