February 28, 2010

A story from the Great Wall

Mira (with Tommy) on the Great Wall of China

Back in August 2005 my daughter Mira and I had quite an adventure in China. Mira was 15, and had always wanted to go to China; her fascination with finally being there made her game for anything. And we did everything, in a constant state of WOW. There is so much to absorb in China – it is so different, so completely OTHER from anything we’d seen before or have since. I think we laughed for two weeks straight.

We flew 14 hours on a nonstop from Newark to Beijing. Our bodies were completely confused by the 12 hour time difference, but that made an early morning start in Beijing perfect for Mira who would never dream getting up at 6AM – unless it felt like 6PM! This being before the Olympic clean up, the air was thick with pollution. The sheer numbers of people was mind boggling, bicycles careening with cars through major 8 lane intersections with no traffic lights. Terror would make us want to close our eyes – fascination made us keep them open. We joined the throngs shuffling through Tiananman Square where hundreds, maybe a thousand, were already lined up to pay their respects to the tomb of Mao. Then on to the Forbidden City where the architecture of endless hall after hall is astounding. First you pass through the Gate of Imperial Supremacy (formerly the Gate of Supreme Harmony) which is in front of three grand halls. Each name is sweet in the saying of it, and part of learning each name is hearing what each used to be called — so that each hall has at least two and in some instances 5 names. Now, I don’t want to ruin the surprise if you’re planning on visiting, so I will just say Mira and I were particularly enthralled with the Imperial Garden with its Hill of Accumulated Elegance, now known as the Hill of Accumulated Beauty. Sadly we were not allowed to take the time to accumulate either beauty or elegance while we were there, even though I fear we were in desperate need of both.

But the real point of this story is about how our need to feel connected through our favored technology is never left behind behind. even when we think we’ve left it behind. For me it’s usually email (how many exhausted evenings did I waste trying to connect in the ‘business center’ of each hotel, instead of going straight the bed??) For Mira it was her newly acquired cell phone, a precious tool in her arsenal of accoutrements. Looking back I see how silly it was of me to even suggest she leave it at home – after all, at work we field calls from grown men and women who can’t part ways with technology even though they know better. They just have to be constantly connected with the job they are taking a vacation from. Oh well, I suppose that’s a topic for another posting.

Change scenes: We have driven out of the smoggy city to a section of the Great Wall. We rode a cable car to the top of the mountain, walked past vendors roasting crickets (or something crunchy..) and selling t shirts, then climbed many steep steps to the top of the wall itself. Whoa, what a sight! It is here, gazing off as far as we could see over rolling hills, following the snake of the Great Wall slicing the landscape that I hear a familiar sound. Wait, is that Mira’s cell phone RINGING? IN a split second I am thinking: I know she brought the phone to China, but why would she turn it ON. Why would it be in her pocket and not the hotel safe? And why would it be RINGING? We are on the GREAT WALL, in CHINA, in the middle of nowhere, without a cell tower or electric socket in sight. How can this be…

I tell her she can answer it, but she has one minute. My heart pounds with the worry of how much this is going to cost me. Here is how the conversation goes:

Mira: Hi Nora!

Nora: Hey Mira, how are you doing?

Mira: Oh I’m good

Nora: Hey, I thought you were going to China

Mira: Yeah, I’m here now, standing on the Great Wall

Nora: WHAT?!?!

So there you go, in a world where a Western flush toilet can be hard to find, you can get better cell phone service than in some parts of the USA.

PS – our cell phone service was with Verizon, we did not have any special add on for international service, and the cost of that one minute call? A 60 cent roaming charge.

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