Saturday, September 10, 2011

great wall

Jerry phoned Dan at work when he got the results of his blood work, ``Good news, T-cells are still up, don't have to start AZT.''  So that evening Dan brought a gift home: ``We're going to China,'' waving a glossy color brochure.  Even knowing that Jerry was your basic homebody Dan had placed the deposit to join a group tour, it was early 1989 and mainland China had only recently begun allowing Americans into the country.  This was an opportunity he felt they should not miss.  Left unsaid was, ``While you can still travel.''
``Can't we just go to Grant Street for an afternoon?  Take a ride on the 30 Stockton?  We'd be home in time for dinner.''
``Jerry, I can't believe you're this parochial, you know how many people would love to make a trip like this?''
Jerry did not know how many people would love a trip like this but he knew of one who would not.  He also knew when he was trapped.  Finally he grumbles ``Alright, but I'm taking a fork.''
Their group meets with a tour liaison at the Air China terminal of SFO International, they were easily the youngest members and the only male couple.  Jerry leans to Dan, ``Don't look over just yet but two old dykes are staring this way, I think they're gonna want us to be tour buddies.''
``You always think people are staring at you,'' Dan mutters as he bends to fumble with a carry on so he can scan the women.  Jerry continues, ``And  they're wearing Birkenstocks!  I simply refuse to be associated with anyone that wears Birkenstocks.''
On the flight Dan flips through the brochures once again, hoping to pique some interest, reading out loud, ``Tien An Men Square, Peking Duck, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Great Wall—come on, you're going to love it, look,'' shoving the brochure over, pointing to the picture: ``Guilin, we're stopping there, we'll see this, look!''
A large part of their stay was in Beijing  (Jerry: ``When do we get to see Peking?'') and they noticed some peculiarities beyond the total mindwarp just of the mass of human beings.  If they stood on a street corner for more than a few minutes people began congregating around them, men in black pajamas that would stand in some proximity and just stare, to these people fair skin, blond hair was the spectacle.  (Jerry: ``If I flap my arms do you think they'd scatter like pigeons?'')
More than a few times as they visited various ancient and oriental sights (or as described by Jerry, ``Yet another place older than Jesus.'') a native Chinese would approach them and begin asking a sequence of questions in English that would tend towards the awkwardly personal.  The pattern was something like this,  Are you from America?  What city are you from?  What do you do for a living?  How much money do you make?  Are you married?  How many children do you have?  With a pause between each question.
Others in their tour group had similar experiences and eventually their guide said that these Chinese were practicing their English, these were standard question and answer routines used in a language class (Jerry: ``I wonder what they ask the lesbians— 'Can't you afford better shoes?' '').  At any point they only needed to say to the Chinese person, ``You speak English very well,'' and that person would thank them and leave happy.
The day they visited the Great Wall and were standing with other tour groups in a curved open stretch near a rampart Jerry nudged Dan and nodded towards two young, elegantly dressed Japanese males that were crossing from one parapet to the other.  ``You think they're gay?'' and on noting that the two Japanese had looked over at them while talking to one another he added, ``Wouldn't it be funny if they were asking the same thing about us right now?''
About then a Chinese man intruded, standing in front of them with a big grin and he started the routine, ``Are you from America?  (pause)  What city are you from?''
The two young Japanese males had moved close enough to overhear the interchange and when Dan answered, ``San Francisco,'' he saw them look at one another knowingly and smile.