Walking the Great Wall: My Uncle’s Story

This post was originally published on my City Sampler blog.


Walking the Great Wall: My Uncle’s Story

When China opened its borders to the west in the early 1980s, my uncle packed his bags and headed over. Now a somewhat older and more experienced traveler, he delighted in the oddity he presented to the locals as a foreigner. The locals pointed, some took photos, some attempted to talk to him, some were obviously shy and gave him a wide berth and sideways glance.

His delight with China once again expressed itself in his relationship to local food practices. His interest in the tastes of the cuisine and the magnificently grand cooking techniques led to an examination question he posed to his engineering students in Perth the following year:

How would one could remove the entire skeleton from a dead duck, leaving both the carcass and the skeleton still in tact? 

An ancient technique, the record of the procedure can only be found in one English translation of an obscure medieval Chinese cookery pamphlet. His students called the question unfair. My uncle argued that research was an important skill for an engineer.

My uncle always looks happy when he speaks of his time in China and even potentially unpleasant experiences are told with a smile and a laugh.

At the end of his trek along a section of the Great Wall, my uncle spied a fruit stand. Being both hungry and thirsty he headed over. There were many fruits on offer, but my uncle’s eye was drawn to the big juicy oranges at the back of the stall. He had no Mandarin, the seller had no English, and so my uncle pointed at them and then held up his finger to indicate that he wanted only one. The seller seemed shocked and checked several times – by both holding up the orange and pointing at it – that this was the fruit my uncle wanted. My uncle, somewhat confused, nodded his head vigorously and assured the man that, yes, that was the fruit he would like. The seller nodded his understanding and then began to gift-wrap the orange in paper and sugar.

My uncle, now even more confused, figured that he was simply ignorant of local cultural practice and did not question the situation. The man handed over the orange and pointed to the note my uncle was to give him. My uncle handed it over with a smile, bowed his thank you and left. It was not until the next day when he converted the sum that he realised he had paid around $50 for the orange.

It had been incredibly juicy and delicious though.

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