20 Summer Days In China by Betty Blunden (1974)

17 August 1974

A fine, hot day on the 17th. After breakfast at the hotel we were taken to the railway station in ‘our’ bus, with only our hand luggage to take care of. A suburban train ride to the border, passing through attractive but unkempt countryside. Not until we crossed the border did we realise how unkempt it was. I think the only non Chinese passengers were the members of our group. We reached the border and terminus of the train at Lowu, just before lunch. We left British soil and walked across the famous covered bridge into China. Our first Chinese town was Shumchun, though all we saw of it was the railway station, Customs buildings etc. We saw our first Red flag and first slogan in big red and gold characters over the Customs building. It translated ‘long live Chairman Mao!’, the exclamation mark at the end being the only character that was recognizable. Unfortunately that exclamation mark was to be the limit of my understanding of Chinese characters. We all felt tremendous excitement and anticipation of great adventures as we crossed into China. And here at the border we met Miss Chi who was to be one of our interpreters for the whole trip. Young, small and very pretty. She looked very fresh in a pale blue shirt, navy blue pants, white socks and black shoes with a strap across the instep. Our party was dressed very casually. Some of the women in dresses. Most of us in jeans with sandals or thongs, the men in jeans or shorts. During our whole trip we met only one adult Chinese who was without socks. This was Mrs. Jar, an interpreter attached to us in Peking during our last week. She was a very experienced interpreter who must have mixed with a great many foreigners and picked up some of their customs. No socks being one of them. The children everywhere wore sandals without socks but not adults. Many Chinese people from Hong Kong crossed the border with us. They come into China on a visa to visit their relatives. Later, as we moved around the country we could always recognize — Hong Kong Chinese by their trendy clothes, their longish hair, or, if it were a man, because maybe he was fat.