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
After our last day and final day touring Beijing, we headed for the airport. Unfortunately, two of our fellow tour-mates, Mr & Mrs. Kiefer, or as we have affectionately come to know them, "Mama and Papa" had an earlier flight, and since we had only one bus with which to transport everyone, we were stuck going early.
At this point, Cheryl and I were panicky since we had so many carry -ons. Our intention was to buy duffle bags (or "Philippino Bags" as one of the couples on the tour referred to these very popular red, white and blue mesh bags) to put all of our clothes in, leaving our luggage free to pack our souvenirs and purchases in - but, we could not find any.
Harry, our tour guide in Beijing, helped us to buy folding luggage carts at the airport. These carts were pretty low quality, but they served their purpose. The China hats we bought at the Great Wall had to stay on our heads and we looked looked like total "Guylos."
At 6:00PM we boarded the flight from hell to Xi'an! A horrible plane with horrible food. Cheryl and I had our hand trucks and everyone on the flight was staring. Granted, we had a lot of stuff and I was wearing my straw hat - couldn't really blame them!
The flight attendant helped us to put our hats in the back closet, which by the way, smelled like urine. One of the passengers, a French woman said, in French and with an tremendous attitude, "it's Americans!" as we walked by. I got pissed and looked at her and her other French group and said "Don't you talk about Americans!." I don't really think it had any impact on them
Cheryl's seat was a row behind me and to the left of where me, Andrew and Janice were sitting. I ate too much chocolate on this flight as that is mostly what was in our "lunch box."
When we took off, it sounded like Orvil Reddinbocker popcorn popping because the overhead compartments were popping open. Perhaps it was from the air pressure. We didn't know, but it was clear that this was an old, tired plane!
The airport in Xi'an was the smallest airport in the world - or at least the smallest one I had ever seen. It looked like the field that The Wright Brothers took off in for the first time. As we landed, people were riding bicycles on the runway and with no real rhyme or reason. We realized later, they were the "ground crew."
We didn't de-plane into a terminal, but instead right off the plane and onto the runway, where we walked to the exit. We got pictures of this as it would have been way to ridiculous to try to explain.
Lee, our local tour guide in Xi'an met us as we entered the terminal, which was more like a few walls with a roof on it. Back in 1991, Xi'an was much more Chinese and less western than Shanghai or Beijing; and it was more primitive and less developed.
There were all kinds of markets and stands lining the sides of the roads, with local vendors selling food and various products. Most of the buildings were just 1-story tall and not at all modern.
Mama and Papa were waiting for us when we arrived at the hotel as their bags had not yet arrived from the earlier flight they were on. At this point, they were all cranky because they were hungry and had not eaten. Of course, Cheryl who had no patience, commented to me that since they had been there so long, they should have shot the lock off their wallet and ate at the hotel. She was referring to the fact that it would not have been a meal included in the tour price.
That evening, we ate dinner at the hotel -- it was OK. Of course, we had to sit through another meal hearing about Mama and Papa's teaching experience in Wuzhou, China. Cheryl and I also observed that Mama doesn't listen to anyone else, as she thinks she's the only one who's ever experienced anything.
Janice, Andrew, Cheryl and I walked back to the hotel from dinner, which was about a ten minute walk. We really enjoyed ourselves taking in this unique city. There was no traffic order like in the other cities we had visited on the trip. For example, horse and carriages were coming down the dirt road at the same time as the trollies. We cringed each time, just waiting for an accident to occur. Vendors were lined up everywhere, with no rhyme or reason.
Back in front of the hotel, we stopped to look at some of the vendors' merchandise. At this point, in China, westerners were a bit of a novelty in certain cities. As we stopped to browse at some embroidered jackets, the vendor welcomed us to try them on. When we did, a huge crowd formed and encircled us. They were watching us - actually intently staring and listening to everything we said. It was like we were celebrities.
This same thing happened several times as we moved from vendor to vendor, however, the embroidered jacket booth drew the largest crowd. We assumed this was one of those cities that didn't get many tourists.
I was happy though, because this is how I envisioned China. I looked forward to bargaining with these guys the next day as we planned to go back.
We ended the night with a drink in the hotel bar with Janice and Andrew. It had been a great day. The shopping experience really added something different to this trip.
So far we had taken 396 pictures and 11 rolls of film.
Don't forget to check in for Part 13: Terra Cotta Soldier Museum