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Emeishan, Part II

Part Deux: Doc, That’s French

The flight to Chengdu, which is in Sichuan province, the southwestern sector of China, only took about two hours, and it was pretty uneventful. It was a fairly empty flight, which is fairly uncommon for flights in China. Most of the Chinese sat towards the front of the plane, and I sat in the back. I was starting to get the distinct impression that some of these people had never seen a westerner before. That point really was of no matter to me, as I was on the “rich American” tour, so, all I had to do was get off the plane, get my distinctly bright red American made in China duffle bags, and wait for some very Chinese tour guide who spoke broken English to grab me and whisk me away in some imitation of an automobile for our trip to Emeishan. It was going to be an experience. I was right about everything.

The airport at Chengdu gives one the impression that the 1950’s came and went, without the 1960’s every showing up. Small, dirty, kind of out of the way, all of which gives it a character all of it’s own. But, as opposed to airports in Beijing or Hong Kong, or even Zengzhou, one thing that you notice at the Chengdu airport is the lack of foreigners. My early morning arrival into the mist encrusted Chengdu airport revealed three things: no foreigners, no English, and no Fred.

Well, Fred really isn’t his name, and, well, to this day, I still don’t know what it is. We had been sitting in this mini van thingy, on our way to Emeishan, talking about one thing or another; me, with my broken New York English, he, with his broken Chinese English, both of us barely understanding each other, and the subject of our names eventually came up. I told him that my name was Rich, which was a near impossibility for him to pronounce, so I told him to just call me doc, which most of the Chinese tend to call me anyway, because of it’s phonetic simplicity. He told me what his name was, and after my third attempt to try to repeat it, I essentially gave up. It was then that visions of Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone started rumbling through my tired and exhausted mind; Barney Rubble because of his terribly laid back and almost ignorant attitude, Fred Flintstone, because he looked like a skinny cachectic version of one. So, I tried something.

“Hey Fred!”

He turned around. And smiled.

And that’s how Fred became Fred.

Ah, but I didn’t get into the whole story of where Fred was. It was late morning as I walked out onto the greeting ramp exit area of the Chengdu airport. Talk about being the sole American. Talk about being the sole foreigner. Talk about trying to act inconspicuous, talk about trying to melt into one’s surroundings, when you’re wearing nice bright red American North Face technical wear, with equally bright and red duffle bags. Try melting two hundred and twenty pounds of American beef, all built on a six foot three frame, into a society that appears to be half that size. Try doing it when not a word of English is spoken. Try doing it without any hair.

Try doing it for over five hours.

Where was Fred, or, anybody, for that matter? As it happened, somebody had completely forgotten about me. And the problem was, well, the problems were: 1. It was a Sunday, so nobody was working, which probably didn’t matter because, 2. I didn’t have the slightest idea who was supposed to pick me up, so I didn’t know who to call, which also probably didn’t really matter because, 3. Nobody spoke English at or near the airport, so there was no one to go to for assistance, which also didn’t matter because, 4. I had no idea where in Emeishan I was going. Wherever this Emeishan was. If that’s how you spelled it.

Tour guide number three, whoever he was going to be, had all the arrangements. So much for the “rich American” way of traveling.

And so I stood, a bright red sore in a sea of very darkly and very conservatively dressed, and much smaller, and hairier, non-English speaking people, for hours upon hours, waiting for the gods, if they worked on Sunday, to send some sort of a sign.

And the gods were good; a sign came. In the form of a Holiday Inn shuttle bus. There was English writing on the side of it, so that’s all I needed to prompt me. It wasn’t going to be a tough decision. I figured that there had to be some English-speaking people at this hotel, and somehow, we would find a way to get me to where I was going. And if we didn’t, I would at least get a meal out of it.

It was a wondrous hotel, full of granite and marble and huge entranceways, much like one would see in any large city in the US. And, fortunately, one of the assistant managers spoke English. After explaining my predicament, and giving him all the business cards of tour guides one and two, I left him to do the detective work on his own, and retreated to the comfort of the buffet upstairs. I hadn’t had a decent meal in well over a month, and I felt that I had deserved this one.

The food was good, damn good in fact. Actually, cardboard basted in cooking grease with Spam would have tasted good by then. Between the lamb chops and an English news magazine, I was in virtual heaven. Two hours of nibbling on this, and chewing on that, while reading and perusing here and there. And it all came to a terrifying end.

“She think you very handsome.”

I was stunned. Stunned not only because out of the clear blue, English, though not very good English, was spoken to me. Stunned because, I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember the last time a woman had suggested that I had been very handsome. Well, maybe it wasn’t in this lifetime. But I was even more stunned when I looked up to see the mouth that those words emanated from, and that mouth was attached to the body of a Chinese female the likes I had never seen before. Yes, I had been surrounded by a bunch of monks for quite some time, but damn, this girl was gorgeous. Thoughts of taking my mother out of the duffle bag and putting her into it started running through my shiny baldhead.

“She think you very handsome,” she repeated, now this time, appearing to be a little razzled at my puzzled yet quiet look.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so, I didn’t say anything. I just looked up at her with a puzzled, quizzical type of look, as that was all that I was capable of doing at the time, and just tried to look, well, cute. All two hundred and twenty hairless pounds of me, trying desperately, to look, cute. Picture that if you will.

She was getting frustrated, as it was getting obvious, that she was just the messenger. Didn’t she realize that in ancient Rome, they used to kill the messenger if the message was bad? Guess not, because she was going through with it. She smiled at me, and turned her head to look at a far away part of the restaurant, close to the buffet line. And there she was. The originator of the message. A smiling beacon of friendly warmth, way over yonder, who generated a meager, tiny wave of her left hand. She had now caught my eye, and she had wanted now to consummate this little encounter.

The smiling beacon’s hand waved ever so slightly, only to disappear behind a food plate, which was piled high with all sorts of assorted non-descript unidentifiable things. It was then that I had realized that this smiling beacon was more like a buoy, more on the order of the size of two of the messengers who was standing so gracefully in front of me, and quite possibly, even three. Over four weeks surrounded by monks, and I had been chosen by the Buffet Queen of Chengdu. The gods for some reason were not happy with me.

I had to think fast.

‘Je suis Canadien, parlez-vous Francais? Non ? Je ne parle pas le Chinois’

I wasn’t exactly sure what the hell I had said to her, as my five years of high school French was long gone, but it had had an interesting effect on my little beautiful Chinese messenger who had stood before me. She left. I prayed that the buffet queen didn’t speak French.

And for another two hours, I picked and nibbled, and picked and nibbled, and tried ever so secretly, to steal a glance at the Buffet Queen of Chengdu, to watch her gnaw and chew, rip and shred, all the while hoping that she would not notice my secret admiration for her mastication abilities, and especially hoping, that our little messenger would return. A companion to Emeishan would be just what the doctor ordered. But it was not to be. The buffet queen kept masticating, the messenger kept disappearing, and finally, Fred showed up.

“Let’s go”

No apology, no “I’m here”, no explanation as to who he was, why he was late, or where we were going. No feelings of sympathy, remorse, or pity. “I’ll show him the meaning of remorse” as I had started to get thoughts of throwing him to the Buffet Queen. It was getting dark, I had been waiting now for over nine hours, and all I got was a simple “Let’s go”. “I can respect that”, I thought to myself, and off we went.

Eventually, it came out that nobody had told Fred that he was supposed to pick me up. I essentially, did not exist. It really was no matter anymore. It had been an experience, and it was time to move on. Emeishan was waiting.