Dave's Travel Journal

A vacation is what you take when you can't take what you've been taking. - Earl Wilson


Shanghai Shopping

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You can get anything in Shanghai and in every variety.

On our way to pick up our suits we found entire buildings of sewing items, floors of zippers, buttons, snaps, and fasteners. There are entire buildings of luggage, purses, bags, backpacks, and leather goods. There are rows and rows of shops selling watches, bracelets, rings, ear rings, and necklaces. We found rows of stationary shops selling pens, paper, notebooks, brushes, and ink. One shop had nothing but pens, in every imaginable color. And I haven't even told you about stores and buildings or shops of cutlery, bowls, cups, plastic containers, stainless cooking pots, and label making machines.

In one shop I paused to look at some leather bags. The shop owner asked if I wanted a watch. But before I could answer he pushed open a display case wall that revealed a hidden room of yet more bags and watches. Who makes all this stuff? Where does it all come from?

What is most incredible to me is that all this stuff is made under the most primitive conditions and with the simplest of tools. None of it is automated. It's transfered via moped to the shop owner. It is balanced in precarious gravity-defying heaps on mopeds or even bicycles that must thread the streets clogged with people, cars, taxis, and buses.

Should the moped break down, mechanics squat in the streets or floors of shops and use hack saws and hammers to repair it. It's now in a million scattered pieces in their shop and spilling out into the sidewalk. I step over some pieces and wonder how will they get it all back together? What if I accidentally kick a piece into the street? I can't imagine attempting to do for a moment what they do every day.

But if I did kick a ball bearing from one of the wheels into the street, they'd just make another. They would fire up their torch, melt down an old spoke and form it into a replacement bearing, on the spot. No problem. That's life. Meibanfa.

Smells are bad in the streets of Shanghai. Garbage is piled everywhere. Alleys fill with discarded trash, food, and rubble. Some try to keep the streets clean and wash down the front of their shops with buckets of water and give it a swab with a filthy mop. It's nearly impossible. Too many people, too much traffic, too much trash. The water just pools, garbage and all, in the street near their shop. We step around it.

Buildings half demolished and abandoned stand next to modern glass hotels. I walk under scaffolding of bamboo, towering up the side of a new structure. It's ten stories high. Bamboo scaffolding ten stories high and lashed together with what looks like twine? As I look up in awe of the ingenuity I trip and almost tumble into an open pit being prepared for new paver stones. OSHA would have a hey day here.

But the Chinese pedestrians just walk on, ignoring all the changes around them, stepping over this hurdle and around that barricade. Nothing can stand in their way. They keep going like industrious ants, engineering bridges over crevasses and pathways around obstacles.

They are industrious, ingenious, and will make due using whatever means is at their disposal. Don't have oven mitts for the boiling water container? Just use pieces of cardboard. Don't have the right grill for the sidewalk opening? Just bend over the re-bar into a circular pattern to form the grill. Don't have the right bricks for a sidewalk job? Just pour concrete and strike groves where the mortar would go to match what is already there.

That's the China I see, that's the Chinese people I witnessed.

...dave
No one speaks English and everything is broken. - Tom Waits

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Back...to Shanghai...again

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It's a sad day for us. We have returned to Shanghai. Our days of dwelling in the remote parts of China are over. Our quiet farmlands are gone. We are smack in the city of Shanghai with all it's traffic noise. Trucks on the streets, beeping mopeds and taxis, constant throngs of people, beggars and, of course, higher costs for everything. Qingdao beer that once cost 10 yuan in Lijiang now costs 40 yuan here in Shanghai. Meals are double or triple. At least we have a good view from our new location. Ruth edited some of my past posts while we had pizza atop Captain Hostel.

Even our walk under the river to the Pudong area cost us money. We are staying on the Bund (Weitan) in Shanghai just across the Huangpu river. We thought it would be nice to walk under the river to see the buildings on the other side. But it cost us $7.50 each round trip to take the little railcar to it. During the little ride they have a light show in the tunnel. Random patterns paint the walls red, blue, green, and white. Voices in Chinese and English spew random words: "Paradise" and "heaven and hell." Then the lights flash. Kind of corny if you ask me. When we got to the other side, we learned that it cost another $20 to ride up to the lookout of Oriental Pearl Tower.

So, instead we drank a cup of Starbucks and watched the boats float by. We snapped a few pictures and came back to the hotel, eh, I mean, hostel.

We found a cute little hostel on The Bund called the Captain Hostel. For just $55/night we get a clean room, bed, and normal bathroom. I'm so grateful for the normal bathroom. You don't know how good it feels to have a light and mirror above the sink. And to have a sink and shower with their own drains.

The last place we stayed at had the shower at the far end of the bathroom. As I showered, the water streamed across the bathroom floor, then swirled around the pedestal sink, and finally passed the toilet some twelve feet away into a drain in the wall. The toilet was right in the doorway. When I opened the pocket door, I had to step around the toilet to get to the sink. I complained in a previous post about the difficulty I had in shaving with a single light to the right of the mirror. However, in this last bathroom the mirror was over the toilet and the sink faced a window on the right. So I lathered my face, set the razor, then craned left to see the mirror over the toilet some four feet away. I then shaved one stroke and began the process all over again. This resulted in a query from my wife concerning blood on my lip. "Ruth, I said, you can't begin to understand the challenges of looking beautiful for you on this trip."

However, that's all behind us now. Our new bathroom even comes with soap. There is also a soft soap and shampoo dispenser in the shower.

Eat your heart out silk-pajama-Tim.

...dave
We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment. - Hilaire Belloc

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China by Horseback

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I love horseback riding. I remember when I was a teen I had a friend whose father owned a ranch. We'd go out and clean the barns in the morning and then ride in the afternoon. It was great. I once got a chance to ride bareback.

When Eric suggested that we go on horseback to tour the country, I couldn't resist. He arranged the horses and owners to meet us in a village near Lijiang. The tour would take us to Lashi Lake (Qixianhu). The lake is a one and a half hour ride in the back country. Eric told of the legends surrounding the lake. The name means immortal. It was said that those who drink from the lake never die. But it's also known as suicide lake. Often the parents arranged marriages for their eligible children. Meanwhile the youths fell in love with another. Since the parents decision was binding, the youths would go down to the lake and take their own life.

On the way up the mountain the Naxi woman who owned the horses suggested that they pack a lunch for us. Well, yeah, sure, sounds good. So we stopped at their home and picked up some fresh garden vegetables and meat. This wasn't going to be a PBJ (peanut butter and jelly) snack. As we rode the horses through the well worn earth and threaded through the rough rock, the woman walked behind us, baskets full of the items for lunch.

When we got to our destination, Lashi Lake, they began to unpack not just the food but the traditional hot pot to cook it in. The pot is a donut shape with a cylinder through the center that rests on the base. At the base a fire is started and charcoal is placed in the cylinder. Soon the water begins to boil. Fresh vegetables washed from the mountain cold water nearby are tossed into the donut surrounding the heat. Bacon, ham hock, beans, potatoes, green onions, and salt are added.

There were several people having lunch around the lake. They were cooking in large woks. Soon there was a commotion. The other tourists (mostly Chinese, I didn't see another foreigner) were talking noisily. What's up? They stood near us, now angry with their own tour guides who didn't supply the traditional cooking device that our Naxi woman brought. Eric was cool. He told them that our cooking device wasn't as good as theirs. Theirs had better taste. He didn't want to get into trouble with the other tour guides.

This meal was the absolute best food I've had so far on this trip to China. Maybe it was the traditional hot cooking pot, maybe it was the fresh meat and vegetables, maybe it was the river washed food. I don't know, but it was wonderful.

We ambled back to the town in the rain, but we were warm inside.

We said goodbye to Eric over a final cup of coffee and tea. We got to know him so well. We will miss him and the wonderful things we saw while visiting Lijiang.

Tomorrow we leave for Shanghai where we finish up our last four days in China.

...dave
If you travel by horse you wont lose your luggage. - Dave Terry

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Baisha and the Naxi Customs

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The Black Dragon Pool near the college was a welcome park in the middle of the busy city of Lijiang. We walked a bit and took a few pictures.

Then Eric Yang took us to Baisha village. This is the same Eric Yang that hosted our English class in his cafe at the Lijiang college. Eric was great. He runs a Professional Guide service for foreigners. In exchange for the teaching we did in the college, he offered to tour us around Baisha village.

The village had all the same items we could find for sale in Gucheng (old town) but cheaper. What is most interesting about the village and the Naxi people who live in it, is that they are a matriarchal society. The woman do the housework, shopping, planting, feeding of the livestock, and teaching of the children. The men sit around and play cards and mahjong. If we do move to China, I'm going to consider living here.

We found some very cool chairs made of tree bark. The store owner invited us it to sit and take a few pictures. They were surprisingly comfortable.

There is a famous Dr. Ho here. He's 85 and still going strong. He prescribes herbs for anything that ails you. Many claim that he has saved their lives. BBC, ABC, and Michael Palin all have done specials about him. He's world famous as he'll gladly tell you so. He's quite a talker and I felt a bit held captive as several of us sat around and heard him tell us how famous he was. He handed out leaflets and letters from various famous people commending him for his work. He speaks English well enough to use words like "famous" and "great man" and "man of mystery."

Anyway Ruth disappeared into a side room with him and in five minutes he prescribed some tea and other herbs for external use. He wraps the power up in square paper and seals them with tape. Finally, he uses a traditional brush and Chinese ink to write the directions on the outside of the packet. Then he uses a special stamp on a paper to help get us through customs. He doesn't charge anything. You give him whatever you want.

We hadn't heard about this village until we met Eric. It was fantastic to have him guide us. We learned so much more. We asked questions about culture, background, living conditions, and viewpoints. Eric's English is excellent. If you do visit Lijiang but don't speak Chinese, I highly recommend him. You can fine him just outside the water wheels of the old town. Or you can reach him using his email: ericLiJiang@163.com or Phone: 131.7078.9953.)

We ended the day at our favorite restaurant, The Bistro Well. We ate pizza and beer and watched the sun leave the town. The eves provided a warm glow of their own light against the darkening blue sky.

...dave
If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. - James Michener

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Tim & Maite (a bonus post)

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I got a call from Tim and Maite. They are having a great time in Beijing touring the Great Wall and Summer Palace. We split up because we saw those sights a couple of years ago. Although I'll have to say they are doing it with more class and style.

For example, he sent a picture of their hotel granite bathroom. Huh? What's granite? (Note that he hung a couple of socks over the tub to give the illusion that he's roughing it.)

Oh, and he also sent me a picture of himself in some easy chair in their room wearing silk pajamas! Sheesh. I don't have any pajamas, let alone silk ones. And an easy chair? There ain't no space in my room for anything but a box spring. They're killing me.

But hey, who's to judge? I'll let you draw your own conclusion. Here are some pictures of the tough times they are having.



The granite tub


The silk pajamas


Touring


Some factory visits


He did buy a very cool mushroom teapot




It has been observed that stay at a boston hotel is much comfortable than one at a san diego hotel. In spite of this people still prefer london hotels or talk of the paris hotel they went to the season before.



...dave
No vacation goes unpunished. - Karl A. Hakkarainen

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Tiger Leaping Gorge

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Hutiaoxia (Tiger leap down) is basically big rock in a narrow stream. The water drops from its source 700 feet above is has an average depth of 131 feet. The gorge itself is 1.4 miles high.

Why the name? The story goes that a tiger leaped down to the rock and back up the other side using the bolder in the river. Like many legends the purpose is not to tell a true story but to give a visual to the visitor. It's something to talk about.

The walk is easy on the Lijiang side. If you visit, use the Lijiang side. (Its on the right side as you drive to the gorge.) Don't use the Shangrila or Zhongdian side. The Lijiang side is less crowded and you don't have to walk down to the lookout and then back up again.

But the walk on the Lijiang side is bit dicey. Rocks regularly fall so you are advised to hug the rock face to the right. The park rangers take this very seriously. If you get curious and start to saunter to the edge, a guard placed every 100 feet with a bullhorn will remind you to keep moving. This means that you can't pause to take pictures. Don't worry, the better shots are at the end anyway. I talked to one local person about this. He said that every year several people die because of falling rocks. Last year an older man from Germany was hit and was killed.

I took these "falling rock" warnings seriously. On the path there was a detour into a hewn tunnel. The reason for the detour was that on the original pathway skirting the mountain was a bolder twelve feet around. Now that would give you a headache. The stone balanced just at the edge of the path. The park is creating more of these tunnels for the ever increasing tourists. The tunnels are safer but, of course, it tends to limit your view of the gorge.

I know you must be worried that we took this path. I mean, if something happened to me, who would write the next blog post on this Travel Journal? What would you read tomorrow? Don't worry, the fact that I'm writing this now is evidence that I survived. Unfortunately, there'll be another post tomorrow.

One of the tunnels was still under construction. There was a worker outside overhauling the compressor. All the parts and pieces were strewn about him on the ground as he squat and hand filed one of the piston rings. We followed a couple inside the tunnel and passed piles of rocks neatly stacked against the wall. There was a concrete smell to the place. When we approached the other side we found that they had just poured a concrete wall to hold the stone walls in place.

Our Naxi woman cab driver sang Naxi songs to us on the way to the gorge. The Naxi people are the largest of the 22 minority groups in Lijiang. (There are 56 in all of China.) They are closely related to the Tibetans. She also bought strawberries (cao3mei2) for us. She understood that we have to stay away from the local water but told us these were okay for us foreigners as they were washed in the rushing river below. They burst with flavor and were ice cold from the water below. She also taught us Chinese words and we taught her some English. She really has a good ear for pronunciation. She said "This is my car" in perfect English after Ruth repeated it the third time.

The taxi ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge was like a ride on a bucking bronco at a rodeo. I hit my head on the side of the door frame from one of the car-sized pot holes we bounced into. Construction steamrollers and dump trucks loaded with rocks clogged the narrow roadway and fought for position on the turns. Buses and taxis don't stand a chance. Heshifu, our cab driver, placed her front bumper on the rear left mud flap of the truck in front of her waiting for an opening to pass. The trucks puffed soot that enveloped our car and swirled in great clouds with the dust from the road. We rolled up the windows but this only trapped the mixture inside and made it hard to breath.

Covered in dust and soot we crashed at 9:00 p.m. We'd been up since 5:30 a.m. It was a long day.

...dave
A traveler to distant places should make no enemies. - Nigerian Proverb

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Grocery Shopping

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After breakfast at the Bistro Well, we decided to go shopping and to the grocery store today. As you can see the items here are much fresher than the Safeway or Publix in the United States. I mean, the bacon is still warm and the fish are still swimming. How can you get fresher than that?

We got an opportunity to teach English the Lijiang College. It was fun and students seemed to enjoy it. Eric Yang who runs a cafe at Lijiang college hosted the event. It was just a one hour to illustrate some of the techniques we learned in Dr. Cotton's TESOL class.




This blog post is short. Enjoy the pics.

Breakfast at Bistro Well.


Pots and pans at the market.


Poultry section


Shoe repair


Shoppers


Fresh meat


Checkout counter


Fresh fish section


Fresh vegetables


Butcher


Spices


Insects (you may not have this section in your grocery shop)



Fruit section


The candy shop


Yuan, the wood carver.


Some people pictures.





....dave
A vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work. - Morris Fishbein

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