Travel Journal

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

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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Returning Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But those are just cosmetic things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last Days in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A flower cannot blossom without sunshine nor a garden without love. -Chinese proverb
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Pearl Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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