“Those born after Mao know nothing about the past history of China,” said Mr. Tray Lee.
My visit in Chengdu included a walk through the park to enjoy a tea. Having tea in China is akin to watching college football on Saturday afternoon; it is a distinct expression of the culture.
I sat alone on a brown bamboo chair stationed next to a still lake that reflected the images of boats waiting to be rented on warm summer days. The teahouse sat empty in the center of the park, except for the waitress who brought me a thermos filled with hot water. Cold winter temperatures apparently had scared most people away.
From nowhere Mr. Lee walked up and asked to join my empty table. Impressed with his mastery of English, I agreed and welcomed the chance to visit.
“The young people are unaware of the deep damage caused by Mao’s cultural revolution,” said Tray, “but I have lived through parts of it.”
When he was young, Tray started learning English, much to the concern of his parents.
“My parents were upset, because to them learning another language is dangerous. My grandfather went to prison for being able to speak Japanese, and we never saw him again,” he said.
Tray said he has never forgiven the communist party for that. And when they confront him with making his own money as a tour guide instead money for the party, he reminds them of that history.
“They tell me that I work for the party, not myself, that money is the people’s money. I tell them I will work for the party when they can give the life of my grandfather back to me,” said Tray.
Impressed with his courage to speak out, I also watched Tray’s eyes. He seemed to be scanning the horizon as he spoke, to make sure no one was listening.
“Our young people need to learn how to think for themselves, to learn how to have their own mind. They don’t need a government to think for them. They are smart enough to use their own mind to determine what is good or what is bad. They send people to school to train them how to listen, not to learn how to create,” Tray said.
According to Tray it will take another 10 years before they begin to see real change in China’s freedom to express. And that it will be impossible to stop the changes that are coming.
After an hour of tea and chat, I thanked him for his time and set off to find pandas.
It is impossible not to fall in love with pandas, especially the babies. For several hours I roamed around the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in Chengdu. I gushed over the playful expressions of pandas as they munched on bamboo, which consists of 99 percent of their diet.
The giant pandas are on the endangered species list. With the growing human population in China, it is a designation that isn’t likely to change anytime soon, as the pandas’ habitat continues to shrink.
As I was leaving the breeding station I thought about Mr. Lee. He had asked me a question, “when was the last time you saw a label that said ‘Created in China’ instead of ‘Made in China?’”