Bicycling in Mainland China
People never before exposed to Foreigners
The journey starts May 4, 1983 at 1:50 PM when we left SeaTac airport. There were 18 women set to bicycle in China: Beijing to Shanghai. The flight was nine hours and 35 minutes. We arrived in Tokyo at 3:40 in the afternoon on May 5, 1983. They are 16 hours ahead of Washington State in the USA.
We carried our luggage for miles; our hands hurt. The Tokyo airport is huge and busy. The bus to the hotel is owned by Northwest airlines in Narita. At the Narita International Airport (成田国際空港 Narita Kokusai Kūkō?) visitors must show ID; this is due to the tumultuous history of the building of the airport and the violent protests before, during and after the opening in 1978. The trip to the hotel from the airport is heavily guarded, double fenced and locked; guards let you out. There are police everywhere dressed in blue uniforms with full helmets — which reminded me of beekeepers.
The first thing we saw was the swimming pool at the hotel. We were shocked to see it full of fish. They maintain koi in the pool during the winter. It remains the fish residence for one more month. No swimming today. I went for a walk with Dorothy and Karen before dinner. All the people at the hotel were well-dressed and friendly.
The area near the hotel and airport where we chose to walk looked poor and run down. There was a lot of litter. Numerous vending machines with sodas; and large beer containers were strewn everywhere along the streets. People drive fast and on the left side of the road as in England.
Our hotel room was very hot and humid and even though it was on the ground floor we kept the window open and went to bed at 4:30 AM Washington time. We were up at 1:34 PM Wednesday afternoon Washington time 5:30 PM Tokyo.
May 6, 1983, we rode the city bus to Narita. Children were dressed in bright clothes with yellow hats; older ones in dark blue jackets and skirt or pants; for men, each one had an insignia with varying letters B, D etc.
Older boys slept. No one talked. We arrived at Narita and walked to the Temple. Everyone was friendly. A young girl about 16 helped us find the Temple by walking us to it. Old women were getting ready for market and carrying huge packs (boxes) on their backs. They all laugh while girls giggle when we speak. The Temple area has many stands with food and trinkets for sale like a carnival — not sure if that is always or only because yesterday was a national holiday (children’s day). The town is very decorated; all the shops are run by women. One along the way spoke a little English; one man wanted to read my T-shirt and then all the women came excitedly out of their shops to read and exclaim. Our T-shirts read in Chinese lettering “American Women bicycling in Mainland China”.
In the temple, in respect of their culture, I took my shoes off and put them in a plastic bag. A special ceremony began soon after I was in the Temple and they told me I could take pictures. Then one man suggested I take one of the priests and two monks sitting aside. I asked for a picture; they allowed it and he gave me a fan along with a brochure on the Temple.
Before leaving we found a lady about 60 and her son who owned a restaurant. Marie and Dorothy spent ¥500 each for tofu, seafood, vegetables and gelatin (all hot with hot mustard). We all had tea. I asked her where to get a stamp for my postcards by pointing to the stamped location. She asked the neighbor in the next shop and they didn’t know. She took us across the street too and asked. They said this way and that way. Then she remembered and took us all the way to the post office, about six blocks. She ran and kept looking back for us. After depositing us she ran back. Amazing she left her shop unattended.
Before arriving at the Temple I went to a shop and the man said hello. I asked to take his picture he said yes. He wrote down he was 83 years old. Didn’t even look 50 or have a wrinkle. He gave us matches.
A grandma wanted her small granddaughter to be friendly; the girl was very shy. The grandparents were very proud. It was time to go back and meet the bus for the airport. The bus was to leave at 11:30. We can’t find it. A man and son in a store selling nuts trys to help. We ran each direction without success. He said to wait and his wife would be there and he would drive us. He and his son took us to the hotel about 10 miles. He would not take any money.
At the airport our 4:15 PM flight to Beijing was delayed. We had hours to walk around still allowing one and a half hours to get through customs (questions, quarantine, and immigration) and Karen and I went upstairs to a visitor area. There were many children. The small girls and boys all crowded around me and stared. I spoke and they said hello. I took their picture and they loved it. They all wanted to be included in the picture. Then the older boys and girls came 9 -11 years old. They each spoke a little English. Our plane was announced and we had to reluctantly leave the children to go to customs immediately. They frisked us every inch. Searched everything. We walked two blocks to our gate. We were turned away, the wrong gate. Good being challenged.
The seats were to be changed. We all lined up to get new seats; then they decided to assign them as we boarded so they wrote new numbers on our passes. On board the seating was open. We were to have flown a 747 and now we were on a Russian 626. Our plane had been hijacked leaving China yesterday. The hijacker wanted to go to Taiwan. The pilot refused but went to Seoul Korea. Now we are flying to Shanghai instead. 8:35 PM May 6, 1983.
Over Shanghai, there were no lights. The Chinese have restricted use of electricity and automobile lights. We can see the single row of lights on the main roads. We were able to deplane to help our sore legs for less than one hour. Once we were back on after a three block walk with luggage, we each slept over three seats almost before takeoff; no seatbelts.
Saturday, May 7, 1983 we are landing in Beijing. No lights again. At the airport I was checked three times for my passport in addition to all the times as a group, I didn’t understand. He wanted my boarding pass; I had given it to the attendant as we boarded the plane. He somehow wanted to be sure I came from Tokyo then Shanghai and then Beijing.
Our bikes appear to be in good shape; still in boxes. We will stay one night at Temple of Heaven Hotel. We were taken by bus from the airport with our bikes on a different bus. At the Temple, the temperature is 21°C. In China, they drive on the right but without lights; honking and blinking lights at intersections. Bicyclists ride with lights or reflectors. It is midnight. Most people on the road are going to work at the airport. Carla, our guide for the beginning of the trip, has met us now. She is a US citizen who been here 10 months learning Chinese following two years schooling in the US. She thought she would accompany us the entire trip. Tomorrow we get up at 7:30 for breakfast and put our bikes together; then bicycle to the summer palace.
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