Being Inspired, maybe - 76

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

A friend, or rather an acquaintance, if mine always had a dream, or rather an obsession, since we were in kindergarten, that he would build what he called, a little slice of China.

I never quite understood why he would want to do such a thing until later on, in university, and his father had suddenly died.

That's when it became an obsession.

His name was John, but that wasn't his real name.  His parents were Chinese, and the cane from Shanghai, and had fled China before he had been born, for reasons he never explained.

I expect he would never really know, and although he had asked them why they left, they had never given him a satisfactory answer.  And it was not as if he could go there to find out.  China was not the place you could go and start asking questions, particularly if your parents had left, as he called it, under a cloud

But the death of his father had polarised his dream into an obsession, and that was to build a replica of China his parents had once lived all their lives.

Seeing the movie Westworld had a great impact on him, and although I told him that it was only fictional, it sparked something in him.

He was never going to be able to afford to build it himself, but what if he made it into a theme park?

And so it was that his parent's memories of China came to life.  I had grown up with the paintings of that part of Shanghai, and of the small fishing village that was so hauntingly depicted in the watercolours his mother had created as a means of never forgetting her home, and to show her son what life had been like.

Those paintings became the blueprint for the theme park simply called China World.  Had found an island, one of several in the middle of a large lake and built a bridge with a pagoda in the middle.  Guest could arrive by either boat or by bus.  There was a large Chinese inspired hotel built in the old style of the palaces, in fact, every building was an authentic replica built in the same manner they had been for many centuries.

The entrance was a traditional gate, with huge lions either side and with John and his mother, I stood on the threshold of his vision and her memories that had been brought to life and couldn't quite believe what I was seeing.

Of course you had to look past the roller coaster, the  concession shops and the paved roads and footpaths, the necessary evils that had brought it to life, but it was accurate, and I could see the paintings, now in a gallery as one of the attractions.

"Are you ready for the guided tour?" He asked me, a smile on his face from ear to ear.

"Lead on."

An open minibus was waiting, one of many that would take guests on a tour around the island pointing out the attractions and giving a little history at the same time.

Our guide was Chinese, as were many of the staff, maintaining an air of authenticity, and dressed in traditional clothes.

But before we could board, one of the park managers arrived in a what looked like a golf buggy and came over.

"Mr Chen, we have a small problem.  If you could spare a minute, I think we can sort it out quickly."
John had told me all the problems had been taken care of, the biggest, the hiring of people of Chinese descent over others, and endless problems caused by the construction workers, because of his insistence of getting the job done by a certain date.

That had caused the project to run over budget by a considerable sum and raised questions about the safety of some aspects of the park.  But all the certification was in order, but I knew he was worried about it.

He excused himself and left with the manager.  That left me with Mrs Chen, and Molly, the tour guide.

"Whilst this is a remarkable achievement," I heard Mrs Chen say, "memories are sometimes left where they belong."

I could never tell what she was thinking and was often reminded of the inscrutable expressions all of John's family had.  This was no exception, so I had to wonder what was behind that remark.

It was a bit late to be telling him that he should not have built it.

"How so?"  I asked.  It was probably now my place to speak, but I was curious.

"My memories of our time here are not happy memories.  The village was run by a very bad man, and he made life very difficult for all of us and was the reason we had to leave."

"Why didn't you tell John this?"

"His father and I vowed we would never tell him about what really happened, preferring him to believe that we were happy here, which to a certain extent we were, until his father made a mistake."

Call it what you will, but I had a strange feeling all along that she had not been as enthusiastic as John in rebuilding her former home.  Little things like certain paintings going missing, and general haziness when it came to details.  John put it down to her age, but I thought it was something e lose, something I couldn't put my finger on.

My parents were the same, and I guess there were secrets that would never see the light of day in every family.  They were the metaphorical skeletons in the closet.

Molly's two-way radio squawked, and a distended voice said, "Molly. Can you bring your guests to the main building?"

A glance in our direction, then, "Of course."

She smiled at us and said, " It appears we are wanted at the ivory tower."

"Is that what the main office building is called," I asked.

"A nickname.  A little humour among the staff."

Or something far more serious because it implied management was not competent.  I let it pass, and escorted Mrs Chen to the van, and we headed off.

It was my first visit since it had been completed, and even though there were frantic signs of work still going in before the grand opening, it was very much a sight to behold.

It reminded me a lot of the Forbidden City in Beijing when I had the opportunity to spend ten very interesting days there, and in several other cities in modern China, where very little of what I saw was of what was represented here.

And to me, this world was little short of a masterpiece.

Until we reached the main building, sadly the only building not built in the traditional Chinese manner.

Molly waited till we got off the bus then escorted us into the building and towards the elevator.

"Top floor."

The doors opened and she ushered us inside, pressing the 6th-floor button, then stepping back out."

"Not coming with us?"

"No.  I'll be waiting here when you return."

I didn't like t the sound of t that, and as the lift came to life, I felt a shiver down my spine.

The lift stopped, jumped the last few inches and the doors opened onto an open vista of the park on each side.

But in between all of that stood a man, with John standing beside him, both looking very solemn.  Then I heard a gasp from behind me, Mrs Chen, followed by two words, barely audible, "It's you."

"Yes," the man spoke, in a gravelly tone.  "Back from the grave.  Come in, sit down.  I want to know why you tried very hard to kill me."

© Charles Heath 2019


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