The year of Marco Polo chic

East is east and west is west, and the twain are meeting all over the place these days. No sooner did Richard Chamberlain bow himself off the small screen, after introducing 75 million Americans to the Shogun's Japan, than salespersons in kimonos began to shuffle into department stores, like Jordan Marsh in Boston, pedding jade fish and elephant charms under the bazaar banner: "Orient Expressed."

Meanwhile, crosstown, Bloomingdale's struck back with a gala titled "China: Heralding the Dawn of a New Era," at which guests cautiously nibbled Chinese hors d'oeuvres while a paper cutter from Hunan, a food sculptor from Shanghai, and a lacemaker from parts unknown practiced their arts.

Suburbia is said to be going mad with Orientalism. The au courantm people are jettisoning their water beds in favor of futons, those vigorous on-the-floor Japanese mattresses. On the truly up-to-date wall, fabric paper with Taoist symbols will be found.

The Peking Opera Company threatens to make poor Pavarotti a forgotten man.

But such exotica have the secondary quality of all imports. For the earnest seeker of status, 1980-style nothing will do but a trip to China -- Marco Polo chic. A friend with a memory that a tape recorder might envy reported this conversation he overheard in a French restaurant where two patrons were eating quiche and talking China. First Woman had just returned from her tour. Second Woman was about to leave.

First Woman: Make a list of what you're going to take. Don't ever be ashamed to make a list.

Second Woman: Perrier water.

First Woman: What?

Second Woman: It's on the top of our list. Harry's not going to travel without his Perrier water.

First Woman: He can get it there.

Second Woman: You tell him. Nothing I can say will convince him.

First Woman: What he should take is a pillow case. I would have sold my soul for a pillow case. Wouldn't you think they'd tell you? Nobody told us about pillow cases.

Second woman: I understant you're at the mercy of the guides.

First Woman: Yes. You can believe it! Especially the guides who have a strong personality. Our guide had a very strong personality. The schedules and routes mean absolutely nothing when you have a guide with a strong personality.

Second Woman: That's what I'm told.

First Woman: I would have sold my soul for a pillow case and a box of raisins. Something to nibble.

Second Woman: I thought of taking fig newtons.

First Woman: I'd advise raisins. Think twice about anything that crumbles.

Second Woman: Oh, right!

First Woman: Be prepared to be stared at. Remember, you look strange to them. But it's really kind of nice. You're sort of an ambassador. We had the feeling we were making a very favorable impression.

Second Woman: How's the shopping?

First Woman: I was going to get my sister a silk robe, but all they had was -- you know, that heavy brocade. Frankly, I was very disappointed.

Second Woman: We're finishing off in Hong Kong.

First Woman: Oh well. There's where you'll get the buys. I only wish we'd come home that way.

Second Woman: When we get back, we're going to take a couple of weeks in Aruba -- just lying on the beach.

First Woman: That's a wonderful idea. I don't mind telling -- you'll need it.

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