Dave's Travel Journal

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


Ruth & Joanne's Lijiang

Bridge Troll?
Ruth and Joanne had a great time without me in Lijiang and to prove it they kept sending me pictures.

I get Noah's flood and they get 77 degree weather, shopping and culture.

Rats.

Lijiang restaurant
But that's not enough. Ruth keeps sending me pictures. I'm not really sure what they are pictures of. Not much text in the email, just the pics. and a sort of implied "wish you were here" message.

Here's a picture of Ruth near a window looking out at some panoramic view of a China mountain. Was this their room or the restaurant? I really couldn't say.  I know this sort of non-specific stuff drives you crazy. I wish I could be more helpful but that's all the information they provided.

And she sent me another of a guy smoking a long ancient pipe. (Ruth says he reminded her of a bridge troll.) Was he a tour guide, a juggler, or really and truly a troll that lives under the bridge?

Yeah? Well, just to prove my day wasn't a total waste, I went out in the courtyard and read a book! I also took some pictures to send to them. Just to show I was having my own fun.

apartment swiming pool
For example, I saw an exotic elephant at the entrance and elephants with fish tails at the elephant-sized blue tile pool.

I sat on oak benches protected by a pillared solarium and teak walkway.

I think they are on the plane home now. I'm told they bought some great stuff there so maybe in the next post I can include some pictures.

...dave
Jealousy is all the fun you think they had. - Erica Jong

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forcast: thunder & lightening

breakfast alone
Thunder followed closely by lightening was the essay of the day. There were commas of sunshine. But the rain was mostly a run-on sentence of jail time in my apartment.

Yet it amazes me what people can accomplish in the rain. I saw a man on a moped carrying four large jugs of water. He drove through the courtyard below in a crimson poncho draped over his handlebars. Another lady was delivering a hot meal on a tray in the pouring rain. It was so fierce out there I didn't even want to get close to the window.

hung out to dry
Ruth and Joanne took a flight to Lijiang to do a little shopping in the old town. (Click on the link for a glimpse of our previous visit to that beautiful, if a bit touristy, town.)

So that explains the lone breakfast I made for myself: three farm fresh eggs with Jack cheese, toasted homemade bread with blackberry jam, garden fresh tomatoes lightly fried in a sauce pan with salt and pepper, and of course coffee.

I also promised to look after the laundry while the girls were gone. We have a washer/dryer but the dryer takes forever and sucks juice big time. So we have a rack that we can place near the sunny window. Except that today, the sun wasn't working for me. Anyway it was a chance to sketch while I watched clothes dry.

thunder night
At about 7:00 pm the rain stopped enough for me to get out. I walked around and watched the old folks gather around a wooden table and chat about the day. I saw grandpa and his granddaughter jumping and running around the courtyard. I heard crickets from the ponds and fountains in the pavilion. I sat and read and wrote for a few brief moments.

By 7:30 pm the rain was back. Thunder slapped at the buildings so hard, the mopeds complained with shrieks from their alarms.

I took cover back in the apartment and heated up some eggplant parmesan still left over in the fridge and watched Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore.

...dave
Forgiveness means giving up on changing the past. - The Journal Keeper

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KFC visit

dave's new doo
We thought we'd take a full day and do a little work. We are on a tourist's VISA and are not supposed to work. But then again, if we are thinking of moving here we ought to check out the work situation. So, along with another Korean couple, we took a trip on the bus and scouted out a place.

The Korean couple had only had a yogurt for breakfast. So we soon ended up at the local KFC.

It was packed! There were seven lines of 10 people deep. We finally found a table and got a coffee and a coke.

When I went up to order, the KFC cashier pulled out a picture menu. They do this when they see a non-Chinese person. I'm supposed to point to the items I want. Since I was only ordering coffee and a coke, I don't need no pictures. I can do this myself. I smiled at her, pulled up my training paints, ignored the baby pictures and ordered like a big boy. She raised her eyebrows slightly and then asked me a question. She was testing me. Yeah, I knew what she was doing. So I faked it. I answered "yes" and calculated that whatever the question was, a "yes" couldn't hurt me much in an eating establishment. (I thought she asked if I wanted to eat in but she asked if I wanted to eat out. How could I get this wrong?) She put the coffee and coke in a paper bag, took my money, and I returned to the table to join our friends.

bicycle truck
The best way to learn a foreign language is to sit around and talk about everyday stuff. This is totally stress-free and loads of fun, especially when you have great companions that are so forgiving. Many of my sentences were punctuated by long pauses and  electronic-dictionary searches. Of course, even if I found the correct Chinese word they might not know it and have to look it up in their Korean dictionary. Chinese is the language we have in common. They knew very little English. We don't know any Korean.

So we spent the entire day visiting various eating places and laughing a lot. We talked of the weather, our families, and even our hobbies. I need to do this for the next two months.

Dude, use the sidewalk!
On the way back home I took a couple of grab shots of the crazy transportation we see in the streets.

The guy on the bike should have rented a truck but instead he's strapped these long planks on either side of his bicycle seat. It looks like he'll spear someone coming in the opposite direction.

I saw one guy pushing his friend in a wheelchair down the middle of the road and against traffic. Go figure. No wonder the poor guy is in a wheelchair. His buddy has been avoiding the sidewalks!

Oh, yeah, forgot to mention. Got a new doo. Went to the same place as Ruth and got a haircut for $2. Includes the cut, a before and after shampoo wash, and blow dry styling. Whoa dude.

...dave
When I went to the beauty shop the the hair stylist said it would cost me $75. And that was just for the estimate! - Phyllis Diller

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silence is golden

Yunnan China
People here in the cities must really enjoy noise. Right now I only hear the fountain outside. It was just recently cleaned out. They are running it daily now. Right this moment there is silence. But it will not last.

Every morning I wake up with bus horns, moped alarms, hacking and clearing of throats (followed by spitting), loud talking in the courtyards, and incessant cell phone ringing.

One local Chinese person told us that they moved to Colorado in America. Within a few weeks they returned. They couldn't handle the silence. They need the noise. Can you imagine? This can't be true with every Chinese person can it?

Yunnan China
But I understand perfectly. Since coming here just a week ago I'm bombarded by noise. Even before arriving, while waiting in the airport, I was subjected to a constant loop of the same announcements of flight delays, in English and Chinese. It was loud, it was constant, it was exhausting.

After arriving here, I found that every bus, every elevator lobby, and nearly every store has a TV blasting the same three commercials over and over and over again. I know I'm going to buy those products, but I don't know why.

I've begun sleeping with ear plugs. I leave the window open at night to let the cool breezes in but unfortunately at 4:30, when people start walking through the courtyard, I wake up. I begin to hear their morning conversations with each other and on their cell phones. No one here knows how to whisper in Chinese.

...dave
Silence is golden, duct tape is silver. - T-shirt slogan

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three guys and a haircut

Ruth decided that she needed a haircut so she went downstairs and found a shop.

Everything, and I mean everything, is available within a five minute walk from the apartment. It's unbelievable. Ruth got a haircut, her backpack sewn up, and some vegetables within a five minute walk of our place.

These guys are all giggly when she arrived along with another friend. The three guys took a look at her little drawing. She had sketched a pixie-like cut. They giggled again.

The wash and cut took 30 minutes and cost 8 kuai. ($2.10 U.S.)

She also had her leather backpack repaired by the guy on the street for 3 kuai. ($0.45 cents)

After that she went shopping for dinner vegetables and noodles. ($3.00 U.S.)

So the total came to $5.55 AND she was back in an hour and a half. Try that in Atlanta Georgia!

...dave
You are only as good as your last haircut.

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the tutor

On our first night here we had a chance to meet a very good tutor. She's very funny and wonderfully friendly. We sat and laughed and talked over dinner in an outside restaurant in the north end of the city.

The evening was a moderate 77 degrees with a slight breeze. We sat under a tree and talked until the sun left us. The wispy cotton pink clouds swept through the turquoise blue sky above.

She teaches Chinese for 50 yuan per 1.5 hours, that's $5 per hour, and she drives to our apartment for private lessons.

We took her out to lunch after our first session. Most Chinese food is a mix of vegetables and whatever meat you order. Spices and peppers may change the taste but the basic ingredients remain the same. What was unique about this meal was the deep fried goat cheese. A plate of this was served with two bowls. One of sugar and another of salt. I preferred dipping them in the sugar because it complements the salty goat cheese inside.

We needed books so she drove us about 30 minutes away to buy them. One the way to the bus station to drop us off for our return trip home, she suggested we should see her home.

She lives in a condo with four floors. Each resident owns two floor each. The bottom two floors have an outside garden. The top two floors have a roof garden. She has the top two floors. The roof garden includes a pond with koi, trees, a friendly rabbit, and a view of the city with a mountain backdrop.

Her husband decorated the entire apartment. The doors are solid oak as are the door casings. Some of the doors have etched glass panel insets. On one living room wall hangs a slab of sandstone. The walls are painted a cream color that frames the doors.

The entire place looked western to me. I was surprised to see that they had western toilets too. The only indication that we were in a Chinese home was the kitchen counters. For some reason the counter height in China is only 36 inches.

From the inside it could have been a million dollar home situated in the East Bay or San Francisco area. Walking through the place there was no indication that we were in China at all. Of course, she didn't pay San Francisco prices.

The place cost them $90k U.S. But for that, they only buy a concrete shell. No doors, no bathrooms, no walls. Just the shell. I'm uncertain what it cost them to finish the place for their move-in. However, labor is cheap and so is much of the building materials.

...dave
Laughter is an instant vacation.  - Milton Berle


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the "bike"

Traveling around in China is easy, once you figure out how to read Chinese.

Once you've accomplished that, there are many options for getting around. There is public transportation, that is the bus, a taxi, moped, bike, and car. Not many people own cars. Our tutor does but I think she's on the upper end of the financial scale. Taxis are expensive by chinese standards so most people travel on bus, bike, or moped.

The owner of the apartment that I'm sitting for offered me the use of his gas powered "bike." There are two kinds of mopeds in use here: electric and gas. They often refer to both as "bikes." I don't know why. There are tons of muscle-powered bicycles here too. Ah, but I digress.

Anyways, the plan was to follow a friend to another part of town for some tea. He has an electric bike and I have the borrowed gas powered variety.

Riding the moped took a little getting used to. Even though I owned a motorcycle for a couple of years, it's nothing close to getting on one of these tiny toys. This thing turns sharply and will dump me into the street without compassion. Oh, and there is no manual switching of gears. It's got some kind of an automatic clutch. I have to rev it a bit to get it to move forward. So I'm in the courtyard trying to find the clutch and gear shifter only to be told that all I have to do is twist the throttle. I have the same challenge when I got gas for it. I couldn't get it going again. People must have thought I just stole it.

We took off through the narrow gate of my safe and secure complex and injected ourselves directly into the flow of traffic. There are no merge lanes. And understand that no one observes any of the lanes painted in the street anyway. These are merely "suggestions" and are never followed. No one uses blinkers either. Horns are popular, although now you can get a ticket for using them to warn drivers you are nearby.

No, there is just one wide, mercilessly hard, concrete lane that contains all of the vehicles, big and small, trucks and mopeds, gargantuan and tiny, seen and unseen, moving and smashed.

I'm a small fish in this ocean of traffic. All of us are swimming together, as one single school of creatures, darting here and there, and suspended in the invisible current.

There are few lights or stop signs along the way. Only lanes merging on my left and right. Lanes that sometimes become traffic circles and onramps to other places I don't want to go. There are throngs of people pressing in all around me. I'm driving right next to a guy with some boxes sitting on the floorboard of his scooter and others tied and stacked high up on the back. We are driving side by side. I can touch him with the pinkie of my right throttle hand, he's THAT close.

But wait, here's our first stop light.

There are policemen waving all the mopeds over. What's going on? They are talking to my friend in rapid Chinese (is there any other kind?) and waving for his wife to get off the back of his moped. He is writing a ticket. After the ticket is exchanged for some cash, the policeman tells his wife to get on the back of my bike! I act nonchalant but I sure hope she realizes that she's risking her life. Rats, I wish I knew what was happening. All I could gather was something about "two people." Maybe he could tell I was a better driver than my friend!?

He paid 20 kuai (about $2.50) and we took off.

I later found out that the law says electric bikes can't have passengers. Gas-powered ones can. There are other restrictions too that was news to my friend.

He later told me that he asked another policeman specifically if he can have passengers. "Oh, yeah, not a problem." he told him. My friend told me that one of the frustrating things for him is that the laws keep changing. No one knows for sure what is legal or illegal.

But in the end, two dollars and fifty cents is not a bad price to pay. I think of it as an "ignorance tax."

...dave
Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death. - Earl Wilson

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visit to a tea shop


tea shop
Originally uploaded by daveterry
Today we took the mopeds up north and while there did a little tea drinking.

This tea table is made of a solid piece of wood with carved fish and other creatures protruding from it's flat surface. In an area of about two feet in front of the tea server is a shallow "sink" complete with a drain hole toward the back. As she serves tea she simply dumps the unused water or tea onto the surface and it drains away.

She attentively watches how much tea I drink and constantly refills my thimble-sized glass cup. It's always kept three-quarters full. This leaves the top lip of the tiny cup cool enough for me to grab.

We sat and talked about the weather and the news. One Chinese businessman, also a customer of the tea shop, asked us about former president Clinton. I didn't completely get his drift but I guess he was curious about whether or not he was popular in America.

We asked him if he had a lot of money. He said he did. So we asked him what he does for a living and what he buys with his money.



Originally uploaded by daveterry
These kind of questions might seem rude by American standards but to the Chinese it "gives them face." In other words, a chance to talk about themselves and brag a bit.

So he told us about the copper mines he owns.

It was great to be exposed to Chinese constantly. Everywhere I turn the Chinese words and sentences fill my ears. My listening skills are fairly good if I know the context. My speaking? Not so great. I was able to tell them, because they are always curious, how many children I have, how old they are and what do I do for work.

Sometimes I feel a bit ill at ease when they rapidly talk and look my direction. They might imagine I understand everything they say. The best approach is simply to smile and nod knowingly.

Soon I had to use the bathroom. I took a quick shot of the cozy place for a little sketch later. When I got home I sketched from this picture. There was no way to do this on location!

We had a great time but finally had to grab a bite in a nearby shop of noodles.

As you can imagine, life here is difficult. First the tea and then the noodles. And then the harrowing ride back home.

I'll talk about the moped experience in another post. Remind me to tell you about getting pulled over by the police.

...dave
Poise is the ability to be ill at ease inconspicuously. - Earl Wilson

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grocery bag book cover


grocery bag book cover
Originally uploaded by daveterry
I always take a book with me (this time five books) to read on the plane and at night when I can't sleep. The book I select depends on the destination. Usually I choose a book that is somehow connected with the place I'm visiting.

In the 2008 trip to China I read River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. It's about an American teaching in China and about his struggles with the language. Great read.

This trip I'm reading Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China. It's about three generations of Chinese woman and how they dealt with their challenges. Some of the book might be offensive to some so I decided to cover it in some brown paper. The added benefit of doing this is that I could record interesting quotes and references in the book right on the cover.

But why stop there?

I decided to put all my travel connections on the book so that I wouldn't have to pull out additional papers to figure out what gate to go to next. Since I'm often reading on the stopovers, I have the next gate right in my clammy hand.

I think I'll be doing more of this. Love this idea.

...dave
Laughter is an instant vacation.  - Milton Berle


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our foreign apartment

China apartment
We really had no clue that our apartment would be so beautiful. Wood floors throughout, modern accent lights, chandalier, modern cabinets, and all the comforts from home. We were told that this complex is "posh" by China standards.  One of my buddies said that sometimes you'll see Ferraris parked out near the water fountain. These are owned by Chinese folks that have made it big but don't know what to spend their money on. You can't even drive a Ferraris anywhere in China. There just are not any roads that merit it's speed.

Our friends bought a bowl full of fruit and some fresh-cut pink and white carnations. So when we walked into the apartment there was a sweet fragrance in the air. The weather was a perfect 77 degrees with a gentle breeze.

This place is about 1,000 sq feet.  About twice where we live now.

We walk the next morning to do some shopping.  Within a 10 minute radius walk we registered with the police (a must), had photo IDs taken, bought SIM cards for our jail broken and unlocked iPhones, and ate lunch at a restaurant.

China apartment
There is a scooter downstairs we could use too but not sure if we are brave enough.  Most likely we'll just use public transportation.

Making coffee takes more of an effort than home. Because the water is not safe for foreigners to drink, every morning I have to boil a pot of water. I use the apartment's french press which has two parts to it, both of which are left out on the counter while I boil the water. The bag of coffee, a table spoon, and my mug wait patiently. Having all this out on the counter makes my my coffee making procedure look more like a science lab experiment.

It's strange really, the things that take the longest in the U.S. take seconds here but the things that take seconds in the U.S. take much longer.

The SIM card purchase with a China phone number was just a matter of picking a phone number I liked from a computer screen and handing over $15. The card comes with 100 minutes, rechargable any time just down the street or on the Internet. Cost of phone service in China for a month? About $5-$10!

But making coffee is another matter. Because we can't use water out of the tap, we have to boil it and clean the cups with the boiled water before making it in the french press maker. A bit of a hassle.

...dave
Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world. - Gustave Flaubert

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air travel

After 20 hours in the air and another 15 in the three airports we finally arrived at our destination. In retrospect, we should have made the long journey in two legs, resting a day between. China is a long ways away.

Flying in China can be miserable. There is no zone boarding as in the U.S. wherein they gradually load the plane in sections of seats. No, it's just one mass of people up at the gate. No real lines. Everyone tries to fit through the gate at the same time. Reminds me of the old Play-doh squeeze toy that made a long spaghetti noodle from a clump of doh.

The result is a longer boarding times since people sitting in the front of the plane are standing in the isle stuffing huge bags into the overhead bins while most of the people haven't even found their seats yet.

When we did get settled there are interminable waits that have no explanation. The flight attendants try hard to calm us impatient folks down using both Chinese and English. Unfortunately her English is not understandable. The inflection is wrong and simply sounds like Chinese noise. I understand her Chinese better than her English even though I don't know all the vocabulary. So after waiting in the airport for seven hours, we wait strapped on the plane another two.

On our last leg the guy in front of us must have been traveling on planes for weeks because it was obvious he hadn't had a shower in as long. A man behind us moaned and huffed every time the flight attendant told us there would be another delay. Unfortunately for us, before boarding, he had lunch laced with onions and garlic. Each delay brought another huffing exhalation that pumped halitosis forward between our seats. His odor swirled around us as a cloud and then mingled with the front seat's puff of body order. We took less frequent breaths of oxygen during those two hours and had the blowers above our heads blowing full blast but we were still turning blue.

Whenever I think about how terrible air travel has become I always compare it to ship and land travel before jets. We arrived half way across the world in just two days for a two month long stay. Had we used the old way of travel It would have taken us two months just to get here, just in time to turn around and go home.

The apartment was a welcome sight.

...dave
For travel to be delightful, one must have a good place to leave and return to. 
-- Frederick B. Wilcox


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Korea stopover

We've already flown now for 13 hours but are only as far as Korea.  I think we have another four and a half hours of flying to go and another eight hours of layovers in various airports.

We have flown 7570 nautical miles.

We got a bit of sleep, as much as you can in coach.  We were drooling over first class as we passed.  Some of the seats were full length beds.  I wonder what THAT costs?  Maybe with all the flying we do we can upgrade to first class sometime and let the peasants ride in the back.

We flew Korean Air this time and the service and kindness of the flight attendants was outstanding.  The food was served in white ceramic bowels (no plastic dishes), bright silver flatware, and glassware. Then they served free wine, even if only a house red.

All of the flight attendants were stewardesses with gentle and graceful movements.  For example when she set my coffee on my food tray, she gestured toward it with open palm, and fingers together like Vana White gestures toward the newly revealed letter on Wheel of Fortune.

Their outfits were just adorable.  They wore silk, power blue blouses with huge white stiff bows tied around their necks. The tie tails were stiff and about eight inches long.  One of the ties stuck up and out over their left shoulder.  It looked like they were all wearing huge propellers.

We'll check back in when we arrive.

...dave
Oh, why can't we break away from all this, just you and I, and lodge with my fleas in the hills?  I mean, flee to my lodge in the hills.  - S. J. Perelman

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Ruth's what-to-wear chart


Ruth's what-to-wear chart
Originally uploaded by daveterry

In preparation for our two month trip to China, Ruth made her what-to-wear chart.  She lists all the clothes she wants to bring and draws lines between what goes with what. Anything with only a couple of lines gets axed!

(She doesn't have a shoe chart as she will only bring two pair.  The ones she wears on the plane and the sandals in the carry on bag.)

We're big on www.onebag.com.  We've been traveling now this way and we'll never go back to check-on bags.  On our last two month-long trips to Chine we only brought a carry-on bag.  Once we tried this, we never went back to checking bags.  No lost luggage, no wait on arrival, no back pain, just to name a few benefits. If you are interested in lightening your load, check out the Go-Light-Guru at www.onebag.com.  Great advice.

So we are locked and loaded.  We leave for our two month adventure in China on Monday.

Plans are:
1) Photograph: You'll be able to follow our adventure vicariously at: travel.daveterry.net.  (Or just click on the China2010 tab above.)

2) Sketch:  I'm looking forward to more sketch time.

3) Stories: We'll keep you posted on what's happening.  (Sorta like last time's China 2008 trip. (Reading this blog is a great insomnia cure!)

...dave
A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you've been taking.  ~Earl Wilson

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China 2010

Living in China

9/10 Ruth's what-to-wear chart
9/15 Korea stopover
9/16 Reflections on air travel
9/17 Our Foreign Apartment
9/18 Grocery bag book cover (you ought to try this)
9/19 A visit to a tea shop
9/20 the bike
9/22 the tutor
9/23 three guys and a haircut
9/24 silence is golden
9/25 a KFC visit
9/28 Forecast: Thunder & LIghtening
9/29 Ruth & Joanne's Lijiang
10/1 Shopping and . . . well more shopping
10/5 A walk in the park
10/7 folks with pets
10/9 the duke of hazard
10/10 woolen slippers
10/11 a foreigner's restaurant
10/13 China on moped
10/15 "Bet you can't eat just one!"
10/18 the trash truck
10/22 Two's company; Three's a crowd
10/23 a bus ride
10/26 Pedal Peril
10/29 Apartment hunting
11/7 Shandong for a week
11/12 The Last Full Day
11/13 Time Travels
11/15 Custom Coat

2008 Visit

April 5 Blastoff (from Atlanta)
April 6 - The Bund (Shanghai)
April 7 - The Suit (Shanghai)
April 8 - Paradise in Hangzhou
April 9 - The Bus (Hangzhou)
April 10 - Beer on the Balcony (Yangshuo)
April 11 - 1000 year old towns (Yangshuo)
April 12 - The Jazz Balcony (Xingping)
April 13 - Sanbu in Yangshuo
April 14 - Pagoda Hike (Yahgshuo)
April 15 - Room Atop 1000 Steps (Ping'an)
April 16 - Ensconsed (in Longji)
April 17 - To Kunming
April 18 - Kunming
April 19 - Blogging in Kunming
April 20 - Lijiang
April 21 - Snow Mountain & Yak Meadow (Lijiang)
April 22 - Inns & Outs (Lijiang)
April 23/24 Grocery Shopping (Lijiang)
April 25 - Tiger Leaping Gorge (Lijiang)
April 25 - Tim & Maite (a bonus post)
April 26 - Baisha and Naxi Customs (Lijiang)
April 27 - China by Horseback (Lijiang)
April 28 - Back to...Shanghai...again
April 29 - Shanghai Shopping
April 30 - Reunion
May 1 - The Last Day
May 2 - Home - Summary of China 2008
2008 Slideshow

2006 Visit

April 6/7 Blastoff
April 8 Summer Palace
April 9 Tiananmin
April 10 Great Wall
April 11 Duck
April 12 Pearl Market
April 13 Guilin
April 14 Bike Ride
April 15 Boat Ride
April 16 Village Tour
April 17 Hanging Out
April 18 Pavilion Restaurant
April 19 Lanzi Village
April 20 Longsheng
April 21 Walks in Pingan
April 22 A Walk to Longji
April 23 Qingdao
April 24 24th - Shopping in Qingdao
April 25 Qingdao Market
April 26 Qingdao Beach
April 27 Back to Beijing
April 28 Last Days in Beijing
April 29 Returning Home
2006 Slideshow

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