Travel Journal

When you look like your passport it's time to go home.

Returning Home

Well the time has come to return home. We had coffee with some friends at a Beijing Starbucks. But the hour flew by and we needed to head out to the airport.

It took longer than we thought and again we were lost trying to figure out where we were supposed to go to pickup a flight to U.S.A. There were signs for Hong Kong, Korea, and other Asian destinations. Just a small sign that said "Int'l" gave us a clue.

Getting through security took a long time too. Stamping VISAs and Passports, checking IDs, stripping before the security scan and then reassembling myself afterwards took more time than we calculated. We made the gate with about 30 minutes to spare. I couldn't bear the 12 hours of flight without a book to read so I ran back to a bookstore and picked up a small paperback for a mere $18. That's 125 yuan. That's what I paid in China for my North Face jacket! It's robbery. I gulped when the woman scanned the book and loudly announced the cost I'd have to pay for these few sheets of paper with some ink on them. I also bought one for Ruth and she nearly fainted at hearing the cost.

We boarded the plane and sat behind a woman who coughed the entire 12 hours. With every breath, she hacked. I thought she's pass out just from the exhaustion of it all. I finally put the ear plugs in and started my book.

Later in flight we watched our Chinese DVD movie: Turn Right Turn Left on my iBook. A little sappy but on the whole a good romance story.

We landed in Chicago at 4:30, about 10 minutes late. I was unprepared for what lay ahead.

First we had to fill out a declaration form, then go through customs, then claim our baggage, then recheck our baggage, then go through security (shoes off, laptop out, etc.), then catch a tram to our terminal, and eventually find the gate (it wasn't listed on the boarding pass).

The customs guy was a little chatty. "Oh, you were traveling with your wife to China? How was the trip? What are your occupations?" I kept thinking: "I'd love to chat and all but please just stamp the passports, we've got another plane to catch. I'll give you the blog address. You can read all about it after work." But I just smiled and said: "Yes, we had a great time. Software Architect and Medical Transcriptionist. Thanks."

We went through security but had to take our shoes off, empty our pockets, remove our belts, and separate the notebook. At the other end we had to reassemble again. It was 5:30 and our flight to Atlanta was to leave at 5:45 p.m.

Our boarding passes didn't have the gate number so we had to locate one of those TV screens and look it up. It was way down the end of the NEXT wing. This meant running down stairs, under the tarmac and then back up some stairs, and then down to the end of the wing. Ruth was running in her socks but finally put her shoes on while we were riding one of those people movers, you know, the flat escalator. She didn't have time to tie her laces and we ran on to the end of the wing, loose laces whipping behind. People gawking.

The boarding agent had just closed the door. It was 5:45 and the flight was scheduled to take off right then. But she opened it for the two sweaty bodies that begged on bended knee.

The flight to Atlanta from Chicago was bumpy. One man gave us his seat so that we could sit together in the back. I got some sleep on the previous flight from Beijing but Ruth didn't and the lack of sleep was wearing on her.

Maiko picked us up and drove us home. It was nice to see folks driving in lanes again. The cats were fine. The house was intact. Maiko took good care of things for us.

The hot shower felt good, the pressure was strong, and I didn't have to duck under the shower head. The toilet was Western. We didn't have to squat over an Asian porcelain hole in the floor. We could throw the toilet paper in the toilet and not in a waste bin beside it. And there is actually a toilet roll on the wall, we didn't have to bring our own.

Even the blow dryer cord was long enough. At our last hotel they put the foldable blow dryer in a drawer, drilled a hole for the cord in the drawer bottom, wired the plug on the end, and plugged it into the wall. They felt this was a good way to keep the dryer in place. Trouble was, I had to sit at the desk and bend over to reach the back of my head.

But those are just cosmetic things.

Ruth says she misses the childlike curiosity towards weiguoren. The Chinese people are truly curious about us, in anything we do. When we bought some flutes from a street vendor, two other guys came by to see what we were doing. In the West people would walk by and ignore us. Ruth asked the men if they were friends of the vendor. No, they were just interested in what was happening.

We also miss the people we met, their kindnesses, helpfulness, and generosity. While living in a foreign country we learned that communication is critical for daily needs. We realize that lodging, food and water were all we really needed. That and a xishoujian (clean-hand-room, the bathroom). We miss the simple view of life. Everything else is superfluous. Everything is borrowed. We can collect stuff all our life but in the end, stuff decays, breaks, rusts, gets taken, or rots. Things matter little. Memories matter. People matter. Relationships matter. Our Creator matters.

And that's the thing that struck me the most. Everyone is afraid of what is not like themselves. As I stood in the long Customs line in both China and the U.S. I think how crazy this world is. Each country distrusting the next. Blocking entry and making border crossing unpleasant, difficult, and in some cases impossible. Blue counters as far as the eye can see, stamping, checking, scanning, and filtering people of every shape and size. But we are all really the same. We all have families, relatives, friends, and companions. We are all trying to feed ourselves and our families. Sure, we love the land of their birth, who doesn't? But we don't care where a political power puts a line in the sand. I think how much different things will be when the political borders are removed and people will be allowed to freely go from country to country and get to know each other at a more personal level.

Yes, there are monsters. There are people that will not change. They feel it is their duty to destroy another's peace. But no country's blue counter or border checkpoint will be able to stop them. No government has been able to do so in the past. Why would we expect they could do it in the future?

I talked to my buddy in China. I expressed concern for China after the Olympics of 2008. Will China still be open to the West? Or will it swing back the other way? 'The horses have already left the barn' was his general feeling. Too much has occurred and China is relying on the developed nations to help it improve it's economy. China is just trying to control the rate of change. Unlike Russia, China wants to make sure the growth is more controlled. That's a good thing.

And even though I was frustrated that the hosting stie for this blog was blocked. (It was a pain to have to double post to so that I could observe the finished entry.) Still, I wish the U.S. would do some filtering too. For example, place restrictions on porno and violent sites. And make it harder for our young people to become entangled in trash on the Net. China is attempting to do just that. It's true, they may be heavy handed at times, blocking an entire hosting service (like, but in some ways I wish the West would follow.

There is much more to assess from our trip. It'll take months for us to digest it all. We look forward to returning here to review and remember all our experiences. But it's time to catch up on our sleep.

We left Beijing at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday the 29th. We flew for 12 hours and arrived in Chicago at 4:20 p.m. on Saturday the 29th. The clocks say we are in the same day, in the same hour, but our bodies tell us differently.

The bed was soft. The air was clear. The noise was gone. We slept well.

My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. -Charles F. Kettering

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Last Days in Beijing

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We got started a little late but wanted to check out Beihei Gongyuan(North Water Park) in the center of Beijing. It's worth the visit. There are flowers and trees and rocks and a huge lake. You can rent boats or take a small "shuttle boat" from a point at the edge of the lake to the island. There are small rock clusters where you can sit and have lunch, and many did. Ruth said to me: "It's amazing how peaceful and inviting the rocks look." It was amazing how comfortable they looked. There are also larger shaded pavilions where people gather and sing and dance. In one pavilion we saw three men on harmonicas playing folk songs while woman danced with scarfs in the center. A weiguoren boy danced with his mother while the dad snapped a picture. There was an old man with a tambourine inviting others into the dance or gesturing to one of the dancing woman to do a solo jig. One woman did a kind of robot thing with her head, jerking it from side to side and gesturing mechanically with her hands.

It was 3:00 and we still hadn't eaten lunch. We always carry a few Kashi bars to hold us over but I was feeling dizzy by the time we walked the mile to Wangfujing. We found a McD's and downed a Big Mac and coke (never got our fries) and that just made matters worse. Ruth left me to veg in an indoor AC'd Starbucks. Here's the strange thing, McD's and the KFCs we went to never ran their air conditioners. It was always hot and stuffy inside. At one McD's it was unbearable as the seating area was upstairs (heat rises) and the music was blaring.

So I veged while reading my new learn to read/write Chinese book. She was gone and back with a few things within the hour.

We did a little shopping together and then met a couple in the store sitting on hand carved jet-black Chinese chairs. They spoke some English so we got to chat a little. Very nice folks. We had been looking for an American film on DVD with Chinese audio and English subtitles. They offered to show us a couple of stores. Se we walked and talked together down Wangfujing street. They asked if we had dinner and what we planned for the evening. They were just honestly pleasant people. We hated to say "Goodbye" but had arranged to meet someone else for dinner. So I took a picture and exchanged emails.

And that was our general experience in China. Always someone willing to help a foreigner out. Sure there were grumpy taxi drivers here or there but on the whole they were truly helpful. We even entertained some with our clumsy Chinese. We'd all laugh together while our driver dogged busses and pedestrians in the streets.

Tonight was Ruth's turn to select a restaurant. She picked a Morrocan style restaurant. That's right, Morrocan in China. The servers were dressed in the garb of the country and the walls had persian rugs hanging from them. She ordered lamb kabob. I just sat and had a Qingdao beer. My stomach was still doing funny things. There was a table up against the wall of about 20 people. Obviously some kind of celebration. They were doing gambei (empty cup) toasts and each person around the table took turns singing. It was beautiful Mongolian tunes. Many in the restaurant knew the tunes and would sometime mouth or sing aloud the words. It sounded like tunes I've heard Navaho Indians sing. While the singer stood, everyone around the table would clap in time and sing the choris. A young long haired Mongolian man sang so well, holding notes longer than I can hold my breath, received claps all around the restaurant when at last he finished his last note. I wish I'd had a recorder to convey the wonderful sounds we heard in our last night in Beijing. What a treat and a cultural experience.

We got back to the room after eating dinner and heard fireworks. We pulled back our hotel room curtain and watched a fireworks display just across the street. Obviously someone heard that we are leaving tomorrow and decided to give us a great send off. Such nice people here in China.

We love CCTV. Chinese Cable TV is fantastic. We watched a few shows to get sleepy. They have everything: Chinese lessons, news, sports, circus acts, and movies. If we can get it in Georgia, it would be worth installing cable.

Before you beat a dog, find out who its master is. -Chinese proverb
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Back to Beijing

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Ruth and Lynn always looked forward to breakfast to finish any Scrabble game they started the night before.

After the free breakfast buffet in our Qingdao hotel we got a ride to the airport for our flight to Beijing. We had a driver that didn't speak any English so got some language instruction. We asked him if he had any children. It's a question that everyone asks and is not considered too personal. If fact, the Chinese consider it showing personal interest. Such a question soon after meeting someone my be too personal in the west. Another common greeting I heard was: "Chila ma?" (Have you eaten?) During some of the difficult famine years the answer was often NO. Now it's almost like saying "Hello."

When we came down to our airline gate two girls at either end of a cafe were announcing in unison what was in their stores. They sounded like a computer reading a menu because of the sameness of each sentence but their voices were beautiful. It almost sounded like a song in stereo.

We made it back to the Rosedale but the room wasn't quite ready so we had a 30 yuan ($4) cup of coffee (the most we have ever spent on coffee) in the lobby and ate some Russell Stover chocolates Lynn gave us some as a parting gift. Thanks Lynn!

We dumped our bags and went to Wangfujing...again. We wanted to pick up some books and trinkets We did well in saving money so had a little left over to shop. It was late at night and the lights were perfect for pictures. I took a picture of a Catholic Church just across the street from the Wangfujing Book Store.

The U.S. dollar goes a long way in China. Don't expect to use a credit card a lot. Only at the good hotels did we use our card. Everywhere else we used cash. I just carried a folded sum in a binder clip in my front pocket. I never used coins. If we did receive coins as change in a store, we just gave them away to some folks needing help on the street.

Once Ruth bought some milk and gave it to a woman who pushed her daughter in a wheelchair. The woman was very appreciative She held her hands together and bowed several times intoning "Xiexie ni." It's so hard to pass these folks in the street without giving them something. But I never did and kind of feel guilty about it. Ruth always wanted to give away our change or our food, and she did on several occasions. Sometimes they'd follow us a long way down the street, often walking a half a city block with us, before returning to their spot. I rarely saw anyone give them anything. It's not easy to do when you consider that we can buy anything in a store and sleep in clean sheets at the hotel while these folks look as though they haven't slept anywhere but on the street. In fact, we did see several sleeping on the sidewalk using the flower bed curb as their pillow. One woman slept while her two year old played in the dirt by her head.

A flower cannot blossom without sunshine nor a garden without love. -Chinese proverb
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Qingdao Beach

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We are kind of winding down to our last days in China. We've seen and done a lot so it seems as though we've been here a lifetime. When we browse through our pictures we don't really comprehend our faces. It all seems as thought it's someone else staring back at us, someone else that had all those experiences.

Today was just a walk on the beach. Our taxi dropped us off at the far end of the beach and we worked our way back. There was lots of activity considering it is the middle of the week. Wedding photographers were everywhere. Women in wedding gowns and men in tuxes dotted the rocky beach bent in impossible poses that looked terribly uncomfortable but I guess looked good to the photographer. Ruth and Lynn decided to try some of the poses themselves. They looked as glamerous to me as the brides so I snapped a few pictures of them. Those other photogs have nothing on me. Who on this entire beach had two beautiful models to photograph at the same time? No one, that's who.

By the way. I'm the only non-asian I saw in my entire stay of Qingdao. Everywhere I go heads turn. No doubt because of my good looks. When I stopped to sketch, people gawked. I think I'll just put a cup out on the street. I may as well make some cash at this.

We walked up the beach and through Zhongshen park. The tulips were in bloom, tulips of every color. I'd never seen anything like it since New York's Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. There were several people selling hot corn on the cob so I bought some for 2 yuan. The first bite was disappointing. It must have been last year's corn, or maybe the year before. Later Wayne told me those vendors buy the corn in large bags for next to nothing, boil it up, and charge the two yuan to unsuspecting foreigners. No local person would buy it, they'd know better.

After eating, Lynn decided she wanted to buy another pen as a gift. We had walked miles looking for just the right pen. We looked in Beijing, Yangshuo, Guilin, and Qingdao. While in Qingdao we had the poor lady pull out every pen in the large glass display case. Then we walked out with nothing. The lady was not happy. We ended up buying the pen from another store. Now Lynn wanted to go back to the same lady and look for another kind of pen. As soon as we approached the counter we could see the same lady stiffen. We looked at all the pens and left without anything...again! Then we walked to the book store and bought a second pen there.

Wayne wanted to treat us to another meal. Bill's associates in China had already treated us to a grand meal the day we arrived but now Wayne wanted to take us to a seafood restaurant. I guess he saw how we readily downed the abalone the first night so he wanted to expose us to still different kinds of seafood.

When we walked into the restaurant he handed the hostess a bag full of live crab. He told me later he bought his crab an hour ago. "It's fresher." he said. I guess so. He had been to the same market we visited on Sunday and bought the crab while we were getting ready for dinner tonight.

The hostess brought us up to the third floor and into a private room. The place settings were are rainbow of colors. There was a large etched round glass lazy-susan.

Wayne excused himself and went downstairs to choose what we would be served. Later he showed us the fish tanks. It was like walking through the Atlanta Aquarium. Every variety of fish: shell, bone or soft was available. Fine Chinese dining means choosing from live animals. He'd never just order from a menu. Before he orders he wants to see the food he'll eat.

Wow, what a meal. There were 13 courses, 4 cold, 8 hot, and soup. I'm not sure I can remember everything we ate. Here's what I remember:

1) cucumbers with pepper sauce
2) pregnant squid (each filled with squid eggs)
3) crab
4) beef with peppers
5) sea urchins
5) conch meat with vegetables
6) oysters
7) fish soup
8) black bean balls with pine nuts
...and more

The sea urchins were very good. It was like eating custard. They prepare them by pouring egg into an opening in the shell and then cook the meet and egg together. Fantastic. The squid was about six inches long including tentacles. When I bit into one (I had to take bites as they are too large to swallow whole) I saw it's body stuffed with clear golden eggs. The meat was very tender. It was very good.

None of the food had any fish smell. Even the soup was not fishy. It looked like chicken broth with white chicken meet floating around. It was softer than chicken. It was like eating the Hawaiian mahimahi (tuna) fish in a broth.

I didn't want Wayne to order expensive wine again. The wine we had the other night with him was the best wine that China makes. So I told him: "Women zai Qingdao, dui ba?" "Dui."he said. "Wo zai Qingdao hai meiyou he Qingdao pijiu. Weishenme?" (We are in Qingdao right? I still haven't had a Qingdao beer. Why?" He joked: "Because we've drank it all up!" "ai you" (So sad.) I told him.

When the brewery opened in Qingdao they promised the townspeople that Qingdao beer served in Qingdao would be no older than a week. Indeed, our beer was only two days young. It went well with the fish as did the second best wine in China that Wayne still ordered for us.

When walked out, three men arm in arm swerved and stumbled in front of us and spilled out the front door. In China it's common to go drinking after work with your boss or buddies. This is when the most business is transacted. Wayne looked at me and apologized. "This is the way it's done in China." he lamented.

I'd be afraid to complete any business deal with a drunk, but that's just me. What do I know?

We are going back to Beijing tomorrow, a couple of days before returning home. It's sad to leave our new-found friends here. We need to return.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
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Qingdao Market

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We decided we haven't spent enough money on goods so Ruth and Lynn found yet another market in Qingdao.

This one is the best so far. No pushiness, no grabbing, no yelling. Just a simple stroll through floors and floors of goods. Everything you can imagine is for sale here too. China has lots of goods for sale. It's a buyer's market.

Ruth has been looking for a pearl necklace so finally got one here. Lynn said they were so cheap she got one too. Our driver, on loan from Bill's company, took us to the market and then back to get something to eat. Of course, I needed a Starbucks fix.

While we ate, he went out and had our chops (Chinese stamps) carved by computer. Very professional. Even though I bought a stone chop in Yongshuo, the sculpted wooden chops of a horse and lion were very cool. They came with a magnetic cap so you don't get ink all over the desk.

We got some pictures printed of the folks we met in the villages and had the concierge print the Chinese addresses on the envelopes. I think village folks will get a kick out of having a picture of themselves and their child. I'd love to visit them again some day to see if they still have it displayed in their homes. We didn't see any photographs displayed anywhere in their homes. They are very poor farmers.

At the Kodak printing store I had a little trouble communicating with the Xiaojie (Miss) about what images I wanted, how big, and how many. To make matters worse my computer generated the the images from RAW format but didn't add the JPG suffix so their programs couldn't read them. "Wo Keyi ma?" (Can I?) is a great phrase to memorize because I showed her how to add the suffix and she was ecstatic. After that it was a breeze to get the pictures printed. I think I had 10 4x6 pictures printed for just a $2. She even cropped them for me. When she got the crop right I'd say: "Hao de." (That's good.) I learned that from the guy in front of me.

By the evening we didn't want to go out again. We had cocktails in the lounge and tried the Korean restaurant in the hotel. This hotel looked like it may have been a five star some years ago but I think they may have lost some of the stars since. The Korean restaurant was quiet so we went in and ordered. The strange thing was that no matter what we ordered they would point to the same picture on the menu. (Again, no one speaks English.) "Michael Jackson xi huan." (Michael Jackson likes this one.) So we took that as a hint that we ought to order the one dish. We did, but when it came it didn't look like the picture we had been pointing to. Lynn called the waitress over while Bill rolled his eyes. "It's okay Lynn. You will not be able to communicate what you want anyway. Let's just eat this." When the waitress came over and Lynn pointed out that the food "bu yiyang" (not the same) as the menu the waitress said: "It's only a picture, not the real thing." Oh, that explains it then.

But it was food and it wasn't bad. The wasabi (Japanese green hot paste) was the most potent I've ever had. I nearly burned out my sinuses. Yikes!

"Adventure is worth while in itself." -Amelia Earhart
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What a clean city Qingdao is! It's weather is cool and dry. It reminds me of San Francisco this time of year.

Wayne and Susan (Bill's associates) took us on a driving tour of Qingdao. We started in the fish market. Here's the deal. I dressed in my very best so that I would not embarrass Bill in front of his business associates. It turns out that I was the best dressed weiguoren in the entire fish market. I wore slacks, black penny loafers, a red stripped shirt, and tweed sport coat. Come to think of it I was the ONLY weiguoren, besides Bill, in the market.

We saw all kinds of live seafood displayed in buckets and pans - slugs, snails, turtles, oysters, baby abalone, sting rays, and flounder. The flounder is the strangest kind of thing. It lays flat and has both of it's eyes on top. If you've never seen nature shows about this fish, you are in for a treat. They start out swimming like all other fish. Eventually they lie flat in the sand. Their right eye migrates to the top to join the left eye. It then buries itself in the sand and waits for unsuspecting prey. You can buy them fresh here for just $100 U.S. dollars. I'll take two.

The oysters looked good. I was telling Susan about how we used to eat these in Hawaii. Just put them on the barbecue until they pop open. Then douse them with cocktail sauce and Tobasco and drown them down with a beer. Wow! Great stuff. She said she didn't have a BBQ. I suggested it would be worth buying one.

Wayne drove us from one end of Qingdao's seaside to the other. There were weddings everywhere. Some companies will take the pictures of the couple weeks or months before the wedding and then give out the pictures at the celebration. We counted over a hundred couples. The cost is about $400 U.S. which seemed like a good price to me. It's an all day deal starting in the studio in the morning and ending on the beach in the afternoon. Some of the couples looked exhausted this afternoon.

We walked along the boardwalk of Qingdao and took a few frames. We also stopped by the site of the 2008 Olympics in China. Although Beijing will host the Olympics, Qingdao will host all of the water sports. I took some pictures of the concrete construction site to show my dad. Some of the forms looked the same as I'd seen at American sites. The only thing missing was a crane. It'll be interesting to watch the Olympics in 2008 and be able to recognize the places we visited.

We rounded a corner and saw two old men sitting on stools in front of an old store. The wall behind them was missing some of it's stucco and the afternoon sun cast it's shadow across it's rough exterior. Bill and Lynn jumped out to take a photo and left the van door open. An old woman came up the street and peered into the dark interior and looked at me so I said: Nihao. (maybe I should have said Ninhao since she was older?) She looked at me with a serious stare and said: "Bu renshi ni." (I don't know you) And then she told me her age. Wayne translated the nuances of the short exchange. I thought I may have offended her but Wayne said she was just apologizing for not remembering who I was. She said her memory wasn't what it used to be. Oh. Meiwenti (no problem).

We took a little rest before dinner but was not expecting what was next. Wayne reserved a private room in a local Chinese restaurant. I counted 12 dishes. They kept coming. Then he brought out a 1992 bottle of Chateau Changyu Cabernet, China's best red. It was fantastic. We had deep fried oysters and baby abalone. I think they may have been the same ones I saw earlier at the market. The abalone was very tender. It was absolutely divine.

I brought along my iBook and Wayne, Susan and Lee politely watched some of my pictures float by. Afterward Lee told me he has a friend that is one of the best photographers in all of China. This guy has view cameras (8x10 negatives, that's right, the NEGATIVES are 8 inches by 10 inches). He once camped on top of a mountain for three days waiting for the best light. National Geographic bought one of his great photos and printed it in their magazine. Sheesh, I wish I'd had known all this before; I'd have never showed any of my pictures. Lee says he's got all kinds of camera gear himself. He's also a photographer. Susan volunteered that the guy that spent three days on the mountain is now divorced. His wife couldn't stand his obsession. I turned to Ruth and asked her if I'd ever left her for three days to take a photo. She said: "No." So I turned to Lee and said: "See this is why I'm not so good."

When Wayne dropped us off earlier at our hotel he gave us bags (that is, more than one bag) of fruit. He bought it while we were eating lunch earlier in the day. They were so big and heavy it took both of us to carry it up to the room. We were overwhelmed by his generosity.

Ruth and Lynn came back to the room to play some Scrabble. I laid down and began dreaming about sea food and China. Qingdao is a city I could easily live in.

物是人非 (wushirenfei) Things stay the same just the people change. -Chinese proverb
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Shopping in Qingdao

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Qingdao ALSO has shops. Believe it or not.

We wanted to pick up some Chinese language learning books so went to the largest book store in the city. They didn't have what I was looking for. The same books on Amazon cost $30 each. Bill bought his in Beijing's Wangfujing for $8 each. It seemed so strange to go into a book store and not be able to read a single book! Weird. Some looked really interesting too. Rats.

While I was looking for books in the Chinese Learning section a young student approached me. He said that he's a paid trannslator. He's currently trying to translate a technical business book from Chinese to English but he's having problems with a section on injection molding. He wanted to know if I could help him translate it into proper English. He began a lengthly explanation but I was having a little problem following him. Something about injection molding procedures. After several attempts at explaining a technical paragraph I suggested that he send me the rough translation by email. I'd smooth out the translation and send it back. He seemed very grateful. He says he gets 180 yuen per hour for his translation services. That's about $20 an hour. We parted by exchanging email. I haven't received the text yet. I really hope I can help him out. One thing is for sure, China needs more English translators. Some of the signs I've seen caused me to do a double take, others I simply could not understand even though they were in my language.

I bought a gangbi (fountain pen) while in the book store. I couldn't resist. It cost about $11 U.S. but in the States it would cost about $50 to $100. What a deal. Not as good a deal as in Yangshou where I bought two gangbis for just $2 each. They write just a well. Okay, so they didn't come with a box.

We were tired so headed to the food court to get something to eat. (It's tought out here walking all over the place. I'm so glad I have great shoes. My feet never bothered me a bit.) Yeah, it's true, Qingdao has a modern shopping mall complete with a food court. If you transported yourself to Qingdao and walked in, you'd think you were in any United States shopping mall. Except, of course, for the Chinese signs. Oh, there's one other difference. In the American shopping malls the center isles are filled with chocolate and candy stands. China's "candy" stands offer fish. There are bins and bins of dried fish, shredded fish, shrimp, and sea slugs. Yummy stuff. This gives the place a sort of seashore aroma.

I did manage to find a Starbucks in the mall. It's exactly like any you'd see in the states. Unfortunately they didn't have Mocha Valencia, my favorite. They had mocha coffee and Carmel Macchiato. But those are so last week. I really, really wanted to try a Mocha Valencia in China. Maybe by next visit they'll have it on their picture menu.

Buying lunch is interesting. In the U.S. you order, pay, and go. In Qingdao's food court you select what you want, walk to the center and buy a plastic card with the value encoded on a magnetic strip (looks like a credit card), then go back and order, then pay, then sit down, then wait until your number is called. So there is lots of walking around and by the time you get your meal you ARE hungry. Oh, and they reuse the wooden chopsticks so if you are at all squeamish, bring your own.

I really intended to do a little more sketching on the trip but if I did I'd have taken less pictures and done less on the blog. Nonetheless I was able to do some silly little sketches while waiting for Lynn or Ruth to decide on what they were going to buy.

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." -Beverly Sills
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A Walk to Longji

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These beds are like oak boards. Man are they tough on the back. I pulled the sheet back and discovered that I'm sleeping on a just a box spring. What happened to my mattress?

We have a nice console between the beds that controls our TV, room lights, and the bed lights. Trouble is the knob on my side controls Ruth's light and the knob on her side controls my light. But at least they work.

There's a hot pot in all the rooms. Ours has it's own separate shelf halfway up the wall so that the cord can reach the outlet two feet from the ceiling. Don't ask. Who knows?

But those are just cosmetic things. The disfunction is in the bathroom. As in our other bathroom the entire place is tiled and the entire room is a shower. Never mind there are three different kinds of tile. When they ran out of one kind they simply started using another. Again just cosmetic. The difficulty Ruth had was with the shower controls and sprayer. The controls are on the left wall but the shower sprayer is on the right. The water tube loops up the wall on the left, through a hole in the ceiling, across the top and then back down the wall on the right. If you don't want the sprayer to get you in the back, you have to remove it from the holder and face it away from you. But it's not quite long enough to walk over and reach the left side so you kind of spread eagle, one hand on the sprayer and the other on the knobs until the temperature is correct. Ruth learned how to do that. I heard some yells last night from the direction of the bathroom before she got it right.

For me the challenge is the sink. The faucet is loose and the hot and cold water controls are the reverse of the shower. This keeps things interesting. When I run the water it just drains onto the floor (why not?) and runs between my legs to the shower drain in the floor of the bathroom. This morning, when I ran the hot water for shaving, I nearly burned my toes off. Now I know why they provide the rubber slippers.

Just about the time we got used to these things it's time to leave. We have to leave later today.

The girls went off to Longji while I ate breakfast. I'm to meet them in an hour or so. While eating I met Susanna Thorntons who is riding through Hong Kong and China with a destination of UK on, get this, a bicycle! When you get bored of this blog check our her blog here. It includes audio too. Cool.

We took a two mile walk along the narrow stone foot path to a small village of Longji. The foot path is about two feet wide, sometimes less in places. Often there is water and mud running over the stones so it's a bit dicey. If you slip, it's a long way down. There are no handrails out here. Occasionally I get a whiff of pigs, ox, or chickens. We're in the country now.

Few tourists go to the smaller villages. Mostly they come on busses to the parking area. The tours swarm up the hill, have a beer and walk back down. But you get a better feel for the place if you stay at least a few days. Since Longji is two miles away it doesn't get the tourist busses that Pingan gets. So the people lean out their window and say hello as we pass below. We say a few things to them in Chinese. They invite us in for tea and a meal but we just sit and have tea with them. Sometimes they have a small child that is at first shy but eventually opens up when they see their mother laugh with the strangers. One small little boy of two years wanted to show me his socks. I took the picture and showed him his face on the viewing screen of the digital. He smiled. The mother is happy to see her picture too.

We walked around the village but had to get back to our waiting driver at the bottom of the hill. We had a quick lunch and headed down. Lynn took the easy way down by chair. I let the woman carry my bags this time. I knew them by now and trusted them. I paid 10 yuan ($1.50), the best $1.50 I've spent on the trip so far.

We had to fly out to Qingdao but our flight wasn't until 9:30, or so we thought. We wasted time in Guilin talking to a man that's an exchange student for NYU in January. He's leaving his wife and beautiful son for a year while he teaches in New York City.

At 7:00 p.m. on the way to the airport Lynn checked our tickets and discovered the flight was for 8:20! Yikes. Our driver, Xu, floored it and got us there 45 minutes before the plane took off.

I sat back, exhausted from all the hiking. I'm coming down with a cold so the flight didn't feel so great. But it was smooth and got us into Qingdao by 12:00 a.m. Bill and his business associates picked us up and took us to the hotel.

The room looks out into the Yellow Sea. What a spectacular view. But more about that later.

Avoid suspicion: when you're walking through your neighbor's melon patch, don't tie your shoe. -Chinese proverb
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Walks in Pingan

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We decided to change hotels because, well because of several reasons.

It all started with the broken bed lamps. There was only one working bulb in the center of the room. It wasn't too bad during the day but at night it felt like a prison cell. I went down to ask the owner if we could move one room over. She came up to confirm the lights were not working and said she'd send her husband up to fix it. (This is the way these things are run. It's a wife/husband team. He's the fix-it guy and she takes the money, just like in America.) Anyway it's about 8:00 p.m. and I'm exhausted from all the hiking. I want to go to bed. So I sat and waited for him. Finally at 8:30 I found him in the kitchen cooking for some guests. (Between the two of them they do everything.)

He came up, removed the panel next to the bed and pulled out live wires. I'm thinking: Isn't this stuff 220 volts? He's going at it with a screwdriver and pliers. He couldn't fix it so found me another room. That was last night. In the morning Lynn said she left some candies out and heard some munching. Little harry rodents had located her candy stash. She slept with the light on. The night before she wasn't too game on moving. Now she was ready.

So we went to the hotel at the very top of the mountain. Hotel LanYueGe. This meant more climbing so the woman from the new hotel sent her husband down to pick up our luggage. When he picked up Lynn's bag he called for reinforcements. I told him she had picked up a few rocks from yesterday's hike. Between himself and another woman with a basket they carried our stuff up another 200 steps to the next hotel.

We got settled in and then went out for an easy hike. We walked all around lookout 1 and 2 in Pingan. It took us about four hours. It was interesting to see all the channels and waterways routing water to the terraces. In some places the sounds and sights reminded me of the computer game Myst. And get this, while on the hike Lynn got a crystal clear cell phone call way out here. China's cell service is unparalleled.

We met the friendly old man from yesterday on the hike (the one that wants the picture of himself). He was picking tea leaves. He invited us to his place for some tea. We think he said tonight or did he say tomorrow? He said 9:00. He can't mean 9:00 at night for tea. Can he? He's so friendly. He talks to us in rapid Chinese. I only get the gist of what he says and sometimes not even that. We talked about the weather and I asked if the terraces would fill up for a picture by tomorrow. He laughed and told me it'll take an entire month of May to fill the terraces. Too bad I so wanted reflected blue sky in my pictures. We parted ways from the path, he with his basket of tea leaves and me with my backpack of camera gear. "Ming tian jian." (See you tomorrow.) Ruth and Lynn bought some tea and peppers from a little old lady at the top of the hill.

We came back and had lunch at our new favorite place. They serve some fried green beans with roasted garlic. It's to die for. They are so tasty. We ordered noodles, rice and egg, and sweet and sour chicken. I got a beer because, well because, I don't trust the water. Really! Besides the local beer is great.

Ruth and Lynn decided to play a game of scrabble and I uploaded the 89 pictures I took on the hike into my iBook. I wish I could say every picture was great but I deleted over half, in fact, almost two-thirds of them. This is how I convince people I'm a good photographer, I delete a lot of stuff. I now have three good pictures of China I can show people.

While I uploaded the photographs the girls from the hotel watched my computer screen. I didn't really mind. I was hoping they'd recognize the people in pictures I'd taken. "Nimen renshi tamen?" (Do you know them?) I'd ask and point to the screen. They'd get real excited and tell me the names. Some of them are hard to say. I tried saying the name of the little one on the woman's back and was corrected several times. I think they finally gave up on me. The names are so foreign to a Westerner's ear. It's hard to associate the sound with anything I know.

While I worked with the images and Ruth and Lynn played Scrabble a group of carpenters were working on the place next door. With each fresh cut of wood the scent of fresh cedar floated through the warm air. The weather is a perfect 70 degrees. The sun peeked out from the clouds briefly and a took a picture from our room window of the girls below. You'll notice our laundry hanging out the window. That's just the way they do it here. They wash and then hang the clothes to dry. Clothes dryers are for wimps. Besides it sounds better. "Clothes washed and then naturally sun dried." It's so green sounding.

Talk about sounds. All the men here can hack phlegm very well. It's a disgusting sound, at least to a Westerner, but no one else seems to mind. Usually it's precipitated with a nasty snorting sound to collect the nostril phlegm first. Then it all gets ejected in one sirupy loogie into the street. It's wise to step aside when you begin to hear the sound. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Sometimes I see a NO SPITTING sign in the weirdest places and I think Who would spit here? (Like the inside of a building.) There's talk of finning those who persist with this nasty habit. Sometimes there's no spitting though. I've seen some just hold one nostril and blow out into the street with the other. It's the same disgusting stuff mind you, just aspirated. What would the sign be for that? NO PHLEGMING? I wonder what one of those universal signs with the red line and circle would look like. Never mind.

When I think about it, it's really not any worse than smoking in public. In some ways smoking is worse. A public smoker forces everyone else to participate in their nasty habit, regardless of vicinity. Not to mention the cigarette butts on the sidewalks, gutters and highways. Really how is this any different then hacking phlegm? But I digress.

All cats love fish but fear to wet their paws. -Chinese proverb
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We have been in Yangshuo now for eight days. Bill had to go on to Shanghai so we decided to take a two day excursion into Longsheng. We hired a driver for $175 for two days to take us there for two days and then back to the airport in Guilin.

Longsheng is the area known for their terraced landscape. We plan to visit the Longji and Pingan villages there.

We had a "travel" breakfast of coffee (bought a coffee pot for 50 cents and made coffee in the room) and pastries with noodles. The breakfast of travel champions. (Our noodles came with a folding fork. We gave it to Bill so that he wouldn't starve while away from us.)

On the way to Pingan we stopped briefly at a tea house and enjoyed a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

I had seen many spectacular pictures of Longsheng and I wanted to capture one for myself. It was raining all the way up. The road snaked up the the terraces and I got glimpses at them here or there as the clouds swept through. Mostly though it was impossible to get a good shot on the way up. I didn't know where we'd be staying so I was surprised when I discovered that the hotel was amidst these very rice terraces.

Getting out of the car and up to the hotel was an adventure. I must have climbed hundreds of stairs. I didn't count them but there were a lot. I didn't realize it at the time but it would take us at least 20 minutes to climb up to the hotel wedged into the mountainside. I had no idea mountain climbing was required to stay in Longsheng. I didn't understand any of this at the time we arrived.

When the car pulled up there were hoards of women in colorful costumes gesturing toward empty baskets with shoulder straps. What did they want? I got out into the swarm. There were ten pushing in at me. I could hardly make my way to the trunk. When we did open the trunk, all I could see was a forest of arms reaching at my stuff. What is going on? "Wo bu xuyao." (I don't need.) I didn't know what they wanted but I didn't need this. I pushed them aside, hoisted my bags from the trunk and started up the hill. But the crowd of women made my every step more difficult. "Wo keyi. Wo bu xuyao ni de bangzhu." (I can do it. I don't need your help.) But they persisted all the more. Ruth is yelling at me to look up for a Kodak moment. She thought this was great fun. She had already handed over her bags to the kidnappers for some unknown ransom.

They would not take NO! for an answer. If I backed up, they'd crowd in around me. If I tried to move forward, it was tug-a-war with my bags. If I continued forward I'd have to carry all ten of them up the mountain with me. This is crazy! They all carried folding umbrellas for the rainy weather. One of them leaned down to grab my bag and and nearly put out my eye with the point of the thing. They didn't think they were getting through to the cheap weiguoren so one of the woman started a game of charades. She pantomimed climbing up hill, she wiped her brow and started breathing heavily. "Dui, Dui, wo zhidao. Wo keyi. Wo bu xuyao ni de bangzhu. Xiexie nimen." (Correct, correct, I know. I can do it. I don't need your help. Thank you.)

I was already exhausted and I hadn't even climbed the path.

If you don't want to walk, you can be carried. Men can carry you up using poles strapped to a bamboo chair. I had already climbed up three quarters of the way when they again offered to carry me the rest of the way. It's cheap for Chinese (just 5 yuan) but it's four times more expensive for a weiguoren. (I know. They offered to carry me for 20 yuan and Ruth for 5.) They think all of us non-asians have bucks. I tell them: "Tai guila. Wo shi nongmin nongfu. Wo buyao qin. Wo de taitai you hen duo qin." (It's too expensive. I'm just a peasant farmer. I have no money. My wife has all the money.) They look at Ruth, she's asian, they laugh, they don't believe me. (If only they knew that I only get $20 a week for my lunch money!) It's true. I do work in the field. Right? My Chinese name IS Tian. (Tian means "field" and the character is simply a square with a horizontal line and one vertical line running through. It's a pictograph of a rice field.)

Anyway, it's a beautiful walk up the mountain. Even in overcast the landscape is spectacular. In every direction I see terraces dotted with wooden structures, some old, some new. There is plenty of construction here in Longsheng. The heavy tourists season hasn't begun yet but it's coming. With the May showers the terraces fill up with water and reflect blue skies in their pools. Tourists swell in the wooden hotels as the terraces fill with rain.

We were beyond tired when we reach the hotel. I kept thinking that we'd be there soon but with every step and every turn there were yet more stone stairs to climb. We ate lunch and rested and chatted in the dinning room overlooking the grand view of the hotel.

(The hotel is more like a cabin. Don't expect fancy accommodations here. The shower IS the bathroom. There's a shower-head hanging off the tile wall. There's a drain in the floor. You just strip, turn it on and go. Everything in the bathroom becomes wet. Bring your own soap. There ain't no blowdryers or shampoo, you wimp.)

My favorite thing to do is stroll around and talk with the local people. Lynn is great with the kids and parents. She carries candy and asks if she can give some to the kids. After taking a picture, she'll show it to the people. They love it. She met two old men hanging out a window. She talked a bit, called me over, and asked me to take a few pictures. The old men wanted me to send them a copy so he put on his makeshift glasses of wire and tape and scribbled his address in Chinese characters in my book.

We also met two old ladies that were willing to tell us their age. The older the woman the more pride she takes in her longevity. She told us she was 70 years old. I said, pointing to Lynn: "Ta shi jiushi. Ta kanla hen hao. dui ba?" (Lynn is 90. She looks good yes?") They just laugh and laugh. They have a good sense of humor. Lynn frowned at me and told them: "Ta buhaoren." (He's very bad.) "Kai wan xiao." (Just joking.) I told them. Just these few expressions really help us connect with each other. She patted Lynn on the back and waved me off. We all enjoy our limited communication. "zai jian" We say goodbye and went on our way.

The Yao woman are another story. They dress in colorful gowns and scarfs wrapped around their heads. The distinguishing thing about these woman is their hair. They never cut it. They believe that everyone wants to take a picture of them letting down their hair. And they want money for this. Five of them walked up to me while I was taking a photo of a fern. One of them pulled out a dog-eared and faded brochure and showed me four woman holding their jet-black hair just off the ground. They told me I could take my own picture of them for some amount of money but I wasn't listening. "No thanks. Great hair and all but ..." They were very insistent. She grabbed my arm and gestured to her head and then the picture. Yeah, I get it. No! She kept at this while I tried to ignore her. She was like a pestering little kid pulling at my sleeve saying: "I can jump you know. Wana see me jump?" Go away kid, you bother me.

Our hotel is fairly empty except tonight's noisy group downstairs banging at the tables singing Hokey Pokey, an American song.

We always bring ear plugs. Tonight we made good use of them and so were soon off to sleep.

Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. -Chinese proverb
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Pavilion Restaurant

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We went shopping and then ate noodles on our balcony at Riverview Hotel when the rain came down but by far the highlight of the day was the Pavilion Restaurant. Our tour guide made all the arrangements. The owner of the Magnolia runs this restaurant too.

Here's the way Ruth described it:

"Tonight, we had another special just goes on and on. We made arrangements to take a boat with just our little group to a remote 400-year-old village. The people have lived the same way for centuries, using cormorants to catch fish and washing their clothes by beating them with a stick at the river edge. An entrepreneurial Australian/Timoruan has rented a few old buildings on the river bank and has converted it into a restaurant and eventually a hotel. He wants to maintain the old style charm and only has four tables in the restaurant. We were privileged to make the arrangements to have dinner there tonight. The view was spectacular (the beautiful gumdrop type mountains in the distance and the glassy river with water buffalo in the foreground) and the meal was definitely five star. I have never in my life eaten such classy Asian cuisine, but I would guess you would pay maybe $100 or more for this meal in America. I lost count, but perhaps we had eight courses, each dish sumptuous and artistically arranged. I could go on and on, but as usual, Dad will have pics and a little write up about the place, so you will hear more later."

The only thing I'd add is that the dishes were like nothing we've ever seen. Here are the courses as we remember them:

1) River prawns in sauce
2) Sweet/Sour Duck with pineapple
3) Pork stuffed eggplant
4) Lightly fried and stuffed Lotus root (my favorite)
5) Chopped chicken in sauce
6) Crispy deep friend Tofu with orange sauce
7) Fresh pea pods in garlic
8) Chinese cabbage (similar to Bokchoi)

And of course coffee, freshly ground coffee served with chocolates. (Lynn brought the chocolates.) Wow.

It's true we had to take a 45 minute trip up the river in a fishing boat to get there but that was half the fun. It was beautiful. This could have been the highlight of the day in of itself. We had the boat all to ourselves and climbed out on the deck to snap pictures when the rain let up. The boat trip cost us about $22 total for all five. There wasn't anyone else out on the river at 5:30 p.m. save a few fisherman on their bamboo rafts. When we got to the place there was still some light so we snapped a few pictures of the 300 year old buildings. The brickwork was interesting. It looks strange to Westerners but it's stood these hundreds of years.

As we sat and let our meal settle, the sun set and left the sky inky black. We watched the cormorant fisherman use his light to locate his prey. Even from our second story balcony we could hear the swish of the bird coming up out of the water, presumably with a fish in it's beak. Frogs croaked off in the distance.

After dinner we had to catch a bus back to town. To get to the bus we walked about 10 minutes over a concrete road that oxen used an hour before. There was evidence. We used a single light that Ruth carries on her key chain. This wasn't adiquate and we located some ox pies using our shoes. What a mess.

A waiting bus took us back home. The only interesting thing about the bus ride was the missing road. It seems that the road has been under construction and like everywhere else in China piles of dirt three feet high have been left behind. No one is currently working on the road so the bus had to dodge and swerve in the darkness to avoid hitting them. He did manage to hit some mud holes and when the bus bottomed out the kids in the back thought it was great fun. I was only thinking about the three foot drop on the side. In one place we passed another motorcycle that I thought we'd knock off the road into the ditch below. The only thing that comforted me was that I knew the bus had to come this way to pick us up so he surly could get back through. Right?

The rain stopped by the time we got back to our hotel. The streets were damp and it was the first time I realized that just outside our hotel were lighted pillars. When I took this picture they were purple. They turn red, blue, yellow, and purple in unison. It seemed so strange to me that we had just come from the "outback" of the country where our bus had to negotiate around piles of dirt to this hotel where the light pillars dance in color. China is a country of dichotomy.

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still. -Chinese proverb
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Lanzi Village

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You'd think that if you'd seen one village you'd seen them all but that doesn't hold true in China. Each is unique since the landowner chose to set up his village in whatever way he wanted.

We hired another tour guide and driver that took us to Lanzi Village. This village is walled and has a seven story tower. It's about 300 years old. We sauntered in and Lynn found a friendly old lady. She was about 80 years old. She rattled on about the town, the landlord, and the tower. "I can take you on a tour for 10 yuan," she told Lynn in Chinese. Lynn thought she was telling her how old the city was; at least that's what Lynn asked her. But no, the woman was telling her she couldn't go any further without paying 10 yuan and she held up her ten fingers. Lynn told her to hold it right there and snapped a picture of her. As the woman persisted in holding up her fingers, Lynn realized that the woman wanted money. So much for friendliness.

This seems to be the pattern here especially when they see a weiguoren, they want money. Lynn gave her a few yuan and she "toured" her through which basically means gesturing toward a doorway already open. At one point the old lady told our tour guide that for another 5 yuan she's show us a seven story tower. We told her no, we don't need to see the tower.

Our group rounded a turn and found some stairs so everyone went up the stairs. I was lagging behind and heard the tour guide yelling: "Come on up here, we found the tower." So I followed the voice. However, standing between me the the stairs was the old woman. She blocked my way and told me in Chinese I needed to pay her 5 yuan to go further. She was bent over from age so it was difficult to push past her. I told her: "Wo buzhidao." (I don't understand.) Which was true. I didn't understand everything she said, just the 5 yuan part. I kind of smiled and brushed past her and joined the others at the top of the tower. We had a grand view.

We snapped a few pictures and watched some people below. But we were unprepared for what lay below. When we got downstairs the old woman had closed the large wooden doors, locked them, and wouldn't let us pass without paying. What a crazy lady. Lynn paid the 5 yuan (less then 50 cents) after hearing that she didn't have a husband or son to take care of her. Maybe they died of starvation after being locked up in a tower.

There's really nothing in any of these buildings. They're just old dusty, cobweb filled, brick and wooden structures with lots of history. They don't even look inhabitable. But it is interesting to see the craftmanship.

The tour guide asked if we wanted to have lunch. There was a wooden door laying across some saw horses with raw chopped meat and a fist full of greens but I didn't see a restaurant anywhere. "It's right here." he said and pointed in the general direction of the flies. So a village restaurant is nothing more than an outdoor fire? He says that the food in the village is very good. I'll have to take his word for it. Let's get back to town.

After lunch we shopped for Chinese chops. These are stone stamps hand carved with your Chinese name on them. We bought a few chops and some scarfs. (My chop reads: Tian DaWei. Tian means field and sounds as close as possible to Terry. DaWei is as close as possible to David.)

Just a few days ago KFC opened a restaurant in Yangshuo so we had to patronize it. We HAD to say we ate at KFC in China. I had trouble ordering. Even though I said Pepsi I got orange drink. Fortunately they had a picture menu so I pointed. Otherwise I would have starved.

We crashed, tired from all the walking and bouncing around in the mini-van. Tonight's our last night in Yongshuo. Tomorrow we go to the area of Longsheng (Yangji and Pingan village), the place with all the terraces. We plan to spend a couple of days there before going to Qingdao.

A man's conversation is the mirror of his thoughts. -Chinese proverb
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Hanging Out

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Hanging out is cool.

We spent today just exploring Yangshuo town. We tried out another restaurant in town that served huge plates of American breakfast food. The food is always good but the "coffee" is instant. It's horrible. Choose tea or get the 20 yuan ($4) Blue Mountain brew. Just don't expect refills.

I do love the free wifi Internet in every restaurant. It's very cool. I can upload images to the blog or while having breakfast. It takes some time to get the images up on the Net so why hang in the hotel room when you can upload at the restaurant, have breakfast, and people watch from the second floor?

It's great to spend time in one area. I can really get to know the town. And there's a rhythm to Yangshuo. The vendors set up in the morning around 8:00, the tours begin around 9:00, the kids get out of school at 11:30, the tours end at 5:00, and the vendors break down their booths at 5:30. It all begins the same the next day. It's a fairly enterprising approach.

The tour boats come up the river full of, well, tourists. The boats dump them off upstream and the people cascade into town, passing through the narrow path of vendor booths on either side. Nearly everyone of the tourists I saw carry a bag of trinkets so I guess it's profitable for the townspeople. Electric open-sided buses take the people back to their boats for a few yuan. This is the worst time to try to get a deal from the vendors. Wait until the last tour boat leaves.

There must be thousands of booths made of rusted L-channel and corrugated iron. I counted a hundred within a few minutes of walking. They were setting up this morning. Some were pushing heavy carts up the hill to their assigned booth, others tried to ride their three-wheeled bicycles weighed down with heavy goods. Some of the vendors sell onyx spheres, Chinese chops, and large wooden or stone Xiangqi (Chinese chess) games. Try pushing that up a hill! They sure are industrious.

Since Yangshuo is a backpacker's haven it can get kind of crazy at night. Every restaurant opens into the street and blasts music at you as you pass, trying to coax you in at happy hour time. Some teens are hanging out in the street wearing hiking shorts and hemp sandals batting a hacky sack between them.

Last night we found one restaurant with a second floor and enjoyed an empty, quite place all to ourselves. At least until the Birthday Party showed up with a DVD of a live rock concert. The watered down drinks of happy hour didn't help us any.

Afterward we walked down the relatively empty streets. Since it was Monday night, it was great to stroll down the street without fighting our way through hordes of people.

Oh I almost forgot to tell you, a very old person died and there has been a wake that has lasted parts of three days. It started Sunday afternoon and has run through Monday evening (tonight). I'm not sure when it will end. Someone told us they will take the body out tomorrow. There's a dead woman inside the shop. A Chinese wake is a street full of old men sitting at makeshift tables eating and singing a mournful sound.

The instruments they use are drums, cymbals, and two ear piercing reed horns. The musicians play the same tune over and over with intervals of rest of about 30 minutes to an hour. When I left them Sunday night they looked pretty good. By Monday evening they looked pretty bad for they have been playing continuously all night and all day. The hotel agent told us it's a happy time for them but they didn't look happy. They were slumped over leaning on the table when I walked by Monday morning to go to breakfast. As I passed they startled me because suddenly, as if someone wound them up using a key in their back, they popped up, played their tune, and then slumped over again. The crowd out in front of the store front swelled to 40 our so men by this evening. They are eating and drinking and singing. There is trash everywhere. It better end soon because I think it's going to kill one of the players before it's over. And I don't think I can take another one of these wakes.

So last night at the restaurant we could hear the wake next door, the Birthday Party and DVD live rock band on our same floor, and the Chinese flute player in the street. I think the Chinese really like noise, or at least don't mind it.

A day of sorrow is longer than a month of joy. -Chinese proverb
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Village Tour

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We were able to hook up with a great tour guide who took us on a village tour in Baisha.

The first hurdle was to hire a driver. It's hard to walk up to a string of mini-vans and negotiate a good price when cameras are hanging around our necks.

The advantage of hiring your own driver is that you can have him stop anywhere you want. "Ting yi xia!" (Stop here!) We'd say it when we found a good spot. Often we stumble across people planting rice in their fields. They take a large bundle of sprouts, separate a small bunch of roots and toss them like darts at a board into the shallow water. The seedlings would land with a plop and send water ringlets out in concentric circles. It was graceful to watch them.

We found a water buffalo off to the side and a little shy boy tending to him. The buffalo wandered into the street and he pulled him back by the rope attached to it's nose. (There are no animal rights activists here in China.) We carried some candies and tried to give him one but he wouldn't take it. I guess a parent's warning about taking candy from strangers is universal.

We drove further back into the valley along the Yulong river. Right next to the river is a restaurant. Before we sat down we checked out the "kitchen" which consists of a small shack. There is no sink in the kitchen, the sink is the river. We took a seat on folding chairs gathered around a table positioned on a floating bamboo raft. The view was grand.

Crossing the river is a concrete bridge that the farmers use to move their vegetables to the market on ox back. If you just sit here long enough, something interesting crosses and makes for a good picture. The locals sell water pistons so that you stand on the bridge and spray people coming down the river on bamboo rafts.

We ate a wonderful meal of hot beef, vegetables, and pumpkin. A cold local beer went down smooth. The beer is only 3% alcohol so it's really like drinking clean, pure water. It's very good. We paid 55 yuan ($7) to feed all five of us. That covers four dishes, rice, tea, and beer. I think I've spent as much in America on a beer at a carnival! Ruth and Lynn gave the owner's children some candies and they rapidly devoured them, tossing the wrappers on the ground.

We walked through villages and narrow walkways, into homes, and into courtyards of the local people. One village is 1600 years old.

We spoke briefly with an older woman sitting out in front of her home. We asked her age (in her 70s) and then she invited us to take pictures of the inside of her home. Blue smoke shafted through the holes in her roof as she had just finished cooking. Her laundry was hanging on a bamboo pole suspended by rope from the rafters. There was no furniture but an old wood rice thresher was leaning up against the mud brick wall. A few "rooms" were connected by a doorway from the courtyard but I couldn't determine where one room ended and the courtyard began. I took a few pictures through the windows. Instead of glass, cobwebs filled the openings. The roof lines met at odd places and I couldn't imagine how anyone could keep dry when it rained in a place like this. What does she do in the winter? There was no electrical outlets but there was a single bulb hanging from above. It was very dark inside and yet this was a sunny day. The floors were made of tamped dirt warn uneven by centuries of traffic.

One old man told us his home was 300 years old. I believe him. Some houses in the village, like the old woman's, are made of mud bricks. (I took one picture of a manure cart in front of a mud home.) Out in the courtyard is a stone well, it's edges grooved by ropes.

We found a bridge 800 years old, a teen's age compared to the village of 1600 years, but still four times older than America. We rented bamboo rafts with chairs and floated under it's arches and watched the sun dip behind this unique landscape.

Near the river the Chinese are building a highway. The builders will come and level whatever is in the path. The Chinese residents will move on and find another place. Meibanfa?

We went back to a restaurant near our hotel and ate hot "Gong Bao" meat and vegetables.

It's Sunday evening and most of the tourists have left. The streets are quieter. A Chinese man plays a flue below our second story balcony.

Be not disturbed at being misunderstood; be disturbed at not understanding. -Chinese proverb
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Boat Ride

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I think they ought to send all Control Freaks to China. A week here would cure them.

You have to expect the unexpected. You can never be sure if you are going the right way, or getting the right advice, or hearing the true story. Everything is chaotic, at least from an outsider's standpoint. But the Chinese just take it all in stride. Control Freaks would blow a gasket. The Chinese even have an expression: "Meibanfa?" Which means "What can you do?"

For example...

We asked about taking a boat down the river Li from Xingping back down to Yangshuo. It sounded like an innocent question. You just take a bus up to Xingping and ride a boat back down. It's a shorter ride and you'll see the best of the mountains this way. Our hotel manager walked us to the bus station and got us on the right bus. We got good seats because we kept picking up people until folks were standing in the isle. The bus is really a 20 seat diesel van.

Few people spoke any English and Bill and I had just finished a Qingdao beer at lunch. I had dumped most of it. But Bill began to ask how far and how long the bus would be bouncing over all these rocks? We were told 40 minutes. Will this bus make stops along the way? Yes, sure it would. Of course the "stops" they referred to were stops to pick up more people. Like the man that ran alongside and jumped aboard. Then Bill asked the discrete question: "Xishoujin zai nar ma?" (Is there a bathroom there?) A huge wave of laughter swept through the van. Excited Chinese people began talking loudly among themselves. Some were turning their heads back toward us and pointing at Bill. He turned several shades of red. Whereas the bus was fairly quiet before (except for the loud engine), everyone was engaged in great discussion and made animated gestures toward the meiguoren that needed to stop to pee.

The bus is managed by a woman and her husband, he's the driver, she's the money agent. She yelled up toward him in rapid Chinese and soon we were stopped at a brick wall that meandered toward a small building. Bill got up and pushed himself toward the front. Gesturing toward the small building Bill asked if that was the bathroom. No, right here by the wall she gestured. More laughter. Bill rolled his eyes, no way I'm going there with a busload of people watching my back. Besides, it's on Dave's side of the bus! He has a camera. He put both hands up: meiguanxi, meiguanxi (It's okay, it's okay) and went back to his seat. By this time the entire bus was hysterically laughing. They were having a great time. When we left the van the woman in front of us said: "Thank you for giving us great entertainment." "Yeah, sure don't mention it." Bill muttered.

We arrived at Xingping town but it was nowhere near the boat. Where are the boats? We found a "taxi" that was no more than motorcycle with a seating shell on the back. For a single yuan they'll take us to the boat. So we took it.

This thing blazes through narrow streets that are only slightly wider than a motorcycle. There are people mingling through the shops that have to jump out of the way as the driver flies through full throttle honking. No one seems to mind. They just take it in stride. Meibanfa?

We arrive at long narrow boats with little folding chairs. I mean little. These are what we used in school when I was in first grade. We took a few seats in the back and waited. There were two girls sitting in front of us that were very friendly. One spoke a little English. Her and her friend were on a holiday. They reminded us of Yuki and Chisato, full of giggles and lots of energy.

We had grand views of the mountains going up the river. I was caught up in snapping pictures of the beauty and didn't realize that we were traveling up the river not down. That would mean that we'd have to take the "taxi" and the 40 minute bus ride back. I'll remind Bill to go to the bathroom before boarding.

We had a grand touring excursion. At one point the boat pilot stopped at an island to let old woman sell us trinkets. I knew what was happening as soon as he slowed toward the shore. It's a pattern. The old woman with baskets of trinkets flood the shore as the boat touches the rocks. At first you can't see them because they huddle in the shade under the few trees available.

The boat tour is supposed to be an hour an a half. But after having turned around and about an hour into the tour he made another stop. He looked over our head toward the back of the boat and gestured toward the shore. (Even if you don't speak the language, gestures are universal.) What was going on? The girls asked a few questions and discovered that the police were scouting for illegal boats. This is an illegal boat? What? Turns out that the bigger boats that passed us were the only authorized boats to take tours. They held about 100 people and had several decks to them. (I was cursing at them earlier because they kept blocking the good shots.) I later learned that the larger boats go the full length of the river and take about 4-5 hours. The smaller boats just take about an hour (sans the time to get to them by bus) and show the best of the river. But I was never told that we were stowaways.

How long is the walk back? Thirty minutes? What? Are you joking? These were the responses that came to mind. But the Chinese just obediently exited and began the trek back along the rocky shore. How much did I pay for this? I thought is was round trip ticket.

The girls tried to negotiate with him for all of us. Some decided to lay down in the boat so the prowling police wouldn't see them. They didn't want to walk. They got in, folded the chairs (now I know why they were folding chairs), and laid on top. That sounded like a good idea to me and I started toward the boat when Bill grabbed my arm and suggested that we'd be party to illegal activities. "Yeah, but it's not MY boat. He'd be the one fined or taken to jail." "Are you sure the authorities would view it that way?" Yeah, well, you may have a point there Bill. Sheesh.

So we started walking along with the girls. It was actually a great walk. We could stop anytime for pictures and the weather was a warm, comfortable 20 degrees centigrade (68 degrees fahrenheit). And it was quiet. We didn't realize just how loud that shuttering diesel boat was.

Just up the river there were all kinds of empty rafts with people offering to take us up the river by push-rod. These are bamboo rafts made with four shaded chairs. Two people at either end, usually husband and wife, will push you down the river using long bamboo poles. For just a few more yuan we wouldn't have to walk. We passed. Now I had doubts about the police. I asked the girls but she said No the police are for real. It has been a problem. Looking out at the river I could see how this is true. The river was choked with boats of every size. I was glad to be on shore.

We walked for about 15 minutes. When we rounded a bend who should we meet but our old boat pilot friend. He had gone ahead of us, the police had gone up the river, the coast was clear. All aboard!

The ride back to the hotel was less eventful, at least less entertaining because Bill had gone to the bathroom before we left. Getting into the bus was a crazy mob attempt though. We had been standing at the side of the next bus to Yangshuo. It was locked up, there was no driver. But this, in fact, was the correct bus. We waited. We were just a few people back from the side door. A bus had just left, crammed with riders. A woman screamed out at what proved to be the driver (maybe her husband?). He ran out, jumped into the driver's side, started up the bus and drove off, leaving us standing there. Well, some of us. The rest of the mob ran ahead alongside and joined another mob in an attempt to squeeze through his opening doors. Our new Chinese girl friends pushed through the crowds and saved us seats. I let someone else take mine. The long and short of it was that I was left standing.

I didn't mind standing. We drove off. I began to ignore the incessant beeping of our driver warning throngs of people to move aside. I poked my head down at the windows and watched the sun dip below the ridges. I was soon lost in the beauty of the moment. There is nothing like the landscape here anywhere in America.

I heard the lady money collector yell in quick Chinese at her driver and then out the window at an old man sitting at a stall. He jumped up, grabbed his small stool, and ran alongside the bus. When it slowed (it never stopped), she leaned out, grabbed the stool, closed the door, and handed me the 12 inch stool. I was dazed by the kindness. I couldn't refuse even though I felt as though I'd taken it from the old man myself. I said: "xiexie nin." (Thank you.)


We had B52 cocktails for dinner and afterward watched a man make 30 minute wax busts of tourists for just $6 each.

Only the guy who isn't rowing has time to rock the boat. -Jean-Paul Sartre
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Bike Ride

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There are 1.2 billion people in China. Every one of them must have a bicycle, maybe two. I saw a lot of bikes. In Yangshuo there are many three wheeled bicycles with flatbeds on the back for carrying dirt, rocks, paneling, fruit, and friends. You name it. Some of the handlebars have a second bar wielded about six inches above the main bar. This gives the rider a second, more comfortable, upright riding position.

It cost us 20 yuan ($2.50) to rent a mountain bike for an entire day. We rode about 10 miles through the farmlands of Yangshuo. The weather was overcast, ideal for biking. We also "rented" an all day tour guide for $6. (I paid as much for my Blue Mountain coffee at breakfast!) Angie is an English major and helped us with our Chinese too. She was great. After the ride she took us to a restaurant who's specialty is beer fish. Of course, it went well with the local cold beer. Or was it the local beer that went well with the fish? I can't be certain.

Yangshuo is geared to the backpacker although we saw many other weiguoren there. The shops that stretch throughout the town are packed with all kinds of hiking gear including North Face jackets for about 180 yuan. I bought Ruth a waterproof Columbia jacket with full zip out lining for about $20. The jacket would sell for about $200 in the U.S.

We saw some cliff hangers on our ride. We all looked up at these people hanging from the virtical face. I said to Angie our tour guide: "weiguoren shi shenjingbing!" (Foreigners are crazy!) She covered her mouth in laughter either at the weiguoren or at my Chinese. But she did agree: "Dui, dui."

As we rode along the country roads little old ladies came out selling flowers, postcards, maps, and various trinkets. We stopped to take a picture and the girls bought some flowers to wear on their heads for 2 yuan (25 cents). Ruth later told me one of the old woman opened a notebook with a few quarters taped inside and a note some meiguoren (American) had written for her that said: "I'm collecting U.S. coins. Do you have any you can give me?" Clever. These ladies were just a step above begging. They all wore sad faces and wouldn't go away even after you said: "Wo buyao" (I don't need).

We met a little old lady of 83 standing outside her home. She was so friendly. Lynn talked with her a bit telling her how much we were enjoying her backyard. The lady smiled and said it was her land that makes her live so long. Maybe!

After four hours of bumpy roads I couldn't find anyplace to sit that wasn't sore. Must be the bike.

We did a short walk around town with the intention of resting in the room before going out again for dinner. I laid down at 6:00 p.m. and didn't get up until 6:00 a.m. It must be the Yangshuo air.

Ruth said she went out for dinner alone.

A bad worker quarrels with his tools. -Chinese proverb
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Next stop, Guilin. We caught TWO taxis to the airport. We needed two because of all the luggage my travel partners brought. You know, SOME people don't go carry on. But I won't mention any names.

The first taxi Bill and Lynn caught. It was a 2.00 taxi, that means it cost 2 yuan per minute. We caught a 1.60 taxi. When we got out at the airport we discovered that their taxi didn't have a meter and their driver charged them 90 yuan for a 15 minute ride! That has got to be the most expensive fare any of us has paid since coming to Beijing. Our taxi driver had our bags on the curb and asked the other driver what they paid, thinking I'd pay the same. "Fapiao, fapiao, qin ni gei wo NI de fapiao." I told him. (Receipt, receipt, please give me YOUR receipt. ) He wouldn't move so I walked over to his car, opened the passenger door and pulled the receipt. It was 42 yuan. So that's what I paid. He wasn't too pleased. The hotel gave us a paper before we left with the taxi's ID and a phone number to report them should we be unsatisfied. I guess this is a problem.

Everything, everywhere is Chinese characters (What did I think it would be?). The Airport looks very organized. If only I could read the characters I'd know where to go. Of course, I hadn't a clue. I was trying to match the Chinese characters on my ticket to some sign, any sign, somewhere. I've got to learn these characters. Lynn wasn't too embarrassed to ask directions and we found our way.

When we got to the counter the ticket agent told me we were too early. Imagine being too early to check in? Our flight leaves in an hour and 45 minutes. She wrote the check-in time on my ticket. It was just 30 minutes away. So we found some coffee and hung out for a half an hour and came back.

When we got back there were three lines open. We found one and waited for the ticket agent to finish up with the man in front of us. Unlike ticket agents in the U.S. she sat down behind the counter, we couldn't see her face.

Just as the man in front of us walked away, her hand reached up from behind and slapped a plastic CLOSED sign on the counter. So we wheeled our carts to another line (Remember the travelers I'm with didn't do carry-on so we had mounds of luggage on two carts.) No sooner had we maneuvered to another line when a hand come up with the pink closed sign. Soon every line was closed. So there we stood obediently at 8:10 a.m. without anyone to check us in.

Our flight was uneventful. Lynn switch seats so she could play Scrabble with Ruth. They wanted to finished their game from the Great Wall. Bill showed pictures on his PC of Brison and Brandon, his grandsons, to the Chinese guy next to him. I read.

The plan was to arrive in Guilin and take a luxury bus to our hotel about an hour away. Yangshuo is less crowded and more beautiful. But how to catch the bus, which bus, what direction? These are questions the inquisitive mind needs to know.

We found an Information Counter that pointed us in the direction of a shuttle. We boarded the small shuttle bus, loading the suitcases into it's front seats. (All the other travelers had carry-ons that they held in their laps.) Bill reminded us that we could have just rented a car for 300 yuan and saved the trouble.

After about 15 minutes the shuttle stopped to let us off. There were no busses in sight, just shops and restaurants. "Gonggongchi che zai nali?" (Where's the bus?) We asked. She responded with a pointing finger. So we headed off pulling our roller bags behind us. Bill trailing behind pulling two rollerbags. I've seen him happier. We were the only weiguoren (foreigners) around. I take that back, there was an English guy traveling with a Chinese girl who were just as lost. They were going to the same place, so we stuck together.

Our bags rattled over bumpy sidewalks and through streets cracked, patched and potholed. Bill trailed behind us yanking his two rollerbags over curbs threading his way through slow rolling traffic. We found a bunch of private busses in a huge parking lot about two city blocks away. Several drivers approached us offering rides. We wanted a 13 yuan non-stop ride. Impossible. Was this the place with the luxury bus? Who knew? How do you say "luxury" in Chinese? We wondered aimlessly, accosted by 10 or more drivers. No one seemed to know anything about the bus we wanted. Finally, the Chinese girl got us headed in another direction. We left the private drivers behind. We could hear them drop a yuan from their price with each step away. We walked three city blocks and discovered the bus station we were looking for.

The bus was beautiful and cheap. Just 13 yuan. We rode in comfort and watched the unique Guilin mountains reach up from behind pools and farmlands just off the side of the road. Oxen pulled at plows stuck in the land guided by Chinese as has been done for centuries. I fell back into a contemplative mood, awed by the unusual landscape. We passed motorbikes with cages of chickens strapped to their back fenders. We passed three wheeled trucks hauling yellow bags of stuff. The trucks have no front hood or fenders. The engine block sits on one one single front wheel and runs three belts looped back to the drive shaft.

The bus pulled up into yet another lot with mini-bus taxis parked in rows to the side. Now what? We unloaded our bags from the bottom of the bus, it rolled on and left us standing alone with a mountain of bags. The rest of the bus riders scattered in every direction. The English guy and his Chinese girlfriend wished us well.

The Chinese are very curious, so soon a crowd gathered to peer at the paper Lynn pulled out with the contact information of the hotel. At first I was apprehensive about everyone crowing so close, but soon there were smiles all around. They were trying to be helpful. They'd look at the paper, talk among themselves and then gesture in two different directions. There was no hiding that we didn't know where we were going. Once I embraced my lostness, I became one with my vacation. We called the hotel and soon rented another taxi to take us a few blocks down the street. Bill pulled out a calculator to add up all the busses, taxis, and shuttles we took to save 300 yuan it would have cost for a private car direct to the hotel. We saved $20. That's only $5 each. But hey, that's enough to buy three silk ties! Which I did.

We found our rooms clean and Asian simple. Our two windows look out over the busy street of vendors and a Guilin mountain peak. I flipped open my iBook which immediatly sensed the free wireless provided by the hotel. Who would have thought, way out here, in the middle of China, I'd have wireless? Cool!

The town of Yangshou has narrow streets like some of the European towns. There are all kinds of shops. Much of the same stuff we saw in Pearl Market I saw here. We ate at the corner China Cafe recommended by the Hotel and discovered later that it's run by the same owner. The food was great. I had hot steamed vegetables in a clay pot. Ruth ordered chicken satay (the outside kind). But Bill, being the adventurous kind, ordered Schnitzel. The restaurant got him back. They delivered it with chopsticks.

We walked through the streets but I was out by 8:45, dead to the noisy street sounds below.

One joy scatters a hundred griefs.-Chinese proverb
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Pearl Market

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The Beijing Pearl Market is world famous as a bargainer's paradise. You can buy anything you want at Pearl: electronics, silks, bags, shoes, leather goods, cameras, jewelry, and pottery. Absolutely everything is for sale. The building occupies an entire city block, is four floors high (not counting the basement), and contains, well like I said, a few items.

Some vendors have a four to six foot area to sell their stuff. They sit behind the goods with their boxes stacked around them. Or they'll stand outside their booth in the isle so they can step into your path as you approach. Some vendors have glass display cases for watches and electronics.

There are people everywhere. The isles are just three feet wide. When I walked in I joined a seething mass of humanity. I feel like a fish swimming in a school through coral reefs while sharks snap at me from every side. "Mr. you take look at nice things."

Bargaining is great fun. Very few prices are posted and even the prices you may see are just for show. They don't mean anything. I ran an experiment by asking three vendors what their best price was on a camera. One quoted 2400 yuan ($300), another 2600 ($325), and still another 2700 ($337.50). "That is best price for you." said the last one.

Ruth found a silk jewelry box. I always do Ruth's bidding because she hates dealing with the vendors. The lady wanted 160 yuan but we were able to get it for 30. (From $20 to $3.25!)

Finally Lynn went with Ruth and I went in another direction. I was tired of looking at silk boxes. Lynn later told me Ruth told a vendor "Oh, you're so nice I just have to buy something from you." Oh my word, that's like giving a gun to a mugger and saying: "Rob me." Lynn leveled the bargaining field by saying: "Yes, Ruth but you know that if you spend that much money your husband will beat you." Lynn is very good at the game.

The vendors are very tuned in to body language. If I walk briskly through I can hear echoing behind me: "Take a look, many good things," "Mr. you like to look here." "I give best price." But if I hesitated, changed my pace, or looked ever so slightly at an item, the vendor would pick it out, hold it up and say: "I make a very good price for you." It was uncanny.

Usually I started at a price one fourth of whatever they were asking. If a box was 160, I'd offer 35 or 40. Sometimes I did well, other times I had to walk.

Eventually we left without spending the family fortune. Fortunately we still had enough yuen left over to catch a taxi back to the hotel. And that's the great thing. With the four of us traveling together, a taxi ride to any part of the city cost us about 42 yuan max. That's just $1.30 per person. One time we caught a 1.20 taxi from the other side of town and it cost us only 18 yuan.

Actually, the hotel has a card they give to us. They have a check-a-box of the most famous places. They hail the taxi and tell them where you want to go and you're set. On the back of the card is a little map you can use to get back home.

But don't ask the taxi to go somewhere other than what's on the card. Once we wrote on a piece of paper where we wanted to go in both English and Chinese. We later discovered that taxi driver thought the suite number was the building number. Most taxi drivers are farmers who have moved in from the country. They can sometimes get just as lost as we do i guess. Of course, the advantage is that they speak the language fluently. Yet he was so persistent trying to locate our destination. He stopped in the middle of the street, jumped out, talked to a security guard, gestured wildly, jumped back in, and off we'd go in a totally different direction.

I will not say that the Pearl Market was the best of today, but it was an experience.

Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one. -Chinese proverb
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I write this while sitting in the dark at 2:30 a.m. I couldn't post earlier because I'm having issues with the converter, internet cable, and power.

(If you really don't care about my issues, and really, who does? Skip this paragraph. I would.) Here's the problem: The hotel gave me a patch cable (wire for Internet) that's only three feet long but the power near that outlet doesn't work with my converter. It's yet another type of plug I didn't bring. (I've counted three different plug types in this very room!) There's another power plug on the other side that fully charges my iBook with my power converter. If I plug in the power and then try to plug in to the Internet I'm just three inches short! What this all boils down to is that while connected to the Internet I have to run on battery. That's fine as far as it goes. But what further complicates this process is the fact that I can't recharge during the day because that would mean leaving the iBook in the room while I'm out. I wouldn't do that, I'm afraid it'll grow legs. When I got back to the room last night my iBook was still dead from the night before. So I had to recharge instead of posting. So here I sit at 2:30 with a pillow propped up against the iBook screen so I don't wake Ruth up. I'm hoping that reading over my post will cure my insomnia. I know it's worked for other people.

The highlight today has got to be the duck. Bill and Lynn treated us to dinner at Quanjude in the Wangfujing area. We gathered from several sources that this is the best duck in all of Beijing. The place itself is over 150 years old. (The building, not the duck.) The building is six stores high and absolutely grand inside and out. When we got to the table, Bill announced that he and Lynn were treating because tomorrow is our anniversary. Anniversary? Oh yeah, right, anniversary, of course. I realized right then that I totally forgot. I didn't even buy a card for Ruth. But I recovered nicely. I turned to her and said: "What greater anniversary present could I have given you than this trip to China?" I may not have used exactly those words. It may have been more like: "This trip is your present."

The place is decorated in ancient paintings, sculpture, large vases, and red and gold painted filigree. The servers wear long red embroidered robes. Bill ordered a bottle of China red wine that was very different than anything I'd ever tasted. After we ordered, the servers brought out small square multi-partitioned dishes with various condiments. Each of us had our own set laid out to the right of our main dish. As the duck is carved small pieces of meat, about one inch by two, are layered in a pattern on small plates and brought to the table. (By the way, each duck is numbered. Ours was 106653.) The server demonstrated placing two dipped pieces of meat onto a small leaf of lettuce laid onto a round pasta "pancake." After adding one of each condiment she folded three edges into themselves, leaving the top open. Next you pick it up and crunch away. I say crunch because the skin of the duck is crunchy while the other condiments (cucumber, garlic, pepper, and salt) add complementary taste and texture. Wow! Haochi! (good eats).

Earlier in the day we went to a farmer's market and bought Chinese tea. This market sprawled in every direction and it never ends. We were unable to visit or even walk by all the booths. There were just too many and the place was just too huge. Bill talked with several of the vendors and I took a few pictures while Lynn and Ruth spent our hard earned cash.

We also got a chance to visit with Bill's business associates in China. Great folks. They fly around the whole country looking at factories, interviewing owners of companies, and build contacts so as to provide products to export. They told us about one factory they visited that is great in every way except it's too small. It would be unable to keep up with the volume demand for their large customer.

The day started with a visit to SPR Cafe just around the corner from the hotel. It's very much modeled after Starbucks except they offer FREE wireless Internet access. (Starbucks ought to take a cue.) We sat and drank our coffee mochas and watched the Beijing traffic pass us by. We also observed a woman asking for money. Her daughter is in a wheelchair and between requests from passersby she'd reach into a bag and feed her daughter a little something. Ruth is determined to buy some food and give it to her the day we leave.

In contrast, while sitting in the lobby earlier today, we observed a business man check out. He strutted out the elevator like a peacock in heat, flinging his suit coat tails about and glugging his bottled water. He walked up to the counter and barked orders at the hotel check-out clerk. At one point he tossed his jacket onto the granite counter top, pushed the sleeves of his white turtle neck knitted shirt up his arms and told the clerk to throw his finished bottle away. He spit out the commands during his important cell phone call.

I guess these two extremes are the result of the changes occurring in China. New high rise buildings are displacing the hutongs. The poor people are being herded out to make room for the rich. I was told by "Dragon" (our driver from yesterday) that many of the new buildings are still unoccupied.

There is another thing I've observed about Beijing, everything is under construction. Everywhere I look there is a half finished sidewalk, a building just started, a storefront being remodeled. Thing is, nothing seems to be completed. It looks as if a bunch of workers were interrupted and left for another construction site. The walkway in farmer's market had huge stones laid out but no concrete between them. There was a large ditch nearby ready for more paver stones but no workers. Where are the workers?

There are so many things I just can't figure out. When we arrived in taxi to the farmer's market we were swarmed by ticket hawkers. I've learned to never buy from someone that approaches me. I looked for the ticket booth and finally found it after beating the hawkers away. The ticket into the park cost 5 yuan. One of them said: "Why did you buy one ticket for 5 when I could have given you two for 6?" This just seemed like bad math to me. Where's the profit? Later I saw men giving out similar tickets for free (of course I'm not sure if they were the same, I can't read them, they're in Chinese). Are these what the people are trying to sell me out front? Something they get for free? Then why the booth? I could never figure it out.

If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. -Chinese proverb
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Great Wall

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We hired a driver and car to take us up to the Great Wall. We left at 7:30 and were the first ones on the wall at about 9:00.

I'm getting used to the drivers now. I understand the technique. They simply weave through any available pocket of space regardless of lines. They beep simply to let people know they are coming since the other drivers can never rely on the lines to tell them where a driver might be. I tried to sleep on the way up to the Great Wall but with the weaving and incessant beeping, it's impossible.

It was an overcast day on the Wall and no one else was there except for the vendors. I use the term loosely because these were folks with a beat up cooler and a few drinks. Ni xiang bijiu ma? (You want a beer?) Huh? At 9:30 in the morning? It was about 55 degrees up there.

We had the choice of hiking up to the Great Wall or taking a ski lift to it. We took the latter. Why walk when you can ride? Besides, I was tired and had little sleep last night. We shot a few pictures of looking up the steep stairs and then down the steep stairs and looking out from the steep stairs. Then Lynn took out her travel Scrabble board and she and Ruth started a game. Crazy Waiguorens! (foreigners) On the other hand, once you take a few steps and snap some pictures, what else is there to do? Besides Bill was busy on his cell phone. There is great reception on the Great Wall.

I wandered off and peeked into a few windows of the constructed buildings on the wall. These housed the men guarding the Wall. I discovered brick beds used by the soldiers. These were heated from underneath by wood or coal.

The weather warmed just a bit and we could hear the birds in the trees. The low misty clouds swept over the ridges of the wall and broke and cleared just enough to warm us. In the distance, we heard echoed voices of teenagers on their way up. But for now we enjoyed the quiet, contemplative atmosphere on the Great Wall.

Eventually small groups came up and passed us. Every single one stared at the Scrabble game Lynn and Ruth were playing. One Chinese man asked what kind of game this was but it's kind of hard to explain to someone who uses one or two characters to represent an entire word. He was very friendly and asked all about our Chinese learning. We're getting faster in our explanations.

Our driver suggested we take the sleds coming down. That was a blast. They've installed sleds that run in steel channels all the way down the mountain. They are equipped with a brake so if the guy in front of you is going too slow you can stop before hitting him. I won't mention any names.

Zhang, our driver, spoke fairly good English and told us he was married but had several girlfriends. He asked Bill if he had any girlfriends. That caused a small riot since Lynn reminded him that she was sitting in the back seat.

Our driver works for the Chinese government. He drives a black manual stick Audi. He says a new Audi in China costs 350,000 yuan. That's about $44k U.S. You see very few of these. He explained that he'd rather work with the hotels as a driver (not called a taxi) for special tours. "My job with government is the same every day. I just go and sit and read paper, drink tea, and look at my watch." He gestured with a frowny face and a glance at his wrist. "Oh very boring," we intone. "Dui, dui," (correct) he agrees.

We also asked Zhang about the street beggars. We saw many beggars in the Beijing streets. Some with children that would follow me like flies. Once, while Ruth was in the grocery store I stepped out to look for a good picture. Next thing I know there is some girl standing right next to me. (Personal space doesn't exist in China.) Ruth peeked out and saw the young girl standing next to me and said: "Ah, I see you found a pengyou (friend)." "She's not my pengyou, she's glued to me like a bee to honey! Every time I move a few inches or a few feet she's right there by my side. She's looking for a hand out." I told her. Our driver said that many of these people drive very expensive cars and are very wealthy. We don't believe this. It looks like they've been exposed to the weather quite a bit. But he insists it's a scam.

Zhang suggested we stop at a small factory on the way back. In Hawaii I did some programming for Maui Divers, a jewelry factory that bussed tourists in to see the process as well as the showcase and store at the end. The idea is to generate a desire to have something truly unique and then provide the means to buy it at the end of the tour. The Tour companies got a cut from the proceeds of the purchases. It may have been the same here because everyone knew Zhang and waved as he drove up. He called out to the store in front and a woman with excellent English came out to give us a tour of this cloisonné factory.

It was interesting just the same. In the last scene of Shaghai Noon I remembered Jackie Chan trying to steady large vases to prevent them from falling. So I was shocked to discover that these vases have a copper interior. There are eight steps to the process, seven we saw and the eighth is kept secret. These are copper based items are painstakingly patterned, filled with colored stone, baked, sanded, buffed, and gold plated.

On the way back from the great wall we asked if the driver knew of any good cheap restaurants. "Of course I do. They know me as the Dragon there," he said. The table had a huge glass turntable that we used for the food. At one point I placed the tea pot on it and passed it around to him. He explained that having the tea spout facing someone is very bad luck and is considered rude by any Chinese. That's why the server placed it directly on the table pointing away from everyone. Other table manners he taught us were just as interesting. For example, if a host refills your glass of liquor, beer, or wine that means they want you to stay. If you didn't get a refill, it's time to go. If a good friend refills your glass, instead of saying thank you, you simply tap on the table with two fingers. That's the sign of thanks. He said: "This country is 5,000 years old, there are many customs observed but the meaning has been lost for centuries. Yet, they are followed just the same." I kind of equate it to the American habit of saying "Bless you" after a sneeze. Most don't know that it was originally used as a protection against wicked spirits from inhabiting your soul. Everyone uses the term today but the meaning is unknown to most.

It cost us 600 yuan ($75) to rent a car and driver 3 hours roundtrip. He took us to a restaurant afterwards with excellent food at a cost of 120 yuan ($15). That's $3 per person! Food is plentiful and cheap in China, at least for the tourists.

After Zhang dropped us off at the hotel. I crashed, exhausted from the walk and huge meal. I was out within a few minutes. When I woke up, Ruth wanted to go shopping again. I really wanted to veg but that's the store where my little "pengyou" hangs out. So I agreed to go. I'm looking forward to seeing her again.

If I keep a green bough in my heart the singing bird will come. - Chinese proverb
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Tiananmen Square

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I finally caught up with China time. Actually, any place in China is "China time" since there is only one time zone throughout the whole country. So I slept until 9:00 this morning. We had noodles in the room and decided to go out to the park just in front of our hotel so Ruth could do a little sketching.

The weather was a perfect 60 degrees and a light breeze consoled the weeping willows. The children and parents were out strolling together. You'll see no guys in spandex zipping through on roller blades or bicycles, only slow walking adults and their children. Everyone smiled at us as we passed. We greeted them with "zao" which is short for "zao shang hao" or Good Morning. There were no other waiguoren (foreigners) in the park. If an older couple passed, they'd fix their eyes on me. I draw the most attention because of my big nose (da bici).

Eventually we came upon three men playing traditional Chinese songs on stringed instruments and a reedy flute. We found a seat nearby and listened.

We hadn't sat down more than five minutes when a man and his wife came up to the trio and started to sing. What a voice! It was powerful, it was opera quality. They noticed Ruth sketching and came over to talk. Our Chinese is embarrassingly limited, but they stayed with us for 15-20 minutes asking questions about our stay in China, at least that's what we thought they asked. So we told them about the three cities we plan to visit and we told him how much we enjoyed his singing. He knew Ruth's heritage was Japanese so he offered to sing a traditional Japanese song. As he serenaded us I got lost in the moment and reflected on how privileged we were to be here, half around the world, in a park with such friendly people. We eventually parted ways, shaking hands and telling them how good it was to meet them. After all, we had exhausted our Chinese vocabulary.

The park is new. There were many first rate exercise machines, ping pong tables (bring your own net, ball, and paddles), and two silun henbing (rollerblade) rinks.

After leaving the park we discovered a special American delight, Starbucks. Eat your heart out Tim. Starbucks in China? That's livin'.

Shortly after returning to our hotel, Bill and Lynn arrived in the lobby. Good to see familiar faces in a city so foreign to us. We got them all arranged and then caught a taxi to the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square together.

At every turn there is someone trying to sell you something. If fact, just after we got out of the taxi a tall Chinese man asked us if we wanted to go to the Forbidden City. He said it was just up the road about a minute. So we walked along with him passing several men talking and squatting on the sidewalk. After some time, as if nonchalantly, he said: "Hey this is my gallery here, let's take a look, it's no charge. The next thing you know we are looking all through what he said was his works of art. He kept saying: "Oh and look at this, and look at what I painted here." Bill tried to leave but the guy shut the door, obstensibly to show us yet another painting of a lion he had done that took many hours since each hair was hand painted. We all nodded in awe and appreciation.

But I wanted to go to the Square and dashed out for a few pictures. I just wanted shots of what everyday Chinese people do. I found some hutongs (narrow streets and tiny single room tenement homes in alleys) and got a chance to snap some images.

Finally Ruth, Lynn and Bill escaped. We had to backtrack to the place where the taxi originally dropped us off. From there we found the path to Tiananmen Square. Later I saw the same lion painting in a shop next to the bathrooms. The delay cost us time and the doors to the Forbidden City were closing as we arrived.

Though we did not make it inside, we saw the outer courtyard of the Forbidden City, Mao's portrait, lots of huge paver stones, and many Red Army guards drilling. Bill tried to take a picture of the soldiers in training and was rebuked. I just shot from the hip and no one noticed.

Bill was always nice to the pesky vendors. He'd say: Bu xuyao, xiexie. (I don't need, thanks.) They were shocked. They got very excited and asked him where and why he learned Chinese while following us across the Square. Although my vocabulary is not what Bill's is, I had similar experiences with vendors in the stands. They started in English: "You like some my things?" But I'd answer: "bu xiang, xiexie" (I don't want, thanks.) And then that would get the ball rolling. He'd asked how long I'd be in China, what areas I was visiting, and how long I have been studying Chinese. The answer to the last question was always embarrassing. For the length of time I've been at this you'd think I'd be past "how are you" "glad to meet you" "I live in America" but that's about the extent of my vocabulary.

We walked to Wangfujing Dajie, an upscale street with lots of stores. But there are back alleys with small restaurants and people beckoning us to come eat at their places. We came upon a crowded alley with sights, smells and sounds very strange to Westerners. For example, we saw a Chinese opera. It was performed on the second story above the eating pavilion. If you've never heard Chinese Opera, it's a cross between fingernails on a blackboard and the screeching brakes of a semi truck. I'm sure it'd be more interesting if I understood it, but the costumes and makeup make it worth viewing at least once.

We ate a meal at one of the better restaurants and I ordered my first Qingdao beer in China. It's a very light ale and it didn't affect me as much as a beer from America. It was light and refreshing, like water. We didn't order enough food so we ordered some chicken on a stick (shish-kabobs). What we didn't realize was that it was the inside of a chicken . . . we actually ordered chicken gizzard kebobs.

The highlight of the day has to be the friendly couple we met in the park. They told us they go there just about every day. I hope we can meet up with them again before leaving Beijing.

You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know. -Oscar Wilde
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Summer Palace

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I always have a hard time the first night away from home. I slept about four hours. I read River Town while Ruth slept away the night. Light finally came at 6:00 a.m. and we got going.

Our first stop was breakfast. Since the downstairs restaurant had a buffet, we thought we'd check it out. At the entrance we discovered they wanted 126 yuan! I'd already written my name on the receipt but when we calculated the cost in U.S., I started to tear it up. The lady got mad and said something under her breath (glad I don't understand Chinese) so we left. I think I may have given foreigners a bad name. I just couldn't think of the words in Chinese and I thought this gesture would best convey my cancellation.

Later we discovered that we had miscalculated. We thought it was $30 each but it was really $15 each for all you can eat, which is a good price in the U.S. but we still thought we could do better. We ate breakfast for $7 total somewhere else.

And that was the funny thing. As we walked into the lobby of another hotel down the street, someone yelled out: "Hey, Dave and Ruth Terry." Who could this be? We turned around and discovered it was the stewardess that served us on the plane! We laughed and joked with her and two other stewardesses. Small town this Beijing.

We decided to catch a taxi to Summer Palace, a sprawling 200 hectors of playground built in 1750 by the Qing dynasty.

We've discovered that Beijing is NOT yet ready for the 2008 Olympics. Not one taxi driver speaks ANY English, none, nada, zilch, zero. This is actually a good thing for us but we are a little slow with our Chinese. I walked up one of the ten taxis in front of the hotel and in my bad Chinese asked how much to Summer Palace. I didn't know "Summer Palace" in Chinese so meanwhile Ruth was on the sidewalk looking it up. Finally I put the whole thing together in Chinese and he said: "60 yuan." That's $7.50 for a 20 minute ride. We thought that wasn't bad. So we took it. When we got in I asked in my broken Chinese for him to start the clock because I wanted a fapiao (a receipt). He didn't understand me so I used another language - pointing gestures. He reluctantly switched it on. It was a good thing because the ride actually cost us 42 yuan ($5.25).

We had a private tour guide and tutor. She came up to me to say that the Summer Palace was a big place and we should use her services. She spoke very good English (an English Major) but wanted 450 for a two hour tour. I'll let Ruth tell the story:

"It is amazing how we can bargain for a lot of things. For instance, when we went to the Summer Palace, a young woman approached us and offered to be our personal tour guide for a mere 450 yuan. We don't have a calculator, but figured that it would be about $55 dollars....that's robbery!! We walked away but, like so many others offering their services, she followed us and kept trying. What a persistent bunch! But she seemed very nice and her English was excellent and then she dropped the price to 125 yuan. I thought that was great but Dave said "no". I told him, "Fine... I'll hire her and you can go off on your own." He turned to her and said "100 yuan!" She laughed incredulously... hesitated... and then agreed. So she went from $55 down to $12.50. Now that's a bargain. She gave us a personal tour for two hours!! She even let us practice our Zhongwen and corrected us. It was fun and educational!!"

So there you have it, a cheapskate revealed.

The Summer Palace is very cool. It's old and dusty but you get an appreciation of the wealth and grandeur of old China. There are many interesting stories of various occupants of the place but here is just one. In 1903 the Empress (called Dragon Lady) brought the first car into China. Trouble was it couldn't be used because the driver died. How, you ask? Well, because in order to control the car he had to sit in the front seat and you never sit in FRONT of the Empress! So she had him killed. The car went unused and sits on display today.

In one of the courtyards a group of old people were lobbing a ball back and forth with soft spandex-like paddles. We watched their grace and agility. It was beautiful. It was like watching a dance. They'd pass the ball back in forth and it seems as though the ball was magnetized. An older very tall woman gestured to me to take a paddle. Again, no one spoke English (except our tour guide) so the woman is trying to get me to bend the legs as I passed the ball back to her. I just couldn't get the hang of it. It was unbelievable to me how this was possible. I passed the paddle to Ruth and she was fantastic. She got high praise from the woman.

The place is huge and the snapshots we took only just reveal little.

We walked miles and practiced our Zhongwen with Fangyuen, our tour guide. She was great. We parted and headed back to the courtyard where we were barraged by taxi drivers looking for a fare. I said no to all of them and we hung out watching people. I had a plan for getting back to the hotel for the same amount we paid to get here.

I found the taxi I wanted (they are not all the same) and walked up to the driver and asked how much to go to, and I pointed to the map. He said 80 yuan. I said tai gui le (too much). We went back and forth and finally he asked ME how much. I said si shi er (42). He rolled his eyes and gestured that I was mad in the head. I opened my book and showed him the receipt from the taxi we came in. Still no dice. Finally I found a taxi driver who would take us for $5.25 U.S.

We are really enjoying China but I'll have to tell you if anything happens to us who would know?

For example, when we got back to the hotel there was an accident out front. A car hit a moped and the moped rider was laying out in the middle of the street with 20 spectators staring down at him. No one was by his side consoling him. At first, we didn't even know if he was alive because he wasn't moving. The whole thing was strange to us. We went up to our room and watched and nothing changed until the ambulance came. Everyone stood away from him in a circle 20 feet away while cars and buses threaded around him, his moped, and the other smashed car.

Many are helpful but some just ignore me when I try to speak to them Zhongwen (Chinese). Some are friendly, some are not, just like anywhere else. One taxi driver turned his radio up when I tried to talk to him, another one politely turned it down and tried to understand my attempts at communicating using his language.

Talk about communication. We went out this evening for a meal. Ruth wanted BBQ pork but there was a Chinese fast food place that we decided to go into instead. I pointed at what I thought was jirou (chicken) but it wasn't at all and they didn't have an English menu nor did anyone speak English. So we ate tongue and liver noodle soup.

Of all the cheap hotels featured, the new york hotels are the best, much better than the costly average chicago hotel or the cheap but ill-served miami hotel.

After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language? -Russell Hoban
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I can tell you that 5:00 a.m. is very early when you go to bed at 12:00 a.m. Our plans were to get in bed earlier but there was so much yet to do before leaving.

Eric dropped us off at the Atlanta airport and it was then we realized that we wouldn't be together for a month, the longest our family has ever been separated. It was kind of sad to say goodbye but he'll be busy with Conyers and his Hawaii/California trips while we are gone.

We got to the gate, ate a Burger King breakfast sandwich. We'd just finished when we heard our names called out. We turned around and saw Mike, our United Airline pilot friend. We met Mike about six months ago at a Borders. Ruth was returning a Chinese language book to the shelf when Mike asked if she was trying to learn the language. That lead to a conversation about China and our desire to become fluent. Anyway, we received a few emails from Mike giving us great advice on things to do and not do while in China. (You can read more of the details here.)

Mike is now training on 747s because United has switched from the 777s on their route to Beijing. Too bad Mike couldn't be our pilot because the ride into Beijing was dicey. We bounced around quite a bit. I wished that Mike had been at the helm. He's flown to Beijing 156 times! (Well, at last count anyway.)

After a quick picture with Mike (he was boarding our first leg to Chicago), we found our seats in row 54. Our seats were so far back in the plane we had to pass through a time zone. Mikes says there are 550 seats in the thing. This thing is big and heavy. (In the pilot's communication with the control tower he referred to our flight as "flight 851 heavy." No joke.) It took us so long to get down the runway I thought we were just going to taxi into Beijing.

This is a long flight. A VERY long flight. It takes 12 hours to fly from Chicago to Beijing. The flight includes three meals, four movies, and unlimited drinks. I would helpfully remind Ruth how many hours we had left. For example, after going three hours, I told her we only had twelve more hours to go. She loved that.

The first "meal" was really a packet of pretzels. The postage-stamp-sized Fiesta Mix ain't much of a fiesta. I think I may have found three broken pretzels in the packet along with a tablespoon of salt. Ruth tells me that if the airline quit giving out the little peanut snacks they'd save 15 million dollars a year! Where does she get this stuff?

The plane was full but we still had to get up to empty the bladder. There were all kinds of people in the isles. The carts in the isles still serving the food, blocked up traffic. We have to shuffle around in the cabin like square tiles on a plastic puzzle.

Every so often our progress would show up on the projector screen. We were on our way to the North pole, it's faster to loop up to the north and then back down to Beijing than go straight due to the circumference of the globe. But get this, at 32,000 feet the temperature on the other side of our window is 65 degrees BELOW zero.

We ate, slept, read, and watched one of the four movies. At the end of the flight we heard our names called over the airplane's PA system. "Will Dave and Ruth Terry please identify yourself to one of the servers?" We did. The next thing we know the captain appeared with a bottle of Brut 1415 Champaign. It was Mike who called our pilot and asked him to give us a bottle. How cool is that? (taibuhaoyisile)

We caught a taxi to our hotel. The driver drove as if no one else was on the road. He never stayed in the lanes. Often he drove with the car straddling the line! I guess the lines in the road are just suggestions.

We unpacked and took a walking a tour around the hotel. We enjoyed some chiwanfan (dinner) at a restaurant for $2. They didn't speak any English. I know the numbers so was able to pay and get the correct change. The food was great. The tea was fantastic. (haochi haohe)

We crashed after realizing that we had never seen the sun set today. We've been up for about 24 hours with short naps in between.

This post may be a reflection of the little sleep we've had.

Airplane travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo. -Al Gore

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China 2006

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