I remember the first time I visited China, it was in the early seventies before Nixon had visited. Mao was in power and the Country was in the control of the infamous Red Guard. It wasn't easy then, as China had no Embassy or Consulate in the States I first had to fly to Hong Kong to get a visa. Even though I had been invited,it was days of Bureaucratic red tape and a lot of uncertainty. I finally got my visa and headed for Kai Tek airport.
I had my first uneasy feeling when I realized I was the only person on the plane. There were not many foreigners going into China in those days. The plane landed in Beijing and the captain had to call for someone to drive the stairs over so I could get off the plane. It was truly a bazaar experience, there was not a soul in the airport and the lights were off. I walked through customs and immigration without seeing anyone. When I reached the baggage claim area I realized there was no one to take my luggage from the plane. I walked back through customs and immigration only to find the plan which had brought me here was slowly pulling away. I ran out onto the tarmac and started to shout and waved my arms to the pilot. The co-pilot came to the side door and yelled to me. After a few minutes of shouting back and forth my luggage dropped out of the belly of the plane onto the tarmac.
I wouldn't call it panic but a strong felling of consternation came over me. I went, again, through the airport and walked out of the front exit doors out to the parking lot. The fact there was not one vehicle in the lot did not surprise me. I surveyed the area and saw it was totally flat with one road out of the airport which was cut through unending flat fields. I could not yet see what was growing in these fields but after a while realized it was rice. As this was Beijing Airport and there was only one road I took an educated guess that if I followed it I would wind up in the city.
I walked for three hours and still could not see a city but I was enthralled by the goings on around me. For miles now there had been literally thousands of people all dressed in blue Mao suits with their pant legs rolled up over their knees picking rice or making mud bricks. They were making millions of bricks, men were digging mud from the rice paddies and others were taking it to areas to be mixed with hay and put into forms. The forms were lad out for miles to sun dry the bricks. I was constantly being passed by small horse drawn carts which seemed to be taking these bricks into the city. Just about four hours into my walk a horse drawn cart full of hay slowed next to me and the driver motioned for me to get in. I hopped on the back of the cart and within an hour I was dropped off in front of The Beijing Hotel. (first Installment, second Installment to come.)