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Kindred Spirits in Quindao

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

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Walking by the Foreign Language Bookstore in Quindao, just up the street from my comfy clean hotel room that a tout from the railroad station led me to…80 yuan she says..that’s about $10..I look in to see what they have in English. Most of the books are in Chinese…the English selection is tiny with dreadful choices and high prices. Just then I see the first westerners I have seen in Quindao walk in…where are you from, I ask…from the Gold Coast of Australia…oh, I find Australians everywhere…yes, she laughed…we manage to find our way all over the world! These women have just arrived from Shanghai where they participated in the masters section of an international dragon boat competition. One, Tye, is a nurse…the other, Leah, a school janitor. Dragon boat racing, they said, originated in China but is very popular in Australia.

Are you alone, they ask. When I say yes, their eyes light up…oh good, then would you like to come with us? Of course I jump at the chance. I show them where the internet cafe is that I had walked all over town looking for and finally found that morning by accident as there was no sign on the outside of the building. And I give them a card for the hostel I stayed at in Beijing which delighted them no end.

We have dinner together…the women pass up tubs of all kinds of shellfish to choose from on the sidewalk in front of tiny restaurants with only two or three tables…and finally choose to have “hot pot” that sits on top of a flame with your choice of all kinds of fish from the sea…a dozen different kinds of clams, little crab, shellfish we have never seen before, various unknown kibbles and bits, leafy vegetables, thin sliced mutton or pork, as much as you could eat for 29 yuan or about $6. One of the women is a bit nervous about all the unknown bits…but we laugh it off and make a complete mess on the table…the big Chinese group at the next table finding our clumsy adventure quite funny.

The next evening they showed up at my hotel door….we just showed the Chinese girls at the desk downstairs “big hair” they said…and the girls immediately knew who they were looking for…besides the fact of course, that we were all westerners…we must all know each other! They shared some wonderful chewy sweetened dried fish with me and needed me to show them how to do email so off we went out into the evening again.

My last evening in Quindao, at a 4 star hotel coffee shop, I invite the friendly waiter who has been letting me use the hotel’s free WIFI with my laptop to have dinner with me…seafood soup and jousa (dumplings)… before he has to go to his university classes at 7pm. Jack is his English name given to him by his English teacher and I find myself wishing Chinese English teachers would get a little up-to date with the English names they hand out. Jack, Han Chinese, is from Urumqi in the largest and most western province in China…Xinjiang…which has a majority of muslim Turkic speaking people. His family still lives there. He is 23 but says he is not a good student. I ask why and he says he likes sports…he would rather play American football! I say, what!! He says it’s a sport young people like but his parents don’t. I say, yes, I understand! I ask if he plays basketball and mention Yao Ming’s name…he dismisses Yao…”oh, if I were 7 feet tall I would be famous too!”

I let Jack order…he is anticipating a soup with “all kinds of shellfish from the sea” but when it comes it’s basically an eggflower soup with only a few little bits of shrimp and clam. He looks disappointed and I realize he has never done this before. The soup is only 6 yuan…less than a dollar. But Jack only makes $200 a month and I wonder what this skinny kid eats every day. At his bus stop we shake hands with lingering looks and he invites me to come back to Quindao again.

I have a hard sleeper booked on the train today at 1:30. I will arrive in Shanghai tomorrow about 9 am when I will book a dorm bed for 100 yuan…about $12. Right now this hotel I am in is celebrating a wedding with drums and a funky dragon made of balloons. The dragon lies down and the groom carries her over it and into the elevator…the ceremony will continue downstairs.

Great Days Great Wall

Sunday, October 17th, 2004

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E found the website (www.wildwall.com) and the adventure offered intriguing potential…off the beaten track, away from the Chinese tourist groups that follow a guide with a microphone and colored flag held high in the air to designate location. After two short emails to William, arrangements were easily made and in the lobby of our Beijing guesthouse I met with the driver (No English) who carried a placard for “Mr. Bob.” After smiles and incomprehensible introductions his black auto carried us through a three-hour adventure negotiating Beijing traffic…bikes, pedestrians, tractors, donkey carts all navigate the same lanes, avenues, freeways where the basic rule is ” Bigger Has The Right of Way.” As throughout Asia, good brakes, good horn and good luck prevails.

My understanding was that we were to pick up another couple but as we finally exited Beijing for the countryside I began to make an alternative plan if perhaps this was an abduction…the imagination can wonder…

We finally entered mountain terrain and the pavement ended. After another 20 minutes we arrived at a small village surrounded by hills We parked and I carried backpack uphill to a courtyard surrounding a small idyllic farmhouse. There was evidence of other foreigners. William casually came out of the farmhouse and introduced himself. An Aussie couple, attired in the hippest of trek fashion had already arrived and they and I completed our trekking group. Subsequently I appreciated their humor, enthusiasm and good cheer and we shared good times and laughs.

After being shown my room, the first of many superb meals was served. Lily was William’s Chinese helper and sous chef…fresh trout in a spicy (picante) sauce. After the meal Schnapps was offered (an acquired taste I guess) and I learned that William was in his late forties, formerly from Liverpool England, but has lived in China for the past 15 years. He has a Chinese spouse and two sons. He is a former long distance runner, who because of his fascination with the Great Wall as a child, later decided to run it’s length. After an initial abortive try he was subsequently able to run most of the wall in the early 1990′s and it has since become his passion. He has authored several books, spear-headed environmental efforts and has become the local expert/personality/guru of all things Great Wall. On our hikes, whenever we were passed by local Chinese hikers he would be recognized and asked to pose for pictures. His affect was such that he always obliged with a smile and some Mandarin conversation.

For the next two days we arose at 5 a.m. and took off in darkness for a 4-6 hour trek that included a significant climb up to the Great Wall and then excursions for varying lengths of time on top of the wall. We were able to stand on the wall and observe the sunrise. Along the way there would be frequent stops for short antidotes or explanations of various aspects of the wall–its history, construction, functions etc.

The Wall was initially started in about 400 BC and continued until the Ming Dynasty (approximately 1600 AD). It was built in sections to protect the Han Chinese from the Northern nomads (Mongolian and Manchu). Initial construction was at points of obvious invasion routes…river valleys…and through the years the Wall was extended up the sides of the valleys and across mountain ranges. It is not one continuous structure but various branches meander and double back. Initial construction was simple but later architectural efforts became more sophisticated.
In c. 220 B.C., under Qin Shi Huang, sections of earlier fortifications were joined together to form a united defence system against invasions from the north. Construction continued up to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), when the Great Wall became the world’s largest military structure. Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The areas we traversed were constructed of large carved stones, kilned bricks and morter which contained rice. As well as security, the Wall was used for storage, shelter and as a highway. It varied in width from two yards to 10 yards. In the area we were in, there has been no restoration and time and erosion have caused crumbling in many parts with an overgrowth of vegetation both on the sides and on top. It would seem that any minor earthquake could produce serious additional damage. William said his ecologic efforts have produced minimal results to date and he has been happy just to see that his efforts have caused fewer Chinese to litter. Ideally it would seem that stabilization against future damage without restoration would be the way to proceed. But the Wall is so long (estimates vary from 7000 to 10,000 kilometers) that total protection is impossible.

On descent: as frequently happens on hikes there is time for thought, reflection and subsequent contentment…and coming off the Great Wall of China in brisk warm autumn days a few magical to mystical moments. On one occasion while walking solo I heard leaves rustling in the trees –only a few colored leaves remained on each tree. Looking up the leaves would twirl on one tree then sequentially on another– like a self-conducted symphony—only in China. When I asked William whether his operation had reached a size sufficient for an assistant he replied, “I think I will see you again.”

The Tajik and Olga

Thursday, September 30th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The Tajik and Olga In Irkutsk, when we find our seats on the train to Ulaan Baatar, we find a good-looking 40 year old Muslim man from Tajikistan in our cabin. He has studied ... [Continue reading this entry]

Forest Mushrooms and Vodka

Friday, September 10th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif The night before we leave St. Petersburg, Elena and her childhood friend, Dula, breathlessly excited, bring home bags and boxes of forest mushrooms. Bob and I haven't eaten and we hope the ... [Continue reading this entry]

St. Petersburg Homestay

Monday, September 6th, 2004
7yBXvp82X2gVlMeZe25DiM-2006198051115673.gif A Homestay has been arranged for us by our tour company, White Knights, with Elena who lives in (and owns) a 3 room very cluttered flat four flights up in a poorly maintained government ... [Continue reading this entry]

Traki, Karaites & Kibini Pastry

Sunday, September 5th, 2004
Trakai, on the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, is a small settlement placed in the middle of five large lakes that is home to about 350 members of the Keraites, a minority community originally from Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) who later ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ruili China

Saturday, December 28th, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Coming down out of the mountains we were happy to see Ruili lying in the green lush valley below...a larger city than I thought...a Chinese/Burma border town with a mix of Han Chinese, minorities ... [Continue reading this entry]

Echo & Li…Competitors

Tuesday, December 10th, 2002
jWLtBzsBGHTUmbHjYHypj0-2006185073225366.gif Monday Dec 9 2002 In Old Town Lijiang, we are woken up by a knock at the hotel door at 8am. Two couples from Taiwan were on their way to Zhondian with a driver ... [Continue reading this entry]

Lijiang & The Naxi People

Sunday, December 8th, 2002
jWLtBzsBGHTUmbHjYHypj0-2006185073225366.gif Once in Lijiang, we dumped our luggage at the Shangira Hotel (Y80 or about $10 for a double) that was recommended by Echo. I suspect she was getting a kickback for sending tourists there ... [Continue reading this entry]

Zhondian aka Shangri-La

Thursday, December 5th, 2002
YUqE3FCf1Hd9CjfG1qqmt0-2006171132705308.gif Bob took a flight south from Kunming to Mangshi and then on by bus to Ruili near the Burma border. Jana and I left Kunming on a Yunnan Airlines flight to the village of Zhongdian, ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hanoi

Wednesday, September 25th, 2002
KtJTxGv4eiozwJxI0Lb6qM-2006216170118412.gif September 24 2002 Bob left Hanoi right away on the train for Sapa near the Chinese border to do some trekking among the colorful minority villages and then to spend three days in Halang Bay ... [Continue reading this entry]

Shimla India

Wednesday, July 31st, 2002
July 31-August 4 2002 The last few days I have been fighting some sort of strange malady...raging sore throat, red spots on the tops of my feet and the underside pads of my fingers red, sore and sensitive. Want to risk ... [Continue reading this entry]

Rickshaw Driving Lesson

Wednesday, July 31st, 2002
After dinner, Bob entertains the nearby date sellers by dickering with another rickshaw driver who makes the mistake of saying to Bob "You are rich man-why can't you give me few extra rupees?" Bob shot back that "I have ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bargaining for a Rickshaw

Tuesday, July 30th, 2002
Our last night in Delhi before taking the train to a cooler Shimla in the mountains for a few days, we strike out in the worst part of the day for traffic to have dinner in Old Delhi. Bob ... [Continue reading this entry]

Mr. Singh’s Rickshaw In Udaipur

Sunday, July 21st, 2002
We take the offer of Mr. Singh, the Sikh driver of an auto-rickshaw, a small, noisy, three-wheeled motorized contraption with no doors, to take us around the narrow streets that are filled with cows, people, dogs, pigs, men in dirty ... [Continue reading this entry]

Bombay Renamed Mumbai

Thursday, July 18th, 2002
July 13-18, 2002 India forces you to look beneath the surface of things...there is more here than your eyes see...a midnight ride into the city from the airport in the non-A/C taxi with hot humid squalid air blowing the aroma ... [Continue reading this entry]

Sleepover In Soweto

Friday, July 12th, 2002
S12J2pKbmw6zVZyRvmb7L0-2006193181305721.gif A Sleepover in Soweto-Africa's largest township On our way to India we stopped in Johannesburg for two days to stay with Lolo Mabitsela in her Bed and Breakfast in Soweto-a township about 30 minutes outside ... [Continue reading this entry]

Orange River Bush Camp at Fiddler’s Creek

Wednesday, June 12th, 2002
The facilities are nice-big grassy campsite and there is a lapa (open air shelter) covered with green leaves of a plant with purple flowers within which to eat and wash dishes. At camp we eat left-over Kudo steak sandwiches ... [Continue reading this entry]

Hobas & Fish River Canyon

Tuesday, June 11th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 11, 2002 On the way from Serus the topography is incredible--perfectly formed mesas and buttes-almost Utah-like. We stop in the tiny wide spot in the road called Bethanie. Bob mails a card ... [Continue reading this entry]

Solitaire & Sesriem Camp

Sunday, June 9th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 9, 2002 Sesriem literally means "six rawhide strings" The truck ride south to Sesriem Camp was not as cold as we thought it would be. We stopped in Solitaire-a wide spot in ... [Continue reading this entry]

Swakopmund

Saturday, June 8th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 6-8, 2002 How are you today mommi? George and James do a pretty good job looking after me-making sure I'm happy so I don't unglue on this trip and make a problem for ... [Continue reading this entry]

Otjiwarongo Cheetah Camp

Wednesday, June 5th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif June 5, 2002 The next morning James drives us back to Outjo, the small predominantly German/Afrikaner town we had stayed in before and we buy apple strudel and real drip coffee in the bakery and ... [Continue reading this entry]

Ombinda Country Lodge

Sunday, June 2nd, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193172914229.gif Sunday June 2, 2002 near Outjo Yesterday the truck broke a spring so we stopped in the Afrikaner town of Outjo to find a mechanic and pick up some groceries. James drove us to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Okavango Delta By Makoro

Wednesday, May 29th, 2002
The Makoro Trip through the Delta By the time the 1300 km long Okavango, southern Africa's third largest river, enters Botswana from Angola, through the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, it begins to spread and sprawl as it is absorbed by the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Victoria Falls & Rafting The Zambezi In Zambia

Saturday, May 25th, 2002
t5vdleC6v9bjElbi1QdXwg-2006193164953338.gif Sun May 25, 2002 Up at 5:30 for the sunrise micro-light (motorcycle with wings) ride to view the falls and the geologic formation left by them over thousands of years. The half hour ... [Continue reading this entry]

New Words In Lusaka

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2002
Otnq3CnZDrMlnlEtEldfpg-2006197135244488.gif In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa your car "hoots" not honks. Hoot, I tell them, is what an owl does! Rod says Geese "honk" and cars "hoot!" We laugh. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Dinner & Dancing On A Mat in Malawi

Saturday, May 18th, 2002
PZmR20gwby0cg19rXgklIw-2006197131657399.gif That night Rod has arranged for us to have dinner at the home of a local family. We each take a bowl and spoon from the truck and are led down a series ... [Continue reading this entry]

Zanzibari Feasting

Wednesday, May 15th, 2002
PZmR20gwby0cg19rXgklIw-2006197125025738.gif Zanzibar's native cuisine brazenly drenches seafood in local aromatic spices. At night, locals gather at Forodhani Gardens, a strip of park on the waterfront right outside the House of Wonders. Before sunset, cooks begin ... [Continue reading this entry]

Nairobi to Cape Town Overland

Monday, May 6th, 2002
HF0m0NezqDnitkljwNP8lg-2006188104829364.gif May 5, 2002 We left for the 4000 mile seven week trip in a Mercedes Benz truck overland from Nairobi to Capetown. As Bob suspected there would be, there are 17 kids all under ... [Continue reading this entry]

Search For Truth In Egypt

Tuesday, April 30th, 2002
Cafes and Food You can have what Bob calls "mystery meat," which in Egypt is called kebab-lamb or chicken sliced from a vertical spit-very good in pita bread. Kofta is ground meat peppered with spices, skewered and grilled. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Athens Greece

Tuesday, April 9th, 2002
pjSwKsKjPzr5gOYYAx9PKM-2006172111649438.gif Landed in Eletherios Venizelo airport and everyone clapped as is often the custom around much of the world. Took a one hour bus ride from the airport to Monastiraki Square Station at Syntagma Square in ... [Continue reading this entry]

St. Peter’s House

Tuesday, April 9th, 2002
The Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre ... [Continue reading this entry]

The New Young Brits

Saturday, March 23rd, 2002
In the train, before crawling into my compartment, I stood out in the hall and had a great conversation with a bright energetic young Brit (Richard) attending Cambridge. He had been traveling by himself on college break all ... [Continue reading this entry]

The Atlas Mountains

Thursday, March 21st, 2002
pjSwKsKjPzr5gOYYAx9PKM-2006172104421567.gif We took an excursion trip south and east past incredible green terraced fields and old Berber kasbahs (ancient Moroccan self-contained communities made out of the rust colored mud of the countryside)-seemingly idyllic-to the Atlas ... [Continue reading this entry]

Paris

Thursday, February 28th, 2002
From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte ... [Continue reading this entry]

Trekking in Kyrgyzstan

Monday, September 18th, 1995
7Z3XBdt3hLmJjqkmk2I6k0-2006190120654814.gif The fall of 1995 Bob and I joined an REI adventure tour company based in Seattle Washington on an 18 day trek in the highest and most dramatic part of the central Tian Shan ... [Continue reading this entry]