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Blog 35 - Seen From Outer Space

I expect you all know that the Great Wall of China can be identified from a low Earth orbit under perfect conditions. I doubt if you will pick me out although I am wearing the red fox fur coat and my Emperor boots. Finally after nearly three weeks of travel throughout China, our small party has reached Beijing.

As I told you last week, I had already chosen my Chinese silk scarf, good quality, well sewn edges, but the colours are more suitable for a London Spring day than a snowy visit to the Orient, a fresh pink and crisp blue. Very soon in my own garden the pink flowering cherry blossom will be out and I am ever hopeful for blue skies. How can I be thinking of England when there is so much to see here in Beijing? These bronze temple dogs I show on my scarf remind me of the amazing sculptures lining the route to the Ming Tombs and so much more. Besides, at the time of our visit, my home was in California and not Richmond, England! Let’s return to 1979.

There was hardly a car to be seen in Tiananmen Square, only bicycles. There was no hint of how that square would look ten years later with a student uprising. We visited the grand buildings of the Forbidden City on two different days, the first on a fine day, the second in snow and many degrees below freezing. By now, my husband was glad of his red embroidered satin Chinese hat with its furry ear flaps keeping him warm. How lucky we were to wander around without crowds of tourists....Summer Palace, Winter Palace, museums, tombs and treasures galore. Finally, a trip on the train to reach the Great Wall and inevitably more photos, faded now with time....and indeed not very great to begin with! At least in Beijing we did not draw crowds of curious onlookers, as we were not regarded as such an oddity. In our hotel we even bumped into an Englishman whom we had known when we lived in Hong Kong. I suppose that was not too strange, but what was a greater coincidence happened two months later when I was on a flying visit to London to set up a home for our children, was buying essentials in the Marble Arch branch of Marks & Spencer and heard the words....”We must stop meeting like this!” Same guy, also on a quick London visit. I digress.

I wanted to tell you about our two Mr. Wong guides and our big mistake. Throughout our trip, the food was as good as it could be at that time with copious mugs of tea on offer everywhere and local beer with our meals. No wine or spirits. Some of the wised up international bankers in our group had brought bottles of gin and whisky in their luggage and as the trip progressed and we all bonded, we met up before dinner in one of the bedrooms and had a noggin or two. We told our guides that we held a ‘prayer meeting’ before dinner. Somehow, we managed to find little snacks to accompany the booze and we even had Western music and got a party going. We had become quite close to the young Long Wong and invited him one evening to join us. We taught him to twist and jive as we all had a little impromptu dance. He must have told Mr. Peking Wong about his good time and alas that was the last we saw of him. We were told he was unwell and would not be escorting us any more. We all felt bad we had innocently blighted his career. Mr. Peking Wong personally escorted us the next day to a commune. My husband and I were entertained to yet another cup of tea in a humble dwelling with double bunks for two adults and one child. Our host proudly showed his hand built cupboards. There was one change of clothing and bedding inside. No ornaments, extra plates, mugs. I noticed they did not drink tea with us. Nor were there any silk scarves....yet I am proud of my contribution to the history of the Silk Road.

At the end of our trip, we had a whip round to give our guide a tip. We were a generous lot, we had wonderful service, and we had a decent sum to offer him. Dear Mr. Peking Wong declined our tip and would accept only enough money to buy black wool for his wife to knit him a jumper. As we were waiting for our plane to return to Canton, the U.S Presidential plane arrived on the tarmac. Don’t know who was on board, but I guess it was another job for Mr. Peking Long. Alongside this photo I show Mr. Long Wong before he fell from grace. Maybe he is one of China’s new millionaires today?

Well, I must be on my way home on the magic carpet. Whilst I have been gone these three weeks, of course it has been Chinese New Year, so I’ll wish you all Kung Hei Fat Choi, and wave to the oxen in the paddy fields as I speed home. With the pandemic news improving, let’s hope it will be a happier year.

Busy Bee, Scarf Face!

Series 2, Blog 35.

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