Thursday, November 06, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Yesterday I said that I was a life-long voter, but I confess that that doesn’t mean I have voted in every election for which I was eligible. I made what I thought was a good faith effort to vote in 1992, but never ended up casting a ballot.

I was on my Chinese walkabout then. I knew I should have arranged an absentee ballot ahead of time, but I didn’t have any idea where I would be at election time.

Once I was in China, I determined that I would probably be in Shanghai at about the time I should be sending my ballot back, so I faxed a request to have an absentee ballot sent to me there.

This plan had so many flaws that I can’t begin to guess which one actually tripped me up. I can’t even be sure the fax ever went through. I had a little trouble with the machine. My Chinese vocabulary didn’t cover telecommunications issues, and the shop owner didn’t speak any English. Amazingly, someone who happened to be there at the same time asked me in excellent French if he could be of any assistance. Together I think we made the fax machine work, but the receipt it spat out was completely unintelligible to me, so I’ll never know.

I remember thinking at the time that U.S. election officials would jump at the chance to literally deliver democracy to China, but it was not to be. I showed up every day for almost a week at the American Express office in Shanghai, but the package didn’t arrive while I was in town. When the election actually happened, I was on a ferry sputtering up the Yangtze River. The Chinese were definitely interested in the election, and several different people told me that Bill Clinton had won, but I had no access to news sources on the boat. It wasn’t until I arrived in Chongching four or five days later that I found out for sure that Ke Lin Dun had beaten Bu Shi (with Pei Lo placing a distant third).

I thought of this on Tuesday night when the results of the latest election were announced on television. We knew the winner just seconds after the polls had closed in California. It’s amazing how quickly they can calculate things these days. It’s also amazing to think about how hard it would have been to put myself in a place where I wouldn’t have been aware of the results of this election.

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