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At Canton's White Cloud Airport, the visitors boarded the single plane on the field, a Russian-built Ilyushin-18 and flew off to Peking, attended by a khaki-clad stewardess. When the Americans arrived, Peking was still gripped by winter. The capital's houses appeared bleak brown and gray. Taken to the Hsinchiao Hotel and served a sumptuous tray of cold Chinese hors d'oeuvres, the inexperienced travelers assumed that was their meal. They dug in lustily. When they finished, however, nine other courses followed. "We had food you wouldn't believe," said Connie Sweeris. "Shark-fin soup, century-old eggs, and for dessert soup with a whole chicken floating in it. Actually, I got used to it."
The Chinese made it very plain that they welcomed the table tennis team as the "people of America," whom they carefully separated from "the Government of America." As the team moved around, the lesson was driven home to the Chinese citizens in the press and on the radio. "There was tremendous interest and no hostility," said one of the accompanying newsmen. "If the expression was not one of interested curiosity, it was one of welcome friendliness. That message must have been put over by the Chinese government." In fact, the New China News Agency carefully spelled it out for its readers: "The peoples and players of China and the U.S. are friendly to each other."
The Americans asked to see the Great Wall of China, and they were taken on a two-hour bus ride through an oncoming stream of trucks, bicycles, ponies and people and past a majestic mountain range and fields green with bamboo shoots. At the crenelated, 2,400-year-old wall, Steenhoven was moved to comment: "I've seen Hadrian's Wall between Scotland and England, but it's just a pebble by comparison." Back in the capital, the visitors were taken to Tsinghua University, where Cowan and the younger players broke off to play table tennis with some of the students. Steenhoven, the Chrysler man, was invited to drive a truck that had been built almost entirely by the students. "I complimented them on the quality of the chrome, the bead of the arc welding, and the high-quality workmanship," he said. "I drove the truck very badly, I'm afraid, partly because the press was out there in front and I was afraid I might kill a couple, so I stalled the engine a couple of times."
The most enthusiastic member of the team, 19-year-old John Tannehill, who had embarrassed his companions by declaring that "Mao Tse-tung is the greatest moral and intellectual leader in the world," was unable to enjoy the fun. He was taken ill with chills, a headache and stomach trouble.
When it came to the stated object of the visit, an exhibition table tennis match, the visitors found undiminished the Chinese sense of courtesy and ceremony. A full 18,000 people had gathered in Peking's modern Indoor Stadium to watch the event, and they burst into applause when the