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December 1, 2012
I am adding this postscript at the beginning because I realized I never posted this last blog update. It has been a long time coming because I have been so busy getting my life back in order since my return to Mendocino, along with organizing with my co-leaders, Marci Van Sicklen and Carolyn Zeitler the next Student and Artist Exchange trips to Miasa-Omachi in late June 2013. So, here is the concluding story of my stay in Miasa-Omachi. There was so much more that happened that I did not include in this last update, and tons more photos I have not uploaded, but I think you get the general idea of my feelings about leaving Miasa and returning to Mendocino. So, let’s go back to:
May 2, 2012
It’s getting down to my last few days in Miasa and soon after that, Japan.
It is difficult to believe that by this time next week I will be back in Mendocino, awakened from my 10 month dream state into the stark reality of daily life in Northwest Nowhere.
I think my last Blog update was March 26. A lot has changed in the intervening six weeks. All the snow has melted, the temperature has steadily risen to where some days are down right hot. The rice fields are being roto-tilled with even some fields already flooded with water and planted. When it rains I can already wear my flip-flops without freezing my feet.
Lately I am extremely busy with the last minute details of the artist and student trips, and there are many last minute details to be taken care of. There always seems to be last minute shuffling with the Homestay Hosts, and this exchange is no different.
May 3, 2012
I just sold my car a couple of minutes ago to a person who is moving to, of all places, Fukushima. I understand she is going there to help with the restoration process that will be a long term effort for Japan. I hope she has a quality radiation suit.
Tonight there is yet another Sayonara Party for me. It will be at my good friend Koichi Maekawa’s house. Many of the Miasa Sister Cities Volunteers will be there. Sometimes I think my friends keep having these parties so I will want to go home just to get away from all the drinking. In any case it is extremely nice of them to feel they want to celebrate my time here.
In a few minutes Oda-san and I are going to PokaPoka Land to enjoy the Onsen for one last time before my departure and to relax before the Sayonara Party.
May 6, 2012
In Tokyo now visiting my friends Christine and Anton. They just returned yesterday from a short trip to Vietnam. “Crazy traffic.” Christine said. I agree, what with the constant honking of horns from every vehicle on the road, including countless motorcycles and bikes. “It’s amazing the traffic even works.” Christine added.
It’s a beautiful, warm and breezy day here and in a few minutes I will be heading out to Meiji Jingu Shrine to meet my friend Abi Nono and spend the afternoon catching up. She is a wonderful person whom I met about seven years ago while Travis and I were staying in Tokyo after the Student Group departed for Mendocino. She lived in England for a while and speaks English very well. Not sure where we will go after the Shrine, but I am sure it will be enjoyable.
Oda-san hosted my final, small Sayonara Party at his house on May 4. Just him, Ritsuko, Deepa, Chandra and me. We had a great time talking about my time in Miasa and Deepa invited Oda and me to come to Nepal to visit her and her family. She runs a trekking an Import/Export Textile Business with her husband, Parbat. He handles the English speaking countries and she handles Japan. She is in Omachi selling her wares until after the Matsumoto Arts and Crafts fair ends on May 27. Her niece Chandra has been living in Japan for the past seven years and they each speak Nihongo quite well.
May 7, 2012
Departure day. Aaarrrgghhhhhh! I knew this day would come but now that it’s here I find it hard to believe that the past 10 months went by so darn fast! My plane leaves in a little over seven hours so not much time to savor what is left. Christine and I will probably take a short walk and she will then drive me to Narita Airport! It is so nice of her to take the time to take me there as it is about a 1 ½ hour drive. And since I have two bags, one of which is huge, and also my computer bag, to not have to lug all of this on to the Narita Express train is such a surprise treat! And I will get to enjoy her wonderful company that much longer during the ride in her Audi Cabriolet convertible. It’s a bright, sunny day with a slight breeze.
My evening with Abi last night was lots of fun. We met at the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku and after viewing the shrine we headed towards the Emperors Garden but when it suddenly boomed thunder through the trees and threatened to rain we headed into town and found a small wine bar just as the sky opened and started dumping large drops of rain on us. We first stood beneath Via Donnamia’s overhanging canopy but soon went inside to stay dry and sample their Italian vintages.
With a couple of Italian Sparkling wines under our belt we headed out in search of a good restaurant but since it was the last day of Golden Week many restaurants were closed, even though the streets were packed with people. We finally settled on Udonsuki Izakaya because we had eaten there the last time I was in Tokyo. The food is “oishii” and the drinks inexpensive. Since we arrived about 17:30 we were the first people in the place but about 18:00 groups of younger people started coming in and filling up the tables. The last time we ate there the place was full and quite raucus. As more people started coming in the volume level rose steadily.
After about three small bottles of Sake atsui 熱燗 we ended the evening with Shochu焼酎 mixed with non-alcohol biiru. It was pretty tasty and went down really easy.
Later: 18:17 Narita International Airport
Christine and I had a very casual drive to Narita, even stopping at a rest stop to enjoy an ice cream cone. After dropping me off in front of Terminal 1 and saying our goodbyes she waited until I had my bags on the luggage cart and waved to me as she drove back to Tamagawa to pick up Anton from work at 18:30. She should be picking him up now.
It was extremely nice of her to drive me to the airport in the brand new Audi Cabriolet Sport Convertible. She had to really hold herself back from going really fast on the freeway because the car is so much fun to drive. I am sure she sped back to Tamagawa as fast as she felt safe. A great way to end my stay in Japan. 度もありがとうございました、クリスチンさん! Domo arigatou gozaimashita Kurisutin! Or, more fitting for you, Vielen Dank Christine und Anton!
Things are starting to get busier at my departure gate since boarding starts in 15 minutes. A lot of travelers from Singapore are sitting next to me as I am flying Singapore Airlines. Supposed to be some of the best service in the air. I hope so as it is a 10hr 15 min flight to LAX and then another 1hr 20 min to SFO.
So much has happened during my eight months in Miasa, Japan and two months in Yangshuo, China. I have faced many personal realizations about who I am and what I would like to do for the rest of my time on this blue paradise in space. I am not going to go into it now but suffice to say I think there will be many changes in my life after I settle back (at least for a little while) into Mendo life. One thing I do know is that I want to keep traveling as much as I can and will probably devote most of my time to that endeavor, along with furthering the relationship between Mendocino and Miasa-Omachi.
Japan is a great place to live and I expect to live here again sometime in the future. I felt very much at home living in Miasa and my friends
were extremely hospitable to me. I really need to thank everyone who befriended me while I was there. Especially the Miasa School students, fellow teachers and particularly my neighbor, 5am walk & run exercise partner, weekend drinking buddy and School Principal, Yamaura-san. And of course, much of my stay was made possible by my closest friends, Oda-san and Hiromi-san. Without whose generous hospitality, help and consideration I know my stay would not have been nearly as enjoyable and probably not possible. The Japanese are an incredibly gracious and humble people and the world could learn a lot from their citizens. But there are so many other places in Asia that I would like to see as I am very much drawn to this part of the world. I am really intrigued by the different cultures and their social structures.
But, first back to Mendocino so I can arrange to do what I would like. And now to board the plane!
10:30pm. 37,000 ft. Somewhere over the north Pacific Ocean
Been flying for about 3 hours. Had dinner, watched a movie, “Hugo,” and it was really good. Martin Scorsese is an amazing movie maker. Still only about 1/3 the way to LAX. It’s a long flight but with a strong tailwind of 138mph we are due to arrive about 40 minutes ahead of schedule, which just means I am in LAX that much longer before my flight to SFO. But I do have to pick up my luggage, go through customs and recheck my bags on Alaska airlines for the SFO flight. I shouldn’t have to hurry at all. I’ll be arriving about 1pm and my flight isn’t until 3:50pm.
Going back to what has happened since my last blog entry on March 26 I have decided to just skim over events and instead post a lot of photos with captions that better convey what I have been doing.
As I recall it was snowing quite a lot during the last blog update and was pretty cold. I remember waking up and reading -10C on the thermometer at the head of my bed. But “Sprinter” as I referred to this late Spring-Winter snowfall was not destined to last very long. After the last big snowfall there were only a couple of minor snowfalls that melted almost as soon as they hit the ground. And after that it started warming up everyday as Spring was long overdue. Once the snow started melting it went quick. Omachi valley snow melted way before Miasa’s white cover since Miasa is a much higher elevation.
One of the fun things I did was go to Tokyo with Oda-san to pick up his art from a show he was in. While we were in that vast city a friend was showing his photos at a bar in an area known as the Goldengai. This is an area filled with dozens of tiny bars able to accommodate only about eight people, some of whom have to stand. Most tourists do not venture into this area because of the seedy looking nature of its image. The hard part is choosing the appropriate bar that is not already
filled to capacity. At one point the bar we visited managed to squeeze in about 12 people, and I do mean squeeze. As we were leaving a very attractive woman about 45 walked up to us outside the bar and started talking to Oda-san, after a minute he introduced her to me, saying she was the owner.
She spoke English and stood outside with us for a little while asking how we liked the Goldengai area and her bar in particular. I said it was something new and different for me, having been to Tokyo about 15 times in the past 10 years. I liked the coziness of the bar. She invited us to enjoy her hospitality on our next trip to Tokyo and we assured her we would. Oda-san wants to take Travis and me there next July when we are again in Japan.
The flight on Singapore Airlines has been really comfortable. It is my first time in the A380 Jumbo Liner by AirBus. It is the new double deck liner. All the seats have plugs in the armrests for electrical devices and there are USB, Ethernet and phono plug connections along with a mini screen for entertainment on the back of the seat in front of me.
June 4, 2012
As you can tell, it has been almost a month since I last wrote in this blog update. A very lot has happened since flying on the A380 Jumbo liner.
When I arrived at SFO I was met at the airport by my friend Anne-Marie who had graciously brought my car to SF. After a hasty hello, thank you and see you later, we drove off on our separate tasks, her with her boyfriend and me to my friends house in Pacifica to stay the night so I could meet the artists when they arrived at the airport at 09:15 the next morning.
Waiting at the airport when I arrived the next morning were my MSCA Vice-President and Student Travel Group Co-Leader, Marci, and MSCA Board member and artist, Carolyn Zeitler. They were there to help ferry the artists to the hotel in SF and spend the evening with us siteseeing. It was a clear, barely cloudy, warm evening so I drove some of the artists up to Twin Peaks to watch the sunset, and what a colorful sunset it was. It was a bit cool and windy while we were there but we enjoyed it all the same. After a wondrous late dinner at Mona Lisa Italian Restaurant we all retired pretty early because in the morning we were due to travel back to Mendocino.
After loading everyone up in our vehicles we headed north. Oda, Hiromi and I stopped at the GG Bridge viewing area to take our now traditional photo of them in front of the bridge before continuing on up to Santa Rosa to meet Mendocino Art Exchange Show coordinators Sharon Garner and Debra Lennox. They had arranged for us to stop at Coppola Winery for lunch and it was a great idea. I had never stopped there before. The place is beautiful and the food was excellent. Many of the props from several of Coppola’s movies are situated inside the winery building and guests can look closely at them while they wander through the grounds. I guess people can also rent rooms there and swim in the large pool just outside the restaurant. I understand there are dances and musical concerts occasionally too. You should stop by someday when you are driving along 101.
After lunch we had to scoot on up to Mendocino because we were due at the Mendocino Hotel for a small Welcome Party that the Hotel so graciously put on for the artists. During the wine tasting and appetizer munching, the Mendocino Homestay Hosts met their respective guests and as the evening ended they departed for their respective homes. Thanks Jaime and Tom!
The following days were filled with activity for the artists. With Thursday beginning with a slide presentation by Bob Rhoades of the woodcraft school in Kiso, Japan that Art Group Interpreter, Mokuen Nakajima attended and subsequently narrated the slide presentation. After lunch at Fort Bragg Brewery, visiting various galleries along with their own show at the Mendocino Art Center, the artists were the recipients of a Welcome Ceremony at the MAC that rivaled the Artists
Reception two days later. The Japanese Sake and local wine flowed continually through the evening and by 8pm the crowd was ready for a dinner at the Mendocino Cafe. Even though it was pretty cold outside on the deck of the Cafe it was a fun time, though everybody was happy to leave and get warm.
June 17, 2012
It’s Father’s Day today in America. My daughter called me from New York while she took a short break from work. She seems pretty busy lately but I guess that is good because she is making good money in this age of low income in this ruinous economy.
Since my return I have been trying to get my life back in to some sort of organized facsimile of what it was like before I left for Japan a year ago. It is difficult to restore that existence, and I am not sure that I want to go back to what I was doing then. I have been spending my time lately on new and different endeavors that may or may not turn into income making entities. But, we shall see.
I feel more compelled to finish this last blog update and move on to other things now that I am back in Mendocino and need to rebuild my life here.
So, I am not going to talk about the rest of the Artist and Student trips to Mendocino, but just suffice it to say that they turned out to be a couple of the best exchanges to date. We say that almost every time, which is a good thing because that means we improve with each round of exchanges.
When I have time (if I have time) I will delve into the 2012 visits in more detail but until then I will post many photos of both groups. You can also visit: http://www.mendosca.org/ for more information on our web site or our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mendocino-Sister-Cities-Association/374131604638
Thanks for following this blog during this past year, and it has been just over a year because I started this Blog on June 13, 2011.
My trip was wonderful and I hope you enjoyed the photos.
Until my next update,
March 21, 2012
First day of Spring. It snowed a sprinkling
this morning and then the sun came out in a bright blue sky. Maybe it’s a good indicator that spring is actually here. Although, this weekend the temperature is supposed to get back down to -9 C with about 20 cm more snow due to fall. Maybe I haven’t missed ski season after all.
I have been back in my freezer box house
since March 5 and it has snowed several times since my return. One day it snowed about 40 cm (16”) and everything was absolutely covered in white. I went out and walked around in the knee high frosting for about an hour before getting my feet to cold to continue. I was even catching snow flakes on my tongue. I haven’t done something like that since I lived in Colorado about 37 years ago. Snow has a special quality that is attractive to trudging around in it until the cold starts settling in. It is amazing how fast it melts once the temperature rises a little.
As I had mentioned in my previous blog update, when I first returned to school I realized how much my knowledge of Nihongo had suffered while enjoying the unique social order of China for two months. When I returned to my Nihongo jugyo on the 14th I was not much better than when I arrived. Although I could read much easier than I thought I would.
Two days after my return to school, there was an impromptu party at my house with Oda-san, his daughter, Sorano-san, my school principle, Yamaura-san and a friend who works at the Miasa City Office, Hosoi-san. I served them a dinner of my chicken vegetable soup that I make about once a week and we drank biiru and sake while munching on appetizers until about 11pm. I am glad I did not have to be at work the next morning like Yamaura-san and Hosoi-san. It was fun talking with Sorano-san again. She is such a fun and congenial person.
When I returned to Miasa School I was moved in with the 四そしてと五年生, yon to go nensei, 4th and 5th grade students because that’s who will be traveling to Mendocino on 五月＋－日, May 11. I was with the yon nensei the first week back and then with the go nensei the last week of school. The term ended on the 16th. I will be with them again when the new school term begins on 四月五日, yon gatsu go nichi, April 5.
March 26, 2012
Snowed about 6 cm again last night. But, now the sun is out and melting the new fallen frosting. Went walking around a little this morning but the wind chill was a little tough so I came back in after about an hour.
On the last day of school I attended the graduation of the 6th and 9th grades. It was a very solemn ceremony without any humor in the mix, at least until it was over and then things lightened up for all involved. The 6th will now move on to Middle School while the 9th move on to High School. Principal Yamaura and all the teachers stood outside the school and shook hands with each of the graduates as they left one at a time for home with their parents. I was included in the line and congratulated each of the students, some even by name.
At 16:30 that afternoon, Kobayashi-sensei picked me up to attend the Miasa School Sensei End of Term Party. This was a dinner to thank and bid farewell to the teachers who are being transferred to another school for the coming year. Miasa School lost nine teachers this year. So there will be nine new teachers come April 5th. It will be interesting to see how the new teachers fit in with everyone else. I am sure there will be lots of hospitality accorded the new arrivals. The dinner party was lots of fun and I talked
with some of the teachers that I usually only greet at school. When they are away from school their real personalities appear. They sure do like to have fun!
I stayed home after the party for the next few days, relaxing, writing, watching Nihon terebi (tv). Mostly sports like volleyball, ski jumping and the Sumo Championships. Pretty exciting stuff. After hanging inside for a few days I was ready to go into Omachi and help Oda-san and Mokuen-san knock a couple of doorways through the walls at the Asagura so there would be passages between the art gallery and the cafe. The work on the cafe will begin in the coming month. The inner walls of the building were composed of sticks, hemp twine and mud plaster, covered with a form of stucco covering. It was a very dirty, dusty job since the
180 year old mud had dried for all those years. We finished the remodel in just a couple of hours and then had time to enjoy a lunch together.
This past Saturday night I was invited to dinner in Matsukawa by a long time friend of the Sister Cities Exchange. Satomi Kondo, whose parents own the Soba Restaurant in Miasa that we always visit when we bring the students to Japan, invited me to her family home to meet her husband, eat and drink into the evening and stay the night, since I would not be able to drive after drinking. Their daughter Hiromi, whom I have known for a few years, was home for the weekend from her job in Gifu, so it was nice to see her again too. Before leaving the Soba Restaurant with Satomi I sat with her mother and father, the Takeori’s who showed me pictures of their trip to Yangshuo, China in 1992. It was interesting to see photos of some of the same Karst hills that I just recently photographed. It is a small world.
This Thursday I am attending a BBQ in Miasa with some of the Miasa Sensei and also a few parents of a couple of the students going to Mendocino this year. It is supposed to be a nice day. But snow again the next day. I hope the weather lays back until the weekend when I should be in Tokyo, where it is much warmer.
It has been snowing lately as I mentioned but I have yet to go skiing in Hakuba. I could go by myself but it is not as much fun as having someone with whom to ski and ride the lift. I am hoping one of my teacher friends will call and ask me to join them. If it happens, it happens.
Only six weeks until I leave Miasa and fly back to Mendocino on May 7. Hard to believe it’s almost time to head back to the US. These past 9 months have just “warped” by. As frigid as my freezer box house is, I will miss its cozy confines, but maybe not its chilly mornings. I need to start going through my stuff to decide what to bring with me and what to leave here. Some things are obvious, others, not so much.
Friday night, February 24, 2012
To View Larger Photos just click on them. Sorry this update is so long, just had a lot to say.
It’s Friday night, almost Saturday morning
as it is now 11:37pm. I am sitting in my room at Back Street Cafe & Hostel trying to ignore the female who is singing with all heart but completely out of tune with out even a notion of how to sing. People actually comment on her voice, behind her back of course, but mostly just grin and bear it until she is done.
I understand that it costs 5 Kwai to go up and sing a song with the male singer/musician who is quite a good guitarist who performs every night until about 12:30am. I can’t imagine that she pays him per song, since she sings so many songs, but I can’t imagine that he would let her even go up there and sing, sitting next to him for free, unless of course she is his girl friend, sister or owner of the bar.
I can’t fault her persistence, but I can doubt her lack of talent. I wish I could this record this and put it on my Blog so you could hear what I mean.
I am definitely not Caruso, but I can hear when someone is out of tune.
In any case, I am in my room waiting for them to stop performing (?) so I can go to sleep.
I have only five full days left of my stay in Yangshuo. I have enjoyed my time here even though I only saw the sun one day for about three hours through a hazy cloud covering. It has been cloudy here for at least 9 or 10 weeks, except for that one day. I would love to come back and see this place when the sky is blue, the sun shines bright and I do not have to wear a down coat and wool cap.
Saturday morning, February 25, 2012
It’s now just after midnight. They are still singing across the narrow street. Shouldn’t be much longer now before they stop.
During almost two months here in Yangshuo I have walked, ridden bikes and taken buses almost everywhere around the area. Been to Moon Hill, the Butterfly Cave, Yulong River a few times, made the trek to Guilin twice and visited numerous smaller attractions along the way. Walked and rode up and down the Li River too many times to remember. I have walked up and down the streets of this small town to the point that the street venders no longer pester me to buy their wares. I know most of the streets by name. The laundry shop owner knows me when I come in. I have met locals and tourists, both Chinese and foreigners alike. I have made a couple of good friends of some native nationals. One of whom is Bi Jian, or Jane as she calls herself in English. She has helped me many times while I have been here. She is a wonderful person whom I am very glad to have met. I have been able to spend time with my long time friends Louis and Inrae who have lived here off and on in the past. It’s been a great time. I will try to fill these next five days with as many adventures as I can, considering it is supposed to rain for the next two or three days. Also, the women here at Back Street
Cafe & Hostel have treated me really nice since I arrived. Gemma, the manager, Axue the cook and Auntie the housekeeper. Gemma is a very smart, attractive and congenial person who is a competent manager and an asset for any employer.
Axue is young, attractive and full of life, along with her vivacious friend Jiao who works at their sister restaurant, Minority Cafe two doors down. All of them are always smiling, laughing and happy about the day. I am lucky to have found Back Street for my HAFHAFH. I will always remember this place with its writing and drawings on the walls by cafe & hostel guests.
One thing, among many, that I have noticed about China, is that many Americans view this country as if it is behind the US in its social infrastructure, something like the US used to be about 75 years ago. But being here I now believe that this is what the US will become. A country with an infrastructure that is in serious disrepair. Roads that are not maintained, trash lying everywhere, basic shoddy construction of older buildings. But even here things are improving, although they too are dealing with the Super Rich not returning a portion of their wealth to benefit the country. If the rich in America keep hoarding all the wealth of the country and refusing to put anything back into that which they are squeezing dry, then this is the future of America.
When is enough wealth in one hand enough? I understand from researching my current book that when Julius Caesar was assassinated he was worth anywhere from $40 to $60 Billion in current American dollars. The richest Roman of his time was Crassus with about $80 Billion. He is held to be the wealthiest man in Roman history as he had a personal net worth equal to the treasury of Rome. When Crassus was killed in Syria, he was beheaded and molten gold was poured into his mouth to quench
his insatiable greed. The Roman Republic soon became an Empire after that. Are we to follow in their footsteps. Crassus and Caesar were not typical though. They were much wealthier than other rich people of the time. Most of the Roman Senators were worth at least $3 million but usually much more upwards to $200 million. Sound familiar?
Since too much inequality can foment revolt and instability, the CIA regularly updates statistics on income distribution for countries around the world, including the U.S. Between 1997 and 2007, inequality in the U.S. grew by almost 10 percent, making it more unequal than Russia, infamous for its powerful oligarchs. The U.S. is not faring well historically, either. Even the Roman Empire, a society built on conquest and slave labor, had a more equitable income distribution.
If I were any of the top 1% of America’s super rich I might start looking over my shoulder for the advancing hordes of poor citizens that, in antiquity, ripped the Emperor Petronius Maximus to shreds as the Vandals entered Rome in 455 AD. No matter how much money you have, death is an equal opportunity employer. The only difference is the method by which death employs you.
Ahh, the musicians stopped performing across the street, so I will stop ranting about the current state of America, and instead try to get to sleep now and try to enjoy the day, when I wake up.
I went to sleep but did not sleep well and consequently had a banging headache this morning for some reason. Need to get some food and take a walk this morning. Need some fresh air.
Just came down stairs to eat lunch and found Louis and Inrae having breakfast in the Cafe. Always nice to see them. Louis and Inrae like to come for breakfast and spend the entire day working on their individual projects and then possibly stay for dinner since they have been here all day. Inrae is working on a rewrite of her first novel in order to get it ready for entry in a literature contest in Korea.
Louis is researching for his various projects. The Back Street Cafe breakfast is one of the better breakfasts around. I am surprised more people do not frequent the place. Minority Cafe, on the other hand, is almost always busy with guests. I guess their reputation is better, or more known, but their breakfast is still not as good as Back Street.
Now that I have finished my lunch I should probably take a walk and get some fresh air.
Ahh. Nice long walk. Stretched my legs, got some air. Went down by the river boat docks. The tourists has just come in off the boats from Guilin. All the shuttle buses were lined up, each waiting for their turn to carry a group of 10 into town to spend their much anticipated and appreciated money on West St.
Walking around Yangshuo is a miniature version of China. Crossing the streets seems like a mass of confusion, kind of like a beehive of activity. People, cycles and cars moving around each other in some kind of unspoken understanding, managing to avoid any collision of flesh and metal. Although, at times you wonder at the level of congestion and how everyone moves through it all. One thing for sure,
people are everywhere. It is quite evident, in even such a small town, that there really is 1.4 Billion people in this country. It is even more apparent in the larger cities like Guilin, which is still a small city, where the congestion is that much more pronounced. Imagine your own home town or city with four times the amount of people currently living there. You would then be coming close to the population of China. It is amazing though, the amount of congeniality in everyone. Everyone talks to everyone like they are family. Must be a hold over from the days that all the citizens were comrades. I think there are more smiles here per capita than anywhere in the US. Just as I wrote those words, I looked up from my computer to see a group of four walking by, all smiling, laughing and talking. It’s more the case than not.
I will miss several things about Yangshuo and China in general. Mostly the people. The casualness of life here, almost an acceptance that this is how it is and it’s up to you to change it, if you feel like it. A good realization, of which to be reminded before I depart for Japan and then later, for home in Mendocino.
Life is always changing and we just have to adapt or be swept beneath that change. A week ago I received a message from a friend on Facebook telling me that she had just heard on the radio that, as I was reading the message, my house was on fire! Well, obviously I went through all the mental and emotional changes that are expected when you get news like that before I finally realized I should call my house and hope that someone answered. It was 1 am in Mendocino when the phone rang and the person staying at my house answered on the first ring. My heart beat slowed instantly. I told her it was me and she said, “Have you already heard about the fire?” My heart again quickened. There was indeed a fire.
The wonders of the modern world. Half way around the world and I had already heard about the fire.
“Is my house on fire?” I asked even though I figured it wasn’t since she had answered the landline phone.
“No. It’s Sharon’s house. It was completely ablaze when the
fire department arrived and they are now just focusing on keeping the fire from spreading through the trees and brush towards your house and other houses farther away. At this point her house is a lost cause, along with her car.”
Of course I felt really bad for Sharona. She has been one of closest friends for over 30 years. I lived in her house for four years after my divorce. I ended up buying the house right next door. But, at the same time, I obviously felt great relief that my house was ok, as was my friend who is staying in my house.
Adapt or die. It has been uttered so many times throughout history and never seems to be untrue. I have had that reaffirmed several times since my trip started last June. It has been a continual adaptation to constantly changing circumstances from the moment I departed Mendocino eight months ago. One of the constant sayings we have while traveling with the Sister Cities group tours is: “It’s a good thing we’re so adaptable.”
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Another day. No rain again even though it was forecast yesterday and today. Now it is forecast for Tuesday through Thursday. So, I might have to visit the Lui Ce Garden at the base of one of the Karst hills next to the Li River. Louis says it’s really beautiful. One of the few places in Yangshuo I haven’t seen yet.
I just had the best time today and tonight! After deciding to go to Lui Ce Garden, Bi Jian accompanied me because she had never been there before either. We walked all through the place and the many buildings with a garden guide that Bi Jian stopped and asked to accompany us. The young lady pointed out the many things we would have missed if she were not along. The guide was a very nice young woman who showed us all around while explaining to Bi Jian in Putonghua and to me in English when she knew the words. She spoke English pretty well, though her vocabulary needed some study, her pronunciation was quite good.
Monday, February 27, 2012
It’s raining again today. That’s why I wanted to visit the Lui Ce Garden yesterday.
The Karst hill that rises above the garden has a long history and has been utilized any many different ways and by many different people since the founding of Yangshuo about 1,400 years ago. It has actually had many names through history, one of which is Green Lotus Peak. There are several inscriptions carved into the rock cliffs and various of photos of VIP’s visiting the garden over the years. From Chou En Lai to President Clinton and many others. Bi Jian and I walked up the stairway, even though it was roped off for repairs, that led to the cliff face that gave the hill one of its names, Jianshan or “Mirror Hill.” The view was quite nice from there. We noticed no repairs being done on the stairway except that the steps were covered with fallen tree leaves. Obviously unused for quite some time.
After viewing as much as we could we walked back to Yangshuo from the opposite side of the hill from where we entered. Bi Jian stopped by a friends hotel to visit and we were invited to join them for a Birthday Dinner for a friend of theirs that evening. We first had to return home and prepare to come back out.
About 5:30 we stopped at the store and I picked up a bottle of wine and returned to the gathering. About eight people besides me and a little girl sat around a small coffee table, as usual in China, where we cooked and ate various dishes as they were ready. We toasted with the wine almost every time someone picked up their glass and moved onto beer when the wine ran out.
From the time we arrived I was asked several questions, in Putonghua of course, and Bi Jian had to function as a translator as best she could. We laughed a lot about the questions and answers. I am not sure what Bi Jian told them I said, but they seemed to enjoy my words.
One of the men that tried the most to communicate with me started singing a Chinese song from Beijing, which everyone enjoyed and afterward he requested that I sing a song. It was hard to think of something on the spot so I sang the first verse of “Sweet Baby James” by James Taylor. After that other people sang some songs and occasionally they all sang together. When I finally realized that this was a Birthday dinner, I sang my favorite birthday song, “Birthday” by The Beatles and the birthday Lady thought it was the best song of the night.
When they brought out the cake it was very impressive impressive in its big decorated round box. Frosting flowers and slices of fruit on top, chocolate on the sides with an interior of lemon cake. Sure tasted good and I am usually not one for cakes. They even forced me to have a second piece! 8>)
By the time we left they were telling me that I had to come back on my birthday so we could have another dinner party and I would have to learn more Putonghua. I told them I would see what I could do before October.
It is just a good thing we went to the garden yesterday and attended the dinner last night because the rain is still falling this afternoon. There was even lightning and thunder earlier today.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Last night, after having dinner in the BS Cafe I was talking with Gemma about her plans for the future. It seems she is opening up a womens apparel and jewelry store just across Gui Hua Lu a couple of doors east. She had asked me about appealing colors one day but I was surprised to hear she had started refitting the store space she has leased. I am glad she is trying to do what she wants.
About 10pm four people came in for drinks. I was talking with Gemma and writing on my book for a couple of hours while the two couples were talking among themselves about their trip so far. I could tell from their accents they were probably from England. About 12:30am, in order to engage them in conversation I asked if they were indeed from England, to which they said they were, except for one of the young ladies, Sarah, who is from Wales. They have been planning this trip together for a couple of years. They are traveling through Southeast Asia and China for 6.5 months. They have been here for three months already. We had a lively conversation about several topics from religion, politics, history, movies, working, travel and a few more that I don’t remember. About 2:45am I noticed the clock and how tired Gemma was looking, waiting of for the guests to leave so she could close and go to sleep. I finally excused myself and proceeded to my room. The young travelers were very talkative and will be in Yangshuo until tomorrow sometime.
Wednesday, Leap Day, February 29, 2012
Last night in Yangshuo. Today is my friend Frank Schneider’s birthday. He is finally 16 today (actually 64). Happy Birthday Frank!
Louis, Inrae and Bi Jian gave me a going away dinner at Bi Jian’s house last night, Tuesday. Joining us were four guest boarders at Bi Jian’s. One couple from Haerbin and the other from Da Jian, from up north in Heilongjiang Province. The most north province in China. Haerbin hosts an annual Ice Festival.
They were very nice people and today we shared a ride on the Li River as we all rode down and back on one of the River Rafts. It was fun but riding a bike around the area is more entertaining.
Tonight, Louis, Inrae, Bi Jian, He Lin and I are having my last supper at Back Street Cafe. I want to spend the evening where I have been staying these past two months. Gemma and Axue have been very nice to me while I have been here so I would like to give them some business.
Kind of sad to be leaving Yangshuo, though ready to get back to Miasa. Although, it is getting warmer here and I heard yesterday at Miasa was about -15 C. COLD! And there is still lots of snow. I wonder if I can even get to my house at this point.
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Sitting in the lobby of the Guilin Riverside Hostel trying figure out whether to go out for dinner or just stay here and have something from their cafe. Nor much of a cafe. I think it’s just Microwave food. Although, there is beer and brandy available. As it turns out the GRH does not have a cafe, only coffee. The concierge directed me next door if I wanted to eat dinner. That’s what I did.
Last night was very comfortable at Back Street Cafe. Our dinner was excellent and we took our time eating. Gemma and Axue made sure we had great service. I just kept ordering more dishes as we finished earlier choices and we were all pretty stuffed by the time we decided to take a walk down West St. Due to some last minute things He Lin had to take care, she couldn’t join us for dinner, so she didn’t meet us until about 9:30 when we were already walking on West St. It was really nice to see her again. Louis and Inrae really liked her. Louis and I took turns dancing with her in the middle of West Street while Inrae snapped photos and Bi Jian laughed.
Louis and Inrae went home early while He Lin drove Bi Jian and me back to her hotel for tea. Her place is south of town, directly across from the Butterfly Cave and after she finishes her renovations the grounds will be extremely pleasant. I would like to stay there when I return to Yangshuo. She will have fishing available right off the porch in front of your room.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
I am trying to finish up this update as I sit in my room at my friends’ the Kitahara’s house. I arrived last night in Omachi about 9:50pm after a very long day of travel and was met at the train station by Hiromi and Kiyonori. Hiromi is downstairs making dinner for the family and me. I am staying with them until Monday when I will try to move back to my house in Miasa.
Yesterday started out with taking a shower at the Guilin Riverside Hostel at 4:30am in order to meet the Taxi at 5:30am for the ride to the Guilin Airport. I had met a fellow traveler the night before and we arranged to share the taxi to the airport since he was flying the Chengdu. He is of Chinese descent and speaks Cantonese but he was born and raised in Rotterdam. He also is fluent in Dutch and English. But those three languages did not help much with our communication with the driver who only spoke Mandarin (Putonghua). We finally figured the cost of the ride (90 Kwai) after the driver tapped it into his phone. My new acquaintance and I sat in the airport lounge until it was time for me to board as he didn’t leave until 9am.
I had to pick up my back pack at the Guangzhou Airport and then recheck it on to my International flight to Tokyo, but when I arrived in Guangzhou my pack never came out of the baggage shoot and after waiting a long time an airline assistant came over to see what was my problem. I told her the situation and she got on her walkie-talkie and after about 15 more minutes my bag came through the shoot. I thanked her and started walking fast toward the International gates because I knew from when I had arrived two months ago, it
was a long walk. Along the way I was looking for place to check my bag on to my flight but failed to see anything. When I arrived at the security check gate I still had my pack with me and when they started to put it through the scanner I told them I did not want to take it on board the plane, I wanted to check it as baggage, but after checking my ticket they said I did not have enough time and would have to either carry it on or check it at the gate. I shrugged and said ok but, of course after scanning it they noticed I had a couple of bottles of shampoo and skin cream in the pack which they said I would have to leave with them. I told them I was checking the pack at the gate but they said I would still have to leave it with them anyway. I again shrugged and said ok. I had to get to my plane. Unbeknownst to me, they also removed my small bottle of vitamins from a side pocket. I wish the security people had some kind of common sense instead of just rule book sense. They get pretty frustrating at times.
Leaving that security gate I walked in the direction of the International gates but first had to pass through another security gate to file a departure form with the Visa personnel. Again the friggin’ Visa’s! Mine expired that day, March 2. The woman let me pass after filling out a form and I was off again. As I may have mentioned in an earlier blog post, the size of the Guilin Airport is nothing short of huge. It is a long walk from Domestic to International. It was also a long walk from security to my gate but I managed to check my bag and visit the restroom before boarding. After announcing for everyone to begin boarding we stood in line for about 10 minutes before anyone was allowed to enter the plane. They finally closed the door and I thought we were going to get underway but after sitting there for 20 minutes they announced they were sorry for the delay and we would be leaving as soon as the cabin documents were completed, whatever that meant. After a total of 45 minutes of sitting there we finally started for the runway, which, was a long way away from the terminal. This place is huge.
The flight was pretty non-eventful except for three or four turbulent areas and there was no in flight entertainment because the system was out of order. I thought I would work on this update but when I turned on my computer, nothing happened. The battery had not charged and was completely dead. So much for that. Luckily I had installed the Nook Reader on my iPod and could read the book I had purchased for research for my book.
When we landed in Japan everything was fine until I arrived at immigration to be issued my Visa. No waiting to get to the counter but after checking my passport and forms they asked me to go to the waiting room. Now what? I thought. Never been asked to sit in the waiting room before. When I sat down in the room there were three Muslim women dressed from head to toe in black with only their eyes visible. One was nursing her baby, the other two were sleeping as was the four boy beside them. Talking with the security officers was their husband dressed in an all white ankle length shirt, with green turban and long, full black beard. He showed them his papers and explained who the ladies were and then he and the officers walked out of the room and kept speaking outside the door. Just then and officer came in and over to me.
“Evans-san. Her is your Passport with your new 90 day visa. Thank you for waiting. You are free to go.”
I thanked them and hustled out of there. I still had to catch the Narita Express to Shinjuku so I could get on the 6pm Super Azusa train to Matsumoto and then the Oito Line train to Omachi. The next Super Azusa was not until 7pm and would not arrive until an hour later, or about 10:10pm, so I had to get on the 6pm train.
By the time I reached Shinjuku it was 5:50pm and I almost ran to the ticket counter where the clerk directed me around the corner to get my ticket. Problem was, he did not understand where I wanted to go. I came back to him when I realized he thought I wanted a ticket for the local train to another station in Tokyo. When I explained that I wanted to go to Matsumoto and then to Omachihe looked at the clock and shook his head like I would be lucky to catch the train. I was greatly aware that might be the case and silently wished he would hurry and issue my ticket. I ran down the escalator, pack on my back, computer pouch over one arm and carrying my harmonica and box of tea in my other hand. The train conductor directed me down to the non-reserved cars and the train started moving before I found a seat.
All this time in the back of my mind I knew I still had to inform Hiromi that I was on the 6pm train and not the 5pm train as planned. I had no phone, no Internet connection for my iPod so the only choice was asking someone if I could use their phone. Just then a young man from India dressed in a nice suit walked into the car looking for a seat and ended up sitting right in front of me. After a while I noticed he was fooling with his phone and when he put it away I leaned forward and asked:
“Excuse me. Do you speak English?”
He turned to me, “Yes, I do.”
“I am wondering if you could do me a favor. I have to meet a friend at the end of my route and she does not know what time I arrive at the stop. Can you send her a text and let her know I will be there about 10pm.”
“Of course. I understand. It will be my pleasure. What is her number?”
I told him and he typed in what I dictated.
“If she does not answer this text you can call her and make sure she knows what time you get there.”
“Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It saved a lot of problem for her and me.”
“No problem. I was happy to help you.”
I sat back and for the first time that day I felt like I could almost relax, but I did need to know if Hiromi received the message. After several train stops and he had not indicated that he had received a reply I thought it might be better to ask if I could call her. He was happy to oblige.
As it turned out, Hiromi had not answered her text messages and did not know about the later pickup time. She was happy I called. Just as my benefactor was exiting the train at his stop in Kofu, Hiromi text back that she would meet me at 9:45pm at Shinano-Tokiwa Eki. He walked back into the car to my seat to show me the text. A very nice guy.
Hiromi and Kiyo were at the station waiting for me when I arrived at 9:50pm. I have been doing errands with Hiromi today and also went with her and Oda-san to interview a couple of more artists for the Art Exchange Show in May at the Mendocino Art Center. So, back to work on the Sister Cities exchanges and on Monday I am back at Miasa School to help facilitate the student exchange for their trip, also in May. Lots of work to do, and I am glad I can help.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
I left here two months ago today. Seems like it was yesterday. I am sure when I am back in Mendocino it will seem like it was only yesterday that I departed for Japan.
Getting ready to pick up my car at the Asagura and then drive out to Miasa to check out my Freezer Box house. Tomorrow I will try to make it to school in the morning and then come back after school to put things in order so I can move in. The electricity, gas, water, and Internet are supposed to be turned on again tomorrow so I should be there in case some needs to get inside the house. I know the gas man has to come inside. Tonight we are having a birthday dinner party for Hiromi’s husband, Kiyonori and his father.
I need to refresh my Nihongo since I have been listening to Putonghua for the past two months. It is amazing how much language a person can forget when not around anyone speaking it.
Monday, March 5, 2012
I am back in my house in Miasa and everything is on and works! When I awoke this morning at the Kitahara’s there was 8cm of fresh, super wet snow on every exposed surface around. Luckily I got up early and was able to shower, eat breakfast, finish packing, give a ride to Kanta Kitahara to the train station so he could get to school and drive to Miasa School for my first day back to work. I haven’t driven in such slushy snow since my days in Colorado some 37 years ago (well maybe once or twice going skiing since Colorado). It was squirrelly. Luckily my car has 4W drive.
Anyway, at school I soon realized how much Nihongo I had forgotten in just two months! I felt like I was just starting to learn again. I have a lot of studying to catch up on! I am now with the 4th and 5th grade classes because that’s who is coming to Mendocino this year. So,… mata ne.
Click the photos to enlarge them, also please do not read this update in your email. Go to the blog site if you would.
This past Thursday I awoke about 7am in order to make it to the bus station to meet Bi Jian (Jane) at 8:45. When I looked out the window I was not too pleased to see the rain softly drizzling outside my room’s picture window, and I could not tell that it would be such a cold day. Instead of wearing my wool cap and taking my gloves I left both in my room and instead wore my old, green cloth hat that is meant for warmer climes.
The local bus that stops at every town to pick up passengers costs 18 Kwai (RMB or Yuan or $3.00) while the Express Bus directly to Guilin is 20 Kwai. We went for the Express Bus with reserved seats.
Since it was raining slightly the interior of the windows fogged up a short time after we departed and it was not until Bi Jian wanted to point out Shangri La as we drove by did we think to use the window curtain to wipe the moisture from the glass. We went by pretty fast so Bi Jian said I will have to ride a bike back there one day to see what the area looks like. It’s interesting to see the continual formation of the Karst hills stretching into the distance. The formations must stretch for hundreds of kilometers. As you get closer to Guilin the hills change in their formation because the sedimentary layers have been tilted up on one side so the layers rise diagonally to the peak that sits a little to one side.
The traffic on the two lane road is at times heavy but that seldom stops our driver from passing a slow moving truck or motorcycle that gets in his way. The oncoming traffic moves out of his way onto the wide side lane, just as he does whenever a passing vehicle is coming in our direction. It is a little disconcerting to watch at first but after a bit you realize they have a subconscious understanding of the unwritten rules of the Chinese
road. Although, there are times that the subconscious understanding fails and accidents happen. The ride takes a little over an hour and we arrived in plenty of time to find the immigration office before they closed for the noon two hour lunch break.
Bi Jian showed me how to find the correct bus to the office. It only costs one Kwai for the bus and about 15 Kwai to take a taxi. Was glad she decided to accompany me to Guilin because I would have spent quite a while in the office just trying figure out which line to stand in. She asked in Putonghua and took me right over and in a few minutes I had the correct papers and a number I was to listen for in order to present my application to the correct agent. Within just a couple of minutes my number came up and I was sitting at the counter speaking English with the young woman agent. She looked through my papers and Passport, said everything looked line, checked online for my registered place of residence and said to come back on February 9 with the 940 Yuan ($150) Visa fee and I would be good for another month. Bi Jian and I exited the building and started our search for her purpose of coming to Guilin, buying a bicycle.
The traffic in Guilin is much heavier than in Yangshuo and most of it seems to be motorcycles or the popular electric scooters that are really cool and quiet. I would like to get one for riding to and from Mendocino. They are pretty inexpensive too. The rain had begun to fall a little more while we were in the office so I had to open my umbrella that I luckily had remembered to bring. Jane checked out a few bicycle shops along the way that sold brand new bikes and she thought she could get a better deal on a used one. Jane showed me the entrance to the famous Seven Star Park but because of the rain we decided not to pay the entry fee to walk around the grounds. As we were walking away she stopped to ask a vender if he knew where she could get a good price on a used bike. The vender said he knew a good place just around the corner and suddenly just left his little, tent covered booth of small tourist items and led us right to the place. After introducing Bi Jian to the bike seller he returned to his booth.
Bi Jian looked at several used bikes with different values and finally picked out three for me to try out. Two were ok, one wasn’t even rideable, so you can imagine how used the other choices were. She ended up buying two bikes for 110 Kwai (about $17.50) and after adjusting the seat heights, pumping up the tires and purchasing two bike locks we headed out to have lunch at a noodle shop she knew. After lunch we rode to the hospital where her sister-in-law works as a nurse. The rain was still coming down but I did not really feel comfortable using my umbrella while riding, even though several other people were doing so. Consequently I got a little wet and cold, which was not a good thing for me to do because my nose cold I thought I had vanquished returned the next day with a cough to join it. I have been blowing my nose for the past week, and the cough has not quite disappeared. This cold, wet weather is the worst for fighting off a cold.
After going to the hospital Bi Jian took me to the lake near the road and we walked across
the walkways and bridges to the island. They had a tea house and a photo site where a person could don traditional Chinese raiment and have their photo snapped with the lake as the background. We neither stopped for tea or photos. It was too cold and rainy.
We finally decided to get back on the bus and head back to Yangshuo with the bikes. We stopped across from the bus station to take pictures of trying to look like we were bigger than the twin glass pyramids that covered the stairs to the walkway and stores below ground. Bi Jian wasn’t quite sure what I was trying to do but I managed to get a
sort of good shot. I think people walking near us were wondering what we were doing. When we arrived at the station, Bi Jian bought the tickets while I stuffed the bikes into the luggage compartment in the lower part of the bus.
Leaving the Guilin bus terminal was like playing that old computer game of Tetris. All the buses, cars, motorcycles and pedestrians had to fit into place before anyone could move in any direction. Of course all the buses seemed to leave at the same time for different destinations, jockeying for position in the line up. It took at least a half hour to get even just a little way from the station. When we finally made it out of town we were both kind of tired. I think Bi Jian slept part of the way back to Yangshuo.
Tonight (Monday) is the last day of the Spring Festival. Louis, Inrae and I were invited over to Jane’s place to join her and her niece Wang Chun for a Dumpling dinner before we all walked to the Li River to watch the fireworks display. Louis brought a bottle
of Chinese Brandy, which was pretty good. Chun and Inrae made the dumplings while Jane cooked them in the kitchen and we started drinking the brandy. With some side dishes of little fish, white rice paste balls and dumplings it was a pretty filling meal. We were all ready for the fireworks by the start time of 10pm and joined the crowds who were making their way down to the boat wharfs and up on the street walkways. The riverside was packed when we arrived but managed to find a spot against the
wall of the steps to the wharf. It was a great show with dozens of different kinds of fireworks displayed during the half hour show. Lots of ooohs and ahhhs were heard during those 30 minutes.
After the show, everyone moved in huge crowds to the east side of West Street to partake of the free stuffed mochi like rice paste balls that are called “Tang Yuan.” The same thing that Bi Jian had served at her house earlier. They were delicious. We were interviewed by CCTV as to our feelings of participating in the Spring Festival celebration and Louis was even asked to help dish out some of the tasty white and brown Tang Yuan for the TV cameras. It was a great night for meeting people and saying hi to friends we ran into to. I took pictures of Axue and Jiao and other locals we see all the time around town. I think I got to bed that night about 1am. Had a great time though!
Now it’s a week after I went to Guilin with Bi Jian and I am returning again to pick up my Passport with the new 30 day Visa. I must say, the issuing of Visa’s is quite a money making racket for different countries. China does a hefty business in Visa sales. It would be interesting to know the gross income and net profit from their Visa sales. It has to be a multimillion dollar venture. As I have said before, I wish Humans would just do away with Visa’s and better yet, borders. I really get tired of flag waving and patriotic fervor. It’s so juvenile and immature. Hooray for my country! It’s better than your country! My country has bigger guns than your country! My country’s right and your country’s wrong because you don’t think the same way as my country! Blah, blah, blah! Man, I hate Nationalist bullshit almost as much as Religious bullshit. Both are the root cause of some of the most horrific crimes against humanity in history, and all “For the good of the country” or “In the name of God.” It’s hard to believe there are still people who believe that crap! Name me one country or religion that doesn’t have blood on its hands…. Sorry for the ranting. I just wish the human race would wise up!
Anyway, Louis and Inrae joined me on the trek back to Guilin. They had to do the same thing I did last Thursday. Then they have to come back next Thursday to pick up their new 30 day Visas. The same thing every 30 days. One of the ways to avoid the 30 day renew schedule is to have a job at a local school. Then you can have a Visa up to a year and even go out of the country and come back in. If I were to return to China again for any length of time longer than 60 days, that is what I would do.
I had an interesting conversation at the Guilin Immigration Office with a couple of Americans who were hired to teach by a local teacher agency. I asked them what they were paid to teach and they said 4,000 Yuan a month ($635). But, when I asked how they applied and received the job they said through an agency. For that service, the Buckland Agency takes 2/3 of their pay. So, in other words, the school pays 12,000 yuan a month, the agency keeps 8,000 and the teacher gets 4,000. Both teachers advised me to find a school I intended to work for and then deal directly with the school. Direct negotiation with a school is something that can be done only if you are already in China. Housing and food are minimal in China. I can rent an apartment and go out to eat everyday for less than 100 yuan a day. Maybe I will start looking for a local school to check out.
On our return from Guilin I met up with Bi Jian and Chun for a walk to the park where all the lanterns were lit up. The lanterns are some of the biggest ones I have ever seen. Larger than a person and there was even a Dragon Lantern sprawled above the kids playground. It is all there to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.
I have only 20 days left in Yangshuo and then back to Japan. One good thing, the temperature here is supposed to get up around 20 to 24 C (70 to 76 F) this coming Sunday through Tuesday. It will be great to finally get some warm weather along with a break from the rain. I would like to hike up to one of the taller Karst hills around Yangshuo. Perhaps next Tuesday will be a good day for that. I’ll let you know.
To see the photos enlarged just click on them
Another rainy day today but it’s
supposed to stop for several days beginning tomorrow. That would be nice then I could go for a bike ride. The wet doesn’t seem to stop the Chinese from walking around town in their disposable thin, yellow plastic rain ponchos bought from any street side merchant, or unfurling their numerous umbrellas as they stroll around sometimes stopping to look or even buy.
This morning I left my room early to meet Bi Jian at the People’s Hospital so I could get the impacted ear wax flushed from my right ear. It’s been clogged for about four days, blocking my hearing in that ear and no matter how I tried to flush it out myself I couldn’t get it clear. So, Bi Jian accompanied me this morning to see the doctor. About 10 minutes after we arrived, we left with me having a clear ear canal that I could once again hear through, and an alarming bill of 16 yuan ($2.54)!
Can you imagine paying that in the US? The last time I had my ear flushed by my doctor in Mendocino it cost about $80 and it took about the same amount of time as here. Best thing was, today is Saturday and we still just went right in with no waiting around for the ENT doctor. He was very professional and efficient as I am sure he has done this procedure a million times since it is the most common ailment seen by Ear, Nose and Throat doctors. It sure is great to hear normally again!
This coming week I have to travel to Guilin (Guee-lin) to renew my 30 day China Visa. First I have to go to the local Yangshuo Police Station on Monday to get the papers that I need to take with me to Guilin Immigration. Then take the 2 hour bus ride to Guilin on Thursday morning, turn in the papers, pay the $150 American Visa fees (all other nationalities pay $40), and then go back to Guilin a week later to pick up my Visa renewal. Boy, they sure make it easy!
Seems like a lot has happened in the past few days. But, that is relative to each of us.
Sunday was still somewhat rainy so I spent most of the day writing on my story and towards 5pm I strolled out into the dusk for a walk through the crowds on West St and to snap some photos. I was experimenting with long exposures while people walked past me. Some of the shots I really liked. The colors on the streets in the evening are extremely vivid and the sounds and smells equal the saturation of the colors. I enjoy listening to people speak in Putonghua as it sounds like singing to me, but mostly when the
women speak. The men have a more harsh, loud tone to their words and even if they are just talking about their day it sounds like they are arguing or chastising someone for their imagined mistake.
While having dinner at Back Street Cafe that evening I met Zhou Jing, or “Mirror” as she calls herself in English. She is a very intelligent, English speaking student from Xiemen. A small island city on the coast about 400 Km northeast of Hong Kong. It sits directly across from Taiwan.
Anyway, we decided to meet the next morning at breakfast and rent bikes. She showed up with a friend she met at her hostel, a tall, slim Aussie named Justin. A great guy who is an electromechanical engineer. He works for a huge corporation named ABB, headquartered out of Baden, Switzerland. They specialize in Electrical Efficiency and one of their subsidiaries makes industrial robots. Justin has been working with that subsidiary in Shanghai the past four months and is now traveling around China before he heads back to Australia to work at the ABB office in Brisbane.
We headed out across the Li River but soon decided that the road was way to crowded and turned back around towards Yangshuo. On the way we took a different, less used road that went by the river front. At one point we were peddling
through a rutted, muddy dirt road hoping none of us got stuck. As long as we kept moving we were fine. After we crossed back over the bridge Justin said he had to finish up some work and headed back to the hostel while Zhou Jing and I turned south toward Moon Hill. Neither of us had seen the big hole in the mountain. We rode south the 7 Km to Butterfly Cave, stopping for a rest room break and continued on the 5 Km to Moon Hill. We stopped to take photos of the bamboo rafts from the bridge that crossed the scenic Yulong River. When we arrived the mountain rose high above us in the near distance. I could see it would be quite a walk from the parking lot. Luckily, a couple of American rock climbers had arranged in the mid ’90′s for the climb up to be set with a rock stairway so more people could make
the trek and enjoy the view. Zhou Jing and I still stopped several times to rest and take pictures. We fooled around with our photos in attempts to portray the hill in the distance in different POV’s, but they all were a little silly. We passed several people resting on their way up and others making the casual walk down. We repeatedly marveled aloud at the task of placing all the stone steps and the difficulty in transporting them up some of the steeper sections of the hillside.
At the top, several people sat around and rested from the climb. While we sat there a weathered, little 70 year old lady asked us if we wanted to buy Coca Cola or tea, which we declined. She then showed me her pack of postcards and persisted in her attempts to convince me to purchase a pack. Having just walked the trail up and realizing she does it everyday I could not turn down her request that I buy
a pack. Through her silver teeth she told us she lives near the bottom of the hill and makes her living buy selling her drinks and cards. Her oldest son lives and works in the city but does not help her and her youngest son who lives with her. Her youngest son just lost the eyesight in one of his eyes and now she is afraid he will not be able to be married because no women would want a man who could only see out of one eye. Considering her age I had to wonder how old her youngest son was and why he had not married many years ago. I asked if I could take her picture because she looked so beautiful and she kept telling me she was no longer beautiful but proceeded to pose for me anyway. I told her I thought she was very beautiful. She laughed and told us other stories about her life while we regained our
breath. We eventually headed up through the hole to the highest viewpoint where we could see the valley that we had ridden through and its surrounding Karst. As soon as we made it to the high viewpoint it seemed everyone else decided to come up there too so
we waited until everyone left so we could take some self-timed photos. We both voiced our desire for the sky to be clear and blue instead of the persistent light gray haze of clouds. But, not much we could do about that. Our walk down was quick in comparison to the other direction. Before we knew it we were back on our bikes heading toward Yangshuo.
Justin, Jing and I met for dinner that night and talked about our lives and how nice it was to have met each other and spend some time together. Zhou Jing is writing a Blog about her travels but of course it is in Putonghua. She actually has two blogs, one for writing and the other just for photos.
We all spent the next day doing our separate adventures. Justin just rode around town after working again on the work he had to finish. Jing repacked her backpack in preparation for her departure that night
for the bus to Nanning on her way to Vietnam. She spent the afternoon reading in a street side cafe. I, on the other hand, had to go to the Yangshuo Police Station to secure my papers for Renewing my Visa for another 30 days. While getting copies of the application papers made at an English School nearby the school director, Simon offered me a private tutoring job. He is supposed to get in touch with me about it but I haven’t heard anything yet. I might go by there today on my walk and see if he has any news for me.
Since it was as close to a warm, sunny day as I have seen since my arrival in Yangshuo, I rented a bike and headed off north along the Li River determined to find a route across the hills, through the many villages over to Pantao Lu. My first route took me as far as I could go along the river road that ended in a hillside village in which I could not find a road that exited except for the way I came in. I retraced my route
back to a “Y” in the road and took the road west I did not take before. After traveling through a couple of villages I eventually found a road up and over a low pass that took me to the north end of Cheng Zhong Lu. I had walked up that way with Dai Dan and Sisi a few days before and so I set out the 7Km toward the village of Gao Zhou to see if I could make it back to the river on this road. But, after riding past the village about more 3 Km the road turned muddy and again I decided to retrace my steps. One thing that is a shame about the rural sections of China, the villagers do not care much where the trash goes. They just toss it down wherever they are and in absence of any community dump they dump it in the nearest river or stream. Just on the other side of the bridge that I took this picture, a woman was washing her clothes, and I am sure down stream a little bit another woman was washing her clothes. The government really needs to educate the villagers about proper disposal of trash. I understand it is better than it was but they still have a long way to go. I have seen kids and adults just toss whatever they are carrying down on the sidewalks, street, hallways, wherever they are.
At the intersection to Gao Zhou I again turned west towards what I figured would have to be in the direction of Pantao Lu. It seemed like a well traveled road so I peddled on. Passing through a few villages I came to an intersection. One way led to Gao Guang 1.6 Km ahead and the other direction led to Freeland, another 12 Km. I opted for Gao Guang and felt it was a good decision after peddling through the village and onward another 7 or 8 Km until the one lane, cement road gradually narrowed and suddenly turned into a dirt trail that was obviously routinely used by motorcycles. As I stood there
considering whether to continue a motorcycle with a passenger buzzed by me and so I decide to follow them. Onward I rode on the edge of a hill past small homes and rice fields until the trail widened to a dirt road but soon degraded into a wet, rut filled mud track. I stopped and surveyed any way to maneuver around the mud and just as I was about to attempt it another motorcycle pulled up and proceeded to traverse the long length of mud, ruts and puddles. Almost immediately he lost traction and started slipping sideways and whenever he would stop to right his direction his back wheel would just spin in the mud rut. It was then that I decided to once again turn around and retrace my trail back to the Cheng Zhong Lu/Gao Zhou intersection and then continue on into Yangshuo. I decided I had done enough exploring for the day. I must have ridden at least 50 Km or about 32 miles.
Zhou Jing messaged me on Skype when I was back home and we decided to meet with Justin and have dinner before they had to leave on the bus to Guilin at 8pm. Justin was on his way to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta warriors and Jing was beginning the first leg of her trek to Vietnam.
When I returned to Back Street Cafe Gemma was sitting around the charcoal fire with a few other women who had been having dinner earlier. They invited me to sit down with them and we spent the evening discussing several topics of interest including, business, politics, marriage, women in modern China, traveling, etc. One lady, Tao Li Hua is a Chinese Language Professor at the University in Hangzhou near Shanghai and her friend, Bian San San is a business woman who owns and operates a wholesale lighting company in Hangzhou. Earlier that day San San had her iPhone stolen out of her coat pocket on West Street. It had cost her 6,500 Yuan (RMB) or about $1,030 US, most of which is extra taxes in tariffs and import customs fees. But, what a price gouge! Needless to say she was a little bummed about it but tried not to let it affect her evening. The third woman is a student backpack traveler during the holiday with a huge pack that looked almost as big as her, being a person of small stature. I had meet her two nights before when I met Zhou Jing. All three women were very congenial, modern in their thinking (none of them want to get married) and contentedly independent. The professor is coming to the US in July and August of this year so I invited her to visit Mendocino.
Heading to Guilin this morning at 8:45 to turn in my Visa extension papers at the Chinese Immigration office, then back again in a week to pick up the approved Visa. It’s been raining all night. So, leaving Back Street for a day long excursion. Trip to Guilin in the next update!
PS: As I sit here in the Back Street Cafe putting the finishing touches on this update, we have a full house. One table has two Americans and an Australian discussing all the countries they’ve visited while speaking an example of the language of that country, if they know it. The Aussie seems to speak several languages and has apparently been to many countries. He gets deals on the airlines so he travels a lot. At another table are four chain smoking Deutschlanders (at least they asked first if the rest of us cared if they smoked) and the third table is a threesome of female Hungarians. Interesting to overhear some of the conversations. Occasionally the Europeans lapse into English for some reason, and I get a glimpse of what they are discussing. Yangshuo is definitely an International backpacker destination.
Today is Chinese New Years Eve. The day before the beginning of the Chinese year 4,710, the Year of the Dragon.
I took a stroll through town
earlier today and the streets are basically deserted and several storefronts are closed. Only a few cafes and tourist shops are open and even they may close during the three hour dinner time in early evening. Most everyone has departed for their family home, wherever it may be. Some foreign and a few Chinese tourists remain but the large majority of Yangshuo residents are nowhere to be found.
I actually ran into the two photographers I met on the Xianqian Bridge the other day, Dai Dan and Chen Sisi. They will be in town for a couple more days then off to their family homes in Changsha before going back to work at a pharmaceutical company where each of them work. The one with the short hair, Sisi took a couple of pictures of me and Dai Dan together. I hope they send them to me. Sisi is an aspiring photographer who occasionally gets photographic work.
Gemma told me Yangshuo
would get pretty quiet today and she was not mistaken. It is about 2pm now and I was under the impression I was the only person here at Back Street Cafe because when I went down stairs this morning I found a note for me with a key to the front door, which was locked, in case I wanted to go out for awhile. Apparently, Axue and Auntie left sometime early this morning but Gemma has been in her room all day and just now has come down stairs to clean up the kitchen before we leave here about 4:30 for dinner at her family’s house.
Last night Inrae came to tell me that I was missing a TV taping of a traditional New Year event with some dancing dragons and a bevvy of beauties dressed in traditional ethnic costumes. The beauties sang and the Dragons pranced from one end of the street to the other past the throng of people lined up on either side. The TV camera crew taped it all while bright lights blinded anyone who looked straight into them. I think after some singing and Dragon dancing the crew conferred and decided to call it a night because shortly thereafter the rain started to fall in a steady stream. Louis, Inrae and I walked around under our umbrellas for a short while before heading home.
Tonight, they think they will go to a dinner at Cloud 9 and then to 7th Heaven for some treats and music. If I get back from dinner with Gemma at a reasonable hour we are going to try to meet up and toast the New Year, 4,710! Wow, where did the last 2,698 years go? Time no longer flies, it warps!
Gemma is just about ready to get things together for our departure so I will do the same for myself. Happy New Year! (again).
Wow! What a great last couple of days to
begin the Year of the Dragon! This is an especially auspicious year since it is the Year of the Male Water Dragon that only comes around every 60 years. It is the end and beginning of a cycle of time. Kind of like the Kanreki in Japan when someone turns 60.
The dinner with Gemma’s family on Sunday evening was a very enjoyable time indeed. I met her younger brother of four years, Ge Hai Leng (or his English name, Tony), her aunt and uncle, Gemma’s cousin’s husband Mr. Jhao, and their young son. I had already met Gemma’s mother and her cousin. Gemma’s dad had to work that night so I didn’t get to meet him.
We headed away from the Li River, across town through the deserted streets and past numerous shuttered storefronts. One would have thought that the town had been evacuated, and in a way it had since many people went home for the evening family meal. And if it had not been for the continual barrage of gunfire like explosions of innumerable strands of firecrackers coming from just about every direction one would have thought we were alone. The sounds of the firecrackers added another dimension to the eerieness of the deserted scene by making it seem we were almost walking through a battle zone with fire fights going on around us.
We eventually arrived at her family home in an area of town I had just been walking through the day before, bearing gifts of quality teas and wine. Gemma’s family immediately made me feel comfortable in their home, sharing the Kotatsu like table with the heat coming from a heater on the floor under the table. The table was draped with a cloth to keep the heat in as much as possible. Her aunt made a space on the small couch and motioned for me to sit by her. She offered me some Longan or Dragon’s Eyes fruit ( http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/longan.html ) and indicated I should get warm by putting my legs under the table cloth. The front door was wide open and it was not an especially warm night. Quite cold actually, even though the sun had been out earlier in the day.
Gemma’s mother eventually directed everyone into the kitchen/dining room to begin dinner and being as polite as they are, they had me sit at the end of the table. Like most Chinese meals, once the food starts coming it is a long time before it stops, and not because there is no more food but because everyone at the table is just too full to eat anymore. Veggies, taro with pork, chicken, beef, meat balls, soup and assorted dishes with names I do not know, all of which are cooked in the middle of the dining table while everyone dips in with their chopsticks and takes what they want. Everything is delicious and filled with exotic aromas. Every time my bowl was nearing empty more food was placed in it.
All of this food was washed down with Chinese Rice Wine. Not the Japanese style rice wine Sake but a rice wine much closer to the distilled Shochu with an alcohol content hovering above 55%. After the first sip I could feel it evaporating in my mouth barely making it to my throat.
“Ganbei! (Dry glass)” everyone toasted at first, but only three of us (Gemma’s brother Hai Leng, Mr. Jhao and me) continued to do so through the dinner. Every time I would look at Mr. Jhao he would pick up his glass and motion for me and Hai Leng to toast once again and then he would ask Hai Leng to pour us more until we had emptied the white ceramic rice wine bottle. But then we went on to finish off a bottle of Cuvee from France. After sitting around the table, watching Mr. Jhao and Hai Leng smoke cigarettes, and of course I was offered (and repeatedly declined) a cigarette each time they lit another, Mr. Jhao invited Gemma and I to drink some of the Green and Black tea we had brought. Hai Leng decided to go out and meet his friends. We retired to the living room and sat around a specially built tea table with cups, tea pot and tea strainer resting atop a stainless steel screen drain fixture set in the table. Mr. Jhao demonstrated for me how to properly prepare tea cups and pot before drinking the tea. Mainly pouring scalding water over everything connected with the tea. A method of warming and sterilization I assume.
First we consumed several cups of green tea while Gemma did her best to
translate what Mr. Jhao said to me and I to him. She had to admit that translating was not one of her strong points but I think she did pretty well for on the spur of the moment. After the green tea Mr. Jhao recommended we try the black tea. Both varieties were equally delightful though completely different in their taste. I was actually surprised how delicious and fruity the black tea tasted. We discussed as many subjects as we could with Gemma’s translating ability until about 9pm when I decided I should be heading out after Gemma mentioned that everyone in the family would each be taking showers and doing things that they did not need to do on New Year’s Day because it was a day of rest. Mr. Jhao insisted he drive me back to Back Street Cafe but I declined saying I preferred to walk and enjoy the evening of festivities. Gemma explained that it was rude for them to let me walk home but after I said I really did not mind and wanted to walk she cautioned me to stay on the main road on the way home. I said I would.
I told them how special the evening was for me to be invited into their home for New Year’s Dinner and they replied that it was their pleasure and my being there had been special for them because this was the first time a Westerner had been in their home. I said I felt very honored to be there with them. They in turn said it had been their honor to have me join them. I thanked Mr. Jhao for the tea, Gemma’s mother and cousin for the wonderful dinner and headed out the door.
The night was colder than earlier and when I went to zip up my down coat the zipper mechanism broke and I had to hold my coat shut by putting my hands in the pockets while holding them across my full stomach. I was still able to stop and take some photos though. The streets were vacant except for the occasional pedestrian scurrying somewhere through the cold. The firecracker explosions had died down but there were a few occasional outbursts here and there. As I walked by the indoor open market on Pantao Lu I walked in to see the tables were bare with no one around. Imagine this place teeming with people and the tables stacked high with just about any organic or man-made product you can imagine, and this is just one of the rooms. There is a slightly larger room next door where all the meat products (chickens, ducks, pork, beef, goat, dog, fish, turtles, etc.) are sold.
Xilang Hill with its temple like building at the top lit up at night is quite a sight.
I arrived home to find a note on the
Back Street Cafe front door that Louis and Inrae had been waiting next door at Mimosa Cafe and had left just five minutes before I arrived. When I was in my room I checked Skype to see if they were home yet. While I was checking, Jane messaged me and asked why I was so late getting back to meet Louis and Inrae. I guess she had been waiting with them too. She then invited me to her house to join her and her guests for firework fun on the Li River. Louis and Inrae messaged that they were staying home and I should go with Jane and friends. I told Jane I would be at her place at 10pm.
Upon arriving at Jane’s I said “Gong Xi Fa Cai”
(Wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year) and she immediately offered me some of the piles of food on the table, to which I had to decline because I was already so full. We waited until about 11pm and the five of us walked through the
near vacant streets to the river where the only other people seemed to be. On the river front cement boat dock several people were lighting their fireworks, laughing and screaming in delight as they ran around in the dark. Jane had purchased several types of fireworks and we all set to work letting them off. Lots of Roman Candles, short and extra long Sparklers and some Sky Rockets. The girls waved their sparklers around in shapes and skipped around. All along the river side people were shooting sky rockets into the river. But, about 11:30pm most all of it just suddenly ended. I guess everyone had shot everything off in a final flurry of explosions. We looked around to realize we were the only ones still on the dock and on the walkway above, so we decided to head into town and walk down West Street to see what was happening. Not much was happening at all. So I separated from them at my door and went up to finish the evening with a good nights sleep seeing as it was about 1am.
The next morning was the first day of the
New Year and I slept in to 10am. When I checked my Skype messages, Louis and Inrae immediately messaged and said, “Oh, you are finally up. The Dragon Parade starts at 11am. We will meet you at the bakery at 11.”
I hurried with a shower and just as I was about to leave they yelled up to my window that they were just outside and was I ready? Opening the window I said I would be right down.
As it turns out the Dragon Parade is more of a dragon dance that stops at every store to be given a red envelope with money inside and in return the Dragons grant them good luck in the coming year.
The sun is partially out today and so are crowds of Chinese tourists.
Walking along below me on Gui Hua Lu, or sitting at an outdoor table, eating, drinking, smoking cigarettes and taking innumerable pictures as they stroll or sit. It seems everyone has a camera of some kind in their hands. Not many people are frequenting the retail stores. Most everyone is going into the cafes, probably to get warm with hot drinks. It is interesting to watch the people as they walk by, not many of them look up to see me sitting here at my computer. The ones that do see me either quickly look away or stand there and stare at me. It is so seldom that I get to pull the curtains back because my room gets so cold when they’re open. A continual stream of people stop and read the menus outside each of the cafes and either go inside or move on down the street. A street sweeping lady dressed in neon bright orange vest and hat shuffles along with her broom and long handled dust pan collecting the assortment of discarded refuse of the passers-by. Since China is not so much of a socialists country as it used to be I wonder who pays her, Business or Government? I can tell it’s cold outside because people have their hands pulled up inside their coat sleeves or tucked in their pockets. Wool caps, scarfs and down coats abound.
Louis, Inrae and I followed the Dragon Dancers around town for a while and then decided to have something to eat for lunch. We walked over near my room and stopped into Lucy’s Cafe to have a little something because we were due to be at Jane’s about 5pm for dinner.
We met Jane at her building entrance and joined her and her other dinner guests for an evening of eating the great dinner Jane prepared, drinking brandy Louis and Inrae brought and playing a form of musical chairs where the person holding the
Chinese prayer ornament when the drummer stops drumming has to perform in some way, whether in poetry, singing, dancing, acting or whatever. Most everyone sang a song or recited a poem or famous quote. We had a great time laughing and carrying on with Mr. Wu and Jane’s two room boarders. It was late when we left but
not so late that we did not take a walk along West Street. The crowds of people on New Years’ Day were much heavier than on New Year’s Eve. The street was absolutely crowded. We stopped to check out a bar with music pulsing with bass tones through the windows but when we opened the door the noise was so loud we turned around and continued walking. I left them at my door and went up to bed. I was pretty tired.
In the morning I received
a message on QQ (China’s Facebook) from my new friends Dai Dan and Chen Sisi (Sisi). They invited me to join them for lunch at noon which I heartily accepted because I had again slept in and was a little hungry. We had a nice lunch and then walked back to Back Street Cafe where I introduced them to Gemma. Dai Dan was curious about all the writing on the wall and ended up writing on it while Sisi took pictures of her.
We then went on a search to find me an ear syringe so I can unclog the wax in my right ear that is blocking my hearing. But, after going to three drugstores, no luck. “Maybe in Guilin,” the druggist’s kept saying.
They showed me their youth hostel and then we decided to head off on Cheng Zhong Lu north out of town on a long walk we hoped would lead us around to the Li River and
then back to town but when we made it to a small village named Zha Gao we asked directions to the river and the older local woman told us it was another hour to the river and then another hour back to town. We decided to backtrack because it was nearing dusk. Dai Dan and Sisi had to get ready to leave this morning on the bus back to Changsha in Hunan Province where they work and live. But last night while I was writing on this blog Dai Dan messaged me on QQ about 12:30am and said she could not sleep because she did not want to leave Yangshuo. Then she and Sisi both were up playing cards with other backpackers. After chatting for a half hour or so I bid her good night, 晚安 (wǎnān) and good luck, 祝你好運 (zhù nǐ háoyùn) on their trip home and went to sleep. They are both very nice women and I expect we will stay in some kind of contact. We all agreed we had a great time while we were together.
Today has been a slow day for me. I slept late again, took my clothes to be laundered and then stayed in my room writing and watching all the people walk by most of the day. Since it was so cold I decided to forgo my usual walk around town in favor of staying warm (well not exactly warm, maybe warmer) in my room. I am down in the cafe now enjoying a cup of ginger tea and it is noticeably colder down here even with the constant burning charcoal heating the small space. Almost time for dinner so I guess I will set some photos on this latest update from China, eat some dinner and then off to bed.