I’m sitting across from Eric at my kitchen table having breakfast–fresh fruit, homemade granola, green tea. “Ah, Chinese tea,” Eric says. I am pleased that he is pleased. I want my guests to feel at home. Between us lies the National Geographic Atlas of the World , opened to a map of China. Eric is pointing out the the city of Yangchou, where his parents live, located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Yun Ho Rivers. It is a city with a rich history going back thousands of years; Marco Polo writes about living there in his memoirs. Yangchou is very different, Eric tells me, from nearby Shanghai, a frenetic, crowded, polluted metropolis from which he fled some years ago to jobs in Montreal and then Toronto, whence he arrived late last night.
Eric works in IT, and now that he’s got his Canadian work permit, he hopes to spend some time in California, to “learn more in his field,” he explains. I get the impression that he’s a hard worker and ambitious. Eventually he expects he’ll go back to China. He traces the trajectory of the Yangtze River west from the Pacific into the vast country that is so foreign to me. I’ve never looked in such detail at a map of China before, and now I’m getting my own private travelogue. It is just another unique experience that comes with running the Queen Anne B&B.
Two years ago this August I started a bed and breakfast in my house. I thought I’d have weeks to get prepared. After all, Binghamton, New York is not exactly a high-profile destination. But I had hardly set up shop when I got my first booking, a Chinese post-doctorate student needing a place to stay while she looked for an apartment. Since then I have hosted FEMA workers from Texas and Louisiana, a Long Island chef who roasted venison on my grill, recruiters for a work/travel program from New Zealand, and the lead singer for the 1990’s rock group Arson Gardens. I’ve met a microbiologist from Germany, artists from Austria, a bicycle historian from Toronto, a stand-up comic from Montreal, and proud parents of college students from Micronesia, South Korea, and the Bronx. Because my B&B is pet-friendly, I have made the acquaintance of prize-winning Salukis and poodles, as well as Bonnie and Clyde, a pair of cats that inhabited my attic for three months.
Technically Eric’s Civic Holiday begins later today, but he wanted to get a head start on the traffic, so today he’ll be closeted in his room working from “home,” with my dog and cat for company. Then he’s off to Philadelphia, where he wants to visit Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” sculpture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His final destination is Washington, DC. Eric takes pictures of everything, including the German paper pouches we are using for our tea, which he’s never seen before. He uses his smart phone like a visual diary.
After Eric leaves I go to his room to changes the sheets. In my guestbook he’s written, in both Chinese and English, “Thanks for Mary’s wonderful breakfast. And also, we have a nice talking.” I’m glad he feels the same way I do.
“Who’ve you got coming this week?” my friends want to know. “How were those weekend guests you had?” They are full of curiosity about this new career of mine, and I’ve always got stories to tell. I never imagined that so many interesting people passed through Binghamton. Sometimes we get acquainted over a glass of wine on the front porch when they arrive; if the weather is warm we have breakfast in the garden. Every one of my guests opens a small window into her life that merits remembering.
In my attic I keep scrapbooks that I made as a child, their brown leather covers bulging with dance cards from Miss Simond’s Dancing School, postcards from a trip to Williamsburg, an autographed program from an American Ballet Theater performance, all neatly arranged on thick manilla paper. Blogging about my Bed and Breakfast guests is a modern-day way of preserving memories. I hope you will find their stories as interesting as I do.
If you want to find out more about the Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast, you can do so here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/198468