Sunday, April 10, 2011


Prior to my vacation I had little time to prepare and build expectations about a new culture and land. After all, so many forces were competing for my time and attention 2 days prior to my departure. It was supposed to be a vacation. Yet, it was a chore to get myself ready. Thus, I really was not excited about going, nor did I have high expectations. I was not looking forward to a 14 hour plane ride, either. I also thought my accommodations would be simple, at best.

I arrived on a warm Beijing night along with 4 neighbors and I was struck by the architectural beauty of this international arrival building. “Gee, I haven’t seen anything this beautiful and state of the art at JFK,” I thought. HUGE.

We all got jittery as we queued up to go through Immigration. Quasi military/Mao dressed agents scrutinized the Visa and passport name, letter for letter. The photo had to match the face that was before them, as well as that on the countertop videotape of me on display during the process. Are they going to let me in? It was a VERY LONG few minutes for me and I knew not to say a word. The agent folded my passport and handed it to me with a smile. Whew! That wasn’t so bad. Do they smile at JFK?

Once I took a few steps passed the agent I felt like I was now in China….then I prayed, “Lord, let them allow me to leave here.” You see, I was a child when it was always said on any given night that I did not finish my dinner, “Eat your dinner, there are children starving in China.” “Who were these children?” I would wonder. But I knew it was not good because any time anyone spoke about China, they did so in a whisper because McCarthyism was real and we had frequent drills in school in which we lifted our desk chairs, covered our heads and crawled under the desk to air raid sirens….in case of an attack by The Soviet Union or China.

I remember, as a young adult, President Nixon’s trip to China to establish relations between the two countries. I attended the posh gala opening of the Chinese Mission in the Lincoln Center area of NYC in the early ‘70s with UN dignitaries. What a night! Forty years later, I am visiting China in the evening.

As it turned out, the trip was more than I ever could have envisioned. Our tour group from the east and west coasts met the next morning and we had kid gloves, top drawer care and treatment with hotels of world class and old charm; daily breakfast feasts in the hotels and evening dinner feasts in restaurants; lunch in the Hutong Village home of a family where we learned how to make dumplings and each of us got to practice – replete with a rickshaw ride through the narrow winding passageways of the village labyrinth. Yes, I walked the Great Wall followed by an amazing night train ride from Beijing to Xi’an in a 4-person berth the size of some of our walk-in closets: No kidding.

But, we had the best time. Our group had its own rail car and it was an adult dorm pajama party in the rooms and hallway. We had to deal with the “Happy Room” at the end of the hall – we each brought our bathroom tissue for the porcelain hole in the floor. Somehow, it took more to negotiate the “Happy Room” on the train than in the city because the moving train meant that the entire floor was wet! Eeeww! To go there I took off the bedroom slippers and armed myself with my thick, clod hopper, rubber soled sneakers!

Some people stayed up all night talking and laughing in the hall. By sunrise, it was ethereal to watch the misty rice farmlands, sporadic villages and gravesites as the train passed along the countryside.

I spent almost a day at the museum housing the Terra Cotta Warriors: Over 7,000 life sized soldiers, horses, chariots, and weapons buried with the First Qin Emperor, and discovered in the 1970s - considered the eighth wonder of the world. How can I forget pearls and jade - visiting factories for both with lectures, demonstrations and jewelry cases galore? Then there was the silk factory with an amazing tour and hands-on demonstration of stretching the raw silk from the pupae of the silk worms soaking in tubs of water. OK, my silk duvet, duvet cover, and pillowcases were needed to go along with the silk robe, right? They will keep me cool in the summer and warm in the winter, yes?

Shanghai is my favorite city of the trip. It is spectacular. The skyline is more impressive than that of NYC or San Francisco. The Bund area – river stroll is more posh than Park Avenue or Madison Avenue in NY. Across from the third tallest building in the world on whose top floor we viewed the city, will be the world’s tallest building within 3 years. Construction is in process. Times Square pales in comparison to the display of night lights there. There is the World Financial Center, couture stores, and European restaurants with sidewalk cafes and nightclubs. I could return there again.

Any young person, now, would be foolish to go to college and not become familiar with the Chinese language. While my son did visit China during college he did not listen to me about the language part.

All in all, it was a fun vacation. The best of all were the people. They were friendly, humble, wishing to serve, and hard working. The best day of all was my day in Xi’an at the Temple of Heaven Park engaged with the senior citizens (men and women) doing Tai Chi, dancing, playing hacky-sack, writing sidewalk calligraphy, playing instruments, playing mahjong, knitting, and playing board games. They loved our involvement and interaction and they were most gracious.

~Zai Jian
(Good Bye)


© Drayton-Craig, 2011