This week is the 30th Anniversary of the uprisings at Tiananmen Square, Beijing. I was there 30 years ago, having a very Grand Adventure. I left Beijing just days before the violence on the Square broke out.
Here is a 2-week excerpt from my 6-week Asia trip in April -May, 1989. I visited Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, traveling by myself, doing work for the LDS International Magazines. The 2 weeks in China were my own adventure. I met up with Mike Dowd and Glenn Karlinsey, friends from BYU who were studying in Wuhan that year.
As I traveled, I kept journal notes in this small blue notebook, kept with me everywhere I went. I transcribed these notes when I got home.
Here is my amazing adventure.
MY TRIP INTO MAINLAND CHINA 17 APRIL to 1 MAY, 1989
by Ann Laemmlen
MONDAY, 17 APRIL, 1989
I was wide awake at 6:00 this a.m.–what a short night. Got some Hong Kong (HK) post cards written to friends. Also got the last bit of stuff packed. Sis. Wood was helpful, as always. She is such a good good sport. Mike came and at 8:30 she took us to the office in the rain. I never had a chance to get some photos of the open markets down the hill. Maybe when I pass through HK in 2 weeks the sun will be out.
At the office in Central, I changed some money–I left $100.00 for Sis. Wood for the food and lodging and transportation, and told her to put it towards that cloisonne vase, so we could continue to share that fun fun experience. I also got some money for the P.O.–I had the 2 boxes to mail, and Mike had 3.
After the office farewells–Liana was a dear–and Helen helped with the finalizing of my accommodations for the rest of the trip–she’s making sure they all know I’m coming–Mike and I went out with our boxes and bags and tried to hail a taxi–but with the rain, there were few available, so we had to wait quite some time. After awhile, we started down some cobbled streets, leaving our boxes at the office. We finally got a taxi, then went back for our stuff. Saw some cultural meat market things along the way to finding a taxi–cow heads hanging in the shop windows, and etc. HK is a fascinating place to be. Wish I had more time to wander here.
We took the taxi to the P.O. with our stuff, and there filled out all the necessary forms for customs and etc, and then we got SICK about how expensive the post was. It cost me HK$495.00 to mail my 2 boxes, and that’s about $50.00. I think Mike’s was almost $100.00 and he was SICKER, but we had absolutely No choice. And it all took longer than we expected so as soon as the boxes were out and the money was gone, we had to make a Mad Dash to get to the Star Ferry. We RAN. We had a train to catch to China.
We took the Ferry for 5 cents to Kowloon, then a taxi to the train depot. We had 10 min. to spare before it was on its way to Quanshou. We found some window seats and collapsed into them, Grateful to have made it. I learned that when China is involved, you only get one chance.
The train was Nice. Pretty first rate. Big seats like on a plane, and big full-size windows. I felt like I was in a movie theater, and a National Geographic special on China was beginning.
First we went through the Provinces, which are a sort of buffer zone between HK and Mainland China. There were stacks of apartments and housing for many who commute into HK. The bamboo scaffolding around new buildings going up always fascinates me. Little bamboo poles supporting iron and cement.
There is a border of sorts–with a fence–between HK and China, and I almost missed seeing it–we whizzed right by. But as soon as we were on the other side, there was an change–I wasn’t really expecting it. There was more dirt, more visible ground, less city, fewer buildings, and before I knew it, we were making our way into the countryside of China .
The colors in the fields were beautiful–new crops were coming up. It rained some as we went, and that seemed to wash things clean and illuminate the green. The fields were small, with dark soil, and lots of standing water. I’ve never seen rice paddies before. I found myself saying over and over to myself, “They Really Do…” –They Really Do have rice paddies, and they Really Do wear straw China-man hats, and they Really Do work behind water buffalo, and they Really Do carry buckets and baskets suspended from a pole across their shoulders. I guess I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was Surprised that They Really Did Do all those things, just like they always told us they did.
The land wasn’t flat. Rolling hills, and terraced farms. None of the fields seemed to be on the same level as the adjoining ones. Built up levees or narrow walk ways separated them. It looked like there was crop rotation. It wasn’t All rice. Looked like vegetable crops–greens like onions and Chinese cabbage, and others I didn’t recognize. There was a Lot of water standing in the fields. I wondered how they kept it from soaking in. I didn’t see many irrigation ditches, pumps, or pipes between fields to move the water from one level to another. The field plots were not real big. And all the work was done by hand. People were out in the fields everywhere. Hoes here are long, not short and back bending like in Africa. Things looked neat and clean and organized–it seemed like the farmers took great pride in their work, things looked well cared for. I couldn’t tell if one field was good, and another was poor–they were all tidy and efficient. I saw no weeds. I don’t think weeds have a chance here.
Water buffalo were used with plows, and a primitive spring tooth type implement. Much of the plowing seems to be done under water.
We had 3 hours to Quanzhou with National Geographic out the window and history lessons from Mike along the way. I think I got the history of China in a nutshell, and it was fun because the pieces started fitting together. It was helpful to have read Life and Death in Shanghai, because I new a bit about the history, and Mike has an incredibly clear mind for historical events and the politics behind them. It was fun to listen to him because he threw in a lot of information about the personalities of the important people, telling me which ones he liked and why. I never knew Sun Yat Sen was a good guy–I barely even knew who he was. I am amazed at how much history continues to this day. Like the Gang of Four–they’re still living and in prison. I’ve never learned much about the history of this part of the world, but suddenly, with Mike’s help, it’s making sense, and coming together. I’ll not repeat all of it here–I think, rather, I’ll copy a few pages from our China Survival Guide book. Then we read about the places we were going to visit and fit them into the scheme of things.
Along the way, the train folks came through the cars with Styrofoam boxed dinners–rice with mystery meat. We passed on that, and pulled out our stash–beef jerky, cheese and crackers, and Reeses pieces. YUM. We got to Quanzhou after 3:00 sometime, and once outside the station, Mike left me with all our bags–we had my carry-on and small back pack, his back pack and a small back bag, and a box we were going to send to Glenn with junk food, but post was too slow and too expensive. I also had a big sack of care packages for Glenn, Mar and Joe, and the Gongs in Beijing. It was a little more than we could comfortably carry.
Anyway, Mike left me with the Stuff, and went off to organize the next tickets for the next part of our trip. When in China, you usually can’t buy tickets in advance. You have to get them the day you plan to use them, which means you have to get there early. This was already afternoon, and we wanted to leave this evening for Guilin.
So, I stood out in front of the station, in the masses of Chinese people, and I felt like a sore thumb. I had on my jeans and a bright fuchsia pink T-shirt, and for some reason, I didn’t blend in very well. And it was a little unsettling. I was surrounded by a people who felt very very foreign. I thought how much more I felt I stood out here than in Africa, where I was Really a different color. I guess a part of that was just the feeling of unfamiliarity. And I think a lot of it was the color differences–in the clothing. Africa was bright and loud–the wax batiks shouted at you. Here, everyone seemed to be wearing DRAB colors. Dark blues and grays, and dark army green, and all the hair seemed long and black, and in need of a good cut. And almost every single man was smoking, and that added to the heavy dirty feeling. Fashion was non-existent. Clothing was functional, and not very well made. Nothing looked very new, or very clean. Perhaps that’s just the train station crowd. I certainly was no beauty queen.
Mike seemed to be gone a LONG time. I was getting a bit worried, wondering what in the world I would do in a place were I had No ability to communicate–I couldn’t read a single sign, I couldn’t speak to a single person. It was an unsettling feeling I’ve never had before.
Mike, on the other hand, was Great–in his element. He knew right where to go, and he can speak the lingo fluently. And he is a real trooper–he wouldn’t even let me carry my own stuff. He took all the heaviest stuff, and left me feeling grateful, not like a wimp.
He came back with good news–we had tickets–departing at 5:00 p.m. We were happy and excited that all had already gone so smoothly in this unsmooth land. To celebrate, we went into an eating place in the station for a hot meal–“Western fried rice” for 90 cents. It had some ham and carrots and onion in it. Quite good. And then it was time to face the SQUATTERS. Oh boy Oh boy. Mike told me this was THE first time he actually had to use one–he’s avoided them for the last 8 months. Well, we had no choice. And unfortunately, thank you Eve, it wasn’t the most amenable time of the month for squatting activities…. But life goes on. And I wasn’t about to wimp out.
We did our duties, and then went back to the station, with plenty of time to spare–we thought. When we made our way in to the right place at the right time, through the masses sitting everywhere on the filthy floor, we discovered our train had left half an hour before. How could that be?? We were early. Then we learned that of all the days in the year, this was the day, China decided to move the clocks ahead 1 hour…. I guess they’re trying out day light savings time now in China. And NO ONE TOLD US…. A perfect WAWA experience–but in China you can’t say “West Africa Wins Again.” In China you say, “Zhong Guo is Zhong Guo,” which means “China is China.”
So, Mike was off again, and I was left to guard the Stuff, this time inside the station, surrounded by tired dirty Chinese en route to somewhere, waiting for something. Again, I felt like a standing sensation. The room was huge–about football field size, with people everywhere. These people are built differently than we–they have this incredible ability to squat and not fall over. I tried it, and after 3 minutes and 20 seconds, both legs were asleep. There were concession stands selling bread and little baby bananas, a bit blackened, and soda pop and cartoned drinks. My SWATCH watch band broke in our shuffle with the bags and things, so I will be Swatchless on this trip. I had people around me everywhere–standing and squatting and waiting. I could have reached out and touched a number of them. And when I pulled out this little notebook, I created a sensation. People started staring even more, wondering what in the world I’d be writing. Made me feeling like a journalist spy. Some actually came over and looked right over my shoulder, and I casually closed the book on my pen and shifted my weight and tried to squat again until they moved back away. It was noisy and cheap cigarette smoke Filled every inch of air. Not a clean breath to be had. Even the very young boys smoke. It’s sad. And teeth here look pretty poor. The U.S. tobacco companies are hitting HK and China HARD. HK was plastered with ads. And I think billions of cigarettes get poured into China. Everyone smokes. Mary Ellen would have died.
The room smelled like a pleasant blend of dead cigarette smoke, urine and old sweat, but the sweat here doesn’t stink like in Africa. It just smelled like tired travelers.
In this land of China, there are 2 kinds of money. Common and foreign. The Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC bills) are used by outsiders, and the Renmimbi are used by the masses. On the street exchange you can buy 1.8 RMB with 1 FEC. Because Mike is a foreign Student, and he gets some pay for teaching English in RMB, he can get away with using the RMB. Which saved us a considerable amount of money. He also has a student card, which helps him get cheaper rates, but he can’t buy my tickets with his card. The prices are the same for both kinds of money, and they say they are equal in value, but not so.
The police here wear army green outfits. EVERYone Spits. You don’t sit on the floor without putting a newspaper down under you. Most people looked pretty low class economically. Instead of suitcases, there were bundles and poles. I think most of the travelers were relatives visiting family in other places, and so those from the farm took produce with them for gifts, and those coming from visiting farms brought vegs and etc. back with them. The Chinese can’t yet leave China, but for the last 2 years, outsiders have been allowed into China. Many Chinese from Taiwan are coming back to find long lost family members.
Mike was gone a long time again. I saw some tour group people go through–white faces, maybe German. But they didn’t stay in that place. I decided that this is the way to Experience China. I was glad not to be with some sterile tour group, just passing through. I felt like we were right there in it.
It was filthy, but stations, even at their best, are usually not the most desirable places to spend time. And it was cool. I looked a mess, but felt crisp and bright in contrast to the rest of the crowd. There weren’t many children. There were boys coming around to collect the Styrofoam boxes the dinners were sold in. Most were young adults. Men like long fingernails.
Mike Finally came back–the rumors of the time change were real–and we Did miss our train…. So, we decided to go to a place called Foshan where Mike had a friend named Lily. We made our way to that train. It had already gone. So to the bus park outside. No buses going that way. So we finally found a taxi to take us to the other side of town where there was another bus place.
This place reminded me of Lagos–but with Chinese characters on the signs. Dirty cement buildings everywhere that were dark with humid mold. Balconies on every building filled to the brim with potted plants and laundry hanging. Laundry is considered the “flag of China.” It all felt very 3rd World. Floods of memories and feelings came back. Nothing looked new. Structures looked heavy. In HK the folks drive on the left side of the road, here they drive on the right side, but many of the steering wheels are on the wrong side, depending on where the cars or taxis came from, I suppose. It felt confusing. And there are bicycles EVERYWHERE.
We got to the other bus place, found a bus, and waited for others to be recruited. The bus had to be full before it could go. The drivers usually have a recruiter to round up the people and get them on the buses. There were about 15 seats on ours, and this was another cultural experience. We’re talking Dilapidation. We got the back seat with our stuff, and waited for the bus to fill with men and smoke. It did. The torn up seats matched Nigeria’s.
Once we started moving, the air circulated a bit, and it was fun to watch China out the dirty windows. Lots of Go Slows–it was almost one continual traffic jam. We had about 1/2 hr. until dark, and as it got dark, the shops along the way lit their single hanging light bulbs. There was an occasional TV, and usually a group gathered around them to watch. There were lots of market stands. After awhile we stopped somewhere and we had to switch buses. Got on one with about 30 seats, and it was already filled. I got to sit on the hump between the driver and the other front seat with a bicycle in my face and all our stuff at our feet. Mike hung on somewhere in there. He’s a pro. On to Foshan. Once there, we took a taxi to a hotel near where Lily lived, and I parked my body in the lobby with the Stuff while Mike went to find Lily. He returned–she wasn’t there. And the hotel had no vacant rooms. We trudged to another hotel down the street. No rooms. Mike tried to phone Lily. No luck. Took a taxi to another hotel. They had a room for us $13.00/night. YaHoo. And TV and SHOWER and we crashed. Mike watched a Chinese movie about Marcos in the Philippines. I fell asleep. This trip is going to be quite the adventure. Can’t wait. I think Mike will be the perfect traveling companion. We’re doing well together. I could NEVER do something like this alone. Didn’t take me long to realize that. Bless him for being willing to travel with me and forge the way.
TUESDAY, 18 APRIL, 1989
Up at 8:00. Ate bread and hot water from the thermos in the room. It’s a nice thing to have boiled water with the rooms here. We took a taxi to where Lily worked. She was no longer working there. So we walked to where she lived. Wow. This is China! There are BIKES EVERYWHERE. And they all have ringy dingy bells, and everyone rings them. Some motorcycles too. And 3-wheeler bikes, and rickshaws, and people with baskets and bundles and poles across their backs. I was loving it and soaking it all in.
We walked through an open street market and it must have been peak market hour, because people were Everywhere. I tried to remember all the different kinds of vegetables I saw for sale. Here are some: mustard greens, cabbage (different kinds), green onions, green peppers, celery, different kinds of cucumbers, potatoes, yams, and carrots.
There were also other things like potted flowers and plants with their roots bundled. Plants on balconies are big time here. Then there were the snails and frogs and hacked up beef and some fish. There were also 2″ slabs of wood for sale–cross sections of a tree–must have been for chopping blocks or something. Saw some pineapple. Saw ginger root, and other fresh herbs. Bags of flour. Rice. I sat in an open window in Lily’s apartment building while Mike went to look for her, and I watched the market. Took a few pictures from my perch. There were garbage ladies keeping things clean. Mike explained that the people in the communist society are divided up into Units, with Unit Leaders. The units are assigned different tasks, and sometimes you get garbage duty. I guess they take turns.
No luck with Lily, so we went back to the hotel and got our bags and dragged them to another hotel where they were willing to keep them for a day for a small price. Then we headed to a Taoist temple there in Foshan.
The temple was pretty interesting–a garden park type place that wasn’t too messed up in the cultural revolution. Lots of “cultural” places were destroyed. I’m having a hard time getting used to how Old these Chinese places are. This place dates back to the Song Dynasty 960-1279 A.D. It was fixed up a few years later during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) followed the Song Dynasty, and the Qing Dynasty followed the Ming, lasting until 1911. Then you have the Republican Perion until 1949, then the People’s Republic, which I guess we are still in.
Anyway, this temple place had several buildings and a museum with clothing and weapons from years gone by. The roof decorations here are famous. One of the buildings had these huge gold gods and people leave money at their feet. I was amazed the money stayed there and didn’t disappear with the next passing visitor. There were lots of bills too. Once I got the hang of the money, I realized that the coins and small bills are practically worthless.
After wandering around awhile, we went back to see if we could find Lily–still no luck, so we got our stuff and found a bus going back to Quanzhou at 12:41. We got there after about 1 hr. and went to our favorite restaurant with squatter toilets. Mike left me there to go get our tickets to Guilin.
After he stood up to leave, I noticed that a spoiled-looking young man at a table near ours jumped up and picked a bill up off the floor. I wondered what was going on because he looked suspicious, and later when I asked Mike if there was any chance that he dropped some money, he checked, and sure enough, he’d had a bill on his lap–getting it out to change from FEC to RMB. We lost about $30.00 and we were Bummed. It was a 100. note.
Mike brought some goodies with him when he returned–bread, a big bag with a zipper for all our loose stash, and WHEELS for our bags. How I’ve traveled the world and lived without one of those little wheel cart things, I’ll never understand. It was all of $4.00. What an investment. We departed at 5:30.
Mike got us tickets in a “soft sleeper” as opposed to a “hard sleeper” which is one grade above the “hard seats.” Soft sleepers are the best class you can get, which isn’t saying much, but this is China. It reminded me a bit of the 12 hour Nile trip–a small compartment with 4 bunks. And the bunks had cushions and sheets and blankets, with a small table between, and a window. Thermos bottles of boiled water were provided, and that’s about it–as far as comforts and conveniences go.
We shared the compartment with a man from Bangladesh who was working in Hong Kong as a banker. He was on holiday–sight seeing. That seemed funny to me. But I guess that’s what I was doing too–it just didn’t seem like the dream vacation you save up for. At least not in that cramped stuffy compartment. This man was Muslim, and very concerned about not eating pork at dinner later on. He didn’t understand our declining his offers for some good tea bags until we told him tea for us is like pork for him. He spoke English well, and we visited much of the way. He’d left his family behind to check the place out first.
The other traveling companion in our compartment was a business man from Taiwan, who learned that in China, he had to take of his suit and tie, or he was charged foreign amounts instead of RMB. He was going to visit family he’d not seen since the big split years ago. He smoked, but only outside the car, with was very kind of him.
The countryside was wonderful–small fields, one after the next. I wondered if there might not be any tractors around then realized there were absolutely No roads for them to travel on from one field to the next. Only raised furrows separated the irregular-sized fields. Made me wonder if the people can afford to give up the land it would take to put roads in some day, if mechanization ever makes it to China’s countryside.
Rice was being planted. There are some plots or strips for seed beds, where rice seed is scattered, and it comes up thick. Then they dig that rice up when it’s about 4-5″ tall, and they break it into little clumps for planting. And each little bunch or clump is hand planted in neat little rows. The rows were close enough together, that I wondered where they put their feet, and wondered how pigeon-toed, or bowlegged farmers managed to balance. Water buffalo were used–I got real excited when I saw my first ones up close, and I thought I discovered some freaks of nature, because the beasts had 4 horns. It was quite awhile before I realized that the 2nd set of horns were their ears, which lie back right next to the horns, and look the same size, shape, and color. Mike laughed at me. Burst my bubble.
The soil was red clay color, farms were terraced, crops rotated. Looked like rice, cabbage, green onion, and other greens. The standing water looked 3-5″ deep. In some places, they used buckets on poles to move the water from one level to another.
We went to dinner in the dining car at 8:30. There were lovely filthy orange table cloths on the tables–swept off between eaters. We had some choice as to what to order, so we avoided the pork, and got chicken with spring onions, fish (a whole one), and rice. It was pretty good. Mr. Bangladesh treated us.
After that delightful meal, it was dark out and we went back to our bunks and got ready for bed. I don’t think I slept much. It was HOT and STUFFY. Mike had nightmares about being suffocated, and so he spent much of the night out in the narrow hall way outside the compartment.
WEDNESDAY, 19 APRIL, 1989
At 8:00 a.m. Chinese music came blasting into our compartment. Bread and hot water for Bfast. Made my way to the squatter at the end of the car. The famed room had a locking door, and this time I noticed a bar handle in front of the squatter, which made the balancing job a bit easier. But not any funner.
I have a bad cold and dirty fingernails. And I look like a disaster. But this is high adventure, and Mike is great. We sat on these little fold down seats by the windows in the hall much of the morning–every now and again, we’d trade places so one didn’t have to look backwards all the time, and so our sitters could have a bit of relief.
The train went Slow, stopping often. Some wheat fields out there now. The cows plowing are knee deep in mud. There is morning fog and mist over the fields. Sometimes I see citrus trees, head cabbage, and even some pine trees.
Mike took me on a trek through the other cars to show me the hard sleepers. They were 3 bunks high, with no doors on the compartments. That let the air circulate, but there was Plenty of cigarette smoke. There is some policy that no fans are run until after May 1.
Homes in this area are made of red mud brick with tile roofs that are dark with mold. It must rain a lot here. In the farm yards around the homes, there are sometimes pigs, chickens, geese, or ducks. Sometimes I see a straw scarecrow. There are collecting pools for rain water, that is later funneled to other fields. It looks like there is equal opportunity for both men and women in the fields. I wonder about human waste and latrines–seems to be too much standing water to think of deep latrines. I think they may use human waste as fertilizer here.
I slept a bit again before noon. Feeling GRUNGY. I was up on top.
The farther north we went, the drier it looked out there. And the vegetable crops were going too. There were more and more empty plots being prepared for planting. Not so lush and green. We seemed to be going up in elevation, but I’m not sure. Water buffalo are common. They have a device like a spring tooth with 5-8″ teeth for breaking up the ground–pulled behind the buffalo.
Our route to Guilin was way up and around–and it took a long time. We arrived at 2:00 and said farewell to our cabin mates.
First item of business was our next ticket to Wuhan for tomorrow. Got one for 8:00 p.m. Good. Then we found the cheapest hotel in our Survival book, and walked there from the station. Hidden Hill Hotel. It was pretty decent, for about $7.00/night, which Mike thought was quite high. But we had hot water at night and a sit down toilet, and a even a fan that worked during the day, sort of. And there was a TV, soap, and TP.
We unloaded our stuff, and left again, on our way to find adventure! Took our cameras and found a place to rent bikes for 75 cents. Mine was red, Mike’s was pretty blue. We decided to visit a place about 45 min. away where there are some “reed flute caves.” It was wonderful to get out of the train, and in fresh air. I’ve not been on a bike for awhile, and these contraptions came far from comparing to my new mountain bike–but they got us going. The dinger bells were my favorite part of the contraptions. The brakes hardly worked, the seats were miles too low for either of us, and the seat spring were shot. Klunker joys. We had fun on them, most of the time! Especially when moving in a down hill direction.
We went along a lovely river. Pleasant ride. Lots of trees lining the streets, and lots and lots of bicycles. Most of them are black, all are one speed klunkers. Some have baskets in front, some have poles across the back with baskets on either side. We went past some fields and farming areas. I have to laugh at the farmer’s daughter in me–it seems I’m always trying to analyze the soil and list the crops grown. I guess that’s just a part of my soul.
We made our way to the caves–and by the size of the parking lot filled with tourist buses, we figured it was a pretty big deal. Most of the tourists are Chinese–I always expected to see more foreigners, but there aren’t many. We saw a group of Japanese tourists, and some started a squabble with some Chinese–I guess that still happens from time to time.
They say the most extraordinary scenery in Guilin is underground. These reed flute caves, they say, are like a journey to the center of the earth. At one time the entrance to the cave was distinguished by clumps of reeds used by the locals to make musical instruments, hence the name.
The caves were very interesting, the tour was very boring. They just told us (in Chinese) what we were supposed to see in the formations: “this is a bunch of carrots,” or “that one is a cauliflower,” etc. One of the main rooms of the cave will hold about 1000 people, though more than that crammed into the cave during the war when the cave was used as an air-raid shelter. There are all kinds of legends and stories about the different formations in the cave, and it was interesting to wander through them.
After the tour, we came out into the warm air and wandered around. Beautiful scenery. And a small lake with some bamboo boats. We took a ride for $1.00 because the lady really wanted us to–I guess she wanted one more customer before the day was over. She pushed us around with a long bamboo pole and we balanced on the long narrow raft made of several Big bamboo poles laced together.
We biked back another way, which I was glad for because the way there was mostly down hill, and I wasn’t in the mood to go back up hill. Don’t ask me how, but the other way we took to get back also seemed mostly down hill. I was a happy camper. Even more bikes were out now–I guess people coming home from work. Most of the roads are 2 lane, but some have bike lanes on either side as wide as the car lanes in the middle. And there are only occasional cars, and most are taxis or mini-buses.
We next rode to a place in town called 7 Star Park (there are 7 mountains surrounding it arranged in the order of the stars in the Big Dipper). There were more caves there, but they were closed. There’s also an old famous bridge from the Song era called the Huaqiao, or Flower Bridge. It’s at the entrance to the park.
We rode our bikes through the park and wandered around. It was quiet and peaceful. Then we locked the bikes–they have built in locks on the back tire–and we climbed up this mountain over a river and watched the sun sink below the horizon–a big red ball. The haze in the air made the sky turn orange. It was beautiful. The mountains around us look like dramatic globs.
My cold is worse. My body is Tired. Biked back to the bike rental place. Tired bum from that bike seat. Returned the bikes–it was 8:30 and they were due in. Then walked back towards the hotel. Found a chop house–that African term seems to fit the Chinese eating establishments quite well, so I’ll use it–we ordered chicken soup, thinking that would be safe and good. We were served a huge bowl of chicken joints. Never found any meat on any of it. We laughed and tried our best to pick on the bones. Also got fried rice. $4.00 for all of it. And hot water to drink. I’m getting used to that.
Finally home to HOT SHOWERS!! Had my first shampoo since Sunday. What a joy to be clean. Mike did some laundry in the sink. I worked on these journal notes, and went to bed, exhausted by 9:30.
THURSDAY, 20 APRIL, 1989
Up at 7:30 or 8:00. We repacked and consolidated stuff until 8:30. That’s when they called us to board the bus we’d arranged for last night. They told us 9:00 and we were hardly ready, but we got there after a mad rush. We went with a group of 15 tourists from China and Taiwan in a mini bus to another hotel, where they parked and waited for 1/2 hr. so we could have a rest stop or something???? Who knows. We went looking for some small locks for our back packs. At 9:00 we departed on a 1 1/2 hr. ride to where you get on the boats for the famous ride down the Lijiang River. Jiang means River. There were bus LOADS there waiting to board the dozens of large barge boats for the boat ride which was quite expensive–tickets were $22.00. More than a train ticket across half of the country.
We’d read our little books which say that a visit to Guilin would be incomplete without a trip along the Lijiang river. “This experience is one of the highlights of a trip through China. The poet Han Yu from the Tang Dynasty described the Lijiang as a blue silk ribbon surrounded by green jade hairpins. the ship takes the visitor past ever-changing rock formations, caves, waterfalls, sleepy villages and narrow bamboo rafts carrying cormorant fishermen. It seems as if one has been transposed into a traditional watercolor painting in another time. Many generations of poets and painters have been inspired by the beauty of the Lijiang and its mountains.”
Well, we were ready for adventure on the river. Everyone was eventually herded on to the boats. We were on one with some Italians and some loud obnoxious rich Americans. The boat had 2 levels, with tables and benches for eating below, and it was kind of open on top. They served snacks–peanuts and candy. Then we headed up to see the sights. The river was pretty narrow, and the mountains on either side were high and steep and green and beautiful. It was a bit hazy, so who knows how clear my photos will be, but I tried.
After awhile, dinner was served. You could order some expensive meal of all the river’s delights–snails, crayfish, and other fish from the river. We stuck to the basics–rice and vegs. There was lots of sand in our water cups–but all was boiled, we hope. We were on the river from 10:00 to 2:00. It was kind of fun to try to figure out how they assigned certain names to certain mountains, like the Mt. of 9 horses. It was a mystery to us! A real stretch of the imagination. And we got a laugh at the “sleepy villages” –but it Was beautiful and restful. And Mike is Great at conversing with the Chinese. He is always the center of attention because of his inviting personality. And when they hear that he can speak the lingo, he has an instant crowd. Mike should be a diplomat.
One of the highlights of the trip was buying a little red Mao book from a trader on the boat. I paid $2.50 for it, and I’ll use it for show and tell when the book club does Life and Death in Shanghai later this year. I get to do the review that month. Can’t wait.
After we landed on the other end of the river ride, we were latched upon by a young entrepreneur who wanted to “trade money” with us. He said he could help us get a bus ticket back at 5:30. We believed him. And in the meantime, he rented us some bikes for 50 cents, and we went to see the sights. Mike was having fun buying red Mao pins and buttons in the shops.
We headed for the countryside. That was the best part of the whole day. It was like being in the Swiss Alps of China. It was so beautiful. We loved every minute of it. Mike kept saying, “Ann, we’re doing China.” We’ve planned this China trip a long time. We both couldn’t believe we were actually doing it. Real life.
The mountains around us were tall high and green. And we rode through the valleys at their bases. Green fields, and people out working in them. Got some good photos. Lots of rice being planted. Lots of manure being spread–from buckets and hand-pulled carts. Lots of honey buckets too (human waste) being carried to the fields. Wonder how they keep worm infestation down, as they work bare foot in the mud in the fields?? There were also 3-wheeled motorized little tractor vehicles on the roads. They would help move the manure, then dump loads on the roads next to the fields, then the people would carry it in buckets to where they would work into the soil. Lots of hoes and shovels.
There was a quaint, peaceful feeling there. And the air was filled with the fragrance of orange blossom. It was heavenly. We rode for a little more than 1 hour, wishing we had a week to spend there. But had to head back to catch the bus. Bought some bottled water at a little shop along the way. Hot and sweaty, but happy, and anticipating our night train to Wuhan.
We got back to Yangshuo by 5:00 and went to wait for our 5:30 bus. Walked through a park and got some marvelous photos of children–there was a class of 5-yr-olds there and Mike played with them while I took some wonderful photos. The kids were playing a game, collecting leaves on sticks–skewering them. Mike had a ball playing with them–counting and singing and they danced for him–there must have been about 25 of them loving every minute of it. Mike played some number games with them. We played until we had to go. Both to the bathroom, and to the bus. Found a squatter in the park. Hmmm. No need to describe that feat each time I master it. Actually, I’m getting quite good. My balance is improving. It’s been a long time since Africa.
5:30 to the station. No bus. 5:35, no bus. 5:40, several of us waiting, and no bus. The finished-for-the-day buses were being hosed out. It was a 1 1/2-2 hour ride back. And we had a train to catch. Got anxious. Miraculously, our ticket boy happened by and saw us still there and he came over to see what was going on. In the meantime, we spotted another bus getting ready to leave, and it was full to the gills, but we climbed in anyway–to the dismay of those already filling every seat–and at the same time the boy ran back to get a refund on our tickets. He came back empty handed. We got off the bus, and went back to the first which finally pulled in and was loading, and we realized it was too late to ever make it back in time, so we decided to hire a taxi which might make the trip in 1 hour. We ran to taxi row, and skipped over the 3-wheelers and mini buses. Took the last one in the row–a maroon mini bus waiting to fall apart. What a mistake. But that comes later. Mike and the boy negotiated and we were off. We passed the 2nd bus and all was well. Sigh of relief. We didn’t start to worry until we noticed the driver was coasting down all the hills…. “Do you think we’re running out of gas??” The up hills were getting slower and slower. We were still 10 miles from Guilin when the little bus DIED. Dead. No go. Then I noticed the tool box already was out and on the front passenger seat. Not a good sign….this has probably happened before.
The engine was under the driver’s seat. Some belt had come off. Everything in that engine looked pretty spooky. Couldn’t get it started again. 10 min. passed. Mike and I looked nonchalantly out the windows at the pretty sun on the mountains….
Finally he got it started, and we were off again. This little van was quite the cultural experience in itself. Chinese music tapes blaring, green crushed velveteen seat covers, dusty purple plastic grapes hanging from the rear view mirror–with some of the grapes missing–, you could see through the cracks in the doors, and the shocks were shot. It got so bumpy he had to slow down. We were hitting our heads on the roof of the van.
Well, we made it to town, to the Hidden Hills Hotel, Mike ran in, I stayed with the van so he wouldn’t go away. Mike grabbed our bags, and we were off to the station. Paid the driver and joined the mobs. Found the right line and joined it. 3 people deep. Played with a little girl in orange. Wished I could communicate. Mike went to buy bread for the trip. 8:05 departure time, and we were stuck in a “Liverpool Squeeze.” Our very lives were at stake…. Had to wait for the train to come in. And it was ALREADY full. Ran (with all our Stuff, mind you) down the platform–one full car after the next. It was a free for all. We had to laugh–as we ran–at the sorry sight. Finally, we just got on before it started moving away without us. The only tickets Mike could get were standing room only hard seat. First come, first served, and we were the 17 billionth on the train. What a joke. There were at least 3 million in each car.
I don’t know how to begin to describe this train experience. I’ve lived in a lot of hard places, and I’ve seen a lot of dirt and filth, but I had yet to experience the trains of China. This journal entry will never do it justice–there’s no human way to capture it all–the sights, the smells, the stickiness, the huddled masses yearning to be free–there’s just no way. But I will try.
We Wedged our way into the passage way of the lucky car we selected, much to the amazement of the 3 million already crammed in there. Our faces were white, and I think the people there were surprised to see the “rich foreigners” traveling with The poorest accommodations. Standing room only means just that–you stood, with bodies supporting yours on all sides. This train was coming from somewhere, already filled, already lived in. The little bit of floor you Could see was covered with spit and filth and chewed up and spit out sugar cane fibers.
We found some inches of space–a spot for two–right in front of the toilet (squalid squatter) room near the connection joint between two cars. People everywhere. Bags overhead on the little rack were 3-deep. The floor was a MESS. The toilet STANK. We didn’t want our stuff to touch the floor, but there was no room overhead to put it. So we sacrificed one piece of baggage, and stacked the rest on it, taking a precious body space in the passage way. Mike immediately attracted the attention of the entire car by speaking Chinese to the young men in our immediate vicinity. Yay! Make some friends, I thought. We could use the help! Mike did, bless his heart.
After some time, the “conductor” came along and did take pity on us. We were trying our best to look not-put-out, like good sports having a good time. Who knows if we succeeded–but the good man took pity on us. He had access to a TINY cubicle room at that end of the car, and he unlocked it, swept it out with a whisk broom, and let us in. Nice! 18 hours of standing in front of that toilet was not my idea of a good time.
So, here we sit, as I record this, play by play. There is a small bench in this cubicle, with enough room for me to sit, and for our bags to be stacked beside me. Mike is standing in the doorway, continuing his PR work with all of China out there. They eat sugar cane and sun flower seeds, freely spitting the refuse everywhere, adding to the floor decor. There is a window that opens half way, and we’ve opened it and every now and again I stick my head out for real air. I watch the cinders of dozens of cigarettes blown off into the darkness–every window has body parts hanging out of it–most body parts have a cigarette attached.
There is a tiny table in front of me where I write. This cubicle is about 3 feet square. Three feet of heaven. The masses begin at the door, and Mike does a good job keeping them out there. A cockroach just crawled down the wall behind me. These Chinese don’t stink when they sweat like the Africans. The boys out there are offering us candies they are taking home to their families somewhere. We accept some to be friendly. One is now sharing something they call “horse hoof” fruit. I whip out my handy Swiss Army knife, and peel and eat it. Not bad. Out the window I see men and women in the fields with their bush lanterns. Occasionally there are signs of electricity out there–a single bulb hanging in a small home. Mike and I laugh. 17 hours to go. Can we do it? If we can survive this night, we can do Anything!
Mike made friends with the conductor, who then went to find a place where we might “up grade” our tickets/seats. After a long time, he returned. No luck. We are hoping he will let us stay in his cubicle.
Mike is now reading a book about Mao for his studies. Someone out there is playing a reed flute. 99.5% of the people out there smoke. Three packs/day would equal about half of a monthly salary. So most smoke cheap home-rolled cigarettes that smell pretty awful. Chinese have bad teeth, even the very young. There are 2 postcards of girls in bathing suits stuck on the wall in front of my face.
I’m thinking about some rude British girls we waited for the bus with at Yangshuo. They were criticizing and laughing at a young man Mike was speaking Chinese with. They made fun of his clothes, his style, his manner. They assumed he couldn’t understand English. It made me feel BAD, even angry, so much so, that I had to walk away. I went to watch them hose out the buses that came in.
I wonder about communist oppression. Is it the communists, or is it simply the 3rd world? Does this kind of life result from poverty, or from oppression, or both? I don’t know.
Mike just made an entry in my little book: HELP!
The 2nd hour passed in the cubicle.
The 3rd hour passed en route to the dining car. It took an hour to get there. It could well take an hour to describe how we did it. Here goes. The conductor came back again and told us that he’d arranged for us to have permission to sit in the dining car through the night. He probably needed his cubicle back. He was helpful, so we thought, until we realized what “moving to the dining car” entailed. The dining car was SEVEN cars in front of us. Seven cars, times 3 billion people/car, with half of them asleep on the floor…. Oh boy. Mike explained to his newly-made friends out there in the passage that we were going to be moving, and would they please watch our things until we were able to get all of them to the new destination. They agreed, and we were off, carrying our first load–because of the Masses, we could only take one piece each–there was simply Not room to fit more stuff through the masses.
This is where I had my first real look at life in a hard seat car. It was incredible. Every footstep had to be gingerly placed between bodies strewn all over the place. (Remember the spit Everywhere.) Bodies, all sizes, shapes, and ages were leaning and falling and fallen. One car is Long. Maybe about 40-50 feet. There were seat benches facing each other, with little tables in between them. People were 2-deep on the seats, leaning all over one another. And several times in each car, there would be a pole (the ones they use to carry their bags on their backs with) across the aisle, behind the bodies of those sitting. We had to step over these hurdles. Legs stuck out from under the benches. Food containers were everywhere. Smokers continued, unable to sleep. It was unreal. We had to go through SEVEN cars like this, with our loads. FINALLY we reached the dining car, and Mike had turned into WONDER MAN. He insisted I stay there, and guard the Stuff, while he returned for the next load. I was happy to wimp out, but felt terrible to see him return to the obstacle course–especially knowing that it would take more than one trip to get all the stuff to where I was deposited. I was Exhausted after 7 cars, one time. I was really exhausted. It was after midnight by now.
The dining car had official train people in it, some eating, some just grateful to be there. There is a cooking part of the car, where the cooks fix noodles with vegetables to put in the Styrofoam boxes for selling in the cars. It smelled OK in there, and most of the windows were down, and it wasn’t too crowded, so it was very manageable. I was Grateful to be there. I was on a folding chair at a dirty table, and to bide my time, while waiting for Mike to return, I spent the 4th hour reading my Book of Mormon.
Mike finally came again, with another load–his backpack–. He was drenched with sweat and very exhausted, and in a hurry, because every minute that went by meant more and more falling asleep. And there is no way humanly possible to carry a load of Stuff through 7 cars of 3 bil./car without stepping on some, and knocking into others. Mike described how carefully he placed his foot, when stepping over some old grandma, forgetting that the other foot had to follow–and it knocked her in the head. More than once. I prayed for Mike the whole time. It took at least 20-30 min. to make it through the 7 cars. Mike did the 7 cars 4 times–the last trip, after getting all the way back to our last bag, he waited there for the train to stop at the next station, jumped out, ran outside the train the distance of the 7 cars, jumped back on, all in the nick of time, with the bag, before the train moved on again. Then we celebrated his arrival.
What remained of the 5th hour, we tried to sleep, with our heads on the sticky table. Spread our little $2.00 China towels under our faces. Couldn’t sleep. There was a man who acted like he was from the Gestapo, and I told Mike he’d better make friends with that one–it might come in handy. He was throwing his power around. Mike did, arousing the attention of everyone in the car. That’s fun, and it makes me feel proud to be with him. Mike also told me the play by play account of each footstep he made through each of the 7 cars and we laughed and laughed. These cars remind us of the extermination trains during WWII in Germany. Masses of bodies. The strap of our little wheel-thing to carry our bags on was wet. “Urine,” said Mike. “Not mine,” he added.
Mike drank oceans after that ordeal. He must have been close to total dehydration. We had our flask and water bottles, and hoped to get them refilled soon. Back to the play-by-play account:
A girl across the aisle is slobbing out on a bowl of noodles. Sorry to keep sounding critical of these dear folks, but I’ve never in my life heard people eat as loudly as they do here. Wow, it’s incredible. She slurped up the soup and noodles, and kept wiping her dirty hands on the curtains. The 6th hour begins. We laugh. Mike tells me all his financial plans for 1989-90. The 7th hour comes. We talk about my love life. Mike makes a Ben Franklin pro/con list on the men in my life. The 8th hour passes in idle conversation and no sleep. The 9th hour we doze off a bit. The 10th hour (5:00 a.m.) we crack out the Tootsie Rolls. The 11th hour the conductor came and said he had a place for us to UPGRADE to. YaHoo, I guess. 5 more cars forward…. Can we do it? We try. Even at the train’s best, this ride is so bumpy you must stagger as you try to walk, as a drunk man would. I passed a mirror on a wall. I am NOT the fairest of them all. I am Truly UGLY. We finally got to the car, and found No Empty Seats. We hoped someone would be getting off at the next stop. By the way, these last 5 cars were “hard sleeper,” not “hard seat,” so there were no bodies on the floor, and we did the whole load in one trip.
At the next stop, a while later, our bunks were vacated. We had a bottom one and a very top one. Mike took the bottom one so the ceiling wouldn’t be in his face, and I was happy to go up top, because the baby with the mother who occupied the bottom one, leaked. The sheets were rolled up and put aside. Mike was thrilled. It cost us $3.00 to upgrade from the hard seat tickets we had.
My teeth have sweaters on them. We are out of water. Ate some bread. It was 6:00 a.m. I could wait no longer. My turn for the toilet room. Had to wait in line for my turn, and what a price you have to pay when it’s your turn! As I hung on to the bar for dear life, squatting over the hole, surrounded by stench, trying to keep my clothes from touching anything, and trying to keep my legs from going to sleep, and trying to have good aim, and trying to keep the toilet paper I’d brought along from touching anything until it was supposed to, I thought to myself, This is simply not humane. We are not humans to live like this. We are animals.
FRIDAY, 21 APRIL, 1989
6:20 I was just dropping of into exhausted sleep in my own bunk with my head on a bean bag pillow with my little towel covering it, when the Beer Barrel Polka blasted over the speaker system. It was too good to be true…. Time to get up.
Forget it, I thought and rolled over, and was dead to the world until about 11:00 a.m. They say we’ll land at about 12:45. The Sheet and Blanket lady just came and pulled everything out from under us. I’m sitting at the half-seat by the window now, watching the people in this car. Wow, China is a fascinating place. The sheet lady took the wet sheets from Mike’s bunk too, and re-folded them and put them all back into deceivingly neat bundles at the head of each bunk, for the next unsuspecting passenger, who will think they are getting new ones.
The young man at the window next to me has a thumb nail one inch long. The pinky nails are also long.
Tickets from Guilin to Wuhan are $8.00 US for me, $2.50 for Mike in RMB because of his student card. The soft sleeper seats cost about $30.00.
We arrived in Wuhan at 1:15 p.m. Wow, it felt Good to get off that train. It was a very indirect route–that’s why it took so long. We survived the 18 hours, and we looked like disaster areas.
Found a taxi–a mini truck–sat in the back on a hard board bench, looking out through the rear of the truck, from behind the cab. My first look at Wuhan, Glenn and Mike’s home. I was amazed at how nice it was. A real city. Trees lining the streets. I was amazed. In about 20 min. we were to the university where Glenn stays.
I wasn’t in the mood for this reunion. But I had no choice. We drove into the university–and it was beautiful. I’ve been feeling sorry for these guys. No more of that. The streets were lined with huge full sycamore trees, the foreigner’s housing areas were like diplomat quarters–beautiful. We got to Glenn’s building and the gate man let us in and we unloaded and went in. Had to check in with a lady at the desk who wasn’t quite sure what to do about my being there. Mike took care of the arrangements and I can tell he has friends wherever he goes. Then up several flights of stairs to the 4th floor and down a hall to where Glenn’s room was. It felt like some of the British places where other church missionaries lived in Nigeria–an old musty smell/feeling, but quaint in its own way. There were old over-stuffed chairs down in the lobby by the entrance and a nice carpet with a design on it. It looked 50-ish.
Well, got to Glenn’s and there he was, looking good. We looked like death warmed over. It was nice to see him in spite of life. Glenn’s place is NICE. Carpet. 3 rooms–one is the school room for the kids, then the bedroom and the living room, and a kitchen and bathroom. Plenty of room. Balcony looking over the sycamore trees. Hot water part of the day. Microwave. TV. We unloaded all the pounds of junk food we’d dragged through 2 billion train cars, and Glenn was in one of his no sugar modes. He did manage to choke down some cheese and crackers, though. Oreos and peanut butter together were a big hit–Glenn had just found peanut butter at the friendship store. Also unloaded letters and messages from everyone at home. I had some news clippings and etc., and conference talks. Lots of chit chat.
After awhile, Mike left by bicycle to go get tickets for us to Xi’an in a few days. Glenn and I left 1 hr. later on bikes to meet Mike at his place. The next hour was one of the worst hours of my China trip. It started to rain. It started to blow. I was on a decent bike–the brakes even worked–but, I wasn’t doing too well on this cross country excursion. Glenn and Mike found a short cut between their universities. (I learned that there are 30 universities in Wuhan–and there is this amount of space between Mike’s and Glenn’s.) The rain turned to heavens opening, the wind turned to gusts, of course, coming at us as we went up hills and over dale, on dirt roads with chuck holes. Glenn was somewhere in the distance the whole way. I wasn’t in the mood to race. My head was Congested. My body was Exhausted. I couldn’t remember when I’d last had a meal or when I’d had a real night’s sleep. My body went on strike, but I had no idea where I was, so I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t yell to Glenn to cut out the racing–the storm was loud and he was somewhere far far ahead. I didn’t dare lose sight of him.
Somehow I made it. What I noticed of the trip was extremely beautiful–we went through some back roads outside the university area, then along a lake or pond, then we had to cross this long narrow paved causeway. There were foot-high waves on the water on either side, and the gusts of wind made it hard to peddle straight. At times I thought I’d be blown off the road. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any real biking. I have a feeling I am going to get in shape real fast, not by choice.
We FINALLY got to Mike’s dorm. My body was about to drop. And of course Mike lived up on top. I pulled myself up several flights of stairs, and somehow made it into Mike’s dorm room, and I collapsed on his bed and literally saw stars. My head was reeling–and I felt like I was going to pass out. I couldn’t even participate in the conversation for a few min. I was spent. Glenn: “Oh, why didn’t you tell me you weren’t feeling OK?” I hated feeling like a wimp. I hate feeling my age. I didn’t move for awhile. Mike told us some terrible news he’d just come home to–one of the foreign students–Edwin, from South Africa–was on holiday on some island south of Hong Kong, and he drowned while swimming. There was thick sadness in the air. No one knew the story–they’d only received a telegraph from a fellow student who was with him. The other students were in shock.
After about 1/2 hr. we rode back together to Glenn’s to have dinner with Sylvia, another American–she’s about 28, single, teaching architecture at Glenn’s university. She’d invited us to come over for dinner–she was having some Chinese friends over too. Mike gave me a rain coat–I was drenched from the first ride over–but it really helped on the way home in the dark. I felt a bit better this time, and we didn’t race. Glenn and Mike are strong on these one speed bikes. I felt like a girl. Oh well, I am.
There was time for a shower and clean clothes before going to Sylvia’s. Wow, that felt good. Clean hair. Clean warm dry clothes. Sylvia fixed spaghetti with Chinese noodles, and the sauce had capers and hot pepper in it. Fresh bread too. We visited with the Chinese students. One of the girls Glenn’s teaching Christianity to came along with us–she’d showed up for a lesson as we were on our way out. We took some M&Ms.
Glenn was invited to give a lecture on Christianity a few weeks ago at this university. There were 4-500 who came to hear it–and so they canceled future lectures. But afterwards, several came to Glenn asking if he would teach them more, so he has been. They come to his place, but have to be extremely careful about it, because of the political sensitivities. We stayed until about 11:00. I slept at Sylvia’s–she has an extra bed, and it felt like heaven. Big soft mattress, and thick heavy bedding. We stayed awake late talking in the dark about our foreign experiences. I like Sylvia. She’s a good person.
SATURDAY, 22 APRIL, 1989
Up at 7:15. Slept Well. Mike, Glenn, Sylvia, and I left at 8:30 for Hankow. Wuhan is actually 3 cities in one and Hankow is one of them. I met Millie from Lansing Mich., and Louise on the bus trip. They both live there in the foreign dorms where Glenn is. They are old and cranky and Wonderful. They bickered all the way into town, entertaining all of us. They teach English at the university. They were cantankerously fun. Millie’s been here 3 years. She’s accepted and loved, open and good. Perfect for a foreign job. Louise plays the Grouch. She plays the part well, and gets good mileage of it. I was thoroughly entertained. Millie misses cheese. Louise wants strawberry jam.
We got into town, and then wandered around. It felt good–not like a communistically oppressed place. Billions of bikes. European influence. Many of the older buildings were European. Lots of street vendors and shops. The streets are clean. Fashions are tacky. Lots of street sweepers–that’s one of the assigned jobs.
First we all went to the friendship store. These are supposedly for foreigners, and they have more variety, or more Western imports than other places. Peanut butter was the hot item. Also Tide detergent and Cadbury chocolate.
While we were upstairs in the appliance section, we saw a crowd around a demo TV. The funeral for some dude named Hu Yaobang was on. I had no clue who he was. We joined the crowd around the TV and watched the funeral procession. For the next couple of hours, as we walked down streets, you could tell which stores had TVs in them because there were crowds in front of those stores, watching the funeral proceedings.
I learned that Hu Yaobang was once the Party Secretary, but was ousted because he promoted democracy. They say he died of natural causes, but he was only about 60. Some suspect foul play. He was denounced by the government because of his stand for democracy.
We went to the bank to change some money. The bank was a huge old European building with spittoons in every corner, and by every pillar. I changed $100.00 for FEC 180., then Mike took some to change outside on the street market for RMB (people’s $).
I wish I had a command of language and words with which to capture all I see and feel and smell as I walk down these streets of China. I can’t capture the faces, the colors, the buildings, the shops–my observations will die in me if I can’t get them out. But I don’t know how to describe this place. I wish I could just write about it and have the whole experience conveyed accurately. I’ll never know how well I describe things, because I’ll always have my memories to fill in between my written words, and others won’t have that blessing. Sometimes I want to just bag the whole thing and not try to remember how to describe things–it overwhelms me to think of even trying. You just can’t take enough photos to capture it. Especially the faces. Especially the faces.
White people don’t seem to create a sensation here like we did in Africa. Except when Mike starts speaking Chinese–then crowds gather.
It’s interesting to see all the signs along the streets–and there are lots of little vendor eating places along the way. Barrel fires with woks on top–steaming baskets of wicker that stack up, lots of good smells–. We went to this place to eat and had Mike’s favorite doodahs. They were like ravioli–rice flour pasta with some sort of sausage filling, steam-cooked in the baskets. Ate them dipped in soy. We also got this rice stuff fried in egg stuff–a favorite fast food. We used our own chopsticks.
Then we wandered some more–went to a once-fancy hotel where some tourist shops are. Everyone was gone to lunch, so we waited and waited and waited. In the lobby. I’m here now writing.
Things here seem old, but fairly well kept up. It feels more progressive, organized and clean. It’s much nicer than places like Calabar, Aba, or Lagos.
Watching these people–particularly the farmers in the fields–during the last few days has caused me to wonder many things. I keep wondering what they are thinking. I wonder what thoughts come and go in minds that know only farming and family and unit politics. I wonder if these Good Earth people will ever know and experience the sensation of a hot bubble bath followed by crisp clean sheets. I wonder if body touching body is ever soft and clean–not hot, sticky, and uncomfortable. I wonder about the mud they move in all day as they work in the rice paddies. I wonder if it ever goes away. Homes are of mud brick. Floors are of dirt. And there is no running water in the homes. Like Africa. And like in Africa, all the memories of stickiness returned. And I remember the dark when the sun is over the horizon. Maybe it’s easier not to see everything.
The thing that makes my heart sad for the people of the world living in these conditions is that they will probably live their entire lives without ever even knowing how good clean crisp sheets feel. In lots of ways, it’s OK, because they don’t feel bad because they don’t have an idea of what they’re missing, but I know, and I wish I could share, and I can’t.
I’ve needed this trip in my life right now, because my prayers for my world friends have been fading, and memories of faces and feelings have dimmed since my last world trip experience. It’s nice that these trips affect my prayers as they do. It helps me to think of these things each night as I lie in bed and feel my blessings, and express my gratitude to Father. I need to try hard to keep a part of my heart out here, and in Africa, and in the other countries I’ve lived. I need that stretching out from my little SLC world and home. It’s so easy to forget everyone else in the world, as I get wrapped up in my immediacy.
I wonder what marriage relationships here in China are like. I wonder if eternal things are felt. I wonder how gods are perceived. I wonder how it would feel to exist and not know Heavenly Father. I kept thinking about that today as I thought about the young girl who came over last night to learn more about Christianity and who “our” God is. I kept looking at her beautiful face, wondering how it would feel to not know. Christianity was all new to her–she had questions about things she’d read. They seemed to spark a desire in her to know more. She seemed like a pure in heart person. I wonder what will become of her in a country like this where there are so few Christians. There is a Catholic church and a Protestant church here in Wuhan–but what a big city (6 million) for such a small group of believers in Jesus Christ.
I wanted to go for a long long walk with that young girl–wish I could remember her name–I wanted to tell her all about who we are and where we are going. I wanted to tell her about the things Heavenly Father and Jesus teach us. It was hard to just “visit” and pass the time eating when there seemed to be such important things to be discussing. I admire Glenn’s patience and understanding of the sensitivities here. I would have a hard time not being over-eager to be a missionary. It was hard to keep my mouth shut.
Being here renews lots of “wonderings” I’ve felt in other times and in other places. Lots of memories and feelings are coming back to me, and I find myself comparing here to there. And then I keep thinking of things at home–like my Victoria magazines–and the dream life of clean luxury and comfort and beauty. It fascinates me that two such different ways of life can exist in such a small world. How can we let it happen? We don’t seem to have any trouble protecting our comforts. Is it money that separates us? What causes the walls between? The separation? Hmmmmm.
It’s interesting to me that here, cleanliness is not the norm. The norm is spitting, urinating, garbage, loud and messy eating habits, etc. Just thinking of that train ride and the squalor–…. I wonder why that has become the norm. Is this behavior learned? Or is it hopeless to exist otherwise in such a society?
Hu Yaobang’s funeral today has triggered demonstrations all over China. As Glenn and Mike explained this situation to me, I also got very excited about what is happening. Tonight when we got home we watched the news and there were demonstrations all over China. On our way home at the end of the day, as we came back in through the university entrance, there were banners and wreaths all around the huge Mao statue. And there were lots of students there. The banners and posters were hand painted and written memorials to Hu Yaobang, who promoted democracy. The students are not allowed to march, but they are doing it. We’re excited. Glenn could be a cheerleader–he’s right with them. The students are demanding more democratic reforms. This is a good sign.
We spent the rest of the day tripping around town. Went to the Yellow Crane Tower after a visit to Mike’s friend Jilang, and her musical family. Her father teaches music at a music school and Jilang and her brother are pianists. We went to their home on the campus of this music conservatory. Both parents are pianists. They had a 3 bedroom flat with 2 pianos! It looked like a very low income flat, and it probably is–teachers in China are one of the most poorly-paid professional groups. This flat seemed somewhat small to us, but comparatively, it was large and spacious for a Chinese family. They had day beds for sleeping, and a small kitchen. Things were packed away neatly. There was a full balcony with clothes drying. While we visited with them (Mike translated the chit chat) we were served orange mineral and some candy. Glenn kept putting candy in front of me and I had to take it so as not to offend. I had my fill of sugar after the first glass of soda pop. Jilang is 22, her brother is 15. The music school is for students beginning at age 11. It was fun to walk through the small campus and hear all the students practicing in their dorm rooms. No practice rooms with thick walls here.
Jilang went with us to the Yellow Crane Tower–a famous tourist place in Wuhan. It’s called Huanghe Lou in Chinese, and there’s a legend about a small wine tavern located on the foot of Sheshan, the snake mountain. This tavern was often frequented by an immortal. The host was always friendly and polite when he served this guest. One day, after the immortal had partaken of several glasses of wine, he took an orange-peel, painted a yellow crane on the wall and then left the tavern and the city. The crane, however, would sometimes fly down from the wall and dance in front of the guests. This attracted so many customers that the tavern soon became a large, prosperous wine restaurant, Yellow Crane Tower. The immortal returned years later, only to disappear once more–this time carried away on the wings of the crane. They say this place–Huanghe Lou dates back to the 4th century. It burned down in 1884, and has been rebuilt since then.
We spent quite a bit of time there–climbed up to the top of about 7 pagoda levels and had a good view of everything around Wuhan. Saw the Yangtze bridge, and etc. Took photos. Had fun.
On the way home we saw these Turk men–some Chinese think Mike is one of their kind–. They were selling what looked like Nigerian “Suya”–or meet on a stick, rolled in hot red pepper, and BBQed over a fire. But this was real meat–not skin and joints or snails like in Nigeria. I wanted to try some. Mike and Glenn were doubtful, but I talked them into it. It was Good. Lamb meat, and cheap. I think the guys were nervous to eat it, but they did.
We had to take buses to get home, and so we joined the billions and billions. Had to wait quite a while for the right bus, then you have to push and shove for your life to get on, and once you’re on, you might as well forget about breathing. You don’t even have to worry about standing up–the masses on every side of your body hold you up–you have no choice. I was tired of all the climbing and walking and absorbing.
It took about 1 hour on the buses to get back to Glenn’s place. That’s when we saw the Mao statue and learned of the demonstrations and we got excited. Took a photo of the statue with the banners around the base of it. Lots of black wreaths.
We got home by about 8:00 p.m. and Mike got SICK. Was it the suya?? Hope not. He was really sick–we had to clear the way between the bed and the toilet. I think he lost every ounce in him–from both ends. I felt BAD. He was in bad misery. Glenn and I fixed the lasagna dinners I brought, and ate out on the balcony.
Then we had to make an appearance at the “squatter party” over at Rasak & Louise’s–they live down the hall–more foreigners. Karen and Bob (the parents of the kids Glenn teaches), Millie and others were there. A fun group. Lots of beers and smokes, southern accents, and laughs. I spent much of the evening playing Ghostbusters with the boys.
Tyler is 8, Travis is 5. They are dears. Had fun. Home by midnight, took a bath. Mike was still vomiting and trotting. He was not feeling well at all. I fixed some Oral Rehydration Solution for him and he got it down, and it seemed to help. He had a fever too. Gave him aspirin, and more ORS for the night ahead, and at 1:00 I went to Sylvia’s to bed.
SUNDAY, 23 APRIL, 1989
Slept in until 8:30 or 9:00. Sylvia fixed french toast of sorts on a little hot plate on the floor. Tasted good. She had tea, I had Ovaltine in hot water. This place provides thermoses of hot water every day–when you empty a thermos, you put it outside your door, and the next day, you get a new one. Everyone has several.
Went down to Glenn’s–Glenn was just getting up–Mike was still sleeping. Read Alma 53. Mike rose from the dead and said he was feeling better.
After awhile, Glenn left to find the revolution. I read conference talks to Mike. He tried to stay awake, and did, most of the time. I only had a few with me–Pres. Benson’s pride talk, Ashton’s, Scott’s, Bishop Pace’s. They all seemed especially timely.
I fell asleep some too–on Glenn’s bed. It was cold and rainy out there. Not in the mood to go out yet. Feels strange to miss a Sunday of meetings. Glenn returned later–there is excitement among the students out there, but it feels like they are trying hard to be cautious. No one seems to know what they dare do.
Glenn brought some Shoubin home–this wonderful bread backed inside a barrel. It’s sort of like pretzel dough rolled out into strips, flattened, and brushed with soy, then salt and sesame seeds. It’s wonderful and Cheap. Made fresh by some boys down the road. We ate several each, and I read This People magazine. Mike slept more, Glenn cleaned his room. Felt good to Rest a bit.
This is Sunday, late afternoon. I’m sitting high on a hill top overlooking Wuhan. It’s raining. It’s quiet and peaceful. I’ve been out climbing mountains. Glenn and Mike left on the bikes to check on out tickets to Xian. After they left, I needed to get out–I needed a walk–some time to think about this life I am living. I walked through campus and out of the walls, then headed for some lakes, then through a small open market where some simple good earth folks were selling home-grown fruits and vegetables. There is a range of mountains behind the university and farms on the other side. I wanted to get away–and I always feel drawn towards the farm side of life. I saw some tombstones up on the hill and worked my way up to where they were. Then I found a path that wound its way up to the top.
I kept walking and climbing and thinking. I hiked over 3 mountains–sort of up over the ridge of the 3–there were some people out and wandering as I was. I wondered as I saw young couples walking hand in hand–wondered if they were wondering about their future, about their feelings about democracy and the current student demonstrations.
There was a cool sprinkle of rain–it removed the dust from the air and made things look lush and green. I finally found a place to sit and think behind an abandoned building on the side of the mountain overlooking the countryside, rather the campus and city side. I sat down there and began this entry, but was soon interrupted–I looked up to see a young girl. She too, it seemed, had been searching for a quiet place to sit and think. I think my being there startled her. She was pretty. She had a bright pink umbrella, and she was holding a wild white rose. I motioned her to sit down with me. She did. I asked her if she understood English. She told me her name was Zhang Zhen Hua. She was very very shy, but she seemed to want to be there with me. We pieced together a conversation.
She is from some small place in the country. She is 18 years old, a 1st year physics student. Her father is a physics teacher. Her mother does field work and sews clothes for the family. She misses home very much. Zhang wants to return to her home village after she completes 4 years at this university. She wants to be a technician. She said she comes her to the mountain every day–to think, to be away. A girl after my own heart. She said she always leaves her books behind, and she comes here to think.
When I told her I was 30 years old, she was amazed. I told her about me and about where I come from. She was fascinated to hear about my life. There was a kindred feeling between us. I took her photo, and then we headed back down the mountain together. She showed me a stair way that went straight down the front of the mountain to the university. She wanted to see where I was staying, so I asked her if I could see where she stayed in the dorms. She was excited to show me. We went to her place first.
It was fascinating to see student life in a Chinese university. I was so glad for the opportunity to go into the student’s housing.
The dorms are several floors, and the halls are Dark–there is an electricity shortage, so no lights are turned on the in the long halls. There were umbrellas and clothes hanging everywhere. There were community wash areas on each floor, with deep sinks for washing clothes and getting water. We went up to the 3rd of about 6 floors.
When we got to Zhang’s room her roommates were gone–they’d left a note for her saying they went ahead to the cafeteria, and they took her bowl to get her food. They returned shortly, with bowls of noodles with green vegetables–like bok choy, and soy. She gave me her bowl, and chop sticks, and insisted I take her food, and she shared with a roommate. The food was great–and they were thrilled I would eat their food with them. It was really fun to try to communicate with them. They all study English, and know the simple basics–I looked at their English texts, and they were pretty difficult–I think they can read a lot more than they can speak–they don’t get much conversational practice. Glenn and Mike both teach English lessons to earn a bit of extra money.
The dorm room was quite small. 4 bunk beds for 6 girls. All are 1st year physics students. (Only 2 of the others came back.) They Giggled a LOT. I told them about SLC, and gave them my address. Then had to get going. They would have wanted me to stay forever. They all wanted to see where I was staying, and I wondered how to handle that gracefully. It’s always hard to show our affluent reality.
I was saved from doing so–the lobby lady didn’t want them going up to the rooms, I guess because they were strangers, and I was too. Good. I told them to wait, and I ran up and got my little book about SLC and brought it down and gave it to them, with explanations about each picture. It was fun to hear they knew the story of the sea gulls in SLC and the crickets. That was in some text book they had. That’s all they knew. I gave them the rest of the story–told them a little about the pioneers, and how they prayed to God for help, and the sea gulls came. They liked that story. Then said our so long farewells. I told them I’d be leaving in the a.m. for Xian.
I went up to learn that Mike and Glenn had no luck getting our tickets. They were told you have to get them the day you are traveling. TSK. Karen and the boys were there, so we played. By now it was about 8:00. Mike watched the movie about Anastasia on TV. Chinese. Glenn and I had a good long talk about life. We talked about expectations, desires of our hearts, blessings, real vs. ideal. I guess we both wonder about our dreams and expectations. It’s hard to know how far to dream. Finally at about midnight, I went to bed at Sylvia’s. She was already asleep.
MONDAY, 24 APRIL, 1989 WUHAN
Slept in until 8:30 or 9:00, then over to Mike & Glenn’s. I went this a.m. with Mike to get some shoubin bread. There are a couple of brothers just down the lane, here in the university campus who make this bread. It was fun to watch. The dough is similar to pretzel dough, and they make a batch of dough, then divide it into 1 1/2″ balls, which are rolled out in a long strip. Then they smear on some onion, soy, and salt mixture, then fold the strip over, and roll it up like a cinnamon ball. Then they roll that ball out again, into a strip about 3″ wide and 8-10″ long. This is brushed with soy, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The oven is a barrel stove–stood on end, with thick cement lining the sides, leaving a oven in the center with a fire at the bottom of the barrel. There is a round opening at the top, then the cement sides inside taper out and down. The bread dough is stuck to the hot cement sides of the oven, around the fire below. It bakes there on the sides of the oven, and is removed with tongs when done. The dough bubbles a bit and gets crusty around the edges, and it tastes wonderful. And it’s very very cheap–each one costing only a few cents. The brothers have a good business, there is usually a line up waiting for hot bread. I loved the rolling pins–a simple wood thick stick tapered at the ends. I tried later to find one to buy, with no luck.
Mike and I wandered around the campus–he showed me the shops and stores and market. There was a meager “hardware” store, reminding me of Nigeria’s stores with few things on the shelves. There was a place where there were several sewing machines operated on the streets by little vendor men. The market was a covered area with meat (mostly pork) laid out on the tables, whacked in assorted cuts and pieces. There were fish and eels, which we watched being prepared. They whack the heads of the eels on the edge of the table, then impale them on a nail sticking through a board, then they take a knife or razor blade and slit open the eel (these were about as big around as my thumb, and a foot to foot and a half long). After the poor thing was exposed, the guts were stripped out with a quick run of the thumb nail the length of the eel, and what was left was tossed into a bowl, ready for sale.
There were vegetables for sale–mostly greens like Chinese cabbage (bok choy)–onions, etc. There were duck and chicken eggs–we bought 6 eggs for about 50 cents. That’s expensive. Everything is measured with scales that hang with weights suspended. The scales were interesting–a long stick with notches cut in it marking the weights, and a flat pan suspended to hold the produce.
We walked past a school for the faculty’s children, and a nursery, a fix-it shop for bicycles, shoe repair places, and the menders I already mentioned. It’s a fascinating place. I love to watch what and how they do. I wish I could photograph all of it without their knowing. Glenn’s taken lots of snap shots.
We got home by noon, ate our bread, and then I scrubbed the kitchen floor and cleaned up the kitchen. Glenn was teaching the boys.
Plunged some laundry–Glenn laughed all last year at my laundry plunger in my bathroom at home, and said he’d never stoop so low–especially in the land of laundry men and dry cleaners. I knew he’d eat his words. It was only a matter of time before he and Mike bought their own plungers.
Glenn was free at 2:00 and we left on bikes at 3:00 for some adventures. We rode first to a Taoist temple about 45 min. away. Once there, we spent about 1 1/2 hrs. wandering around the grounds. It was built about 400 years ago, they say. Much of it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In the main worship place there were 4 huge multi-colored gods with different faces and expressions. The faces were black, orange, white, and yellow. There were these neat cushioned stools to kneel on to worship–quilted tops. I got a good photo of them. Then there were 2 big gold colored Buddha-looking statues with incense burning at their feet.
This place is big on incense. There was a little monk on duty making sure we didn’t take any photos. We managed a few–when his back was turned, but he chased us a bit when he got suspicious! The monks have shaved heads–we watched them being sheared in a side room. They wore long dark robes, and the black cloth shoes worn by all of China. We took our time and wandered around. Not many people there. We took lots of good photos, and climbed the ancient round tower in the back. We had a good time together. Got some good photos of some children at a nursery school next door to the monastery.
At about 5:00 we left for “WuDa” which I always call DooDah or WaDoo by mistake. WuDa is Mike’s university. That’s short for Wuhan Daxue University. Glenn’s is called Wahuazhong University of Science and Technology.
Mike asked me to take some photos of the campus and his dorm room for him–I had the better camera. Heard more about Edwin, the friend who drowned last week. He was from Lesotho, a black. The details were sad. Talked with Claudia, a born-again German student with blue blue eyes. Nice girl. Met Pascal, Mike’s french roommate.
We rode our bikes around campus and took some photos of some of the buildings and the track, and etc. Riding through the campus was beautiful–lots and lots of sycamore trees lining the streets. It sort of reminded me of the University of Chapel Hill at No. Carolina.
Then we headed for some botanical gardens somewhere on the other side of the lake. We rode quite a ways, along some beautiful lake front, and along a causeway. This place is really really beautiful. I was not expecting that. So much green.
The gardens had closed at 6:00, so we rode around a park area outside the gardens, found a pagoda, and sat and discussed Glenn’s future as we watched the sun set. “Well, Glenn, what are you going to do next year?” has become the question of each hour, and our chuckles are getting good mileage on that one. It was nice to sit and talk in such a beautiful area. Mike is a dear. Glenn’s getting things sorted out. Most of the time. Then we headed home, stopping at a road-side “chop house” for dinner. We ate at a little table just off the road, and our food was prepared one dish at a time, and brought out to us. We had beef and green pepper, sweet and sour pork, egg and tomato, and fried rice. We attempted to sanitize the chopsticks in the boiled water they brought us. The food was good.
Next stop on the way home was the telecommunications building. Took 45 min. to get there–it was dark by then–9:00. Waited until about 9:30 to get a call through–I was phoning Don for his birthday–which was yesterday here and now there. It was GOOD to hear his voice and talk for awhile.
Home after that in the dark. We had races down the main streets–there weren’t many out, especially not many cars on the streets. I was TIRED. But we had some good runs and races–sneaking up behind each other, then whizzing past in a flurry of speed. I was hardly ever a flurry of speed. Went by Mike’s dorm for sweatshirts so we wouldn’t freeze on the way home–it was getting really cool out. Met Mike’s 2 Japanese roommates. Then on home–along the lake and causeway.
The causeway is lined with trees and there were bats swooping high and low between the trees. They were pretty big too. One hit me square in the chest, then landed on my pack in my bike basket. It was so stunned it stayed there awhile, while the momentum carried us both forward. I was so stunned I didn’t stop peddling. I managed to keep my bike upright!
Much of the ride home was over hill and dale and chuck holes and it was DARK. But we had fun–sang and laughed our way home at the end of this day. We did a lovely rendition of “Moon River” (that song Always reminds me of Robert Spencer serenading Jill Lykins out in the sand dunes of the Sinai desert)–“Two drifters, off to see the world–there’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting ’round the bend, my Huckleberry friend (Glenn’s favorite part), moon river, and me. We sang Christmas carols, fun songs, and etc. and enjoyed the moonlight filtering through the trees, and the bats swooping around us. Mike and Glenn banter a lot between them. I was in more of a quiet mood on this moonlit path.
Home by 11:00 Exhausted. Stayed at Mike and Glenn’s tonight to be ready to leave for the station early in the a.m.
TUESDAY, 25 APRIL, 1989 WUHAN
Up at 5:45. Tired. Packed and got ready to go. Mike and I said so long farewell, and then took 2 buses to the train station with all our Stuff. Won’t elaborate on that feat. There were 7 billion people on each bus. Life is a squisher. I had my carry on, my small back pack, and Mike had his big blue pack. Got to the station by 7:30. We were #12 in line for tickets to Xi’an. We had a 2 hour wait for the ticket window to open. I stood off to the side guarding our stuff and dodging a blind beggar man. Mike took a place in line. This place is filthy. Low life people are swarming around here pawning tickets. Everyone spits and smokes. People crowd in line in spite of guard rails on either side. I was bored silly and tired in a grimy place.
Finally the ticket window opened–1 hr. late. Hawkers butt in. Mike FINALLY got to the window, and learned that there were no tickets left for today’s train. You have to laugh at times like this. Mike was able to get tickets for tonight–hard sleeper, 11:15 p.m. One more Wuhan day. One less Xian day (properly spelled Xi’an). China is China, so they say.
We indulged and took a taxi home. Not up to the buses. Glenn laughed when he saw us. We collapsed on the beds.
Glenn has a nice place. There is a living room with some decent chairs, carpet, and a balcony. On one side of the living room is the kitchen, with fridge, microwave, small sink, table, and minimal utensils. A bathroom is off of the kitchen. Tub, shower extension, toilet, magazines, TP, and stuff hanging around. Mats on the floor here and there. Then there’s the bedroom off the other side of the living room. Two single beds–the old fashioned soft kind, with Chinese comforters that are heavy and wonderful. Glenn has a wardrobe, a desk, and some night stand things. Mike uses the spare bed when he comes on weekends. There is another room off the living room where Glenn teaches the boys. It looks like a school room, complete with desks and chalkboards. It’s all very comfortable and very decent.
After a little while, Jim came over. Jim is Glenn’s good friend, and he is the one who helped organize the lecture on Christianity Glenn gave a couple of weeks ago here on the university campus. Glenn has been teaching Jim the gospel, and Jim wants to be baptized. It was good to meet Jim. We sat out on the balcony and visited while Mike slept. Jim had lots of questions–particularly about the Article of Faith that tells us to be subject to our leaders. Jim asked if one is expected to support leaders who denounce democracy, and promote themselves. He had some good questions. There is certainly plenty to think about in this country. Jim showed us a hand bill the students had prepared with 7 demands from the students to the government. These demands were presented April 21st. He translated them for us and explained their intent–here they are:
1. Re-evaluate the Hu Yaobang position (re-instate him–he was in office as the Party Secretary from 1984-86, then was forced to resign and was denounced because he promoted democracy).
2. Return to freedom and democracy–freedom of speech and of the press.
3. Publish a news law (freedom of the press) with no censorship. Let the people establish private newspaper and radio.
4. Require the party leaders to report all personal income, and the income and property of relatives.
5. Require the leader of the country to apologize for the education policy (1979-1989). (The budget has been extremely low.) Let teaching be the most respectful profession. Increase the budget, and increase the teacher’s pay.
6. Anti-bourgeois–to re-evaluate the movement. (Many supporters lost positions and were denounced. They want those denouncements reversed.)
7. Require the media to report the student’s movement correctly and accurately. (The Chinese paper reported on April 20th that the students beat the police, when it was the other way around.)
Glenn was getting into this demonstration action. He is thrilled to the core. I’m understanding more and more. Mike is pretty excited too. We’ve got the shortwave going, and we ask lots of questions. It’s hard to be in a place with censored news. You never know whether or not to believe the papers and news reports.
Then I asked Jim a bunch of questions about the farmers around here. Here’s what I learned:
1 Mu = .16 acre. The average person gets 1/2 Mu = .08 acre. 1 Mu produces 1-2000 gin of rice. 1 kg. = 2.25 lb. 1 kg. = 2 gin. 1 gin = about 1 lb.
Fields yield 2-3 rice crops/year.
A farmer must pay a certain amount to the government each year. The govt. owns all the land, and assigns it back to the farmers. The farmer must pay a certain percentage of his earnings back to the government, then he is free to sell the rest for personal profit. There is not usually much left.
The amount of land assigned to each farmer depends on the number of people in the family able to provide work labor. Farmers can hire land to another to farm for them. Then they are free to trade, or try to earn other income. The farmers always worry that their land will be re-assigned.
The top soil is saturated. There is hard clay below. In southern China, most of the water is from rain. They have reservoirs to hold water for summer irrigation. Ditches and canals distribute the water (I didn’t see many of these anywhere). Fertilizer is provided by the government, but it seldom reaches the grass roots. It usually gets siphoned off the top and ends up in the fields of the government’s relative’s fields. Farmers here have to bribe the officers to get their share. Many never see it.
Mike and I fixed some scrambled eggs and we had Shoubin and we ate out on the balcony. Glenn taught again until 2:00. Mike died on the bed. When Glenn was finished, he and Jim and I went for some bike adventures. Mike stayed home to do some homework. Glenn and I wanted to see some countryside. We spent the next 4 hours going UP and down hills and over hill and dale. It was fun, sort of. We got lots of Great photos. Probably lost a few lbs. too. The countryside around Wuhan isn’t as wet as in southern China. But the land looked richer, maybe because I was up closer. And things looked better off economically–not so peasantly. The homes were bigger and nicer, better brick, the farms seemed bigger too. I don’t understand why the difference. All the work was still done by hand, and with the buffalo. Got some good photos. All ages were out working the fields.
The sun was hot, got a bit tanned. Glenn was always somewhere ahead of us. Jim and I stuck together, bringing up the rear. Jim had mega-layers of clothes on–a T-shirt, a button up shirt, a green knitted sweater, a Levi jacket, and sweats under his pants. I have no idea how he survived. I was drenched. It was Hot.
Land around here is drier. And the farming is slightly less intensive. There were actually uncultivated places, and rocky hills with quarries. We rode through the empty campus of some mysterious sport school no one is supposed to know about. We saw some suspicious artillery out in the middle of no where. We rode over a range of mountains and finally back to the main road. Jim and I were dying. Glenn was off in the distance. Every half hour or so he’d stop and wait for us, then take off again. I had to walk up some of those mountain sides. My legs just couldn’t do it. I must be getting old or something. FINALLY we made it home and I collapsed. “Let’s go eat”–Glenn’s idea. AGGHHH, I thought. I didn’t want to move another inch.
We waited for Sylvia to come join us, then we were off again to some chop house not too far away. Mike was a CHAMP and let me ride on the back of his bike. What a dear.
We all filled a round table, ordered 7 dishes plus rice for about $1.00 each. The food was similar to last night’s plus tofu and chicken bones and joints. Home by 8:00.
Four girls were here waiting for Glenn for a Christianity lesson. Glenn was a bit concerned/worried about the political sensitivities of having them come here. One of the other ex-pat ladies in the building warned him of a possible informant, and he’s not sure who it might be. Parts of our spaghetti dinner conversation from a few nights ago were repeated back to us–someone there is spying on these American activities. We’ve been warned to be careful. These 4 girls are good. They’ve been reading the BoM, and they had several questions–like did God create Satan? and did God cause Adam and Eve to eat the fruit, or was it an accident? Jim was there, and by the end of the evening he was doing the bulk of the teaching–and Mike was sitting there in Amazement at Jim’s understanding of the gospel. Mike later said he had it all right–he taught them correctly and well, and thoroughly. Mike was amazed. Glenn was proud of Jim. I was pretty thrilled too–I could tell it was being good, even though I didn’t understand the Chinese. I was really glad to be there. There was a good feeling. They are learning to pray, and the power that unleashes is overwhelming.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how it would feel to not know what Christianity is all about. Sunday when I climbed the mountain, and met Zhang, I told her I had gone there to pray and to think, and I told her about Heavenly Father, and how I pray to him, and I don’t know if she understood. Last night, Zhang and her roommates came by and left a poster of Chinese characters for me, as a gift, thinking I would be departing early this a.m. Did I mention they knew about the sea gulls in SLC? When I told them that was where I lived, they told me they read about the sea gulls in their school book, and they showed me the place. I gave them a small book on SLC, and they were thrilled. The book has some Mormon history in it and I am curious as to what they will think of it or understand about it as they figure out the English.
At 9:00 Mike and I bowed out of the conversation so we could get our things ready to go. At 9:30 we said our good byes–and we had a company car waiting to take us to the station–the car was arranged through Glenn’s work, and it was the first luxury vehicle we’d been in in what seemed like AGES. It had power windows, and it was CLEAN. We felt like we were in heaven. Ahhhh.
Glenn has decided to meet us in Beijing next week. There are rumors of a big demonstration in Beijing May 4th. I have to fly back to HK May 1st to get back to work, but Mike and Glenn want to stay through the 4th to see the action, and my being in the country provides the perfect excuse for them to go to Beijing without looking suspicious.
It took 30-40 min. to get to the station, where we were dropped. We waited outside by a hot milk vendor who sold milk in plastic cups he rinsed out in a bucket of dirty water after each use. It was the first milk I’ve seen on this trip.
The station was normally Grungy. We waited about 1 hour, watching the people come and go. Finally we could board. We were GRATEFUL to have assigned seats this time. We watched the hard seat passengers race for a place–they piled in through the windows, hoping for a place to sit once inside. Bundles and bags were stuffed through the windows after them. It seems simply inhuman. Hard sleepers barely qualify as being fit for human habitation.
We were in a compartment that looked very used. I took the top bunk, Mike was on the bottom, with a nice stranger from HK between us. We locked our bags to the rack along the top of the side of the car, and we slept on our valuables. The bedding was quite dirty, but it was too hot to use it anyway. There was plenty of smoke. This time we took Dramamine and by about 11:30 konked out. The 3 others sharing the compartment looked like shady characters. They looked scary. Those 3 had food everywhere–on the table, on the floor, on their beds. They smoked non-stop.
It was nice to collapse into a semi-restful sleep.
WEDNESDAY, 26 APRIL, 1989 WUHAN to XI’AN
It’s 2:00 and I’m on the train. We slept until about 9:00 this a.m. and then I stayed up here on my top bunk until about 10:00. Ate a dry roll of bread. Got my shoes on–the floor is a MESS–and I pounced down the first time I spied a vacant place to sit down here. The bunks are on one side, then the aisle, then these fold-down seats that are hard to fold down by the windows on this other side of the narrow car. These seats are about big enough for one half of one’s behind. And you have to sit on them side ways to see out the window and so you don’t trip the people going past.
Finally. just a few minutes ago I got up enough courage to go to the bathroom. Mike guarded my seat for me. Made an almost-fatal mistake– I blew my nose in the squat room (trying to get full use of my valuable pink TP). Almost passed out from the stench! Did my duty, hanging on for dear life and trying to keep my pant legs from touching the saturated floor. Agh—.
Africans always apologized to us for their latrines (when they had them) and/or they were Very surprised when we used them. I get the feeling here that these Chinese folk don’t even think we might do it differently. Sad Day.
Once this a.m. a lady with a straw hand broom quickly swept under our feet. The floor is covered with cigarette butts and ashes and food and refuse. Not to mention all the spit globs. 5 ft. from where I now sit, a young mother let her young daughter squat–the kids here wear the handy split crotch pants–and the dear little one left a puddle and some poo. Mother brushed the poo pud to the corner, but the puddle is still there.
I feel too dirty to eat, although I’m hungry. All we have is old dry bread and hot boiled water in the thermoses under the small table between the bunks. Everyone in this compartment is smoking. 2 play “Chinese chess” with a paper game board and wood pieces. A girl and her boyfriend eat an orange and read low quality magazines. The HK man stays on his 2nd bunk. Mike read our China Survival Guide book about Beijing. We both just read about Xian. There’s enough there to spend a week on. It’s an ancient walled city. I’m glad my nose is stuffed. It stinks of poor quality tobacco, tea and urine.
Out my window now there are much larger fields of wheat. Brick red homes, tile roofs. Much drier. No standing water or rice fields. Almost looks like tractors cultivated here, but judging by the shapes of the fields, I don’t think so. It was all planted by hand. There are some vegetables, but mostly wheat. Stony soil. Some dry river beds. We go through some tunnels. This train is not moving very fast. I just got help getting this window pushed up. These people seem to get cold easily. It’s hot and stuffy, but most of the windows are down. There are brown cows out there, not buffalo. It’s hilly, mountainous. There are caves in the mountain sides and terraced fields. Dry. 6 more hours….
The woman with her back to mine at the seat behind me looks 80-ish. Her feet look bound. Yes, they are bound. She is wearing socks and she walks poorly. Her feet don’t look very erotic to me. They don’t to that any more. Women with bound feet can’t walk very well very far.
I’m avoiding mirrors–my hair is pulled up, braided, and out of the way. Haven’t combed it since yesterday morning…. This a.m. I listened to 2 Richard Eyre tapes on Serendipity of the Spirit. They were good. I’m tired and want to sleep but it’s too hot up there, and I don’t want to miss China going by out this window. And if I get up, I lose my seat. All the bottom bunks are loaded with the mid and top level folks.
There are high clouds out there. Stony soil. Weeds and scrub. I keep thinking I’m glad I’m doing this now while I’m young and flexible or it would be unbearable to travel this way. I’ve not yet reached that point. This is still high adventure. I can’t wait to get some of my photos developed and put into some sort of book of these travel memories. I want to do that with all of the places I’ve traveled and lived–take 5 to 10 of the very best from each place–and make a book of remembrances–enlargements. I also must start swimming again. If only I could once in my life get to bed early enough to get up at 6:00 and swim a mile each morning like I used to. And my scripture study is hardly study these days, it’s basically reading without ponder time. And I’ve not been to the library since my classes ended last semester. Oh, my life…. I’m getting eager to get more stuff done. I want to read more. I want to write more. I wonder sometimes about going back to school.
There are lots of cave homes out there now. There are walled compounds–red clay brick walled on 3 sides, with the back to the mountains. I think they must store their grain in the caves, which look well made–arched entries 8-10 feet across, and they probably go quite deep into the mountain side. They probably live in the caves too. Sometimes it looks like the homes or buildings adjoin the caves. I like the arched entries. These cave villages remind me of Indian villages. It’s hot and dry.
[I later read a Chinese statistic that said that 35 million Chinese people still live in caves. There is no government program to remove these troglodytes and put them into tenements, but there is a scheme to give them better caves. The China Daily (19 May 1986) described how one architect, Ren Zhenying, had designed “an improved cave” by making the caverns larger and adding bigger windows and doors and ventilators. One model cave had forty-two rooms, and a number of 3-bedroom apartments. He was quoted as saying, “It stays cool in summer and warm in winter and waves energy and land that could be used for farming.” (From Riding the Iron Rooster, p. 60.)]
Mike asked someone for me and I learned that the wells here are 60-80 meters deep. The wheat will be harvested in one month.
There seems to be a good deal of clay brick making and cement laying around here. And I see some fruit trees. There are graves in the middle of the fields. Sometimes the graves are decorated with poles and paper decorations. Sometimes there is a painted rock.
Waves and smiles illicit dead responses here. I wonder why. Even with the kids, but they aren’t as bad as the adults. I guess we are not the sensation we were in Africa.
5:40 p.m. Now high mountains like the Wasatch Front. I just took a photo of the illustrious squatter hole in all its glory. I am being asphyxiated by cigarette smoke. My lungs must be black. Mike won’t ask the sock lady to take her socks off please. I drank a small carton of lychee drink and we made some cups of Lipton chicken noodle soup I brought from home. It was MMmm gag. All the basin sinks in the ends of the cars by the squatter rooms are clogged full and sloshing over. This is not a smooth ride. Nor are we having fun yet. That was Mike dictating. The sweeper lady just swept. Men around here have sweats on under their pants. It’s so stuffy and hot. Hazy outside. More dry river beds. Everywhere it’s terraced. There are power and phone (?) lines along the tracks. 3 1/2 hours to go. From the luggage rack over my head hang 2 billion hand towels. People aren’t in the fields. Who does the work out there?? There are many tunnels now.
People in the train have their own cups for their tea (hot water provided) and their own food. Everyone drinks hot tea on this hot day. The squat poo girl plays with coins in a can. She is probably the great-granddaughter of the blue sock bound foot lady. The squat girl’s head is shaved.
I am constantly tripping people going by. I have to keep moving my feet out of the aisle, and that puts all my weight on 1/2 of my behind, with isn’t the most comfortable way to sit.
Things we miss: Swimming pools, air conditioning, no smoking, pizza, clean sheets, private cars, ice cold fresh lemonade, cleanliness.
Things Mike doesn’t miss: Materialism, fancy clothes, pressure to keep up, complexities and complications, and having to shave every day. CAAC (the China airways) = China Airways Always Crash
Shock and Amazement!! The mop lady just mopped. The floor is now wet and dirty instead of just dirty. At least it’s a new distribution of dirt, spit, and urine.
Porno magazines are now being circulated in our compartment. My legs are sore from all the bike riding.
Things people are eating: Asian pears (crunchy like apples). Also apples. Both are peeled. Peels go on the floor. There are oranges, HB eggs, foil packets of pickled vegetables, plenty of hot tea cups, vendor food from the stops–ice cream on sticks, fried pancake things made with eggs, chicken pieces, and noodles like Top Ramen.
The train vendors (on board) sell Styrofoam boxes of rice with vegetables and meat like cold cuts, with scrambled eggs in it. It doesn’t smell all that great. Heavy on the ginger.
Mike has made friends with a young man who works for the government transportation dept. He can help us get tickets to Beijing. Yay. Glenn will meet us there. I hope I can find Mar and Joseph when I get there.
I sounds like the car following ours is about to bounce off the track. Going through the “car joints” is like taking your life in your hands. Here comes a dinner cart. It barely fits through the aisle. Most buy something. Now they eat. Food is loudly inhaled–held to the mouth and shoveled in. Nasty smell is from cheap local cigarettes. They eat with their mouths open. Some have bottles of beer. Don’t see many drinking alcohol here. Mike and I have a competition to see who can eat a Marie biscuit cookie the loudest. I win by a long shot. Mike chokes with laughter, refuses to participate further.
These good people have no B.O. In 5 minutes, 16 people walked between me and Mike. I’m at the window, he’s on the end of the bottom bunk across from me. Our knees touch. Big mountains out there now. Stone terracing. Chinese popular music plays. Women in China wear pants, usually older women wear long sleeved, high collared dark Mao jackets, sometimes they are padded.
Hallelujah!!–the chain smoker takes to the top bunk for a nap!! Mike and I trade places. I join the crowd on Mike’s bottom bunk. When they drink their tea, they use no tea bags–just free-floating leaves, strained through their teeth.
There are goats out there. They call this range of mountains the Hua. They’re high and they’re terraced. The steps of terracing are only a few feet high. Fields are thin rows around the mountains. There is actually an occasional tractor, but they are probably used more for hauling, not for cultivating.
8:45 we arrived in Xian. Xian claims to be an ancient city, with inhabitants dating back 1,000,000 years. Lantian Men, they call them. Other references say the action around here began 6000 years ago. Xian used to be in the running with Rome and Constantinople for the title of the greatest city in the world. This was the center for numerous Chinese dynasties during a 2000 year period. It’s now a big time archaeological paradise.
The “new” city was established in early 582. This was a walled city–walls forming a rectangle 10 km by 8 km. The streets are laid out neatly on a grid. The walls are of pounded earth faced with sun-dried brick, and they were probably about 5 1/5 meters high and about 5 1/2 meters thick at the base. There were 11 gates. There was communication with the rest of China via a system of canals. I wonder where the water came from. Not all of the walls are still standing. This feels like a pretty ancient place.
The nice HK man was here as a tourist too–and so he asked where we were staying, and could he go there too. We walked from the station to Lianhulu street to the “Liberation Hotel” which was the cheapest place listed in our book. Said so long and good luck to the HK man, and we got our room down the long hall with red carpeting. Nice place. $7.00 each. Mike thinks that is way high, but we went for it anyway.
11:30 p.m. and we are back from wandering the streets. What fun it is to walk through China!! It was getting dark when we finally got out of that box car (8:45) and got to the hotel. Used the SIT DOWN TOILET, washed our faces and arms, and we were ready for more adventure.
There was lots of night life down the street our hotel was on. Mostly chop houses–eating establishments of the small sort. A few other shops were still open, but most had closed. There were lots of fruit stand shops with poor quality fruit–Asian pears, old apples, oranges, bananas, some had anemic strawberries, some had small watermelon. We bought fruit–I’ve been dying for some. Some stores had dried fruits and candied fruits. I bought some dried persimmons and jujus because we grew those at home. I’ll have to be sure to tell Dad I had real Chinese jujus in China. There were dried plums and other kinds I wasn’t sure about–they looked candied. I also bought a bag of the good floured peanuts most countries but the USA have. We lived on those in Israel. They’re GOOD. We also got some cartoned fruit drinks.
Some of the food we saw for sale: Pork of all varieties. Some places had trays of pig ears, others had the tongues, others had complete heads, some had the hooves, or, as the South Africans called them–“trotters.” There was chicken, BBQed whole, some had feet, some had just heads. My very favorite adventure/discovery tonight were the noodle men. This beats the Spaghetti Factory all to pieces! They make a very elastic dough and roll it out in a long piece about an inch thick and a foot long. Then they start whipping and swinging it around, stretching it out, folding it over, stretching it out, folding it over, whipping it in all kinds of fun patterns. Each time they double it over, pulling it out, the number of individual noodles being stretched thinner and thinner is doubled, until they were as thick as spaghetti and 3-4 feet long.
Mike and I watched 2 different noodle artists, and they put on a good performance for us. I loved it! We decided on noodles for dinner, and so we watched as the noodle man cut the ends even on his big chopping block, then he threw them into boiling water for a few minutes, after that, they were taken out of the water and put into a hot wok, with chopped celery, green onion, bean sprouts, and a bit of minced meat. Soy and salt were added, it was all stir-fried, and we were each served a huge plate full–more than we could ever eat–for a mere 25 cents each. What a bargain!
There were lots of young men out. They yell “Hello!” and seemed a little more aggressive than other places.
After eating, we wandered on, passing lots of eating places with barrel stoves topped with woks. All sorts of dishes being served. In some places you can choose the meat (living) you want–there are baskets with critters in them. There was also fry bread with a filling, folded like a burrito. We had fun looking and walking. I bought some black cloth China-man shoes for 5 RMB = 90 cents. They didn’t have a size big enough for Mike. Mike is so much fun to experience China with. I don’t have a worry with him here. He is a Champ.
We got back to our room at 11:15. Took a SHOWER!! Clean body, YaHoo. I’m now finishing up these notes, after reading in our travel books. The beds are decent. Mike is watching Chinese TV. He thinks this place is too expensive–it was listed as a cheap place for back packers–and it’s pretty nice. 6 floors. Carpeting. Working elevators, and hot water at night. Pretty plush. We got student’s prices for both of us (=1/2 the reg. price).
THURSDAY, 27 APRIL 1989 XI’AN
8:00 up and at ’em. Had a wonderful breakfast with our stash of fruit, bread, and hot chocolate mix. It was raining out. The first thing we needed to take care of today was our ticket out of here–to Beijing–for tomorrow. We went to the CITS (China International Travel Service) office here in the hotel. CITS is The travel agency in China. The office was on the 2nd floor. The door was shut. Knocked. No answer. Knocked again–working hours posted said they should be there–finally a young girl came to the door. The “office” obviously doubled as her living accommodations. The bed was right there, not made. But she was friendly. Mike was taking care of some other things, so he’d sent me down with a note with all the Chinese questions written on it. The girl spoke some English, and I quickly learned that she could do nothing to help us. Who knows why.
So back to the room with what info. I could glean from her. Mike phoned his train friend, Mr. Wong. It was time to try our luck with the “back door” system of doing business in China. Guanxi “pronounced “quan she” means “back door” or “connection.” That’s how you do things around here. There’s an excellent description of this in Life and Death in Shanghai.
Mike called Mr. Wong, who said he’d call his guanxi, then let us know how he could help us. So we sat by the phone and waited for his return call. 10 min. 20 min. 30 min. Finally after 40 min. he called back. We’d almost given up and headed for the airport ourselves to try to get tickets. In the mean time, I got the flight times and costs from the girl in the CITS office. When Mr. Wong (this guy was only about 25 years old) called back, he said he’d need our passports and would come now for them. So we Waited and Waited. I was considerably nervous about handing my passport over to some stranger. You would NEVER EVER do something like that in Africa. You’d never see the passport again, and you’d never get out of the country without Major expense and hassle. Mike didn’t seem too concerned about trusting this stranger. I felt quite helpless, trying hard to trust Mike’s judgement. He knew the guy better than I, and I certainly didn’t have any better ideas.
We kept waiting–and just as we were about to give up on him a second time, he came. We’d phoned the CAAC office, and were trying to make other arrangements.
Rather than turning my passport over to Mr. Wong, I told Mike that I’d just go with him–I didn’t want to lose sight of that passport. Mike thought that would be a good idea, so we both went with him–hailed a taxi for RMB 10.00 = $1.70 to go to his guanxi friend who is the wife of a man he works with. Her name was Ai Qing, pronounced “I Ching.” The taxi went through the middle of town, and into some remote residential area, down some alley ways–until we came to a stop at a narrow alley. Got out of the car, walked between these buildings, and into the inner sanctums of many residences. This was truly a “back door.” We were in the court yard shared by several families. There was a community tap, and a few potted plants, and lots of nooks and crannies. It was sort of an atrium courtyard. It was nice and clean. At the far end of the court yard, we went into Ai Qing’s home. There was 1 large room with a double bed on one side, and a small table. I would guess much of the cooking is done out in the court yard. There were pictures of movie stars on the walls, tacky nick knacks on some shelves, plastic flowers, etc. Very nice, very clean, and very small. They treated us like royalty. Ai Qing worked somewhere with the airlines.
While the taxi waited out in the street, we visited, then filled out some forms requiring our passport numbers & etc. It was 11:05. She told us that all the airline workers take a break from 11:00 to 2:00. We were in a hurry to get to the Terra Cotta soldiers–the reason we’d come all the way to Xian–and so we weren’t too excited about the break. But they volunteered to go find Ai Qing’s friend who could help us. We all loaded in the taxi, drove about 10 minutes out of the walled city to a CAAC rest house office where the employees live. Ai Qing found the lady–she was napping, but got up to help us. She wore a badge. That’s a good sign, I thought. She joined our entourage and we all walked to the airline office, about 10 minutes from there, in the rain. The streets were muddy.
When we got to the airline ticket office, the badge lady butt right in the front of the line–just like all the ones who perturbed me by doing that in every other line we had waited in. The front of the line faced a peep hole window surrounded by blue curtains.
Negotiations began. We wanted to leave on the 1st flight out at 7:45 in the a.m. She came back to us after a little while and informed us that it would not be possible to get on that flight. We told her to try for the next flight. She came back after a little while–and what do you know–she had 2 tickets for us on the early flight! I couldn’t believe our luck. We paid FEC 242.00 for my ticket = $65.00, and RMB 242.00 for Mike’s ticket = $30.00 and we had the tickets in our own little hands.
Mike explained to me later what had happened: Normally seats on each flight are kept open for officials in case on an emergency, but we all know those seats are really kept open for friends. There is no pressure for employees to sell out all the seats because there is no capital gain. They don’t mind because everyone uses a back door.
We took the taxi back to Ai Qing’s home, dropped her off there with a bye bye and thank you thank you. I kept waiting for Mr. Wong to take Mike aside and tell him how much we should pay her and her friend, the badge lady. That never happened. Instead, Ai Qing thanked US for letting her help us. You could have blown me over. Then we dropped Mr. Wong at his home. More thanks, and he and Mike exchanged business cards. And that was IT. NO MONEY ever exchanged hands. Mr. Wong even tried to pay for the taxi. I could not believe it.
We took the taxi on to the train station to get a bus to Lin Tong, where we would get a bus to the Terra Cotta soldiers.
I was still amazed. All we did was pay the true price for the tickets. Mike explained more to me about this back door system and why it worked: 1.) Mr. Wong offered to help us yesterday on the train, so he had to save face. In case getting the tickets had been impossible, Mike kept making easy outs for Mr. Wong. Example: “Oh, we should have done this earlier than this morning” or “Oh, it’s too difficult,” or etc. 2.) It’s vogue to have an American friend who may provide future connections–like teaching English, joint ventures, etc. 3.) It’s simply a way of life here, a way to survive. You help me, I’ll help thee. No money is ever exchanged, just favors.
Our next adventure: The Peasant’s Bus. A taxi would have cost us $9.00, the bus was 25 cents. We took the bus. It was medium sized, with 2 billion people on it (60). There were assigned seats!! Someone was in ours, so we just took the next ones, until the next one’s people came. Small confrontation. We moved. I write now on this bus. The interior is light green with dirt. The brown ripped, sort of padded seats are sticky. Blue chipped paint decorates the seat frames. There is no knee room. Knees tickle my behind. Smoke fills my lungs. One man in front of us has a pipe–the first I’ve seen here. These peasants wear dark colors.
We have waited 20 minutes for the remaining 12 seats to be sold. When Mike told me how much we had to pay for this bus experience, I burst into laughter. Created a sensation among the peasants.
Mike gave me a Chinese lesson. “Suan le” means “who cares,” “forget it,” or “it doesn’t matter.” “Mei you” means “none” or “don’t have.” I learned that one real fast–I heard it in almost every conversation at every ticket/bus/airline counter. “Mei you quan xi” also means “it doesn’t matter.”
It’s nice to not have to worry about someone reading over my shoulder here. Even if they could read English, they couldn’t read this scrawling because this bus has no shocks, and we are over the wheel…. We are one of the Chinese crowd in this bus. We departed at 12:40. We could have taken a tour bus for about $2.50. What savings we’ve made! HA.
What a blessing my nose is still stuffed up! I asked Mike why the clothes are still so drab–the Cultural Revolution was a long time ago. He said it’s still because of the Cultural Revolution. Western clothes and bright colors were considered decadent. They had to keep a low profile then. Dresses on women were considered capitalistic.
We arrived in Lin Tong, and were recruited to waiting smaller buses, which took us 5 km to the tomb of Qin Shihuang–the 1st Emperor of China (259-210 BC). His mausoleum, which has not yet been opened, was declared a national monument, and there are archaeological delights all over the place here. The mausoleum was built in about 246 BC, and for 36 years, 700,000 artisans and workers labored to build the tomb, according to the emperor’s desires. But he died early, and they didn’t finish the job.
Near that tomb some farmers found an underground complex in 1974 while drilling a well. They have been excavating ever since, and have uncovered an army of about 7,000 life-size clay warriors and horses. In 1979 an exhibition hall 230 m. by 70 m. and 22 m. high was built over the excavation. Photographs were absolutely forbidden, and there were security guards all over the place to enforce that rule. Going into the huge exhibition hall and looking down on all the figures was an incredible sight. Row after row of warriors and horses and some chariots. They were so old. Each one was different–the facial features, posture, dress, hair. They think they may have been modeled after the actual army. Once they were brightly painted. The paint is gone now, they are clay color. The weapons have been removed, and many are broken. It was incredible. Our literature said these Terra Cotta soldiers are “hailed as the 8th wonder of the world.” We hailed them as we walked all the way around the building. After that–it took about 20 minutes–we decided to take a second lap around, since we’d come all this way. I think we appreciated them even more the second time. Then we went out.
The place is surrounded by traders and shops and people wanting our money in a bad way. We were mobbed. It was cool and rainy outside. I got some Christmas ornaments for Maureen and for me, and we looked at brightly colored quilted blankets, jackets, bags, etc. There were billions of replicas of the figures. The steal buy of the day was a small 5-piece replica set for 12 cents. We each got one. I got a larger set for all of 60 cents. (In HK, one single piece sold for as high as $20.00.) We got a set of slides and split them, some post cards, and I got some silk scarves, $1.00 each. Mike collected more Mao buttons–they were Much cheaper here than on the boat in Yangshuo.
Mike exchanged some money behind closed curtains. The traders here seemed very eager for sales. There was a lot of junk–fake jade, Chinese chops, jewelry, etc. We bought some warm fried bread for 15 cents. There were also sweet potatoes baked in barrel stove ovens. We had fun, and played with our “Theory of Average Relativity.” Whenever something costs more than we we’d hoped to pay, it gets averaged with all the money we saved on our shopping spree in HK. For example, when Mike had to pay that $100.00 postage for his boxes, he just averaged the price he paid for the clothes (18 shirts, 5 pants, and a coat for $150.00) with the postage, and the clothes were still cheap enough to write home about. When we had to pay $7.00 each /night for this hotel, we just averaged our 25 cent bus trip. But then we had to average the cost of coming to Xian with the price of getting in to see the Terra Cotta soldiers (a few cents) and the price of our souvenirs. That ups the price of our 12 cent sets. It’s all relative. Most of the time when something is higher, we laughingly tack it on to the price of the cheap shirts we bought in HK.
We left the land of the soldiers at about 4:30. Other tourist attractions shut down at about 6:00. It was raining and COLD. So cold we could see our breath. We got on a bus, with a wonderfully cute older couple behind us. 70-80 years old. She had bound feet. They had wonderful faces–serene and classy. I would have paid money for a photo.
The trip home seemed much longer. I was quite cold. Home by 6:00. We paid for tonight and looked around the hotel shop. We got more post cards–some we’d bought had writing all over the back…. Then to our room. Fixed hot chocolate with our USA mixes and the boiled water. Ate bread rolls, and spent a quiet evening writing postcards. to our families and friends. I wrote a long letter to all the Laemmlens. We ate more of our fruit, peanuts, jerky, etc. Mike watched a Russian movie (Chinese sub-titles) about 2 cute little boys. After the movie, English lessons came on the TV for about 1 hour. Then the English news came on and we learned that Lucille Ball died.
There is student unrest in Beijing and the communist party is warning against rumors. Students and police blame each other.
Then some excerpts from the September 1987 Today Show came on. It was filmed in China, and there were different segments about life in China. It was really interesting. They talked about the “spoiled kid” problem. With the one child per family policy, they say one child has 2 parents, and 4 grandparents to dote on him. Children here are getting everything they want. It will be an interesting generation to watch.
There were segments on pet crickets, schools, youth, consumer goods like TVs, refrigerators, etc. That lasted until about 10:30. It was very interesting.
Finally went to bed. Then we started laughing about something and we couldn’t stop. Oh, I remember–Mike was telling me that there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Beijing–“but,” he said, “they have no fries.” “Well,” I replied, “I guess we can choke down the mashed potatoes.” I guess you had to be there. We had fun. Then we planned a summer BBQ with Mike’s dad’s BBQ recipe for steaks, and jello ambrosia salad, and all the trimmings. Then we tacked a few more things on to the price of the shirts before falling off to sleep.
FRIDAY, 28 APRIL 1989
Up at 6:00 and ready at 6:30 for a waiting taxi Mike arranged for our last night. We were 20 minutes from the airport. We drove through the walled city portion of the city on our way. We were excited to be going to Beijing. And we were excited that we were not headed for a train station!
The airport was clean, orderly, no spitting , not much smoking. We got through the check-in and we are now sitting in the waiting room watching some American tour groups. What a bunch of foreigners! The man sitting next to us is wearing a checked blue and white shirt. He takes a photo of his wife sitting with their bags, then he escapes from this Chinese world into his crossword puzzle book. The ladies across the way compare cameras and talk about their 2-car garages. Most of the men are wearing tourist hats. All have their group ID buttons on. Judging by the number of photos they are taking, they must be at the beginning of their tour. They certainly aren’t burned out yet.
There is also a large class. Perhaps the dream of a lifetime trip for them. The 2-car garage lady now whips out photos of her home to show her new friends. “This is our boat.” “Oh, and here is our home in . . . .” Now grand kids come out. “This was a birthday party.” “And this was last Christmas.” I wonder if I’ll ever be a grandma traveling the world with photos of my grandchildren. Hard to imagine. Now we have the photo of the retired surgeon who lives across the street.
The Japanese have tons of camera equipment.
We have now boarded the plane. 2 hour flight. We sit in row 9 and wonder who all the other “back door” boarders are.
We hit the clouds within a minute of take off. I read Mike’s China Survival Book about the history of China, the cultural revolution, and about Beijing. It’s fascinating. It’s like I never even knew this part of the world existed.
We arrived at 10:00 and found a bus to take us into Beijing. It was about a 45 min. to one hour drive. Things look pretty organized around here. The roads were lined with trees much of the way. Once in the big city, we passed a newly-opened Kentucky Fried Chicken. YAHOOOOO!! The bus terminal was just a few blocks away, and right near the CAAC office. We went in and confirmed my Monday flight, then on to KFC to choke down some mashed potatoes. By were they GOOD! WE got 3-piece dinners, with coleslaw and rolls, and never in my life has greasy chicken tasted so good!
We spent the next hour trying to find a hotel. Mike had one in mind–and we had a phone number from our survival book. We saw a phone sign near the KFC, so we followed its direction down a narrow alley. Then we saw another sign, and so we turned down another alley way. Alley life is fascinating. If I lived in China, I’d spend a great deal of time exploring these back doors. The main streets have the typical little establishments and shop fronts, but once you find your way behind them, and behind your first impressions, real life in China is discovered. The alley ways get narrower and narrower and end in living quarters. It’s like a maze.
We wandered further and further following the phone signs. The alleys were lined with baskets, old bikes, piles of used bricks, and boxes of alley stuff. We finally found the place with the pone. It was in a small booth-room adjoining some living quarters in the back yard of a shared courtyard. And the phone was bright orange! As Mike paid the man in the little room to use the phone, I looked in every nook and cranny of the courtyard. It was real life in China. Several families probably shared the space. There were lots of potted plants, even small trees struggling to survive life in the big city. There was one younger man and he was pruning a citrus tree with a pair of scissors.
It was cramped and crowded and food was cooking and clothes were hanging out the windows above us. A crate box chicken cook by the phone housed a couple of roosters pecking and some leftover stir-fried vegetables and rice. Several old white-headed people came out to see these Americans who had seemingly wandered in from no where. I think we were creating a small sensation. We were surrounded by the back sides of apartments with balconies and China hanging out the windows.
I was observing all of this while Mike struggled with the telephone system. Finally he got though. “Wai?” “Wai?” That’s how you say hello on the phone around here. The hotel we wanted was full. So we were back out on the streets again. We walked a ways down the road, Mike tried to figure out the bus system here. Nothing made sense. We had a map with bus numbers on it. We decided there must by a typo in the survival book telling which bus numbers went which places.
We finally took bus #106 to the end of the line and then walked from the station to Qiao Yuan Hotel. Mike knew the place–it’s a backpacker’s cheap delight. There were lots of foreigners there–all the around-the-world type backpackers. It would be fun to compare stories. Many of these young folk look European and British. And they look like they’ve been away from home for awhile. Most look 20-25 years old. Some look like remnants of the hippie generation. Most are in short pants with tan legs, bushy beards, and loose-fitting clothes. Pub frequenters. Interesting group. We checked into room 405.
Then we met a young man named Martin, who had 2 sisters traveling with him. They also just arrived, and were not sure what to do or where to go. Mike befriended them. Martin’s sister’s names were King and Yen and they were from the island Macao by Hong Kong. They asked if they might join us.
We had planned to go to the Great Wall today, but we changed our plans, deciding, instead, to go to Tiananmen Square. We quickly unloaded our things and, with Martin, King, and Yen, took bus to bus to bus to the Square, where we had to literally run to get though the gates by 3:30 p.m. (We were going to the Forbidden City at the far end of Tiananmen Square). WE went through gates and gates and gates, and finally were to the final gate, and we had no tickets. Mike and Martin ran back to the ticket place–we had 6 minutes. They returned in 3, and we were in! More about the Square on the way out, we were now in the Forbidden City!
We spent 2 hours in the Forbidden City, wandering, looking, taking pictures. At 5:30 we were ushered out. We went back through the tunnel under the road to the Square, and wandered there for some time, taking photos in the typical poses with the huge portrait of Chairman Mao behind us. We looked at all the memorials in the Square (see map) and took photos. Had a plate of spicy noodles from a vendor for dinner. It cost about 50 cents.
Watched people and kite flyers. One very small child was flying a kit with the help of his grandfather. I knelt down near him to take a photo of him and before I knew it, everyone’s attention was on the boy–and on me. We had a whole crowd around us taking photos of the two of us. The little one seemed completely oblivious of what was going on around him. He scarcely smiled.
Then we walked down the road to the big fancy Beijing Hotel and wandered through its extravagant lobby shops. Nice things. Real nice things. There is money here. Lots of foreigners too. I guess that’s where the money comes from. Martin and his sisters were happy to be with us because they were treated as foreigners, which they were, but you would never have known by looking at them.
We planned to go next to the Friendship Store, before returning to see if Glenn made it to Beijing–we were to meet him later this evening at his hotel. As we were leaving, we spied him in his blue sweatshirt at a phone booth in the hotel. Good. We like connections.
We changed some money at the hotel bank, then went to the Friendship Store from 7:30-9:30. I did some shopping–a robe for Dad for 50 RMB = only about $7.00. What a steal! I also bought an Abacus like they use in every store in the country–it cost 16 RMB. I got a fan for 11 RMB, 2 batiks and 48 and 27, and come cloisonne bracelets–beautiful ones for 8 and 10 RMB.
Then in the food section we wandered and looked at all the imported items. We bought cheese and crackers and juice. Cheese is a rare thing in China, and it’s very expensive.
Then we wandered the streets of Beijing–we covered a lot of ground. Most things were closing up and we had some trouble finding a place to eat after 10:00 p.m. Finally found one that agreed to feed us. We had wonton soup and steamed bread. It was good. We were TIRED, and then after some more buses, we made it home and fell into our beds.
SATURDAY, 29 April, 1989
It’s 2:08 p.m. I’m on the Great Wall of China, sitting on a rocky precipice looking at the miles and miles of Wall beyond where the tourists go. It is a phenomenal sight! There is a feeling of power and strength here–but there seems to be no reason for it–so many lives and years went into the construction and maintenance of this wall–and for what reason? –to divide, to keep separate. It’s hard for me to imagine serious men really had this monstrous wall built. So many lifetimes were spent here. . . . Perhaps in its day, the reasons for its being were good. Perhaps the world–China–Mongolia–are better places because of it. Or perhaps it’s another of men’s follies that God smiled–or winked at.
It’s now 12:00 midnight. My time on that precipice was not long enough. I wanted to sit there all day, by myself, looking out over the mountains and valleys, wondering about the history of this place, wondering about the lives that were spent working on this wall. That thought gives me a feeling of reverence. There was so much labor invested in this monstrous barrier. I can’t wait for the day in my eternity when I get to see the history of the world video. I can’t wait to see and watch and feel and appreciate–not only Heavenly Father’s creations, but also man’s. This wall is certainly one of man’s greatest–in terms of energy expenditure and time spent. How much better to waste and wear out our lives removing walls and barriers.
We moved on. And on. And on–until we were far beyond where the tourists climb. We went to a far distant tower, way up on top. And when we arrived, we felt we had conquered The Great Wall of China. It was good. And it was no easy climb. At the top we ate crackers left from last night and we drank the last of our bottled water.
Nothing could be seen to prevent us from going farther–no one was posted to keep us back. It would have been good adventure to keep going–as far as possible–until the wall deteriorated back into the land below it.
We spent several hours on the wall. All the time I climbed, as I looked out from the wall, a poem swam around in my head, and I got it started, but didn’t finish it until on the bumpy 2 hour bus ride back to Beijing. I kept thinking about the futility–in the eternal sense–of walls. And as I watched a raven hovering over the wall, it looked so unattached and above this world of walls we live in. It struck me in a powerful way that it never mattered which side of the wall it was on.
As we climbed, I had watched and listened to tourists from many different lands–Germans, Greeks, French, Japanese–and I thought about how walls, boundaries, and borders separate us–and how someday there will be none. I thought about that raven’s heart,and about how open it must be. Man is one of the only creations on this earth that puts up walls to separate. The raven seemed so far above that. The sky holds no walls. That must by why heaven is above us. There is peaceful freedom there. I thought how I want that same peaceful freedom in my heart.
As I thought about walls and heart freedom, I felt two longings–or desires–one to be more global–to be more loving and accepting of all men, regardless of race, creed, or color. And second, I long to find peace in the right relationship, where it’a coming home feeling–where I don’t need to maintain walls to keep my heart protected, or to keep other hearts out. Oh, I long for the time when my heart’s walls will have no reason–when my heart will find peace and freedom in being one with another–with no more walls–ever.
From China’s Great Wall, I watch
a black raven hover,
How does he interpret this monument
of stone that divides
mountain and valley?
On which side lies his heart,
Over time, this barrier has
lost its reason.
No warriors clamor
at its walls.
Perhaps, over time, my heart’s walls
will do the same.
This day didn’t begin with such peaceful and pensive feelings. We got up and were ready to leave by 8:30 this morning–but Martin and his sisters weren’t up yet and they wanted to join us. So we waited and they got ready, and by 9:30 we left. We’d decided to save money by not paying the FEC 20.00 to take the bus tour that left from the hotel at 8:00. Mike and Martin figured we could do better than that. So we tried. What a mess.
We walked to the train station to check on a train to the Wall. All the lines were miles long and quite thick. After waiting in one of them awhile, we learned that all of the buses to the Wall had already left. So, we took bus 20 to the bus 55 stop. There we waited for the next #55 to take us to another strategic point, where we waited on hard metal benches for bus #345 which took us to a terminal on the other side of town where it was supposed to be easy to get a bus to the Wall (a 2 hour drive). We got of #345 some distance from the terminal. Walked. Got in line and waited impatiently. (Somewhere along the way, Martin and sisters decided to return to get back in one of those long train station lines to be sure to get their ticket to depart Monday.)
We got a mini bus to another place–then all we could do at that place was hire a taxi to take us the last hour or so of the trip. So we hired a taxi and headed for the hills. Unfortunately, we got in a taxi that didn’t do hills. As we left the outskirts of Beijing and headed into the mountains to the north, the taxi engine started to knock. We thought we might be running out of gas. Then on a hill, the taxi died. Dead. So, there we sat, while our Chinese driver went off down a steep incline to a little village with the gas can. But we weren’t out of gas. When the car died, the engine was steaming or smoking.
While the driver was gone, we watched tour buses drive by. And we watched the clock. Glenn listened to the BBC and Voice of America on his portable shortwave. Glenn: our current event man.
The driver eventually returned with a full can of water. The radiator was bone dry. He filled it and fiddled with the engine, and soon we were back on the road again. It didn’t die again for a few more miles–this time at a rest stop. We got out and hiked around while the driver worked under the hood. We say an old wall up on top, but didn’t know if it was part of THE Wall. (It was.)
The car started once again, and we were back on the road again–behind a few more tour buses. This time we hadn’t far to go to our destination. We chugged (literally) into the bus parking lot at Badaling at 2:00 p.m. We were thankful to be there. We paid the drive, who had been silent the entire way. He told us he was sorry. Bless him anyway. We tried to not think about all the dirty little bills that had added up as we paid for buses and taxis and other moving things on our way here, not to mention all the time (an entire morning) wasted. But this is China.
Then to the Wall! The first half of the climb was like a collision course with the hundreds of bus loads of tourists. Almost all were Chinese. It was kind of fun to watch them–most were dressed in Sunday best–and that means 3-4 layers of clothing–and it was a warm and sunny day. And every few feet you had to duck to avoid being caught in someone’s posed picture. Oh, the poses. We tried a few. But didn’t waste any film on them.
The farther we went, the thinner the crowds. We passed a German lady who collapsed from heat stroke. Her poor little husband didn’t know what to do for her. We went until we were The Last ones on the Wall. And then we spotted a watch tower way up on top, and we climbed to it, going through several towers on the way. It was wonderful to be there.
The Wall is about 5000 kilometers long. Construction on it lasted 2000 years–beginning as early as the 7th century B.C. We were told that as many as 20 principalities and dynasties took part in reconstructing the Great Wall. If you add the length of the wall built in each dynasty, the total comes to more than 50,000 km. It’s said that the amount of material used in the Wall–the brick, stone, and earth–could make a wall one meter thick and five meters high, and it would encircle the earth once, with material left over. If you used the same amount to pave a highway 35 cm thick, and 5 meters wide, it would encircle the earth 3 or 4 times. And if you added the total length of the Great Wall built in successive Chinese dynasties, it would encircle the earth 30-40 times!
After spending time up on top, we started down again. The climb up took about 1 ½ hours. The run down took 17 ½ minutes. My legs were feeling like jello by the time we got to the bottom. As we went down, we saw a place where workers were building a tram–it was towards the top, where there were no people. Mike and Glenn yelled back and forth with the builders, who motioned for them to scale the wall. So Mike and Glenn became He-Men and they scaled down a rope on the back side, hand over hand. I took photos with their cameras. Some day our children and grandchildren will come and there will be a tram ride to the top. I’m glad we got to do it the real way.
Once down, we went to the little street with all the tourist shops. We got T-shirts for 6.00 RMB = $1.00. I also got more bracelets for gifts. Then Mike, our hero, found a bus we could take back to Beijing. That was no easy thing because all of the buses were full of those they’d brought. We got in a full-to-the-brim bus and paid 5.00 RMB each to sit on folding chairs and stools in the aisle. It was a long 2 hours to T-Square. I got the rest of the poem out and watched out the window.
We arrived at T-Square at about 7:30 and bee-lined to the KFC for Food. Ate hearty. Loved it. Then we wandered around the Square and went to the Beijing Hotel. We were about of RMB and there were no money changers. We were tired. Sat in the lobby and ordered apple pie and ice cream for 7.00 FEC/serving.
Left there at 9:30 or 10:00 and walked and walked and walked to a #54 bus stop. When it came, we crammed ourselves into the masses already sardined in it, and rode until the end of the line–out at the terminal, and walked home, exhausted. Arrived at 11:30 and we all fell into our beds, I was up late with journal notes. Glenn decided to go to BYU next year.
SUNDAY, 30 APRIL, 1989
Up early to take our turns in the shower–a toilet room, all cement, with a shower spigot sticking out of the wall beside the toilet. The floor sloped away from the drain. The toilet paper was drenched. There was no place to hang anything to keep it dry. And the water was cold.
We took bus 20 to T-Square, looking our Sunday best. I even put on some makeup and perfume. We went to a place in the vicinity of the Beijing Hotel, then walked to find Tim Stratford’s apartment, were church services are held. Glenn and Mike had been there once before, and we eventually found it.
There are about 30-40 members in the Beijing Branch. Most are ex-patriots. Only 6 or 7, I think, are Chinese. Gerrit Gong is the Branch President and he and his family were out of town. Maryan and Joseph Shumway were also out of town, to my dismay. I’d not been able to let them know I was here. We had care packages from Elder and Sister Lindsey for the Gongs (Gerrit is their son-in-law) and I had a box of treats and stuff for Mar and Joseph.
After opening exercises, we listened to a conference talk tape by Pres. Monson about the DDR, then had Sunday School class. Forrest Anderson gave a fine lesson on the scriptures. He said the emotions of the Spirit are found in the scriptures. Luke 24 : “Did not our heart within us burn?” Some very good ideas and thoughts.
After the meetings, we visited with the Anderson and the Stratfords. I did a bit of magazine work. Got some article ideas, and some promises from Donna Anderson and Robin Stratford, who both are interested in writing. Donna and Forrest both served missions in Taiwan. They’re in their mid-30’s and have adopted 2 Chinese children, and they have a 10-year-old daughter.
We talked about the social challenges of being LDS in China. Brother Stratford works at the embassy. They have 3 kids. Nice home. Nice things.
Then changed our clothes and went on our way. Bread, ham, and cheese from the Friendship Store for lunch. We failed to plan yesterday for lunch today. We ate outside on some grass under some trees. It tasted Good.
Then we caught about 87 buses to the Summer Palace. It took about 2 hours to get there. The last mini-buses’ engine died about 87 times. I counted as I dozed. Too tired to be impatient.
Once finally there, we wandered around this huge summer retreat resort. We read our China books for history lessons. Some Dowager woman caused quite a stink because she used the money that was intended for an army on this summer palace, and a marble boat here. The boat is a monster of a thing–it sits stationary in the lake–a place where she had her meals. Solid marble.
The area was lovely. About 10 square miles surrounding a lake. Walkways, arbors, lots of trees and garden areas. Lots of paddle boats. We sat on a bench and watched people go by. Mike and Glenn were pooped and both fell asleep on the bench. The sun was warm and lowering in the sky. Haze softened the sunset, which was beautiful. The sun was a perfect orange globe, lowering into the horizon.
We took our time exploring after our naps. We walked through a 700 meter causeway with a painted arbor the entire distance, along the lake side.
I wish we could have stayed for the whole sunset, but we had to get back. I took some nice photos, though.
It only took a couple of buses to get back to the Beijing Hotel. We wandered through the shops there. Looked at silk scarves which were only $4.00.
Then we went to the Square. It was all lit up–for my last night here. It looked like Christmas. Along the main streets too. Tomorrow is a holiday, we learned. International Labor Day, with a parade. We met some other foreign students and wandered on the Square with them. They are staying at the university in the dorms. Mike and Glenn decided to stay there tomorrow night after I’m gone. There is anticipated action on the Square. Some say there will be demonstrations tomorrow. There is a feeling of electricity now. Glenn wants to join the demonstrations. He’s keeping an ear on the shortwave. No one knows what is going to happen yet.
We had cheese and crackers for dinner, once back to our rooms. We were all Tired and Hungry. We all packed our things so we’d be ready to move out in the morning. Said farewell to Martin and his sisters after reporting on our activities of the day. They went to the Wall today.
No hot water again. Took a cold spit shower in the “bath room.”
Mike and I figured out all the finances and who owes whom what. Squared our accounts. And we laughed a lot. Mike is a star record keeper whose mind is a “steel trap.” I was thrilled to discover my trip expenses in China were less than $200.00 (plus souvenirs). I owe Mike big time for these incredible savings.
To bed by 1:00 p.m. Very very tired.
MONDAY, 1 MAY, 1989
Up at 5:45. Not rested. . . but on again. Mike and Glenn hadn’t finished packing. There was stress in the air. 7:00 went to find a taxi to the airport. There were none out in front. We walked to the bus station with all my stuff. Found a mini bus taxi and had to pay 90 FEC for it, but we figured it was worth the no-hassle. It took more than an hour to get to the airport. I was glad Mike and Glenn came along to see me off. We waited for my flight, then had our farewells. It won’t be long until I’ll see them again.
I had a 2 hour flight back to Hong Kong. I sat by a man named Tan Ming who was a Chinese Malaysian from Australia. He was Interesting. An accountant with 2 children. We shared our trip experiences. He spent $3000.00 (U.S.) In 2 weeks seeing China. Nice hotels. Fancy restaurants, etc. I think we saw two very different Chinas. After he heard about some of our adventures, he was quite envious. When he asked how much I’d spent in my 2 weeks, he almost fell out of his chair.
He was very interested in comparative religions, astrology and ancient history. He had heard of Latter-day Saints. I told him a little more. We enjoyed our flight,
Well, my China pages are filled. Tomorrow I’m off to Taiwan, then Korea, then Japan, and then home again. China has been another incredible experience. China is so different from any place I’ve ever been. It’s old. It’s dirty. It’s smells like stir-fry. The colors here are dark and drab. The buildings are gray and smudged. Faces look closed, until you are up close enough to evoke a smile. Everything is inconvenient. Connections always miss. It sounds pretty bad–but that’s not what it is. It’s fascinating. I loved being there. It’s on my list of places to return to someday. I’ll be back.
–Ann Laemmlen 1989
You can learn more about the heart-wrenching events at Tiananmen Square here:
Today’s news, looking back: