China JournalFebruary 23, 2002
Saturday and Sunday were our two tourist daysbut we toured Chinese style rather than American. Instead of staying at a hotel in Beijing, we made the trek in to Beijing and back each day. Cui Hua and Zhang Jie were given strict instructions to take care of me, and take care of me they didbut Iım getting ahead of myself.
Zhang Jie and I got up at 5:45 a.m., dressed, had breakfast (Zhang Jie took some along with her) and left the house at 6:15. We walked across the park and out to the large street on the other side where we got on a bus. Even when it is dark the buses mostly are traveling with only running lights on. We got off that bus and waited at the corner for Cui Hua to arrive on a separate bus. Then together the three of us got on a different bus (I was about to say a new bus, but that would be a misnomer). We arrived at the Tianjin Railway Station at about 7:00. Cui Hua was the treasurer and tour director throughout and bought our tickets. The Chinese do not cue up! (It would be interesting to visit Hong Kong to see if the years of British rule so thoroughly ingrained cueing that they have retained it even in their reunification with China.) If it is near train time, the ticket window is a scene of bedlam with several people trying to shove their money in the window at the same time and others pushing and shoving behind them. The trains start loading about twenty minutes early and usually pull out right on schedule.
We found our reserved seats and then maneuvered with others so we could sit together. Not once in the four trains we rode that day did they seat us all together. The aisle separates groups of six seats (three each facing each other with a table in between) and four seats (same configuration). The trip takes an hour and fifteen to an hour and thirty minutes. You can count on several vendors to come through. First comes the coffee and tea lady holding a tray with the supplies in one hand and a hot kettle (like a big, old metal tea kettle with handle) in the other. Often people ask her to fill up their half liter canteens. Next comes the lady selling different breads and snacks. Last the lady with boxes of what looks like nuts. Near the end of the trip the lady with plastic gloves carrying a big bucket comes through and empties trash from the little tray that is on each table. The trains are kept quite clean.
We get out in the large Railway Station in Beijing along with what feels like half the people in Chinaa sea of black from the black hair, to the black jackets, to the black trousers. It is quite a challenge to figure out how to get across the busy street to the bus stop on the other side. (Not until the second day did we get it right.) After working our way across, we stopped in a store to buy some bottled water. Then we made a little detour to find a rest room. And where did the girls head for that but, like any American, to the closest fast food spota Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFCs and McDonalds are all over, usually next to each other or, at least, quite close. (Side note of worth: restrooms in Western style shopping centers tend to be Western style.) Cui Hua wanted us to buy our lunches right then knowing we wouldnıt find food at our destination. The Chinese girls both bought KFC chicken sandwiches, and this American girl bought Chinese bean cakes elsewhere. Eventually we got on the bus for the Summer Palace which is in the far northwest corner of Beijing and about an hour and a half bus ride. We ate our lunches on the bus. By the time we arrived we had been traveling for almost five hoursa little different than the touristıs bus ride from the hotel. This was Cui Huaıs third time to visit the Summer Palace but it was a first for Zhang Jie.
The Summer Palace covers an area of 2.9 million square meters and is mostly formed by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. We entered from the north side which is the outside bottom of Longevity Hill. I climbed more stairs this day than I have for a long time. Longevity Hill is all part of what is ranked ³first² in well-kept imperial gardens throughout the world. You climb stairs to a temple, and to another temple, and to another. They are the typical architecture of China and were started in 1750. These temples are not perched on the rocks, they are built to seemingly rise from them. No wonder Frank Lloyd Wright respected Chinese architecture. When we think of ³gardens² we think flowers. But here it means carefully planned landscaping using large rocks, trees, buildings, views, and paths all made to seem natural. The steep steps worked their way up the hill via temples and down on the other side. Eventually we reached the bottom with the longest covered corridor in the world going half way around the lake. The largest stone used in a garden in China is in a grouping near the lake. Every single sign in the whole place started out saying that the building was begun in 1750 and it was destroyed in the Anglo-French hostilities in 1860 with rebuilding begun in 1865. I was glad I wasnıt speaking British English or French as I walked through. However, if we Americans hadnıt been busy with our own hostilities in 1860, we might have been there too. There was one building whose ten very special windows had been pillaged by the Allied Forces in the 1940s. An American Foundation bought them after the war and returned them to China, which was duly noted on the sign. Points for our side! (Fortunately, the sign doesnıt name who was part of the Allied Forces.)
At the Summer Palace was the first place where we saw any Westerners and it almost seemed as if a few of the Chinese young people hung out there to try to practice their English. A great idea. Before getting there, in the morning we had seen one other Westerner, an American, Iım sure. I mentioned earlier that the girls take great care of me. We walk along three abreast, each one with an arm slipped through mine. If there were such a thing, I would say I feel like a queen butterfly wearing my red jacket with my two little black haired butterflies dressed all in black fluttering around me on both sides. As we walked near the KFC, this tall American fellow with a huge pack hoisted onto his shoulders passed and said in English, ³You wouldnıt care to trade, would you?²
When we left the Summer Palace to catch another bus back to the railway, Cui Hua bought us each one of the long sticks skewering shiny deep red, glazed balls. Each ball tastes like a partially cooked and sweetened crab apple stuffed with red bean curdreally tasty and a great snack. On the train, we were in one of the groups of six seats each. We were all tired and taking naps. When I woke up it was to the sensation of five sets of eyes looking at me expectantly. Three young men in their twenties had traded seats with others to be able to speak with me. The first one spoke very hesitantly but wanted advice as to how he could get a scholarship to attend Harvardıs Business School next year. His teacher had gone there and thatıs what he wanted to do. I sensed that he was not the highly competitive kind and we talked about the different types of universities and colleges in the U.S. that have excellent business schools.
We arrived in Tianjin so late that we got a taxi instead of the bus, though Cui Hua really had to bargain to get anyone who would drive us that far away since they wouldnıt have a return fare. We were dropped off in front of the neighborhood restaurant, and there was Fu Ling to greet us. We went in to eat. It was 9:00!