Monday, June 23, 2014

Day 1

Doing this from a's apt.  Gotta work fast as Internet is sketchy. 

Saturday night 6/20/14

Well. Had I known what was ahead of me .. . . .

I made my way to the gate at GSP, only to hear that my flight was delayed for two and a half hours due to storms in Chicago. I'm too tired to outline the entire day, but will just say that I went from GSP to Washington DC to Los Angeles to Beijing in 32 hours.

To complicate matters, I thought my iPad was going to be permanently locked down until I could get it home and sync it to Mike's (due to forgetting a password). I had to stand in line for over an hour just to get my ticket changed at Washington Dulles. I had a middle seat on a five-hour flight to Los Angeles. And my luggage was lost at the end, due to all the flight changes, and it took me about half an hour to find and retrieve it, knowing that Andrew was waiting outside and didn't know what was taking me so long.
I am wider awake now, Sunday morning, and will attempt to fill in a few more details.

The actual flight to Beijing ended up being on Air China due to the changes in the itinerary. That was an experience in itself. The plane was huge and there were about a dozen attendants. All were young girls, except for two in slightly different uniforms who were slightly older and appeared to be the supervisors. It was a throwback to flights when I was younger. It is obvious that "equality" was not part of the job description-- no middle aged men attendants like you get on some US flights. The girls were extremely well dressed. The cabin was immaculate with a pillow and blanket at each place. It was like they looked at US airlines and said "How can we do this better?"

There were two meals served. The breakfast one was especially interesting--it was an unusual mixture of east and west, as well as all three meals of the day. It was rice, beef, and vegetables, potato salad with little pieces of ham, a dinner roll, fruit, and a container of yogurt!

After figuring out the luggage (I finally just walked into a hallway marked "employees only," found the storage room, and saw my bag and took it), I went through customs easily, walked around a corner, and there was Andrew waiting. We had a wonderful reunion after ten months.

We got a taxi and went to the hotel where he stayed, and I was supposed to stay, the night before. I was able to get a nap, but deliberately kept from sleeping too long. We checked out and headed for the train station. That was my first real introduction to China. People milling about everywhere--yet A. said if you can see the ground where you are going, the crowd is light. Just masses and masses of milling people, dressed in every conceivable combination of clothing, finding trains and food and maybe just walking about for no reason at all. We got a lot of stares. We only saw maybe a half a dozen other white people. Everyone else is Oriental.

We boarded our train in the throng of people--A. says get used to having your personal space invaded--and had window seats for the six-hour ride to his city. Loved seeing the sights. Everywhere were huge high rises--some nice, some hovels--followed by open fields. There were people working in every field--all agriculture is done by hand. We saw lots of cornfields and a few rice paddies; fields of various products everywhere. As Andrew says--it takes a lot of food to feed a billion+ people.

I got stiff and decided to walk back to the "standing car," where standing riders and others went to stretch. (People can buy "standing tickets" and then they buy little folding chairs and just find a place to sit anywhere they can find a spot.). And that was a shock. As soon as I walked into the car, all eyes came up and watched me walk through the car. Tall middle aged white women are a very uncommon sight. It was very unnerving, as they have no qualms about staring. I finally just started smiling at people, and most smiled back. Welcome to China.

We had to get a taxi as our ticket let us off at a new station that Andrew is unfamiliar with, and didn't know how to get to the subway/elevated system. Frankly, I don't know if I could have negotiated another public transportation situation at that point. We got a crazy taxi driver. He wanted another fare since he was driving all across the city, so he drove around and around, AGAINST the traffic. Andrew said he's never seen anyone do that. The driver was unhappy with the fare we had negotiated. Finally Andrew said--OK, 80 RMD (the money) and he took us. He cleared his throat and spit out the window 19 times. (Yes, I counted.) He let us out at the university where Andrew lives, and we had to walk down a dirt path becausethe road is being worked on. The lighting was very poor. I was extremely relieved to finally get there. Showered and climbed into bed after 53 hours. Andrew is kindly sleeping on the floor so his mom can have his bed

I slept nine hours, only awake for about a half an hour around 4 am. I awakened to the sound of Andrew leaving to go to the market for eggs. He also got fruit--oranges, apples, and cherries. He made me some scrambled eggs in his tiny kitchen.

We went for a walk that extended into a short tour of his living area. The shops and market are nearby and I got initiated into a piece of the culture. The market where he buys meat is especially interesting. The fish are alive. You can't stop and look too long at any of the stalls or they expect you to buy. The vegetables in the vegetable stalls are a lot like home--cabbage, carrots, cauliflower. There was an interesting vegetable that was a cross between cabbage and the bottom part of a celery stalk that was also on my trays on the plane. There are cherries that look like Bings but are light colored in the center. I will take the camera and get pics at some point.

Shops like to have English names. There is a new small bakery called Memory Bread.  (A tray of bread slices in the bakery is labeled. "Bread flavored.") There is a smoothie/drink shop called "It's Time To." No correlation in name and product...but it's English.

We went to the Meeting of Andrew's group on Sunday afternoon. It was a time of sharing and singing and eating as well. Later the group went to the volleyball courts, and I saw how it works. I met a young Sister who came to play volleyball. During one of the games, another group of about four young girls walked by and waved excitedly--turns out they saw their teacher and were waving to her. One of those girls stayed and played as well. I noticed that the teacher made a specific attempt to make sure that the student met the Sister. Nothing may ever come of it, but then again, maybe it will. The teachers here play a key role in connecting people to the groups of brothers and sisters who cannot speak openly in these surroundings.

Sent from my iPad

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