Sunday, May 13, 2007

Excuses Come to an End, Almost

Note: This story began on April 25.

I haven't been able to log on for several days, thanks to the Chinese censors. Wish I could use that as an excuse, but that would be dishonest. What with guidebook research and other duties and distractions, I’ve neglected to cobble even a counterfeit ending for the Mumbai story.

I wanted to focus somehow on that feeling of continuity and wonder that Cliff and I felt walking late one night in the Bhindi Bazaar, an ancient and predominantly Muslim quarter, drifting and surging with the tides of shoppers and shopkeepers.

There were men pushing wooden carts laden with crates and boxes, porters bearing woven baskets atop their heads, teenagers murmuring into cell phones, smaller children crowded around stone basins of fish, a merchant demonstrating a wind-up Victrola to a crowd of men in dusty robes.

I felt like I could hear the sounds of centuries overlapping.

I've traveled alone and with family but this moment was different somehow, maybe because Cliff asked if I could ever have imagined that we would be walking together in this strange place and I had to say no, this was beyond imagining on any sort of personal level.

No individual mind could have imagined that we would find ourselves at Decent Corner, two Chinese-American brothers who last shared a bedroom in a town best known, if known at all, as the childhood home of Chester A. Arthur.

The 21st president of the United States, nicknamed the Gentleman Boss, succeeded from his elected post of vice-president after James Garfield’s assassination. By most accounts, he was a better statesman than anyone had the right to expect. Even the deservedly cynical Mark Twain admitted that, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.” It was during his term that Congress first passed the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). Immigrants of Chinese descent would remain ineligible for U.S. citizenship until 1943.

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