by Anton Wills-Eve

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Some burdens are a joy to carry


I am often at a loss when faced with choices of moral rectitude which concern not merely my own behaviour but especially how my actions might impact upon others who perhaps may not share my ethical standards or opinions for reasons of culture or nationality. In short I do not always know how to carry myself appropriately. Let me illustrate such a dilemma which once confronted me when observing some extra mural Mongolian tribesmen on the other side of the bricks to China. This was some twenty odd years after Mao had just collapsed from exhaustion after his rather long walk.

For a start I was not supposed to be in China at all at the time as one of my journalist colleagues was under house arrest in Peking. I was on a flight between Seoul in South Korea and Ulan Batur in Mongolia. We had had to make an emergency stop while the local secret police carried out some local politically secret mission. It was honestly as easy as that. The plane stopped in the apparent middle of nowhere and a few of us, Western and Eastern passengers, just got off and stretched our legs. I simply left the DC6 and went for a stroll in the sunshine. No customs, no soldiers, no nothing. Barely a landing strip and this odd looking wall right next to us. Noticing the wall, and having no idea whether it was the Great Wall of China or just a boundary marker between two countries – absolutely crammed full of miles and miles of sod all – I asked a cute little Asian girl who alighted with me if she knew where we were.

She didn’t even know what I was saying. By 1969 I thought anyone who boarded a jet in Seoul would have a few words of English. They all spoke pidgin American when I had visited the country aged 13 some sixteen years earlier. But no such luck. Her French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese were worse, although the last tongue did elicit a raised eyebrow and the one word “Macao?”. I just slipped my arm in hers, she seemed to like this, or it may just have been the Savile Row hand made sleeve of my three piece, dark blue London suit, but she smiled brightly up at me and dragged me towards the edge of the weird wall. Then she pointed at a group of people who took my breath away. Smiling she jumped up in a little skip and exclaimed,

보기. 그들은 몽골이다. 무료 사람들. 중국어 공산주의하지 않습니다”.

– Now be fair, I never said I didn’t speak Korean, it was just that she had no English. In fact she nearly passed out when I replied

그들은 유목민 부족민해야합니다. 그들은 우리에게 뭔가를 판매 할 것.”

Okay this is showing off. What she said was, roughly, ‘they are Mongolians . They are free , not communists like the Chinese this side of the wall’. And I said something like, ‘yes and they seem to be trying to sell us something too’. She found this very funny and we both delved into pocket and purse to find the odd dollar bill to offer them as she looked as sorry for them as I felt. But boy did we get a shock. The soi-disant chief of the tribe came right up to the parapet, bowed and held out a beautiful ream of silk cloth in green and purple. And clearly it was for her. Indeed his gestures and deportment said more, they said, “And this is for the very beautiful lady who has visited out glorious country!”

Sadly, at this point, the secret policemen stopped playing James Bond and instead rather obviously rounded up their posse of passengers and herded them back onto the plane. But in fairness there were only fourteen of us so the Asian girl, whom I now took to be South Korean, came and sat next to me. She was clutching her huge roll of Mongolian silk and, in very deliberate Korean, – I must have slipped up somewhere in mine – said

나는이 무엇을 할 것인가? 너무 크고 아름답습니다. 하지만 내가 할 수있는, 나와 함께 세계 일주를받을 수 없어? 당신은 그것을 선생님을 하시겠습니까? “

She was offering it to me as she had a long way to travel and could not carry it with her. I felt so touched and honoured that I hardly knew what to do. I could not insult her by refusing, but would I insult her more by offering to buy it or pay for it in some way? Then an idea struck me. I fished in my waistcoat pocket and took out a small pair of nail scissors – English suits are so useful! – and cut out two perfectly shaped hearts, each about the size of a blazer pocket badge. Then I carefully pinned one on the lapel of her flower patterned jacket and the other to my own jacket lapel. She burst into tears.

The secret policemen did not know what to make of us for the last eighty minutes of the flight. But the cabin crew did. A hostess and the chief steward came up to us ten minutes later, as we sat with arms round each others’ necks, and offered us an ice cold bottle of champagne and two glasses. The head steward bowed and added, in Korean of course,

당신이 함께 행복한 결혼 생활을 가질 수있다!”

We couldn’t stop giggling in adorable confusion as we carried on for the rest of that hopelessly happy and wonderful flight which was to carry us so much further than we ever dreamed.