Forrest Gump Chapter Nine
Here I am, halfway roun the world again, this time in Peking, China.
The other people that play on the ping-pong team are real nice fellers what come from ever walk of life, an they is specially nice to me. The Chinamen is nice, too, an they is very different sorts of gooks from what I seen in Vietnam. First off, they is neat an clean an very polite. Second, they is not tryin to murder me.
The American State Department have sent a feller with us who is there to tell us how to behave aroun the Chinamen, an of all I have met, he is the only one not so nice. In fact, he is a turd. Mister Wilkins is his name, an he have a little thin moustache and always carry a briefcase an worry about whether or not his shoes is shined an his pants is pressed or his shirt is clean. I bet in the mornin he get up an spit-shines his asshole.
Mister Wilkins is always on my case. “Gump,” he say, “when a Chinaman bow to you, you gotta bow back. Gump, you gotta quit adjustin yoursef in public. Gump, what are them stains on your trousers? Gump, you have got the table manners of a hog.”
In that last, maybe he is right. Them Chinamen eat with two little sticks an it is almost impossible to shovel any food in your mouth with em, an so a lot of it wind up on my clothes. No wonder you do not see a lot of fat Chinamen aroun. You would think they would of learnt to use a fork by now.
Anyway, we is playin a whole lot of matches against the Chinamen an they has got some very good players. But we is holdin our own. At night they has almost always got somethin for us to do, such as go out for supper someplace, or listen to a concert. One night, we is all sposed to go out to a restaurant called the Peking Duck, an when I get down to the lobby of the hotel, Mister Wilkins say, “Gump, you has got to go back to your room an change that shirt. It look like you has been in a food fight or somethin.” He take me over to the hotel desk an get a Chinaman who speak English to write a little note for me, saying in Chinese that I am goin to the Peking Duck restaurant, an tell me to give it to the cab driver.
“We are going ahead,” Mister Wilkins say. “You give the driver the note an he will take you there.” So I gone on back to my room an put on a new shirt.
Anyhow, I find a cab in front of the hotel an get in, an he drive away. I be searchin for the note to give him, but by the time I figger out I must of lef it in my dirty shirt, we is long gone in the middle of town. The driver keep jabberin back at me, I reckon he’s axin me where I want to go, an I keep sayin, “Peking Duck, Peking Duck,” but he be thowin up his hans an givin me a tour of the city.
All this go on for bout a hour, an let me tell you, I have seed some sights. Finally I tap him on the shoulder an when he turn aroun, I say, “Peking Duck,” an start to flap my arms like they is ducks’ wings. All of a sudden, the driver get a big ole smile, an he start noddin an drive off. Ever once in a wile he look back at me, an I start flappin my wings again. Bout a hour later, he stop an I look out the winder an damn if he ain’t took me to the airport!
Well, by this time, it is gettin late, an I ain’t had no dinner or nothin, an I’m gettin bout starved, so we pass this restaurant an I tole the driver to let me out. I han him a wad of this gook money they give us, an he han me some back an away he go.
I went in the restaurant an set down an I might as well of been on the moon. This lady come over an look at me real funny, an han me a menu, but it is in Chinese, so after a wile, I jus point to four or five different things an figger one of them has to be eatable. Actually, they was all pretty good. When I am thru, I paid up an went on out on the street an try to fine my way back to the hotel, but I be walkin for hours I guess, when they pick me up.
Next thing I knowed, I has been thown in jail. They is a big ole Chinaman what speak English, an he is axin me all sorts of questions an offerin me cigarettes, jus like they did in them old movies. It were the nex afternoon before they finally got me out; Mister Wilkins come down to the jail an he is talkin for bout a hour, an they let me go.
Mister Wilkins is hoppin mad. “Do you realize, Gump, that they think you are a spy?” he say. “Do you know what this can do to this whole effort? Are you crazy?”
I started to tell him, “No, I is jus a idiot,” but I let it go. Anyhow, after that, Mister Wilkins buy a big balloon from a street vender an tied it on my shirt button, so he can tell where I is “at all times.” Also, from then on, he pinned a note on my lapel, sayin who I was an where I am stayin. It made me feel like a fool.
One day they load us up in a bus an take us way out of town to a big river an they is a lot of Chinamen standin aroun lookin official an all, an the reason, we find out soon enough, is that the head Chinaman of them all, Chairman Mao, is there.
Chairman Mao is a big ole fat Budda-lookin guy, an he has taken off his pajaymas an is in his swimming trunks an they says Chairman Mao at the age of eighty is gonna swim this river by hissef an they want us to watch him do it.
Well, the Chairman, he wade on in an start swimming an folks is takin pichers an all them other Chinamen be chatterin away an lookin pleased. He is bout halfway cross the river, when he stop an raise his han an wave at us. Everbody wave back.
Bout a minute later, he wave again, an everbody wave back.
Not too long after that, Chairman Mao wave for a third time, an suddenly it begun to dawn on everbody that he is not waving, he is drownin!
Well, the shit done hit the fan, an I finally understan what a “Chinese Fire Drill” is. People is jumpin in the water an boats is racin out from the other side of the river an everbody on shore is cryin an leapin up an down an smackin they palms against the side of they heads. I say, the hell with this, cause I saw where he went under, an I thowed off my shoes an into the river I went. I past all the Chinamen who was swimming out there an got to the place where Chairman Mao had gone under. The boat be circlin, an people lookin over the sides like they is gonna see somethin, which was kind of silly since the river is bout the same color as sewer water back home.
Anyhow, I dived down three or four times an sure enough, I bumped into the ole bastid floatin aroun underwater. I haul him up an some Chinamen grapped him an thowed him in the boat an took off. Didn’t even bother to take me along, an so’s I have got to swim all the way back by mysef.
When I get to the bank, all the people there be jumpin up an down an cryin an slappin me on the back, an they pick me up an carry me on they shoulders to the bus. But when we is on the road again, Mister Wilkins come up to me an be shakin his head. “You big dumb goof,” he say, “do you not realize that the best thing that could of happened for the United States was to let that sumbitch drown! You, Gump, is lost us the opportunity of a lifetime.”
So I guess I done screwed up again. I dunno. I am still jus try in to do the right thing.
We is about thru with the ping-pong games, an I have lost count of who is winnin or losin. But what has happen in the meanwhile is that on account of my pullin ole Chairman Mao out of the river, I has become sort of a national hero to the Chinamen.
“Gump,” Mister Wilkins say, “your stupidity seems to have turned into an advantage. I have received a report that the Chinese envoy would like to start discussions bout the possibility of reopening foreign relations with us. Furthermore, the Chinese wish to thow you a big parade thru downtown Peking, an so I expect you to be on your good behavior.”
They helt the parade two days later, an it were a sight to see. They was bout a billion Chinamen along the streets, an they was wavin an bowin an all when I went by. The thing was sposed to wind up at the Kumingtang, which is like the capitol of China, an I am sposed to get thanked by Chairman Mao personally.
When we get there, the Chairman is all dried out an glad to see me. They has put on a big spread for lunch an I get to sit nex to the Chairman hissef. In the middle of the lunch, he lean over to me an say, “I have heard you was in Vietnam. May I ask what you think of the war?” An interpreter translate that for me, an I think about it for a moment or two, but then I figger, what the hell, if he didn’t want to know, he wouldn’t of axed, an so I say, “I think it’s a bunch of shit.”
The interpreter translate that back to him, an Chairman Mao get a odd expression on his face, an look at me funny, but then his eyes light up an he break out with a big smile, an start shakin my han an noddin his head like one of them little dolls with a spring for a neck. People took pitchers of that, an afterward they was in the American newspapers. But I ain’t never tole nobody till now what I said to make him smile that way.
The day we lef, we is goin out of the hotel an they is a big crowd watchin us leave an cheerin an clappin. I look over an they is this Chinese mama with a little boy on her shoulders, an I can see he is a real Mongolian idiot – eyes all crossed, tongue hangin out, droolin an babbling like them kinds of idiots do. Well, I can’t hep mysef. Mister Wilkins have ordered us not to never go up to any Chinamen without first gettin his permission, but I went on over there an I got me a couple of ping-pong balls in my pocket an I take one of em out an get a pen an put my X on it an give it to the little boy. Firs thing he does is put it in his mouth, but then, when that all straightened out, he reach out an grap my fingers with his han. An then he start to smile – great big ole grin – an all of a sudden I seen tears in his mama’s eyes, an she start chatterin, an our interpreter say to me that is the first time the little feller have ever smiled. They is things I could tell her, I guess, but we ain’t got time.
Anyway, I start to walk away an the little boy done thowed the ping pong ball an bounce it off the back of my head. It were jus my luck that somebody got a photograph right at that moment, an, of course, it wound up in the newspapers. “Young Chinese Displays His Hatred of American Capitalists,” the caption said.
Anyway, Mister Wilkins come up an drag me away an fore I know it, we is on the plane an flyin high. Last thing he says to me afore we land back in Washington is, “Well, Gump, I spose you know about the Chinese custom that if you save a Chinaman’s life, you is responsible for it forever.” He have a nasty little smile on his face, an he is settin next to me on the plane an they has just tole us not to get up an to fasten our seatbelts. Well, I jus look over at him an cut the biggest fart of my life. It soun somethin like a buzz saw. Mister Wilkins’ eyes bugged out an he say, “Argggg!” an start fannin the air an tryin to unloosen his seatbelt.
A pretty stewardess come runnin up to see what all the commotion is about an Mister Wilkins is coughin an choakin an all of a sudden I done started fannin the air mysef an holdin my nose an pointin at Mister Wilkins, an shoutin, “Somebody open a winder,” an shit like that. Mister Wilkins, he get all red in the face an begin protestin an pointin back at me, but the stewardess, she jus smiled an gone on back to her seat. After he quit sputterin an all, Mister Wilkins start adjustin his collar an say to me under his breath, “Gump, that was a extremely crude thing to do.” But I jus grinned an looked straight ahead.
They sent me back to Fort Dix after that, but instead of puttin me in the Steam Heat Company, I am tole they is lettin me out of the Army early. It don’t take but a day or so, an then I am gone. They give me some money for a ticket home, an I have got a few dollars mysef. Now I got to decide what to do.
I know I ought to go on home an see my mama, cause she’s in the po house an all. I think maybe I ought to get started with the little srimp bidness, too, an begin to make somethin of my life, but all this time, in the back of my mind, I have been thinkin of Jenny Curran up at Harvard University. I got a bus to the train station, an all the way there I am tryin to figger what is the right thing to do. But when the time come to buy my ticket, I tole them I wanted to go to Boston. There are jus times when you can’t let the right thing stand in yo way.