An officer, a lieutenant judging by his uniform, recognize my gesture, and barked an order to his colleagues, who lowered their weapons. The officer -- his name tag read Chengdu -- broke off from the group and walked cautiously over. Stopping in front of me, Chengdu waved his hands in front of me and said something in Chinese.
"That's not going to work at all," I said. "Do you speak English?"
Chengdu nodded. "Of course."
"Excellent, although that does seems unlikely."
"China is a land of many mysteries," he observed.
This is Chengdu here on the right. It was only when I had these pictures developed that I noticed the ghostly image of Mao floating over his shoulder. A land of mysteries indeed.
I shook his hand and introduced myself. "I'm here as a representative of the filthy, moralless Western press. You may have heard of us." Seeing him stare at me blankly, I continued. "We are the bane of tyrants, the clarion voice of the free, tireless in our mission to spread truth, unless there's something on TV or the Internet, in which case we mostly write about that." Chengdu considered that for a moment before making an
Chengdu hesitated. "I really can't say."
"Oh well, I guess I'll go home then and write about something on the Internet then." I waited a beat for Chengdu to relax before springing the trap. "Too late! This is already on the Internet! I write about you! Ha ha ha!"
"Please don't," Chengdu said. "I could get in serious trouble."
I bit my lip, considering the awkward position I was putting the young officer in. "That's OK then. You don't have to tell me anything. Using the power of my brain ..." I tapped my head in case he was unfamiliar with the word, "... I've already brainstormed several possibilities for what's going on here."
"You should be impressed," I said, having come up with that response long before hearing what he'd said. "I'm just going to run these theories by you, and when I get close to the truth, give me a subtle signal. Like say 'No,' and then wink at me. I'll know what that means." I stared at him to see if he was getting it. "OK, that's just a blank look. You're already doing a lot of that, so it's not a very good signal."
"I can't send you a signal. I can't do anything like that," Chengdu pleaded. "You have to go."
"And I definitely will, just as soon as you wink at me or touch your nose or something." I pulled out my notepad. "Now then, on to the first possibility. As we both know, the Chinese space program has made rapid advances in the past decade. You've got Chinese astronauts up in space, having adventures, wearing David Bowie makeup and discovering that heavily sauce-based cuisines don't translate well to micro-gravity."
"Mission Control, we have rooster sauce in our eyes again. Yes, both of us."
I continued, "And to communicate with these astronauts, you need a method of creating very large Chinese characters on the earth's surface, because radios cannot communicate Chinese characters."
Chengdu gave me his blankest look yet. "That's not correct at all. We can transmit Chinese characters over radios without any problems. We can also ... speak ... over radios."
"Speak? Like we're doing right now?"
"I don't think anyone has spoken to anyone like we're doing right now."
"Agreed, hard-hitting journalism is pretty exciting when you're right down in the trenches," I replied, again not really listening to what he'd said. I looked down at my notepad. "OK, next possibility. Do ... the Chinese worship aliens?"
"Because this looks a lot like a message to aliens. "