Staring down the barrel of a Russian tank, I felt a feverish jolt running through my vertebrae. The tingling seemed a primitive reaction to confronting my mortality. Then again, it could have been a pulled muscle. I strained something while craning my neck to reach the canon’s eye-line.
“Are you alright?” Greg asked, watching me rub my neck. To avoid a height joke at my expense, I answered with the mortality-jolt.
“Maybe you just yanked something in your neck,” he said. “Looked like you were straining over there.” He paused. “That’s the trouble with being so short.”
Neck slightly off-kilter, I now scanned the machine from a more height-appropriate level. Like a T. rex, this monster bore teeth—heavy duty armor, treads tougher than brick, and two .50 caliber machine guns perched atop the main cannon.
“That probably fired HE-Frags,” Greg said, indicating the neck-adjusting main cannon. I raised a curious eyebrow. “High explosive fragmentation, good for soft targets.”
“What’s a soft target?”
“People,” he said, “might be one example. The shells are massive, and they basically just explode and take out anything within range.”
I didn’t ask how the Russians handled non-soft targets.
Greg and I had entered the military museum, Beijing’s trove of historical, international weaponry. Our large Russian friend had Japanese, American, Chinese, and French sisters. The extended family included bombers, anti-aircraft guns, rocket-launchers, and mid-range missiles.
At the roots of the family tree, we found throwing stars, nun-chucks, and replicas of wooden warships. The museum also displayed a few golden swords, exchanged by emperors as declarations of peace, alliance, or war.
In our wanderings we came to an interactive children’s set. It looked like a playground, but the see-saws had turret-guns and the sandbox housed landmines. Boys scrambled through the make-believe trenches, pulling each other’s hair, mounting turrets, sobbing after falls, waving dated handguns, and taking juice breaks. A few chaperons made sure the rugrats didn’t bayonet each other or climb to the top of the tree-house (massive, three-gunned anti-aircraft machine.)
We next went to the spy section. The display case had pens, watches, phones, and keys, all doubling as murder weapons. “If I had to be killed,” I told Greg, “I’d rather go with those high-explosive frags from the tank. I wouldn’t want to be taken down by a pen.”
“Hmm,” Greg said, dangling a ballpoint. “In that case I won’t kill you now.” He paused. “I’ll wait till I have a tank.” Greg and I agreed that we had tired of imagining different methods of murdering each other. So we headed out.
But what tour of guns would be complete without politics? As we checked a map for the exit, Greg and I found our dose: “Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea.”
I guess we call it the “Korean War” to save space in textbooks.