Travel Journal

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


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It's great to get together again with Tim and Maite. We met up with them in Shanghai at the top of the Captain Hostel (our hostel) for some refreshments and a view of Pudong. We exchanged experiences, they and their trip to Qingdao/Beijing and we on our trip to Kunming/Lijiang. We laughed a lot.

The next day we went shopping. Tim insisted that I buy some silk pajamas and, you know, they ain't bad. In fact, he convinced me that I ought to move on up to their swank hotel. So we moved into the same hotel too. When I checked in, I asked for non-smoking. No problem. And when I asked for the 20th floor, it was also "no problem." Then I really pushed it; I asked for early check in. No problem. Everything was "no problem." A guy could get used to this kind of treatment, living in the 5-stars, drinking cognac, and lounging about in silk pajamas.

Of course, had I not been staying in the hostel the first few nights in Shanghai, I wouldn't have enough money to buy silk pagamas. I called downstairs (in my silk pajamas) and asked for ice. Within minutes it was at my door. No problem. Hostels don't even have room service. In fact, they don't have any service. You can't ask for stuff 'cause they don't have it. You're supposed to bring your own.

But of the two hostels we did stay in while visiting China, Captain Hostel and The Hump, The Hump was better. At The Hump they were extremely friendly and helpful. They chatted a bit with us and made us feel right at home. But the Captain Hostel did have a great view from the top deck.

There is another thing that the hostel had that was not available at the five starRamada Hotel... a gas mask. I don't know why they had one in the room, but it was kind of cool knowing that I could use it if needed. But when? Am I supposed to wear it when they fumigate the room for bugs or something? Or is pollution so heavy I'm supposed to wear it if I open the windows? And since there was only one mask, what would Ruth use?

When we came back from shopping we saw some workers putting in AC ducts, setting marble stone, and installing wiring in one of the rooms off the hotel lobby. There were wires hanging out of the walls, dust everywhere, and twenty workers in the place. I remember thinking: Can't they just continue work on this tomorrow? It's 10:30 p.m. But in the morning the place was open for business. The marble reception desk was set in place and the walls were lined with refrigerated counters packed with beautiful food. Twenty employees with matching outfits stood behind the counters serving long lines of customers. The place was packed and the lines spilled out into the pedestrian mall outside the hotel. How is this possible? Even though the workers worked all night, how did the people find out about this place? Where did they all come from?

Everywhere we go in the pedestrian mall we are bombarded by people asking if we want to buy a watch. After awhile we started counting how many would approach us between our hotel door and our destination. Soon we were able to identify who they were before they approached. Then we formulated Chinese sentences to combat them like: "Why do you ask if I want to buy a watch. I already have a watch (point to your wrist). " This was great fun.

We did follow a guy to a shop but when I tried to barter with the shop owner for a better price, he wouldn't come down. I wandered into the back of the store while the pestersome street vendor waited in the front. The shop owner followed me. He said in a whisper: "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a better price." Ah, so the vendors roaming the pedestrian mall get a cut if they bring people to the shops. So now I just ignore them and find the alley stores myself. I need to save money now that I'm in the 5-star and have bought the silk pajamas.

There is a Brewery right off The Bund called, well, The Brewery off The Bund. We shared a large ale and dark lager. We took a quick tour of the tanks. Tim saw some guy trudging about the place in rubber boots and asked if we could take a peek at the brewing ale. They play some great blues in the place. The tables are built for giants, you sit up high and have a view of the passing traffic. We were in China but it felt as though we were sitting in a San Francisco pub, that is, of course, except for the Chinese writing on the cabs passing by. Great place to get an ale. They have steak too, even Japanese Kobe steak, but you'll pay with your firstborn for it.

Well it's pretty late. I have to climb into the silk pajamas and find the cognac.

You know you've been in China too long when . . . you enjoy the taxi as much as an amusement ride. - Tim Duggan

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Shanghai Shopping

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You can get anything in Shanghai and in every variety.

On our way to pick up our suits we found entire buildings of sewing items, floors of zippers, buttons, snaps, and fasteners. There are entire buildings of luggage, purses, bags, backpacks, and leather goods. There are rows and rows of shops selling watches, bracelets, rings, ear rings, and necklaces. We found rows of stationary shops selling pens, paper, notebooks, brushes, and ink. One shop had nothing but pens, in every imaginable color. And I haven't even told you about stores and buildings or shops of cutlery, bowls, cups, plastic containers, stainless cooking pots, and label making machines.

In one shop I paused to look at some leather bags. The shop owner asked if I wanted a watch. But before I could answer he pushed open a display case wall that revealed a hidden room of yet more bags and watches. Who makes all this stuff? Where does it all come from?

What is most incredible to me is that all this stuff is made under the most primitive conditions and with the simplest of tools. None of it is automated. It's transfered via moped to the shop owner. It is balanced in precarious gravity-defying heaps on mopeds or even bicycles that must thread the streets clogged with people, cars, taxis, and buses.

Should the moped break down, mechanics squat in the streets or floors of shops and use hack saws and hammers to repair it. It's now in a million scattered pieces in their shop and spilling out into the sidewalk. I step over some pieces and wonder how will they get it all back together? What if I accidentally kick a piece into the street? I can't imagine attempting to do for a moment what they do every day.

But if I did kick a ball bearing from one of the wheels into the street, they'd just make another. They would fire up their torch, melt down an old spoke and form it into a replacement bearing, on the spot. No problem. That's life. Meibanfa.

Smells are bad in the streets of Shanghai. Garbage is piled everywhere. Alleys fill with discarded trash, food, and rubble. Some try to keep the streets clean and wash down the front of their shops with buckets of water and give it a swab with a filthy mop. It's nearly impossible. Too many people, too much traffic, too much trash. The water just pools, garbage and all, in the street near their shop. We step around it.

Buildings half demolished and abandoned stand next to modern glass hotels. I walk under scaffolding of bamboo, towering up the side of a new structure. It's ten stories high. Bamboo scaffolding ten stories high and lashed together with what looks like twine? As I look up in awe of the ingenuity I trip and almost tumble into an open pit being prepared for new paver stones. OSHA would have a hey day here.

But the Chinese pedestrians just walk on, ignoring all the changes around them, stepping over this hurdle and around that barricade. Nothing can stand in their way. They keep going like industrious ants, engineering bridges over crevasses and pathways around obstacles.

They are industrious, ingenious, and will make due using whatever means is at their disposal. Don't have oven mitts for the boiling water container? Just use pieces of cardboard. Don't have the right grill for the sidewalk opening? Just bend over the re-bar into a circular pattern to form the grill. Don't have the right bricks for a sidewalk job? Just pour concrete and strike groves where the mortar would go to match what is already there.

That's the China I see, that's the Chinese people I witnessed.

No one speaks English and everything is broken. - Tom Waits

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It's a sad day for us. We have returned to Shanghai. Our days of dwelling in the remote parts of China are over. Our quiet farmlands are gone. We are smack in the city of Shanghai with all it's traffic noise. Trucks on the streets, beeping mopeds and taxis, constant throngs of people, beggars and, of course, higher costs for everything. Qingdao beer that once cost 10 yuan in Lijiang now costs 40 yuan here in Shanghai. Meals are double or triple. At least we have a good view from our new location. Ruth edited some of my past posts while we had pizza atop Captain Hostel.

Even our walk under the river to the Pudong area cost us money. We are staying on the Bund (Weitan) in Shanghai just across the Huangpu river. We thought it would be nice to walk under the river to see the buildings on the other side. But it cost us $7.50 each round trip to take the little railcar to it. During the little ride they have a light show in the tunnel. Random patterns paint the walls red, blue, green, and white. Voices in Chinese and English spew random words: "Paradise" and "heaven and hell." Then the lights flash. Kind of corny if you ask me. When we got to the other side, we learned that it cost another $20 to ride up to the lookout of Oriental Pearl Tower.

So, instead we drank a cup of Starbucks and watched the boats float by. We snapped a few pictures and came back to the hotel, eh, I mean, hostel.

We found a cute little hostel on The Bund called the Captain Hostel. For just $55/night we get a clean room, bed, and normal bathroom. I'm so grateful for the normal bathroom. You don't know how good it feels to have a light and mirror above the sink. And to have a sink and shower with their own drains.

The last place we stayed at had the shower at the far end of the bathroom. As I showered, the water streamed across the bathroom floor, then swirled around the pedestal sink, and finally passed the toilet some twelve feet away into a drain in the wall. The toilet was right in the doorway. When I opened the pocket door, I had to step around the toilet to get to the sink. I complained in a previous post about the difficulty I had in shaving with a single light to the right of the mirror. However, in this last bathroom the mirror was over the toilet and the sink faced a window on the right. So I lathered my face, set the razor, then craned left to see the mirror over the toilet some four feet away. I then shaved one stroke and began the process all over again. This resulted in a query from my wife concerning blood on my lip. "Ruth, I said, you can't begin to understand the challenges of looking beautiful for you on this trip."

However, that's all behind us now. Our new bathroom even comes with soap. There is also a soft soap and shampoo dispenser in the shower.

Eat your heart out silk-pajama-Tim.

We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment. - Hilaire Belloc

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China by Horseback

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I love horseback riding. I remember when I was a teen I had a friend whose father owned a ranch. We'd go out and clean the barns in the morning and then ride in the afternoon. It was great. I once got a chance to ride bareback.

When Eric suggested that we go on horseback to tour the country, I couldn't resist. He arranged the horses and owners to meet us in a village near Lijiang. The tour would take us to Lashi Lake (Qixianhu). The lake is a one and a half hour ride in the back country. Eric told of the legends surrounding the lake. The name means immortal. It was said that those who drink from the lake never die. But it's also known as suicide lake. Often the parents arranged marriages for their eligible children. Meanwhile the youths fell in love with another. Since the parents decision was binding, the youths would go down to the lake and take their own life.

On the way up the mountain the Naxi woman who owned the horses suggested that they pack a lunch for us. Well, yeah, sure, sounds good. So we stopped at their home and picked up some fresh garden vegetables and meat. This wasn't going to be a PBJ (peanut butter and jelly) snack. As we rode the horses through the well worn earth and threaded through the rough rock, the woman walked behind us, baskets full of the items for lunch.

When we got to our destination, Lashi Lake, they began to unpack not just the food but the traditional hot pot to cook it in. The pot is a donut shape with a cylinder through the center that rests on the base. At the base a fire is started and charcoal is placed in the cylinder. Soon the water begins to boil. Fresh vegetables washed from the mountain cold water nearby are tossed into the donut surrounding the heat. Bacon, ham hock, beans, potatoes, green onions, and salt are added.

There were several people having lunch around the lake. They were cooking in large woks. Soon there was a commotion. The other tourists (mostly Chinese, I didn't see another foreigner) were talking noisily. What's up? They stood near us, now angry with their own tour guides who didn't supply the traditional cooking device that our Naxi woman brought. Eric was cool. He told them that our cooking device wasn't as good as theirs. Theirs had better taste. He didn't want to get into trouble with the other tour guides.

This meal was the absolute best food I've had so far on this trip to China. Maybe it was the traditional hot cooking pot, maybe it was the fresh meat and vegetables, maybe it was the river washed food. I don't know, but it was wonderful.

We ambled back to the town in the rain, but we were warm inside.

We said goodbye to Eric over a final cup of coffee and tea. We got to know him so well. We will miss him and the wonderful things we saw while visiting Lijiang.

Tomorrow we leave for Shanghai where we finish up our last four days in China.

If you travel by horse you wont lose your luggage. - Dave Terry

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Baisha and the Naxi Customs

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The Black Dragon Pool near the college was a welcome park in the middle of the busy city of Lijiang. We walked a bit and took a few pictures.

Then Eric Yang took us to Baisha village. This is the same Eric Yang that hosted our English class in his cafe at the Lijiang college. Eric was great. He runs a Professional Guide service for foreigners. In exchange for the teaching we did in the college, he offered to tour us around Baisha village.

The village had all the same items we could find for sale in Gucheng (old town) but cheaper. What is most interesting about the village and the Naxi people who live in it, is that they are a matriarchal society. The woman do the housework, shopping, planting, feeding of the livestock, and teaching of the children. The men sit around and play cards and mahjong. If we do move to China, I'm going to consider living here.

We found some very cool chairs made of tree bark. The store owner invited us it to sit and take a few pictures. They were surprisingly comfortable.

There is a famous Dr. Ho here. He's 85 and still going strong. He prescribes herbs for anything that ails you. Many claim that he has saved their lives. BBC, ABC, and Michael Palin all have done specials about him. He's world famous as he'll gladly tell you. He's quite a talker and I felt a bit held captive as several of us sat around and herd him tell us how famous he was. He handed out leaflets and letters from various famous people commending him for his work. He speaks English well enough to use words like "famous" and "great man" and "man of mystery."

Anyway Ruth disappeared into a side room with him and in five minutes he prescribed some tea and other herbs for external use. He wraps the power up in square paper and seals them with tape. Finally, he uses a traditional brush and Chinese ink to write the directions on the outside of the packet. Then he uses a special stamp on a paper to help get us through customs. He doesn't charge anything. You give him whatever you want.

We hadn't heard about this village until we met Eric. It was fantastic to have him guide us. We learned so much more. We asked questions about culture, background, living conditions, and viewpoints. Eric's English is excellent. If you do visit Lijiang but don't speak Chinese, I highly recommend him. You can fine him just outside the water wheels of the old town. Or you can reach him using his email: or Phone: 131.7078.9953.)

We ended the day at our favorite restaurant, The Bistro Well. We ate pizza and beer and watched the sun leave the town. The eves provided a warm glow of their own light against the darkening blue sky.

The user-friendly system of american airline makes everyone go airlines. The facility of cheap airline tickets is one of the reasons why aloha airlines is doing so well.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. - James Michener

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Tim & Maite (a bonus post)

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I got a call from Tim and Maite. They are having a great time in Beijing touring the Great Wall and Summer Palace. We split up because we saw those sights a couple of years ago. Although I'll have to say they are doing it with more class and style.

For example, he sent a picture of their hotel granite bathroom. Huh? What's granite? (Note that he hung a couple of socks over the tub to give the illusion that he's roughing it.)

Oh, and he also sent me a picture of himself in some easy chair in their room wearing silk pajamas! Sheesh. I don't have any pajamas, let alone silk ones. And an easy chair? There ain't no space in my room for anything but a box spring. They're killing me.

But hey, who's to judge? I'll let you draw your own conclusion. Here are some pictures of the tough times they are having.

The granite tub

The silk pajamas


Some factory visits

He did buy a very cool mushroom teapot

It has been observed that stay at a boston hotel is much comfortable than one at a san diego hotel. In spite of this people still prefer london hotels or talk of the paris hotel they went to the season before.

No vacation goes unpunished. - Karl A. Hakkarainen

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Hutiaoxia (Tiger leap down) is basically big rock in a narrow stream. The water drops from its source 700 feet above is has an average depth of 131 feet. The gorge itself is 1.4 miles high.

Why the name? The story goes that a tiger leaped down to the rock and back up the other side using the bolder in the river. Like many legends the purpose is not to tell a true story but to give a visual to the visitor. It's something to talk about.

The walk is easy on the Lijiang side. If you visit, use the Lijiang side. (Its on the right side as you drive to the gorge.) Don't use the Shangrila or Zhongdian side. The Lijiang side is less crowded and you don't have to walk down to the lookout and then back up again.

But the walk on the Lijiang side is bit dicey. Rocks regularly fall so you are advised to hug the rock face to the right. The park rangers take this very seriously. If you get curious and start to saunter to the edge, a guard placed every 100 feet with a bullhorn will remind you to keep moving. This means that you can't pause to take pictures. Don't worry, the better shots are at the end anyway. I talked to one local person about this. He said that every year several people die because of falling rocks. Last year an older man from Germany was hit and was killed.

I took these "falling rock" warnings seriously. On the path there was a detour into a hewn tunnel. The reason for the detour was that on the original pathway skirting the mountain was a bolder twelve feet around. Now that would give you a headache. The stone balanced just at the edge of the path. The park is creating more of these tunnels for the ever increasing tourists. The tunnels are safer but, of course, it tends to limit your view of the gorge.

I know you must be worried that we took this path. I mean, if something happened to me, who would write the next blog post on this Travel Journal? What would you read tomorrow? Don't worry, the fact that I'm writing this now is evidence that I survived. Unfortunately, there'll be another post tomorrow.

One of the tunnels was still under construction. There was a worker outside overhauling the compressor. All the parts and pieces were strewn about him on the ground as he squat and hand filed one of the piston rings. We followed a couple inside the tunnel and passed piles of rocks neatly stacked against the wall. There was a concrete smell to the place. When we approached the other side we found that they had just poured a concrete wall to hold the stone walls in place.

Our Naxi woman cab driver sang Naxi songs to us on the way to the gorge. The Naxi people are the largest of the 22 minority groups in Lijiang. (There are 56 in all of China.) They are closely related to the Tibetans. She also bought strawberries (cao3mei2) for us. She understood that we have to stay away from the local water but told us these were okay for us foreigners as they were washed in the rushing river below. They burst with flavor and were ice cold from the water below. She also taught us Chinese words and we taught her some English. She really has a good ear for pronunciation. She said "This is my car" in perfect English after Ruth repeated it the third time.

The taxi ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge was like a ride on a bucking bronco at a rodeo. I hit my head on the side of the door frame from one of the car-sized pot holes we bounced into. Construction steamrollers and dump trucks loaded with rocks clogged the narrow roadway and fought for position on the turns. Buses and taxis don't stand a chance. Heshifu, our cab driver, placed her front bumper on the rear left mud flap of the truck in front of her waiting for an opening to pass. The trucks puffed soot that enveloped our car and swirled in great clouds with the dust from the road. We rolled up the windows but this only trapped the mixture inside and made it hard to breath.

Covered in dust and soot we crashed at 9:00 p.m. We'd been up since 5:30 a.m. It was a long day.

A traveler to distant places should make no enemies. - Nigerian Proverb

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Grocery Shopping

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After breakfast at the Bistro Well, we decided to go shopping and to the grocery store today. As you can see the items here are much fresher than the Safeway or Publix in the United States. I mean, the bacon is still warm and the fish are still swimming. How can you get fresher than that?

We got an opportunity to teach English the Lijiang College. It was fun and students seemed to enjoy it. Eric Yang who runs a cafe at Lijiang college hosted the event. It was just a one hour to illustrate some of the techniques we learned in Dr. Cotton's TESOL class.

This blog post is short. Enjoy the pics.

Breakfast at Bistro Well.

Pots and pans at the market.

Poultry section

Shoe repair


Fresh meat

Checkout counter

Fresh fish section

Fresh vegetables



Insects (you may not have this section in your grocery shop)

Fruit section

The candy shop

Yuan, the wood carver.

Some people pictures.

A vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work. - Morris Fishbein

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Inns & Outs

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We've had a bit of a challenge with our accommodations here in Lijiang. Our first place was just $10 per night. It was quiet but then the proprietor (a girl of about 20) had five or her friends come to visit. They all decided to watch Chinese drama on their 35" TV in the next room. The walls here are single wall construction. It was as if we were all in the same room watching TV together. The only difference was, Ruth and I couldn't see the TV screen.

Then the local police came by and sat in the courtyard just outside our window. He invited some friends to sit with him to chat and smoke.

The hammering on the inn next door added to the cacophony. The strong finishing spray they use on the doors blows our way and inhibits our ability to take a breath of fresh air. My eyes water. They have just two months to complete the place before the big tourist season begins, so they work all day, but only until 10:30 p.m. or so.

It seems that the local parking space for the motorcycle is located at the entrance of our place, just 20 feet from our door. Whoever was using it came and went every 10 minutes. As they came and went they'd set off an auto-movement alarm from a moped down the street. Of course, that upset the dog across the pathway and he let us all know about it.

I was busy blocking it all out, typing at a small desk I found in the corner of the courtyard when I saw Ruth approach from the corner of my eye. Ruth was trying to get some rest. I looked up to see her hair mussed, she was wearing a frowny face. She said: "It's time to move."

We'd talked about moving inns the night before and the night before that. We figured that eventually they'd turn off the TV. We wore earplugs which brought the decibel level down to about 80. We had some problems with the size of the room. It was just two feet wider and longer than the double bed. We had to put our luggage on the floor so it was like a plastic shuffle game moving from the door to the bathroom. The bathroom was similar to the one in Longji but the light was the strength of a single candle.

I'm not making this stuff up. Really.

So we packed up and went to a hotel that was four and a half times the cost. It was a cute little place on the second floor overlooking a bridge that spanned the waterway. It had a desk and separate shower stall. We figured it would be worth $45/night for some peace and quiet. The guy told us that the music below the window would end when the festivities in the square began. But frankly, I really liked the music, it was acoustic guitar.

So we dropped off our bags at our new inn and went off to meet some of the craftsmen in the old town.

We visited a silversmith, a wood carver, and a paper making plant that uses a waterwheel to beat the pulp. But the man we enjoyed the most was the coppersmith. I wanted to get a photo of him but he insisted on showing us all the items he made, including a copy of an ancient lock. We talked quite a bit with him. He offered to wash the strawberries Ruth bought from an old Naxi lady in the street. I want to go back to see him again. Maybe he'll pose for a photo with his copper tea kettle. He was such a friendly man.

We met a Dutchman who speaks English. His girlfriend runs a restaurant. We told him we were visiting China to determine if we could live here and teach English for an extended period of time. He insisted that we meet his friend at the local college. Eric, his friend, met us at the end of the #4 bus and took us to the cafe he runs on the college campus. His English is very good but he said he still learned a lot while talking with us. He gave us coffee and tea while we talked until 10:15 p.m. We offered to do a demo of our teaching techniques to 20 students that meet at his cafe on Thursday. He says that he'd like to open a private English school for the local Lijiang young people to help them become better tour guides for foreigners. He's looking for a partner.

We caught a taxi home to our new quiet inn.

It's only after you use a bathroom that you discover the insufficiencies. This bathroom door doesn't close. The glass sink teeters. The four foot glass mirror hangs on a single nail and sways dangerously above the teetering glass sink. There is only a single bathroom light positioned on the right side of the mirror, which makes accurate shaving a challenge. We used our hand towels for pillowcases. And finally, I had to fix their Internet wire so that I could have access in the room.

The music below was gone but yelling vendors and motorcycles filled the void. The inn's barking dog let us know of each passing person. The noise on the street below didn't go away until 1:00 a.m.

I think . . . we have . . . to move . . . again.

It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home. - Rumi

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Where are we anyway?

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We see a Tibetan temple, a totem pole, monks with cowboy hats, and cows with long fur. Where are we anyway? I thought we went to China.

We are in Maoniuping, which in Chinese literally means: Hairy Cow Flat, you know, Yak Meadow.

At the suggestion of a tour guide in Yangshuo we went on both cable cars to a mountain near Lijiang. If you go, you must go on both. Do not miss either.

The cable car to Yak Meadow was grand. At the top it drops you (figuratively not literally) at a wooden platform and you walk a circle of what seems like 10 miles. We had to keep stopping because of the thin air. It may have been only about a mile or so. This is also where there is a Tibetan temple with prayer wheels and flags. The fragrance of incense is heavy as we pass the temple.

After the walk we had a nice talk with a Tibetan woman of 65 who didn't speak a word of English. So in Chinese we told her we'd like to live here with her and enjoy the view. She told us we picked a good day and that most months have strong winds and heavy snow. She gestured how high the snow gets. If you lived here, she told us, you wouldn't like the other months. Yeah, she's right, we picked a perfect day.

Afterwared we took the cable car down to the bus. On the way back we stopped at green, cascading waterfalls. This area is phenomenal. There is sun, mountains, waterfalls, vivid colors, and, of course, yaks.

If you visit this area I would not recommend going it alone unless you know some Chinese. Go with a tour group. We just barely squeaked by. There were many times when we didn't have a clue about where we were going or how much we should pay or of even what we were paying for. Sometimes we got on a bus without really knowing for sure it was the one we wanted. But in the end we never made any mistakes and we got to see everything we wanted. Well, there was this one time that I got into a little trouble.

I negotiated pictures of Ruth and myself using my own camera. I made sure that the price I was willing to pay was a total price for the two of us. I did all of this in Chinese. All went well. Two people for just 40 yuan, not each but both of us, right? Yes, two people for this price. Ruth got on the yak and then I climbed on. Suddenly people were yelling at me and gesturing me to get off the yak. But the yak had started to move off into the water away from the launch point. The yak faltered, then stumbled back to the edge and a woman grabbed my arm and yanked me off. I had the mistaken impression that the price meant that we'd be on the same animal, but in fact they prepared another yak for me. Oh, okay, so I get it, two people, two yaks. Why didn't you say so? In the end I apologized and told them I was sorry and I didn't know there would be two. A man made body gestures of the yak collapsing from our combined weight. We all laughed together about the silly foreigner who thought a yak could carry two people.

We met our driver back at the bus stop and we showed her all our receipts from all the stuff we had done. It' had been about four hours since we last saw her. She waited in her van knitting and sleeping. She asked if we had seen the "da" something. Big something? Ah, well, not sure. We must have missed something big. What was it? It was only after handing over more cash and getting in the gondola line that we understood just how big this big thing we missed was.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (or just Snow Mountain) has the all time best views I've ever seen of a snow capped mountain close up. The weather was absolutely perfect for photos. But just to give you an idea of the size of this thing, the length of the cable is 1.8 miles! The six person gondolas take you on a ride that has a vertical rise of 3,373 feet. The mountain is 14,783 feet high. (Ruth bought an oxygen bottle.) The cable hardware and gondolas were imported from Italy. It is capable of moving 4,020 people an hour up and down the mountain. We looked down on the birds landing in the trees below. After a walk around the top we had coffee in the cafe and watched the gondolas descend the mountain.

We were so glad we'd taken the advice of the tour guide we met in Yangshuo. Take both she said. Both rides are truly fantastic.

We were exhausted by 5:00 p.m. when all the rides were finished and we'd walked over three miles of trails. We hadn't really eaten a good breakfast because we left so early. Lunch was just crackers and water. We were spent.

We drifted in and out of naps on the way back. I do know that our driver was blazing down the mountain. She was passing all the cars, trucks, and buses. Just out of the park's gate stood a very serious policeman waving her over. I didn't understand everything they said or, I should say, I understood mostly nothing. But I did hear 60 kilometers and license card. She gave them to him and sounded apologetic. He looked firm and unbending. Then he looked to the back of the van and saw me. Ruth was sitting in the middle seat but when he saw me I heard him say something about having foreigners in her car and she could go. I think I was the "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

Our driver dropped us off at Gucheng (old town) and we paid our 200 yuan ($28) for the day. We were so grateful to her. She made sure we were standing in the right line and moved us from this place to that.

"Ganxie ni zhaogu women." (Thanks for taking good care of us.) I don't know if I said it right but she smiled wide and graciously said it was nothing.

We slept soundly.

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. - Lao Tzu

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Lijiang is at an elevation of about 7,000 feet and is just a 45 minute plane ride from Kunming. The historic Old City dates back 800 years and is home to the Naxi minority group. The town is built atop a system of rivers and streams. The walkways are made of large cobble stones, and stone bridges have been built across the waterways.

The Naxi people have their own language. They are also are known for their unique dance and music as well as their unique system of writing called the Dongba Script. The Dongba Script uses pictographs. Their written language dates back 1000 years. In fact, I have a sample of the writing on the wall of our room.

We've noticed that the skies are blue here and the water is crystal clear. People who live in the old town walk everywhere. In fact, nor cars, motorcycles or vehicles of any kind are allowed.

The old town is a place where the Chinese tourists flock. There are shops of every kind: leather, wood, silver, paper making, calligraphy, and weaving. The people in the shops are not selling some else's stuff, they are making the products right there on the spot. In one leather shop the craftsman will even make a custom leather item. As I walk by the silver shop I hear the hiss of the torch. In a lapidary shop I saw gems polished and put in settings. I watched a wood burner "sketch" intricate animals and landscapes on slices of wood.

Lijiang people recycle everything. Their waste baskets on the public streets are marked "recyclable" and "non-recyclable" for easy identification. Lot's of people are poking around in the trash looking for plastic bottles.

We didn't see any beggars in Kunming or Lijiang. We did see entire families out polishing shoes, or picking through the trash looking for recyclable items like plastic water bottles. And I did mention about the group of blind people (about 20 in all) in the center of the square giving massages. In Kunming I stopped to take a picture and a lady asked if I was done with the large empty plastic water bottle I set down beside me. I gave it to her and she crunched it up, put it into here bag, and walked off a happy camper.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, the old town. At night the place comes alive with singing and dancing. Folks in traditional garb sing their traditional songs in front of the restaurants. Even people eating at the place will chime in, each restaurant trying to out sing the other.

After we arrived in Lijiang we dropped off our stuff at an inexpensive place and hiked up to the top of the town. We were soon exhausted not just because of the climb but also because of the thinner air. So we found a restaurant with a view watched the sun go down. We also saw from this vantage point Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, our destination for tomorrow.

I should like to spend the whole of my life in traveling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend afterwards at home. - William Hazlitt

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Blogging in Kunming

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I spent most of the day catching up with the blog. There is so much to say and so many pictures to upload. Which stories? Which pictures? These are all dilemmas of the itinerant blogger. I'm afraid to see too much during the day because then I'll have to write about it later. How warped is that? It's just wrong.

There are lots of stories I can write just about the people we met at this hostel. There are some very strange people at these places.

For example, there's this lonely woman we met who is originally from Oregon but now lives in Thailand. She's traveling to Mongolia alone. We sat next to her at breakfast. She is a fountain of information on China if you want to know, but I'll warn you, there's no spigot to shut her off. I feel bad for her. I take for granted that I have a great traveling companion. The woman has been all over the map. She is hard to look at for her face of wrinkles and sagging features. She must spend all her time in the sun. I couldn't help thinking that her face actually looks like a map. She was nice enough and we listened politely until our coffee cooled.

There's another couple staying here with a one year old baby. We first noticed the family when the father passed us in the hall on our way to our room. His baby did not have a stitch of clothing on. Later, at lunch, I saw him put the naked kid on the ping pong table. The table was hot from the sun and the kid made a yelp. During our two day stay here I've never seen the kid dressed. Maybe he doesn't have any clothes? They've really taken this thing kind of far. Other than that, the father seems fairly normal. I mean, he is coherent when you talk to him and he returns a hello when you pass him in the hall.

But I can't say the same for his wife. I have serious doubts about this woman. She plods shoeless around the hostel wearing a blank stare. She never smiles, nor does she ever greet us. All day long she just ambles about. I've seen her walk into the middle of the open eating area, stop, and stare off into the distance. After a minute, she'll wander off down the hallway. Once she walked in front of us on the way down to eat. But at the stair landing she suddenly stopped. We had to change our path to avoid knocking her down the stairs. Then she turned around and drug herself back up the stairs. Ruth was afraid of meeting this woman carrying a hatchet in her next nightmare. When Ruth asked the receptionist about the zombie girl (well, she didn't use those exact words), the receptionist just raised her eyebrows. She says they've been here for days and don't know when they'll go. We lock our door at night. Strange brew.

In the afternoon, when the day cooled down, we went out for a walk and to buy some more DVDs. Ruth found this awesome deal. She bought a DVD movie of Chicken Run in audio English/Chinese as well as subtitles in both languages. So we went out and bought seven more movies for about $1 each. They work great on the computer. We've already seen Chicken Run in Chinese.

So now we have movies to watch just as soon as we get board of touring China.

In Paris they simply stared when I spoke to them in Fench; I never did succeed in making those idiots understand their own language. - Mark Twain

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When the sun finally came up we went to the dining car. We still had several hours before we arrived in Kunming, so we had breakfast while we watched the landscape swoop past of orchards, farmlands and factories.

When the train pulled in we dashed out to catch a taxi. We didn't have any arrangements for hotel, we didn't know where we were going, we thought we'd wing it. Well, actually Ruth thought we'd wing it. I asked her:

"What are you going to tell the taxi driver when he picks us up?"

"I'll just tell him to go to Jinbi Square."

"Do you know how to say that in Chinese?"

"I'll practice with some people around here and if not, I'll just show him the map."

"Good thinking. Wait, where's my hat?"

I left Ruth by the exit gate of the train station and ran back against the mob to get my hat.

We flagged a taxi who dropped us off at Jinbi Square in Kunming among throngs of people, just as Ruth predicted.

The city felt like Guilin. It was hot. We threaded our single roller bag and my backpack to the square looking for the International Hostel we'd read about. We saw the hostel at Yangshuo and decided that it would be a clean place to stay.

But we couldn't locate it. No one understood us when we asked where it was or where the Intewang (Internet) was but we should have been asking for the Wangba (Net bar). After 20 minutes of wandering, Ruth found the place. I was drenched and hadn't had a shower in 20 hours. This was tough going.

The hostel near the square is located right next to the Himalayas. It's up on the third floor (more hiking) and is a decent place to stay. It doesn't have a phone, or TV, or toiletries. ("No phone, no pool, no pets" to the tune of King of the Road.) But for $20 a night who can complain. It's clean and large, the staff is friendly, they speak English and in addition to many Chinese travelers there are some foreigners here who speak English that we can visit with. It's also in a great location and within walking distance of the Green Lake Park. (If you do stay here, get a room away from the bar below and you'll sleep better. Also, always bring earplugs.)

After a brief sit and cool drink (we still felt ourselves moving from the train ride), we dumped our stuff in the room and went walking up Zhengyi Lu (Righteous Road) to the park. On the way we found a pet store with birds, fish, rabbits, mice, hamsters, snakes, lizards, beetles, and bugs. It was an unusual pet store. We also found a map of the city in a very unusual place, in the concrete walk. They have an inlaid brass map in the center of the square. Very cool.

Green Lake Park has lots of folks singing and dancing and playing musical instruments. It was very restful after a day of people, cars and noise. (A car nearly ran over my foot while I was crossing the street to get here. I slapped the trunk to push away and only later realized it was a police car.) I like it that there always seems to be a park in every major city in China. The Chinese understand the importance of being able to escape the crowds.

On the way back Ruth got a massage right in the center of town. Right out on main street are blind people sitting on chairs under trees. They call out: "An'mo" (4th, 1st Press, Touch; massage). For just 10 yuan you can get a 10 minute massage. While Ruth got the massage I found a restaurant called My Favor Cafe, not My Favorite Cafe, but My Favor Cafe. There it was in big huge light-up letters. Hasn't anyone heard of a proof reader? How about a grammar checker. (Of course, I'm one to talk.) But it was good food.

The hostel also has a roof top restaurant and view of the square below. Cool breezes roll through and billow the curtains. They serve draft beer and smoothies and they provide Wifi in the rooms. (Keep in mind that we can't drink the water. The beer is very weak, about 2-3% alcohol. We took a risk with the smoothie which was made with fresh strawberries.)

(I'm playing catch up today on the blog. Ruth has been going in and out of the room roaming the streets by herself looking at stuff. I've promised to go with her the next time she gets back. I have just an hour or so to upload to the Net. She really doesn't mind so much. In fact, she kind of likes to venture out on her own. She likes to get lost and then have to ask in Chinese where she is. People are mostly helpful.)

"Hey, Dave," (she's back in the room) "Have you seen my tweezers?"

"Nope. But you can use mine from my Swiss Army pocket knife."

"But those aren't very good are they?"

"Well, no, but they might work in a pinch." [grin]

Got to go.

The man who goes out alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready. - Henry David Thoreau

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To Kunming

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The cement mixer started at 6:30 a.m. Sanhao is pouring the top floor of his house today since it's good weather. They only have one day to do it and have to take the best day possible. Of course, this means that he can't take us into Guilin to catch our train to Kunming. So Pam got her brother, Yijian, to do it. But he charges more.

Ruth and I have had a change in plans. We've decided to go to Kunming and Lijiang. So we bought our tickets yesterday for an 18 hour soft sleeper train to Kunming and airplane flight to Lijiang while the Duggan's ate noodles at a roadside shop.

We had a quick breakfast with hashbrowns at one of the restaurants in Longji. They were as fine as lace and as crispy as fresh potato chips.

I headed back to the room while Ruth went to visit Mr. Liao (almost everyone here is surnamed Liao, so it took awhile to locate him) who we met last time. He was so happy to see her. He brought out his album to show her the pictures we sent him of himself and of all of us together. Ruth took a good picture of them with the album.

Ruth was also able to snap a picture of what we had for breakfast, eggs and bacon. She missed the eggs but you can see the bacon here. It's great to get such fresh food.

We asked Maite what she thought of Longji. She short of waxed poetic on me:
"In the morning we were shrouded in mist and I didn't think we'd be able to see the terraces. But the mist lifted like a modest woman who slowly lifted her veil to gradually reveal her beauty to us."

Well said, Maite.

It was time to leave but not before we bought a bracelet for Ruth from on of the Yao girls. Then we hopped in with Yijian and drove to the Guilin airport for Tim and Maite. The drivers have all been taught at the same schools. They drive with madness. They don't slow for children, they honk at them.

We said goodbye to Tim and Maite at the Guilin airport and headed for the train station.

Twenty minutes later Yijian dropped us at the train station. It was mayhem. People everywhere, eating, sleeping, men hacking and spitting on the floor. People use the floor as a garbage can. There are hot water spigots at the train station. Folks buy dried noodles and add the hot water, but the spigot leaks onto the floor adding to the mess.

A woman announces the next train number and time of arrival. To punctuate the urgency she plays a recording of the screeching wheels of a train. Wow, after just 10 minutes in this station I want to scream, but I used earplugs instead. Hey, I just noticed that I'm the only white guy around these parts. Everybody is staring at me. I try to keep myself occupied by doing quick sketches. I found that when I inked in the faces it highlighted their hair, which was interesting.

The large screens are playing a loop of advertisement for the upcoming Olympic games, and it's then that I realize that I haven't seen the news since coming to China. I don't really know what's happening and the sad thing is, I don't really care.

China's public transportation is really amazing. You can reach any place in China via bus, train, or plane. You can catch a bus in a remote village miles from any city. Try that in the U.S. In Georgia I can't even get a bus from Kennesaw to the Atlanta airport just 30 miles away.

Our train arrived but it's a massive effort to hustle our single bag through the gate. People are pushing and shoving. Hey, some are climbing over the seats to jump ahead of us. It really doesn't matter, we have reserved soft sleepers.

A newly married couple has the two berths across from us. The berths come in fours so we purchased an upper and lower and they slept across from us on just the lower. They didn't even use the upper. They didn't speak any English and so we tried to communicate in our Chinese. We asked about their family, where they are from, and if they have any children. We found out that she is six months pregnant.

We arrived in Kunming after a long interrupted sleep. The train was mostly smooth but there were lurches that woke us up. Then it rocked gently and we fell back to sleep.

Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. - Benjamin Disraeli

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Roosters are crowing, horses are neighing, the rain is falling, we are ensconced. There is no better place to be during this rain than inside warm beds nestled atop the Pingan mountains. I can hear the water running down the drainpipes. There are no other noises. No pounding, no hammers, no car horns, no vendor carts. I look out my window perch and see white, nothing but clean white mist against my window ledge.

It's hard to step from our warm beds. I know I should get up and start the coffee. So I step out of bed and flick the switch of the water boiler and dart back under the warm covers and type on my iBook.

I hear the rolling thunder in the distance and the rain intensifies. It's a bad morning for pictures but a good day to read.

I forgot about the challenges of the bathroom. As I mentioned the last time we were here the sink drains onto the floor. That means that as I shave and brush my teeth the water drains into my toes. I'd forgotten that there is no straight wall anywhere in the room. The walls are curved and the floor slants to the back corner. This is so that the water from the sink and the shower find the drain. Since the floor is not level the toilet sits askew. I feel always slightly off balance. Experiencing the bathroom is like entering a funny house at a carnival.

The weather has cleared. It's beautiful. The sun reflects in the pools of the terraces.

Tim and Maite have wandered off to a village on their own. We meet up with them at dinner and hear that an old man tried to trap them in his village and expected some cash to guide them out. They had asked where there was a place to eat and he took them to his mud floor hut and on up to the second floor. Tim said: "It just didn't feel right, so we left." Tim picks up on this stuff pretty quick. They did finally find their way out after three attempts on various paths. The village is like a maze. No path is straight and some paths run right into someone's home. Then you have to backtrack to the fork in the path.

While walking the trails we find many of the Zhuang and Yao people displaying their costumes. We shoot a few pictures of the crowns and costumes but don't take pictures of them because I'll have to pay. I'm cheap.

We took a high road and found the peaks of Pingan. We met several foreigners including a woman who is staying right next door to us. She's staying at Li'an. Li'an is an exclusive hotel built by a Chinese man who has traveled the world. Each room is a unique museum of the various ares of China he's visited. There is a book in each room explaining all the artifacts. It's got all the Western amenities you could want. But you pay for it. The rooms go for $150 (U.S. dollars) and up to $250 a night. That's robbery when you consider we are paying $14.50 just next door. The views are the same. But, maybe they have better bathrooms.

The power to the area of Pingan has been spotty. I can't imagine why. It's been a real challenge to keep up with the blog. I've included a few pics of some of the construction so dad can think about coming here to help them out with the concrete forming. I still need to find someone that can help them reroute some of their power lines though.

I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine. - Caskie Stinnett

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Room atop 1000 Steps

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Sanhao, our driver, arrived at 10:30 to take us to Pingan. It was sad to leave Yangshuo behind. We have so many great memories here. We'd love to stay here for the rest of our time in China.

Sanhao drove us to Pingan (located in the Guangxi province). Even for our driver China is changing too quickly. He tried to take a paved road he'd traveled before but it had been closed off by the construction of an entire city. So he had to find another way through Guilin to Pingan. The road to Pingan is narrow and bearly wide enough for a single car let along two. Sanhao popped his horn to sound a warning for approaching cars and buses around the hairpin turns. Stakes with twine serve as our guardrails.

"Zhege lu ni changchang kaiche ma?" (Do you frequently travel this road?) I asked, wanting validation that he was experienced and we wouldn't be pitched off the cliff into the abyss below.

Shide." (Yes) he said but didn't give me the frequency. I was looking for a frequency confirmation. Like "Oh yes, every day." or "Once a month." or "No, this is my first time." This would help me determine the level of fear I ought to have. I'm glad Tim was sitting in front. I just put my head down and read. We arrived, this time got through the gate and drove to the bridge. Instead of the swarm of woman wanting to carry our stuff there were four. Sanhao had called ahead.

I counted 707 stairs to the Pingan hotel. Stairs, not steps. We walked over 1000 steps to reach the top, about a half a mile. And we still had to walk up four flights of stairs to the room. We paid 20 yuan for each bag and had the resident girls carry our bags in their baskets. Lynn will remember how I insisted on carrying my own the last time. No way. For $2.50 it's worth it to have them carry it. (Note: It since we are all of the club.)

View Place Hotel is a four story pine cabin on stilts wedged into the side of the terraced mountains of Longji. The walls are made of knotted pine and then shellacked with a clear satin finish. Our rooms 402 and 403 provide an awesome view of the valley below, ah, that is, if the weather would just clear up. It's raining we are shrouded in fog.

We stayed here almost two years ago to the day. Pam remembered us. Her husband is Sanhao, our driver and owner of the hotel. Sanhao and Pam have a new six month old little girl. She's all bundled up in a quilted yellow suit and white sock hat with little Mickey Mouse ears that lie flat. I'm not sure about the ears. I don't know what their purpose is. I'll have to ask.

"The yellow suit has a slit up the bottom. The split is for easy access to the diapers. Later, when the babies are about four months, they remove the diapers but leave the opening. The kids learn to squat wherever without taking off their pants. It's quite ingenious if a little breezy. The first time I saw this in Beijing I did sort of a double take. Is this really what I'm seeing? An outside crack exposing an inside crack?

We ate fried rice and egg, orange squash with sliced pork, and bamboo shoots. I'd never had the bamboo shoots but they are wonderful. They are only available this time of year. I remember the bamboo plants that grew outside my window when I was growing up. I never imagined they tasted so good, if I'd only known. They are my favorite Chinese food. I had them again for dinner, this time with fried rice and bacon. Real Chinese food tastes so clean, pure, and light. It's never greesy. It's so much better for you than the heavy meats and fried foods us Americans are eating.

While eating downstairs we met Mingmei from Guizhou and her friend from Taiwan. Mingmei teaches English in a Chinese school so she was anxious to write down all the words we used that she didn't know. (Calligraphy is a long and hard word for the Chinese to say.) She also translated our discussions for her friend. Tim attempted to do some of the translation using his best Chinese. He's getting good. He tries to speak Chinese everywhere we go. He downshifts to English if he gets puzzled looks.

Her friend likes to read ancient Chinese literature about far away places. He explained to us that it motivates him to travel to those same places so as to feel what the writer felt. Sometimes he forgets we don't understand a lot of Chinese and he'll go off, telling us all about a certain place. Mingmei pushes the pause button by gently placing her hand on his arm. She explains in her best English what he has said, and then releases the pause by lifting her hand. Then he he continues.

Mingmei gave Maite a Chinese first name: Meijuan (3rd and 1st tone). I'm not sure if she'll keep it or get another.

Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled. - Mohammed

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Pagoda Hike

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After breakfast we took a small hike up to one of the peaks in Yangshuo. The rain made one of the higher hikes too dangerous to take, but the short walk up to the pagoda was easy. From that perch we got a panoramic view of Yangshuo. There are about 350,000 people living here and it's growing due to all the touring foreigners. Hey, that's us.

We met a business man from an outside province, a very friendly guy. He wanted to practice his English, so on the way up we helped him learn how to say "No." At first he was saying: "Lo."

"It's not 'Lo' it's Nnnnno."


"No, say 'Nnnnoooo'."

We got him to touch his nose to feel the vibration and we drew him a picture of the nasal passage to explain how the air needs to flow through the back of the throat and up the nose. The sound doesn't come from the back of the teeth like an "L" but from the back of the throat.

By the time we reached the top he was saying "No" very well.

He found an osmanthus (guihua) tea flower and showed it to us. The fragrance is like a spring day.

"Do you know where it came from?"

"No." He said correctly.

So we told him.

We parted after exchanging phone numbers. He was very happy to spend his first day in Yangshuo with us foreigners, learning how to say "No" in English but he wanted to learn more.

We had some pizza and beer at Malcolm's restaurant. The pizza wasn't as good as a New York pizza, but it was respectable for the middle of China.

Yangshuo is the home of a Chinese calligrapher and bicyclist. The noteworthy thing about this man is that he has lost his right arm and left leg in a car accident back in the 80s. At first despondent, he felt useless. There were no facilities in China for the physically challenged. Life was very hard for him. Before the accident he loved to cycle, so after getting a prothesis he decided to cycle throughout China. After some practice he learned to write beautifully in Chinese calligraphic script using just the stump of his right arm. Soon he was famous, not for his handicap but for his beautiful writing and his long cycling journeys throughout China. He now lives in Yangshuo with his family. We saw him painting fans while we were in the silk shop just across the street.

The silk shop has a wooden tub of silkworms in their cocoons. The cocoons soak in water until the silk shop lady removes them from their cozy homes. Next, she stretches the silk pad over a two foot bamboo arch to dry. The worms are left in the tub and are later eaten. I watched her work while Tim bought a beautiful red and blue checked tie with matching cufflinks.

Earlier in the day he found a very interesting purple sand teapot. After firing, the purple clay becomes almost indestructible. They come in all shapes and designs. Tim found a mushroom pot that looks like something out of Alice and Wonderland. I also saw a t-shirt drawing of a galloping zebra that was going so fast it lost it's stripes.

We leave Yangshuo tomorrow and head for Pingan. Yangshuo is magical for it's karst peaks pushing up through the flat land, but I'm looking forward to a more peaceful place.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware. - Martin Buber

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Sanbu in Chinese means to "go for a walk." We decided today would be a great day to just walk around, snap some pictures (paizhao) and chat with folks in Yangshuo. It's been a busy week and a half in China. It seems like we've done so much.

Tim and Maite had their own plans today, and the arrangement was to split up. They do their thing and we do ours. We are not tired of each other or anything...and we want to keep it that way. So we decided that Sunday would be the day we'd do stuff separately. Even if we saw each other (which is hard not to do when you're staying in the same hotel) we would NOT to communicate.

I will confess that I saw them in the restaurant downstairs and I forgot and said: "Hi." I hope THAT was okay. And they did invite me to look at their pictures, and so I sat down. I actually sat down next to Tim while viewing their images. And I feel so badly about it. Ruth saw me confabulating with them and gave me a vexed look. But I soon mended my ways and left their table. I didn't even shake their hand or hug them goodbye.

And so we went sanbu-ing. Here we are sanbu-ing among the doushou (itinerant vendors, peddlers). We found a group of Chinese students that wanted us to be in their picture. We'd never met them before but they insisted that we pose with them. They wanted a big nose guy in the frame I think. So we posed with the Yangshuo mountains as our backdrop.

We hung around not really doing much, which was a welcome relief. We ate on the second floor of Cloud Nine on Xijie street. We had a wonderful eggplant dipped in egg batter and slightly fried. We also had minced meet with green beans and mapodoufu. (Toufu with minced meet.)

Tim ate at the Treasure Island Fish Pot. The restaurant provides a chicken broth and a hot plate on each table. You dump your vegies and meat into the boiling cauldron. He says it was good but of course he didn't invite us, because he wasn't allowed to. If Ruth caught us together we'd be sent to our room. She doesn't think we ought to spend too much time together. Both Ruth and Maite try to keep our association to a minimum.

And that's all I can really say about that.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do... Explore. Dream. Discover. - Mark Twain

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The Balcony (Jazz)

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It threatens to rain all day today so we decided to hang out at The Balcony for a bit.

The Balcony is a trendy sort of place that serves breakfast (eggs, toast, juice, and coffee) for just 28 yuan ($3.50). There's an upstairs (thus "balcony") which is set up like a living room. It's got a hippie pad look to it, you know, tacky but with an edge. It's the sort of place that Eric would love.

Anyway last night we all agreed to meet here for breakfast at 9:00. I'm here at nine but where are the others? They must think this is some sort of vacation or something, getting up whenever they feel like it. Sheesh.

So I spent my time wisely eating breakfast, posting to the blog, uploading pictures, checking the weather, memorizing 3,000 Chinese characters and learning Swahili.

Some of the folks didn't show until 11:45 but by then it was lunch time. So we ordered soup and a fragrant tea served in a glass tea pot and tiny cups. The restaurant played all English tunes including the Lion King tune: Can You Feel the Love Tonight. That brought back some memories from our TESOL class just a few weeks ago where we had to think up different words and sing it before the class. But that's a subject for another blog.

The sky was getting darker but that didn't stop us from deciding to take a trip up the river in an old wooden fishing boat. So, we took an hour's bus ride to Xingping and then a small go-cart of sorts down to the boats. By then the rain was so heavy the carts couldn't get us to the boats. We had to hoof it to the river's edge under sheets of rain. I put my backpack under my Northface jacket to protect my computer, digital camera, and lenses but that didn't do much for my pants. They were soaked by the time we got to the boats.

Our boat captain didn't look too sure of himself either. He was wiping his window with a scrap of tissue in hopes of a better view of where we were going. He was looking around behind him before pulling away from the shore but little good that did, you couldn't see five feet beyond the boat in any direction because of the downpour. Lightening flashed in the sky above and thunder cracked almost immediatly. I got this visual of a boat floating down the Li river with a dagger of lightening stabbing it's little metal top. I almost jumped ship but there was no place to go out of the weather as we were just dumped off by the drivers of the little carts and they'd long since gone. Why should they stick around? They weren't crazy.

The little chairs in the boat were wet too but that didn't make too much of a difference, we just sat down and made them wetter. The rain by now was so heavy we couldn't hear above a yell for the noise it made on the flat tin roof of the boat. But we just gaily jumped aboard oblivious of the deluge upon us, the eventual sinking of our boat, and the loss of my valuable digital images already collected on the trip. That's what I was thinking about anyway. Forget about life and limb, family and friends, what about my pictures?

The captain pushed off blindly from the shore and followed another boat's wake. Finally the weather let up enough so that we no longer saw rain drop craters in the water and we were able to make out the shore edge. The mist rose from the mountains in wisps like cotton candy and became translucent when the sun broke through. The water became still like a mirror and reflected the changing weather above it. We chugged up the river quietly except for the single piston diesel motor at our rear.

These peaks you see here are most famous in Chinese paintings. Even the 20 yuan (dollar) bill has an etching of these mountains.

The bus ride back was uneventful except for the loss of a wallet. There was some commotion. The wallet and passport were found but, alas, the cash was missing.

Oh, and there was the exciting music at the restaurant. Quiet at first and wonderful food but it seems that we were taking too long and the young people running the place had other plans. So they cranked up the hip hop, turned on the strobes, and literally blew us out the front door, Tim groovin' as we left. But I couldn't even talk above a scream. The music pressed against my chest and caused my heart to skip a beat. I believe that this would be a better way to bring someone back to life. Forget the expensive defibrillation devices, just pound some hip hop into their chest.

And that's the wonderful thing about family travel: it provides you with experiences that will remain locked forever in the scar tissue of your mind. - Dave Barry

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1000 Year Old Towns

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It's 5:50 a.m. Saturday the 12th. I'm writing about yesterday.

The birds are waking up and they have decided to sing to me. I hear the steady waterfall outside in the distance. The sun is trying to push through our light-tight curtains but it's only having limited success. I can't open them yet as Ruth is still sleeping. I think I'll go out and journal from the balcony.

I have just made a cup of fresh Starbucks Italian Roast coffee using the water boiler in the room and my light plastic thermal plunger cup. I can get two excellent cups (or one big mug) of coffee from it. There is nothing better then journaling while drinking Starbucks Italian roast on a Yangshuo hotel room balcony.

It rained yesterday afternoon. The weather has been very good up to now. It's been 70 and overcast, which is perfect for vivid pictures. We rented a small van that seats about eight people including the driver and drove through some of the old towns. Tim and Maite loved the views and short walks. Sometimes we'd have the driver drop us off for a short walk and picture op. Then we'd meet him again up the road and we'd hop in for another short distance. At one point in the bumpy dirt road we had to stop to allow farmers to load their fresh picked oranges into their tiny truck. Their daughters stood along the road in their luminous pink jackets that contrasted in complementary color against the rich green backdrop of rice fields. I squeezed off a frame through the van window before they had a chance to see me. The colors you see are untouched. The overcast provides the even lighting, perfect for saturated colors.

At one old town we just walked along the cobblestone courtyards and peeked into some of the living quarters. It's so strange to see TVs and radios in dark, dank rooms with hardly a stick of furniture. We heard music up the way and rounded the corner to see an old man by the doorway sewing. He had to use the doorway as it was too dark inside. He had no electric light on in the house. There were no windows. He was sitting on the floor sewing by hand. Perched on an old wooden cabinet was a new CD player echoing Chinese tunes through his 500 year old stone hovel.

There were old men outside the town and one followed us into the courtyard to show us his hand carved tobacco pipes. He lit one up to demonstrate. We admired his beautiful work and the exquisite detail. The mouthpiece and tobacco reservoir were made of brass and buffed a golden hue. These pieces of the pipe accented the wheat color of the polished wooden shaft. Each pipe was uniquely crafted. He tried to sell us one but we told him we didn't smoke, that it was bad for the body. (Bu chou, bu hao shenti.)

The restaurants that you find out in these old villages don't look like anything you'd see in the States. In fact, you can't really tell it's a restaurant. You just have to know where it is. And we don't order from menus but instead tour the kitchen to select what is fresh. We found pumpkin squash, eggplant, bokchoy, tomato, eggs, and fresh fish (still swimming in the tank). So that's what we ordered. Every bite discharged a rainbow of flavor. The deep yellow eggs and ruby red tomatoes tasted as a fresh as a new day in springtime, the chocolate brown color fish with garlic and onion was almost boneless, the squash was piping hot and had a buttery cheese smoothness. It all disappeared in my mouth before I had a chance to register the tastes. I reached for more. The local beer, Liquan, came in 500 milliliter bottles and was delivered with four small 10 milliliter glasses. It was cold and it's fragrance was like fresh hay in the sunshine.

The tab, including the two beers, was 156 yuan ($20 for 7 of us, or just $3 per person).

Out in the middle of the fields we found a kindergarten, playground, and brightly painted wall. Later we watched some children come home from school each carrying their colorful umbrellas. They had to cross a makeshift bridge of planks and 500 gallon drums, all lashed together with bailing wire and twine. The Dragon Bridge we saw last time is crumbling and needs repair. Dragon Bridge provides a panoramic view of the unique Li river mountains.

We got back in time to have fresh coffee and cakes and watch the pouring rain outside wash the streets.

We had pizza for dinner.

Hmmm...seems like all we do is walk and eat. Yeah, that is all we do.

We had some great discussions together with all our friends too.

I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine. - Caskie Stinnett

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Beer on the Balcony

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8:00am: We had breakfast on the 3rd floor of the SSAW hotel before heading to the airport and on to Yangshuo. The breakfast at the hotel is an all you can eat affair for just 38 yuan ($6.50). I always order eggs over medium, toast, red bean dumplings, and coffee.

A friend we met in Hangzhou decided that we were too inexperienced to go on our own to Yanhshuo so decided to cancel plans for the weekend and come with us. At least that was the reason she gave us. And I agreed, we should not be left alone in China. So get this, she cancels her plane ride back home, books the same flight as we had to Guilin/Yangshuo on the way to the airport. It's only when we get in the plane we realize that she has been assigned the seat right next to me. That's really weird.

12:00pm: Since there were five of us we decided to try to get a mini-bus direct to Yangshuo. On our last visit here two years ago, we took two buses and a taxi to our hotel. This time we haggled and bargained and finally got two taxis for just 400 yuan total (about $56) for an hour and a half ride to our destination. That's a deal. That's about $11.20 each. We verified with the drivers that it was 400 total and she gestured pointing to her heart to trust her.

About 20 minutes out of the airport she is honking waving madly at a bus to pull over. She swerved in front of him and stopped. He had to stop. She pulled our bags from the trunk and started loading them into the bus. She kept saying that it was too much money for us to pay to go to Yangshuo by taxi. We should take the bus, much cheaper. Besides, she said, she drives too slow. Well if she'd stay off the phone! We noticed that each time it rang and she answered it, she'd slow to a crawl. It's just like the drivers in America. I yell at them: "It's a car, not a phone booth!"

Tim and I were in the other taxi and we didn't know what was going on. But when we got on the bus our friend explained to us that she thought that the two woman drivers realized that they wouldn't be able to get a fare going back from the hotel to Guilin and that we made too good of a deal with them. But our troubles were not over. The bus lady was coming down the isle.

She wanted us to pay full fare. We explained that we had already paid the taxi for our ride to this point, but she wouldn't have it. She marched up and down the isle fusing and fuming, screaming and shaking. Before we got on the bus our taxi driver had negotiated 10 yuan, but now that we were on the bus and in the middle of nowhere the bus lady wanted 14 yuan each. It's only a difference of 50 cents, she was not seeing it our way. She threatened to throw us off the bus. Then I kind of got to thinking, it's her bus and her country. It would be challenging if I had to find a ride here next to this paddy field and water buffalo. I was starting to see it her way.

In the end we forked over the extra 4 yuan each. I was glad for peace. She returned to the front of the bus, steam rising from her horns.

3:30pm: I'm sitting on the balcony of Riverside Hotel sipping some beer and munching on some beef jerky we still have left over from our travel snacks. Our balcony is on the third floor and looks just above the street trees at the Yangshuo mountains.

It's nice to have made it out of the city and into rural Yangshuo. Although Hangzhou was clean and beautiful, it is still a city. Yangshou is rural, but we still have access to some of the comforts of home. It's one of our favorite places to visit.

6:00pm: We ordered brandied chicken, garlic broccoli, and eggplant and took it up to the open air 4th floor of Malcolm's restaurant. The top floor overlooks Xilu (West Road) where all the booths are. They call it West Road because this is the place all the westerners go and buy stuff. Our friend said if the price is 100 yuan then 25 yuan is about right. You need to keep that in mind when you shop. It's a beautiful view from the top. It's somewhat noisy down below, especially as it gets closer to the drinking hour. Lots of hikers and backpackers come to Yangshuo and they can get a bit rowdy.

8:00pm: Wine tasting. We met a guy who sells South African wine to the local restaurants and businessmen. He offered to give us a taste. He also has a top open air floor where the breezes come through. So we enjoyed a good Cabernet by candlelight. He loves Elvis Prestly so we gave a listen to one of his CDs. What a great capper for the night.

9:30pm: We walked out and said goodbye to our new friend. We met another group visiting from England staying at our same hotel. They were downstairs eating banana pancakes. Banana pancakes sounded so good so I had one with Columbian coffee.

I think I'm tired.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” - Lao Tzu

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The Bus

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Lingyin Peak is a temple park and hiking trail on the south side of the lake. Throughout the park are huge stone carvings of various idols. Many purchased incense and burned it or waved it while bowing and kneeling. After more than 1000 years these stone carvings are still venerated by the Chinese hoping to insure good fortune and fend off evil forces.

We enjoyed the courtyards, waterways, trees, stone paths, and interesting tree roots growing among the rocks. The spring blossoms and cool breezes gave peace to this traveler's soul.

Lunch was fantastic. We ate at a restaurant near a pond and weeping willow trees. The willow blossoms fell like snow flurries around us and the gentle breeze cooled us from the hike through the park. But...

Whose idea was it to take the bus back to Starbucks?

We had just enjoyed this stroll all around a park of rocks, water falls, and peaceful pathways when someone decided to take the bus back instead of the taxi. It was cheaper and their reasoning was: For just 5 yuan (70 cents) we could save enough for a Starbucks double shot. The bus was nothing more than a vacuum packed sardine can.

It was a two door affair. We got on through the front door and then had to exit from the door in the middle. When I first got on I couldn't get past the first row and had to stand next to the driver. That was cool. I pulled out the camera and squeezed off a few frames while he drove. But in the back of my mind I was thinking: How am I supposed to exit from the back door? Hey, I'll just exit from the front. (I was thinking this because the bus driver yelled at someone trying to come forward and exit at the front while we were getting on. I figured I'd risk his displeasure.)

However, as people got on at the next stop they propelled me toward the rear of the bus. As we made progressive stops I was pushed into the dark, black hole of writhing people. Three stops later I was between the two doors. I glanced up toward the front at stop four to see one man get knocked in the head by the door arm as it closed. He was standing on the last stair in front of the first seats.

I could at least see the street, kind of. I was looking for any familiar landmarks so that I could signal the others to exit. It was a long, hot, interminable ride. The bus rocked and lunged and we standing sardines swayed together like kelp in the ocean tides. Ruth didn't have to hold on to anything, she just leaned against all the people around her. I felt something against my thighs and looked down to see a little boy making his way to the back with his mother in tow. Where did he come from? The bus must smell different to little people.

Finally our stop was coming up. We pushed as much as we could to get near the door. When the door opened people from the rear and people from the front prevented us from making any progress. Finally, I grabbed Ruth like a football and muscled against the defensive line backers and blasted through the doors. We squirted out right in front of a passing moped and nearly got run over. It would have been a shame to be run over by a tiny moped after surviving the bus.

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. - G.K. Chesterton

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Paradise in Hangzhou

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Shanghai is a very busy city and it's huge, eighteen million people including the outlying areas. You can find anything in Shanghai, except paradise.

In 1280 Marco Polo described Hangzhou as the paradise of the world. The Chinese saying is: “As there is paradise in Heaven, so there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” Hangzhou, our next stop, is just a one hour train ride from Shanghai.

One of the most fearsome experiences for a foreigner is trying to buy tickets without being able to read the language. There was no English at the Shanghai Railway Station, but wherever we go we find someone that is friendly and willing to help. Even if you don't speak Chinese you could navigate by just smiling and asking for help. A young woman helped us purchased our tickets, sat with us as we waited for the train, and even made sure we found our seats on the train.

I can't say the same for the ticket agents. They are often rude, abrupt, and sometimes downright mean. We bought four first class tickets but the agent placed one of us in another cabin area. I had to switch my ticket when I got on board. I found a very nice girl who was willing to make the swap. It was certainly obvious when we bought the tickets that we were together but the agent just simply didn't care.

It was a smooth ride to Hangzhou. I watched the trees sweep by while listening to George Winston's Forest album on the iPod. Occasionally another train would swish past going the opposite direction and I'd feel a slight tug at our side. In an instant it was gone like a whisper that's forgotten. Telephone poles stabbed the landscape like toothpicks on a baker's cake.

Ruth was able to get some incredible deals on hotels on this trip. I think we ought to open our own tour company. The hotel in Hangzhou is very modern and clean. The decor in SSAW Hotel has a Danish feel. We have free Internet (to support my blog readers), a restaurant on the third floor, purified ice, and a free folding hair brush. What else could a traveler ask for?

One of the beautiful aspects of Hangzhou is the lake and lighted walkway. The city is situated around Xihu (West Lake). Pathways, stone bridges, sculpture, and restaurants skirt the lakefront. On our way to the lake, which was just a 10 minute walk from the hotel, we found a Starbucks. Wow! So, Starbucks in hand we walked the pathways and listened to live Chinese music. We found two old men playing a Erhu (give a listen) and cymbal. Two people were singing Chinese opera which requires some getting used to, but a cultural experience nonetheless.

Hangzhou is a mix of modern and ancient experiences. We found another Starbucks, Häagen-Dazs, and Jazz Cafe right on the lake. So really you can select the environment of choice.

We chose a hot table meal (I don't know the proper Chinese name). This is a restaurant that doesn't cook for you. They only supply the raw meat, vegetables, and noodles and you cook them yourself in a large bowl in the center of the table. They start you off with a wonderful broth of various seasonings. We met a friend who did the ordering for us (the menu was all in Chinese). We were unprepared when we saw the size of the dishes. We ordered enough for an army. Folks were staring at us. We tried to send it back and get a refund but they would have it. They said we could exchange it for something else on the menu but we explained that it was too much.

"How about an exchange of beer?"


"Water bottles?"

"No. Only other dishes!"

Which, of course, ignored the issue of too much food. This discussion was all in Chinese and I didn't have a clue what was happening. In the end though, we only spent $7 total for the five of us. It wasn't a big deal.

We went back to the room to talk of our plans for tomorrow, our first full day in paradise.

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness. ~Ray Bradbury

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The Suit

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We met some friends and tour guides downstairs in the hotel lobby. They offered to take us to Yuyuan Park and the textile district of Shanghai. One of them knew some people and could get us in free. That's guanxi (relationships)! Most of all though, we really enjoyed their company.

Yuyuan Park in Shanghai is about 600 years old. Stones that look like swiss cheese form gnarled entryways. The walls are a maze of courtyards and private sitting areas cooled by weeping willow trees, koi ponds, and open air meeting houses.

Many of the pathways are made of small river stones cemented on edge in mosaic patterns. This not only adds depth and texture to the meandering eye but it gave me a great foot massage as I walked shoeless through sections of the park.

Inside the park we visited a tea house and sampled many different types, each said to have specific medicinal purposes. We bought a tea that smelled of apricot blossoms.

Just outside of Yuyuan Park we found a dumpling restaurant. For 80 yuan each we ate several kinds of meat stuffed steamed pasta. Feichang haochi. (Delicious)

Finally, we walked about 30 minutes to a garment district. Tim convinced me to have a custom suit made from the finest and highest quality material available. I only have two suits. For about 500 yuan ($70) I could have a third. Why not? In America I would pay that much for a jacket.

I could chose whatever design elements I wanted: cuffs/no cuffs, pleats or no pleats, one, two, no vents, two or three button, etc. The jacket sleeve cuffs have individual button holes and the inside overlap is cut at a 45 instead of just flat pressed and stitched. A mark of quality I learned from my dad who learned it from a Jewish tailor. "So listen, I'm tellink you Raymond, this suit you must buy." I wish my dad was with me. I know he has a closet full of suits but I also know he'd like a custom made suit of super 120 five star material.

Tim was at another booth looking at material (there must be 50 booths on each of the five floors). I was looking at the samples of suits hanging on the mannequins. When I found the samples I liked, I found Tim and brought him back to the shop. I explained why I liked this shop showing him all the little quality elements dad had shown me. Tim showed me how to choose quality fabrics. We made a good team. We choose the material, got measured, and walked out with less cash. We paid half and will pay the balance when we return to Shanghai to leave for home.

So Tim says: "Of course, all suits require a shirt or two. Right?" He convinced me to buy two custom made shirts for $17 each. So pulling out my receipt and sample from the previous suit booth I found a complementary shirt color and ordered one with french cuffs and standard collar. (The shop had eight sample collars hanging on the wall to choose from.)

Ruth and Maite also bought custom made suits. Ruth spends half her time looking for her size and the other half hemming the sleeves herself. I'm so happy she bought a suit too.

Most of the vendors and tailors didn't speak any English. Ruth and Maite helped us look up various words Tim and I need to communicate with a tailor like: loose, tight, buckled, cuff, pleats, etc. But we mostly communicated using wild gestures and horrible Chinese. We all laughed a lot.

Learning a language in the country of origin is just way too much fun.

We crashed in the room after having noodles, tea and Qingdao beer. I think Maite and Tim rejoined our tour guides for dinner. Tim called the room as I was napping and said something incomprehensible about going out again. They are such party animals.

I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad. ~George Bernard Shaw

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The Bund

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We were eating lunch at The 3rd on The Bund when our server asked us where we were from. When we told her Atlanta I heard a voice behind me say:

"No kidding, what part of Atlanta?"

It turns out that he lives just four miles from our house in Atlanta. Unbelievable! We have traveled over eight thousand miles to a city of eighteen million people and we sit two feet away from a guy that lives in our neighborhood. What are the chances?

Earlier today we spent some time walking through the People's Park and window shopping as we made our way to The Bund. But after an hour and a half we discovered we had only walked halfway to the Bund.

Time for a taxi.

We were eating at The New Heights, an open air restaurant on the 7th floor of The 3rd on the Bund. The New Heights serves overpriced food to foreigners who can't bear to eat noodles and rice at the shops below. For example, I paid 85 yen (about $13) for eggs benedict. Outrageous! I paid $7 for Qingdao beer here but it's just $2 elsewhere. We were paying for the view and atmosphere. Flags on the buildings adjacent ours danced in the gentle breeze and we watched ships float by on the river below. We sipped beer and ate cheese bread while we enjoyed a nice selection of jazz piped to our rooftop table. We reasoned that we deserved this after our five mile walk to the Bund. Maybe.

The Bund is a promenade skirting a waterway that streams through the center of Shanghai. Since today was Sunday, the promenade was especially full of folks walking, eating, and flying kites. Vendors swarmed us like bees collecting pollen in an attempt to collect some money from us foreigners. Maite bought 10 postcards for a dollar. Tim got his shoes shined for just a buck forty..

The overcast haze that shrouded Shanghai when we started out on our journey this morning burned off and it became a warm 70 degree afternoon. Our plans? Meet a friend here that used to live in Atlanta. We arranged to meet at a shopping mall in Shanghai. Tim, Maite and Ruth shopped for a tea set while I nodded off on one of the nearby benches.

We were able to meet up with our friends and see their new apartment. The furniture is provided by the landlord and it is exquisite. Intricate wood carved rosewood chairs, tables and display shelves covered in black lacquer finishes add class and beauty while their solid wood floor adds warmth and charm to the interior.

I've been the designated copilot for our forays into Shanghai. I hop in the passenger's seat and tell the driver where we want to go in broken Chinese. After some map pointing he slaps the timer to the dash and injects us into a vein of pulsating cars, buses, and mopeds that keep Shanghai commercially alive. My pulse rises as our corpuscle of a car streams through the traffic in search of our destination.

Our highlight was spending some time with a group of friends and learning more Chinese. The rule was that we had to tell our stories using as much Chinese as we knew. But I spent most of my evening with a young student laughing and teaching him English idioms.

"So" he said, "I fly by the seat of my pants, shoot from the hip, and wing it when I'm not prepared? Right?"

"By George, I think you've got it. "


It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~Herman Melville

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Fifteen hours and seventeen minutes is a very long time to spend in a very small space hurling through a very big space at 560 miles per hour. Our flight route took us over Alaska. At an altitude of 38,106 feet it's -63 degrees Fahrenheit. That's almost 100 degrees below freezing! I'm wearing my Northface jacket. It's cold in here.

They always tell you to be at the airport two hours before take off on an International flight, and we were. But it really wasn't enough time. When we arrived at gate E11 the area was empty. I thought they might have moved the boarding gate but in fact, everyone else had already boarded. The time was 9:45 with a scheduled departure of 9:55. We ran to the gate but he directed us to the desk where they reissued new boarding tickets after asking for our passports and VISAs for the third time. (I actually counted four times we were asked to show our passports and IDs.) We ran back over to the gate, got sniffed by dogs standing by three military men and
boarded the plane. They closed the door behind us at 9:50.

I was concerned that our seating had been changed because we were late to the gate. I ask the flight attendant if it were possible to find two seats together. As I said this I turned the corner only to find the plane was half empty. We got a row of three seats for the both of us. But that was just the start of great things.

As I was putting away our stuff in the overhead I apologized to the flight attendant for holding up the plane. "We were at the airport two hours before." I defensively said, looking for a pardon. "We promise we will be really good and we won't make any trouble for you on the flight."

"Listen, I raised two boys, you couldn't be any more of a challenge then they were."

Then she handed me a "For the Long Haul" bag. What's in this? It contained:
  • toothbrush and toothpaste

  • headphones

  • red eye shades

  • Yuzu bergamot moisturizer

  • earplugs

  • I love gagets. In front of each seat was our own personal entertainment device. I counted 26 movies, 31 HBO shows, 50 TV channels, 12 games, and I stopped counting at 100 music channels with selections in classical, country, jazz, rock, and urban soul. From this mini TV screen I could be entertained for hours. Oh yeah, that's right, we'd need to as we would be sitting here for hours. All of it was complementary for International flights. I can watch anything anytime, pause, fast forward, and get subtitles in four to eight languages.

    At 10:10 we pushed off from the gate and at 10:47 we took off.

    We arrived in Shanghai, passed through customs with passports and VISA without a problem. We found the taxi line and got a guy that used to race in NASCAR. He weaved through traffic at speeds of 70 while everyone else was doing 50. When someone braked, he sped up, shot in front of one of the cars on the left or right and weaved back in. At one point we had to stop. A bobtail slammed into a van and overturned it. It was minutes before we got there. I told him we ought to go slower but he wouldn't listen.

    We found Tim and Maite waiting for us at the Magnificient Hotel lobby. What a welcome sight. So strange to see our Atlanta friends in this foreign place.

    We ran upstairs dumped our luggage and went to look at the insect market next door. This is a place where they sell lots of crickets. Chinese keep them as pets for their soothing night-time sound. They also use them for gambling. We saw several guys hunkered down around a table with two fighting inside a plastic ring.

    One of the guys selling the crickets suggested a restaurant to try. He wrote out the address and even drew a map we could show our taxi driver. The pig belly, beef, and steamed vegetables were fantastic. We washed it down with Qingdao beer. Then we walked back three miles to the hotel.

    It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to have to paint it. -- Steven Wright

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    Single carryon + handbag

    Just weighed the main bag. It's 18 lbs. Not bad. The hand bag is 15 lbs. So total I have 33 lbs of gear for a month in China. Some of the stuff in the bags:

    Notebook computer
    Nikon D70, 12-24 & 55 macro lens
    Day pack
    Fanny pack
    Three changes of clothes (jeans/cargo pants, shirts, wicking socks and t-shirts)
    Northface waterproof jacket
    Columbia fleece zippered jacket
    Air activated hand warmers
    Cables, chargers, etc.
    Coffee cup press
    1 lb of Italian Roast Starbucks coffee
    Some disposable chopsticks
    Books, reading material
    Moleskine reloaded for sketching (made it a couple of weeks ago)
    Moleskine reporter plain
    Seven pens, six watercolor pencils, watercolor travel set, water brush
    4x6 blank cards, 4x6 watercolor paper cards
    Chinese dictionary
    Chinese phrase book
    iPod Nano
    Snacks for the 15 hour plane ride
    Gum (for going up and coming down)

    That's what's in my bag(s). I hope I make it to the gate.

    Which reminds very little of a conversation I overheard on a plane:

    "Sir would you like me to put your bag in the overhead bin?"

    "Nah, she can sit next to me this time."


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