Cheng Ho Gardens: China’s subtle land-grab (conclusion)

China

Becaks. or cycle rickshaws, in front of the British embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1968 (Wikimedia Commons: Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures)

This is the final chapter of a four-part story by the American writer Paul Spencer Sochaczewski.

In the first chapter, an inquisitive Western journalist/conservationist met a chummy, U.S.-educated Chinese apparatchik, who flew with him on a secret mission to a remote island in the South China Sea.

In the second chapter, the narrator learned of China’s plan to create 30 news islands and convert them into an eco-friendly holiday destination, replete with luxury hotels, jet skiing, theme parks and an artificial coral reef.

In the third chapter, we learned of plans to create a unique safe haven for marginalized leaders eager to escape international justice.

And in this concluding chapter, our narrator receives a generous offer. But will he accept?

We offer the story to readers looking for a lighter, satirical look into an international dispute over the Spratly Islands. The characters’ names are fictitious.

By Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

We shifted a short distance to the Peranakan-themed “Becak Bar.”

“I enjoyed your articles about Savantis,” Wee said.

“You read those?” Wee was referring to the pieces I wrote years ago about a new country that was being planned by the reconstituted Knights Templar.

I had replied to a tiny classified ad in the International Herald Tribune that had offered “an economically available, State Sanctioned Hereditary Knighthood.”

Some wannabe nobles had resurrected the Knights Templar, a prominent and powerful group of medieval Christian noblemen who protected pilgrims on the crusader routes to Jerusalem.

A group of mostly-British visionaries recreated the Ancient and Noble Order of Knights Templar as a non-profit organization in Israel. For just a single $5,000 admission charge plus an annual fee of $500 year, I could be honored in an investiture involving apanages and escutcheons. I’d get to wear a special ring and have use of two castles and the opportunity to buy privately bottled Knights Templar Bordeaux.

And even better, the title came with citizenship of a new country they’re creating, code-named Savantis.

“Only five people know where it is,” said Knights Templar Chancellor Savant Graham Renshaw-Heron.

But from reading between the lines, I figured they were buying an island in the Philippines or the Caribbean. The nation would become a beacon of hearty, mostly British-bred, capitalistic enthusiasm, with economic benefits accruing from the planned casinos, resorts, golf courses, offshore banking and flags-of-convenience shipping.

Sort of like Nanyang.

“Look at us. We’re Chinese.”

Savantis, Sir Graham assured me, was “just an inch away from receiving United Nations recognition.”

“I’ve read most of the things you’ve written,” Wee continued. “As I recall you didn’t accept the invitation Sir Graham offered to join the Knights Templar and become a citizen of Savantis.”

“They weren’t terribly serious,” I said.

“No, and you’re a serious guy.”

I had a feeling what was coming next.

“I’ll cut to the chase. I’d like to offer you a job. It comes with a Nanyang passport. I’ll give you a long-stay suite in one of the new international hotels being built in Cheng Ho Gardens. Full membership in the golf club. Annual salary of, say, half-a-million. Of course that’s tax-free and concealed from prying eyes.”

“That’s very generous. But to do what?”

“Be our director of communications. Not everyone in the outside world understands our humanitarian vision, our commitment to nature conservation, our intent to develop and showcase the most innovative architectural designs. You understand our positioning. You are a friend of the new, improved, user-friendly China. People trust you.”

“Surely you or one of your colleagues could do that,” I said.

“Technically, perhaps. But look at us. We’re Chinese — physically and culturally. People wouldn’t believe our sincerity. But you’re from New York. Everybody trusts New Yorkers.”

“Does it come with a title?” I asked.

“Like I said, Director of Communications.”

“I’ll invite you to the opening.”

I made a face.

“Or if you prefer, we could call you Senior Vice President for Media Relations. How about that?”

“I was actually thinking of some kind of royal title, you know, like a knighthood.”

It was Wee’s turn to make a face. “Impossible my friend. We haven’t had royalty since the Ching Dynasty. Nanyang might have some, er, unusual laws, but it’s still part of the People’s Republic of China. One for all and all for one.”

“Pity, I’ve always wanted to be called the Prince Formerly Known as Artist.”

We talked for a while, and I said I’d let him know.

Which I did, a few days later. I told Wee my journalistic ethics wouldn’t allow me to “switch sides.” That I didn’t particularly like the idea of living on an isolated island. That I couldn’t abandon my roots.

Wee understood and promised we could remain friends. “I’ll invite you to the opening of the hotel complex,” he said.

“I’ll introduce you to Paris Hilton and Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian.”


Paul Spencer Sochaczewski is a Geneva-based writer whose books include An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles, Distant Greens, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind, Redheads, Share Your Journey and Soul of the Tiger (with Jeff McNeely). This satirical piece is excerpted from Exceptional Encounters: Enhanced Reality Tales from Southeast Asia, which will be published by Explorer’s Eye Press in late 2017.  Paul can be contacted at: www.sochaczewski.com.

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