My 1975 trip to China was the first since I had visited Shanghai in 1939. Few Americans had been issued visas - only two thousand out of one hundred thousand applications.

Lulu and I had taken a flight from Osaka. The only others in first class were an older woman and a young boy we assumed was her grandson.

When we disembarked in Beijing, our attention was drawn to the end of the runway, where we'd seen photographs of President Nixon's parked plane on his historic visit in 1972.

As we stopped and looked, an approaching woman said, "I know you're excited to be here, but I think they want you over there." She pointed to the terminal building. Our advisor was Barbara Bush, wife of George, who, at that time, headed the U.S. Liaison Office in China. She was meeting our two companions on the flight.

Entering the building, we were greeted by a handsome man who said, "Welcome to Beijing. I am Chin Chu Chang, your interpreter." Another approached, and we were introduced to our "businessman." He spoke no English but was apparently aware of what I planned to buy.

We passed through Immigration and Customs in record time and were led to where a car and driver awaited. During our stay, the interpreter, businessman and driver would be with us. In the evening, we would be on our own. This exceptional attention was provided at no cost.

The hotel had been assigned. We had no choice. Our room on the second floor looked directly across the street into a crowded hospital ward. This was not the most charming accommodation but quite adequate. One mystery was solved when I returned unexpectedly to the room in midmorning. I'd forgotten something. I now understood why our bath towels were always wet. The room boy had been using them to mop the bathroom floor.

I'd spent enough time shopping for antiques in the warehouses to the east of the city, so our hosts advised I should see some contemporary furniture being shown in a downtown building. None of this I found interesting. I told Chin Chu Chang - I've never heard a more delightful name - and he passed the word to the businessman who was disturbed, for we were scheduled to spend the morning there; and it was not yet ten o'clock.

What to do with two hours? I had an idea. I suggested we go to the zoo and see the panda bears. A phone call to someone gained us permission, and what a visit it was. Rather than leave the car in the zoo's parking lot, they opened the front gates for us; and we drove directly to the panda area. The crowd already looking at these delightful animals stood aside as we went to the front row. They formed a half-circle around us. These strange looking foreigners with their funny clothes were more interesting than the pandas.

Mandatory visits to the Great Wall, The Tombs, Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, and the Forbidden City were accomplished. Lulu, always hungry, reminded me we hadn't had Peking Duck, the specialty of the area.

A taxi took us to the famous Peking Duck Restaurant, where the man at the reception desk, who spoke English, asked, "Do you have a reservation?"

"No." When he shook his head, I added, "If you're fully booked, we'll come back tomorrow night."

"Sorry, no room tomorrow."

"Then the next night will be fine."

He shrugged and took another tack. "Of course, you wouldn't want to eat at a table with others." He thought we'd agree.

"That would be fine," I said.

Now defeated and frustrated, he said, "Follow me."

As is typical in large Chinese restaurants, the appearance changes the further in you go. In the front, tables are crowded and service sporadic. In the rear, table clothes appear, superior utensils and good service.

Where was he taking us? I soon found out. We made an abrupt right turn, went through a doorway leading to an alley, crossed the alley and found ourselves in a barren room looking like it had once been a warehouse. Two large, round tables over which single naked light globes hung were the sole decorations.

Here, in complete isolation, the two of us were to eat. The service was slow and sullen. The Peking Duck was delicious.

Dinner over, we started to leave the restaurant to find a cab. Our friend at the front desk said, "Please, stay inside. If you appear on the sidewalk, you will cause a traffic jam."

He found us a taxi, directed it to drive up on the sidewalk flush to the entrance and told us to get in and leave.