(Story 4) Bullfrog's (AKA Gordy Snyder) really great world tour
With those words spoken, we were on our way again, leaving Benxi for Shenyang and the 1-hour flight to Beijing … 2 people, 2 suitcases, and 4 carry-on bags. Time passed quickly as Ms. Sun tried to teach me numbers and simple phrases in Chinese, and I taught her common phrases in English. One – yi (pronounced e;) two – er (pronounced r;) three – san; Good morning – zao shang hao; hello – ni hao; good by – jai jian; good afternoon – xia wu hao; good night – wan an … and so it went, me sounding like an idiot as we zoomed across the countryside. Even the driver laughed.
Airport buildings in China are creatively modern, with liberal use of steel and glass in unique patterns for structure and appeal. Very open and alive with light. Shenyang was no different. Check in is very efficient. Find your flight listing on a big screen; the language alternates between English and Chinese. Go to the specified counter, present your ticket and I.D., check the bags, get a boarding pass, proceed through security and go to the departure gate. Boarding starts about 20 minutes before departure time and is completed quickly. No boarding by rows, just get in line, a scan of the bar code on your boarding pass and onto the plane. Pushback from the gate is typically right on schedule. No problems putting my camera equipment in the luggage bin above the seats.
As we neared Beijing, portions of the Great Wall along a stretch of shear-cliff mountains were clearly visible from 25,000 feet. You must marvel at the engineering ability and determination of those who labored centuries ago to create this great fortification.
Little did we know what loomed before us on the 2 hour drive from Beijing to Tangshan. Had we, perhaps we would have hired another driver (or even walked – not really.) The country side went by – to repeat an often used phrase – “Like a speeding bullet.” Fast wasn’t the problem, it was the reckless abandon and lack of judgment shown by the driver. In one lane then the other; cutting in and out; through a short, one-lane construction zones at 120 km/hr (that’s 72 mph, folks,) it was all quite routine for the driver but kept Ms. Sun and I on the edge of the back seat looking at each other wondering. A few cars passed us as if we were standing still. It was necessary to slow down and stop at all but the final toll booth. What about the last, you ask? We sailed right through the far right lane at about 40 km/hr (36 mph.) When asked, the driver explained that “he was a driver for the army and we were in a special car with army I.D. tags.” To make matters worse, two drivers shared the duties. When we reached the outskirts of Tangshan and traffic became more congested, the drivers switched places. The other’s specialty had to be cutting in and cutting off – other cars, trucks, busses, scooters, bicycles, large or small – it didn’t make any difference, he was determined to mussel his way through traffic. And the constant use of the horn. It really made no difference, the noise from our car blended with the constant honking from other vehicles all crammed for space on the heavily used boulevard. Needless to say, we were relieved when we arrived at the Tang Shan Hotel.
Room 901 was rather small (by US standards) but the view was unopposed by surrounding buildings. I could watch the people and traffic on the streets below and listen to the horns and whistles late into the evening. There was a huge traffic circle a short distance from the hotel. This would be the location of one of my most favorite memories of three weeks in China.
Two customer visits were scheduled, pictures of new equipment one day and meetings the next.
Upon returning to the hotel the first day, I heard the sounds of drums and cymbals coming from the traffic circle. Upon completion of a visit report and after checking email (on a very slow Ethernet connection) I decide to take a look.
With cameras in hand I walked down to the traffic circle. Performers were beating huge leather-covered drums – no heavy metal here – just the constant methodical beating of drums and cymbals, while the people playing drums danced, all in brightly colored costumes. In addition, there were performers dressed in elaborate costumes, lions, dragons, tigers. (I watched this part of the program from the hotel window.) I worked my way to the front of the crowd, caught the eye of one of the performers, and in my best sign language indicated that I wanted to take a picture of the performers. They all came to the front of the stage and formed a group. By this time, there was a huge crowd of people around me, watching me and wondering what I was doing. To say the least, I was causing a big commotion. After taking 3 or 4 pictures the group leader came over to me; I had no idea what she was saying. She was using her hands to gesture something, I didn’t know what. I turned around and called out to the crowd, “Does anyone speak English?” Not one response. Finally someone produced a business card, in Chinese of course. I said to her, “Copy?” A huge smile appeared on her face. “You want copy?” I said. “Yes,” she replied. I gestured to write the name and address. Someone produced a pen and paper, she wrote the name and address. Then of all things, the lead dancer asked me to take additional pictures, just of her. So back to the stage where she posed, and I took more pictures. As best I could try to make them understand, I said that I would send copies by mail. “By mail, by mail.” I don’t think they understood. The next afternoon Ms. Maria and I returned to talk with the performers. She explained that the camera was digital, and I would send copies by mail from the US after I returned home in June. They appreciated the explanation and would wait for the mail. (They didn’t know what happened to me, when I didn’t return the previous afternoon.) They were members of the Tangshan Traditional Art Group; Tangshan Old Peoples Association. All the performers and drum players are retired, and they do this for recreation, keeping fit and have lots of fun doing it. They put on two 4-hour performances every day. There was no idle time for these folks. I have the business card and hand-written note in my wallet; they are the most special souvenirs of the visit to China.
Cashing traveler’s checks continued to be a problem. After a stop at the main office of the Bank of China in Tangshan, we were headed back to Beijing by “hired car” complete with two drivers, for the night and a Saturday morning flight to Yantai. Something in my head reminded me; check to be sure you have everything. Well, I didn’t; my plant-visit notebook was missing. Ms. Sun called the hotel … not in the room. She called Mr. Ding at the steel mill … not in his office. It was lost. The 2-hour ride to Beijing was even longer due to my wondering what happened to the notebook. “How could I have been so careless?” I kept thinking over and over to myself. “Don’t worry,” Ms. Sun said optimistically, “you will find it.” I was very quiet the entire drive, just staring out the window, wondering. Not my usual self, that’s for sure. As we neared Beijing’s airport, Ms. Sun’s mobile phone rang. It was Mr. Ding. A worker in the plant found my notebook in the shop. Without my realizing, it must have fallen out of my pocket. I was greatly relieved and asked that several pages be faxed to the hotel so I could complete my visit report that night. The notebook would be sent to Shanghai; we would return to “home-base” at the end of the week.
One final hurdle for the day. Friday afternoon service-road traffic around the airport was at a complete standstill. The highway from Tangshan came in on the east side; we had to get to the opposite side to reach the hotel. The road narrowed from 3 lanes, to 2 lanes to 1. Horns honking, cutting in and out, under active runways with planes passing above us. It took the better part of one hour to go perhaps 5 km (3 miles.) At one point, the “other driver” got out of the car and started walking. Don’t know where he was going or what he thought he could do. Just got out of the car a walked away. He returned 15 to 20 minutes later. Oh well! We eventually cleared the bottle-neck and found the hotel.
From outside, you’d think the Blue Sky Mansion at the Beijing airport was a palace. The lobby – yes, my room for the night – no. After check-in, the bell boy carried my suitcases to the room on the 7th floor. As is normal custom in China, bell boys just leave the room and return to the lobby. This kid just stood in the middle of the room. He continued to stand there even after I said “thank you” several more time. It dawned on me, “You want a tip?” I said in a very perturbed voice. “Yes,” he replied. I gave him 10 RMB ($1.25.) He offered me a cigarette – I refused – and he left the room, money in pocket. “Extortion,” I said to myself. This room was hardy the Ritz. There were dark stains and many cigarette burns in the carpet. It looked just plain dirty. The arrangement of the furniture was all wrong for anyone wanting to use the desk and Internet, this time a telephone dial-up. I rearranged the room. Large, comfy-looking arm chairs and couch were right out of the 2nd-hand store. Within 15 minutes there was a knock on the door. A different bell boy handed me three fax pages. Mr. Ding came through, and I completed my report. Not having eaten since morning, a tuna fish sandwich in the lobby café was the perfect nightcap. Back in the room, I checked the sheets and pillow cases for stains before getting into bed; they were clean. I guess that these rooms get very heavy usage due to the hotel’s nearness to the airport. I’m glad we were there for only one night. To top it off, the receptionist at the front desk seemed to have an attitude problem; not the usual Chinese friendliness.
In the morning a very small traditional Chinese breakfast was served (for a small fee) in the dining room behind the main building. It was there that I learned that I could spit a watermelon seed 4 meters. Bags in hand, we were on our way to the airport for the morning flight to Yantai. “Zou ba!”
Yantai is the apple capital of China. Look for the next installment in several days.
Oh, about the title: “Zou ba!” means “Let’s go!”
Toll booth at the entrance to the highway to Shenyang. Notice the hotel on the hill in the background.
Rich farmland along the highway to Shenyang. (Sorry about the guard rail.) Farmers use animals and their own muscle power to till the soil; very little use of tractors and other machinery.
Interior of Shenyang airport; a light and airy feeling through a creative blend of steel and glass
Concession stands in the departure lounge. Juices, snacks, gift items, toiletries, cigarettes, clothing and reading material (to name a few) can be purchased.
Farmland and factories on the approach to Beijing airport.
Trees along the highway are just a blurr as we zoomed along the highway to Tangshan at 120 km/hour. Notice the reflection of my picture notebook on the window.
The hired photographer takes a picture of me as I take a picture of him.
The hat makes an appearance in the mill.
Performers pose. Elaborate costumes of lions, dragons and tigers are on the table in the background.
My turn at beating the drums.