A fellow traveler for a few days in China in 2011 became an unusual memory precisely because he was so unusual himself. Some of our group dubbed him the “Chinese Elvis” because of his distinct appearance and demeanor. He was among a group of about a dozen young Chinese men who boarded our boat for a cruise along the Yangtze River.
We never learned his real name. Something about him made him seem unapproachable, apart, but at least two members of our group, Norman and Patty Gold, established a connection with him. Here’s the story, as I know it.
We had been traveling in other parts of China for about ten days before boarding the boat for the Yangtze River part of the trip. Chinese Elvis, as I will call him here, had an air of stardom about him, something that made him so different from his travel companions that they seemed to treat him with special deference. When he walked among them, it was almost as if he had a spotlight following him.
As I began to write this post, I called Norman to ask for photos he might have of Chinese Elvis because I had apparently failed to take any. Norman remembered Chinese Elvis in much more detail than I did. One amazing coincidence was that Norman had some Elvis Presley music on his smartphone that Chinese Elvis listened to with great pleasure! One evening on the boat as the band played, Patty danced the jitterbug as Chinese Elvis and his friends looked on with appreciation. Later, Chinese Elvis told Norman he would like to meet Patty and the three of them began to strike up a friendship.
Again, these are things I did not know until I started to write this post.
What triggered my interest was a particular act of kindness that Chinese Elvis showed to Norman, an act that impressed many other members of our travel group. On one particular stop along the river, as we boarded our boat to leave, Chinese Elvis proudly presented Norman with a special gift that he had purchased on the stop.
The gift was a beautifully roasted bird on a stick! Nowhere previously on the trip, and nowhere afterward did we ever see another bird prepared in such a way. Before Norman could take a bite, our tour guide said to him, “Not good for American stomach; good for Chinese stomach.” So Norman had a prized trophy rather than an appetizer.
Others wanted to handle the trophy, so Norman gladly passed it around. One of our tour mates, Thao Trinh, wanted her picture taken with the trophy, so I obliged.
The presentation of this gift to Norman from Chinese Elvis set off a ripple of surprise and excitement among our fellow travelers. By this single act of kindness and friendship on the part of Chinese Elvis, he became warm, gracious, and approachable.
So I want to acknowledge Norman and Patty Gold for befriending Chinese Elvis in such a way that led to his gift to Norman. A bond had been created, another positive link in the chain of connections between China and the United States. Admittedly, a small step, but a step.
We don’t know if Chinese Elvis will ever visit the United States. We don’t know if he will become world famous as Elvis Presley did. We don’t even know if Chinese Elvis is an entertainer, an artist, a poet, or anything more about him other than he is likely to long remember Norman and Patty Gold.
Isn’t it funny how the unplanned, unexpected things in life can sometimes make a longer-lasting impression than the planned for and expected things?