Travel Journal

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

Home - Summary of China 2008

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This marks the end of a most fantastic trip. What made the trip great was not so much the places we went but the people we met. Ruth is great meeting people, finding out what their interests are and linking them together. The modern term is: "networking" but it doesn't capture what she does. Networking implies a business connotation. A sort of self-serving approach to hooking people together. Ruth is genuinely interested in helping people get what they want. In the end they help us but that's not her intent going in.

So when she met Eric at the restaurant who was looking for someone to deliver books to a remote village, she offered our help. He, in turn, introduced us to someone else at the college who wanted us to teach English. Meeting these people was a fantastic experience. It takes the tourism out of a trip to a foreign country. It makes it personal and gives a human connection to the place. We don't think of China as a place so much but as a place where some of our friends live.

I'm glad we didn't go during the Olympics. It'll be crazy during the games. It's crazy as it is. Way too many people in the cities. If you go, I really recommend traveling to some of the less traveled areas I mention on the blog.

As I look back over the "electronic scrapbook" (the travel blog) I'm reminded of how much we actually did and the number of friends we met. I was surprised to met several couples that were traveling much longer then us. One Danish couple had been traveling for four months and still had two more to go. Another couple planned to travel for nine months. However, she became pregnant on the trip so they had to cut it after only four months. I was amazed at these people. How can they travel so long? What are they doing for a living. I didn't ask.

If you are going to blog

If you are going to blog throughout your trip to China, I'd suggest you use It's easy to get an account and it's easy to set up. Google's is blocked in China. You can't use it. In the end I opted for my own domain so that I could have more control over the blog format. I used blogger to FTP post to because it was easy.

There were four things I always carried with me, my notebook computer, my camera, a small chest pocket notebook (Moleskine Plain Reporter), and a Uniball Visioin micro pen.

All my electronic stuff automatically senses 220 so I didn't have to bring any special transformers. In all the places we traveled in China our normal two prong plug could fit the outlets so I didn't have to bring any plug converters. However, it you have three-prong devices, you'll need the three prong converter.

The camera is a Nikon D70. It's not the most expensive Nikon (D3? I wish.) but it's really light and great for travel. I carried it in the backpack at all times (or over my shoulder). The heaviest thing of the camera setup is my 12-24 lens. It's got lots of glass, which makes it heavy but it's an awesome lens. It makes you feel like you are in the scene. It's my favorite lens. I use a USB CF card reader to get the photos into the computer. This makes quick work posting the images to the blog site. It also saves the camera's battery while you upload the photos.

The Moleskine Plan Reporter is a notebook that opens at the top. It's the kind of notebook you'd see on police shows. It's easy to hold with one hand and is quickly accessed. I put a stiff post-it flag on the current page so that I can quickly flip it open to a fresh place to write.

The Uniball Vision micro pen is a 0.5 non-fade, waterproof pen. If the paper gets wet, you can still read your writing. It's a great pen for drawing maps or sketching people too. I write little notes to help me remember what happened so that I can include it on the blog. It's the perfect line weight for the pocket notebook.

I hope your trip to China (or somewhere else) is as safe and enjoyable as ours was. If you have any questions, feel free to write me using the tab above.

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. - Lin Yutang

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The Last Day

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We are determined to enjoy every last bit of our month-long vacation. We will squeeze every possible activity in before we go. We are sad to leave. Has it really been a month?

But hey, there's always jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) to comfort us. Downstairs, in a small hole in the wall, is a shop that makes fresh jiaozi . These are to die for. In the morning we have coffee and cookies to stave off the hunger until the shop opens. Finally at 9:00 a.m. the shop fills with workers rolling, stuffing, pinching, and cooking the pasta wrapped sausages.

I'm not sure how, but when they are cooked, there is actually a soup inside. Eating this jiaozi takes skill. We bite off the top, suck out the hot juice, then bite into the meat. The pasta shell is soft on one side but crunchy on the other. It has a toasted taste to it. Wow. We order eight, sneak them up to the room, and are raptured.

Last night we got a chance to visit with some English tour guides. They took us to the Western side of town but we had Chinese food anyway. I tried a dish I'd never had before: Wood Ear Mushrooms. (We've been eating a lot of non-meat dishs.) Then we went to the French Quarter for coffee and desert and listened to live music (some English songs and some Chinese).

We walked the park late at night. It was dark in spots but there were light that lined the pathways. The police were there, walking or riding mopeds. I felt very safe. There were people in the park, sitting in twos. They weren't going to bother us, they were engaged in their own activities.

We snapped a few night pictures, said goodbye to our great tour guides, and took the taxi back to the hotel.

You know it's time to leave China when . . . instant coffee starts to taste good. - Ruth Terry

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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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