The Western at the Great Wall,” photo by Iris Lau
Every student in the workshop had to have their photo taken with me. I was a “famous artist” from America, even though I told them I wasn’t. They thought I was being modest. No, really. I’m ordinary. Not to them.
And I expected that many artists wanted a photo op after my lecture and presentation. Only one artist wanted to yell at me… the rest wanted to be close to a “famous American artist.” Again, not so famous. Pop, pop, pop. I hope I was patient, as much as I hate to be photographed. Ironic, eh?
It happened a couple of other times. Someone would approach me: picture? Then every member of the family had his turn.
It’s fair. I ask to take pictures of people I find interesting or exotic. Not that many Westerns still venture here, so exotic. And I was somewhat approachable. I was traveling with a group of women, but was often separated from them as I sought the best angle or light, or examination of a detail. I hope I looked friendly. I know I looked odd.
The group at the top of the Great Wall were the most insistent… At least a dozen people had to have their photo with me. What were they thinking? They were friendly, but were they mocking me? Did they want their friends to see how large Americans really are? Were they just excited to put their arm around a stranger?
Was I friendly enough? I tried, but it was a strange sensation all around. All I hoped was: one more photo for world peace!
Today was my last full day in Beijing, in China. A few brief impressions:
–This is a land of contradictions.
–The proper Chinese way to hand something to someone is with two hands, and a slight bow. It took some practice but now feels natural. I’m insulted when handed things with one hand. I’m being dismissed as unimportant. On the other hand, people seem surprised and honored when I do it the “right” way. Another “world peace” moment.
–Young people here don’t have hobbies. They work. They go to bars. They sing kareoke. Volunteer opportunities are rare, too.
–Chinese are a deeply spiritual people, many practicing Buddhism and Taoism. Western religions might have problems here, but traditional Chinese religions seem to have many practioners. Anyone who says China is godless is a Cold War bore.
–Roaches are everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
–I’m open to new foods, as long as they are vegetarian. I tried and liked dozens, including bamboo root, seaweed noodles, candied taro, dragon fruit.
— On hospitality on restaurants: there isn’t any.
–Also no napkins. Carry tissues. Handy for the squat tiolets, too.
–Police and soldiers are everywhere… and they are unarmed. Still, they are scary.
–Children are allowed to run wild. Conformity comes later. I’m not a fan of this practice.
–Make no mistake: Capitalism reigns here. Everyone has a business. Everyone is trying to make a yuan. Everyone.
–Chinese are a fiercely patriotic people. Their middle class is stronger than ours. Don’t get cocky.
–There is pork in everything. EVERYTHING.
–Flowers are nowhere to be found. I was delighted to see roses growing along the highway in Beijing, but that was the only place. This is a land of extraordinary natural beauty, but there is no beauty in thier lives. It’s a gray place.
–The people who know you are wonderful. Strangers are not, with the exception of older women. Always a connection there.