Tonight, I went for lamb-kebobs at the stand of Abdul, the best Muslim barbecue vendor on my street. While I was waiting for my lamb to cook, Abdul asked (in Chinese) if I was American. "Dui," I said, "yes."
He asked if I like George Bush, which took me aback a little. I don't think I'd ever heard a Chinese person say the name "George Bush." Bush was already in the world's rear-view mirror when I came to China.
While I was pondering my answer — my Chinese being nowhere near good enough to say "No, I don't especially like George Bush's politics, but for reasons almost the opposite of what most people who don't like him would name" — Abdul went on to say "I like George Bush," in Chinese and, for emphasis, in English.
"Do you like Obama?" He asked in Chinese. This, I could answer quickly and ponderlessly: "Bu xi huan" ("I don't like"). "Wo ye bu xi huan" ("I also don't like"), he said enthusiastically, and continued in Chinese: "Obama doesn't have heart or balls. George Bush has heart and balls." (The "balls" part I didn't exactly get from his words, but I inferred it from his two-handed interpretive gesture.)
I guess on that level, I can't disagree. And thus, with a nod of my head, I concluded my first-ever political conversation in Chinese as Abdul took my spicy lamb kebobs off the flame and handed them to me with a flourish.
Interestingly, the Muslim street vendors are often the most pro-American faces in China. They are typically ethnic minorities who see themselves as being repressed by the ethnic Chinese, so they see us foreigners as natural allies. It's perhaps not what one would expect from Muslims in some other parts of the world.