Travel Journal

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

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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The Suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bund

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

"No kidding, what part of Atlanta?"

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

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

Time for a taxi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • headphones

  • red eye shades

  • Yuzu bergamot moisturizer

  • earplugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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