Dave's Sketch Journal

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Home - Summary of China 2008

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This marks the end of a most fantastic trip. What made the trip great was not so much the places we went but the people we met. Ruth is great meeting people, finding out what their interests are and linking them together. The modern term is: "networking" but it doesn't capture what she does. Networking implies a business connotation. A sort of self-serving approach to hooking people together. Ruth is genuinely interested in helping people get what they want. In the end they help us but that's not her intent going in.

So when she met Eric at the restaurant who was looking for someone to deliver books to a remote village, she offered our help. He, in turn, introduced us to someone else at the college who wanted us to teach English. Meeting these people was a fantastic experience. It takes the tourism out of a trip to a foreign country. It makes it personal and gives a human connection to the place. We don't think of China as a place so much but as a place where some of our friends live.

I'm glad we didn't go during the Olympics. It'll be crazy during the games. It's crazy as it is. Way too many people in the cities. If you go, I really recommend traveling to some of the less traveled areas I mention on the blog.

As I look back over the "electronic scrapbook" (the travel blog) I'm reminded of how much we actually did and the number of friends we met. I was surprised to met several couples that were traveling much longer then us. One Danish couple had been traveling for four months and still had two more to go. Another couple planned to travel for nine months. However, she became pregnant on the trip so they had to cut it after only four months. I was amazed at these people. How can they travel so long? What are they doing for a living. I didn't ask.

If you are going to blog

If you are going to blog throughout your trip to China, I'd suggest you use travelblog.org. It's easy to get an account and it's easy to set up. Google's blogspot.com is blocked in China. You can't use it. In the end I opted for my own domain so that I could have more control over the blog format. I used blogger to FTP post to daveterry.net because it was easy.

There were four things I always carried with me, my notebook computer, my camera, a small chest pocket notebook (Moleskine Plain Reporter), and a Uniball Visioin micro pen.

All my electronic stuff automatically senses 220 so I didn't have to bring any special transformers. In all the places we traveled in China our normal two prong plug could fit the outlets so I didn't have to bring any plug converters. However, it you have three-prong devices, you'll need the three prong converter.

The camera is a Nikon D70. It's not the most expensive Nikon (D3? I wish.) but it's really light and great for travel. I carried it in the backpack at all times (or over my shoulder). The heaviest thing of the camera setup is my 12-24 lens. It's got lots of glass, which makes it heavy but it's an awesome lens. It makes you feel like you are in the scene. It's my favorite lens. I use a USB CF card reader to get the photos into the computer. This makes quick work posting the images to the blog site. It also saves the camera's battery while you upload the photos.

The Moleskine Plan Reporter is a notebook that opens at the top. It's the kind of notebook you'd see on police shows. It's easy to hold with one hand and is quickly accessed. I put a stiff post-it flag on the current page so that I can quickly flip it open to a fresh place to write.

The Uniball Vision micro pen is a 0.5 non-fade, waterproof pen. If the paper gets wet, you can still read your writing. It's a great pen for drawing maps or sketching people too. I write little notes to help me remember what happened so that I can include it on the blog. It's the perfect line weight for the pocket notebook.

I hope your trip to China (or somewhere else) is as safe and enjoyable as ours was. If you have any questions, feel free to write me using the tab above.

No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. - Lin Yutang

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The Last Day

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We are determined to enjoy every last bit of our month-long vacation. We will squeeze every possible activity in before we go. We are sad to leave. Has it really been a month?

But hey, there's always jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) to comfort us. Downstairs, in a small hole in the wall, is a shop that makes fresh jiaozi . These are to die for. In the morning we have coffee and cookies to stave off the hunger until the shop opens. Finally at 9:00 a.m. the shop fills with workers rolling, stuffing, pinching, and cooking the pasta wrapped sausages.

I'm not sure how, but when they are cooked, there is actually a soup inside. Eating this jiaozi takes skill. We bite off the top, suck out the hot juice, then bite into the meat. The pasta shell is soft on one side but crunchy on the other. It has a toasted taste to it. Wow. We order eight, sneak them up to the room, and are raptured.

Last night we got a chance to visit with some English tour guides. They took us to the Western side of town but we had Chinese food anyway. I tried a dish I'd never had before: Wood Ear Mushrooms. (We've been eating a lot of non-meat dishs.) Then we went to the French Quarter for coffee and desert and listened to live music (some English songs and some Chinese).

We walked the park late at night. It was dark in spots but there were light that lined the pathways. The police were there, walking or riding mopeds. I felt very safe. There were people in the park, sitting in twos. They weren't going to bother us, they were engaged in their own activities.

We snapped a few night pictures, said goodbye to our great tour guides, and took the taxi back to the hotel.

You know it's time to leave China when . . . instant coffee starts to taste good. - Ruth Terry

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It's great to get together again with Tim and Maite. We met up with them in Shanghai at the top of the Captain Hostel (our hostel) for some refreshments and a view of Pudong. We exchanged experiences, they and their trip to Qingdao/Beijing and we on our trip to Kunming/Lijiang. We laughed a lot.

The next day we went shopping. Tim insisted that I buy some silk pajamas and, you know, they ain't bad. In fact, he convinced me that I ought to move on up to their swank hotel. So we moved into the same hotel too. When I checked in, I asked for non-smoking. No problem. And when I asked for the 20th floor, it was also "no problem." Then I really pushed it; I asked for early check in. No problem. Everything was "no problem." A guy could get used to this kind of treatment, living in the 5-stars, drinking cognac, and lounging about in silk pajamas.

Of course, had I not been staying in the hostel the first few nights in Shanghai, I wouldn't have enough money to buy silk pagamas. I called downstairs (in my silk pajamas) and asked for ice. Within minutes it was at my door. No problem. Hostels don't even have room service. In fact, they don't have any service. You can't ask for stuff 'cause they don't have it. You're supposed to bring your own.

But of the two hostels we did stay in while visiting China, Captain Hostel and The Hump, The Hump was better. At The Hump they were extremely friendly and helpful. They chatted a bit with us and made us feel right at home. But the Captain Hostel did have a great view from the top deck.

There is another thing that the hostel had that was not available at the five starRamada Hotel... a gas mask. I don't know why they had one in the room, but it was kind of cool knowing that I could use it if needed. But when? Am I supposed to wear it when they fumigate the room for bugs or something? Or is pollution so heavy I'm supposed to wear it if I open the windows? And since there was only one mask, what would Ruth use?

When we came back from shopping we saw some workers putting in AC ducts, setting marble stone, and installing wiring in one of the rooms off the hotel lobby. There were wires hanging out of the walls, dust everywhere, and twenty workers in the place. I remember thinking: Can't they just continue work on this tomorrow? It's 10:30 p.m. But in the morning the place was open for business. The marble reception desk was set in place and the walls were lined with refrigerated counters packed with beautiful food. Twenty employees with matching outfits stood behind the counters serving long lines of customers. The place was packed and the lines spilled out into the pedestrian mall outside the hotel. How is this possible? Even though the workers worked all night, how did the people find out about this place? Where did they all come from?

Everywhere we go in the pedestrian mall we are bombarded by people asking if we want to buy a watch. After awhile we started counting how many would approach us between our hotel door and our destination. Soon we were able to identify who they were before they approached. Then we formulated Chinese sentences to combat them like: "Why do you ask if I want to buy a watch. I already have a watch (point to your wrist). " This was great fun.

We did follow a guy to a shop but when I tried to barter with the shop owner for a better price, he wouldn't come down. I wandered into the back of the store while the pestersome street vendor waited in the front. The shop owner followed me. He said in a whisper: "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you a better price." Ah, so the vendors roaming the pedestrian mall get a cut if they bring people to the shops. So now I just ignore them and find the alley stores myself. I need to save money now that I'm in the 5-star and have bought the silk pajamas.

There is a Brewery right off The Bund called, well, The Brewery off The Bund. We shared a large ale and dark lager. We took a quick tour of the tanks. Tim saw some guy trudging about the place in rubber boots and asked if we could take a peek at the brewing ale. They play some great blues in the place. The tables are built for giants, you sit up high and have a view of the passing traffic. We were in China but it felt as though we were sitting in a San Francisco pub, that is, of course, except for the Chinese writing on the cabs passing by. Great place to get an ale. They have steak too, even Japanese Kobe steak, but you'll pay with your firstborn for it.

Well it's pretty late. I have to climb into the silk pajamas and find the cognac.

You know you've been in China too long when . . . you enjoy the taxi as much as an amusement ride. - Tim Duggan

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