Iâ€™m traveling with my 21-year-old son Tom, who is 6â€™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. Heâ€™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 â€˜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 Beijingâ€™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 Tomâ€™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 â€œCustomer Satisfactionâ€ box at the immigration desk. Given how surly U.S. officials are, itâ€™s no wonder we havenâ€™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.