Venice

Fall 2016

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200 venicemagftl.com T hirty-five years ago, I danced my way through China. I was 20, and it was my first trip to China. I visited my cousin, Lorraine, who was studying Mandarin in Beijing. I remember how I stood out amid a sea of Chinese men and women wearing utilitarian green, blue and gray Mao suits. Everything was drab and dark. There were no billboards or advertisements; no luxury goods for sale. Restaurants were scarce. Westerners were rare, so everywhere I went people stared. Crowds surrounded me in fascination. Babies screamed. I felt like a celebrity. Or, perhaps more accurately, a freak. When Lorraine and I entered the state-owned Friendship store, we were met by store clerks desperate for a personal introduction to the West. They even begged us to teach them to dance "rock and roll." They would play a bootlegged tape, and as my cousin and I danced, they robotically copied our moves. Back then, Beijing had wide boulevards crammed with millions of bicycles. I borrowed one from a student and tried to join them. I was such a distraction that people rode into one another, toppling over, falling like dominoes. Now, as I drive through Beijing, I can scarcely believe my eyes. The streets are jammed with cars instead of bicycles. Capitalism has become the new Communism. The ancient land of the dragon has become the ultra-modern land of the building crane. As I tour Beijing, I'm dumbfounded by the amount of development. The ancient walled compounds I remember have been replaced by endless, optimistic, bizarre skyscrapers. The pace is frenzied. Gigantic shopping centers and restaurants are everywhere. People are dressed in the latest fashions. Lady Gaga blares on the cab radio. It's like everything has gone from black and white to Technicolor, from slow motion to fast forward. I pass a McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Chanel, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Starbucks on my way to Tiananmen Square. If Mao weren't embalmed in a glass mausoleum, I swear he would be turning in his grave at this onslaught of capitalism from the land of the paper tiger. Tiananmen Square is the largest plaza in the world and can hold a million people. I stroll and watch hundreds of foreign tourists and groups of Chinese tourists wearing brightly colored baseball caps and matching bags. They form a kaleidoscope of color. I shut my eyes and try to picture the student massacre that took place here in 1989. I see the lone student protester standing in front of the tank. Then, I open my eyes and notice a monk wearing a saffron robe staring at me. Our eyes meet, just as his cell phone rings—playing "Jingle Bells." I smile and realize I am in the new China. Across the square is the Forbidden City, the expansive imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, where 24 Chinese emperors ruled China for 500 years and commoners were refused entrance. I try to imagine what life must have been like for the countless servants, concubines, mandarins and especially the thousands of eunuchs. Our tour guide cheerily informs us that pepper water was used to numb the eunuchs before their "treasures" were sliced. The missing body part was then preserved to later be buried with its respective body. My next stop is the Great Wall. There is a saying in China that you are not a man unless you have climbed the Great Wall. I'm shocked that right outside During a revisit 35 years in the making, author Brian Antoni discovers how in one generation China has reinvented itself. THE GREAT CHINA ESCAPE

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