Soon after we arrived in Beijing, I heard from a woman I had first met back in 1985, when she was a student at Beijing University. We called her "Chocolate" back then (I'm still not sure why). Her English was fantastic, as was the twinkle in her eye and her never-ending energy. She was one of the people I really wanted to find after we moved, so I was delighted that we connected so easily.
As it turned out, she was out of town at a seaside resort with her two young children. We had traded e-mails,and she was calling to invite us to join them for the weekend. It was hard to tell if she was serious or simply being polite, but the place sounded fabulous: right by the sea, a hotel situated on a dramatic cliff, with pretty good food and a wide clean beach; cool in the evenings and warm during the day. In short, an enticing contrast to Beijing, which was grimy, stiflingly hot and oppressively humid.
I found the hotel online (isn't Google wonderful?):and liked what I saw on "Shandong Internet":
We made it to the Beijing airport with plenty of time to spare, excited by the prospect of taking our first domestic flight in China. This involved a visit to a new terminal, and a new set of procedures.
When we finally got to Weixian, we found a tiny little airport in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, Chocolate had helpfully arranged a car to meet us. After barrelling along dark country highways for more than an hour, glimpsing endless corn fields rushing by, we made it to the hotel, which was lit brightly. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after we had unloaded, and paid the driver, that we found out we were at the wrong building in the complex! We spent the next 45 minutes traipsing from one place to the next, luggage in hand, until we found our spot. Needless to say we were all griping by that point...
We were therefore delighted by the suite Chocolate had reserved for us!
The suite was straight out of the 1950s, in a great way. Decadent opulence, Chinese style: polished wood panelling, beautiful down comforters, thick brocaded drapes, and silk bathrobes. I had learned on the drive in that the hotel had only recently opened to tourists. Before that, it was exclusively reserved for the Communist Party elite. It felt as if we had stepped back in time.
We woke up the next day and had fun meeting Chocolate and her kids. In an extraordinary coincidence, they were also named Miranda and Sammy (though her Sammy is a boy). We hadn't been in touch for more than 17 years (my fault entirely), and yet we picked the same names for our kids! Small world...
We went down to the beach and had fun on the sand:
The only trouble was that it was HOT and HUMID! So much for the relaxing breath of fresh air at the shore! In fact, it was so hot (and our trip had ended so late the night before) that we beat a hasty retreat to our sumptuous room for a long afternoon nap.
We got up for dinner, and trooped into the hotel's dining room not sure what to expect. The menu emphasized fresh seafood (no surprise there), but the girls' palates were strictly carnivorous. Luckily, the restaurant had Miranda's favorite -- hot pot!
By the end of the meal, both girls were happy. Miranda wanted to order another round, and Sami was graciously content with a serving of delicious chicken.
The weather wasn't great, but the food was a big hit!
The next day was also really hot and humid, but instead of going back to the beach to bake, we decided to explore the town. The hotel was perched at one end of the town in an oasis of tranquil beauty. Right outside the hotel gates, however, was a gritty seaport and ship yard.
It's hard to imagine how the residents felt when they saw Party cadres whisking by in chauffered cars before disappearing into a Four Seasons-level resort...
We hopped into a cab and visited the local market, which was bustling with people and goods:
This was the girls' first experience in a Chinese local market. They attracted a lot of attention with their freckled faces, funny-looking hats, and English commentary. Through it all, though, they held their own, and even bought a few things. We were so proud of them!
By that point it was getting late, and time to get back to the hotel, check out, and take the long drive back to the local airport. Since it was in the afternoon this time, we could see the endless fields rushing by along the way. It's really only by getting out of the cities, and travelling by land, that you begin to develop an appreciation for China's size...
Not surprisingly, our flight was once again delayed. It was dark, and raining, by the time we were called for the flight. As we rushed out onto the tarmac, I was able to grab one last shot:
We were glad to get back to Beijing that night. It had been fun to see Chocolate, and to catch a glimpse of another interesting part of China, but it was nice to be home.