Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Compassion in the Philippines

I've just come from a multi-thousand dollar grand tour of China, where I stayed in 5 star hotels and had people catering to my every whim. So I'm feeling somewhat guilty reading the Compassion web site this week...and I'm encouraging you to read some of these links too.

There is a group of Compassion sponsors who are currently touring the Philippines, and since my little Fred is in the Philippines, I am eager to learn about his life. I have not written to him since we have been home and I'm trying to figure out how to tell him about our trip without soundling like I'm flaunting our non-existent wealth. I am humbled by the reports coming in from the Compassion volunteers.

One entry that was made yesterday was one that everyone who has considered sponsoring a child should read. Like many of you have expressed, I am always skeptical of organizations like Compassion and wonder how much of my money really goes to the children and how much of it lines the purse of the workers in the countries.

This entry, by Shaun should help to answer any questions. He went cold into an office, did a search on the funds raised for a child chosen at random and what he discovered will inspire you with the conspicuous attention to detail for every one of the children served. I was impressed, and reassured.

Yesterday, the group met with their sponsored children and had a day of play. Today they visited the homes. What they found will tear your heart out...and will also again inspire you with what compassion is doing for children in poverty--and how parents cope with poverty. They visited a woman named Rose Ann, a woman whose home is smaller than half the size of the bathroom of one of the writers. It is the home of four people. Rose has a beautiful smile, is scrupulously clean and her home is neat and tidy.

You have to see it.

Read Emily's entry, with many photos and then check out Kat's entry, which comes with video.

Patricia wrote about compassion's Child Survival Program where one does not sponsor a child but contributes $20 a month to a general fund to help pregnant mothers and follow them through the first year of their baby's life, with medical care, vaccinations, nutrition assistance, etc. Patricia wrote that many mothers in some parts of the world do not even give babies a name for the first year and are reluctant to bond with them because so many of them do not survive to their first birthday. With Compassion they have a better chance.

Lindsey also wrote about the Child Survival Program. She herself is 30 weeks pregnant and could identify with the women in the program. As she describes the program, everything from prenatal care to teaching the women how to play with their children to helping them start small businesses to help bring income to their families, she reports that "The children we observed were thriving. They were healthy and happy. They snuggled with their mommies. They delighted in doodling and coloring. Thankfulness abounds on these mothers faces. Just to have a little support, to be a recipient of love extended, to be taught and have the ability to learn. They are simple gifts. Simple needs."

Stephanie visited the home of her sponsored child. "This is an ugly place," she writes of the neighborhood, saying that the photographs make it look better than it really is. She also writes, "I won’t gloss over it and pretend that because he is a sponsored child, their life has become rosy. It hasn’t and it won't anytime soon. Theirs is a struggle that is long and deep and hard. There are no quick fixes, no simple solutions."

"There's so much that they don't have, but here’s what I realized today that they do have...


Hope they didn't know before."

Tsh also wrote about a visit to the home of her sponsored child. She talked about how her family of five share a 1100 sq foot home and how they feel scrunched and are looking forward to moving to a larger house. She compared that with her sponsored child's home, one room 8x8 square, shared by the five people in the child's family in this neighborhood:

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The Compassion bloggers' reports have a huge impact and help me see the world of little Fred and make me realize that what little we do through our monthly contributions, letters and photographs make a difference. A small difference, but when the child lives in such abject poverty, small differences can be huge.

The trip continues until June 4 and there is a link to all the bloggers' entries in the right hand column here. I encourage you to follow along with me and to take the challenge that one of the writers issued. Look at the faces of the >900 children in the Philippines waiting for sponsors and see if any of them touch your heart.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Musta Been the Jet Lag

I went off to spend a couple of hours with Brianna today...and didn't bring a camera. I can only assume the jet lag was still affecting my brain.

Neither Walt nor I comes from a military background (except for Walt's uncle, who served in WWII) so our Memorial Day activities are somewhat different than those who are honoring their family and friends who have served and perhaps lost their lives in this country's wars.

This does not mean that we honor their sacrifice any less, merely that there is no "Uncle Harry's grave" in any military cemetery to go decorate.

But in 1994, Paul's best friend Kag decided to have a "Paul Picnic," a day when we would just all get together, Paul's friends and their families, and have a good time together. The first one was actually held in April, but it has evolved to a Memorial Weekend picnic.

Tom called yesterday to let me know that he and the family were in Sacramento and to ask if we were going to be going to be driving down to Berkeley to the picnic, so I could spend a little time with Bri.

It was Bri who got me there. I was still feeling like a limp dishrag, but the time for fighting this jet lag has come and I needed to get out of the house and go DO something. I dragged myself to the car and we were about 10 minutes down the road when I remembered that I had not brought a camera. Walt asked if I wanted to go back and get it, but we were already later than I anticipated and I was afraid we might miss Tom altogether.

I didn't even have my cell phone to take pictures! But I finally demanded Walt's cell phone to take a picture of Ned watching Brianna eat ribs.

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Then I just started taking pictures...of the group at the lunch table...

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of Ned and Jen setting up the camera for a group photo...

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...and of little Charlie when he finally fell asleep on his mother's back.

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We left shortly after Tom and Laurel left. I'm still feeling like a limp dishrag and slept all the way home.

But it was a nice afternoon, and a nice Memorial Day tradition. Next time I'll remember my own camera!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Life Game

My jet lag continues. I have literally slept the day away again. It is 5 p.m. and I have accomplished nothing but have had three naps that were at least two hours each! This is so "not me." I'm the one who never notices jet lag. Well, I'm making up for it in spades now!

Since my day has consisted in doing nothing but sleeping, I thought it was time for a meme. Unless you want a page that consists of zzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzz.

This one is called "The Life Game" and it is short.

What was the first injury you remember? Do you have a scar?

I guess I have been fortunate in that I have never had any serious accidents. The first "accident" (if you can even call it that) that I remember was when I was in high school. I was spending time at my friend Madelyn's house and we were carrying a box of something or other into the house. I dropped my end of the box and it cut my wrist. The only reason I can think of that I remember this incident, since it wasn't like it was a huge cut or anything, is that it left a small scar. My only visible scar. It's about 1/4" long.

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Did your family move when you were a kid?

Nope. My parents moved into a 2-bedroom flat in San Francisco when my mother was expecting me. They intended to buy a home eventually, but they didn't move out of that flat until after David was born, in 1972. I think it was 1975 when they finally bought a home. My mother desperately wanted to move out to "the avenues" where all their friends were buying homes, but my grandmother put the kibosh on any plan they had, saying that buying a home was too financially risky. (She lived in the same apartment from when my father was a small child until she was in her 80s!)

What do you remember about your first back yard?

Cement. It was all cement except for a little raised plot of dirt where my mother tried to teach us to grow vegetables. I remember anemic carrots. The yard had several clotheslines, were my mother would hang her wash and when there was no wash hanging, my sister and I would ride our tricycles around. I can't remember how big it was, exactly, but I'm guessing something like 30' square, if that. Tiny. The interesting thing is that the guy who owned Seabiscuit lived in the penthouse of the apartment across the street and his housekeeper told my mother that he would look at Karen and me playing in the yard and tell her that this was what real happiness was.

Who was your best friend when you were 10 years old?

Gayle Tarzia, who lived in a flat 2 blocks from me.

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(She's the one on the right). We were best friends until grammar school graduation and then we went to different schools. Ironically, we are Facebook friends, but she has never ever contacted me, other than approve my request for friendship. From reading her posts it's obvious she's a born-again Christian whose church is the center of her life and I guess my radical gay-supporting views are too much for her to speak to me!

What was your home like?

It was a 2-bedroom flat on a steep hill in San Francisco. It is, incidentally, across the street from the described neighborhood where Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" was set, though when he described it, he was really describing a little alley half a block away.

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To describe our flat, you came in the front door and were facing the kitchen straight ahead, Karen and I shared a bedroom to the right. If you instead turned left down a hall, my parents' bedroom was on the left, the bathroom on the right. At the end of the hall was a long room that was the livingroom/dining room. The living room had a bay window with a seat that looked out over the street and it was fun watching tourists try to drive up the hill (which had a stop sign at the top). The dining room had a window that looked out at Coit Tower. When I lived there, there was no diagonal parking and my father made sure I could parallel park, with the stick shift, on the hill before he would let me get my driver's license.

The thing I loved most about that house was floor heating. On cold mornings I would stand over the heater in the living room to get warm.

What was your grandfather like? What did he teach you?

I knew both of my grandfathers and had no relationship with either one. My paternal grandfather was someone I saw constantly, since they had no car and so they went everywhere with us. He was henpecked and had little to say, though he had been a well known tenor in vaudeville. My grandmother, a chorus girl, was probably embarrassed about those days. I only heard him sing twice, a strong voice still into his 70s. My grandmother just rolled her eyes whenever he sang.

My mother's father lived an hour's drive from us and we rarely went there. He was bald and toothless and I was afraid of him. I don't remember his ever saying much to me, but I remember he could eat corn n the cob without false teeth and he loved tomatoes sprinkled with sugar. The only interaction with him that I remember was when he took me out to the hen house to show me some newly hatched baby chicks.

Who taught you how to be a friend?

Good question. I think my high school friends, Joyce and Anne, with whom I was inseparable for the last 2 years in school. We are still in contact, though I haven't seen them in decades.

Who inspired you?

Being a good Catholic girl, I was always inspired by saints and nuns. I had a special affinity for St. Therese of Lisieux ("the Little Flower") and several of the nuns in high school, especially Sister Anne,for whom Jeri (Jerilyn Anne) is named. If we'd had another girl, there probably would have been a "Therese" or "Theresa" in her name.

When were you betrayed?

I can't ever remember being betrayed as a child. It wasn't until I was into my 40s that I experienced betrayal. Both people are dead now, and it still hurts.

What did you survive?

Throughout my life, I survived the death of my sister, the divorce of my parents, the death of my best friend, the betrayal of another good friend, and the death of two children. And I'm still here.

What’s your passion?

I was writing a pen pal letter today to someone who is learning the piano. She was asking if I play a musical instrument and I was telling her how my whole life my father was angry with me for "wasting" money by taking piano lessons and giving up after 2 years (he wasn't the one whose knuckles Sister Mary Victor used to hit with a ruler!) It was not until this morning, in fact, that I realized that the family musical genes skipped me and went directly into all of my children, but that I inherited the writing genes of my mother's side of the family. They were all writers and left behind a wonderful legacy of family history in the form of letters and newspaper articles (my great grandfather was a newspaper editor). Writing has always been my passion. That and taking photographs. Not music.

What animal do you identify with?

I have the body of a hippo and the personality of a dog.

Do you remember a vacation away with your family?

We went away for 2 weeks every summer to some resort. For many years it was Sunnyside Cabins in Boyes Hot Springs, near Sonoma. We had a cabin with an ice box (to which they delivered a big block of ice each week) and we spent a lot of time at the big pool, which was also a mineral bath.

Later we tried Konocti Harbor Inn, when I was in high school. I don't think we went there more than once. I don't remember any other places where we went for vacation. My father didn't like to leave San Francisco.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

That Raveled Sleeve of Care

Jet lag? Who me?

Lessee. I went to sleep around 10 p.m. last night, woke up at 3:30, went right back to sleep. Slept until about 6. Got up and had breakfast, fiddled around on the computer a bit, decided I needed more sleep, went right back to sleep, woke up at 12:30, got up for half an hour, went back to sleep and woke up at 5:30. I've definitely been knitting up that raveled sleeve of care!

I've had no lunch. I'm waiting for someone to bring me a menu so I know what to order for dinner.

I have not taken a photograph today, which seems weird.

But I eventuallyfound the kitchen table, which was heaped high with non-clothes stuff from my suitcase. Still looking for all those barf bags from all those airplanes that I planned to use for envelopes!

I manage to group all the things together into little bags for the gifts that we're giving.

I discovered we bought waaay more postcards than I expected, which is OK because I will send them to pen pals and Postcrossing people over the next few months, as well as keep some for me.

We also bought more books than I realized, but such great photographic memories of gorgeous places like the Li River and the 3 Gorges. I took some good photos of all those places, but nothing beats a professional photographer and a clear day!

I scanned the photo from the Great Wall, so it's more clear now, and tried to identify everyone so I can remember them in years to come. I'm missing a few names, but I think I got most people numbered.

The two people sitting between Jen and Roni in front were the parents of the girl left to Jenna, on the right (Char thinks her name was Wei). They were Chinese and only spoke Chinese, so we didn't get a chance to know them. I didn't know Nancy and Ed very well either, but took their picture at the Terra Cotta warriors. She gave me her e-mail address and it is somewhere in all of Walt's little pieces of paper. I hope he finds it so I can e-mail them the photo.

Dallas was quite a character, though sometimes his humor bordered on being offensive, but he was a fun guy...and Mike (on the far right), who is from England, was a sweetheart and a real gentleman. I'm also sorry that we did not exchange contact information with Marie and Jim, with whom we probably spent the most time during the ship part of the trip, but I kind of had the feeling that we were good ship friends for Marie and she really didn't want to continue any sort of off-ship friendship (unlike Sharon and Brian, who have invited us to come and stay with them in London!)

The one thing about this group is that we really did become more friendly with a lot of them than we did in Russia. I think this is partly due to tables for 8 in the dining room. In Russia, we always sat together in a table for 4, but there were no tables for 4 in China and so we got to know Marie & Jim, Sharon and Brian, and Sherry and Jen, who rotated in and out of our table.

Oddy enough, when the regular cruise ended and the extension to Hong Kong took over, only 6 from Jenna's group went to Hong Kong, but there were 22 in the group, coming from other leaders' groups. They never made any attempt to merge with us, and seemed to ignore any attempt by any of us to make friends. Even when we went to the airport, Char, Mike, Sherry, Jen, Walt and I had our usual seats at the front of the bus and the other couple riding with us sat in the back of the bus, leaving a couple of seats between us. We saw them in the airport and they barely waved back at us. But then they were in business class and we were in economy, so that may explain something.

But that's OK...We had a good time, even if nobody outside our group wanted to get to know us.

Friday, May 27, 2011


This was a real, truly live place. And I remember that some of it wasn't very nice.......but most of it was beautiful. But just the same, all I kept saying to everybody was, I want to go home. And they sent me home.

Oh, but anyway, Polly, I'm home!

Home! And this is my room -- and you're all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all!

And -- there's no place like home!

I'm sitting here in my pajamas, my laundry is in the dryer. I've had a McDonald's hamburger and a spoon full of peanut butter, the dogs have all been cuddled, and I'm about to catch up on TV that was recorded while we were gone, though given that I've been up more than 24 hrs, that probably isn't going to last very long! In fact if I don't finish this entry soon, I'm going to go to sleep first and finish it later. I am fading fast.

Yes, we are finally home. 15 days, so many cities I can't remember, 3 boats, 9 flights, 8 airports and we are finally unpacking our luggage back in Davis again. (That sounds like something you'd hear on Amazing Race).

The elevator reminded us what day it was when we went down to breakfast

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(We are imagining a "changing of the carpet" ceremony in the lobby of the hotel, as eight employees march in with 8 rugs and remove the old one and install the new one for each day, the old ones ceremoneously rolled up to be stored for another week. I'm sorry I was never up at midnight to watch it!)

We finished our packing and met down in the lobby, where we chatted with local guide Polly for a bit until the bus arrived to take us to the airport. I could tell from the air as we walked out the hotel door that we were leaving at the right time. It was going to be the first hot and humid day we'd had.

The ride to the airport was nice, to see the harbor for the last time, and to see the bridges we had come over at night on our way in. Disneyland Hong Kong is on the same road and I loved the highway signs!

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They say that Disneyland-Hong Kong is small and not riotously popular, though another is to be built in Shanghai and everyone is anticipating that.

We were at the airport in plenty of time and began to ease back into life in the U.S. with milk shakes.

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Getting through security was not fun, since they unpacked EVERYTHING in everyone's carry-on and examined it. I had carefully packed something breakable in my backpack and it was removed, examined and shoved back in without any regard for anything (fortunately it escaped unscathed).

The flight was long and the movie choices were not all that good. I was unable to sleep at all and ended up watching Criminal Minds and House! Just like at home.

We drove Mike and Char home and then headed to Davis, stopping for a Jack-in-the-Box hamburger. We picked mail up at the post office before coming home. Nice thing about being away is that there is so much mail waiting for you when you get home!!!

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Oh, Aunty Em...there's no place like home! But I sure had fun on this trip...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Where are the Basque Sheepherders?

I don't think I'll explain that title. I wrote it for Char. It's enough that she'll understand.

Last night was so very weird...and I am very grateful for the Internet! I was trying to shut down my computer and accidentally hit something and suddenly the picture on my screen was rotated 90 degrees!

I could still type on it, but in order to position the cursor, I had to turn the machine on its side. It seemed to have iPad wannabe syndrome. I didn't have a clue how I was going to get a journal entry designed. But I put out a "help" call to both Facebook and to Steve McMahon, DCN's wonderful guru back in Davis. When I got up in the morning I had replies from both. Steve suggested I right click on the desktop and see if there was an option for screen orientation. There was. I changed it to "normal" and I was back in business again. A couple of people on FB suggested that I might have hit ctrl-alt-arrow instead of ctrl-alt-del and that is probably what happened. In any event, I was VERY relieved that my day started out with things right in my computer world again, and very glad that I have such great, knowledgeable friends on the Internet who could help so quickly.

We kind of slept in this morning. I had a hard time sleeping so hauled out the big guns and listened to about 6 hours of John Denver on the iPod, which put me to sleep over and over again whenever I woke up. The bed didn't work for me this time, but I managed to make an almost workable "bed" out of the uncomfortable leather chair an ottoman, and a small pillow, using one of those thick hotel bathrobes for a blanket. Oh how I want to crawl into my recliner under Polly!

Instead of 6:30, we went to breakfast at 7 and had a leisurely chat over our eclectic breakfast. I don't know what Walt is going to do when we get back to Davis. He's been trying just about everything that he can for breakfast. This was his second plate this morning

Starting with the pork buns and going around clockwise there are hash browns with soy sauce, something called "pork pastry," a sausage, eggs Florentine, bacon and salmon. He says he's not going to know what to do without salmon every morning! My meal was pretty traditional, though I can't not have a chocolate croissant and today I discovered the buffet included a big bowl of macadamia nuts.

While he was eating, I was looking at the paper and decided you'd rarely see an article like this in the Davis Enterprise or SF Chronicle:

Killing of herder triggers Inner Mongolian Protests

The killing of an ethnic Mongolian herder allegedly by two Han truck drivers in a dispute over a shortcut across fragile grazing land has triggered several protests in the usually quiet Inner Mongolia.

We stopped in the hotel gift shop after breakfast and I found a book (in English) for me to read, since I am about at the end of the book I borrowed from Char on the ship. Until today the only books I found were in Chinese. This is even one on my list of books to read!

I told the group that there were two things I didn't want to do today: walk and climb stairs. My knees were begging for relief. I told them I would be thrilled if they were going out and for them to have a good time and I would enjoy myself in the hotel room, working on photos from the trip (note: I have 6 days published on Flickr now...if you're interested, see the links at the bottom of this page).

They all decided to go off to a nearby museum and Walt said they'd probably be back around lunch time and we could all go to lunch together. So they went off and I had a great time sitting here trying to get photos ready for Flickr. Around noon, Walt came to get me for lunch.

Mike suggested we go to the nearby subway station which, he promised, was air conditioned and "loaded with places to eat." Well. Cool it was. "Loaded with places to eat" it wasn't. We walked and walked and walked, sometime up and sometimes down stairs. We found ONE food shop, an "herbal soup" place with the menu all in Chinese and no seats. We ended up out on the street not knowing where to go. He did find a TGIFriday, eventually, and we finally collapsed there and demanded beer. Walt had a huge Danish beer.

The menu here was real sticker shock...

...until you realize that is Hong Kong dollars. $108 Hong Kong dollars is about $15 American. I have totally lost perspective on how much things cost. Fortunately, we are leaving tomorrow.

After lunch we had to find our way back to the hotel, and managed to get lost several times. Mike's unerring sense of direction led us into places we had never seen before (and still no restaurants). It seemed like we walked forever.

They finally figured out where we were and where we wanted to be and we only had to march on and on and on until we got there.

I should have ordered room service.

Char and I limped back to the hotel, both of us ready to just lie down and be still. Mike and Walt went off exploring again...and good for them. I have lost my enthusiasm for exploring for this trip, but we certainly have done a lot of it in the past two weeks.

We had the perfect last night in Hong Kong. Walt and Mike had found an Irish pub a couple of nights ago and suggested we eat there. It was a very short walk from the hotel. It turned out to be absolutely wonderful. It had an open patio that looked out over the harbor.

There were even a couple of guys sitting there looking for all the world like a couple of ex-pats out of an Alex Guinness movie!

We sat there eating our pub grub and watching the sun set and the lights start to come on on the buildings across the harbor.

So we are ending our grand adventure. I never thought we would ever come to China and I am amazed at how much I have learned over the past two weeks. I will be processing it for weeks to come. I think the underground photo above give you a big view of how clean it has been everywhere. I decided that with several billion in population, they all need to have jobs, and many of them clean things. We found a guy on his hands and knees in the enormous lobby of the hotel in Guilin to get a small stain out of the floor. A flickering light in the hall of this hotel here was fixed within an hour or two without it having been reported. There seem to be two people to open every door for you, and another one waiting with some sort of glass cleaner to remove any fingerprints that may result from touching the door. Streets are clean. We saw the first bit of graffiti in 2 weeks this afternoon. It's probably gone by now.

Hotels seem to have entire staff whose only job is to stand and greet you. Walking from the elevator to the restaurant in Guilin we might pass four or five different people standing at several spots along the long lobby, wishing you a good morning, or a good night as we went to our room.

We were also assured over and over again how safe it was to walk the streets, as there is no violent crime. People cannot own guns so there is no gun violence. The country is more westernized now and I suppose it will only be a matter of time before they pick up our bad habits.

When we took our China class, the teacher pointed out that there is a great business in eye surgery, creating more rounded eyes (we passed an eye hospital...somewhere. Shanghai, I think) and that the emphasis is on a more western look, including lightening of the skin. I was intrigued by this billboard.

From the botoxed lips to the rounded eyes (which don't show clearly here) to the sun block with "whitening." It would be a shame if the things that make China special disappear with a desire to look like Westerners.

There is also more freedom of speech here, but we were warned not to ask questions at Tiananmen Square because people didn't want to answer them publicly and we were told that there were somethings we should not discuss at all (such as the Tibet situation). By the same token, we had in-depth discussion of the one-child policy and other issues and even Jenna laughed at a communist country with so many luxury automobiles.

Facebook, YouTube, Blogspot and Twitter are blocked in China. You can get Amazon.com, but you can't look at books about China on Amazon (I wanted to check out several that Char mentioned and each book brought up an error page, though looking at any non-China book did not). And the agreement I had to sign in order to use the internet says, in part, My use of the Internet service (including all communication and information placed and sent through use of the service) may be monitored for all authorized governmental purposes and the Hotel makes no guarantee of confidentiality or privacy of such communication or information transmitted by me through use of this service. I acknowledge that such communication or information may be examined, recorded, stored, copied and used for authorized purposes and the Hotel will not be responsible for the privacy of the information, e-mail addresses, registration and identification information, disk space, communications, confidential or trade-secret information, or any other content accessed or transmitted by me through use of this service.

I think I am going home with not only a better understanding of China, but also with a lot of questions that may require more in-depth reading. As with our trip to Russia, I will now be much more interested in news coming out of China.

But it was a GREAT adventure and I'm so glad we came. When I next write, I will be sitting at my desktop at home, probably with Polly yapping at me.

Thursday Thirteen

Guilty Food Pleasures

1. Butter
2. Chocolate croissants
3. Peanut butter out of the jar by the spoonful
4. Jack in the Box sausage biscuit
5. Cheetos
6. Garlic mashed potatoes
7. cheesecake
8. ice cream bars
9. Walkers shortbread
10. See’s candy
11. tortillas with lots of butter
12. Hawaiian dinner rolls
13. Panda Express rangoons

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Starting the Transition

If you need a transition time as you move from China back home again, Hong Kong is a good place to be. You hear as much English spoken as Chinese (even by Chinese people), there are lots of American eateries, some of the Chinese TV stations are in English, and "downtown" looks like your favorite shopping area in the States. But still there is no doubt that you are still in a foreign country and in among all the "new," the "old" is very much present.

The first thing I did this morning was to flood the bathroom. You can see that we have a very nice, very large shower. It even has a seat in it, if you want to shower sitting down (even *I* am not that lazy!). To get into the shower, you step over a little tile that is maybe 1-2" high. I was lovin' the shower, washing my hair and just enjoying the feeling of the water washing over me when I realized that I was standing in water that was over the top of my feet. It seemed that the drain was not draining fast enough to let the water run out quickly.

It didn't seem to be a big problem. There wasn't any water on the floor. Apparently, the door was holding it all in because when I turned off the shower and opened the door, water poured over the tile which had been holding it back, and onto the floor. The shower mat was instantly soaked and half of the bathroom had water pooling in it.

Walt later told the people at the front desk, who apologized three times and promised to fix it. It seems to be fixed now, but nobody has taken a shower yet.

This morning we introduced ourselves to another breakfast buffet (chocolate croissants get high marks here). We discovered that they change the rugs in the elevator every day. Last night when we rode the elevator up to the 15th floor, we were riding in an elevator that said "Tuesday," which I thought was a little strange until I got in the same elevator this morning and saw this:

Today was our last outing as a group. In truth, I wasn't feeling well and the last thing I wanted to do was to go on another excursion. But we all followed our local guide, Polly onto the bus.

We first drove to Victoria Peak, the highest point around here. It was actually the only thing I really wanted to see when I was reading up on Hong Kong. The view was said to be spectacular. On the way, we passed a cemetery

Polly explained that people in Hong Kong are buried rather than cremated because Daoists believe that the body needs to return to the earth. The problem is that the government owns the land, so you can't buy a burial plot. You rent it for 10 years. At the end of 10 years, the grave is opened and there is someone there who is in charge of cleaning up the bones and arranging them in a final vessel (usually, she says, in a sitting position).

We continued on up toward the peak, passing many public beaches on the way.

Polly says that the yellow thing in the water is a shark barrier.

We reached the Peak and went to look at the view, which was spectacular even through the haze.

I still wasn't feeling all that great, but we mushed on to the wharf, where we rode in a sampan to see the harbor.

From the harbor, we could see new buildings recently constructed on the hills.

The two blocks I marked there are holes in the buildings. It's a feng shui thing, leaving holes in buildings for dragons to go through. Supposed to be good luck.

(I was really irritated at the woman who sat herself in the front of the boat where she could get great pictures and NOBODY else could get a harbor shot that didn't have her in the way.)

I was feeling a little better by the time the cruise was over and we headed to a jewelry store to watch fine jewelry being made. Hong Kong used to be where everything was made, back in the 60s. But as China began to open up to the west, they began to export things to the west and businesses moved out of Hong Kong and into China, where it was cheaper to manufacture goods. Hong Kong maintains its position as craftspersons and designers.

Our final stop on our half day tour was at Stanley Market, best place for, as Jenna says, "upscale junk." We had lunch at a French deli and then I wandered the shops and bought some upscale junk. Just to say I'd done it.

Everybody and his dog was there.

By the time we got back to the hotel, I could barely walk. I took a nap until time for us to go to dinner with Mike and Char. We chose an Outback Steak house for dinner, then came back to the hotel. Walt and the others went with Jenna to see a light show but I knew I couldn't walk another 30 minutes. Heck, I could barely walk the THREE long halls from the elevator to our room.

I've decided to let the others go off to the Science Museum tomorrow without me. My feet and knees are crying "enough! enough!"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Now It Can Be Told

When we began planning this trip and the question of whether to take the extension to Hong Kong or not, I really didn't want to do it. I enjoyed our extension to Finland on the Russia trip because it came before the regular part of the trip. I knew myself well enough to know that by the time that official Viking trip here in China ended, I was going to want to go home, not have another 4 days to spend in Hong Kong.

But I never really said that and the others wanted to do it, so I went along with it, knowing that by the time we got to Hong Kong, I would be shopped-out and museumed-out and sceneryed-out. By the time we got to Guilin I was realizing that I had been right. I didn't want to take that flight, I wasn't much interested in yet another part of China and I wasn't looking forward to yet another flight, this one to Hong Kong. and then there was that cruise on the Li River which just sounded boring as hell. We'd already done the gorges...what could top that?

Well, if the restaurant here at the Kowloon Shangri-La served crow, I'd be eating it. What an amazing day we have had! And how glad I am that I didn't miss it!

It started, as usual, with bags out (I hadn't even opened mine, since we were in the hotel only a matter of a few hours), going to the buffet breakfast (chocolate croissants...mmm), then meeting the group in the lobby, piling aboard the bus and heading off into the countryside.

While we waited in the lobby, I took a picture of this girl, dressed in the traditional Miao people, one of the ethnic groups in this region (in the U.S., we would call them Hmong). Apparently her job is to stand in the lobby every day to greet people and have her picture taken. I think I was supposed to give her a tip, but I didn't realize that.

The drive out through the country was kind of interesting because here there were no high rises, bikes and cars seemed to be competing for who had the highest number, and we were driving through rice paddies where farmers in their straw hats were working with their water buffalo. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and Beijing! The road quality was terrible and at one point I was wondering if I had one of the airsickness bags I've been collecting to use as envelopes with me (I didn't).

We finally arrived at our destination, the town of Daxu, where we were to board a boat with a lot of other people and take a four hour cruise down the Li River, one of China's most famous scenic areas. Who knew? Lots of those paintings of misty mountains that you see in Chinese shops are actually pictures painted of this area.

We settled ourselves in at a table and had some tea while they brought us items from the "special menu," should we prefer to order something that didn't come with our Viking cruise meal plan.

I couldn't decide between "gross bony fish" and "stir-fried river snail."

We started on our trip down? up? the river, discovering we were in a flotilla of tour boats. The river is also filled with locals on their bamboo rafts, some of which are the persistent vendors. This guy connected his raft to our boat and tried to sell us "real" jade objects, holding them out to us and yelling up to the upper deck.

We began to see the amazing mountain peaks.

These guys from Belgium positioned themselves at the front railing and weren't moving for anything, so it was quite a challenge trying to shoot pictures around them.

Meanwhile, back in the cabin, one of the staff was offering us a local delicacy: snake wine, which they say is good for arthritis.

Mike, who will try anything, decided to buy a glass and both he and Walt tasted it.

Both were dubious, but said it tasted very strong and more like brandy than wine.

We were getting into the more spectacular part of the trip now

There were lots of named mountains, named for what they looked like. The one below, for example, is "9 horses running," which I couldn't see at ALL because I was looking at mountain shape and not the shape of the colors on the side of the mountain.

If you can make out the shape of a horse here, then you can start to find them in other parts of the mountain. Pretty cool.

Lunch turned out to be buffet...and we didn't have to order "longevity of fish."

Walt was just tickled to find himself eating French fries with chopsticks!

As we left the mountain area (and there will be LOTS of photos on Flickr when I get home), we started getting into farm country and seeing lots of farmers taking their vegetables to market.

We also saw little spaces -- kind of sandbars -- where apparently boats may dock and people can get off, dress in local costume and (for a fee) have their picture taken. (or maybe buy them...I couldn't tell)

We also started to see Cormorant men. Fishermen on this area of the river use cormorants to help them. They send the birds out, they catch fish and bring it back to the fisherman. They don't eat the fish because their necks are constricted in some way and they arent able to swallow them whole. Our local guide said that a fisherman will generally have a stable f some 10 birds, which live for up to 15 years, so are valuable to them.

Of course another function of the cormorants is to be used for tourists to photograph (and pay for, of course! -- I didn't pay; I took this picture from the ship as we were docking at our final destination, the little town of Yangshuo.

Yangshuo is definitely a town that derives a lot of its income from the tourist trade.

Scarves, fans, t-shirts, purses, books, postcards, graphic Kama Sutra dolls, toys, etc., etc., etc. You name it and 100 vendors have it, all trying to get you to buy from them. We did buy a couple of things, but mostly sat in our "meeting place" watching the traffic on the river and enjoying a bottle of "Great Wall Cabernet."

Finally, we all climbed aboard a golf-cart type vehicle which took us out of town and into the hotel area, where our bus was parked. Then it was back on the bus for the 40 minute ride back to the Guilin airport and from there to Hong Kong.

Now we are in Hong Kong, where Facebook works, and Walt's cell phone does not. We will have a half day tour with Jenna and our local guide (whose name is Polly!) and then be turned loose on our own for the next 2 days...and then home!

We are staying at the Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel. The Guilin Shangri-La was my favorite hotel of this trip and I was looking forward to finding a similar situation here. It's a lovely room, but not as much space as we had in Guilin. The lobby is gorgeous, but as we trudged toward the elevators, looking like some street person, I had the distinct feeling that a place where a guy who looked like an Asian Richard Deacon, with a snappy suit and a gold silk tie whose sole job it seemed to be to make sure that our elevator button got pushed was not really "our kind of place." We have moved up in the world from Motel 6, but we still aren't "Shangri-La" kinda people! But the wifi is free and even if the peanuts did cost us $9 for half a can, I was so hungry it was worth every penny.