Sunday, December 17, 2017

extirpating bamboo

Baby gear and swaddled bear

Leon and Genya -- Salmon River pix

Pix from Silverton

Pictures from Leon and Genya's wedding

Tubuala: 1976-1977

Grandmother ("Mu") of my host family

Men talking at an "inna" (to celebrate a girl's adolescence), drinking sugar-cane wine

Tubuala (the village I studied)

clearing a field for bananas -- I measured dozens of these fields, with a tape measure and brunton compass

Saturday, December 16, 2017



Steve's rocking horse

Stepstools that were baby presents to Leon and Aaron

The armoire that held our ancient TV

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pictures from Steve's DBS surgery

Steve next day, in his favorite hat, knit by his Aunt Etta
Steve after surgery, with bandages stapled to his scalp
Steve in the "crown" that would hold his head steady

Monday, May 15, 2017

5/5/2017: Lama Temple and Confucius Temple

There was a dust storm this morning -- kind of like the "dry fog" I remember from Abidjan, but with a lot of wind, but fortunately it cleared out by mid morning.  I only remember waking up once during the night, which is good for being jet-lagged, got up at 6.  Breakfast has many options, marked "halal" and not, so it was easy to avoid pork.  The traditional Chinese breakfast is a kind of rice gruel, with condiments to put in -- I wasn't too impressed -- but there were all kinds of cooked veggies & noodles & rice, as well as Western fare.

Hotel seems fine to me -- the grumpy reviews on TripAdvisor notwithstanding.  The in hotel restaurant I went to last night wasn't great, but there's a lovely Sichuan place a block south where I went for lunch, and had dry cooked beef so spicy it made my toes curl.  (It was quite crowded with locals -- very efficient.  They were giving out numbers to the people waiting for tables, and menus, and took your order even before seating you.  They had a menu w/ English, and when the waitress pointed out the dish I'd picked was spicy, I said, I like spicy -- I still don't know how to phrase that).  A nice lady from across the table started talking English to me, and got the waitress to bring rice and tea.

After breakfast, I walked to the subway line (after a funny conversation with the man at the hotel's parking kiosk, where I asked which direction it was -- I'd gotten myself turned around and was prepared to set off the wrong direction). A man came up to me to point out that my knapsack was unzipped.

Fortunately, the subway line I needed was a ring line -- and it didn't matter which direction I went -- the stop I needed was opposite where I was starting.  I managed to convey the stop I needed to go to to the ticket issuer (fare was 4 RMB, so something like $.60).

The subway cars have nice maps with lights above every door, telling you where you are, AND intelligible announcements in Mandarin and English, both, so no problem getting off at the right stop.  Then, outside the subway, I managed to get myself turned around again, but a nice man with fluent English saw me with my phone setting off in the wrong direction, and straightened me out.

The Lama temple started out as a palace in the 18th century, but was converted to a Tibetan temple a little later.  Fodors said it only had a few dozen monks in residence, but it looked like maybe 50 chanting in the main sanctuary (sitting in rows, with reading lamps).  Very moving.  Pictures forbidden. 

All visitors got a box of incense sticks -- it was early when I got there; very few Westerners and no tours yet-- and the Chinese were offering them with real fervor, kneeling in front of each statue and touching their head to the floor (there were kneeling pads for the purpose in front of each statue -- there were maybe 12 separate buildings, each with its several statues.

One massive statue was carved from a single piece of Sandalwood, with a plaque from the Guinness book of records outside attesting that it was the largest statue in existence from a single piece of wood.

The Confucius Temple was a little to the East of the Lama Temple.  There were these huge stone Steles with the names of scholars who'd won the examinations., and, inside (v dusty) there were (at each side of the sanctuary), a ceramic statues of a ram and a sheep in bins of small bills of money -- I guess offerings that students would do well on the exams.

In the book by Evan Osnos, there was a sad history from the Cultural Revolution.  The writer Lao She was beaten by Red Guards (schoolgirls) there in 1966.  The next day, he drowned himself in the Lake of Great Peace, which was since filled in during an expansion of the subway system.

There wasn't any plaque for Lao She -- just one more sad, forgotten history.

The courtyards of the Confucius temple were filled with cypress trees, hundreds of years old.  One was famous for having hurt a wicked courtier who had come to sacrifice at the temple.  It had an English placard name it the Wicked Courtier Detecting cypress.

Anyway, the denizens of Beijing are taking good care of me.

Zhenyin's parents took me, a classmate from the Peking Univ. meteorology class of 1963, and a student of his Dad's out for dinner--Peking Duck and THEN Mongolian hot pot, which was a lot of lamb and veal sliced very thin, along with a plethora of veggies, to cook in a veal broth.  Z's Dad also cooked tripe, but no one else had it (it looked v grey and gross).

Ms. Chang, the classmate, had much more fluent English than anyone else, from having gone to Christian schools in Shanghai when young.  She started school under Japanese occupation, then English schools, then studied Russian when China & Russia were allies.  Meteorology was important for the Air Force, of course.

Ms. Chang and the Li's live in a very pretty compound (lots of trees & bushes) with a canteen (so they don't have to cook), a primary school, and a small store, and retirees get to keep their apartments there.  Ms. Chang' 84; retired 24 yrs ago (she said her English was rusty from disuse, but it didn't seem rusty to me).

It was lovely food.  We ate and ate and ate.  I had to stop after a while, long before the veggies were exhausted.  

Then, they showed me the Olympic site at night (v. lovely) and Tianamen square.  A very, very good day.

5/6/2017: Start of Tour

Met a couple from the Road Scholar tour this morning at breakfast.  She taught math & engineering at the HS level.Anyway, they were well informed, had read many of the books Road Scholar had suggested for the tour, were easy to talk to.

We swapped tales of how adept our children had been with computers at young ages.

I have to confess, I'm not very intrepid.  For one thing, I have yet to use a restroom outside the hotel.  I've been coming back at lunch partly for that reason (partly because I get tired and my legs hurt after a morning of walking).

Today, I'd told myself I was going to visit the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower.  Now, it should have occurred to me that sights incorporating "tower" in their name usually involve stairs.  I paid for my ticket (to both the bell & drum towers), entered the staircase of the drum tower, and saw this huge flight of steep stairs -- there were banisters, but I couldn't imagine being at the top of them and looking down, and descending step by step.  My courage also failed me at the Bell tower.  So that was $4.20 wasted.

I wound up going to Behai Park -- very pretty walkways, on a lake, a wiser choice for someone so altitudinally challenged.

I went to the restaurant across the street -- not as nice as the Szechuan one for yesterday -- it specialized in Shannxi cooking, but I ordered green beans with peppers and, when the waitress pointed to some peppers in a picture, I nodded my head vigorously, maybe too vigorously, because the dish came back with immense amts of Szechuan peppercorns.  My triumph was, I managed to ask "Please bring (cooked) rice" and they did!!  I was so proud of myself.

All in the name of experience.

The tour met for the first time this evening, in a private dining room. (Where and when to meet hadn't been in the pre-trip literature -- I asked at the front desk, but they didn't know).  I went down to the lobby @ 5:30, and saw the couple I'd met at breakfast.

We had beers -- mine came in a very odd, asymmetric glass that listed to the side 

5/7/2017: Summer Palace, Hutongs, Forbidden City

We set out in our smallish bus @ 9 AM (I'd been up since 5:30) for the Summer Palace, which was mobbed.  All the rooms have high thresholds because the demons that lurk outside the doors bringing can't bend their knees, so can't make it over the threshold.  Twin lions guard the main courtyard; you can tell the female because she has a lion cub under her left paw, while the male has a ball.  The summer palace is on a man-made lake, which did have very fresh breezes, but (as I said before) the place was packed.  We walked out along a lake-side pavilion, and then took a boat ride, where the breeze was very fresh.

Thence to a rickshaw ride through hutongs (alleyways) adjacent to the Bell tower (which I'd visited on my own yesterday.  Hutongs not v charming -- if it were Brazil, I would have called them favelas.  Many decrepit bikes and parts of bikes.  Also an Amazon fulfillment bike-powered cart trundling along.   We went into one house for lunch, all 19 of us -- it was fine.  Most of the houses don't include toilets -- just use the public toilets in the hutong.  Yich.  I can't imagine.

But the hutongs are considered v choice real estate.  People live very packed together -- our guide repeated a joke that people recognize each others' farts.

We went to a tea demonstration, which was sort of fun -- the demonstrator gave us tiny cups of green, oolong, green with jasmine, green with rose tea, fruit tea.

One of our number is a loudmouth -- he was being pretty obnoxious, but she held her own.  She ended with a demonstration of mugs that change color when filled with hot liquid, and a little clay man who peed when water hot enough to make tea.

Then we had a buying opportunity -- I bought some (surely overpriced) tea, but refused the (free) mugs and peeing man, and, instead, got a bit more tea for free.

Thence to the Forbidden City -- which is immense.  You go over the moat and through two huge courtyards and throne buildings (can't go inside) only to see a third, huger and higher before you.  The courtyards are completely bare of trees, anything, with 15 layers of bricks below them so no one could tunnel up into them.  Massive cauldrons of water in case of fire.  It was quite hot (about 90) but not muggy and there was a breeze, but I still went through all the water I'd brought & wished for more.  We were pretty footsore and tired by the time we reached the Imperial gardens, which had peonies and cypresses and locust trees.

The roofs were made of yellowish tile, giving rise to the rumor they were made of gold.

We all trundle along following our guide with Whisperers in our ears (devices that pick up what our guide says without his having to shout.  We're surrounded by hundreds of other groups, following their guides, in English, French, Chinese, German.

Meanwhile, I have a laundry crisis.  I left laundry yesterday morning, the 6th of May, but on the laundry slip, I wrote 5/7/2017, so mistaking the day, and, in addition, not remembering that Europeans (and probably Chinese, too) would write the day before the month, not after.  It was supposed to come back the same day, but didn't.  They said it would be back today by 6 PM, but it's not here.  The housekeeper was here, and I was trying to explain, but of course having written the wrong date in the wrong order didn't help.  She was very apologetic, and her English wasn't that strong, and of course the only relevant sentences I could get out were "I don't understand", and "I do not speak well".

Oh dear.

It's a long way from home.