Here we go back to the details of my trip to Beijing, China. This chapter is long but you get to visit Beijing along with me.
We arrived in Beijing, China on April 17 1986. China’s sprawling capital, has history stretching back three millennia.
From the China Airlines airplane window, I could see the ground clearly as we almost touched down, but then shockingly and abruptly pulled up, circled, made another approach and finally touched down with a bang. My heart beating rapidly, we deplaned and were met by a lineup of guards with machine guns.
Welcome to the beginning of the open door policy, before modernization. Our hotel reservations were at the first American style, English speaking, Hyatt Hotel. Absolutely No Chinese people were allowed inside and exposed to this decadence.
Al hired a taxi driver and made arrangements for him to drive us daily. Lo was about 25 years old, and became a surrogate son/tour driver for our stay. His regular duties were to drive guests of the Chinese embassy.
The Great Wall – Beijing China
My first want was to see and climb the Great Wall. I couldn’t have picked a more windy day. Climbing was so difficult, that I’d take 5 steps and the wind blew me back 5 steps. Needless to say I didn’t really climb very far. Then back at the entrance there were vendors selling their wares. I found the perfect gift for myself and my daughters. Cloisonné bracelets that I love and wear to this day. The price $1.00 US for each bracelet. Of course I bought twenty bracelets.
Then Lo took us to National Museum of China, which I described in the previous chapter. I spotted a painting that was incredible. I asked about the artist, who had a local studio. I was given a business card to his gallery.
Dinner was at the historic Beijing Hotel (built by the British in Beijing China) where Al treated our friends to an authentic Chinese dinner.
For starters he ordered…
Hundred Year Eggs
also known as preserved eggs, hundred-year eggs, thousand-year eggs or black eggs, are a Chinese egg-based culinary dish made by preserving duck, chicken or quail eggs in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime, and rice hulls for several weeks to several months, depending on the method of processing.
The balance of the dinner was entrees that Al’s customers generally ordered. Yes dinner was extremely authentic and delicious. Other than the eggs I have no idea what we ate, but it wasn’t meals that we order from our local American Chinese restaurant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century_egg
I had Lo take us to meet the artist whose painting I loved. This is the gallery that I described in the last chapter. It was where I was honored with a demonstration by the student/disciple of the master. And where I painted his portrait in my past life experience. It is still my most memorable experience of this journey,
Next door to the Art Gallery in Beijing, China was a tiny shop. Tiny really describes this one room, 300 square foot little space, both shop and living quarters with no separating walls or curtain. The shop owner was the first Independent merchant on the street. Amazingly she spoke English, lived in the room with mattress on the floor, with her toddler son, and spoke proudly of her new position in life. Independence was unfamiliar to most people living in the Beijing area.After a very pleasant visit, I purchased a little bowl displayed in her case of wares. I would equate this shop to a resale store. As we left I knew that I helped make her independence memories.
I spent the morning relaxing in our hotel room. Remember that I said no Chinese people were allowed in the hotel. It was about 10 am and a knock on the door. There stood the student/disciple and his interpreter. To this day I don’t know how they found us. (possibly our driver told them our name, room etc) Wearing a rag tucked into his coat to look like an ascot and his interpretation of an independent artist. I invited them in and ordered room service. We had our tea and visited for several hours. He was an art image that I shall never forget. He arrived with two gifts. A chop carved in ancient Chinese of my surname. And a poem on parchment rolled and done in ancient Chinese calligraphy ( as I had seen at the Art Museum the day before.)
Purpose of the Visit
Our visit was all about his questions of what it’s like to be an artist living in freedom. He wanted to hear about my art education, my studio, my choice of subject matter. What is required of an artist and are there any rules once you leave art school. My choice of art mediums? I know that he definitely had to be one of the protesters three years later in Tiananmen Square. The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China. They were halted in a bloody crackdown, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the Chinese government on June 4 and 5, 1989.
What I never really got was this wonderful student artists name. But my thoughts are always with him. I pray he survived the massacre.
Our evening dinner was at the Peking Duck in Beijing, China restaurant.
( Chinese government gets quite cross about English speakers using the name Peking for their capital city, insisting on the more modern transliteration Beijing.) Of course we ate very, very fatty, I mean FATTY, Peking Duck. Actually it was delicious and I have never spoiled this memory by eating Peking Duck anywhere in the US.
It’s known today as much for modern architecture as its ancient sites such as the grand Forbidden City complex, the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Forbidden City in Beijing, China was constructed from 1406 to 1420. It and was the former Chinese imperial palace and winter residence of the Emperor of China from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty, between 1420 and 1924. Forbidden City served as the home of Chinese emperors and their households and was the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government for over 500 years.
Pictured below is the drive to the tombs which is lined with sculptures. Al tells me that as tourism increased they had to fence in all the sculptures.
Drive to Emperors Tomb
Among these tombs, the largest one is Changling Tomb, which was built in 1413 and is the burial place of Zhu Di, the third Ming emperor and the chief of Ming Tombs. It is not only the largest one, but the best-preserved one among the thirteen tombs.
the burial place of the 13th Ming emperor, an underground palace was excavated. It is in the southwest of Changling Tomb in Ming Tombs. It is the tomb of the thirteenth emperor Zhu Yijun (Reign Wanli) in Ming dynasty. Except for the king, two queens are also buried too. The mausoleum was built in 1584 ~ 1590.
It is the only one of the Ming Dynasty Tombs to have been excavated. Visitors are allowed to see the underground palace and the two exhibition rooms above the ground to view the fabulous cultural relics buried with the dead. The excavation revealed an intact tomb, with thousands of items of silk, textiles, wood, and porcelain, and the skeletons of the Wanli Emperor and his two empresses.
What impressed me was the Empress necklaces The back of the necklace is as detailed and ornate as the front.
Mausoleum Mao Zedong- Tieanenmen Square
Nearby, the massive Tiananmen Square pedestrian plaza is the site of Mao Zedong’s mausoleum and the National Museum of China. In looking into the doorway of the Emporers Tomb, I bumped my ankle on the brass step. In pain I stepped up on the brass doorway. A monk appeared and politely told me to get off that step. Years later I was watching the movie The Child Emperor . As he walked over that doorway I again felt my ankle pain.
6 th day
Today Lo is taking us for a tour of his life in Beijing, China. We visited the daycare where his niece went to preschool. He introduced us to the teacher and the children. The teacher had us sit down as the children sang for us. This was a precious time that I’ll never forget. Their little voices were so happy that I can still hear them when I close my eyes.
For lunch Lo chose a restaurant where the embassy guests always chose to eat. Lo did not join us, but waited in the car. As we entered, there was a large pond in the entrance. In the pond was a giant salamander. The tables were for 8 and all of the tablecloths were filled with spit-out chicken bones from the last guests. To seat us at the table, the hostess threw napkins over the bones. That meant we were honored guests.
Al ordered our lunch, told them to give us their specialty. A man from across the table came over and introduced himself in English. He said he was here from Shanghai and wanted to know what we were doing here in this part of Beijing, and in this restaurant. The man was extremely nice, told us to enjoy our meal and left. When we left the restaurant the pond in the lobby was now empty. No giant salamander, and to this day I wonder what we ate. I can guess! I’m sure you can too.
Time to return to Hong Kong. Lo took us to the Beijing, China Airport and we sadly said goodbye. Thanked him for his kindness and wished him well.
At the ticket counter someone tapped on my shoulder. There stood my new artist friend and the interpreter. They rode the bus for hours so that they could say goodby and tell us how much our visit meant to them. They traveled and used up most of their monthly money allocation on that bus trip. I will always treasure those two wonderful people. This is the art highlight of my life.