Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How to Ruin International Relations 101

Many of my college fraternity buddies were coming to visit me for New Year’s.  I had been looking forward to this for months because I really miss all of my friends from home.  Now, keeping in mind that these are fraternity buddies, I was a little worried about how many of us would be making it home, and how many of us would end up locked in a Chinese red prison.  Granted, we’ve all calmed down greatly since college.  Heck, you could even call us responsible, respectable citizens.  Singularly my friends are law students, medical students, responsible white collar types.  But… put us together and you get The Jew (Charles), O-face (Oliver), Captain Dan-o (Dan), Dutchboy (Johan), and Tessa and Lin (their nicknames are not blog-appropriate).  I knew from the getgo that this was going to be one New Year’s to remember.  

We hadn’t really made arrangements to meet up in Beijing, so I figured that the best way to find them would be to surprise them at the airport.  While sitting at Starbucks waiting for the flight to land, I bumped into Johan who had come to the airport with his father’s driver to pick everyone up.

Johan’s father lives in Beijing in one of those Western Villa compounds in a large five-bedroom house.  The whole place is crawling with guards keeping the riffraff out, and if it weren’t for the bitterly cold wind you would swear you were in Boca.  We couldn’t have had a sweeter deal.  In the daytime, Mr. Van Gorp had given us full use of his two personal drivers.  They would take us anywhere we wanted to go, whether it was downtown Beijing twenty minutes away, or a two-hour trip to the Great Wall.  In the evenings, Mr. Van Gorp would take us out to the nicest restaurants in the city and pick up the entire bill.  He wouldn’t let us pay.  Then, once we had had enough of China for the day, we’d retire to Europe.  Stepping through those gates at night was as good as taking a plane to Belgium.  You could find every western food and amentity you could ask for.  If we didn’t feel like walking around in the cold all day, we could walk over to the clubhouse and sit in dry sauna, steam room, or jacuzzi.  There was a Subway, Domino’s Pizza, and a Starbucks.  For someone who has been living in China for six months, this place was a paradise.  I cannot begin to thank Mr. Van Gorp enough and tell him how much we appreciated everything he did for us.

I’ve decided not to go through ever little detail of my friend’s trip here.  If I did, this entry would be too long to read in one sitting, and probably pretty incriminating.  Rather, I’m going to list some of the places we went to see and what I though of them.

  • The Great Wall – absolutly amazing.  Visibility wasn’t the greatest, but it is truly impressive that any civilization could build that.  Some parts were so steep that it was more like climbing a ladder than stairs.  Something I will never forget.

  • The Ming Tombs – interesting in theory, but dull in practice.  I think it would have been much nicer if we could have seen the other tombs in the hills, but air quality was bad that day so you could’t see anything.  The underground palace there was an unornate stone room five stories down.  Anything palatial had long since been removed.

  • Beihai Park – we paid the admission fee to get in, only to find that the main temple in it was closed for renovations.  Oh well.

  • Forbidden City – very impressive.  Even better if you had watched The Last Emperor a few weeks ago.  This place is massive.  Some have described it as dull and repetitive, but I can’t believe that I was standing there with my friends.

Ok, its late and I need to go to bed.  I am going to post what I have written so far, but I will be posting more about Beijing later.

Goodnight, all.