He was grumbling as he walked out into Beijing International Airport's arrival terminal. Something about the 13-hour flight, and maybe the airplane food. But I wasn't paying attention – I was more focused on the fact that he, my dad, had finally arrived in China for a weeklong visit. And I was also trying to predict how he'd react to the vastly different Chinese culture compared to our quiet Coal Region lifestyle.
The itinerary for his trip was a near carbon copy of my mom's trip the previous April: Tiananmen Square, Mao, Forbidden City, Great Wall, Summer Palace, Xi'an and my office at Beijing Review. The only difference would be the weather – Mom had visited in April, when temperatures were cool, while Dad would have to put up with the summer heat.
Dad was traveling with his friend and former student, Joe Krushinsky. Joe works for Maryland Public Broadcasting and is also chairman of the Carbon-Tamaqua unit of the American Cancer Society annual telethon. I had been a host on the telethon for five years, Like my dad, Joe had never been to China before and was in for a few surprises.
I had insisted Dad bring a friend since being a tourist is no fun unless you have someone else to share the experience, and complaints, with, especially if it's a first time visit for everyone involved.
On our first day, we visited Tiananmen Square, where Dad and Joe made the keen observation that they'd "never seen so many Chinese people before" in their lives. I had the same thought the first time I visited the square the year before.
For our trip to the Great Wall, I hired the same driver, John Ping, I had used when Mom visited. And he drove just as crazily as before, passing in no passing zones or on the shoulder of the road and choosing to ignore a few red lights. He also parked in a spot that was "his spot" but was definitely a through way for getting out of the parking lot.
Once on the wall, Dad and Joe's reactions were predictable – they just stared, and stared, and stared. This was my third visit, so I was basically unfazed, but still glad to be showing them one of the wonders of the world. Being on the wall was so much different than looking at all the photos I'd sent home during my two visits, Dad said. Looking off in one direction and seeing the wall snaking off over the mountains and then looking in the opposite direction and seeing the same thing, for miles and miles, really put the Great Wall into perspective, he said.
As we walked along, my dad's expressions changed from one of amazement to one of somewhat grief. A ring of sweat had grown around his neck and down both sides of his T-shirt as we walked up and down the wall as it rolled over the hilltops. The end of the Mutianyu section could be seen in the distance, taunting us, but we made it with lots of photos as proof of the journey.
The tourist destinations in Beijing were only complimented by the next best part about a trip to China: the food. Just as I'd taken Mom and brother Mike to all my favorite restaurants with a few of my Beijing friends, so, too, did I show Dad and Joe around the many eating venues of Beijing. Every night followed almost the same pattern: arrive at restaurant, eat and drink good Chinese food and beer, and wait for Dad to put down the chopsticks while exhaling and saying "Oooofff. That was good."
Traversing the Great Wall, showing him the nightlife and dining venues and introducing him to my friends in Beijing was great, but the highpoint of the visit was when I showed Dad around the Beijing Review compound, where I work. As far back as I can remember, I'd spend time with Dad at work when I was a little kid. I liked his office, and I liked the attention his co-workers gave me even more.
Now, years later, I was showing him around my office (actually, I just have a cubicle, but it's all relative) and introducing him to my colleagues. And he got the same type of attention as I did when I was young. My Chinese colleagues were so impressed to meet another foreigner, especially an editor of an American newspaper.
And just like Mom's visit, Dad's came to an end way too quickly.
"You've really done well for yourself here, Brandon," Dad said while we were waiting for his flight to leave. "We're very proud of you."
"Thanks, Dad," I said.
Before he arrived, I wasn't sure how he'd handle China. It can be a pretty intimidating place for some people, but Dad had a great time. (Check out his trip blog at grt-triptochina.blogspot.com.) And he only complained once because we had to wait more than an hour to get into a special Yunnan restaurant, only to admit later that it was the best restaurant we'd been to and well worth the wait.
"Oooofff. That was good."
Brandon Taylor is a language consultant/foreign expert for the Beijing Review, an English language weekly newsmagazine in Beijing, China. He is a former correspondent for the TIMES NEWS. Read Brandon's blog at http://www.btay200.blogspot.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.