August 1 is the culmination of my 67th year of existence. It is also the People’s Liberation Army Day for China.
Last year, we celebrated our birthday on Saipan, got on a plane for Honolulu, and when I arrived, my sister and her husband took me to a restaurant where my daughter Michi joined us for another birthday celebration. Tired but twice celebrated, we did not complain.
The year before, we witnessed Don Farrell’s organized education symposium on Tinian on the 65th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the significance of island’s role in the culmination of the Pacific theatre of conflict.
Tinian is again seeing itself in the limelight of Pentagon’s mission control as the Obama administration shifts images (the reality is something else) of U.S. Forces’ presence from oil-rich Middle East to the current "containment" of Panda China.
The Little Boy of Hiroshima fame was put together at the same time I wailed my wah-wahs into the rice fields of Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija, in the central plains of Luzon, the Philippines on the tail end of WWII. The Little Boy’s birth on Tinian was shrouded in secrecy, brought by the SS Independence that would itself fall prey to enemy attack. When Little Boy did announced its presence in a flash of light above the skies of Hiroshima six days later, some 60K voices uttered a forced communal "hai", with a few, saying, "amen", in total surprise and profound silence.
Little Boy became the first real horrifying instrument of mass destruction, and when we discovered he was our twin, we resolved to become an instrument of humane mass construction!
On this trip, I am wearing a Cape Cod, MA cap that longtime friends, the Turingans of Dallas, let me have to survive the August heat wave in Texas two years ago. I got some attention over it; most worn caps around here often identify a clothing boutique designer, announce the name of a sport team, or advertise car brands. So when I tell people the cap is from Harwich, MA, I get a gleam of envy. "Made in USA" is still a prized possession around here. I checked under the hood to make sure. It is "Made in China."
Napoleon Bonaparte’s "don’t wake the sleeping tiger" advice referred to Europe’s fear of the Mongols that came knocking at its doors; actually today, the tiger is more of a frolicking oversized panda, represented by the PLA who has so far excelled, inter alia, in the physical sciences and engineering, on aerospace and weather forecasting, in emergency relief and crowd management. Happy PLA day!
Why we think it should be contained, only the imaginative Pentagon strategists can tell. That, or the ineffable Obama is pulling hilariously deceptive ruse to get our minds off the cost of oil wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. China as an aggressor has a louder roar than bite, and even in the Nan sha (Spratleys) situation where the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia are claiming a piece of the oil find, China sends its Navy, offers the olive branch by inviting international drillers, and allows its civilian fleets to fish the region.
The panda only consumes choice bamboo shoots! That’s if it is not slurping its noodles before it practices its Kung Fu!
One used to be able to distinguish a southern Chinese from a northerner. One goes by the size. From the south, lean and short, and north, tall and stout. Traveling in the north of Inner Mongolia in the middle of the summer vacation season, the presence in hotels and restaurants of "outsiders" are considerable. Not a few look like the depicted 10 riders led by Genghis (Chinggis, in Chinese) Khan in the park by his namesake in Hailer City, rotund and robust. The Mongolian cuisine offering is definitely cholesterol-rich, and the whole nation is undoubtedly heading in that direction.
China goes by with intense wishes of favorable luck and good fortune, big in all kinds of numerology. Liu Liu, which is 66, is a magical number of a sort. When we reached the end of our 65th year, we started living off the magical promise of Liuliu until we reached a year later. Then we shifted into the Gregorian calendar where we could be 66 for another year, though we were actually living our 67th year. Now that we have reached 67 years of age, we actually begin living our 68th year.
We have reasons for avoiding 67 in China. With 73 and 84, they are numbers for periods of critical transition. Mythology says that dire challenges prevail. From this perspective, being on our 68th allows us new breath and a sigh of relief! Har, har, har.
We are tracking the ecological condition of the northernmost prefecture of Inner Mongolia while enjoying the adventure until Mo He, our final destination, the town where China has so far recorded its coldest day of the year. That we are headed this way at the same time that domestic expenditure is encouraged is pure coincidence. Tourism in-country is experiencing its first boom year, which makes the diversity of fellow travelers most interesting (akin to Europe’s El Camino de Santiago de Compostella), but the increase in traffic equally jacks the prices three times more than they are the rest of the year.
But having reached the end of our 67th year and the beginning of our 68th, this panda-size celebrant’s choice is clear. Pass the normally 4R pi jiu (beer), now 10R, please!
Jaime Vergara teaches at Shenyang Aerospace University and is currently traveling in north Inner Mongolia in the prefecture of Hulunbeier.