We arrived after nearly thirty-six hours of travel. The flight over was misery due to seats that would be better off in a torture chamber than on a modern airliner. Food on the aircraft was good; service was decent. But those seats...
A few things leap out so far:
1. The air quality is unbelievable. Even at 3:00p, visibility can't have been above 1/4 mile, and was probably less than that. What will their lung disease and birth defect rates be like in five or ten years???
2. The city is tidy (little or no litter) but dingy. Everything looks dirty
3. The people have been friendly so far. How they stare! One young lady even took a photo of my (blonde) wife and paid her some nice compliments about her looks. She ought to see my wife when she's not totally fagged out from travel, stress and want of sleep
4. It's nice to see other people out with their children. Two young ladies were trying to fly kites with their kids, which was hard due to a want of wind. Out guide, "Bill", stepped in and helped out. The kids enjoyed it. He has done such a good job so far, gently keeping everybody on track and together. He's very good with the children...
Perhaps I should digress here and write a few words about our fellow travelers. The B family, who are adopting our daughter's foster sister, are Californians who've brought their three children. Little K is an adorable girl; the two boys, N and L, are 100% boy, full of fun and energy. The E family are Alaskans who've brought their son. Like N and L, he is 100% boy, at full throttle every second. I can see that I will have to get myself into much better shape just to keep up with my own daughter!
At any rate, the kids have taken right to Bill, who is himself the father of a nineteen year-old daughter.
5. Bill arranged lunch for us in quite a nice restaurant today: we had a private dining room. He ordered for us, so we ate in the Chinese style of shared dishes. DELICIOUS. I ate everything set before me, even the green stuff. I told Bill that I wouldn't touch Chinese food as a boy, that I was scared of it (I didn't say that I grew up thinking that it was all cat and dog). Well, THAT problem has been permanently solved!
6. The people in general are, as expected, much slighter of build than most Americans. They are not especially shorter, however, and we have seen some rather tall people. Both of us look at little girls on the streets and wonder if Caroline will look that way in a few years
7. I so wish that I had studied my Mandarin harder. It humiliates me to be unable to speak politely to the people here, or even make basic desires known. I know that I butch up what I try to say, and that makes me even more shy about trying. Well, I get what I deserve. Laziness is such a bad habit.
In all, I'm very glad that I'm here. I don't say that I love the country, but I think that I could easily learn to do so. I so, so, so much regret that things are as they are between our two countries. There's no good reason for it. There's no good reason that our country and China shouldn't get on as well as we do with Canada or Japan or even France. I hope that, in some tiny way, our visit will help that. Certainly there is one more American who desires peace and real friendship with China, who wants hands across the Pacific and not angry or even suspicious looks.