China Entertains
By Phyllis Weston

As a tourist, I find it interesting to discover what my host country finds to be entertaining. It is soon evident that sightseeing looms large in their ideas. Then of course, there are the obvious kinds of musical and theat-rical offerings. And most of these are good entertainment. However, I am inclined to read between the lines and discover entertainment which is incidental to all these and often provides genuine fun.

One day in Beijing we were being taken to see and experience the Great Wall. It is as awe-inspiring as its reputation promises: it is the only manmade structure that can be seen from the Moon. To experience it, we walked on it, which is not so easy as it sounds. It winds along, rising through a 45-degree angle which makes the walking fairly strenuous.

I gave up at the first watchtower and propping myself against the side of the wall, I prepared to be enter-tained. Looking over the wall on one side to Inner Mongolia, I ignored its forbidding barrenness and thought of Genghis and Kublai Khan and Coleridge’s magical poem, "In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a noble pleasure dome decree." But there was better entertainment on the Chinese side of the wall.

An enterprising entrepreneur had pre-empted a sheltered corner where he had tethered his camel and, for a few cents each, encouraged parents to hoist their offspring onto the animal’s back and take pictures of their giggling wriggling progeny. Some of these, conscious of a possible promotion to the Hall of Fame assumed a Heigh-ho Silver! stance or the ferocious leer of a Chinese bandit. This proved to be excellent entertainment until the rest of the party, some of them huffing and puffing from their exertions, rejoined me.

On another occasion, we were taken, on our own request, to a People’s Department Store rather than pay-ing another visit to a Friendship Store frequented by foreigners like ourselves where hard currency was in order.

The No. 1 Department Store was the haunt of young couples shopping for furnishings for their first home. Of course, we wanted to shop, too, and elected to look for cakes of hard-milled soap, which we had previ-ously bought in Victoria, Canada and Hawaii. Whenever we stopped we were soon surrounded by curious Chinese who were friendly and offered help and regarded us as a sort of sideshow.

On the trip we were three sisters instead of the two (who usually traveled together) and the third, Ursula, with a sense of the dramatic paused as we finished our purchases and our audience began to disperse. Wav-ing her arms like a Maestro, she said so convincingly, "Show’s over!" that I almost expected a round of applause. Everybody laughed: we had all been entertained for one reason or another.

One other small purchase had also pleased me. I’m addicted to hard peppermints, the kind that come indi-vidually wrapped, the ones the English so prosaically call boiled sweets. Rummaging around, I found them—and a bonus indeed, at about a third the price I pay at home. Someone with no soul remarked, "Another pound in your luggage." Oh, but they were worth it!

On another day, in the late afternoon, we were taken to a special kind of school, one of Shanghai’s 21 Chil-dren’s Palaces, which children of all ages attend on two afternoons a week after regular school hours. Here they make their own choice from 21 cultural activities including singing, playing various musical instruments such as piano and violin, and painting, to building model planes and radios. It was especially enchanting to watch the little ones in pigtails and Buster Brown haircuts so concentratedly busy at their chosen activities. We liked the singing particularly. One little girl about eight years of age sang "Santa Lucia" in Chinese in a strong, true voice. There was something touching yet comical to hear that European song, issuing with gusto, in Chinese accents.

I thought once more that the incidental entertainment is often the best.

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Copyright © 1998, P. Weston
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