Friday, December 03, 2004

When I left Beijing in the first week of September I bought a quarter of a kilo of green tea and a quarter of a kilo of oolong tea. After nearly eleven weeks of semi-occultation in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania I am finally out of tea. So I have to go back to Beijing. The quickest and cheapest way, I soon discovered, was a non-stop flight from New York to Beijing on Air China. So I packed up my caravanserai and bid farewell to the hallowed hills of Bruedersthal.

The hills of Bruedersthal. My caravanserai is near the high ridge line to the right.

Road leading to my caravanserai

Main tent at my caravanserai where I dwelt in semi-occultation for eleven weeks

While in the Bruedersthal area I did make a short side trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, home of West Virginia University. Here I met with the lovely and charming Ms. Jen, who teaches at the WVU while working on her doctorate.

Intellectual Powerhouse Ms. Jen (left) along with Big Al and Little Al #1

On November 29 I took the bus from Somerset to New York. As usual I took a seat in the very back, which was pretty much unoccupied. At the last moment two vans arrived and 12 prisoners who had just been released from the two nearby prisons clamored onto the bus and sat in all the seats right around me. So surrounded by ex-cons, most still in their prison uniforms, since apparently they had nothing else to wear, I proceeded to New York, arriving at eleven o’clock that night. I checked into the Hotel Pennsylvania right across the street from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station at 33rd Street and Second Avenue. I had stayed here several times before while catching trains at Penn Station and went back simply out of habit and because it is near the Greyhound Bus Station. In truth this place Is a real dump, although still immensely popular with tourists who pack the lobby at all hours of the day and night.

Next morning I took a cab up to the Air China office on 52nd Street and picked up my tickets. Coming back got caught in an immense traffic jam due to the Christmas Tree festivities at Rockefeller Center. In the afternoon I called my friend Ms. S., who I had last seen back in August in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, boarding a train for Irkutsk, Siberia. She was free in the evening so we agreed to met. I walked down to Union Square in the evening, spent an hour in the Barnes and Noble Book Store and then met Ms. S at her apartment complex just off Union Square.

Ms. S.

We proceeded to a nearby Thai restaurant and caught up on what we had been doing for the last four months. From Ulaan Baatar she had gone to Ulaan Ude in Buryatia, then to Irkutsk in Siberia and Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal, all places I myself had been, so we had a lot of notes to compare. Then she went to the city of Krasnoyarsk, on to the autonomous republic of Tuva, from there to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, then Kashgar and other towns in Xinjiang in western China, then to Chengdu, China, somewhere along the line making a side trip to Burma, then ended up in Shanghai, from where she flew back to New York, arriving a week or two ago. I may have missed a few places but in any event it was a real wanderjahr. In a week she is going to Turkey to film a documentary on the whirling dervishes of Konya and visit her family (she is a Turkish citizen but lives in the US). Eventually we retired next door to the Cedars Bar for postprandial imbibements and more discussions of an assortment of pressing matters. Hopefully we will see each other again in Mongolia, if not sooner.

The next morning it was pouring down rain and a huge crowd was assembled outside the hotel trying to catch cabs. I caught the bus to JKF. My flight was supposed to leave at 3 pm but the plane was delayed out of Beijing and did not take off from New York until 9:30 in the evening. Thus began the thirteen and a half hour, 11,900 kilometer flight to Beijing. Luckily I got an emergency row seat and was able to stretch out or this would have been real torture. We arrived in Beijing at the insalubrious hour of midnight, long after the airport buses had quit for the day, so I had to take a cab my favorite hotel near the China World Trade Center. I had left New York on Wednesday, but it was already Friday by the time I was finally ensconced in my hotel room. Actually the trip was not nearly as grueling as I had anticipated. If I had a roundtrip ticket I could just buy some tea this morning and catch the afternoon flight back to New York. With the backwards time change I could be back in the Vale of Bruedersthal by Saturday evening.