Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Trip to Visit China in 1996

I dreamed that I went back to China, and was often lost there because I didn’t know where my parents’ apartment was. Or I was somehow working at the same institute where I was before, only there was something missing that I needed to come back to America.
     A surprise chance to visit China came up when Anthony was to attend a meeting in Kunming in my neighboring province. Originally, we had planned to see my cousins in the UK. The decision came after April. We balanced our budget. Yes, we had enough money to take our family of four. The excitement came both within our family and back in China. My mom sent me information on possible site-seeing. My brother wanted us to visit him in Hainan, the little island called “The Hawaii of the Orient.” My aunts and uncles wrote that they would come to see us at my parents’ place if we could not make it to their place.
     Then the fear of this long trip came when Flight_800 exploded in the air right before our trip to China. I started to rethink whether it was the right time to go to China, even though our children had all the necessary shots. Just the long flight itself made me feel very nervous. The tickets were already booked. My brother had already made calls to finalize the airline tickets within China. My father-in-law was going with us too. Everything was ready but I didn’t want to go anymore. I didn’t want to risk all my children. The only thing that I could do was to pray for God’s protection from danger, evil, disease, and disaster. Jonathan got chicken pox on the last day of preschool. Two weeks later, Richard got it too. Fortunately, they were better before we left.
     Our Flight was scheduled to depart at 6:00 PM from Boston to Chicago. Our neighbor Una’s husband gave us a ride to the airport. We arrived in Chicago about 8:00 PM. For some reason, our plane could not land yet. We circled over Chicago for about one hour. Finally, we landed and ran to the connecting flight to China. We ended up in the last few rows of the plane. Anthony’s father was excited to say that he had never been on a Boeing this big before. However, it was not as new as the one that I took ten years before. We waited and waited. “We have some mechanical problems and our mechanics are trying to fix it right now,” the announcement said. Then we heard this “hong, hong” underneath our seats. It sounded like a car that would not start, only much louder. “Oh, my God, please help us, there are no places to land on the Pacific Ocean.” We waited and waited. We ate another dinner at 1:00 AM although we already had dinner. Anthony’s father was impressed with the Jumbo Cocktail Shrimp to start, followed by chicken or pork for dinner. We never had this kind of dinner on the plane. It did distract us for awhile from the noise underneath the plane. After dinner, the plane was still not fixed, so they sent us to a hotel nearby with our carry-ons only. We dragged along Jonathan and Richard since they were almost sleep.
     We waited outside for a shuttle bus. Unfortunately, there was only one bus available at this hour. It was already 3:00 AM. In order to speed up the process, airport employees volunteered their own cars to drop us off at the hotel. A man with his minivan came. “Families with children first please,” he said. Five of us plus another man boarded his van. “I am George; I am a school teacher, working at the airport on the weekends. I know the hotel nearby, but I cannot promise no wrong turns.” He drove us from the airport to the hotel. He wondered for a second at intersections. We arrived at the Sheraton, but it was the wrong one. He turned around and used his car phone to talk for awhile. Finally, we arrived at the right one. We finally settled down in our room and put the kids to sleep. I was still excited and could not sleep. So, I turned on CNN. “An unexploded pipe bomb was found on a Chicago Airport runway early in the evening. No one knows how it got there.” “Oh my, that’s why we were circling above in the sky for a hour,” Anthony said. “I thought I heard someone talking about a pipe bomb after we landed. Then the News continued, “A student shot his professor and fellow student in California… An unidentified woman’s body was found in the woods of Chicago, etc.” That’s enough news. I turned off TV and tried to get some sleep.
     Finally, we started the long flight the next day. We arrived at Beijing International Airport at midnight. It was drizzling and muggy. Our plane was the only one to land at this late hour. Here, we were in China. I could even smell it. We got off the plane, and we used the bathroom, which was a pretty good one. Yet, Anthony’s father took a picture because it was squat Asian kind.
      At 5:30 AM the next day, I awoke and looked out our window. A young man was making pancakes outside with a coal stove and a little table. A young woman just came out from a shelter made from some old plastic. She looked like she just woke up and started to comb her hair. I realized that the little shelter must be their home. A few minutes later, she too started to work by cleaning the vegetables for filling the buns her husband was preparing. Suddenly, I felt tears rolling down my face. Poor things, that’s all they had. What a hard life! I was wondering what they were going to do in the winter when it was freezing cold. They had to take the stove inside of their shelter, I guess.
     I went downstairs and went outside the hotel gate where there was a guard or gatekeeper already up. I walked to the man who was making pancakes. “How much are those pancakes?,” I asked. “1.75 Yuan,” he answered. I asked for four and gave him 10 Yuan and he said that I was his first customer so he had no change for me yet. I told him to keep the change. Then I went further down the street. I saw a farmer with a load of fresh peaches. They looked so fresh and big. I got two pounds of peaches. I spent less than two dollars and I was going to feed a family of five. Everyone enjoyed his or her breakfast.
     The morning sun had gone up to the sky. I was so shocked to see how small Tiananmen was compared to the new skyscrapers of foreign corporations. I remembered my long walk around Tiananmen Square the first time when I came to Beijing for a business trip. Now the taxi took us in minutes. Then I noticed the cars, bicyclists, and the pedestrians. The city looked like a big fair. Traffic policemen were busy directing the traffic with the help of the lights. What a mass of people!
       While waiting at the airport, I took Jonathan and Richard to the restrooms. Everyone seemed to be interested to see my mixed children. I lined up to use the bathroom while talking to the people inside. People behind me kept sneaking into the bathroom one by one before me. When the next one was free, the one behind me was already in front of me ready to go in. The lady talking to me stopped her.  The one behind me just smiled back. I suddenly woke up that I was in China with many curious people; so after that, I simply said “I am babysitting these children.”  That worked and people moved on after that answer.
     We boarded a Russian-made plane to Kunming. It was steamy hot inside the plane because the air conditioner was broken. An announcement told us it would cool down when the plane took off. Jonathan was all red and kept asking for a drink. Richard was pretty good. It did get better after the plane took off. The seats were not as good as on the Boeing, of course. It was cloudy most of the way to the southwest until we were close to Kunming.
     The weather in Kunming was sunny, cool, and windy. The meeting organizer had a van waiting for us outside. While loading our luggage, I noticed that one of the men looked very familiar. I couldn’t recall where we met before. Then the bus took us to the hotel where the meeting was going to be. Although I had been in the city three times before, I could hardly recognize anything as we passed through the city. Everyone was in a hurry. The driver had to break suddenly several times to avoid hitting people.
     In the daytime, when Anthony and his father were at their meeting, I took the kids to look around. There was a farmer’s market right across the street. It was so familiar to me except with much more choices of everything. Then, I saw cages of chickens for sale. The customer could pick the live chicken, and the seller could kill and clean it while you waited. Jonathan and Richard were petting the chickens first, then saw the whole process. They were shocked to know how chickens came to our dinner table. I explained the whole thing to Jonathan. “Oh!,” he replied. I regretted letting them see the whole thing almost immediately, because I recalled that we told him how lobsters and crabs in the little aquarium of the supermarket came to our dinner table, so he refused to eat them. Chicken was one his favorite foods. We had chicken for dinner that day. They seemed to forget all about how the chicken came to our table.
     The third day, one of my brother’s friends, who was the manager for a small perfume company, came with his company’s van and took us to the “Stone Forest” and “Western Hills.” Personally, I had visited both places and it would be a very tight schedule for both places in one day because they were in opposite directions. Taking along two kids and being my father-in-law’s interpreter would not be a fun trip. After the Stone Forest, I was ready to go back to Kunming without visiting the Western Hills. However, my father-in-law really wanted to go, so we went. It was an easier trip because we took the cable car up. My father-in-law climbed up by himself because he was scared that maybe the cable car could not support his weight.  I was terrified up there with Richard and asked the driver to take Jonathan on his car. It looked like we could fall though. I kept looking back to see Jonathan and told him to sit still. Richard was holding me very tightly. He must have noticed the height.
      By the time we finally reached the top, my father-in-law was already there. He said that if there were no people in front of him, he would have gotten there faster. We looked down and far away to Kunming and the Lake. The cars down below looked like little matchbox cars that my sons had at home. My sons, of course, didn’t have any fear of being at the top at all. They wanted us to pick them up to look down. I was scared now even though I was not scared ten years before when I came here to the same spot. Maybe, because I had my children now.
     The next day, we packed up our stuff and checked out, and waited at the lobby for the bus to take us to the airport.  While we sat waiting, I saw the man who picked up us at airport. We both noticed each other this time. We looked at each other. “Did we meet somewhere before,” I asked. We started to talk. Finally, we figured out that we were in the same English training class for awhile. He was not able to go abroad. Now, he was married with one child.
     It was a smooth ride to the airport and our plane was on time. About 4 PM, we arrived at the Chengdu Airport on time. I saw my father waiting outside. After we checked our baggage, we went out, and we saw my father, sister, and uncle. It was the first time for Jonathan and Richard to see them, although Jonathan said that he “met” my father before, not my sister or uncle.
     My parent’s condo looked about the same except it was older since they did not do any remodeling. I did find a lot of things still the same. I felt at home right away. We had dinner and my favorite wine made by nuns in Mount_Qingcheng.  My father-in-law was not feeling well. After dinner, my brother came back with a lot of tropical fruits that did not help my in-law’s stomach.
     The next evening, my father-in-law started to have chills and was sweating. He looked really weak and pale. My father insisted that we should send him to the hospital for a checkup, maybe get an IV for dehydration. My father-in-law was scared and did not want to go. After an hour of persuasion, he agreed to go to the clinic at my parent’s institute. It was almost 10 PM; the doctor there could not get any lab results because the lab has closed. Therefore, she suggested that we should go to the Provincial Hospital that was better equipped. My father and I took him by taxi to the hospital. When we arrived, there were few patients. Since all the patients were waiting inside the doctors’ office while the doctor was checking and talking to other patients, it seemed very crowded without any privacy.  My father-in-law started crying and regretted coming with us; he thought he would die in China. 
     My father went to find an English-speaking doctor. He came back with one 15 minutes later. The doctor came and checked my father-in-law and asked whether he had any other health problems. He ordered a stool sample. I took him to the bathroom. You couldn’t imagine how awful the bathroom looked to him since he was weak. I was telling him that it was not that bad and he was in good hands.
     It took about 30 minutes for all the lab results. We took them to the doctor. He said that my father-in-law was fine, no bacterial infections, just severely dehydrated. I asked him whether he needed an IV. He said it was not necessary. He gave him a few packages of powder to mix with water to drink. My father-in-law felt much better even without any medicine yet.
    He was better again. My brother rented a car for us for a few days. He took us to the Chengdu Zoo where my children and Anthony and his Dad saw a real Giant Panda for the first time. We went to a few other parks where Anthony and his father enjoyed the oriental gardens.
     Then my brother’s friend took my father-in-law to Mt. Emei, a mountain from 500 to 3000 meters elevation.  They drove up and came down by foot.  It was raining, so my brother’s friend suggested to just drive down.  He refused; he wanted to walk down in the cold rain since he had outdoor gear.  He was surprised why they did not prepare for the trip.  He came home after the three-day trip and ached all over.
     My mom took out the last quarter bottle of Tiger Bone Liquor, it looked like dark scotch.  My father-in-law curiously watching my mom put it into a shot glass.  He held it for a minute, still wondering whether he should drink it. So he took a very little sip.  “Oh! Very good!” He took a bigger sip, then finished it in no time.  The next day, he told us that he was much better.  He loved the Tiger Bone Liquor so much that he finished the remainder in the bottle without any of us noticing.  He wanted more; I told him he should know the Tiger Bone ban has been effect for quite a long time now.  This leftover liquor had been in my home for many years. Now, there was no more!
     My mom went out the next morning; she was gone all day without letting us know where she was going.  It was almost dinnertime when she came back without saying a word.  Later on my aunt told me that my mom went to every one of her places for rare things, hoping to find Tiger Bone Liquor, but failed.
     We flew to Haikou where my brother worked. He met us at the airport and took us on a car trip down the island to Sanya.  Although it was hot there, at least there was the ocean breeze. Our hotel was right by the ocean.  The sand was so white and the water was so clear and warm, but the waves were very strong.  I was a little scared of going in too far from the sandy beach.  I watched my husband took Richard and his father take Jonathan to ride the waves away from the shore, a little farther and father away to the point I could hardly see them.  I started screaming, “Come back, Come back… you are too far away…” That night I had a terrible dream, I dreamed the water was getting higher and higher, and our hotel was submerged in the ocean.  I guess it was the sound of waves, being too close to the water made me uncomfortable. 
     My brother drove us to the south end of the island called the “End of the Earth” and all the major sites on the island. We also went to the local aquarium. We saw the biggest spider we ever saw, and its web on the side of the road, so we had to take a picture.  We never saw that many crocodiles in one place; a local school kid was killed a few years later after we visited because he thought they were sleeping and somehow got inside. It was a horrifying scene because no one could help him when so many crocodiles attacked him at the same time.
Jonathan trying to eat steamed sea urchin
Jonathan pointing to where we were
Jonathan and Richard loved my brother's carved hardwood chairs

Tiger Farms in China Feed Thirst for Parts