First Day in China
By: Leo N. Ardo
Our host and hostess had the difficult job of herding seven free spirited Americans. We are so grateful for their patience, understanding, preparation, and Chinese language skills—very little signage in China has English subtitles. Provided here is the account of our first day’s adventure in China.
Seven a.m., Beijing, February 2010
Breakfast was a surprise: lots of breads, western style luncheon meats, omelets made to order (while supplies last), variety of juices, and an estimated thirty traditional Chinese dishes.
We put on our winter coats and begin our trip to the Great Wall. It’s three transfers on the subway system to arrive at the tour bus loading area. We exit the subway station and are greeted by a hostess. This is wonderful: an uneventful subway ride thanks to our host and hostess, and the tour bus guide meets us at the top of the subway stairs. We are pushed along by the guide as if we were holding-up the bus. One of the group was having knee problems and she couldn’t walk at the pace established by the guide. This frustrated the guide.
Finally arriving at the bus, our hostess ran to the front of the group, blocked the door and told us, “Do not get on this bus!”
After a lot of Chinese and gesturing, our host informed us, “This is not our bus. We were hi-jacked by the tour guide. Our bus is back at the subway station.”
Returning to the subway station at a more leisurely pace allowed some of us to run ahead and take photographs of two magnificent temples.
We boarded the correct bus and began our tour to the Great Wall—first stop—Ming’s tomb.
Ming was buried in an underground tomb to protect the Emperor’s burial site and possessions from invaders and tomb robbers. The emperor was buried with: gold, vases, food, favorite concubine(s), empress, favorite dog, etc. The tombs were filled with exquisite statues of baby dragons.
Leaving the tomb area, custom requires everyone to exit through the archway to the world of the living. Men step across with their left foot and women step with their right foot first.
We load the bus, and the tour guide was apparently wrapping up the script on Ming’s Tomb. “Fung Shui” were the only words we understood. The assumption was she described where crops were planted to please the emperor.
Notes about the tour guide: talked very fast, took a noticeable breath about every fifteen minutes, voice inflection never varied, and she was well prepared—she talked all but five minutes of each bus segment. The bus’s intercom needed a little upgrade also, but no matter—we don’t understand Chinese. Our host and hostess stopped interpreting after they received a penetrating glare early in the tour.
Next stop – Jade Factory (read retail store).
Rubbing your hand from the top of a dragon’s head to the tip of his tail is good luck. A large jade dragon greeted us at the factory entrance. Some of us rubbed him twice—can’t hurt! Lunch was part of the tour—wonderful authentic Chinese food. Half the group enjoyed lunch and the other half struggled with chopsticks.
Wonderful craftsmanship, thousands of items, first day of vacation, it’s jade, … you can probably guess the weight of the shopping bags.
While waiting for the driver to return, a small Chinese girl entertained us in the parking lot. She danced, twirled, waived, smiled, and enchanted the crowd gathering around her to watch. The parents were very proud.
[The whole episode lasted about ten minutes. It was wonderful to see a child free to play with no worldly cares. The adults were attentive, and assuming they were like me, envious we could not join her. I hoped this same episode was being replayed in thousands of locations that day.]
Last Stop – Great Wall of China
“Great” is accurate. There is not another single word that could be used to describe the wall. It took a massive labor force to construct. At the highest point within our walking range, we looked east then looked west, and saw maybe 1% of the wall’s total length.
The gondola ride spared our friend with the bad knee from more misery. She found a bench with an enjoyable view.
Walking the wall was a challenge: sections had severe inclines and no steps, uneven steps, several tall steps in a row, and the great wall wailing person. Halfway up the hike to the top was a man scrunched on the ground moaning and periodically screaming. Everyone walked single file around him hoping he was not, “contagious.” It appeared that his shtick was to be annoying, and for a small donation he was quiet for a little while, for a larger donation he was quiet longer. [Same behavior parents witness in a young child].
Back at the bench, our comrade nursing a sour knee had attracted the interest of an older Chinese man. She does not speak Chinese, he does not speak English, and yet everyone knew why he was entertaining her.
The location included a wonderful museum, plus we had twenty minutes before the bus left. Five members of our small group decided to see the museum. We must have been entertaining: running from exhibit to exhibit, photographing the information placards [they had English sub-titles], taking a few shots of the exhibit, then running to the next exhibit. We were very efficient—a two-hour museum tour took 15 minutes.
We nap on the return to Beijing. Across the street from the bus stop, was an outdoor shopping mall decorated for the New Year. It was late and we decided to eat. Twenty feet inside the mall two restaurateurs begin their advertising program. One had a megaphone, the other had a loud voice, and both were yelling as we approached. It’s a scene from a comedy movie. The other restaurateur continued to yell at us after we made our choice. We could tell by his tone that we were not being praised.
Three subway transfers put us about a mile from our hotel. A motorized tricycle/taxi was rented to avoid further injury to our friend’s knee. We watched as our hostess joined her in the taxi and rode away. A few seconds later, we have a good laugh at the irony, as the tricycle took a corner on two wheels—did we put her in harm’s way to save her knee?
Leo N. Ardo
As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.
Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of: culling terrorists from the company’s employees, maintaining employment, ensuring that products ship to the armed forces, and eliminating the shipments to the enemy.
Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.
Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.
When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.
Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.
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