“我们长得像日本人吗?”(上) / "Do We Look Japanese?" (Part One)

“我们长得像日本人吗?”(上)

我第一次去云南,是陪同一位大名鼎鼎的美国出版商和他在波士顿的两位同事。那是上世纪80年代中期,他们来亚洲进行商务访问。

这位出版商请我推荐一个适合在中国度周末的好地方——那里既要气候宜人、风景秀丽,又要食物美味、引人入胜——于是我推荐了昆明。说走就走,我们很快就从香港启程,踏上了前往昆明的周末观光之旅。

因为大家都是初来乍到,所以我建议最好还是请上一位导游。于是,我们通过中国国际旅行社给做了相应安排。对于三位美国出版商而言,聘请导游的妙处在于可以找一位年轻、聪明的中国人给他们讲解一下中国的现状,帮助他们加深对这个发展迅猛、引人好奇但又捉摸不透的国度的理解。一路上他们问个不停,而我们的导游石小姐也是有问必答,滔滔不绝。

说到身高,我的身高是1米82,在四个人中排倒数第二。那位媒体大亨比我稍微矮一点点,而他的两个同事都是大高个儿,身高分别有两米和1米92。

跟两个大块头一起走在昆明的街道上,想要不引人注意都不可能。无论我们走到哪里,都会引来一片仰望和注视。

我们像是从诺亚方舟里走来的幸存者:一对长颈鹿,身边还陪着两只猴子。那时候,无论高矮胖瘦,只要是外国人,在中国人眼里都是一景。即便我们混迹于昆明街头衣着五颜六色的少数民族之中,情况依然如此。

途中我们顺便参观了地质奇观“石林”,那是由各种奇形怪状的尖形石头构成的天然地貌。然而令人扫兴的是,大自然的鬼斧神工却在齐踝深的塑料垃圾和废纸中黯然失色。这代表了当年的时代特征,也是我记忆中第一次在中国见到如此巨大的非降解垃圾山。那时候,饮料、小吃等食品使用塑料包装几乎不受任何限制,粪车仍然司空见惯。

当时中国的国内旅游仍处在襁褓之中。在那个特定的年代和那个特定的地点,垃圾箱根本形同虚设,垃圾被扔得到处都是。石林之行让我第一次认识到中国原始的前塑料时代即将嘎然而止。

回昆明的路上,我们无意间在一个古老的村落稍作停留。那里的房子都是用干泥巴建成的,四周还有散养的鸡群跑来跑去。那时候全中国的鸡都是散养的,因为不需要太多的资金投入。

我们还在一个自由市场停了一下,那里可以买卖牛马之类的牲口,还有杂七杂八的农产品和手工艺品。出版商先生买了两个大型的绿陶瑞兽雕像,说是要放在屋顶上辟邪。我心中暗想,这瑞兽是云南当地辟邪用的东西,不知道到了马萨诸塞州还管不管用?但是,我的意见没法得到求证。

昆明和远离东部沿海的许多中国内陆城市一样,在80年代中期改革开放政策才刚刚落地生根。各种实验性的举措逐渐展开,其表现形式极为有趣,有时甚至令人莞尔。

就连我们下榻的国营宾馆,其餐厅也紧随潮流,试图提高对顾客的服务水平。他们在餐厅的墙上悬挂了一幅巨大的卷轴,上面用中国毛笔手书了几个英文大字:

“Customer is Emperor!”(“客人就是皇帝!”)

虽然餐厅的服务和食品还算尚可,但在我看来,墙上这几个字与其说是对现状的表态,倒不如说是为“五年计划”制定的目标。在大多数情况下,我既没有看到像贝托鲁奇导演的电影《末代皇帝》中出现的皇家排场,也没有听见厨房里传来嫔妃的燕语莺声。

街上的零售店挂着英文招牌“Department Store of Daily Goops”(“日用粘糊商店”,正确拼写应为“Department Store of Daily Goods”——即“日用百货商店”),宾馆的洗衣单上列明还可以洗涤“Brassie”(“高尔夫木杆”,正确拼写应为“Brassiere”——即“文胸”)。

在告别了长期的与世隔绝之后,这个地方正努力地向外面的世界张开怀抱。

“Do We Look Japanese?” (Part One)

My first trip to Yunnan was with a well-known American publishing entrepreneur and two of his Boston-based colleagues. It was the mid-1980s, and they were in the middle of an Asian business trip.

He had asked me to suggest an interesting spot in China to spend a weekend — offering good weather, scenery, food and sights — and I suggested Kunming. On fairly short notice, the weekend excursion from Hong Kong took place.

As first-timers to Kunming, I recommended we line up a tour guide, which we did through China International Travel Service. For the three American publishers, the appeal of a guide was having a bright young Chinese person to help them understand what was going on in this fast-changing, intriguing but somewhat puzzling country. They were full of questions, and our guide, Ms. Shi, was well-equipped with answers and viewpoints.

In terms of height, at six feet tall, I was the second shortest among the four of us. The media tycoon was just a bit shorter than me, but his colleagues were both very tall guys, at six foot six and six foot four.

Especially with the two giants in tow, it was impossible for us to take a low-key walk down the streets of Kunming. Wherever we went, we drew upward stares.

We looked like escapees from Noah’s Ark: a pair of giraffes escorted by a pair of monkeys. Foreigners of any size were something of a spectacle in those days, even against the backdrop of colorfully garbed minority tribes commonly seen on the streets of Kunming.

We took a side trip to a geological wonder called the Stone Forest, a natural forest of strangely shaped stone pinnacles. Their natural beauty had been hijacked by an extraordinary concentration of ankle-deep plastic and paper garbage on the ground. It was a sign of the times, and the first time I recall seeing such a mountain of non-biodegradable trash in China. Up until those days there had been very limited if any use of plastics in the packaging of consumer drinks, snacks, etc. Nightsoil carts were still a common sight.

Domestic tourism was also in its infancy. At this particular place and point in time, the trash was clearly winning the battle with the trash cans by an emphatic margin. The visit to the Stone Forest was the first time it dawned on me that China’s pristine pre-plastic age was about to end, abruptly.

On the way back to Kunming we stopped, unannounced, in an ancient village with buildings constructed from dried mud, with free-range chickens running around. This was the era when all chickens in China were free-range chickens and did not command a premium price as a result of that status.

We also stopped in a free market where horses and cattle were on offer, along with a rainbow array of produce and handicrafts. The big boss bought two large mythical animal figures made of green porcelain, to decorate the roof of his house and ward off evil spirits. I wondered to myself if they would be effective against evil spirits in Massachusetts since they were designed to counteract the local Yunnan variety. However, my opinion on this question was not sought.

As was the case in many Chinese cities inland from the eastern coast, the open door and reform. era was just taking root in Kunming by the mid-80s. Experimentation was in the air, and showed itself in interesting and sometimes amusing ways.

Even in the state-owned hotel where we stayed, the restaurant was trying to get on the bandwagon of better customer service. A large paper scroll, hand-painted in English with a Chinese calligraphy brush, hung on the wall, and proclaimed:

“Customer is Emperor!”

Although the service and food in that restaurant were OK, it seemed to me that the wall message was more of a goal embedded in the Five-Year Plan than a statement of current reality. In any case, there was none of the imperial pageantry depicted in Bertolucci’s film “The Last Emperor”, nor did I notice any giggling concubines in the kitchen.

Down the street was a retail store with an English sign: “Department Store of Daily Goops”. The hotel laundry form. included a clothing category called “Brassie”.

Here was a place reaching out to the outside world after a long stretch of isolation.


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