Mysterious Island Goes to China: WHITHER GOEST THOU, CHINA

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is the third in a four-part series on the author’s trip to China.  Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available at Amazon, Kindle and in stores in Avalon.

Since this wouldn’t be a proper Mysterious Island series without a mystery or two thrown in, I thought I’d relate a couple of minor oddities I’ve experienced here.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is the third in a four-part series on the author’s trip to China.  Jim Watson is the author of “Mysterious Island: Catalina,” available at Amazon, Kindle and in stores in Avalon.

Since this wouldn’t be a proper Mysterious Island series without a mystery or two thrown in, I thought I’d relate a couple of minor oddities I’ve experienced here.

Only a day or two after my arrival in Beijing I was walking across the hotel lobby on my way somewhere when I noticed a large group of what appeared to be a visiting girls sports team checking in.  They were all about high school age so I assumed they were in Beijing playing a local team.

Just as I was about halfway across the lobby, a young girl stepped into the middle of the room right next to me and yelled out “Yao! San! Yao!  Jiu!” (the numbers “1-3-1-9”)—my P.O. box number in Avalon!

I’m sure she was probably just yelling her room number to her friends, but what are the odds?  I like to think it was the Island letting me know she’s still there, waiting for me when I get back.

Another curious thing involves my cell phone battery.  

About a year ago, I got a lemon for a smartphone that I have to keep on the charger most of the day because the battery drains dead within only a few hours—whether I’m using the phone or not.  

Even when my phone is turned OFF on Catalina, such as when I go into my job in the Casino projection room, the battery drains within a few hours.

Since I had already returned my first phone for the same reason and the replacement did the same thing, I threw my arms up in the air and just decided to live with it.

Now that I’m in China, however, my phone now goes for DAYS without having to be recharged.  

I have no idea why and I’m wondering if my battery will go back to its old tricks once I get home again.  It can’t be because of the power source.  

After all, electrons are electrons anywhere you go, anywhere in the universe. Unless there’s something mysterious about electrons on Catalina …

The Chinese Smithsonian

Speaking of mysteries, the mysteries of Chinese history and their own take on it were laid before me on a recent trip to the National Museum of China, their equivalent to our Smithsonian.

Like the Smithsonian, it’s impossible to cover in a single day, so I contented myself with “Ancient China” and a must-see:  a temporary exhibit on “China’s Rejuvenation,” essentially the Chinese view on their turbulent history over the past 150 years or so leading up to the present day.

They pulled no punches, nor should they have I suppose.  

The rhetoric was stinging with the British taking most of the brunt because of their role in the Opium Wars and subsequent occupation of China for decades.  

Copious newsreel footage and still photographs portrayed the raggedy, starving children of that era eating meager handfuls of rice gruel.  

These scenes were accompanied by footage and stills of wealthy Westerners being pulled around in rickshaws and feasting at posh restaurants on beef, duck and pork while swilling fine Western scotch and brandy.

With the Revolution of 1911, there followed a long period of violence and internal warfare.  

The Chinese people went from the fire into the frying pan when the Japanese invaded in the early 1930s, the “highlight” of which was the Nanjing Massacre in 1937.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a large “shrine” honoring Chairman Mao, who is, of course, revered here.  (He appears on all currency denominations, for example).  

That being said, they were somewhat candid with the strife of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution and the troubles and “challenges” that it posed.  

Interestingly, unless I missed it, neither the Korean War nor the Vietnam War was mentioned at any length.

The exhibit ended with a very extensive section on China’s current economic boom and advances in their technology and manufacturing, something which is highly evident right out the front doors of the museum.  The Chinese are very proud of this current era and, I must say, it concluded the very tragic and depressing history of the exhibit on a high note.  

Overall, it was one of the finest museum’s I’ve ever seen.

As with travel to any foreign destination, there’s been a number of surprises here in terms of what I expected versus what I have experienced.  The first one is tipping.  Apparently that practice hasn’t made it to China.  Yet.

I gave up on the tipping thing after two attempts.  The first time was when I tried to tip the taxi driver that brought me into central Shanghai.  

I tried paying him a tip of a couple of yuan on a 30 yuan ride, but he looked at me like I was crazy, as did the taxi driver in Beijing who first brought me to my hotel.  

Why would anyone want to give someone more money than what they are asking, they no doubt wondered.

I got another cultural awakening when I tried to order a cup of tea with my breakfast at a little greasy chopstick joint near my school.  Chinese like drinking tea, right?   

Well, apparently not when you’re ordering pork noodle soup for breakfast.  After ordering, I asked for a cup of tea with my meal and the girl behind the counter looked at me like I was crazy.

The ultimate jolt, however, came when I ordered lunch at the little noodle house in the lobby of my hotel.  

I knew from doing my homework beforehand that rice is not exactly a common dish in the northern parts of China.  In the States, we view rice and China as two inextricably linked things, like peanuts and beer or Amos and Andy.

Further supporting this idea is the fact that the Chinese word for rice, fan, is also the general word used for “food.”But we Americans often form our opinions of other cultures based on what we observe from the immigrants from those countries once they are in the United States.  Most Chinese immigrants to the U.S. and Canada originally came from southern China where rice is king, so we have formed our impressions of Chinese culture accordingly.

We even have the idiom in the U.S. of not wanting or willing to take some given action “for all the rice in China,” do we not?

So I ordered my spicy chicken soup from the waitress in my hotel’s restaurant and thought a small bowl of white rice might compliment it nicely.

She looked at me like I was crazy.

NEXT WEEK:  THE WANDERING JIM.

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