Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Crowd, Small World

Compared to China, Japan seems like it was a stroll through my own, familiar back yard.

Until you’ve been amidst throngs of people in Tiananmen Square you don’t know the meaning of the word crowded. The square itself can hold a million people, and most of them wanted a photo with us. Seeing westerners, especially western children, is still somewhat of an anomaly here and we were repeatedly stopped to pose for pictures with Chinese people on their own holiday.

The kids thought it was pretty cool at first – rock star treatment. But sometimes the people would want to touch my children’s face or hair – like they weren’t quite real. We played “count the white people” from time to time and always came up with single digits.

While walking down the street it is very common for Chinese children to look at us wide-eyed, watch us walk past with their mouths open in astonishment, and then alert the person next to them of the giant white freak show that is passing. And the barber that cut the boys’ hair tweaked Mike’s nose, and poked Charlie in the chest while laughing and commenting in Chinese to the other barbers.

A taxi driver who spoke a little English was astounded by my family of 3 children, as it is still the policy of the Chinese government that families have only one child. “You three? All three boy, boy, girl you?” He asked. “Very big good.” He said. “Very big luck”.

It is a good thing that we hired a tour company (China Highlights) for this portion of the trip. Sam, our guide and best friend for 4 days met us at the Beijing airport sporting a sign with our name – the kids thought that was pretty cool. He and the driver took us to our hotel (Guangzou Hotel) and helped us check in.

DISCLAIMER: I am not generally a fan of fully escorted tours, but here, for us, it has been invaluable. We could never have seen and learned this much on our own, and the kids would have starved to death.

The next morning Sam took us to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was surreal to see the children running around, laughing, and waving the Chinese flag in the mist shrouded square (officially NOT pollution). People were flying great black and red kites with fierce dragon faces, and the giant painting of Chairman Mao, at the entrance of the Forbidden City, is was just visible in the distance.

And instantly I remembered seeing these same images on television one Sunday evening when I was a child. The smell of pork roast wafted into the living room and the sound of plates and glasses clinked against the table in the background. Mike Wallace’s voice announced “And this is another edition of ….60 Minutes”.

I heard my dad yell “Julene, set the table.” But I couldn’t move. I just sat there wide-eyed my mouth open in astonishment. I guess children are the same all over.

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