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Darrell Huckaby - Digging a hole to China

I have never been to China, although I do eat a lot of their food and wear a lot of their clothing. I tried to go when I was a little kid. I was inspired by a Popeye cartoon in which the squint-eyed sailor got all hopped up on spinach and dug right through the earth. He came up on the opposite side and ran face to face with a guy in a Coolie hat, pulling a rickshaw.

This revelation inspired me to examine the globe on my father's desk. After close examination, I decided that if I dug a deep enough hole in the back yard of my Porterdale home, I would come up in Tibet - which may or may not be a province of China, depending on which part of the political spectrum you fall on.

I enlisted the aid of my childhood playmate Linda King - who had naturally curly hair, by the way - and using garden spades and a broken-handled hoe we dug through the hard red clay until the lilting tune of Hunky John's ice cream truck called us away from our task. We might have been three feet down when we broke for grape Popsicles. That is about as close as I have come to actually visiting China.

I have been giving a lot of consideration, however, to making another attempt this August. If I do, indeed, make the journey, I will not dig my way - I'll fly. The Olympics are in China, you see - and since I was at Disney World when the '96 games came to Auburn Avenue, I thought I might take in the 2008 edition, half-way around the world. Since I've been thinking about going, I have tried to pay close attention to the preparations the Chinese government has been making for the big show. They want to put their best foot forward since the whole world will be watching.

The last time they got this much attention was in Tianenmen Square, and they still haven't lived that one down.

At any rate, the Chinese government has been dotting every "i" and crossing every "t" in an effort to make sure that they are prepared to greet the world. For instance, there is a smog problem in certain highly populated areas. In other words, you can't see your hand in front of your face, much less breathe, anywhere in or around Beijing - which is where the Olympic Stadium will be located.

That might be a bit of a problem, you see. There may be as many as 100,000 spectators in the stands for the opening ceremony and for some of the track and field events. It would be nice if those people could actually see the field from their seats and almost every one of them will want to breathe while they are there. Athletes generally place a pretty high premium on inhaling and exhaling, too.

The solution? No problems, mate - or was that from the Sydney Games? The Chinese government has promised to ban driving altogether as the games draw near - and close down all factories. Just to prove they could do it, they kept a million cars off the road in and around Beijing last August.

I bet gasoline prices would drop like a load of rocks if our government banned driving for a few days.

Not only are there too many cars in China. There are also too many cats, and the government has been spreading the word to the people that cats carry deadly diseases. Terrified citizens are dumping their cats on the streets and they are being rounded up by special collection teams who reportedly take them to secret execution camps.

I ain't making this up, y'all. I read it on the Internet, so I know it is true.

OK. So far we have clean air and 500,000 less cats running around.

Well, just this week the good folks who are bringing you the Beijing games made another startling discovery. Squat toilets have got to go. Westerners just don't like using them.

According to CBS News, which may or may not be more reliable, even, than the Internet - depending, I suppose, on whether Dan Rather is still retired - in 30 test events, at a number of Olympic venues, the biggest complaint from athletes, journalists and Western spectators was the absence of sit-down toilets.

I don't really have to go into details here, do I? A squat toilet is one over which one squats in order to do whatever it is one does over a toilet. A sit-down toilet is one at which one sits. Pretty simple.

But in most of Asia, they apparently squat. Don't they know it's the 21st century over there? We even sat at my Mama Ellis's outhouse, for goodness sake. We might stand back up with a splinter in our posterior, but at least we sat.

Oh, well. Maybe I won't go to China after all. I don't mind them grounding the cars, but if they do away with half-a-million cats, I might worry about which symbol I was pointing to on a restaurant menu, and as for squatting, I can dig a 3-foot hole in the red clay around here and do that.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.