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March 19, 2010

Seven six-layer days
Day One

I returned from a whirlwind week plus in China a few days ago. It really happened on a whim. My neighbor, Doris, and I were lunching at a Chinese restaurant in the middle of December. During our conversation she mentioned that she had always dreamed of going to China and had seen that our Chamber of Commerce was sponsoring a trip that sounded interesting. I had seen it too and said that it sounded really good. She wondered if I would like to go with her and I said that I would. We stopped at the Chamber on the way home and signed up. It was the nearly the last day. We went home, got pictures for our visas, dug out our passports and a day or two later paid our money and began to prepare.

I knew that it was going to be cold. The temperatures were going to be much like Philadelphia when I was there for Christmas: lows of 32 F and highs of perhaps 40 F. Now I am a Southern Californian and even though I was born and raised in Montana, I have lived here much longer than I lived there. I knew that I would be cold so I packed accordingly. I packed pants, no dresses, about four long sleeved tops, two jackets, a Cashmere long sleeved sweater, a Cashmere and silk vest, a silk undershirt, Cuddle-duds, two pair of gloves, a scarf and a wool hat that gone to Europe with Mark and me in 1960. It had a couple of moth holes in it but I took it anyway. Kay had also given me earmuffs to use. I was determined not to freeze. Plus, I had a coat with a lining and a hood that I had tried out in Philly. Our passports were returned from the Chinese embassy with impressive visas bonded onto a page in our passports. There would be no hanky panky with these passports. The visas were expensive too. We received an itinerary listing all that were we scheduled to do. The time flew by and Monday March 1 we all met at a hotel in Orange to get on a bus for LAX.

When I say all, I mean the 17 people who were going on the tour. There were four couples: two sisters and their husbands, (they were Joyce and George, Carol and Glenn), Nancy and her husband, Jeff, and Janice and Jim. Barbara and Jackie were friends who were traveling together, leaving their husbands at home - my guess is that their husbands didn’t want to go. JoAnne and Linda were friends traveling together too. Virgie and Naomi were traveling alone as was Dick. Doris and I were the 16th and 17th. We counted to 17 many times during our trip. Our guide would count to 17 and exclaim, (phonetically), “Two dollah!”, meaning “complete” or “entire group”. Once in a while someone would wander off. I had learned on safari that you stay with the herd or you become prey.

Once we were at LAX, we were met by a woman from the tour company who pointed us to our check-in line and disappeared. We also had our first experience of getting Dick through security. Through some mistake his tickets were in the name of “Dick” but his passport was for “Richard“. We held our collective breaths every time we flew. At about 12:40 AM we left for China. I have learned to immediately set my watch for the local time where ever I am going. I also almost always fall asleep before we leave the ground. I slept much of the way, waking only to pick at pretty bad airline food. I think it took 12 or 13 hours to Beijing. We crossed the International Dateline which helped confuse our minds and bodies even more. We landed about 5:30 AM and were met by our wonderful guide, Brian. He told us his Chinese name but for us he was Brian. He was handsome and well educated. He spoke English very well and had majored in history in college. He was a natural born teacher and would grill us each day on Chinese phrases, dynasties, and names of emperors as well as various other things. We all thought he was terrific. He had a great sense of humor and seemed much more open than we had expected. He 40 years old, was married with a seven year old daughter.

Brian – China 2010

Instead of going to the hotel, since it was too early to check in, we immediately drove to Tian An Men Square. As we drove, Brian began our education. He pointed out that the great new airport was built to resemble a dragon, the emperor’s symbol. There was another building, as part of the complex that was built to resemble a turtle, the symbol of long life. Tian An Men Square is the largest square in the world and, of course, famous for the confrontation between the military and the protesters years ago. We walked across Tian An Men Square. My legs were protesting and I sometimes wondered if I would be able to make it. All along, we were treated to a commentary by Brian. We saw the famous picture of Chairman Mao.

Jan and Doris – China 2010

Brian pointed out and explained the significance of the 9 dragons on the corners of the buildings, showing that this was the palace of the emperor. No one else could use nine dragons. Brian explained the significance of the gates and talked about the concubines as we moved on to the commerce gate and then to the Forbidden City, where the concubines were housed, guarded by eunuchs. This was the home of 24 emperors and there were 9,999 rooms.

Emperor’s Bed – China 2010

By the time we had climbed over high thresholds, designed to not only show rank but to keep out demons, climbed up and down stairs and walked what seemed like a long way, we were happy to see the bus. We were taken for a Peking Duck lunch. The chef came out and carved it in front of us. It was good although their knives are very sharp so you sometimes have little bits of bones and need to be careful.

Peking Duck – China 2010

The food at all meals was bountiful and varied. Chinese food in China is somewhat different from the Chinese food here. Most of us became fairly adept at using chopsticks. There were many chicken dishes, some pork and beef dishes as well as some fish. We often had vegetables - greens, Bok Choy, celery, pea pods, etc. There was usually rice although in the north, noodles are more common. Almost always, the last course was soup followed by fruit, especially watermelon. It was very refreshing. Sometimes there were dishes that were mysterious. I used to tell Mark, “Just eat it - don’t ask questions.“ All our meals were included in the price of the tour, and we never felt hungry. We had tea to drink as well as one glass of something: water, soda or beer. We commented that the glasses became smaller as we went south.

After lunch we went to the hotel and were shown our rooms. All of the hotels that we stayed in were five star hotels. They were all lovely. The first one was new, built for the Olympics. It was the Crowne Plaza Sun Palace. We were so glad to get to the hotel and get warm. All of the hotels had a security system which required you to use your room key (card) to use the elevator. We got settled a bit and then were picked up for dinner at a restaurant. Nearly all of the restaurants were on the second floor or higher and there were few elevators. Our guide in Xi’an told us that she lived on the sixth floor and there was no elevator so in order to charge the battery on her motor scooter, she had to carry the forty pound battery up five flights of stairs. She weighed less than 100 pounds.

I was more than ready for bed and was glad to get back to the hotel, where we were greeted by girls in native costume.

Native Girl and Nancy – China 2010

Brian arranged massages for those who wanted them. Some of the group did - $30.00 for a ninety minute massage. Those that got them said they were wonderful. I opted out. I am not crazy about a stranger touching my body for 90 minutes and then paying her for it. Brian also arranged for us to have a wake-up call at 6 AM, I think. He would be back to pick us up at eight.

And it was morning and it was evening the first day.

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