开放之前的商务旅行 / Business Travel Before The Open Door

 

 



长江上的渡船(摄于1978年) / Across the Yangzi River, 1978

 

开放之前的商务旅行:问询订票需耐心

在伟大的改革开放于1979年开始之前,中国完全是另一个世界。

第一次来中国商务旅行时,本以为能见到的东西都找不到:广告、天气预报、电话(还有电话簿)、公司名片、出租车、私家车、咖啡、可口可乐、五颜六色的时装、电视机……


然而,那里有各种各样你想不到的东西:随处可见的痰盂、拉大粪的马车、挂在旅馆床上的蚊帐、路灯上面的大喇叭、写着“我们的朋友遍天下”和劝告所有人都要“为人民服务”的路牌,等等。



在中国国内旅行,简直就是一次历险,因为航空公司(当时中国只有一家)没有电脑系统,旅客必须亲自到公司办事处购票。可是,全国大部分地区并不对外国游客开放。


电话和电视机是稀罕东西。即便偶尔能看到一台电视,也多半是黑白的,屏幕很小,有十几个人正挤在它面前看着。

从香港至广州,每日有一班火车,需花费大半天的时间。此时,还没有连接两座城市的飞机、渡轮和公路。

1978年,我协助一位美国客户做成了一个项目,然后陪同他和太太去了趟北京。他想在北京的会议结束后,乘船游长江。我觉得这是个好主意。

我事先在香港查询得知,只有到北京之后,才能订游长江的船票,但我们仍不清楚,能不能得到游览的许可。


到了北京,我们去中国旅行社办事处打听。像航空公司一样,当时中国也只有一家旅行社。垄断和中央计划是20世纪70年代中国的特色。

北京的中旅办事处好心地把电话借给我们,让我们打给重庆办事处。他们甚至帮我们拨了号码,但在当时,帮我们打电话还不属于他们的服务范围。

主管的那位同志是位身穿白衬衫、表情严肃的中年妇女。她接通了电话,把话筒递给了我。

听到重庆方面应答,我用普通话自我介绍,表示我们想要两张从重庆发船游长江的票。

我先是问,在我们想出发的那天,重庆有没有船?

“有。”

接着,我问:“有没有两张头等舱船票?”

“没有。”

于是我又问:“那天的头等舱都订完了吗?”

“没有。”

“可那天不是有船吗?”

“有。”

“那我们能不能买两张头等舱的票?”

“没有。”

“票都订完了吗?”

“没有。”

我开始泄气了,但决定换个说法问问,从最基本的问题开始。

“你们有船吗?”

“有。”

“能搭人吗?”

“能。”

“是从重庆上船顺长江而下?”

“是。”

“能坐多少人?”

“几百人。”

终于得到了一个肯定和否定以外的回答!谈判有了突破,取得小胜,谢天谢地!

“船多久发一次?”

“天天都发。”

“有客舱吗?”

“有。”

“客舱分等级吧?”

“对。”

“有几等?”

“四等、三等、二等。”

“最好的是哪一等?”

“二等。”

“难道没有头等吗?”

“没错。”

“二等舱是最好的?”

“是。”

“你有两张我提到的那个日子的二等舱票吗?”

“有。”

“我现在能预订吗?”

“可以。”

就这样,我们开始了游长江的第一段行程。虽然最初订票不很顺利,但整个旅程还是非常美妙的。

我后来知道,在改革开放前的中国,“头等”听上去有一种讨厌的资产阶级腔调,人们避免用它来给交通工具的位置命名,不把它与旅游者联想在一起。在那个年代,你跟朋友、同事、邻居说,自己坐二等、三等或四等舱游览了长江,会稳妥得多。

像当时的很多事情一样,你一定要耐心地提问。如果运气好,你最终能搞清事情的缘由。

Business Travel Before The Open Door

China was really another world before the great reform and opening which began in 1979.

As a first-time business visitor, all kinds of things you expected to see were missing: advertising, the weather report, telephones (and telephones books), business cards, taxis, private cars, coffee, coca cola, colorful fashion, television sets, etc.

On the other hand, there were all kinds of things you didn’t expect to see: spittoons were everywhere, nightsoil wagons, mosquito netting hanging over hotel beds, big loudspeakers on the street lamps, billboards proclaiming that China had friends all over the world and exhorting everyone to serve the people, etc.

Travel within China was quite an adventure, because the airline (note the singular noun; there was only one) was not computerized and ticketing could only be done in person by the traveler himself at an airline office. Most regions of the country were closed to foreign travelers anyway.

Telephones and TV sets were rarities. If you did come across a TV set, it was likely to be a very small black and white screen, with 12 to 15 people huddled around it.

From Hong Kong, it took the better part of a day to get to Guangzhou on the once daily train service. Planes, ferries and road links between the two cities came later.

I escorted an American customer and his wife on a trip to Beijing in 1978 after the successful completion of a project we’d helped him with. After our meetings in Beijing he wanted to make a boat trip down the Yangzi River, which sounded great to me.

I made some inquiries in Hong Kong and was told that Yangzi River boat trip bookings could not be made until we got to Beijing. Even then, it was unclear whether or not we would get permission to go.

In Beijing, we went to the China Travel Service office to make inquiries. As with the airline, there was only one travel agency in those days. Monopolies and central planning were defining characteristics of the 1970s in China.

CTS Beijing kindly let us borrow their telephone to call their Chongqing office. They even dialed the call for us, but making the call on our behalf was not yet part of the available service scope.

The comrade in charge, a rather dour middle-aged woman in a white blouse, made the phone connection for me and then handed me the phone.

When Chongqing answered, I introduced myself in Putonghua and stated our desire to book tickets on a boat from Chongqing down the Yangzi River.

I first asked if they had a boat sailing from Chongqing on our desired date of departure.

Yes. (“you”)

I then asked if they had two first class (“tou deng”) cabins available.

No. (“mei you”)

So, I said, you are fully booked in first class that day?

No. (“mei you”)

But you do have a boat sailing that day?

Yes. (“you”)

Then we would like two first class cabins if possible.

No. (“mei you”)

Then you are fully booked?

No. (“mei you”)

I was beginning to get frustrated, and decided to take a different line of questioning, starting with the basics.

You have a boat?

Yes.

It carries people?

Yes.

Down the Yangzi River from Chongqing?

Yes.

How many people?

Several hundred.

At last something other than a yes-no answer ! A breakthrough in the negotiation. Thank goodness for small victories.

How often does it sail?

Every day.

Does it have cabins?

Yes.

Are there different classes of cabins?

Yes.

What are the different classes of cabins?

Fourth, Third and Second.

Which is the best class of cabins?

Second class.

So the boat does not have any first class cabins?

Correct.

Second class is the best class of cabin available?

Yes.

Do you have two Second Class cabins available on the date I mentioned?

Yes.

Can I reserve them now?

Yes.

And thus the first stage of our trip down the Yangzi River began. It turned out to be a wonderful trip, even though the reservation process got off to a slow start.

I learned that “First Class” in the pre-Open Door era in China had an undesirable bourgeoise sound to it, to be avoided in naming parts of a transport vessel, or in association as a traveler. It sounded much safer in those days to tell friends, colleagues and neighbors that you traveled second, third, or fourth class down the river.

Like a lot of things in those days, you had to ask questions patiently. Eventually, with luck, you might figure out the reasons why.
 


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