Travel Journal

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

A Walk to Longji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid suspicion: when you're walking through your neighbor's melon patch, don't tie your shoe. -Chinese proverb
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We have been in Yangshuo now for eight days. Bill had to go on to Shanghai so we decided to take a two day excursion into Longsheng. We hired a driver for $175 for two days to take us there for two days and then back to the airport in Guilin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. -Chinese proverb
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I can tell you that 5:00 a.m. is very early when you go to bed at 12:00 a.m. Our plans were to get in bed earlier but there was so much yet to do before leaving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China 2006

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