China trip memorable for London man

By Jane Beathard

May 29, 2014

He shopped in a Chinese Walmart, ate a rabbit’s head and left condolences for victims and survivors of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Dick Wiseman’s recent whirlwind trip to the Far East was 17 days of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

The London resident visited long-time Internet friends, as well as the family of a Chinese exchange student who lived with Wiseman in 1999. It was his sixth excursion to Asia and the first since 2008.

A 30-hour flight landed Wiseman in Guangzhou, a city of 12.7 million that lies 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong. A friend acted as translator and tour guide, driving him through Schuzuan Province — where he chowed down apprehensively on a rabbit’s head — a Chinese appetizer.

A Guangzhou Walmart was a far cry from its big-box American cousin.

“It felt more like a bargain basement with low ceilings,” Wiseman said.

Customers picked through fresh meat and seafood that was scattered about on beds of ice. Vendors handed out free samples. None looked very appetizing, Wiseman said.

He attended Easter Mass at the only Roman Catholic church in Guangzhou and was astonished to see 120 new members baptized that day.

China’s government is officially atheistic. But Wiseman found many Chinese interested in religion.

A planned side trip from China to Malaysia turned out to be even more meaningful for Wiseman in the aftermath of the MAF 370 disappearance.

He flew into Kuala Lumpur on April 27 and was disappointed when a guard denied him access to an airport room displaying a banner with condolences to those lost on the missing airliner.

“I’d heard about (the banner) on the Internet,” Wiseman said. “But the area had closed on April 1.”

He got lucky while waiting for a return flight to China four days later.

He slipped past a distracted guard and down a hallway toward a roped-off area where the banner was hanging.

“No sign said you couldn’t go, so I did,” Wiseman said.

He found three huge panels completely filled with inscriptions in dozens of different languages.

Wiseman whipped out a pen and quickly wrote: “God grant you peace.”

It was a message meant for both the missing plane’s passengers and their survivors, he said.

MAF 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 227 passengers and a crew of 12, continued to be headline news throughout Asia during Wiseman’s visit.

“Asians are very sympathetic and sad. They want to know what happened,” he said.

Most passengers on the plane were Chinese and the incident is particularly devastating in China.

“It is our 9-11,” a Chinese friend said.

Wiseman said most Chinese believe Malaysian government officials know more than they are telling.

“Many Chinese believe the plane’s pilot held the passengers hostage in exchange for release of political prisoners. When the Malaysian government refused to negotiate in the middle of the night, the pilot just continued to fly until the plane ran out of gas,” Wiseman said.

Jane Beathard can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 16 or via Twitter @JaneBeathard.