Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sept. 3, 2005 Sat

Took off from San Francisco at 2:20 pm PST after paying to upgrade to business class. Debated for about 10 seconds before considering the 11-1/2 hour flight. Definitely worth it. The adventure begins.

Sept. 4, 2005 Sun

Smooth landing at 4:50 pm Beijing time. No lines at immigration and barely any at customs. The Post's driver, "Xiao Xie," picked me up with a big grin and a sign with my name on it. It all seems so easy.

My colleague Phil Pan is "Xiao Pan." Apparently I am Small Fan. Practiced my Mandarin on Xiao Xie as we slogged through traffic. He thinks I'll be fine but I'm not convinced. I have to resort to my Chinese notes to continue the conversation.

Phil takes me to a nearby noodle restaurant, where he showed me how to use my new smartphone. Then we toured the two-bedroom apartment I'll inherit next year. It's spacious and filled with beautiful old Chinese furniture. Phil has a one-minute commute across a courtyard to the office.

Meanwhile, my convenient but average hotel completely ripped me off the first night until the local Post staff renegotiated the rate for the rest of my stay, saving 57%.

Sept. 5, 2005 Mon

Met Grand Aunt Xiao Bi-lian after breakfast, my paternal grandmother's step-sister. She was delighted with a photocopy of two old photos, one showing her and her sister as young girls at a Shanghai birthday party circa 1938, the other showing Dad and his mother, who she refers to as "sister."

Bi-lian brought along her "daughter" Wang Lei, who is actually her paternal granddaughter. But Lei Lei, 26, doesn't call Bi-lian "Mah Mah." Lei was an only daughter and was sent to live with another only daughter cousin so the two would have each other for company. As a result, Lei follows her cousin in calling Bi-lian "ah boo." which is a term for a maternal relative.

Spent the afternoon apartment hunting near the Taipei Language Institute in East Beijing; it's mostly expensive high-rise complexes which seem to totally isolate their inhabitants. One living room view took in eight construction cranes. Tomorrow we search closer to downtown.