Friends, new and old

Beijing Travel Blog

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Evidently I didn't upload my photos correctly and I'll try to work on it.  I think my mistake is having my camera setting on best quality so the files are over 2 megs each and I need to figure how to make them smaller.  However, on a computer that has all commands in Chinese characters it will be a challenge.  Maybe I can save them differently on the camera itself, and luckily I brought along the manual.  Otherwise in the future I'll take photos I want for this blog in small format and maybe that will work out.  Sorry you can't see my accommodations!

Anyway, if you're expecting a travelogue, this isn't it.  Until a few days hence I'm not going to "tourist" points of interest since I've already seen most of what Beijing has to offer either on my previous visits or when I lived here.  Rather, I'm hanging out, visiting with old friends, meeting new ones and generally chilling until Oct. 8 when my real work begins.

Today I'd like to talk a little about some of the wonderful people I've run into so far.

One is the young man sitting next to me on the shuttle bus from the airport.  I never found out  his name, so let's call him Li.  He seemed mid-20-ish, and had gone to college in Chengde, a small city north of Beijing.  He had worked for a year or so as concierge at the Grand Hotel, a really grand 5-star hotel which I've stayed in before next to the Beijing Hotel.  Definitely one of the finest in town.  He said he enjoyed improving his English there and helping and meeting foreigners although he only earned Y2,000 a month.  At the current exchange rate of under Y8-US$, that's only about $250 a month.  By urban standards, that's not a whole lot, especially for the capital.  Many of my old friends from CRI who "jumped into the sea" years ago were bringing down more than double that, and that was a decade ago.

Well, Li says working as a steward on China Eastern Airlines pays more (unspecified) and he enjoys flying around domestically and abroad (only to Europe so far) but he doesn't get much time on the ground to enjoy it.  He seems to be trying as much as possible to improve his English, which wasn't bad, and look for better opportunities as they come his way.  He's looking forward to working on a China-US route soon.  He wants a job he will be happy doing -- something a lot of people here have no chance of.  He generously used his phone to call my hostel and wrote down directions for me to show a cab driver -- just a wonderful, cheerful young man.  At the RR station he was going to buy a ticket to Tianjin to visit his uncle who is ill.  He was carrying presents for his aunt.

While I was trying to catch a cab on arrival at the train station, I noticed that my cell phone card had expired, and since they're available at all the soda/cigarette/newstands, I bought a new one on the corner nearby.  I had a limited conversation with the owners, all I was capable of, and we were instantly friends, they waving down cabs, sharing my disappointment when they zoomed off again, etc.  It was a nice experience.  As I wrote earlier, I finally told them to "deng yixia" (wait a moment") when what turned out to be the last cab approached to try the "Paris trick" and they flashed big smiles and a thumbs' up at its success.

A highlight Saturday was meeting my old friend, I'll call her "L" in case she doesn't want to be identifiable on a public blog.  L is Canadian, about 50 now, and we met in 1993 when we worked together at China Radio International and became even better friends after that as we traveled together.  We stay in touch whenever we're both in China at the same time.  L is truly one of my handful of really good friends.  She has worked for a Canadian government aid fund now for ten years and has gone into the boondocks of Tibet and other of the most needy provinces assessing need, awarding money if appropriate, and following up on how the funds are spent and progress made.  Most of the projects are women learning skills and crafts to become self-sufficient, and some are as simple as showing villagers how to use guttering and piping to catch more rain water to use for household and irrigation purposes.

However, she's getting a little tired of all the travel and is wondering if it's not time that China do more itself as it develops instead of continuing to let foreign aid systems do this, as was necessary in the distant past 10 or 20 years ago when China really didn't have the money or know-how to do it.  So, a fork in her career looms and she is both eager and a bit anxious as to what the future will bring.

(By the way, I was to meet her at the Friendship Store, which used to be one of the most well-known locations in the city, on Chang'An Avenue (which at that place is called Jianguomen Wai).  I was running out of yuan -- I originally would have been here on a weekday (Friday) and could have changed some at many banks, but what with my delay it's Saturday and banks were not changing money on weekends.   I didn't want to deal with an ATM, so I hoofed it to the fairly nearby Peninsula Palace Hotel where I've stayed many times with my tour groups.  I put on my Official Tour Director Pin, marched to the Exchange Desk and they changed my cash without question!  Then I engaged a taxi -- whose driver had no clue where the Friendship Store was!  That would have been unthinkable in the "old Beijing!"  It's a sign of what an anachronism the place now is with all the other shopping available.  Also, word of its closure is again premature as it's still doing business, but not as much as the shops in Oriental Plaza, for instance.  After I pointed to the location on his map the driver got there with no problem. 

L and I went around the back of the block to a restaurant called Steak and Eggs, a "diner" run by a Canadian.  Serves breakfast all day, great chicken salads, hamburgers, all the "comfort food" you could want and at very reasonable prices.  On such a pretty day we dined al fresco under umbrellas on the sidewalk and enjoyed seeing the latest xiaojie fashions on the young things with their elderly foreign boyfriends.  A tip:  get a mini dress as short as can be and then under it wear black nylon translucent mid-thigh shortshorts with lots of lace.  Lots of makeup, convoluted hairstyle, long fingernails decorated with elaborate designs, and a wiggle in the walk, giggle in the talk.  As L. observed, there's no fool like an old fool!)

Meanwhile, I spent some time over breakfast talking to Heidi, another resident of the Jade YH.  She's also about 50-ish, German with a Dutch husband, lives in Holland and teaches French and Spanish there.  She's in Beijing for a month or two on her own, learning Chinese, having a blast.  However, she made me very sad and depressed describing how her countrymen view the US.  Of course, we all know how Bush's foreign policy has been disastrous and his total abysmal disregard of European countries (or anyone besides Cheney and Halliburton) in decision-making has hurt our reputation.  But what really affected me was when Heidi said people in Europe are extending their dislike of the administration to American people in general.  I tried my best to assure her many of us are trying to change things but I'm very dejected about what this alleged leader has done to the American people, not just to the Iraqi people and on and on. 

Well, I see my time is about up and I need to get out and about.  See you when I can!

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photo by: Eric