In the Spring of 1991, my childhood friend, Cheryl met me in Hong Kong, where she spent the last of my three week business trip with me, and from there, we began our China adventure to the cities of Shanghai, Beijing and the ancient capital, Xian. I kept a very detailed journal from start to finish of my awesome journey, nearly twenty-five years ago, and decided this would make a great travel series for Travelin' Cousins. Over the course of the next two months, I will post chronological segments of my journal on my respective Throwback Thursdays. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed re-living my trip! - Elisa
Today was our last day in Shanghai. Our day was quite full of touring right up until our arrival at Shanghai airport in the late afternoon to board a China Airline flight to Beijing. Here in China, they call the capital (Beijing) Peking.
Funny little story, I have to interject here, speaking of "Peking." Working for the past few years with my toy manufacturing agents in Hong Kong, I developed a very close relationship with one woman in particular, Helen. When I told her I was interested in taking a tour throughout China, she happily arranged the tour for me and Cheryl.
My week's vacation touring China was to begin after three weeks of business in Hong Kong. Cheryl was to come after week two so she could enjoy Hong Kong before we set off on our adventure. I secured my Visa upon arrival in Hong Kong (which I usually needed anyway on my business trips since our factories were located in China and I would usually need to make one or two visits there on any given business trip). While arranging for the visa, I pulled out my China trip itinerary.
As I glanced through it, I saw that our first city was Shanghai (great!) and then I noticed that we were headed to "Peking" and from there Xi'an. I became pretty nervous and rather annoyed that Helen had not listened to me when I said I wanted to go to three cities - Shanghai, "Beijing" and Xi'an. Being the ever diplomatic and sweet person that I am, I called her up and explained that I was under the impression that my trip was to include Beijing, not Peking.
Well, if I tell you, she did not hold back with her laughter. I wasn't understanding what all the laughing was about until she enlightened me. Helen told me that Beijing and Peking are one and the same. Apparently, the Chinese government began using Beijing in 1958, but both names were still commonly used back in the early 1990's. Needless to say, I felt rather stupid, but at least Helen got a good laugh at my expense!
So, back to our travel day. After boarding our China Airlines flight bound for Beijing, we realized that many of the Chinese were not willing to pay attention to the instructions of the flight crew, to say the least. Cheryl and I sat down right away after securing our bags in the overhead compartment. Unfortunately, the plane was very stuffy, warm and possessed a strong mildew smell. We weren't too upset, after all, we were not in the United States and did not expect the same level of comfort.
What we were not prepared for was the way in which the passengers behaved. They refused to sit down in their seats; they were up and down and standing in the aisles and just out right ignored the flight attendants and even the captain's directives to sit in their seats for take off. If we didn't see it with our own eyes, we would not have believed what happened next.
Since the people would sit and then immediately get up after the flight attendant walked away, the plane began to move. These people still weren't getting that it was a safety hazard to be standing and walking around as this very large airplane was moving. What we didn't realize was that the people were way different in how they behaved on a plane versus American and European travelers.
There was a large group of Chinese tourists traveling together and what became clear after a few minutes of being on board, was that these folks were determined to get photos of themselves standing in the plane. What they weren't paying attention to were the numerous announcements by the flight crew to take their seats, buckle up and prepare for take off. These announcements were made over the speaker and from numerous flight attendants walking through the aisles.
These warnings and directives were completely ignored. These group just went on with their business to take photos of every last one in their group - and there had to be about 20. After numerous pleas to sit down and with the flight attendants safely buckled into their seats, the captain announced that we were about to start moving for take off.
At this point, the plane was moving on the runway and regardless, these people were still getting out of their seats, walking over to the wall, while their travel companions would snap a shot at them while they posed. Cheryl and I kept watching this in disbelief.
This warning was not heeded still, and with that, the captain put the aircraft in full gear while these knuckleheads were getting up, several at a time, and all at once about 5 of them went flying forward and tumbling onto the floor, on one another and against the wall. Cheryl and I laughed so loud that everyone on the plane must have heard us. It looked like the kind of thing you see in a slapstick comedy or a cartoon. Of course, we didn't mean to be insensitive, but c'mon, how stupid do you have to be!
Nonetheless, our flight was pretty smooth. Cheryl and I got a little rest and were excited to get to Beijing. Interestingly enough, once again, these nuts were at it again as we were landing. They were all getting up out of their seats to look out the windows where you could see land. I thought the plane was going to topple to one side as about 15 of them ran over to the left side of the plan to peer out the window. One again, the announcements began to stay seated and one again, they were tripping and falling into each other. It was obvious that these people had no fear of getting injured! But, for me and Cheryl it was total amusement!
Once in Beijing and off the plane, (and away from these crazies!), we were met by the EBM Tour representative and taken to the China World Hotel (a Shangrila Hotel). It was a lovely hotel!!
The flight was a tiring experience in itself, so we decided we didn't want to eat out, so Cheryl and I decided to stay in our hotel room and order in to save our energy for our first full day in the capital of China!!
What I want you to see is this postcard (illustration) that I purchased there, of what the China World Hotel looked like in 1991 and what it looks like today in 2014. Progress is an amazing thing!
Tune in two weeks from now for Part 5: Beijing: The Ming Tombs