Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 7, Monday, July 12

Morning: We checked out of the hotel because our trip to Xi’an involved an overnight train ride to the city some 600 miles away and an overnight train back. No sense in paying for a hotel room those two nights. We’d be checking back in to the hotel when we returned to Beijing Wednesday morning. We had breakfast again at the bagel shop. This day, the fench fries are bigger with less salt.

Afternoon: The Beijing Review where Brandon works is about a 30-minute subway-bus ride away from the Donzhimen district of town where our hotel and Brandon’s apartment are located. We handle the subway well but the bus driver skips a stop and we’re left off one stop beyond where we should have been. The cell phone got its first use, and Brandon came to where we were and walked us back to the area of the Beijing Review, an English langauge weekly news magazine similar to TIME. Before visiting his office, we have lunch in a small restaurant in a back alley.

Around 1:30 we head to the magazine’s office. Brandon wants Joe and I to meet his co-workers and his bosses. According to custom, we’ve brought gifts for many of them. Mary Ruth and I had traveled to the Boyertown area to purchase four Pa. Dutch hand towels for some of the ladies in the office. A history book about Tamaqua was purchased for another. Hershey chocolate bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups were placed near the water cooler. And for the big boss, a special gift was in order. Brandon had suggested something to do with the history of Tamaqua, relating to either mining or railroading. After visits to Jim Thorpe, Lansford and Eckly, I eventually tracked down a hand-carved, hand-painted American miner figure at the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton.

Brandon’s co-workers and bosses praised his work. They did the same when his Mom visited earlier. One boss asked if Brandon would be staying after his year contract had ended. I took that as an indication he might be offered a new contract. Before leaving, Brandon showed us a display in the building lobby – a display of the people who produced a special video on Shanghai’s World Expo. Brandon had been part of that team.

Brandon walked us to the bus stop and gave us final instructions for our trip to Xi’an. I patted my shirt pocket and the cell phone inside it.

We arrived at the Beijing Railroad Station West about four hours before boarding time. The building resembles a huge oriental temple. Hundreds of Chinese scurried to make their train connections. Waiting rooms overflowed. Joe and I decided to wait on the uncrowded second floor. We picked out a clean looking spot and sat down. I spent some time reading my Ted Kennedy book and watching the people pass below.

Finally, it was boarding time, and we moved to the waiting room. As I stood in line, a young Chinese man, perhaps about 16, started a conversation in English. He said he would soon be going to a summer program at Brown University and he wondered what Boston was like. He also wanted to know how much we had paid for our flight to China. I think he had hoped we would be in the same rail car but we were not. Before we parted, I told him that he spoke English very well. I asked him how he had accomplished that. “I practice,” he said and smiled.

Since all the sleeping compartments had been booked that evening, we rode the train for 12 hours in seats similar to those in the airplane but without movies, food service or a chart showing how far the train had traveled. I tried sleeping sitting up with some success. The young man next to me put his food tray down and was slumped over it. That worked, too.

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