Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Travel from hell

We leave home at 4 am to get taxi which was conveniently arranged by Jean's mom (thanks Herching!) and get to airport before Anything is open. My stomach is cramping as it does with bad food poisoning. The Air China people have a problem with our ticket and can only book us through to Beijing, not Denver or even Vancouver. When we get to gate we find the flight is delayed because of weather and no one knows when it will leave. A young Kunming girl, heading to the US for the first time is going to stay with her brother's friend who is Afircan American and lives In Harlem. We tell her about the US and trying to get from JFK to Harlem. I don't think she made her flight though because we were delayed two hours. We got our luggage fought our way into an elevator to check in again, waited in some horrid line only to find our seats had been taken because the Kunming folks messed up our ticket.

Leo wants this. In Beijing he managed to fall off a cart and hit his head. We are miserable. Middle seats for 12 hour flight. I had spent hours getting all seats for all flights. Blech

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Not sure why the police use a smart car or why they write their name in Italian?


We went to the Vegetarian restaurant today, the one that Jean's mom had mentioned looked like a good place. It was yummy. Mushroom soup with lots of different kinds of local fresh mushrooms. The traditional braised eggplant with salty texturized soybean instead of pork. And snow peas with walnuts that looked like squid. Leo got sushi which wasn't very good.

Monday, July 28, 2014

synchronicities, failures, and travel fatigue

Today was hard. Last night Paul's hard drive completely died and he lost a lot of work and won't be able to work on the plane ride home, so he's pretty bummed. We tried to get out to see something and mostly failed. It got hot today too so that didn't help.

But first I wanted to show you the mobile police pods that are all over Kunming:

I think they are cute, and funny. There are cops all over town.

Next I wanted to show you some really yummy red merlot wine. It used to be that the only red wine you could get here (aside from expensive imported French stuff) was Great Wall wine. Now there are wineries everywhere including Shangrila (the mountain town that we visited). This wine is organic, very tasty, and comes in 850 ml bottles! We got this from the travel agency folks in Shangrila who took us out to a super yummy yak dinner. 

We ought to go see the Stone Forest, Kunming's premier attraction, but it is a 2 hour bus ride each way and we are touristed out. So we went to the central Flower and Bird Market today. It took a while to find it because its location is now a big hole that will soon contain a high rise. In fact there wasn't really much of a market there at all, just some stalls with old trinkets. We did see some colored chicks, though (not sure how they do this):

Leo had a bit of a meltdown around this time. We ducked into the ramen place that we ate at yesterday and had more Japanese food. Then we decided to take a double-decker bus around town since Leo had never been on the second floor of a double-decker. We got lucky and landed on a bus that was headed home. Unfortunately, we weren't really ready to go home and so hopped in a taxi. We decided to try out the Lonely Planet's recommended art district - "the Loft" which is supposed to be an unused warehouse district with art galleries and a Scandinavian restaurant. It took us a while to get there, because it was on the other side of town. It was in the middle of a construction zone. Leo melted down again. We found one art gallery with one exhibit which was bits of rolled up newspaper that was formed into large ropes and shapes. 

However, the gallery was holding a charity show tonight and we eventually found this poster:


These Boulder folks were in the Naxi village when we were there. We met the guy in front, who is the lead for the group and who lives in North Boulder and who had studied with the same Chinese profs that Minh had studied with at Columbia U. I had no idea they could sing and dance! They were supposed to be high school students who were in China for 6 weeks to learn Chinese. We didn't get to see it because we had to get dinner. The Scandinavian restaurant was no longer there. There were no other galleries. The outing was a big bust.

So we hopped in another taxi back to our home mall, which was nearly an hour back. I thought we might find some spicy Vietnamese soup there - Leo's favorite. But no, it turned out to be Chinese food at the Vietnamese restaurant. We went to the busiest restaurant in the mall, which had lots of yummy dim sum and stumbled back home.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Xing ba ke

At the Starbucks again. The cafe mocha here is $6 for a venti. And folks don't just order coffee, they have plates of pastries too. Chinese people are richer than Americans. It's hard to believe. The lines for the Strarbucks are out the door. Haagen Dasz is $10 for a bowl and $5.5 for this mini cup:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bird and Flower Market

We visited Kunming's Flower and Bird Market today. Just a couple stops from Jean's house. Asia has so many markets - night markets with food, Beijing's pearl market, antique flea markets, the weekend market in Bangkok, the market in Hong Kong's Kowloon with all the animals. I expected a giant tent with lots of little stalls. Instead, it reminded me of Taiwan, cleaner than most of China, way more expensive than you'd think, and some shops that were museum quality. 

They had crazy plants like this pitcher plant:

We did see lots of animals, which kept the kids entranced, including colored frogs:

lots of live baby mice:

which in turn were fed to live baby alligators and snakes. 

The place was filled with artists of all sorts, especially those in the gem and jade trade. Lots of rocks that were polished and carved into all kinds of jewelry. A more unique artist was making candy with syrup:

After the candy dries, he slides it off and sticks it to a stick so the consumer can hold it like a lollipop.

Leo loved some of the big wooden carvings:

We could not afford much there. A few trinkets here and there but the really cool stuff was very expensive. Like the alligator foot purse which had the actual claw of an alligator foot and was made of alligator skin - asking price was about $800. Leo bought a little pottery guy that you fill with water and he pees. I guess the days of cheap Asian gifts are over.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Monks, hotpot and horses

We had a particularly beautiful dry day today. We first went to Songzanlin monastery (called Little Potala palace because it's similar to the giant Buddhist temple in the capital of Tibet) which was huge with many sub temples, intricately painted with various gods and decorated with golden Buddhas.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Everything but the toilet

The old town of Shangila burned down in Jan. We visited the ruins which were rubble and mud at this point. The only thing that didn't burn down was the toilet as you can see from this picture. In the background is the local monastery which sports the biggest prayer wheel ever!

Yak riding

Leo on a yak - sounds like a menu item!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pee bottle

Ok, tonight I had a memorable experience. We had a wonderful hotpot dinner with the travel agency, including all parts of a yak and then raw yak, like carpaccio. They toasted us many times and we had to drink each time. I stumble into the van, drunk, and sit down in first seat. I'm probably pretty drunk because we are at high altitude.

Everyone gets on the van and we leave. I ask for water, thinking that our hostel does not have water in the room and it would be good to take one from the big box of water in the van, and also that at high altitude I need to drink more. Paul picks up a bottle that is half full and sitting next to the box of water and the trash can and hands it to Minh who hands it to me. I think it's weird that they didn't do the polite thing and give me a full bottle. Also that it is squishy deflated, but I take a swig and then - spit it out all over the floor, realizing it is salty and not water.

It turns out that Jean's son had peed into the bottle when we were driving earlier. Jean had put the bottle next to the trash can because it was not yet fully peed into. Paul had pulled out the half bottle thinking we had all these half bottles in the back of the bus. Ai-ya! Everyone was very quickly sober after that!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou

Today we went to Yulong Shan, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. We saw this awesome show about the various minority peoples, directed by Zhang Yimou. It was a giant spectacle. Outside and with the 22,000 foot mountain as a backdrop, we watched about 300 performers dance, sing, ride horses on a grand stage that encircled us.  Cost a small fortune but well worth it. Even Leo enjoyed it.

We never saw the mountain peak but the glaciers were occasionally visible. We visited the Blue Moon valley which was a series of blue glacial-fed lakes. 

The travel agency invited us to a local Naxi hot pot place for dinner. Leo ate next to nothing but what else is new! 

Then we were off to se the Torch Festival which is a Yi people tradition. All the kids and some adults had bundles of sticks wrapped in flowers that they lit and waved around. Hugely dangerous and entertaining. At 9p sharp, the main plaza torch which was huge and which people were dancing around, was doused. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Last day in Beijing

We've had a great visit in Beijing. Today was our last day and it went reasonably well. After yesterday's heat and long queues, we had only two goals: to buy Leo a chop (a stamp made of stone with his name carved in it that he could use to stamp letters or art) and to eat hotpot (Chinese fondue). We went to Liulichang first, which is the art/calligraphy/antiques street. Finding a taxi in the morning was difficult but we eventually landed one. Liulichang used to attract many tourists. Today we did not see any foreigners there and there were few Chinese. My Beijing friends say they have never been there. It was clean with new fancy store fronts and a beautifully paved street lined with Mercedes and other fancy cars. The first store had chops for 3000 RMB ($500). We kept walking and eventually found a nice chop made of some stone from Fujian province for $30. Leo found other treasures as well - a watch that looks antique (but I'm sure it is not a real antique) and a really cool reusable practice mat for Chinese calligraphy.

We met a very nice painter who had some giant crickets in these beautiful metal cages. 

We bought a painting of a cricket from him and also got from him intell on the nearest hot pot restaurant which was at the top of the nearby Sogo department store. Sogo is a Japanese department store. The restaurant was a chain, called Xiabu Xiabu and modeled after the Japanese chain Shabu Shabu. 

They call this "little hotpot" because each person has their own little hot pot. Leo had spicy broth; Paul had curry and I had mushroom broth. It was ok, certainly nothing compared to my mom's but Leo loved it and even Paul now wants to buy a hotpot. You dip the sliced meat or veggies into the boiling broth and it cooks immediately and then you dip it into some peanut cilantro dipping sauce.

We'd been so lucky with the pollution. You can see from this graph of the last month that our 5 days in Beijing have had good air quality. My Beijing friends say this is quite unusual. Typically a good day or two is followed by several bad days. Today was definitely starting to eke up into unhealthy though. We tried to not walk around too much today and it was pretty hot (97F) in any case. 

Then a bit of a fiasco trying to meet our friends for dinner on the other side of town. We asked the staff at the apartment to help us call a taxi. The taxi called us when they were on their way and somehow they never found us. We had them talk to the guard at the front of the building but somehow they could never find us. We waited as several empty taxis went by and then finally just took one. I couldn't figure out how to tell the taxi driver on the phone that we had already gotten another taxi and ended up making up some polite lie. Anyway, that took up 30 of the 60 minutes that I had allotted for getting through town. It took us about 90 minutes to get through town making us about an hour late. We met our friends in a very fancy private room in a fancy hotel with way too many dishes. Leo wouldn't eat and was pretty tired. The head of the group that I used to work with had a second dinner going on in the room next door with the folks from the meeting that he had been in that day. An hour or so after eating some, we all were tired and went home. Most of the food was packed up.

Anyway, we've been very lucky to have the use of our friends' apartment here. Making breakfast and doing laundry and just having a nice haven to relax in has been wonderful. I don't know what we would have done without this. Tomorrow we fly to Kunming where we will see more friends. I have been told that it is getting very expensive for even Chinese people to travel to Kunming and Lijiang, etc. Apparently it is now far cheaper for Chinese people to holiday in Japan than China!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bohai, Da Dong duck, and art!

Today we went to Bohai with some friends that I've known for nearly twenty years. Just goes to show how old I am. Gao and Dandan took us to the lake which is much fancier than it used to be. It was always touristy and special but now it looks like Singapore or some touristy American port. We walked and talked and then rented a pedal boat on the lake which was challenging because it only turned left. 

Then they took us to the fanciest roast duck restaurant that I've seen. I had looked up reviews of duck restaurants on the web and thought this one a middle-priced option but when we went into our private room and saw the exquisite setup, I was a bit worried. This was DaDong and it was amazing. The menu was a very thick book with professional foodie photos of each dish. 


This is a test. I'm having huge problems accessing the internet here. No Facebook, google, blogger, youtube, etc. I'd like to see if I can post using this email.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

See page 30-31 of the Chalmers (Sweden) magazine. Leo says they took a really great picture of me because you can't see my gray hairs!