The shock of the last week and a half has worn off and I can now put fingers to keys and begin the arduous task of chronicling Nancy and Sophie’s visit to China, which began on October 23. Due to lapses in my memory, it’s unlikely I will be able to recall many details, at this belated date. As I write this, I haven’t even decided on the structure. As it will probably take a couple of weeks to post all of the material, it makes sense to use each travel destination as its own posting.
I may even sink into a new funk that could derail my focus and impinge my writing ability, if for example, I read that either Rudy Guiliani, Newt Gingrich or, horror of horrors, John Bolton is named Secretary of State. To paraphrase a line from the classic movie, “Forbidden Planet,” these guys are a nightmare in any galaxy. But, as usual, I digress:
Nancy and Sophie arrived Sunday, October 23 after a twelve hour flight from San Francisco. The arrival went smoothly enough but, in the immortal words of Gilda Radner: “It’s always something.” “That something” was like a scene out of a bad sit-com episode. At the airport, Nancy left one of her checked bags behind and frantically had the driver, who picked them up, return to the baggage claim area and after some failed attempts to communicate with some airport personnel about what happened, went back to the baggage area to discover that airport security was all over her bag, although had not opened it, no doubt for fear of a boobie-trap. Airport security in China is vastly more serious and thorough than in America. By the way, am I the only one who, whenever I hear “boobie-trap”, thinks of Jessica Rabbit? (“Nice boobie-trap.”) After they grilled and photographed her, (Nancy, not Jessica) she was allowed to take her offending luggage and go on her way.
The first night, they stayed in the Holiday Inn, which is next door to my apartment. (See the previous post if you’re dying to see both buildings.) That night, after work, I picked them up and returned to U-Center, where I work, as there is a mall attached to the office building and there are a panoply of food choices.
As previously, I pressed a co-worker who speaks Mandarin to join us to do the hard work of ordering food. We went to the same hotpot restaurant that I took Andrea to, back in July when she visited from San Francisco. I find hotpot dining a bit exasperating because of the mechanics involved with fishing food out of a blazing hot cauldron and the resulting mess, but it IS an experience. This time, I got a new EF employee, Minnie, to help out. Minnie was a student at EF a few weeks previously, when I asked her if she was interested in joining us as we made our way around Beijing and coincidentally, she took a job there shortly after she agreed to help out. No doubt she has the sobriquet “Minnie” because she’s all of four foot, nine inches tall, allowing four foot, eleven and a half inch Sophie to constantly and amusingly remark “she’s so tiny.” More about Minnie in later posts. Like Andrea, Nancy and Sophie struggled to stay awake during dinner, due to the effects of jet-lag coupled with a long, long day of travel.
The next day, they checked out of the Holiday Inn and checked into “Chez Brian.” We then trotted off to the local police station to get them “registered.” OK, now here’s a difference between America and China. Here, the authorities want to keep tabs on where you are (at least on paper) when visiting, so it’s mandatory to register with the local police within 24 hours of your arrival. That process was headache causing for me when I needed to register after I moved into my apartment. There always seems to be requirements that don’t make a whole lot of sense unless you consider the fact that it keeps a lot of people “gainfully” employed. I faced the same hassle that Nancy and Sophie would face many months later but in my case, I ended up paying what amounted to a bribe of $45 to make the problem “go away.” Did I say “bribe”? Pardon me; I meant “consulting fee.”
How naive of me to think that something as seemingly innocuous as registering tourists would go smoothly. We got down to the police station and we were shown paperwork that indicated I needed to have the landlord of my apartment come down there and attest to the facts of their visit as well as my own legitimacy as her tenent, even though she had absolutely nothing to do with anything about any guests here visiting me. I contacted my apartment agent who said he’d try to fix things for me similar to the last time (for a “consulting fee”, of course.) so we felt ok to go off and do some sightseeing, which in hindsight was not the wisest of choices. With Minnie in tow, (and after a “killer lunch” of dumplings) we headed off to the world-famous “Silk Market” (see previous posting) to do some “knock-off” shopping. It was a one hour, three-transfer subway ride and soon after we got there, my agent contacted me and said he could fix the problem by having his “friend” take care of the hassle for 600 RMB. This time, I didn’t “bite” but he was kind enough to speak with Minnie and send me some type of proxy form that Minnie (writing, on behalf of the landlord) could fill out and show the police and that would take care of things. So, after a one-hour schlep across town, we hurried out of the Silk Market, having done no shopping, to reverse the travel process, going back to my apartment to retrieve my rental contract and head back to the police station, which we did, ten minutes before they closed. (although we were all a bit freaked out the whole time about being too late and therefore in violation, really, ten minutes before closing was hardly suspenseful at all.)
So, our first full day was a bit of a train wreck. We did go to The Bridge Cafe (again, previously written about) for dinner for some rather familiar western-fare and the amusement of watching Minnie struggle with a knife and fork. (See pictures.) The next day was our outing to The Great Wall and thankfully, that went much, much better.