May 17, 2013 – Pleasanton, CA

It is over two weeks now since we came home from China. This is the worst jetlag I have ever experienced, ditto for John. We have tried getting out in the sunlight, not napping during the day, and staying awake as long as possible (and sometimes longer.) But none of it seems to work well. Last night I only woke up three times and was able to get back to sleep in a reasonable amount of time. So perhaps things are improving.

Strangely, it seems ages since we were in China. There is always such a disconnect between waking up in one place on the globe and going to bed in a totally other place. I am always thinking, here I am in California getting ready for bed and this morning I got up in Beijing. Amazing. One day I’d like to take a slow trip on a ship across the ocean and let my body gently move into other time zones. Who knows? Perhaps that will be our next great adventure.

May 12, 2013 – Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day we go over to Jon and Ryan’s. Sarah comes too. I get lots of cards and a cute tote from Nathan that says “Beeba, Jon’s mom, Sarah’s mom I (a drawing of an eye) love (represented by a heart) U. I am very touched. We have a great brunch with mimosas, French toast, bacon, bagels and lox and pretzel rolls that Sarah has made. Later we play games until everyone conks out at about 2PM. I love being with my family!!!

Cards and tote bag

Cards and tote bag


Nathan's placemat for his mom and a plate of strawberries and pretzel roll

Nathan’s placemat for his mom and a plate of strawberries and pretzel roll


Nathan looking pretty tall with his alien bought with skeeball tickets

Nathan looking pretty tall with his alien bought with skeeball tickets

May 5, 2013 – A visit from Sophie and family

Sophie’s daughter Amy and her family are moving from Singapore to the Bay Area. They have one week to find a house to rent and investigate schools. They manage to accomplish all this in the allotted time but not without some anguish along the way. Happily it all works out and they have the house that they want in Danville.

Sophie flew in from South Carolina to help out with their boys, Caleb and Gabriel, while Amy and Israel house hunted. It was a good opportunity for us to spend a little time together. We go to parks and out to lunch with the boys. On Sunday John and I host a barbecue for the Soong/Hansens and Jon and his family and Sarah. Amy was Jonathan’s friend when we lived in Hopkinton for several years starting in 1984.

The adults really hit it off. They spend a lot of time talking about their past, their adult experiences and also the present and the opportunities in the Bay Area. The little boys also have a great time. Caleb is anxious about meeting Nathan but Nathan is his usual charming self and in no time at all they are great friends. Gabriel is also more drawn to Nathan and wants to be part of the “big boys.” Poor little Sam is kind of the odd man out. He is just a little to young to keep up. I am sure that this will change as the age differences get less pronounced.

The visit is too short but Sophie and I look forward to many more visits in the future!

Clockwise from left Gabriel, Caleb, Nathan and Sam

Clockwise from left Gabriel, Caleb, Nathan and Sam


Gabriel holds everyone's attention at the table

Gabriel holds everyone’s attention at the table


Four tired boys watch a video

Four tired boys watch a video

May 3, 2013 – Impressions of the Viking River Cruise in China

First I am so glad we took this tour. We saw so many things and got such good information. As I read through my entries, I do remember, though, how exhausting a lot of it was. To take this tour, you need to be in pretty good shape. Our group was fairly young by tour group standards. The age span was 25 to 83. A lot of people in the 60-70 range. Especially on the land portion of the trip, there was very little down time. We were pretty much on the go from 8 in the morning until after dinner or later each day. There was a lot of walking, stairs and hauling oneself on and off the bus. The cruise section had a much slower pace.

Some of the more wonderful things that we saw were the amazing buildings in Shanghai just across the river from the 19th century Bund, the acrobat show the first night at the hotel, the bell performance in Wuhan, the Yichang locks and the Three Rivers Gorge, the pandas, the Terra Cotta Army, the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square. We also saw some pretty poor living standards and a lot of pollution. The country is an environmental disaster just coming to realize the problems that rapid industrialization has caused.

The one thing that really enhanced the whole trip was the people. From the children at the Yueyang school to the quiet, lovely people serving us on the boat, to the local guides, the program director and especially Jimmy, our guide the whole 12 days, everyone was helpful, pleasant and knowledgeable. I think I expected people to just toe the party line and spiel a lot of propaganda but although they are proud of their country, they acknowledge its problems. People this aware of their circumstances cannot help but aid in making a better future.

The accommodations were also great. Every hotel was 5 star and the cabin on the boat with a comfortable bed was fine. The internet on the boat was frustrating. The food was not as wonderful as I had hoped. Probably through experience, the cruise offered fewer Chinese dishes than I expected. Later we found out we could have requested authentic dishes. Breakfast at the hotels was always a great culinary adventure with dishes from around the world.

I think this will probably be the only trip we ever take to China. It is still hard to imagine doing a trip on our own. The language barrier seems too difficult and much of the country is definitely third world. Perhaps we are just too old now to contemplate such an adventure. But am I glad we did it? Yes, emphatically.

May 1, 2013 – Beijing, China

Happy May Day or Laborers Day as it is known to the Chinese.  As a special treat we are not leaving until 8AM.  I spend a few minutes taking pictures of Beijing from our hotel window. It is the second largest city in China (23 million people) after Shanghai (24 million people.) Both cities appear quite modern and Beijing has the advantage of having many smaller scale buildings so it doesn’t look so much like people being warehoused.

View of Beijing out of our hotel window

View of Beijing out of our hotel window


A view in the other direction

A view in the other direction


After our global breakfast (yum, curry and pretzel rolls) we board our Jimmy bus to Tiananmen Square (TS).  Apparently 500,000 people were at TS yesterday so we are really hoping that there will be many fewer today.  It doesn’t appear so as we arrive.  Jimmy steers our group through the security checkpoints.  His “cousins” do not make us queue up like the Chinese must.
John in front of pagoda guarding entrance to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

John in front of pagoda guarding entrance to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City


Mary in front of other guard pagoda

Mary in front of other guard pagoda


Helpful? crossing graphic

Helpful? crossing graphic

 Jimmy talks about the buildings in the square.  There is Mao’s tomb, of course.  There is a line of maybe 10,000 people or so waiting to get in.  Jimmy admits that to the more educated people Mao is just a guy who did some good things and also a lot of horrific things but to a lot of people in China he is still godlike.  People are waving flags and wearing souvenir Mao hats. People are also very interested in us.

Mao's tomb

Mao’s tomb


Girl and her mother in traditional dress

Girl and her mother in traditional dress


Chinese flag

Chinese flag


 
Although the people we see are curious about us because we are not Asian, they are more taken with one woman in our group who is tall and black and wears her hair in corn rows.  Lots of people want their picture taken with her.  We figure that as a group we could have made quite a bit if money selling the opportunity to have one’s picture with her.  It would have been an apt reversal on all the hawkers trying to make money from us.  
 
There are other buildings in TS.  The party building is there with a big picture of Mao adorning its outside.  There is a large picture of Sun Yat-sen.  I am surprised. But it is Chang Kai-shek that the Chinese dislike.  Sun Yat-sen allowed a two party system and helped found the modern Chinese state.  His picture is bigger than Mao’s.  Otherwise, Jimmy says, the banners in TS are just propaganda.
 
Jimmy also tells us that the nightly national news is a joke.  It is comprised of “Chinese life is great and getting better.  Foreigners lives suck. Be happy you are Chinese.”  We are still amazed when he says stuff like this.
Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square


Large picture of Sun Yat-Sen

Large picture of Sun Yat-Sen


Surveillnace cameras

Surveillnace cameras


John with tiny Mao

John with tiny Mao


Painting of Mao on government building freshly painted every year

Painting of Mao on government building freshly painted every year


 
We fight our way through the crowds to the Forbidden City.  We look at some buildings.  Jimmy’s people are wearing down from the effort of negotiating their way while constantly being jostled by the throngs of Chinese.  Even a Happy Room stop fails to perk us up.
Crowds and us surging through a tunnel to the Forbidden City

Crowds and us surging through a tunnel to the Forbidden City


John helps out rounding up the Jimmy folks

John helps out rounding up the Jimmy folks


Mary and John in the Forbidden City

Mary and John in the Forbidden City


Nine sons of the dragon protecting the building

Nine sons of the dragon protecting the building


 
Our fabulous bus driver, Xiao, is waiting for us at the end of the Forbidden City walk.  Time for lunch!
 
Today’s lunch does not involve the frantic Susan, yay! It is buffet style. We shuffle among the foods. People say it is the worst lunch yet as they fill their plates with spaghetti and other western foods.
 
After lunch we tour the summer palace grounds and look at some of the Olympic venue.
Lake at Summer Palace

Lake at Summer Palace


We board a dragon boat to cross the lake

We board a dragon boat to cross the lake


A bridge full of Chinese tourist cross the lake

A bridge full of Chinese tourist cross the lake


The Summer Palace in the distance

The Summer Palace in the distance


On the way back to the hotel we pass the Olympic torch shaped building

On the way back to the hotel we pass the Olympic torch shaped building


We also pass the Bird's Nest where the fabulous opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held

We also pass the Bird’s Nest where the fabulous opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held


 Everyone is tired and many like we, have to get their suitcases out in the hallway by 11PM tonight.  We have a surprisingly good buffet dinner with Kathy and Brad, say goodbye, and pack up for the long trip home tomorrow.