by Orhan Pamuk
by Nathaniel Philbrick
by Margo Maine, Ph.D.
by Malcolm Gladwell
Seven six-layer days
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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