“你就待在屋里!” / "Just Stay in Your Room!"

“你就待在屋里!”

去年,我在《客厅里摆棺材?》那篇博客中曾经提到,上世纪80年代初,我受四川省外贸局的邀请,到四川很多地方访问,以撰写有关当地贸易和投资机会的文章。

那是一次难忘的旅行,时间远在交通设施得到重大改善之前(这是近10年来的事儿了)。私家车在当时还闻所未闻,高速公路也只是遥远的梦想。尽管如此,我们还是从成都基地出发,坐着火车、小汽车和面包车,走了很远的路。四川是当时中国人口最多的省份,有1亿多人。

让我惊讶的是,即便沿着相当偏僻的乡村小道走上好几个小时,我们似乎仍能在下一个转弯处遇到密密麻麻迎候的人群。当地人民友善而好客,川菜的“麻辣”佐料能让我立时汗如雨下,当地人开垦梯田,在很陡的山坡上种植作物,最大限度地利用每一寸可耕地,这些都给我留下了深刻的印象。

活动的主办方来自四川省外贸局的一个单位,他们为我安排行程,并全程作陪。他们都是好心人,给了我不少帮助。

但也有一个小小的失望之处:尽管我在抵达之前曾一再要求,他们却没能给我一张地图,无论是四川省地图还是我要去的任何地区的地图。而我认为地图不仅对我本人有用,对读我文章的海外读者来说,也会有用。

我下定决心,提议要到成都最大的新华书店去找找。于是我们去了。由于当天停电,整个书店用蜡烛照明。虽然很浪漫,但对顾客来说,却不是搜索目标的最有效方式。我身边一片黑暗,找不到任何地图,于是就问售货员,四川地图在哪儿。她用困惑的眼神瞪了我许久,仿佛经过了1,000年。这表明我是有史以来第一个问这种东西的傻瓜。本地地图?!这真是荒诞和颇有嫌疑的请求。

我这才明白,当时地图还没有进入普通中国人“需要知道”的物品之列。

毕竟,当时的人们基本不流动,既然哪儿都不去,还要地图做什么?在那个年代,人们工作的地方,也就是“单位”,几乎包办了员工个人生活的方方面面,包括工作、计划生育、教育、医疗,等等。也就是说,只要单位有一份地图,就足够了。

在那里的每一天,我都要向当地工作组成员打听,第二天要去的目的地位于成都的哪个方向,路上大概需要多长时间。我得到的答案各不相同,有的说 “西北”,也有的说“东南”;有的说 “大概一个小时”,也有的说“四个半小时”。他们不是故意骗我,而是确实缺乏有关本地的地理知识。因为在那种环境下,这些知识对本地消费者的生活没有实用价值或是什么特别关系。

相较之下,今天你可以走进新华书店在市区的任何一家分店,看看哪类图书拥有最大的顾客群、哪类产品的色彩最为丰富。那一定是旅游类图书——其中包括地图和旅游指南——以及英语学习和商业/管理方面的书籍。与80年代初相比,这是多么的巨大的变化!这突出地反映了自那时以来中国社会及消费者生活发生的改变。

“Just Stay in Your Room!”

As I wrote about in one post last year (Interior Design: Coffins in the Living Room), I visited many places in Sichuan Province in the early 1980s at the invitation of the provincial foreign trade bureau, to write about trade and investment opportunities there.

It was a memorable trip, long before the dramatic improvements in transportation infrastructure which have taken place during the past ten years. Private cars were unheard of and highways a future dream. Nonetheless, we travelled great distances, by rail, car, and van, from our base in Chengdu. Sichuan was China’s most populous province at the time, with more than 100 million people.

I was struck by the fact that even after hours of travel on fairly remote stretches of country road, there always seemed to be dense concentrations of people awaiting us around the next turn. I was also impressed by how friendly and hospitable they were, how the “ma la” spice content of their food was capable of making me break into an instant sweat, and how effectively they utilized every inch of arable land by terracing and planting even very steep hillsides.

My hosts from a unit under the provincial trade bureau made the arrangements and accompanied me throughout the journey. They were kind and helpful.

One slight disappointment was that despite my repeated requests in advance of arriving, they were unable to provide me any maps, either of the province or the areas we were to visit. I thought maps would be useful not only to me but to the overseas readers of my article.

Determined, I suggested we try the largest Xinhua Bookshop in Chengdu, which we did. Due to a power failure that day, the whole bookshop was lit by candle-light. Very romantic, although not the most efficient approach for shoppers to find their prey. Unable to locate any maps in the near darkness, I asked the shop assistant about maps of Sichuan. She gave me a puzzled thousand-year stare indicating I was clearly the first idiot who had ever asked about such a thing. Local maps?! This constituted a bizarre and possibly suspect inquiry.

It dawned on me that maps had not yet entered the category of “need to know” items for average Chinese folks.

After all, there was virtually no mobility, so with no one going anywhere, what was the point of maps? In those days, the work unit or “danwei” governed virtually all aspects of an individual employee’s life, including careers, family planning, education, health care, etc. In other words, the danwei had the maps, and that was good enough.

Each day during my stay, I would ask various members of my local team whether the direction of our destination the following day was north, south, east or west from Chengdu, and the approximate travel time. The answers I got from different people ranged from “northwest” to “southeast”; and “about an hour” to “4 1/2 hours.” This was not a willful effort to deceive but a practical lack of local geographic knowledge, because at that stage in the local consumer’s life it was of no practical value or particular relevance.

By contrast, walk into a downtown branch of any Xinhua bookstore today, and look at which departments boast the largest crowds of shoppers and most colorful array of products. The travel section — maps and guide books — is right up there with the English learning and business/management sections. What a change compared to the early 1980s, one which emphatically reflects the changes in Chinese society and consumer life since that time.

自行车一统街巷时期的成都市容 / Chengdu in the days when bicycles ruled the road

有一天,我们的目的地是阆中县城周边的丝绸产区。坐火车和汽车到那里需要将近一整天的时间。外国旅游者在那里极为罕见。当时,县长邀请我参加欢迎晚宴——这是高规格的礼遇。

当我们的面包车抵达县城时,主办方让我先去招待所洗漱和休息一下,等待他们接我参加宴会。我说,我更愿意散散步,看看县城。

“待在屋里!”这是我得到的建议,而且带着命令式的口气,但却不解释原因。我温和地抗议,说我确实很想出去走走。

结果又是那句话:“待在屋里!”

我有点不愉快,这是第一次主办方冲我摆出一幅看管者的架式。我没有争辩,决定先随他们的便,然后自己出去走走。

说到做到。我把行李放进了客房,洗了脸,在脖子上挂了一部35毫米照相机,走出了小招待所。此时我发现,照相机需要换新胶卷了,于是我站在招待所门口的街上,双手在身上的卡其布猎装的无数个口袋里一通摸索,想找出一卷胶卷给换上。

我留意并听到一群孩子正在我的周围玩耍,但我正把注意力集中在照相机上,在摆弄胶卷,清洁镜头,检查电池,调整设置。等我再抬头看的时候,我已经处于正在快速围拢的人群中间。一开始只有小孩子,接着是他们的姑妈姨妈、伯母舅母、叔叔舅舅、堂兄弟姐妹、表兄弟姐妹、爷爷奶奶、爸爸妈妈、哥哥姐姐、弟弟妹妹,还有修自行车的和住他隔壁的,杀猪的,开杂货店的,修水管的,教书的,种地的……一个个都把眼睛瞪得如核桃一般大小,目不转睛地盯着我,只盯着我,盯着我的全身上下。

没过多久,我就被县城的人包围了,一开始肯定有五六十人,后来增加到了100人。所有人都在盯着我,我能感到他们强烈的、毫无掩饰的惊诧之情。那一刻,我知道了当火星人来到地球上拥挤的购物中心时,或是一只逃离动物园的大猩猩闯进挤满了观众的橄榄球场时,会有什么样的感觉。

人们的眼睛里没有一丝敌意,只有十足的迷惑和好奇。人群还在不断地扩大,我“陷进”了四川人民好奇心的洪流。

我产生了一个小小的顿悟,意识到主办方已完全预料到,我会有这样的遭遇,因此对我说,要留在房间内。也许他们是出于礼貌,才没有直言相告,对镇上的人来说,我突然出现在街头,效果就如同大猩猩出逃,或是火星人入侵一样。

我奋力地拨开人流,逃回了招待所的大门,庆幸自己的街头探险只走出了不到20英尺。接下来我一直呆在客房里,像个乖孩子一样,老老实实地等待主办方来接我去吃晚饭。

One day our destination was the silk producing area surrounding the county seat of Langzhong. It was a nearly a full day’s journey, by train and then van. Foreign visitors were extremely rare, and the county chief had invited me to a welcoming banquet that evening — a high honor.

As we approached the town in our van, my hosts told me to wash up and take a rest in the guesthouse, and wait for them to pick me up for dinner. I said I’d prefer to take a walk and see the town.

“Stay in your room!” was the advice, delivered in an authoritative tone yet with no explanation of why. I protested mildly, saying I really felt like taking a walk.

Again: “Stay in your room!”

This made me a bit uncomfortable and was really the first time my hosts had behaved like minders. Rather than argue the point, I decided to let them go their way and then take a walk on my own.

And that’s exactly what I did. I dropped my bag in the room, and washed my face. Then, as I walked out of the small guest house, my 35mm camera on a strap around my neck, I realized it was time for a new roll of film. I paused in the street outside of the gates, fumbling in the too-numerous pockets of my khaki safari suit to find a roll of film and replace it in my camera.

I noticed and heard kids playing in front and behind me. But I was focused on my camera, fiddling with the film, cleaning the lens cap, checking the battery, adjusting the settings. By the time I looked up, I was in the middle of a fast-gathering crowd. Initially young kids, then their aunts, their uncles, their cousins, their parents, their siblings, their grandparents, the bicycle repair man, his next door neighbor, the butcher, the grocer, the plumber, the schoolteacher, some farmers, etc. — all with eyeballs the size of walnuts, staring intently at me, myself and I.

In no time at all I was surrounded by what must have been 50, 60 and then 100 townspeople, all staring at me with a sense of unbridled, wild-eyed wonderment. I knew at that moment how a Martian visitor to a crowded shopping mall on the planet Earth must feel, or a gorilla which had escaped from the zoo into a jam-packed football stadium.

There wasn’t a hint of hostility in anyone’s eyes, just totally bewildered curiosity. And the crowd was still growing. I was TRAPPED by a riptide of Sichuanese curiosity!

A little light bulb went off in my head, as I realized my hosts had fully anticipated such an encounter when they told me to stay in my room. They were probably too polite to say that my sudden presence on that street would have the same effect on the local townspeople as an escaped gorilla or martian intruder.

So, I swam through the crowd back to the gate of the guest house, very grateful that I had only ventured 20 feet or so out into the street. And I stayed in my room like a good boy until my hosts arrived to pick me up for dinner.


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