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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New Travel Blog

I've moved all these stories and images to www.daveterry.net. You can also read about our new trip to China in 2008. Or read about our Westerdam Cruise in the Caribbean. And if you really can't sleep, try daveterry.blogspot.com. It's guaranteed to cure insomnia!

Sweet is the sleep of the travel blog reader.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Returning Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But those are just cosmetic things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Last Days in Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before you beat a dog, find out who its master is. -Chinese proverb
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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Back to Beijing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A flower cannot blossom without sunshine nor a garden without love. -Chinese proverb
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Qingdao Beach

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We are kind of winding down to our last days in China. We've seen and done a lot so it seems as though we've been here a lifetime. When we browse through our pictures we don't really comprehend our faces. It all seems as thought it's someone else staring back at us, someone else that had all those experiences.

Today was just a walk on the beach. Our taxi dropped us off at the far end of the beach and we worked our way back. There was lots of activity considering it is the middle of the week. Wedding photographers were everywhere. Women in wedding gowns and men in tuxes dotted the rocky beach bent in impossible poses that looked terribly uncomfortable but I guess looked good to the photographer. Ruth and Lynn decided to try some of the poses themselves. They looked as glamerous to me as the brides so I snapped a few pictures of them. Those other photogs have nothing on me. Who on this entire beach had two beautiful models to photograph at the same time? No one, that's who.

By the way. I'm the only non-asian I saw in my entire stay of Qingdao. Everywhere I go heads turn. No doubt because of my good looks. When I stopped to sketch, people gawked. I think I'll just put a cup out on the street. I may as well make some cash at this.

We walked up the beach and through Zhongshen park. The tulips were in bloom, tulips of every color. I'd never seen anything like it since New York's Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. There were several people selling hot corn on the cob so I bought some for 2 yuan. The first bite was disappointing. It must have been last year's corn, or maybe the year before. Later Wayne told me those vendors buy the corn in large bags for next to nothing, boil it up, and charge the two yuan to unsuspecting foreigners. No local person would buy it, they'd know better.

After eating, Lynn decided she wanted to buy another pen as a gift. We had walked miles looking for just the right pen. We looked in Beijing, Yangshuo, Guilin, and Qingdao. While in Qingdao we had the poor lady pull out every pen in the large glass display case. Then we walked out with nothing. The lady was not happy. We ended up buying the pen from another store. Now Lynn wanted to go back to the same lady and look for another kind of pen. As soon as we approached the counter we could see the same lady stiffen. We looked at all the pens and left without anything...again! Then we walked to the book store and bought a second pen there.

Wayne wanted to treat us to another meal. Bill's associates in China had already treated us to a grand meal the day we arrived but now Wayne wanted to take us to a seafood restaurant. I guess he saw how we readily downed the abalone the first night so he wanted to expose us to still different kinds of seafood.

When we walked into the restaurant he handed the hostess a bag full of live crab. He told me later he bought his crab an hour ago. "It's fresher." he said. I guess so. He had been to the same market we visited on Sunday and bought the crab while we were getting ready for dinner tonight.

The hostess brought us up to the third floor and into a private room. The place settings were are rainbow of colors. There was a large etched round glass lazy-susan.

Wayne excused himself and went downstairs to choose what we would be served. Later he showed us the fish tanks. It was like walking through the Atlanta Aquarium. Every variety of fish: shell, bone or soft was available. Fine Chinese dining means choosing from live animals. He'd never just order from a menu. Before he orders he wants to see the food he'll eat.

Wow, what a meal. There were 13 courses, 4 cold, 8 hot, and soup. I'm not sure I can remember everything we ate. Here's what I remember:

1) cucumbers with pepper sauce
2) pregnant squid (each filled with squid eggs)
3) crab
4) beef with peppers
5) sea urchins
5) conch meat with vegetables
6) oysters
7) fish soup
8) black bean balls with pine nuts
...and more

The sea urchins were very good. It was like eating custard. They prepare them by pouring egg into an opening in the shell and then cook the meet and egg together. Fantastic. The squid was about six inches long including tentacles. When I bit into one (I had to take bites as they are too large to swallow whole) I saw it's body stuffed with clear golden eggs. The meat was very tender. It was very good.

None of the food had any fish smell. Even the soup was not fishy. It looked like chicken broth with white chicken meet floating around. It was softer than chicken. It was like eating the Hawaiian mahimahi (tuna) fish in a broth.

I didn't want Wayne to order expensive wine again. The wine we had the other night with him was the best wine that China makes. So I told him: "Women zai Qingdao, dui ba?" "Dui."he said. "Wo zai Qingdao hai meiyou he Qingdao pijiu. Weishenme?" (We are in Qingdao right? I still haven't had a Qingdao beer. Why?" He joked: "Because we've drank it all up!" "ai you" (So sad.) I told him.

When the brewery opened in Qingdao they promised the townspeople that Qingdao beer served in Qingdao would be no older than a week. Indeed, our beer was only two days young. It went well with the fish as did the second best wine in China that Wayne still ordered for us.

When walked out, three men arm in arm swerved and stumbled in front of us and spilled out the front door. In China it's common to go drinking after work with your boss or buddies. This is when the most business is transacted. Wayne looked at me and apologized. "This is the way it's done in China." he lamented.

I'd be afraid to complete any business deal with a drunk, but that's just me. What do I know?

We are going back to Beijing tomorrow, a couple of days before returning home. It's sad to leave our new-found friends here. We need to return.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Qingdao Market

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We decided we haven't spent enough money on goods so Ruth and Lynn found yet another market in Qingdao.

This one is the best so far. No pushiness, no grabbing, no yelling. Just a simple stroll through floors and floors of goods. Everything you can imagine is for sale here too. China has lots of goods for sale. It's a buyer's market.

Ruth has been looking for a pearl necklace so finally got one here. Lynn said they were so cheap she got one too. Our driver, on loan from Bill's company, took us to the market and then back to get something to eat. Of course, I needed a Starbucks fix.

While we ate, he went out and had our chops (Chinese stamps) carved by computer. Very professional. Even though I bought a stone chop in Yongshuo, the sculpted wooden chops of a horse and lion were very cool. They came with a magnetic cap so you don't get ink all over the desk.

We got some pictures printed of the folks we met in the villages and had the concierge print the Chinese addresses on the envelopes. I think village folks will get a kick out of having a picture of themselves and their child. I'd love to visit them again some day to see if they still have it displayed in their homes. We didn't see any photographs displayed anywhere in their homes. They are very poor farmers.

At the Kodak printing store I had a little trouble communicating with the Xiaojie (Miss) about what images I wanted, how big, and how many. To make matters worse my computer generated the the images from RAW format but didn't add the JPG suffix so their programs couldn't read them. "Wo Keyi ma?" (Can I?) is a great phrase to memorize because I showed her how to add the suffix and she was ecstatic. After that it was a breeze to get the pictures printed. I think I had 10 4x6 pictures printed for just a $2. She even cropped them for me. When she got the crop right I'd say: "Hao de." (That's good.) I learned that from the guy in front of me.

By the evening we didn't want to go out again. We had cocktails in the lounge and tried the Korean restaurant in the hotel. This hotel looked like it may have been a five star some years ago but I think they may have lost some of the stars since. The Korean restaurant was quiet so we went in and ordered. The strange thing was that no matter what we ordered they would point to the same picture on the menu. (Again, no one speaks English.) "Michael Jackson xi huan." (Michael Jackson likes this one.) So we took that as a hint that we ought to order the one dish. We did, but when it came it didn't look like the picture we had been pointing to. Lynn called the waitress over while Bill rolled his eyes. "It's okay Lynn. You will not be able to communicate what you want anyway. Let's just eat this." When the waitress came over and Lynn pointed out that the food "bu yiyang" (not the same) as the menu the waitress said: "It's only a picture, not the real thing." Oh, that explains it then.

But it was food and it wasn't bad. The wasabi (Japanese green hot paste) was the most potent I've ever had. I nearly burned out my sinuses. Yikes!

"Adventure is worth while in itself." -Amelia Earhart
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Shopping in Qingdao

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Qingdao ALSO has shops. Believe it or not.

We wanted to pick up some Chinese language learning books so went to the largest book store in the city. They didn't have what I was looking for. The same books on Amazon cost $30 each. Bill bought his in Beijing's Wangfujing for $8 each. It seemed so strange to go into a book store and not be able to read a single book! Weird. Some looked really interesting too. Rats.

While I was looking for books in the Chinese Learning section a young student approached me. He said that he's a paid trannslator. He's currently trying to translate a technical business book from Chinese to English but he's having problems with a section on injection molding. He wanted to know if I could help him translate it into proper English. He began a lengthly explanation but I was having a little problem following him. Something about injection molding procedures. After several attempts at explaining a technical paragraph I suggested that he send me the rough translation by email. I'd smooth out the translation and send it back. He seemed very grateful. He says he gets 180 yuen per hour for his translation services. That's about $20 an hour. We parted by exchanging email. I haven't received the text yet. I really hope I can help him out. One thing is for sure, China needs more English translators. Some of the signs I've seen caused me to do a double take, others I simply could not understand even though they were in my language.

I bought a gangbi (fountain pen) while in the book store. I couldn't resist. It cost about $11 U.S. but in the States it would cost about $50 to $100. What a deal. Not as good a deal as in Yangshou where I bought two gangbis for just $2 each. They write just a well. Okay, so they didn't come with a box.

We were tired so headed to the food court to get something to eat. (It's tought out here walking all over the place. I'm so glad I have great shoes. My feet never bothered me a bit.) Yeah, it's true, Qingdao has a modern shopping mall complete with a food court. If you transported yourself to Qingdao and walked in, you'd think you were in any United States shopping mall. Except, of course, for the Chinese signs. Oh, there's one other difference. In the American shopping malls the center isles are filled with chocolate and candy stands. China's "candy" stands offer fish. There are bins and bins of dried fish, shredded fish, shrimp, and sea slugs. Yummy stuff. This gives the place a sort of seashore aroma.

I did manage to find a Starbucks in the mall. It's exactly like any you'd see in the states. Unfortunately they didn't have Mocha Valencia, my favorite. They had mocha coffee and Carmel Macchiato. But those are so last week. I really, really wanted to try a Mocha Valencia in China. Maybe by next visit they'll have it on their picture menu.

Buying lunch is interesting. In the U.S. you order, pay, and go. In Qingdao's food court you select what you want, walk to the center and buy a plastic card with the value encoded on a magnetic strip (looks like a credit card), then go back and order, then pay, then sit down, then wait until your number is called. So there is lots of walking around and by the time you get your meal you ARE hungry. Oh, and they reuse the wooden chopsticks so if you are at all squeamish, bring your own.

I really intended to do a little more sketching on the trip but if I did I'd have taken less pictures and done less on the blog. Nonetheless I was able to do some silly little sketches while waiting for Lynn or Ruth to decide on what they were going to buy.

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." -Beverly Sills
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