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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Three Months with Charlie Chan chapter 2

Chinese Shops

After learning a little more about the drill when approaching the old cultural Chinese I realized I needed to hit the books and learn more.  

What I needed was first was to learn and have what I had learned translated into a part of my demeanor.  I really wasn’t good enough an actor to get by their scrutiny.  They would see me as a pretender right off.

Even Charlie had to walk softly before them though he was raised up with the old style of living.  As near as I could figure it out everything started with the ancestors at the top of the pile and worked down to the youngest who had very little standing.

As for me it was almost as if I didn’t exist until I, as it were, became one of them, and Charlie helped me as much as he could.

He said for me to follow his lead and not talk unless spoken to directly. Since I couldn’t understand what they were saying I just tried to look respectful and bow or look down when the others did.  I knew what I was doing most of the time was wrong but it showed them I was ignorant, and my humility allowed them to feel superior.

After preparing for a week we were in New York China Town as our first destination.
One of the first things I noticed when we got there was that there was an infiltration of other ethnic groups where at one time it was only a Chinese community.  

Of course there were Chinese from different provinces which to them made a difference.  With several different dialects being spoken many of them couldn’t understand what the other was saying such as those who were Mandarin, Cantonese, or Xiang.  
The redeeming factor was they all wrote the same Chinese characters and could read what the other wrote.  

The tonal inflection made a lot of difference far more than the accent one might have being from Brooklyn or the Deep South.

Early on I decided to leave all the conversing to Charlie.  The first day in New York China town we just walked around, entering the stores that sold Chinese antiquities more than once.  

After the third day they had become used to seeing us, we bought some cheap trinkets and gave them the idea we might spend a lot of money for expensive items.  

Charlie had asked about different ceramic vases and the era they were from and the conversations were quite fluid until he got to the particular item he wanted then the shop owner had other things to do for some reason.

I asked Charlie what was going on and he said he would tell me later.

I knew right off that something was up and after the same thing happened at each establishment we were or I thought we were being followed.

Then it dawned on me the thought, why I was brought along on this trip.  I was supposed to be an American who wanted to enlarge my collection of Chinese art works.  
Charlie asked the same inquires at each shop we went into but after the last shop my suspicions were confirmed.

There were about ten men getting closer to us.  Charlie said let’s duck into this alley, so I followed him and we took off running as fast as we could.

When we were about two thirds through the alley there were several men coming from the other direction.  We were trapped between the two groups.

We pounded on some metal doors but no one answered.  They closed in on us and we backed up to one of the alley walls.  

I said to Charlie, “Are you going to fight them?”  

Before he could answer they grabbed us and started roughing us up. I was beginning to swell up almost immediately and Charlie was on the ground getting kicked.

Then a small old man stepped forward and the beating stopped.

To be Continued

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