Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Why China?

In the 1980s, I owned a small weekly newspaper in rural Eastern Washington. I was sitting at my desk one morning in February 1984 going through the mail, when I came across a flyer from a New York travel agent who was putting together tours of China for American journalists. The price was certainly right, about $1,500 for two weeks (airfare, hotel, meals) out of San Francisco. So I said to myself, what the heck, why not? Six weeks later, I was in Shanghai, clearing customs and immigration.

I remember thinking what did I get myself into, as we walked from the plane between two long rows of armed soldiers into what appeared to be a very large Quonset-type metal building which served as the terminal. The huge room was filled with hard benches, each one with armed soldiers sitting at each end. Our group was directed to go behind a curtain after which we walked the length of building. When we exited from behind another curtain, we were officially in China. We sat on the hard benches for awhile, and then reboarded our plane for Beijing and the official start of the tour.

I've been through the Shanghai airport many times since then, and I'm happy to see that it's a thoroughly modern airport now. In that first trip, we stayed in Beijing, with stops in Jinan, Qufu, Taishan, Nanjing, Wuxi and finally back to Shanghai. When I returned home, I wrote a series of articles about the trip for my newspaper. Looking back over that first one recently, I found I wrote, "I've never had all that much interest in the Orient, so why I went to China, I'll never know."

I still don't know today why I went to China, but I do know that trip changed my life forever. Ten years later, I returned to work as a copy editor at China Daily on a one-year contract. I came back to the United States when that contract ended, but a year later, I was back at China Daily for another year. Since that contract ended, I've gone back to China about every other year, including two trips in 2008.

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