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First evening in Beijing

I’m traveling with my 21-year-old son Tom, who is 6’2, a former footballer currently sporting a Marine-style haircut. He got the college curls cut off on Wednesday so he can talk to people about internships and jobs. He’s revisiting Beijing nearly three years after studying Chinese at the Beijing Language & Culture University and we’re now safe and sound in the Beijing Friendship Hotel, which consists of many buildings in traditional style spread in a garden complex, and restaurants of all kinds. Very handy in the ‘50s, when it was built, Tom commented, to keep all the foreigners together.

After getting to the hotel at 5pm, we went for a walk on one of Beijing’s busy thoroughfares, bought a roasted sweet potato on the street, and ate dumplings and tofu and cabbage soup in a small restaurant There were no English menus and they spoke no English. But there was no surprise about Tom’s speaking Chinese. Things have changed a lot from the days when a foreigner speaking Mandarin was as exciting as an elephant walking on its hind legs. (Or as a dog opening its mouth and talking, though that image doesn’t reflect so well on waiguoren [foreigners].)

New at the Beijing airport: a push-button “Customer Satisfaction” box at the immigration desk. Given how surly U.S. officials are, it’s no wonder we haven’t installed them at home. But I did have a positive customer service experience at security at Boston yesterday, someone who was friendly and good-natured as he checked people through the scanner.


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