There is no such thing as “Shaanxi Nice.” For three weeks, I’ve tried to make an appointment with someone—anyone, really—in Shaanxi’s provincial government building on the basis of being a Minnesotan. Obviously, Minnesota residency doesn’t get me far in most Chinese cities. But Shaanxi is not most Chinese cities. In fact, it’s not a city at all, but a province, and it happens to be an official sister province—or sister state—to Minnesota.
Prior to my arrival I sent four letters (translated by native speakers) and made three phone calls expressing my desire to report on relations between our states. There was no response. Maybe someone’s still mad that Governor Ventura scratched a Shaanxi visit from his 2001 China travel itinerary. I don’t know. Whatever the problem is, it’s clear that I’ve made a mistake in arriving with no appointment, no letter of introduction, no press credentials. Matters are not helped by the fact that I speak a rare dialect of Chinese known as “Phrase Book.” The Uzi-armed guard at the entrance gate to the capital building is already speaking too fast for me to look up his meanings, and by the time his colleague from the guard shack across the road joins him, I am left with no choice but to pull a newspaper photo of Governor Ventura from my briefcase. “Woe-day shen-chang,” I explain in a poorly pronounced attempt to say “my leader.” The guards go quiet and stare at the bald-headed official.
“Wode shengzhang?” the larger one asks. At this point, the plainclothes officers arrive. While one of them debriefs the guards, the other addresses me in English. “Why you here?” I explain that I am from Shaanxi’s sister state in the U.S., Minnesota, and that I would like to speak to a representative of the government about relations between our two peoples. I remove a bag of wild rice that I have stowed in my briefcase. “Gift from Minnesota,” I offer.
“No problem.” I reach into my interior coat pocket, but it’s not there. I check my briefcase, and it’s not there either. “Forget passport,” I say, suddenly speaking broken English with a Shanghai accent. “At Bell Tower Hotel.”
“At bell tower?”
The plainclothes officer begins, I think, to explain the situation to the guards, and I begin to wonder if The Rake would be interested in publishing an account of my time in a Chinese prison. “What Minnesota?” The plainclothes officer demands. I reach into my briefcase and pull out a Minnesota road map. Tucked between its folds is a photo of Kevin Garnett that I’d torn from the Chinese version of NBA Insider.
“NBA!” One of the guards shouts with glee. “KG Mini-sohta!” He takes the photo from my hands and speaks rapidly to his colleagues. After the hubub dies down, one of the plainclothes officers points me to a nearby cab stand. “Go Minnesota.” I have no idea what my options are here, but I’m not going to stand around waiting to find out. “Go Minnesota!” I reply, and rush to catch a cab back to my hotel.