My friends had free time since it was summer but how hot it was. Sure it was July but I had looked at a globe and found Beijing about the same distance north as my city. But Michigan is surrounded by large lakes. Beijing is more influenced by desert. In the spring, sometimes desert sand comes with the wind resulting in what is called Yellow Wind.
I had prepared myself for China for three years. I studied the Chinese language for a year with a tutor, watched documentaries, read Chinese history and ate different food like sushi. All this to reduce the culture shock though I couldn’t get rid of my preconceived notions about China. One by one they were exploded like the myth about the Great Wall being visible from space. You can’t see it. It may be long but its no wider than 20 feet.
The exchange rate was 8 Chinese Yuan to 1 American dollar. This meant everything was very cheap to me. As I went past some street vendors with low overhead (their goods were on blankets next to the walkway) I saw things that I probably wouldn’t buy in the US. I saw a pink polished rock the size of my pocket and bought it for 50 cents. Then I saw a hairbrush with encrusted stones on the back. This went it my other pocket. We arrived at the Drum Tower. The way up was large stone steps on a steep incline. Two ladies in front of me had decided not to chance it and came back down.
I saw my friend dissappearing into the darkness and grabbed the rickety wood handrail and started up. “Hold on, I have rocks in my pockets,” “You’ll wish you didn’t,” came the response. As he turned the corner he said, “Halfway there!” I gritted my teeth but found he was joking.
We were in the tower now. Many large drums filled the room and were hammered on every 20 minutes or so. I was impressed but when I went out for a view, I found a young girl playing a violin. She was good and so young that her older sister sat by. Maybe their mother was inside drumming. I still remember how she tapped her little foot to keep the time.
Well, back at the University I spotted a fellow foreigner and asked him how he got here. “Oh, a friend of mine said to come over so I did,” he replied. “Just like that,” I blinked. “Yeah, just like that,” he said. He was wearing heavy blue jeans in 95 degree weather. “So where is your friend,” I asked. “That’s a good question,” he said as fear crept into his eyes, “He’s been gone quite a while. I better go look for him,” he said over his shoulder. I prepared three years for this but he planned for three days.