Saturday, August 25, 2007

Part Twenty Five

Before long, I had found an extra-marital romance for myself –

on a boat cruising up the Yangtze river through some of the most scenic landscapes in the world. I was the national guide accompanying a group of American tourists – and he was a photographer on assignment from a Hong Kong travel magazine.

The 4 or 5 day trip upstream from Shanghai to Chongqing was one of my favorite trips during my six years as a tour guide. This time, we had a new ship and the crew were all from Chongqing, a place well known for its small, beautiful women. How attractive they were in their new uniforms !

During evening dinner on the second day, I noticed a new passenger who had just boarded that afternoon. He looked very shy and quiet, sitting at the dinner table all by himself. He was Chinese, but didn’t look like someone who had grown up in mainland China. When I passed his table, I said hello and he politely greeted me, but the conversation ended there. After dinner, my co-worker and I decided to visit the sitting lounge up at the bow of the ship, and as we were chatting, the newcomer walked in and took a chair opposite ours. I had been wondering about this person was ever since we first met, so I walked over to introduce both myself and my co-worker to him. You could tell from his face that he was delighted (and he told me later, that he was wondering about us too – but was too shy to start a conversation)

After that evening’s introduction, we were all looking forward to the next opportunity to chat or share a meal together. He did not speak Mandarin very well, so our conversations were a mixture of English, Cantonese and broken Mandarin. But we all enjoyed the company very much. We had some good conversations and ended up exchanging addresses at the end of the trip.

A few weeks later, as he was passing through Beijing on his way to an assignment up north, he stopped at Beijing for a few days since I had volunteered to show him the city. I invited him up to my room, and after a cup of tea and we headed to a park. It was raining, but neither of us minded. We strolled around the lake, and he got very serious about taking a lot of photographs.

We spent a whole morning and afternoon together, talking about that Yangtze river trip and a little bit about ourselves. You could tell he was a very shy, reserved person. He loved China, but during his trips to the mainland, he told me that he came across so many unthinkable incidents, and he did not know how mainlanders could survive in this kind of system. Unbearable and unreasonable restrictions and rules; he hated them so much, sometimes he wanted to never set foot in China again , but the beautiful country was so irresistible – and, of course, visiting and photographing it was his job.

When he was in my apartment, he told me that he was amazed at how well we lived. That was the first time that he had ever been invited into someone’s home on the mainland. That day went by too quickly, and as he was leaving in the evening, I stood on the platform at the station, waving until his train disappeared out of sight. I admit that I felt a bit lost.

A few days later, I received a long letter from him – and fell in love. We arranged for me to visit him in Hong Kong – and soon we were talking about marriage.

How to describe him ?

He was not too short, about 5 feet 9 inches, with a small structure, thin but not skinny. He was very near sighted, and always wore a pair of glasses. He looked well educated, but not like a professor. He was a very serious person, but he could also be very funny. He enjoyed food, but was never wasteful – and it was only after we met, that I, too, discovered that food could be enjoyable --- not just something to fill an empty stomach. He did his job with a great deal of passion, and saved every penny he could throughout out his life. He was a gentle, sincere, and rather old-fashioned person; definitely a gentleman, and also very romantic.

He did not talk about his family that much with me before I went to Hong Kong.

I knew that both his parents had died, and he had a brother and sister. His parents had joined millions of others from Guangdong province who came to Hong Kong after the revolution – arriving in the early 1950’s – soon after it was announced that the Hong Kong border was going to be closed. His parents were poor and lived in the Kowloon district, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

In late 1984, I was able to get the special visa to visit Hong Kong. No passport was required, but getting permission to cross the bridge to other side was no small matter. Again, I used my backdoor connections – this time, my brother-in-law could help me since he was in the police department. Once approved, my gentleman friend bought me a 10 day tour Hong Kong package. The first 6 or 7 days I stayed at hotel with my tour group but the last three days we were on our own, so I moved into his apartment.

The living condition of his family shocked me.

Their tiny apartment opened off a second floor balcony that hung over Tung Choi street (or “Ladies’ Market”) . – a street that was filled with shoppers and vendors until 3 am. It was always hot – it was always noisy – and I have no idea how anyone ever got to sleep.

And this limited space was shared by his brother and sister who was married with two small children. His sister and brother-in-law were very friendly and their hospitality made me feel at home very soon, but I never got a chance to meet his older brother, because he worked at night and only came home during the day.

My friend offered me his bed while he slept in the living room. None of his sister’s family spoke mandarin, so we had a very hard time communicating with each other. The next day, while he was away at work, he asked his sister to take me to a restaurant for dim sum – and that was my first time to have real dim sum. I loved the food, but did not like the noise in the restaurant, since Cantonese people speak very loudly, and I have no idea what they’re saying.

The bedroom was basically a closet – with just enough space for a single bunk-bed (above a desk) – on which he and his brother slept in shifts – and they both shared a kitchen with their sister’s family.

He was the only member his family to get a college education - thanks to a community college (he had qualified for Hong Kong’s more prestigious schools, but could not afford to attend them) – and after graduation he began working as a photographer for a travel bureau, which, like many Hong Kong businesses, was eventually bought by the People’s Republic.

So in sense, we both worked for the Chinese government – except that he wasn’t a Chinese citizen – indeed, he wasn’t a citizen of anywhere – since Hong Kong did not automatically grant citizenship to the people it took in during the fifties. He was a resident alien – with a green card.

He was very hardworking – and more frugal than even my family had been. He wouldn’t even pay for small storage locker to stash his heavy luggage when we went off on a date – but he was not cheap when it came to buying us dinner. That’s one thing about the Cantonese – they spare nothing for good food.

During my 10 day visit to Hong Kong, my observation was that Hong Kong was a good place to visit, but not to live , except for the very rich. . I was not longing to be rich, but I was also not ready to join the poor. I was much better off back home.

We saw each other over an 18-month period – but since were both working and traveling, we’d only get together every three months or so – so just as with my first romance – much of our communication was by letter – and I wrote some very long ones – seven or eight pages of heart-felt feelings.

But again – the letters I sent could never match the letters I got– because regarding the Chinese language, I only had an elementary school education.

We were getting pretty serious about each other – and I remember how when we were together one evening in Shenzhen– just at sunset -- I began to cry. There was no special reason – it was uncontrollable – maybe it was just the anxiety that I’ve always felt when the sun is going down – but he was certainly puzzled – and taking my hand he addressed me as his wife.

But how could I become his wife ? Where would we live ? Being so over-crowded, Hong Kong had strict regulations about the immigration of Chinese – and we would have to wait seven years after marriage before I could live there. And even after I did – what kind of job could I have ? I never wanted to be a housewife.

Meanwhile – how could he live in Beijing – he could barely speak Mandarin . And poor and crowded as people may be in Hong Kong – nobody there wants to join the teeming, impoverished billion on the mainland – with its periodic waves of political turbulence.

And I’m not sure that he could ever adjust to life in the People’s Republic – as exemplified by the following incident the occurred during our trip to a small town near Canton.

He was supposed to travel there and write an article about the area. It was one of those untouched areas undiscovered by tourists. It was a beautiful small town that didn’t yet have any modern, updated hotels, so we stayed in a local, old fashioned hotel, and we were the only visitors..

We rented two rooms, and they put us far apart, so he stayed all the way at one end of the hotel and I stayed at the other. . The shower did not work in his room, so he came to my room to shower, and then we spent the evening together in my room talking. At 10:00 pm, he told me that he should go back to his room, because the floor boys had seen him coming to mine and they had been looking at him strangely. But we were having such a good time , I did not want it to end , so I begged him to stay a bit longer, and he agreed. Then half an hour later, somebody began pounding loudly at my door. Mr. Hong Kong got up and immediately opened it , then a group of people came in, and began to question us. They accused us of adultery – but they could not prove it since we had opened the door immediately. Nevertheless, they kept us both in the room and continued with the interrogation. . I was so mad, and angry! They threatened to report me to my travel agency, and then threatened him to send him back to Hong Kong and forbid him to return. They tried very hard to have our confession, but we had nothing to hide. Finally, I began to threaten them. I told them, that my father worked for the Security Ministry, and I would ask minister X (I mentioned his name) who was the number 2 boss in security to investigate this hotel. I told them they would be in big trouble. After that, their attitude towards us changed and eventually they let us go. I never heard anything from them again – and my boss never got a letter from them either. ( I think they had nothing to do and waited to catch us in bed. , but they did not get what they wanted.)

My Hong Kong friend was so in love with me, that for a while , he even talked about moving to the mainland. But after that incident, he never mentioned it again.

During the last three months of our relationship – all we talked about was how could we make a life together. We were no longer young enough to throw caution to the wind and sacrifice everything for love. But we could never figure out how to work things out.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Part Twenty Four

We worked hard during the week – and we partied hard on the days off.

Maybe it was all that sex and scandal airport fiction that we were picking up from the bus seats of American tourists (like Arthur Haley’s “Hotel”)– but for whatever reason, my group of friends, most of whom knew English, were much more like young Americans than like the Chinese of our parents generation.

(For so many years, ever since 1949, we had been forbidden to listen to BBC or Voice of America, all the shortwave frequencies had been blocked, and there was hardly any current event reading material to be found. We knew almost nothing about the rest of the world. The first time I saw a foreign product was in the early 1960’s when my father’s co-worker bought a transistor radio from Japan. I was amazed that you could hold it in your hand while listening to it. Foreigners were rarely seen on the streets of Beijing . In the early 1960s. we ran into a group of foreigners on the shopping street. I did not know where they were from, but a couple of them were black, and one of them was very tall and thin, with long fluffy hair. Now I realize that maybe they were black hippies, but it was very strange to us at that time. They must have been high status since there were some government officials with them.)

Both my husband and I were often on the road. As a journalist, he made several long trips every year (once he visited Peru – and brought me back an alpaca wool sweater) While working as a tour guide, I had to stay at the hotel with my groups – whether we were touring Beijing or Nanking.

When we had some time at home, we often threw big parties for our friends.

I did all the cooking – and then everyone did all the dancing, dancing, dancing --- sometimes all the way until daybreak, when we would cover the windows with blankets to keep out the daylight. Some people got tired and fell asleep on the bed, but when they woke up, they’d go back to dancing, and as you might imagine, alcohol would be involved.

We were some high-energy young Chinese ! We were party pioneers – and my husband and I served as “party central” for our group of friends – because we had our own apartment (many of them still lived with their family). We also didn’t have any children, and my income was sufficient to buy all the food (in China, the hostess provides everything – no such thing as “pot luck”)

Whenever we had too many people for our party room, we would take the bus or bicycle over to a friend’s place. He had a new, completely unfurnished apartment. (so there was no furniture to get in the way)

Regarding my income, it had started as only 43 yuan/month – like every other college graduate. But within a few years I was getting bonuses from the shops and restaurants where I took the tourists – and eventually I was making more money than even my high official father.

Regarding children, we finally tried to have one, but it ended in tragedy.

When my husband and I had first become lovers, we were eager but also very naive about sex. We didn’t want to have children right away, but we also didn’t know how to prevent that from happening. We had a “barefoot doctor” manual on birth control, but it turns out that it had the fertility cycles all wrong . We had condoms, but often they broke. So I ended up with two pregnancies – and two abortions. Abortions, even late term abortions, were easily available – but that didn’t make them any less painful and humiliating.

Then, later, when we were ready to have a child, I miscarried at 7 months. The doctor said that in America the child would have lived – but Beijing, at that time, had no facility to care for premature babies.

And that was the last time we tried. I was told by the doctor that we should wait for a couple of years before trying again, and being on the road all the time, I really did not have time to take care of children anyway ( meanwhile my sisters and brothers all had their baby girls between 1980 -1982, and I was just as happy to be an aunt instead of a mom.)

Instead of having children – we had parties.

For music, we had a small tape recorder – and cassettes of mostly Russian music – of the kind we could dance to – like waltzes.

For my thirtieth birthday party, we had 15- 20 guests, and we ate, drank, and danced.

Most of the party goers were my husband’s friends– while I had a few friends from the office and a few more from my student days – including that short, wild girl with whom I once broke into a movie theater back in high school.

Many of our partygoers were couples – but we had many singles as well –and sometimes singles would become couples. Over the course of many parties, one of my friends found a lover – broke up – found another lover – and later broke up with him as well.

Like me, all of my girl friends soon got married --- but within a few years, all of them got divorced as well – and as it turned out, none of them got remarried either. Why should they ?

And one of the couples that met each other at one of these parties --- was my own husband and the wife of another man !

Ever since we’d first met, I’d felt that he was never completely open with me – but now disturbing evidence began to appear that raised a lot of questions.

Since I was housecleaner and laundress (without the benefit of washing machines), nothing much happened in our apartment that could escape my attention.

One day, after I got home from a two week trip to somewhere, I found that something very odd had happened in our bedroom. The bed sheet had been washed, and was recovering the bed, but not in the way that I had always done it.

Why did I find black hairs on the pillow that were longer than mine? Why had the transom window above the door to our (office building) bedroom been covered in black paper ? Why was my husband receiving extra money from his mother – what was he spending it on ?

And it was very hard to hide anything from the neighbors, since we lived at the end of a long hallway and someone visiting us had to walk past every other single room. Plus, when you entered the courtyard, you had to pass the doorman. Strangers were not allowed to enter, unless they were visitors and then they had to mention who they were going to visit. There was almost no privacy at all.

I began talking with the doorman and my next door neighbor (a high school girl) – and I learned that everyone in our building (except me) knew that my husband was seeing another woman.

I confronted him – but he denied it – so I moved into our second room (our apartment had two rooms – but each was in a different part of the building) – and that’s how we lived for the next year. I told him that we could get back together, if only he would be open about what he had done – but he always denied it. He didn’t want a divorce – and I didn’t want to tell my parents about it – so we were in something of a stalemate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Part Twenty Three

I began my first post-graduate job in late ‘79
- just as China was opening up for foreign tourists.

There was only one tourist company, the state run China International Travel Service and I worked in the Beijing branch as a local English speaking tour guide.

There were only three hotels for foreign tourists at that time, the Friendship Hotel (where we used to the live), the Front Gate Hotel on the south side the city, and the Beijing Hotel in Tiananmen Square – which was the preferred destination since it was in the center of the city and close to the Forbidden City.

The original Beijing Hotel was built in the early 1920’s and a new building was attached to its east side in the 1970’s. Originally, plans called for this new wing to reach taller than its current 17 stories. But according to rumor, the high officials who lived in Zhong Nan Hai were afraid that they might be seen from the top of the building, so the building had to be re-designed. ( For hundreds of years, ever since Ming dynasty, houses in Beijing were only allowed one story – since the emperors didn’t want ordinary people to see them.)

New tour guides, like myself, spent our first weeks memorizing the script and following the senior guides around until we had proven ourselves capable to take groups on our own (which were groups that the seasoned guides didn’t want.)

Some of the guides preferred large groups (so they would get larger commissions from restaurants and shops) – and some of them tried to avoid tourists from New York, since they were known to be more difficult and demanded more attention. The guides were the only English speakers the tourists would ever meet, and were available for complaints 24 hours a day.—even back at the hotel, where we would sleep in an adjacent room.

But I was just happy to be around American tourists , not only to improve my English but also to learn about that part of the world. I learned that American people were often kind, simple and honest. They believed what you told them.

I don’t like it, but in China, a person who tells 100% truth is known as “stupid” - and sometimes we had to lie to tourists about where they might stay that evening, because no place was available (the hotels had been overbooked) It was very hard for me to keep the truth from them.

Many times, their hotel rooms were not ready for them at the end of the day, so we’d have to keep them on the bus or take them somewhere else until the rooms had been vacated and cleaned.

Sometimes, we even had to put the tourists into ordinary Chinese hotels which must have been quite a culture shock . The tourists in those years were mostly quite prosperous, and they were not used to shabby accommodations.

In one instance, I had to separate husbands and wives into different rooms. One older couple came to me with very sad and angry tones --- telling me that they have been married 40 years and had never slept in a different room. But what could I do ? I felt very bad, but they still had to be separated.

We took them to the four major sites in Beijing: The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven.– and then we’d also take them to some special shopping districts. In the early days, the guides were not allowed to accept cash tips from the tourists or kick-backs from the shopkeepers –but over time, that changed. Tourists would often leave us small gifts, like perfume – and all these gifts were turned in to the agency and then equally distributed as gift packages to the guides at the end of the year.

On Chinese New Year, we drew lots , and that’s was how the gifts were distributed among us. Little by little, tour guides stopped handing the gifts in, and unofficially we were allowed to keep them. Over the years, I had kept some the novels that were either given to me or left on the bus. I read some of them, such as “Coma” by Robin Cook, and “Stranger in the mirror” by Sidney Sheldon.

As I gained seniority, I was allowed to pick the kind of tour groups that I wanted – which were small ones – because it’s so much easier to keep track of 6 people instead of 60 – and you had a chance to get better acquainted with the people, most of them Americans , and a few of them of Canada, England, or Australia.

Within the Beijing Branch, there were several offices. The Japanese office took care of Japanese tourists, The European office took care of all the Spanish and Italian as well as Australians. There were about 30 – 40 tour guides in each office, but later that number grew ( I was there from late 1979 through June 1986 ).

I liked the Canadians the best because they were very well disciplined and complained very little. No special requests, not a lot questions -- they were very quiet people and easily pleased. Australians were also good, but usually our office didn’t handle them. Over the years, I made a few close friends, a couple of them are still in touch with me.

We were only supposed to talk about the news or information that had been printed in the “Peoples’ Daily”.

If a group had more than 30 people, two local guides would be assigned to it, plus the one national tour guide who accompanied the group throughout their entire tour. So in that situation, you’d better not say anything politically. Who knows what would be reported after the tour?

Even though I was an outspoken person, I had to hold my tongue in the presence of other guides. Once, I was challenged by the American tour guide, who was trying to please his group to get bigger tips – and he asked me many questions on economy and politics which I had a hard time to answer.

Back then – and even now – I do not know how China’s economy works. We Chinese never paid taxes before the 1990’s, so I had no idea how the government got money.
And there were also certain things we just could not share with them even if we knew the answer. He made me feel so small and ignorant. That was one of tours I felt very bad about it.

But on the small tours, I would sometimes be the only guide present – so I could talk about my own life – and every time I talked about the Cultural Revolution, I cried.

Then, as now, my English was not perfect – but I have a talent for figuring out what people are trying to say, even if I can’t understand all the words – so I think I took good care of my tourists – and I was also popular with the tour bus drivers, making their jobs as easy as I could.

One time, a tourist asked to take my picture next to one of our buses – and then, the following year, one of the guides showed me a magazine article that included a picture of me standing next to the bus door – and describing one “Miss Wang” who was a “ pretty girl who spoke English very well”. I was very proud !

Since we accompanied the tourists all through their stay in Beijing, we also attended their banquets – and this was first time I had ever eaten like this in my life – Peking Duck every week ! But to tell the truth – I didn’t really appreciate it. I had grown up in boarding schools where you ate whatever was given – and it would be many years later until I learned how to take pleasure from good food.

Especially when I companied the tour to small cities, and the tour was served with 10 – 20 different dishes and delicacies The tourists were stunned with how they were treated, but sometimes they would not appreciate the food at all. For example, there is a famous dish served in the Summer Palace. I was told that it should only take 4 minutes from when the fish was caught in Kung Ming Lake until it appeared on a table in the Summer Palace. The fish was fully cooked, but the fish mouth was still moving, so it scared most of the Americans.
That dish always ended up at the bus drivers’ table.

But at least I was beginning to take pleasure from good clothes. Ever since I was a teenager, the approved clothing for women was shirt and slacks – but now I was discovering the world of long or short colorful, flowing dresses. But you could not find them in any of the department stores in Beijing. In order to have them, friends from the travel agency showed me where to shop for fabric and then take it to a good tailor.

The first time when I was visiting my new in-laws in Sheng Yang, a big city in Northeast of Beijing, I walked down the street dressed in my new long dresses, and I swear, everyone was looking at me. I felt like a beautiful peacock in the Zoo !

But makeup was an unknown concepts when I grew up, and
I still didn’t wear lipstick or eye shadow – does a pretty young girl really need to ?

One time, much later in my career, I even got a fur coat, thanks to some wealthy Americans who were connected to the Reagan administration. There were five of them – and unlike other small groups, each one had to have his own hotel room. One day, when I was taking them through a market, they stopped to look at some furs made from various exotic animals – and asked me whether I liked the one made from wildcat. I was polite, and agreed with them that it was beautiful –not knowing that when the tour was over, they would give it to me as a gift.

And now I must report that one time I did break the “law”.

As tour guides, we did not have access to the Friendship stores which were only for the foreigners. Unlike other Chinese, we could enter them, but we were still not allowed to buy anything. One time when I was in the Shanghai Friendship store, I really liked a pair of shoes on the shelf. A nice American tour leader offered to buy them for me and then I would pay her back later at the hotel. We did not want the store find out that it was for me, But I had to try them on to see if they fit. The store manager did not say anything at the time, but he sent a letter to my office, and my boss did not let it go easily. I had to write confession and apology to the entire department. I was so sad, and regret that over a pair of shoes, such a big deal had been made..

Fortunately, there were never any great disasters on any of my tours. Sometimes a person might lose track of time while shopping and miss the bus –or someone else might trip on the curb and break a bone – but at least none of my customers ever died ! (although I did hear of some who did – travelers who were ill to begin with – like one man who was dying from AIDS. (we had never heard about AIDS back then – and we certainly weren’t prepared. Chinese hospitals sterilized but they did not dispose of used needles)

Eventually, after working for a year in Beijing, I began to be offered positions on national tours – where I would accompany groups all over China. Local guides would give the tour, but I would serve as interpreter – and over the next five years, I got to visit every tourist destination (except for the Silk Road – which I’d like to see eventually, as a tourist myself)

I even traveled to Tibet – where the locals figured that I was just as foreign as the foreigners we were guiding.

During my six years as a tour guide, I was known for my straight forward and honest personality. Sometimes, I got into trouble for that, but I also made some good friends who could trust me. One day, one of the guides who was a party member approached me and closed the door behind him. He was a nice guy from worker’s family who had joined the party while at college. He had been one of my school mates. He sincerely asked me if I were interested in becoming a party member myself. I was surprised and then I laughed a little about it. He was puzzled, since usually people feel honored to be asked. Then I asked him if he really wanted to know what I was thinking at that moment. (I trusted him) and he said yes. My answer was even if the gate to the party membership was widely open, I would not step in. He was shocked and then scared, and he begged me not to mention it to anyone else: “ I am sure you would be in a big trouble if another person in this office heard you say that” . He never reported it to our boss, and he never approached me on that subject again.

Being a tour guide was great fun and these were some of the happiest years of my life – but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing it. I was beginning to have other plans for what to do next.

The following is the report of an American woman
who traveled to China during that time.

Let me say right off that this was the trip of a lifetime – way back in 1983 – soon after China had opened up, and it was my first trip to Asia. I was single, 38 years old, and had been working hard for several years as a sales rep in telecommunications (though I had a degree in Fine Arts) . I deserved a big, special treat - and this was it: a three week swing around China, organized by a San Francisco organization, the China-America Friendship Society.

First, we flew from Japan to Beijing – staying 5 days in a newly built hotel that was about a 25 minute ride from the center of the city. It didn’t really seem like a permanent structure –there were some design peculiarities – like unventilated restrooms in the center of the building . But clearly, great efforts had been made to accommodate us.

Our group had 16 people, and our guide was a very well educated young Chinese woman. Her English was impeccable, and with a troubled acceptance, she shared the story of her life during the Cultural Revolution – how family members had been arrested and how she had worked on a farm.

The food was terrible – but you know, that’s not why we were visiting China.

There was no shopping – except at the state run “Friendship shops” – where we paid with the scrip we’d been issued . We couldn’t purchase regular currency- so we couldn’t even walk down the street to buy a soda – which we could hardly do anyway since nobody spoke English and we couldn’t read street signs.

My main complaint was that other than tea, all we were offered to drink was Tsing Tsao beer and some kind of orange drink that seemed to be nothing more than orange colored sugar water. Beer gives me a headache – so I was always feeling thirsty. (and when we finally crossed the border into Hong Kong, my first purchase was a big bottle of tomato juice. Why tomato juice ? I don’t know – but for some reason it’s what I craved the most)

We did get a large, fancy banquet one night in Beijing – with a very impressive, colorful display -- but the food was much better seen than tasted. The Peking Duck, for example, was just bones – the bones of some poor duck whose flesh must have been eaten somewhere else. Mostly I remember eating rice – lots of rice mixed with some kind of very tough greens.

And I remember the kind of people we saw:

*the young and old factory workers hand knotting rugs, doing meticulous cloisonee work, or working the silk making machines. They were so focused ! … some were very young … and there was so little joy in the air. (All these products eventually went to the Chinese Friendship Shops where we tourists were herded in every city visited.)

*the men and women as they pulled those large, heavy wheel barrels down streets, whether paved or not. In the cities, bicycles were everywhere, hardly any cars, and people dressed in dark Mao pants and jackets. They just stared at us --- never a smile or wave.

*Grandmothers attending the children.; Pre-school children harnessed together in straight lines. (I think we have adopted that system here.)

* Old women standing very precariously on bound feet.

There were long, comfortable train rides, where tea was served, and the windows had crisp, white lacy curtains. And plane trips .........ooooh, … they could be scary and noisy,. It felt like the fog was blowing in from outside the plane.

Magnificent things: The Yang Tse River barge trip through the Three Gorges, ,The Great Wall, The terra cotta figures of Xian...being just a few yards and looking down on them. (Okay, awesome) And of course, the Winter Palace

I loved that trip ! It was a real adventure – and very affordable, too --- costing no more than what I might have expected to pay for a modestly priced Alaskan cruise.

I’ve taken a few other foreign trips in my life – and a few years later I went to Japan and Singapore – and especially enjoyed Autumn in Kyoto.

But this trip to China was special – like some kind of special moment in history – and I was there to share it.