(Written somewhere over the Pacific on April 21, 2008)
Kite-Flying in China
I awakened Sunday morning, April 13th, in Shenyang, Northern China, and decided to go for a walk! I had an hour or two of free time, the sky was sunny, and my spirits were high!
Going for a walk along the broad streets of this northern Chinese province is an interesting experience. One must have a measure of confidence in order to deflect the stares of the curious Chinese who rarely see a Caucasian strolling down their streets. I didn’t see another Caucasian, besides the members of our team, the entire time we were in this city.
I decided to walk south and turn left at the first intersection. After about five minutes, I came to a large plaza, with a huge, ornate gate at its northern end. Parents and children were interspersed across the plaza, enjoying the sunny Sunday morning through the ancient and beautiful Chinese tradition of kite-flying.
I spied a dad and his daughter with their kite soaring high in the sky and realized it was a great photo op. After non-verbally getting permission to take their picture, the dad non-verbally offered to let me fly his kite!
I suck at kite-flying in China. (No, I don’t usually talk like that; but, in this case, it accurately describes my performance.) After taking the reins and watching the kite slowly descend towards earth, I quickly gave the twine back to the Chinese daddy. Of course, it immediately soared back to heaven and I was chagrined.
Oh well, the Chinese have been flying kites for thousands of years. They have more practice.
Biking in Beiling Park…
After my embarrassing and brief kite flying career, I deduced that beyond the gate was a huge park, and that one must purchase a ticket to enter the park. (Keen observation skills are necessary in the absence of language competency!) I got in a long line (there are no short lines in Asia) with a bunch of short Chinese people, watched what they did, and waited for my turn at a ticket window that was just about the height of my zyphoid.
I realized that if I bent over to peer into the zyphoid-height ticket window, my American-sized derriere would be in the face of the tiny little Chinese lady behind me; and, since I was the only Caucasian in sight, the giggles and pointing fingers clearly indicated that I was already a topic of Sunday morning conversation and I didn’t need to add any derriere humor to the situation. So, I simply held up one finger, stuck it in the little ticket window along with what I hoped would be enough Chinese Yuan to pay for the ticket, and wondered if a ticket would come out. It did! So far, so good!
I went to the gate, gave the attendant my newly-purchased ticket, and proudly entered the park! Shortly after passing through the gate, I discovered an orderly row of bicycles beside a very beautiful pond. Again, after making the best of my non-verbal communication skills, I was successful! I now had a rented Chinese bike and was going bike-riding in China just like most of the three billion Chinese people do every day!
I tooled around the Emperor’s Tomb, enjoying the astounded looks of the Chinese strolling the park who were not accustomed to seeing a Caucasian on two wheels on Sunday morning! Actually, most of the people seemed oddly pleased that I was enjoying their park, judging from their friendly smiles and waves.
This was one of my all-time favorite, but simple, travel experiences. I only wish my Jeannie had been on the seat behind me on my rented, Chinese, tandem bicycle!
Novice travelers lose things. Seasoned travelers do not. I thought this was immutable truth. It is not. I am a seasoned traveler. I lost my passport. My travel pride has been shattered. Seasoned travelers DO loose things like passports. It is NOT good to loose your passport in China. Simple sentences reflect simple truth.
On April 14, 2008, my international travel pride was shattered into a million tiny, humiliating little pieces. After a satisfying breakfast of Chinese dumplings, noodles and spicy cabbage, we dressed for the afternoon’s work, packed up, and boarded the bus to the airport for a flight to the Chinese coastal city of Qingdao, and an afternoon and evening of work.
As we bussed through the crowded Northern China city of Shenyang, one of our Chinese staffers yelled from the front of the bus, “Who left the passport in the hotel?”
Of course, we all wondered who the nitwit was who left a traveler’s most important document in the entire world. And, of course, we all looked to make sure we had our passports because one always looks to make sure he ha his passport when coming and going in a foreign land!
Think adrenalin rush! I am stuck in China! My passport was not snuggly tucked away in the pocket of my bag reserved exclusively for my well-loved little blue book! For a brief moment I considered not admitting my foolishness, balancing my own ridiculous pride against the trials of replacing my passport while in China! It took one nanosecond to come to my senses!
In front of the entire bus, I admitted my mind-numbingly stupid act, and the bus turned around to go back to the hotel. They had my passport. I had a scarlet face. Never again.