The early morning light gave me glimpses of both the poverty and the industry of this country as the train chugged into the station at Beijing. The city itself seemed to suffer from a thick and unhealthy cloud of pollution, but it certainly didn't slow down the incredible numbers of people passing through the station and the surrounding area. If Harbin was bustling, Beijing was bustling times 10. The morning rush hour traffic made me yearn for the Long Island Expressway. In due time, we arrived at the Capital Stadium, home of the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the site of our meeting with Mr. Lan Li, the vice president of the federation.
The meeting brought a surprise. The Asian Hockey League had just completed their year-end meetings and there was good news to report. Rene Fassel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, had come to the meetings with a proposal from a Swedish marketing company, which proposed striking changes and benefits to boost the league and the Chinese teams in particular. While the details are still sketchy, the proposal could be just the tonic they need. Hopefully the deal will be as good as it sounds. As for cooperation between the Islanders and the teams, we'll see how this new deal unfolds.
One of the greatest benefits of having a career in professional hockey is the chance to see some pretty cool places. Never did I think it would bring me to China's Great Wall, which is where I found myself two Sunday mornings ago. Truth be told, I was a little skeptical. I mean, it's just a wall, right? Well, consider me enlightened. It threads through the mountains with spans that rise at more than 45 degree angles. It was magnificent in its scope and size. I'm just sorry that I didn't stop to pose for a photo at the kiosk. The chance to be photographed sitting astride a camel in a Genghis Khan outfit doesn't present itself that often.
Along the way, I found myself in Tianemen Square looking up at the gargantuan portrait of Mao Tse-Tung. Couldn't help wondering if the 70-plus-year-old Mao really did swim the Yangtze River as the government suggested he had in a testament to good Chinese living. And there was the magnificence of the Forbidden City, home for centuries to China's Emperors. There really were eunuchs! Makes me shudder. So much more of this place flashes back to me. I wish I could do it justice.
There is something special about traveling. You have to actually go to a place to get an understanding, however incomplete, of another culture. The chance to see and feel and hear how another world of people lives can't be truly experienced by watching National Geographic specials on television. As far as journeys go, this one was very special. It touched my soul.