Monday, March 08, 2004

 
I'd Love to Change the World
One was a prematurely balding curly haired late 20-ish Canadian guy with a potbelly, "Lord of the Rings" T-shirt and slightly soiled khaki slacks. He wants to change China's mostly abysmal sanitation systems and Shenzhen's traffic nightmare and his 193-page, single spaced essay is the key.
Another was an American doctor in his late 50s who works a couple times a month in Guangzhou, the capital city of SZ's province, and at other hospitals in southern China. He was neatly groomed, wore gray slacks, a light, tan sport coat, white shirt and tie and was shocked to discover that nurses in Chinese hospitals aren't always what they claim to be. Though all wear nurse uniforms, some aren't registered nurses and have only high school educations. Some of the drugs are counterfeit and some of the doctors are also counterfeit. A good story, perhaps, until he also revealed that the Queen of England is conspiring with the Chinese government to replace him with a double cloned from a nail full of skin tissue that his Singaporean ex-wife scraped off him 20-some years ago during a "misunderstanding."
The third was a lanky barely 20s Brit with a stringy pony tail and a handful of photos on discs he'd taken of UFOs over SZ. "Shenzhen is at a cosmic universal crossroads and these pictures prove it." How he could shoot them through the mostly constant smog and haze was a greater mystery to me, but I kept my mouth shut.
All found their way up 37 floors to the inner sanctum of the Shenzhen Daily with their revelations. They all also had the seemingly requiste silent, obedient looking Chinese wives/girlfriends trailing behind and sittting quietly and patiently in spare office chairs for hours as their wise men folk unfolded their revelations. The guys all had the 1,00 yard stare of someone not quite comfortable with reality as most know it.
I mostly avoided their readjusted, brief 3-foot stares at the only other foreigner they saw during their visits, though I admit to being tempted by the UFO guy. My best friend is a UFO aficiando and I toyed with the idea of asking to know more, but decided to let the Shenzhen saucers rest as I didn't want to encourage future contact.
U.S. papers I've worked for were magnets for folks like this and I've even worked for one that actively fed their fantasies - Weekly World News - but it was both a pleasure and a little creepy to see that the breed abides in several nationalities and has found a home, if not an outlet, halfway across the globe. I thought of the self-admitted convicted felon who urged me at the Rocky Mountain News to reveal that Barbra Streisand was the messiah and of "Racine Wisconsin" - a scrawny, elderly guy apparently from Racine who was usually attired in an olive green army blanket and not much else - who haunted a newsroom in Lincoln Nebraska where I once worked. The Queen of England was his nemisis, too. She does get around, that Lizzie, screwing with the welfare systems in Nebraska and Wisconsin one day and concocting clones in Singapore and Shenzhen the next...
The difference, though, is that the SZ Daily staff is unearringly polite and patient to these deluded expats who make the effort to find an outlet for their stories. Chinese journalism is one-way for the most part. While in the U.S. there's still the illusion that one can go to a paper and make a case that might see publication eventually, it's mostly futile here unless the story has already been approved in octupulate in advance, beginning with local officals and continuing all the way to Beijing and back again.
The doctor and the UFO expert spent a lot of time bending the ear of third-in-command Paul, who - despite his aversion to any foreigners except Germans and despite the fact that he understood perhaps 40% of what they said - kept nodding and clearing his throat in seeming agreement until they'd made their case, collected their female arm candy and left.
The Canadian was more persistent. He had multiple copies of his "Cure for China's Ills" manifesto and dropped one on my desk as he left, just in case. Among other revelations, I was shocked to learn that some Chinese don't clean their dishes with boiled water.
Honest. It's on page 113.






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