I have been to China about 80 times over the years. My first trip to China in 1982, I went to Hong Kong first and then to the China consulate office in Hong Kong to obtain visa. I did this because it was a lot easier obtaining a visa in Hong Kong than one in the United States. You can obtain a visa in a few hours if you just want a tourist visa. A business visas was not easy to obtain, so I got a 5 day tourist visa as this was the longest time period visa you could obtain. This was communist China and not many United States people had been there in the last 20 years. I was one of a few and while in China I saw no other Americans. Going thru customs into China the agents did not check my baggage or even stamp my passport with an arrival date. Upon leaving they also did not stamp your passport so you could never prove you were in China. Why they did this I cannot say.
I flew from Hong Kong to Beijing and was going to Tianjin City where Hua Dong Electronics Company was located. I was going there to see if they would be willing to make some products for my employer that we could buy and resell in the electronics business. We had communicated by fax with this company for several months. They were expecting me and this was also their first time to meet a person from America. I was traveling by myself and upon arriving in Beijing checked into the Beijing Grand Hotel. I do not think this Hotel exists anymore since new hotels were built for the 2008 Olympics.
There was nothing grand about this old hotel and I rate it as a minus five star. It did have a small TV with one station which showed government propaganda. Most of the buildings were from early 1900 time period. In these days everyone, even women, wore either a blue or green Mao TseTung type army uniforms. You saw no women wearing dresses or skirts. The hotel had guards on each floor that would go into your room when you left and check thru your stuff for illegal items. Coming back to my room after touring the Forbidden City I found one of the women guards in my room going thru my stuff. We just looked at each other and I could tell she was embarrassed and did not know what to do. Opening a bag I took out a Snickers bar and gave her one, and then I opened one and started to each it. She did the same and after her first bit a big smile came on her face and we both laughed. It was clear that she had never eaten a US candy bar before. I gave her a bottle of water also and when she finished the candy bar she left the room saying thank you in English to my surprise. After that exchange of friendship noone else came in to check my room. The lady guard would always bow to me when I went past her.
I was told women were not allowed to wear makeup as they do in the United States. During this time I think Chinese women tried to look as ugly as possible so as not to bring attention to themselves. This was due to the Cultural Revolution thinking that everyone should be the same and no one is better than anyone else. It went so far as to everyone wearing the same clothes. At this time it was hard to tell men from women in China by just looking at them.
My goal was to get in and out of China as fast as possible. But I did have a two day delay in Beijing so I spent it touring the city and going to see the Great Wall of China. I woke up and looked out my Hotel window and it was amazing to see an army of people all walking or riding bikes down the street. It was a wave of people all dressed in army green or navy blue clothes going to work at 7:30 am.
The Wall was about a two hours taxi ride from the Hotel. It was impressive and there were very few tourists so you could go right on the wall and walk around by yourself. The same was true for the Forbidden City, which was amazing to me. I spent about 4 hours walking around and there were no guards that I saw. You could go anywhere in Forbidden City. I even sat in the Emperor’s throne. I wonder if Puyi the Last Emperor also sat in the same stone and wood throne I did. Standing in Tiananmmen Square looking at the Forbidden City and parts of Beijing I could see Chinas’ past, and present.
There were hardly any cars and only a few taxis and buses. There were thousands of people riding bicycles. They filled the main streets with bicycles during rush hour, making it all most impossible for a car to pass. The next morning I ask the hotel front desk how to go to Tianjin City. They wrote a note in Chinese and English which I gave to the taxi driver who took me to the train station. The hotel people told me it was a short ride to Tianjin but I purchased a first class ticket anyway so I was assured a good seat in case the train was full. I was surprised to find out they had a first class car and wondered why since all people where to be the same class. I soon found out that the train was always full. It was winter time and I did not have gloves or a hat. I only had a thin overcoat and a suit on. I did not expect it to be so cold.
I had one small carryon bag. I packed some granola bars and water to drink just in case. Walking out of the train station to board the train I could not believe my eyes when I saw a 1920 steam type train with cars that looked like from the 1800’s. I found my car since they were all numbered and went inside. There was another surprise; the first class seat was a bench seat with no back. It looked like a picnic bench. I wondered if I had the correct car so I went to the next car and there were no seats. People were sitting on the floor. I guess I had the first class car so I ran back to my nice wooden seat, not knowing I was in for a long ride. The Train whistle blew and the trained moved with a jerk. Coming next Part 3 China – The Nanjing Train Ride.