Travel Journal

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

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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China 2008

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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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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