Monday, August 25, 2008

Part 4

China part 4
I have been on several cruises. This cruise on the Yangtze was a bit different.
To begin with there were only about a hundred guests on board.
There were three decks and a cozy lounge. The meal service was always a buffet, and it was pretty much the same thing for every meal. There were always eggs and bacon for breakfast along with the bean curd and “a vegetable.” Now and then they would surprise us. For example one night they added pizza to the line up. However since the Chinese don’t do cheese that was pretty much a bust.

They served hamburgers on one occasion along with the usual stuff, but I was suspicious of the meat so I passed. I understand they took dog off their menu so as not to offend the westerners, but one can’t be too careful. I also heard that the experts in protocol told the Chinese citizens to wait politely in line and stop spitting on the sidewalks, but they obviously ignored those suggestions, too.

One of my favorite things about the cruise was the lovely chamber music that was piped throughout the ship. It sounded like it might have been four, possibly six, stringed instruments playing Happy Birthday To You, Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail, We wish you a Merry Christmas, and Auld Lang Syne. It was endearing. I like to think they were attempting to make us feel at home by playing familiar songs.

There was entertainment each night. The wait staff and room stewards were the performers. There was dancing and lots of karaoke. They were cute. The main entertainment however was the dam and the beautiful scenery.

When we went to tour the actual dam, we had to go through a security check. Quite understandable with things the way they are today. When we got off the bus to go through the x-ray machines and so forth, they told us we could leave our purses and back packs on the bus if we wanted. They assured us it would be safe, as they always did. We went in the little security pagoda and were checked out and stamped. Then we got back on the bus and were driven to the dam where we got out and toured it. I wanted to ask them if they realized that there were a couple of weaknesses in their security checking process, but I kept my mouth shut. No sense in upsetting “Red China”

We were told that our bus driver was working toward passing the requirements for becoming a member of the communist party. Well, I just HAD to ask questions about that. Yes, you must qualify to become a communist now. Not everyone wants to join. It seems to be mostly the older citizens. The younger people, including our tour director realize that Communism isn’t good for the economic structure of a country.

Later I told our tour director that “Communist” was a scary word when I was growing up. I also told him that we used to say;

“Eenie meenie miney moe,
Catch a Commie by the toe.
If he hollers make him say,
‘I surrender USA’”

He laughed. Sort of.

After the cruise was over, seven waitresses played brass instruments as we disembarked. They played “Home, Home on the Range,” and they sounded like Professor Harold Hill had been their teacher.

When we got off the ship we went to Chonquing (Pronounced “chung king”.) This was the only Chinese I ever heard as a child. Whenever we played Chinese we would say, “Chung king bing bong.” It was all because of those dinners that came in the three stacked cans that were taped together. Mom was fond of them. We hated them except for those crunchy things that were sprinkled on top.
Chonquing was the capital of China during WWII. I did not know that. We visited the Stillwell Museum there, which was the home of the Flying Tigers. An old guy who remembers the war gave us a lecture about it all. He did not speak English, but he had a sweet little, soft-spoken interpreter.
First, he yelled at us for about ninety seconds. The sweet little interpreter said, “He say ‘welcome’.”
Then he began yelling in earnest. He waved his arms around and his face became red and little bit of spittle started coming out of his mouth. He became increasingly more agitated. He finally stopped talking, as he was completely out of breath.
The interpreter said, “He say ‘the American come help us. We velly happy’.”
When he started talking again John Belushi’s Samurai character popped into my head. I didn’t dare look at my sister. We are afflicted with “Inappropriate Laughter Syndrome.” We got this disorder from our mama. I tried to tune him out and breathed deeply, and was able to make it through the rest of his speech.

Our next visit that day was the zoo, because how can anyone visit China and not see the pandas? They were absolutely adorable. I swear you could determine their different personalities right away. One was shy. She kept her back to us and reached her hand around behind her to get more bamboo leaves to eat. One was bold and begged for goodies. The young ones were playful. For me, the pandas were a highlight.

Following zoo time we got on another airplane (our tenth) and went to Xian (say “She-on”) to see the famous Terracotta Army. The first emperor of China had the soldiers made to protect him in the afterlife. This just shows that a person could be powerful enough to be a despotic ruler of a large country and still believe that 8,000 soldiers made from mud would come alive as soon as he died. All of this happened well over 2,000 years before the Declaration of Independence was drafted.

Here is the story according to our tour guide:
In 1974 some farmers were digging a well and brought up a clay head and ran screaming from the hole because they thought they had accidentally reached an underground demon’s lair.

It is unclear who the original well diggers were. Today a man sits in a shop owned by the state and signs a book about the find, and they claim it is the guy who worked the farm but it is questionable whether he is an actual discoverer of the statues, as most of them are dead. That is probably due to the river of mercury that ran through the site. The clay soldier-making emperor actually died from drinking mercury. Ironically, he thought it would make him immortal.

The government once again used their power of eminent domain to clear the farmers off the area. The disposed people were allowed to set up souvenir huts along the walkway to the dig site in compensation. They joined the tens of thousands of Chinese peasants who chase after tourists shouting, “You need kite! Two dollah! Hallo! Hallo! You need fan! You buy! Two dollah! Two dollah!
All for the greater good.
China Part 3

We took the Almost Bullet Train (about 150 MPH) from Shanghai to Suzhou, (“Sue-Joe”), where we visited a silk making factory. The worms did most of the work there. Later we took a boat through the city.

Suzhou is a canal city sort of like Venice, and the water in both cities is equally icky. There were children swimming, and not far away from where they happily splashed, we saw a woman toss a bucket of suspicious liquid into the canal. It looked as if there had been many buckets of suspicious material tossed into the canal.

We went to see a garden that has been replicated in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and again somewhere in Portland Oregon. It is mostly trees and rock. I was thinking about making a garden of rocks when I got home. There is an abundance of raw materials in Whitmore.

Back in Shanghai we had lunch in Mr. Woo’s (“A Typical Chinese Family”) high-rise. He had a lovely family, and prepared delicious food for us. Mr. Woo took a liking to Richard and kept saying, ”You like more! Eat!”

Later that day we were “Shanghai’d” at the airport for four hours by a typhoon named Fengshen. Finally, someone decided it would be OK to fly and we were led across a makeshift bridge, made from cases of Coke, to a bus that would take us out to the plane. Just as the last person stepped on the plane, the pilot, who was obviously in a hurry to take off, quickly taxied out to the runway. People were stumbling around the fast-moving plane, trying to find their seats, the stewards were shutting the door to the plane and as far as we knew, we were taking off right then. The pilot did pause at the end of the runway to rev up the propellers before we shot up into the sky. (Yes. Propellers.)

On this flight we were served a box lunch. The box contained a dinner roll, a cookie, two cough drops, and two mints. We congratulated ourselves for purchasing those nutritious Pringles and M&M’s at the airport. We flew to some unknown city that was not on our agenda, where the pilot landed with a thud. We are talking THUD here. He must have thought he was about ten feet lower than he actually was. We didn’t really mind. We were on the ground.

There we waited for yet another flight to take us to Wuhan. We were to board a cruise ship for a relaxing five days on the Yangtze River. I was ready for a little rest. This was getting to be just like a job!

We ended up on a bus careening on a narrow road on the edge of a mountain at midnight. The edge careening alternated with traversing through two-mile long tunnels that had been blasted out of the mountain. If I hadn’t stayed awake, held on to my seat, and leaned toward the middle of the bus, I’m sure we would have gone off the edge never to be heard from again. I kept seeing headlines in my mind, “Tour Bus Falls Off Mountain in the Middle of the Night Somewhere in China.”

Long after midnight, we reached our boat, staggered on board, and crashed into bed. We were at the Three Gorges Dam.

The Three Gorges Dam Project was a little building task that uprooted well over a million people, and some people say it is going to prove to be a disaster to the ecology of the area. That, however, is not the story we got.
At every turn we received the news that it was a magnificent undertaking that will improve the lives of everyone in China by providing energy and keep the Yangtze from flooding.

It IS quite a monumental structure at six hundred feet high and a mile long. Plus it has five huge locks that allow ships to reach inland China ports. We were even taken to visit a “relocated” family, all happily tucked into their new home in the city. It was a block wall structure. The family was not randomly chosen. That is all that will be said here about this project.

Before I leave this section, I would like to make a few comments on some observations of mine. My husband claims that I just don’t see things the way normal people see them, but here goes.

First, the babies in China are the happiest little kids that I have ever seen. We did not see a single crying baby. We saw babies and toddlers in airports, on crowded city sidewalks, and in train stations, which to my knowledge are three places babies would rather not be. The Chinese people do not clog their landfills with Pampers. No! Their babies wear pants that have the whole crotch split. If they need to go, they just go. Maybe that’s why they are so happy.

Come to think of it our tour guides called the bathrooms, “Happy Room.” They would say, “You use Happy Room now or else it will be Happy Bush or Happy Tree.” And indeed, one night in a traffic jam in downtown Shanghai, we observed a man get out of his car and use the Happy Side of the Road.

The people of China apparently find us funny looking. They tend to come right up to Americans and look us up and down. There is no twelve inches of personal space in China. Now and then we would turn to our right or left and there would be a Chinese person’s nose right next to our shoulder. We learned that they call us the big noses, but they love to have their photograph taken with us, big noses and all.

Over all, the Chinese people are happy and friendly. They smile a lot and the young girls dress uber-cute. I enjoyed their sense of style!
Next; The Cruise.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

China Part 2

China: Second Edition

We went to the Temple of Heaven, The Summer Palace, and The Great Wall. If anyone wants to know about these places, you might want to look them up in someone else’s travel story. With that in mind, here are three things we learned on day two.

If one wants a beer they should say “Pee-Jo.” That is probably not how it is spelled but if you say it, you’ll get beer. The beer in China is sort of like the beer in Oklahoma. It is about three percent alcohol and one will get full of liquid long before one will get tipsy.

When one wants to say “thank you,” one should say, “she she.” This is also not the way it is spelled, but it works. Often times the Chinese are so thankful, they will say, “she she she she she.”

“Chin tu fat” does not mean, “You need a face lift.” OK, I made this last part up. We really didn’t learn it.

We got on our bus and honked and drove to the Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace on day two. Apparently there is no driving without honking in the large cities of China. We just got used to it after a while.

On the way to the Temple de Jour we went to the best park EVER. This is a place where old retired people meet everyday to dance, sing, (both choir and Karaoke) do Tai Chi, kick a feathered hackey-sac around, play strange instruments, do long ribbon dancing, and just socialize. It was just the cutest thing, although the singing was a new level of horrid.

Our tour guide Lillian said, “Yes, it pitty chill.” When she meant it was “pretty cool.”

The Temple of Heaven was built when America was full of teepees and buffalo. It was built without nails, cement or steel rods, for those of you who are impressed by these details. It was fixed by wooden mortise and good feng shui.

Later that day we learned that when a traffic accident occurs, the police will come and stand around smoking cigarettes while the people involved in the accident argue and negotiate. No one gets to leave until everything is settled between the participants. The police have no say in the discussion. They are just there to…well, it is unclear why they are there, but they don’t leave until everything is worked out. Apparently the concept of car insurance is unknown. It is assumed that if a participant has a major bone sticking out of his skin the negotiations will be postponed until the bone is set to right. If a participant is unconscious, he obviously loses the negotiation since he’ll never know what happened anyway.

The next day we went to the Great Wall.
Yes, it is.
Quite Great.
Does it seem funny to anyone else that something built to keep people out is now the thing that draws people in?
It is about four thousand miles long but we visited only a few blocks worth before it began to rain. Not that the rain made any difference in the humidity.

Shanghai was next on our agenda and we hopped a plane to get there. But not before we visited a few more dead people and had some shoportunities at a jade factory and a cloisonné making shop and visited a kung fu school. Whew!
Shanghai is a thoroughly modern city. My favorite memories of it were The Acrobat Show where a little girl balanced chandeliers on the bottom of her feet while she rolled around contorting her body in inhuman ways and the condom machine on the wall outside of the Jade Buddha Temple. I took a photo of it.
Oh, and some of our travel mates sent some clothing out to be laundered, and when they asked why they didn’t get them back, the laundry people told them, “Crows Bloken”

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Part One of Official Account

We just returned from the very place my brother and I tried so hard to dig to when we were children. While we were there we ate twenty-two meals served on turntables, took over three hundred photographs, bought fifty-three souvenirs, saw eighteen temples and pagodas, ate thirty(ish) questionable items, went through five locks, and experienced our first typhoon. We flew on thirteen planes, (or as I count them twenty-six take-offs and landings), rode on five boats, eight busses, and one train.
Upon arriving in Beijing, we met our young Program Director, Guo Wei (pronounced “Go ‘way”). He said we could call him Frank. His English was very good, and in spite of a couple of “Junior Moments” he took good care of us for the next twenty-three days.
Beijing was on its best behavior for the coming Olympics. They are cleaning things up and building around the clock. They had even started their “Half the vehicles” program by the time we arrived. On even days the cars with even license plates are allowed to drive and the “odds” on odd days. We were seeing half of the cars in Beijing? I could not fathom how there could possibly be twice as many cars on the roads. They simply couldn’t fit. Even with half of the usual cars on the road, getting around the city was an alarming event and I was glad to be in a big bus.
First we went to Tiananmen Square, which is the size of 160 football fields, and I know everyone has seen it on TV. There were no tanks this time. Next we swam on over to the Forbidden City. (The temperature was only about 86 degrees but the humidity was about a hundred and six, so it felt like we swam everywhere.) The Forbidden City was the living space of the last two emperors and was built before Columbus ever thought about making his bumbling voyage to Not-Quite-India. It was the home of over 19,000 people. The rest of the millions of people in China didn’t get to go in. We learned that if someone accidentally ventured in they were unceremoniously beheaded. If anyone wore the color yellow they met the same fate. Yellow was the emperor’s color. It was good to be the emperor.
After a lunch of slimy green stuff, bean curd, rice, and black fungus (not kidding), we went on a tour of the “hutong,” which means “alley.” We traveled through these alleys, in a caravan of pedicabs, which are rickshaws, only they are pulled by a bicycle that some poor soul pedals for a few yuan. It was a great way to see how everyone used to live, and many people still do. We stopped to have tea with a sweet lady that the tour company pays to have “guests” for tea. We asked her many obnoxious and personal questions, which she politely answered through our guide. We gave our peddler a big tip because he had to work extra hard for the two of us!
Those of you who know me, know that I have trouble with those “introduce yourselves” gatherings. Something comes over me. I have tried to rid myself of certain anti-social impulses for over half a century and no one should be surprised that at dinner that night I introduced myself as Jezebel Jones and told them I was a retired pole dancer. I couldn’t help it. Retired schoolmarm is just boring. I made a point to behave myself for the rest of the three weeks and didn’t embarrass my sister too many more times.
As our first day in China ended, I began to have questions. Why were the people of a civilization that has been around for so long still so superstitious? Their society began with the Shang Dynasty in 1600 BC. That is sixteen HUNDRED years before the birth of Jesus Christ! You’d think they’d gotten over the bad luck idea by now.
But no.
They put their hopes and wishes on red ribbons and hang them on their doors for all to see, because if it isn’t on the door it probably won’t happen. They make their walkways crooked so demons can’t find their way to their homes, since demons can only walk in a straight line. They make their thresholds high for the same reason. Why on earth are they afraid of a demon so clumsy that it would be unable to step over an eight inch board and so stupid that a crooked sidewalk would confuse it? Chinese people don’t point at the moon nor do they live in houses with the front door facing north because both are bad luck. If a baby cries, it means there’s a ghost in the room. Also they don’t go straight home from a funeral because they believe the ghost will follow them home! These are only a few of their superstitions.
The number eight is so lucky that people will pay a million dollars to get the number as one of the numbers on their license plate! As a matter of fact, a guy in Hong Kong paid several million to get the single digit 8 on his plate.
Another question: people drive as if traffic rules are just a suggestion so why are there no dented cars? We saw people dangerously close to crashing their cars or running over a pedestrian every fifteen seconds, every time we were on the road, yet all of the cars are shiny and new! They have carefully drawn lines on the roads to indicate the presence of lanes, yet everyone drives all over the road. They’ll even drive on the sidewalk if someone else is already in their lane. An oncoming car even TRADED lanes with our bus once. What makes the authorities think they are going to follow the odd-even plan? Ah, I am suddenly beginning to understand why the roads were packed with cars. Why do the Rule Makers think they will follow the odd-even rule when they don’t even follow the lane rule?
Actually all rules and laws are ignored. We attended a show one night and there were signs posted all over the place indicating that there was no photography of any kind allowed. All through the program, flash cameras went off around the auditorium like fireflies on steroids. Nobody did a thing about it. Perhaps there are just too many people to keep any sort of order. There is an underlying, gleeful, teeming chaos all over the country.
As my brother-in-law, John suggested, we had better keep on being friends with them because there are so many of them that if each one had a chopstick and came after us they could poke our eye out pletty click and each one of us could become a one-eyed slave to 4,311 Chinese people. That’s just about how we are outnumbered.
Fortunately the people of China are happy and good-natured now that they have the booming tourist economy and the Olympic event keeping them busy making changes that will benefit them for years to come.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

We are waiting for our brains to slip back into the confines of our skulls. We do not plan to get back on an airplane for about a decade.
The fit Lynn threw in San Francisco International, (and she admits it was one of her finest) got Barb a new outdoor cooker and it's getting Lynn a new Mac.
The dogs were happy to see us. (De-De-Dee)
The garden continues to grow.
We are finally finished waking up in the middle of the night wondering where we are.
Our experience has altered our consciousness.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Real China

Thank god they sent us to Guillen last. It is a beautiful southern city of rice farms, water buffalo, Karsts and scenery. It looked like the China scenery you see in pictures. It was also very old China with the best hawkers we've seen so far. They would paddle their boats furiously up to the ship and attach somehow then hang on with one hand while they held up plastic jade buddahs and screamed at us. An adorable little boy followed John with a flower to sell and then hit him when he wouldn't buy. The potties were puddly pee to step in . No kidding. We are throwing our shoes away. Ann, you were right about our "cruise". Esp the lunch. Bleh. Then we had our next delayed flight to HK. Night and day. Back to civilization or familiarity. We rode the ferry and went to Victoria Peak etc today.
We are on the 20th floor of a nice hotel right in the middle of everthing. This is really the first rain we have had since the typhoon. Rucky we are. Tomorrow we are going street crawling and shopping with our special HK monies instead of the tour to the countryside tomorrow. Our tour guide reminds us of Mrs. Swan. Rook rike man......

We are having fun Really

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Xi'an and the Olympic Winning Spirit

We arrived at the Big Goose pagoda just after the torch had gone by. The excitement was catching. There was a sea of people, flags, and smiles and waves. A chinese father blew Barbie a kiss. It's a good thing these people are our friends. They could give each one of them a chopstick and send them out to poke everyone's eye out and the rest of the world would not have a chance.

Afer a few more local visits including SMALL Goose pagoda where John and his new best buddy Kaleb climbed to the top. After an 18 dumpling dim sum lunch we left for Guilen.
Our flight was cancelled but not to worry. We got to fly to a city next to Hong Kong and then fly back to Guilen. The pilot only slammed the plane down once. That makes 18 take offs and landings since we left. We only have 6 left.
On one flight a kid just squatted down and pooped in the aisle in his bottomless pants.
The method to get on each plane is much better that Southwests. When the doors open push your way to your seat. We gave them lessons in blocking and lineing up properly.

Starbucks mug count 4
Squat toilet episodes 10,000
Lazy Susan meals 58
Snow globes 6 (photographed only)
Extra suitcases bought for new stuff 1
Some people were maybe expecting an intellectual account of our journey. Did you forget who you were dealing with? We are too private to share our personal discovery of this culture.

Barbie typed this. Lynn will give you the realshit later.