It takes 14 hours to fly from Newark to Beijing. (It used to take 19.)
It also takes 14 hours to memorize a list of Mandarin nouns and verbs. (It used to take four years.)
Before I knew it, I was in Beijing, just like that.
And I had moved on to phrases, just like that.
Worse, I knew I wasn’t in Hoboken anymore when there were three options for toilets:
Lucky for me, there was a line for the pit toilet, but not for the regular toilet, which I prefer.
It was a good sign. It meant that my day was about to improve. I know this because if there was a line for a pit toilet on the airplane, but no line for the regular toilet, Alvin might actually use it once during a 14-hour flight and not worry so much about getting sucked out because the force from pit toilet would be so much more powerful!
And indeed, my day did improve …
But first, it got worse.
I asked for directions at the information desk, and it all came back in Chinese:
I got on the new Airport Express Train anyway:
Wow! It looked like I’d walked into a sci-fi film! It’s not everyday you get to be a character in sci-fi film, so that’s when I knew I’d figured things out even though I’d spent 14 hours not memorizing any words that were actually useful.
So I got off at a stop where I could make a transfer to the Beijing subway.
But none of the stops listed on the wall in the subway looked like the stop that the information lady had circled on my map.
I was in trouble now!
So then I asked strangers for help in the best Chinese I could manage, “Jie ge jann shr nei ge jann?” — this stop is which stop?
And that’s when I met Alvin’s Angels:
They are students at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. They were on their way to pick up their certificates for an exam that they had just passed. But they thought nothing of helping me instead. They said they would pick up their certificates another day, but today they would take me to my hotel. All the way.
It was a LONG walk from the subway stop into the hutong, an ancient neighborhood of small shops and narrower streets. They even took turns pulling my suitcase behind them and wouldn’t let me do it myself.
By the time we got to my hotel, it was getting dark and we were all starved and exhausted.
But being an author is never as important as being a Chinese mother.
So I took them to dinner before sending them on their way:
We ate and ate and talked of many things. By the end of the evening, when many other patrons and come and gone, they said they didn’t want to leave.
And neither did I.
Author’s note: I cannot access my WordPress account from China, it must be a censored site, so I’m sending my posts as emails to my blog administrator, William M, and he’s posting them for me. Just so you know. Thanks, Bill!!!