Tuesday, January 18, 2011
It was the summer of 2001, and I was enjoying six weeks in the company of other teachers on a study-tour of China. It didn't take long for me to notice a series of peculiar events. Wherever we went, there were always more Chinese tourists than non-Chinese, and time and again I was either stared at or asked to pose with an individual or with an entire family for a picture. At first, I thought, well, they are not used to seeing foreigners, so they want their picture taken with one. After all, I have a beard, in addition to being a bit overweight. But this could not have been the case when, on Beijing's most upscale shopping street, I was snapped by several upscale Chinese, while on my way to the main branch of the Chinese Foreign Language Bookstore. It just kept happening. I won't exaggerate, but it happened at least twenty times. OK, on one of my final days in China, while walking along the marvelous Bund in Shanghai, a companion told me that "The Three Tenors" performance in The Forbidden City, which had occured not long before, was playing virtually non-stop on Chinese CCTV throughout the country that entire summer. That program, along with movies portraying Mao at Yenan, The Long March, and the 80th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. So it finally hit me. The people who wanted their pictures taken with me thought that I was/am Luciano Pavarotti. I DID once "go as" Luciano Pavarotti to a Halloween party, years ago. I suppose that it would not have occurred to many of them that the great tenor had left the country, nor that he would not just be walking around the tourist spots of China like any regular person. It amuses me now to think that in at least a few Chinese homes, there are framed portraits of family members atop lace doilies, with their arms around me, smiling and making the "V" for victory sign, along with Luciano Pavarotti. Nessun dorma, indeed!