Greetings from the Mainland!
At times, being in Beijing is a bit like walking around a construction site at the Tower of Babel. You hear all sorts of languages around you: a group of vaguely dark-eyed folks speaking what might be Bulgarian; stunningly blonde Russians chatting in a corner; two very Chinese-looking boys speaking flawless German with perfect Berliner accents; an old man whispering in Turkish into a cell phone on the bus. And, of course, the ubiquitous Zhonggou hua - Chinese.
(On a side note, have you ever noticed that people often use the word ubiquitous when they want to sound smart?)
Today, the Fam traipsed downtown (the lights are much brighter there, I could forget all my troubles, forget all my cares!) and surveyed the largest plaza I have ever been in. Tiananmen Square really lives up to the name. It is extremely square. And if Tiananmen means crowded, then it is that as well.
An unexpected fate awaited us as we entered that vast piazza. Gaggles of people meandered hither and yon, some with families, some with their spouse, some by their lonesome. I was surprised to see that most people were Chinese. For some reason, I had anticipated that the Square would be seething with tourists (I AM NOT A TOURIST). Sure, there were the odd blondies here and there, but the overwhelming majority were Chinese.
But why should this be strange. We wouldn't think it was odd if we went to Ottawa or D.C. and saw mostly white people. In fact, it would probably seem strange if we didn't.
Back to the unexpected fate: we had trucked the stroller with us on the subway, and now the boys were both sitting in it, wedged in like Siamese twins. The sight was too much for the folks walking past. In a flash, they had the cameras out, the video cameras rolling, the cell phone cameras weaving in and out like silver-hooded snakes.
At one point, as we entered a garden just west of the Forbidden City, we were 'lucky' enough to end up in line behind a squad of high school girls. Flash! Instantaneously, 900 cellphones appeared in front of us, shutters flickering. Giggles filled my ears, hands caressed my arms, faces pressed too close to mine. Jessica pondered the softness of their cheeks, as they pressed forcibly against her own. And the boys writhed beneath a thousand pinches.
Beyond, all was well. We soon learned that the secrets to life are best expressed in mathematical formulae. For example, we derived a formula that expressed the probability that if we stopped to take our own photos, a horde of unwanted shutterbugs would descend upon us.
P = D (Q + T + B - G) ^C
where: P=probability, D=distance from main gate, Q=quantity of people nearby, T=length of time stopped, B=boys' cuteness (a random variable between 0 and 1), G=grotesqueness of the grimaces on James' face, and C=how many cameras are already pointed at us.
There it is. Life, reduced to an equation. But by playing with the variables, we were able to escape the mayhem. At first, we relied on the first variable, D. Let's get away from this gate! Everyone who comes in wants to take a picture with us!!! But we became more subtle. Don't pause so long! I'll keep moving while you take a photo!
Then it became, The boys are hugging and being cute again! James, start grimacing!!!! Finally, we just learned that we needed to walk past the cameras and ignore the pleas.
(I know that I'm prone to exaggeration, but this is all true! Consider my previous example of visiting Ottawa. Now how would it seem if dozens of white people surrounded a poor Chinese family as they tried to eat their carefully prepared sesame-butter and jelly sandwiches? The Paparazzi would have been proud.)
In other news, I'm assembling material for a few upcoming posts. You'll like them. The first is a showcase of the various styles of trash cans around Beijing. The second is a collection of photos of the various statues found outside the entrances to apartment complexes! Now that's news!