Tuesday, October 13, 2009


This is a copy of the journal that Lynne kept during our recent vacation to China. She didn't write in it each day, nor did she date the entries - which tend to run together.
It provides an interesting perspective from someone who is visiting China for the first time - especially because she has never previously traveled outside the United States.
As you might expect, it is long and takes several minutes to read. It does, however, make for fun reading.
We both hope you enjoy it.


Our flight from the States to China was long and fairly boring. We were on a small jet for the flight from Louisville to New Jersey, but once we left New Jersey for China we were on a huge Boeing 777. The seats reclined and we had our own individual DVD consoles for movies, music, etc. They kept feeding us and filling us with sodas whenever we wanted some. I was able to watch a few in flight movies and TV shows to pass the time. Mostly I slept, or tried to. There seemed to be a bit of a foul smell in the area in front of our seats (coming from the couple in front of us) and it didn't go away. I knew it wasn't us as we'd showered before we left the house. The airplane was huge and a bit noisy. The flight attendants spoke in both English and Chinese to us as there were many Chinese on the flight. Actually, it was very interesting. Greg had some conversations with a few of our fellow passengers in Chinese and he read a Chinese newspaper. He translated for me and got another China newspaper in English so I could read it. One thing I noticed is that the mothers of children seemed overly protective and watchful of their little ones - almost as if they feared something would happen to them.
While we were waiting for our flight in New Jersey (3 hour layover) we met a nice young man in his late twenties who was from New Albany, Indiana. That's right across the Ohio River from Louisville! He told us he was on his way to Beijing to meet the Chinese girl he had been dating online for over a year. They had sent pictures to each other and talked on the phone all the time, but this would be their first face-to-face. He was going to spend a week with her and her family in Beijing and then she is coming to stay with him and his family during the holidays. He had never been to Beijing and didn't speak Chinese. She speaks English. He picked Greg's brain about Chinese customs, taxis, tipping, courtesies, etc. I hope things worked out for him.
Upon arriving at the HUGE airport in Beijing, we discovered that my feet and legs had swollen. If I removed my shoes it was hard to put them back on again. It was somewhat painful. I think this was a result of flying in a pressurized cabin at 37,000 feet for nearly 19 total hours. I did get up and walk about the plane several times, but to no avail. From the plane we could see the ocean, icebergs, mountains with snow, the great Gobi desert, but mostly clouds that we flew above the majority of the trip. I saw a lot of Greenland's mountains covered with snow and many glaciers. We flew over Canada, Greenland, the Arctic Circle, the North Pole, the Arctic Circle again, Siberia, Mongolia and finally into China and Beijing. One thing that really surprised me was how clear and blue the skies were in Beijing. I had been prepared to see gray, smoggy skies but it was clear, crisp and very nice.

Our host is one of Greg's very good friends from when he was here before and is named Dave. Dave is the husband of Belida Bu, who was one of the teachers at the University with Greg. Dave met us at the airport and he was not hard to find because he recognized Greg right away and started waving and jumping and smiling like crazy. Before we found him we had to go through many lines and clearances. .medical checkpoints for temeperature and Swine Flu symptoms, Immigration, customs declarations, etc. It was all very interesting. On our way through customs, I noticed two HUGE wall paintings hanging on the walls inside the main entrance. They represented scenes of the Great Wall and Forbidden City. They were beautiful beyond compare. They were framed in the most beautiful HUGE cherry wood frames with much artistic craftsmanship and detailed carvings in them. They were a sight to see.

Once we got our bags, visited the currency exchange and met our host it was time to leave the airport. Little did we know that Dave had only been driving for 5 months and he drove nearly as crazy as everyone else in China. I have NEVER felt so close to death so many times in a 3 hour period of time as I did on that trip to the apartment in Chengde. We are grateful for Dave, Belinda and Sunny putting us up and driving us around, but drivers in China are one of a kind. There really isn't any road rage or fear of crashes - as there well should be. They just honk to let people know they are close, going around them, or that someone is in their way. They don't like being behind big trucks at all as they are weighed down and move far too slowly for the rushing Chinese. There are all kinds and forms of travel here. They ride bikes, scooters, motorcycles and little box car type bikes and scooters. They drive in every inch of open road available whether they are 5 cars wide on a one lane road or not. Blind curves are no threat to them as they just honk and away they go - around some other vehicle with no regard to what is coming at them. They just whip over in their own lane if there appears to be a potential head on crash. The only problem with whipping back into their own lane is that there isn't always room for their whole vehicle. The person behind them just has to swerve and find a way to make room for that vehicle on a moments notice. They drive all over the road. Right lane, left lane, shoulders, grass - anything to keep pushing forward in their apparent rush to get to where they are going. Most of the roads are thru mountain passes and are steep, windy, curvy, snakelike with many blind curves, construction work to the roads, etc - but nothing gets in their way and there is no obstacle that cannot be pushed off the road or out of the way. Dave took curves at speeds that nearly caused him to lose control of the car and then just laughed about it. He handled his driving as if it was normal - and for the area - it IS. Danger just doesn't occur to these people. Since everyone is driving this way, no one gets mad at the crazy antics everyone is taking while driving, they just adjust their driving to what is going on around them. At times there literally was not but about an inch between vehicles and at times I was sure there would be crashes with us in the car or at least the side view mirrors ripped off the car. If people or their makeshift vehicles get in the way of trucks, buses, cars, etc. They just honk loudly, but those on their bikes, etc., don't seem to be in any hurry to move often leaving just inches between the vehicles and the other people on the street. Still the drivers of the threatened vehicles don't seem fazed at all by the crazy antics. Greg also appeared unfazed and said he was accustomed to drivers like this. He said the drivers and traffic in China were pretty wild but it wasn't nearly as bad as in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or even some places in Mexico. He actually took a nap on the drive. It blew my mind.

On the way to our apartment, the view had beautiful green mountains and big hills that they call mountains here, but the scenery was also sad at times. I saw poverty – some of it extreme and right next to very affluent buildings or stores. I saw dirty streets, roads and sidewalks. There were also streets that were very clean because people were out sweeping them and they were lined with beautiful, green, lush trees and bushes. But the sandstorms blow in dust in the late spring and early summer and keeping anything clean must be next to impossible. There was much contrast though. Right next to places of extreme poverty, there would be a high rise new hotel. Next to Mercedes Benzes, Audis and Lexus’s flying down the highway was someone pedaling a bike with a cart behind it full of vegetables. People dressed in dirty old simple clothes next to those well dressed and presenting. I saw street beggers and panhandlers on the street next to fancy apartment complexes. I saw people cleaning the streets next to those that had open sewers and food and garbage thrown in the street. I saw and met very kind people but also some people with few manners - for instance, it is nothing to ‘hawk a loogie’ and just spit it in someone else's direction (feet, etc.) or for someone to pee on the street or throw out an old drink at someone’s feet. No one gets offended though. It's just a given here. People on buses are packed in literally like sardines. Taxis drive to beat time in their tattered old vehicles that are breaking down and torn apart. Many people stared at us. The men stared at my face and chest and the women at my whole body as if to be in shock. I saw very few fat Chinese. Most all were very thin and busy. They have cat-like reflexes and are able to dodge anything that comes at them on a dime. We passed gardens and people on the interstate pulling weeds from the piles separating lanes to people making messes. It was all very depressing as the contrast was so extreme. I felt an immediate need to jump out of the car and start doing charity work right then and there. But too much would need to be done and it was all so overwhelming.

Once we made it to our destination, I nearly kissed the ground and said a literal prayer of gratitude for our safe arrival. Greg seemed unfazed by the whole trip as if all was totally normal. I was surprised, but to him he's seen it all before. He's lived it before when he was here and in Hong Kong, in Kuwait, in Europe, in Saudi Arabia, Korea and Japan. He said they probably think we drive like nuts in the States. Maybe. He was, however, very concerned about how I would handle the trip from the airport. Especially with all of the craziness and seeming insane behavior on the roads. He knows I don't handle stress - especially driving related stress - very well. The people are hard working and very humble. Many don't know they live in poverty as that is all they've ever known and seem content with their life styles. In many places, many generations live together in one house. I noticed that in the communities, or villages, with walls around each of them, every inch of ground they have, they have planted crops. If they own land anywhere they plant crops right up to the roadside.

We saw many roadside vendors trying to sell their fruits and vegetables. The irony is that most all of them were selling the same things but set up just feet from each other. I found this NOT to be the best marketing tool, but that is how they do it. We drove around for a long period of time to find gas. Two gas stations were closed in the middle of the day with no explanation. It seemed very odd.

We arrived at our destination safe and sound and instantly Belinda Bu and her daughter Sunny (our host family) met Greg with great excitement as did her husband, Dave at the airport. Greg was quick to introduce me and they were very polite to me as well. They had us get our luggage in and get freshened up then to come to eat supper. Our hostess had fixed an authentic Chinese meal of some things I did not recognize, but some I did. I enjoyed the fresh tomatoes with a little sugar sprinkled on them and the dumplings she freshly prepared made with eggs, green peppers and onions. She also had scrambled eggs, green beans and noodles.The rest of the meal I was not really able to eat. There were pickled vegetables, bean curd noodles and several other dishes I did not recognize. Greg ate it though and thoroughly enjoyed it. They served me hot water and I was happy with it. Then Greg asked if I could have a glass of ice water. The Chinese drink most of their beverages at room temperature or warmer, sometimes hot. I was relieved to find out that Belinda kept cold water in her fridge and she also had ice in the freezer.
We showered and went to bed in a cool room on a very hard bed with pillows filled with some sort of husks or shells. To my surprise it was extremely comfortable and we rested very well, despite our days and nights now being turned around. It was amazing to me that the weather here in this area was so cool given that the time of year is late August. It was wonderful.

The next day we got out a little, but I ended up sleeping most of the day due to jet lag and my body still adjusting from the pressurization it had felt. I was so exhausted and so surprised that my stamina just crashed. We got out and about and met some of Greg's old friends the next day. We went to small small shops and food stores that Greg remembered from living here before. He bought food that I liked but all they really had that I was interested in were Oreos, fresh fruit and vegetables, cold water, juice and PEPSI from the little store. For breakfast Belinda fed us Chinese corn on the cob, a real tasty bean curd soup with porridge, and leftovers from the night before's dinner. They served a pastry that was a little sweet. It was like eating deep fried banana bread. I liked that but it was only in small amounts that I could eat it. Most things here have a kind of funny taste that I'm not really used to yet.
I've noticed that the Chinese don't seem to eat a lot of snacks or munchies - at least like we do in the States - but they seem to eat out of need only. They don't go to the grocery to stock up for the week on food, they just go out every morning and get their food for the day from the street vendors, meat markets, fruit stands and veggie markets. Sometimes I've noticed there is a funny smell in the air. Greg says it is from burning garbage. These people like to write all over everything. There are posters, flyers, handbills, signs and Chinese characters all over some of the buildings and fences They seem to have a lot to say for such a quiet people. They eat few carbs and little bread from what I've noticed. I've craved lots of sandwiches, so Greg bought me some sliced wheat bread and peanut butter. He also got some packages of authentic instant noodles like the Top Ramen we have back home, but MUCH better. Chicken and herbs, pork and vegetables. They were fantastic! So much better than the packages of instant noodles and cup of soups in the States.

Yesterday, we got up early and went to the public square to watch the people doing Tai Chi, playing the Chinese guitar, training for self defense, just walking around, dancing, singing, roller-blading, listening to music - it was all very interesting. The square was beautiful and we got lots of photos. We then took a very crowded bus into the area of town where we needed to meet Belinda (our hostess). The bus ride was an experience in and of itself. It was very crowded, people pushed and shoved and ran over each other to get on the bus. Greg made sure we got on and did not get separated. He has watched over me and taken very good care of me here. He wants me to be happy here. We then went to get a cell phone for us to use locally to keep in touch with our hostess and her family here and for emergencies. Our friend here (Belinda Bu) haggled and got us a great deal. She pushed our way through the crowds and made sure that we were treated well. We then went to the Mountain Resort in the center of Chengde City. It was VERY beautiful. There were pagodas, pavilions, small temples, housing, water, bridges, paths, beautiful flowers and art work everywhere. I was especially impressed with the hall of time filled with extremely beautifully hand crafted clocks used by the emperor over 600 years ago. They have stood the test of time. Ha! Get it? Stood the test of time?

The craftsmanship and artwork in the buildings were amazing. The water was so serene. It was like something out of a movie. We were there several hours doing a lot of walking. Greg made sure that every little bit I got to stop and rest to protect my stamina. Many people stared at us and some even made a point to say hello. One particular family asked in Chinese if they could take our picture. when we said yes, they became VERY excited. It was as if we were some type of celebrities. They were overjoyed and took many photos with us. We really got tickled. Little children that have been taught some basic English would run up to us and say hello. They knew little else to hold a conversation but were thrilled with themselves that they had said hello. We cut the day short (after several hours of hiking) to go to shop at the outside vendors. It was there that I learned what a great haggler my husband is. He was able to help us get some souvenirs much cheaper than we would ordinarily. While at the Resort I had to use the bathroom. Greg had made sure we took our toilet paper with us but I was sure it would not be needed. Greg was right. Upon entering a public bathroom stall at the Mountain Resort, I was shocked to find NO toilet. Only a ceramic hole in the ground over which one has to squat to do your business. Thankfully I had my own toilet paper. For those that don't - they use their hands or nothing at all. The restrooms had a sickening smell and I couldn't wait to get out. Once I was through I went to wash my hands and found only cold water and no paper towels. When I got outside, Greg was sitting there, shaking his head and just smiling at me. I learned that not all of the public rest rooms in China are of hotel quality.

We came home and the Bu family went back to Chengde City and left us alone at the apartment for the remainder of our stay. I rested what I could while Greg went to visit old friends and see sights he knew and remembered from his stay here before. I wasn't much good company for a couple of days due to having a small seizure (which Greg helped me through, as he always does) and problems with my stamina, my feet and legs - I felt like I was letting Greg down. I was not all that impressed with this area that felt like home to Greg. I was a bit bored at times and unhappy as there was little food that I liked. It just didn't seem like a vacation to me. Greg was having the time of his life. I didn't want to take that away from him as it was so good to see him so very happy. He did keep trying until he found me some food that I liked. He really looks after me well. I stayed back at the apartment today to write this and to let my legs swelling go down more.

I feel as though I'm letting Greg down by NOT going everywhere with him; and he feels like he is abandoning me by leaving me back here alone. They only have Chinese TV and no air conditioning for the humid day today. Greg and I have had very sweet moments together while here and that means a lot to me. What I've been able to get out it has been very interesting and very neat experience thus far. It is a city and country of many contrasts. I look forward to going to the Great Wall; To the Forbidden City; to Beijing where the Olympics were held and into the cities to see all the sites there. The countryside is a bit depressing for me as there is so much poverty here. So much more poverty than the prosperity, or so it seems. The University Greg taught at has already offered him to come back (he told them, no - but thank you very much) and Greg has met many old friends and students. They are very good people and love him so much. The school is very nice and known to be prestigious here. Education is everything to these people. I've learned to not use my yokelisms and to slow my speech so they can understand my English, those who speak some of it. It has been interesting so far. Oh, we saw sheep herders on the side of the road coming here and homeless people. It was a very different experience.

In places it feels like a third world country, but in others it feels very civilized and modern. I look forward to seeing more of the civilized and modern areas. I miss home and talking to Madi everyday, but I'm just lazy and spoiled is all. This experience promises to get better and better. I think I've hurt Greg's feelings by not being excited about this area. He'd love to come back and teach but doesn't want to leave me alone with my health problems. He is such a good man. I wish I could make him happier about this trip as far as what he wants me to get out of it. It will all be OK and get better I'm sure. Our Host and Hostess are wonderful people - wonderful people. We love them and their family very much. I want Greg to have a great time here. He has missed China so much and after all, this is his vacation too.

Last night Greg took me to a fancy authentic Chinese restaurant. We actually have ridden in 2 cabs so far that were not CRAZY rides. They were fairly good drivers. He took me into the city which is much cleaner and more modern that the outlying villages and small towns. At night the city really lights up. People everywhere. Street vendors everywhere. Lights everywhere. The city looked like a mini Las Vegas. The restaurant looked like something right out of Beverly Hills. The atmosphere was amazing and the service incredible, but the food was the best. I had never eaten any kind of duck before. My first time and it was none other than Peking Duck. It was succulent. It was part of a six course meal that included two wonderfully rich soups (Duck and chicken) fresh watermelon appetizers; crisp duck skin dipped in sugar; pickled, salted vegetables; Peking Duck with duck sauce; Chinese cucumbers and Chinese sweet onions; sweetened shaved beef medallions; chicken and mushroom stuffed steamed dumplings; pork and cucumber stuffed fried dumplings; egg and vegetable stuffed boiled dumplings; sweet chrysanthemum tea w/sugar balls; & ice water. They had a variety of fresh seafood in aquariums all around us. One fish was at least 3 feet long w/a bright red pointed nose. We had 5 waitresses who waited on our every need. Greg set me up by telling me that he was taking me to a little diner-dive in the slums that had great food, but instead we ended up in a very nice part of the city at a lush five-star restaurant in an elegant hotel.. We ate the duck by making duck rolls out of rice flour wrap. They had this huge beautiful revolving door and the lights had special made chandeliers that reflected the light off of cut beveled glass walls. The menu was a red leather-bound book 20 inches high by 10 inches wide that featured full color photos of each dish. It was beautiful and made my mouth water just looking at the photos.

While we were waiting for the main courses to be served, Belinda gave us a beautiful hand painted tea-set service for six in a special box to carry it in. She gave me a pearl and sequined hair broach and the legendary 4 ladies mirrors. They are about a legend of the beauty of the Four Ladies of China. She didn't go into the legend, but said I was beautiful. So sweet of her. She also gave us a fist-full of hand stitched crocheted knotted hangers to share with friends and family. We were very surprised and excited and appreciative. After dinner we caught a cab and went to a city supermarket. It was like a Lowes and Super Wal-Mart all in one. We had to lock our bags in a locker before we entered the store to start shopping. This was to protect any merchandise we may have purchased at other stores. Then the shopping began! They had large quantities of everything displayed everywhere. Help was everywhere - not like Wal-Mart in America! They had every kind of meat and seafood you could imagine, all displayed in glass display cases at the counters. People here eat fresh meat and produce everyday and generally only buy for a day at a time. The market was interesting. I could've stayed for hours but I didn't know what most stuff was because of Chinese writing on it. It was good to find American products like Skippy peanut butter, loaves of bread like in the states; Dove and Nestle’s candy bars. Most everything here has a different smell and taste than back home but it was a good experience. Sunny won a 2 liter of Sprite soda with our receipt. She was so happy.

Today Greg got out and visited old friends; took more photos; and hiked around a lot, but the heat and humidity got the better of him because he was wearing his black shirt and heavy cargo pants instead of his shorts. Right now, we are back at the apartment ready for an afternoon bit of relaxation. The apartment we are staying at is a secured community across from the college. They have locked doors to come into the apartments then you climb dirty stairwells to your apartment, but once at the door, you see a beautiful heavy-duty cherry wood front door. Upon entering you find a very clean, modern home with minimalist taste and decor, but very inviting. The kitchens have no ovens, most have microwaves (Bu's apartment in the city did, but this one didn't); a skinny, tall refrigerator with a very differently designed freezer and very little cabinet space. No dishwashers or other modern conveniences. Very simple, very efficient.

I've definitely learned to appreciate America so much more. I've seen very little of the USA and have led a fairly comfortable life of what I would say is middle class - but even at that, I realize just how much I am blessed to be a woman and living in these times, and especially in America. I have the blessing of the Gospel in my life and so much has been given me and laid in my hands compared to so many others. I have a life of ease and convenience, despite my health problems. I need to give more to others especially those at home. I realize I have options that others don't. Even here in this nice modern apartment, their bathroom features a shower that either is TOO hot or TOO cold and seldom hot. They sit the toilet right up next to the tub so close you can barely use it. They do their wash mostly by hand and hang dry. It's modern for this area and we have the cleanest area for the area. Clean still leaves something to be desired even in this complex. Chinese plumbing is a little faulty at times, and the stairwells have timed lighting that never seems to stay on long enough at night. A sense of security goes out the window when you can't see what you need to see. It's nice enough, it just makes me miss all the conveniences of home and I appreciate them more.

I got to talk with my son Mike today briefly. It was good to hear his voice. He sounded so close. I could hear little Madi in the background jabbering at something. She said something to me then Mike said she kissed the phone and I heard her tell Daisey she was BAD and she was gone. It was good to hear the sounds of home again. Still, I am looking forward to the rest of our vacation here as there is still much to see and do especially in Beijing.

Tonight we met up with Greg's former boss from the University. He speaks fairly good English for a Chinese person. We met another teacher (from Great Britain) then took a cab to a nice restaurant in town where we joined other local and foreign teachers. Everyone was so nice. They went on and on about my fair skin and how beautiful they thought I am. That was very nice, but the irony here is that in China - an American, fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde woman symbolizes wealth and beauty. In America being fair-skined sometimes symbolizes poor health. They all were very, very kind to me.

Two of the four women (Filipino) spoke English, but the other two (Chinese) were quick studies of body language and we all laughed and smiled a lot. With the exception of Greg, myself and one other lady from the Philippines, everyone was drinking and smoking. We dined on a four course meal that was authentic Chinese cooking. It was all very delicious. There was a lot of conversation (even though much was translated), laughing and photo taking. There were many toasts and cheers. Everyone was having just the very best of times. We all had planned to go out and Karaoke together afterwards, but I could feel a small seizure coming on and had to leave very quickly. Once again, Greg noticed what was happening and very graciously got me home just in the nick of time. That is twice I've had them here, and twice the Good Lord has allowed me to get home before it blew up full force. I had such a good time tonight with much laughter that it was worth it to have to suffer a little later. I cannot live in a glass bubble with this head injury. Tonight I will sleep for the rest of the evening and rest up. We will shop and maybe Karaoke later this week.

They have fabric toilet seat covers, you can take a shower in or out of the shower. Cars have seat covers over everything. Headboards, pillow cases (shams), couches all have some type of covers no matter how new they are. I guess this protects them from all the wear and tear and dirt from the dust storms which occur in the spring and early summer. Fortunately, we have missed the dust storms for this year. When we first got here, I smelled something funny and Greg told me it was the old men smoking opium. I couldn't believe such a custom still exists, but it does. I've been watching Chinese TV and it makes me really appreciate American TV and actors, or at least those in the industry for America. These people have so much on the ball in so many ways, but I love and appreciate home so much more. I can't believe how advanced America is and how many more conveniences we have. I love that we have mostly clean air and clean water, no open sewers and rarely does one see garbage in the streets where we live.

Today I had a Chinese-style breakfast burrito that Greg surprised me with. He bought it from one of the street vendors in the apartment complex. It had a rice flour tortilla with eggs cooked into it; shredded potatoes; Bok Choy; and shredded cabbage and sliced green beans. It was wonderful, filling and light. Greg got it from a street vendor griddle. It was wonderful. A real taste of the climate here. Tonight we met Bu in the city and went shopping, ate at KFC and I had my nails done Chinese style. We saw a Chinaman with a long pig-tail down his back and workers with the pointy dome hats they wear in the old movies. It is a bit humid tonight. We found many good bargains and found Madi the cutest little Chinese outfit with the brocade China knots. She can wear it this winter. I found some Chinese style shoes, but they don't fit quite so well. It was the largest size they had. My feet are still swollen a lot from the plane ride here. They still have not completely returned to normal. A total of 19 hours at 37,000 feet in a pressurized jet will do that to you. I had no idea.

I want to add more about things I had forgotten to write about. Leaving the U.S. we briefly flew out over the Atlantic Ocean and then we saw the New York City skyline, Manhattan Island and the Statue of Liberty. That was a particular highlight for me. I've always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She is beautiful. It gave me goose bumps to see her. I even saw the Empire state building. What was missing was the twin towers. I felt sad when I realized they really are gone and with all the people that went with them.

We have done a lot of shopping with street vendors, in little mom and pop shops, in stores that you could eat off their floors and in stores for the very rich. We just did a lot of looking in those stores. We found a Chinese Dollar-General Store of sorts; a Chinese Apothecary Pharmacy. Another thing I forgot to mention about our flight into China is that we saw the Great Wall from the air (we actually flew right over the top of it), we also saw the terraced hill sides with rice paddies. We've seen street beggars; I've gotten blisters and bandages; I've watched Chinese TV; I've seen extreme poverty right next to the Orient Beverly Hills exclusive country club subdivision; I've seen little children in crotchless pants (so their moms can hold them out over the street to do their business). I've been to a Buddhist temple and seen and heard monks chanting and praying; climbed the steps to heaven; rolled the prayer rolls (drums); seen the 40-50 ft Buddhas; eaten in a Chinese KFC and McDonalds; purchased a little bitty glass bottle where the artist painted a picture upside down, inside out, and backwards (Greg paid the artist to paint my name on the inside of the bottle). It is a beautiful work of art. We've heard Chinese fireworks, mostly on the weekends, for people who were married. The newlyweds’ relatives welcome them to their new homes with thousand of firecrackers and aerial rockets, and explosions.

We've had early days and late nights at times; seen young people trying to be very westernized and old people who are very traditional. The funny thing to me is to see what we call knee high or anklet panty hose - they wear over here as socks. The commercials over here are mini-infomercials. Greg has found me the best little street vendor that fixes me morning burritos made with eggs and vegetables. Sooo delicious. Greg's knees have swollen up on him from all his hiking around trying to help me find stuff so I didn't have to do so as much hiking and running around. He is doing things to make his honey happy. So much we've seen and done. The people are priceless and precious, or at least those we've come in contact with.

Today Belinda (we call her Bu which is her last name) invited us to the community park where we watched her and her friends practice Tai Chi. She did her sword dance and her fan dance. We got mini movies of each. Her teacher also did several kinds of Tai Chi dancing for us. After several dances and routines, it gets a little boring as it all starts to look the same to me . . . but to them it is a very big deal. They are very proud of their discipline and are anxious to share it with others especially foreigners (I'm spelling stuff wrong I know, but oh well). They were all dressed in different colored blouses and robes which are the uniforms for the Tai Chi It was very interesting.

It was a beautiful morning for a brief but brisk walk to the park. The park has many areas set aside just to get exercise, This is very important to this people to be healthy and to live a long and prosperous life. Prosperity to them begins and ends with their health. I saw many elderly in the park exercising who are in MUCH better shape than I am. Everyone is eager to show me exercise. Even though they think I am beautiful because of my fair skin, they realize that, in their eyes I am NOT healthy for one reason or another.

Bu's mother came later in the morning to visit with me. She is a VERY outgoing and friendly lady. She kept smiling and staring at my face. She said some kind words to me that Bu and Greg translated and we had a quaint conversation. I could tell that Bu and her daughter were very happy to have their mother and grandmother there for a visit. They smiled a lot and laughed a lot too.

When Bu's mother learned from Bu of my head injury, she began to show me exercises to do to help my head injury heal. I was impressed with her sincere desire to help me. She also sang for us. She has a VERY loud but beautiful voice. They said that she and friends gather on the corner every morning to sing to passersby to cheer them up. She loves doing this. She also said that she sings everyday to her disabled husband (who does not recognize anyone) as she says it makes him very happy. Her hardship is lightened by the power of music and she is full of joy and life. She is elderly and seems to be about 30. She looks about 45 and is sixty four. She had very few wrinkles and I only saw smile lines as she smiles so big you can barely see her eyes. She was a true joy and delight.

Greg spent a couple of hours teaching Bu about the video camera we bought for her in the States and gave to her when we arrived. She was excited and very interested in learning everything about this mini-DVD camcorder. She is a good student and obviously interested in always learning new things. Bu gave me her beautiful red fan that she uses for her fan dance. I insisted she keep it as she used it, but she insisted that as her friend because I liked her dance so much that I keep the fan. She has a talent for fanning it out at the snap of a hand and makes it look so very beautiful. I was very touched by this very personal gift. We traveled some and encountered a lot of road construction. It is ironic to me that cab drivers race thru trouble spots and seem to creep on the open roadway.

We did some traveling in the rain which worked my nerves a lot but the rain seemed to clean all the sandy, gritty dust and dirt off of most things. It seemed to be a welcomed relief by the locals. Bu cooked for us on the weekend while we were all there at the same time. Her cooking is very good, I really liked most things she prepared. It was authentic Chinese cooking. I can see how eating like they do (mostly lean meats and vegetables at every meal) keeps them lean and fit. The apartment Bu and her family let us stay in was very nice and comfortable and we are very grateful for it. They would not let us pay them for travel, room and board, NOTHING! Their hospitality was amazing.

One evening, Bu set me down to show me photos of her and her family, but most impressive was the antique, authentic photos of her parents from the time they were children to adults and of her grandparents from childhood to adults. Their history was fascinating to listen to. It was amazingly obvious how proud of her heritage she is and how she valued those photos dearly. I was touched that she'd want to share such personal history with me. I felt a bond of real friendship deepen.

At times it was a bit warm and humid in the apartment, so we went to the market and bought an electric fan. It was expensive by Chinese standards but a good investment as it helped make our time in the apartment much more enjoyable. We left it for them. We needed to freshen our laundry so since her washing machine was not working, Greg hand washed our whites and hung them out to dry. This is how most people here (even in affluence) do their laundry. Once we left Bu's and came to Beijing, at the hotel they let us use their very small clothes washer, but we had to hang our clothes out to dry. When it came time to leave Bu and her family it was bitter sweet. They are such good friends. Greg made his rounds to say goodbye to all his friends and fellow teachers at the university and it was bittersweet for him as well.

We had an interesting 3.5 hr drive to Beijing that day. It rained some. We saw many amazing and beautiful sights going back to Beijing - just as we did coming into Chengde. I am intrigued by the many walled villages that we pass in the countryside. Greg said that it is not unusual for several generations of the same families to live in these villages for many, many years. They plant, farm, harvest, raise animals and everything else as a community. Some of them are actually very old and can go back hundreds of years. We also saw people planting rice in the rice paddies and there were ox drawn plows and carts right next to newer motor scooters and cars. It is so green everywhere.
Once at the very quaint, but authentic and beautiful little hotel in the Hutongs of Beijing, we rested the rest of the day. Hutong is the Chinese word for alley or small street. Greg said these were the original streets and communities of old Beijing and now many of them are being torn down to make way for modern buildings. Parts of the hutong settlements have been restored or kept the way they were. Some of the buildings have been turned into shops and hotels. Ours is a very traditional looking style. It's really cool looking but has wonderful modern conveniences. The shower was awesome. The air conditioning was great.
The journey was very tiring. We got set up and settled in. They served us supper which was a very spicy meat stew and rice. I enjoyed the coke and some food we brought from Chengde as the food here was a little too spicy for me. We purchased 2 small pizzas thinking they would be like back home, but they were gross. The crust was good but the toppings were local and the cheese was some form of soy goat cheese that was not the same as back home. We tossed the pizzas. Greg walked around the hutongs and found a Chinese version of an all-night 7-11 a short distance away. It was loaded with American style food and the kind of great noodles he got for me in Chengde. Needless to stay he loaded up for me. The next day we got up early and headed to a place in Beijing called Wangfujing, but its more commonly known as Walking Street. It is a shopping district that is over a mile of little shops on one side and huge fancy and expensive department stores on the other. No cars are allowed on Walking Street. You can find anything your heart desires on Walking Street. Bargains galore and some pretty pricey stuff too.
Everywhere we went some salesclerk was trying to get us to come in and review their merchandise. Once in, they were pushing everything you could think of on us. Greg had no problem politely but firmly telling them NO thank you at times. Me? I was overwhelmed with all they were putting in my face. I learned to shake my head NO but it only caused them to produce the next item they had up for sale. Greg had to rescue me several times. We did buy a few souvenirs but not near as many as they had hoped for. Greg took me down little side streets where they had little markets of everything a person’s imagination could dream up. One in particular was Snack Street. It was full of foods that I had only seen on extreme shows about such on TV’s Discovery Channel. We saw bugs on a stick - things like scorpions and silk worms. There was squid and every kind of creeping, crawling and seafood thing you could dream up. There were even sea horses. Greg ate a scorpion. He said they were quite salty and crunchy. I had to think twice about kissing him for awhile after that. I mean his sugars are sweet and I crave them, but scorpions? Come on. What if the stinger was left on his lips? I told him that I didn't want to end up looking like Angelina Jolie.

We sat and watched every kind of people go by. We even saw several Caucasian people but most of them were not speaking English so I was fascinated to learn there are many different people here. Even Japanese, Koreans, Thai and Vietnamese. Sometimes I had problems with either my feet, my stamina, my knees or my back, so Greg was good to let me rest as I needed to. There were times when he even stopped and said, “OK. . .rest-stop.” We would just sit down and watch people or enjoy the breeze until he felt I was ready to go again.

I just really feel out of shape, aside from the blisters from all the walking. A couple of times I made the mistake of wearing the wrong shoes for the amount of walking we did. Some days we walked up to seven or eight miles, but never in a solid stretch. I have had some episodes with seizures – mostly small, but a couple of them were pretty bad. But I push myself on as best as I can (and as much as Greg will let me). . .who knows when I'll ever be in China again, and I want to spend time with Greg on this vacation. He has done EVERYTHING in his power to make this a great vacation for me and has taken great care of me and looked after my every want and need. I love him for his consideration and kindness. While I was resting, Greg went out and bought two chickens to eat for supper, but they had some kind of local BBQ sauce on them that I didn't like. He was trying to be considerate of me by finding something safe (chicken) for me to eat. He didn’t mind the sauce, but it was way too spicy for me. He felt bad about it. A little bit later he asked if I would be okay for an hour or two while he went to take some night time pictures. I was pretty beat so I told him to go and have a great time. Imagine my surprise when he returned about an hour and a half later holding something behind his back. He asked me the Kojak question – “Who loves ya baby?” and showed me what he was hiding behind his back. He had taken 2 long taxi rides back to and from Walking Street to get me a McDonald’s Big Mac meal with extra French fries! That wouldn’t be the last time he did little sweet things like that for me to make me feel comfortable. He got me McDonalds Big Mac's several times. There is something so comforting about the Golden Arches, especially so far from home. Some of their food was authentic American and fixed exactly like back home. The Big Mac meal was one of them. We tried a quarter-pounder but it had some sort of hot sauce and local cucumbers on it.. Not very tasty to me, but Greg ate it and gave me his Big Mac. That sounds like a sacrifice, but not for Greg. Normally the only things he will eat at McDonald's are french fries, Orange juice or hashbrowns. He's not a big fan and prefers Wendy's. The rest of the McDonalds food, except Coca Cola was made for the locals their way. We ventured to try Pizza Hut, but their menu was expanded from back home and nothing was Americanized so we passed and eventually went to Papa John’s Pizza in downtown Beijing. The menu there was expanded for local fare but they had many pizzas exactly like back home and we got several of them. It was heaven in a land of strange foods to me. I was on cloud nine and Greg couldn’t help but laugh as I ‘mmmm mmmmed’ in delight with each bite. When the staff at Papa John’s found out that we were from Louisville (Papa John's headquarters) they treated us like royalty. Greg loves the local Chinese foods, but most are just too much for me. I missed Bu's cooking a great deal.

While I rested from our mini trips, Greg wandered around the city on foot and with crazy cab drivers taking many photos to take home. He seemed to not be able to cram it all in such a short stay in this area.

The next day we got up early and went to the Forbidden City. Instantly we as Americans were spotted and the English speaking tour guides pounced on us to show us around for a fee. We found one that was NOT so pushy and hired her. Although Greg knew much of the history of the place, this girl spoke English and was VERY knowledgeable about the City and all its little extra tidbits of history. Greg said he wished he had had a guide his first time there, so he hired her - mostly for my benefit (so he could still be with me but take pictures). I learned a lot about the Emperor, his staff and the Dowager Empress (the Dragon Lady of China). I knew that what she was telling us was the truth as I had heard Greg tell me many of the same things in detail and also I had seen a lot on the History and Discovery channels. There was a lot I didn't know and she made the trip through this city mean a lot more than just wandering through pavilions, rooms, temples and courtyards. I really enjoyed this trip most of all, especially the Imperial Garden. Our tour guide, Linda, made it a great experience for both of us.

As we came out of the Forbidden City on the very far end from where we started, my feet were killing me from ALL the long walking. We had just decided to hail a taxi when a rickshaw driver grabbed us and offered a ride. He knew there were two of us, so we figured he knew what he was doing. We followed him to his rickshaw. There were several waiting around so we assumed we'd each be in one apiece and just follow each other. He wanted to take us thru the Hutongs for more money and we told him no, just to Tiananmen Square which entrance was back opposite the South Gate where we began, just on the opposite side. He said OK and we thought we were off to the front gate which SHOULD have been a short five minute ride at best. He insisted that we both ride in his small, flimsy rickshaw, but we kept telling him no as we could barely fit onto the small seat together and it really was uncomfortable for us and for him to pedal. He insisted he could handle it. We were told by the tour guide to only pay 20 Yuen for the trip.

The rickshaw driver started us through the hutongs where we soon became lost and disoriented direction-wise. We couldn't really bail because we would probably be on our own. We soon realized that he was taking us on a winding route thru the hutongs. The back of the ride kept scraping the wheel making a loud scraping noise. It was all he could do to pedal us. Greg offered to get out and walk alongside the pedicab rickshaw as that was about as fast as we were going anyway, and to make it more comfortable for me but the driver insisted NO. After nearly half an hour we still weren't at Tiananmen Square. Greg told him to stop and turn around and take us back. The driver kept saying we were almost there. When we arrived at our destination (which was NOWHERE near Tianamen Square) we were shocked that he insisted on going where we had insisted he NOT go. We felt that the ride had probably done some damage to his rickshaw and he was obviously worn out. We were prepared to pay him a handsome tip for his efforts anyway, but when he demanded five times what we had planned on giving him and 20 times what we were told to pay him for the requested original ride, he and Greg got into it. Greg tried to be as polite as possible but when the the driver became rude and started yelling and swearing, Greg pretty much reamed him out and questioned his ethics and business methods in TWO languages. Then the guy told Greg to empty out his pockets and show him his wallet. That was pretty much the last straw as far as Greg was concerned. Being told in his native tongue that he had ‘lost face’ by being unscrupulous and had shamed his ancestors REALLY surprised and humbled the guy. He looked like his eyes were gonna bug out. Finally, instead of the 400 Yuen he had demanded, Greg paid him 80, told him to consider himself fortunate to get it (again in two languages) and the man finally accepted it after he was pleading that he had worn out both his rickshaw and himself giving us the ride - the ride on a route that we told him NOT to take.
I felt a little sorry for him and wanted to pay him at least 1/2 of what he demanded but he did just the opposite of what we asked knowing what we had asked and he agreed to. He knew in a block the toll it would take on him and his ride, but he insisted. I wished we had just refused him and hailed a taxi like we had originally planned instead.
Speaking of taxi drivers, it was funny because some taxi drivers had no idea how to get us back to our hotel because Beijing and its hutongs are very big and some are a bit complicated. But Greg was able to direct the couple of taxi drivers who had no idea where they were going. They were surprised that he spoke Chinese and that he knew where to direct them. It was interesting to listen to Greg talk and laugh and joke with the taxi drivers. He has a great sense of humor that even the Chinese seem to appreciate and he gave them very good tips at the end of our rides home several times. It amazed me how quickly Greg picked up to the local area. Beijing is a very large and busy city. There are approximately 17 million people living in Beijing. It is crowded and at times the people seem to be very pushy - pushy as in a hurry to get onto the bus, the subway, the taxi, through the doorway, etc. I found that ironic as they are mostly very helpful and mannerly, but it seems to be a custom here to just force your way through the crowded streets and sidewalks, stores and buildings. I found the game of dodge-the-person in front of me and around me to be very challenging. I don't care for China in that regard as it is too fast paced for me, even in some of the smaller cities.
I am a small town country girl where a much slower pace of life is very comforting. Greg wants me to like it so badly as he loves it and would like to eventually come back again to teach and bring me. I don't think I could take it, especially with my health issues and language barrier. Even though there are Church Branches in Beijing with other Americans and we would only be here for six months or so at a time, I think it would still be too difficult for me. I am one to try to step aside and try to get out of peoples way when they are in such a hurry, but I'd get run over and never get anywhere. There are tens of thousands of taxis in Beijing and as many if not more crowded buses. It's all too confusing to me. Maybe one day I could handle it, but just not right now. I know this will disappoint Greg and I don't want to do that, but I have to be honest. Maybe we will come back on a mission someday.

A local told us to avoid the Olympic venues as it is a very big hassle to get there and taking pictures by the arenas is impossible (to get the whole building in the photo, etc.). After talking about it, we decided that given these factors, we would forgo this venue and stick to the DVD’s we have at home that are of the Olympics opening ceremony in which the venues are so clear and vivid to see in their completeness. Today I rest as I have an upset stomach and tired legs. Greg is out traipsing around again. I get so tickled at him. This place is so very important to him so I want him to take in all he can. He makes sure I have food to eat and am not left alone for long. That makes me sound kinda like a little puppy, huh? He worries about abandoning me, but I only worry that something will happen to him and I won't see him again. I worry what to do if something goes wrong, which has been my luck in the past, but this trip has gone amazingly well. We have one more day and we go to the Great Wall, then home. It has been a very busy two weeks, but I am ready to go home and see my home and family and get back into an area that is familiar to me and not so scary. I am just a very insecure person when it comes to some things, especially in a foreign communist land. It has been a good trip though. Next time, I want a local cruise instead. I just had Greg read these notes, hoping he wouldn't get upset. He just smiled and started looking at cruise packages on the internet for April. Whatta guy.

Something I've noticed is that on TV they have very modern westernized commercials, but their shows are very dramatic based on either the military, old world themed shows and soaps and a few modern soaps - but their shows mostly seem to theme around their past, that of their ancestors or their military. Not a lot to be impressed with. They have very few GOOD actors or actresses. It's sad for entertainment.

The young girls here are very obsessed with getting their bra size increased. I've noticed on more than one occasion that many of the woman (and almost all of the men) stare at my chest. I know they must be wondering if my breasts are real and how on earth did I get 'em? One time when we were having dinner with other professors from the University, a Chinese lady asked me how to make her boobs bigger. I put my hands together in front of my chest and pushed my hands together. I told her to do this each morning and night for a few minutes and they would grow. Right. Joking, I also told her (through Greg) that I had some magic beans that could take her to a golden goose. She laughed real hard but started pushing her hands together. . we even got a picture of it.
The women also love to wear high heels and sparkly, bling-bling stuff everywhere. I've seen them hike on long walking tours in high heels. They walk in them like tennis shoes. It's amazing. Their commercials try to sell all kinds of get-well cures and many, many products for weight loss. There are fat people here somewhere. I've just not seen but a very few.

I have been impressed that for the most part, the population of China seems to dress very modestly. I also noticed that I am married to the only gentleman I’ve met while here. Men do not open doors for women, pull out their chairs, let them cut in line or give up their seats for them. My guy has always done that and still does it here in China.

Oh yeah, they make the best thermoses here in China. They keep liquids hot for days. Imagine that! The only things remaining that we need to get to go home with are some chunks of the Great Wall of China (yes, Greg is going to bring back some chunks of the Great Wall). THAT should prove interesting. We also need to get a few tee-shirts and some post cards - IF we can find them. We've been wanting to send post cards to family and friends but so far we have not found any that we like.

Before I came to China I was worried I would say something wrong and get arrested or offend someone. Well, I've done something of the sort the past couple of days. I didn't know until it was far too late. I didn't do anything to get arrested, but what I did was embarrassing. What I did or didn't do isn't important to explain here and it was purely and entirely innocent. However, I was mortified when it was explained to me what had happened. Greg caught me the first time and tried his best to help me from letting it happen again, but it's just a habit of mine. Let's just say that I learned a valuable lesson about living in a foreign land and in a foreign culture. Don't ask me what it was. . .you won't get an answer - from me or Greg. But Greg DID have a chuckle or two about it.

Tonight, I was beat, so Greg went out to get us something to eat and brought back some pork and chicken on a stick from one of the street vendors to surprise me. This was something I told him I had no interest in eating - ANY food on a stick. He said I should just give it a try. I was amazed at how good it was. Street vendors are unreal here. They cook on blackened grills, pots and propane griddles like you'd find in any backyard in America. Dirty, greasy, smoky, smelly. . .but man, they crank out some good eats. They seem to have the best common foods. Can't wait to see what he will surprise me with next.

Oh! We had an incredible experience while shopping with Bu in Chengde. On the exact same day, in the exact same city of nearly half a million people, in the exact same store, on the exact same floor, at the exact same time, Greg rounded a corner and heard someone yell, "HUTCH" with great excitement. It was one of his former students from the university. She had recognized him and stopped him to say hello and comment on how much she had enjoyed his classes and noted that he had literally changed her life with his lessons, his humor and his wonderful teaching methods. So much so, that she changed her major in college from Government to International Studies and English so as to become an interpreter and possibly work in the UN. They hugged and she had tears in her eyes. He introduced me and she gave me a big hug. She said she remembered me because I called Greg once during class and he put me on speaker-phone so the class could talk to me. Her father had also taken Greg on a weekend fishing trip to a big reserevoir up in the mountains. I had heard many stories about that trip and it was nice to put a face with the girl who set it up for him. She also said he had inspired her to work as an English teacher while she gets her Masters Degree to help in becoming an interpreter. She said many kind things and made a point to tell Greg that she had tried to keep in touch but had been unsuccessful. She was insistent on exchanging information so as to keep in touch from that time forward. Greg said she was his best student and also his favorite because she has a very inquisitive mind. He said she was very young to be in college and had taken special advanced college level classes. That is typical of many of the the students in China. She is very intelligent. The things she said brought tears to Greg's eyes. It was very moving. It was a miracle in a foreign country for such a happenstance to take place on a whim. It was like it was fate. A very special experience for sure. By the way, her English name is Laura - the same as my first name!

Today we got up early after I had a bit of a panic attack from a nightmare about Casey being abducted at war. We got a tour bus to the Ming Tombs which was an educational experience. Beautiful buildings and tomb artifacts, statues, gold and silver and bronze head dress and helmets and daily house wares used by the emperor and empress. There were 13 emperors, 26 empresses and many concubines buried in the tombs. We then left to tour a very large jade factory/market. It was a beautiful and jaw dropping experience. We learned there are seven main colors of jade, not just green and white. There were many large to very small carvings and paintings from jade dust. It was a very enlightening experience. We saw one jade wall screen worth over 2 million dollars and a large ship carved from one piece of jade for nearly as much. We learned how to tell good jade from bad jade and jade fakes. We bought a 3 in one ball that carved one ball inside another inside another all from one piece of jade. It is about the husband and the wife on the outside and the family on the inside and family unity and harmony. We then had the most delicious authentic Chinese lunch and then off to the Great Wall.

It was an amazing sight. It was so old and so constant. It was very steep going up and very hard to climb and very steep going down and very hard on the knees. We took the cable car up and back to the main wall, but the wall itself is an aerobic workout that one cannot begin to imagine. It was very intense, but had breathtaking sights. It gave me an appreciation what the workers went thru to build it and what the soldiers went thru to work it. Keeping a country safe is hard work by all involved. We then left and went to a silk factory/market where Greg had previously purchased our silk bedspread. It is beautiful. The lesson on how silk is made and processed from silkworms to the final product was demonstrated. It's amazing to me how how one little bug can create something so amazing as silk and how it can be used for so many uses. We bought souvenirs. We bought a hat in China made in the USA and gave a gift to our host that was bought in America and made in China. We all have had a good laugh over this. Then it was home to buy some street food, a little sweets and cold water. After 12 hrs of non-stop activities I am ready for a hot shower and a rest. Greg paced me a lot today and said he was very proud of me for my stamina. I hope I don't pay for it later.

This has been a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us, because we are here together. I know Greg will eventually return and teach for six months or so at a time, but I don’t think I’ll be back unless it is to go back to Hong Kong where he served his mission. All in all, this has been an amazing opportunity for me to live in a different culture and have many new experiences. I have seen and tasted so many different things. I have a new appreciation of how blessed I am to live where I do and enjoy all the comforts of life that I take for granted.

We go home tomorrow. In many ways this trip has gone by way fast. But I am still anxious to get home and sleep in my own bed and see my little granddaughter Madi. I have made new friends for life, especially Bu and her lovely daughter Sunny. I hope we will always stay in contact with each other. It’s been a trip alright, but I’ll be glad to be home.