‘One Billion Angry Chinese,’ first appeared in Sulphur: Laurentian University’s Literary Journal in 2013.
One Billion Angry Chinese
by Mat Del Papa
Something about the place had always called to me. I liked the very idea of a museum — the history, the dignity, the quiet — it’s a shame I pretty much ruined it for everyone. Okay, cards on the table, I didn’t ruin it, but I came close.
The ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) is quite simply the finest museum in Canada. I had never been — the trip from Capreol to Toronto is long and full of peril — until that fateful August morn. I convinced my dad, brother, and uncle to join me for the day. “It’ll be a learning experience,” didn’t do it. “I’ll pay,” did.
I didn’t count the cost. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Especially considering the quality of exhibits on ‘temporary loan.’ These included rare art from the Vatican and some truly antique pieces from China.
Before I can explain the trouble I need to explain something about electric wheelchairs. They run on batteries. While not hard to steer with a bit of practice, they become nearly impossible to control when those batteries run low. Motors don’t react like you’ve come to expect, response times slow, and … let’s just say my nickname of ‘Crash’ was earned on low batteries.
On that trip to the ROM the batteries in my wheelchair were all but dead.
It didn’t seem a problem as the day began. The chair worked perfectly. However, as I tooled around the museum — the very large museum — my wheelchair’s batteries steadily drained. I didn’t notice until I rounded a plinth (that’s a fancy museum word for a stand), or rather I attempted to round it.
On this ridiculously narrow — and completely unsupported — pillar sat a three-thousand-year-old Chinese vase: a one of a kind, irreplaceable, and priceless Chinese vase.
My wheelchair picked that exact moment to act up. The inch of clear space that should have been between that plinth and me shrank. It shrank until it disappeared entirely.
Time stopped as I felt the back wheel brush that stupidly unstable stand. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the vase wobble … and fall.
Sudden panic seized me. My mind flashed on one billion angry Chinese lynching me. Enraged at the destruction of a beloved national treasure.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone. My brother, who’d been trailing along behind me bored out of his mind, caught the vase and set it back in its place to the horrified accompaniment of ROM staff hissing, “Please don’t touch the exhibits!”
Needless to say I didn’t venture near anything else in the museum for the rest of the day. One narrowly avoided international incident was enough for me!
Even with that near disaster clouding the day I still enjoyed my trip to the ROM. Too bad no one else in the family did.
The highlight of the trip for them came in the parking lot. That’s when this stunningly attractive young woman in too tight jeans and a shirt three-sizes too small walked by. “Now that’s what I call art,” one of them whispered in appreciation.
Me? I just shook my head.
Needless to say we have yet to return to the ROM.