Diary from China -- July-August, 2005
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS

On July 20, 2005 I boarded a plane for China for the trip of a lifetime. This was not the typical sight-seeing tour -- in fact, I was content not to see any of the tourist sites at all. This was a trip to join my 23-year-old son Stephan, who had left for Asia the previous spring to "find himself," so that I could see "the REAL China," using Stephan as my interpreter to meet and get to know Chinese people in their homes and see how they lived. I was reluctant to go in the summer since I do not tolerate heat well, but I knew that if I waited, Stephan might have "found himself" and have a job that would tie him down, so this might be my only chance.

My return ticket was "open" because I did not know if I would stay two weeks or four, nor did I know where we would go and what we would do, except that we would start in Shanghai, where Stephan had rented a room across the hall from what he said was "The Nicest Family In China." This was the family of Zhang Wei, a student who was home for the summer from the University of Maryland, where Stephan had met her.

I sent this diary to my family and a few friends, including fellow orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists Janet Barlow, Beezy Bentzen, Gene Bourquin, and Laura Bozeman, all of whom are extensive and intrepid travelers themselves, and Joel Davis and Betsy Wohl. When I returned home, I added some information to the diary, which is included in brackets. I wrote some observations about traffic and people with disabilities in China several months after I returned home.

For a list of photos, click here.
For a list of topics, click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005 -- 'Twas the night of departure!
Los Angeles, California

I'm writing this in California, and about to go have dinner with Uncle John and Aunt Shirley, and then I leave for the airport to go to China. I landed here last night, but only had a few hours' sleep, because I was too excited the night before to get more than 2 or 3 hours' sleep. I'm unable to send this to you while I write it, so I will send it as soon as I arrive. I'm soooooooo excited! I can't believe I'm actually going to be stepping out of the airport in CHINA!!! More on this later.


Diary from China -- Friday, July 22, 2005 (day of arrival)
Shanghai, China
  • Meeting the Nicest Family in All of China [see photos of family]

    Hi everyone! I'm IN CHINA, and having a great time! I'm staying with Stephan in a little room where he lives in the top floor of an apartment building, across the hall from what he had told me is The Nicest Family in All of China. And he was not exaggerating, these people are a delight. One of them, Zhang Wei (Zhang is her family name, Wei her first), is about Stephan's age and speaks fluent English, she is a student at the University of Maryland where Stephan met her. I communicate with the rest of the family through my interpreter, Stephan. They have prepared us lunch and dinner and I don't think I've tasted better food anywhere. Every one of the family is a delight, so friendly and fun, and thoughtful.

    Being in Shanghai is delightful -- I am enjoying seeing a city very different from anything we have at home, lots of beautiful old buildings (but filled with touristy stores!), streets bustling with bicycles, cars and buses. Today, after lunch, four of us went to a beautiful garden constructed 600 years ago, very historic and with many man-made rock "mountains" and ponds [see photos].

    Oops! I'm on their computer, it's getting late, I will close for now and will check in again in a few days.

    P.S. Just a little note -- I'm surrounded by a happy family chatting merrily in Chinese with Stephan and playing the Guzheng ("goojung"), an ancient musical string instrument plucked with fake fingernails -- lovely evening, something I'd never experience on a tour of China without Stephan, this is EXACTLY what I was hoping for when I came!

    Diary from China -- Saturday, July 23, 2005
    Shanghai, China
  • Authentic Chinese experiences -- sleeping, showering, laundry and Tai Chi

    Hi guys! the adventure and authentic Chinese experience continues! last night Stephan and I slept in his little room -- it has a bed, chest of drawers, a table that I plunked my suitcase on, a sink, and what looks like a glass display case for a store, with sliding glass doors on the front and two shelves. The floor (which Stephan advised that I don't walk on in bare feet, it's so dirty, but the rest of the room looks pretty clean to me, the previous tenant covered one of the plaster walls with a pretty yellow paper -- literally sheets of paper taped to the wall, not wall paper -- and one has fallen off giving it a nice stepped effect in design) barely has room for a mat for Stephan, and I got the bed. The bed is a wooden frame with a flat wooden top, which they covered with interesting layers -- first a quilt, then a bamboo roll-up mat, then another quilt, which gives it an overall firmness that would be equivalent on my Sleep Number Bed (which rates firmness from 0 to 100) of about 140 (in other words, it would make a great ironing board, just like the beds we had in Thailand!). With some creative placement of a rolled-up sweater near my waist, I can lay there without my leg going to sleep from the pressure on my hip .

    The Nicest Family In All of China had taught Stephan how to do his laundry and hang it to dry, and so last night we washed a few things in the sink and speared them with a long bamboo stick which we suspended in a metal frame out the window, just like most of the other residents of this tenement housing [see photos]. I felt SO "in"! I just enjoyed looking out the window this morning at our neighbors, many with laundry hanging out their windows, lots of trees between us waving in the breeze. Stephan has air conditioning and a fan, so we were very comfortable the entire night.

    Showering is another remembrance of Thailand -- the bathroom (which we share with about 6-8 other people) has only a toilet and a shower head (actually two shower heads, and the procedure to go through with gadgets in the common kitchen area to enable one of them to get hot water is a bit beyond me, but Stephan and The Nicest Family In All of China can do it easily, and frankly with the heat here I don't need a hot shower, the cool shower I had last night was one of the nicest experiences I've ever had!)

    Please excuse the typing here, the keyboard is a little funky. The capital letter key doesn't always engage, and sometimes when I try to "respond" to messages I get an interesting selection of buttons with Chinese lettering on them, and the only person in this internet cafe who speaks English left about a half hour ago, after checking with me to see if there was anything I wanted to communicate -- I had to have her come and help me get on the internet with all these unfamiliar Chinese texts.

    Anyway, this morning I had my first daily lesson in Tai Chi from Zhang Mama (I'm Sauerburger mama), she is 55 and so very graceful and poised. She has been studying tai chi for 5 years and offered to teach me when I expressed interest. wow, it aint easy! I was most impressed with how we have to stand on one leg while slowly reaching forward with the other, then stepping onto the other leg, rather than just lunging like I'm used to. no wonder people get better balance and strength from doing it! After I had learned steps 1-4 (out of a 24-step movement) she went through the whole thing again, and I was so impressed with her. she and everyone in that family are such sweet people, so gracious.

    I am planning to take anyone who wants to come to the Chinese opera tomorrow afternoon, or whatever they think they'd enjoy. I want to see some Chinese opera or dancing while here in shanghai -- we plan to leave Tuesday and I still don't know for sure where we're going but I do know that we're going to have some very interesting experiences, with my Chinese-speaking guide / son. I'll sign off for now, hope to update you again in a day or so, I may not be able to do it as often once we hit the road next week.


    Diary from China -- Monday, July 25, 2005 -- PART 1
    Shanghai, China

  • Chinese Opera;
  • Book store;
  • Cultural revolution and forced to live in the country

    Hi again, everyone! I have so much to tell you since just two days ago -- let's see...

    First, I think I left off that we were going to go to the Chinese opera the next day. Our hosts had little interest in going but one of them ("Uncle Michael") wanted to go and so about 6 of us went, including Stephan's friend Zhang Wei, the one he met at the University of Maryland campus. She had said she'd be bored but she really enjoyed it -- she had never been to a Chinese opera before!

    Anyway, I LOVED it! With Stephan interpreting (with Zhang Wei's help), I was able to understand the stories, it was a series of unrelated skits. My favorites were the burglar who did some great acrobatics (how in the world they can do flips across the stage and sing is beyond me! I could see him breathing heavily when his belt kept heaving up and down), and the mother whose baby had been stolen (found out later the mother was played by a 15-year-old boy, I'm glad I didn't realize it at the time!). Her movements when she lost her mind with grief were truly beautiful, she twirled her long floor-length sleeves and did some fancy acrobatics herself. I was moved to tears, watching it -- another accomplishment of having a son to help me understand; without him, I would have just enjoyed and been impressed with the beauty and not realize the poignancy of the story.

    And the audience was great fun -- they clapped and cheered with great appreciation when the singers would accomplish something like singing a looooooong part with one breath, and made loud grunts at the good parts which seemed to be their way of acknowledging their enjoyment For me, they were as much a part of the show as the dancing and singing were!

    Then we went to a major department store, 6 stories tall with one floor devoted to nothing but books. I was trying to get a Chinese dictionary (Mom, the dictionary we bought doesn't have words like "hope," "happy" etc. -- just the words that are in their phrases for tourists, who I assume never have to tell anyone that they HOPE others enjoy themselves or talk about being HAPPY Also that book said that the tones are too difficult for foreigners to understand so they didn't bother to write them down! I'm sure with your experience learning Thai you realize that without using the correct tone, people won't understand what I'm trying to say).

    Anyway, it was a real eye-opener to be in such a modern city and such a HUGE bookstore and large selection (the foreign-language dictionary section was about 20 full shelves!) with little or nothing for the English-speaking foreigner! The English-to-Chinese dictionaries were all for the Chinese, with each English-word entry having their Chinese word written in Chinese characters instead of what they call the pin-ying (I hope I'm spelling that right) that shows us how to pronounce it. Finally we found one, but I'm going to have to carry my magnifying glass with me to read it (thank goodness I have one in my purse!).

    [see photos of dinner and evening]
    Okay, after dinner at home we shared photo albums, and had a great talk. There are a lot of pictures of their Grandpa visiting in lots of places through the years, and when I asked if he liked to travel, he said yes but, because he has difficulty walking now, he can't travel any more (he shuffles along at a very slow, painful-looking pace). I told him about my mom being unable to walk further than about 30 feet and going to Thailand, with us taking a folding chair so she could sit often, and I suggested a wheelchair for travel in long distances. They said but he can't use a chair on the buses around here, so he can't get far.

    It is his granddaughter Zhang Wei who goes to the University of Maryland and her mother (his daughter) is planning to go visit her for 3-6 months when she gets a visa (apparently it takes MONTHS for the Chinese to get a visa to visit the U.S.! It takes us about 5 days to get the visa to go there), and he'd love to go too. I told him how accessible the U.S. is, and how he can take buses and everything in a wheelchair. They asked about the airport and I told him about the wheelchair service that is available on request. He brightened up and seems to be seriously considering coming to America!

    I had told them I wanted to ask questions about them, and started with where did they each grow up, what did they do for a living, and where did they meet their spouse (apparently that last question is very typical American concern, but not for the Chinese!) I wanted to finish the evening with everyone telling what was their dream.

    So we started with Grandma and Grandpa (their daughter, Zhang Mama -- my Tai Chi instructor, is 55, so I'd guess they are in their 70's). Grandpa had worked for the government (couldn't tell us exactly what he did or he'd have to kill us -- no, no, just kidding! He couldn't explain what it was), and Grandma, I was shocked to learn, was a cook for a elementary school! I have to explain here that I have not had much food that is more delicious than hers, and she takes a LOT of pride in it! She joked that her dream was to cook for us and when I suggested we all go out to a restaurant tonight, she made a face and told us how badly the restaurants cook, putting unhealthy things in their food, hers is much more wholesome and I attributed her healthful way of cooking to the fact that I haven't gotten sick yet, Stephan had prepared me to be sick for the entire first week, like he was!

    Then we went to the next generation -- they have one son and 4 daughters, including Zhang Wei's mother. They started telling me that they had grown up in the city (I can't remember if it was Shanghai) but when they became of age they were sent into the country. This was at the time when Chairman Mao had decided everyone with education should learn how "real" people lived, working the land. They were each assessed as to their skills, and then given two choices for a career. You either accept one of those careers or you don't eat.

    I asked how they felt about leaving home to go live in another community, and they leaned forward and looked me in the eye and said with emphasis they had NO feelings about it. It was just the way it was done, they had no choice. Zhang Wei explained that Chinese don't have a concept of freedom like we do. When she talks with us in America we tend to lament the human rights abuses but they are dealing with more basic needs.

    O¹þ´ï WHEW! °¡
    I ²ÏÉ£

    Diary from China -- Monday, July 25, 2005 -- PART 2
    Shanghai, China
  • Dreams and hopes of a Chinese family

    whew! As I was writing, somehow it got into the mode Stephan was using where it writes in Chinese! I couldn't get it to stop, so I rebooted, let's hope I get to finish this!

    I'm almost done -- time was getting short last evening so we interrupted to hear one of the granddaughters, Lin, play an instrument, I forget what it's called, it's stringed and looks ancient, I'll try to find out more about it for you but suffice it to say, it was strikingly, hauntingly BEAUTIFUL, as was the player, Lin, putting her soul into the music! Stephan captured it on video, and the family too, so some of you may be able to enjoy it.

    Anyway, we then started talking about our dreams. Three of the women -- Grandma and two of her daughters -- all had dreams that their daughter/granddaughter will be able to get a good education (hopefully in America) and do well. I should explain here that each of the 5 children in the generation of my age had one daughter, because of the one-child limit. Because these five granddaughters are all so close, even though they are technically cousins and live in separate households, they consider each other sisters. So they have a large, very close family of 5 couples and 5 grandchildren / sisters-cousins, and most evenings they get together at one home or another.

    Anyway, it was for this sister/cousin generation that the older women had dreams. I told them about the book that my mom and dad wrote about what to do with your "misbehaving" teenagers, saying that my favorite chapter was the one that encouraged the parents (especially the mothers) to "let go" of their children, and follow their own dreams, live their own life. Zhang Mama ( Zhang Wei's mother, the one who is teaching me Tai Chi) softly and with feeling said that she agreed, that is what she wanted to do. So Mom, you and Dad are having a lot of influence here, even though you couldn't come! She talked several times during the evening about how she resonated to that message.

    We only had time for a few more "dreams" (it was getting late and my interpreter, Stephan, was getting exhausted, as you can imagine!) -- one was that of one of the husbands of the middle generation of daughters. His dream was for his job to be better -- more satisfaction, enough money to take care of his family well, etc. They then explained that in China, when they get to the middle 30's, they are no longer desired in the workplace, younger people are wanted. That is the time, they say, that they need to support their families, and it was a fearful situation, causing anxiety.

    It was a MOST enlightening evening, thanks again to Stephan who enabled me to access this delightful family as they shared their hopes and fears. I've never been able to see any country like I'm seeing this one, I'm SO glad I came when Stephan could be my guide!

    Well, I think that's it -- today is probably our last day here in Shanghai, tomorrow Stephan hopes to get his visa and we're heading off for .... actually, I still don't know! I'm a little confused, I think we are going to the "stricken villages" to see which of them Stephan wants to return to in mid August and teach English to the orphans for a few weeks, and then perhaps we'll go to the Tai Chi instructor who wants Stephan to interpret his book (apparently there are LOTS of places there for me to see while Stephan works, and we'd stay at this guy's home). I'll probably send the next diary entry from on the road, and let you know where we are and where we're going. I love you guys, each of you -- enjoy!

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Tuesday, July 26, 2005
    Shanghai, China
  • Soap operas, Chinese-style
  • Making lunch and going to market

    Hi guys! It's been a LOOOOOOONG, tiring day and I'm showered and sitting at the table of The Nicest Family in All of China while some of them are gathered around to watch the popular soap opera -- which takes place during the Quing dynasty a hundred years ago! The characters run around in gorgeous colorful silk costumes, men with the front of their head shaved and a long pigtail in the back, lots of them looking like Yule Brenner. Of course, back then there was lots of romance, palace intrigues and betrayals, and an occasional man walking around with his head chained to a board, another group of men who agreed to go stand on top of a huge pile of wood to be burned to death but the lone horseman arrived just in time to try to stomp out the fire and finally a huge rainstorm saved the day. Soap operas, Chinese style!

    [February 24, 2006 -- I just happened to walk by the TV where Stephan had recorded Chinese news and was thrilled to see this very same soap opera was on! WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES! And it's very much like that fabulous movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon -- the women are strong and resourceful and everyone can do the cool acrobatic combat that was so much fun in the movie. Some of the characters even look like the ones in the movie. It's on AZN TV, called "Hero of the Times" -- if you have cable take a peek if you want to enjoy soap opera drama Chinese-style!]

    Anyway, the looooong day started with Stephan making one-eyed Jacks for everyone (a slice of bread with a hole in the middle, fried with an egg in the hole -- see photo) and then Zhang Wei (Stephan's friend from the University of Maryland) and her mother and Stephan and I took the bus downtown [see photos] to see if they gave him a visa to extend his stay (they DID -- hurray!) and we got the last two tickets on the sleeper car to I-don't-remember-where-but-the-ride-is-about-15-hours-long tomorrow afternoon.

    We got home and helped Grandma make wontons (see photos) and watched her make the wonton soup for lunch (best EVER wonton soup I've had! see photos) and then off we went again, on an adventure to get a silk dress for Jomania (our son Paul's wife).

    There were 6 of us [see photos], and we first went to the finest silk tailor in all of Shanghai, chose the fabric and pattern and found out it would be $150 for the dress! So we slipped out (but not before I had taken a picture of the tailor, thinking he was making the dress!) and took another bus to a tourist trap / flea market.

    We had our plan ready -- we would find the dress, and then the round-eyes slip out and our Chinese friends would bargain for us. We looked along several rows, wanting a dress that is lined, and finally some of the vendors told us where we could find one, and we found what I hope is the perfect dress! I enthused about it until Zhang Wei quietly told me to tone it down, which I did and left. They got the price down from $50 to $21!

    Oops -- Grandma and Grandpa would like to go to bed (there is only one main room, it's the dining room / bedroom / living room) so I'll wrap it up -- more later!

    Love to you all
    -- Dona

    Diary from China -- Wednesday, July 27, 2005
    Shanghai, China
  • Typing in Chinese;
  • Getting a dress at the market;
  • Visiting inside a hundred-year-old apartment building

    Hi guys! I was going to have Stephan write something in Chinese for you but he says it won't look like it does here unless you have the font program to read it. It's so COOL! I've always wondered how they write in Chinese on the computer. If you're not interested, skip the next paragraph and move on.

    First of all, to engage the feature you push Control-space (yesterday I must have done that accidentally somehow -- if I do it again I can write in all caps because that makes the computer write in printed letters instead of Chinese characters). Then you use the regular keyboard to type "pin yin," which means spelling out the Chinese word phonetically, using a special code (Q is pronounced "ch," X is a voiced "ts" etc.) and immediately a vertical list of the possible Chinese characters that start with those letters is visible -- the list changes each time you add a letter and refines the choices. You either hit the return button if the top character is the choice, or type the number of the selected character, and BOOM! The character appears on the line you're writing and you start the next character. I noticed that often, Stephan will simply spell out the entire word, I guess it's easier than selecting it from the list

    This sounds slow but it aint when Stephan does it. I just went over with a timer and he did 8 characters / words in about 10-15 seconds, but that included some thinking (don't know if he was thinking about what the word is or what to say). As he writes, he goes back and inserts something, refers to the original message and reads (in Chinese of course!) and then goes back to his response and edits a little and continues writing.

    I am SO impressed and proud of him! He has an unbelievable gift for languages. You should hear him chatting with The Nicest Family In All of China, occasionally referring to his dictionary and being able to communicate with apparent fluency about more than the everyday mundane things. One example of his gift is that before coming here, he had learned Japanese and Chinese and took just a semester of Korean. Before he came here to China, he stayed in Seoul, Korea for a month. A few days after he arrived in Korea, Mom and I went to a vegetarian cafe run by Koreans there in Washington, DC. So we gave Stephan their email address because they wanted to tell him where the vegetarian restaurants are in Korea. We went back to that cafe a month or so later, and our new Korean friend said that Stephan had emailed him a number of times. IN KOREAN! So that rascal had just picked up a language AND THE WRITING while he was there! I'm still working on how to say "Excuse me" and "I don't speak Chinese"! and I still can't seem to get it right. I can say "thank you" and "good" and "VERY good!" And "mama"

    Anyway, back to the diary. When Grandma and Grandpa were heading for bed, I was telling you about our adventures getting Jomania's dress in the tourist market. I'm SUCH a popular person there, everyone was in my face saying "lady, watch your bag!" while showing me pictures of bags and things that I could see if I would just follow them down the row of stalls to their special delight! I think they meant "LOOK at the bag" or "Watches! Bags!" but it came out so appropriately as "WATCH your bag"!

    After we got the dress, we went to a fast-food place that had Shanghai local food, very interesting treat we had, then started walking about a mile to an ATM machine where Stephan could get the money to pay his landlord before we leave today (Janet and Beezy and Gene, I got LOTS of pictures of the buses with their accessible bus announcements, a few Accessible Pedestrian Signals, and more detectable warnings).

    I was admiring the rows of 100-year-old housing when Fan (one of Zhang Wei's cousins / sisters, she's in middle school) said that her grandparents lived in an apartment building like that one, very old. I took some pictures and we continued walking -- turns out she ran ahead and told them we like to see it, and we got to go into one of these apartments! We passed some other Caucasians walking through the project, and I thought, LUCKY LUCKY ME! I get to go INTO one of them! [see photos]

    The grandparents are no longer living (Grandfather had died 30 years ago, Grandmother a few years ago) but living there now are one of their daughters (Fan's aunt) and her husband and son. She had taught math to middle school in a southern province until she retired last year, and then she moved back into her parents' home. The reason she lived all her adult life so far from home is because during the Cultural Revolution, as she came of age, she was sent to work there. I'll try to find out if she met her husband there or if he was also displaced from Shanghai and glad to come back home after they retired. [LATER: I found out that she met her husband there, but apparently many people are glad to move to Shanghai, even if it means leaving the family, as it's a very desirable place to live.]

    So this morning young Fan took me to the market a few blocks from home, and who did we run into there? Grandma, getting the supplies for today's feasts! I got some pictures of her getting some exotic vegetables, and also, for you, Fred, I got pictures of one of the stalls where a man in a nice white lab coat was giving some kind of electric treatment to people with aching shoulders! [see photos]

    I better head back, we're going to have lunch (something Grandma bought this morning!) and then get packed and head for the train to Somewhere. When we started to buy some food for the train Grandma told us she has already packed a nice supply so we won't have to buy food on the train. These people are unbelievably thoughtful and kind! I'm starting to feel sad already, I'm going to hate to leave them. But we will hopefully meet new people and have new adventures -- we will arrive tomorrow afternoon so don't expect to hear from me till then.

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Thursday, July 28, 2005
    Zhengzhou, Henan, China
  • Deaf people and blind people in China

    Well, our adventures on the train started before we even pulled out! As I was fussing in the sleeper cabin we shared with two guys, Stephan called out, "Mom! Come here NOW!" I ran to the window and outside three people were signing! One of them looked up and pointed to me as I stared and she signed to the others (the Deaf people in every country, including England, have their own sign language, so their signs are different from ours). One woman, in what is probably a universal sign (pointing to her ear and pointing to me with a question on her face), asked, "Are you Deaf?" and I shook my head and asked her -- she was Deaf and proud of it!

    I made the sign for "America" and pointed to myself. In the last few years, each country's own sign for its name has been adapted into American Sign Language and I was hoping they knew our sign for America. When she didn't understand, I made the sign for Chinese and pointed to her, and the sign for America again and pointed to me. She still didn't understand. So I spelled it out on the window, but she gestured that she doesn't understand English print. So I made a big sphere in front of me and slowly revolved it, and pointed to her and then pointed to the left side of the sphere, then pointed to me and pointed to the opposite side of the sphere. She grinned and seemed to understand.

    Then the train lurched forward and I looked surprised and waved goodbye, and so did they. I held up my hands in the "I-Love-You" sign and they continued waving, and then awkwardly shaped their hands in the same "I-Love-You" sign. One of them signed to the others "The same 'I-Love-You' sign!" and seemed to ask each other where it came from. As they disappeared I made the sign again and signed "America!" but they probably didn't get it.

    Maybe this is a good time to share my only experience seeing a blind person. As we rode from the airport my first day in China, I happened to see a man with a white cane walking along the street! Actually he was walking IN the street, along the gutter, using a very good cane technique to follow the curb. I wondered why he wasn't walking on the sidewalk, it seemed perfectly fine and the street looked like a dangerous place to walk (these drivers, I've found out, DON'T CARE about you! Kinda reminded me of Thailand 30 years ago, where we crossed the street lane by lane, only here the lanes are a little more ambiguous and I wouldn't dare stand where cars could pass me by).

    Anyway, the other day I think I found out why the poor guy was walking in the street, because I found MYSELF walking in the street very much against my will! Most sidewalks here have a railing along the curb, our friends told me it was to keep the drivers off the sidewalk but the curb would make it difficult for them to drive there, my guess is that it's to keep pedestrians from crossing mid-block. We were getting off the bus, which let us off in the bicycle lane about in the middle of the block (they don't pull up to the curb as there is about 4-foot-wide lane for bicycles next to the curb and I guess they don't want to block that off while letting passengers off, so you have to be very careful because the bicyclists don't seem to consider they might mow down the passengers stepping off the bus!) After making sure we wouldn't be killed by the bicyclists I realized OOPS! There was the railing right in front of us, extending the entire length of the block! [see photos] Our friends nonchalantly started walking along the street in the bicycle lane to the corner. These bicyclists, by the way, also have no regard for pedestrians so I was very nervous!

    Several people have told me that Chinese people always help blind people across the street, which is good because I think it's too chaotic to do without vision. I talked with Fan, our 14-year-old friend, and asked her if Chinese feel that people become blind because they did something bad, as the Koreans believe. She was shocked that anyone would think such a thing, and said no, that God made them blind because... and here she struggled with her English. I talked about these difficulties making people stronger and she agreed.

    Okay, we are killing a few hours while waiting for Stephan's Buddhist friends to bring him his luggage that he left here, and they will take us home for lunch. we are in Zhengzhou, Henan and are thinking of leaving tonight for Hebei where a Tai Chi instructor friend is. So I'll sign off, and report next opportunity.

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Saturday, July 30, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • Buddhist family in ZhengZhou and their dreams
  • Low point of trip and needing rest
  • Charmed (and appalled!) by town of Yong Nian
  • Meeting Tai Chi Master

    Hi everyone! I'm planning to send a message about China's traffic signals and accessible features to folks interested in pedestrians and accessibility, and will copy to you -- it'll be boring to many of you so just delete or, if you're already bored and looking for something to put you to sleep, open and read! (Later -- I'll have to work on that message later, we're about to leave --don't be surprised when you see it).

    Meanwhile, I think I had last written just after we got off the train to ZhengZhou and were preparing to meet Stephan's Buddhist friends, and collect the luggage he had left with them. They picked us up and brought us to their home. Our first stop was at their room temple, which had a huge Buddha and incense and beautiful hangings and a stool to kneel and pray (and a bed/platform at the side with Stephan's luggage!). They had a TV turned on continually which showed beautiful scenery and lovely music with Buddhist incantations.

    Again, the family had lots of people in my generation -- 9 siblings with the oldest being in her early 50's and the youngest I'd guess in her 40's or maybe younger. They all live together or nearby. The youngest daughter was too small to be affected when the Cultural Revolution hit but her older sister was sent away to work on a farm not too far from home. She was there 5 years before things improved and she was allowed to return home. Unlike the Zhang family, she said she did NOT like having to go work on the farm away from home!

    Three or 4 of the parent generation have two children each -- one legal child, and one whose existence they hid from the authorities until they came of school age. If they had been found out, they would have had to pay a fine. By the time the children are school age, apparently the disincentives no longer are an issue. They also had several dogs as pets (and cats, and a pet fish swimming around the bathtub!) and the dogs are also a secret -- if the authorities find out about the larger dog, they'll kill him because it's dirty to have a large dog in the home, smaller dogs are okay but you have to pay a HUGE fee, like thousands of dollars, to have them (the cats are okay).

    They are one of the few families in China who have pets [LATER: we found many pets in our travels after we left Zhengzhou], which they said was because they are Buddhists, who respect and care for animals. They do eat meat, however, and I wasn't able to understand how they can "respect and care for animals" if they eat them! They said that it's okay to eat dead animals but not hurt live ones. I said I'm a vegetarian because if I eat meat, I'm paying someone else to kill the animal. They smiled and nodded and moved on to other topics. But they did ask later what I eat if I don't eat meat, and seemed interested. Stephan has some PETA brochures but they are in English -- some brochures in Chinese might be useful.

    I think this was the first low point of my trip. It's not easy for Stephan to interpret all the time and I don't want to overburden him, so during the lunch I realized how the elderly parents feel when they immigrated to America with their children but haven't learned English (and how Deaf people may feel!). When I'm visiting the grown children of these immigrants the parents smile and nod but are left out. That's what I did through most of the lunch, even though Stephan did interpret for me several times.

    On top of that I think I haven't learned to listen to my own body -- when they asked if I had adjusted to the time change I said oh, yes indeed, but when they talked about going shopping I guess my face gave it away and they offered to let me rest. I really didn't feel the need to rest but going shopping sounded like a torture, so I agreed to lay down just as an excuse not to go shopping and OH! How badly I did need to rest! I had a nice nap, then just sat and looked out the window. By the time they came back, I was refreshed and no longer thinking I would cut my trip short and go home.

    During dinner in a private room at a lovely restaurant I put Stephan to work to ask my questions -- what did they do, where did they meet their spouse, what was their dream, etc. Several of them work in the family factory, and the husband of one of the parent generation had been a peace-time soldier for 13 years and then worked as a policeman. I asked if working with so many "bad people" changed his perspective on life, and I was struck with his reply -- he used to hate the criminals, but now feels pity for them.

    The dream of the younger sister (probably in her 40's) was to have a car. When she was young, she always wanted to have a car. Now they have cars -- her dream came true. I am reading a book on the history of China and it says the people were quite poor at that time but now are doing well, and this family was a good example.

    Anyway, yesterday we took the train to Handan to meet Sun Jianguo, the Tai Chi teacher who wants Stephan to help him translate his book. We're in a quaint little town called Yang Nian (see photos) that is about an hour away from Handan, where Sun Jianguo grew up and has a house next to his father's house, and it has the Tai Chi center that they just built. They have a new hotel and in the tai chi center there is a large gymnasium / stage to have their lessons, and apparently people come from all over the world here. Right now it's just us and a guy from Germany and a Chinese man.

    Last night was another time when I thought YIKES! Time to go home NOW! This little town was totally charming as we drove through it [see photos] -- reminded me a lot of the towns in Thailand. The main street is a dirt road with side roads that are BARELY wide enough for the car (a person would have to step into a recess to let us pass), little stores and LOTS of very interesting people busily going about their lives. I was thrilled to get the chance to see this part of China, and looked forward to exploring it with Stephan.

    But let me explain that part of the charm is that everything looked very old and dirty, and I know from past experience that the puddles and water on the streets were probably sewage, and there was a very strong odor of feces as we drove through some of the streets. When we went to Sun Jianguo's home, where we would be staying, it was getting dark and there wasn't much light in the two rooms where we'd be staying alone (he'd stay at his father's house in the compound next to his). It was hot, in the dim light everything looked dark, the beds were wooden platforms with a bamboo mat on them, the bathroom was outside across the compound and consisted of two filthy-looking holes in the ground with no flushing water so they reeked when you got close (I wasn't sure there was a light, and I often go to the bathroom during the night and don't have a flashlight, pictured myself trying to find those holes in the dark!), the shower was in another building that also looked dark in the dim light. I was dismayed, thinking about my health and about spending a week sleeping on a hard board in a hot, dark-looking house with a filthy-looking, foul-smelling bathroom.

    Sun Jianguo had been saying all along that we could look at the hotel if the house wasn't acceptable and I asked if the hotel was air conditioned. He said yes and I agreed to see it, not wanting to hurt his feelings, and ready for the disappointment of having the hotel look like the rest of the town (Fred, I thought it might be like where we stayed in Michigan at the Kent Hotel where the sheets had obviously never been washed because their brown color changed to white when I washed them after our first night there, the floors were filthy and there were the remains of squashed cockroaches on the wall!). I started gently suggesting to Stephan that I may leave after a day or two and let him stay while I sightsee a little (in clean cities with expensive hotels!) and go home.

    Thank GOODNESS, the hotel is delightful! These people had JUST completed building it, the rooms are clean with tile floors, the beds were SOFT (hurray! The best bed I've had in China!), the bathrooms -- well, you can't have everything, they weren't clean but they were not bad, and the water is COLD (the German guy and I each screamed a little when taking our shower -- separately, of course!). But I told Stephan I'm fine staying here, the room is very comfortable.

    And it all was worth it this morning when we went into the town for breakfast outside, the people are CHARMING, we met the mother of one of the Tai Chi teachers that we had dinner with last night (both she and her son have a delightful smile all the time! see his photo). So I'm settling in for a very interesting visit to a very interesting Chinese town, with a safe, clean, air-conditioned haven to retreat when I need a rest. And I'm starting to recognize my need for rest a little earlier now, and respecting it so I don't get like I did in ZhengZhou, so I can enjoy myself.

    Sorry these entries are so long! They're more for me than for you, I want to record my experiences and putting it into a journal seems too arduous and easy to lose, so this is how I'm doing it. You asked for it -- let me know if you want off the diary now that you realize how long they are (or simply delete when you get them ).

    Oops -- gotta go -- later!
    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Sunday, July 31, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • Poignant story of Tai Chi master and Cultural Revolution

    Hi guys! I thought the diary entries for the next week would be same-old, same-old -- we explore, we meet people, we avoid the sewage, etc. But wow! Last night I heard the most poignant story I can remember hearing in a LONG time! We had dinner with the Tai Chi teacher Sun Jianguo. I collared Stephan to interpret while I pried Master Sun with the usual questions. I already know what his dream is -- to teach Tai Chi and have it spread throughout the world, bringing peace to all, so I asked him about how he got interested in Tai Chi, what he went through to get to this point, etc. Sit back, guys, here's a story that I think would make a great movie!

    When Master Sun was about 16, he wanted to learn Tai Chi but it was 1975 and the Cultural Revolution had just started. Tai Chi was absolutely forbidden (along with lots of historic / intellectual / religious things, I think -- I want to read more about it than was in my history book, it affected a LOT of the people I'm meeting).

    In Master Sun's home town there was an honored Tai Chi teacher who was the 4th generation student-turned-teacher from a respected Tai Chi teacher of the mid-1800's. Master Sun's father knew him (this town isn't that big, I think everyone has gone to school with everyone or knows of everyone, etc.) and that's how young Sun Jianguo found out that this man was a great Tai Chi teacher.

    Young Sun Jianguo approached him and asked to learn Tai Chi, but the teacher said no, he was afraid to teach it or practice it in the open, and he didn't trust this teenager to keep the secret. So Sun Jianguo begged to let him run errands for him, sweep and clean, etc. [see photos]. Finally the teacher relented and so Sun Jianguo started going to his home after school. And little by little, they'd shut the door and Sun Jianguo would learn Tai Chi.

    It wasn't until 1991 that the Cultural Revolution ended, and Tai Chi was again tolerated (in fact, I'd say at this point it's flourishing, our friend in Shanghai has practiced it for 5 years and started teaching it to me). Unfortunately, the teacher died that year, before he could pick up the teaching role again and spread his wisdom. But he had nurtured the skill in Sun Jianguo, and now Master Sun is carrying on the dream.

    In China, according to my history book, everyone wants a son because only sons will take care of them in old age -- daughters move into the husband's family and help take care of his parents. This Tai chi Master had no sons, and so as he was dying, there was no family to take care of him. Sun Jianguo nursed him and took food to him and took care of him until he died, serving as the son he didn't have.

    Isn't that beautiful? I've met at least 5 Tai Chi instructors that Master Sun has taught, and they have managed to build (with what money, I don't know!) this Tai Chi center, and he has hopes of going to America next year and teaching the dozens of students who have come to him (he was a bit shocked when I told him of the prices for food and hotels! Our bill for an extravagant dinner for 7 of us the first night was $8, and our nice hotel is only $5/night!).

    But I would NEVER have realized the story if we hadn't asked -- he never thought to mention it, never bragged that of the Tai Chi teachers I met, he's the only one to have learned from this master (he did, in the presence of the other teachers, say he had more experience than they did, most of them have been practicing for only a year or two). I don't know how many, if any, others know this story. I told him it was very moving, he should share it and write it down. He smiled shyly, but did seem to appreciate my sincerity.

    One more little add-on. He was explaining that behind the Tai Chi is an attitude, and philosophy -- to have a true heart, honesty, and perseverance/dedication, and these can guide your life and help to resist attack / pressure. It made so much sense to me. I then realized that my problem isn't resisting attacks -- I am, in a sense, the attacker. My dream is to convince my fellow Orientation and Mobility Specialists to address some of the street-crossing issues. So with my able interpreter (I can't thank Stephan enough -- it is his skills and willingness that enable me to have these rich, unforgettable experiences!) I asked whether Tai Chi has anything to offer to help people make an impact. And wow -- yes! He thought about it carefully, then demonstrated with Stephan the kind of thinking / attitude that should be developed -- he put the back of his hand against Stephan's hand, and pushed but then gave way as Stephan pushed, so they ended up kind of dancing together -- "cooperation" [see photos]. He said we should understand the other people and work WITH them, in cooperation and understanding to make an impact. Wow, makes sense, huh?

    Tomorrow is a big day for him -- the center is having the first-ever festival / demonstration [see photos]. As I understand it, only locals are coming, this evening when I left the hotel the streets were lined with brightly colored flags and banners and they were working on a large inflatable arch to put over the street, the gymnasium has seats --

    Oops, it's late, we promised we'd be back by now, I don't know if we're having dinner with him, he wanted to prepare something for Stephan to do tomorrow, so I'll run after saying that I decided to stop criticizing the dirty bathroom, and I found a mop and cleaned the floor and the sink (Fred, I'll spare you the details of what I did when the drain got clogged with the dirt! Remember, I love you and hope you still love me!)

    Gotta run -- later!

    NOTE: We toured a fort today in Feng-Feng, and did some tai chi poses with Master Sun -- see photos.

    Diary from China -- Monday, August 1, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • Cultural clash and "truth";
  • Finding ourselves in the birthplace of Tai Chi;
  • Opening of Tai Chi Center;
  • Night entertainment in a Chinese village

    Well, the saga continues! Before I tell you about the adventure we had last night after we got back to the hotel from the "wang ba" (internet cafe -- see photos), I'll bring you up to date with Master Sun and the Tai Chi. I told you that today was some kind of festival or ceremony at the Tai Chi center -- turns out it was their opening ceremony to kick off their new center [see photos]. Well, Master Sun had asked Stephan to say a few words, and yesterday presented him with the script he wanted him to read. It was not written clearly so Stephan needed Master Sun to write it more clearly or read it to him, and we had left word we were at the wang ba and would be back by 8:30.

    Last night as we groped our way along the streets in the dark back to the hotel, Master Sun called out to us from a little eatery -- he had been looking for us and hadn't gotten the message that we were at the wang ba. So we ended up eating a little soup there with one of his students / disciples (well, until Stephan slipped into the back room to ask the cook to show him the package the broth for the soup came from, and he found out it was pork-based so we stopped eating it).

    The script that Master Sun wanted him to read, it turns out, incorporated some of the things I'd been saying yesterday, such as how touching his story was, and I had told him that many people in American want to learn Tai Chi (including my own mother, and it's often been suggested for blind people to learn to build up their balance and strength, etc. -- we had fun yesterday morning at a beautiful 2,000-year-old fort practicing Tai Chi [see photos] and I showed him how he could teach it to blind people, which he'd like to do).

    But the script also included some things that were ... well, it's not enough to say they were an exaggeration or stretching the truth, they were, in our opinion ....untrue.

    One of the foundations of Tai Chi as I understood them is honesty. But the script called for Stephan to say that coming here and learning Tai Chi has been his life-long ambition, and that he "absolutely certainly definitely" would learn to master Tai Chi and that he'd spread the word to everyone he ever contacts in America and encourage them to come here and learn Tai Chi. None of which is true.

    I'm so proud of Stephan and how he handled it. One of the reasons he's here in Asia is to gather material and experience that will help him write his movies, and he has read that characters in all great novels and movies are complex -- "bad people" aren't all bad, and "good people" aren't all good. So there is some good and some bad in all.

    And so an inspiring Tai Chi teacher who is doing a lot of good may sometimes ask a friend to say something that the friend feels is not true.

    By the time we got back to the hotel after the adventure I'm going to tell you about, it was midnight, and Stephan and Master Sun worked on the script for about an hour, which is when Stephan fully realized what the script said. Stephan worked on it at least till I fell asleep at 2:00, and was at it again this morning [see photo]. He wrote what I think is a beautiful testimonial to the Tai Chi center, recognizing the importance of it, and why it's important .... but without lying.

    So this morning he met Master Sun and told him that he respects his Tai Chi emphasis on honesty and can't honestly say what was scripted, and told him about the new script. Master Sun sat thoughtfully for a moment (as he often does) and said fine. The original plan was for Stephan to read the statement in English (probably so they can use the video later in promotions to English-speaking people) and that it would then be translated into Chinese by the English teacher (I don't know why he didn't want Stephan to speak for himself in Chinese). However when Stephan actually spoke, it wasn't translated.

    [NOTE from Tuesday, August 2:
    I got an insightful message from my friend Gene Bourquin who has traveled extensively through Japan (where he speaks the language too!) and China and Thailand and I don't know where else. He says, regarding a request that Stephan say something in his speech that isn't true, "My experiences in Asia have taught me that the 'truth' is subjective. A generalization, but many Asian people think that what you want to hear, or what they want to hear, is true. Facts don't always seem to enter the picture. I have noticed it often, even with honest friends and colleagues." Thank you so much, Gene, that helps a lot. I didn't want to think badly of anyone, and this helps understand why someone who emphasizes an honest heart can ask Stephan to say something that isn't true.]

    Well, enough about this little setback and miscommunication or misunderstanding -- I have something else rather dramatic to tell you before I tell you about last night's adventure. This afternoon as I discussed the ceremony with Master Sun and his student, I found out that this is THE PLACE and THE PEOPLE where Tai Chi was born! Remember that I told you that Master Sun is the 5th generation of Tai Chi teachers? Well, the first guy was THE guy who invented Tai Chi! It was mid-1800's, his father was a martial arts master and this guy broke away and developed the softer martial arts of Tai Chi. I asked if the Cultural Revolution almost put an end to it, and he said yes, though I think that actually by then Tai Chi had spread outside of China but the Cultural Revolution had probably almost put an end to Tai Chi in China (an ironic tragedy if it had happened -- the original source would have died and foreign variations would be all that flourish).

    The ceremony today was very interesting (see photos)-- it started with about 40-50 kids of all ages in beautiful white silk outfits doing Tai Chi in 3 long rows in the street in front of the building, then inside dozens of people with various degrees of expertise did demonstrations, many of them dramatic (my favorite is a form of Tai Chi that has them scooting along the floor very poised and powerful). Master Sun said the people are all local, as were the first 4 generations of Tai Chi teachers over the last 150 years. So Stephan and I may have witnessed (and been involved in!) a dramatic historic event, as Chinese Tai Chi is revived in the original historic village ("sacred place" as they describe it) where Tai Chi was born and is once again flourishing. I got pictures of very young children standing on the window sills with their parents nearby, applauding the events -- future generations of Tai Chi teachers, perhaps.

    Okay, this is WAY too long, I'll get to last night's adventure and then quit -- we're meeting Master Sun for dinner in 20 minutes. Last night when we got back to the little hotel (just across the street from the new Tai Chi center) they had some spotlights in the street and an electronic musical keyboard. About 200 people were standing around the carpeted area they had set up and standing on bicycles and trucks placed around the circle and there was extremely loud music and I thought they were doing karaoke.

    Stephan wanted to stay but I went into the hotel room (I don't like crowds and such) but after about 20 minutes I thought I should really force myself to go out and experience this Chinese event. I went out and after a short time of trying to find Stephan I HEARD where he was! I heard the soft, familiar Chinese spoken over the microphone and it was Stephan! He started singing a song, and the guy on the keyboard picked it up and accompanied. I hadn't realized Stephan has a beautiful singing voice! It was a haunting song, and I thought it was lovely.

    I decided maybe to stay to see what else happened, and am so glad I did! [see photos] They had entire families there, the inner circle was filled with little children. They would occasionally ask people to come forward and perform and a few people did, including two charming young girls who stepped forward after Stephan sang. They invited him to stay in the circle with them while they spoke in English, sweetly thanking their teacher for teaching them our language, and then sang a song in English. There were also several performers who I think were professional entertainers -- several women dressed in costumes dancing to Chinese rock and roll, and two guys who did comedy and skits and acrobatics with a variety of costumes (including a farmer's outfit, a Japanese soldier who was shot in the butt and groin to the delight of the audience, a woman, and a Red Army soldier). [Master Sun told us later that these performers came from out of town, so I believe they were part of the package of entertainment that came with the master of ceremonies / keyboard player.]

    The performers were fun to watch, but even more fun to watch was the audience. Every performer dreams about having such a receptive audience! There was a middle-aged man across from me who had a big grin through most of the performance, and the kids were almost rolling on the floor with laughter. One thing was interesting, though -- there was good music with a rocking beat that was hard to resist bouncing to but, except for the performing dancers, I was the only one swinging to the beat. I think in America everyone would be swaying and clapping and participating, but here they don't do that.

    Oops, gotta run, see ya!
    Love, Dona

    P.S. We took Master Sun for his first Ferris-wheel ride yesterday! [see photos]

    Diary from China -- Tuesday, August 2, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • More cultural misunderstandings and tears
  • Learning Tai Chi -- in front of an audience!

    Many days I start out thinking the next diary will have nothing to report -- as late as this morning I thought I could catch up with little incidentals I haven't had time / space to report (like the pollution here is UNBELIEVABLE! We kept asking if it was fog or pollution and cringed at the answer -- the wierd thing is that it exists ALL OVER -- on the train between cities we passed factory after polluting factory and the haze that made distant buildings all but obscured was consistent throughout the country, farms and all).

    But once again we've had adventures / experiences I want to share in my diary, so hang on, here comes another long one! Today's adventures involved more misunderstandings and our learning of the culture, ending up with a lovely young girl getting strongly chewed out and crying. But I'll start from the beginning...

    Remember I said that the night before the big Tai Chi center opening ceremony, two young girls sang an English song and thanked their teacher for teaching them English? Well, while Stephan and Master Sun and his student and I were walking over here this afternoon, one of the girls ("Lucy") passed us on her bicycle and greeted us in English. We were pleased and she invited us to go visit her grandmother with her, she was bringing her some dumplings that her mother had made. Stephan was planning to have lunch at a restaurant with Master Sun and his student but I wasn't hungry, and so I went just a short way to her grandparents' home. On the way, Lucy explained that she goes to school quite far from home (I think she said 8 hours away), where she learned English.

    I met her grandmother, two aunts and a neighbor. I tried to use Lucy as an interpreter so I could interview them like I've been able to interview people with Stephan -- I especially wanted to ask Grandma what it was like living through all those changes in China, since she had been there in the decades before and after the establishment of communism, the cultural revolution, etc. However, we had a little language barrier. I'd ask Grandma if she lived there all her life and Lucy answered for her rather than interpreting my question. She'd comply whenever I specifically asked her to interpret but then she'd go back to answering my questions herself. And she didn't know what I meant by "government" and "Mao Zedung" and "communism" (I thought of pointing to a picture of Mao but there was no picture of him -- I thought it was supposed to be prominently displayed in every home -- oh, DANG! I should have thought of getting some money out, his picture is on every bill).

    Anyway, we had a pleasant exchange during which we all agreed I could keep Lucy for a daughter since I had been very disappointed to have all sons and no daughter (sorry Stephan, Paul and Mark!). I was quite touched when Lucy explained that one of her aunts had been very much against her going so far to school, but when she saw Lucy talking in English with Stephan at the entertainment, she was pleased and said it was good that Lucy was going to the school. So apparently, while I was being charmed by Lucy's English speech at the entertainment that night, her family was being convinced that she was doing the right thing by going to that school. Later she introduced me to a woman riding by on a bicycle with her young daughter, and said her son and daughter had graduated the same school and were now working as tour guides somewhere. Lucy hopes to find a job in Beijing.

    After a short visit with Grandma I left with Lucy to go back to join Stephan, who was having lunch with Master Sun and his student. I asked Stephan if he wanted to accept Lucy's invitation to go to her home later this afternoon (she goes back to school tomorrow).

    Well while Lucy was there, Master Sun smiled and lectured her in the local dialect. Lucy told us that he was saying that she should have respected him as the master / teacher, and approached him rather than approach us directly. He said he was going to tell her mother, her father, her aunts and uncles and everyone that she was so rude -- I heard and understood that part, and his student laughed, seeming embarrassed. Lucy was utterly dismayed and nearly in tears. Stephan and I were also dismayed, not just because someone was chewed out for being friendly with us, but also because we didn't consider anyone to be our guardian and we resented any attempt to domineer our trip. I went out with Lucy as she left, and assured her it was okay with us, but she burst out in tears and said it was all her fault, she did wrong. However she smiled and said if her parents curse her, it's not so bad because she leaves for school tomorrow .

    I am beginning to comprehend the difficulties of two countries or cultures trying to negotiate for something such as peace, or a business relationship. Without a deep understanding of each other's culture, misunderstandings can occur and, even with the very best of intentions and good will, feelings can be hurt.

    Anyway, with Master Sun's knowledge, we arranged to meet Lucy at 5:00 to go to her home and then return for dinner with Master Sun. Stephan and I are here in the wang ba and plan to have a frank discussion tonight (or whenever Master Sun wants -- we don't know if he wants to have his student present for this discussion) and bring lots of things out in the open -- things such as our desire to see this charming town on our own without having our experiences screened through him, and discuss what is our relationship to him, what Stephan will be doing with his book, etc. Stephan and I will discuss it with each other on our way back to the hotel.

    So that brings you up to date on that sordid little story. But I have to also tell you that we got a lesson in Tai Chi this morning that started out rather disastrous (in my eyes, at least) and ended beautifully. As we were walking toward the Tai Chi center this morning we saw two modern, air-conditioned buses unloading about 100 people who went into the center and got a lecture (through a bull horn as they all stood gathered around him, no further than 30 feet away -- I guess they don't have a microphone system yet) and then Stephan and I were ushered up onto the stage to start our "lesson" (YIKES! All I could think was -- sorry Uncle Dick and John and everyone, but it's probably not printable here!) and Master Sun started demonstrating and then gently correcting our positions as we copied him, and people took pictures of us. GADS!!!!!!

    Anyway, after I got over the shock of being on display for their benefit, they filed out and boarded the bus again (I guess this was just one of the stops on their tour), and we continued the lesson. Now, I have to explain that when Zhang Mama was teaching me, I was very uncomfortable -- I didn't mind the people gathering around and smiling (at what I felt was the attempts of a very awkward, old American woman!), what I minded was having no interpreter to explain what she was saying, and basically just trying to follow her motions, and not being able to remember them worth diddly. It made me uncomfortable and wanting to avoid more "lessons."

    But when Master Sun taught us (after the people all left!), it was a pleasure! First of all, it helped to have an interpreter for the instruction. We learned to walk with stability and wonderful posture, and got the beginning movements of the Tai Chi. When I asked about the movements Master Sun was doing with his body / pelvis / back, he assured us we were at stage one and that was at stage 4. I thought, "Hurray! I can learn this! I can go about it slowly and grasp it!" He let us feel his back as he made the movements and I can't describe the contorted movements his spine / muscles were doing, I'm sure it will be a long while before I can do it.

    So there you have it. I have indeed become a student, and I really like it and want to learn more, just as he had wanted us to tell everyone. And yet, if we are students we may be supposed to consider him our "master" and have our China experiences filtered through him. It's all a bit confusing, Stephan and I will have to do a lot of thinking this afternoon before approaching him tonight. Or maybe we will just avoid it and let it go -- it's hard to know whether an honest discussion will clear the air and help prevent any more of the kind of misunderstandings that we had this afternoon, or just put everyone off and destroy the relationship. Yet last night Master Sun told us of his hopes and plans to go to America, so perhaps it's good that we try to understand each other a little better before he comes to America, or he may be shocked at what he perceives as rudeness when that isn't the intention at all.

    In all this, the exciting storm we had last night, with no electricity (OR AIR CONDITIONING!) all night and all today seems too insignificant to report, but I just did, so there. I think that's it for now, till our next installment after meeting "Lucy"s family and deciding whether to clear the air with Master Sun.

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Wednesday-and-a-half, August 3.5, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • Dinner with Lucy's family;
  • Climbing the city wall;
  • Tai Chi lesson in historic Tai Chi setting;
  • Getting to know Tai Chi student/disciple;
  • Bowing to the Master

    Hi everyone! It's after midnight and we just got to the wang ba (internet cafe) after another long, interesting day, and we're looking forward to going to go back to the hotel (which finally got running water this afternoon after the storm two nights ago knocked out the electricity -- Master Sun gave us a candle and I got to read by candlelight just like Abe, but the water got cut off some time during the night and didn't come back on till this afternoon when I finally got a shower after <UGH!> a day and a half of SWEAT!)

    Well, to pick up the saga, we never had the confrontation with Master Sun because while I was writing to you from the wang ba, he had gone over to Lucy's home (where we had been invited to visit at 5:00) and arranged for him and his student/disciple to show up at 6:00. I thought they were planning to retrieve us and maybe that was the purpose, but we all got invited to dinner, so we all joined each other at the table.

    Lucy's home is really nice. Like all homes here, you walk straight in but quickly reach a short wall that usually has a beautiful picture, often made with tiles, facing into the street (I read that it's because evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, so this keeps them out of the compound). After turning left at the little wall, you enter the compound which has a house and a separate building for the kitchen and another for the bathroom. Her home was tiled throughout, well lit, and very clean. Apparently all the houses in her area are being torn down in a year or two because they are within a small circle of wall attached to the wall that goes around the town, and they are restoring it to what it originally was, which means it will be totally cleared, and they'll have to find another home for Lucy's family.

    That wall is quite interesting, and we've been wanting to explore it since we got here. It was built 1,500 years ago (isn't that difficult to imagine?) when this town (Yong Nian) was the site where the king or regional emperor ruled. So this morning Stephan and I met Master Sun and his student/disciple and walked along the top of the wall for a fourth of the way around the town. Apparently during WWII everyone within 200 kilometers went into the city to escape the Japanese, who pummeled the wall and destroyed a lot of it, and finally entered and defeated the soldiers there. We could see the holes where the cannon balls hit the dirt sides, they were a foot or two deep. The wall is now being rebuilt as well as a lot of the area around here. The Japanese made significant contributions to restore it, and there were two plaques commemorating the donations -- one with the names of Chinese people who had donated, and the other was once a beautifully designed plaque saying that the Japanese had donated too. The plaque with Chinese donations was fine but the Japanese plaque was vandalized -- Master Sun said kids did it, but they must have been very tall kids! -- I think it was more probably adults who still harbored the anger.

    I got my thrills, as I have a fear of heights (Laura, do you remember when I had the heeby-jeebies walking to the lookout at the southern tip of New Zealand?) and there were a number of places where we had to walk about 20 feet along a stretch that was less than 2 feet wide (at one point I got on my hands and knees to do it!). Master Sun and his student/disciple were very understanding, I explained (through my interpreter, of course!) that my fear wasn't rational, I KNEW I wouldn't fall but that didn't keep me from being terrorized. The disciple (I don't know his name -- Stephan and I just vowed we'll learn it tomorrow!) kindly said I was very brave.

    I'm becoming more and more fond of the student. He is one of the kindest, most considerate, insightful, intelligent, fun people I've met. Tonight when we had dinner with him at Master Sun's he told us about his being a "disciple," which I'll explain later, it kinda blew our minds.

    But first I want to tell you about our moving experience at the historic home of the inventor of Tai Chi. We had gone there right after exploring the wall and I thought I had seen all there is to see (except for peering through a window into a lovely courtyard) and started feeling dizzy / sick (due to a long story that's too boring to tell, I hadn't eaten anything yet all day, which is not at all unusual for me but this time I started feeling funny). So rather than having Master Sun get the key to let us into the courtyard, we discontinued the tour and went to have lunch at the home of the sister of Master Sun's wife.

    This time we brought a gift (we didn't realize or forgot you bring a gift the first time you go into anyone's house -- oops! We hadn't brought one for Lucy's family the night before). I was FILTHY after no shower and then climbing around the wall, but it seemed okay. It's weird -- time and time again when we've gone into people's homes, we don't get introduced to anyone -- after we are seated, people wander in and out and I finally introduce myself and ask who they are and the person who invited us says "oh, this is my wife's sister," and "oh, this is her husband," etc. The topic of the different years of birth somehow came up and I asked everyone to tell us what they are and what it means (ironically, Stephan and I are both born in the year of the dogs, who are known for their honesty!).

    After we went back to the hotel and rested (and showered!) we met Master Sun and his disciple again at his (Master Sun's) home. He wanted to go back to the Tai Chi center for our daily Tai Chi lesson, but I asked if we could go back to the historic home of the original Tai Chi master instead, and finish the tour.

    Well, when we got there he unlocked the door to the courtyard and WOW! It was actually two courtyards, still in great condition, each surrounded with beautiful small Chinese houses that were for the Tai Chi inventor and all his family (as is customary, and this guy was apparently very rich).

    As we got into the second compound, it suddenly started to POUR rain, and we ducked into one of the side houses where the man's son and his family lived. We took pictures and talked about the history a little. The original Tai Chi inventor was a scholar and studied many things including Confucianism, martial arts, "traditional" medicine (here, things like acupuncture are "traditional," I forget what they call Western medicine), and I forget what else, and synthesized them all into Tai Chi and its philosophy. I was quite impressed.

    It was still pouring very hard, we didn't have enough umbrellas for everyone, so I got brave and asked if we could have our Tai Chi lesson there. Master Sun had said earlier we couldn't do it at his home so I figured we couldn't have the lesson anywhere but at the center. But he said yes, and explained that in fact, this very same room was where he had learned Tai Chi from his teacher! The chair where his teacher sat and corrected him was still there.

    It was a great lesson [see photos]. I felt I can learn it, unlike when I was trying to learn it in Shanghai --I think Master Sun actually is a great teacher. And it was quite a thrill to learn it in the very place where he himself had learned it! We got lots of pictures, including one or two of him sitting in the chair correcting us (though that isn't his style). As soon as we were done, POOF! The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started! It was like a sign, that we were supposed to stay in that room until we got our lesson in that historic place. Afterwards we went to the next house, which is where the Tai Chi inventor lived, where they had a bust of him with incense, and a couple of pads to get down on our knees and bow our heads to the ground and say a prayer. I said I wished for his wisdom, courage and knowledge to be shared and extended to each of us and to everyone. It was quite a lovely experience.

    We ended up going back to Master Sun's place for dinner, picking up some supplies as we walked through the town. When we got there it was very dark and we groped our way into the courtyard (my fears about staying there were confirmed as there is NO electricity or light in the courtyard or the bathroom or, for that matter, in the kitchen, where Master Sun used a portable gas pan like we use for camping to cook us some noodles and eggs by candlelight after removing the motorcycle he kept there). When I had to go to the bathroom, I borrowed a keychain-flashlight with a tiny blue beam that Master Sun had, and somehow managed in the pitch black to duck under the bushes to get into the bathroom and straddle the hole in the dark without falling in!

    Okay, I'm finally to the point where I explain about the student. Apparently Tai Chi teachers take on "disciples" -- a kind of apprenticeship, I guess, except that they remain disciples for life. This disciple explained that he gets on his knees and bows and puts his hands together as in prayer, first to the picture of the Tai Chi inventor (as we did at the inventor's home), and then to the picture of the inventor's student (who became a teacher) and then HIS student and finally the man who was Master Sun's teacher. And THEN he turns to Master Sun, who is sitting in a chair next to the four pictures, and gets down on his knees and prays to HIM! I was kinda freaked, just picturing it, but I got an understanding that it's just an honor to be bestowed on the teacher, the student is not actually thinking that Master Sun is a god or something. I hope!

    The dinner discussion was one of the best we've had, we discussed philosophy, I pursued the idea of the teacher/disciple roles, wanting to know if the student can disagree with the all-supreme teacher or if the teacher is supposed to be omniscient / all-knowing, and I was actually pleased with the answer. Yes, they deal with each other the same as all people -- with the kind of cooperation and respect and learning from each other that we had learned about a few nights ago when I asked about how to have an impact on other people. And they explained the Ying / yang concept (Gene, is that a Taoist concept?) where there is good and bad, black and white in all of us. I am at the level where I understand but can't explain, but I went from being rather horrified at what I thought was a bizarre relationship to being inspired and impressed with the relationship of Master Sun and his student/disciple.

    [WRITTEN LATER: After I got home from China, my mother, Jean Robert Bayard, was finally able to read my diary, and read about the bowing to the Master. She helped me understand it when she wrote:

    "A rather painful experience for me in Thailand was when I was in the Buddhist wat for 11 days -- do you remember? While there, I was taught how to bow, head to floor, in the most graceful way; they said I wouldn't be bowing to a PERSON but rather to the SPIRIT of the teachings, sort of the way in India when you greet someone with folded hands and say Namaste you're saying (Namaste means) 'I bow to the god or spirit within you.' Anyhow, in the wat I bowed to the teaching monk and the head of the wat all the time and thought nothing of it; I was bowing to the spirit of the teachings. Well, when Bob picked me up and I said goodbye to my teaching monk, I bowed like that and felt so proud that I was doing it so gracefully, but then when we got in the car Bob said something like, 'You certainly can do what you like but I don't want to see you bowing to those guys again.' And I realized that to him it looked as if I were humbling myself to them. It was a complete misunderstanding, and it was painful at the time.

    "I remember a British man whose book I read who studied a long time with an Oriental spiritual teacher in Tibet or China--he loved him so much, and he made his vows, you know, to honor him always--and the way he honored him, of course, was to bow to him. Then it was time for him to go home, so he said his goodbyes--and then the day before he left, by accident when he was out walking with his boss (he had some kind of diplomatic job there) they ran into his teacher, and he knew he had to bow, and he couldn't do it in front of his boss, so he passed him by without a sign of recognition, and he KNEW that hurt the teacher terribly, but then he went on home, and it preyed on his mind forever after, how he had betrayed his beloved teacher."]

    Well, yikes! It's 2:20 AM, we plan to meet them at 8:00 tomorrow, I better go gather Stephan and grope our way back to the hotel. The hotel, by the way, is actually only 3 rooms and a bathroom, attached to another building complex. More later....

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Thursday, August 4, 2005
    Yong Nian, China
  • Groping home in the dark
  • Insights into "honesty" Chinese-style
  • Historic Tai Chi sites and Tai Chi Master
  • Arriving in Feng-Feng

    Greetings from downtown Feng Feng in the province of Hebei! We are here because Master Sun lives here with his wife and son, and their house has the computer that Stephan can use to translate his book.

    When I last wrote, I was leaving the wang ba (internet cafe) in a back alley of Yong Nian at 2:30 in the morning. Stephan still had "20 minutes" left to do on the computer (turned out to be 2 hours!) so I went back to the hotel myself. That involved walking in TOTAL pitch black for about 2 block-lengths along a narrow dirt alley with deep puddles from the heavy rain (hoping that Stephan gave me correct directions!) and then walking for about a half mile (with street lights, thank goodness!) through a COMPLETELY deserted town and through 2 dark tunnels under the old walls, then eagerly going into the shower to wash off my FILTHY dripping muddy feet / sandals and OH NO! No freaking water AGAIN!

    During the walk, I wasn't scared, just nervous, which was a pleasant surprise (as a teenager, I had always felt sheer terror when walking home along our very dark, long driveway at night, so I was glad that at least that unreasonable fear has dissipated). There is virtually no crime there, so the only problem was trying not to get ankle-deep in the puddles or slip in the mud. At one point in the dark alley I groped for and found the narrow ledge that we had walked on earlier to avoid the puddles and mud, and I used the Tai Chi walk we'd learned the day before to step forward with my weight on my back leg for when I unexpectedly reached the end of the ledge or a hole (it worked great!) [see photos]

    This morning again I was sure there would be nothing to report except the fact that we packed up to leave the charming, delightful town of Yong Nian today, instead of tomorrow as we had planned because this morning we were still (again!) with no running water and, as we had breakfast at the little restaurant next door, the electricity went off (for no apparent reason this time), and the water from the rain last night while we learned Tai Chi in the historic Master's home had poured through the hotel windows into the carpeted hallway, resulting in a mildew smell this morning that combined with the reeking bathroom stench that had accumulated because there is no running water, and us with nothing to wash with and no air conditioning.

    Well, enough of that! If I indeed had nothing to report I could fill the space with more graphic descriptions of our hotel but I have TONS to tell you about!

    First, some responses from you folks. I heard from my friend Beezy Bentzen, who has had her own adventures in Tibet that exceed mine by far (among other things, she has taken several trips into the remote mountains to help her Tibetan monk friend establish a school for Tibetan children). She wrote,
    "Your comments about a different kind of honesty were very helpful. I think the same thing happens in our communications with our Tibetan friends sometimes. It's often over what we thought were agreements that turn out to be anything but. It's easy to get hurt feelings. We just have to remember that there is good intention -- and some very real cultural differences."

    Wow, that's two extensive travelers to Asia who had the same experience we did -- their insight is extremely helpful -- thanks Beezy and Gene!

    Secondly, I got a very funny message from Gene Bourquin after he read about the disciple bowing to his Master teacher. Gene is an orientation and mobility specialist (O&Mer) who coordinates a program for deaf-blind people at Helen Keller National Center in New York, and said "I have an intern now. She will commence bowing and praying on Friday." Haha -- Gene, you're a riot -- the very idea of our interns bowing and praying to us O&Mers had me in stitches laughing out loud here at the wang ba!

    Okay, back to the saga. We decided that before we leave, we'd visit the home of another Tai Chi originator (the scholarly, rich one we visited yesterday started Wu Shi Tai Chi, and this one, a "poor" relative who was an illiterate farmer living outside the city walls at the same time, started Yang Shi Tai Chi), then on our way back to the hotel we'd visit the home of Master Sun's teacher, then we'd pack and get in the hired car to come here after first going to the nearby Buddhist temple to take a quick picture, and then go to the grave site of Master Sun's teacher.

    Our friend the Disciple took his leave, holding his hand up in the American Sign Language "I-Love-YOU" sign! (I had shared the story of the Deaf people outside the train, thanks of course to my interpreter Stephan!) I'll miss him and his insights and sensitivity and FUN! My interpreter Stephan is fabulous, by the way -- the Chinese people and I often feel like we are speaking with each other directly. Once, when Stephan was busy, Master Sun turned to me and started to speak, completely forgetting that we didn't speak the same language, we understand each other so well with Stephan! We both laughed.

    Each of these planned visits today turned out to be a delightful experience. This first one didn't start out well -- we walked outside the city walls from the West Gate along a wide, deserted, treeless road beside the moat for what turned out to be about a mile in the HOT sun (with my umbrella, of course). I thought I was going to pass out! We reached a little cluster of homes and stores just outside the South gates and bought some iced bottled water which I put everywhere one can decently put an iced bottle of water, which helped a lot. By the time we finally reached the Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher's home I was feeling much better. We waited for Master Sun to get some keys.

    He returned and then waited with us, so when a car pulled up and Master Sun talked to the driver, I figured the driver had the keys but no, he drives off. A few minutes later an elderly man comes wheeling around the corner on a typical Chinese vendor's bicycle / wagon and lightly hops off, wearing a beautiful heavy silk cream-colored outfit with a mandarin collar [see photos]. He goes to the gate and lets us in.

    The Yang Shi Tai Chi master "poor farmer" had a BEAUTIFUL compound! It was much smaller than the home of his rich protege, being only one courtyard with 4 buildings, but they were all beautiful, very well preserved, with Chinese-style roof with corners curving up, and wooden grill designs with rice paper along the front of each building, very similar to the other home. Master Sun explained that this was the kind of home where poor farmers lived at that time, but of course today the home would be considered very well-to-do.

    Anyway, I was quite intrigued with the man who had let us in. His dark brown face was wizened but he was spry and moved with grace. Whenever he went up the 3-4 steps to the door of a building, it was almost like he flew up the stairs, I can't quite describe it, it's as if he leaped but very lightly. Stephan caught him doing it once in video, though I don't know if he got the feet on video.

    Anyway, it turns out that this man was a fourth-generation student of the Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher! That is, his teacher was a student of the original Yang Shi Tai Chi Teacher's student. He and Master Sun had a discussion where Master Sun showed deference and at one point they started to spar together (Stephan happened to be videotaping then, too!). I was thrilled and honored at this unexpected meeting.

    Anyway, we then walked all the way back to the hotel but through the town instead of around the walls / moat, and stopped at the former home of Master Sun's teacher (his daughter and her family live there now). I asked Master Sun let me photograph him demonstrating some of the chores he used to do to win his Master's trust, and practicing Tai Chi in the room and the courtyard where he had learned from his Master [see photos].

    The stop at the Buddhist temple was for me to take a photo of one of a row of about 12 figures (see photos) that each represented different things (kindness to animals, teaching, I can't remember what else, I might have told you about it already). The one I wanted to photograph was scary-looking -- head back and his mouth very wide like he's screaming, hands up as far as he can reach. Turns out he represented "understanding" -- throwing his hands up with a big "aHA! I GOT it!" We have been throwing our hands up and bugging our eyes and mouth open every time we get an "aHA" in our discussions, which is fairly often, and then we laugh, and I wanted a picture to remember the fun we had expressing ourselves non-verbally.

    Then the last stop was at the grave site of Master Sun's teacher. We drove along a narrow strip of dirt stretching out into a small lake, ending at a place where the dirt road widened into an area about 200 feet in diameter, surrounded by water with more curving narrow strips of raised land cutting across it (too narrow for a car to drive on). There was a pile of bricks marking the spot where the bodies of the Teacher and his wife lay.

    Turns out this is another project / dream they are working on, like the restoration of the homes of the original Tai Chi teachers. They hope within a year or two to have a beautiful park on the island, with buildings to house Tai Chi students, and a serpentine dragon along the raised curved spokes of dirt extending across the lake (I've seen lots of these dragons along the tops of buildings and walls in the ancient buildings and gardens in Shanghai). The way they described it, it's going to be absolutely beautiful. All the projects -- restoration, building the Tai Chi center they just opened, and the memorial to Master Sun's teacher -- will cost about $125,000, of which they've raised about $15,000.

    well, I can't believe it, it's after 1:00 in the morning, I'll sign off in a minute. Stephan and I are staying at a very nice hotel that Master Sun helped us find (he is staying with his family at their home here in Feng Feng) -- he first looked at hotels that have hot water only 12 hours a day and then stopped at a hotel that reminded me of the infamous Kent Hotel where Fred and I slept in filth in Michigan shortly after we were married, and I said I wanted luxury and was willing to pay for it. Luxury, here in China, comes at a cost .... of about $20 a day! we actually have a WORKING SHOWER in a private bathroom where I don't have to cringe at the filth and crouch to go to the bathroom... oops, I had promised not to go on.

    Anyway, we went to a nearby restaurant and got a HUGE bowl of vegetarian soup (Stephan has become adroit about making sure it's vegetarian), which is just what we needed to soothe and nourish us, and then we found this wang ba (our second one -- the first didn't have computers advanced enough to get my email program). Tomorrow it's off to a temple and then I hope to spend the next few days reading mysteries while Stephan starts translating Master Sun's book -- I'm ready for a break from sightseeing / experiencing.

    Well I'm off for a nightcap -- I bought a bottle of orange juice and plan to go back to the hotel and mix it with some of my protein powder I brought from home, I LOVE it and had forgotten about it all this time, it will be a little home-away-from-home (no, Fred, green protein powder DEFINITELY doesn't replace you! -- I'm winding down and wanting to come home, I miss you, I'll probably come home right after we see the terra cotta soldiers in Xi-An after this town)

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Friday-and-a-Half, August 5.5, 2005
    Feng-Feng, China
  • A "mundane" day in China;
  • Catching up on miscellaneous stories

    Well FINALLY I have very little to report, it's been a relatively quiet day (we were supposed to meet Master Sun at 9 AM but except for an aborted trip to the laundromat that turned out to be an expensive dry cleaner, we ended up resting and reading and sleeping at the hotel till 6:30, when he came to pick us up) and maybe I can catch up to document some of the little things I've been skipping because of time and space (I BADLY needed a day with nothing, to rest!).

    But first, as before, something from your responses. By the way, please let me know if there's anything in your responses that you don't want me to share with everyone -- Gene and Beezy have been very gracious about the fact that I published their stuff before I got their permission (and I hope Laura doesn't mind either), but I would rather know in advance if it's not okay to share. Laura, who has also had lots of travel experience (I just realized that many people on my list of friends are extensive travelers -- Laura and her husband moved from the U.S. to New Zealand a few years ago and she goes several times a year to Taiwan to help train O&M specialists at a university there), said that

    "In Taiwan, they call me 'Teacher Bozeman' rather than Dr. as a teacher is valued much above a doctor (medical or otherwise). When I teach in Taiwan (whether a formal lecture in a classroom or the blindfold bit on the streets) they bow, applaud and say thank you at each break, pause, and end of the lesson. I have become accustomed to it now!!" That would take quite a bit of getting used to, wow! Mom, did they do that for you when you taught English in Thailand 40 years ago? (Gee whiz, I just realized that even MY OWN MOM has had extensive travel, having lived in Thailand for a year!).

    Okay, I said not much happened today, if you consider that it's gotten mundane for me to report that:

  • We had another lesson from one of the foremost Tai Chi masters in all of China in his home in FengFeng, China;

  • Stephan sat at Master Sun's new computer (his first, bought with money he made teaching Tai Chi at the beautiful Taoist temple in the Wudang Mountain), sitting in a large swivel chair that Master Sun had bought for this occasion (and brought home on his bicycle!) and translated the preface of his book and had interesting discussions like "When the author of the preface said that you were the 'most important and inherited disciple' -- did he mean that you inherited the greatest extent of the practice?"

  • When Master Sun laughed at seeing Stephan's fingers flying on the keyboard and showed how he himself does it slowly with two fingers, I encouraged him to learn to type by telling him about you, Joel, saying my friend is an extremely bright and very accomplished scientist / physicist who still types with two fingers because that's how he learned it. Master Sun said he learned Tai Chi quickly and well but is not very bright, and I explained to him that the same sense he uses in Tai Chi -- his kinesthetic sense -- is the sense he needs to learn to type, so he'll do very well. With my wonderful interpreter, I gave what I thought was an interesting demonstration of the use of the kinesthetic sense as I teach it to blind people and how it applies to using the keyboard -- he seemed pleased and impressed to learn about it. Stephan learned typing quickly with a program "Mario Teaches Typing" and I told Master Sun that, in appreciation of what he's teaching us, I will get him a Chinese program to learn typing.

  • We were invited to dinner at his home and on the way, he explained that I would be cooking it! We went to the store and street vendors to get the supplies, and I was thinking it was a fun first -- I've never been invited to dinner and then told that I get to choose the ingredients and make the dinner! Turned out that it was late when we arrived so his wife and niece ended up making it, but I think I'm "on" for tomorrow night -- I told him we (Stephan and I) are making the version of Chinese cooking that we in America have been led to believe Chinese people eat (my home version of "stir-fried vegetables" and some fried rice, neither of which I've seen here!)

    Okay, that's it for today, so I am now going to go back and document some of the things I wanted to remember in my diary but didn't get a chance to report.

    TOILET PAPER -- one of the luxuries of this hotel is that the bathroom actually has toilet paper, AND IT'S IN THE BATHROOM! I've gotten so used to bringing my own, even at the last hotel, that it's a real pleasure not to have to go in, get all ready to squat, and then remember I need to go back out and get my toilet paper!

    VENDORS -- One of the many things that charmed me at our last town, Yong Nian, was the vendors that pedaled down the street in their three-wheeled bicycle / cart, announcing their product (such as eggs) with a megaphone either held up to their mouth or attached to a continuous loop recording of their voice announcement. I kept wanting Stephan to videotape one of them but without much success and finally, as we sat in the car yesterday all packed up while Master Sun ran to buy some buns and cakes, one came down the street and I videotaped him coming and going!

    RESTAURANTS -- In Yong Nian there were several restaurants that consisted of a row of small rooms with a table and chairs inside. Customers would be escorted through the courtyard or hallway to one of the rooms, the server would turn on the air conditioner and bring a little teapot with green tea and leave a thermos of hot water for us to replenish it, take the order, and then bring the food. It was in quiet, private rooms like that where we often sat for the long, delightful discussions that I've reported to you.

    POLLUTION -- I know I've told you about it before, but it's really UN-freaking-BELIEVABLE and worth another mention!

    "BABA" (Chinese for "father") -- as we pulled up to Master Sun's home in our hired car to pick up some luggage we had stored there (we have GOT to jettison some of this, it's incredible!), Master Sun's father came over from next door to meet us finally. I told him he can be proud of his son and his accomplishments (I asked tonight if it's inappropriate for a father to be proud of a son and vice versa, as I'd heard that being proud of a family member is like being proud of yourself and is considered arrogant but they said it was fine) and he agreed, he was proud of his son. I asked how he felt when his son told him he'd been secretly learning Tai Chi, and he smiled and said he was very happy that his son was following his dream.

    SHARED EXPERIENCES AND NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION -- After almost a week with Master Sun and about 4 days with his disciple, we had accumulated an impressive collection of shared experiences that enriched our communication and made the discussions a lot of fun. Examples are:

  • Within an hour of arriving in Yong Nian we visited a Buddhist temple just a block from the hotel and saw the statue of the god I told you about with the raised arms and wild-open eyes and mouth, which was their representation of the concept of "Understanding" ("Oh, I get it!") see photos. Later that evening when I grasped Master Sun's explanation of how Tai Chi principles can help to have an impact on people, I raised my arms and gaped my mouth wide open, and he laughed, realizing I was saying "OH! Yes, I understand!"

  • I told them about some of the signs in American Sign Language, such as "teacher" (grasping knowledge from the speaker's head and moving it toward the student, then making the sign for "person") and Japanese (the new sign and the old sign, which is the little finger forming the letter "J" at the side of the eye, indicating slanted eyes). To my delight, the disciple then used the signs often, such as when we were on the ancient city wall and talking about the Japanese plaque and the Japanese destruction, and when introducing us to teachers. I cracked up when the disciple (we STILL didn't get his name! We've got to get it before we leave) was illustrating about ying and yang with an example of the Republicans and Democrats and we couldn't understand what he was saying, so he put his hands up like long ears and brayed like a donkey, and made a trunk like an elephant!

    CHEAP! -- The prices here are unbelievable! I told you our "luxurious" hotel (that's actually all relative -- the floors are stained heavily and the walls have big rips and holes, but it's air conditioned and clean and has a private bath with its own toilet paper and WITH RUNNING **HOT** WATER 24 HOURS A DAY!) was $20/day, the HUGE bowl of vegetarian soup for two plus the tea last night cost a total of 60 cents (there is no tipping here), and the taxi ride for 3 of us (shared with a woman who was in the cab when we hailed it, she got out on the way) for a mile was 65 cents, the all-afternoon ride driving us to various places in Yong Nian and then a 2-hour ride here was $20.

    PEOPLE SLEEPING IN THE PARK -- We saw many couples and families with children and babies sleeping on bamboo mats in the large city square here in FengFeng, and Stephan saw the same thing in the square in Shanghai. We asked Master Sun about it, he said they often do that when it's too hot to sleep indoors.

    "WOMAN" - "POLICE" CAR -- Two of the first Chinese characters I learned were those for "man" and "woman" ("man" looks to me like a guy with two running legs and a large compartmentalized panel for a head, and "woman" looks like a horizontal line from which two legs dangle and cross, though when Stephan explained the meaning, neither character had anything to do with legs or heads!)

    So when I saw on the sides of the police cars the character for "woman" with another horizontal line over top of it (with the two ends of the line turned down, like a sideways bracket "]" or the lid to a box -- see photos), I asked Stephan about it. He said the sign for "safe" is a woman in a house (i.e. under the lid)! Cool, huh?

    Well, I have a lot more but the message is already too long and Stephan's leaving to go back to the hotel -- we were told that this isn't as safe as Yong Nian and I don't want to go back alone.

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Sunday afternoon, August 7, 2005
    Feng-Feng, China
  • Cooking and laundry -- Chinese-style;
  • Another misunderstanding;
  • On my own to find a place without my interpreter!
  • Miscellaneous insights from friends/family

    Hi guys! I was going to do my diary last night, we got back to the hotel relatively early (i.e., before midnight!) but I was E-X-H-A-U-S-T-E-D, felt just totally drained, and I'm glad the wang ba (internet cafe) where we went didn't have a computer that worked for my email program, as it probably would not have been an upbeat diary entry. I'm feeling much better, even though we had a rather exhausting morning, probably because last night I finally got a full night's sleep for the first time in 5 nights. I got an interesting message from cousin Rich, pointing out that we need more rest when traveling to combat the experience our immune system is having in this environment, so I'll really try to address that.

    Yesterday we went to Master Sun's home in the morning and he and Stephan worked on the book while his wife Chow Jew and I did laundry [see photos]. What an experience! They have a washing machine with two parts -- on the left is a small cylinder that fills with water, you add the detergent, and it agitates the clothes for whatever length of time that you set. You take out those clothes without draining the water and add the next batch, let it agitate those clothes and so on, putting the darkest clothes in last. Meanwhile, as you pull the cleaned, soapy clothes out, you go into the bathroom (about 4 feet wide and 8 feet deep with an oblong ceramic hole set in concrete -- the floor of the entire apartment is concrete, as is the floor of most homes we've visited --- plus a shower head above and a spigot on the back wall) and put a stool with a basin under the spigot and straddle the hole while you rinse the clothes thoroughly. You then take the rinsed clothes back to the washing machine and put them into the smaller cylinder on the right. That cylinder spins the clothes to wring out the water. And then you take the washed, rinsed, and spun clothes out to the back porch (8 feet deep and about 15 feet wide) which doubles as a guest bedroom (where their son fell asleep last night when Stephan and Master Sun worked on the book in the living room which doubles as his bedroom) and hang them on coat hangers along the rope strung over the bed.

    I got pictures of all this, natch [see photos], and then we had another adventure making dumplings from scratch (well, all of this of course, including doing my laundry, was really Chow Jew doing it, with me just helping a little). She does everything with the simplest tools -- she stir fries the finely chopped tofu with two chopsticks held just so (she taught me how to open and close them to get the best effect), and stirs the larger things with 4 chopsticks held flat like a tight fan. The rolling pin looks like mine when the handles fell off years ago -- a simple heavy wooden rod -- and she does magic with it, rolling out perfect circles of dough. The result (vegetarian, natch!) was delicious -- dumplings boiled for our lunch, and then fried later for dinner.

    Stephan and I went back to the hotel to rest, and then Master Sun came to pick us up to take us to the temple and a porcelain factory. But first, we had about an hour of discussion when I explained that I don't want to sightsee in FengFeng, I want to stay here only long enough to allow Stephan to work on the book. Master Sun and I ended up expressing great respect for each other and for reaching our dreams -- we shared that we each have a passion or a dream we want to achieve, and I'm honored ("fate" again) to be here when my son, of whom I'm so very proud, is working to help him achieve his dream.

    Thinking we had all agreed we would do nothing but work on the book, we walked out of the hotel at 5:30 for what I thought would be an evening of working on the translation of the book and "Oh!" says Master Sun, "Let's go to the ceramic factory and the temple first." [Later -- Gene wrote "see what I mean? The 'truth' is what you or they want to hear."]

    Out of frustration, I begged off and went up to read in the relatively smoke/pollution-free room. They called me when they got back, saying they were heading down to Master Sun's, they'd already eaten, and did I want to come? No, I said.

    And of course as soon as they hung up I wanted to come! But I can't seem to go anywhere by myself, not even the wang ba because I need Stephan to tell them what I want. I wasn't quite sure where Master Sun's apartment was, it was an apartment complex on a street intersecting the main one about a mile from our hotel, so I set out to see if I could find it. I turned into a few side streets but quickly realized they weren't the right ones, and finally went into a street that I realized must be it, and found the skinny little alley that goes behind their apartment building. It was only about 7:30 but getting dusk, so I decided if I couldn't find it I'd walk back and read for the rest of the evening and finish the bag of snacks the Zhang family had given us for our train ride.

    I stood in front of the building, there were about 4 entrances and each one looked like the right one. I probably looked uncertain because a few people were hanging out on the porch directly over the second one and I said, "Chow Jew??" They laughed and pointed down to the entrance below them. When I got up to their level, they held up 4 fingers and I grinned and thanked them.

    But I lost count (was it 4 from the street level, or from where they were?) and fortunately earlier that morning I had taken note that they had a red bow hanging from the doorknob (everyone had a knob shaped like a ring from a lion's nose). Bingo! At about the 4th level there was a red bow from the doorknob! I knocked, and the woman inside said "Way?" ("Hello?") I said "WAY!" She said something and I said "Dona!" She opened the door and OOPS! It wasn't Chow Jew! "Dway bu chee!" I said -- "Sorry!" I went up one more floor and yay! Another red bow on the door knob! There was only one more floor, and I remembered they weren't on the top floor, but I went up to be sure and whew! No red bow! So I went back down and knocked and sweet Chow Jew opened the door -- hurray!

    Gads, I've been working on this an hour again, it seems like 10 minutes! We just got the warning that our hour has gone, we paid for another half hour so I'll spend the rest of the time catching up, except to tell you that this morning we went to a pretty place near the hill temple and donned silk Tai Chi outfits and had our pictures taken doing Tai Chi to put into Master Sun's second book [see photos]. We haven't had a Tai Chi lesson for the last 3 days and I think won't have any more since we're leaving tomorrow, so I'll have to take it up when I get home.

    Stephan and I planned to go to Xi'An tomorrow (a 12-hour trip) but there were no tickets on the trains except a "hard seat" that arrives at 4:00 AM (Stephan was up for it but this "mama" is going to take better care of herself than that!), so we ended up getting a ticket to Beijing (I hadn't planned to see it but looks like I might be able to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace!) and then after a day there, get a sleeper to Xi'An, spend a day or two and see the terra cotta soldiers, and then (sorry Fred, I had planned to come home early but there is a historic city Luolang on the way from Xi-An to Shanghai, where I fly home from, which Stephan wanted to see and you know I can't resist historical places!) we'll hit Loulang and then fly from Shanghai and if my 30-day visa hasn't run out by then, I plan to stop for a day in Guangzhou (formerly Canton). Then HOME!

    Okay, I have no idea how much time I have left, so I'll share some messages from you guys, then add whatever I can until they close us down.

    Messages from friends/family:

    Laura said, "Isn't it great to have the body-language/sign language??? I was staying at the university in Taiwan and, at night, had no one around who spoke English (Sophie and the interpreters had gone home). Well, I needed towels to dry off with and went down to the desk and mimicked drying my arms--well, they looked at me and suddenly realized what I was trying to communicate and went in the back room and brought me 2 bath towels--well, I felt great about that and asked for more bottled water the next day by miming the drinking movement--cool, more water! Well, all was great until I needed more toilet paper!! Ha, I just asked someone the next day (Sophie, I think) to write that one down for me. There is a limit, you know. Yep, I learned on my first trip to always have Kleenex with me or you might be stranded -- if you know what I mean!!" Indeed, I agree -- I'll leave a lot of essential things at the hotel before I'll leave without any kleenex!

    Rich said, "Neither China nor India have to clean up their air pollution under the Kyoto treaty, which is a major problem, as they are projected to become the largest generator of greenhouse gases in the world." Stephan interpreted that to Master Sun since they were here working on the book earlier, and he told us they just started cleaning it up-- the large factories in Shanghai and Beijing are now required to clean up their act, and later the small ones will also. So there is hope!

    Well, I think I'll close here, it's long enough. Tomorrow we'll be traveling all day, don't be surprised if you don't hear from me for about 3 days, we stay in Beijing probably only one day and I will be trying to cram in lots of sightseeing into a few hours, I'll have time in Xi'An where we arrive Wednesday (Tuesday, your time).

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Monday night, August 8, 2005
    Beijing, China
  • Making new friends on train;
  • Arrival in Beijing;
  • Homemade wheelchair

    Well, here we are in Beijing and I'm just getting my second wind for this trip! After we got into our hotel we found a place to sit down and get a bite to eat and I kept thanking Stephan for this experience. I had such a sense of well-being -- the food was WONDERFUL (first fried rice I've had here in China, I was beginning to think it was an American invention, and it was fabulous!), we just settled into a REAL luxury hotel, and we met such a wonderful man on the train, and I was reflecting on what a wonderful trip I've been having ... well, I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll go back to where I left off yesterday.

    But first let me tell you we decided to stay here two days and see the Great Wall tomorrow WHEN A TYPHOON is supposed to hit Beijing! … can you think of anything more dramatic than seeing the Great Wall in a typhoon? And I want to get tickets to the Chinese opera tomorrow night, Beijing is famous for it, and then see the Forbidden City Wednesday and catch a sleeper train to Xi'An Wednesday night if we can get the tickets when the hotel's "business center" opens up tomorrow.

    Okay, back to where I left off yesterday. I went back to the hotel and packed, then read and rested while Stephan went to Master Sun's place, to work on the book. He got another Tai Chi lesson which he said was great -- he learned about balance and I don't know what else, I'm hoping he'll teach me what he learned. Some time during the night, the hotel turned off the air conditioning and this morning there was no hot water, don't know if it was a fluke or if they always turn off the hot water the morning that their guests leave -- but it's better than the hotel that has hot water only 12 hours a day!

    Anyway, this morning we packed A MILLION BAGS and took a cab to the train station in Handan (about an hour away) with Master Sun, and had enough time before the train left to do a little shopping to get him the program to teach typing (he had his eye on a nifty system where you write the Chinese character on a pad and it comes out in the computer screen professionally typed, but we were low on money and couldn't get it for him -- by the way, until we got here in Beijing, NO ONE IN CHINA ACCEPTED OUR CREDIT CARD! I have always been able to travel with little or no money because I charge everything, and I almost didn't bring any money to China but I happened to cash a check just before I left, otherwise we'd be stranded somewhere in Yang Nian trying to earn enough money to get home!).

    We got on the train with 2 heavy suitcases and a rolling carry-on, 3 bags, a backpack and a sack of snacks. It's embarrassing how much CRAP we have! Part of it is that Stephan is accumulating books and who-knows-what as he travels, he has no home to store it. It wouldn't be so bad if every train station didn't require that we go up or down (sometimes both!) at least one flight of stairs (no elevators or even escalators), although that is fairly typical of everywhere I've been (Germany, Netherlands and Denmark, Israel, Australia, etc.).

    Anyway, we ended up sitting across from two very nice men [see photo], one of whom (Song Ping Chen) spoke fairly good English and wanted to practice. Turns out they work for a company that makes beautiful china, Mr. Chen is an accountant, and the other man is his boss, the Finance Manager. Their factory is in Feng Feng and they had seen us at the hotel there, where they had also stayed. Mr. Chen's wife and their 6-year-old daughter live in their home town in Hubei, while he works at the company's headquarters in Beijing, I think he said it's 20 hours away by train. His wife works part time as a teacher for middle school and as a tour guide (she speaks fluent English) -- they come to stay with him during the summer and he visits them several times a year on holidays, each of which last for a week in China. He enjoys reading English, and recently read Gone With the Wind! [click here for an update from Chen Song Ping, and an explanation for why he and so many Chinese families must live apart in China.]

    Anyway, as the train arrived, since we had made no plans for a hotel, he offered to have his company car take us to a hotel that his company uses. I felt so badly as Mr. Chen hauled the HEAVY suitcase up 4 flights of stairs. Stephan was advised by a security person not to go with them, as some foreigners have been robbed or worse under similar circumstances, but we went with our instincts and decided to trust them. Besides, by the time we made the decision, the luggage was all packed in their van!

    Thank goodness we did -- they gave us two beautiful bowls which I'll treasure as a momento of our encounter, and drove us first to drop off Mr. Chen's boss in a very nice apartment complex next to their office headquarters where he and Mr. Chen both live, then we were driven to the hotel. The hotel is used by their company a lot, and they got us their company discount, about a third off the price.

    The hotel is LUXURIOUS! We're in a suite with a sitting room, two TV's (maybe we can see CNN finally! BTW if there is any important news out there, please let me know, I have been out of touch this entire time), a shower curtain, soft toilet paper and ... I can't believe it, A HAIR DRYER! Finally I'm going to look presentable, but the typhoon will probably make short work of that! The carpets and walls are clean, it's really fancy. [LATER: There was no CNN, nor even any English-speaking channels in any hotels where we stayed!]

    And a big factor is THEY TAKE CREDIT CARDS! This luxury still only costs $50/night, Stephan is freaking about spending so much (he would have gladly stayed at Master Sun's place in Yang Nian, and he begrudged the $10/night we spent so I can be comfortable -- we had thought it was only $5/night but after we told Master Sun how expensive hotels in other countries are, he remembered that it was $5 PER PERSON a night, not $5 per room, and so we had to fork over another $30) but for the next week or so Stephan will have to travel "Mama" style.

    So "Mama" is happy, and ready for the next phase of our travels, and so very, very grateful to Stephan for what is turning out to be a trip of a lifetime. It may be that our experiences at quirky hotels and rooms may be over, but truthfully I wouldn't have missed it for the world as it brought us into contact with some wonderful people (and I don't think that Yang Nian, my favorite place so far, had anything better than the funky place where we stayed).

    Oh -- something I forgot. I had told you that on my way from the airport in Shanghai my very first day in China, I saw a blind man walking alone along the street, and later we saw some Deaf people while embarking on the train from Shanghai. Well, yesterday afternoon I saw someone in a wheelchair in Feng Feng. He was going on the left (wrong) side of the road, in the street close to the curb. I didn't realize it was a wheelchair at first -- it looked like a kind of bicycle / scooter (can't remember if it was 3 wheels or 4) but instead of pedaling with his legs, he moved a lever around horizontally with his arm, while his legs rested on a board in front of him. I ran back to ask if I could take his picture, he said no, of course, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of his back [see photo].

    All three times, these people were out traveling independently. It's very gratifying to see that in China, people with disabilities are apparently accepted, and it isn't considered unusual for them to be independent, at least in traveling. Gene and Laura, do you know something about it?

    Well, it's late again and I'm eager to go enjoy our luxury suite and see if they have CNN on TV, and prepare for an exciting day tomorrow. Stephan and I speculated about what to wear for a typhoon and Stephan suggested I wear Jomania's beautiful black and red silk floor-length dress with the side slit up my leg. Whaddaya think, wouldn't that make a great outfit?

    Catch ya later ..
    love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Tuesday, August 9, 2005
    Beijing, China
  • Our first "adventures" on our own, seeing Beijing [see photos]

    Hi guys! Before I launch on today's adventures, I'll share this from Laura -- she said, "This is sooo interesting!! I have to brag on [my husband] Ken as when he lived in Taipei for 2 years, he could do all of his cooking and eating with chopsticks!! He would cook us fried eggs and flip them with the sticks if you can imagine--such a talented guy." Wow, then I guess it can be done without a lifetime of practice -- Ken is talented indeed!

    I thought this would be another day with nothing interesting to report because we aren't going to the Great Wall till tomorrow and the typhoon didn't hit (but wow -- such delightful weather! a slight drizzle and refreshingly cool) but once again, lots has happened!

    I won't bore you with details of our trip to Tianeman Square and through the Forbidden City, or the cool acrobatic show we went to (instead of another Chinese Opera) [see photos], except to tell you we enjoyed them all very much (my first "touristy" things since my first day in China when we visited an historic garden in Shanghai). Instead, I'll tell you some of the cool things we saw when we just started walking around after the acrobatic show (about 6:30, it was still light). This was our first "adventure" as I had envisioned it, where we set out alone into the Chinese streets and alleys -- we've been accompanied by Stephan's friends almost the entire time I've been here.

    I can hardly remember all that we saw, so I'll just list what I can:

    In a lively alley where there were some vendors, Stephan finally found the buns he's been looking for -- sweet, filled with things like green vegetables of some kind, and we had a nice before-dinner snack. I was impressed with how clean the woman served it, in spite of being in a dirty alley -- she didn't touch the fresh baked goods, but got them with tongs or picked them up with the bag she served them in [see photos].

    We found about a dozen women on the sidewalk kicking around something that looked like a giant shuttlecock -- it was about a foot tall, with feathers coming out of the base, and they'd drop-kick it to one of the other women [see photos]. They let Stephan and me join in, I couldn't get it higher than my knee but Stephan got it flying pretty well. When we passed them again after our adventure at the shopping mall, they were dancing in unison to some peppy music, I guess for exercise.

    We headed toward an entrance to an indoor shopping mall but there was a huge crowd at the door -- turns out a few police were trying to subdue some guys who were fighting or something. There was a lot of yelling, and as they'd scuffle toward us, the crowd would scatter and then run back to see more (I'm embarrassed to say we were in the crowd scattering and coming back to look too!) They finally worked their way into the parking lot and dispersed, and into the mall we went.

    We couldn't get past the first few vendors without checking Stephan's heavy backpack and my bottle of water, so I waited with those while he dashed around to see what was there. I was getting tired, and leaned against a counter and got my fan out. Across the aisle, a couple who was selling ice cream and hot dogs motioned for me to come and get a stool that they handed over the counter! This is just another example of how wonderful these people are. I wonder if Americans would be as helpful and considerate as most of the Chinese people I've met. After Stephan came back, I had him interpret while I thanked them and said how much it meant to me, since I was tired and not feeling well [see photos]. She said that this is common courtesy -- she helped me and said I would do the same for her or others, it will come around. Stephan thinks they are Buddhists, as this is a theme his Buddhist friends had shared (Gene, is that true?)

    Mom, you might want to skip this paragraph. At the end of a small market in the alley, Stephan found an egg vendor with his chickens in cages, and videotaped them for PETA, as he had told them he would. They were in 3-4 long cages where they had room to move around some -- better than they are kept in America, but not free roaming.

    We passed a place where the sidewalk widened out and had what looked like children's play equipment -- metal bars in various shapes. But then I realized it was exercise equipment! One was a kind of a whimsical bicycle where a woman was pedaling, one was a kind of a stepmaster for two -- there was a man stepping very slowly on it and a woman churning away [see photos], and when they were done the man got back into the wheelchair that sat next to the contraption and the woman pushed him. One had 4 metal seats suspended from about 10 feet off the ground and facing each other, each leaning against a bar about waist high. I couldn't figure out what it was for, and finally realized you sit in the seat facing the bar, put your feet up on the bar and push yourself away and let it fall back -- it felt great!

    I got lots of pictures of the detectable warnings and guidance strips that were everywhere for blind people. Some of the strips were very helpful, showing them where to go to the bus stop, but others were confusing, guiding them past the stairs they need to go up to reach the bridge to cross the street, instead taking them to the corner where the street is blocked off with a high fence.

    After our adventure we had a nice dinner, then decided to take a bus and subway back to the hotel (well, back to this wang ba / internet cafe, and then the hotel!). The bus was awesome -- it had two halves, connected with a round base in the floor that pivoted when the bus turned a corner. There were 4 seats on the round base and we happened to sit on them, and it was like a Disney ride! The front of the bus would turn but we kept going straight and then we were turned to face the front again, and as the two halves of the bus bounced and swayed separately, the seats would do their own thing, dipping forward and back [see photos].

    We got wrong information from the subway ticket man, and got off about 3/4 mile from here -- I'm hoping all this walking will offset the high fats and oils they use to cook everything.

    Well, we were determined to get back early tonight and pack, we are flying to Xi'An tomorrow night (there were no train tickets except to sit up all night on a 13-hour trip), and we want to see the Great Wall first so we'll have to get our sorry butts out of bed earlier, and it's after midnight already, so good night!

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Wednesday, August 10, 2005 -- I'm COMING HOME!
    Beijing, China to Xi'An
  • Hair-raising trip to the REAL Great Wall [click here for photos of Great Wall]

    Fred, I think I'm finally coming home! Tonight I started the process of getting my ticket to return in a few days (but the trip will take several days -- I want to stop in Guangzhou for a day and two nights, and the Los Angeles gang want me to stop there and show videos). So I guess it'll be about a week, and then I'll be home again!

    But Gene and Laura, thank you so much for the encouragement, I'm SO pleased that you've been enjoying the diaries! I expect to have some more fun entries in the next few days, though we've started to travel "Mama-style" -- nice hotels, no more hauling a gazillion bags and suitcases up and down these daggone train station stairs -- this mama is FLYING from now on!

    Before I tell you about our neck-breaking trip to the Great Wall and our flight here to Xi'An, I want to share a message my friend Betsy sent -- she said she "was reading your message for Tuesday... and your description of the 'double' bus... we have those in DC.. the 70 and X2 buses and I'm sure there are more... you must see them. I've tried sitting in the middle where the buses connect... it's fun when they turn a corner... you feel the middle going round and round... and then part go in the other part out... feels like a in / out feeling..." Ah, thanks Betsy -- I'll have to try it, I'm glad to know we have those, I can have more China experiences right at home!

    Well, I think we left off when I had walked about a mile from the subway after a lot of sightseeing and an evening adventure walking through the neighborhoods of Beijing. This morning I woke up and OH MY! I was SORE! Stephan of course felt great, but I felt like I needed a long, deep massage! I even thought about skipping the Great Wall and stay indoors all day reading a book since I couldn't figure out how we'd get to the Great Wall and get all our tons of luggage to the airport and catch our 6:10 flight to Xi'An.

    I should explain here that Stephan and I share an unusual travel philosophy, which is one reason we make such great travel companions -- I don't know anyone else who feels this way. It's a conscious decision -- we'd rather sleep in and miss some things than get up at the crack of dawn to get to places in time. Wierd, huh? In Denmark it meant we missed some castles and I don't remember what else, but we enjoyed ourselves. I almost wasn't going to tell you that we didn't get our lazy butts out of the hotel until 2:30 yesterday afternoon (well, we did spend a lot of time getting the plane tickets arranged), but we still managed to see Tianeman Square and the Forbidden City and the acrobats and a great evening adventure.

    But could we pull this off to see the Great Wall and catch our flight if we didn't get out of the hotel at 8:00 in the morning? I should explain here that the Great Wall that you see in the pictures has been reconstructed for the tourists, we wanted to see the authentic Great Wall. We were told that both Walls are about 90 minutes north of Beijing. If we leave our luggage at the hotel, go out to the Wall and come back, pick up our luggage and sit through the rush hour traffic to the airport (northeast suburbs of Beijing), we'd need to be packed and leave at 9:00. That's not the Mama-Stephan style!

    I had the brainstorm to get a cab driver to load up all our luggage and drive to the wall, then take us straight to the airport but the hotel people warned that if we left the driver alone he might drive off with all our luggage! Finally I figured we could go to the airport and store our luggage, then get a cab driver to take us out to the Wall and back. So that's what we did.

    Everything went great. At the airport we found out we had to be back by 5:30 because at 5:40 they wouldn't accept any luggage for the flight (and we couldn't check the baggage at 1:00 when we finally arrived there). So we had 4 hours -- plenty of time.

    Unless the driver doesn't know where he's going! This section of Wall was WAY out of the way, around some BEAUTIFUL mountains/hills (reminded me a lot of Harper's Ferry, for Uncle Dick and Betsy and others who've been there to see the steep hills dropping into the Shenandoah River). The driver (as all drivers in China do) drove around these hairpin curves at breakneck speed, and then he'd halt by some peasant to ask where the heck this place was. Beezy, I thought of you then -- in your travels through Tibet you said you can't be disappointed if you never make it to your destination, the enjoyment is in the traveling. And truly, it was an enjoyable experience. So I took some inspiration from you and reconciled myself to the fact that we probably wouldn't be able to see the Wall, but we drove through some beautiful parts of China, neat little farms, beautiful little creeks with grass all around and short, quaint stone retaining walls -- lovely!

    Well, FINALLY, after an hour and 40 minutes and many stops to ask the local people, we arrived! We could see the wall curving along the tops of the steep, steep hills -- COOL! [See photos] We walked through a little village to get to the gate, paid our fee and went up a lot of stairs to reach ... a locked gate! On the other side we saw about a dozen tourists coming down from the hill and piling into an air-conditioned bus -- Fred, it reminded me of our family trip through Germany where we were so proud that we did it on our own instead of joining a gawking bunch of tourists -- but we'd arrive at a site, like the salt mines, we'd have to "Sprechen" German and cope and find where to get the tickets and wait interminably in line, and we'd see a busload of tourists get out, go into the mines, and come back out half an hour later and pile back into the bus and move on while we're still waiting for our tickets! I took a picture of Stephan at the gate with the bus pulling out on the other side.

    Anyway, even though we couldn't get close, it really was worth the trip to see the REAL Great Wall. This section was built by a guy who took such meticulous care that each inch of Wall took one person's day's labor. Because it went so slowly, he was beheaded (yikes -- talk about quality control!) but later was "rehabilitated" by decree because his section of the wall was so well built.

    It indeed looked pretty good, most of it was overgrown with trees and bushes but you could see the rectangular stones along the sides, and in the section that turned and headed down the hill toward us, the middle was visible. We were at the sides of a river where the hill went up at about a 60-degree angle. The Wall followed the ridges up to the steep craggy part that dropped down to the river, and ended there, then picked up again on the hill on the other side of the river.

    Okay, I figured we had a half hour to look around and then head back, hopefully our driver wouldn't waste so much time getting lost. But we cut it too close -- he DID get lost on the way back, and then we ran into incredible traffic, and it took FOREVER! Again, I reconciled myself to the fact that we'd miss our flight, maybe lose $200 and have to get tickets for the next flight and arrive at midnight with no hotel reservations.

    We pulled into the airport, tore over to the storage area and retrieved our baggage, ran over to the counter and reached it with literally TWO MINUTES TO SPARE! The lady at the counter said they were closing the luggage checking for that flight in two minutes, and whew! We made it!

    Oh, I have to interrupt myself to tell you about the wang ba (internet cafe) here. We almost didn't find it, we had to go into what looks like a deserted parking lot and climb to the second floor, but what a relief -- the air isn't suffocating with smoke (every other night at the wang ba's, one and usually both people sitting at the computer on each side of me were chain smoking, I brought the fan to blow it back to them) -- in fact no one in sight in both directions is smoking.

    But the reason I'm interrupting is to tell you about the 4 darling teenage girls behind us -- they've been playing games since we arrived about 2 hours ago, and just now they screamed with excitement, I guess they just lost or won or something. I think they are networking so they each are playing the same simulation game, each from their own computer, and chatting together with animation -- fun!

    Anyway, back to our day -- we got on the plane (NO hauling luggage on any stairs!) and 90 minutes later we're stepping out in Xi'An! Stephan talked with the cab driver the whole way into the city, and found out what hotels are good, which were in bad areas, and the driver took us to the hotel where we are.

    Our arrival in Beijing was the beginning of a different way to travel, as I mentioned. Stephan isn't used to it, and I think he's not altogether comfortable staying in nice hotels, traveling by air, but this Mama needs to recover and spend the rest of her trip in relative comfort and ease. In fact, I'm planning to stay at a nice hotel when I arrive in Guangzhou (where I'll be without Stephan for the first time, no interpreter!) and arrange an English tour with all the other gawking foreigners.

    If things go as I hope, we'll be here 3 days and 4 nights (SHRIEEEEEEK goes one of the girls behind me, then laughing!), with only one "must" -- we'll visit the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of terra cotta soldiers that are the only sightseeing touristy thing I really wanted to see in China. Somehow, ever since I heard of them, I've wanted to stand in their presence, I can't help feeling that it will be an eerie, awesome experience. The rest of this trip, I want to join Stephan on his "adventures" setting out into the communities and see what we find, and take it easy till it's time to go. HOME!

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Thursday, August 11, 2005
    Xi'An, China
  • Street life at night -- food and a ride;
  • Terra Cotta soldiers

    Hi guys! I thought FINALLY I'd have a quiet day so I can report the incidentals I haven't had time for, but it's been another busy day. One little thing first -- Stephan is tempting me with going to see the historic cave drawings in Luoyang, I haven't confirmed any tickets out of here yet, so I'm not sure exactly when and from where I'm starting for home, it might be extended (gads, even thinking about it makes me bone-tired -- I'm exhausted and sweaty and I just beat off a headache from the dehydration so this probably isn't a good time for me to consider extending the trip, especially for sightseeing!).

    Okay, time to explain how I got so exhausted when I had planned for this to be a relaxing day, but first I'll tell you about the little adventure we had after leaving the wang ba (internet cafe) last night at 2:30 in the morning. I was getting hungry (the only food I had all day was some delicious / greasy egg-fried rice we got at the little village at the base of the hill at the Great Wall and which we ate while walking around, and some fruit and a roll that was served on the airplane -- I would have had a full dinner but I didn't realize they'd feed us and hadn't ordered the vegetarian dinners), and when we came outside, I couldn't believe it -- right in front of the wang ba there was a little family (Mama and Baba/papa and their kid who looked about 6 years old) with their burner all set up and a great-looking array of skewered food to put into a flat bread.

    Just what I wanted! They took the bread and threw it into the boiling oil (yes, more oil, but it tasted great! Time enough to be healthy when I get home, I think I've gained at least 10 pounds while here, even with all the walking we're doing, I feel so bloated and large) and then threw our choices of skewers into the oil (we picked delicious hard flat tofu disks and cauliflower), then -- again with great care for hygiene -- put a plastic bag on their hand and took the bread and split it in half, put the fried food inside and added sauces to our liking (HOT for Stephan, just good for me), and it was DEEEEE-LICIOUS!

    Fortified, we started walking the half mile back to the hotel and there at the first corner, in the dead of night with almost no one around, was a little old man with his bicycle / rickshaw, inviting us to ride. Of course Stephan was ready and eager to walk but poor old Mama said YES! Stephan bargained down the price (it came down to about 60 cents and we found out today it should have been about 40 cents) and in we hopped. But then we almost couldn't find our hotel! I'm proud to say that for ONCE my orientation was good, Stephan and I each thought the hotel was in a different direction but I was more confident than he, so we told the poor guy to turn around and then we looked for landmarks, fortunately saw enough that we finally made it back to the hotel! We paid the guy about 90 cents for having to go so many ways as we tried to figure out where we were.

    Okay, that brings us to this morning, when we slept in again, changed hotel rooms from the skimpy little one with interesting insects to a very nice one on the top floor, and prepared to have a leisurely trip to the university of fine arts to see if we could buy some cool .... I don't know what you call them, they aren't tapestries -- Fred, they are like the hanging we had by our stairway that was destroyed in the fire, I thought I could get a new one that has some of the rich colors we have in our living room now.

    So the bellman got us lined up with a driver who we'd already arranged to take us to see the terra cotta warriors tomorrow and, long story short, the university is near the warriors, and we decided to do it all this afternoon. But first, we'd heard about a rice noodle dish that is unique to Xi'An and the driver took us to a place that specializes in that dish, and treated us to a nice brunch. He has two children, the youngest is about 6. When we asked how he could do that with the one-child rule, he said that his second child was born when he wasn't working, and explained that there are no repercussions if you have more than one child if you're not working (?).
    [Note later: Apparently the repurcussions involve fines, payment for the education of the "illegal" child, pressures to abort pregnancies and even forced sterilization -- see article and Wikipedia.]

    We were disappointed that the university art gallery was closed, but we went on to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Now, remember this is THE main thing I wanted to see in China, even more than the Great Wall or anything else. There is something about them that intrigues me, draws me. And I wasn't disappointed.

    We saw a little panoramic movie (projected 360 degrees around us) illustrating the battles of warriors and their leader, who became the first emperor in all of China more than 2,000 years ago! After he had conquered all of China, he began a reign that lasted more than 50 years (imagine how long these guys live! He must have been at least 80 when he died, or he somehow became military leader in his early 20's). He immediately ordered the building of his tomb. It took them 4 decades to complete, and included THOUSANDS of these terra cotta soldiers, some chariots drawn by horses, archers, all lined up in battle formation in large dugouts with wooden roofs covered with fabric and sod.

    Later, when the descendants of this emperor were defeated, the rebels broke into the tomb and burned the wagons and anything else made of wood, and knocked down a lot of the soldiers to destroy them, and covered them all with dirt.

    I said to Stephan that it's incredible that something as momentous as this project could ever be forgotten, but that's what happened. Do people initially tell their children about the huge army of statues that are standing below the ground, and after a while it becomes a myth, and then the stories stop? Anyway, by 1974 no one knew anything about these guys, and several farmers were digging a well and OH! They found a head from one of the soldiers!

    Well, now three separate "pits" are being excavated, the largest being about the size of a football field, and the smallest, which they think was the command center, had less than 100 warriors. The mid-sized one was about half a football field, much of it is dug down to the tops of the soldiers and I wondered why those soldiers hadn't been uncovered too.

    Then we saw the archeological team at work -- less than a dozen people in one of the rows, a lot of them discussing things, only one or two actually working on uncovering the warriors. At that rate, they'll have a job for the next 50 years! One of the plaques in the nearby museum explained that they only allow workers who have proven themselves to be outstanding experts in this field AND who are of good moral character. I wonder if that's why so few were working there on this weekday, though I would think that after all these years, the number of experts of good moral character (most of the people I've met here in China seem to be of great moral character!) would be quite large, and at $11 / person for entrance fee (that buys about $100 worth of goods here in China!) and MANY hundreds of people pouring into there every day all year long, there must be enough money to hire more people.

    Anyway, I digress. It was indeed a thrill to see these terra cotta guys [photos]. Each one has a different face, they all seemed to be kind of smiling benevolently, I found their expressions to be somehow ... I don't know, it really attracted me, made me feel ... good, I don't know how to explain it. I was able to stand about 20 feet from one section of them, and I was indeed thrilled, and enjoyed looking at each of their faces. Eerie, and cool!

    Oh, it's 9:20 already, I had wanted to tell you about the group of Deaf children we met, and the Canadian Chinese, and the pictures of people with disabilities enjoying the exhibit (one blind guy was shown touching and exploring the face of one of the warriors, and there was a group of smiling visitors enjoying themselves who seemed to be cognitively disabled), and a little story about our driver. But I'll save all that for tomorrow, we're going to try to go find an upscale restaurant and have some nice (healthy??) dinner and then get back to the hotel early and rest.

    Love, Dona

    Diary from China -- Friday, August 12, 2005
    Xi'An, China
  • Canadian Chinese students;
  • Deaf children at the museum;
  • Police skit portraying English-speaking visitors;
  • Adventures in the streets at night

    Well FINALLY, a quiet day with not much to report! I can tell you about some of the things that I didn't have time for earlier. First, the folks I met at the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit, as I promised.

    When we went into the movie theater for our introduction to the Terra Cotta Warriors, the room had a 360-degree screen and people would stand in the middle or lean against one of the hitching-posts scattered throughout the room. I went for one of the last remaining hitching-posts, arriving there just as a couple of Chinese girls ran to grab it, and we each established our piece of property and leaned against the bar beside each other, waiting for the movie to start.

    Some of their friends came up and looked disappointed when they realized the bar was taken, and the Chinese girl beside me said to one of the Chinese guys, in an American accent, "HA! I guess you want my 'seat,' huh? You're too late, too bad for you!" He laughed and answered in English! AMERICAN English! I digested this odd situation for a few minutes, and listened to this group of Chinese people all chatting with each other in English, and finally leaned forward and asked the girl beside me, "Where are you folks from?"

    "Canada!" she said, with a grin. They were from Toronto, they're here as part of a school trip to learn about Chinese culture and the country. Her parents had both been born in China, she doesn't know where, but they have no family members still in China except some who went to Hong Kong. I hope she gets to come back and see the village or city or whatever her family came from. She's at the age I was when I thought my great-great grandfather Thomas Lucas's Civil War letters were boring -- maybe when she's my age she'll come back for an experience like I'm getting, and learn about her wonderful heritage.

    I told her that I've found the Chinese people to be extremely considerate and thoughtful, loving people, and suggested that it may just be because I am older (I think it was Rich who suggested that the reason people have been so kind to me may partly be because I am in the older generation). She thought about it and said no, they have also treated her with kindness, for example when she wanted to buy something and didn't have the money, they just gave it to her. So it may just be that the people here are kind and thoughtful to their visitors from abroad.

    Anyway, a little later I noticed there was a group of excited Chinese teenagers gesturing to each other and pointing to the exhibits but not speaking. I watched for a while and sure enough, I saw them signing to each other! I went over and signed "deaf?" and they looked startled, then nodded yes, and asked me, "deaf?" I shook my head no, and tried to think of how I could say that I have Deaf friends and know sign language.

    They made a sign that I remember meant "sign language" in Israel, so I nodded yes (Gene, it's like the sign for "speaking/signing" as in "this is Dona speaking"). Then I pointed to myself and made like the "Statue of Liberty" that Gene had suggested, but they drew a blank. I pointed to them and made the sign for "Chinese" and then pointed to me again and modeled the Statue of Liberty. Still nothing. Finally one of them did a version of my sign for "Chinese" -- I don't remember it exactly, but instead of just drawing a horizontal line across the front of the chest and then down (like the edges of the mandarin shirt front), they held their hand in a horizontal "O" and flicked a finger of their other hand across it then went to draw a line similar to mine on their chest [Gene later explained that the "O" was the sign for "button" and then they pointed to where the buttons are on the mandarin shirt]. I said, "OH!" and tried to copy it, not successfully I think, and pointed to myself again and made our sign for "American" (fingers of both hands locked together looking like logs in the corner of a log cabin). They seemed to get it.

    Well, along comes the teacher amidst our animated attempts at communication, and I grinned and signed to her "American!" while pointing to myself. She almost rolled her eyes with impatience, gave the American sign for "I know, I know!", and urged her charges to move along. So they all got herded along, waving goodbye, I gave the American "I-Love-You!" sign and they grinned and signed "I-Love-You!" back.

    Much later, Stephan and I went to one of the 3 pits of soldiers and leaned on the railing to look down, and a young Chinese girl standing nearby motioned that she'd like to take a picture with me. Now, be aware that 1) this was about the 5th time Chinese strangers have asked to take their picture with me and 2) I have a big problem remembering faces, even American ones, so I didn't realize she was one of the Deaf children until I saw the rest the gang signing to each other with excitement about taking our picture. So I grinned and nodded "YES!" and they got a few of their classmates to stand with me while another snapped the picture. I held my hands up in "I-Love-You!" shape (as Deaf people often do for photos in America) and some of them saw it and did the same.

    Meanwhile I yelled for Stephan to come over and take our picture. When they realized what was going on, they all got excited and gathered together to pose against the railing, with me kneeling in front -- I'm eager to see the photo and see how many did the "I-Love-You!" sign [see photo].

    When finished, Stephan signed "Thank you" to them, and I signed "Thank you" to Stephan for taking our picture One of them lit up and signed to the others something about the sign for "Thank you." I got the impression that the kid recognized the sign and was pleased to see us foreigners a sign that they recognized as American -- perhaps they had had a class learning about Deaf Americans and their signs.

    Then another teacher came swooping over to them, using signs that I didn't need to understand to know she was telling them, "For crying out loud, stop getting distracted and MOVE ALONG, we're LATE!"

    LATER -- Okay, I wrote that early this afternoon, after a little excursion into the side streets of Xi'An, where we became completely lost and had to get a 3-wheel moped to help us find our way back (GADS! I'll never get used to the WILD traffic here -- I'll send a message describing it some time soon, suffice it to say several times we were riding along the yellow middle line between the lanes of FULL TRAFFIC coming and going on each side! They seem to have a "Right-Turn-On-Red" law AND a "Left-Turn-On-Red" law AND a "What-The-Heck-Do-Anything-You-Want-On-Red" law for the drivers and bicyclists and everyone!).

    But first we had a little adventure when we walked past a knot of very excited teenagers (both girls AND boys) with posters of their favorite idol, trying to get people to vote for her (do you suppose it's like "American Idol" in the U.S.?). When I asked (using my intrepid interpreter!) why she's the best, they enthused about what a great singer she is. I asked if she is good in her heart, too, and they said YES INDEED, she's good in her heart! So I said I'd vote for her, and they cheered and grinned and we gave "thumbs-up" sign.

    So it is now 10:00 at night and I have a little more to report. But first, I gotta tell you about the BIG surprise / coincidence that happened while checking my email this afternoon. I got a message asking me to come present at the International Mobility Conference taking place in November 2006! This conference is held every few years in various places around the world, and the next one is in Hong Kong, so the message was from someone on the host committee in Hong Kong named Grace Chen (Laura, do you know her?). I'm sure she didn't know I happened to BE IN CHINA right now -- I wish I could see her face when she reads my response because I got Stephan to write the first paragraph to her IN CHINESE!

    I told her what an honor it is to be invited and that I'm here in China right now, and told her the limitations of my expertise -- they invited me for several reasons, one of which is they want someone to do a plenary session on O&M for people with multiple disabilities including deaf-blindness, and while Gene and I are probably among those with the most expertise in the world on O&M for deaf-blind adults, I suggested they may want someone with a broader background in multiple disabilities and/or different ages. So we'll see what happens.

    After the conference they're having a tour of schools for the blind in some of the places I've been as well as all those I would have liked to go to (Nanjing and Guangzho) if I hadn't decided to COME STRAIGHT HOME NOW, it would be a great opportunity to find out how blind people travel here, and how useful the detectable warnings and guide strips are (I got some more pictures today of confusing guide strips -- I'll scan the good ones and send them to you, Janet and Beezy, when I get home).

    So that gets around to my decision -- I was very tempted to accompany Stephan to Luoyang where he plans to find the orphanages and start teaching English, I'd love to see the village(s) where he'll teach, but it's too much up-in-the-air for me. I'd go if he had a certain date and time he will go to the village but he has to try to contact someone who can show him around, make plans, decide where to go and when, etc. Two weeks ago I would have loved such an adventure but now, I'm ready to come home.

    So I'm trying to get tickets to start the flight home the day after tomorrow. The on-line company that I bought my tickets from has me scheduled for a flight from Shanghai to Guangzho that arrives about two hours AFTER the only flight from Guangzho leaves for Los Angeles! So I'm waiting to hear from them about how to schedule the flights and then BOOM! I will snatch up the tickets, enjoy one last day with Stephan in Xi'An, and then COME HOME!

    Okay, I thought I would have lots of space to tell the accumulating stories / incidentals but this is long enough already -- I'll just catch you up on this evening's adventure and let that be it. Oh, except for telling you about a darling TV show we caught our last night in Beijing, where the Olympic games will be held in 2008. It was a bunch of police officers doing skits in English, performing for their fellow law enforcement colleagues -- I assume it was part of an effort to prepare them for the deluge of foreigners who will hit the city in 3 years (one of my first nights in Shanghai, I saw a program where an American university sent some students to help the Chinese make Beijing English-friendly, including putting more English in their transit system which I can assure you will make a BIG difference!).

    All the skits featured the police men and women acting as "foreigners" with wigs and makeup, speaking English with Chinese accents -- it was a riot watching their portrayal of us! The first skit featured a young black girl who was apparently homeless (I don't know how such a young foreign child arrived in Beijing without her parents -- a little creativity on the part of the police writing the skit!). She had those long, tight braids (I forget what they're called) and black makeup -- speaking in English with her Chinese accent, she explained that she's scared and alone. She tried to run from the kindly police who assured her (in English, natch!) that she was safe, and took her to the social worker where she'd be happy. Other skits featured foreigners who were lost (like Stephan and me every day!) or looking for something, foreigners who were robbed and crying out in English (they were able to nab the Chinese English-speaking perpetrator even though he ducked into a bathroom and came out disguised -- the identifying scarf was sticking out of his pocket!), and one skit where a policeman (speaking in English) catches a pickpocket (also speaking English!) and then has him pretend to be his partner because the policeman's wife is coming and will get mad if she realizes her husband was working when they had planned to meet. Very creative writers, and their police colleagues in the audience were highly entertained! So if any of you are coming for the Olympics, be assured that the police will do their very best to talk with you in English!

    DANG! I just lost about 45 minute's worth of diary! I was signing off and BOOM! I hadn't saved, and all was lost. Here we go again ...

    Before I explain tonight's mission, I should explain about last night's search for a Chinese dinner at an “upscale” restaurant. After looking for about an hour (and seeing the inside of a hostel -- they're not as bad as I thought!) we settled for a little restaurant whose AC was down, we roasted as they served a soup that turned out to be made with chicken broth (and the interesting-looking cabbage was actually jellyfish!), so we paid and left to go back to the good-looking food court we'd seen but OOPS! It JUST closed! We ended up getting another vendor's fried bread / skewered food sandwich (where the vendor wasn't as meticulous about hygiene as the others) and took it to the hotel to eat after we showered and cooled off (the tofu turned out to have chicken in it!).

    After this misadventure, we were determined tonight to find the Buddhist temple with the vegetarian restaurant we'd heard about. I won't go into details but suffice it to say that after getting directions from the bellman at the hotel, it took us 2 hours including attempts to get a bus, walking about a mile asking passersby, and finally getting a cab to take us BACK to our hotel to ask for directions again!

    Finally, we found the temple, a lovely, peaceful little retreat outside the city walls, and had a nice dinner (the first one loaded with vegetables since our lovely dinners at Grandma Zhangs' in Shanghai!) and then set out for another excursion / adventure. The first 45 minutes had nothing of interest except seeing a carpet being installed at the front steps of a store (at 9:00 at night! These Chinese people are OUR kind of people, working and playing long into the night!). But finally we had some adventures, including:

    Stephan found a tiny little book store (any of you who have made the mistake of allowing Stephan to enter a book store when he's with you know he LOVES bookstores!). Almost everything was in Chinese, natch, including Clinton's recent autobiography! They had one copy of the latest Harry Potter in English, and I bought a little book of Confucius's wisdom and story of his life, written in English with accompanying Chinese --I'm looking forward to reading that. Stephan bought a copy of Confucius's wisdom written in Chinese, of course!

    Later, as we entered a shopping mall to find some ice cream, a guy approached Stephan and asked to shine his shoes. Stephan has (HAD!) the most scuzzy-looking gym shoes, and this guy did MAGIC, whitening them up and cleaning, it was amazing! They were selling a little kit, and even though Stephan said he didn't want to buy it, the guy said he'd shine Stephan's shoes for free -- I think it's because it attracted a few people to watch, and was good advertisement.

    In the plaza outside the mall was a scene that was too weird for me to report but when I asked Stephan if I'd forgotten anything, he mentioned it, so here goes. Most of the plaza was covered with the material from tents that they were erecting, and across on the other side of this mess was a woman sitting on a tall stool with two very bright lights shining at her from about 5 feet away, with swarms of bugs flying around her head attracted by the light. She had a wild long curly blond wig on and a dress that looked like Scarlet O'Hare's ball gown, and was blinking her eyes a lot (don't know if it was the lights and the heat, or the bugs, or maybe ticklish false eyelashes). We asked some passersby what it was all about, and they said she was there to advertise something. She wasn't smiling, and looked miserable. When we came back out with Stephan's shiny new shoes she was finally getting down from her perch and taking off all the paraphranelia.

    Maybe Chinese people are attracted by scowling or unsmiling models -- earlier this afternoon we saw a row of about 10 pretty Chinese girls, each dressed alike and carrying a small billboard advertising a cell phone. And none of them were smiling, they all (like our blond stool lady) looked like they'd rather be anywhere else but there.
    Well, hurray, I got an email from the ticket company, and there are lots of flights from Shanghai to Guangzhou. They gave me the phone number over here in China, so I plan to get the tickets tonight or tomorrow morning and, if all goes well, I'm ON MY WAY HOME the day after tomorrow! I'm not stopping anywhere except maybe Los Angeles if you folks want -- Rich had suggested I stop by, so let me know if that's still feasible and I'll do it.

    Love, Dona

    LAST Diary from China -- Saturday, August 13, 2005
    Xi'An, China
  • Bridesgroom locked out of hotel by his in-laws;
  • Adventures on our last evening in China

    It's a bittersweet feeling -- this is my last night in China! I leave for the airport tomorrow morning at 8:00, fly to Shanghai and then Guangzhou and then LA and finally home. Fred, I don't have my final tickets yet but if all goes as planned, I'll be arriving home Monday afternoon, I think (I may gain a day, not sure -- it's Saturday night here).

    On the one hand, I'm VERY eager to get home, home, HOME again, but on the other I'll be sad to leave this beautiful country and its beautiful people. Our last day and evening were just right for such an occasion-- I'll probably have to cut this short as we intend to stay here only another 45 minutes (I can't believe it, but it usually ends up taking me several hours to do each diary), but let's see how it goes...

    Today I had an adventure without even leaving the hotel! I was downstairs waiting for Stephan to help me deal with the hotel business office to get all my tickets arranged, and heard firecrackers outside. A bunch of people in the lobby and I looked out the windows, and here comes a car all decorated with flowers and streamers. It pulls up to the door and a handsome groom dressed in a cream-yellow tux carrying a huge bouquet and a few of his buddies walk toward the automatic door while everyone in the lobby rushes to the door and stands near it.

    Only the door doesn't open! The crowd inside laughs and yells something, the groom, a sweet, earnest-looking young man, laughs and pleads for them to open the door. Turns out everyone in the lobby but me are his friends and family, and they kept him locked outside for a good ten minutes while he pleaded with a big grin on his face, they exchanged words (had to cup their mouths to the crack between the doors as it was hard to hear through it) and every once in a while the groom would say something, apparently in response to demands or requests from the folks inside, and everyone inside and out would laugh and howl. At one point he bowed several times to the crack between the doors with hands clasped and said something, again it appeared that he was complying with demands. Finally they let him in, everybody laughing, and he and everyone went to the elevator and piled in.

    About 20 minutes later I happened to be in the lobby again (a good part of my day was spent in the business office next to the lobby, trying to confirm the darn tickets!) and here comes the groom again, this time carrying a very happy young bride, dressed in a gown also creamy-colored (the traditional wedding color is red -- white is for funerals, but modern couples are often opting for white as we do here in the West -- in Yang Nian when I was feeling a little sick in the home of the first Tai Chi teacher, they let me wait in a bridal shop and there were lots of red gowns, white gowns, and the creamy/light-yellow gowns).

    He carried her out the door (which opened for him this time!) and gently set her down beside the car and opened the door. They got in, lots of colorful confetti somehow drifted from above, and more firecrackers popped as they drove away.

    When Stephan returned, I explained what I saw and we tried in vain to find out what was behind the drama. When the staff (who were all laughing and enjoying the scene) seemed not to know what Stephan was talking about, I went outside the door and mimed the poor groom's action, which made them laugh again and they understood, but we weren't able to understand their explanation. It had something to do with good luck and fortune, and they said something about "mama and baba" ("mom and dad") at one point, so maybe he had to request permission from her parents to enter and bring his bride out, to make a fortuitous marriage. Anyway, it was great fun and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely!

    [WRITTEN LATER: The next morning, we met the soft-spoken bellboy who had witnessed and enjoyed the plight of the bridegroom and I had Stephan interpret as I asked again what that was all about. The bellboy laughed and said the groom had to give some money to the bride's parents. I asked what would happen if he didn't pay (thinking maybe it would bring bad luck or something) and he grinned and said the groom wouldn't get to take the bride away! When I thought the groom was bowing with hands clasped near the crack of the door, he might have actually been feeding money through to the parents, bowing as he did so.]

    The rest of the day has been quiet -- it took 3 hours to get the tickets lined up (Beezy, when I felt myself getting high angst because of the difficulties, Stephan suggested I think of what you'd do, and that helped a lot -- heck, I've still got my health and everything, and if things don't work out with the tickets I'll still make it home all right, nothing is worth getting anxiety about). Then we went out for what we thought might be our last little excursion and got a rice tortilla wrapped around veggies, and spent the rest of the afternoon packing and sorting Stephan's stuff as to what stays with him, what goes back to America and what goes in the trash.

    We finally finished, and planned our last evening together here. We decided to go back to the vegetarian restaurant at the Buddhist temple after climbing around the city wall a little bit, then hit the wang ba (internet cafe) and head home for a good sleep. It started out as planned -- the trip along the wall was fun (this is apparently the oldest well-preserved city wall in the world, even though it's only built in the 1700's, which seems like yesterday in Chinese-time), and when we came down off the wall we found ourselves in what I now realize was our last excursion / adventure in China.

    We were in a narrow alley bustling with life, as they usually are, with little homes and stores and vendors, through one open door I saw a family sitting around a black and white TV, and further down the alley I saw one small open room set up with 4 tables, each with what we think is majiang (ma jong) tiles and boards. Stephan was tempted with one fellow selling watermelon in front of his little home/store, and while he investigated that, the parents in the little room/home next door took the hand of their little toddler and waved it to me, saying, "Hello!"

    Oh, it was so charming! I happened to have the video camera on, and turned to see the darling boy shyly clinging to and hiding behind his father while we grinned and exchanged greetings (hello! How are you? I am fine, how are YOU?) again and again, at one point they said, "Hallelulia! Hallelulia!" and I repeated the greeting. By then we were all stooped to the boy's level, I hope the video comes out okay, it was totally charming with these delightful, friendly people sharing their greetings for foreigners with their little boy.

    Anyway, by then Stephan had gotten the man to cut us some wedges of sweet watermelon and he set us up with little stools and we had a delightful treat. As we left, I waved "Bye!" to the little boy, who was losing his shyness, and he called to his parents to come say goodbye, and we had several exchanges of "Bye! see you later! Bye!"

    Anyway, we finally reached a major street and hailed a cab which took about a half hour to reach the Buddhist temple, but by then the restaurant was closed, and when Stephan explained we were trying to get to the vegetarian restaurant, the driver exclaimed he wished he had known from the beginning, there was a vegetarian restaurant not far from where we started! So off we went again, and a half hour later we reached a delightful restaurant, just the kind I've been looking for the last few nights -- an "upscale" restaurant.

    There was a paper mache cow inside the entrance that children were playing on, and the place was beautifully decorated with man-made twisting tree trunks and overhanging branches. And the bathrooms even had toilet paper, AND the paper was right there in the stall, AND in a dispenser! It was the first time I ate on a fabric tablecloth in China -- I thought I was in heaven, a perfect place for a last dinner in China!

    It turns out they do serve meat even though the hostess explained it was vegetarian, and we had a good laugh at the way they clean up the tables after guests leave. When we arrived, all the dirty dishes and food was left on most of the tables, they had to search a little to find one that was clean. When we asked, they said they'll all be cleaned at 11:00. We wondered how the heck they can serve customers after all the tables get used, if they don't clean it right away! Finally around 10:00 someone removed the plates off all the tables, and another woman came through and took the table cloths and just FLIPPED them off the tables, sending empty soda cans flying and shaking the food and who knows what all over the floor and table! Wish I had caught it on the video!

    I had the video on a little earlier because a DARLING little girl came over from her family's table and spoke to us in beautiful English! I was impressed with the extent of her speech and understanding ("how old are you?" "I am six" "Do you like the food here?" "Yes, it is DELICIOUS!"). She went and got her 11- and 15-year-old sisters, who were a lot more shy about meeting us but they did their best, and we exchanged some phrases, to the delight of the younger girl.

    Well, that brings us up to now. Obviously, our time at the computer ran out and we decided to extend it another half hour, so I'll be closing soon but first I have to share a little fun thing Stephan told me he saw on the city wall tonight. One of the trash cans had a label that said in Chinese, "Protect the environment -- start with me." The English version of the sign said, "Protect the circumstance -- start with me." Many / most of the translations here are like the instructions for Chinese or Japanese products we all laugh at (darn, I can't remember the one Fred and I often quote), obviously done by someone for whom English is a second language.

    I was surprised that this was the case even at official touristy places like the Terra Cotta Warriors museum, we had a couple chuckles over some translations which I can't remember now. Oh -- I remember one I saw in a hotel across from the train station in ZhengZhou, it was a small, beautiful statue of fishes made out of very unusual stone, looking like solid choral with color variations which the artist had used to design different colored fish. Anyway, the English description of the artwork said the stone was found in that area and was "rare and freaky," which I'm sure was supposed to be "unique" but the translator probably looked up the word in the Chinese-English dictionary and randomly picked one of the words offered.

    Okay, we gotta go, I may be able to send one last diary from the airport, I'll be there for hours in Guangzhou tomorrow afternoon so if I can find an internet I'll check in, otherwise next time you hear from me I'll be HOME!

    Love, Dona

    VERY Last Diary from China -- Sunday, August 14, 2005
    Guanzhou Airport
  • Adventures in taxi and airport

    Well, I'm at the airport in Guangzhou, having flown from Xi'An to Shanghai and then to here, our flight to Los Angeles leaves in 3 hours so I'm gonna make this short and go check my baggage (I can't check it until 10 minutes from now, so no real rush). I'll just share my adventures getting on the first plane in Xi'An.

    I didn't want to carry more Chinese money than necessary, so I calculated the cab fare ($15) and took another $47 so I'd have money for this internet connection and maybe some food if the vegetarian airline reservations didn't get through, plus some cash for phone calls or whatever in Los Angeles. It doesn't sound like much money, but everything here in China is about a tenth of the price there, so I figured it was plenty (for example the wang ba's are usually 12-25 cents an hour).

    Since I'd be without my interpreter going to the airport this morning, Stephan and I had arranged for a driver to pick me up at 8:00 -- a driver that the hotel knew, so I'd be assured I was in good hands. Sure enough, by 8:10 the luggage was loaded and Stephan and I had hugged and said goodbye, and the cab pulled off, with me watching for a last glimpse of Stephan so I could do a last wave.

    Thirty feet later, with Stephan still in view, the cab pulled over and the driver got out and ran back into the hotel! Long story short, he had agreed to give his friend a ride to the airport (on my tab, natch) and the friend wouldn't be ready till 8:30!

    It was 8:20 by the time we realized the driver wasn't sick in the bathroom and we knew he was just waiting for his friend, and I got out saying I wanted to leave NOW and planned to get into the cab of the driver who had taken us to the Terra Cotta Warriors. Oh, OK, the driver agrees to leave, and off we go.

    But after a few blocks he starts to go R-E-E-E-E-A-L slow! I thought maybe he was punishing me for making him leave his friend, and after a few miles of this I pointed to the curb and told him to pull over -- I planned to get my luggage out and hail another cab. He nods, and turns left into another street and slows to a crawl.

    Now I'm starting to get really worried -- what's this guy DOING??!! I asked him and he garbled something and then pointed ahead, seeming to indicate if I just wait, he will go fast. I finally figured he was meeting his friend somehow, and sure enough after about 5 minutes the driver who took us to the Terra Cotta Warriors comes flying up and delivers his friend!

    I should have expressed my anger then, the friend spoke English ("are you going to Shanghai?" he asks pleasantly, "I am going to Beijing") so I could have chewed them both out using him to interpret, but I just did a slow burn as the driver then went FLYING, endangering life and limb of everyone in and out of the car. When we arrived I asked how much, the driver said $15 and I paid and stalked off.

    I had two large, heavy suitcases, one full of Stephan's books and stuff to go back to America. You guessed it, they were too heavy for one person's fare! I had 20 kg more than the maximum. In America that means an extra $75 but I figured it wouldn't be much here.

    WRONG! It cost exactly $47, to the penny! I handed them my credit card but NO! Cash only! They pointed to the ATM machine but I had never learned to use it, I don't even know if I have a pin number, and I just barely had enough cash. As I emptied my wallet, I thought "#%$*@! I have NOTHING left, not even enough to get on the internet to arrange my last flight from LA to home, nothing if I am hungry or thirsty, nothing if they charge me again to check the luggage to Guangzhou!"

    I wished I had gotten the hotel's number to call Stephan and tell him to come get his suitcase in storage at the airport, and I asked if I could maybe mail it to the U.S. No. Finally I asked to retrieve one of the suitcases so I could put the books in my carry-on and lessen the load. I was already running short on time and I swear the suitcase must have already been on the plane because it took about 15 minutes to retrieve it.

    As I waited, I started to feel the anxiety rise and my stomach churn. I shut my eyes and did the "Beezy Mantra." Okay, so maybe we lose a suitcase, or I arrive in America starving and with no money (heck, that's what Benjamin Franklin did when he moved to Philadelphia, and look how he turned out!), or I miss this flight because of all this, it will all turn out FINE.

    Finally the suitcase arrived, I repacked, and WHEW! I was only 10 kg over, and it cost only about $17. I paid it, made the flight, and listened to soothing music on a station that had instructions for reducing stress. Just what I needed! With some sweet hot tea and the soothing music and a good mystery, I finally relaxed, and have been enjoying the trip ever since. There was no charge for the luggage in Shanghai (although when I put the heavy one on the scale, somehow the wheel ended up resting on the counter's frame, so that may have reduced it somewhat), and I'm sure I'll have no problem for this international flight, which should allow more weight / person than these domestic flights.

    On the flight from Shanghai to here, the attendant didn't understand when I said I was a vegetarian / eat no meat, so the guy across the aisle interpreted for me. When the server's cart between us was removed, I thanked him, and we started talking. Stephan, I got his email address, he is a very interesting guy (a Malaysian living and working in Guangzhou) and has a lot in common with you, I'll tell you more about it later.

    Okay, time to go check in on the last flight. I'm hoping to be able to stay with the LA folks for a day, and Fred, if all goes as planned, I'll be home Tuesday night at 8:00! Stephan is probably on his way now (or maybe tomorrow) to Loyang (I know that's not spelled right!) to meet some folks and see the orphanages where he might volunteer.

    Love, Dona

    Epilogue -- written Thursday, August 19, 2005:

    I'm HOME again, safe and sound! This convinces me that I can safely ignore the dire premonitions that I get before every flight and even before some daily car commutes -- the certainty that I'll be killed that I felt before this trip was overwhelming, very graphic and profound, I'm so glad I ignored it! I did, however, come down with the flu, which started my last night in China with a sore throat and ended yesterday with aches, chills, congestion and drowsiness (which was probably just jet-lag -- I've been awake most of the first two nights I've been here in America). I was so grateful that the family in Los Angeles picked me up at the airport and gave me a day to recover before starting the last leg of the journey home (we got to look at all the videos we took while I was there!) -- fortunately, they didn't catch the flu (at least, not so far!).

    I got an interesting message from Stephan a few days ago. He said,
    "And by the way, my luggage is in a back closet of the hostel I stayed at last night, because this morning these 2 guys barged in and shoved me out of the place - all the hostels here, and many of the hotels, have a no-foreigners policy. I'm told it's a government imposition, the reason for which is still a bit hazy as I've not understood any of the responses I've gotten from the many people I've asked, but the most clear understanding I got was that they fear that because of the language difference, this could lead to fist-fights with the locals, and they don't want to be responsible for that. Right....

    "So anyway, this hostel's staff seemed extremely friendly and accommodating, even up until they whisked me out, at which point they said they heard the police were doing routine checks at nearby hostels, and were soon to enter (though they never did). The guy who originally invited me to that place apparently has an agreement with all the hotels and hostels in the area, who perhaps give him a small percentage for bringing me in, and he tried to get me into all the other hostels and hotels in the area, all of which either refused the white guy with 'gee, we suddenly have no rooms of any range or sort available' or were the expensive, big hotels. I think you need some sort of license to allow foreigners. I don't even remember the place last night checking my passport, I guess they didn't care until the check (or until word got to the owner of the round eyes - another pair of which I also saw entering last night, who apparently left at like 6 this morning).

    "I'd really like to get to the bottom of this phenomenon; the hostels in ZhengZhou acted like they won the lottery when I came there; certainly nothing like this. They also seem less patient when you don't understand something here. That considered, LuoYang so far beats the heck out of ZhengZhou as far as people and interesting places."

    So the saga continues! I'll be following Stephan's adventures, with a much better understanding and appreciation of what he's experiencing there. And I'll remember the kindness and friendliness of so many delightful people we met in China, and try to return the favor when I meet foreigners here in America. And I'll never forget this extraordinary trip, the trip of a lifetime, thanks to my son Stephan.

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