Somewhere in Central Mongolia:
I've used this photo quite often, mostly because I like it. That's usually reason enough, especially when it looks better than anything I can produce in my mirror of late. In fact, that pathetic exercise is getting a little harder all the time.
The gentleman on the right is Mr. Steve Xie of Yixing, Jingau, China. Among other things, he is/was a guide, translator and an obedient overseer for English-speaking wanderers in the PRC. I also assumed him to be a bad little communist as he was able to completely absorb the nuances (and rewards), of the capitalist system in under five minutes. In the vernacular of Chinese bureaucracy, he is what is/was known as a 'national guide.' His job, among others, was to prevent any American tourists in his charge (custody might be more accurate), from sneaking into secret military bases, stealing chickens, fomenting trouble with local women, getting screwed on cheap T-shirts and most importantly -- not causing trouble around Tiananmen Square. The Chinese government was more than a little touchy about that one.
I can honestly report that he failed miserably at most of his assignments. No, we didn't sneak into any secret military bases, but we sure as hell snuck into everywhere else. If we'd had another hour and a speedier Bactrian camel, we would have ended up in the Soviet Union. Imagine how popular that might have been? Would have made the cover of Time magazine for all the wrong reasons.
Now aside from Steve's deteriorating political loyalties, he was also experimenting with issues involving sexual preference. China tends to be a little stuffy about these matters, so my assumption was that it was probably safer to explore the possibilities with Americans. We're generally a little more tolerant over these matters and when you are hopelessly lost in Mongolia ('Lost' can be permanent around there since no matter what direction you take, you're still lost -- just somewhere else.), it is always a good idea not to be too fussy about having your knee fondled in an emergency. After all, international relations is a tricky business.
I tried to offer a hint or two. Only sat with the girls in public places, made distasteful comments about female anatomy, showed him a picture of my girlfriend in San Francisco -- and the ones in Boston, Walnut Creek, Bishop, Auckland, Munich, Denver, Saskatoon...well, you get it. He just figured I had a big family and that Mao probably wouldn't have approved of such a thing.
I never did figure out Steve's story and of course in the end it didn't really matter anyway. Sometimes people are just friendly and in a country like China where societal experimentation is discouraged -- even oppressed, identity can be a difficult question to explore. Particularly in a one-child environment where girls were considered a burden -- or worse. And of course, the ramifications of Mao's policies are even now creating an unseen fall-out far exceeding the personal questions of sexual preference or identity. So there is the story -- one of many sidelines offered up by a fascinating world. And all you have to do is step out the door.