Diary from Asia - 2006
By Dona Sauerburger, COMS®

photo shows a beautiful Buddhist temple on a hill
After being invited to speak at the International Mobility Conference in Hong Kong in November, 2006, I decided to travel to Hong Kong with my son Stephan on a trip that would start in Thailand and include a city in mainland China and end in Japan.

I did not want a typical sightseeing trip. Instead, I was excited about seeing Asia in countries where Stephan or I spoke the language, so I could get to know the people and their culture and their country on a deeper level. I had lived in Thailand for a year and spoke the language, but that was 43 years ago, so I prepared for the trip by studying the Thai language again with Phra (Monk) Jaren at a Thai Buddhist Wat (temple) in Silver Spring, Maryland. Stephan had lived in China the previous year, when I went to see China with him as my interpreter (see Diary from China) and he also had lived in Japan for 3 months in the summer of 2006 and was learning to speak Japanese.

Accompanying us on our adventures via cyberspace was a group of friends and family, to whom I sent a "diary entry" every few days. That diary, with links to photos, is here for you to enjoy.
For a complete list of links to photos, click here.
For photos of events or adventures not documented in the Diary, click here.
For features of accessibility or traffic control, click here.
For a complete list of Diary topics / dates, click here


Thursday, November 16, 2006 – Narita Airport (Tokyo, Japan)
  • greetings;
  • funky Japanese typewriters;
  • flying across the world in comfort;
  • tentative plans for the trip to Thailand

    HI everyone! I am so very glad you each are joining me for this trip via cyberspace! Some of you joined me last year on my trip to China, and not only did I enjoy being able to share my experiences with you but I had a surprise benefit – I was able to get responses from some of you that helped me understand or appreciate my experiences.

    Now – you:re probably wondering why I can:t copy and paste on this computer and have to ask Jill to forward this to you. I am in an internet cafe at the Tokyo airport, and the keyboard is FUNKY! each key has a letter plus a Japanese symbol, which is no problem but I guess they don:t use Microsoft here because the normal keyboard strokes that I had thought were universal for copying and pasting don:t work here, so I can:t copy your addresses into the box.

    Also the keys are very different from ours. it:s so funny – there are 4 computers here, and as each new traveler sits down to use it, after about 3 minutes they look around and ask, How do you make the @ sign? (I was going to put that into quotes but I cant find the quote button!) then someone will say Hey! I:m writing in Japanese, how do you turn that off? and someone else, who learned how to do it 10 minutes earlier from another traveler, will get up and show where the Turn-Off-(or Turn-ON-)The-Japanese button is (it:s right next to the space bar, and the space bar is incredibly short so it took me only about 30 seconds before I accidentally hit the Japanese button and BOOM! I was writing in Japanese, saying goodness knows what!).

    Anyway, I:m VERY happy to report that I have just made my first Trip-To-The-Other-Side-Of-The-World where I arrive feeling refreshed and comfortable! I swore I would never fly this far again when I went to Australia (sitting cramped in an airplane for 17 hours straight is GRUELING!), but couldn:t resist going to China last year with Stephan, so I flew upper class on Air China airlines but it was still too cramped, so this time I am flying business class on United Airlines and OH! What a DIFFERENCE! The seat goes WAY back, there are foot rests, and lots of elbow room. I went up to the First Class and wow! Each person sits in a little console, and it opens up to make a bed. Like staying in a hotel room for the night and you hardly even know you:re traveling! But this business class was all I needed to have an enjoyable experience instead of a grueling hell.

    So Stephan is in China and is flying to meet me in Bangkok, I will arrive around 2:00 in the morning, an hour after Stephan arrives. We plan to go to a hotel for the night, start our adventures tomorrow exploring the streets and see what experiences and people we meet (can:t WAIT for that! I understand enough Thai to get me into trouble, though I suspect most people will speak better English than I speak Thai). Tomorrow afternoon Chalam Yam-iam, a Thai orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist and the Asian ambassador / representative for the O&M Division of AER (see the International page of the O&M Division website), will pick us up and bring us to his home for a few days. Monday he takes me to their rehab center and I will get to see O&M being taught to blind people. I hope I am able to understand what the O&M instructor and blind student are saying – I have been improving my Thai language (I lived in Thailand more than 40 years ago) by going once or twice a week to a Thai Buddhist temple (wat), and was pleased with how much of the language came back to me as we practiced.

    Okay, I will close here, after saying that if you hadn:t realized how long my messages would be and how often I write during my journey (I haven:t even arrived at my first destination yet!) let me know if you want me to take you off the list.

    Saturday, November 18, 2006 – Bangkok, Thailand
  • arrival in Bangkok,
  • first venture into the city;
  • introduction to Thai O&M specialist Chalam Yam-iam and a visit to his home

    Hi everyone! Last night I had hoped to continue our diary and catch you up with Stephan and me, but I had to use the computer with only one eye open because I was SO sleepy (even though Stephan and I had slept till NOON for a full 8 hours of sleep!). I kept falling asleep sitting up whenever I had to wait for the computer to catch up (it's very slow, as I'm on dial-up from Chalam's home). But this morning I woke up at 5:30 feeling bright and refreshed, and thought I'd sneak in another diary excerpt before we need to get ready for the day.

    Our "virtual traveling party" (receiving diary messages by email) is now joined by Wei, whom many of you "met" in my Diary from China last year (welcome, Wei!). Wei, you are joining a group of intrepid friends and family who agreed to accompany Stephan and me through cyberspace on our voyage – I found from my trip to China that bringing along people like these folks adds immeasurably to my enjoyment of the trip, as I get to share the good and bad experiences (I look forward to it almost every day!) and I have learned so much from them to help me understand what's happening.

    Okay, so what happened since I left the funky internet at the Tokyo airport? This was the first time I experienced the lounge that airlines offer their premium travelers and wow! It's so much nicer sitting in comfortable chairs, having snacks and drinks (one guy shared his enthusiasm for the beer dispenser that had a separate lever to top it off with foam!) and announcements for the passengers to remind them when their flight is preparing to board. Cool!

    So I got on the plane and sat upstairs (another first for me!). The food for vegetarians was disappointing – lots of noodles and some overcooked vegetables sliced too thin to recognize, but I had brought some grapefruit and grapes and protein powder so I didn't leave the plane hungry. The person who sat next to me is a vegetarian also, and I asked if he had problems eating in Thailand. Oh, no, he said, there are lots of vegetarian places in Thailand.

    I met Stephan at Bangkok, and got to see him come through Customs. It seemed like it had been a year since I saw him (he left for Japan last summer), and I was looking forward to another series of adventures with my favorite traveling companion. We arrived at the hotel at about 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and passed out on the beds, finally waking up, as I said, around noon.

    We had time for a short adventure walking through the streets around our hotel before we expected Chalam to arrive to bring us to his home, so we set out in the direction we thought the hotel folks had suggested. It led to nowhere, and I got to use my Thai to find where to go – it was such a thrill be able to communicate with folks on the street! Actually, the first time I used it was while waiting for Stephan at the airport, I went to his baggage area which was empty, and asked the workers who were resting nearby if the luggage had already come and gone, or if it was still coming, and they understood my Thai! Even better, I understood their answer!

    Anyway, we ended up in a HUGE indoor 5-story mall with a bridge to another mall across the street. To my surprise and dismay, the folks at the eateries all said they had nothing vegetarian but one of them guided us across the mall to one place that had some vegetarian selections. One of those was too spicy for me to eat, but the rest was okay. I now realized that food is not going to be one of the things that makes this trip great, and told Stephan with some embarrassment that I might actually eat at places like the ones we passed with disdain – Pizza Hut and McDonalds!

    Chalam came to get us at the hotel, it was great to see him again! He is an O&M specialist I met in New York at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults. He has been teaching O&M about as long as I have (more than 30 years!). He actually trains other O&M specialists in countries throughout this area, and many blind people are now getting O&M services because of the people he trained. He is presenting on the program at the same conference I am going to in Hong Kong next week [see photo], and I look forward to learning more about it.

    The area around our hotel in Bangkok lacked much charisma (until we went into some of the alleys), but where Chalam lives is refreshingly charming. He lives at the end of a very quiet little street, and has built a lovely garden in the empty lot across the street. It has a swinging bench and little table, and we ate an exotic fruit "lum yai" and very sweet bananas.

    Oops -- gotta go get ready for today, I will continue tonight and tell you about his family and the delightful dinner we had last night (at a VEGETARIAN restaurant within walking distance of his home!). Today we are going to Bangkok with Nuchanaj Pranom ("Nu" – an O&M specialist whom I met in New York when she did her internship at Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults), Stephan had wanted to see the Bangkok stock exchange (???) but it will be closed of course on Sunday, so we are going to Siam Square. Catch you guys later!

    Monday, November 20, 2006 – Bangkok, Thailand
  • scary buses and a disregard for life,
  • mention of observation of O&M lesson in Thailand

    Hi everyone! Again, last night I was too exhausted to think but I hoped that this afternoon I'd have hours and hours to catch you up on our adventures, but here it is 1:00 in the morning and I'm just starting. I won't be able to do justice to everything but lest it all get away from me, I'll brief you on the highlights.

    The biggest event happened today – observing the training of blind people learning to travel independently at a center for the blind here in Thailand. After traveling in more than a dozen countries, this was a first for me. Before I tell you about that, I need to tell you about our travels yesterday with Nu, another O&M specialist, because that is when I realized some of the difficulties of getting around Bangkok.

    When Mom and Dad and my brother Dave and I were here 43 years ago, we were struck by the apparent disregard for safety and life. Traffic fatalities were common, when buses pulled over to pick up passengers they often didn't even bother to stop and, when the buses were crowded, passengers would hang off the bus from the door. People crossed busy 6-lane streets one lane at a time, standing on the lines between the lanes looking for a break to get to the next lane.

    In that regard, very little has changed. I didn't see people hanging off the buses, but as Nu and Stephan and I waited for the buses, we'd laugh as we watched them approach to see if they would stop. Some did, but many merely slowed down while passengers jumped off and then, while the bus still rolled slowly forward, other passengers grabbed a bar inside the door and pulled themselves into the bus and then WHOOSH! Without ever stopping, the bus picked up speed and dashed off to the next bus stop (or bus "slow-down"!). Nu was surprised and disappointed to learn that it may be unique to Thailand, as I haven't seen buses do that in any other country, including China. Later, as we grinned and prepared for the adventure of jumping off one of the buses, I suddenly wondered what would happen if someone was trying to get on or off but fell under the bus, and I asked Nu if people get injured or killed in that way. She somberly said yes. As I got off while the bus kept moving, a mother with her young son was getting ready to jump off too – they made it fine, but for me, the fun adventure had turned into something serious.

    [NOTE WRITTEN APRIL, 2008: I just found out from Nanta Rattanagoses that about a year and a half or two years ago -- about the time that I was writing the Diary -- a blind man was killed getting off a bus. The bus was moving as he got off, and when he fell the bus ran over him. Nanta, who is also blind, became afraid to use buses after this happened, and now she takes a taxi or gets a ride.]

    Anyway, it was in view of those experiences, as well as seeing sidewalks crowded with stalls and people and broken pavement, huge construction holes not covered or barricaded, and curbs that suddenly jut in and out, that I prepared to follow two intrepid blind men on their O&M lesson.

    Oops – it's late and I need to get to sleep, I'll finish this tomorrow. Tomorrow we meet my friend Sandra Stirnweis (another O&Mer!) at the bus station and leave Bangkok to stay for a few days in a smaller town in Thailand, and hopefully we won't have such a hectic pace there and I'll have time to finish before I forget everything!

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Getting ready to go to Pak Chong and the National Forest

    Hi guys! I have about 20 minutes while Stephan packs to take a taxi to meet Sandra at the North Bus Station for the 3-hour bus ride to Pak Chong (Nakorn Ratchasima) – turns out we will come back here to Chalam's home Saturday so we are leaving a lot of unnecessary luggage (such as our warm clothes for Japan) here. Saturday is our last night in Thailand and I just snagged some tickets to take Chalam's wife and daughter to see the Thai royal dancing (Chalam and his son can't come) – when I was here 43 years ago, I took dancing lessons in classical Thai dancing and LOVED it, especially the wild "monkeys" with their bright masks and leaping acrobatics (I was so disappointed never to learn to dance as a monkey, as only men can dance it, at least back then).

    So on to the blind travelers on their O&M lesson. Nah, not enough time to think and do it justice, I'll just tell you that one of the vocations for which the center trains blind people is Thai massage, so while I was watching the lesson, Stephan got to enjoy an incredible massage!

    Eek! The taxi is here already, Stephan needs to finish packing and I'll catch you LATER!

    Tuesday, November 21, 2006 – near Pak Chong, Thailand
  • Sandra Stirnweis's traveling style
  • arrival at Pak Chong and the National Forest;
  • history of the use of fork and spoon instead of chopsticks;
  • explanation of why I was in Thailand 43 years ago.

    Hi guys! I keep waiting for a good opportunity to sit down and catch you up on everything but realize that will never be, at least not until I leave Thailand, so I will send you snatches of stories as I get a chance. We are now in a lodge near a national park with a huge (maybe the largest in Thailand?) rain forest. Stephan and I met Sandra yesterday after we both waited for the other for 3 hours in different parts of the bus station (we were in the wrong section and Sandra was in the right one, of course! Sandra is an incredible traveler, very resourceful, something on the order of several of you – she carries around her Lonely Planet guidebook and reminds me of Huey, Dewey and Louey in the old Donald Duck comic books, with their Junior Woodchuck Guide Book that had EVERYTHING you ever wanted to know about anything in the world, so when they are in a scrape with Uncle Scrooge McDuck in the Amazon somewhere, they know how to make a bridge over the canyon. Her book even has suggestions for good music tapes to get in Thailand – last night I was glancing through her book and found the answer to a question about the history of eating utensils that I'd been wondering for a long time and OH! There was the answer! I'll get to that later.)

    ADDED 12/20/06: "Later" never came, so I will tell you about the eating utensils now!

    When I was in Thailand 43 years ago, chopsticks were practically unknown except for use by Chinese people – after I learned to distinguish the difference between Thai people and Chinese, I noticed that the only ones using chopsticks in restaurants were the Chinese people. At that time, Thai people disdained Chinese people as being aggressive merchants (Thai people at that time tended to look down on any sign of assertiveness and confidence – a neighbor once complimented me to my mother, saying that I did not walk like the Chinese, I walked like a Thai person with my head down and looking humble). So we saw no Thais using chopsticks. All Thai people used a large spoon and a fork to eat – they used the fork to shove the food onto the spoon.

    Nowadays, most of the Thais we met are at least partly of Chinese descent, and I can no longer distinguish Thais from Chinese. So chopsticks are offered at most fast-food restaurants where we went, but so are the ubiquitous fork and spoon, and many Thai people still use them instead of chopsticks. I have always been curious where that practice of spoon and fork came from, and speculated that it was started by King Chulalongkorn (the Crown Prince in the movie "The King and I" based on the book by the British teacher Anna who was hired to teach the King's children). King Chulalongkorn brought many western features to Thailand, including having everyone choose a family name (they only had first names), and also freeing the slaves through a gradual process that was satisfactory to everyone. He not only had a British teacher as a child, he also visited Europe a number of times, and I had always speculated that perhaps it was he who introduced the practice of using a fork and spoon instead of chopsticks.

    So now I have an answer. According to the Lonely Planet book, Thais traditionally used their fingers to eat. So apparently they didn't have to switch from using chopsticks, they switched from using their fingers. By the turn of the 20th century, royalty used western silverware (perhaps this was the influence of King Chulalongkorn), and restaurants that wanted to appear fancy would set the table with silverware, like royalty. This caught on, and Thai people started to use the silverware, but not in the manner we do – as I said, they use the fork to push the food onto the large spoon, and would no sooner put the fork in their mouth than we would put a knife in ours.

    Anyway, yesterday we boarded a bus in Bangkok and rode for three hours to a town called Pak Chong, and the folks at this hostel / lodge picked us up in a passenger truck (Fred and Dave, it was like the one we rode in Chang Mai, like you see with soldiers – or prisoners haha! – with benches along the sides and a metal frame covered with tarp), we went flying through the night for 20 minutes. This little place has cottages with clean rooms and a bath either in the room (where Sandra and I are) or down the hall (like Stephan's room). Stephan freaked a little when he saw a lizard running along the wall but when I saw it, it brought back fond memories of the "chinchooks" that we enjoyed when we were here 43 years ago. They are great for catching mosquitoes and other bugs, and are entertaining when they fight or romance on the wall or ceiling. So Stephan was assured all was well.

    Speaking of which, I'll quickly answer a question that Bryan sent – why was I here 43 years ago? I was 16 and my brother David was 15 when my parents decided they wanted to travel, so they asked the United Nations if any countries could use a physicist (my dad) for a year. When Thailand was the first to respond, asking for Dad to help them establish their nuclear power station, off we went to spend my junior year in high school in Thailand. We learned the language from a wonderful teacher at the YMCA (we actually saw her again 30 years later, when we returned to Thailand to see my other brother, Bernie, marry his French bride at a Taoist ceremony in a Tai Chi center in Chang Mai!). That Chang Mai trip was 12 years ago, and for that trip I borrowed some Thai language audiotapes and tried to recapture some of my former fluency. For this trip, I studied several times a week with Phra ("Monk") Jaren at the Buddhist Thai Wat in Silver Spring Maryland.

    Okay, Sandra is up and we'll grab some breakfast, I'll resume later and share more stories. Catch you later!

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006 – Pak Chong, Thailand
  • description of the area;
  • pleasure at being able to speak the language;
  • Thai workers endangered when working on the road;
  • observation of an O&M lesson for blind students in Thailand.

    Hi again, everyone! Before I get back to our adventures in Bangkok and the O&M lesson, I have to share my enthusiasm for this place, and the experience of being in a country WHERE I CAN SPEAK THE LANGUAGE!

    To be honest, I let Sandra make the arrangements to come here, I told her I don't care where we go but I wanted to see the Thailand that exists outside of the main, largest city, Bangkok (when we were here in the 60's, Bangkok was 10 times larger than the second-largest city, Chang Mai, and Chang Mai was tons-times larger than any other town in the country). So when she chose this place, I looked in my book and thought it was in a busy little town. I figured it was PERFECT – Sandra can do her "nature / hiking thing" and Stephan and I can do our "explore-the-quaint-but-booming-little-town thing."

    Wrong! That busy little town is 20 minutes' drive from here – we are isolated near the park / forest itself! A very different experience than what I had planned. But last night, when I realized what is available to see here, I got very excited about this opportunity and am so grateful for how it turned out (I never would have knowingly planned it this way, so glad it happened!). This afternoon we take a tour that ends with a bat cave at dusk, when the bats come flying out. And tomorrow is an all-day tour through the forests, with a little hiking (4-5 kilometers, don't know how long that is but I bet we can handle it!) with the rest of the time being in blinds or in vehicles moving through the forest, seeing lots of birds and animals. COOL!

    Omigosh – I gotta interrupt myself to tell you what Sandra just pointed out to me. Remember I said that the Thais seem to have so little regard for safety and lives? They are repairing / tarring a section of the busy 2-lane highway in front of the lodge and, unlike the U.S. where the working area would be marked off and several workers would be designated to flag down the traffic, here the workers simply do their thing while the traffic whizzes by them, throwing shovelsfull of dirt onto the repaired section and, when the work is done, they climb into the big shovel of the large tractor and stand while being transported down the highway to the next area. Now my concern yesterday about our taxi to the bus station nearly having an accident while there were no seat belts (there were none in Sandra's taxi from the airport either, nor of course in the truck we rode yesterday) seems insignificant – these workers expose themselves to that risk and more every day, all day.

    All right, back to my diary and my level of Thai language. I despaired in my last Thai lesson with Phra Jaren in Maryland because even though I could manage to say many things in Thai, often no one was able to understand what I was saying ("please say it in English"!) and, worse, I was unable to understand whenever anyone spoke to me (unless it was to answer a "yes-no" question – assuming, of course, that they understood the question!)

    But wow! After my first taste of the power of language at the airport when I confirmed from Thai workers that the luggage from Stephan's plane hadn't arrived yet, my power has been growing and growing! I'm getting so I want to avoid speaking in English, I like rolling that beautiful Thai off my tongue, and they almost always understand me! Better yet, I am understanding more and more complicated things from them. And it opens up experiences that we otherwise wouldn't have. For example, using our Thai skills, the dictionary, drawings, and gestures, Stephan and I had some delightful conversations with Chalam's wife, who doesn't speak English.

    In fact, it was my mastery of Thai (plus my handy dictionary) that got me through the O&M lesson Monday. I could understand what people in the market said to the blind travelers ("Pai nai?" which means "Where are you going?" and "Left! Left! LEFT!") and I was able to ask questions of Somchai, one of the O&M specialists. AND more importantly, I could even understand his answers! There was one time I had to look something up, and being able to understand what he said gave me some insight into the lesson. It was when one of the students started to veer into a stall, and Somchai guided him back out. I asked (in Thai) "Would he have been able to do it himself if you didn't help?" I had to look up one of the words in his response ("laa") and it meant "lag behind." So I was able to realize that he had helped him out (and made him miss an opportunity to problem-solve) not because he thought the student was incapable, but because the student was getting too far back from the other student – one of the drawbacks of having two students at once.

    This is probably a good time to talk about that lesson [see photos]. The blind travelers had to walk along a little lane with no sidewalk to the bus stop, take the bus to a busy street, walk along a cramped sidewalk with a market with lots of stalls till they reach the post office, buy a mailer, and then get some popcorn in the market on the way back, locating the stall by the smell. There were two students, and two instructors, Somchai and Prasop.

    The students handled everything well, including the bus. Buses in Thailand have a ticket person collecting fares, and they asked her (as well as other passengers) to announce the stop. The ticket lady forgot, as usual, but one of the passengers told them when to get off (Somchai said that when everyone forgets to inform them of their bus stop, he doesn't interfere, and lets them problem-solve).

    They got assistance to get on the bus (and it DID stop for them!) and had no trouble getting off (again, the bus stopped) and also worked their way through crowds and narrow ledge of sidewalk very well. As I said, there was no opportunity to problem-solve or figure out what to do if they got lost, and the instructors initially helped them across the streets rather than have them practice getting assistance (even the side streets here are very difficult to cross, usually filled with slowly moving or idling cars and motorcycles - if I were traveling there blind, I'd probably get help!), but later in the lesson the instructors didn't intervene, and the students solicited aid very well.

    In the beginning, when the cane of one of the students went over the curb, he didn't seem to notice, and stepped off abruptly. After 4 or 5 incidents like this, however, he started to notice it, and negotiated the curbs gracefully. So I was able to see a nice progression of skills in the crowded streets of Bangkok. We had a very nice discussion afterwards with the students and instructors. The students said that before the training, they had no idea they could do anything, and now feel that they can do anything.

    The O&M instructors told me about two deaf-blind people who are at the center. They are apparently extremely hard of hearing, and can understand if someone yells into their ear. The instructors asked me for ideas to work with them. As it is, because of the communication problem, they will be unable to participate in the massage therapist vocational training. I wasn't able to help much with the little time I had, I hope they can talk with Nu, who did her O&M internship with deaf-blind people under Gene Bourquin at Helen Keller National Center.

    However, I did tell them about assistive listening devices, which have made the world of difference for many of my clients who are very hard of hearing - some of them have almost cried to find out how well they can communicate with family, friends and even strangers, even in crowded noisy restaurants and at lectures and places of worship. The instructors said the center would never be able to afford to get one, even though they are only about $200. I thought about it a little, and then said that my husband and I would like to donate an assistive listening device to the center (Fred, thank you for helping me make a potentially huge difference to someone across the world!). I am negotiating right now with a company in Silver Spring to see how they can get it shipped to Thailand - they have never shipped to anywhere around here before, and it hopefully will be something that will open eyes of the Thai people to what is possible.

    [February 8, 2007 -- Chalam Yam-iam sent an email message saying that the young deaf-blind man can hear better with the pocketalker assistive listening device. Chalam said, "Now he can hear customers who are talking with him. It means .... he can work now!"]

    All right, gotta go, check with you later!

    Later that night, Wednesday November 22:
  • trip through the market at Pak Chong;
  • watching the bats emerge from their cave

    Hi guys! One last little message before I go to bed - tomorrow is a very long day (12 hours in the forest) that starts early. We had a very nice day today, I'll quickly bring you up to date and then, on Friday when we have little to do except laundry, I'll truly catch you up to everything that I didn't have time for earlier this week.

    After a leisurely morning we went into town to try to get a memory card for my camera before our bat-cave tour and some clips for my hair, and had what might be our only exploration of a small town in Thailand. Again, my ability to communicate made the experience all the better. It was fun to see the surprise and sometimes delight on the faces of some of the people when they realized I spoke more than the greeting "Sowatdee." Apparently my pronunciation is very good, I can do the tonal fluctuations well and many people have commented on it.

    Some of the things we saw were some really weird-looking fruit (turned out to be "dragon fruit" - looks like a red bloated fish with lots of fins and the mouth open, has a white flesh with black seeds, tastes pretty good), and we passed several people stringing flowers into garlands. I asked what they were doing, they smiled and said making flowers for people to take to the wat (temple). One of them was apparently a man dressed as a woman - it was the third such person we have seen, and apparently (according to Sandra's "Lonely Planet" guidebook) there are lots of them in Thailand. The Thai people seem in general to be very accepting and welcoming to everyone, letting people be themselves without judging them. And I got some hair clips for the first time in my life - great fun! I've been letting my hair grow a little, and it's finally long enough I can scrunch it up and keep it out of my eyes with a clip, hurray!

    Our trip to the bat cave was very interesting to watch [see photos]. It looked like a narrow, dark stream moving through the sky, weaving and waving from the small hill where the cave entrance was (we stood at the bottom of the hill) all across the horizon to the mountains in the distance. Our guide said the first time he saw them, he asked if there were Indians in the area that made smoke signals, and that is kinda what they looked like. Stephan got some video, hopefully it will convey. The bats flow out of the cave in that stream for two hours! We left after it got dark, you could still hear the low hum they made but it was faint because once the birds that were hovering around had gotten their fill, the bat-stream went higher (they had been flying low near the trees to keep away from the birds).

    Okay, off to bed, I'll check in again later -- good night!

    Friday, November 24, 2006 - Pak Chong, Thailand
  • road workers again endangered;
  • adventures in the town of Pak Chong

    Hi everyone! I think since I last signed off, we went on our trip through the forest [see photos], and I will tell you about that in another message, but for now I'll try to capture today's adventures while they are fresh in my mind. It started out with seeing the road workers this morning putting themselves in even more danger, this time to paint white lines in the street to mark where the tar would be poured. Two workers dragged a very long rope along the middle of the street, and they snapped the rope till it lay straight, and the third worker walking along it with a bucket of paint into which he dipped a long stick with cloth wrapped around the end and painted the line. The whole time, traffic whizzed by each side of them, with no protection other than a cone they left in the middle of the street behind them.

    Anyway, Stephan and I just got back from a fabulous day in Pak Chong, the little city that is 20 minutes' drive from this lodge / resort. We considered going to Korat with Sandra to see some ruins, but our main interest is to see the Thailand where people live, and Pak Chong is perfect as it has no tourist attractions -- we spent the whole day without seeing a single "farong" (foreigner) other than the couple from the Netherlands who rode with us from the lodge to get to the railroad station.

    We arrived in a downpour after an adventuresome ride in the back of the covered truck flying along the highway, trying to get the flaps down and stay dry while the wind blew the rain into the truck. At the train station, Stephan and I ducked under the overhang in front of some stores, and watched the people protect their shops and help their customers into their trucks. One fellow put a bucket out at the edge of the sidewalk where the water poured over the awning, and within 10 minutes it had collected more than a foot of water.

    After a while we started to explore the stores, and entered one that made copies and I don't know what else. Three delightful young ladies talked with us in Thai, and shyly tried out their English. One of them pulled out some homework that they were preparing for an English class this evening, and we had great fun helping them get it correct (their teacher will be surprised!).

    Finally the rain let up, and while they finished their homework we explored the market and the town, then went back to the copy store as promised to check the rest of their homework. We shared email addresses and took pictures and then they offered to go with us to the CD store. We agreed, and to our surprise they hopped on the motor scooters that had been parked in front of the store, and we got on the back and away we went, feeling like we "belonged," out doing our errands like the Thai people around us! [see photos]

    At the CD store and the bookstore, we managed to cope rather well in Thai. Stephan got some CDs of popular Thai singers and a Thai-English dictionary and I enjoyed watching the people [see photo].

    We ended the day at a restaurant that we had been told serves vegetarian food, it was on the far, far outskirts of town. We asked people along the way to show us on the map where we were and where to go. I took a picture of some "spirit houses" at one of the gas stations [see photos]. Spirit houses are, as far as I know, unique to Thailand. Whenever Thais build anything, they first make a little house for the spirits who live on the land, to give them a home since the building is taking up their space. The houses are usually up on a post, and are exquisitely ornate and colorful, usually several feet tall. They keep things like flowers and incense and food there for the spirits to keep them happy, as it would not be good to have a home or store or gas station sitting on land occupied by disgruntled spirits!

    The restaurant turned out to be a lovely place overhanging a wide, swiftly-moving stream, and after such a long walk we enjoyed sitting and listening to the water while eating. It was a perfect end for the last day in the Pak Chok area. We're back at the lodge now, and enjoying some papaya that Stephan bought when he asked the girls on the motorcycles to stop for a few minutes.

    Tomorrow we take the bus back to Bangkok and go back to Chalam's place, then take his wife and daughter to the classical Thai dancing - a nice evening for our final day in Thailand, as we head for Hong Kong the next day. Hopefully I'll have some time soon to share our adventures in the forest park yesterday - although we didn't see any elephants, there were some delightful surprises that made up for it. Good night!

    Sunday, November 26, 2006 - Bangkok to Hong Kong
  • adventures with Nu in Bangkok, including the Palace and Siam Square;
  • vegetarian Buddhist center;
  • honors to the King at his anniversary / birthday;
  • "day-tripping" to see the new airport;
  • flying in an Arab plane from Thailand to Hong Kong

    Hi everyone! We just arrived in Hong Kong and I want to put down what we did in Thailand while it's still fresh in my mind. Already I've forgotten much about our second day there, Sunday, when Nuchanaj Pranom ("Nu") took Stephan and me around Bangkok, it was a very long day and by that night, I was too raggedly tired to write any diary and kept meaning to do it later. So, now it's later! I'll start back then, and fill in any spots I didn't get to yet.

    So last Sunday (a week ago), after Nu parked somewhere downtown, we took a couple buses to the exquisitely beautiful palace, I don't know the name of it, it used to be the home of the king. Stephan got stopped at the gate, along with dozens and dozens of others who were wearing shorts - the guys were given lightweight flowing pants to wear, and the women beautiful Thai skirts (a circle of fabric that you tie at the waist) - I thought everyone looked great!. The palace is basically a huge courtyard with about a dozen ornate Thai buildings that look like they are made of jewels and glitter and bright colors. For me it's one of those things that are so beautiful it almost hurts to look at (brilliant fall foliage has the same effect on me - things so beautiful that I feel I can never capture it or appreciate the extent of it, to the point that it's almost painful to me). Anyway, as much as I appreciated the buildings, what I enjoyed the most was the murals that are inside most of the peripheral buildings, depicting the stories of Rama and the Monkey god(s) - it seems that the more we looked, the more interesting little side stories we saw and wondered about, like a soldier leaving for battle with his grieving wife or mother, one of the bad Monkey-Gods getting some vegetables from a farmer (Nu was astounded, saying they only eat people and animals!), etc.

    It was so hot, though, that I had to sit down and rest in the shade while Stephan and Nu explored some more. When we were done, we took a bus to Siam Square and got some lunch. I think I already told you about the buses that don't always stop while the passengers get off and on. By the time we got to the restaurant, I was practically prostrate with heat and exhaustion, but pepped up after a light lunch in a cool restaurant. Siam Square is essentially a mall or series of stores, very noisy with loud music coming from many places. I don't know if the Thai people ever feel the need for quiet serenity or if they are bothered by noise pollution but wow, I found it hard to think! I do remember that Thai people don't like to be alone, they enjoy eating and being with other people, so maybe the noise of so many people and things is comforting to them. We then went to the Siam Pagoda, an elegant (and serene-sounding!) large building with expensive stores and beautiful decorations of water fountains and live plants draping the balconies.

    We got back to Chalam's very late because of an incredible traffic jam, his family had already eaten and so Stephan, Chalam and I went to the same vegetarian restaurant that we went to the previous night (our first night in Thailand). This time we talked with the waitress, who was thrilled to find that we are vegetarians and have been for many years. She had became a vegetarian recently and shared her enthusiasm for being thoughtful of animals, I felt like sisters sharing our concern for the animals. Turns out there is a Buddhist center next door, with a small auditorium on one floor and on another floor was a shrine and meditation room, all of which was started by some Buddhist missionaries from Taiwan who spread vegetarianism! They shared some books and pamphlets written in Chinese and Thai, and were thrilled to know that Stephan could read it - Stephan is going to see if he can help them, and send PETA materials there. Anyway, what a serendipitous event, at a restaurant so close to Chalam! [see photo taken at the restaurant our last night in Thailand]

    Okay, that was Sunday, and I told you about our trip to the center for the blind on Monday, but I forgot to tell you about the king and the yellow shirts. As we started to drive to the center, I saw students on their way to school - they still wear what they wore when we were here 43 years ago, which is white shirts or blouses, and black or navy blue trousers or skirts. However as we pulled into a gas station, I saw one student with the typical school clothes riding a motorcycle with someone with black pants and a yellow shirt, and I asked Chalam about it. Making a short story long, it turns out that the beloved King turns 80 this year (same week that I turn 60!), and was coronated 80 years ago (one year earlier than Queen Elizabeth - his is the longest reign of any monarch alive today!) and so this year everyone is celebrating and showing their love and respect for the king by wearing the color of the day of his birthday, which is Monday. Monday's color is yellow, so every Monday, people wear yellow. Every year they do this for 1-3 months around his birthday and, this year, being an auspicious anniversary / decade-birthday year, people wear yellow every Monday of the year. As we drove out of the gas station, I saw throngs of people wearing bright yellow shirts, and throughout the day (including when I observed the blind students) I saw lots of people wearing yellow shirts.

    The event is also being commemorated by a flower festival in Chang Mai, with flowers from around the world. Many people I spoke with here wanted to go very badly and were bitterly disappointed that they couldn't get off work and/or afford to go. Also, there are huge posters of the king everywhere, about 8 feet high and surrounded with yellow flowers and decorations, and banners (some of them 10 and 20 stories high) are wrapped around some of the buildings depicting the king at various stages in his life. Yesterday, in the taxi from the bus station back to Chalam's, Stephan asked our driver about a bumper sticker (Stephan was reading it IN THAI!) and it said "we love the king."

    So I think that fills you in with everything except the day we went to the National Park. It's getting late, I have to get up for the conference tomorrow, so I'll hold that for later, but will quickly share the adventures I had getting here from Bangkok. As we approached the airport, Stephan asked why so many cars were pulling over off the road. Turns out that the airport is brand new (and HUGE! Practically has an indoor mall - which made an INCREDIBLY long sprint to dash when I hurried literally from one end to the other to make my flight!) and people came just to see the airport! We saw some of them had settled down with chairs and beach umbrellas, Chalam said families bring picnics and some spend the entire day there, lined up on the shoulder of the road and looking at the airport! Incidently, I had been noticing the spirit houses throughout my trip and wondered if the airport had one and as we got nearer, Sandra pointed them out - the airport has several very large and ornate ones, of course.

    I flew Emirates Airline, which is based in United Arab Emirates (Dubai), and sat next to several Thai girls going for 3 days of sightseeing in Hong Kong. The funny thing is, even though this is a flight from Thailand to China, the only languages the airline provided was English (from very British-sounding people) and Arabic! All the announcements and literature were in those two languages only - these girls understood neither, and were clueless, and they said that only one of the stewardess spoke Thai (the stewardess was Thai herself). So I got one last chance to use my Thai! I interpreted the menu for them, told them about announcements such as how much longer the flight would be etc. I think the girl next to me had never flown before, from the questions she asked. As the carts came down the aisle, she leaned over and asked me if they were selling water. I said they weren't selling them, she smiled with delight when I explained the drinks were free, and later I had to tell her to put her tray down because some "hot food" (as the announcement said) was coming.

    Okay, next time I'll tell about the National Forest, and also the Thai dancing we saw last night. Good night!

    Monday, November 27, 2006 - Hong Kong, China
  • International Mobility Conference (IMC);
  • Thai dancing performance;
  • banquet at the conference;
  • Thai National Forest

    Hi guys! I'm taking advantage of some time before dinner, Sandra and I and about 550 other O&Mers from 31 countries are at the International Mobility Conference (IMC) in Hong Kong and it's has been very interesting so far. I was moved this morning when representatives from the countries that had hosted the previous conferences came down the aisle carrying their flag to the sound of excerpts of anthems or songs from their country, beautifully played (the song from Israel was haunting and soft). This is the 12th conference, they've been held in Australia, South Africa, Norway, Great Britain, the U.S. and 6 other countries but I think this is the first one in an Asian country. In three years the conference will be held again in Germany to commemorate 30 years of IMC's (the very first one was held in Germany).

    Our presentation is the day after tomorrow, and we had some adventures in the presenter planning room, working on our powerpoint (finding a computer that wasn't set for Chinese!) and trying to cut it down to 20 minutes. I'm going to ask Stephan to put our title and the 7 principles in Chinese for the powerpoint, we'll see if that will work (the presentation is at http://www.sauerburger.org/imc.htm -- for some of the photos from the conference click here).

    Okay, I have a half hour to tell about the National Forest and the Thai dancing, ????-- oops! The keyboard started writing in Chinese again -- that hasn't happened since last year in China .... oh, I forgot, I was in Thailand last week, not China, I guess the keyboard in Thailand doesn't have the same funky buttons as China. I had to go find someone in the business office to help me get it to write in English again.

    Anyway, I'll start with the dancing. Chalam and his son joined us, so we were 7 people, starting with a dinner at our favorite vegetarian Buddhist restaurant, the food is great there and of course they were all smiles and friendly -- we took some pictures [click here].

    The beginning of the dance performance brought back fond memories of 43 years ago when we went to the movies and they always started out with a salute to the king, although of course he looked much younger then. This performance also started with everyone in the theater standing while music was played and we saw images of the king and queen and crowds of people adoring them with tears and shouts. Then they had a very interesting movie showing the history of Thai classical dancing, and then the dance started out showing the mother of the Monkey-God and her baby. The costumes were absolutely exquisite, like the palace we had seen earlier, with bright colors and jewels and ornate materials, and of course the monkeys all had fierce, colorful masks.

    The dance told the story of the Monkey God growing up, getting cursed by a goddess when he wreaked havoc in her garden, finding the Rama King who his mother had told him to go serve (and who broke the curse), and then fighting and finally using trickery to defeat the evil monkey gods who had kidnapped the Rama King's beautiful wife.

    The reason I wanted to dance as one of the monkeys (only men are allowed to dance it) is their stance and their energy -- legs apart, quick movements and glancing around with jerky head movements like monkeys (and lots of scratching like monkeys!) and leaping and climbing -- FUN! Women dancers can play both men and women humans, the leg positions make the difference (women are portrayed with legs moving across in front of each other, men characters have their bent knees facing away from each other). Again, it brought back fond memories of learning classical Thai dancing with my Thai neighbors -- girls my age. They offer Thai dancing classes at the Thai Wat in Silver Spring, maybe I'll join in a few classes when I get back.

    Oops, it's time to go to the banquet, I'll finish this later tonight.

    LATER: Wow, what an evening! From the heights of fun to the dismal depths and back to soaring again! This was a banquet for the conference, and I was fairly hungry when the doors opened at 7:30 and Sandra Rosen and I went in to sit down (Sandra is an O&M specialist / physical therapist from California, in charge of San Francisco State's O&M program and one of the presenters of our paper). We sat between 3 Americans and about a half dozen Chinese O&Mers from Shanghai and Hong Kong. When I realized that the ones from Shanghai didn't speak English well, I wished I had my personal interpreter, Stephan, like I had last year in China.

    Just then, Stephan dropped by on his way out for the evening, and translated for us! I found out that they are teaching O&M at the school for the blind in Shanghai, and on weekends they are teaching others to teach O&M. In 8 days!! They'd take more time to teach the instructors, but they are too busy teaching the blind children. I told them that the exact same thing happened in the U.S. about 50 years ago -- lots of agencies sent people to the Hines Center (where O&M was developed) to learn to teach O&M, they stayed a few days or weeks. When they got back to their agencies, most realized they didn't know enough, but some claimed to be able to teach O&M, and in general it was a disaster. The Hines O&M pioneers agreed not to let people come there to be trained as O&Mers, and instead they established several university programs to train O&Mers, like the San Francisco program coordinated by Sandra Rosen.

    Back to the dinner -- the entertainment started with a FABULOUS Chinese dragon dance by two guys in their dragon costume. I think that the traditional Chinese drumming and dragon's lunging is one of my favorite things and these guys were fun! The "dragon" got into a bucket of something and became drunk, staggered around the stage a little, chased a few people around and went up to some of the diners to flap its eyelashes and ears, did some great leaps where the back guy lifted up the "head" guy. Then we had some music by a group that might have been from the school for the blind, then speeches and an award presentation. [see photos]

    Stephan was still there to see the dragon before he left, and meanwhile I had mentioned to the waiter that I am vegetarian, but he thought I was saying I wanted some wine. So before Stephan left I asked him to write in Chinese that I am a vegetarian. After about a half hour of speeches, they started serving each table a platter with what turned out to be a 12-course dinner. The first course might sicken some of you so skip to the next paragraph if you like -- they took the top inch of skin and meat from a pig, starting with the nose and going back to I don't know what, so at one end of the platter was a flattened pig's face with toothpicks coming out of each eye hole with cherries stuck on top, and the waiter cut the back into servings for each guest.

    I showed Stephan's note to the waiter, who seemed to think I just meant don't serve me that meat -- he made no assurances he'd bring me anything to eat. Now by this time, it's almost 9:00 and I'm STARVING! But all's well that turns out well, and this turned out great -- I got 12 courses too, all delicious and all vegetarian. And the table of Chinese and Americans who started out being shy with each other and tending to talk among themselves had a fabulous time, sharing funny stories, communicating with each other sometimes with gestures and mime, we had a great time!

    Thailand's National Forest [see photos]:
    Sorry about that diversion -- I finally have time to tell you about the National Forest. I had expected a dense jungle dripping with humidity and exotic plants, and was surprised at how similar it seemed to the forests at home. It had a dry floor with crunchy leaves, and plants that mostly looked like ours. The woods in Australia looked much more exotic than this forest.

    However, our forests don't have the large, colorful birds that we saw, and monkeys and barking deer. And this forest did have a few exotic plants, in particular one that grows from the top down -- its seeds catch in the top of a tree and it drops its roots down, which is a loooong way since these trees are incredibly high. The roots grow and widen until they surround the host tree, which then dies and leaves a hollow with a rich humus at the base. They end up being extremely wide, and you can imagine the effect of dozens of "trunks" grouped around in a circle.

    Now, one of the things I loved as a girl and still enjoy is climbing trees. Another group of tourists was resting by one of these "trees" and the guide was encouraging them to climb up the outside and work their way into the hollow. After watching them with envy, I asked Stephan if he would climb with me -- he said yes!

    It was exhilarating and a little scary, there weren't many "branches" and you kind of pushed yourself up between vines or trunks [see photos]. It was a lot like trying to work your way up and then through a pile of tiddly-winks, with random openings between the sticks. When trying to find where to climb through to the inside, I realized they were close enough that I could get myself stuck. I found an opening I thought looked big enough and put my legs and part of my hips through it and sure enough, I got stuck! The opening was narrow at the bottom where the "sticks" crossed, so I lifted myself up while my legs dangled inside until finally there seemed to be enough room to lower myself again, and BOOM! I was inside! I climbed down inside and reveled in my success! The hollow actually had one side that was open so it was easy to get out, thank goodness. Stephan was unable to find an opening big enough and I couldn't remember where my opening was, but he got a lot higher than I did before he had to come down.

    I told you we were unlucky when it came to seeing any elephants, even in the "night safari" when a guide in front of the slowly moving truck scanned the darkness with a torch (I was amazed at what goes on in total darkness! we saw tons of deer including the little "barking" deer, and a large cat sprinting along, just visible above some grasses), but we saw tons of monkeys, including several instances where a mother and baby or babies sat and played by the road, close enough for me to touch if I opened the door -- darling! Also we saw some monkeys (or gibbons) waaaaay up in the tops of the trees, it was fun to imagine being up there, swaying in the sun so high above the ground.

    But we got a big surprise when we least expected it. After an exhausting hike through the forest, we all rested and had lunch at an open-air pavilion. In the piles of cases of coke was .... a snake! A large, 6-foot python snake! [see photos] Someone was reaching in for some coke and yelled with surprise, and folks started running away at the same time that others were running in to see. I thought they said "snacks" and went in to get some for our group and realized it was "snake"! turns out that there are lots of these pythons around, and they wander in every once in a while. The owner dragged the snake out into the yard while it threatened and lunged with its huge mouth wide open. When the snake didn't go away, the owner dragged it back towards the woods.

    One last fun thing from that day. I needed to get some insect spray (turned out to be unnecessary, it seemed relatively bug-free) and so while everyone else was in the back of the pick-up trucks with the metal frames (uncovered when driving through the forest looking for monkeys and birds), I sat in front with one of the drivers. We had driven a few miles in silence when I saw something and made a comment or asked a question. In Thai.

    The poor driver whipped around and stared at me, with his mouth gaping and his eyes bugging out. He continued to drive while looking at me, with a look of shock bordering horror, as if he just realized I was a Martian and my head had exploded. He finally stammered "you speak Thai!" I thought he already knew, and doubled over laughing and loving the surprise it gave him.

    We chatted through most of the rides the rest of the day. He lives near our lodge with his parents (most Thais who are not married live with their parents, regardless of their age or gender), he has two children ages 7 and 11 but his wife left him, he was not feeling well for the past 3 days (sore throat and cough).. As we passed the statues of elephants near the entrance to the park, he wai'ed (hands together near his face) then moved his hands toward the back of his head, saying it was Buddhist respect (I tend to think it was a typical Thai combination of Buddhism and spiritualism, as were the garlands of flowers hanging off his mirror for good luck for the truck, which he rented for a few bucks a day). He works every day so he doesn't get to see his kids much, and makes about $5/day. We had lots of laughs, including a friendly contest with Stephan at each stop to get the Thai-English dictionary so I could communicate with the driver. When it was dark and we were behind Stephan's truck, we chuckled to see him opening a book to read in the light of our headlights, and so the driver turned off the lights for a few moments -- Stephan laughed too.

    Okay, guys, I can't believe it but I think this catches you up altogether, and probably more than you wanted to know! Things should be pretty light from here, as we have 3 more days of conference and then Stephan and I literally don't know what we're doing -- rushing straight off for 10 days in Japan, or exploring Hong Kong for a day or two before Japan, or going a short way into mainland China for a few days. Catch you later!

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - Hong Kong, China
  • Hong Kong;
  • issues of translating the presentation to Chinese

    Wow, I thought these conference days would have nothing of interest to share but no! Before I get into it, I have to tell you I love Hong Kong, at least the parts I see here. This evening I went out of the hotel for the first time and in spite of the fact that I had disdained Hong Kong because it is so Westernized and not "real China," it's MY kind of place! I guess I'm a city girl, and Hong Kong is a modern city with lots of glitz including a live billboard on the building across the street but it seems tasteful somehow, very clean and bright, lots of decorative lights (well, okay, so some of them are Christmas lights but I've never seen it done more tastefully! A pavilion of gauze and white lights in one of the malls with a Christmas tree inside, beautiful white angels at the corners).

    And it seems very pedestrian-friendly and accessible, with "braille trails" imbedded along the floors of the malls to help blind folks find the elevators and stairs. A lot of the streets (at least in the areas I walked with Stephan tonight) are blocked off, there are tunnels for people to get across other streets and covered bridges connecting buildings above ground, and all the streets we crossed were only two narrow lanes wide. Makes me feel like I'm some kind of futuristic fantasy land.

    We went to a vegetarian restaurant, we were the only foreigners there and the place was PACKED! We asked the owner to help us order something "Hong Kong" food-wise and he suggested the dinner for two -- again, like last night, they kept bringing us little dishes of delicious food, it was 7 courses many of which I had never had before (a "ham" made of some kind of mushroom, and a bowl of sweet bean soup for dessert). We planned to go back tomorrow, but Stephan just came back from exploring and said he found two more vegetarian restaurants nearby! Very different from Japan, we're going to have a real problem there.

    Okay, now for the conference adventure. As a background, there are about 90 people from Hong Kong registered for the conference and about 120 people here from mainland China. The people from Hong Kong speak English well, and most of the people from mainland Chinese speak very little English. So presenters from Hong Kong give their presentation in English, and the mainland Chinese wear headphones to hear the translation, and presenters from the mainland speak Chinese, and it is we who need the headphones to listen to their presentation translation.

    So I thought it would be cool if Stephan would make the main points on our powerpoint in Chinese as well as English so our Chinese colleagues could understand at least some of it (a "powerpoint" is an outline or list of important points that people can read on a screen during the presentation). This morning, I became even more convinced that it would be great to have part of our powerpoint in Chinese when I listened to a presentation by a mainland Chinese person whose powerpoint was all in Chinese, and I was wishing that I could understand at least some of it.

    Stephan agreed to do it, so we went up to the Presenters' Room, which was manned by volunteer workers from Hong Kong. When we explained what we wanted to do, they seemed somewhat in awe and appreciative of our efforts, and enthusiastically agreed to proofread Stephan's work. And what a FASCINATING process that was! Stephan kept asking exactly what we meant so he could get the essence and meaning of it, rather than a word-for-word translation. "Functional instruction" became "teaching practical" and "find resources" became "search for / arrive at resources" (rather than "find" as in "find a dollar on the sidewalk").

    Soon the workers became involved and at one point there were 4 of them behind Stephan discussing what we intended and what would convey it best. It was extremely enlightening to me to realize how our common English phrases, which seem so clear to me, are so easily misinterpreted and have no meaning if interpreted literally. For example they thought that our phrase "Have high expectations for success" meant that the number of our students (the percentage rate) who are successful should be high, when we actually meant that the instructor should consider that the student will be able to do a lot and be successful. When we came to "best practice" I had to explain that it isn't really "practice" and it isn't really "best," it means that it's the way that people in the field agree it should be done -- I forget the phrase they came up with but it captured it beautifully. One of the workers, Lynda Chung [see photo], hung in with us for more than an hour. She is quite a remarkable woman, very sensitive and insightful, and I hope we remain in contact with her after we leave. And I was very touched and moved that people would care that much to get our presentation right, and it also gave me a deeper understanding of our presentation and how it should be conveyed.

    LATER: We didn't save the powerpoint, but from Stephan's notes I think this is what was written on the powerpoints - I've added a translation of the Chinese:

    O&M for People With Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities
    Visual impairments and multiple disabilities people O&M

    Multiple disabilities multiply the effect
    Multiple disabilities make challenges bigger

    When working with students with multiple disabilities, it is necessary to have high expectations for success
    Expect to reach high goals

    Be functional and practical in the assessment and instruction
    Practical analysis and teaching

    Be creative and flexible, and design the program for the individual.
    Be creative, flexible, and plan for the individual

    Encourage participation in the community in whatever manner the student can do.
    Encourage students to enter society

    Find resources and information
    Find [search for and find] resources and information

    Team consultation: Best practice for students with multiple disabilities
    集體商量: 多種殘疾學生的認可模範系統
    Group consultation: Multiple disability students' approved/standard model system

    Okay, it's time to hit the hay, I want to finally get enough sleep tonight so I'm fresh for the presentation tomorrow. By the way, we've decided to stay in the area a few days after the conference, going by train to Guangzhou (was Canton) to see more of the "real" China again, and then come back to fly to Japan on the 4th, as we originally planned (we had signed up for a tour to the school for the blind in Nanjing, China that would finish on December 4, but it was cancelled).

    Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - Hong Kong, China
  • Hong Kong and the conference;
  • introduction to Mr. Wong and his friends

    Woah! Even as late as 6:00 this evening I thought this would be a day when there would be nothing to tell, except to say simply that our presentation was this morning and I thought it went well (and I'm relieved it's over!), and that I lost my purse with camera and credit card and EVERYTHING and it was turned in by the wonderful staff here and nothing was missing (I'll have to tell you about the WONDERFUL luxury hotel we are staying, the people and everything are fabulous!), and that we took a very interesting tour of a train station and a university that has been outfitted with many accommodations for accessibility [see photos]. However, I think I now have enough stories to fill another diary! I'll tell about the tour another day, when I can download the photos and describe what we saw, and for now I'll take the time to try to tell these stories.

    We went out to another vegetarian restaurant and ordered two small dishes, because after eating we wanted to stop by the restaurant of a man named Mr. Wong, who a few nights ago had befriended Stephan (or vice versa). This vegetarian restaurant was also run by Buddhists, and the food was even better than last night, and Stephan had a nice conversation with the owners. We had "chicken" and wheat gluten (sounds awful, doesn't it? But it was exquisitely flavored and fabulous). As we left, a very friendly, older man [see photo] came in and gave us darling calendar books in English and Chinese, with a little perforation at the bottom corner of each page where you can tear it off to tab to the current date.

    So then we went to see Mr. Wong. His is very friendly and animated, looking much younger than his 41 years. He was sitting at one of the two small tables outside his restaurant with another man named Lawrence, and he welcomed us to sit with him and drink some beer or wine. We ordered a bird's nest with vegetables and tofu, and sat to talk.

    And wow, the stories that came out! At first it was small talk -- who traveled where, and why did you travel there (Lawrence does import / export and travels ALL over, very often). Mr. Wong shared a beautiful book written by his wife, who teaches art to young children -- it had page after page of vibrant paintings and drawings by her young students, I took some pictures which I'll send when we figure out how (I took lots of pictures of the group but the battery ran out just after we took a group photo in front of the restaurant -- bummer because on our way home long after midnight, when we bought some mangos from two women who looked like an elderly mother and her daughter, I wasn't able to take photos of their beautiful smiles).

    Anyway, for some reason the conversation turned to a story about how Mr. Wong came to Hong Kong, and wow! Very dramatic. By this time we were joined by several others, and we then plied everyone for stories, and also talked about how Hong Kong is, now that it's part of China.

    Awww, I'm so sorry to do this to you, guys, but it's almost 3:00 and I have to get up early again for the last day of the conference. It will be a long day, as we have another banquet, but I promise I'll write down their stories tomorrow.

    Good night!

    Thursday, November 30, 2006 - Hong Kong, China
  • dinner cruise;
  • stories of Mr. Wong and friends getting to Hong Kong from China
  • turning Hong Kong over to China

    Well FINALLY a day with nothing much to report! And I'm here before 2:00 AM and don't have to get up early tomorrow. So I'll give a brief synopsis of the day and launch into the stories I heard last night.

    We had our last day of the conference and enjoyed a dinner cruise. I got a ticket for Stephan and was very glad, as he helped facilitate the conversation with many folks at our table. We sat with some ladies from Taiwan [see photos], where Laura Bozeman taught many O&Mers (Laura, Liu I-Chun or "Grace" said she misses you! What a charming name she has -- it means "caress" in English), and Japanese people including Hirohiko Ohkubo and Kunio Kurachi who looked so familiar -- we finally figured out we had met at a meeting at the Access Board several years ago to talk about a device they are developing that combines things such as a cell phone, GPS system, talking signs, etc. (Beezy, they extend warm greetings to you). Kunio is going to meet us in Tokyo next week and show some of the talking signs and features they have there.

    All right, now back to last night's stories. We ended up talking with the restaurant owner Mr. Wong and his friend Lawrence for hours, and during the night we were joined by two other friends, Chanmok and his 14-year-old nephew Ryan. Chanmok is an acupuncturist (practicing for almost 20 years but licensed for only the last 4 years) and Ryan is a student. One young man dropped by on his way to pick up his girlfiend (they plan to marry in two years), and they came back to our table but didn't stay to talk. Mr. Wong has 2 children, a boy now aged 9 and a girl, Lawrence also married but I forget if he has children.

    So here are their stories [see photos]:

    Mr. Wong grew up in Guangzhau, China and when he was 15 years old, which I figure is about 1980 (during the cultural revolution that affected and devastated so many people I met in China last year), he left home to try to reach Hong Kong. The trip takes 7 days, with sleeping during the day and walking during the night if there is no moon out -- two of those days are climbing over the mountains. Many people who made the same trip were shot and killed by the soldiers who patroled the area. The only other way to reach Hong Kong was to swim, and they said some of them were killed by sharks. People set off for Hong Kong individually, and their family members wouldn't get any word about whether they were killed or made it safely for about a month.

    Lawrence's parents came to China over 60 years ago, right after World War II, as did Chanmok's parents (Ryan's grandparents). They were very poor, and hoped for better opportunities -- Hong Kong was a British protectorate and was prosperous. At that time, no one cared if they left the country, so no one tried to stop them.

    When they arrived, they had nothing. A Chinese Christian church gave food and milk to any people who believed in Christianity, so his parents believed … until later -- now the family is Buddhist again. Our friends last night took great pride in the fact that people who arrived with so little worked very hard, which is why Hong Kong is so prosperous. Chanmok's aunts and uncles went to Thailand instead, and the family is now selling rice there.

    They said that when Hong Kong was turned over to China in 1997, the Party leaders agreed that for 50 years, China will have two separate governmental systems - Hong Kong / Macau will have one system and mainland China another. A governor was assigned by the central Chinese communist party with an election promised for 2012 but the citizens are protesting and want an election in 2008 (Mr. Wong says he wants to run for governor or city council member, and I think he's only half kidding!).

    There is a secret ace in the hole that many Hong Kong citizens have. Just before 1997, England issued British passports / citizenship to 25,000 Hong Kong families. These are being held in secret, and the Chinese are trying to find out who has them. If any of those families decide that they want to leave, they can pull out the passport, claim to be British citizens, and they will have to be granted permission to leave. There is still a lot of distrust between the mainland and the Hong Kong citizens -- they think that China is sending people over to infiltrate so they can become elected as leaders in the first election.

    Incidentally, ten years ago, when my husband Fred, Stephan and I were here in Hong Kong, there were people living in boats or floats in the harbor. Those boats are now gone, housing has opened up because they built highrises in the New Territories along the mainland coast. We drove over there for a tour of a university to see its accessibility features [see photos], they just got a train out to there about 2-3 years ago (cut the commute from an hour and a half to 45 minutes).

    Okay, that's it. I was going to send photos but Stephan, who was going to download them, has fallen fast asleep in the stall beside me, so I'll go ahead and send this and get the photos to you later, when I will also send the photos and this message to our new friends -- they agreed to correct any errors and add stories they want to share.

    Good night!

    Friday, December 1, 2006 - Guangzhou, China
  • observations/adventures of Hong Kong and traveling to Guangzhou, including insights on the Chinese dislike of Japanese
  • Sandra Stirnweis's traveling style, and our luck with haphazard planning

    Hi guys!

    We are in a hotel where we have internet on Stephan's computer so we are going to try to email you some photos. Today there isn't much to report. We checked out of the beautiful Hong Kong hotel, and I'm bummed I forgot to take pictures of the room, I LOVED it, especially the bathroom, it had a countertop and sink bowl made of clear glass with a shelf underneath, and the wall behind the sink was wavy glass with lights behind it. Sandra (Stirnweis) and I slept on the beds, and Stephan slept on a blanket on the floor. Sandra is an incredible traveler, I forget if I talked about her yet. She reads her "Lonely Planet" guidebook and knows where to go and when to be there, she packed EVERYTHING into her .... I don't know what to call it, she carries it on her back but it's too big for a back pack, it's like a huge duffel bag, she had clothes for the different stages of the trip (from hiking through the forests to presenting at the International Mobility Conference), a stack of materials and discs for her presentations at the conference, medicines, and tons of stuff. It got to be funny -- if we needed anything, no matter how bizarre, she had at least one that she dug out of her pack, and usually knew right where to find it. Stephan and I have a zillion suitcases and half the time don't have what we need, but she has it.

    Anyway, after we checked out and went to the internet for the last time to reserve a hotel in Guangzhou and sent another message to Stephan's friend Li Ming to let him know we were coming, we took our luggage over to another Hong Kong hotel where we will stay Sunday night (we leave for Japan early Monday morning), found yet another vegetarian restaurant and had yet another great vegetarian meal, and went to get Stephan's visa (even though Hong Kong is supposed to be part of China, you have to go through customs when going from Hong Kong to anywhere in China and it requires a visa), then scurried over to the train station just in time to catch the express train to Guangzhou.

    We have been so lucky this trip -- we don't plan, we can't decide what we want to do until the last minute and then everything falls into place. I keep thinking some day it will catch up with us, and we will be punished for being so haphazard. I'll give you an example. We didn't know when the trains run, and as late as last night we hadn't even decided for sure if we are going to Guangzhou (a 2-hour train ride from Hong Kong into mainland China) or stay in Hong Kong or leave early for Japan. This morning we slept in and left the hotel around 1:00, and by the time we got to the vegetarian restaurant it was 2:30, we had no idea when the trains run but we enjoyed our meal, and got to the train station around 5:40. The express train left at 6:10, I don't know if it was the last one or not. Stephan didn't email his friend until yesterday, and when we arrived at the hotel here in Guangzhou he had called and left a message. Turns out he only checks his email once a month, he happened checked it this afternoon. We hadn't said where we'd be (didn't know! We made reservations after we checked out of the hotel), so he called all the hotels in Guangzhou till he found ours!

    We have been so pleased with the vegetarian situation in Hong Kong. Lots and lots of vegetarian restaurants, many of them run by Buddhists and every one of them was packed with customers when we went. There is definitely a market with lots of people who enjoy vegetarian food! We asked a woman in the next table this afternoon if it is customary to tip (it's not expected, but appreciated), and found out she's been vegetarian longer than we have (15 years), her reasons were health, and concern for the animals [see photo].

    We are watching a TV show about Chinese prisoners who overtake their evil Japanese guards, Stephan has been interpreting it for me. There still seems to be a lot of resentment about those events -- last year we watched a skit as part of the entertainment for the celebration at the opening of the Tai Chi Center in Yong Nian, in the skit the Japanese soldier ends up being shot in the groin over and over by the Chinese farmer. Wars generate a lot of hate that lasts for generations.

    [ADDED LATER, AFTER VISITING JAPAN: People in Japan say that the Chinese government is perpetuating the resentment of the Chinese people against the Japanese. I don't know if it's true, but I did wonder why the hatred lasts so intensely for so long - more than 60 years - and that would explain it. We fought Germany more than 60 years ago, my husband's family is German and there was resentment against Germans or people of German descent for several decades, but not this long.]

    Sunday, December 3, 2006 - Guangzhou, China
  • getting from Guangzhou to Hong Kong

    Hi guys! We are in the train station in Guangzhou, waiting to go back to Hong Kong. Stephan is trying to figure out how he can call Hong Kong to reach Carmen, the young lady we met at the vegetarian restaurant the day we left Hong Kong, she said she'd join us for dinner tonight.

    For now, I can relax and tell you about Guangzhou while I remember it. Guangzhou (in Canton) is in mainland China, a two-hour express train ride northeast of Hong Kong. We had to pass through customs and get a Chinese visa to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou or any other mainland city. Stephan's friend in Guangzhou, Li Ming, told us that the reason for the visa even though Hong Kong is part of China now, is that it is a separate district, and they want to be aware of the number of Chinese who travel or immigrate into Hong Kong. That's probably a very good thing, as I think that Hong Kong just recently has built enough housing for the people who live there now. I remember when we were in Hong Kong 10 years ago, there was a small city of people living in boats and barges on the water, as there wasn't enough room on the land for housing. I was surprised to find out that there are no longer any people living on the water, I assume they were able to move into the housing that was built in the New Territories (on the mainland across from the Hong Kong island, where we visited the university a few days ago). There are dozens of high-rises there. So I would guess from that that they just got enough housing for everyone within the last few years, and couldn't handle an onslaught of people coming into Hong Kong from the mainland.

    Ah, while I was writing, everyone in the waiting room got up and filed into a line to go through customs, and Stephan wasn't back yet. He came a few minutes later, mission accomplished -- we will meet Carmen at 6:15, which gives us 45 minutes to negotiate the subway system back there. I had wanted to be back at the rent-a-room by 7 or 8:00 so we can do laundry and sort our luggage into the going-to-Japan stuff and the stuff-to-be-stored-somewhere-to-be-picked-up-when-we-leave-for-home stuff.

    Monday December 4, Hong Kong (describing Guangzhou,
  • observations and adventures in mainland China / Guangzhou;
  • initial observations in Japan

    Last night we got back into Hong Kong and met Carmen after about a half hour of running around inside the VERY confusing subway station and outside trying to find the exit where she was waiting, and went to a fancy vegetarian restaurant. Carmen
    [see photo] has been vegetarian for 17 years. About 10 years ago when her husband had cancer, she promised Buddha she would remain a strict vegetarian the rest of her life if her husband would be spared, and he remains healthy today. Her husband, however, and her two children eat meat (she prepares a meal for them separate from her own).

    We are now on a plane to Tokyo to start the last leg of our journey, but before I forget, I'll try to finish writing about our Guangzhou experiences while they are fresh.

    First of all, Guangzhou seems to be a clean city. Last year, I was appalled at the level of pollution throughout China - buildings only a block or two away were partly obscured by the orange cloud of pollution, and it was just as bad in the country as we rode in the train between cities. Hong Kong seemed as clean as any American city, and I was pleased to find that Guangzhou is also clean -- from our hotel overlooking the city, it was clear for about a mile and a half before the buildings started to become obscured from the pollution [see photos]. Li's friend Peter told me that China is working hard to clean up its air, which is what I had heard last year, so that is hopeful. I was amazed during the train ride from Guangzhou that the tracks are lined with cities -- there was never more than a few miles of countryside or farms between cities, each with about a dozen high-rises. I guess Sunday is washday -- many buildings had laundry hanging on almost every porch, or hanging out the windows on sticks, like we did in Shanghai last year. The modern highrises didn't have laundry hanging, I assume they have driers.

    Okay, let me introduce you to Stephan's friend in Guangzhou, Li Ming and his family. Stephan got to know them when Li was studying at the University of Maryland. He is a vice director for the bureau that manages land and housing development, part of his job is to arrange housing for people who can't afford it, and he went to America to learn how we manage our housing.

    Stephan emailed him as soon as we realized we were going to Guangzhou (the day before we left!) and we got yet another happy turn of luck or fate when he happened to do his monthly email check just a few hours later! When we arrived at the hotel, there was a message from him (we hadn't said where we would stay, since we hadn't made arrangements yet, but Li had called every hotel in the city till he found us!)

    He and his wife Maria and 11-year-old Gordon and 5-year-old Sunny picked us up in the morning. We started out by looking at his office [see photos]. It's in a beautiful, modern building and the office is gracious and serene, with artistic bamboo in a large vase with water cascading around the side. On one wall was a shelf with calligraphy equipment -- he enjoys doing it but has no time now, would like to get back to it when he retires (which would be a very long time from now, I'd guess, since he is still young). His desk was perfectly clean except for a huge stack of documents -- he says that every day, he has to read carefully through a pile twice as high as that pile, though he also goes to sites and meets with people (this week he has an interview with a reporter from a TV program).

    Li was a very gracious host. He took us to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near a Buddhist temple and then we strolled around the temple. Then they took us to a hotel owned by a friend of his, and we stayed in luxurious executive rooms courtesy of the friend, and were even told to put the meals on the tab.

    Last year, as I traveled through mainland China, even in a 5-star hotel in Beijing, all the TV programming was in Chinese, and there was no English news of any kind. So I was amazed to find that Guangzhou has several English-speaking TV programs including what I thought was CNN. Turns out it is "CNN International," which has fluff news such as interviews with celebrities, nothing about what is happening around the world. The other English-speaking channels were programs like the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc.

    Given this filter that limits what people in China can view about the world outside of China, we were bemused with the following alert when we logged on the internet with Stephan's computer in our hotel room:

    Dear Guest,

    In compliance with Chinese laws, certain personal information is collected and recorded by Holiday Inn Shifu Guangzhou. This information may include your internet browsing history, including login information, destination addresses and web links, time logged on and your user information. This information will be stored in physical and/or electronic format for 60 days.

    This information is collected and compiled purely to comply with the relevant Chinese laws. Aside from the purposes described above, we do not share your personal information with any other third parties unless we have your express permission, or under specific extenuating circumstances. These circumstances apply only when we believe, in good faith, that the disclosure is required to obey the law or to protect the safety of the hotel guests, employees, general public or InterContinental Hotels Group property. If you have any concerns or questions about our policies please do not hesitate to contact our Duty Manager at extension 8008.

    Thank you for your understanding and cooperation."

    Anyway, this hotel was in a GREAT place, right in the middle of the historic section of Guangzhou, with narrow streets crowded with people who mingled among and usually dominated the cars and buses that went through there [see photos]. Shops and tables lined the streets and in most places we were shoulder to shoulder with crowds of people. We had a great time exploring the area, and couldn't resist getting a "sweet green bean" fried pastry from McDonalds [see photo].

    One little incident showed to me how far I'd get without Stephan. As we were getting ready to leave the 5-star hotel, I went ahead to find out how to get outside to the taxis. I asked several nicely-dressed professional-looking hotel staff but they were clueless because they spoke little or no English -- I needed to go back and get Stephan to ask them in Chinese.

    LATER: It's now Monday evening, we have flown to Tokyo, Japan and we are on a bullet train to Hiroshima, and enjoying a little culture difference. The train conductors and the hostess with snacks all bow to us when they enter the front of the car, and when going from the front of our car to the next one, they open the door, turn around and bow to us, then turn back and resume their way. After passengers have boarded, the conductor comes in the front of the car, bows to us, says very softly (too soft for us to hear!) that he is there to help if we have any questions, and that he will collect tickets, he bows again and comes through requesting tickets very politely. When someone passed a hostess in the aisle, the hostess moved over toward the seat, bowed to the person passing, then turned and bowed to the people in the seat. Fred, it isn't just business cards that Japanese give with both hands and a slight bow, it is anything -- store clerks give us receipts in this respectful way, the guy at the luggage storage at the airport gave me the ticket that way, and several people have handed back my credit card with the two-handed respectful bow.

    Stephan says the Japanese are much more quiet, and dislike loud boisterous behavior. I remember being bombarded with noise in the mall in Bangkok, with half a dozen different kinds of loud music competing with each other and the voices, and I think here in Japan I might enjoy more serene surroundings. However apparently at least some of them aren't bashful about pushing their way past you, like when getting off a train, which brought back vivid memories of Japan from 43 years ago when we stopped by Japan on our way from the docile people in Thailand, the Japanese by comparison seemed very American as they jostled for space on the bus or wherever.

    Stephan had said how much like Westerners is Japan, and he is hoping that outside of Tokyo we will see some differences. They are remarkably adaptive to other cultures -- their writing is Chinese writing (it came from China), and many, many words are from English, such as orange juice (orenji-jyuusu - if the English word ends in a consonant they usually add an "i" or "oo" sound at the end), table (teeburu -- instead of the L at the end of table it's an R, they are interchangeable, and Stephan says the Japanese almost invariably say and even spell the wrong one when speaking English -- "how was your fright?" "I am going to pick up my son from kindelgalden" -- They can hear and understand the difference but they can't remember which one goes where) and elevator and escalator, and to my surprise, words that must have been used for centuries but now they use English words, such as "up" (uppu), and "logic" (rojikku). One woman said she was raising her children alone, saying she is a "shinguru mazza" (single mother). Stephan says that in any conversation having to do with politics, technology, etc. more than half the words are from English.

    Okay, it's late, I'm off to bed, we'll do our only sightseeing on this leg of the trip tomorrow when we look around Hiroshima, Good night!

    Tuesday, December 5, 2006 - Hiroshima, Japan
  • Hiroshima and the Peace Garden (for pictures from the visit to Hiroshima and Peace Garden, click here)

    Hi guys! We are leaving Hiroshima after a very interesting and poignant day. I thought this would be a routine sightseeing event -- the only sightseeing event for the rest of the trip, I assured Stephan, as we are both eager to get away from the tourists and see the real country and its people. But I was very wrong - this "sightseeing event" was, for me, profoundly insightful into the minds and hearts of Japanese people.

    As we arrived at Peace Park, where there are memorials and a museum and the A-bomb Dome building that remained after the bomb, we were approached by several women who were about the same age as I, asking us to sign something. I would have dismissed it if Stephan hadn't been there to interpret, he said it was a petition to prevent a change to the Japanese constitution about something. I said we are from the U.S., and our signatures would have no meaning to their government. They assured us that it would have great meaning, and explained it again.

    It was then that we understood what it was all about.

    These people who, judging from their age, may be survivors of the bombing, were working to maintain peace. Presently, Japan's constitution forbids the country from engaging in any war except to defend itself, but there is apparently a movement to change the constitution to allow Japan to fight wars outside of the country even if they are not being attacked or threatened with an attack.

    Once we understood, we eagerly signed the petition. They were so earnest and animated as they talked with Stephan, I started taking photos of them and they went to get a camera and took pictures of us signing the petition (HA! I just found out that Stephan was telling them that I am his mother, which amazed them, and they were flabbergasted when he told them I am 60 years old, which has been a common reaction throughout Thailand and Hong Kong / China).

    Anyway, after we signed it, they bowed and said, "Arigato gozaimusu" (thank you). One woman bowed very low, to the waist, saying "arigato gozaimasu" and I was moved to tears to see her, possibly a survivor of the bombing, thanking me so profusely and graciously for helping to keep the peace with a simple signature. Me, an American, whose country is right now fighting a war in another country.

    I sincerely apologize in advance to those of you who disagree with me and hope I don't offend, but I will share my feelings here. I bowed low to her and said "Arigato gozaimasu" to her and, with Stephan interpreting, I told them that our country has the same need as Japan to keep peace, and that I am ashamed that my country is still fighting wars in other countries.

    I told them they are beautiful people (Stephan translated it to "wonderful people") and asked for a picture. They were very pleased and pulled everyone together with their clipboards (5 women and one man from my generation, and one younger woman) and gave peace signs for my photo, and then took a photo of us together with them.

    From there, Stephan and I went to look at the building and the memorials, and were awed and moved of course, and asked a man where was ground zero. The man did exactly what Stephan said that people do whenever they are asked for help -- he dropped everything and led us to the marker, which stood next to a clinic.

    We thanked him and, while we were there contemplating the marker, a guide approached with several British people, and explained that there had been a clinic there when the bomb hit, and of course everyone in the building was killed instantly but very fortunately a doctor and several of his family members happened to be out of town, and later built a new clinic where the old one had been and served patients there. The British people had to leave, and we asked the guide if it would be possible to arrange for him to guide us. He said yes.

    The guide's name is Mito Kosei, and he told us an amazing story. [click here for photos of the tour he gave us, and click here for an update on Mr. Mito]

    Mr. Mito is a volunteer guide for the museum now that he has retired from teaching English in high school. He is the youngest survivor of the bomb. He showed us his certificate, which apparently all survivors have, which said that he was age 0 when the bomb hit [click here for more about the certificates]. His mother was about 4 months pregnant, and she was in or came into Hiroshima that fateful day August 6, 1945, I forget the details of where she was. [Click here for the story by Mito Kosei's mother about her family's experience when the bomb was dropped, "My Father's Sixth of August, 1945."]

    He was born in January 1946, the same year I was born. When his mother was giving birth in a town outside of Hiroshima, my father was in Japan as part of the American occupation. According to the papers I found after Dad died, he got home March 6, and I was born 9 months and 3 days later, when Mr. Mito was approaching his first birthday. Mr. Mito's mother remained healthy until about 10 years ago, when she developed cancer, but she has survived the cancer as well, and is still healthy today.

    Mr. Mito's card says "Peace Navigator" and at the bottom it says "Treasure every meeting, for it will never recur." [Click here to see his new business card and favorite saying.]

    Well, he showed us around the park and shared incredible stories -- too many to relate here, so I'll just share a few. To help you understand the perspective for the first story, I'll begin by sharing my experience with the tragedy on 9/11 in New York City, 2001. One of the problems with the collapse of the World Trade Center is that no one knows for sure who was in the buildings when they collapsed, and entire offices with staff and all their records were destroyed. I remember about a month after 9/11, I met a woman whose daughter had just gone with her cousin to work in New York; her daughter had called and left a message that they got jobs in the World Trade Center and had found an apartment in Greenwich Village, and said she would call again soon to tell them their new address and where they were working. So after 9/11, the woman and her sister were unable to verify that their daughters were working in the Trade Center because they didn't know what floor or even what company they were working for. As a result, the officials tracking the victims couldn't help them. I asked her why they didn't look at the girls' pay stubs to find out where they worked, and she said they couldn't find the girls' apartment where all their belongings were, because they didn't have the address. Since all records were destroyed with the offices, including of course personnel records, they may never know where their daughters ended up. I'd be devastated in her situation, having no idea where my child is or was.

    Well, in Hiroshima, that painful situation was multiplied a hundred times. One of the plaques shows the survivors' attempt to make a map of the city, showing where stores and offices were and where families lived. A lot of the plots on the map were empty, as none of the survivors could remember the names of the families who lived there -- everyone from that area was dead. Another plaque showed the names of the victims, and many entries had no first name or no name at all because no one from the family or neighbors survived who could remember who they were, and of course the city records were destroyed so they had to rely on the memories of the survivors.

    The museum explained that avoiding prolonging the war was only one of several reasons for dropping the bomb. It said we (the Americans) were considering 4 options to end the war: invade Japan in November, 1945, or ask the Soviet Union to help (they were planning to join the war against Japan in August), or assure Japan that they can keep the emperor system (so Japan would be willing to surrender), or use the bomb. Waiting for the Soviet Union to help would have increased Soviet influence after the war, and there was a need to justify the high expenses of creating the bomb, according to the museum.

    So, like the present situation in Iraq, the reasons for the attack were complex, and just like Iraq, the decision-makers probably had no idea of the extent of the devastation that it would cause to innocent civilians. On that day, for example, there were thousands of children from nearby schools who had been brought into the city to help work on one of the roads (make the main street fire-proof, I think??), and of course they were all killed. Mr. Mito said that the Americans and even the Japanese government covered up the after-effects, failing to treat survivors who showed symptoms several years later for fear that people would realize the horrors that had been inflicted on these people (America has never apologized for bombing Japan, Mr. Mito said).

    One Swiss doctor who saw the horrors with several others arranged for a donation of medical supplies that lasted a month. When the supplies ran out he telegraphed for more but the request was blocked by his companion, who had helped develop the bomb and who sent word that everyone who had survived the blast was doing well, rather than let it be known that there was a desperate need for medical supplies and treatment for the victims. Mr. Mito explained that the commission that was established to help the survivors did little more than examine them and collect data, the agency provided no treatment, as if the bomb were a living medical experiment. The museum confirmed that this was a common observation and complaint of the survivors.

    Well, I'll end it here, I think you get an impression of what kind of experience we had today. We are now on the train again, on our way to Okayama, where tomorrow we will meet Dr. Masaki Tauchi, a friend of Beezy's (Dr. Billie Louis Bentzen) - he has been researching accessibility issues for blind people at a university near Okayama. I will be meeting with some of his students in the afternoon and talk about deaf-blind people and O&M. I am hoping that I can show a videotape of deaf-blind travelers -- I didn't bring a copy because I didn't know what I'd be talking about until after I left home, but I had given a copy of it to Japanese researchers who were in the U.S. a few years ago to learn more about deaf-blind people in America and they have sent it to Masaki, hopefully it will be there in time and we can play it on their equipment.

    Good night!

    Friday, December 8, 2006 - Okayama, Japan
  • seeing the "real" Japan in Okayama;
  • visiting a temple near the university
  • delightful dinner at Japanese restaurant with friends from Okayama Prefectural University
  • research projects at Okayama Prefectural University

    Hi again, guys! It's after midnight Thursday and I'm writing on Stephan's laptop, will try to send this next time we can connect to the internet. Stephan and I are finally seeing the "real" Japan. We just spent the last two days here with Professors Masaki Tauchi, Takabun Nakamura, and Atsunori Fujii and their students at the Okayama Prefectural University
    [see photos] (they're doing some exciting research regarding blind people, I'll tell you more about it a little later), and on the train to here we passed a number of towns and saw Japanese-looking homes for the first time (roofs made of tiles, mostly charcoal gray but many colored a green or brownish red or burnt orange, with a long cylindrical ridge along the peak and down any corners where the main roof meets a side roof -- Stephan says the Chinese call those ridges dragon ridges [see photos]).

    And I'm sitting peacefully in our charming, Japanese style hotel room, which has sliding paper doors that separate my little seating area from the main room, which is covered with bamboo mats and has a short table with cushions to sit, and two pads (well, actually 4 since I pulled two pads out of the closet to make mine thicker) made up with sheets and covers for our beds. The bathroom has a heated seat, and several buttons including one with a line-drawing of a bum with water spraying underneath it (is that the bidet? there is another button that just shows the spraying water, I don't know which is the bidet, having never used one -- maybe I'll push the buttons when I'm not worried about getting splashed, and see what they do). I saw a similar one at the airport when I first arrived in Japan and couldn't stop laughing, Stephan had told me to go check out the bathroom as it was typical for the Japanese to go way beyond us in cleanliness and gadgets and sure enough, I was amazed to find that the toilet had an arm with lots of buttons [see photo] including the one with the drawing of the bum, plus another button that made a loud flushing sound to cover up whatever embarrassing noises one has to make.

    This morning, Atsunori Fujii and Hiromi Yoshida took us to see a temple [see photos], and right now Stephan is out with students doing karioke, the Japanese (and Thai, since we saw the same thing there at some of the malls) LOVE an evening of karioke but have grown tired of doing it in large places and they now have lots of little rooms (about 6' by 8') that can hold a few friends to sing in private. He and the students have really enjoyed each other.

    I think this evening was one of the highlights of my entire trip through Asia. I had mentioned that it's extremely difficult for vegetarians to find anything to eat in Japan, especially anything authentically Japanese -- the first night we ate chips and snacks on the train to Hiroshima, the second night we ate at an Indian restaurant, and last night a group of us from the university went to an Italian restaurant and had pasta Japanese-style (they were amazed to learn that pasta is actually an Oriental food, having come from China thanks to Marco Polo -- add some tomatoes from the New World and you have Italian spaghetti! Some of them wondered what the Italians ate before getting ideas from China and America haha!).

    Whenever we stop at a Japanese restaurant and ask for vegetarian, they say they have nothing on the "menu" (Japanese for "menu"!) and cannot make anything vegetarian for us. So I began to think I'd never be able to eat authentic Japanese food. Masaki (Dr. Tauchi) also eats no meat or chicken (but eats fish) and says it is very difficult to eat out, he makes his food at home. But tonight we went to a charming Japanese restaurant, with bamboo mats on the floor, low tables with cushions, and REAL JAPANESE FOOD that was VEGETARIAN! I'm so glad I got a chance to eat Japanese food in Japan!

    [see photos] The food was delicious, very different and unique. It started out with a cube that was one third potato blend, one third spinach and one third carrot (very good!). It was made of agar, which Masaki says is a very popular food in Japan, it has no nutritional value but gives it the consistency of gelatin. We also had a radish cooked in a sauce, deep-fried taro (delicious! Fried in fresh oil, they said, which made it non-greasy), whole-grain rice (I haven't had that in weeks!) which Stephan flavored with ground black sesame with salt (again, delicious!) and half a dozen other dishes that I forget, but all of it good, topped off with a flavored ice of some kind, and pumpkin pudding.

    We enjoyed sharing tongue-twisters in English and Japanese and in general had a wonderful evening. Masaki was admiring the old fixtures in the sliding windows and a serving dish, and the owner explained that the building was built right after World War II, and the dish was a gift from the owner when she bought the place. She was very pleased to show a bowl that was more than 100 years old. Masaki was glad to have found this restaurant, and says he'll go back again.

    Tomorrow we head for Shikoku, an island south of here that Stephan wanted to see. We had wanted to see both Kyoto and Shikoku but thought perhaps we don't have enough time, but our new friends at the university think that it will only take a day to see some of the pretty areas of Shikoku including a castle, and get to Kyoto by tomorrow night. So that's the plan, and we'll spend a day in Kyoto before heading back to Tokyo Sunday morning (we leave for home Monday afternoon).

    Okay, now to tell you about the research. First of all, Professor Masaki Tauchi was inspired to get into research about blind people and accessibility when his mentor, a blind professor, died. The research they are doing is very practical and can be used in the U.S., but I'm embarrassed to say that I hadn't known about most of it -- they publish in a Japanese journal of ergonomics, and I encouraged them to get it published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness as well as traffic engineering journals, they're doing lots of good things and I know the JVIB editor would welcome it and Americans would be very interested.

    [See photos of labs and guiding strip]
    For example Professor Takabun Nakamura showed me the lab where they are striving to learn how the truncated domes on surfaces can be detectable to blind people and yet minimize the vibration for people in wheelchairs. They have a couple dozen wheelchairs, and sensors to measure vibration in the chair and on the person's body. They are also studying how much of a drop there must be for the blind person to know that there is an edge of the street beyond the detectable truncated dome surface (because the truncated dome surface that we use exclusively for detectable warning surface is EVERYWHERE in Japan and throughout Asia, the surface is not, by itself, an indication that there is a street there). They have also developed a guide strip for the crosswalk and are measuring how much it loses in height over time. I got a chance to try out the strip after dinner in Okayama - Masaki keeps a supply of canes and umbrellas in his car, and says he often has several wheelchairs also! At first I was unable to detect the strip with the cane, but with practice I could follow it. And they are studying alignment strategies and how effective they are - surprisingly, the strategy that the subjects felt most confident about (sliding or stepping their foot on the detectable strips), was the least effective.

    Professor Atsunori Fujii has come up with a clever way to have subjects report the direction that they think they hear sounds. A common way to measure this is to have them turn their head to face the sound, and a device on their hat reports the angle of rotation, but Professor Fujii came up with an idea that is much more precise. They have a table with an opening where the subject sits with the table surrounding the front and sides, with tactile lines on the table (made out of uncooked spaghetti!) radiating from the subject toward potential sound sources, and the subject just has to show which line is aimed toward the sound. Stephan and I played as subjects and I very much liked being able to express my input on the direction of the sound by placing my hand on the table in that direction and following the line toward where I heard the sound. Cool! They have finished the research and presented a paper which was very well received, and it will be published soon.

    Professor Tauchi had asked me to speak to his students [see photos], and I prepared something after I had a chance to meet a few of them and find out what they are interested in. He helped to ensure that the students could understand -- he showed me how to prepare a powerpoint (they can understand English better by reading it than hearing it) and interpreted the parts that might be difficult to understand. We were disappointed that we couldn't figure out how to show the video of deaf-blind travelers that I had arranged to have there, but hopefully the students can look at it later.

    I'm getting sleepy and we want to get up relatively early (well, "early" for us, anyway haha!) and will call it a night. Stephan is back (our hotel is very isolated and the staff had apparently gone to bed, as no one responded when Stephan rang the doorbell, they had to drive back into town and call to get someone to let Stephan in!), I'll send this when I can.

    Good night!

    P.S. Stephan said he pushed the button for the bidet and a little arm came out and sprayed water out the bathroom door and across the bedroom!

    Saturday morning, December 9 - Kyoto, Japan:
  • 60th birthday;
  • adventures on Shikoku island of Japan

    Happy birthday to me! I turn SIXTY today, entering a new decade! I'm having such a blast at this stage in my life, a great husband and wonderful kids and finally, after wanting a daughter for so many years, I have two wonderful daughters (in-law!), and I enjoy my work and travel, and have a lovely home renovated after the fire, how lucky am I!

    Anyway, yesterday we had a very pleasant but exhausting day going to the city of Marugami on the island of Shikoku, I was too tired last night to write much (we couldn't find the name of the hotel where we have reservations and after a series of adventures or really, MISadventures!, ended up at a hotel and just flopped onto the beds!) and I have just a few minutes while Stephan searches the internet for tonight's room before we hook this laptop up to send this message to you and then go out to see Kyoto, but I'll briefly hit the highlights:

  • we found some quaint little streets with charming Japanese homes and several temples [see photos];

  • while we were on one of those streets trying to decide what to do, two giggling students came out of their school and approached us [see photos]. They were in their first year of high school, and we were the first foreigners they'd seen! They offered to help us find the castle. When I asked (with Stephan interpreting -- they didn't understand English), they said their teacher didn't know they were with us. They guided us for a few blocks, we took some photos of them, natch, and then they ran back, saying they were cold (they didn't bring their coats, just had their school uniform of pleated dark blue skirts, knee socks, white blouse and little red ties and a dark blue blazer)

  • we saw a cool castle (actually, a 3-story lookout on top of a high, steep hill that overlooks the entire city and a lot of the water beyond). [see photos]

    Well, if I remember some of the other highlights I'll tell you more later, but for now, I just want to say that this experience is very different from experience in Tokyo, Stephan says. He was hoping to find this part of Japan. In Tokyo, everyone speaks English and is impatient with attempts to speak Japanese (well, not impatient, but as soon as there is any struggle with your Japanese they insist on speaking English). At the university and surrounding area and yesterday in Shikoku we found lots of people who don't speak English (the folks running the hotel by the university spoke very little English -- when I asked where their "bathroom" is they were clueless, then I remembered that the Japanese word is "toiri" -- their version of "toilet"-- and they brightened up and showed me). The students and some of the professors at the university gladly spoke Japanese with Stephan, preferring that to struggling with English. So we're very glad we didn't stay in Tokyo, but came out into the country.

    One more thing, while Stephan is still looking on the internet (he may have found a charming hostel right in the center of Kyoto). The Japanese language seems to be consisting almost entirely of words from the English language or Chinese. The ones that I don't recognize, Stephan says, are Chinese (he speaks fluent Chinese, so I guess all he had to do was learn how the Japanese pronounce the English and Chinese words, and remember which words are Chinese and which are English - he says a lot of the Japanese words are Mandarin but when he heard Cantonese in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, a lot of it sounded identical to Japanese). For example last night, when telling us where the internet cafe is, the man at the hotel used a map to point along a street going to a corner and said in Japanese, "Blah blah blah crossa streetu blah blah seconda building blah blah." When I asked Stephan to go get some towels from the hotel staff, he said, "Guess what the Japanese word is for 'towel'?" I learned that if there is an R in the English word they change it to L and if it's L they change to R (table is "teeberu") so I guessed "taweru." And I was right! The woman at the desk understood and got me some towels!

    Okay, Stephan is ready so we'll hook up his laptop and send this. I hope you all are enjoying life as much as I am, and that you continue to enjoy happiness forever!

    Sunday, December 10, 2006 - Kyoto, Japan
  • adventures in Kyoto

    Hi everyone! we are on the last full day of this fabulous journey, on the bullet train from Kyoto back to Tokyo, where we will have one last adventure getting Stephan's bag that he left at a religious center a few months ago, then meet some folks whom I'm eager to get to know, but I'll tell you all about that later.

    For now, I'm going to tell you about yesterday and then, if I have time, catch up on everything including some stories from the last few weeks I didn't have time to tell.

    Yesterday we explored Kyoto which at first seemed to be another version of Tokyo. We went to the top of the Kyoto Tower and looked around in all directions [see photos] and saw nothing but modern buildings with a few historic temples preserved in the midst of what would otherwise be mistaken for any city in America. Boring! we decided to take a bus to the museum of art, as Stephan wanted to see historic Japanese paintings. By the time we got there, it was about 4:00 and I was starting to have back problems, so we asked for a wheelchair, and I was able to enjoy the museum while sitting down and then walk out feeling refreshed and rested and ready for another evening of adventure. The museum didn't disappoint -- we saw some beautiful bronze artifacts (which I later saw in my Japanese Insight Guide Book) and scrolls and paintings, just as Stephan had wanted.

    The bus trip to the museum, as usual, was an adventure in itself, starting with meeting a young woman with cerebral palsy traveling by herself in an electric wheelchair. With Stephan interpreting, I greeted her and asked if she was able to get around easily and if it was accessible, etc. She was taken aback when I first spoke in English and started to protest but when Stephan began to interpret, she smiled and spoke with us. She said she can get around most places, and takes the subway but sometimes is unable to get home. I asked what she does when that happens, and she said she gets help. I told her I have several friends who use wheelchairs including one who has cerebral palsy (who is on this journey via cyberspace!), and tried to get her email address. She pulled out her cell phone (I think every man, woman and child in Japan has their own cell phone!) to get the address but couldn't find it, so I gave her my card and asked her to email me. I've attached a photo of her and Stephan [see photos].

    The other adventure we had taking the bus was discovering a FABULOUS bus stop sign! [see photos] We almost didn't see it, as it was raining and dark when we left the art museum and I suggested taking a taxi, but Stephan wanted to take a bus, so we did. While we waited at the bus shelter, we almost jumped out of our skins when a bell rang and a voice came on to say a bus was coming, and we realized that the board that named the 4 buses that pass there had 3 round openings next to each bus. When that bus is within about 5 minutes of the stop a sign appears in the opening, and then when it is within 2 minutes of arrival a sign appears in the second opening, and when it is almost within sight the third opening has a sign and the bell rings and it announces (although almost too quietly to hear) which bus is coming. Cool, huh? wouldn't it be awesome to have something like that in the U.S.? As Stephan said, the Japanese have it all over us when it comes to gadgets and cool things. The attached photo shows that Bus 100 is 2 minutes away, Bus 206 is within sight and the second Bus 206 is about 5 minutes away, as is Bus 208.

    Anyway, due to a regrettable snaffu which I'm too embarrassed to explain, we had no reservations for any hotel in that area for the night (the previous night there were several times when I seriously thought we'd spend the night hauling our luggage around the street until morning and even then, there would be no vacancies anywhere!) and so, very VERY fortunately, the hotel for which we finally got reservations was two subway rides away…

    … in what turned out to be the heart of historic Kyoto, a block away from City Hall! The lady who helped us find this vacancy told us there were a lot more interesting things there than around the train station and Kyoto Tower, but wow, was that an understatement! Whereas the Kyoto we saw from the top of the tower and around the train station was exactly like Any City, U.S.A., the Kyoto around the City Hall was quaint, fascinating, vibrant, exciting Could-Only-Be-A-Japanese-Town, Japan.

    The main streets were busy, 4-lane streets with things you could find anywhere, like a Haagen Dazs and an Indian restaurant, and things like a Thai massage parlor and a music school advertising a widely-smiling punk-looking Japanese youth with his electric guitar. But when you went down any side street, you could be nowhere but Japan. Some of the streets were not wide enough for a car, some were just a lane wide, almost all the businesses had beautiful Japanese-style fronts, with sliding doors and exterior walls covered with wooden slats or bamboo strips laced with cord. Many doors were partially covered with the traditional banners hanging down to about chest or waist high, and people like Stephan would have to bend down to get into some of the doors. There were picturesque little canals with bridges cutting across them and fast-moving water with large fish. We had previously seen a few women wearing kimonos, but there were lots of them here. I can still picture one of them wearing a pretty pink kimono with a short matching hood that stuck out from her shoulders and curved back to her waist and bounced as she hurried down one of the alleys, trotting in high, short steps. I'd seen several young women in western clothes move this way, including one who was showing me where to find something, she bounced up and down with short, quick hops, I guess like Geishas or women wearing kimonos might do when they are in a hurry. (Whenever we ask people where we can find things, they always seem eager to help and try to quickly find what we're looking for, including the school girls in Shikoku who guided us part of the way to the castle.)

    We had a delightful dinner (VEGETARIAN!) at a charming little restaurant called "Veggie Table" which had enough vegetarian selections that we had a very satisfying birthday dinner, including Margarita pizza (yes, with alcohol in it! tasted very good!), salad with avocado and tofu in a delicious sauce, pasta with tomatoes, and vegetable ice cream! we sat facing into one of the charming alleys with tons of people to watch as they walked by, from groups of young girls or boys to couples to families and a few older folks and women in kimonos.

    The hotel where we stayed was tucked into a little alley but was beautiful, clean (as always!), and right next to a temple that we didn't see till we looked out the window in the morning and wished we had more time to explore. Lest my description make you think this section is for the elderly people who are interested in history (like me haha!) let me hasten to explain that The Joint Was JUMPING! It was Saturday night, and I think every guy was out with his girl or with his buddies, there were two places where a man or a woman sat on a chair on the sidewalk with a little table and lamp advertising telling fortunes, there were nightclubs galore with all kinds of people coming and going, including one place in a little alley where a middle-aged man came out of an establishment while two kimono-clad women bowed and bid him good night, making me think perhaps it was a special kind of place until I saw the man's wife also exit and bow to the staff and walk down the alley with her husband. None of the photos we took did justice to the area, but I'm enclosing one of two little alleys that split where there is a little shrine -- it was down the alley to the right that the couple exited and the women in kimonos bid them goodbye [see photos].

    As we rode out of the city on the bullet train, we passed lots of residential areas with the traditional Japanese houses. So it looks like Kyoto is THE place to be and potentially a great place to live -- a modern city with a historic, vibrant section, uniquely Japanese. Stephan said he found no such place in Tokyo.

    Okay, we arrive in Tokyo in about 15 minutes, I'm going to close for now and send this when we next get a chance, and may have to catch up on the little forgotten stories when we are on our way home tomorrow night.

    P.S. this morning Stephan was looking for vegetarian restaurants on the internet for tonight and found a classic description at http://www.vegietokyo.com/info4vegie/restaurant/r_daigo.html that summarizes what has happened to him in Japan again and again -- the staff says there is no fish in the sauce but Stephan finds out there is (what I experienced is that someone, like the folks at our hotel, recommends a restaurant that serves vegetarian food and we go there and sit down and find out they don't have anything we can eat except maybe white rice):

    Daigo (Onarimon) -- Japanese Buddhist Vegan $$$$ [the review includes a note from "Nick" 04/23/2005: Daigo is definitely NOT vegetarian. They use fish stock. If you ask the staff, they will tell you it's all vegetarian, but the chef said they always use bonito stock]

    LAST Diary from Asia: December 11, 2006
  • adventures in Shinbashi (part of Tokyo);
  • dinner with great companions;
  • observing research projects for blind people;
  • odds and ends of Japan and Asia (accessibility for people with disabilities; Christmas; vegetarians; system of network of friends; etc.)

    Hi everyone! It's Monday and I'm in a plane heading home. We took off from Tokyo at 5:00 PM Monday evening and when we arrive at Washington's Dulles airport it will still be Monday, around 3:00 in the afternoon!

    So this is my last diary entry, I'll send it when I get home. It will be a long one -- I will start by sharing the fun that Stephan and I had last night exploring Shinbashi (in Tokyo), then tell you about last night's dinner with some remarkable people and this morning's visit to see some cool gadgets that the folks at Mitsubishi and their consortium are developing for blind folks, then finally catch you up on some of the insights and stories from the last few weeks that I didn't have time (or was too exhausted!) to share.

    So, our last night of adventures on this trip to Asia began at about 10:00 PM, exploring the area around our hotel. We climbed to the top of some high pedestrian bridges, saw construction areas with orange cones that glowed and looked like beautiful luminaries lining the edge of the construction, and generally had a great time. Thank goodness when I wanted to go back and turn in for the night, Stephan wanted to push a little further.

    We were on one of the pedestrian bridges 2 or 3 stories above the street, and looked down into a large plaza with a fairy-land of blue lights [see photos], and a tall lighted tripod with bells suspended where couples were having their pictures taken. I wanted to walk among those blue lights! The plaza was a few stories below street level, surrounded on one side by tall department stores and on the other by the wall of the lower level of the train station, so it took us a long time to figure out how to get in there.

    As we walked into the plaza and along the paths between the blankets of blue lights, we heard cascading ocean waves, and soothing music. The lights were imbedded in a mesh that was shaped like waves, with several waves along one wall rising up higher than our heads and turning over like a surfing wave. It was "Blue Ocean," an artist's creation for the department store's holiday season. There were several men dressed in white puffy coats and pants who offered to take pictures of anyone going up to ring the bells.

    While we were there, I noticed that just inside the windows on the front of the department store, 3 colored elevators were visible going up and down -- one softly glowed red, one blue, and I think the other was green. We decided to try to ride them, and after about 20 minutes of searching, we found them.

    When we went in the elevator, the only buttons were to open and shut the door -- you get in, the doors shut, and SWOOSH! Up you go, 47 floors in 37 seconds flat! We ended up in a large lobby on the 47th floor where they had several dining rooms. The lobby had windows overlooking Tokyo, and it was BEAUTIFUL! In one direction, hundreds of the city lights were red [see photo], I tried to capture it with the camera but couldn't do it justice, I'll just have to remember how it looked like diamonds and jewels against the black night. We rode the elevators up and down a couple more times, I pressed myself up against the floor-to-ceiling glass and felt that thrill I get from watching the ground rise up in a sudden descent (I have a fear of heights, and get dizzy and a funny feeling in my chest when I do that).

    Those adventures capped off a busy day that started with a ride on the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo to drop our luggage off at our hotel and then take the subway to a Christian missionary center where Stephan had lived for a few weeks last summer. I got to meet the people there and thank them for taking care of Stephan [see photos], we picked up his bag and hurried back to the hotel where folks were waiting to meet us for dinner.

    There were 7 of us for dinner, all but one of whom I had not yet met. There were Stephan's friend Yukino and her darling 6-year-old daughter Ann, two Japanese orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists Michiko Shimizu and Masaki Ogata, and Akira Terashima, Professor of the Faculty of Comprehensive Welfare [see photo]. Michiko is the East Asian ambassador / representative for the O&M Division of AER (more information is on the International page of the O&M Division website), and has been teaching O&M for more than 25 years. Masaki is one of the few O&M specialists in Japan who works at an eye clinic. Arika and I had met about 8 years ago when he and another man from Japan came to the U.S. to learn about deaf-blind people in America. We had heard that deaf-blind people in Japan are taken care of in institutions, and to show them that deaf-blind people can live independently, we (the Metropolitan Washington Association of the Deaf-Blind) arranged for them to visit the homes of two deaf-blind people who were living and traveling independently. Arika asked them lots of questions, one of which was whether they wanted to live in an institution (both deaf-blind people said NO!). When they had finished visiting the deaf-blind people, I gave Arika a videotape showing deaf-blind people traveling independently, and it was Arika who had been kind enough to send a copy of that videotape to Dr. Masaki Tauchi to show his students when I spoke to them last week at Okayama Prefectural University.

    Anyway, back to the dinner and the wonderful time we had together. Arika arranged the dinner. He had found a delightful restaurant that served food Japanese-style … AND it served some vegetarian food! we ate in a lovely private room with sliding doors and a table that sat low on the ground. When I sat on the cushion, trying to figure out how I would be able to sit on my legs without losing circulation and all sensation, I discovered that the floor below the table was dropped, and we could sit like Westerners. Michika says that Japanese people also prefer to sit this way instead of sitting on the floor.

    They brought lots of different foods, including a large variety of tofu (one was a creamy, thick tofu I've never tasted before, it was GOOD, especially with a salt that had grounded orange rinds in it, and another was the tofu "skin" I love so much), as well as pickled eggplant, salted peas cooked and served in their pods (we had had them in Chalam's garden in Thailand and I love them) and I forget what else. Whenever we wanted something, we pushed a button on the wall at the end of the table. Little Ann almost fell into the table once in her eagerness to push it for us. We had a great time, and a chance to talk quietly and enjoy each other's company.

    It turns out that Michiko taught O&M to her first deaf-blind client many years ago, and helped him integrate into the deaf community. Now, she says, many deaf-blind people are asking for O&M, and she wonders why. I suspect it may be word of mouth from the folks she helped so much. Arika said he will give Michiko a copy of the video that I had given him that shows deaf-blind people traveling independently and communicating with the public. After dinner, Michiko and I chatted for a while, and I got goosebumps when she said she had read my first article about crossing streets and had successfully used the principles with her clients. That was about 15 years ago, and I was very pleased to think that someone on the other side of the world had read it and found it useful.

    There was one "downer" in the evening. Michiko said that the government provides O&M training to its blind citizens in rehabilitation centers but not in their communities (except in a few major cities), and that many people cannot go to the centers for reasons such as health or responsibilities to their family or job and therefore cannot get O&M training. Michiko's clients pay for the O&M training themselves, and she does some training for free. She says that the number of O&M specialists in Japan is dwindling, as it is too difficult to get paid to provide O&M and make a decent living, and so they go into other careers. This was surprising to me after seeing all the accommodations that have been made for accessibility for blind people throughout Japan, obviously done at some expense. Of course funds for training and rehabilitation come from a different department than the one that is responsible for accessibility and the streets, sidewalks, and train stations. Rehabilitation in Japan is done by the Department of Welfare, which the folks last night said doesn't have a lot of money, whereas funds for access come from the Police Department, which in Japan is responsible not only for enforcing the laws, but also for designing, installing, and maintaining the streets and signals and sidewalks.

    Well, now I get to tell you about one last special treat that we enjoyed this morning when we visited with Kunio Kurachi and Hirohiko Ohkubo from the Mitsubishi Precision Company. Mitsubishi is developing and distributing an assistive device for blind people using infrared communication technology, and is working with a consortium of organizations for the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to develop a new system to aid in orientation for blind people.

    They took Stephan and me to the University of Tokyo, where we met Takayoshi Matsumura from Ikeno Thuken (one of the consortium companies) and they showed us a prototype of a system they are developing for blind people which combines GPS, a cell phone, an infrared system compatible with RAIS ("Remote Infrared Audible Sign," the generic term for devices such as Talking Signs®), and information relayed from strips (Radio Frequency Identification or "RFID") implanted in the "braille trails." [see photos] The concept is an exciting one, and I felt privileged to be able to experience it in the developmental stage. The system we observed was a very limited installation (it was meant only to confirm some dimensional parameters), so it didn't maximize the use of all the systems. But I'm confident they'll work the bugs out and use the feedback from users to design the system to its maximum, and I'm eager to see how that goes. I think it has a lot of potential as a systemic navigational aid for blind people.

    We then went to another area to see an intersection with a 5-year-old installation of an Accessible Pedestrian Signal (APS) with a "Pedestrian Information and Communication Systems" (PICS) which uses receivers and transmitters compatible with Talking Signs®. This is one of about 20 intersections in that area that was set up with the PICS system (there are about 400 PICS intersections in Japan, and about 10,000 crosswalks with more traditional APS without PICS). It was really cool -- you could activate the pedestrian signal either by pushing the button on the pole at the corner, or by pushing a button on a device you carry with you, which would be great because blind people wouldn't have to go out of their way and lose their direction to find and push the button on the pole. Pushing either button also makes the timing a little longer for the pedestrian to cross, and makes the signal audible (but not vibratory), and of course using the receiver enables you to locate the other side of the crosswalk. However the intersection looked very easy for blind people to cross without any APS, whereas nearby intersections looked scary / hairy but had no APS to help blind people -- I forgot to ask how those intersections were chosen (many jurisdictions in America have established priority systems to choose which intersections to retrofit and make accessible). The crosswalk in front of the entrance to the University of Tokyo looked very difficult for a blind person to cross independently (a T-intersection almost like a mid-block crossing) but its signal was not accessible.

    I was fascinated that the accessible signal didn't give the name of the street to be crossed because (are you ready for this?) both streets at that intersection have no name! In some cities or areas in Japan, only the main streets have names - addresses are based on the name of the area or sub-area in which the house or business is located, rather than the name of the street (their address system is too complex for me to understand - I'm glad I didn't have to find places in Japan!). So the PICS says (in Japanese, of course!) "You are approaching Sumida intersection. You are facing north, and the Genmori Bridge is ahead."

    Okay, I'm going to very quickly skim through the things I had wanted to tell about but couldn't:

    Chinese network of friends: When we were in Guangzhou and stayed in a luxurious hotel as guests of the owner, who was a friend of Stephan's friend, I asked Stephan how someone can lavish such hospitality to a friend of a friend.

    It was then that I learned about the Chinese culture of friends and networks. They gladly help or do favors for friends of friends of friends, separated by as many as 6 or 7 layers of acquaintances. Stephan said that Chinese students at the university are given a seminar that explains that Americans don't have this network, so that the students will understand that they should not expect favors from people who know a friend of their friend. Apparently most of these students attend the university without ever once being invited into any American homes.

    Accessibility for people with disabilities [most of the following are shown in photos]:
    Dang, I knew I should have taken notes, I've forgotten a lot that I observed, and having seen 4 countries (well, Hong Kong and China are one country, sort of, though they were different regarding accessibility), I can't remember where I saw what. Every country has extensive "braille trails" (not the official name) which I've already described, they were along most of the sidewalks and in train stations, hotels, shopping malls and a university in Tokyo and Hong Kong (the one in Hong Kong also had COOL tactile maps of the campus on posts in several locations). Although these braille trails seemed GREAT in the train stations to help find ticket areas, elevators and escalators, where to stand to find the train door, etc., I was puzzled by the purpose of the braille trails along the sidewalks, and what benefits they could possibly provide to blind travelers.

    I've been told that in countries that have the braille trails, some people (including people who are newly blind!) are under the impression that blind people cannot travel independently without them. The presence of these trails may also thwart O&M training. Sufficient O&M training isn't available in many countries I visited and it's been suggested that policy-makers may be under the impression that extensive O&M training is not necessary because blind people can simply follow these trails wherever they exist, even though they don't exist everywhere (and in some places where they have been installed, they cannot be used because of congestion or they've been covered by vending stands, parked vehicles, and sometimes even permanent walls or buildings). Also, O&M specialists have told me that these trails require them to find suitable places to provide training to enable their students to travel anywhere regardless of whether there are braille trails or not.

    I also saw braille labels on the ends of the stair railings to indicate what is at the top or bottom of the stairs. These were at a train station in Hong Kong and in, of all things, a game store in Japan. It was interesting that in the Hong Kong train station, in spite of pleas from the Hong Kong Society for the Blind, engineers refused to install a braille trail to the escalators because they thought escalators are be too dangerous for blind people (instead, the braille trails lead the blind person to the stairs!).

    When I was in Hong Kong 10 years ago I experienced the first accessible pedestrian signal (APS) that used ticking instead of cuckoos. Every intersection that I saw had a slow ticking sound from a pole near the crosswalk and when it is time to cross, the ticking went faster (it was easy to know which crosswalk it was for, as the ticking came from the direction opposite of the other crosswalk). On this visit, the APS seemed to be the same as they were 10 years ago, and seem to function well though I didn't study them carefully. Someone told me they don't vibrate but the ones I saw did have a little button below that vibrates [LATER: this discrepancy may be explained in a news release from December 30, 2006 which says that there are several kinds of pedestrian signals in Hong Kong, one of which uses a yellow box with a vibrating button - the one where I found the vibrating button was one of those yellow boxes]. I saw APS in every other country as well, though not many.


  • For more information on accessibility, see photos of the tour of West Rail Transit Station and Lingnam University in the New Territories of Hong Kong, and accessibility features seen throughout Asia.

  • For an insightful narrative of experiences in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China from the perspective of a blind person, visit the travel blog of Christie Gilson, who presented at the International Mobility Conference. She is a blind doctoral candidate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who was in Hong Kong on a Fulbright scholarship for ten months to study college students with disabilities. The narrative of her experiences in Guangzhou, China was particularly enlightening. After her trip, she wrote an article about the devastating effect the attitudes of people can have on one's self-esteem, and the courage it takes to overcome it.

  • At the International Mobility Conference in Hong Kong, I learned about an exciting development that may one day give some leverage in advocating for accessibility, as well as for sufficient O&M training to be available to everyone. In her presentation, Kicki Nordstrom from Sweden explained that the United Nations is considering a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that would require countries that adopt the law to provide access to social, economical, cultural, civil, and political rights, as to the physical and informational environment to people with disabilities. Among the rights specified in the document is the right to rehabilitation and education. This Convention is more powerful than previous efforts -- if it is adopted and ratified, nations which want to be accepted into the U.N. must adopt the laws of the Convention. [NOTE: Kicki said that the Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly the 13th of December without any reservations, confirming the rights listed here. Now, all that remains is for 20 countries to ratify it -- the convention will be open for signatures and ratification March 30, 2007 - for more information, see her article or read the entire Convention at a page on the UN website.]

    Christmas, Christmas everywhere!
    Every country we visited had lavish Christmas decorations throughout the malls and hotels and many other places of business. They had large Christmas trees, wreaths, posters of Santa, even gorgeous and very creative gingerbread houses in the bakery, etc. [see photos] -- the only Christmas thing I didn't see was a place in the malls for children to sit on Santa's lap. The last evening in our Hong Kong hotel (November 30), I had admired larger-than-life whimsical bronze statues of two playful people and the next morning (December 1) they were both sporting full Santa costumes [see photo]. There was Christmas music in a majority of stores and hotels, even in places that would seem to be more traditional.

    More toilet gadgets:
    I forgot to tell you about the Japanese-style toilet I found in a little stall along the sidewalk in Shikoku -squatting over the hole generates a loud flushing sound to politely disguise any embarrassing noise!

    Making a difference:
    Chalam Yam-iam said that the assistive listening device has arrived in Thailand already, and that he will take it to the center for them to try with the two deaf-blind people who are unable to participate in the rehab and vocational training because of communication problems. Thank you, Fred, for arranging that, it got there quickly! I hope it is helpful to them and if not, I hope they consult with Nu or Chalam to develop a good communication strategy for these people.

    Vegetarians in Japan:
    I hate to end the diary with a complaint but there's only one thing that put a damper on an otherwise fabulous trip. I began to feel like a pariah when going into Japanese restaurants, and often felt unwelcome. Time and time again we'd go in, sometimes on the recommendations of our hotel or local people who assured us there was vegetarian food there and, not only would there be nothing on the menu that didn't have meat or fish in it, but they would refuse to consider making us something to eat. Of course that is understandable when the food is already prepared, but in most restaurants here in the U.S. and all other countries where I have traveled, the cook is willing to make something vegetarian if asked (make dishes that are on the menu but simply leave out the meat) but many of the Japanese restaurant owners would frown and wave that no, they can't accommodate us. The place that was the best for vegetarians -- better than anywhere I've traveled -- was Hong Kong. The variety, the quality, the taste of their vegetarian selections, available everywhere we went -- was outstanding, I'm missing it already!

    Well, we have landed and are on friendly terra firma and HOME in the good ol' USA! Stephan and I are at the airport waiting for Fred, and I thanked him for helping to make this such a FABULOUS trip, being able to meet people and experience things that would have been impossible without help with the language. I appreciate each of you sharing the adventure, it made it that much more fun! I hope you have lots of opportunities for adventures too.

    P.S. For photos of events or adventures not documented in the Diary, click here.

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