My Dad the U.S. China Marine

My Dad the U.S. China Marine

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Journey to China: September 1 and 2 Arrival in Beijing

When I awakened on September 1, 2015 I'm fairly certain that we were flying over Manchuria or some area of Northeastern China. 

The landscape below us was dotted with clusters of high-rise apartment buildings with connecting roads and streets. I noted that the skies around us were clear and blue with the sun setting in the western horizon. 

Our descent into Beijing Capitol International Airport was standard procedure and uneventful. I made it a point of expressing my thanks to the flight crew. The experience -especially the food served us- was one of the best. 

I grabbed my carry-on luggage and followed the other passengers as we disembarked at 6:20 p.m./ 18:20 p.m from CA Flight 982. 

As I followed everyone I noticed a young Chinese man smiling at me. His name was Mr. Hao Xiaochen who welcomed me in English. Xiaochen was with the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. He took my bags. 

We departed from the other passengers and I was conducted to a nondescript elevator. Down we went. 

When the door opened we were greeted by security officials who took my passport and luggage. The others and Xiaochen were all-smiles, very pleasant and asked me about my flight. It turned out that I was in a receiving area reserved for VIPs, including heads-of-state and diplomats. I felt like I was in a James Bond 007 movie. 

During the whole time I was preoccupied that at long last I had arrived in China. Was I excited? Absolutely. 

My passport and luggage were returned to me. Xiaochen led me outside to a car and driver waiting for us. 

One thing I noticed -this time from the ground- that the skies were clear. In the Western media we are often treated to images of Beijing cover in shrouds of polluted cloud cover. Such was not the case this time. I learned later that the government banned all outside fires and factory-based burning within a 500-mile radius of the capitol. 

We boarded our official car and off we went to Beijing. I rode in the backseat. Chinese music played on the radio. The smell of cigarette smoke seemed everywhere -not unlike a ride in a New York City taxicab. As the sun continued to set I gazed outside at the traffic all around us. Xiaochen and the driver conversed together in Chinese. I was not bothered by this at all, preferring to soak in everything around me.

I'm not certain how long it took us to get to central Beijing. Eventually we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Beijing at Oriental Plaza at 1 Chang An Avenue. Security guards were stationed around the perimeter of the hotel. I would learn later that this was where all the visiting dignitaries were staying -very conveniently located near the Forbidden City, Tianaman Square and the Great Hall of the People. 

The Grand Hyatt Beijing at 1 Chang An Avenue. 

This is the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Beijing.

I was brought inside where I was welcomed by Ms. Ba Cuicui, also of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. 

I was warmly escorted by both Hao Xiaochen -carrying my luggage with a smile- and Ba Cuicui to my room. She would be staying in the hotel during my stay, making herself available 24/7 for me and other invited dignitaries. Xiaochen received my heartfelt thanks as I bid farewell, settling into my room to freshen up. 

This was the view outside my room in the Grand Hyatt Beijing. 

My first selfie in China! Not too bad for someone who's a bit jet-lagged after 13 hours in the sky. 

An evening buffet dinner was being served in the Grand Ballroom on the LG floor, according to my itinerary. 

As I in true jet-lagged form descended the stairs to the Grand Ballroom a sumptuous buffet was set up for us. It was late, so what you see here is a bit toned down. Each day -morning, noon and evening- we were treated to one of the best buffet experiences anywhere. Hotel staff were everywhere for special requests, too.  

Do you see the young people dressed in blue shirts? They were students from Chinese colleges and universities. The students were all very charming, often practicing their English skills. There were many World War II veterans and their families from various countries, so none of them were ever alone. Word got around of my background in teaching English as a second language, so I was something of a conversation magnet for them. They also admired my chopsticks skills.

The cuisine was an assortment of Western and Chinese, all fresh and truly delicious. 

It was open-seating in the Grand Ballroom, and it was crowded. It was not hard at all to meet members of our "Greatest Generation" and their families. The blue-shirted students were ever-attentive to us, asking if we wanted anything and simply getting it for us. I'm fairly certain on that evening alone I gained some weight. 

There was abundant conversation as stories of a world deep in crisis and conflict were exchanged. As we say, I felt like a kid in a candy store. 

The hour was late -and upon reaching my room that bathtub caught my attention. I was finally in China! I climbed into bed, drifting off assured that my late-father smiled from Heaven that at last our reconnection with the people of China was underway. 

On Wednesday, September 2 all of the invited veteran dignitaries and descendants like me were interviewed by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The dress code was casual, though I decided to wear my suit.

I was asked by my father's service, some of the stories he shared with me, and how much importance the continued friendship between Americans and Chinese were to him and me. At one point I was somber and emotional -not in a hostile way, of course. The devastation at the time of the surrender by the Japanese Empire was horrendous. I remember reading about "cholera ships" containing repatriated Japanese nationals from China sitting in Tokyo Bay -with no way to allow them back to their homes. Who knows how many thousands died? 

For the remainder of the day and evening we all stayed in the hotel. At one point I wanted to go outside for a walk. Upon doing so I found we were confined to the front area of the hotel. Guards were scattered around the hotel's campus. I noted that the Chinese soldiers were very tall. As I walked back inside I waved at one of the guards, who smiled in return. 

I wondered what memories he would share years from now? Would I be one of them? 


Later, all of us were presented with these medals in appreciation of those who served in combating the enemies of China. It was a very touching gesture and one that I will always cherish.

That night after dinner a group of us sat around several tables in the Grand Ballroom exchanging contact information and war stories. We laughed ourselves well into the late evening -until the hotel staff told us we had to leave. 

They were right to do so, for we were scheduled to  breakfast at 6:20 a.m. the next morning. A military parade and "commemoration rally" like none I'd ever seen would unfold before us. 

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