By Donnell Gavin

BEIJING, China, 7:42 p.m. — My to-do list, leading up to my departure, consisted of such things as:

“toiletries in tiny bottles”

“dressy clothes”

“sleeping pills?” (the question mark, because I work 50+ hours a week, and wasn’t sure I’d be able to skip out in time for a pharmacy visit)

“Bisquick*” (the asterisk, because I ended up forcing my intern to run to Morton Williams and get it for me, again because my work schedule wasn’t exactly conducive to grocery shopping — also, the Bisquick, because the family I’m staying with can’t accept other sorts of host/hostess gifts)

“t-shirt for [boss]”

“black pearl necklace and button earrings for Nana”

“print David’s suit measurements”

In this, I see more or less my entire understanding of China up until this point — it is far away, so the flight requires sleeping pills; you can’t buy Bisquick; you can buy cheap pearls and custom made suits.

Considering that this is a potentially (though quite possibly not really) a very public forum, it’s a little embarrassing to admit what an irresponsible tourist I’ve been leading up to this trip. I speak no Chinese, I’m not familiar with many sites-to-see besides the Great Wall and the Olympics, and had made few attempts to remedy either of these predicaments before departing.

On the plus side, though — for the readership if not for me — my bumbling did yield one slightly amusing story:

After disembarking in Beijing after a 13 hour flight, I located a ladies room with reasonable ease. Then, upon scanning the stall doors, I noticed the first few had a vaguely obscure set of circles and ovals, resembling no particular toilet configuration I’d encountered before. So, trying to be game — and more importantly, trying not to be immediately critical — I ended up using what amounted to a porcelain hole in the floor, before leaving the stall and realizing that exactly one stall over there was a row of about 20 Western-style toilets. Oops.

At least we can all agree that I’m trying to be a good sport.