China in 1983 – Just opened to Limited Visitors

China – A Land of Wonder

In May 1983 I embarked on a trip of a lifetime – traveling to China with a group of 18 ladies. This was the First Women’s Bicycling Trip in China since the borders were opened. We were to bicycle fbicycling-in-china-300rom Beijing to Chengdu and ship from Chengdu to Shanghai.  I shipped my Schwinn 12 speed skinny wheel bike on the airline for the 13 hour flight.

Most of the other ladies chose to borrow bikes from China. But, as a bicycle connoisseur 🙂 I was only planning to ride my own bike. I am much taller than most Chinese persons and felt it would be a benefit for the long rides. I was right.

We landed in Norita, Japan for a full day layover. We each wore a shirt stating in Chinese: American woman bicycling in China, 1983.  This tactic by our leader, Bonnie, proved several times to be a perfect introduction to these gracious and gentle people.

In Norita, even though we were exhausted by a 13-hour ride in coach, several of us went for a much needed walk. The airport was very near the small town consisting of stores, churches and parks. We had a note written in Chinese Script that we carried everywhere safely tucked away in a pocket of each of our jackets. The note was simple: Where we MUST be at flight time. As you may surmise: We needed the note!

But, before we get to the first use of the note,  I  wanted to mail a few postcards to family and friends back in the States. Now, you have to remember we could not speak a word of Chinese or Japanese and the shop owners could not speak or understand a word of English. But, that did not stop us from showing the cards, pointing to where the stamp would go and receiving remarkable help. An elderly lady, with a shop for household items, told us how to find the post (in Japanese). We graciously indicated we did not understand. She left her shop unattended and ran (literally) guiding us to the postal drop.  What glorious people!

Even with that help, we were hopelessly lost – we were easily turned around in the small town. Another shop owner picked up on our dilemma and we showed him the note. He indicated ‘no problem’ and ran to call his wife. He had his daughter with him in the shop. In the end, the daughter joined us in his car as he drove us back to our departing location. Without any command of the language, we  spoke English, bowed, smiled and tried to offer him Yen for his trouble. But, he clearly enjoyed helping us, trusted us and laughed with us as we all knew we were surely out of our element.

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