We have had so many plans for Beijing but in the end have only managed to achieve a few of them. Whether this has been due to the difficulties in getting around as it is Chinese” Golden Week” (Labour day Celebration) or more due to laziness on our part I’m not too sure!
We set our alarm for 7 and are up packing our gear away by 7.30. We have managed to secure train tickets to Xian for tonight and I’m feeling quite anxious about the journey. It will take over 12 hours and we could only get “hard sleeper” seats. Our seats are also in separate compartments but are in pairs which should be ok. (I hope) We have a quick breakfast and at 1030 set off in a taxi to Maggie’s house. As we are leaving Beijing tonight we had to change our plans for dinner and have arranged to visit for lunch instead.
After half an hour we reach our destination and Maggie and some of her students are waiting at the roadside for us. We walk to her house and she explains on the way that she teaches around 14 students. Two of them live with her as their family homes are far from Beijing and she also shares her house with her mum. We arrive at her apartment and are shown inside having first spoken with some relatives who are sitting on the floor outside. Maggie explains that they are very curious about us but would not normally speak to us as they are slightly shy and reserved.
The students are also a bit shy at first and so are Ali and Maisie but that doesn’t last. Soon they are all feeling more comfortable with each other and when Ali gets out his PSP that helps to break the ice. We are offered coffee, wine and rice wine to drink and accept all three. The table is laden with lots of interesting looking dishes, some of which don’t seem to resemble anything I have eaten before.
Maggie explains she has prepared some dishes for us and the students will be staying for lunch also. We are offered the first taste and cautiously dig in. I was quite worried about the correct etiquette but it seems very informal and our gift of wine and sweets is accepted graciously. We try salted vegetables, fish, chicken, traditional Beijing noodles, Shanghai dumplings and lastly soup with vegetables and the stomach of a cow. The food is strong tasting and very different to any Chinese food I have tasted in England and the whole experience was excellent.
The Chinese people seem to have a great sense of humour and there is a lot of teasing and joking throughout the meal. I think we did ok and joined in the conversation without committing any social gaffes! Although Maisie did knock some chopsticks off the table (Bad luck) it didn’t seem to cause too much alarm.
After lunch we show them some photographs of our trip and Ali plays his guitar for a while. He then goes off with the boys and Maisie joins the girls. Simon, Maggie and I spend an hour or so chatting about England, China and some of the differences and similarities in our respective cultures. We all agreed at the end that we are after all, all the same.
We have had a wonderful time and enjoyed fantastic hospitality. When the time comes to leave Maisie complains that she would like to stay longer and has had a lovely time here with her new Chinese friends. They all give her small gifts of bracelets and charms and Maggie gives her a pretty necklace.
We swap email addresses and promise to stay in touch. Maggie asks the kids if they would like to come to China next year for a vacation and asks us to send them saying they can share bedrooms with her two students and that she will collect them from the airport. I’m not too sure about that but they seem keen and readily agree!
Back at The Far East Hotel we pack up our remaining stuff. It has taken me nearly all week to feel comfortable and at home in China and Beijing has certainly been a culture shock for me. I’m feeling a lot more confident now though and far from the inhospitable place I felt China was in our first few days here I have realised that the people are in fact warm and welcoming if naturally a little reserved around us. I’ve had a great time today and am now feeling very excited about moving on to Xian to see The Terracotta Warriors.