When Hu Lin was accompanying eight of us from the Beijing Airport into the city, he said that he guessed we as children had thought about and perhaps even “tried” to dig all the way to China. Well, he added, Chinese children experience the same thoughts about digging through to America.
I guess all of us had considered this — certainly I did — as we all laughed. Then Hu (this is his surname but he indicated we should use it) asked an interesting question: what facial feature differentiated Chinese from Americans?
The eight of us looked at one another, perhaps a bit embarrassed, as each of us was thinking “slanted eyes versus straight eyes” but no one wanted to say anything inappropriate. Imagine our surprise when he said, “Americans have such big noses; we have small noses.”
He was not trying to be funny; he was totally serious. He did notsay Chinese had flat noses, but we noted he most definitely did. Thus it was that throughout our sojourn in China and Tibet, our group — adding up to 23 when we reached our hotel —laughingly referred to ourselves as “Big Noses.”
Hu is a 33-year-old young man who speaks English fluently — American English, not British or Australian. He is quite intelligent, knowledgeable, humorous — what we would call an “All-American Man," if he were American. He accompanied us through the entirety of our trip, being joined at each new city by a local guide. We could not have been in better hands.
This was very good as there were some places we needed to be in good hands.
On our third day, we drove three hours out of Beijing to get onto the Great Wall. Everyone who goes as a tourist to China goes to the Great Wall of course, but Hu took us to an area where we saw not one other Western face, only locals as it was a holiday weekend for the Chinese.
Arriving at the base we could look about a half mile up and figured we all would find this relatively easy. NOT SO. The first half consisted of a gentle slope that we thought would bring us to the Wall. But this was where our being in “better hands” proved to be a necessity.
We had a 45 degree climb to a rickety-at-best ladder with a partial hand rail to get us into the watch tower on the Wall. Even the youngest, most athletic individuals had to struggle to get into this guard house, and many of us definitely needed the assistance of strong arms.
But making it was well worth the view, as far as one could see both east and west. It was easy to imagine why, approximately 2,000 years ago, the famous general Meng Tian began what through the years was to become a 5,500 mile wall to repel marauding tribes.
We returned to Beijing exhilarated but weary. Interestingly, though all were expecting the infamous smog of that great city, we encountered none and saw only a few persons wearing protective masks. My pharmacist had sent me with enough to weather the entire trip! One of our group, who had been there years before, noted that previously she could not see so much as two feet in front of her. Chinese officials avow they are cleaning the air, just as we here are striving so desperately to do. Evidently they are succeeding.
After braving the wall and returning, we barely had time to freshen ourselves before we were taken to a restaurant for the famous Chinese dish, Peking Duck. But ours tasted more like South Walton Rooster; it must have been an off night for this particular eatery.
Oh, and why did I say we were exploring “The Rooster and Tibet”? Hu had told us that “everyone thinks the map of China looks like a rooster, with the egg at the bottom being Taiwan.” Well none of us thought so — and do not even mention the impossibility that a rooster could lay an egg — but throughout the trip we saw numerous references to the “Rooster” that supposedly was China. We just laughed.
More to follow next week.
Carrie Nelle Moye is a Santa Rosa Beach resident and former foreign correspondent in the Middle East. She recently visited China and Tibet to continue her quest to see as much of the world as she can, "as that is the best learning experience ever."