Category Archives: Travel Tale

Which way to wisdom?

I ducked into a side hall to avoid a large mass of “yellow necks”* at Kong Miao (Confucius Temple) yesterday. After noisy crowds outside, this long hall of what appear to be alters to sayings felt like the right path.

I was too frazzled by the crowds to find and read the description of what this hall actually is.

Response to Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge
*This was a coordinated mass of Chinese tour groups who wore yellow neck sashes. I played leap frog with them all day. The bonus is that they seemed to be putting on several reenactments for their benefit and I could slip in around the edges.

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Even more steps

I was determined to not miss a single opportunity. My tenacity meant tired legs. But the offered sedan chairs were scarier to me than tired tootsies. The thought of two tiny Chinese kids hauling my well-rounded self up steep stone stairs made me feel a bit queezy. So up I went.

The third shore excursion on our Yangtze cruise was White Emperor City. Like the first two it was at the top of a hill accessed by lots of stone steps. All of the other English speaking folks on our cruise didn’t opt in so my son and I tagged along with a Chinese group. James speaks Chinese so we figured we could manage. But it turned out that the guide spoke excellent English and after each stop she took us aside and explained. So it was like having a private tour. She even translated famous poetry off the cuff.

The White Emperor City was different fundamentally from The other two: it was not a shrine or religious site. It was a memorial to the White Emperor, a man named Gongsun Shu. He was a local king who did well for his area and was considered loyal. He was moved to become emperor after a dream about a white dragon going upward to the sky.

This site had a good display and explanation about “hanging coffins” and a very good view of Kuiwen (the “gate” to the western-most of the Three Gorges) as well. More about that later.

A little more Fengdu

Incense. Red ribbons. Lots and lots of people and stairs.

Like many important locations in China (and elsewhere). Fengdu Ghost City is a mixture: there are temples for Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism at the site. It is crowded (being a stop for all of the Yangtze River Cruises through the Three Gorges). It seems a bit like an amusement park in some ways and yet for many who visit it is also sacred.

It is an old location, predating all of the religions that have temples there. Some of the buildings and statues are quite ancient where others are new recreations, some are elegant and subdued and others are vibrantly colorful.

Which way to the ghosts?

Fengdu in Chongqing district of China is called “ghost city”. I visited there a week ago today.

Hill with the temples of Ghost City in Fengdu.

It was a long climb from the boat. We were there as a parade was going up.

I think the parade may have been related to the holiday Qing Ming Jie, a celebration of spring usually translated as “tomb sweeping”, although it encompasses more. The blog Spaceship China has an interesting post about the holiday.

 I’ll post pictures of the ghosts next time.

Cee’s Which Way Challenge

Adventure

Adventure. This topic made me think of some favorite passages from The Hobbit

“Very pretty!” said Gandalf. “But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.”

“I should think so–in these parts! We are plain quiet folks and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!…”

One can travel without adventure, but there usually isn’t much to say:

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.

An adventure  shapes you, you come back changed in some way.

I have taken trips that fall into both categories. In 2013 my husband and I took a very pleasant trip to Ireland, well planned, we stayed in lovely places, did lovely things it was beautiful in the lush green Irish way.

KSM-20130812-Adventure-02KSM-20130812-Adventure-03No real adventure though. The closest we came was that the web site for the first B&B we stayed at had reversed the directions (they had posted the ones for coming from the south under coming from the north and vice versa). It took a bit to figure that out and resulted in needing to get the car out of a narrow, steep dead end street. That resulted in changing drivers (I could have done it, but he wanted to do it his way).

Adventure is less about where you go.

KSM-20160525-Adventure-07On the trip to Palm Springs last week, a tame, familiar location, the adventure was in messed up arrangements, and stress about how Grandma could manage (see my post Was it all a dream? for the gory details).

For her getting into the tall bed each night was a potentially disastrous challenge. She was never tall, she maxed at 5’2″ and has gone down since then. The bed was high for me at 5’6″. She can’t bounce or jump at all, so she would half-stand half-sit against the edge of the bed (which was higher than her bottom and roll herself on then scootch to get away from the edge so that when she rolled over again she wouldn’t fall off. There were plenty of palpitating moments.

Reflecting on that trip inspired me to start a new blog: Goin’ with Grandma, I am hoping to find other people who have traveled with people who are elderly or mobility challenged, whether across town or across an ocean, to share stories, lessons learned, and tips. My hope is to be able to travel with a little less “adventure”, or at least fewer palpitations. The new blog itself is an adventure, as I am doing it with WordPress.org. I know some folks have had real challenges changing over. It is just a tiny site now but come on by.

Was it all a dream?

I need to try and figure out yesterday. It was kind of like a maze Dream…maybe Dungeons and Dragons with a travel theme.

I traveled to California with my Grandmother. Hitches in the git-along seemed to be the order of the day.

We started out okay. Everybody was up, dressed and packed and nothing adverse happened driving to the airport. To check in with someone who needs wheelchair assistance you have to go to an agent instead of using one of those handy kiosks. One of the givens of travel today is that no one has a quick easy question. those lines move like molasses in January. We didn’t help.

No problem checking in and getting the wheelchair (with attendant), but, in order to check the walker/wheelchair combo we use, we had to wrestle it into a giant plastic bag. Each time we thought we were over the worst some other protuberance surprised us. Finally it was all encased, but the idea of the bag is that one then gathers the open end together with a zip-tie that holds the baggage tag. There wasn’t enough bag beyond the end of the walker to do that. We taped up the end, then realized that there was nowhere to attach the baggage tag.

Of course we didn’t have anything sharp enough to make a hole in the bag, because of airport security. Finally we were able to punch a hole in the bag with a pen where the zip tie would go through one of the wheels (so that if the bag tore it would at least stay with the walker). The zip tie was too flexible to thread through the hole and kept getting stuck in layers of plastic or walker. After several tries my husband pulled out a pen that had a pocket clip. By attaching the zip tie to the clip and threading the whole pen through, like a supersized yarn needle, wiggling a lot to make the hole bigger, we had success.

Then we learned that it didn’t fit in the bin to go into the standard baggage system so my husband had to carry the awkward bundle, too big for the luggage system, in his arms to the far end of the baggage drop off area. I will refrain from making too pointed a comment about the customer service message that comes from having the place to drop off the hardest to manage baggage the farthest away.

By the time he had dropped it off the wheelchair attendant had moved us to where she checked in at her station with Grandma’s boarding pass and we lost him. After the sit-com like scene of him going where we had been, just in time to miss us, and me doing the same but trying at the same time not to lose sight of Gram, we did eventually meet up. Just in time to say good bye. The minor miracle is that I didn’t lose my windbreaker, which he had had set down to wrestle with and deliver the walker. I happened to notice and grab it before we took off with the wheelchair attendant.

We thought we were home free when we got to the gate an hour ahead of the flight without further incident. Waiting isn’t fun but we had books. I grabbed us a sandwich to eat on the plane and got myself a little breakfast. About a half an hour before boarding time I went to scope the restroom to see if Grandma could use it. (Answer was no, even in the handicap stall the toilet was too low for her to get back up.) As I came back I noticed that the reader board at our gate was for a flight to San Antonio Texas leaving 5 minutes before our scheduled departure.

They had changed the gate for our flight (no announcement, I guess they think everyone has the latest cell phone app and they don’t cater to Luddites). The flight was now leaving from the North satellite. We had no way to get there. So I had to go to customer service and ask them to get us a wheel chair to take us. It didn’t come, and didn’t come, and didn’t come. Finally I went back to talk to customer service, but the line simply didn’t move. I gave up after 5 minutes and headed back to the gate to see if a gate agent could help us. Fortunately someone who had just gotten off the flight let us use the wheelchair ordered for her and he whisked us through to get to our gate. They had given up on us and sent away the aisle wheelchair attendant, so we had to wait again (so did everyone else since they wanted to load us before everyone else). The gal at the gate said “we’ve been paging you.” I didn’t scream.

We learned on getting in that they had assigned us a window and middle seat (Grandma can’t get in and out of anything except an aisle seat, I had spent a good deal of time on the phone with the handicap services person at the airline making our reservation so that this wouldn’t happen!) Fortunately, on both legs of the trip the person who was supposed to have the aisle seat was willing to take the window.

The flight was fine. They had the wheelchairs ready in Palm Springs and we got to baggage claim, all our luggage, including the walker arrived. I went to unwrap the walker so we could switch to it and discovered that I couldn’t  because I didn’t have anything to cut the zip-tie with. No, okay, minor problem: I wrangled it over to the rental car desk and asked if they had scissors (they did). Trying to deal with the walker and get the rental car at the same time caused me to drop all of the travel papers (plus a few other things out of my backpack). I am surprised that they rented the car to such a klutz. A man from behind the desk helped us and our luggage out to the car. I probably should have tipped him but I just had too much to manage to think about it until it was too late.

That may be the theme song for this trip: I should have, but I had too much to manage to think until it was too late.

We got in the car, nice new thing, easy to drive and very smooth ride. I found the hotel no problem. Confirmed that they had the room we needed…problem…show stopper problem. The restroom was not handicap accessible. The door wasn’t even wide enough that Grandma could get through it with her walker…and no bars so she could get up from the toilet. No they didn’t have another room with what we needed. They tried to tell me that the special requests section of the reservation is just extras. I had to explain, first to them, then to the on-line travel agency (two levels of bureaucracy), over and over, gently but firmly, that a “request” for a handicap bathroom is a NECESSITY, not a nice extra. It is not the same as wanting a down pillow or a great view. I explained that I had called and made the reservation with a person in a lengthy phone conversation to ensure that we got a handicap bathroom. I explained and patiently waited on hold while someone was, theoretically anyway, working to find us a room that met my “request”. I didn’t scream, but I will not be using that agency again and, once I calm down enough to word it less harshly, intend to give them some actionable suggestions.

Finally, fearing that my cell phone battery might die and that it really wasn’t best to be in the lobby of the place where we were not going to stay for over an hour with Grandma waiting in the car I said that I was going to drive over to the hotel where the supervisor was trying to arrange a room for us and would he call me back with the reservation number. He said yes, three to five minutes (this call was already over an hour and I pay by the minute). He never did call.

I got to the hotel.They had an acceptable room. I called the agency back. There was a great deal of rigmarole. I finally got testy (I still didn’t scream, or cry) and said, more firmly than usual, that handicap accessible bathrooms are a necessity not a nice extra, they had already confirmed that the hotel didn’t have a room we could use (twice), that I was physically at the hotel that the supervisor I had spoken with had said he was arranging a room at, that they had a room we could use, and that it was time, past time, for this to be settled so I could get Grandma out of the car. They transferred me once more, they talked to the front desk, they faxed something over. Finally I got Grandma out of the car.We negotiated the last bit of the maze and entered the innermost keep of the castle: the handicap bathroom.

 

I’ll meet you at the giant bok choi.

This past Sunday we went to the International High-Tech Vegetable Exposition in Shouguang, a city within Weifang.

Weifang is kind of like Los Angeles in administrative structure: it is both a city and a county. The county area is fairly large so it is important to realize when making plans that when something is advertised as being “in Weifang” it might actually take a good long time to get to it (another example of this was my outing to the Kite Festival).

That was certainly the case for the Vegetable Fair. We, my son and I, were fortunate to be invited to attend with a family. It took about three hours to get there from the downtown area where we were staying, that included picking up another family member along the way, traffic tie ups, parking and getting from the parking lot to the fair itself.

The fair was not a thing I can just say “it was like …” because it was like some things I am familiar with but also had some uniquely Chinese elements that are outside my experience.

First of all it was sort of like the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle; there were display type gardens, information booths and a marketplace. The Shouguang High-Tech Vegetable Exposition dwarfs the show in Seattle. The area covered has to be at least four times that of the Seattle show. It happens in a specially built venue that includes several very large green houses. The “high-tech” in the name is deserved: there is an elaborate system of irrigation, piping and structural support of the plants. The display areas were of several different climate types. Like the Seattle show there were vendors only marginally related to the topic of vegetable gardening. Some of the things being sold were, to my mind anyway, uniquely Chinese: a woman selling large radishes along with bottled water and other drinks; booths where they made and sold paintings and calligraphy; a booth of leaves and flowers with which to make tea…

On the grounds there were a large number of stalls selling food, drink and festival type souvenirs for the young and young at heart. We had lunch in a tented area with low tables and geezer stools (not sure what the real name is my son and I named them that because you so often see older men sitting on them in parks or on the street, playing Chinese Chess, selling birds, fixing bicycles or just passing the time of day). It was fun to watch noodles being made fresh and some of the barbeque-ers danced as they worked.

Many of the displays consisted of pipes that had holes in them for growing vegetables, formed to look like various buildings or other items; some examples: the Eiffel tower, a windmill, the Great Wall, a ship, a helicopter. In other places they had made frameworks to support pots and made landscape elements out of things like pepper plants, kale or cabbages. The walkways were arbors supporting vining plants like squash, melons, cucumbers…in one area they even used sweet potatoes. Some of the overhead vegetables were so large that they had ties on them for extra support.

All-in-all a very interesting and impressive event. The event was well attended, we were definitely not there alone! It was fun to see so many Chinese families out for the day enjoying the displays and the general festival atmosphere. It was an experience unique to this area of China, where people often bring a bag of vegetables or fruit when they go somewhere.

Folk Culture

Today I went to a “Folk Culture Village”. It was interesting, in a low key way.

I have been to some pretty elaborate folk village type places, for example Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Yang Jia Bu Folk Culture Village wasn’t like that. They had some artisans doing work: kite makers, New Year’s print making and there was a calligrapher, although he wasn’t doing calligraphy at the time.

There seemed to be a genuinely old hamlet inside the boundaries of the park and there were two religious spots.

I am not clear enough about what is what to discuss them intelligently. One building had the figure with more than two arms, on the other side of that area there were anthropomorphized animals (I think the Chinese zodiac animals), however both sides had what appeared to be lots of tiny golden Buddha figurines in a rotating cone shaped thing (it made me think of a Christmas tree until I got close enough to see the Buddha’s).

The second reminded me of folk shrines in Qingdao and on Tai Shan.

The neatest part, however, was just walking around the hamlet. In many ways it reminded me of the home of a friend that we visited in the outskirts of Weifang.

There was a large compound that had many traditional garden elements, some reminiscent of Shi Hu Garden but more down to earth and less polished. For example, they were growing vegetables around the classic rock formations. I think that may have been the Yang family home (“Yang Jia” means “Yang home”).

Yang Jia Bu was not crowded when I was there and it was easy to imagine people sitting and playing Chinese chess in the alleys, working in the gardens, going to the shrine…the culture of the folks.

Kites and Kids

It seemed like someone flipped a switch Saturday night, turning off the shower, and the sky cleared. Sunday was beautiful, sunny and in the 60s with some wind.

It was the perfect day for the kite flying field day at the kindergarten where my son works. Families came with their kites.They did some dancing and some kite flying, everyone had a great time. Me included, even though all I did was watch.

Kites and Umbrellas

I am in Weifang, Shandong Province of China, the “Kite Capital of the World” and the International Kite Festival was last weekend. I decided to go.

I had a heck of a time figuring out where it was (one might reasonably argue that I still don’t know) and how to get there. The internet was no help, since “the beach of Happy Sea of Binhai development zone in Weifang city” doesn’t show up on any maps as such. It is over 40 miles from the center of Weifang, as near as I can tell.

I wanted to take a bus and nothing I could find said how to do that. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the hotel I was staying at could get the information for me.

By map study I figured that the No. 78 bus that had a stop by my hotel was a good candidate. The concierge said yes to the 78 bus, then he got vague about what to do next, checked on his computer and finally he said “we do not recommend taking the bus”. He suggested that I hire a car for the day at 300 yuan(I assume, but, am not sure, that would have included a driver).

I couldn’t get back to sleep after I woke up at 3:45 am. My son had to work so I was flying solo on this excursion, meaning that my inability to communicate (or even know) where I was going to a driver had some serious potential for winding up somewhere else. I was debating whether I should go or not, bus it, try to take a taxi, see if it was too late to hire a car for the day…

We conferred via text message with our friend, Emily. She said it wasn’t a good idea, it was raining and it would take three hours to get there by bus. However, she also sent the number of the bus, 83, to switch to after 78. I have had great experiences with the Weifang bus system, so I bravely (or foolishly, sometimes there isn’t much difference) set out.

A 78 came along just a few minutes after I got to the bus stop. Standing room only, cost was 5 RMB. The ride was pretty uneventful. Most everyone on the bus was going to the same place I was, although I didn’t know it then. The result of that is that the bus got fuller and fuller as it traveled, no chance of grabbing an empty seat. The ride on the 78 took about an hour and a half.

At the end of the line everyone piled out, joining a bunch of folks already waiting for the No. 83 bus. One No. 83, stuffed to the gills, left as our bus arrived but there were still many people waiting. A fresh No. 83 arrived, it stopped with its door near me, the crowd I was in headed for its door. In situations like that my Boston experience kicks in. I tried to put myself in the midst of the mob so that I would get pushed onto the bus. But the experienced Chinese bus riders (mostly older men with geezer stools) actively push people out of the way. As I felt this happening I was close enough to grab the handle on the bus door and managed to get pivoted in by the crowd. I had a few moments of wondering if I was going to have to let go, but in the end I was propelled into the midst of the bus.

The 83 ride was about a half an hour, so my total travel time was just over 2 hours when I stepped off of the No. 83, trying to note where it was so I could retrace my steps.

It was raining, and windy (it was a kite festival) at the beach.

I wandered about. I assume (there’s that word again) that if I could read in Chinese I would not have been so clueless, and would, for example, have figured out how to watch the opening ceremony instead of realizing that it was going on when I walked behind it, then nearly getting myself blown up by the fireworks (policemen kept the crowd from getting within about 10 feet of them so I was about 15 feet away when they went off).

The kites were beautiful and interesting. I really wanted to stay longer but after about 2 hours I was starting to feel hypothermia set in.

You know you are miserable when a squatty potty stall seems like a pleasant respite.

I finally gave up and went to search out a No. 83 bus (ba shi san ba shi). The bus line up was confusing. I found a group of younger folks, college students, and a lovely young woman conversed with me a bit then said “do you have some money?” I said “a little”, she then said that, based on where I wanted to go, if I had 10 yuan I could take any of the buses in the line-up. She went with me and found one that had a seat, they even wiped it off for me, although I was so wet that it probably didn’t make much difference. It felt good to sit down out of the rain for a bit. The buses ooched up one by one to the turn around and headed south. The bus I was on went directly to my stop, no bus change. Just being able to sit felt like a luxury.

So for 15 yuan (less than $2.50) I had an adventure. Everyone who warned me off was right. Traveling up by bus was not comfortable or for the faint of heart. It was cold and wet and, by then end, miserable.

On the other hand I saw some neat things, and a hot shower followed by dumplings and a glass of red wine had me as good as new (asleep as well). I don’t think I would have lasted much longer if I had gone by another mode of transportation.

The following day was sunny and would have been a totally different experience but there was a kite flying field day at the school where my son teaches, Smart Vision International Kindergarten, that we had said we would attend. Another story for another day…

If he is still living in Weifang next year I may try again. Now I know what buses to take.