My trip to China is over. Briefly: it was a good trip. There’s so much to tell; I figure I should break it into chunks, starting at the start.
I loaded up the Brompton with warm clothes, gifts, guidebooks, laptop and Stokemonkey part samples and left for the Portland airport on Monday morning last. The bike serves pretty well as both a taxi to and a luggage cart within airports.
I gate-checked the bike as an inline wheelchair or adult stroller. It fits in the overhead bins of some airplanes but not of others, so gate-checking is the smoothest way. Note lack of protection; I think the bare bike communicates “handle with care” better than a protective case, and of course who wants the empty case to schlepp around after the bike’s out?
The flight was uneventful, unless 17 hours of travel is an event. I descended into Beijing the next day at night, dead tired. My very first impression was of the city lights: they seemed mostly not white or even incandescent yellow, but greenish, red or blue, and wrapped in a dimming haze of coal soot, dust, and solvent/plastic/hydrocarbon fumes from the unbelievable scale of construction going on in Beijing. And I mean unbelievable: I worked in Manhattan for years, but still can’t grasp the size of Beijing. I rode around the city for a cumulative 22 hours over the next four days and saw forests of heavy cranes disappearing miles into the haze in every direction from almost every vantage point. Truly a staggeringly huge city already and getting even bigger in a hurry.
Yung “Kenny” Lam, my host and component supplier, met me at the customs exit. Apart from being very tired, and in spite of our having exchanged hundreds of emails since 2003, I was nervous about our first meeting from too much reading about Chinese etiquette and manners in such things. He surprised me with a non-Chinese style handshake (think Texas), and waved down my faltering attempt to greet him properly in Mandarin. “It’s OK! Take it easy Todd Fahrner! You relax!” Kenny came with his brother-in-law “Lee” (Li?). As we drove from the airport to the hotel he had booked, they were silent, so I was silent too. Even though there could be no hiding the truth about my ignorance of Mandarin, I’m always reluctant to just start yacking in English, especially as Lee understood none. My first impressions of Chinese road manners made me reluctant to distract Kenny in any way, too. I looked out the window for anything interesting, but pretty much all airport access speedways look like bad science fiction to me. Anyway, Kenny later told me that my silence in those minutes made them worry that I was angry.
The hotel was in the Chaoyang district, near several embassies and expat restaurants and bars. The room was fine. Internet (with uncensored Google), toilet paper, firm bed, no bathroom camera apparent. Lee scooped up and discarded the cards under the door advertising services for “remove of the male sexual function obstacle.” We chatted a little in the lobby cafe over lung ching tea (they drank coffee!) about the next day’s trip to where Stokemonkey’s motors and controllers are made, I gave Kenny some of the gifts I had brought, and I slept.