China is a funny place

China is a funny place.  It is one huge anachronism. 

Right now, I am looking out my hotel window, and in the middle of the roundabout is a 700 year old bell tower temple where they still ring the bell.  Behind it there are three huge times square type screens with advertisements on the modern high rise buildings.

Driving in China.  All those movies you see about how insane foreign driving is – no kidding, it doesn’t even come close.  I don’t even look out the bus window anymore until we get outside of town.  Cars and buses and bikes and motorcycles and pedestrians all navigating the roads at once.  There are almost no traffic lights.  As far as I can tell there are no traffic laws.  It is insane.  And  yet, we haven’t seen a wreck yet.  And we’ve seen almost no dented cars.  ???  I have no idea.

I have stayed at the most opulent hotels I have ever been in.  The rooms are huge.  There are fantastic furnishings.  Absolutely top notch.  And the wiring in these places is screwy, to put it mildly.  Seeming unrelated lights are wired to arbitrary outlets.  Lights require some kind of particular sequencing of switches before they come on (as well as the accompanying outlet).  Every night I play “outlet roulette.”  In this enormous room there are exactly three outlets, including the one for the TV.  In those outlets, the two plug ins are completely different.  When I use my adapters or converters to plug things in, we begin the roulette.  The ones that look the same do not fit the same.  Each charger is taken to each plug to see what fits.  At times chargers must be plugged into the wall and held into place with duct tape.  Then I have to make sure that the appropriate switch is turned on and either unplug the lamp that is attached to that outlet, or hope that my sleeping mask will block out the light.

Toilets.  Many toilets here are squat toilets.  I’ll spare you the details, but it’s just like what it sounds.  These are usually just as well plumbed as western style toilets, and often even have automatic flushers.  However, you must bring your own toilet paper.  Sometimes there is some outside the stall in the main bathroom, but not usually.  After having been afraid of these toilets before we arrived here, we’ve all about decided that they may be preferable to western toilets.  No seat with germs and no hovering.

Cleanliness.  The air is unbelievably polluted.  It coats us all over in a day.  But people the streets are very clean.  There are people whose sole job is one specific area to keep clean at all times.  For instance, in the airports there is a woman that comes in behind every single person and mops the floor in the stall. 

China is a funny place.


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Bejing Day 2

I didn’t write yesterday because it was an absolutely wretched day. I was really questioning the wisdom of having come.

I saw Tinnamen square, the incredible Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The scale is past anything I could have imagined before I came. Sadly, a lot of the experience was lost on me because of my negative state at the time.

Fortunately, then I had today.

We went to the government jade store. I got myself a gift today. It is beautiful.

Then we went to the Heiffer Project village outside of Bejing. I’m sure a lot of people were affected by the poverty of their lives and our own fortune… but me… Apparently I needed to see some green and some blue. We drove out through these beautiful mountains, and after a long while we arrived at an extremely rural area right in the middle of the most beautiful scenery. Though the smog is ever present, it was much reduced in this area compared to Bejing city. There were chickens and goats and pigs and corn and beans and babies. Beautiful red cheeked babies that waved and smiled when we said hello in Chinese. I could have stayed there all day. I felt so very recharged. It was like being home in a way. Who knew I had become such a country girl.

The people must think it odd that we come in a troupe to watch them live their everyday lives. The two families were so sweet. They had dressed up their children for the event. Yes, what a humble existence, but wow what a place to live humbly.

And then we went to the Great Wall. Even now, thinking about it I begin to tear up. It was so overwhelming. We rode a lift most of the way up the mountain, and as I looked down at this devastatingly beautiful mountain below me and the incomprehensibly ancient wall getting closer to me, I had to pinch myself. Am I really here? How could I really be in this place? How could Wallace not be here experiencing this with me? Over and over again I became emotionally overwhelmed.

We had to walk the last part of the way. I always knew the Wall was fantastically long, but I never realized just how high up it is. The last part of the walk is tough – very tough. Very steep. And then. There you are.View from tower 10

Sitting on top of stone bricks placed there a thousand years ago. A place I looked out once had a watchman standing there protecting the territory. And it goes on as far as I can see in both directions and then some. It’s cool and it’s green, and it… Words escape me. I thought about where I’ve been in my life. The turns my life has taken. How could I ever have believed that at 37 I would be sitting on the Great Wall of China?

I tried to take a picture of every single thing that I could to share the experience with Wallace. Of all the places I go, I feel sure this is the experience I will most wish he had shared with me.

Many people were exhausted. I was energized to the point of being giddy.

No, I am not sorry I came. I can’t believe I came. I can’t believe I am here.

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Somewhere in China.


Well, the 6 hour layover turned into a 7+ hour. The flight was epically long. I watched three movies. Slept about an hour at a time (better than what I’ve done before). So many things made me miss Wallace. Each seat had a video screen on the back. You could choose movies & TV shows, even games (all complimentary), but also you could choose “Flight Path,” which literally showed where you were at all times, the flight speed, the altitude, the time in Shanghai & the time in Chicago, & how much time was left in the flight. It had a picture of the globe that would literally show you where the airplane was. Wallace would have been transfixed. Also, one of the movies available was Casablanca. I watched it, just because it’s one of his favorites.


We missed our connecting flight into Bejing because of the delay. The rest of the trip is going to be all wonky because of it. Thank GOODNESS, Catherine has good contacts. We have another flight in the morning, & they put us up in the swankiest hotel I have ever been too. Three ENORMOUS chandeliers in the marble floor lobby. The chandeliers have lotus blossoms designed into it. Maybe I’ll get a picture of it in the morning. I exchanged my $150 for 800-something RMB’s. I don’t really understand the money.

Susie & I elected to take a stroll around downtown. I was hungry. But faced with trying to purchase things when I speak not one word of the language made me very overwhelmed. We saw lots of young people, probably out clubbing, but surprisingly few places were open at that time of night for a city this sized. We came back to the hotel & had a beer instead. I do know the name of one Chinese beer, at least, and the price is clearly printed on the menu, & the hotel takes credit cards.

We have to be up at 5:30 in the morning, at breakfast at 6:00, & leaving for the airport at 6:30. It’s 12:40 a.m. here. Susie just finished her shower, & I’m going to soak in the most fabulous bathtub I’ve ever seen.

I’m exhausted, & everything seems weird, & well… foreign. I hope a shower & some sleep will help.

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Shanghai’d …or not

Our 2 hour layover in Chicago has turned into six hours.

Okay… really.

I splurged for a big breakfast of bacon & eggs (at $15 – gah).  I’ve only had one cigarette since I’ve been here.  Tried the nicorette gum.  It made my mouth all burny (!), so I thought I should spit that out.  I’ve spent $6 for Wi-Fi.  And accidentally bought a $4 bottle of juice.

This is one way to get over flight anxiety.  I’m so exhausted from my whole 2.5 hours sleep last night that I can’t WAIT to get on that plane & go to sleep.

At this rate, it looks unlikely that we’ll get into Bejing tonight (tomorrow? …whatever).  As long as I don’t have to sleep in the Shanghai airport.

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At this point I’m just ready for all the getting ready to be done.  I’m tired of grading, tired of cleaning house, tired of making lists, tired of double/triple checking my lists, tired of packing.  Let’s just go already!

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Packing list

I can’t believe I’m really leaving Friday. So much left to do. So little time. So hard to stay motivated to tie up loose ends at school and at home.

I sent out this email tonight to the group. I thought sharing our packing list & packing tips would be helpful.

I thought this might be helpful to someone. I just did a test run w/my bag to be checked, & it only came up to 18 lbs! (This is before I added the gifts, which I left at school).

Also, a couple of tips I learned from years of rustic camping:

  • Buy a cheap over-the-door type shoe pocket organizer — or even better — sometimes you can pick up the kind that hang in your closet from the Dollar Tree that are plastic & are smaller. The cheaper the better because the cheap ones are made of lightweight fabric that dries quickly. One with clear pockets is best. Cut off the bottom couple of rows of pockets. Throw away the hooks for over the door & clamp on a skirt hanger. Put your toiletries (liquids inside ziplocs) in the pockets. Fold it in half & put the whole thing in one of those big ziploc bags or the travel bags. Your stuff won’t leak on your clothes, & when you get to the hotel you can hang up the whole thing in the bathroom (or on a tree in the woods), & it’ll be organized.
  • Carry extra ziplocs — quart & gallon sized. They have a zillon uses,are light, & you can see what’s in them.
  • Buy a scrubby thing that you can put soap in. You can use it for a washcloth, & the soap will dry pretty quickly if hung up, & even if it’s still wet — you don’t have to handle it (drop the whole thing in a ziploc).
  • Bandanas are great. They hold your hair & can be tied into bags to carry just a few items when you don’t want to carry your whole purse (this is actually something I learned from the Chinese).
  • I carry an extra duffle that can be packed absolutely flat. On the way home we will have more luggage allowance, & you can use it for your clothes, so you can put your purchases in the suitcase. Also, it’s nice to have in case you have wet or smelly clothes (also where ziplocs can come in handy).
  • I’m going to bring a couple of paperback books: Water for Elephants and something else yet to be determined. If several people will bring books we can swap them around for that long plane ride.

If anyone sees anything I left off my list, please let me know!



Toiletries & incidentals:

  • Shampoo (3 oz)
  • Conditioner (3 oz)
  • Soap
  • Soap scrubby pouch thing
  • Deodorant
  • Razors
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • q-tips
  • sunscreen
  • aloe vera (3 oz)
  • Ziplocs
  • Feminine stuff
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Toilet paper
  • Electric adapters
  • Ponytail holders
  • Clippie
  • smokes


  • 3 shirts
  • 3 pants
  • 6 underwear
  • 1 nice pants
  • 1 nice blouse
  • 3 camies
  • 1 pr shoes
  • 2 bras
  • 6 underwear
  • 3 bandanas
  • caftan (to wear around room, etc)
  • gown


Electronics (*some of the extra electronic accessories will probably end up in checked bag):

  • Laptop
  • Charger
  • Converter for plane
  • Digital camera
  • Extra memory card
  • USB cord*
  • 2 sets batteries*
  • battery charger*
  • cell phone charger*


  • Phenergan (nausea)
  • Lomodil (diarrhea)
  • Xanax (flight anxiety – Trust me. You want me to have this.)
  • 1 round antibiotics
  • Hydrocodone (just in case)
  • Sinus meds
  • Advil
  • Probiotics


  • Inflatable pillow
  • slippers
  • Security waist belt
  • Passport
  • Air ticket
  • Insurance cards
  • Travel insurance papers
  • Check card
  • Credit card
  • Cash
  • Hand sanitizer
  • lotion
  • Lip sunscreen
  • Carmex
  • Lipstick
  • Mascara
  • Cell phone
  • Extra glasses
  • Sunglasses
  • Brush
  • Travel mug
  • MP3 player
  • 2 paperback books
  • Chinese phrase book

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Earthquake in Chengdu

There was an earthquake in Chengdu. 7.9. 8500 people killed. Schools collapsing. I wonder if these were some of the schools we were supposed to visit. I wonder if these are friends of Martha. It’s horrible.

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