China Diary:
Leaving Home

[Leaving Home] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Settling in Shanghai] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Getting to Work] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Becoming Routine] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Western Contacts] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) ["National Day" Trip] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Meeting Folks] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Plenty to Eat] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Downtown] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [South by Southwest] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Socializing] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Dance Fever] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Exchanges] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Business Week] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [North by Northeast] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Computer Crash] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [The Good and the Bad] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Wrapping Up]

Aug. 25

Ride to airport – I drive to my daughter, Debbie, but she is not home, so my son Marc drives me. Really sad saying good-bye, and keep thinking of him (OK, Debbie, too).

Arrive airport – Three pieces of heavy oversized nested luggage turned into five to try to keep each at the weight limit. Cost for extra baggage going overseas is $390, triple domestic. Lesson: pack lightly. But I am going for almost a year.

Stopover at Detroit Airport – I am apprehensive about finances and health (what else is there?). Reading last year Fulbright reports, I come across one from a visitor to Fudan last year who estimates spending $500 per month. Charles, a fellow Fulbrighter, along with his wife and daughter board my same flight. He is a labor economist from Cornell who will be teaching at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou (Canton). Four movies and some TV repeats later we land in China’s capital.

Aug. 26

Beijing – This city dates to around 1,000 B.C. with the Mongols, Koreans, and Chinese tribes being among the first traders. Genghis Khan burned it in 1215 A.D., and by 1279 his grandson Kublai made himself ruler of most of Asia. Eventually, it was given its name which means "Northern Capital." It grew over the years, and today is roughly the size of Belgium. Frank, the USIS Educational Exchange Officer, meets us at the end of the ramp. Turns out another Fulbright couple was also on the plane: Bob and Susan will be at Shanghai International Studies University. We exit with no hassles. We are in a top Western-style hotel at $80 per night, paid for by U.S. taxpayers for the next four nights.

The "Waiban" – After wandering past McDonald’s, I have a brew and snack. Returning to the hotel, I run into my colleague at Fudan University, Kathleen, a nun, past university president, and former Fulbrighter to India. She is with Jade, the representative from Fudan’s Waiban (Foreign Affairs Office), who will take care of us. Jade’s father was a school teacher in Shanghai until the Cultural Revolution sent him to the far northwest countryside where he met his bride-to-be, also from Shanghai. The youngest of four girls, Jade decided to return to Shanghai to study. As fate would have it, for three years following Tiananmen all entering freshmen to Beijing University and Fudan – China’s "radical" universities – had to undergo compulsive one-year military training. Jade was one, and graduated Fudan two years ago. She books my extra two nights in the hotel many Waiban representatives for Fulbrighters are staying at $30 per night.

August 27

First Breakfast – I look over the local dishes, some of which are Japanese but mostly familiar fare: ham, potatoes, eggs, fruit, juice, coffee. I pick the known. It is only day one, and I will be here a long time. I sit in the non-smoking section, next to a smoking table. Welcome to China.

Orientation – Fifteen China Fulbrighters, seven spouses, and four kids plus staff pile into the van. At the USIS offices, we are up twenty-eight flights and see skyscrapers all around with mountains behind on the horizon. Beijing is among the ten most polluted cities in the world. We are lucky: on most days you can’t even see the sidewalk below.

Lunch – The first welcome banquet is at a Dai (similar to Thai) ethnic restaurant. I have some pigeon soup, chicken feet, and pork belly among other delicacies. There is plenty of rice wine (not Japanese sake), and dancers entertain us. On to the Embassy compound to complete our first day’s orientation.

Reception – Later that evening, over one-hundred officials and guests mingle and I’m working on my Mandarin. Fulbrighters get a Fulbright pin. I’m back at the hotel in time for sauna, hot tub, and swim. I think it will be the last opportunity to swim for a while.

August 28

Orientation II – Many of us are still under the influence of jet lag.   Lunch at Ritan (Sun Temple) Park, with duck feet for one of the lunch exotics. After lunch, I get to check my e-mail. On the way to our dinner banquet, we pass Tiananmen Square, Mao’s creation which is now the city’s heart and complex of government buildings. After the banquet, instead of swimming I go for a walk. I can feel the pollution.

August 29

Great Wall – Two busses load up, along with box lunches, to take us to ancient China’s greatest public works project at Mutianyu. Everyone is casually dressed. Most take the cable car up, but I walk with Kathleen, Jade, and another Waiban representative. We eat our lunch at the top, in one of the towers. Originally financed by a lottery and containing many slave skeletons, this is the only human-made struture seen from outer space; some refer to it as an elevated highway. There are entrepreneurs everywhere, and I buy my T-shirt at the bottom.

Snooze – I crap out upon return, and wake at midnight. Head for the all-night hotel restaurant, then write some postcards. At breakfast the next morning, everyone politely exchanges farewells and hopes to visit each other during the year.

August 30

Taken for a Taxi Ride – I get a taxi and load my eight pieces in the trunk and back seat. I take out my Sharp Wizard personal organizer. Driver offers the ride in exchange for it. I counter he give me the cab. He laughs. I force a grin. When we arrive at hotel, he gets last laugh anyway by screwing me out of a couple of extra bucks as his cab has no meter.

Summer Palace – Jade and I hop on a crowded bus. More than one hour later, we arrive at the huge Summer Palace complex. We are still in the city limits. Foreign troops burned it down in 1860 and again in 1900. We wander around a bit, and take boat to other side of Kunming Lake. There is a McDonald’s outside but we go local for lunch. Jade gets egg noodles, I order pork dumplings and beef noodles. With tea, bill comes to less than two bucks. Dunno about tax; no tip.

Temple of Heaven – For our next stop we hop on a minivan with no air conditioner and smoke in my face. What a trip. Change vans, and get to Tiantan, a large park that’s the perfection of Ming architecture and the symbol of Beijing. It is surprisingly uncrowded. We wander the sites where Ming and Qing emperors performed annual solemn ceremonial rituals for bountiful harvests.

Beihai – Hop into a taxi for the White Pagoda. This large park was the playground for former emperors (some credit it to Kublai Khan) but again is uncrowded. Grab ice tea at the KFC on the lake, then take taxi back to hotel. Go to local restaurant for dinner. Order corn chowder, spicy chicken, white veggies, and spicy bean curd. Jade drinks tea; I get a huge bottle of Yanjing beer. Together we cannot finish it (except for the beer). She picks up the $6 tab.

August 31

Breakfast – Walk a couple of blocks to a local joint. Traffic and pollution combined with excessive insecticide in hotel beginning to take toll. Get rice porridge and fried dough for about a quarter.

Tea Meeting – One of the things I wanted to do in Beijing was meet with some people from the State Information Center who want to offer an online MBA program over the Internet. We meet for two hours, then I’m off to meet Kathleen at Tiananmen and the Forbidden City for the afternoon.

Forbidden City – A foreign dignitary is visiting, so with traffic I’m fifteen minutes late and Kathleen is not in sight around Tiananmen (Heavenly Peace) Gate. This is where Mao proclaimed a "People’s Republic" on October 1, 1949 and his portrait is prominently displayed. I enter the Imperial Palace, which was begun in 1406 and eventually took perhaps one million laborers to complete. It was off limits when it was the center of power for centuries and today is the world’s largest and best-preseved ancient architectural complex. It houses the Palace Museum. Nine stands for longevity, so there are 9,999 rooms and the stairs have either nine steps or multiples of nine. I go to the ticket office. Kathleen had a driver and was twenty minutes late. She taps me on my shoulders. Good thing, because after buying more film I am flat broke. After splitting up, we bump into each other at the exit and head for McDonald’s. After lunch, she goes to Temple of Heaven and I wander the hutong (slums) a bit.

Peking Opera – I intend to get the cheap seats but spend $11 that includes tea and refreshments. I’m seated at a table with older couples from France and Denmark who speak some English, and a young Japanese woman who does not. The opera is very colorful but I don’t have my camera. I buy some souvenirs on the way out, including ornamental chop sticks I want to try out.

Dinner – Wander around a bit and decide on an outdoor joint. No one speaks English. Manager says "moo" and I nod. He says "beer" and I nod. Waitress brings a mystery dish, then pepper steak. Later, she gives me check for $20. Last night cost $6 for two and twice the food. I can do the math – she is tipping herself about 150%. I consider alternatives but pay. As I finish my beer, the manager returns with her "tip." I still overpay, but figure the lesson is worth it and the manager saves face. Take taxi to hotel, but don’t have exact change so cabbie shorts himself. I go to the front desk for change but he is down the street picking up another fare. I hustle to his window and give him the rest of my fare. He is delighted and so am I.

[Leaving Home] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Settling in Shanghai] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Getting to Work] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Becoming Routine] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Western Contacts] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) ["National Day" Trip] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Meeting Folks] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Plenty to Eat] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Downtown] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [South by Southwest] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Socializing] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Dance Fever] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Exchanges] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Business Week] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [North by Northeast] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Computer Crash] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [The Good and the Bad] arrow.jpg (877 bytes) [Wrapping Up]


Copyright 1998 Paul Miesing. All rights reserved. Please do not use without permission unless in the People’s Republic of China which does not enforce intellectual property rights. Revised on January 17, 2001.