Watching the Beijing Olympics brings back so many memories of a press trip to Beijing in the late 1980s. At that time, I was the editor of Oklahoma Home & Lifestyle Magazine, and a subscriber with connections in Beijing recommended me for the trip.
Traveling abroad was nothing new to me at that time as I frequently covered fashion shows in Paris, London, Mexico City and Dusseldorf, Germany. But China was a country that I had not yet visited. I have always been grateful for this reader’s recommendation.
Funny thing – because of my rather childish name, the Chinese tour guides weren’t expecting a girl for this tour with 11 male travel writers representing publications from New York to San Francisco. I was the only writer representing the middle of the United States. I remember a “huddle” at the Beijing airport as the official tour hosts pondered my passport and credentials. Fortunately, I passed the “inspection”.
A new luxury hotel in Beijing was our headquarters for the trip with frequent visits to small villages in northern China. Periodically, we were made available for overnight stays with the family. It was the way tour guides showed us how average Chinese families lived.
On those occasions we would have dinner with them, learn to use chopsticks, and sometimes we weren’t quite sure what we were eating. We helped our hosts with household chores, even worked with them in their gardens. It was an eye-opening experience to see how satisfied they were with their families, despite cramped living conditions, bordering on poverty in our eyes.
On the other hand, we visited museums of art and culture and many sites rich in architectural history. We walked on the Great Wall of China for a while. On these occasions, I sometimes wondered how many lives had been lost in the creation of these masterpieces.
We climbed several small mountains to get a better view of the countryside, we even attended a “mock” wedding. A major event was a kite festival. Our group was invited to participate and somehow we collected materials to create our version of the American flag. It’s doubtful, but I’d like to think that this makeshift flag is still flying somewhere over Beijing.
One of my fondest memories happened when our group was on a midnight train to one of the northern provinces. I was having a hot cup of tea and met a young woman who was also having tea. She was fluent in English and asked where I was from. I was living in Tulsa at the time, and that’s exactly where she was to be later that year. She was the lead singer of Peking Opera. I couldn’t resist waking up my 11 tour buddies to enjoy some “little night music” from this famous opera star. What a pleasure to see her again when she sang at the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa.
There were many surprises on this trip. Travel should always offer the unexpected. But having an impromptu concert at midnight from an internationally renowned opera star was the best.