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China Memories MAG
"Mom,may I please watch cartoons this morning?"
"Sure, Robin, butonly if you make your bed first."
I remember watching Saturdaymorning cartoons when I was little where Bugs Bunny would tunnel through toChina. Asia seemed as exotic and unreal as Mars. Not many get the opportunity tovisit the other side of the world, but last summer I was fortunate to have thechance.
"Robin, how would you like to run in China?"
"Mr. Wolf, are you making jokes again?"
"No,really! I'm taking a group of runners; you don't even have to be onVarsity."
When my cross-country coach suggested a trip to China, thepossibility that I would actually go didn't even cross my mind. Not until one ofmy good friends decided to go did I really consider the trip. Unbelievably, whenI asked my parents, they agreed it was the chance of a lifetime and I could go ifI paid half the cost. No matter how many times I told myself I was going toChina, I still couldn't believe it.
On June 10, I met the ten otherrunners and our two chaperones at the airport. The 4-hour flight to Los Angeleswas bearable, but the 12 hours across the Pacific were not as enjoyable. All inall, we spent 24 hours in airports and on planes getting to China. Finally, wewere greeted in Beijing by our guide, Benjamin.
"Welcome to China! Wewill take this bus to the hotel. This is our brand-new airport the governmentbuilt three years ago. If you have any questions, just ask."
Themost unforgettable experience in China was visiting the Great Wall. Its massivesize and impressive construction made a lasting impression on my mind. Walkingless than a mile on the wall was enough of a workout to make me completelyexhausted; most of the stairs are totally vertical. It's the only manmade objectvisible from space, and I took three rolls of film in the four hours we walked onit.
* * *
"Arewe seriously going to run in this, Mr. Wolf?"
"What, Robin, youcan't handle the 104 degree heat and smog?"
Our track andcross-country meets turned out to be very interesting. The competitionoutnumbered us three to one, and because there are no organized school sports inChina, we competed against members of a college track club. I didn't do too wellin the heat and smothering pollution, but the meet took place during a ragingthunderstorm (in America, it would have been canceled atthe first drop of rain) and I ran a personal record.
* * *
"Hey,has anyone seen Martin?"
"How can he be missing? We're in aforeign country with 1.2 billion people! We don't even know how to call thepolice!"
The most exciting part of the trip was the day one of ourgroup, Martin, got lost. We were touring the Forbidden City on our own with adesignated meeting spot. After waiting a while, we realized Martin wasn't coming.The entire trip he had been a problem - he wouldn't talk to anyone - so hisdisappearance was almost not a surprise. Almost. The entire group was freakingout, especially his brother, because we had absolutely no idea where to beginlooking. He had a card with him that said the address of our hotel in Chinese,and we knew he had some money. The only thing to do was wait. After dinner wereturned to the hotel hoping he would be there, but he wasn't. Our theory as towhy he disappeared was simply to get attention. Even when some nice Chinese womancalled from the worst part of Beijing to say she'd found an American boy, westill didn't understand why he'd left. His response was that he "hadn'tthought to call before then," and that the lady had given him cookies.
* * *
"Hey,wait up for me, guys!"
Everywhere I looked in Beijing, I saw peopleon bicycles. I saw thousands of cars too, but for every car there were at leasttwo bicycles. One night, six of us decided to rent bikes from the hotel and ridearound Beijing after dark. Since there were only three bikes we had to double up.Thus, not only did we receive stares for being American, but also for falling offthe bikes every 20 seconds. It had rained that day, and for some reason I decidedto ride my bike through a big puddle. It was a little deeper than I thought, andI didn't expect the huge pothole that tipped me off into the mud. It was just myluck that two Chinese videotaped the whole thing and traffic stopped so otherscould laugh at me. The situation wasmortifying.
* * *
"Only 150 yuan. Good quality, 100 percentreal cotton!"
"Bu yao, I don't want it, xiexie."
"Come back! Forty yuan, 40, I give you 40! Realcotton!"
The best part of the entire trip was shopping. At the GreatWall, at the Food Free Market, and especially at the Silk Free Market, merchantsyelled at us from dozens of stands, all wanting us to buy the exact same thingstheir neighbor carried. Buying was all about getting the lowest price because inChina, you bargain. Department stores and malls have set prices, but in open-airmarkets it is possible to get a shirt for a quarter of the merchant's openingprice. They are so anxious for a transaction that all you have to do is walk awayand they will come down to a better price. Imitations of brands like Esprit,North Face, and even Armani are sold for a fraction of the price of a"real" item. The quality is poor, but I got a Polo shirt for fiveAmerican dollars that I wear all the time. I spent quite a bit shopping, not somuch because I needed the stuff, but because it was so much fun to bargain.
* * *
"Areyou sure this isn't dog, Benjamin? It doesn't really taste like beef."
"Well, this is a good restaurant, I think it is probably notdog," he reassured us.
I don't know for sure what I ate in China. Ido know that I ate octopus and duck, and there is a strong possibility I ate dog.The food was very good, and not much at all like American-style Chinese.
* * *
Thebiggest difference between home and China was the huge numbers of everything.Imagine downtown Cincinnati at the end of a big ball game, with a concert and aplay at the Aronoff all ending at the same time. Now, spread that density ofpeople over an area twice the size of Cincinnati. That was how Beijing seemed;there was no relief from peopleanywhere.
* * *
"AllI want to do is eat a chili dog and ice cream. I think I am going to pass out ifI don't get some regular food!"
"It's okay, Robin, only another12-hour flight until we can drink the water."
I have too manymemories, too many experiences, and too many observations to share. I could talkfor days about the differences I found between the United States and China. I sawan entirely different culture, and I realized how good we have it here inAmerica. For example, I don't know anyone living in a shack made of a piece ofaluminum and three pieces of plywood. I feel incredibly fortunate I had theopportunity that I did. China was a trip I will remember forever.
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