Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Mayor of Tangshan ©

By Bill Longworth, May 21, 2008

“Won’t you please come in,” an old gentleman inquired as he opened the door through which I peered inquisitively. I wondered whether I had discovered a new eating establishment from the ones I regularly frequented in a very traditional street market in Shijiazhuang , China, where I worked. “I have the Mayor coming and I’d be honoured to have you in my house when he comes.”

All of this communication, of course, was translated by my Chinese helper as I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, and the old gentleman didn’t speak a word of English.

One of the joys of international work is getting close to the people--visiting them in their houses, socializing with them, getting to know their thoughts, and experiencing as much of their lives as possible. All this is impossible as a tourist.

Through my translator, I told the old gentleman that I would be honoured with his company and conversation, and entered his house. I was seated on one side of a giant “partner’s desk” and served tea.

It wasn’t long before a very handsome young man, dressed to the nines, entered the front door of the house with all of the poise and accoutrements of someone quite important. He was followed by a chauffeur who carried his briefcase, cell phone, and all of the other trappings of wealth and power.

In a country where old age constitutes wisdom and respect, he certainly couldn’t be the Mayor. He looked as though he was in his twenties. He did, though, carry himself very impressively for someone so young. He sat opposite me on the other side of the partner’s desk, and we started to exchange pleasantries with the assistance of my Chinese helper.

The Chinese language and culture is beautiful as words, phrases, and ideas are often associated with nature, illustrious and notable characteristics of humanity, or some profound philosophic thought. Chinese children are usually named after family dreams, ambitions, and aspirations for the child, or the parent’s emotional or philosophic thoughts when the child was born.

My helper’s three character name, for example, was Hu Hui Juan. Hu, the surname, always comes first. This is followed by the given names. Hui means “smart” and Juan means “beautiful”, so my helper was named Smart and Beautiful Hu by her parents, distinguishing her, of course, from all the other Hu’s in the country. Amazingly, Chinese names often materialize as “self fulfilling prophecies” as they did for Huijuan who is now a beautiful practicing biochemical engineer in Canada working on an MBA in international finance. How could it be otherwise, when you are constantly reminded that you are smart and beautiful every time someone calls your name.

As is often the custom, I was also given a Chinese name, Long Bin. Long means “dragon”, the most powerful symbol of Chinese Emperors and Bin means “very polite”. This is significant as well since politeness is a most important characteristic of Chinese people. Interestingly, I was also born in the year of the golden dragon; strong-willed, inflexible, unbending, combative and refusing to accept failure if you believe the charts.

As it turned out, the guy opposite me turned out to be 32. His name was Zhang Xue Tong. Xue means “dawn” and Tong means “red” so his name was translated by my helper as Red Sun Rising. The red dominating in the Chinese flag also symbolizes all of the blood shed in the revolution which brought a “new day” or “new beginning” to the Chinese people, so either interpretation of his name would be celebrating the rise of Mao’s Communism in the country, and the benefits it would bring to the people.

With such an auspicious and respectful name, it is little wonder that he was Deputy Mayor of Feng Nan City at 28.

As the conversation continued, he stated that his term as Deputy Mayor had ended, and he had come to Shijiazhuang, the capital city of Hebei Province, to get his new “appointment.” He was being reassigned to Tangshan, site of the catastrophic 1976 earthquake that killed upwards of 240,000 people.

His appointment as Mayor by the Provincial Government certainly contrasted with everything I knew about Canadian Politics. Hearing these things first hand, however, really helps to drive home an understanding of the differences.

As the night wore on, I told the Mayor that I had to leave to bike back to my university, as the gates would be chained, and I would not be able to get in without waking the guard. At that, the Mayor dispatched his chauffeur to get a taxi. Our bikes were stuffed in the trunk, and the chauffeur jumped into the cab.

The Mayor opened the back door of his limo and motioned for my translator and me to hop in. We did. The Mayor jumped in the driver’s seat and chauffeured us home.

I invited him into my apartment, showed him pictures of Canada, gave him one of my cards, and invited him to look me up if ever he was in Canada.

Working abroad has made me a great Canadian Nationalist who would love to have Red Sun Rising share the Windsong at my Algonquin area cottage. Despite his success in China, I’m confident he would feel as I do that all Canadians won the citizenship lottery at birth. It’s just too bad that we all don’t realize it.

Other places are interesting, but we live in the best place in the world.

No comments: