China 1985

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1985

Our guide had refused to obtain the customary souvenir brochures of Beijing for the students.  Consequently, I spent the free morning for rest that we were allowed today this morning trying to obtain some for the boys.  I was unsuccessful, but I did quite enjoy the experience of shopping so close to Christmas without all the ‘usual’ pre-Christmas commercialisation in the shops.  Christmas Day would be just an unobserved, ordinary working day in China.

We left our hotel at 10:30am I was dropped off with our Chinese Language teacher at the CAAC headquarters (with the student who had lost his ticket) to obtain the replacement air ticket.  It was a case of 5th time lucky, although with CAAC having three people to do one person’s job, and everyone getting in each others’ ways, the ticket took some time to issue.  A quick taxi trip followed to catch up with the others for what was by then the remains of a fairly cold lunch.

After lunch at Chongwenmen, we travelled the short distance to Beijing Central Railway Station, where we caught the train for Tangshan via Tianjin, some hours to the north-east. I spent most of the trip playing 500 with the boys.

Tangshan was devastated by a massive earthquake in 1976, about three months before Mao’s death.  (The Chinese always say that natural disasters precede the downfall of a dynasty).  The city was completely levelled, a quarter of a million people were killed, and every building now standing was constructed post-1976.  In general, this means row upon row of uniform high-rise flats.  Tangshan is a city which you can safely say you have seen after one glance along any street.

We went to Tangshan because one of the principals (Cao Jianying) who visited our school in Sydney in 1983 was from Tangshan No.1 Middle School.  I had been corresponding with him for over a year to arrange the visit, and his replies were always among the most enthusiastic received.  This enthusiasm was evident on arrival at Tangshan Railway Station at 5:30pm, (well after a dark), when we were greeted on the platform by welcoming committee consisting of the Deputy Commissioner of Education in Hebei Province, the Headmaster of the Tangshan No.1 Middle School, his two deputies, his English teacher and a dozen English speaking students from the school who insisted on carrying our bags, plus of course Mr Cao (who is now principal of the Teacher Training College in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang).

It seems that we were not only the first group of students to visit Tangshan but also the first Australians.  My two teaching colleagues were driven to the hotel in a chauffeur driven car from the Ministry of Education, and after a personal welcome from the manager of the aptly-named Tangshan Hotel, we were given four room suites on the top floor.  For dinner that night, we were given a reception at the hotel, with speeches, toasts, etc.  It was all very heady!

Day 18

Beijing to Tangshan

Friday, 20 December 1985