Sunday, October 20, 2013

October 20 - A Sad and Abrupt Ending to My Trip

At the end of a absolutely wonderful 3 days in Wenzhou with Andy -- including seeing a beautiful China National Geopark and adding Andy's girlfriend's sister, mother and father as my "friends," and having a magnificient brunch of a wide array of local foods  -- I learned first that my dad was missing and then later that he had passed away.  So, with Korean Airlines superb assistance I have been able to change my flights to fly to Los Angeles.  I will arrive in Los Angeles on October 21 and drive a rental car to my hometown on the central coast.
I am currently sitting in the Seoul airport awaiting a connection for that flight to LAX.  This news article has already been published about my dad's passing: .

I had already prepared a couple of additional blog entries -- and I will post them at a later time.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

October 16 - Dinner Brings Back 2009 Memories

During my first visit to China in 2009, Staci and Martin introduced me to one of their favorite haunts -- a tiny restaurant on the back streets of a Shenzhen neighborhood.  The restaurant prepares a distinctive cuisine called "Xinjiang" which has spread throughout China by Uyghur Muslim migrants (click on the linked words if you want more detail from Wikipedia). The restaurants have a common poster of photos of their menu and color scheme, and sometimes prepare the fresh noodles in public view (pulling the dough into strings).

These restaurants quickly became one of my favorites as well and I've sought them out when I've traveled including to Wuhan and Xian. I mentioned to Andy that I hoped to eat at one again during this trip -- and he was familiar with the restaurants and said there was one near his apartment.

Tonight we headed there for dinner -- and, as remembered, the noodles were wonderful.  Here are photos from our dinner tonight:

And just for the memories of it, here are photos from 2010 in Shenzhen when my daughter Debi accompanied me to visit Staci and Martin.

October 15 Revisited - "I'm a white person"

In this prior post, I told the story of trying to explain I was an American to some fellow lunch mates -- I even included my attempt at phonetics for what I think I said: "why reeg run." Well, today I got this email from my daughter Staci (who lived in China for a year).  I'm still laughing about it.  I have always wondered why the Chinese people I run into seem so happy to talk to me.  I used to think it was because I show a happy face and tone but Staci's email made me realize it may be because they find what I say hilariously stupid.

From: Staci
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 1:06 PM

Just read your blog and cracked up: waiguoren means white person. Meiguoren does mean American but the way you pronounced it probably made them think you were answering the "where you from" question with "I'm a white person"... ahh language!! Love it.
UPDATE: After I posted this, I got this followup email from Staci:
From: Staci
Date: Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 6:15 PM

After thinking about it more, I'm actually wrong -- waiguoren just means "foreign person", not White person-- but the sentiment is the same.
Where you from? I'm a foreign person. ;)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

October 16 - Back to Shanghai

With the weather turning colder yesterday, so did my hostel room and I awakened sometime in the middle of the night feeling very cold.  I hadn't seen any source of heat for the room except a wall air-conditioner with a remote on the desk.  So in my desperation, I thought perhaps the unit also provided heat.  I grabbed the remote to remedy the cold only to see that every button only had Chinese characters on it.  I tried everyone of them, trying to play a guessing game with the remote but all I accomplished was adding even more cold air to the room.  I debated with myself for a few seconds as to whether I should get dressed and go to the desk to figure it out -- but decided to resolve my predicament by just getting dressed and crawling back in bed.  That worked.  I warmed up and slept soundly the rest of the night.

Since my only goal for the day was to get back to Shanghai, I had a leisurely start and even had time to Facetime with Deb in Williamsburg, VA and daughter Debi and granddaughter Amelia in Portland.  Thereafter, I loaded by backpack and set out on foot for the train station.
 I followed my electronic mapping program to find my way walking to the train station (about 15 minutes away) and proceeded to the long ticket lines that I've now gotten comfortable with.  This time I was armed with the needed Chinese characters that Hongwei had texted me for everything I needed.
As I waited in one line, I got a tap on the shoulder by a uniformed officer indicating I should follow him.  I did as he indicated, and quickly learned that he was leading me to a line farther down the row of about 25 that had a "bilingual" sign above.  He smiled when I said "xiexie." Once again, somebody going out of their way to help me.

The ticketing went easy this time as I both spoke in English and showed her the characters Hongwei had sent me. Finding the departure gate was much easier. As I settled in my seat, I thought the advertiser's saying on the back of the drop down tray was appropriate to my life and trip.
Of course, I also reflected for a moment on the oddity of the saying (albeit for advertising) in a country known for its internet censorship (this blogging site, run by Google, as well as Facebook and others are blocked from access in China).

My ride back -- now familiar to Shanghai's rail station and then on the subway -- was super easy and comfortable.

DOES A SIGN ARROW POINT UP OR DOWN FOR "STRAIGHT AHEAD": For the record, I also came to realize why I was lost when I had arrived at the Hangzhou train station.  The "Taxi" sign had a down-pointing arrow, so I assumed it meant to take the nearby stairs down.  Instead, the down-pointing arrow meant "walk straight ahead."  I think the same sign in the USA would probably have an up-pointing arrow but as I write this, I'm not certain.  It is something I'll pay more attention to when I get back to the USA.

A TECHNOLOGY DIVERSION FOR ANY SO INCLINED: Now a little technology diversion to share a few details on how I've moved about so easily on this trip.  As I've previously mentioned, there is a wonderful map app called "MapsWithMe" (for iPhone and Android) that allows you to have detailed destination maps on your phone or device without need for the internet.  While it won't actually route you (like a dedicated GPS or a cell phone with access to data), it does show you a GPS indicator of direction of travel (included with free/lite version) and allows you to pre-mark the points you want to retain if you pay for the Pro version/$4.99.  Once I started walking in any direction, the arrow immediately shows me where I am AND my direction of travel -- so I can instantly correct my course.

  This app is better than any other map when traveling outside the USA where data, when you can get it, is slow and/or costly.  One caveat:  iPhones won't use GPS unless you are connected to carrier (for example, not in Airport mode) but Wifi only iPads and mini-iPads can't use GPS unless on a WiFi network !  The Google Nexus 7 tablet has built in standard GPS.  It is the perfect traveling companion.

*For the real techies who may challenge me:  iPhones, iPads and mini-iPads have what is known as A-GPS -- a non-standard (after all they are Apple's) assisted GPS which means it first finds you on the cell connections -- then works.  This is ok in the USA (as long as you are not in Airplane Mode) and if you are traveling where you have a cell connection.  But it makes the GPS non-functioning in these devices without a cell connection. MapsWithMe works as a detailed map whether or not you have a functioning GPS -- you just don't get the actual direction of travel (blue arrow) unless the GPS is working.  For me, since my iPhone is connected (roaming) here in China -- I can effectively use it and the GPS works. The Android driven Google Nexus 7 (a 7 inch screen pad - now $171 on Amazon ) has a standard GPS -- it works all the time and doesn't require a cell connection or wifi connection at all. Initially Amazon Fire tablets did not have GPS -- but now there are several models. I'm guessing that perhaps the cheapest still don't, but the more expensive may.

October 15 - A Chicken Leg From Strangers

First, before I forget again, I'm going to insert a photo of my massause.   I forgot to add it to yesterday's posting.
As I walked back to the hostel, I diverted my path to take in the 4th Annual Folk Art Festival that was being held not far from my hostel.  It was very similar to our similar festivals, with lots of booths of crafts.

Shortly, I decided I needed to get something to eat -- always a huge challenge unless I was willing to change my attitude and eat at American chains -- because there are plenty of them everywhere in the cites: Subway, Dairy Queen, McD, KFC, etc.  But part of my fun here is pushing my comfort zone -- particularly in trying to get something ordered even if it something that is not unusual.

After passing by many restaurants -- including some that would have made ordering easy (photos), I happened to pass a series of food stalls that Hongwei had pointed out to me during our walk.  I remember him saying something about there being lots of popular food at these booths (confirmed by how crowded it was) -- and it reminded me of a line of food carts on each side flanking small tables.  Noisy and plenty smelly as the first booth featured the ever common "stinky" tofu that is popular China.

I walked the entire length, both sides and finally decided that I wasn't hungry enough to be very adventurous -- settling on a simple bowl of rice.

I found an empty seat with 3 others (2 guys and 1 girl) who were obviously together.
I smiled, pointing -- and they smiled, pointing.  It was clear that I could sit there.  I started to eat my rice (cold and not at all tasty) and ventured the common "do you speak English?"  They all laughed and said no -- but then the older guy said "Where you from?"  Momentarily I thought he might speak a little English, but when I replied "America" -- he gave a blank look and after I tried a couple more times, I realized I wasn't getting through.  I then attempted "Meiguoren" which I can now write because I've looked it up...but at the time it came out of my mouth something like "why reeg run."  They laughed but the girl figured it out and repeated it for all and all heads nodded and smiled.  As I have described before, after a few words -- any words -- a comfort sets in that allows those I meet to try more English.

They were eating a whole cooked chicken -- like the ones available in all the USA grocery stores -- but interestingly it was served with light weight plastic gloves -- so it could be eaten right there without getting messy (you can see the gloves in the photo).
Well, the girl grabbed off a leg and offered to me.  I accepted and devoured it -- it was excellent.
A few more words and the common question "How old you?"   In the moment I forgot something I learned on a prior trip, that Chinese count to 10 with just one hand.  So after I counted my fingers to six and then to 2, the older guy took great pleasure in making sure I knew that 62 should be signed with just a six (holding your hand as we might if we were trying to indicate "hang loose") and 2.   We then said goodbyes and they disappearred into the crowd.

Another fun moment of the trip -- and the chicken was excellent, making my rice taste even worse!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

October 15 - Spa Day

Before turning in for the night last evening, I decided to enjoy another day in Hangzhou if the hostel had room (they did).  The hostel (Ho Fang) is one of the nicest I've stayed at -- and I thought it would be fun to stay another day, explore a little on my own and rest my feet from the days of walking I've been doing.

I had also had time to do more internet research on massages in China -- and was feeling confident that I might try to get that accomplished as I had identified a reputable chain.  In writing about Chinese massages, Lonely Planet says: "...midrange massage parlours are a must -- for the price of a cocktail or three you get your own set of PJs, some post-therapy tea and Chinese flute music to chill out with.  Just don't expect the masseuses to be gentle. As they say: no pain, no gain..."

So this morning I plotted a walking route to the massage place and with my frequently written about "what's the worse that came happen" actually scaring me -- I set out to get a foot massage.  Little did I know that getting there would be so interesting as I happened down a narrow street which was a local meat market -- men were actually slaughtering and skinning sheep right there in the street.  I snapped pictures as quickly and unnoticed as I could.  Definitely no westerners anywhere around my route today.  Not exactly what I was expecting or wanting to see on my way to a massage, but interesting nonetheless.

Thereafter I walked cautiously toward the massage place. The modest, business-like uniforms of the staff seemed to confirm what I had read.  I proceeded inside -- and with almost no English spoken or understood, I was led to a waiting room where I was seated with another Chinese gentleman enjoying tea and fruit.  Soon I was led to a private room where the attendant at least knew the words "how much" and foot and body.  She pointed to a sign in the room that was all in Chinese except the dollar amounts and I could figure from where she was pointing that a foot massage would be a little less than $30 USD for one hour and a body massage would be a little more than $30 USD for an hour.  As often is the case in China, she used her phone's calculator to show me the total price for both ¥377 (about $62 USD.  I said ok.  She asked if I wanted tea (or at least tea is the one word I understood) and I declined, having no idea what that would cost.  She then said some other things I didn't get except that she did utter the word "included" that caused me to say "ok."  Shortly a male attendant returned with plates of watermelon and grapefruit and a bottled water.  Things were getting off to a good start.

Soon another woman came in with a bucket of warm water, and I was soon enjoying a wonderful foot and leg massage.  The massause spoke almost no English but I decided to try to learn a little by showing her a photo of my family on the Google Nexus pad.  I could discern that she was able to understand what I was saying and from that, I was able to get her to tell me that she 
had two boys (by pointing to the boys in my family), ages 9 and 5, and she was 33 (by showing fingers) and had been a masseuse for 5 years (questions/answers with numbers always seem to be the easiest to try to bridge the language barrier).  With a little rapport established, I relaxed and felt quite self-indulged as I enjoyed my fruit while having my tired feet worked on.  Thereafter, she led me to another room and proceeded to give my back a seriously deep massage (definitely some pain in both the foot and back massage) She must have been able to tell which muscles were tense because she worked on those the most.  All wonderfully relaxing even with the pain. 

Another adventure success which made my brain feel as good as the massage itself.   I will now tell others what my daughter told me after she and her husband taught in China, that a Chinese massage should be on a the "must-do" list when in China.

The charge was exactly what the attendant had shown me and I left feeling like my feet were walking on clouds -- and purposely routed myself another way back to the hostel area so I wouldn't have to see the dead sheep.

October 14 - A New Friend in "Heaven on Earth"

Hongwei (age 23 and a senior in college who wants to be a financial analyst) could not have been more friendly and helpful as I quickly learned that he even had a plan for our time together -- get me to my hostel, have lunch, walk around the beautiful West Lake (what makes this place "heaven" on earth) and dinner together.

I could tell from the conversation that Andy had already told him that I liked eating authentic native food that he regularly ate -- and we did just that.  In addition, the long walk -- on a spectacularly beautiful day gave us both lots of time to get to know each other.  Over a fun lunch (chicken feet - correctly translated as "phoenix" feet, lotus root and noodles)

I learned that he was very apprehensive about our day together because he lacked confidence in his English.  He had never had an opportunity to talk or learn from a native English speaker -- and had been cautioned by his sister (who lived in Portland for two years) that his English was not good.  As we talked, his confidence grew such that we even talked about confidence.  His command of the language isn't what Andy's or his sister's is yet, but it was easy to communicate.

On our walk (easily 5 or 6 miles) I totally enjoyed asking him all kinds of questions about culture, food, education, relationships (he has a long time girlfriend who is going to college in his hometown -- a 4 1/2 hour train ride away), family life.
As dinner time approached -- he took me to a wonderful restaurant that specialized in the kind of food from his hometown of Wenzhou and we feasted on shrimp and duck -- a vegetable and a soup for less than $20 -- and enjoyed a long discussion about Chinese eating etiquette as I learned to shuck the little fried shrimp with my teeth and spit the shells on the plate while loving the taste and experience.

I know I've added another friend to my life!