Today I joined a group of tourists in Xien, China to visit the extraordinary Terra Cotta Warriors, one of the nation’s three wonders. Another is the Potala Palace in Tibet, built beginning in the 7th century, that I visited yesterday by climbing at least five million steps while consistently out of breath (at an altitude of 12,000 feet) and nursing a sore back. The third wonder is the Great Wall of China that is on our schedule for the day after tomorrow.
Joshua, our guide, recommended that I use a wheelchair for our three-hour walk through the vast Warriors exhibition. Discretion being the better part of cowardice, I accepted.
As soon as I descended from the bus, Joshua pointed me to a wheelchair and introduced me to Yen Dong Mang, the man Joshua hired to push the wheelchair. Mang did not speak English, but after our whirlwind tour I hereby nominate Mang as the fourth wonder of China.
I sat in the chair, Mang man-handled the foot rests into place, and we were off and running, leading the rest of our group across a wide highway with Mang assuming that cars and busses would screech to a halt before they hit us.
I was both embarrassed, and having fun. This was better than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. It was much faster. The air was still and cool as I relished a stiff breeze on my face.
I’m pretty good at slipping through a crowd sideways, but Mang’s full frontal attack put my technique to shame.
When he cleared his throat Mang was actually warning whoever stood in front of us that they were in peril. He bumped the ankle of a woman who didn’t leap to the side soon enough. A tirade of recrimination followed from her party of five or six. Mang responded in unkind. I was a by-sitter, but if I were an umpire I would call it a home run for Mang.
Today was the first day of a three day national holiday, and the throng in front of every exhibit was five or six people deep. No problem. Mang didn’t wait for the crowd to complete its gawking and photo op. He cleared his throat once. If that didn’t work he announced something in Chinese which was as effective as vanishing cream on whatever it causes to vanish. I felt like a Chinese emperor as our path immediately cleared. Indeed, my way was the highway.
I took very few pictures because Mang grabbed my iPhone from my hand and did it for me. Who was I to argue with the fourth wonder of China? Though the Chinese people seem deferential to their elders (that would be me), their look of esteem instantly morphed into a look of alarm. I was glad there was no license plate number for them to write down.
Back at the bus, Mang helped me to my feet. At that point I actually felt I needed his assistance. I realized that being an Emperor could become an addiction.
I extracted my wad of U.S. currency and paid him. Mang pointed to an additional twenty dollar bill. I handed it to him before he had a chance to clear his throat.
It was a wild and wonderful ride through an astonishing exhibit.
I wonder if they will have a wheelchair for me at the Great Wall.
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