192 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 76 PART 2 MARCH 2018
structure in the city; everybody in Mao jackets, mostly drab or shades of
blue; everybody smoking.
Our China was happening upon hundreds of workers digging with hand
tools a wide canal that stretched out to a horizon many miles from the road
on which our bus was trundling.
Our China was the Bund, Shanghai’s collection of “skyscrapers” constructed
a hundred or more years ago alongside the Huangpu River. In our
China time, these were the tallest structures in the city, the remains of a
European commercial hub. I understand that now the buildings have been
relegated to a tourist attraction: little trees in a bizarrely modern architectural
Our China was a grey rural village whose inhabitants peeked out from
behind farm buildings in the early morning when our bus stopped unexpectedly
beside their little watercourse. They were curious about our intrusion,
but wary. They sightsaw us.
Our China was a prison (as stern-looking as Oakalla, and quite obviously
staged with “inmates”), a hospital (ditto with “patients”), a university, a
courtroom and an opera. And of course the Great Wall, a cruise into the
ocean-like Yangtze, the Ming tombs, ice hockey (Peking vs. Harbin) and the
Selfishly, or realistically, we went to China to learn about China, not to teach
our hosts about Canada. As I recollect it, we had a guide who travelled with us
for the whole of our trip, or perhaps it was two guides who did roughly half the
trip each. They also served as interpreters. They were friendly and gracious
and were genuinely interested in our welfare. At the end of nearly every one
of the commentaries that followed our outings, one of the hosts would proudly
say: “So much for the Pearl River”, “ … the prison”, “… the Wall”, etc. We all
chuckled at the use of the idiom but we knew it was a well-intentioned effort
by our Chinese friends to connect with us. It was also our signal to climb on the
bus and await the next day’s amazements.
We also travelled with a man named Fan Fei, or, more accurately, he travelled
with us. No one from the China side ever told us what role he played.
He was a tall, carefully groomed, good-natured fellow. He spoke English
well. He always wore black. He had a sense of humour he sometimes found
difficult to contain. He was present for all our activities but didn’t participate
in any of them. We knew he was the Communist Party man and he
knew we knew.
Cathy Ryan and some of the rest of us took some unfair pleasure by trying
to encourage Fan to return with us to capitalist Canada. In fact, I think
Cathy went a little further than some of us because she was planning to stop