Diary from China -- July-August, 2005
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS
On July 20, 2005 I boarded a plane for China for the trip of a lifetime. This was not the typical sight-seeing tour -- in fact, I was content not to see any of the tourist sites at all. This was a trip to join my 23-year-old son Stephan, who had left for Asia the previous spring to "find himself," so that I could see "the REAL China," using Stephan as my interpreter to meet and get to know Chinese people in their homes and see how they lived. I was reluctant to go in the summer since I do not tolerate heat well, but I knew that if I waited, Stephan might have "found himself" and have a job that would tie him down, so this might be my only chance.
My return ticket was "open" because I did not know if I would stay two weeks or four, nor did I know where we would go and what we would do, except that we would start in Shanghai, where Stephan had rented a room across the hall from what he said was "The Nicest Family In China." This was the family of Zhang Wei, a student who was home for the summer from the University of Maryland, where Stephan had met her.
I sent this diary to my family and a few friends, including fellow orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists Janet Barlow, Beezy Bentzen, Gene Bourquin, and Laura Bozeman, all of whom are extensive and intrepid travelers themselves, and Joel Davis and Betsy Wohl. When I returned home, I added some information to the diary, which is included in brackets. I wrote some observations about traffic and people with disabilities in China several months after I returned home.
For a list of photos, click here. For a list of topics, click here. Wednesday, July 20, 2005 -- 'Twas the night of departure!
Los Angeles, California
I'm writing this in California, and about to go have dinner with Uncle John and Aunt Shirley, and then I leave for the airport to go to China. I landed here last night, but only had a few hours' sleep, because I was too excited the night before to get more than 2 or 3 hours' sleep. I'm unable to send this to you while I write it, so I will send it as soon as I arrive. I'm soooooooo excited! I can't believe I'm actually going to be stepping out of the airport in CHINA!!! More on this later.
Diary from China -- Friday, July 22, 2005 (day of arrival)
Hi everyone! I'm IN CHINA, and having a great time! I'm staying with Stephan in a little room where he lives in the top floor of an apartment building, across the hall from what he had told me is The Nicest Family in All of China. And he was not exaggerating, these people are a delight. One of them, Zhang Wei (Zhang is her family name, Wei her first), is about Stephan's age and speaks fluent English, she is a student at the University of Maryland where Stephan met her. I communicate with the rest of the family through my interpreter, Stephan. They have prepared us lunch and dinner and I don't think I've tasted better food anywhere. Every one of the family is a delight, so friendly and fun, and thoughtful.
Being in Shanghai is delightful -- I am enjoying seeing a city very different from anything we have at home, lots of beautiful old buildings (but filled with touristy stores!), streets bustling with bicycles, cars and buses. Today, after lunch, four of us went to a beautiful garden constructed 600 years ago, very historic and with many man-made rock "mountains" and ponds [see photos].
Oops! I'm on their computer, it's getting late, I will close for now and will check in again in a few days.
P.S. Just a little note -- I'm surrounded by a happy family chatting merrily in Chinese with Stephan and playing the Guzheng ("goojung"), an ancient musical string instrument plucked with fake fingernails -- lovely evening, something I'd never experience on a tour of China without Stephan, this is EXACTLY what I was hoping for when I came!
Diary from China -- Saturday, July 23, 2005
Authentic Chinese experiences -- sleeping, showering, laundry and Tai Chi
Hi guys! the adventure and authentic Chinese experience continues! last night Stephan and I slept in his little room -- it has a bed, chest of drawers, a table that I plunked my suitcase on, a sink, and what looks like a glass display case for a store, with sliding glass doors on the front and two shelves. The floor (which Stephan advised that I don't walk on in bare feet, it's so dirty, but the rest of the room looks pretty clean to me, the previous tenant covered one of the plaster walls with a pretty yellow paper -- literally sheets of paper taped to the wall, not wall paper -- and one has fallen off giving it a nice stepped effect in design) barely has room for a mat for Stephan, and I got the bed. The bed is a wooden frame with a flat wooden top, which they covered with interesting layers -- first a quilt, then a bamboo roll-up mat, then another quilt, which gives it an overall firmness that would be equivalent on my Sleep Number Bed (which rates firmness from 0 to 100) of about 140 (in other words, it would make a great ironing board, just like the beds we had in Thailand!). With some creative placement of a rolled-up sweater near my waist, I can lay there without my leg going to sleep from the pressure on my hip .
The Nicest Family In All of China had taught Stephan how to do his laundry and hang it to dry, and so last night we washed a few things in the sink and speared them with a long bamboo stick which we suspended in a metal frame out the window, just like most of the other residents of this tenement housing [see photos]. I felt SO "in"! I just enjoyed looking out the window this morning at our neighbors, many with laundry hanging out their windows, lots of trees between us waving in the breeze. Stephan has air conditioning and a fan, so we were very comfortable the entire night.
Showering is another remembrance of Thailand -- the bathroom (which we share with about 6-8 other people) has only a toilet and a shower head (actually two shower heads, and the procedure to go through with gadgets in the common kitchen area to enable one of them to get hot water is a bit beyond me, but Stephan and The Nicest Family In All of China can do it easily, and frankly with the heat here I don't need a hot shower, the cool shower I had last night was one of the nicest experiences I've ever had!)
Please excuse the typing here, the keyboard is a little funky. The capital letter key doesn't always engage, and sometimes when I try to "respond" to messages I get an interesting selection of buttons with Chinese lettering on them, and the only person in this internet cafe who speaks English left about a half hour ago, after checking with me to see if there was anything I wanted to communicate -- I had to have her come and help me get on the internet with all these unfamiliar Chinese texts.
Anyway, this morning I had my first daily lesson in Tai Chi from Zhang Mama (I'm Sauerburger mama), she is 55 and so very graceful and poised. She has been studying tai chi for 5 years and offered to teach me when I expressed interest. wow, it aint easy! I was most impressed with how we have to stand on one leg while slowly reaching forward with the other, then stepping onto the other leg, rather than just lunging like I'm used to. no wonder people get better balance and strength from doing it! After I had learned steps 1-4 (out of a 24-step movement) she went through the whole thing again, and I was so impressed with her. she and everyone in that family are such sweet people, so gracious.
I am planning to take anyone who wants to come to the Chinese opera tomorrow afternoon, or whatever they think they'd enjoy. I want to see some Chinese opera or dancing while here in shanghai -- we plan to leave Tuesday and I still don't know for sure where we're going but I do know that we're going to have some very interesting experiences, with my Chinese-speaking guide / son. I'll sign off for now, hope to update you again in a day or so, I may not be able to do it as often once we hit the road next week.
Diary from China -- Monday, July 25, 2005 -- PART 1
Cultural revolution and forced to live in the country
Hi again, everyone! I have so much to tell you since just two days ago -- let's see...
First, I think I left off that we were going to go to the Chinese opera the next day. Our hosts had little interest in going but one of them ("Uncle Michael") wanted to go and so about 6 of us went, including Stephan's friend Zhang Wei, the one he met at the University of Maryland campus. She had said she'd be bored but she really enjoyed it -- she had never been to a Chinese opera before!
Anyway, I LOVED it! With Stephan interpreting (with Zhang Wei's help), I was able to understand the stories, it was a series of unrelated skits. My favorites were the burglar who did some great acrobatics (how in the world they can do flips across the stage and sing is beyond me! I could see him breathing heavily when his belt kept heaving up and down), and the mother whose baby had been stolen (found out later the mother was played by a 15-year-old boy, I'm glad I didn't realize it at the time!). Her movements when she lost her mind with grief were truly beautiful, she twirled her long floor-length sleeves and did some fancy acrobatics herself. I was moved to tears, watching it -- another accomplishment of having a son to help me understand; without him, I would have just enjoyed and been impressed with the beauty and not realize the poignancy of the story.
And the audience was great fun -- they clapped and cheered with great appreciation when the singers would accomplish something like singing a looooooong part with one breath, and made loud grunts at the good parts which seemed to be their way of acknowledging their enjoyment For me, they were as much a part of the show as the dancing and singing were!
Then we went to a major department store, 6 stories tall with one floor devoted to nothing but books. I was trying to get a Chinese dictionary (Mom, the dictionary we bought doesn't have words like "hope," "happy" etc. -- just the words that are in their phrases for tourists, who I assume never have to tell anyone that they HOPE others enjoy themselves or talk about being HAPPY Also that book said that the tones are too difficult for foreigners to understand so they didn't bother to write them down! I'm sure with your experience learning Thai you realize that without using the correct tone, people won't understand what I'm trying to say).
Anyway, it was a real eye-opener to be in such a modern city and such a HUGE bookstore and large selection (the foreign-language dictionary section was about 20 full shelves!) with little or nothing for the English-speaking foreigner! The English-to-Chinese dictionaries were all for the Chinese, with each English-word entry having their Chinese word written in Chinese characters instead of what they call the pin-ying (I hope I'm spelling that right) that shows us how to pronounce it. Finally we found one, but I'm going to have to carry my magnifying glass with me to read it (thank goodness I have one in my purse!).
[see photos of dinner and evening] Okay, after dinner at home we shared photo albums, and had a great talk. There are a lot of pictures of their Grandpa visiting in lots of places through the years, and when I asked if he liked to travel, he said yes but, because he has difficulty walking now, he can't travel any more (he shuffles along at a very slow, painful-looking pace). I told him about my mom being unable to walk further than about 30 feet and going to Thailand, with us taking a folding chair so she could sit often, and I suggested a wheelchair for travel in long distances. They said but he can't use a chair on the buses around here, so he can't get far.
It is his granddaughter Zhang Wei who goes to the University of Maryland and her mother (his daughter) is planning to go visit her for 3-6 months when she gets a visa (apparently it takes MONTHS for the Chinese to get a visa to visit the U.S.! It takes us about 5 days to get the visa to go there), and he'd love to go too. I told him how accessible the U.S. is, and how he can take buses and everything in a wheelchair. They asked about the airport and I told him about the wheelchair service that is available on request. He brightened up and seems to be seriously considering coming to America!
I had told them I wanted to ask questions about them, and started with where did they each grow up, what did they do for a living, and where did they meet their spouse (apparently that last question is very typical American concern, but not for the Chinese!) I wanted to finish the evening with everyone telling what was their dream.
So we started with Grandma and Grandpa (their daughter, Zhang Mama -- my Tai Chi instructor, is 55, so I'd guess they are in their 70's). Grandpa had worked for the government (couldn't tell us exactly what he did or he'd have to kill us -- no, no, just kidding! He couldn't explain what it was), and Grandma, I was shocked to learn, was a cook for a elementary school! I have to explain here that I have not had much food that is more delicious than hers, and she takes a LOT of pride in it! She joked that her dream was to cook for us and when I suggested we all go out to a restaurant tonight, she made a face and told us how badly the restaurants cook, putting unhealthy things in their food, hers is much more wholesome and I attributed her healthful way of cooking to the fact that I haven't gotten sick yet, Stephan had prepared me to be sick for the entire first week, like he was!
Then we went to the next generation -- they have one son and 4 daughters, including Zhang Wei's mother. They started telling me that they had grown up in the city (I can't remember if it was Shanghai) but when they became of age they were sent into the country. This was at the time when Chairman Mao had decided everyone with education should learn how "real" people lived, working the land. They were each assessed as to their skills, and then given two choices for a career. You either accept one of those careers or you don't eat.
I asked how they felt about leaving home to go live in another community, and they leaned forward and looked me in the eye and said with emphasis they had NO feelings about it. It was just the way it was done, they had no choice. Zhang Wei explained that Chinese don't have a concept of freedom like we do. When she talks with us in America we tend to lament the human rights abuses but they are dealing with more basic needs.
OÂ¹Ã¾Â´Ã¯ WHEW! Â°Â¡
Diary from China -- Monday, July 25, 2005 -- PART 2
Dreams and hopes of a Chinese family
whew! As I was writing, somehow it got into the mode Stephan was using where it writes in Chinese! I couldn't get it to stop, so I rebooted, let's hope I get to finish this!
I'm almost done -- time was getting short last evening so we interrupted to hear one of the granddaughters, Lin, play an instrument, I forget what it's called, it's stringed and looks ancient, I'll try to find out more about it for you but suffice it to say, it was strikingly, hauntingly BEAUTIFUL, as was the player, Lin, putting her soul into the music! Stephan captured it on video, and the family too, so some of you may be able to enjoy it.
Anyway, we then started talking about our dreams. Three of the women -- Grandma and two of her daughters -- all had dreams that their daughter/granddaughter will be able to get a good education (hopefully in America) and do well. I should explain here that each of the 5 children in the generation of my age had one daughter, because of the one-child limit. Because these five granddaughters are all so close, even though they are technically cousins and live in separate households, they consider each other sisters. So they have a large, very close family of 5 couples and 5 grandchildren / sisters-cousins, and most evenings they get together at one home or another.
Anyway, it was for this sister/cousin generation that the older women had dreams. I told them about the book that my mom and dad wrote about what to do with your "misbehaving" teenagers, saying that my favorite chapter was the one that encouraged the parents (especially the mothers) to "let go" of their children, and follow their own dreams, live their own life. Zhang Mama ( Zhang Wei's mother, the one who is teaching me Tai Chi) softly and with feeling said that she agreed, that is what she wanted to do. So Mom, you and Dad are having a lot of influence here, even though you couldn't come! She talked several times during the evening about how she resonated to that message.
We only had time for a few more "dreams" (it was getting late and my interpreter, Stephan, was getting exhausted, as you can imagine!) -- one was that of one of the husbands of the middle generation of daughters. His dream was for his job to be better -- more satisfaction, enough money to take care of his family well, etc. They then explained that in China, when they get to the middle 30's, they are no longer desired in the workplace, younger people are wanted. That is the time, they say, that they need to support their families, and it was a fearful situation, causing anxiety.
It was a MOST enlightening evening, thanks again to Stephan who enabled me to access this delightful family as they shared their hopes and fears. I've never been able to see any country like I'm seeing this one, I'm SO glad I came when Stephan could be my guide!
Well, I think that's it -- today is probably our last day here in Shanghai, tomorrow Stephan hopes to get his visa and we're heading off for .... actually, I still don't know! I'm a little confused, I think we are going to the "stricken villages" to see which of them Stephan wants to return to in mid August and teach English to the orphans for a few weeks, and then perhaps we'll go to the Tai Chi instructor who wants Stephan to interpret his book (apparently there are LOTS of places there for me to see while Stephan works, and we'd stay at this guy's home). I'll probably send the next diary entry from on the road, and let you know where we are and where we're going. I love you guys, each of you -- enjoy!
Diary from China -- Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Soap operas, Chinese-style
Making lunch and going to market
Hi guys! It's been a LOOOOOOONG, tiring day and I'm showered and sitting at the table of The Nicest Family in All of China while some of them are gathered around to watch the popular soap opera -- which takes place during the Quing dynasty a hundred years ago!
The characters run around in gorgeous colorful silk costumes, men with the front of their head shaved and a long pigtail in the back, lots of them looking like Yule Brenner.
Of course, back then there was lots of romance, palace intrigues and betrayals, and an occasional man walking around with his head chained to a board, another group of men who agreed to go stand on top of a huge pile of wood to be burned to death but the lone horseman arrived just in time to try to stomp out the fire and finally a huge rainstorm saved the day.
Soap operas, Chinese style!
[February 24, 2006 -- I just happened to walk by the TV where Stephan had recorded Chinese news and was thrilled to see this very same soap opera was on! WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES! And it's very much like that fabulous movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon -- the women are strong and resourceful and everyone can do the cool acrobatic combat that was so much fun in the movie. Some of the characters even look like the ones in the movie. It's on AZN TV, called "Hero of the Times" -- if you have cable take a peek if you want to enjoy soap opera drama Chinese-style!]
Anyway, the looooong day started with Stephan making one-eyed Jacks for everyone (a slice of bread with a hole in the middle, fried with an egg in the hole -- see photo) and then Zhang Wei (Stephan's friend from the University of Maryland) and her mother and Stephan and I took the bus downtown [see photos] to see if they gave him a visa to extend his stay (they DID -- hurray!) and we got the last two tickets on the sleeper car to I-don't-remember-where-but-the-ride-is-about-15-hours-long tomorrow afternoon.
We got home and helped Grandma make wontons (see photos) and watched her make the wonton soup for lunch (best EVER wonton soup I've had! see photos) and then off we went again, on an adventure to get a silk
dress for Jomania (our son Paul's wife).
There were 6 of us [see photos], and we first went to the
finest silk tailor in all of Shanghai, chose the fabric and pattern and found
out it would be $150 for the dress! So we slipped out (but not before I had
taken a picture of the tailor, thinking he was making the dress!) and took
another bus to a tourist trap / flea market.
We had our plan ready -- we would find the dress, and then
the round-eyes slip out and our Chinese friends would bargain for us. We looked
along several rows, wanting a dress that is lined, and finally some of the
vendors told us where we could find one, and we found what I hope is the perfect
dress! I enthused about it until Zhang Wei quietly told me to tone it down,
which I did and left. They got the price down from $50 to $21!
Oops -- Grandma and Grandpa would
like to go to bed (there is only one main room, it's the dining room / bedroom /
living room) so I'll wrap it up -- more later!
Love to you all -- Dona
Diary from China -- Wednesday, July 27, 2005 Shanghai, China
Typing in Chinese;
Getting a dress at the market;
Visiting inside a hundred-year-old apartment building
Hi guys! I was going to have
Stephan write something in Chinese for you but he says it won't look like it
does here unless you have the font program to read it. It's so COOL! I've always
wondered how they write in Chinese on the computer. If you're not interested,
skip the next paragraph and move on.
First of all, to engage the feature you push Control-space
(yesterday I must have done that accidentally somehow -- if I do it again I can
write in all caps because that makes the computer write in printed letters
instead of Chinese characters). Then you use the regular keyboard to type "pin
yin," which means spelling out the Chinese word phonetically, using a special
code (Q is pronounced "ch," X is a voiced "ts" etc.) and immediately a vertical
list of the possible Chinese characters that start with those letters is visible
-- the list changes each time you add a letter and refines the choices. You
either hit the return button if the top character is the choice, or type the
number of the selected character, and BOOM! The character appears on the line
you're writing and you start the next character. I noticed that often, Stephan
will simply spell out the entire word, I guess it's easier than selecting it
from the list
This sounds slow
but it aint when Stephan does it. I just went over with a timer and he did 8
characters / words in about 10-15 seconds, but that included some thinking
(don't know if he was thinking about what the word is or what to say). As he
writes, he goes back and inserts something, refers to the original message and
reads (in Chinese of course!) and then goes back to his response and edits a
little and continues writing.
I am SO impressed and proud of him! He has an unbelievable gift for languages. You
should hear him chatting with The Nicest Family In All of China, occasionally
referring to his dictionary and being able to communicate with apparent fluency
about more than the everyday mundane things. One example of his gift is that
before coming here, he had learned Japanese and Chinese and took just a semester
of Korean. Before he came here to China, he stayed in Seoul, Korea for a month.
A few days after he arrived in Korea, Mom and I went to a vegetarian cafe run by
Koreans there in Washington, DC. So we gave Stephan their email address because
they wanted to tell him where the vegetarian restaurants are in Korea. We went
back to that cafe a month or so later, and our new Korean friend said that
Stephan had emailed him a number of times. IN KOREAN! So that rascal had just
picked up a language AND THE WRITING while he was there! I'm still working on
how to say "Excuse me" and "I don't speak Chinese"! and I still can't seem to
get it right. I can say "thank you" and "good" and "VERY good!" And "mama"
to the diary. When Grandma and Grandpa were heading for bed, I was telling you
about our adventures getting Jomania's dress in the tourist market. I'm SUCH a
popular person there, everyone was in my face saying "lady, watch your bag!"
while showing me pictures of bags and things that I could see if I would just
follow them down the row of stalls to their special delight! I think they meant
"LOOK at the bag" or "Watches! Bags!" but it came out so appropriately as "WATCH
After we got the
dress, we went to a fast-food place that had Shanghai local food, very
interesting treat we had, then started walking about a mile to an ATM machine
where Stephan could get the money to pay his landlord before we leave today
(Janet and Beezy and Gene, I got LOTS of pictures of the buses with their
accessible bus announcements, a few Accessible Pedestrian Signals, and more
admiring the rows of 100-year-old housing when Fan (one of Zhang Wei's cousins /
sisters, she's in middle school) said that her grandparents lived in an
apartment building like that one, very old. I took some pictures and we
continued walking -- turns out she ran ahead and told them we like to see it, and
we got to go into one of these apartments! We passed some other Caucasians
walking through the project, and I thought, LUCKY LUCKY ME! I get to go INTO one
of them! [see photos]
grandparents are no longer living (Grandfather had died 30 years ago,
Grandmother a few years ago) but living there now are one of their daughters
(Fan's aunt) and her husband and son. She had taught math to middle school in a
southern province until she retired last year, and then she moved back into her
parents' home. The reason she lived all her adult life so far from home is
because during the Cultural Revolution, as she came of age, she was sent to work
there. I'll try to find out if she met her husband there or if he was also
displaced from Shanghai and glad to come back home after they retired. [LATER: I found out that she met her husband there, but
apparently many people are glad to move to Shanghai, even if it means leaving
the family, as it's a very desirable place to live.]
So this morning young Fan took me to
the market a few blocks from home, and who did we run into there? Grandma,
getting the supplies for today's feasts! I got some pictures of her getting some
exotic vegetables, and also, for you, Fred, I got pictures of one of the stalls
where a man in a nice white lab coat was giving some kind of electric treatment
to people with aching shoulders! [see photos]
I better head back, we're going to have lunch (something
Grandma bought this morning!) and then get packed and head for the train to
Somewhere. When we started to buy some food for the train Grandma told us she
has already packed a nice supply so we won't have to buy food on the train.
These people are unbelievably thoughtful and kind! I'm starting to feel sad
already, I'm going to hate to leave them. But we will hopefully meet new people
and have new adventures -- we will arrive tomorrow afternoon so don't expect to
hear from me till then.
Diary from China -- Thursday, July 28, 2005 Zhengzhou, Henan, China
Deaf people and blind people in China
Well, our adventures on the
train started before we even pulled out! As I was fussing in the sleeper cabin
we shared with two guys, Stephan called out, "Mom! Come here NOW!" I ran to the
window and outside three people were signing! One of them looked up and pointed
to me as I stared and she signed to the others (the Deaf people in every
country, including England, have their own sign language, so their signs are
different from ours). One woman, in what is probably a universal sign (pointing
to her ear and pointing to me with a question on her face), asked, "Are you
Deaf?" and I shook my head and asked her -- she was Deaf and proud of it!
I made the sign for "America" and
pointed to myself. In the last few years, each country's own sign for its name
has been adapted into American Sign Language and I was hoping they knew our sign
for America. When she didn't understand, I made the sign for Chinese and pointed
to her, and the sign for America again and pointed to me. She still didn't
understand. So I spelled it out on the window, but she gestured that she doesn't
understand English print. So I made a big sphere in front of me and slowly revolved it,
and pointed to her and then pointed to the left side of the sphere, then pointed
to me and pointed to the opposite side of the sphere. She grinned and seemed to
Then the train
lurched forward and I looked surprised and waved goodbye, and so did they. I
held up my hands in the "I-Love-You" sign and they continued waving, and then
awkwardly shaped their hands in the same "I-Love-You" sign. One of them signed
to the others "The same 'I-Love-You' sign!" and seemed to ask each other where it
came from. As they disappeared I made the sign again and signed "America!" but
they probably didn't get it.
Maybe this is a good time to share my only experience seeing
a blind person. As we rode from the airport my first day in China, I happened to
see a man with a white cane walking along the street! Actually he was walking IN
the street, along the gutter, using a very good cane technique to follow the
curb. I wondered why he wasn't walking on the sidewalk, it seemed perfectly fine
and the street looked like a dangerous place to walk (these drivers, I've found
out, DON'T CARE about you! Kinda reminded me of Thailand 30 years ago, where we
crossed the street lane by lane, only here the lanes are a little more ambiguous
and I wouldn't dare stand where cars could pass me by).
Anyway, the other day I think I
found out why the poor guy was walking in the street, because I found MYSELF
walking in the street very much against my will! Most sidewalks here have a
railing along the curb, our friends told me it was to keep the drivers off the
sidewalk but the curb would make it difficult for them to drive there, my guess
is that it's to keep pedestrians from crossing mid-block. We were getting off
the bus, which let us off in the bicycle lane about in the middle of the block
(they don't pull up to the curb as there is about 4-foot-wide lane for bicycles
next to the curb and I guess they don't want to block that off while letting
passengers off, so you have to be very careful because the bicyclists don't seem
to consider they might mow down the passengers stepping off the bus!) After
making sure we wouldn't be killed by the bicyclists I realized OOPS! There was
the railing right in front of us, extending the entire length of the block! [see
photos] Our friends nonchalantly started walking along the street in the bicycle
lane to the corner. These bicyclists, by the way, also have no regard for
pedestrians so I was very nervous!
Several people have told me that Chinese people always help
blind people across the street, which is good because I think it's too chaotic
to do without vision. I talked with Fan, our 14-year-old friend, and asked her
if Chinese feel that people become blind because they did something bad, as the
Koreans believe. She was shocked that anyone would think such a thing, and said no,
that God made them blind because... and here she struggled with her English. I
talked about these difficulties making people stronger and she agreed.
Okay, we are killing a few hours
while waiting for Stephan's Buddhist friends to bring him his luggage that he
left here, and they will take us home for lunch. we are in Zhengzhou, Henan and
are thinking of leaving tonight for Hebei where a Tai Chi instructor friend is.
So I'll sign off, and report next opportunity.
China -- Saturday, July 30, 2005 Yong Nian, China
Buddhist family in ZhengZhou and their dreams
Low point of trip and needing rest
Charmed (and appalled!) by town of Yong Nian
Meeting Tai Chi Master
Hi everyone! I'm planning to send a message about
China's traffic signals and accessible features to folks interested in
pedestrians and accessibility, and will copy to you -- it'll be boring to many of
you so just delete or, if you're already bored and looking for something to put
you to sleep, open and read! (Later -- I'll have to work on that message later,
we're about to leave --don't be surprised when you see it).
Meanwhile, I think I had last
written just after we got off the train to ZhengZhou and were preparing to meet
Stephan's Buddhist friends, and collect the luggage he had left with them. They
picked us up and brought us to their home. Our first stop was at their room
temple, which had a huge Buddha and incense and beautiful hangings and a stool
to kneel and pray (and a bed/platform at the side with Stephan's luggage!). They had
a TV turned on continually which showed beautiful scenery and lovely music with
the family had lots of people in my generation -- 9 siblings with the oldest
being in her early 50's and the youngest I'd guess in her 40's or maybe younger.
They all live together or nearby. The youngest daughter was too small to be
affected when the Cultural Revolution hit but her older sister was sent away to
work on a farm not too far from home. She was there 5 years before things
improved and she was allowed to return home. Unlike the Zhang family, she said
she did NOT like having to go work on the farm away from home!
Three or 4 of the parent generation
have two children each -- one legal child, and one whose existence they hid from
the authorities until they came of school age. If they had been found out, they
would have had to pay a fine. By the time the children are school age,
apparently the disincentives no longer are an issue. They also had several dogs
as pets (and cats, and a pet fish swimming around the bathtub!) and the dogs are
also a secret -- if the authorities find out about the larger dog, they'll kill
him because it's dirty to have a large dog in the home, smaller dogs are
okay but you have to pay a HUGE fee, like thousands of dollars, to have them
(the cats are okay).
one of the few families in China who have pets [LATER: we
found many pets in our travels after we left Zhengzhou], which they said was
because they are Buddhists, who respect and care for animals. They do eat meat,
however, and I wasn't able to understand how they can "respect and care for
animals" if they eat them! They said that it's okay to eat dead animals but not
hurt live ones. I said I'm a vegetarian because if I eat meat, I'm paying
someone else to kill the animal. They smiled and nodded and moved on to other
topics. But they did ask later what I eat if I don't eat meat, and seemed
interested. Stephan has some PETA brochures but they are in English -- some
brochures in Chinese might be useful.
I think this was the first low point of my trip. It's not
easy for Stephan to interpret all the time and I don't want to overburden him,
so during the lunch I realized how the elderly parents feel when they immigrated to America
with their children but haven't learned English (and how Deaf people may feel!). When
I'm visiting the grown children of these immigrants the parents smile and nod but are
left out. That's what I did through most of the lunch, even though Stephan did
interpret for me several times.
On top of that I think I haven't learned to listen to my own
body -- when they asked if I had adjusted to the time change I said oh, yes
indeed, but when they talked about going shopping I guess my face gave it away
and they offered to let me rest. I really didn't feel the need to rest but going
shopping sounded like a torture, so I agreed to lay down just as an excuse not
to go shopping and OH! How badly I did need to rest! I had a nice nap, then just
sat and looked out the window. By the time they came back, I was refreshed and
no longer thinking I would cut my trip short and go home.
During dinner in a private room at a
lovely restaurant I put Stephan to work to ask my questions -- what did they do,
where did they meet their spouse, what was their dream, etc. Several of them
work in the family factory, and the husband of one of the parent generation had
been a peace-time soldier for 13 years and then worked as a policeman. I asked
if working with so many "bad people" changed his perspective on life, and I was
struck with his reply -- he used to hate the criminals, but now feels pity for
The dream of the younger
sister (probably in her 40's) was to have a car. When she was young, she always
wanted to have a car. Now they have cars -- her dream came true. I am reading a
book on the history of China and it says the people were quite poor at that time
but now are doing well, and this family was a good example.
Anyway, yesterday we took the train
to Handan to meet Sun Jianguo, the Tai Chi teacher who wants Stephan to help him
translate his book. We're in a quaint little town called Yang Nian (see photos) that is about an hour away
from Handan, where Sun Jianguo grew up and has a house next to his father's house, and it has the Tai Chi center that they just
built. They have a new hotel and in the tai chi center there is a large gymnasium / stage to have their lessons,
and apparently people come from all over the world here. Right now it's just us
and a guy from Germany and a Chinese man.
Last night was another time when I thought YIKES! Time to go
home NOW! This little town was totally charming as we drove through it [see photos] --
reminded me a lot of the towns in Thailand. The main street is a
dirt road with side roads that are BARELY wide enough for the car (a person
would have to step into a recess to let us pass), little stores and LOTS of very
interesting people busily going about their lives. I was thrilled to get the
chance to see this part of China, and looked forward to exploring it with
But let me explain that
part of the charm is that everything looked very old and dirty, and I know from
past experience that the puddles and water on the streets were probably sewage,
and there was a very strong odor of feces as we drove through some of the
streets. When we went to Sun Jianguo's home, where we would be staying, it was
getting dark and there wasn't much light in the two rooms where we'd be staying
alone (he'd stay at his father's house in the compound next to his). It was hot, in
the dim light everything looked dark, the beds were wooden platforms with a
bamboo mat on them, the bathroom was outside across the compound and consisted
of two filthy-looking holes in the ground with no flushing water so they reeked
when you got close (I wasn't sure there was a light, and I often go to the
bathroom during the night and don't have a flashlight, pictured myself trying to
find those holes in the dark!), the shower was in another building that also
looked dark in the dim light. I was dismayed, thinking about my health and about
spending a week sleeping on a hard board in a hot, dark-looking house with a
filthy-looking, foul-smelling bathroom.
Sun Jianguo had been saying all along that we could look at
the hotel if the house wasn't acceptable and I asked if the hotel was air
conditioned. He said yes and I agreed to see it, not wanting to hurt his
feelings, and ready for the disappointment of having the hotel look like the
rest of the town (Fred, I thought it might be like where we stayed in Michigan
at the Kent Hotel where the sheets had obviously never been washed because their
brown color changed to white when I washed them after our first night there, the
floors were filthy and there were the remains of squashed cockroaches on the
wall!). I started gently suggesting to Stephan that I may leave after a day or
two and let him stay while I sightsee a little (in clean cities with expensive
hotels!) and go home.
GOODNESS, the hotel is delightful! These people had JUST completed building it,
the rooms are clean with tile floors, the beds were SOFT (hurray! The best bed
I've had in China!), the bathrooms -- well, you can't have everything, they
weren't clean but they were not bad, and the water is COLD (the German guy and I
each screamed a little when taking our shower -- separately, of course!). But I
told Stephan I'm fine staying here, the room is very comfortable.
And it all was worth it this morning
when we went into the town for breakfast outside, the people are CHARMING, we
met the mother of one of the Tai Chi teachers that we had dinner with last night
(both she and her son have a delightful smile all the time! see his photo). So I'm settling in
for a very interesting visit to a very interesting Chinese town, with a safe,
clean, air-conditioned haven to retreat when I need a rest. And I'm starting to
recognize my need for rest a little earlier now, and respecting it so I don't
get like I did in ZhengZhou, so I can enjoy myself.
Sorry these entries are so long! They're more for me than
for you, I want to record my experiences and putting it into a journal seems too
arduous and easy to lose, so this is how I'm doing it. You asked for it -- let me
know if you want off the diary now that you realize how long they are (or simply
delete when you get them ).
Oops -- gotta go -- later! Love, Dona
China -- Sunday, July 31, 2005 Yong Nian, China
Poignant story of Tai Chi master and Cultural
Hi guys! I
thought the diary entries for the next week would be same-old, same-old -- we
explore, we meet people, we avoid the sewage, etc. But wow! Last night I heard
the most poignant story I can remember hearing in a LONG time! We had dinner
with the Tai Chi teacher Sun Jianguo. I collared Stephan to interpret while I
pried Master Sun with the usual questions. I already know what his dream is -- to
teach Tai Chi and have it spread throughout the world, bringing peace to all, so
I asked him about how he got interested in Tai Chi, what he went through to get
to this point, etc. Sit back, guys, here's a story that I think would make a
When Master Sun was
about 16, he wanted to learn Tai Chi but it was 1975 and the Cultural Revolution
had just started. Tai Chi was absolutely forbidden (along with lots of historic
/ intellectual / religious things, I think -- I want to read more about it than
was in my history book, it affected a LOT of the people I'm meeting).
In Master Sun's home town there was
an honored Tai Chi teacher who was the 4th generation student-turned-teacher
from a respected Tai Chi teacher of the mid-1800's. Master Sun's father knew him
(this town isn't that big, I think everyone has gone to school with everyone or
knows of everyone, etc.) and that's how young Sun Jianguo found out that this
man was a great Tai Chi teacher.
Young Sun Jianguo approached him and asked to learn Tai Chi,
but the teacher said no, he was afraid to teach it or practice it in the open,
and he didn't trust this teenager to keep the secret. So Sun Jianguo begged to
let him run errands for him, sweep and clean, etc. [see
photos]. Finally the teacher relented and so Sun
Jianguo started going to his home after school. And little by little, they'd
shut the door and Sun Jianguo would learn Tai Chi.
It wasn't until 1991 that the Cultural Revolution ended, and
Tai Chi was again tolerated (in fact, I'd say at this point it's flourishing,
our friend in Shanghai has practiced it for 5 years and started teaching it to
me). Unfortunately, the teacher died that year, before he could pick up the
teaching role again and spread his wisdom. But he had nurtured the skill in Sun
Jianguo, and now Master Sun is carrying on the dream.
In China, according to my history
book, everyone wants a son because only sons will take care of them in old age --
daughters move into the husband's family and help take care of his parents. This
Tai chi Master had no sons, and so as he was dying, there was no family to take
care of him. Sun Jianguo nursed him and took food to him and took care of him
until he died, serving as the son he didn't have.
Isn't that beautiful? I've met at least 5 Tai Chi
instructors that Master Sun has taught, and they have managed to build (with
what money, I don't know!) this Tai Chi center, and he has hopes of going to
America next year and teaching the dozens of students who have come to him (he
was a bit shocked when I told him of the prices for food and hotels! Our bill
for an extravagant dinner for 7 of us the first night was $8, and our nice hotel
is only $5/night!).
But I would
NEVER have realized the story if we hadn't asked -- he never thought to mention
it, never bragged that of the Tai Chi teachers I met, he's the only one to have
learned from this master (he did, in the presence of the other teachers, say he
had more experience than they did, most of them have been practicing for only a
year or two). I don't know how many, if any, others know this story. I told him
it was very moving, he should share it and write it down. He smiled shyly, but
did seem to appreciate my sincerity. One more little add-on. He was explaining that behind the
Tai Chi is an attitude, and philosophy -- to have a true heart, honesty, and
perseverance/dedication, and these can guide your life and help to resist attack
/ pressure. It made so much sense to me. I then realized that my problem isn't
resisting attacks -- I am, in a sense, the attacker. My dream is to convince my
fellow Orientation and Mobility Specialists to address some of the
street-crossing issues. So with my able
interpreter (I can't thank Stephan enough -- it is his skills and willingness
that enable me to have these rich, unforgettable experiences!) I asked whether
Tai Chi has anything to offer to help people make an impact. And wow -- yes! He
thought about it carefully, then demonstrated with Stephan the kind of thinking
/ attitude that should be developed -- he put the back of his hand against
Stephan's hand, and pushed but then gave way as Stephan pushed, so they ended up
kind of dancing together -- "cooperation" [see photos]. He said we should understand the other
people and work WITH them, in cooperation and understanding to make an impact.
Wow, makes sense, huh?
is a big day for him -- the center is having the first-ever festival /
demonstration [see photos]. As I understand it, only locals are coming, this
evening when I left the hotel the streets were lined with brightly colored flags
and banners and they were working on a large inflatable arch to put over the
street, the gymnasium has seats --
Oops, it's late, we promised we'd be back by now, I don't
know if we're having dinner with him, he wanted to prepare something for Stephan
to do tomorrow, so I'll run after saying that I decided to stop criticizing the
dirty bathroom, and I found a mop and cleaned the floor and the sink (Fred, I'll
spare you the details of what I did when the drain got clogged with the dirt!
Remember, I love you and hope you still love me!)
Gotta run -- later! love, Dona
NOTE: We toured a fort today in Feng-Feng, and did some tai chi poses with Master Sun -- see photos.
Diary from China -- Monday, August 1,
2005 Yong Nian, China
Cultural clash and "truth";
Finding ourselves in the birthplace of Tai Chi;
Opening of Tai Chi Center;
Night entertainment in a Chinese village
the saga continues! Before I tell you about the adventure we had last night
after we got back to the hotel from the "wang ba" (internet cafe -- see photos),
I'll bring you up to date with Master Sun and the Tai Chi. I told you that today
was some kind of festival or ceremony at the Tai Chi center -- turns out it was
their opening ceremony to kick off their new center [see photos]. Well, Master
Sun had asked Stephan to say a few words, and yesterday presented him with the
script he wanted him to read. It was not written clearly so Stephan needed
Master Sun to write it more clearly or read it to him, and we had left word we
were at the wang ba and would be back by 8:30.
Last night as we groped our way along the streets in the
dark back to the hotel, Master Sun called out to us from a little eatery -- he
had been looking for us and hadn't gotten the message that we were at the wang
ba. So we ended up eating a little soup there with one of his students /
disciples (well, until Stephan slipped into the back room to ask the cook to
show him the package the broth for the soup came from, and he found out it was pork-based so
we stopped eating it).
script that Master Sun wanted him to read, it turns out, incorporated some of
the things I'd been saying yesterday, such as how touching his story was, and I
had told him that many people in American want to learn Tai Chi (including my
own mother, and it's often been suggested for blind people to learn to build up
their balance and strength, etc. -- we had fun yesterday morning at a beautiful
2,000-year-old fort practicing Tai Chi [see photos] and I showed him how he could teach it to
blind people, which he'd like to do).
But the script also included some things that were ... well,
it's not enough to say they were an exaggeration or stretching the truth, they
were, in our opinion ....untrue.
One of the foundations of Tai Chi as I understood them is
honesty. But the script called for Stephan to say that coming here and learning
Tai Chi has been his life-long ambition, and that he "absolutely certainly
definitely" would learn to master Tai Chi and that he'd spread the word to
everyone he ever contacts in America and encourage them to come here and learn
Tai Chi. None of which is true.
I'm so proud of Stephan and how he handled it. One of the
reasons he's here in Asia is to gather material and experience that will
help him write his movies, and he has read that characters in all great novels
and movies are complex -- "bad people" aren't all bad, and "good people" aren't
all good. So there is some good and some bad in all.
And so an inspiring Tai Chi teacher who is doing a lot of good
may sometimes ask a friend to say something that the friend feels is not true.
By the time we got back to the
hotel after the adventure I'm going to tell you about, it was midnight, and
Stephan and Master Sun worked on the script for about an hour, which is when
Stephan fully realized what the script said. Stephan worked on it at least till
I fell asleep at 2:00, and was at it again this morning [see photo]. He wrote
what I think is a beautiful testimonial to the Tai Chi center, recognizing the
importance of it, and why it's important .... but without lying.
So this morning he met Master Sun
and told him that he respects his Tai Chi emphasis on honesty and can't honestly
say what was scripted, and told him about the new script. Master Sun sat
thoughtfully for a moment (as he often does) and said fine. The original plan
was for Stephan to read the statement in English (probably so they can use the
video later in promotions to English-speaking people) and that it would then be
translated into Chinese by the English teacher (I don't know why he didn't want Stephan to
speak for himself in Chinese). However when Stephan actually spoke, it wasn't
[NOTE from Tuesday, August 2: I got
an insightful message from my friend Gene Bourquin who has traveled extensively
through Japan (where he speaks the language too!) and China and Thailand and I
don't know where else. He says, regarding a request that Stephan say something
in his speech that isn't true, "My experiences in Asia have taught me that the
'truth' is subjective. A generalization, but many Asian people think that what
you want to hear, or what they want to hear, is true. Facts don't always seem to
enter the picture. I have noticed it often, even with honest friends and
colleagues." Thank you so much, Gene, that helps a lot. I didn't want to think
badly of anyone, and this helps understand why someone who emphasizes an honest
heart can ask Stephan to say something that isn't true.]
Well, enough about this little
setback and miscommunication or misunderstanding -- I have something else rather
dramatic to tell you before I tell you about last night's adventure. This
afternoon as I discussed the ceremony with Master Sun and his student, I found
out that this is THE PLACE and THE PEOPLE where Tai Chi was born! Remember that
I told you that Master Sun is the 5th generation of Tai Chi teachers? Well, the
first guy was THE guy who invented Tai Chi! It was mid-1800's, his father was a
martial arts master and this guy broke away and developed the softer martial
arts of Tai Chi. I asked if the Cultural Revolution almost put an end to it, and
he said yes, though I think that actually by then Tai Chi had spread outside of
China but the Cultural Revolution had probably almost put an end to Tai Chi in
China (an ironic tragedy if it had happened -- the original source would have
died and foreign variations would be all that flourish).
The ceremony today was very
interesting (see photos)-- it started with about 40-50 kids of all ages in beautiful white
silk outfits doing Tai Chi in 3 long rows in the street in front of the
building, then inside dozens of people with various degrees of expertise did
demonstrations, many of them dramatic (my favorite is a form of Tai Chi that has
them scooting along the floor very poised and powerful). Master Sun said the
people are all local, as were the first 4 generations of Tai Chi teachers over
the last 150 years. So Stephan and I may have witnessed (and been involved in!)
a dramatic historic event, as Chinese Tai Chi is revived in the original
historic village ("sacred place" as they describe it) where Tai Chi was born and
is once again flourishing. I got pictures of very young children standing on the
window sills with their parents nearby, applauding the events -- future
generations of Tai Chi teachers, perhaps. Okay, this is WAY too long, I'll get to last night's
adventure and then quit -- we're meeting Master Sun for dinner in 20 minutes.
Last night when we got back to the little hotel (just across the street from the
new Tai Chi center) they had some spotlights in the street and an electronic
musical keyboard. About 200 people were standing around the carpeted area they
had set up and standing on bicycles and trucks placed around the circle and
there was extremely loud music and I thought they were doing karaoke.
Stephan wanted to stay but I went
into the hotel room (I don't like crowds and such) but after about 20 minutes I
thought I should really force myself to go out and experience this Chinese
event. I went out and after a short time of trying to find Stephan I HEARD where
he was! I heard the soft, familiar Chinese spoken over the microphone and it was
Stephan! He started singing a song, and the guy on the keyboard picked it up and
accompanied. I hadn't realized Stephan has a beautiful singing voice! It was a
haunting song, and I thought it was lovely.
I decided maybe to stay to see what else happened, and am so
glad I did! [see photos] They had entire families
there, the inner circle was filled with little children. They would occasionally
ask people to come forward and perform and a few people did, including two
charming young girls who stepped forward after Stephan sang. They invited him to
stay in the circle with them while they spoke in English, sweetly thanking their
teacher for teaching them our language, and then sang a song in English. There
were also several performers who I think were professional entertainers --
several women dressed in costumes dancing to Chinese rock and roll, and two guys
who did comedy and skits and acrobatics with a variety of costumes (including a
farmer's outfit, a Japanese soldier who was shot in the butt and groin to the
delight of the audience, a woman, and a Red Army soldier). [Master Sun told us later that these performers came from
out of town, so I believe they were part of the package of entertainment that
came with the master of ceremonies / keyboard player.]
The performers were fun to watch,
but even more fun to watch was the audience. Every performer dreams about having
such a receptive audience! There was a middle-aged man across from me who had a
big grin through most of the performance, and the kids were almost rolling on
the floor with laughter. One thing was interesting, though -- there was good
music with a rocking beat that was hard to resist bouncing to but, except for
the performing dancers, I was the only one swinging to the beat. I think in
America everyone would be swaying and clapping and participating, but here they
don't do that.
Oops, gotta run,
see ya! Love, Dona
P.S. We took Master Sun for his first Ferris-wheel ride
yesterday! [see photos]
Diary from China -- Tuesday, August 2,
2005 Yong Nian, China
More cultural misunderstandings and tears
Learning Tai Chi -- in front of an audience!
Many days I start out thinking the
next diary will have nothing to report -- as late as this morning I thought I
could catch up with little incidentals I haven't had time / space to report
(like the pollution here is UNBELIEVABLE! We kept asking if it was fog or
pollution and cringed at the answer -- the wierd thing is that it exists ALL OVER
-- on the train between cities we passed factory after polluting factory and the
haze that made distant buildings all but obscured was consistent throughout the
country, farms and all).
once again we've had adventures / experiences I want to share in my diary, so
hang on, here comes another long one! Today's adventures involved more
misunderstandings and our learning of the culture, ending up with a lovely young
girl getting strongly chewed out and crying. But I'll start from the
beginning... Remember I said
that the night before the big Tai Chi center opening ceremony, two young girls
sang an English song and thanked their teacher for teaching them English? Well,
while Stephan and Master Sun and his student and I were walking over here this
afternoon, one of the girls ("Lucy") passed us on her bicycle and greeted us in
English. We were pleased and she invited us to go visit her grandmother with
her, she was bringing her some dumplings that her mother had made. Stephan was
planning to have lunch at a restaurant with Master Sun and his student but I
wasn't hungry, and so I went just a short way to her grandparents' home. On the
way, Lucy explained that she goes to school quite far from home (I think she
said 8 hours away), where she learned English.
I met her grandmother, two aunts and a neighbor. I tried to use Lucy as an interpreter so I could interview them like I've been able to interview people with Stephan -- I especially
wanted to ask Grandma what it was like living through all those changes in China, since she had been there in the decades before and after the establishment of communism, the cultural revolution, etc.
However, we had a little language barrier. I'd ask Grandma if she lived there
all her life and Lucy answered for her rather than interpreting my question. She'd comply whenever I specifically asked her to interpret but then she'd go back to answering my questions herself. And she didn't know what I meant by
"government" and "Mao Zedung" and "communism" (I thought of pointing to a
picture of Mao but there was no picture of him -- I thought it was supposed to be
prominently displayed in every home -- oh, DANG! I should have thought of getting
some money out, his picture is on every bill).
Anyway, we had a pleasant exchange during which we all
agreed I could keep Lucy for a daughter since I had been very disappointed to
have all sons and no daughter (sorry Stephan, Paul and Mark!). I was quite
touched when Lucy explained that one of her aunts had been very much against her
going so far to school, but when she saw Lucy talking in English with Stephan at
the entertainment, she was pleased and said it was good that Lucy was going to
the school. So apparently, while I was being charmed by Lucy's English speech at
the entertainment that night, her family was being convinced that she was doing
the right thing by going to that school. Later she introduced me to a woman
riding by on a bicycle with her young daughter, and said her son and daughter
had graduated the same school and were now working as tour guides somewhere.
Lucy hopes to find a job in Beijing.
After a short visit with Grandma I left with Lucy to go back
to join Stephan, who was having lunch with Master Sun and his student. I asked
Stephan if he wanted to accept Lucy's invitation to go to her home later this
afternoon (she goes back to school tomorrow).
Well while Lucy was there, Master Sun smiled and lectured
her in the local dialect. Lucy told us that he was saying that she should have
respected him as the master / teacher, and approached him rather than approach
us directly. He said he was going to tell her mother, her father, her aunts and
uncles and everyone that she was so rude -- I heard and understood that part, and
his student laughed, seeming embarrassed. Lucy was utterly dismayed and nearly
in tears. Stephan and I were also dismayed, not just because someone was chewed
out for being friendly with us, but also because we didn't consider anyone to be
our guardian and we resented any attempt to domineer our trip. I went out with
Lucy as she left, and assured her it was okay with us, but she burst out in
tears and said it was all her fault, she did wrong. However she smiled and said
if her parents curse her, it's not so bad because she leaves for school tomorrow
beginning to comprehend the difficulties of two countries or cultures trying to
negotiate for something such as peace, or a business relationship. Without a
deep understanding of each other's culture, misunderstandings can occur and,
even with the very best of intentions and good will, feelings can be hurt.
Anyway, with Master Sun's knowledge,
we arranged to meet Lucy at 5:00 to go to her home and then return for dinner
with Master Sun. Stephan and I are here in the wang ba and plan to have a frank
discussion tonight (or whenever Master Sun wants -- we don't know if he wants to
have his student present for this discussion) and bring lots of things out in
the open -- things such as our desire to see this charming town on our own
without having our experiences screened through him, and discuss what is our
relationship to him, what Stephan will be doing with his book, etc. Stephan and
I will discuss it with each other on our way back to the hotel. So that brings you up to date on
that sordid little story. But I have to also tell you that we got a lesson in
Tai Chi this morning that started out rather disastrous (in my eyes, at least)
and ended beautifully. As we were walking toward the Tai Chi center this morning
we saw two modern, air-conditioned buses unloading about 100 people who went
into the center and got a lecture (through a bull horn as they all stood
gathered around him, no further than 30 feet away -- I guess they don't have a
microphone system yet) and then Stephan and I were ushered up onto the stage to
start our "lesson" (YIKES! All I could think was -- sorry Uncle Dick and John and
everyone, but it's probably not printable here!) and Master Sun started
demonstrating and then gently correcting our positions as we copied him, and
people took pictures of us. GADS!!!!!!
Anyway, after I got over the shock of being on display for
their benefit, they filed out and boarded the bus again (I guess this was just
one of the stops on their tour), and we continued the lesson. Now, I have to
explain that when Zhang Mama was teaching me, I was very uncomfortable -- I
didn't mind the people gathering around and smiling (at what I felt was the
attempts of a very awkward, old American woman!), what I minded was having no
interpreter to explain what she was saying, and basically just trying to follow
her motions, and not being able to remember them worth diddly. It made me
uncomfortable and wanting to avoid more "lessons."
But when Master Sun taught us (after the people all left!),
it was a pleasure! First of all, it helped to have an interpreter for the
instruction. We learned to walk with stability and wonderful posture, and got
the beginning movements of the Tai Chi. When I asked about the movements Master
Sun was doing with his body / pelvis / back, he assured us we were at stage one
and that was at stage 4. I thought, "Hurray! I can learn this! I can go about it
slowly and grasp it!" He let us feel his back as he made the movements and I
can't describe the contorted movements his spine / muscles were doing, I'm sure
it will be a long while before I can do it.
So there you have it. I have indeed become a student, and I
really like it and want to learn more, just as he had wanted us to tell
everyone. And yet, if we are students we may be supposed to consider him our
"master" and have our China experiences filtered through him. It's all a bit
confusing, Stephan and I will have to do a lot of thinking this afternoon before
approaching him tonight. Or maybe we will just avoid it and let it go -- it's
hard to know whether an honest discussion will clear the air and help prevent
any more of the kind of misunderstandings that we had this afternoon, or just
put everyone off and destroy the relationship. Yet last night Master Sun told us
of his hopes and plans to go to America, so perhaps it's good that we try to
understand each other a little better before he comes to America, or he may be
shocked at what he perceives as rudeness when that isn't the intention at all.
In all this, the exciting storm
we had last night, with no electricity (OR AIR CONDITIONING!) all night and all
today seems too insignificant to report, but I just did, so there. I think
that's it for now, till our next installment after meeting "Lucy"s family and
deciding whether to clear the air with Master Sun.
China -- Wednesday-and-a-half, August 3.5, 2005 Yong
Dinner with Lucy's family;
Climbing the city wall;
Tai Chi lesson in historic Tai Chi setting;
Getting to know Tai Chi student/disciple;
Bowing to the Master
Hi everyone! It's after midnight and we just got to the wang
ba (internet cafe) after another long, interesting day, and we're looking forward to going to go
back to the hotel (which finally got running water this afternoon after the
storm two nights ago knocked out the electricity -- Master Sun gave us a candle
and I got to read by candlelight just like Abe, but the water got cut off some
time during the night and didn't come back on till this afternoon when I finally
got a shower after <UGH!> a day and a half of SWEAT!)
Well, to pick up the saga, we never
had the confrontation with Master Sun because while I was writing to you from
the wang ba, he had gone over to Lucy's home (where we had been invited to visit
at 5:00) and arranged for him and his student/disciple to show up at 6:00. I
thought they were planning to retrieve us and maybe that was the purpose, but we
all got invited to dinner, so we all joined each other at the table.
Lucy's home is really nice. Like all
homes here, you walk straight in but quickly reach a short wall that usually has
a beautiful picture, often made with tiles, facing into the street (I read that
it's because evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, so this keeps them
out of the compound). After turning left at the little wall, you enter the
compound which has a house and a separate building for the kitchen and another
for the bathroom. Her home was tiled throughout, well lit, and very clean.
Apparently all the houses in her area are being torn down in a year or two
because they are within a small circle of wall attached to the wall that goes
around the town, and they are restoring it to what it originally was, which
means it will be totally cleared, and they'll have to find another home for
Lucy's family. That wall is
quite interesting, and we've been wanting to explore it since we got here. It
was built 1,500 years ago (isn't that difficult to imagine?) when this town
(Yong Nian) was the site where the king or regional emperor ruled. So this
morning Stephan and I met Master Sun and his student/disciple and walked along
the top of the wall for a fourth of the way around the town. Apparently during
WWII everyone within 200 kilometers went into the city to escape the Japanese,
who pummeled the wall and destroyed a lot of it, and finally entered and
defeated the soldiers there. We could see the holes where the cannon balls hit
the dirt sides, they were a foot or two deep. The wall is now being rebuilt as
well as a lot of the area around here. The Japanese made significant
contributions to restore it, and there were two plaques commemorating the
donations -- one with the names of Chinese people who had donated, and the other
was once a beautifully designed plaque saying that the Japanese had donated too.
The plaque with Chinese donations was fine but the Japanese plaque was
vandalized -- Master Sun said kids did it, but they must have been very tall
kids! -- I think it was more probably adults who still harbored the anger.
I got my thrills, as I have a fear
of heights (Laura, do you remember when I had the heeby-jeebies walking to the
lookout at the southern tip of New Zealand?) and there were a number of places
where we had to walk about 20 feet along a stretch that was less than 2 feet
wide (at one point I got on my hands and knees to do it!). Master Sun and his
student/disciple were very understanding, I explained (through my interpreter,
of course!) that my fear wasn't rational, I KNEW I wouldn't fall but that didn't
keep me from being terrorized. The disciple (I don't know his name -- Stephan and
I just vowed we'll learn it tomorrow!) kindly said I was very brave.
I'm becoming more and more fond of
the student. He is one of the kindest, most considerate, insightful,
intelligent, fun people I've met. Tonight when we had dinner with him at Master
Sun's he told us about his being a "disciple," which I'll explain later, it
kinda blew our minds.
I want to tell you about our moving experience at the historic home of the
inventor of Tai Chi. We had gone there right after exploring the wall and I
thought I had seen all there is to see (except for peering through a window into
a lovely courtyard) and started feeling dizzy / sick (due to a long story that's
too boring to tell, I hadn't eaten anything yet all day, which is not at all
unusual for me but this time I started feeling funny). So rather than having
Master Sun get the key to let us into the courtyard, we discontinued the tour
and went to have lunch at the home of the sister of Master Sun's wife.
This time we brought a gift (we
didn't realize or forgot you bring a gift the first time you go into anyone's
house -- oops! We hadn't brought one for Lucy's family the night before). I was
FILTHY after no shower and then climbing around the wall, but it seemed okay.
It's weird -- time and time again when we've gone into people's homes, we don't
get introduced to anyone -- after we are seated, people wander in and out and I
finally introduce myself and ask who they are and the person who invited us says
"oh, this is my wife's sister," and "oh, this is her husband," etc. The topic of
the different years of birth somehow came up and I asked everyone to tell us
what they are and what it means (ironically, Stephan and I are both born in the
year of the dogs, who are known for their honesty!). After we went back to the hotel and rested (and showered!)
we met Master Sun and his disciple again at his (Master Sun's) home. He wanted
to go back to the Tai Chi center for our daily Tai Chi lesson, but I asked if we
could go back to the historic home of the original Tai Chi master instead, and
finish the tour.
Well, when we
got there he unlocked the door to the courtyard and WOW! It was actually two
courtyards, still in great condition, each surrounded with beautiful small
Chinese houses that were for the Tai Chi inventor and all his family (as is
customary, and this guy was apparently very rich).
As we got into the second compound, it suddenly started to
POUR rain, and we ducked into one of the side houses where the man's son and his
family lived. We took pictures and talked about the history a little. The
original Tai Chi inventor was a scholar and studied many things including
Confucianism, martial arts, "traditional" medicine (here, things like
acupuncture are "traditional," I forget what they call Western medicine), and I
forget what else, and synthesized them all into Tai Chi and its philosophy. I
was quite impressed.
still pouring very hard, we didn't have enough umbrellas for everyone, so I got
brave and asked if we could have our Tai Chi lesson there. Master Sun had said
earlier we couldn't do it at his home so I figured we couldn't have the lesson
anywhere but at the center. But he said yes, and explained that in fact, this
very same room was where he had learned Tai Chi from his teacher! The chair
where his teacher sat and corrected him was still there.
It was a great lesson [see photos]. I felt I can
learn it, unlike when I was trying to learn it in Shanghai --I think Master Sun
actually is a great teacher. And it was quite a thrill to learn it in the very
place where he himself had learned it! We got lots of pictures, including one or
two of him sitting in the chair correcting us (though that isn't his style). As
soon as we were done, POOF! The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started! It
was like a sign, that we were supposed to stay in that room until we got our
lesson in that historic place. Afterwards we went to the next house, which is
where the Tai Chi inventor lived, where they had a bust of him with incense, and
a couple of pads to get down on our knees and bow our heads to the ground and
say a prayer. I said I wished for his wisdom, courage and knowledge to be shared
and extended to each of us and to everyone. It was quite a lovely experience.
We ended up going back to Master
Sun's place for dinner, picking up some supplies as we walked through the town.
When we got there it was very dark and we groped our way into the courtyard (my
fears about staying there were confirmed as there is NO electricity or light in
the courtyard or the bathroom or, for that matter, in the kitchen, where Master
Sun used a portable gas pan like we use for camping to cook us some noodles and
eggs by candlelight after removing the motorcycle he kept there). When I had to
go to the bathroom, I borrowed a keychain-flashlight with a tiny blue beam that
Master Sun had, and somehow managed in the pitch black to duck under the bushes
to get into the bathroom and straddle the hole in the dark without falling in!
Okay, I'm finally to the point
where I explain about the student. Apparently Tai Chi teachers take on
"disciples" -- a kind of apprenticeship, I guess, except that they remain
disciples for life. This disciple explained that he gets on his knees and bows
and puts his hands together as in prayer, first to the picture of the Tai Chi
inventor (as we did at the inventor's home), and then to the picture of the inventor's
student (who became a teacher) and then HIS student and finally the man who was
Master Sun's teacher. And THEN he turns to Master Sun, who is sitting in a chair
next to the four pictures, and gets down on his knees and prays to HIM! I was
kinda freaked, just picturing it, but I got an understanding that it's just an
honor to be bestowed on the teacher, the student is not actually thinking that
Master Sun is a god or something. I hope!
The dinner discussion was one of the best we've had, we
discussed philosophy, I pursued the idea of the teacher/disciple roles, wanting
to know if the student can disagree with the all-supreme teacher or if the
teacher is supposed to be omniscient / all-knowing, and I was actually pleased
with the answer. Yes, they deal with each other the same as all people -- with
the kind of cooperation and respect and learning from each other that we had
learned about a few nights ago when I asked about how to have an impact on other
people. And they explained the Ying / yang concept (Gene, is that a Taoist
concept?) where there is good and bad, black and white in all of us. I am at the
level where I understand but can't explain, but I went from being rather
horrified at what I thought was a bizarre relationship to being inspired and
impressed with the relationship of Master Sun and his student/disciple.
LATER: After I got home from China, my mother, Jean Robert Bayard, was finally
able to read my diary, and read about the bowing to the Master. She helped me
understand it when she wrote:
rather painful experience for me in Thailand was when I was in the Buddhist wat
for 11 days -- do you remember? While there, I was taught how to bow, head to
floor, in the most graceful way; they said I wouldn't be bowing to a PERSON but
rather to the SPIRIT of the teachings, sort of the way in India when you greet
someone with folded hands and say Namaste you're saying (Namaste means) 'I bow
to the god or spirit within you.' Anyhow, in the wat I bowed to the teaching
monk and the head of the wat all the time and thought nothing of it; I was
bowing to the spirit of the teachings. Well, when Bob picked me up and I said
goodbye to my teaching monk, I bowed like that and felt so proud that I was
doing it so gracefully, but then when we got in the car Bob said something like,
'You certainly can do what you like but I don't want to see you bowing to those
guys again.' And I realized that to him it looked as if I were humbling myself
to them. It was a complete misunderstanding, and it was painful at the time.
"I remember a British man whose book
I read who studied a long time with an Oriental spiritual teacher in Tibet or
China--he loved him so much, and he made his vows, you know, to honor him
always--and the way he honored him, of course, was to bow to him. Then it was
time for him to go home, so he said his goodbyes--and then the day before he
left, by accident when he was out walking with his boss (he had some kind of
diplomatic job there) they ran into his teacher, and he knew he had to bow, and
he couldn't do it in front of his boss, so he passed him by without a sign of
recognition, and he KNEW that hurt the teacher terribly, but then he went on
home, and it preyed on his mind forever after, how he had betrayed his beloved
Well, yikes! It's
2:20 AM, we plan to meet them at 8:00 tomorrow, I better go gather Stephan and
grope our way back to the hotel. The hotel, by the way, is actually only 3 rooms
and a bathroom, attached to another building complex. More later....
Diary from China -- Thursday, August 4, 2005 Yong Nian, China
Groping home in the dark
Insights into "honesty" Chinese-style
Historic Tai Chi sites and Tai Chi Master
Arriving in Feng-Feng
Greetings from downtown Feng Feng in the province of Hebei! We are here because Master Sun lives here with his wife and son, and their house has the computer that Stephan can use to translate his book.
When I last wrote, I was leaving the wang ba (internet cafe) in a back alley of Yong Nian at
2:30 in the morning. Stephan still had "20 minutes" left to do on the computer
(turned out to be 2 hours!) so I went back to the hotel myself. That involved
walking in TOTAL pitch black for about 2 block-lengths along a narrow dirt alley
with deep puddles from the heavy rain (hoping that Stephan gave me correct
directions!) and then walking for about a half mile (with street lights, thank
goodness!) through a COMPLETELY deserted town and through 2 dark tunnels under
the old walls, then eagerly going into the shower to wash off my FILTHY dripping
muddy feet / sandals and OH NO! No freaking water AGAIN!
During the walk, I wasn't scared,
just nervous, which was a pleasant surprise (as a teenager, I had always felt
sheer terror when walking home along our very dark, long driveway at night, so I
was glad that at least that unreasonable fear has dissipated). There is
virtually no crime there, so the only problem was trying not to get ankle-deep
in the puddles or slip in the mud. At one point in the dark alley I groped for
and found the narrow ledge that we had walked on earlier to avoid the puddles
and mud, and I used the Tai Chi walk we'd learned the day before to step forward
with my weight on my back leg for when I unexpectedly reached the end of the
ledge or a hole (it worked great!) [see photos]
This morning again I was sure there would be nothing to
report except the fact that we packed up to leave the charming, delightful town
of Yong Nian today, instead of tomorrow as we had planned because this morning we were
still (again!) with no running water and, as we had breakfast at the little
restaurant next door, the electricity went off (for no apparent reason this
time), and the water from the rain last night while we learned Tai Chi in the
historic Master's home had poured through the hotel windows into the carpeted
hallway, resulting in a mildew smell this morning that combined with the reeking
bathroom stench that had accumulated because there is no running water, and us with nothing
to wash with and no air conditioning.
Well, enough of that! If I indeed had nothing to report I
could fill the space with more graphic descriptions of our hotel but I have TONS
to tell you about!
First, some responses from you folks. I heard from my friend Beezy Bentzen, who has had her
own adventures in Tibet that exceed mine by far (among other things, she has
taken several trips into the remote mountains to help her Tibetan monk friend
establish a school for Tibetan children). She wrote, "Your comments about a different kind of honesty were very
helpful. I think the same thing happens in our communications with our Tibetan
friends sometimes. It's often over what we thought were agreements that turn out
to be anything but. It's easy to get hurt feelings. We just have to remember
that there is good intention -- and some very real cultural differences."
Wow, that's two extensive travelers
to Asia who had the same experience we did -- their insight is extremely
helpful -- thanks Beezy and Gene!
Secondly, I got a very funny message from Gene Bourquin
after he read about the disciple bowing to his Master teacher. Gene is an
orientation and mobility specialist (O&Mer) who coordinates a program for
deaf-blind people at Helen Keller National Center in New York, and said "I have
an intern now. She will commence bowing and praying on Friday." Haha -- Gene,
you're a riot -- the very idea of our interns bowing and praying to us O&Mers
had me in stitches laughing out loud here at the wang ba!
Okay, back to the saga. We decided that before we leave,
we'd visit the home of another Tai Chi originator (the scholarly, rich one we
visited yesterday started Wu Shi Tai Chi, and this one, a "poor" relative who
was an illiterate farmer living outside the city walls at the same time, started
Yang Shi Tai Chi), then on our way back to the hotel we'd visit the home of
Master Sun's teacher, then we'd pack and get in the hired car to come here after
first going to the nearby Buddhist temple to take a quick picture, and then go
to the grave site of Master Sun's teacher.
Our friend the Disciple took his leave, holding his hand up
in the American Sign Language "I-Love-YOU" sign! (I had shared the story of the
Deaf people outside the train, thanks of course to my interpreter Stephan!) I'll miss
him and his insights and sensitivity and FUN! My interpreter Stephan is
fabulous, by the way -- the Chinese people and I often feel like we are speaking
with each other directly. Once, when Stephan was busy, Master Sun turned to me
and started to speak, completely forgetting that we didn't speak the same
language, we understand each other so well with Stephan! We both laughed.
Each of these planned visits today
turned out to be a delightful experience. This first one didn't start out well --
we walked outside the city walls from the West Gate along a wide, deserted, treeless road beside the moat for
what turned out to be about a mile in the HOT sun (with my umbrella, of course). I thought I was going to pass out! We
reached a little cluster of homes and stores just outside the South gates and
bought some iced bottled water which I put everywhere one can decently put an
iced bottle of water, which helped a lot. By the time we finally reached the
Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher's home I was feeling much better. We waited for Master
Sun to get some keys.
He returned and then waited with us, so when a car pulled up and Master Sun talked to the driver, I figured the driver had the keys but no, he drives off.
A few minutes later an elderly man comes wheeling around the corner on a typical Chinese vendor's bicycle / wagon and lightly hops off, wearing a
beautiful heavy silk cream-colored outfit with a mandarin collar [see photos]. He goes to the
gate and lets us in.
Shi Tai Chi master "poor farmer" had a BEAUTIFUL compound! It was much smaller
than the home of his rich protege, being only one courtyard with 4 buildings,
but they were all beautiful, very well preserved, with Chinese-style roof with
corners curving up, and wooden grill designs with rice paper along the front of
each building, very similar to the other home. Master Sun explained that this
was the kind of home where poor farmers lived at that time, but of course today
the home would be considered very well-to-do.
Anyway, I was quite intrigued with the man who had let us
in. His dark brown face was wizened but he was spry and moved with grace.
Whenever he went up the 3-4 steps to the door of a building, it was almost like
he flew up the stairs, I can't quite describe it, it's as if he leaped but very
lightly. Stephan caught him doing it once in video, though I don't know if he
got the feet on video.
Anyway, it turns out that this man was a fourth-generation student of the Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher! That is, his teacher was a student of the original Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher's student. He and Master Sun had a discussion where Master Sun showed deference and at one point they started to spar together (Stephan happened to be videotaping then, too!). I was thrilled and honored at this unexpected meeting.
Anyway, we then walked all the
way back to the hotel but through the town instead of around the walls / moat,
and stopped at the former home of Master Sun's teacher (his daughter and her
family live there now). I asked Master Sun let me photograph him demonstrating
some of the chores he used to do to win his Master's trust, and practicing Tai
Chi in the room and the courtyard where he had learned from his Master [see
The stop at the
Buddhist temple was for me to take a photo of one of a row of about 12 figures (see photos) that each represented different things (kindness to animals, teaching, I can't
remember what else, I might have told you about it already). The one I wanted to
photograph was scary-looking -- head back and his mouth very wide like he's screaming, hands up as
far as he can reach. Turns out he represented "understanding" -- throwing his
hands up with a big "aHA! I GOT it!" We have been throwing our hands up and
bugging our eyes and mouth open every time we get an "aHA" in our discussions,
which is fairly often, and then we laugh, and I wanted a picture to remember the fun we
had expressing ourselves non-verbally.
Then the last stop was at the grave site of Master Sun's
teacher. We drove along a narrow strip of dirt stretching out into a small lake,
ending at a place where the dirt road widened into an area about 200 feet in
diameter, surrounded by water with more curving narrow strips of raised land
cutting across it (too narrow for a car to drive on). There was a pile of bricks
marking the spot where the bodies of the Teacher and his wife lay.
Turns out this is another project /
dream they are working on, like the restoration of the homes of the original Tai
Chi teachers. They hope within a year or two to have a beautiful park on the
island, with buildings to house Tai Chi students, and a serpentine dragon along
the raised curved spokes of dirt extending across the lake (I've seen lots of
these dragons along the tops of buildings and walls in the ancient buildings and
gardens in Shanghai). The way they described it, it's going to be absolutely
beautiful. All the projects -- restoration, building the Tai Chi center they just
opened, and the memorial to Master Sun's teacher -- will cost about $125,000, of
which they've raised about $15,000.
well, I can't believe it, it's after 1:00 in the morning,
I'll sign off in a minute. Stephan and I are staying at a very nice hotel that
Master Sun helped us find (he is staying with his family at their home here in
Feng Feng) -- he first looked at hotels that have hot water only 12 hours a day
and then stopped at a hotel that reminded me of the infamous Kent Hotel where
Fred and I slept in filth in Michigan shortly after we were married, and I said
I wanted luxury and was willing to pay for it. Luxury, here in China, comes at a
cost .... of about $20 a day! we actually have a WORKING SHOWER in a private
bathroom where I don't have to cringe at the filth and crouch to go to the
bathroom... oops, I had promised not to go on.
Anyway, we went to a nearby restaurant and got a HUGE bowl
of vegetarian soup (Stephan has become adroit about making sure it's
vegetarian), which is just what we needed to soothe and nourish us, and then we
found this wang ba (our second one -- the first didn't have computers advanced
enough to get my email program). Tomorrow it's off to a temple and then I hope
to spend the next few days reading mysteries while Stephan starts translating
Master Sun's book -- I'm ready for a break from sightseeing / experiencing.
Well I'm off for a nightcap -- I
bought a bottle of orange juice and plan to go back to the hotel and mix it with
some of my protein powder I brought from home, I LOVE it and had forgotten about
it all this time, it will be a little home-away-from-home (no, Fred, green
protein powder DEFINITELY doesn't replace you! -- I'm winding down and wanting to
come home, I miss you, I'll probably come home right after we see the terra
cotta soldiers in Xi-An after this town)
China -- Friday-and-a-Half, August 5.5, 2005 Feng-Feng,
A "mundane" day in China;
Catching up on miscellaneous stories
Well FINALLY I have very little
to report, it's been a relatively quiet day (we were supposed to meet Master Sun
at 9 AM but except for an aborted trip to the laundromat that turned out to be
an expensive dry cleaner, we ended up resting and reading and sleeping at the
hotel till 6:30, when he came to pick us up) and maybe I can catch up to
document some of the little things I've been skipping because of time and space
(I BADLY needed a day with nothing, to rest!).
But first, as before, something from your responses. By the
way, please let me know if there's anything in your responses that you don't
want me to share with everyone -- Gene and Beezy have been very gracious about
the fact that I published their stuff before I got their permission (and I hope
Laura doesn't mind either), but I would rather know in advance if it's not okay
to share. Laura, who has also had lots of travel experience (I just realized
that many people on my list of friends are extensive travelers -- Laura and her
husband moved from the U.S. to New Zealand a few years ago and she goes several
times a year to Taiwan to help train O&M specialists at a university there),
"In Taiwan, they call
me 'Teacher Bozeman' rather than Dr. as a teacher is valued much above a doctor
(medical or otherwise). When I teach in Taiwan (whether a formal lecture in a
classroom or the blindfold bit on the streets) they bow, applaud and say thank
you at each break, pause, and end of the lesson. I have become accustomed to it
now!!" That would take quite a bit of getting used to, wow! Mom, did they do
that for you when you taught English in Thailand 40 years ago? (Gee whiz, I just
realized that even MY OWN MOM has had extensive travel, having lived in Thailand
for a year!).
Okay, I said not
much happened today, if you consider that it's gotten mundane for me to report
We had another lesson from one of the foremost Tai Chi
masters in all of China in his home in FengFeng, China;
Stephan sat at Master Sun's new computer (his first, bought with money he made teaching Tai Chi at the beautiful Taoist temple
in the Wudang Mountain), sitting in a large swivel chair that Master Sun had
bought for this occasion (and brought home on his bicycle!) and translated the
preface of his book and had interesting discussions like "When the author of
the preface said that you were the 'most important and inherited
disciple' -- did he mean that you inherited the greatest extent of the practice?"
When Master Sun laughed at seeing Stephan's fingers
flying on the keyboard and showed how he himself does it slowly with two
fingers, I encouraged him to learn to type by telling him about you, Joel,
saying my friend is an extremely bright and very accomplished scientist /
physicist who still types with two fingers because that's how he learned it.
Master Sun said he learned Tai Chi quickly and well but is not very bright, and
I explained to him that the same sense he uses in Tai Chi -- his kinesthetic
sense -- is the sense he needs to learn to type, so he'll do very well. With my
wonderful interpreter, I gave what I thought was an interesting demonstration of
the use of the kinesthetic sense as I teach it to blind people and how it
applies to using the keyboard -- he seemed pleased and impressed to learn about
it. Stephan learned typing quickly with a program "Mario Teaches Typing" and I
told Master Sun that, in appreciation of what he's teaching us, I will get him a
Chinese program to learn typing.
We were invited to dinner at his home and on the way, he
explained that I would be cooking it! We went to the store and street vendors to
get the supplies, and I was thinking it was a fun first -- I've never been
invited to dinner and then told that I get to choose the ingredients and make
the dinner! Turned out that it was late when we arrived so his wife and niece
ended up making it, but I think I'm "on" for tomorrow night -- I told him we
(Stephan and I) are making the version of Chinese cooking that we in America
have been led to believe Chinese people eat (my home version of "stir-fried
vegetables" and some fried rice, neither of which I've seen here!)
Okay, that's it for today, so I am
now going to go back and document some of the things I wanted to remember in my
diary but didn't get a chance to report.
PAPER -- one of the luxuries of this hotel is that the bathroom actually
has toilet paper, AND IT'S IN THE BATHROOM! I've gotten so used to bringing my
own, even at the last hotel, that it's a real pleasure not to have to go in, get
all ready to squat, and then remember I need to go back out and get my toilet
VENDORS -- One of the many things that charmed me at
our last town, Yong Nian, was the vendors that pedaled down the street in their
three-wheeled bicycle / cart, announcing their product (such as eggs) with a
megaphone either held up to their mouth or attached to a continuous loop
recording of their voice announcement. I kept wanting Stephan to videotape one
of them but without much success and finally, as we sat in the car yesterday all
packed up while Master Sun ran to buy some buns and cakes, one came down the
street and I videotaped him coming and going!
RESTAURANTS -- In Yong Nian there were several
restaurants that consisted of a row of small rooms with a table and chairs
inside. Customers would be escorted through the courtyard or hallway to one of
the rooms, the server would turn on the air conditioner and bring a little
teapot with green tea and leave a thermos of hot water for us to replenish it,
take the order, and then bring the food. It was in quiet, private rooms like
that where we often sat for the long, delightful discussions that I've reported
POLLUTION -- I know I've told
you about it before, but it's really UN-freaking-BELIEVABLE and worth another
"BABA" (Chinese for "father")
-- as we pulled up to Master Sun's home in our hired car to pick up some luggage we had stored there
(we have GOT to jettison some of this, it's incredible!), Master Sun's father
came over from next door to meet us finally. I told him he can be proud of his
son and his accomplishments (I asked tonight if it's inappropriate for a father
to be proud of a son and vice versa, as I'd heard that being proud of a family
member is like being proud of yourself and is considered arrogant but they said
it was fine) and he agreed, he was proud of his son. I asked how he felt when
his son told him he'd been secretly learning Tai Chi, and he smiled and said he
was very happy that his son was following his dream.
EXPERIENCES AND NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION -- After almost a week with
Master Sun and about 4 days with his disciple, we had accumulated an impressive
collection of shared experiences that enriched our communication and made the
discussions a lot of fun. Examples are:
Within an hour of arriving in Yong Nian we visited a
Buddhist temple just a block from the hotel and saw the statue of the god I
told you about with the raised arms and wild-open eyes and mouth, which was
their representation of the concept of "Understanding" ("Oh, I get it!") see photos. Later
that evening when I grasped Master Sun's explanation of how Tai Chi principles
can help to have an impact on people, I raised my arms and gaped my mouth wide
open, and he laughed, realizing I was saying "OH! Yes, I understand!"
I told them about some of the signs in American Sign
Language, such as "teacher" (grasping knowledge from the speaker's head and
moving it toward the student, then making the sign for "person") and Japanese
(the new sign and the old sign, which is the little finger forming the letter
"J" at the side of the eye, indicating slanted eyes). To my delight, the
disciple then used the signs often, such as when we were on the ancient city
wall and talking about the Japanese plaque and the Japanese destruction, and
when introducing us to teachers. I cracked up when the disciple (we STILL didn't
get his name! We've got to get it before we leave) was illustrating about ying
and yang with an example of the Republicans and Democrats and we couldn't
understand what he was saying, so he put his hands up like long ears and brayed
like a donkey, and made a trunk like an elephant!
-- The prices here are unbelievable! I told you our "luxurious" hotel (that's
actually all relative -- the floors are stained heavily and the walls have big
rips and holes, but it's air conditioned and clean and has a private bath with
its own toilet paper and WITH RUNNING **HOT** WATER 24 HOURS A DAY!) was
$20/day, the HUGE bowl of vegetarian soup for two plus the tea last night cost a
total of 60 cents (there is no tipping here), and the taxi ride for 3 of us
(shared with a woman who was in the cab when we hailed it, she got out on the
way) for a mile was 65 cents, the all-afternoon ride driving us to various
places in Yong Nian and then a 2-hour ride here was $20.
PEOPLE SLEEPING IN THE PARK -- We saw many couples
and families with children and babies sleeping on bamboo mats in the large city
square here in FengFeng, and Stephan saw the same thing in the square in
Shanghai. We asked Master Sun about it, he said they often do that when it's too
hot to sleep indoors.
"WOMAN" - "POLICE" CAR -- Two
of the first Chinese characters I learned were those for "man" and "woman"
("man" looks to me like a guy with two running legs and a large
compartmentalized panel for a head, and "woman" looks like a horizontal line
from which two legs dangle and cross, though when Stephan explained the meaning,
neither character had anything to do with legs or heads!)
So when I saw on the sides of the
police cars the character for "woman" with another horizontal line over top of
it (with the two ends of the line turned down, like a sideways bracket "]" or
the lid to a box -- see photos), I asked Stephan about it. He said the sign for "safe" is a
woman in a house (i.e. under the lid)! Cool, huh?
Well, I have a lot more but the message is already too long
and Stephan's leaving to go back to the hotel -- we were told that this isn't as
safe as Yong Nian and I don't want to go back alone.
Later... Love, Dona
Diary from China -- Sunday afternoon, August 7, 2005 Feng-Feng, China
Cooking and laundry -- Chinese-style;
On my own to find a place without my interpreter!
Miscellaneous insights from friends/family
Hi guys! I was going to do my
diary last night, we got back to the hotel relatively early (i.e., before
midnight!) but I was E-X-H-A-U-S-T-E-D, felt just totally drained, and I'm glad
the wang ba (internet cafe) where we went didn't have a computer that worked for my email
program, as it probably would not have been an upbeat diary entry. I'm feeling
much better, even though we had a rather exhausting morning, probably because
last night I finally got a full night's sleep for the first time in 5 nights. I
got an interesting message from cousin Rich, pointing out that we need more rest
when traveling to combat the experience our immune system is having in this
environment, so I'll really try to address that.
Yesterday we went to Master Sun's home in the morning and he
and Stephan worked on the book while his wife Chow Jew and I did laundry [see photos]. What
an experience! They have a washing machine with two parts -- on the left is a
small cylinder that fills with water, you add the detergent, and it agitates the
clothes for whatever length of time that you set. You take out those clothes
without draining the water and add the next batch, let it agitate those clothes
and so on, putting the darkest clothes in last. Meanwhile, as you pull the
cleaned, soapy clothes out, you go into the bathroom (about 4 feet wide and 8
feet deep with an oblong ceramic hole set in concrete -- the floor of the entire
apartment is concrete, as is the floor of most homes we've visited --- plus a
shower head above and a spigot on the back wall) and put a stool with a basin
under the spigot and straddle the hole while you rinse the clothes thoroughly.
You then take the rinsed clothes back to the washing machine and put them into
the smaller cylinder on the right. That cylinder spins the clothes to wring out
the water. And then you take the washed, rinsed, and spun clothes out to the
back porch (8 feet deep and about 15 feet wide) which doubles as a guest bedroom
(where their son fell asleep last night when Stephan and Master Sun worked on
the book in the living room which doubles as his bedroom) and hang them on coat
hangers along the rope strung over the bed.
I got pictures of all this, natch [see photos], and then we had another adventure
making dumplings from scratch (well, all of this of course, including doing my
laundry, was really Chow Jew doing it, with me just helping a little). She does
everything with the simplest tools -- she stir fries the finely chopped tofu with
two chopsticks held just so (she taught me how to open and close them to get the
best effect), and stirs the larger things with 4 chopsticks held flat like a
tight fan. The rolling pin looks like mine when the handles fell off years ago --
a simple heavy wooden rod -- and she does magic with it, rolling out perfect
circles of dough. The result (vegetarian, natch!) was delicious -- dumplings
boiled for our lunch, and then fried later for dinner.
Stephan and I went back to the hotel
to rest, and then Master Sun came to pick us up to take us to the temple and a
porcelain factory. But first, we had about an hour of discussion when I
explained that I don't want to sightsee in FengFeng, I want to stay here only
long enough to allow Stephan to work on the book. Master Sun and I ended up expressing great
respect for each other and for reaching our dreams -- we shared that we each have
a passion or a dream we want to achieve, and I'm honored ("fate" again) to be
here when my son, of whom I'm so very proud, is working to help him achieve his
Thinking we had all
agreed we would do nothing but work on the book, we walked out of the hotel at 5:30 for what I thought
would be an evening of working on the translation of the book and "Oh!" says Master Sun, "Let's go
to the ceramic factory and the temple first." [Later -- Gene wrote "see what I mean? The 'truth' is what
you or they want to hear."]
Out of frustration, I begged off and went up to read in the
relatively smoke/pollution-free room. They called me when they got back, saying
they were heading down to Master Sun's, they'd already eaten, and did I want to
come? No, I said.
And of course as soon as they hung up I wanted to come! But I can't seem to go anywhere by myself, not even the wang ba because I need Stephan to tell them what I want. I wasn't quite sure where Master Sun's
apartment was, it was an apartment complex on a street intersecting the main one
about a mile from our hotel, so I set out to see if I could find it. I turned into
a few side streets but quickly realized they weren't the right ones, and
finally went into a street that I realized must be it, and found the skinny little alley
that goes behind their apartment building. It was only about 7:30 but getting
dusk, so I decided if I couldn't find it I'd walk back and read for the rest of
the evening and finish the bag of snacks the Zhang family had given us for our
I stood in front of
the building, there were about 4 entrances and each one looked like the right
one. I probably looked uncertain because a few people were hanging out on the
porch directly over the second one and I said, "Chow Jew??" They laughed and
pointed down to the entrance below them. When I got up to their level, they held
up 4 fingers and I grinned and thanked them.
But I lost count (was it 4 from the street level, or from
where they were?) and fortunately earlier that morning I had taken note that
they had a red bow hanging from the doorknob (everyone had a knob shaped like a
ring from a lion's nose). Bingo! At about the 4th level there was a red bow from
the doorknob! I knocked, and the woman inside said "Way?" ("Hello?") I said
"WAY!" She said something and I said "Dona!" She opened the door and OOPS! It
wasn't Chow Jew! "Dway bu chee!" I said -- "Sorry!" I went up one more floor and
yay! Another red bow on the door knob! There was only one more floor, and I
remembered they weren't on the top floor, but I went up to be sure and whew! No
red bow! So I went back down and knocked and sweet Chow Jew opened the door --
Gads, I've been working
on this an hour again, it seems like 10 minutes! We just got the warning that
our hour has gone, we paid for another half hour so I'll spend the rest of the
time catching up, except to tell you that this morning we went to a pretty place
near the hill temple and donned silk Tai Chi outfits and had our pictures taken
doing Tai Chi to put into Master Sun's second book [see photos]. We haven't had
a Tai Chi lesson for the last 3 days and I think won't have any more since we're
leaving tomorrow, so I'll have to take it up when I get home.
Stephan and I planned to go to Xi'An
tomorrow (a 12-hour trip) but there were no tickets on the trains except a "hard
seat" that arrives at 4:00 AM (Stephan was up for it but this "mama" is going to
take better care of herself than that!), so we ended up getting a ticket to
Beijing (I hadn't planned to see it but looks like I might be able to see the
Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace!) and then after a day there, get a sleeper
to Xi'An, spend a day or two and see the terra cotta soldiers, and then (sorry
Fred, I had planned to come home early but there is a historic city Luolang on
the way from Xi-An to Shanghai, where I fly home from, which Stephan wanted to
see and you know I can't resist historical places!) we'll hit Loulang and then
fly from Shanghai and if my 30-day visa hasn't run out by then, I plan to stop
for a day in Guangzhou (formerly Canton). Then HOME!
Okay, I have no idea how much time I have left, so I'll
share some messages from you guys, then add whatever I can until they close us
Messages from friends/family:
Laura said, "Isn't it great to have the body-language/sign
language??? I was staying at the university in Taiwan and, at night, had no one
around who spoke English (Sophie and the interpreters had gone home). Well, I
needed towels to dry off with and went down to the desk and mimicked drying my
arms--well, they looked at me and suddenly realized what I was trying to
communicate and went in the back room and brought me 2 bath towels--well, I felt
great about that and asked for more bottled water the next day by miming the
drinking movement--cool, more water! Well, all was great until I needed more
toilet paper!! Ha, I just asked someone the next day (Sophie, I think) to write
that one down for me. There is a limit, you know. Yep, I learned on my first
trip to always have Kleenex with me or you might be stranded -- if you know what
I mean!!" Indeed, I agree -- I'll leave a lot of essential things at the hotel
before I'll leave without any kleenex!
Rich said, "Neither China nor India have to clean up their
air pollution under the Kyoto treaty, which is a major problem, as they are
projected to become the largest generator of greenhouse gases in the world."
Stephan interpreted that to Master Sun since they were here working on the book
earlier, and he told us they just started cleaning it up-- the large factories
in Shanghai and Beijing are now required to clean up their act, and later the
small ones will also. So there is hope!
Well, I think I'll close here, it's long enough. Tomorrow
we'll be traveling all day, don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for
about 3 days, we stay in Beijing probably only one day and I will be trying to
cram in lots of sightseeing into a few hours, I'll have time in Xi'An where we
arrive Wednesday (Tuesday, your time).
China -- Monday night, August 8, 2005 Beijing, China
Making new friends on train;
Arrival in Beijing;
Well, here we are in Beijing and I'm just getting my second
wind for this trip! After we got into our hotel we found a place to sit down and
get a bite to eat and I kept thanking Stephan for this experience. I had such a
sense of well-being -- the food was WONDERFUL (first fried rice I've had here in
China, I was beginning to think it was an American invention, and it was
fabulous!), we just settled into a REAL luxury hotel, and we met such a
wonderful man on the train, and I was reflecting on what a wonderful trip I've
been having ... well, I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll go back to where I left
But first let me
tell you we decided to stay here two days and see the Great Wall tomorrow WHEN A
TYPHOON is supposed to hit Beijing! â€¦ can you think of anything more dramatic
than seeing the Great Wall in a typhoon? And I want to get tickets to the
Chinese opera tomorrow night, Beijing is famous for it, and then see the
Forbidden City Wednesday and catch a sleeper train to Xi'An Wednesday night if
we can get the tickets when the hotel's "business center" opens up tomorrow.
Okay, back to where I left off
yesterday. I went back to the hotel and packed, then read and rested while
Stephan went to Master Sun's place, to work on the book. He got another Tai Chi
lesson which he said was great -- he learned about balance and I don't know what
else, I'm hoping he'll teach me what he learned. Some time during the night, the
hotel turned off the air conditioning and this morning there was no hot water,
don't know if it was a fluke or if they always turn off the hot water the
morning that their guests leave -- but it's better than the hotel that has hot
water only 12 hours a day!
Anyway, this morning we packed A MILLION BAGS and took a cab
to the train station in Handan (about an hour away) with Master Sun, and had
enough time before the train left to do a little shopping to get him the program
to teach typing (he had his eye on a nifty system where you write the Chinese
character on a pad and it comes out in the computer screen professionally typed,
but we were low on money and couldn't get it for him -- by the way, until we got
here in Beijing, NO ONE IN CHINA ACCEPTED OUR CREDIT CARD! I have always been
able to travel with little or no money because I charge everything, and I almost
didn't bring any money to China but I happened to cash a check just before I
left, otherwise we'd be stranded somewhere in Yang Nian trying to earn enough
money to get home!).
We got on
the train with 2 heavy suitcases and a rolling carry-on, 3 bags, a backpack and
a sack of snacks. It's embarrassing how much CRAP we have! Part of it is that
Stephan is accumulating books and who-knows-what as he travels, he has no home
to store it. It wouldn't be so bad if every train station didn't require that we
go up or down (sometimes both!) at least one flight of stairs (no elevators or
even escalators), although that is fairly typical of everywhere I've been
(Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, Israel, Australia, etc.).
Anyway, we ended up sitting across
from two very nice men [see photo], one of whom (Song Ping Chen) spoke fairly
good English and wanted to practice. Turns out they work for a company that
makes beautiful china, Mr. Chen is an accountant, and the other man is his boss,
the Finance Manager. Their factory is in Feng Feng and they had seen us at the
hotel there, where they had also stayed. Mr. Chen's wife and their 6-year-old
daughter live in their home town in Hubei, while he works at the company's
headquarters in Beijing, I think he said it's 20 hours away by train. His wife
works part time as a teacher for middle school and as a tour guide (she speaks
fluent English) -- they come to stay with him during the summer and he visits
them several times a year on holidays, each of which last for a week in China.
He enjoys reading English, and recently read Gone With
the Wind! [click here for an update from Chen Song Ping, and an explanation for why he and so many Chinese families must live apart in China.]
Anyway, as the
train arrived, since we had made no plans for a hotel, he offered to have his
company car take us to a hotel that his company uses. I felt so badly as Mr.
Chen hauled the HEAVY suitcase up 4 flights of stairs. Stephan was advised by a
security person not to go with them, as some foreigners have been robbed or
worse under similar circumstances, but we went with our instincts and decided to
trust them. Besides, by the time we made the decision, the luggage was all
packed in their van!
Thank goodness we did -- they gave us two beautiful bowls which I'll treasure as a
momento of our encounter, and drove us first to drop off Mr. Chen's boss in a
very nice apartment complex next to their office headquarters where he and Mr.
Chen both live, then we were driven to the hotel. The hotel is used by their
company a lot, and they got us their company discount, about a third off the price.
The hotel is LUXURIOUS! We're in a
suite with a sitting room, two TV's (maybe we can see CNN finally! BTW if there
is any important news out there, please let me know, I have been out of touch
this entire time), a shower curtain, soft toilet paper and ... I can't believe
it, A HAIR DRYER! Finally I'm going to look presentable, but the typhoon will
probably make short work of that! The carpets and walls are clean, it's really
fancy. [LATER: There was no CNN, nor even any English-speaking channels in any hotels where we stayed!]
And a big factor is THEY
TAKE CREDIT CARDS! This luxury still only costs $50/night, Stephan is freaking
about spending so much (he would have gladly stayed at Master Sun's place in
Yang Nian, and he begrudged the $10/night we spent so I can be comfortable -- we
had thought it was only $5/night but after we told Master Sun how expensive
hotels in other countries are, he remembered that it was $5 PER PERSON a night,
not $5 per room, and so we had to fork over another $30) but for the next week
or so Stephan will have to travel "Mama" style.
So "Mama" is happy, and ready for the next phase of our
travels, and so very, very grateful to Stephan for what is turning out to be a
trip of a lifetime. It may be that our experiences at quirky hotels and rooms
may be over, but truthfully I wouldn't have missed it for the world as it
brought us into contact with some wonderful people (and I don't think that Yang
Nian, my favorite place so far, had anything better than the funky place where
Oh -- something I
forgot. I had told you that on my way from the airport in Shanghai my very first
day in China, I saw a blind man walking alone along the street, and later we saw
some Deaf people while embarking on the train from Shanghai. Well, yesterday
afternoon I saw someone in a wheelchair in Feng Feng. He was going on the left
(wrong) side of the road, in the street close to the curb. I didn't realize it
was a wheelchair at first -- it looked like a kind of bicycle / scooter (can't
remember if it was 3 wheels or 4) but instead of pedaling with his legs, he
moved a lever around horizontally with his arm, while his legs rested on a board
in front of him. I ran back to ask if I could take his picture, he said no, of
course, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of his back [see photo].
All three times, these people were
out traveling independently. It's very gratifying to see that in China, people
with disabilities are apparently accepted, and it isn't considered unusual for
them to be independent, at least in traveling. Gene and Laura, do you know
something about it?
late again and I'm eager to go enjoy our luxury suite and see if they have CNN
on TV, and prepare for an exciting day tomorrow. Stephan and I speculated about
what to wear for a typhoon and Stephan suggested I wear Jomania's beautiful
black and red silk floor-length dress with the side slit up my leg. Whaddaya
think, wouldn't that make a great outfit?
Catch ya later .. love, Dona
Diary from China -- Tuesday, August 9, 2005 Beijing, China
Our first "adventures" on our own, seeing Beijing [see
Hi guys! Before I
launch on today's adventures, I'll share this from Laura -- she said, "This is
sooo interesting!! I have to brag on [my husband] Ken as when he lived in Taipei
for 2 years, he could do all of his cooking and eating with chopsticks!! He
would cook us fried eggs and flip them with the sticks if you can imagine--such
a talented guy." Wow, then I guess it can be done without a lifetime of practice
-- Ken is talented indeed!
thought this would be another day with nothing interesting to report because we
aren't going to the Great Wall till tomorrow and the typhoon didn't hit (but wow
-- such delightful weather! a slight drizzle and refreshingly cool) but once
again, lots has happened!
I won't bore you with details of our trip to Tianeman Square and through the
Forbidden City, or the cool acrobatic show we went to (instead of another
Chinese Opera) [see photos], except to tell you we enjoyed them all very much
(my first "touristy" things since my first day in China when we visited an
historic garden in Shanghai). Instead, I'll tell you some of the cool things we
saw when we just started walking around after the acrobatic show (about 6:30, it
was still light). This was our first "adventure" as I had envisioned it, where
we set out alone into the Chinese streets and alleys -- we've been accompanied by
Stephan's friends almost the entire time I've been here.
I can hardly remember all that we
saw, so I'll just list what I can:
In a lively alley where there were some vendors, Stephan
finally found the buns he's been looking for -- sweet, filled with things like
green vegetables of some kind, and we had a nice before-dinner snack. I was
impressed with how clean the woman served it, in spite of being in a dirty alley
-- she didn't touch the fresh baked goods, but got them with tongs or picked them
up with the bag she served them in [see photos].
We found about a dozen women on the sidewalk kicking around
something that looked like a giant shuttlecock -- it was about a foot tall, with
feathers coming out of the base, and they'd drop-kick it to one of the other
women [see photos]. They let Stephan and me join in, I couldn't get it higher
than my knee but Stephan got it flying pretty well. When we passed them again
after our adventure at the shopping mall, they were dancing in unison to some
peppy music, I guess for exercise.
We headed toward an entrance to an indoor shopping mall but
there was a huge crowd at the door -- turns out a few police were trying to
subdue some guys who were fighting or something. There was a lot of yelling, and
as they'd scuffle toward us, the crowd would scatter and then run back to see
more (I'm embarrassed to say we were in the crowd scattering and coming back to
look too!) They finally worked their way into the parking lot and dispersed, and
into the mall we went.
couldn't get past the first few vendors without checking Stephan's heavy
backpack and my bottle of water, so I waited with those while he dashed around
to see what was there. I was getting tired, and leaned against a counter and got
my fan out. Across the aisle, a couple who was selling ice cream and hot dogs
motioned for me to come and get a stool that they handed over the counter! This
is just another example of how wonderful these people are. I wonder if Americans
would be as helpful and considerate as most of the Chinese people I've met.
After Stephan came back, I had him interpret while I thanked them and said how
much it meant to me, since I was tired and not feeling well [see photos]. She
said that this is common courtesy -- she helped me and said I would do the same
for her or others, it will come around. Stephan thinks they are Buddhists, as
this is a theme his Buddhist friends had shared (Gene, is that true?)
Mom, you might want to skip this
paragraph. At the end of a small market in the alley, Stephan found an egg
vendor with his chickens in cages, and videotaped them for PETA, as he had told
them he would. They were in 3-4 long cages where they had room to move around
some -- better than they are kept in America, but not free roaming.
We passed a place where the sidewalk
widened out and had what looked like children's play equipment -- metal bars in
various shapes. But then I realized it was exercise equipment! One was a kind of
a whimsical bicycle where a woman was pedaling, one was a kind of a stepmaster
for two -- there was a man stepping very slowly on it and a woman churning away
[see photos], and when they were done the man got back into the wheelchair that
sat next to the contraption and the woman pushed him. One had 4 metal seats
suspended from about 10 feet off the ground and facing each other, each leaning
against a bar about waist high. I couldn't figure out what it was for, and
finally realized you sit in the seat facing the bar, put your feet up on the bar
and push yourself away and let it fall back -- it felt great!
I got lots of pictures of the
detectable warnings and guidance strips that were everywhere for blind people.
Some of the strips were very helpful, showing them where to go to the bus stop,
but others were confusing, guiding them past the stairs they need to go up to
reach the bridge to cross the street, instead taking them to the corner where
the street is blocked off with a high fence.
After our adventure we had a nice dinner, then decided to
take a bus and subway back to the hotel (well, back to this wang ba / internet cafe, and then
the hotel!). The bus was awesome -- it had two halves, connected with a round
base in the floor that pivoted when the bus turned a corner. There were 4 seats
on the round base and we happened to sit on them, and it was like a Disney ride!
The front of the bus would turn but we kept going straight and then we were
turned to face the front again, and as the two halves of the bus bounced and
swayed separately, the seats would do their own thing, dipping forward and back
We got wrong
information from the subway ticket man, and got off about 3/4 mile from here --
I'm hoping all this walking will offset the high fats and oils they use to cook
Well, we were
determined to get back early tonight and pack, we are flying to Xi'An tomorrow
night (there were no train tickets except to sit up all night on a 13-hour
trip), and we want to see the Great Wall first so we'll have to get our sorry
butts out of bed earlier, and it's after midnight already, so good night!
Diary from China -- Wednesday, August 10, 2005 -- I'm COMING
HOME! Beijing, China to Xi'An
think I'm finally coming home! Tonight I started the process of getting my
ticket to return in a few days (but the trip will take several days -- I want to
stop in Guangzhou for a day and two nights, and the Los Angeles gang want me to
stop there and show videos). So I guess it'll be about a week, and then I'll be
But Gene and Laura,
thank you so much for the encouragement, I'm SO pleased that you've been
enjoying the diaries! I expect to have some more fun entries in the next few
days, though we've started to travel "Mama-style" -- nice hotels, no more hauling
a gazillion bags and suitcases up and down these daggone train station stairs --
this mama is FLYING from now on!
Before I tell you about our neck-breaking trip to the Great
Wall and our flight here to Xi'An, I want to share a message my friend Betsy
sent -- she said she "was reading your message for Tuesday... and your
description of the 'double' bus... we have those in DC.. the 70 and X2 buses and
I'm sure there are more... you must see them. I've tried sitting in the middle
where the buses connect... it's fun when they turn a corner... you feel the
middle going round and round... and then part go in the other part out... feels
like a in / out feeling..." Ah, thanks Betsy -- I'll have to try it, I'm glad to
know we have those, I can have more China experiences right at home! Well, I think we left off when I had
walked about a mile from the subway after a lot of sightseeing and an evening
adventure walking through the neighborhoods of Beijing. This morning I woke up
and OH MY! I was SORE! Stephan of course felt great, but I felt like I needed a
long, deep massage! I even thought about skipping the Great Wall and stay
indoors all day reading a book since I couldn't figure out how we'd get to the
Great Wall and get all our tons of luggage to the airport and catch our 6:10
flight to Xi'An.
explain here that Stephan and I share an unusual travel philosophy, which is one
reason we make such great travel companions -- I don't know anyone else who feels
this way. It's a conscious decision -- we'd rather sleep in and miss some things
than get up at the crack of dawn to get to places in time. Wierd, huh? In
Denmark it meant we missed some castles and I don't remember what else, but we
enjoyed ourselves. I almost wasn't going to tell you that we didn't get our lazy
butts out of the hotel until 2:30 yesterday afternoon (well, we did spend a lot
of time getting the plane tickets arranged), but we still managed to see
Tianeman Square and the Forbidden City and the acrobats and a great evening
But could we pull
this off to see the Great Wall and catch our flight if we didn't get out of the
hotel at 8:00 in the morning? I should explain here that the Great Wall that you
see in the pictures has been reconstructed for the tourists, we wanted to see
the authentic Great Wall. We were told that both Walls are about 90 minutes
north of Beijing. If we leave our luggage at the hotel, go out to the Wall and
come back, pick up our luggage and sit through the rush hour traffic to the
airport (northeast suburbs of Beijing), we'd need to be packed and leave at
9:00. That's not the Mama-Stephan style!
I had the brainstorm to get a cab driver to load up all our
luggage and drive to the wall, then take us straight to the airport but the
hotel people warned that if we left the driver alone he might drive off with all
our luggage! Finally I figured we could go to the airport and store our luggage,
then get a cab driver to take us out to the Wall and back. So that's what we
Everything went great. At
the airport we found out we had to be back by 5:30 because at 5:40 they wouldn't
accept any luggage for the flight (and we couldn't check the baggage at 1:00
when we finally arrived there). So we had 4 hours -- plenty of time. Unless the driver doesn't know where
he's going! This section of Wall was WAY out of the way, around some BEAUTIFUL
mountains/hills (reminded me a lot of Harper's Ferry, for Uncle Dick and Betsy
and others who've been there to see the steep hills dropping into the Shenandoah
River). The driver (as all drivers in China do) drove around these hairpin
curves at breakneck speed, and then he'd halt by some peasant to ask where the
heck this place was. Beezy, I thought of you then -- in your travels through
Tibet you said you can't be disappointed if you never make it to your
destination, the enjoyment is in the traveling. And truly, it was an enjoyable
experience. So I took some inspiration from you and reconciled myself to the
fact that we probably wouldn't be able to see the Wall, but we drove through
some beautiful parts of China, neat little farms, beautiful little creeks with
grass all around and short, quaint stone retaining walls -- lovely!
Well, FINALLY, after an hour and 40
minutes and many stops to ask the local people, we arrived! We could see the
wall curving along the tops of the steep, steep hills -- COOL! [See photos] We
walked through a little village to get to the gate, paid our fee and went up a
lot of stairs to reach ... a locked gate! On the other side we saw about a dozen
tourists coming down from the hill and piling into an air-conditioned bus --
Fred, it reminded me of our family trip through Germany where we were so proud
that we did it on our own instead of joining a gawking bunch of tourists -- but
we'd arrive at a site, like the salt mines, we'd have to "Sprechen" German and
cope and find where to get the tickets and wait interminably in line, and we'd
see a busload of tourists get out, go into the mines, and come back out half an
hour later and pile back into the bus and move on while we're still waiting for
our tickets! I took a picture of Stephan at the gate with the bus pulling out on
the other side.
though we couldn't get close, it really was worth the trip to see the REAL Great
Wall. This section was built by a guy who took such meticulous care that each
inch of Wall took one person's day's labor. Because it went so slowly, he was
beheaded (yikes -- talk about quality control!) but later was "rehabilitated" by
decree because his section of the wall was so well built.
It indeed looked pretty good, most
of it was overgrown with trees and bushes but you could see the rectangular
stones along the sides, and in the section that turned and headed down the hill
toward us, the middle was visible. We were at the sides of a river where the
hill went up at about a 60-degree angle. The Wall followed the ridges up to the
steep craggy part that dropped down to the river, and ended there, then picked
up again on the hill on the other side of the river.
Okay, I figured we had a half hour to look around and then
head back, hopefully our driver wouldn't waste so much time getting lost. But we
cut it too close -- he DID get lost on the way back, and then we ran into
incredible traffic, and it took FOREVER! Again, I reconciled myself to the fact
that we'd miss our flight, maybe lose $200 and have to get tickets for the next
flight and arrive at midnight with no hotel reservations.
We pulled into the airport, tore
over to the storage area and retrieved our baggage, ran over to the counter and
reached it with literally TWO MINUTES TO SPARE! The lady at the counter said
they were closing the luggage checking for that flight in two minutes, and whew!
We made it!
Oh, I have to
interrupt myself to tell you about the wang ba (internet cafe) here. We almost didn't find it,
we had to go into what looks like a deserted parking lot and climb to the second
floor, but what a relief -- the air isn't suffocating with smoke (every other
night at the wang ba's, one and usually both people sitting at the computer on
each side of me were chain smoking, I brought the fan to blow it back to them) --
in fact no one in sight in both directions is smoking.
But the reason I'm interrupting is
to tell you about the 4 darling teenage girls behind us -- they've been playing
games since we arrived about 2 hours ago, and just now they screamed with
excitement, I guess they just lost or won or something. I think they are
networking so they each are playing the same simulation game, each from their
own computer, and chatting together with animation -- fun!
Anyway, back to our day -- we got on
the plane (NO hauling luggage on any stairs!) and 90 minutes later we're
stepping out in Xi'An! Stephan talked with the cab driver the whole way into the
city, and found out what hotels are good, which were in bad areas, and the
driver took us to the hotel where we are.
Our arrival in Beijing was the beginning of a different way
to travel, as I mentioned. Stephan isn't used to it, and I think he's not
altogether comfortable staying in nice hotels, traveling by air, but this Mama
needs to recover and spend the rest of her trip in relative comfort and ease. In
fact, I'm planning to stay at a nice hotel when I arrive in Guangzhou (where
I'll be without Stephan for the first time, no interpreter!) and arrange an
English tour with all the other gawking foreigners.
If things go as I hope, we'll be here 3 days and 4 nights
(SHRIEEEEEEK goes one of the girls behind me, then laughing!), with only one
"must" -- we'll visit the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of terra cotta soldiers
that are the only sightseeing touristy thing I really wanted to see in China.
Somehow, ever since I heard of them, I've wanted to stand in their presence, I
can't help feeling that it will be an eerie, awesome experience. The rest of
this trip, I want to join Stephan on his "adventures" setting out into the communities and see what we find, and take it easy till it's time to go. HOME!
Diary from China -- Thursday, August 11, 2005 Xi'An, China
Hi guys! I thought FINALLY I'd have a quiet day so I can
report the incidentals I haven't had time for, but it's been another busy day.
One little thing first -- Stephan is tempting me with going to see the historic
cave drawings in Luoyang, I haven't confirmed any tickets out of here yet, so
I'm not sure exactly when and from where I'm starting for home, it might be
extended (gads, even thinking about it makes me bone-tired -- I'm exhausted and
sweaty and I just beat off a headache from the dehydration so this probably
isn't a good time for me to consider extending the trip, especially for
Okay, time to
explain how I got so exhausted when I had planned for this to be a relaxing day,
but first I'll tell you about the little adventure we had after leaving the wang
ba (internet cafe) last night at 2:30 in the morning. I was getting hungry (the only food I had
all day was some delicious / greasy egg-fried rice we got at the little village
at the base of the hill at the Great Wall and which we ate while walking around,
and some fruit and a roll that was served on the airplane -- I would have had a
full dinner but I didn't realize they'd feed us and hadn't ordered the
vegetarian dinners), and when we came outside, I couldn't believe it -- right in
front of the wang ba there was a little family (Mama and Baba/papa and their kid who
looked about 6 years old) with their burner all set up and a great-looking array
of skewered food to put into a flat bread.
Just what I wanted! They took the bread and threw it into
the boiling oil (yes, more oil, but it tasted great! Time enough to be healthy
when I get home, I think I've gained at least 10 pounds while here, even with
all the walking we're doing, I feel so bloated and large) and then threw our
choices of skewers into the oil (we picked delicious hard flat tofu disks and
cauliflower), then -- again with great care for hygiene -- put a plastic bag on
their hand and took the bread and split it in half, put the fried food inside
and added sauces to our liking (HOT for Stephan, just good for me), and it was
started walking the half mile back to the hotel and there at the first corner,
in the dead of night with almost no one around, was a little old man with his
bicycle / rickshaw, inviting us to ride. Of course Stephan was ready and eager
to walk but poor old Mama said YES! Stephan bargained down the price (it came
down to about 60 cents and we found out today it should have been about 40
cents) and in we hopped. But then we almost couldn't find our hotel! I'm proud
to say that for ONCE my orientation was good, Stephan and I each thought the
hotel was in a different direction but I was more confident than he, so we told
the poor guy to turn around and then we looked for landmarks, fortunately saw
enough that we finally made it back to the hotel! We paid the guy about 90 cents
for having to go so many ways as we tried to figure out where we were.
Okay, that brings us to this
morning, when we slept in again, changed hotel rooms from the skimpy little one
with interesting insects to a very nice one on the top floor, and prepared to
have a leisurely trip to the university of fine arts to see if we could buy some
cool .... I don't know what you call them, they aren't tapestries -- Fred, they
are like the hanging we had by our stairway that was destroyed in the fire, I
thought I could get a new one that has some of the rich colors we have in our
living room now.
So the bellman
got us lined up with a driver who we'd already arranged to take us to see the
terra cotta warriors tomorrow and, long story short, the university is near the
warriors, and we decided to do it all this afternoon. But first, we'd heard
about a rice noodle dish that is unique to Xi'An and the driver took us to a
place that specializes in that dish, and treated us to a nice brunch. He has two
children, the youngest is about 6. When we asked how he could do that with the
one-child rule, he said that his second child was born when he wasn't working,
and explained that there are no repercussions if you have more than one child if
you're not working (?). [Note later: Apparently the repurcussions involve fines, payment for the education of the "illegal" child, pressures to abort pregnancies and even forced sterilization -- see article and Wikipedia.] We were
disappointed that the university art gallery was closed, but we went on to the
Terra Cotta Warriors. Now, remember this is THE main thing I wanted to see in
China, even more than the Great Wall or anything else. There is something about
them that intrigues me, draws me. And I wasn't disappointed.
We saw a little panoramic movie
(projected 360 degrees around us) illustrating the battles of warriors and their
leader, who became the first emperor in all of China more than 2,000 years ago!
After he had conquered all of China, he began a reign that lasted more than 50
years (imagine how long these guys live! He must have been at least 80 when he
died, or he somehow became military leader in his early 20's). He immediately
ordered the building of his tomb. It took them 4 decades to complete, and
included THOUSANDS of these terra cotta soldiers, some chariots drawn by horses,
archers, all lined up in battle formation in large dugouts with wooden roofs
covered with fabric and sod.
Later, when the descendants of this emperor were defeated,
the rebels broke into the tomb and burned the wagons and anything else made of
wood, and knocked down a lot of the soldiers to destroy them, and covered them
all with dirt.
I said to Stephan
that it's incredible that something as momentous as this project could ever be
forgotten, but that's what happened. Do people initially tell their children
about the huge army of statues that are standing below the ground, and after a
while it becomes a myth, and then the stories stop? Anyway, by 1974 no one knew
anything about these guys, and several farmers were digging a well and OH! They
found a head from one of the soldiers!
Well, now three separate "pits" are being excavated, the
largest being about the size of a football field, and the smallest, which they
think was the command center, had less than 100 warriors. The mid-sized one was
about half a football field, much of it is dug down to the tops of the soldiers
and I wondered why those soldiers hadn't been uncovered too.
Then we saw the archeological team
at work -- less than a dozen people in one of the rows, a lot of them discussing
things, only one or two actually working on uncovering the warriors. At that
rate, they'll have a job for the next 50 years! One of the plaques in the nearby
museum explained that they only allow workers who have proven themselves to be
outstanding experts in this field AND who are of good moral character. I wonder
if that's why so few were working there on this weekday, though I would think
that after all these years, the number of experts of good moral character (most
of the people I've met here in China seem to be of great moral character!) would
be quite large, and at $11 / person for entrance fee (that buys about $100 worth
of goods here in China!) and MANY hundreds of people pouring into there every
day all year long, there must be enough money to hire more people.
Anyway, I digress. It was indeed a
thrill to see these terra cotta guys [photos]. Each one has a different face,
they all seemed to be kind of smiling benevolently, I found their expressions to
be somehow ... I don't know, it really attracted me, made me feel ... good, I
don't know how to explain it. I was able to stand about 20 feet from one section
of them, and I was indeed thrilled, and enjoyed looking at each of their faces.
Eerie, and cool!
Oh, it's 9:20
already, I had wanted to tell you about the group of Deaf children we met, and
the Canadian Chinese, and the pictures of people with disabilities enjoying the
exhibit (one blind guy was shown touching and exploring the face of one of the
warriors, and there was a group of smiling visitors enjoying themselves who
seemed to be cognitively disabled), and a little story about our driver. But
I'll save all that for tomorrow, we're going to try to go find an upscale
restaurant and have some nice (healthy??) dinner and then get back to the hotel
early and rest.
Diary from China -- Friday, August 12, 2005 Xi'An, China
Well FINALLY, a quiet day with
not much to report! I can tell you about some of the things that I didn't have
time for earlier. First, the folks I met at the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, as
When we went into
the movie theater for our introduction to the Terra Cotta Warriors, the room had
a 360-degree screen and people would stand in the middle or lean against one of
the hitching-posts scattered throughout the room. I went for one of the last
remaining hitching-posts, arriving there just as a couple of Chinese girls ran
to grab it, and we each established our piece of property and leaned against the
bar beside each other, waiting for the movie to start.
Some of their friends came up and
looked disappointed when they realized the bar was taken, and the Chinese girl
beside me said to one of the Chinese guys, in an American accent, "HA! I guess
you want my 'seat,' huh? You're too late, too bad for you!" He laughed and
answered in English! AMERICAN English! I digested this odd situation for a few
minutes, and listened to this group of Chinese people all chatting with each
other in English, and finally leaned forward and asked the girl beside me,
"Where are you folks from?"
"Canada!" she said, with a grin. They were from Toronto,
they're here as part of a school trip to learn about Chinese culture and the
country. Her parents had both been born in China, she doesn't know where, but
they have no family members still in China except some who went to Hong Kong. I
hope she gets to come back and see the village or city or whatever her family
came from. She's at the age I was when I thought my great-great grandfather
Thomas Lucas's Civil War letters were boring -- maybe when she's my age she'll
come back for an experience like I'm getting, and learn about her wonderful
I told her that I've
found the Chinese people to be extremely considerate and thoughtful, loving
people, and suggested that it may just be because I am older (I think it was
Rich who suggested that the reason people have been so kind to me may partly be
because I am in the older generation). She thought about it and said no, they
have also treated her with kindness, for example when she wanted to buy
something and didn't have the money, they just gave it to her. So it may just be
that the people here are kind and thoughtful to their visitors from abroad. Anyway, a little later I noticed
there was a group of excited Chinese teenagers gesturing to each other and
pointing to the exhibits but not speaking. I watched for a while and sure
enough, I saw them signing to each other! I went over and signed "deaf?" and
they looked startled, then nodded yes, and asked me, "deaf?" I shook my head no,
and tried to think of how I could say that I have Deaf friends and know sign
They made a sign that
I remember meant "sign language" in Israel, so I nodded yes (Gene, it's like the
sign for "speaking/signing" as in "this is Dona speaking"). Then I pointed to
myself and made like the "Statue of Liberty" that Gene had suggested, but they
drew a blank. I pointed to them and made the sign for "Chinese" and then pointed
to me again and modeled the Statue of Liberty. Still nothing. Finally one of
them did a version of my sign for "Chinese" -- I don't remember it exactly, but
instead of just drawing a horizontal line across the front of the chest and then
down (like the edges of the mandarin shirt front), they held their hand in a
horizontal "O" and flicked a finger of their other hand across it then went to
draw a line similar to mine on their chest [Gene later
explained that the "O" was the sign for "button" and then they pointed to where
the buttons are on the mandarin shirt]. I said, "OH!" and tried to copy it,
not successfully I think, and pointed to myself again and made our sign for
"American" (fingers of both hands locked together looking like logs in the corner of a log cabin). They seemed to get it.
Well, along comes the teacher amidst our animated attempts
at communication, and I grinned and signed to her "American!" while pointing to
myself. She almost rolled her eyes with impatience, gave the American sign for
"I know, I know!", and urged her charges to move along. So they all got herded
along, waving goodbye, I gave the American "I-Love-You!" sign and they grinned and signed
Stephan and I went to one of the 3 pits of soldiers and leaned on the railing to
look down, and a young Chinese girl standing nearby motioned that she'd like to
take a picture with me. Now, be aware that 1) this was about the 5th time
Chinese strangers have asked to take their picture with me and 2) I have a big
problem remembering faces, even American ones, so I didn't realize she was one
of the Deaf children until I saw the rest the gang signing to each other with
excitement about taking our picture. So I grinned and nodded "YES!" and they got
a few of their classmates to stand with me while another snapped the picture. I
held my hands up in "I-Love-You!" shape (as Deaf people often do for photos in
America) and some of them saw it and did the same.
Meanwhile I yelled for Stephan to come over and take our
picture. When they realized what was going on, they all got excited and gathered
together to pose against the railing, with me kneeling in front -- I'm eager to
see the photo and see how many did the "I-Love-You!" sign [see photo].
When finished, Stephan signed "Thank
you" to them, and I signed "Thank you" to Stephan for taking our picture One of
them lit up and signed to the others something about the sign for "Thank you." I
got the impression that the kid recognized the sign and was pleased to see us
foreigners a sign that they recognized as American -- perhaps they had had a
class learning about Deaf Americans and their signs.
Then another teacher came swooping over to them, using signs
that I didn't need to understand to know she was telling them, "For crying out
loud, stop getting distracted and MOVE ALONG, we're LATE!"
LATER -- Okay, I wrote that early
this afternoon, after a little excursion into the side streets of Xi'An, where
we became completely lost and had to get a 3-wheel moped to help us find our way
back (GADS! I'll never get used to the WILD traffic here -- I'll send a message
describing it some time soon, suffice it to say several times we were riding
along the yellow middle line between the lanes of FULL TRAFFIC coming and going
on each side! They seem to have a "Right-Turn-On-Red" law AND a
"Left-Turn-On-Red" law AND a "What-The-Heck-Do-Anything-You-Want-On-Red" law for
the drivers and bicyclists and everyone!).
But first we had a little adventure when we walked past a
knot of very excited teenagers (both girls AND boys) with posters of their
favorite idol, trying to get people to vote for her (do you suppose it's like
"American Idol" in the U.S.?). When I asked (using my intrepid interpreter!) why
she's the best, they enthused about what a great singer she is. I asked if she
is good in her heart, too, and they said YES INDEED, she's good in her heart! So
I said I'd vote for her, and they cheered and grinned and we gave "thumbs-up" sign.
So it is now 10:00 at night and
I have a little more to report. But first, I gotta tell you about the BIG
surprise / coincidence that happened while checking my email this afternoon. I
got a message asking me to come present at the International Mobility Conference
taking place in November 2006! This conference is held every few years in various places around
the world, and the next one is in Hong Kong, so the message was
from someone on the host committee in Hong Kong named Grace Chen (Laura, do you
know her?). I'm sure she didn't know I happened to BE IN CHINA right now -- I
wish I could see her face when she reads my response because I got Stephan to
write the first paragraph to her IN CHINESE!
I told her what an honor it is to be invited and that I'm
here in China right now, and told her the limitations of my expertise -- they
invited me for several reasons, one of which is they want someone to do a
plenary session on O&M for people with multiple disabilities including
deaf-blindness, and while Gene and I are probably among those with the most
expertise in the world on O&M for deaf-blind adults, I suggested they may
want someone with a broader background in multiple disabilities and/or different
ages. So we'll see what happens.
After the conference they're having a tour of schools for
the blind in some of the places I've been as well as all those I would have
liked to go to (Nanjing and Guangzho) if I hadn't decided to COME STRAIGHT HOME
NOW, it would be a great opportunity to find out how blind people travel here,
and how useful the detectable warnings and guide strips are (I got some more
pictures today of confusing guide strips -- I'll scan the good ones and send them
to you, Janet and Beezy, when I get home).
So that gets around to my decision -- I was very tempted to
accompany Stephan to Luoyang where he plans to find the orphanages and start
teaching English, I'd love to see the village(s) where he'll teach, but it's too
much up-in-the-air for me. I'd go if he had a certain date and time he will go
to the village but he has to try to contact someone who can show him around,
make plans, decide where to go and when, etc. Two weeks ago I would have loved
such an adventure but now, I'm ready to come home.
So I'm trying to get tickets to start the flight home the
day after tomorrow. The on-line company that I bought my tickets from has me
scheduled for a flight from Shanghai to Guangzho that arrives about two hours
AFTER the only flight from Guangzho leaves for Los Angeles! So I'm waiting to
hear from them about how to schedule the flights and then BOOM! I will snatch up
the tickets, enjoy one last day with Stephan in Xi'An, and then COME HOME!
Okay, I thought I would have lots of
space to tell the accumulating stories / incidentals but this is long enough
already -- I'll just catch you up on this evening's adventure and let that be it.
Oh, except for telling you about a darling TV show we caught our last night in
Beijing, where the Olympic games will be held in 2008. It was a bunch of police
officers doing skits in English, performing for their fellow law enforcement
colleagues -- I assume it was part of an effort to prepare them for the deluge of
foreigners who will hit the city in 3 years (one of my first nights in Shanghai,
I saw a program where an American university sent some students to help the
Chinese make Beijing English-friendly, including putting more English in their
transit system which I can assure you will make a BIG difference!).
All the skits featured the police
men and women acting as "foreigners" with wigs and makeup, speaking English with
Chinese accents -- it was a riot watching their portrayal of us! The first skit
featured a young black girl who was apparently homeless (I don't know how such a
young foreign child arrived in Beijing without her parents -- a little creativity
on the part of the police writing the skit!). She had those long, tight braids
(I forget what they're called) and black makeup -- speaking in English with her
Chinese accent, she explained that she's scared and alone. She tried to run from
the kindly police who assured her (in English, natch!) that she was safe, and
took her to the social worker where she'd be happy. Other skits featured
foreigners who were lost (like Stephan and me every day!) or looking for something, foreigners who were robbed and crying out in English (they were able
to nab the Chinese English-speaking perpetrator even though he ducked into a
bathroom and came out disguised -- the identifying scarf was sticking out of his
pocket!), and one skit where a policeman (speaking in English) catches a
pickpocket (also speaking English!) and then has him pretend to be his partner
because the policeman's wife is coming and will get mad if she realizes her
husband was working when they had planned to meet. Very creative writers, and
their police colleagues in the audience were highly entertained! So if any of
you are coming for the Olympics, be assured that the police will do their very
best to talk with you in English!
DANG! I just lost about 45 minute's worth of diary! I was
signing off and BOOM! I hadn't saved, and all was lost. Here we go again ...
Before I explain tonight's mission,
I should explain about last night's search for a Chinese dinner at an â€œupscaleâ€
restaurant. After looking for about an hour (and seeing the inside of a hostel --
they're not as bad as I thought!) we settled for a little restaurant whose AC
was down, we roasted as they served a soup that turned out to be made with
chicken broth (and the interesting-looking cabbage was actually jellyfish!), so we paid
and left to go back to the good-looking food court we'd seen but OOPS! It JUST
closed! We ended up getting another vendor's fried bread / skewered food
sandwich (where the vendor wasn't as meticulous about hygiene as the others) and
took it to the hotel to eat after we showered and cooled off (the tofu turned
out to have chicken in it!).
After this misadventure, we were determined tonight to find
the Buddhist temple with the vegetarian restaurant we'd heard about. I won't go
into details but suffice it to say that after getting directions from the
bellman at the hotel, it took us 2 hours including attempts to get a bus,
walking about a mile asking passersby, and finally getting a cab to take us BACK
to our hotel to ask for directions again!
Finally, we found the temple, a lovely, peaceful little
retreat outside the city walls, and had a nice dinner (the first one loaded with
vegetables since our lovely dinners at Grandma Zhangs' in Shanghai!) and then
set out for another excursion / adventure. The first 45 minutes had nothing of
interest except seeing a carpet being installed at the front steps of a store
(at 9:00 at night! These Chinese people are OUR kind of people, working and
playing long into the night!). But finally we had some adventures, including:
Stephan found a tiny little book
store (any of you who have made the mistake of allowing Stephan to enter a book
store when he's with you know he LOVES bookstores!). Almost everything was in
Chinese, natch, including Clinton's recent autobiography! They had one copy of
the latest Harry Potter in English, and I bought a little book of Confucius's
wisdom and story of his life, written in English with accompanying Chinese --I'm
looking forward to reading that. Stephan bought a copy of Confucius's wisdom
written in Chinese, of course!
Later, as we entered a shopping mall to find some ice cream,
a guy approached Stephan and asked to shine his shoes. Stephan has (HAD!) the
most scuzzy-looking gym shoes, and this guy did MAGIC, whitening them up and
cleaning, it was amazing! They were selling a little kit, and even though
Stephan said he didn't want to buy it, the guy said he'd shine Stephan's shoes
for free -- I think it's because it attracted a few people to watch, and was good
In the plaza
outside the mall was a scene that was too weird for me to report but when I
asked Stephan if I'd forgotten anything, he mentioned it, so here goes. Most of
the plaza was covered with the material from tents that they were erecting, and
across on the other side of this mess was a woman sitting on a tall stool with
two very bright lights shining at her from about 5 feet away, with swarms of
bugs flying around her head attracted by the light. She had a wild long curly
blond wig on and a dress that looked like Scarlet O'Hare's ball gown, and was
blinking her eyes a lot (don't know if it was the lights and the heat, or the
bugs, or maybe ticklish false eyelashes). We asked some passersby what it was
all about, and they said she was there to advertise something. She wasn't
smiling, and looked miserable. When we came back out with Stephan's shiny new
shoes she was finally getting down from her perch and taking off all the
people are attracted by scowling or unsmiling models -- earlier this afternoon we
saw a row of about 10 pretty Chinese girls, each dressed alike and carrying a
small billboard advertising a cell phone. And none of them were smiling, they
all (like our blond stool lady) looked like they'd rather be anywhere else but
there. Well, hurray, I got an email from the ticket
company, and there are lots of flights from Shanghai to Guangzhou. They gave me
the phone number over here in China, so I plan to get the tickets tonight or
tomorrow morning and, if all goes well, I'm ON MY WAY HOME the day after
tomorrow! I'm not stopping anywhere except maybe Los Angeles if you folks want --
Rich had suggested I stop by, so let me know if that's still feasible and I'll
LAST Diary from China -- Saturday, August 13, 2005 Xi'An, China
Bridesgroom locked out of hotel by his in-laws;
Adventures on our last evening in China
It's a bittersweet feeling --
this is my last night in China! I leave for the airport tomorrow morning at
8:00, fly to Shanghai and then Guangzhou and then LA and finally home. Fred, I
don't have my final tickets yet but if all goes as planned, I'll be arriving
home Monday afternoon, I think (I may gain a day, not sure -- it's Saturday night
On the one hand, I'm VERY
eager to get home, home, HOME again, but on the other I'll be sad to leave this
beautiful country and its beautiful people. Our last day and evening were just
right for such an occasion-- I'll probably have to cut this short as we intend
to stay here only another 45 minutes (I can't believe it, but it usually ends up
taking me several hours to do each diary), but let's see how it goes... Today I had an adventure without
even leaving the hotel! I was downstairs waiting for Stephan to help me deal
with the hotel business office to get all my tickets arranged, and heard
firecrackers outside. A bunch of people in the lobby and I looked out the
windows, and here comes a car all decorated with flowers and streamers. It pulls
up to the door and a handsome groom dressed in a cream-yellow tux carrying a
huge bouquet and a few of his buddies walk toward the automatic door while
everyone in the lobby rushes to the door and stands near it.
Only the door doesn't open! The
crowd inside laughs and yells something, the groom, a sweet, earnest-looking
young man, laughs and pleads for them to open the door. Turns out everyone in
the lobby but me are his friends and family, and they kept him locked outside
for a good ten minutes while he pleaded with a big grin on his face, they
exchanged words (had to cup their mouths to the crack between the doors as it
was hard to hear through it) and every once in a while the groom would say
something, apparently in response to demands or requests from the folks inside,
and everyone inside and out would laugh and howl. At one point he bowed several
times to the crack between the doors with hands clasped and said something,
again it appeared that he was complying with demands. Finally they let him in,
everybody laughing, and he and everyone went to the elevator and piled in.
About 20 minutes later I happened to
be in the lobby again (a good part of my day was spent in the business office
next to the lobby, trying to confirm the darn tickets!) and here comes the groom
again, this time carrying a very happy young bride, dressed in a gown also
creamy-colored (the traditional wedding color is red -- white is for funerals,
but modern couples are often opting for white as we do here in the West -- in
Yang Nian when I was feeling a little sick in the home of the first Tai Chi
teacher, they let me wait in a bridal shop and there were lots of red gowns,
white gowns, and the creamy/light-yellow gowns).
He carried her out the door (which opened for him this
time!) and gently set her down beside the car and opened the door. They got in,
lots of colorful confetti somehow drifted from above, and more firecrackers
popped as they drove away.
Stephan returned, I explained what I saw and we tried in vain to find out what
was behind the drama. When the staff (who were all laughing and enjoying the
scene) seemed not to know what Stephan was talking about, I went outside the
door and mimed the poor groom's action, which made them laugh again and they
understood, but we weren't able to understand their explanation. It had
something to do with good luck and fortune, and they said something about "mama
and baba" ("mom and dad") at one point, so maybe he had to request permission from her parents
to enter and bring his bride out, to make a fortuitous marriage. Anyway, it was
great fun and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely!
[WRITTEN LATER: The next morning, we met the
soft-spoken bellboy who had witnessed and enjoyed the plight of the bridegroom
and I had Stephan interpret as I asked again what that was all about. The
bellboy laughed and said the groom had to give some money to the bride's
parents. I asked what would happen if he didn't pay (thinking maybe it would
bring bad luck or something) and he grinned and said the groom wouldn't get to
take the bride away! When I thought the groom was bowing with hands clasped near
the crack of the door, he might have actually been feeding money through to the
parents, bowing as he did so.]
The rest of the day has been quiet -- it took 3 hours to get
the tickets lined up (Beezy, when I felt myself getting high angst because of
the difficulties, Stephan suggested I think of what you'd do, and that helped a
lot -- heck, I've still got my health and everything, and if things don't work
out with the tickets I'll still make it home all right, nothing is worth getting
anxiety about). Then we went out for what we thought might be our last little
excursion and got a rice tortilla wrapped around veggies, and spent the rest of
the afternoon packing and sorting Stephan's stuff as to what stays with him,
what goes back to America and what goes in the trash.
We finally finished, and planned our
last evening together here. We decided to go back to the vegetarian restaurant
at the Buddhist temple after climbing around the city wall a little bit, then
hit the wang ba (internet cafe) and head home for a good sleep. It started out as planned -- the
trip along the wall was fun (this is apparently the oldest well-preserved city
wall in the world, even though it's only built in the 1700's, which seems like
yesterday in Chinese-time), and when we came down off the wall we found
ourselves in what I now realize was our last excursion / adventure in China.
We were in a narrow alley bustling
with life, as they usually are, with little homes and stores and vendors,
through one open door I saw a family sitting around a black and white TV, and
further down the alley I saw one small open room set up with 4 tables, each with
what we think is majiang (ma jong) tiles and boards. Stephan was tempted with
one fellow selling watermelon in front of his little home/store, and while he
investigated that, the parents in the little room/home next door took the hand
of their little toddler and waved it to me, saying, "Hello!"
Oh, it was so charming! I happened
to have the video camera on, and turned to see the darling boy shyly clinging to
and hiding behind his father while we grinned and exchanged greetings (hello!
How are you? I am fine, how are YOU?) again and again, at one point they said,
"Hallelulia! Hallelulia!" and I repeated the greeting. By then we were all
stooped to the boy's level, I hope the video comes out okay, it was totally
charming with these delightful, friendly people sharing their greetings for
foreigners with their little boy.
Anyway, by then Stephan had gotten the man to cut us some
wedges of sweet watermelon and he set us up with little stools and we had a
delightful treat. As we left, I waved "Bye!" to the little boy, who was losing
his shyness, and he called to his parents to come say goodbye, and we had several
exchanges of "Bye! see you later! Bye!"
Anyway, we finally reached a major street and hailed a cab
which took about a half hour to reach the Buddhist temple, but by then the
restaurant was closed, and when Stephan explained we were trying to get to the
vegetarian restaurant, the driver exclaimed he wished he had known from the
beginning, there was a vegetarian restaurant not far from where we started! So
off we went again, and a half hour later we reached a delightful restaurant,
just the kind I've been looking for the last few nights -- an "upscale"
There was a paper
mache cow inside the entrance that children were playing on, and the place was
beautifully decorated with man-made twisting tree trunks and overhanging
branches. And the bathrooms even had toilet paper, AND the paper was right there
in the stall, AND in a dispenser! It was the first time I ate on a fabric
tablecloth in China -- I thought I was in heaven, a perfect place for a last
dinner in China!
It turns out
they do serve meat even though the hostess explained it was vegetarian, and we
had a good laugh at the way they clean up the tables after guests leave. When we
arrived, all the dirty dishes and food was left on most of the tables, they had
to search a little to find one that was clean. When we asked, they said they'll
all be cleaned at 11:00. We wondered how the heck they can serve customers after
all the tables get used, if they don't clean it right away! Finally around 10:00
someone removed the plates off all the tables, and another woman came through
and took the table cloths and just FLIPPED them off the tables, sending empty
soda cans flying and shaking the food and who knows what all over the floor and
table! Wish I had caught it on the video!
I had the video on a little earlier because a DARLING little
girl came over from her family's table and spoke to us in beautiful English! I
was impressed with the extent of her speech and understanding ("how old are
you?" "I am six" "Do you like the food here?" "Yes, it is DELICIOUS!"). She went
and got her 11- and 15-year-old sisters, who were a lot more shy about meeting
us but they did their best, and we exchanged some phrases, to the delight of the
Well, that brings
us up to now. Obviously, our time at the computer ran out and we decided to
extend it another half hour, so I'll be closing soon but first I have to share a
little fun thing Stephan told me he saw on the city wall tonight. One of the
trash cans had a label that said in Chinese, "Protect the environment -- start
with me." The English version of the sign said, "Protect the circumstance --
start with me." Many / most of the translations here are like the instructions
for Chinese or Japanese products we all laugh at (darn, I can't remember the one
Fred and I often quote), obviously done by someone for whom English is a second
I was surprised that
this was the case even at official touristy places like the Terra Cotta Warriors
museum, we had a couple chuckles over some translations which I can't remember
now. Oh -- I remember one I saw in a hotel across from the train station in
ZhengZhou, it was a small, beautiful statue of fishes made out of very unusual
stone, looking like solid choral with color variations which the artist had used
to design different colored fish. Anyway, the English description of the artwork
said the stone was found in that area and was "rare and freaky," which I'm sure
was supposed to be "unique" but the translator probably looked up the word in
the Chinese-English dictionary and randomly picked one of the words offered.
Okay, we gotta go, I may be able to
send one last diary from the airport, I'll be there for hours in Guangzhou
tomorrow afternoon so if I can find an internet I'll check in, otherwise next
time you hear from me I'll be HOME!
VERY Last Diary from China -- Sunday, August 14, 2005 Guanzhou
Adventures in taxi and airport
Well, I'm at the airport in
Guangzhou, having flown from Xi'An to Shanghai and then to here, our flight to
Los Angeles leaves in 3 hours so I'm gonna make this short and go check my
baggage (I can't check it until 10 minutes from now, so no real rush). I'll just
share my adventures getting on the first plane in Xi'An.
I didn't want to carry more Chinese
money than necessary, so I calculated the cab fare ($15) and took another $47 so
I'd have money for this internet connection and maybe some food if the
vegetarian airline reservations didn't get through, plus some cash for phone
calls or whatever in Los Angeles. It doesn't sound like much money, but
everything here in China is about a tenth of the price there, so I figured it
was plenty (for example the wang ba's are usually 12-25 cents an hour).
Since I'd be without my interpreter
going to the airport this morning, Stephan and I had arranged for a driver to
pick me up at 8:00 -- a driver that the hotel knew, so I'd be assured I was in
good hands. Sure enough, by 8:10 the luggage was loaded and Stephan and I had
hugged and said goodbye, and the cab pulled off, with me watching for a last
glimpse of Stephan so I could do a last wave.
Thirty feet later, with Stephan still in view, the cab
pulled over and the driver got out and ran back into the hotel! Long story
short, he had agreed to give his friend a ride to the airport (on my tab, natch)
and the friend wouldn't be ready till 8:30!
It was 8:20 by the time we realized the driver wasn't sick
in the bathroom and we knew he was just waiting for his friend, and I got out
saying I wanted to leave NOW and planned to get into the cab of the driver who
had taken us to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Oh, OK, the driver agrees to leave,
and off we go.
But after a few
blocks he starts to go R-E-E-E-E-A-L slow! I thought maybe he was punishing me
for making him leave his friend, and after a few miles of this I pointed to the
curb and told him to pull over -- I planned to get my luggage out and hail
another cab. He nods, and turns left into another street and slows to a crawl.
Now I'm starting to get really
worried -- what's this guy DOING??!! I asked him and he garbled something and
then pointed ahead, seeming to indicate if I just wait, he will go fast. I
finally figured he was meeting his friend somehow, and sure enough after about 5
minutes the driver who took us to the Terra Cotta Warriors comes flying up and
delivers his friend!
have expressed my anger then, the friend spoke English ("are you going to
Shanghai?" he asks pleasantly, "I am going to Beijing") so I could have chewed
them both out using him to interpret, but I just did a slow burn as the driver
then went FLYING, endangering life and limb of everyone in and out of the car.
When we arrived I asked how much, the driver said $15 and I paid and stalked
I had two large, heavy
suitcases, one full of Stephan's books and stuff to go back to America. You
guessed it, they were too heavy for one person's fare! I had 20 kg more than the
maximum. In America that means an extra $75 but I figured it wouldn't be much
WRONG! It cost exactly
$47, to the penny! I handed them my credit card but NO! Cash only! They pointed
to the ATM machine but I had never learned to use it, I don't even know if I
have a pin number, and I just barely had enough cash. As I emptied my wallet, I
thought "#%$*@! I have NOTHING left, not even enough to get on the internet to
arrange my last flight from LA to home, nothing if I am hungry or thirsty,
nothing if they charge me again to check the luggage to Guangzhou!"
I wished I had gotten the hotel's
number to call Stephan and tell him to come get his suitcase in storage at the
airport, and I asked if I could maybe mail it to the U.S. No. Finally I asked to
retrieve one of the suitcases so I could put the books in my carry-on and lessen
the load. I was already running short on time and I swear the suitcase must have
already been on the plane because it took about 15 minutes to retrieve it.
As I waited, I started to feel the
anxiety rise and my stomach churn. I shut my eyes and did the "Beezy Mantra."
Okay, so maybe we lose a suitcase, or I arrive in America starving and with no
money (heck, that's what Benjamin Franklin did when he moved to Philadelphia,
and look how he turned out!), or I miss this flight because of all this, it will
all turn out FINE.
suitcase arrived, I repacked, and WHEW! I was only 10 kg over, and it cost only
about $17. I paid it, made the flight, and listened to soothing music on a
station that had instructions for reducing stress. Just what I needed! With some
sweet hot tea and the soothing music and a good mystery, I finally relaxed, and
have been enjoying the trip ever since. There was no charge for the luggage in
Shanghai (although when I put the heavy one on the scale, somehow the wheel
ended up resting on the counter's frame, so that may have reduced it somewhat),
and I'm sure I'll have no problem for this international flight, which should
allow more weight / person than these domestic flights.
On the flight from Shanghai to here,
the attendant didn't understand when I said I was a vegetarian / eat no meat, so
the guy across the aisle interpreted for me. When the server's cart between us
was removed, I thanked him, and we started talking. Stephan, I got his email
address, he is a very interesting guy (a Malaysian living and working in
Guangzhou) and has a lot in common with you, I'll tell you more about it later.
Okay, time to go check in on the
last flight. I'm hoping to be able to stay with the LA folks for a day, and
Fred, if all goes as planned, I'll be home Tuesday night at 8:00! Stephan is
probably on his way now (or maybe tomorrow) to Loyang (I know that's not spelled
right!) to meet some folks and see the orphanages where he might volunteer.
Epilogue -- written Thursday, August 19, 2005:
I'm HOME again, safe and sound! This
convinces me that I can safely ignore the dire premonitions that I get before
every flight and even before some daily car commutes -- the certainty that I'll
be killed that I felt before this trip was overwhelming, very graphic and
profound, I'm so glad I ignored it! I did, however, come down with the flu,
which started my last night in China with a sore throat and ended yesterday with
aches, chills, congestion and drowsiness (which was probably just jet-lag -- I've
been awake most of the first two nights I've been here in America). I was so
grateful that the family in Los Angeles picked me up at the airport and gave me
a day to recover before starting the last leg of the journey home (we got to
look at all the videos we took while I was there!) -- fortunately, they didn't
catch the flu (at least, not so far!).
I got an interesting message from Stephan a few days ago. He
said, "And by the way, my luggage
is in a back closet of the hostel I stayed at last night, because this morning
these 2 guys barged in and shoved me out of the place - all the hostels here,
and many of the hotels, have a no-foreigners policy. I'm told it's a government
imposition, the reason for which is still a bit hazy as I've not understood any
of the responses I've gotten from the many people I've asked, but the most clear
understanding I got was that they fear that because of the language difference,
this could lead to fist-fights with the locals, and they don't want to be
responsible for that. Right....
"So anyway, this hostel's staff seemed extremely friendly
and accommodating, even up until they whisked me out, at which point they said
they heard the police were doing routine checks at nearby hostels, and were soon
to enter (though they never did). The guy who originally invited me to that
place apparently has an agreement with all the hotels and hostels in the area,
who perhaps give him a small percentage for bringing me in, and he tried to get
me into all the other hostels and hotels in the area, all of which either
refused the white guy with 'gee, we suddenly have no rooms of any range or sort
available' or were the expensive, big hotels. I think you need some sort of
license to allow foreigners. I don't even remember the place last night checking
my passport, I guess they didn't care until the check (or until word got to the
owner of the round eyes - another pair of which I also saw entering last night,
who apparently left at like 6 this morning).
"I'd really like to get to the bottom of this phenomenon;
the hostels in ZhengZhou acted like they won the lottery when I came there;
certainly nothing like this. They also seem less patient when you don't
understand something here. That considered, LuoYang so far beats the heck out of
ZhengZhou as far as people and interesting places."
So the saga continues! I'll be
following Stephan's adventures, with a much better understanding and
appreciation of what he's experiencing there. And I'll remember the kindness and
friendliness of so many delightful people we met in China, and try to return the
favor when I meet foreigners here in America. And I'll never forget this
extraordinary trip, the trip of a lifetime, thanks to my son Stephan.