The book chronicles my lifetime of travels to all seven continents and the funny, scary, or downright weird things that happened along the way.
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I visited China, or more correctly, the People's Republic of China, with my mother in 1980, shortly after it reopened its doors to the world and to tourism. They weren't entirely ready for company yet but did the best they could, as quickly as they could, to greet the Western capitalists with open arms. They honed their English language skills and stocked their shelves wtih items they hoped tourists would buy to take home as souvenirs.
In the capital city of Beijing, we stayed at the best hotel available at the time. Even so, conditions weren't without fault. The first evening, I found a dead cockroach floating in the container of water on the nightstand in our room. I took the thermos to the room steward on our floor and asked/gestured to him to replace it. He merely nodded, seeming to understand me, and obligingly emptied the contents into the sink in the janitor's closet. Then, he refilled the same thermos from the cold-water tap---minus the cockroach---and, with a slight bow, handed it back to me. Politely, I refused it and returned to my room, realizing that our two nations had very different ideas about the definition of purified water.
After settling in for the night, I telephoned the hotel reception desk to arrange for a wake-up call. The next morning, the phone rang at the appointed time. I answered it, expecting to hear a pleasant voice wishing me a cherry "Good morning," perhaps accompanied by a short weather forecast so we'd know how to dress for the day. Forgetting how very little English anyone spoke, the greeting I did receive was just a brusque, "Get up!" It was simple, it was effective, and I got up, smiling to myself at my unrealistic expectations.
An employee of the tourism bureau who spoke tentative, but understandable, English accompanied our group on all of the sightseeing outings. The guide promised to answer any questions we might have along the way. If she didn't know the answer, she pledged to find out. Almost immediately, someone asked her a question she couldn't answer. But true to her word, she assured us she would find out and would tell us the following day when we met.
The next morning, the Chinese guide approached me and graciously said, "I have the answer to your question of yesterday."
I politely responded that I hadn't asked the question and then pointed out the woman in our group who had.
Clearly embarrassed, the guide gasped, tried to cover her mistake, and said, "Oh, I am sorry! You all look alike!"