Beijing: “Let me take your temperature!” 22 June 2009

Yep – we are here, in Beijing, CHINA!

But not without humorous hiccups already… After flying for 13 hours, straight over the North Pole, Russia and Ulan Bataar, we landed and were relegated to a remote corner of the huge international airport, and not exactly close any terminal. Just before landing, as the crew handed out a second health card form everyone had to complete, we were given some hint (I don’t recall what exactly) that we may not be able to get off the plane immediately, and we were thinking about the planeload of students recently held in a hotel for a week… (We had even commented on the fair number of folks wearing surgical masks, including the three American college-age girls behind us.)

Sure enough, as soon as we landed we were told, graciously, “Please stay in your seats everyone – a team of white-suited people will be boarding to take everyone’s temperature. They will put a gun to your forehead (at THIS point everyone on board laughed nervously!), and shoot an infrared beam aimed at your forehead.” And on they came – young, slender, efficient technicians, about 20 of them dressed literally head to toe in white, complete with hoods, booties, gloves, and full face masks, carrying a bag and ‘guns’ – it felt like being inside the movie ET!

They started at the rear of the plane and moved quickly along with great seriousness, asking us to close our eyes, and it took about 20 minutes. After they were done we waited about 10 minutes more, and our of them came back to quietly fuss and hover about six rows behind us. Eventually they escorted a family of four off the plane, then came back again! This time it was only about three rows behind us – same thing, a family of three. Then about 15 minutes later we were finally able to leave, but were instructed to be sure to collect yet a THIRD health form as we left the plane. We exited down steps to the runway, and boarded shuttle buses for the terminal, then marched back up long steps to a quarantine station where they collected one of the forms. As we moved through, noticing a curtained-area with lots of hospital-garbed technicians and some passengers milling around, a loud beeping started nearby and Lester says “I’ll be darned!” We had passed something like a police car radar gun – a device that aims in the direction of a queue, and it had detected someone with a fever from a distance of about 40-50 feet!

There were no further delays, and as we exited customs, Liu, our Beijing tour guide, called out – he recognized Lester from his 2006 trip with Peter; nice to have a friendly face meet us! On our way downtown, we passed the Beijing Railway Station (below).Beijing rail station

After a brief rest at the hotel (where the desk clerks checked our temperature AGAIN, as they did everyone checking in, reaching over the registration desk counter to point the ‘gun’ at guests’ foreheads), Liu picked us up again and took us to a Chinese opera production. I am in love with Chinese opera – what great comedy! After watching two of the lead actors put on their face makeup in the inner lobby, we sat in the second row at a table already set with sweets and teacups, and a fellow came around to pour tea from a pot with a needle-thin 4-foot-long spout, balancing it first on the back of his outstretched arm, and then on his head, to pour 1/4 cup of tea into our dainty porcelain cups.

The opera consisted of two acts – the first was my favorite…a young girl calling for her uncle to take her in his boat to chase after her love. She had never been in a boat and was terrified, and he teased her all the same – I especially loved their greatly-exaggerated eye and facial expressions and elaborate costumes. Neither act had any stage scenery – these two had only a pole (for the ‘boat’). They did an amazing job of maneuvering the ‘boat’ around the stage, perfectly and gracefully in sync as the ‘boat’ bobbed, swayed, turned, and rocked – sometimes end to end and they looked like they were seesaw-ing, and sometimes side to side as she almost ‘fell overboard’! It was delightful.

The second, longer act was “The Monkey King Fights 18 Warriors”, and was a riotous mix of tumbling, joking, condescension, and trickery, sometimes between only two, and sometimes a whole crowd, with the Monkey King always the victor. All in all, a memorable day!!