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The Umbrella

By John Lynn

A cool, rainy day provided me with one of the most memorable events of my tour of China. We had driven some good distance from Guilin to visit an old, rural village that pressed against a river. In earlier times it had been prosperous as a result of trading – primarily in salt. Today however, it stood very time worn and functioned mainly as a tourist site.As we disembarked from our tour bus, a light rain began to fall. I felt well prepared for it as I had an umbrella and a voluminous rain coat. A few people did not bring rain protection and they had to huddle under tour mate’s usually small umbrellas.

As we walked in the ancient village rain began to fall more steadily and soon a small stream flowed down the stone – paved road that we were following. I encountered one of our tour members who had no rain gear at all: she was trying to stay dry under a friend’s umbrella but her shoulders were beginning to be wet. So I lent her my umbrella and, for myself, pulled the back of my raincoat over my hair to try to keep my head dry.

Rain began to fall in earnest. I was glad my friend had my umbrella but the raincoat – over – the – head strategy for me wasn’t too practical and I abandoned it. My head got wet and rain ran down my back. As I stood under the cover of and eve, watching the downpour, a middle-aged woman approached from her near – by shop, carrying an umbrella and offered it to me. I did not notice that it was old with few rainy days left in its life. As I thought she was offering the umbrella for sale, I turned it down. She persisted. I turned it down again. Lisa, who was observing all of this, spoke up and said the woman was trying to give the umbrella to me. After overcoming my reluctance I accepted the umbrella and continued down the street. When I came abreast of her shop I could see my reluctance was entirely unfounded-she dealt in brush paintings and other items of Chinese art. Presenting me with an umbrella was, almost certainly a loan/gift offered without an expectation of anything from me at all. As such, I experienced the gesture as an expression of selflessness-love. It seemed to bridge the chasm between our cultures and their often ominous collisions. It fit well with my earlier impression of the Chinese character gained through reading Buck’s ‘The Good Earth’ and other recent works.

The umbrella worked well enough for another hour-leaking only slightly, it kept my head dry. I decided to tip her 10 yuan as “gent rent” and entered her shop on the way back to the bus. Our local guide delivered my payment to my benefactor now in a hive of customer’s. After some discussion between them, the guide emerged and told me that I could keep the umbrella. While it survived only a few more hours, I will hold it always as my best memory of our tour.
May 9 & 10‘How it Came to be That our Guide Jeffrey, Arranged for our Private “Charter” Flight FromHuangshan to Shanghai
By Eleanor Barkelew

After a relatively dry, much shorter descent from our hotel atop Yellow Mountain, we spent a delightful morning and early afternoon in Hong Cun village. Also known as Water City, a village designed in the shape of a water buffalo where we enjoyed a delectable lunch of a local fare at a village restaurant. As we meandered around the man made lake in the center of the village, we saw many young artists sketching or painting the picturesque scenes that abound in the old village. Later we had a fascinating visit to the Anhue China Ink Factory, (just before closing time). We had a nice block of free time to visit the many interesting shops along Old Street. We purchased local teas, calligraphy scrolls, art work and other special items.

After dinner in a good restaurant at the end of Tunxi Old Street, our bus took us back to the hotel in Huangshan where we had left our major luggage prior to the trek up Yellow Mountain. Once luggage had been repacked and sorted, we loaded the bus and headed to the Huangshan airport. At the airport we said farewell to William, our local guide in Huangshan, and trudged into the airport under the watchful eyes of Jeffrey.

Our one-hour flight to Shanghai was scheduled to leave at 11:30 P.M. When 11:00 rolled around and the boarding gate remained dark and unmanned, there were a few murmurs of inquiry, among the group. A young woman in an airline uniform talked briefly with Jeffrey, but there was still no sign of activity at the boarding gate. About 11:15 P.M., Jeffrey called the group “to order” for a short announcement: There was “bad news and good news”. The bad news was our plane was “broken”, the good news was “they MIGHT be able to fix it and our flight would just be delayed a while”. Another 10 minutes passed, another announcement from Jeffrey: “The bad news is they can’t fix the plane tonight, so we have two options – spend another night in Huangshan or take a six-hour bus ride to Shanghai.” Jeffrey would let us know. There was another 10 minute pause in the information flow. After intense discussion with the airline rep and some cell phone calls, Jeffrey announced that we would be spending the night in Huangshan. Since we departed for a one-hour flight, many in the group (including yours truly) elected to check most of their luggage-including what would have been carried aboard under other circumstances. In response to inquiries regarding access to the already checked bags, we were told it would take 4-5 hours-hence it was impossible!

So, just before midnight our somewhat bedragled troupe headed for a somewhat dilapidated diesel bus which would eventually take us to the Huangshan Hongta Hotel on the outskirts (that’s an understatement!) of “Downtown” Huangshan.

Thanks to Michael’s wit and talent for focusing the group on all things amusing and distracting and thanks to the general optimism and flexibility of the group, this unexpected ‘detour’ did not squelch our spirits. We would spend what was left of the night/early morning at the hotel and depart after lunch for an 1:30 flight to Shanghai.
Since many of the group had little else with them other than the clothes on their backs, LOTS of pocket tissue and some good reading material, breakfast the next morning was a mild version of “fright night”.There were NO shopping opportunities (even for bottled water or snacks) within walking distance of the hotel, and the hotel “shops” only opened briefly for about 15 minutes in the morning. However, several in the group discovered a beautiful esplanade along the river where a number of women were washing clothes and several men were fishing. Others enjoyed the “Pagoda Walk” behind the hotel.

Once we were aboard the “Dreadful Diesel” headed for the airport, Jeffrey announced that our 1:30 flight to Shanghai would be “Just for us.” So, we, a group of 26, had the entire plane to ourselves,one row per person! Our inflight “meal” was a three-decker “tea sandwich” – 3 half slices of crustless white bread with a quarter-sized slice of salami, a thin clice of cucumber and a SMALL piece of lettuce hidden in the middle of bread slices two and three. This was accompanied by a much-welcomed small bottle of water.

It was a trouble-free 50 minute flight to Shanghai (the plane HAD been broken – we all recalled!)The unexpected detour meant we missed most of our last full, free day in Shanghai, but the good news was we had our own “private juet” and the “Gang of 25” rolled with the punches!

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