It was day two of a three-day swing through Beijing China.
The sun was high in the sky and sweat was falling from my brow.
I had just climbed several sets of marble steps, pushed my way through throngs of rural Chinese and Koreans tourists so I could peer through dirty-glass windows. Beyond the glass was the bedroom for some of the dethroned emperor’s concubines. Jostling for a place on the steps, I saw red silk sheets and furniture that had stood unused for hundreds of years. It looked like someone’s grandmother’s attic.
The Chinese tour guide showed no mercy as he trudged my companion and me up one flight of massive steps to the next, showing the highlights of the Emperor’s once palatial summer palace.
Despite all the marvelous porcelain-roofed buildings, carefully hand-painted pathways and royal Chinese antiquities, my companion and I became tourist attractions. People starred continually at us. Some walked away backwards to get a better view. Others tried to secretly take our photographs. Some were bold, and bodacious, asking my companion, an African American who is 6 foot 5, if they could pose with him. This was a new experience for me, and it was quickly getting old. I had never been a novelty – a Black person in land without television and with limited outside travel.
On a patio, surrounded by shopkeepers hawking cheap plastic toys and replicas of relics, a young, white girl reached out and fluttered a hand fan at me. When I said, “Thank you,” she smiled.
”Yes! … Texas!”
“We’re from Highland Park!”
And then we shouted in unison, “Texas! Texas! Texas!”
“The Yellow Rose of Texas” we sang at the top of our lungs and way off key while standing on the top of a place that was once forbidden for the average person to enter.
We found a piece of home -- 20,000 miles from Texas’ hot, dusty soil and Dallas’ green skyscraper.
The five to six young people are students at Highland Park High School and were on a student exchange trip. They hated the native food, and said they were dying to get home to American French fries and real air conditioning.
So we hugged and screamed, while jumping around in circles
“The yellow rose of Texas…," we sang and then we drifted off, because of course, we didn’t know all the words.
“Texas, Texas, Texas! Hook up Horns!” We flashed the familiar to us sign of two outer fingers. We jumped, like the school kids they were, and shouted again for good measure, “Texas, Texas, Texas!”
The Chinese tour guide asked my traveling companion, who lives in Pittsburgh, why we were shouting Texas. He shrugged, and said, something like they think Texas is special.
It’s funny how a place identifies who a person is as an individual.
I spent three weeks traveling in Asia this July. The first two weeks were in Bangkok, Thailand as a journalist at the 15th International AIDS Conference. More than 17,000 people from 162 countries and 3,000 journalists were present for the six days.
Say Texas, and people wanted to know if I knew President George W. Bush personally.
Two Kenyan convention delegates at a cocktail party wanted to know if I had voted for the president? Did I like him? Other Americans they met didn’t.
I explained the privacy of the American voting system. Of course, ignoring the diatribe on whether Bush was rightfully elected following the Florida voting scandal.
Needless to say, Bush and his policies that supported abstinence teaching over condom usage were detested. On several occasions protesters ran screaming through the Mpact Convention Center spewing anti-Bush rhetoric.
In a Bangkok tailor’s shop, run by emigrants from India, an American importer from Washington, D.C., finds out I’m from Texas and calls me a redneck.
Me, an African American born in Kansas and raised in Missouri, a redneck?
It was good-natured ribbing, but still I had to explain “redneck,” to the Indian tailor, American’s right to criticize our elected officials, even the president, and why we vote. Again, dispensing with the Florida voting brouhaha.
In Dallas, I don’t wear cowboy hats, straw or otherwise, and most people don’t expect me to defend the honor of Texas or the president’s reputation.
But in Bangkok and Beijing, where a Chinese stranger on the Radisson Hotel elevator compared Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq with the Chinese emperors who expended a thousand years and countless lives to build a 3,000-mile defensive wall, I was a Texan and American.
God Bless America -- the Red, White and Blue!
It was sort of like being a child in the middle of a schoolyard fight. I could beat the living daylights out of my younger sister at home, but by God, you better not lay a hand on her. And I fought continually against those who did.
America has a lot of faults. And as you can tell, I’m not a native Texas. But, by gosh, it’s my America and my Texas. Keep your hands off! Sharon Egiebor’s attendance at the International AIDS Conference was sponsored by The Dallas Examiner, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Black AIDS Institute and Egiebor Expressions.