The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Friday, July 22, 2005

Welcome to China

July 13, 2005

I woke up Wednesday morning well before dawn to catch my 7:55 flight to Chicago, where I spent the 2 hour layover sitting in the Chili’s bar with Jacob, one of my colleagues from BC who also flew out of LaGuardia. I was feeling kind of nervous, like I didn’t yet know how I felt about this whole experience coming up. I vacillated often between excitement and nauseous regret, thinking, wouldn’t it have been nice and easy to get a job sitting behind a desk or something? That way everything’s predictable and standard.

But that’s no fun.

So, back to Chicago…I talked to Jacob for 2 hours, which was nice since it made the time go by. We shared studying-abroad stories and whatnot…small talk for the most part. Not especially exciting, though I did learn that he was born in Poland and is bilingual still, having come to the States when he was in First Grade. I also learned the proper pronunciation of his last name, which is a mouthful.

When we finally headed toward the gate to board the flight to Beijing, Jacob disappeared, and I was approached by a tall energetic blond guy who introduced himself as Pat and said he saw the initials on my bag and figured it must have stood for Diana Dove. He was right. He then flagged down the other 3 kids from Providence College who were standing nearby. I found out that Pat is a dual citizen of the States and Canada, and was introduced to Emma from Saratoga, Ben from Massachusetts, and Adam from Manchester, England.

On the plane, we finally found Jacob again, who had found Courtney, who’s from the Saratoga area as well. We were all seated separately, which made chatting a little difficult. I was right up against the wall with the movie screen on it, so I couldn’t really stretch my legs unless I got up, which was a little hard to deal with, though I was on the aisle right near the bathroom so it could have been worse. I had some characters sitting next to me – some middle aged folks who I could tell were going to be trouble makers. They ordered booze at every opportunity and kept trying to sneak into Business Class, where I think another member of their party was seated. The woman got kicked out over and over again, which she deserved, though I wouldn’t have minded if she’d disappeared, as I was growing tired of her talking to Roger, the traveling companion (not sure if he was the husband) seated between she and myself (most of her speeches entailed something to the effect of, “Hey Rahge, do you remember the first time we met? We were the only two Jewish people going to China on that plane so we were immediately friends…). Roger, on the other hand, offered to buy me a beer right off the bat, and when I declined, he then told me he was going to buy me a beer. Turns out the drinks were free. He also asked to borrow my magazine, read it, and offered it to Obnoxious “Hey Rahge!” Lady.

But I’m not complaining.

July 14, 2005

We made it to Beijing on time, in one piece, and not too worse for wear other than feeling kinda greasy and icky. Dean Zheng (soon to be affectionately named “Bossman” – “Zheng Loban” in Chinese), and his young colleague/protégé, Sunny, met us at the airport. All our bags came in no problem, and the 7 of us waited in the bus outside for about 2 more hours for Clay and Mike to arrive from a different flight. They made it just fine as well – they’re both grads of BC like me; Clay’s from California originally and Mike is from Seattle.

We drove into Beijing, kind of in a daze, feeling like we’d stepped through a black hole. We were then told to give up some of our baggage so that it could be checked at the train station where we would take the train to Tongliao. This involved some shuffling on the part of the others, but not me! Mommy was right this one time – I had packed one suitcase just for Beijing per her advice.

At the train station, we waited outside in sort of a back alley type place behind the station itself as we waited for the bags to be put in sort of potato sack-type things and then actually sewn shut. Needless to say, we were all thoroughly confused by this procedure, but we were soon distracted by the audience we had attracted. It became impossible to ignore the many pairs of little eyes staring at us; out of amusement or curiosity we’ll never know…perhaps both. Courtney, being fairly chatty and outgoing, was the first to attempt communication, at which point the kids scattered in fits of giggles like a flock of seagulls (they ran so far away). But curiosity obviously got the better of them, and they soon came back for a closer look at the big white goofballs, who were looking awkward and sweaty in their rumpled travel clothes. Though few words were actually exchanged due to the kids’ constant giggling, we managed to ask them their names and ages somehow, and entertained them by taking pictures on our digital cameras and then showing them the results. The two little girls then did Courtney the honor of painting her right thumbnail neon orange.

After what seemed like an hour or so, we decided to retire to the air-conditioned comfort of the bus, though not before being asked for our autographs by the children. We felt like rock stars in our tour bus. We returned the gesture by asking for their autographs, which of course we couldn’t read, but they each punctuated their names with a smiley face. They waved to us as long as we would wave back as we pulled out of the station, at which point the smiley faces were all ours; we couldn’t have expected a more endearing welcome and we were all thoroughly charmed by the experience.

Having received a celebrity’s welcome, we then were taken to dinner by Dean Zheng and Sunny. The food is certainly not like American Chinese food, but it was certainly delicious. Luckily we don’t have any picky eaters in the group and we all sampled a bite of everything. However, it would appear that the Chinese enjoy toasting everything and often, and they don’t stop the flow of beer! You’d think they were trying to take advantage of us, the way the booze kept coming. I found out though that it’s considered impolite for the host not to keep the beer glass full. Another fun tidbit to make Americans jealous – the beer here (good beer at that) is sold in bottles that appear to be the equivalent of roughly 3 American cans, and costs ::drum roll please:: a whopping twenty-five cents a pop! Hellooooooo China!

By the time we finally got to our hotel, we were thoroughly exhausted. I couldn’t repeat the name of the hotel if I tried; all I know is that we pulled up to a place lit up like Vegas with a searchlight spinning from the roof, Hollywood style. There was a large aquarium in the lobby as well, with little sharks swimming around. Despite my suspicions, it turned out to be merely decorative and, in fact, not the menu.

We were pleasantly surprised with clean, luxurious Western style rooms and promptly went to sleep, even though the beds were a tad firmer than we’re used to, though since arriving at my apartment, I now longingly remember it…

July 15, 2005

Breakfast the next morning was not especially noteworthy…though chicken feet do tend to make an impression.

We met our tour guide outside the hotel, whose Anglicized name was Mark. I’m not sure why they bothered to hire him; we got to the Great Wall and he took us to the entrance and said, “You can go left or right,” and stood there while we hiked our own way through it. I chose the left way, along with Emma, Adam, Ben and Pat, and I’m glad I did, since I got to know them a little bit better, rather than forever knowing them as the “Providence kids.” We had a vigorous hike all the way to the point where you can hike no more in that direction. Beyond there the wall was in ruins. Dean Zheng was with us and offered a few bits of tour information, but other than that, we didn’t learn a whole lot other than the fact that China in July is f!#%ing hot as balls.

From the Great Wall, we were taken to lunch nearby at a place the size of a banquet hall or two. It was massive and obviously a tour group hot spot, judging from the vendors selling random whatsits lining the hallway. The food was nice, and again we were exposed to a little more Chinese mealtime etiquette – it was hard to ignore the cultural divide when Sunny replaced some missing chopsticks by reaching into the breast pocket of a nearby waitress to fetch them.

After lunch, we went to the Ming Tombs, at which point we actually managed to squeeze some historical information out of Mark, though he didn’t often bother to wait until we were all within earshot to divulge said info. Without an extremely knowledgeable guide, I have to admit that the Ming Tombs failed to peak my interest, and I found myself remembering my 2001 trip to Beijing and the tour guide (Jane) who led Dad and I all around, not missing a single opportunity to tell us more about whatever it was we were seeing.

We were taken to a pearl store after the tombs, and I sleepwalked through the demonstration of pearl farming in the store, yet somehow got talked into buying a $13 necklace with pink freshwater pearls and gold plate. It makes my neck itch. I guess my nappish state befuddled my judgement, as I don’t think anyone else in their right mind who has parents living in Japan would buy pearls for themselves.

We had dinner at the same place where we’d eaten the night before, and again it was lovely. Afterward we had a chance to stroll through downtown Beijing and browse in and out of some shops. By then, however, we were all beyond exhaustion and cranky by the time Sunny and Dean Zheng said we’d go back to the hotel. No wonder – it was past 10 and we’d been out since before 8 am. But hey, the day was a success – I bought a little gel-filled hand pack that can heat itself over 20,000 times…


At 3:57 PM, Blogger Laurel Dove said...

So glad to know I am finally right about SOMETHING. Thanks to the Princessa for a credit (even though it was only about a stupid purple suitcase). I'm waiting with great anticipation for the next issue. Sign me up. Mom

At 8:54 PM, Blogger AMRebelo said...

Grad you got the brog up and running so quickry. :-)
Thanks for sharing your first few days. I can't believe it's now a week since you left! I mentioned the 'bai jiu' drink on the train to Ji here at the office and he smiled, exclaiming "130 Proof. Wait til winter time!" I think the 'bai jiu' may constitute a part of your building's central heating! ;-)
Consider yourself at the top of my Bookmarks. -a.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger teresa von stamwitz said...

look at my little adventurer! oh how i miss you diana. i'm glad to see the travel bunny within you has remained since our madrid days. :) i'm loving this blog business! can't wait for the next update. te echo de menos, mi angel! dos besos. xoxo


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