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”