09/15/2012 - 09/15/2012 75 °F
A few weeks ago all of the Peace Corps Volunteers of Guizhou province, China were required to gather at a hotel in Guiyang for flu shots. So with my translated directions and hotel address in hand I hopped on a Saturday morning bus. I hadn’t seen any of my fellow Volunteers since training in Chengdu. There we had learned to speak a little Chinese, teach a little English, stay healthy, and most importantly keep out of trouble in a country that none of us understood yet. The training was tough but we had all made it through together. I was excited to see them again. I was pretty sure we would all stay out of trouble.
My journey required riding the bus to the general vicinity of the hotel and taking a taxi the rest of the way. When I got off the bus I saw taxis everywhere. This little trip into the city center was turning out to be much easier than I expected. Then I saw it. A shining beacon of mediocre American food … a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I started thinking about spicy chicken sandwiches with lettuce and mayo and decided to make a little detour before going to the hotel. I headed for the KFC counter looking for pictures of chicken sandwiches to point at and say “Wǒ yào zhège.” (I want this). They didn’t have many on the wall but one of the cashiers brought me a menu with lots of pictures. She was nice, could speak a little English, and asked me where I was from. I told her I was American and Wǒ yào zhège’d at a couple of different kinds of chicken sandwich pictures and a Pepsi picture. She didn’t enter my order. She looked at me with intense, angry eyes and said, “What do you think of the Diaoyu Islands situation?” I replied, “Duh, what?” “The Diaoyu Islands! What do you think?”
Trouble. The ownership of these islands is currently being disputed by China and Japan. The Chinese people are really fired up about it. Some think the American government is pulling the strings in some sort of misguided display of regional power. I definitely didn’t want to get sucked into a political discussion here. Especially on a topic that I knew absolutely nothing about. I sure wanted those chicken sandwiches though.
At this point I was holding out my money to her hoping to avoid the discussion. She just looked at it and then back at me expecting an answer to her question. I explained to her that I didn’t know anything about the current situation or any of the history of the islands so I really didn’t know what to think about it. She was less than impressed with my explanation. She said sternly, “Well you better support China!” In my head I could hear the words “You better go get my !$&*! chicken sandwiches and quit shoving your opinions up my a**!” To my horror my ears heard one word come out of my mouth, “OK”. She smiled, entered my order, and took my money.
It’s hard to say what else I would have done if pressed at that moment. I had just been forced to choose sides in a dispute I knew nothing about by a cashier at KFC. Was something happening to my integrity?. Could it really be reduced to ashes by want of chicken sandwiches? Maybe I unconsciously got trained to avoid these kinds of conflicts during Peace Corps pre-service training. Either way, I hope our diplomats go into negotiations well fed.
The flu shot stung a little and as far as I know we all managed to stay out of trouble that weekend.