A good friend Audrey planned the trip’s logistics for us. She was so good that she even got me a discount off a group rate. We joined a tour group that flew out of Canada. We spent the first nine days in Yunnan 雲南, China. It was my first visit to Yunnan and it was as pretty as I was told. I learned that it was one of the major suppliers of roses in the world, and some of the roses in the Buckingham Palace in England came from there. I also learned that marijuana grew wildly and abundantly on the roadside. No wonder so many of my friends like going on hiking trips in that province.
The last five days were spent in Beijing. We did the usual touristy things, such as going to a parlor for foot massages. While a young and cheerful masseuse worked on the terminal parts of your hairy legs, three or four solemn-faced medical doctors would congregate around you, checked your wrist pulse, the complexion of your face, and the nails of your fingers and toes. They all carried impressive credentials. One was the dean of a certain school of Chinese medicine. The others were department heads or professors of some kind. In about three minutes, they could tell you a few hidden symptoms that you were not aware of. “If you have black lines on your nails, you probably have a liver problem,” one of the attending doctors told our group. They had a certain herbal medicine that was just a cure for it, and it cost US$400. I hid my left thumb from them the rest of the time I was there. (Believe it or not, I did have a liver disease many years ago and I do have a nice blackish brown line on my left thumb.)
We also visited a silk factory. We were given an informative lecture on how silk textile was made from the long fibers after the cocoons were boiled in hot water. Then we were shown different qualities and patterns of silk comforters, sheets and pillow cases. They varied in price but the cheapest blanket would set you back about US$300. We were told that silk was not supposed to be washed in water. That wouldn’t work too well in my household that is prone to have nocturnal accidents.
Then we visited a jade factory. The handsome young man who greeted us in a room with a closed door was the son of the owner. He said he just came to visit his dad from another part of the country and he was glad to meet us. His regular job was not a salesperson for the company. He had a degree in architectural designs and that was what he did for a living. Truth be told, he said, if their company had to rely on small groups of tourists like us to support their business, they would not be able to survive. They were a wholesaler who sold to up-scale retail stores in Beijing, Shanghai and overseas. But he was really excited to see so many expatriated Chinese coming home from Canada, the US and other countries. He was so friendly and convincing that one of the tourists eagerly bought US$4,000 of jewelry in no time.
I don’t know anything about the quality and prices of jade. So I couldn’t tell whether the buyer got a good deal or not. But something sounded a little unsettling when another member from our group told us that, just a few days ago, he met the same young man in the factory, and the young man told another group that he was an agriculture major from college.
And we visited the Tiananmen Square of course where ten thousand pilgrims took pictures with the portrait of Mao Ze Dong 毛澤東. Joining the Ivy League of personalities like the smirking Mona Lisa, the harried Albert Einstein and a few others, Mao’s meditative likeness may be one of the most reproduced images in the history of mankind.
I took a chance traveling with a friend whom I had not spoken to in over three decades. We had a riot during the trip. Bernard initiated me to my very first experience in a karaoke club. In return, I got him to sing Are You Lonesome Tonight a cappella on the tour bus. I could only imagine how much more exciting it would be if I had gone to a co-educational school and my companion’s name was Bernadette.
That naughty fantasy notwithstanding, I can safely say that old friends are great, even if they are the same gender.
PS Be brave, call or e-mail an old friend today, won’t you?
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