January 17, 2019

Well, what do you know…I’m back in China!

By John Guy LaPlante

         I’m as surprised as you are. This is my fourth time over. At my age I never thought there would be a fourth time.

         Speaking of age, I’m going to turn 85 during my month over here. But this is the right place to be old.  The Chinese venerate old people.  They tumble over one another to be of service to us. It’s just the opposite of the attitude in too many other countries.

         I love being venerated. I step onto a crowded subway car—bingo, somebody jumps up to offer me a seat.

         I’m in China to visit two friends. Camil in the huge and gorgeous city of Guangzhou. And then Wu Bin in famous and bustling Shanghai. Two weeks more  or less with each.

         I’ll fly back to California May 2 for a reunion with Monique and David, my favorite daughter and favorite son-in-law, in Morro Bay on the central coast.

         (That’s a little joke that I enjoy—I have only one of each! But I am awfully fond of them. Just as I am of my two sons and daughters-in-law.)

         And in mid-May I’ll be home finally in Deep River, CT.  After months away!  God willing, as we say.

         What the heck am I doing here on the other side of  the Pacific? A good question.

         Camil invited me.  He is a Canadian…a Quebecois, so French-speaking.

         I met him at a hostel in Trois-Rivieres up there. Total strangers, we shared a room.  That’s the way it can be in hostels. I love hostels–I could write long and enthusiastically about them.   He had an IPad. He’d lounge in his bunk and give it his rapt attention.

         Curious me, I asked him what movie he was watching.

         “Non! Non! I was a photojournalist here for two big newspapers. My whole career!”

         Yes, we spoke in French. Not a problem for me. In fact, I love having a go in my mother tongue. I consider it all-important to keep it alive in me.

         He continued, “I have thousands of my photos on here.  I just retired. I like to look at them now and then. So many memories!”

         Of course, I mentioned I was a journalist, too—but a word journalist, not photo–with years on a big paper. Often I teamed up with a photojournalist for assignments. So we had “beaucoup” to talk about.

         Then, he surprised me. “I’m going to take a trip around the world.  In stages. Over six or seven years, most likely. And you bet I’ll be taking these along with me!” He indicated his IPad and his camera nearby. “I’ll be putting them to good use.”

         So of course, I mentioned to him I had traveled around the world. Also alone.  In one big swoop of six months—36,000 miles, across the Equator, on some 20 airlines, plus bus, train, and boat. But at 75, not at his age. And had written a book about it. So we talked and talked and talked.  Became friends.

         Then we each went our way–I home to Connecticut, and he to Vancouver to visit one of his sons  before hopping over the Pacific to China, his first destination.

         Well, you don’t really hop over it. It’s a 14-hour flight.

         By the way, going westerly around the world was a tip I gave him. Rather than easterly.

          “Oh?” he said, much interested.

          “Yes, traveling with the sun will be much easier on you. You would find going around the world against the sun awfully difficult. You shouldn’t do it that way.”

         Well, he loves China! And the Chinese!  Has been here for many months. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed here a very long time.

         Oh, he’s made side trips to Cambodia and Vietnam and Hong Kong. Always with his camera. Once a photojournalist, always a photojournalist, I guess. He’s passionate about that.

         But he always  returns to China. And he has thousands and thousands of photos to document what he’s seen already.

         He emailed me that he was going to have a big exhibition of some 25 of his four-star photos—an exhibition six weeks long–at the Four Seasons Hotel in Guangzhou. It’s one of China’s top hotels. Just as Guangzhou is one of its top cities.

         And at the show’s  debut,  he would introduce his new book–“Life in China,” yes, by Camil LeSieur–as seen through his artist’s eye. I’ve seen some of his photos and he really is an artist deep down.

         This will be the Chinese edition, with the text in Mandarin, the big language in China. But in this section of southwest China, the big language is Cantonese. In fact, Guangzhou at one time was called Canton. The Mandarin / Cantonese situation is much like the English/Spanish reality in our country.  It makes sense for him to do it Mandarin.

         But there will be an English edition of the book, too, and a French edition.

         He asked me to write  the preface. Also some texts. Quite an honor. I’ve gotten most of that done. He wrote the many photo captions in French, of course.  He asked me to put them into English, which I’ve done, but with some still to do. 

         Translating is a tricky challenge. I wanted to give him not only a very faithful translation, but one that would catch his style and persona as well. And it’s my English version that is being used for translation into Mandarin. So my English version has to be excellent.

         But why me doing the translating? Well, there are many Chinese translators who translate from English but relatively few who do it from French.

         I do plan to keep you abreast of all this as it develops.

         By the way, getting to Guangzhou here wasn’t easy. In fact, it was close to being more than I could handle. I’ll tell you all about that in an upcoming blog.

         From here, I’ll be flying back to Shanghai, where I arrived.          Wu Bin, my other dear friend over here, lives in Shanghai and planned to greet me at huge Pudong Airport there. But everything on that flight over the ocean got so tangled that that became impossible.

         But he was there to greet me on two of my three previous visits to China, and what a delight that was.

         I met Wu some 10 years ago in Nairobi, of all places. That is the huge and bustling and in some ways very modern capital of Kenya, with skyscrapers, mind you. (It also has huge slums, by the way.)

         As with Camil, we met in a hostel.  He was young—young enough to be my grandson—but we hit if off. For one thing, he was eager to practice his English, and I was eager to meet another Wu. 

         In college, one of my pals was a Chinese youth  named Wu.  Yes, from China. Unfortunately, that young friend and I lost track over the years, and we were very close. I hoped my new friend Wu might be related to my young friend Wu (who would now be as old as I, of course). But in China, the name is as common as Smith or Cohen in ours, so to speak.

     But my friendship with my new friend Wu didn’t dry up once back from Nairobi. That often happens even among friends with strong common interests. It thrived, thanks to the Internet and email.

         Wu was a tourist in Nairobi, like me. He had brought over a stock of very advanced pocket cameras, all digital and all Chinese, of course. And he was peddling them around to camera shops. They were amazed by what he had to offer them. He made numerous sales. And that helped him to finance that expensive vacation of his. I was so impressed.

         No surprise to me today that Wu is the marketing director of a high-tech digital company here,  making a range of products. He often flies abroad to bring back orders. Not long ago he was in Germany. Just before I arrived here, he had just returned from Istanbul. I’m positive someday he will be the president.  I wish I could buy stock in him.

          Well, when I completed my world trip and wrote and published my book about that incredible feat–well, to me it was– I got an email from him. He had been receiving frequent blogs from me as I traveled around the globe.

         “John, your book should be published in China,” he told me.

         “What?! In China! Why in China?”

         “Things are getting much better for us here.  Now we can take vacations abroad.  We’re like you Americans—we love to travel, too! And there’s another reason. Nobody in China will believe that a 75-year-old man can travel around the world, and all alone.”

        And what he said next took my breath away. “I will buy the rights to your book.  And I will get it published in China!”

         And that did happen! It was a marvelous, incredible event in my life.

         Remember, please, that he could have bought one copy from amazon.com, say. Had had it translated and published. And I never would have known a thing about that. But he’s above such shenanigans. He truly paid me for the right.

         I came over for the book’s publication. It was a snazzy event in a fine hotel with lots of publicity. My sister Lucie came along for me, so a very proud moment. I also came over when he got married, and milady Annabelle was with me then. That was a spectacular event, too.

         I have gotten to know his father and mother and other relatives, and a number of his friends.  All very wonderful experiences.

         Of course, this time I alerted him that I was coming to see Camil in Guangzhou.

         Immediately he emailed back. “John, please come to see me. Come for two weeks if possible. I will be at Pudong International Airport to meet you.  I will be holding a big sign, ‘Welcome, John Guy LaPlante!’”

         I was thrilled.  Hey, who wouldn’t be? Remember, I thought that trip to China five years so was my last time to China!

         By the way, I was in Peace Corps in Ukraine then, but Peace Corps gave me permission, and  I flew to Shanghai all the way from Kiev, the capital,  and easterly, not westerly, across Asia to do it. But I made it.

         What was very interesting was that I invited Annabelle to attend the wedding also. She lived in Los Angeles. And she flew west across the Pacific to Pudong. So, I went around in one direction, and she in the opposite direction! And we met there at that vast airport only70 minutes apart. And Wu was there to pick us up!

         So you can understand how I am looking forward to seeing Wu in Shanghai and sharing a bit of his life again.

         I’ll be telling you all about that, too.

         Oh, I got up in the dark to write this.  Now the sun is up very bright and promising now. This is still winter, but it’s as warm and pleasant here as in southern California or Florida.

         So, it’s time for me to shut down my computer and enjoy Guangzhou. And there is so much to enjoy here. I’ve got to make the most of it.

~ ~ ~


  1. jim davis says:

    dear john, can’t believe it. you put marco polo to shame. jim

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