March 12, 2009

Roll Out the Red Carpet

Greetings from the Mainland!
Ever had one of those moments when you have no idea why everyone's staring at you?
A bit of back story: our language school is located in a square that is dominated by the 21st Century Hotel.  Behind it rises a monolithic structure, soaring some 20 storeys into the often-opaque air.  The building appears to be completely empty.  (Actually, I'm certain that it's empty, except for one lonely man who is consigned to sit at a desk in the entrance, like a tiny krill in the mouth of a blue whale.)
Additionally, there are currently high-level talks occurring here in the city.  We've had a chance to catch a glimpse of some very austere faces on the Chinese television stations, staring dourly ahead.  And it seems that some of these fellas must be housed in the 21 Century Hotel, if the number of uniformed individuals outside the entrance is any indication.  (This country has a penchant for uniforms.  I hope to write an entire post about this sometime soon, once I have a few more pictures).
Anyway, back to our story at hand.  One fateful morning, Jessica stepped off the bus, ready for an exciting day of Mandarin practice.  She was the teeniest bit late, as the bus had gotten caught up in traffic just south of the hospital.  As she approached the gate to the hotel courtyard, she was surprised to see that it was blocked off.  Several men in uniform barred her way.
"Hmmph", said she, and she walked to the next gate.  The second gate was smaller - only wide enough for a person to walk through.  As she stepped through, she noticed that the texture beneath her feet changed.  It no longer felt rough and hard, like the concrete sidewalk outside.  Instead, it was soft.  Downy, almost.
She looked down.  Beneath her was a red carpet, extending all the way to the double doors of the distant hotel.  And to her horror, she saw that the carpet was flanked on both sides by uniformed men.  Their stars were gleaming.  Their epaulettes were at perfect 90-degree angles with their rigid spines.  The sun, which had recently ventured out from behind its veil of smog, shone brilliantly upon the peaks of the men's caps.
"What ho?", said our heroine.  Press on?  Run the gauntlet?  Or turn back?  This seemed the safer, more conscientious option.  But when she turned to retreat, she found that four concerned men had already boxed her in.
She tried to explain.  She gesticulated, mumbled, shrugged, smiled lamely.  Nothing seemed to convey the simple message that she was a mere student, struggling to get to her language class.
An English expert was called onto the scene - a youth, recently cast into the awkward sea of puberty, and now draped in an oversized green coat.  His expert qualifications were rather weak, as he too proved unable to understand Jessica's dilemma.
In the end, she was permitted to slip through a side-exit in that mighty colonnade.  But for a moment, she had been the subject of much more curiosity (and stately concern) than she had cared for.

1 comment:

derrydown said...

This episode reminds me of when Grandma and Grandpa Barclay were working in Bangladesh and staying at the Intercontinental Hotel. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip came to stay, so the whole neighborhood was blocked off to through traffic. Every day, when G&G would go for their stroll in the now empty vicinity, they would meet E&P being driven around and exchange waves.

Interestingly, the same scene was repeated when they came to Cambodia. On their daily walks, they would often see King S. and Queen M., and exchange waves.