Emeryville Amy

This blog will be a combination of my favorite places in the Bay Area and abroad, memoirs, recipes, restaurant reviews and travel experiences.

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Location: Emeryville, San Francisco Bay Area, CA, United States

Friday, March 31, 2006

From Cappuccinos to Cliffs


I awoke to the sound of the cold wind whistling over the rooftops. After taking a nice hot shower and getting dressed I saw the guy from Malaysia on the balcony. He asked me if I would like to have some coffee. He is staying here for a month and brought his own beans, grinder and espresso maker with him. How could I possibly say no? He made delicious cappuccinos for us which we sipped while warming ourselves in the morning sun seated on wicker chairs on the balcony overlooking the rooftops of the old city. I talked with him and his friend from Hong Kong as we munched on flaky date- filled pastries. Life is rough.

After awhile our breakfast was ready and we had a "western-style" breakfast with fried eggs, sautéed tomatoes with onions and garlic, toast and coffee or tea. It was good to have a nice hot breakfast because we didn't have anyplace to stop for lunch. Our plan was to take the bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is a breathtaking gorge at the beginning of the Himalayas just off the Yangtze River. The bus station was a zoo and while we were waiting in line we ran into a young couple from London that was traveling around the world in a year. They had just hired a private driver to take them to the gorge where they were going to start a two-three day trek. They offered to share the ride with us and the driver agreed.

Getting out of the city proved to be a challenge. A lot of construction is being done on the outskirts of town and they just block the roads when they feel like it. We sat still in traffic for an hour before the driver decided to try a different way. That way was blocked too so we sat there for awhile and watched the local men shooting pool, which seems to be much more popular here than ping pong, and watched other drivers make seemingly impossible "three" point turns to get out of the traffic jam. Finally the road opened and it was clear sailing from then on out.

During our ride we got to know the British couple pretty well. They were five months into their year long trip and seemed to be enjoying themselves. They didn't know any Chinese so Gretchen taught them some useful words and Thomas gave them chopstick lessons.

The scenery was composed of deep red hills covered in green pine trees with the jagged snow capped peaks of the Himalayas in the distance. We wound our way through little villages, past meadows in valleys and by terraced farms growing strawberries, wheat, scallions and other assorted green vegetables. Some of the orchards were just starting to flower with pink and white blossoms. There were tall trees covered with pale pink flowers and bushes with lavender flowers on long stems. Other places there were dark piles of manure dotting the fields waiting to be distributed.

We drove up and over some mountains until we reached the first bend of the Yangtze River. The river was wide and slow-moving and was mostly sandy in color. The mountains forming the gorges were right behind it. We got out and took some pictures there. After a little more driving we entered a village and a man came up to the car and spoke with the driver. Apparently he wanted to sell us some tickets for Tiger Leaping Gorge and also to be a guide for the British couple. He also wanted to know if we wanted to buy some pot. He said that they all like to smoke it there. We declined the nice offer for drugs and the tickets as well since they were obviously used with an old date on them. The guy did get in the car with us for awhile until we were able to communicate that we really did not want any of his services.

The British couple got out too and we all bought our own tickets from what we hoped was a legitimate ticket seller. There was a cafe there called the Gorged Tiger which was run by a very bossy, and possibly crazy, Australian woman. We bought snicker bars for lunch and said our goodbyes to the Brits.

We continued driving down the road towards the gorge. Suddenly there was a huge drop off to our right that led down to the river far below. The road was narrow and there was no guard rail. We passed by the first stop of the gorge where it got its name from a tiger who actually leaped across the gorge at this narrow point, according to legend. We had planned to go further into the gorge and so we drove on. The road went from barely paved to a rocky dirt road with pot holes. We came to a point where the mountain had been blasted away and the face was comoposed of white crumbly rocks. I thankfully was on the left side of the car and didn't see how close we came to going off the road. Gretchen shouted that she wanted to stop and get out. She said she absolutely did not want to continue on. As she was speaking there was a small avalanche of football size rocks rolling down the mountain side to the road. Directly in front the road narrowed even more and there was a very large pile of gravely rocks that the car would have to go over. I agreed with Gretchen and felt strongly that we should listen to her intuition and get out and walk back. The driver said that the road got better further up but we didn't want to risk it so we got out and the driver plunged over the mound and drove to a spot where the road widened enough for him to turn around.

As we walked back down the road Gretchen pointed out where the tire treads were and we saw that the tires were only about 6 inches from a very crumbly cliff. We were thankful that we were safe. We walked for awhile until our nerves were calmed and the road looked safe again. Soon we were back at the place to see the tiger jumping rock gorge.

Lining the road above the steep steps down to the gorge were a bunch of Sherpas with chair porter baskets to carry people up and down the steps to the gorge. I couldn't believe that anyone would want or be able to carry anyone up or down the steps. It seemed crazy that these fairly small guys were even offering to carry us. This was probably the only chance that I will ever have to be carried up or down a mountain, but I declined anyways. The elevation is about 11000 ft and the air was hot, dry and thin. Next to the stairs going down there were little booths set up selling handicrafts and refreshing cucumbers and tomatoes. At the bottom there were photographers offering to take your picture in native costumes. They had computers and photography equipment set up down there to print our there pictures and laminate them. The waters churned vigorously at this particular spot where the gorge narrowed. The plants on the mountains themselves were dry and brown. It is still the dry season and the water level was low and the mountains which sometimes are verdant green were rather stark.

The climb back up the stairs left my heart pounding and my face beet red. There were about 500 stairs and I was so dehydrated from the dry air that I downed two large cold waters at the top. Our drive back was uneventful but very lovely and relaxing. We got out at a few scenic overlooks to take some pictures.

Our driver dropped us off at a different entrance to the old town and we got lost for awhile trying to find our guest house. Many of the shops and restaurants look similar and the tiny streets curve around in ways that it is hard to know which way you are going. We managed to recognize a few places and get our bearings enough to find our way. After freshening up we headed into the main part of old town for dinner. There are canals and running water throughout the old town and there is one part where a lot of restaurants are located. At the same time we all spotted some people sitting at a table outside eating cheesy pizza and lasagna and fries and we headed over. Any cheesy thing is a real treat for Thomas and Gretchen and the food looked good to all of us.

We sat at a table next to a canal under a weeping willow tree. As we waited for our order we sipped beer and snacked on sunflower seeds that we bought from a little old woman who walked by. Gretchen burst into happy laughter at the thought of a cheesy pizza and the lovely setting we were in. The waitresses or hostesses were dressed in different traditional outfits and they sang songs to each other across the canal back and forth. Some other patrons joined in once in awhile and everyone seemed so happy and joyful. This place prides itself on being an oasis from the city life; a place for love and peace and relaxation. It is a bit touristy but the air is so full of happy energy that it feels perfect.

Who would have thought that we could have excellent pizza up near the Himalayas? But we did, it was a wonderful crispy thin crusted pizza with vegetables and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. We strolled through the town afterwards and soaked in the atmosphere and singing and did a little shopping.

My new Malaysian friend was there when we got back and I stayed up talking to him and his friend from Hong Kong for a couple of hours. I find it fascinating to talk with people from all over the world. I have met so many interesting people here. It seems that people who like to travel tend to be really great to talk to. I also enjoyed my western style toilet in the room that I switched to. There seem to be so many things to be thankful for today.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

From Anshun to Kumming to Li Jiang


Our next adventure began with an overnight train from Anshun to Kunming. We arrived about 40 minutes before the train left and we waited in a huge smoky room with hundreds of other people who were all on the same train as us. Once they announced that we could head through the gates to the platform the masses swarmed and pushed to get through the ticket gates. We hung back because we knew we had our seat assignments already.

We were only able to get two soft sleeper berths and one hard sleeper. Gretchen volunteered to take the hard one but then later switched with Thomas because a man kept staring at her. We had two men in our compartment but they were clean, polite (even letting me have the lower bunk) and they didn't clear their throats or spit once. Public spitting is prolific here. Gretchen has finally decided that every time she hears someone do it she will ask God to bless their health. She has been blessing a lot of China! It was a bit strange sleeping without any curtains or dividers in the room but it ended up being fine. I tossed and turned a lot but overall slept fairly well. It was challenging using the squatter toilets on a moving train. That is a skill that I have not developed yet, but I made it through. I think they had the heater on full blast all night and the windows didn't open. On the plus side the berths were surprisingly soft for China, softer than any other beds so far. Most people on the train had a hard or soft seat and no sleeper at all so I felt lucky.

We arrived in at 7:00 am and fought through the crowds to the exits and then to the ticket window. We attempted to get train tickets for the return trip but they were sold out. We found our way to a bakery and bought some nice rolls and some water. There is a park called Green Lake Park that they had been to before and we caught a taxi and drove through the city to it. It was a lovely park surrounding a lake. Weeping willows draped over the edges of the emerald green water. Groups of locals were doing Tao Chi, fan dances, sword fighting, badminton, ballroom dances and traditional line dances. Grandparents were out with their grandchildren and there was a wonderful energy about the place. We had all of our luggage with us and we were a little tired from the train trip so we walked around for awhile and then took a taxi to the center of town.

There is a wonderful pedestrian walkway in the middle of the city that is filled with beautiful shops and restaurants. Down the center flowed a stream and more weeping willows. Some of the side streets were lined with Sycamore trees that arched over the street and were bright green with new foliage. A cafe called out to me with a sign that said, "Encounter Coffee". I figured that I was due for some caffeine and we went in and sat down around a nice table with comfortable chairs. I ordered a cappuccino and received a nice strong fresh coffee with whipped cream and cinnamon and lime zest on top. It was delicious.

Our next stop was the airport. We arrived early so that we could hopefully book plane tickets home since there weren't any trains available. Eventually we were able to get some that would work okay. We waited in the assigned waiting area until they announced it was time for our flight. We went out and got on an airport people-mover bus. I thought we were loaded to capacity when we boarded, but at least 30 more people squeezed on to our amazement. It was a short but bumpy flight. The barf bags were front and center in the seats pockets so that people could get to them easily. That is never a good sign. They said that there would probably be turbulence and they were right. Turbulence doesn't bother me but Gretchen felt really queasy. At one point the translation over the PA system said that we would be landing immediately. That was a little worrisome because we were still quite high and flying through a narrow mountain range. Luckily he only meant "shortly".

We took a bus from the airport to the town of Li Jiang. We drove past a beautiful green valley and red mountains covered with pine trees. The houses that we saw were made of mud bricks or stone and had lovely slate roofs that arced up at the edges. I am not sure what the elevation is here but it is really high and the snow capped mountains are even higher. We got to the old town where we had an address for a cheap guest house. Old town here is absolutely enchanting. No cars are allowed on the cobblestone streets. Streams and weeping willows and little footbridges flow down between the shops selling local handicrafts and the bars and restaurants. The curved slate rooftops and the beautifully carved wood paneled doors and windows were picture perfect. There were quite a few tourists but almost all of them were Chinese. We saw a handful of other Caucasians, more than we have seen anywhere else except Beijing, but even so there were maybe only a dozen.

As delightful as this scene was our bags were getting heavy and we realized that Old Town was very large. We stopped in one guest house that a nice person suggested to us but it was more expensive than we wanted to pay. We kept going further into the maze of tiny streets (somewhat like the tiny streets of Venice) and we passed by a guesthouse that said "Welcome Friend to the Carnation Hotel" I liked the look of it and we decided to check it out. Walking through the outer doorway we were transported into a peaceful oasis. The courtyard in front of us was surrounded by beautiful lacquered pine balconies with intricately carved paneled doors leading into the rooms. A tranquil seating area was in the center. I instantly wanted to stay here. When we found out that a room for me was only 20 yuan (about $2.50) and only 30 for Thomas and Gretchen we couldn't believe it. We followed the owner up a very steep narrow staircase to see our rooms. They had beds made out of the same wood and crisp white linens and views out over the hilltops and across to the mountains. Unbelievable. The only drawback is that the toilet and shower are down the hall and the toilet is a squatter. Tomorrow night I think that I will be able to switch to a room with my own bathroom for a few dollars more.

We relaxed for awhile in our little corner of heaven and thanked God for his amazing provision. Gretchen and I kept giggling because we couldn't believe our good fortune. After the hustle of the crowds and the grittiness of Anshun the cleanliness and peace of this place fed our souls. We were hungry because it was about 4:00 and we had only had a small bite to eat before our plane so we headed back through the streets. Just before we left the guest house we were talking to a nice guy from Malaysia who helped us translate a few things with the owner. He was visiting here for a month and he might stay and open up a shop here. He led us to a local (not touristy) open-sided restaurant. We thanked him and he left. We were having a little trouble reading the all Chinese characters menu so Thomas got up and walked over to where all of the fresh vegetables were and pointed at a bunch of them. We ended up with 4 delicious dishes: broccoli with garlic and red bell peppers, green onion with tofu, beef with chilies and a pork (more like a type of bacon) with ginger slices , mint and hot peppers. A wonderful meal for about $6.00 for the three of us.

As we walked our early dinner off a whole bunch of little school kids came flooding out of their school and onto the tiny streets with us. They were delightful and we felt like we were in a real neighborhood. We stopped in a few shops and Thomas thought about buying a sheep skin hat/scarf object that included the tail. We walked up to the main square and then over to a park area which was supposed to be a good place to view the sunset. The mountain named 9 Dragons was in the distance and we sat and watched the sun go down. The colors weren't as dramatic as we hoped but it was still nice and the peaks of the mountains as they appeared and disappeared with the clouds were lovely. As we walked back down to town we walked past several different local women singing native songs. One woman was singing as she washed her clothes in the stream. Our path took us through a touristy area that had lots of bars and restaurants and people singing and dancing. Many of the locals are dressed in their native costumes. We are very near Tibet and there is a lot of Tibetan influence in the clothing and handicrafts.

Back down in the main square the only lights were from the red lanterns lining the restaurants and the golden lights from the shops. It felt magical especially when we walked to the market square where they had a bonfire with hundreds of people were dancing around it in big circles. There were drums and local flutes and lots of singing. It was a huge wonderful native dance party and we all could be a part of it. On the hill above us where the glowing golden rooftops of the homes perched there and crowning them all was a golden temple at its peak.

Later when we returned back to our rooms we looked out of our windows at that same awe inspiring view. What a wonderful day!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Chow Fun!


I really loved Nanning. The color and tropical weather and the people all were wonderful. Not to mention the food. This entry is going to be about food so if that bores you feel free to skip it.

For breakfast we walked around the block to a noodle stand Thomas and I had seen a few days before. The women were cooking the fresh chow fun noodles to order in boiling broth and then added them to the stir fry vegetables and meat in a wok. The wok and all the ingredients were sizzling and frothing so we didn't have to worry about anything not being fully cooked. Thomas asked for a different kind of noodles where the pan caught a bit on fire and shot up a flame. It would have made for a great TV cooking show. After she cooked our orders we took them inside and ate them. The flavors were quite delicate and delicious.

We took a cab to a bakery that they knew about from a previous trip. There were all kinds of fresh warm rolls and breads and fancy cakes. We took a little tray and created quite a nice sampler platter. My favorites were a sweet roll topped with black and white sesame seeds and had a taro root filling, a coconut roll and a whole wheat roll that had sunflower, flax and sesame seeds on the top. It is unusual to find whole wheat products over here so we ended up buying more of those for dinner. Gretchen and I also tried the layered green tea cake and the chocolate cream cakes. They were lovely but only tasted so-so. A bit of each was enough. We ate at cafe tables on the sidewalk as we people watched. I had a bottled iced coffee to go with these treats so I was very happy.

Later we went back to the restaurant where we had my birthday dinner. We order the same spicy "fishy" eggplant, an incredible pork and vegetable dish, braised flowering cabbage, rice and beer. These dishes were all wonderfully seasoned and were served in such large portions that we could only eat about half. It could be that we were still somewhat full from the bakery feast earlier too. All of that came to less than $6.00. So we aren't starving over here. Good thing that we walk a lot and go up several thousand stairs everyday.

Bon Appetit!

Flying Chicken (or Machine) Flat Place!


We arrived in Anshun where Thomas and Gretchen live late last night. It is really fun to see where they have been living for the past year and a half. Today I went to one of Gretchen's classes. They were very excited to meet me and had lots of questions for me ranging from questions about Silicon Valley to Disneyland to the first time I fell in love. I eventually turned that last question back on the girl who asked it. They are eager to know some French words so I taught them how to say a bunch of phrases and tried to explain the masculine/feminine issue with nouns in French. That was a strange and amusing concept to them. They were eager and engaged and they giggled a lot.

I also went to a class with Thomas. I stood up front again and answered questions and thenA sang Hotel California to a recording with them since Thomas was teaching on California and they love that song here. They sang Ole Lang Sine to me. That too is a popular song here. I talked about how we sing it on New Year's Eve but that most people don't really know all the words.

One of the students called Gretchen while I was out and invited me over for some snacks of local delicacies. By this they probably meant a special stinky tofu, "swamp muck grass" and fresh goose blood. Maybe some pickled fruits or veggies or cold noodles too which can be dangerous on a foreigner's digestive track. And of course there is nothing like having people stare at you while you try to force something down that tastes really awful. It was very sweet of them to offer, but I had to decline this time.

Gretchen and I walked through campus and down a walkway where they have food stalls and a little store. Just walking past the food made my throat itch from the peppers they use in their cooking. Just outside of the school gates we saw a lady with 12 little piglets and a momma pig. We caught a taxi to the train station where Gretchen booked tickets for an overnight train tomorrow night to Kunming and from there to Li Jiang and Tiger Leaping Gorge. So we will be off on more adventures tomorrow and it might be hard to write for awhile.

From the train station we walked down one of the main streets to the bus station. On the way we saw beautifully cut pineapples sold on chopsticks, hot dogs elegantly slit and then deep fried so that they curled open like a flower and then coated in spicy chili pepper seasoning, a man with a wheelbarrow-size cart filled with homemade potato chips coated in chili powder, women with bamboo baskets balanced on a pole carried over their shoulders filled with green vegetables, free range "sidewalk" chicken, a man demonstrating how sharp his cleavers were by hacking at a stick, men and women playing different games and so much more. There are a lot of minority groups in this area and they are often dressed in their native "costumes". It was interesting to see the variety in their outfits. Most of the young women and girls here wear very tight fitting jeans and lots of them wear heels or pointy toed shoes.

I bought a few little purses and a scroll and some fabric that are special to this region. I even did one transaction without Gretchen's help. The women did have a calculator so she could show me the price, but still I felt pretty good about it. I also used the one word Tim taught me the other day to tell the taxi driver where we wanted to go, the word being airport (fei ji chang) or as Tim translates it "flying chicken flat place" since "ji" can sound like the word for "chicken" or "machine". And she understood me!

Traffic here is definitely more crazy than in Beijing. There aren't crosswalks and traffic is pretty wild. I have barely made it across the street a few times. In Anshun the city buses have to check in on a certain schedule. They get penalized if they are late. But they get rewarded for picking up a lot of passengers. So what happens is that they go slow in the first part of their route trying to get as many people on board and then speed up as they go along. We boarded at the end of the route and the bus barely slowed to a stop and the man collecting money yelled at us to hurry up and to not trip. We scooted to open seats as fast as we could as the bus lurched forward into traffic. Crazy but fun in a death-defying sort of way. The drivers feel free to careen as close as possible to other vehicles and pedestrians do NOT have the right away!

There's plenty more to tell but I will save some for later.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Five Hour Tour

Yesterday we went on a five hour river cruise originating in the town of Longzhou located near the Vietnam border. We are here for a teacher conference for Thomas and Gretchen. In this town of 70,000 people we are the only foreigners. One of the women who teaches here says she has only once seen another white person the entire time she has worked in this town. So we are a bit off the beaten path.

Our group of 9 people were the only passengers on our river boat. We boarded at 9:00am and had baos (large steamed dumplings) and hard boiled eggs and tiny tangy bananas. After eating we went up top for a better view. The river was a lovely jade green and the banks were rocks that had been chiseled away over time by leaving behind intricate designs. The rocks varied in color from deep ochre to gold and black streaks to sandy neutral tones. Soaring bunches of giant bamboo grew along the banks. Occasionally there would be some sugar cane or banana groves or small terraced garden plots and a couple of farmers and water buffalo.

Once in a while someone would float by on a narrow bamboo raft or a small fishing boat. Other boats and rafts dotted the shore when there was a sandy beach or a rock overhang where they could be tied up. One place on the river there was a noisy, stinky-with-fumes boat cleaning river sand to be used for building or mixing cement. Besides that we had the river to ourselves; no other tour boats at all.

It was drizzling and chilly outside and foggy which made the visibility less than clear for viewing the craggy hills in the distance but created a dream-like experience. Birds chirping in the trees and the steady chugging of the boat were the only sounds besides the occasionally startling blast of our boat's horn as we approached any bends in the river.

The scenery grew more and more dramatic as we went along. The hills shot straight up from the river to dizzying heights above. Fog swirled through the misty mountains and I imagined that it would be the perfect setting for a scene from the Lord of the Rings. In contrast to the green and black bamboo and the banana trees were the red flower trees commonly found in Vietnam. The branches were bare except for the large red blossoms. Birds especially favored these trees and their chirping increased as we passed them by.

Our turn around point was by some ancient drawings on the face of a sheer cliff. The drawings were deep red in color and primarily featured a man bent in a squat with both arms raised at right angles. Supposedly they were thousands of years old and no one knows how they got there. Fueling some skepticism in our group was the huge bamboo scaffolding built up against one part of the cliff. It seemed imaginable that ancient (or not so ancient) people could have erected scaffolding of their own. Regardless of their origin they were really enjoyable to look at but difficult to photograph well with my camera.

Around 7:30 that evening we headed out for BBQ. We walked down the dark wet street in the drizzling rain (no street lights) to the place where their favorite BBQ stand usually is set up. The women who owned the stand pulled up with their cart and said, "10 minutes" to Elissa and then proceeded to pull a few huge umbrellas off their cart and then some small tables. After setting them up they took off with their cart and came back with small chairs and a long rectangle grill. While one women stoked the coals the other took off to get the food. Thomas and Elissa put on an order for us of grilled scallions, corn, beef, pork and chicken wings. We sat in the little chairs around the low tables under the umbrellas and waited for them to grill our food.

The first item was green onions or garlic chives that were beautifully threaded on skewers and flipped quickly back and forth over the flames while being coated repeatedly with an asian BBQ sauce. They pulled them off the skewers and put them on two tiny plates, one for each table. There was a delicious lemony sauce to dip everything in. After awhile they brought some more and then some tasty beef. Some pork (we think) that seemed to be mostly cartilage followed and then fabulous BBQ sauce-spiced corn on the cob. We finished off the meal with my favorite item, the grilled chicken wings. Towards the end of our 1 1/2 hour meal more people started filling up the other tables all down the block. I guess we were on the early side. It was so much fun to eat such an authentic meal. Our bill came to $1.00 a person. What a deal. And the bonus part was that none of us got sick!

Friday, March 24, 2006



Yesterday we flew south to Nanning. What a difference from Beijing. The air was balmy and there was no question that we were closer to the tropics. Nanning felt alive and was bursting with color and music and activity everywhere we looked. We went to a late dinner at a restaurant and had some more dumplings, Mongolian beef, spicy eggplant, corn with pine nuts and a sugar crepe. We strolled around the neighborhood (which was right across the street from the train station) and peeked in the shops lining the streets. Back in the room Thomas and Gretchen stuck a candle in a dragon fruit and sang me happy birthday. It actually was quite lovely since a dragon fruit looks like a small nerf size fuscia football with the outer leaves peeling back like a flower. Inside it has a white flesh with tiny black seeds like a kiwi.

In the morning Thomas and I walked down the main street to the big city park. The city was pulsing with life and vitality. Buses of all hues filled the streets and competed at the intersections for the right of way with the people on motorcycles and bicycles and the pedestrians. Before reaching the main park there was a smaller park where men congregated with their birds in birdcages. They were "taking their birds for a walk." The air was filled with their music.

Further down at the main park there were groups of people dancing everything from salsa to the Macarena. Some groups were doing traditional fan dances or tai chi with swords. One part of the park had people singing to a recorded song playing from some speakers. Men were gathered in small groups watching games of dominos, chess and mah jong. It seemed that there was something for everyone. The energy of the place was invigorating and made me giddy. We wandered around from group to group, daring each other to join in. I was tempted to jump in the Macarena fest but they had a few moves that I didn't know.

It was time for breakfast so we followed our noses and headed down a little alleyway where we bought some egg scallion crepes, made to order, and some baos and steamed breads. I kind of wanted to sit at one of the little tables by the stalls and feast on some noodle soup. Maybe next time.

We needed to go south near the Vietnam border to a conference with other teachers from Thomas' organization so we had to leave Nanning for the time being. We will come back through here on the way to Anshun in a few days. It was a 3 hour bus ride in a nice comfortable bus to Longchouz. The road ranged from a smooth freeway to bumpy dirt roads. The scenery was beautiful. This region is known for the jagged hills that dot the landscape. They are made of yellow and black striped stone and covered with small green trees and bushes. In between them are fields of sugar cane. We drove for more than 2 hours through fields of sugar cane which is harvested by hand, tied into bundles, loaded onto trucks and driven to the processing plants. In one small town that had a sugar cane factory we must have seen a hundred long trucks filled to overflowing just waiting to unload. Practically all of the sugar for China, Vietnam and Cambodia is grown in this region.

Water buffalo pulled small carts around the terraced fields. The towns we went through seemed very poor and run down. The only vehicles on the road were people on motorcycle carts or on motorcycles, trucks and other buses. Our driver honked constantly every time he saw anyone or anything on the road or when we went around blind curves. He was pretty fearless when it came to passing other vehicles which made for an exciting ride for us.

We are about to have dinner with the rest of the other teachers so I better sign off.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Climbing The "Long" Wall


Well, they aren't kidding when they named it the Great Wall. It is amazing. Actually in Chinese it is referred to as the Long Wall which is apropos as well. We arranged through our hotel to go to a less touristy section of the refurbished wall. We shared a van with a very friendly family from New Zealand with two little kids. They have been teaching English on a small island in Japan for the past three years. We enjoyed talking with them the whole bumpy 2 hour ride.

We opted to take the cable car from the parking area up to the wall rather than hike there because we only had three hours and we wanted to walk around the top for awhile. It was a steep hike just to get up to the start of the cable car and there was a gauntlet of somewhat aggressive stall vendors to plow through. Once we reached the wall we decided that we would walk to the top of the reconstructed section. Actually, Thomas suggested that because he feels compelled to hike to the top of everything he sees. I am more into the nice level flat places.

It was awe inspiring to see how they constructed this immense wall over sharply undulating mountains. It was so steep in parts that we were bent over double to walk up the steps. Fortresses dot the wall every so often and the wind would whip through them making me think about how freezing it must have been during the winter. It was a gloriously sunny and warm day for us however and we felt blessed to be experiencing such a nice day there.

The last set of stairs was 450 steep steps high. One false step and it would have been a very long fall to the bottom. Not that I allowed myself to think about that... I was breathing too hard to be too worried about my footing. We had a picnic at the top with the New Zealand family that was comprised of our smoked almonds, beef jerky (which they had never seen before), apples and their ramen noodles and oranges. I felt so privileged to have been able to be on such an historical sight that I have heard about all of my life but never thought that I would probably see in person.

We need to leave now for the bus so I need to sign off.


Greetings from China!

Hello friends!

I am in China for a few weeks visiting my brother Thomas and my sister-in-law Gretchen who are teaching English here for two years. I realized that I would really regret it if I passed up the opportunity to visit them while they were here so I bought a plane ticket, went to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco for a visa and hopped on a plane to Beijing.

Thomas and Gretchen took the train up from Anshun to meet me there. They have been amazing tour guides even though this was their first visit to Beijing. We stayed at a hotel not too far from Tiananmen Square. It was pretty bare bones but clean and easy access to a lot of places. The beds were rock hard and the pillows must have weighed at least 20 pounds and seemed to be filled with some kind of beans but were surprisingly comfortable. After being awake for about 30 hours I didn't have any trouble sleeping.

The next morning we got up and strolled out to the farmers' market set up near our hotel. We bought a pizza -like item that was topped with a savory ground pork that was hot from the oven and some dumplings filled with spinach and egg. They were really good and we made it a habit to stop by the pizza stand almost every time we went past it.

We rode the bus to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was immense and flat and reminded me of the mall in Washington DC. The sky was a hazy white color as were the stones of the plaza and the monument in the middle. The only noticeable colors were the red flags flying in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes and the baseball caps topping the heads of the tour groups as they followed in color-coordinating flocks behind their guides. The weather feels like spring but the few trees here are completely bare making for a rather stark and bleak Beijing. I was expecting cherry blossoms but I guess it is a bit too early for that.

The Forbidden City beckoned us with its brightly painted red roofs and blue, green and gold designs. Oh, and of course there is the huge picture of Mao welcoming us inside. We joined the throngs of people and headed into the outer courtyards, the inner courtyards and all of the other palaces with names like Eternal Spring, Supreme Harmony and Earthly Tranquility. With all of the people shoving and jostling it was a bit difficult to conjure up the peace and tranquility until we wandered off into the side palaces and then found ourselves practically alone.

Later that day Gretchen and I wandered through the old one story houses that are being destroyed in order to freshen Beijing up for the Olympics. These date back to the Ming Dynasty and once were the homes for wealthy families. Now they are decayed and house 20-30 families in the space that used to be for one family. Most of the remaining ones are located in the neighborhood by our hotel and these are being rebuilt and restored. The dirt "streets" through these dwellings are about 5 feet wide and are not for cars, only bikes and pedestrians. After winding through this area for awhile we stumbled upon a little cafe that had great lattes and a french menu. We went back later for dinner and had a delicious meal of lamb chops, duck and lasagna. We met a Chinese guy there who had grown up in Boston and spent a few years living in San Francisco and working in Berkeley. He has moved back to China for the time being and when we asked him if he missed anything from the Bay Area he answered,"Acme bread and the Cheeseboard, especially their pizza." Thomas and Gretchen and I all shouted , "The Cheeseboard! That is our favorite place!" It certainly felt like a small world to us that night.

After dinner we went to an amazing acrobatics show reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. All that and more in our first day in Beijing.

I hope you are all doing well.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Amy Goes to China!

Hi Friends!

I haven't written in my blog for the past two months, but I am going to China this Sunday, March 19th, and I hope to journal about my experiences there. Unfortunately China blocks blogs so I am going to send Tim emails which he is going to try to put on my blog for me.

I look forward to sharing some fun adventures with you.