Unfazed by the near death experience – I confidently walked towards
the Forbidden City gates all the time keeping an eye out for any
hooded shaolin assassins. Chang was going on and on about something.
I was too engrossed in my surroundings to concentrate on the intricate
act of deciphering Chinglish. He was talking something about “arriving
at the wrong entrance”, “Taxis not allowed on the other side”, “We
should have come by bus, but I didn’t want to risk setting a crazy
Indian loose in the Beijing Transport System” or something to that
effect.

We strode up to the ticket counter which had a smaller queue than
expected. Maybe because it was a Wednesday – or maybe only the
people who survived the poison tipped arrows reached there. Chang
asked me to wait and went off to buy some tickets.

I squinted in the sunlight, and looked around at the other tourists who
were waiting to get into the Forbidden Gates. Suddenly, a man
wearing a blazing red robe and a yellow cap with “I love China”
emblazoned on it let out a loud war cry and started running towards
me. I knew it was a war cry because he was wildly waving a red flag
with a fiery dragon on it. Behind him other people, wearing the same
yellow cap (sans the robe and the flag, obviously they were meant only
for the leader) started running too.

This was it. The End.

I obviously had broken some centuries old rule and was about to incur
the wrath of a crazy Chinese death squad. Maybe standing lazily with
one’s hands in the pockets is seen as a sign of decadence and is
punishable by impalement. Maybe brown skinned people were not
allowed anywhere near the Forbidden city. Maybe my face reminded
them of the Arab invaders. Maybe I had to too much facial hair. Maybe
they were just jealous I was taller than them…

Whatever it was, the maverick crowd was thundering down upon me. I
knew I should run, but I stood there, my eyes transfixed on the dragon
flag. A dragon spewing fire which would soon engulf me. I urged my
legs to move, but they, who had served me so well since morning,
refused to move.

I stood there helpless, in a trance, as a large yellow bird with a
mangled red beak moved in for its kill. It was one of those moments
when you know that the end is inevitable. Maybe the grim reaper in
China is a yellow bird with a red beak.

The crowd was just yards away from me now. I could hear the
whipping of the dragon flag against the wind. The screaming leader
was now waving at me wildly with his flag. But now it seemed as if the
screaming and the waving was not for killing me, but as a sort of “get
out of the way” sign.

I realized it too late. The crowd was here. I was in the direct path of
the leader, who displayed faster reflexes than I, and swerved at the
last moment, avoiding crashing into me by a hairs breath – leaving me
with a scent of Old Spice and garlic. The rest of the crowd also passed
“through” me as I stood there amidst dust and irritated stares. When
the last one had passed me, I turned around and see where they were
heading. I saw that the leader had reached the stone railing which
overlooked the moat surrounding the Forbidden City walls. He was
looking over the moat and was frantically pointing at something. His
followers clambered over one another to see below.

Now I was curious. Had they seen a person fall into the moat, and
were here to rescue him? Like a Chinese Baywatch squad?
I wandered over, and glanced below. All I could see was a very
frightened and confused duck swimming in the moat. The yellow
headed followers now whipped out their megapixel Sonys and
Olympuses and Nikons and starting clicking like crazy.
At the duck.

I was wondering “What the hell…” when Chang muttered something
from behind. He too had been observing the scene.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“Japanese Tourists” he mentioned, as if that explained everything.
Wait a moment…it does actually. Japanese tourists are known to be
avid photographers, esp. when they were visiting poor rustic lands. But
a duck?
“But a duck?” I asked.
Chang just shrugged and recounted a tale of this trigger happy
Japanese visitor who got very excited by the sight of this horse
crapping on a Beijing street. He just ran towards the horse with his
camera and started (in his own words) “shooting this amazing view of
nature”. The horse got so annoyed that he just took off in the middle
of the job, creating a long running line of turd along the road. The Jap
got all of it on his precious camera. It seems that many Japanese have
lived their entire lives in big mechanized cities and salivate at the
sight of anything “natural”. Poor souls.

“Ah…that’s the Japanese definition of a Kodak moment”, I said.
Chang politely smiled, pretending that he got the joke and we moved
on towards the Gate.

“What about the crazy attire and the yellow caps?” I asked. “So that
they do not get lost”, he replied.

So we non-mongoloids were not the only one who couldn’t make out
one Chinese face from the other…the Japanese also could not make
each other out from the Chinese! That made me feel better about
myself…

This was turning out to be some day.

Wonder what secrets the Forbidden City will unfold for me…to be
continued…

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