Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Going to Heidelberg was great for five reasons. One, we had a nice room, as always, at the Heidelberg Marriott. Two, the weather improved dramatically. Three, after a month of eating not a lot of meat with our Chinese food, there was sausage to be found and eaten. Four, Germans are nice. Hairy, but nice. And five, and most importantly, I’m pretty sure you can turn any English word into a German word by adding “stein,” “enberg,” or “ogen.” This meant that speaking the language would be much easier than it was in China.


Our first stop on the Heidelberg tour was the Castle Schloss. This is a famous ruin on a big hill in Heidelberg. There’s a super-big keg inside (the second largest beer keg in the world) and it has amazing views. I bought Jack a postcard and drank the coldest apple juice I’ve ever had at the restaurant there while I wrote him a note on it. Then later, to prove it was authentic, Dad took my picture, while I held the postcard in front of where they took the postcard picture. Impressive stuff.

We had taken the tram up, but decided to walk down, which turned out to be a great idea because we ran into some sheep (Dad whistled at them and they came running, which amused us to no end), I ate a wild blackberry off a bush (and it didn’t kill me), and we found a fan-freaking-tastic sidewalk café, where we enjoyed iced coffee and watched a wedding recessional in the sunshine. We did have a little bit of trouble finding our way back to the main train station after wandering around for a long time, so we rode the bus for about an hour or so, but we did eventually end up where we wanted to next:

The Heidelberg Zoo

This zoo was quite a bit different in Heidelberg than the Wuhan zoo. The first indication of this little fact was that there were animals at this zoo. Living animals. Not only were there living animals, but there was more than one species of animal at this zoo. Amazing, right?

The monkeys my dad had superglued together the last time he was here were still here, and they were mating. The hairy ass was still itchy. (And when I said it was a smelly ass and that “most asses are smelly,” the woman standing next to me surprised me by telling her four-month old “Don’t listen to her, she says bad words” in perfect American English. FYI, lady, your kid isn’t old enough to hold its head up yet. It didn’t understand what I just said. Also, I used it in a non-bad word context, so it doesn’t count as a bad word. Plus I should be able to say anything I want if it’s not in the country’s language, because by law nobody should be able to understand me). There was also an itsy-bitsy baby gorilla that I really liked and a trained seal that amused me as well.

The only part I didn’t care for about the Heidelberg Zoo was the part where I lost my brand new extra camera battery and camera case. We retraced all of our steps, but alas, we never found it. You’re welcome, teenage kid who found it and sold it on eBay.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Hotel Scavenger Hunt

Note: This blog post is also here with pictures

[Somewhere between Amsterdam and Heidelberg on a really fast train]

Editor’s note: I don’t care enough to write an entire blog entry about the trip from Shanghai to Amsterdam on Sunday, so here’s a short recap:

Shanghai to London: Business Class still kicks butt, especially after having to ride coach on all of our side-trips in China.
London airport: Four hour layover plus being up 24 hours sucks, even in the first class lounge.
Trip from Amsterdam airport to hotel: We learned that it’s stupid to take a taxi 2 miles, because it costs $40.

Temperature Transformation

A few years ago, I went to Chicago during spring break with my family and then-future sister-in-law. I don’t know if you know that, but spring break falls about mid-March, where in Texas, the temperature will range from about 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It was with this attitude that I packed short sleeved shirts, jeans, and flip flops for the trip. I threw in a sweatshirt just in case it got down to 65 in the evening, but I figured I wouldn’t need it much. Long story short, that was an unpleasant trip without a coat, especially on Navy Pier.

Fast forward to spring break of this year. This time I was off to St. Louis to help throw my best friend, Emily, a bridal shower. I packed short sleeved shirts, jeans, and flip flops for the trip. I threw in a few sweaters just in case it got chilly at night. Again, no jacket. Another unpleasant trip, and my packing self-esteem was getting pretty low.

The good news is that I went back to both cities during the summer and didn’t have a packing problem. Likewise, I didn’t have a packing problem going to Wuhan, China, where the temperature would range from 90 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Tank tops, shorts, capris, and flip-flops didn’t let me down for two and a half weeks.

And then we got to Europe.

My mistaken assumption was that Europe, namely, the Netherlands and Belgium, would be warm in July. This is not the case. As the Renaissance front desk lady in Amsterdam put it, “it’s always autumn here.” Anyone that knows me knows that autumn is not my favorite time of year, falling just below winter on the “seasons that piss me off most” list. Autumn is when you kiss sunshine and warmth goodbye and start needing more layers of clothing (and for me, a LOT more layers of clothing) to remain mildly comfortable.

The good news is that my packing stupidity did break just long enough for me to pack a pair of jeans (in case it cooled down at night in Wuhan – ha!), and a sweatshirt to sleep in when Dad and Darlana kept it FREEZING in the room at night (although I have noticed that I seem to be the only one in the world who doesn’t mind sleeping in an 85-degree bedroom, double-covers pulled up to the neck).

This is all just a long, drawn out way to say that I was ill-equipped for the weather change from 100-degree Wuhan to 60-degree and rainy Amsterdam.

Oh yeah, and did I mention it was pouring rain and really windy?

In my defense, however, I was the smarter-packed member of this traveling pair: Dad’s suitcase is full of only shorts and t-shirts.

“I speak English, and I’m here to help:” the tables have turned

In case you’re just too lazy to read the blog entry describing “I speak English, and I’m here to help,” the game we invented and envisioned playing in China, here’s how it goes: we wear name tags that say “I speak English, and I’m here to help.” When tourists ask us for help, we help as best we can, but the fact that we have absolutely no idea about anything either. Sometimes we embellish, sometimes we’re just plain wrong. The fatal flaw with this game is that we were absolutely the only tourists in Wuhan. Nobody except us needed help.

It occurred to us later, during our hotel scavenger hunt (below) that the tables may have turned on our little game. And seeing as how we got four different directions from four different people in four different places, we’re thinking other people might have caught on to the game.

Hotel Scavenger Hunt

The first thing we needed to do on Monday when we got to Europe was drop off my two ginormous suitcases at our final European destination, Brussels. I had only brought one suitcase with me to China, and then dad bought another one on Silk Street in Beijing which I proceeded to fill completely with pearls, fake designer purses, and silk stuff to bring back home. We figured that the two rolling monstrosities would be a liability as we tried to climb the Eiffel Tower, and therefore decided to make the trip out to Brussels (our final European destination) to drop off the big ones, leaving us with only our backpacks filled with weather-inappropriate clothes.

Here’s how the trip was supposed to go:

Take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels Schumann in the morning. From there, you’re pretty close to the Brussels Renaissance. We drop off our luggage, get on the train back to Amsterdam, and enjoy an afternoon visit to Maduradam followed by an evening of shocked confusion passing window after window of lingerie-clad hookers in the red-light district of Amsterdam on the way to restaurants near the hotel (see “Window shopping for whores,” below) by about 6:30 p.m.

Unfortunately, Dad left all of his meticulously-planned train schedules in his checked baggage at the Renaissance Hotel in Wuhan, China, where he will be returning after the week in Europe.

Therefore, here’s how the trip actually went:

We excitedly hop on a train from Amsterdam to Brussels North. We take our seats near the back after putting our 15 suitcases in the overhead bins. As we excitedly look out the windows at the passing scenery of fields of cows and little cottages with neat gardens, a train worker comes by.

“Tickets please,” he requests.

We proudly hand him our 5-day Eurail pass and our passports, confident that we have all the necessary documentation. He studies it.

“This pass isn’t validated.” He says, and gives it back. We stare at him like a dog stares at a ceiling fan.

“Vali…what?” we ask, confused.

“Read the conditions,” he says, simply, and walks away.

We open the ticket-pamphlet and see something that looks like this:

Conditions of Use:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 1. Blah blah blah blah blah. 2. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 3. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 4. Blah blah blah blah blah. 5. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. 6. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Since dad can’t see anything without his glasses (and probably couldn’t see this with his glasses), he takes one look at the paper and hands it over to me, expecting me to read and interpret it. Granted, this time the “blah blah blah” was in English, but that didn’t mean it really made any sense to me.

I try my best to figure out where we went wrong, but the guy came back before my “aha” moment actually happened.

“Did you figure it out?” he asks.

“Um… I don’t understand,” I say, handing him the ticket and giving him my best “I’m a stupid American tourist girl, please don’t punish me for it” look.

He takes it with a sigh and begins to read it. Even for him, it took a few minutes of study before he finds it. He reads aloud:

“Before travel begins, within 6 months of the issuing date, the first and last day of validity of the pass and your passport number must be filled in; before departure by your travel agent or once in Europe by a European rail official, and NOT by yourself.”

Again, we stare at him. The train is moving. We are on board. Our pass is not validated.

“So… are you a European rail official?” my dad asks, slowly.

“Yes, I am, in fact a European rail official,” the rail official says, proudly.

“So… can you validate it now?” my dad asks.

“Well, I charge 50 Euros to validate it on board,” he says, and my Dad and I both look at each other, grimacing, then back at the rail official with puppy-dog eyes.

“But, I could go ahead and not charge that,” he says.

“That’s a great idea! Let’s do that one!” I say.

He begins to write on the ticket.

“I’m only doing this for one reason,” he says, as he takes our passports and begins transferring the numbers on to the rail pass. “I would charge a big fee if you had been traveling around for a month without it validated, but obviously, this is your first trip.”

Dad and I look at each other. Yes, it was our first trip, but how could he be so sure? Was it the “dog staring at a ceiling fan look” we gave him when he used the word “validated?” Could he just tell that we were good Christians who wouldn’t lie?

“You see,” he continues, “this is a first-class ticket. Nobody would have used a first-class ticket to sit in second-class on a 3-hour trip if they actually knew what they were doing.” He stamps the pass and hands it back, warning us to make sure to write in the dates when we travel again or we really will have to pay a big fine.

As I write this the train is running down the track at around 160 kpm (100 miles an hour). Dad looks out the window, raises one eyebrow and says: “I wonder what it would feel like if we hit a cow at this speed?”

Later in the trip to Brussels North, we ask the same rail official, who we have now befriended as our rescuer, how we can get to “that one Brussels rail station that starts with a ‘sch.’”

“Brussels Schumann?” he asks, and we grin like idiots.

“Yeah! Yeah! Brussels Schumann!! How do we get to Brussels Schumann?” we reply.

He progresses to give us detailed instructions for getting to the Brussels Schumann station, which include taking the Louvain La Neuve at 11:30, which Dad writes down “Luvan Nauvern.”

We hop out of the train at Brussels North at 11:11, look at the schedule and find something that looks like “Luvan Nauvern,” which is departing at 11:32 from platform 6. We hurry over to platform 6, and a few minutes later, hop on the train, utterly impressed with our seasoned-traveling selves.

The next stop is Schreevex, or something like it. It definitely started with an “sch.” We proudly declare “this is it!” and hop off.

As we unload our 38 bags from the train, a lone tumbleweed rolls by as we hear our steps echo off the empty platform. We glance around, wondering if we just made a big mistake, seeing as how we can see for miles and there’s no Marriott, or building for that matter, in sight.

Fortunately, the train hadn’t left yet, and the conductor was outside the train, looking at us quizzically and wondering why in the world anyone would get off here.

We show her the address of the hotel and ask her if this is where we need to be. She looks at it and suppresses a laugh.

“My goodness, no. You need to take the train back to Brussels North and catch the train to either Luxemburg or Louvain La Neuve. She writes the names in my dad’s book, then looks at the train schedule.

“It looks like there’s a train going to Brussels North at 11:42 from platform 9,” she tells us, then gets back into her train and takes off again, leaving us to chat on our isolated platform.

After complaining all morning about not having eaten breakfast (“Dad! I’m hungry! I’m hungry Dad! Daddy! Feed me!! I’m hungry!”), Dad finally decides to try shutting me up by going down into the tunnel between platforms to see if there’s a snack somewhere. There isn’t. In fact, the tunnel is just as deserted as the rest of the “station” is. Accepting our failure, we head back up to the platform.

Unfortunately, walking around in the tunnel for a while will disorient you to which direction the train came from, and therefore, which direction you’re supposed to go to get back to where you came from.

In addition, 11:42 has come and gone without a trace of a train going either direction. Ut oh. We're sure that this is where the “I speak English, and I’m here to help” joke has targeted us.

We stand there for another 15 minutes and see a train coming on another platform.

“Is that train going back to Brussels North?” Dad asks.

“DUhhhhhhhhhh…” I answer.

We watch it leave. Another 10 minutes pass. Another train, another platform. Then 5 minutes. Then another. Then nothing.

As Dad and I stare at each other, cross-eyed and drooling, a man walks up and sits on a bench, followed by a train (which does not actually sit on the bench, or walk for that matter, in case you were wondering). As he is about to board, we ask him “Are you going to Brussels North?” He says yes, and we excitedly grab our 62 bags and get ready to board the train.

Unfortunately, the door doesn’t open all the way, and neither he nor I can fully open it. He gets through, and I hand one of my suitcases through to him, my super-mondo backpack hanging off my shoulders. I try to squeeze through, but I’m just too wide, either from the backpack or the Chinese-food-relief Pizza Hut meals from previous weeks.

Now he has my suitcase, I can’t get through, and I have no idea when the train is going to take off with my bag. At least it’s the one with all my clothes and not the one with the Coach purses, I think.

Fortunately, the conductor comes over to survey the problem, therefore eliminating the threat of the bag taking off to Brussels North without me.

She can’t get the door open either, and asks Dad to kick it closed to see if she can re-open it. Dad happily obliges with a #3 side kick (and gee, he was proud to get to use that again sans attacker), and she tries to re-open it with her fancy little button, getting it stuck halfway again.

We take the hint and move to the next car, whose door actually opens. As we load our 81 bags into the car, the conductor approaches us once again and asks Dad to re-kick the door closed. He obliges once again, and soon the train is moving back to Brussels North, and we’re feeling confident once again in our traveling abilities.

Note to self: invest in Dramamine. Traveling at 150 mph in a window seat and trying to type/read will make me sick. You, the readers, are lucky I’m so committed/stupid to finish this story even though I’m on the verge of throwing up.

So we’re back at Brussels North, getting quite familiar with the scenery here. What have been catching my eye are the seemingly endless food-stands, restaurants, and vending machines.

“I’m hungry Dad! Dad! I’m hungry!! Daddy! I’m hungry! Feed me Dad! I’m hungry!” I whine.

He tells me that we’ll go check with the information desk about the right train to get on this time, then we’ll grab something to eat before we go. This sounds good to me, so we head to the Information kiosk.

It’s empty. We try looking at the map and figuring it out. We’re too dumb for that.

As we look at each other, cross-eyed and drooling, wondering what to do next, a Brussels angel comes out of nowhere and asks “do you need help?”

We pointed at the address of the hotel once again and asked her if she knew what train we needed to get on. She looks at her watch.

“I’m not sure,” she says, “but I have 5 minutes until my train leaves so let’s go to the information desk in the metro station and see if they know.”

She walks with us to the metro information desk and says lots of words in something that sounds like French and German mixed together. (When you’re in China, you can’t figure out what anybody’s saying but you know they’re speaking Chinese. When you’re in Europe, you can’t figure out what language anyone’s speaking.)

She writes down detailed directions, step by step, for us to get to the hotel.

We take the written instructions and thank her as she hurries off to her probably-long-gone train. Now that we have written directions, we decide that eating is in order. I have earned it with my incessant whining. We settle down after ordering delightful club sandwiches on baguettes.

After we’re finished eating, we ask the metro information desk guy to point us in the direction of the metro. He tells us to go downstairs and get on any tram, which will take us to the metro we need.

We do as we are told, and make it to the right metro on a tram so full of people I could barely fit myself and my 108 bags. Next, we take the metro to Luxemburg Street, where we are supposed to “walk to the train station.”

This is where it goes wrong for us. You see, Luxemburg Street goes two directions, as most streets do. Dad and I decide to just pick a direction and hope it works out for us. At the same time, Dad and I point in different directions and say “let’s go that way then.” I had opted for the direction that is toward the really big building that looks like a train station, and my direction won out. We start walking.

Let’s not forget that weather discussion we had earlier here. Did I mention it was raining, and we were hauling 173 bags?

At some point, we ask some business people who look like they might speak English if they knew the Rue de Parblahblah, and they all point in a direction diagonally from where they were standing on Luxemburg St. And so we walk.

At some point, Dad decides to see what’s behind the buildings we’re walking toward before wasting any more time, and says “you stay here” and walks away. I awkwardly try to gather up the 214 bags a little closer as I watch another tumbleweed blow by.

Dad doesn’t come back.

Oh man, wouldn’t that be horrible? Mom would have killed him.

Okay, he does come back, but it takes a long time. When he finally comes back, he doesn’t know much more than I do, but we decide that we’re probably close.

“If we see a taxi, let’s take it,” I say, and Dad agrees.

You know how in the pilot episode of “Friends,” Ross says “I just want to be married again!” And Rachel walks through the door in her wedding dress? Then Chandler says “And I just want a million dollars!” (Yeah, I probably watch too much “Friends” but don’t lie, you totally know what I’m talking about.)

As soon as we said it, we looked up the street and a taxi turned the corner. I flagged him down like a good city-girl and he rolled down the window.

“Can you take us to the Renaissance hotel?” we ask.

He laughs. “Um… walk a half a block and turn left,” he says.

Number 2 nice person in Belgium. As Dad said, “he could have taken us to the airport and back – we would have never known.”

It’s really really light outside for 9:45 p.m. It looks like dusk. That’s weird.

Those raindrops must look HUGE to them!

Our next stop on the way back to Amsterdam was in The Hague at Maduradam, which is a huge model city they built to amuse themselves. It had a tiny soccer stadium, a tiny Amsterdam, a tiny wedding chapel with little wedding people, a tiny working train, tiny boats, tiny airport with tiny airplanes…you name it, it was tiny. Cassandra, my sister-in-law with an appreciation of all things tiny (being tiny herself), would have loved it.

Aside from the fact that it was still raining, Dad and I were optimistic about our visit to Maduradam. We hopped off the train and went to buy tram tickets.

“Hello,” Dad said to the ticket salesman. “We need to buy two tickets to Maduradam and two tickets back.”

“Here in The Hague, we call that ‘round-trip,’” the salesman teases, and gives us our tickets and change. My dad makes sure he remembers correctly that we need to take tram 9, and upon confirmation, we’re off to tiny-ville.

Or so we think.

Just like streets, trams tend to go two ways, mostly because they run on streets. Otherwise they really couldn’t re-use the tram. It would just make one trip one-way and that would be it. They might as well throw it away. It’s genius really; once the tram goes one way to the end of the line, it then goes the other way.

We didn’t exactly consider this when we hopped on tram 9, and it wasn’t until about 20 stops later that we thought “that’s weird; we don’t seem to be getting to Maduradam and it’s not listed on the screen as one of our upcoming stops.” We ask the people in front of us if we’re going the right direction to get to Maduradam, and get a resounding “you need to go the opposite direction, duh” from them. We get back off the train, just happy we’re not hauling 349 bags anymore, and wait for the tram going the other direction.

Darlana, you’ll be happy to know that the weather isn’t working out for us here in Europe either. A 3-hour trip for Dad last time around Maduradam in the sun was a 1-hour trip for us in the rain. Rain is wet. Air is cold. Mandy is grumpy.

Window-shopping for whores

Getting to the Amsterdam Renaissance was much easier than getting to Brussels Renaissance, mostly because Dad had been there before. The only problem was that instead of the light rain we had in Brussels, it was pouring rain here, and still really cold outside. Because we only had the one tiny umbrella and Dad was the one in shorts and a t-shirt, I opted to just get wet. We showed up at the hotel soaking wet, but glad to have actually found the hotel in less than 4 hours.

As Dad and I walked around trying to find a place to get a dinner snack at 10 p.m., I walked by a few shops. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement and looked over.

I was astonished to be face-to-face with a lingerie clad woman, who was standing in the window. I looked down the street. There were more of them. Standing in windows, mostly naked, soliciting their services. That’s new…

That wouldn’t be the first abnormal scene I would see in Amsterdam, however. Among the others were a drug café, where patrons were inside smoking (what I assume was) dope, sex shops, gay sex shops, and my personal favorite, the drunk biking bar. This bar was placed on wheels, and the barstools had pedals. As the men on the stools got drunker and drunker, they pedaled down the street and made a lot of noise. It was quite a sight.

I think I’m ready for Germany now…

“Ooh look,” Mandy says, and points out the window at a big river with pretty bridges.

“Is that the Rhine?” Dad asks, assuming that Mandy’s $30,000 education has taught her something.

“You’re funny,” Mandy says.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Our last side-trip in China before Europe would be Shanghai. This time we would go with Jerry, an EDS employee who lives in Shanghai, and Dad and I would only have Saturday to play around there.

The day did not start out well.

After breakfast, we caught a cab at the hotel to The Pearl Tower, a big TV station and tourist attraction where you can go up to the top and see Shanghai from above. It was about an hour cab ride, but it seemed more like 8.

The first thing the driver did weirdly was the way he pushed his foot on and off the gas the entire time he was on the highway. You know how in middle school band they make you tap your toe while you’re playing? This guy must have practiced it a lot, because that’s what he was doing the whole time. And no, there was no traffic he needed to slow down and speed up for.

But that was tolerable compared to the other thing.

I don’t know what disease or illness he had, but he was definitely not well. Every two or three seconds, he would cough and couple times and then clear his throat like gross boys do when they’re halking a loogie. There’s just no way to convey how disgusting this is until you listen to/watch an hour of it.

Oh, and it didn’t stop there. At one point he got out of the cab at a stop-light and did I don’t know or want to know what outside the cab.

At another stop light, he used the rear view mirror to watch himself pull out his nose hairs, then his mustache hairs.

By the time we got out of the cab, we didn’t care where we were, just that we had hand sanitizer and a lot of it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Goodbye, China

Here's what I'm thinking about at the moment:

- I love China. I didn't expect to love China this much. It isn't like I expected it - you know, communist China must be oppressive and flooded with police, right? Or crime? Or something bad? Wrong. China is relatively "normal" - more normal than India or Brazil. I am a freak show (everybody stares at the only white Americans they've ever seen) but even that's become a game and I don't really mind it. The people are servant-hearted and sweet, and I am so enjoying getting to visit with my new friends here. I'm a little sad to be leaving Wuhan tommorow, but I'm looking forward to the weekend in Shanghai and then the week in Europe (in case you didn't know, I'm going to the Netherlands, Germany, and France; namely, PARIS!!)

-I get to see Amy Aniobe next week in Paris!!

-Being away from someone you love sucks, but it's not the end of the world. (Even after all this time with Jack, most of it being long-distance time, I still advise against long-distance relationships, unless it's absolutely necessary, because it sucks a lot, even when you know he's the person God picked for you to marry). I know this because I'm always away from Jack, and it's becoming less and less of a big deal, especially as graduation and the wedding ( get closer and closer.

However, usually when I'm away from him I can still talk to him on the phone, so it's really different here, where I can't. This is a round-about way of telling you that I hadn't had any contact with Jack for 2 weeks except about 3 e-mails from him, when I finally got skype so I could pay only 2 cents a minute to talk to him live, which I just did. Oh man, that was great.

-Did you know that Air China has had the most crashes in history?

-I can't wear my engagement ring out shopping a lot of times because 1) thieves will see that and know you're wealthy so they'll target you, and 2) if you're bargaining they'll jack up the price because they know you're wealthy (little do they know that I'm a college student with NO money, especially after this trip). Last night I put my ring back on to go to bed, then took it off when I got up in the morning to go out, which was a little backwards, I guess. It's amazing how good that feels on my finger when I don't see it or him for a while. I know I'm not supposed to be materialistic, but I REALLY love that ring. He couldn't possibly have picked anything better for me.

-I'm not going to want to eat Chinese food for a while. I've had my limit, and I want some fajitas now.

-I'm going to miss living in a hotel. Sure, I'm going to be happy to see Jack and my dog Maggie and my full closet again, but I'm getting a little worried - Who will make my bed every morning? Who will have breakfast ready for me upstairs? Who will offer me a drink when I go to use the computer? Who will clean my bathroom and put clean towels on the towel rack every morning? Who will call me to tell me my driver has arrived to take me shopping? Who will be my driver!?

-I bought a LOT of purses and pearls here. I have all my wedding jewelry now though, and that's really exciting.

-I will not miss not being able to edit the website from here ( For some reason I can't do it from China, and the fact that the same trivia and contest questions and picture of the day have been there for several weeks really bothers me. At least Dad can update the travel blog from work.

-I do not look forward to having to move back to College Station 2 weeks after I get back, but I do look forward to graduating in December.

-I'm getting tired, so I'm going to go to bed. That one shouldn't really have been a point.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Note: This blog post with pictures is here

I am not writing this from Beijing. I’m actually on a train on my way to Paris, but Darlana gave me a lot of trouble about finishing up my China blog before I forget everything. Funny, because she hasn’t written a darn thing yet.

We took a guided bus tour to the famous stuff in Beijing. It was the three of us, another lady, the guide, and a driver, who didn’t say much of anything.

Our first stop was Tiananmen Square, where that famous protest or something or other happened. Apparently the square can fit about a million people at once. It’s a big square. A tourist spot, here you’ll find lots of annoying salespeople poking you in the back and going “Here! Buy this crap! Here! Buy this!” We’re the biggest freak show yet on the square, mostly because the people here are other tourists from more rural areas in China. We see a lot of people lining up their friends sort of in front of us so they can “nonchalantly” take a picture “of their friend” but really of us. The brave ones would ask us to pose with them, as always.

Next stop was the Forbidden City, which is across the street from Tiananmen square. As we enter, we notice that all the people are touching the knobies on the big doors as they walk by. We decide that the door-breasts were made to distract the enemy as they tried to attack.

The Great Bears

The first thing we saw at the great wall were black bears, who had apparently trained themselves to catch pieces of cucumber tourists bought to throw at them. (There’s a business idea for you – “Pay us to feed our bears for us” – but I did pay, and I’d do it again).

Boring roller coaster ride

To get up to the entrance of the Great Wall, you had to take this little tram thing that was really a roller coaster that went really slow. When we saw it, we thought it would be much more fun, but unfortunately, they never finished that big drop of the other side we were hoping for.

As we were making the .0005 mph trip up the little roller coaster, I lifted my little safety harness a little bit so I could turn around to take a picture of Darlana, who was in the car behind me. This did not bode well for the spy-worker, who turned around in his car in front of me and yelled “Bdsaiog dabiho iadsgofd gaiox djio!!!” at me. When I turned back around and put my harness back, proceeded to stay turned in his chair, never taking his eyes off me for the remainder of the “ride.”

“I pooped on the Great Wall of China”

No, I didn’t poop on the Great Wall of China. I’ll get to that later.

We were pretty disappointed with the visibility that day, as there was none. Where we were hoping to see the wall stretching and winding along the mountain on the horizon, we saw a thick blanket of white fog. Darlana was particularly peeved about this little fact as we made our ascent up the steep, uneven bricks of the wall surrounded by a thick mass of gawking tourists. As she whined about it, I turned to her and said “yeah, but we’re on the Great Wall of China!”

She stopped mid-complaint, and a flash of recognition lit up her eyes.

“We are!” She exclaimed. “We’re on the f***ing Great Wall of China!!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or wouldn’t. Either way.

When you climb the wall, you have to pass through these little shelter spots, where I guess they must have taken shelter in the rain or when being attacked or something, to continue your walk up the wall. Aside from the heavy crowd and the fact that the ceilings only rose to about Dad’s chest level, they were tolerable. And then we came to that one.

When Darlana and Dad read this, they know exactly the one I’m talking about. Let me preface this by saying that neither Dad nor I have very strong senses of smell. I can’t complain about this, because usually I can’t smell bad stuff, which suits me just fine, unless it’s me that stinks.

This I could smell.

Someone (and then someone else, and then someone else, apparently) had decided that this little pass-through was an excellent make-shift bathroom, and had therefore relieved themselves along the sides. Unfortunately, this spot had absolutely no air moving through it (but lots of people) so it was quite unpleasant. I thought Darlana, who actually can smell things, was going to be sick.

Shortly after that fiasco, we reached the end of the Great Wall (we figure since the wall is 3,000 km and we went to the end and back, we must have walked 6,000 km). Darlana got there before I did. When I turned the corner, my face must have conveyed how shocked I was, because Darlana burst out laughing when she saw me.

There, in the middle of the Great Wall, a little kid, pants at his ankles, was taking a poop. And I had walked in from behind.

He probably wasn’t more than 2 or 3 years old, and in his defense his mother had put a plastic bag underneath him. But you’re never expecting to see that.

In China, most of the little kids don’t wear diapers. They simply have a slit in the back of their pants, so when they have to go, they can. I had never actually seen any evidence of this system, so I figured it was pretty well-regulated and cleaned up by the parents, and it is, for the most part.

After he was done, the mom gathered up the bag, tied it up, and threw it over the edge. I guess that’s one way to do it…

After posing for several pictures by ourselves and with others at the end (one guy asked to take a picture with me, and when his friend tried to get into the picture too he said something firmly in Chinese and pushed his friend away so it was just us), we headed back toward the bears and the entrance of the wall.

Ki-hap! GET BACK!

On Sunday, we visited what can only be described as the king of all knock-off warehouses. It’s called Silk Street, and ladies, if you have any interest in inexpensive fake designer bags and clothes, electronics, real pearls, sunglasses, jewelry, accessories… you name it, bring your money.

The only downside with getting everything for insanely cheap is that 1) you’ll have to bargain for it, which really becomes a game more than anything, and 2) they are crazy aggressive when they’re trying to get your business, because there’s a lot of competition in a small area. This competition forces prices way down, and therefore I considered it a small price to pay to have to push a few of them down to get by them.

Actually, I didn’t push anybody down (Dad did once, but I didn’t). I did, however, have to use several of the self-defense techniques I learned in taekwondo to get away from them, because they do actually grab you. I think it would have made my mom and my Grandma Barbara nervous.

I bought 11 purses, for gifts and otherwise, pearls for my wedding, [censored - gift spoilers], and my favorite, a new Olympus 7.1 mega pixel digital camera to put in my new purse.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

You mean there's life outside the hotel on a weekday!?

Note: This blog entry has been posted with pictures here.

Getting laundry done at the hotel is really expensive. I'm not kidding. It's insane. Here's an idea of how much it costs in US dollars:

Shirt/Blouse: $5 each
Pair of Pants: $6 each
Pair of socks: $2 each

Consider the fact that Darlana, Dad and I had 60 items between the three of us in the last 2 weeks (I had about 20 of those items), and you have yourself a buttload of money that you have to spend on laundry. EDS may pay for Dad and Darlana's laundry, but they don't pay for mine. Heck if I'm going to spend US$100 of my hard-earned "could-be-spending-this-on-pearls-or-shoes-or-cheap-Gucci-purses" money on laundry.

As a result, we found a laundry place near the hotel (much like a dry cleaner; laundromats don't exist here, mostly because washing machines are cheap enough here [everything is made here] that everyone has one in their home, apparently) that only charges about $1 per item (a little more or less depending on what it is, but that was the average).

It was decided that I would be the clothes-taker, and because of this, I got to go for a ride in the car this morning with Darlana and Dad to EDS so that I could ride back to the laundry place to drop the clothes off. But before that, since I had the driver, they said he would take me to shopping too. I was more excited than Tia on her way to Sonic to get a corn dog.

When we got to EDS, I moved to the front seat a lot like Maggie does when she knows she's going for a long exciting ride to College Station, while Dad, Darlana, and our driver got out of the car and went inside. I wasn't really sure what the driver was doing, so I just stayed in the van, pressing my nose up against the window and wagging my tail.

After several minutes, the driver came back out with a young woman. She got in the van and introduced herself in English as Emily, an EDSer who was willing to blow off work today to go shopping with me and translate. Woohoo! I had a dog-walker.

Will you need a forklift, Madam?

He took us to a shopping mall that Emily called "the fashionable place to shop," and after about 45 minutes of walking around the mall and window shopping (we hadn't bought anything because we didn't need anything), Emily's cell phone rang.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"That was the driver," she told me, laughing. "He was calling to ask if we needed help with all of our bags, because he figured we would have bought too much to carry by now."

Later, when we got in the car after having shopped for about 3 hours and showed him the only thing I bought - some jeweled hair pins for me to wear at my wedding - he laughed and laughed and laughed and couldn't believe that we had spent the entire morning shopping and that was all we bought.

Ice cream amateur

As we were walking between stores outside the shopping mall, we saw a walk-up version of a drive-through McDonald's, and I noticed some pictures of the flavored ice cream cones that we used to have in the U.S., but don't anymore. Anybody remember those? There was chocolate, strawberry, blueberry, lemon...etc, that were on the edges of the ice cream swirls.

Anyway, I got all excited and pointed at the picture and told Emily that we used to have those in the U.S., but they went away and I hadn't seen them in a long time. She asked me if I'd like to stop and get one, and, deciding that 9 in the morning was a fantastic time for ice cream, I said yes.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and the McDonald's lady handed us two ice cream cones.

In case you were wondering, yes, raspberry-flavored vanilla soft-serve is as good in China as it used to be in America.

"I've never had this kind of ice cream before," she tells me, and I try to decide if she means she hasn't had McDonald's soft-serve before or McDonald's soft-serve flavored with chocolate syrup before. Later, I decide it's probably the former.

As we walk around outside in the cool 90F heat (yes, that's quite cool here - it was a relief to have this kind of a cold front come through), happily enjoying the sweet creamy goodness that is McDonald's ice cream, I notice that mine is beginning to melt, and, like a good Texan with lots of experience with soft-serve ice cream cones in the summer heat, I lick from the sides rather than the top.

As we continue to walk, I glance over at Emily, whose hand is covered in a chocolatey vanilla mess. She has a panicked look on her face as she watches some chocolate drip in slow-motion from her cone down onto her crisp, white skirt.

We both stop as she digs in her purse with a magic third hand for her tissues and then wipes at the chocolate stain fruitlessly. She finishes her ice cream awkwardly and I realize what the problem is: she is eating the ice cream top to bottom, without licking from the sides. Rookie mistake.

After the ice cream fiasco, we found a bathroom in the mall and "washed our hands of the whole thing."

You stay here by yourself? Hell, no!

When we decided to go back to the van (Emily was wearing ridiculously cute shoes, which meant that they were excruciatingly painful to walk in, as all ridiculously cute shoes are), we sat down at a KFC (the have KFCs everywhere here!) and called the driver.

"Blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah," she said, and hung up the phone.

"He'll call us in 10 minutes when he's outside this part of the mall," she tells me.

Then she explains that her phone battery is dead as brings out another one to replace it with. She turns the phone back on. Low battery.

"Did I switch them out or just put the same one back in the phone?" she asks, hoping she just put the wrong battery back in. I tell her she put the new one in. Both batteries are dead.

We decide that we had better go outside to see if we can find the driver, who cannot contact us after all. After walking around outside for a while where he said he would be and not finding him, Emily gets worried.

"Maybe I could find a Nokia store and they could let me turn my phone on long enough to get his phone number out of my phone," she says. "I think there was a mobile phone store near here."

"That's a good idea," I observe. "Why don't you go do that, and I'll stay here in case he comes back."

She looks at me like I had just told her I wanted to buy a camel to feed to my pet turtle.

"You cannot stay here by yourself," she insists, matter-of-factly.

Fortunately, we see the very worried driver driving up the road towards us as we start walking around the building shortly after.

Later, she tells the driver that I had wanted to stand outside the mall and wait for him by myself. He raises his eyebrows, points at me, laughs, and says "Blah blah blah blah blah blah! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah!!!" which apparently translates "You don't know a word of Chinese, and you really stand out here. You couldn't possibly have stayed there by yourself."

When I told them I'm a black belt (and bigger than everyone else here), they weren't really all that impressed.

Not a freak show after all? Naaah.

While we were standing around scratching our heads when we couldn't find our driver, I had that now-familiar sense that everyone was looking at me (which is becoming quite a fun game, especially when you can surprise someone by meeting their eyes, which they avert quickly.)

I point out this observation (that everyone stares at me because I'm a freak show) to Emily, and she says "they're not staring because you're different, they're staring because you're so beautiful."

I laugh. "Well, thank you," I say.

"No, I mean it!" she insists.

Awww. I'm not buying it, but that's nice.

Second time's a charm

When Emily told me that the driver wanted pizza for lunch, I was quite surprised. You see, last time, he didn't like it at all. He made a face and everything. (See "Pizza Hut is gross" in the previous entry)

So I'm not sure if he requested it because we had taken him to dinner the night before at a traditional Chinese restaurant (which totally kicked, by the way, except that I looked like a monkey trying to use the chopsticks), and he knew I liked the western food, so he wanted to make sure I got to go somewhere I liked, or if he actually wanted pizza. Either way, I wasn't going to turn him down. Plus, it was near our hotel, the laundry place, Wal-Mart, and another mall.

When we got to Pizza Hut this time, he was a little more at ease but still tried to get me to order what I wanted without offering any input. For this reason, I left the decision up to Emily, who would no doubt choose something that was closer to something he would like.

We went with a seafood supreme pan pizza this time, and he was much happier with it.

A side note about another thing I learned - in the corner of each receipt, there is a little "scratch off" bar. If you scratch it off, it says something like "Blah blah blah blah blah blah" in Chinese characters. We had wondered what the heck that was for every time we got a receipt.

Today I learned that the government has a little scratch off lottery going on these receipts, and people can actually win money by scratching them off. Emily told me that the government does this so that people will ask for receipts, and the restaurants will then have to pay taxes. Pretty smart.

Tide that you can put in your soap dish

Emily and I went to Wal-Mart after lunch to get some laundry detergent so that I could wash my socks and underwear in the tub (I didn't particularly want to drop off my underwear at the cleaner's - who knows who will put something on their head and dance around).

When we walked down the aisle that said "laundry soap," I noticed a bunch of little packages of Tide, and I picked one up.

"Is this bar soap for laundry?" I asked Emily.

"Yes, you clean your clothes with this," she answered, confused as to why this confused me.

After I laughed and laughed and told her the packaging looked like it was cheese (which she then laughed at), I decided this was probably a pretty good idea. This way, you can actually scrub your clothes with something other than your hand and liquid detergent, plus Darlana and I wouldn't have to pass a bottle of detergent around since their were 4 bars in the package.

Stupid question of the day from Mandy: "Can you use this in your washing machine?" -The answer is no. You use liquid detergent in your washing machine. This is for hand-washing only.

Laundry VIP

After Wal-Mart, we were on to the laundry place. When we brought Darlana's suitcase and our two laundry bags inside, they cleared a counter. They dumped my clothes out. That's a lot of clothes. Then we got Dad's clothes out. There's quite a pile there. Then, I open Darlana's suitcase and start dumping her clothes.

Here's what I learned about Darlana today: she has a freaking LOT of clothes. I start piling them on the counter and all 4 of the other people's eyes get huge. I keep piling them, and they begin to overflow, like lava from a volcano. A few more, and they're flowing out the door, then surging down the street in front of the building, women grabbing their children and running for cover, screaming. A business man can't quite run fast enough and gets swept under a torrent of slacks.

Anyway, after we got all the wreckage cleaned up, we had 60 pieces of clothing between us. Keep in mind that Darlana has been here only two weeks and Dad and I have been here for one and a half.

After they saw how many clothes we had to launder, they told us they're going to give us a "Laundry VIP" card. I'm not sure if we'll be able to fight crime or just get a discount, but that's pretty exciting.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


There are some meals you don’t forget.

My first date with Jack was to III Forks, where I ordered the III Forks salad, the appetizer medley (with the best crab cake ever and prawns bigger than my fist), then the grilled salmon with III Forks creamed corn and snap peas. I’ve been to III Forks every year since with Jack, but that was still the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

I remember one time when I was 5 years old, my parents had made a disgusting ham and beans stew that consisted of a ham bone flavoring a white lima bean mush. It was so gross that I sat there, refusing to eat it the entire meal. When they left me there alone to stare at it after dinner was over, convinced at they could not let me win this battle of wills or I would become a spoiled picky eater whom they would never be able to tame again, I poured it down the sink drain. Being 5 years old and not as clever as I thought I was, I didn’t rinse out the sink, so I was busted by the sink-coating evidence. I still remember gladly accepting my punishment, because at that point anything was better than eating the goo. I’d probably do it again, though, if they tried to make me eat ham and beans now (they can’t though, which is one of the best things about being old). I’m not a picky eater but this one pushes my grossness limit.

On July 11, 2007, I was wishing I had a big bowl of ham and beans.

Let me set the scene for you: we’re in the mall, and Darlana and Dad are hungry and tired, so we’re looking for a sit-down type restaurant where we can relax and have a nice meal. There are four options: one of them looks much too fancy for our shorts and tank-tops. Another has no air conditioning, and the third smells like poo. That leaves us with air-conditioner place, which we decide can’t be so bad.

It was.

The problem with going to China is that everybody speaks Chinese. When you don’t speak Chinese, this poses a problem for, say, ordering off an all-Chinese menu. There are five pictures on the menu. One is of a beer. We point to that (there’s no bacteria in alcohol, and at least you know what the heck it is despite how gross it tastes). Next we look at the server, who knows 3 English words: “hello,” “chicken,” and “NBA,” and point to something and say “chicken?” She nods her head heartily. “Duay! Duay! Chick-en!” We point to a few more pictures and anxiously await the arrival of our meal.

At this point, all of the servers have gathered across the room, looking at us, giggling, pointing, whispering and playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who has to come talk to us next. One woman finally comes over to our table, pen and paper in hand.

She sets the paper down beside me and begins scribbling in Chinese characters. When she’s done, she points at the text with her pen. “Blah blah,” she says. I stare at her, for a second, and then say something like “Duuuuuhhhhhh…” Agitated, she starts writing again, the same 12 Chinese characters underneath her original 12, this time bigger. She points at it again, this time a little harder. “Blah blah blah!!” She says, louder, still pointing at the paper.

At this point I’m not really sure how to convey to the woman that I’m neither Deaf nor am I simply pretending not to understand what she’s trying to tell me. “I’m sorry,” I tell her.

She picks up the paper and shows it to Darlana, who doesn’t look any more Chinese than I do, with the exception perhaps, of her height.

Darlana stares at the paper blankly then looks up at her. “Duay-bo-chee,” she says, meaning “I’m sorry.”

The woman rolls her eyes and stomps away. Little did I know that she was simply trying to warn us not to eat anything here – to go home now and never come back.

After the beer arrived, we watched nervously as dishes were delivered to the tables around us. At one point, a woman was carrying a big bowl of mush, which didn’t look unlike ham and beans, and we looked at each other, hoping it wasn’t for us.

“Please don’t be for us, please don’t be for us…” we chanted…

She walked by. Yeessssss! We were feeling pretty good.

A few minutes later, another sever who had lost rock-paper-scissors came by our table with a plate. We saw what was on it and were instantly horrified.

“PLEASE don’t be for us; PLEASE PLEASE don’t be for us!!”

Alas, we had used our “don’t be for us” pass already. This one was ours.

On the plate sat an entire chicken, head and all, uncooked.

We rubbed our eyes for a moment, then opened them again. This couldn’t be real.

Nope, there it was. Looking up at us with its little glazed eye.

Darlana touched it. It was definitely cold. The servers stood in the corner, watching us expectantly, which made me think this must have been some kind of practical joke, until I saw somebody actually eating one of the chicken’s buddies on my way out of the restaurant later.

For lack of a better thing to do, we took a picture of it and then Dad played with its head a little bit, activating Darlana’s gag-reflex until she made him stop. They both put on hand sanitizer. I hadn’t been stupid enough to touch the chicken, but I took some anyway.

The rest of the meal wasn’t quite as scary as the chicken, but was still pretty unpleasant. There was the pork with peppers, which was eatable, crazy stew crap that we were afraid of, and dumpling with surprises inside – and not the good kind of surprise, like a party. The kind of surprise where you’re hit in the side of the head with a foul ball when you’re not paying attention during a baseball game.

After the “meal,” we paid and got the heck out of there. We were still hungry (albeit a little nauseated) so we decided to find a fast food place to pick up a burger. Kentucky Fried Chicken was out of the question. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be eating chicken for a while.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A busy weekend

Note: This blog entry is posted here with pictures

This weekend, we discovered a fatal flaw with "I speak English, and I'm here to help."

Nobody else does.

Plus, we're pretty much the only ones who need help.

This weekend, we got to be freak shows a little bit more as we visited some of the tourist spots in Wuhan. Here are the highlights.

Saturday - Stop #1: Hubei Provincial Museum

The Hubei Provincial Museum is one of the most important research and collection institutions in the province. More than 140,000 collections, mainly from a big tomb excavated in 1978, are well preserved here, including 645 pieces of first class cultural relics and 16 pieces of national treasures.

Fortunately, most of the signs in the museum were also in English, so we got to read about the exhibits and actually understand what we were reading, a privilege we had almost forgotten about in Wuhan, where there is very little written or spoken English.

"Touhu Game"

"This is both a ritual and a drinking game played during banquets to entertain guests. Participants aim to toss arrows into the mouth of a wine jar. The person with he most arrows inside the vessel wins while the loser must drink as a penalty."

...basically an ancient game of quarters.

The air conditioner exhibit

Ahh, the air conditioner exhibit. This was always our favorite exhibit. When it's 45 degrees Celsius outside (about 115 F) and there aren't very many indoor places with air conditioning, the "air conditioner exhibit" becomes your favorite. Even in the museum, where there was air conditioning, it comes only in these singular tall air conditioning units that don't cool entire rooms. Standing in front of them is certainly nice, though.

Darlana's Instruments

Darlana spent a lot of time showing Dad and I how you would play various ancient instruments around the museum.

The book

I looked around for a long time unsuccessfully for a English to Chinese dictionary. I never found one in the U.S. that didn't have those funny characters in it. Darlana found one in Canada, however, and it's a darn good thing she did.

Because our driver doesn't speak any English whatsoever, this book was the only thing that mildly got us around Wuhan or helped us communicate with him at all.

However, because Chinese is a conceptual language, much like sign language, it was difficult to put words together and form sentences. For example, we asked our driver if he had children. He said yes. (This phrase was in the book as a whole). Then we asked him son or daughter. He said daughter. We wanted to know how old she was, so we looked up "age," and he laughed and said "no, no, no" then finally "47," indicating his own age. It took us pretty much all day to finally figure out that his daughter was 23 years old.

The next day, he came back with his own cheat sheet of Chinese characters scribbled on a folded sheet of paper, and first thing in the morning, told us slowly:

"Myyyy.... dog-a-tor... is twenty...three." Then he repeated it a few times a laughed. He's a nice man.

Evidently he goes home and studies English just as we go back to the hotel and study our book. Darlana said that the second day she was here she came down to the lobby to go to work she said "Good morning" in Chinese and he said "Good morning" in English. At least we're all trying!

Pizza Hut is gross

And on that note about our driver, that same Saturday, we decided to go to Wal-Mart to pick a few things up and to Pizza Hut for lunch. When our driver parked the car, we motioned for him to come with us to lunch. He turned us down several times, which evidently is a cultural thing they do that shows humility, and finally when we went back to ask again, he said yes and followed us to Pizza Hut.

We ordered a stuffed crust meat lovers pizza, and when we had the waitress ask him if that would be okay, she told us that he said "I would love that."

The pizza arrived, and it was a steaming tray of cheesy, meaty goodness. We all took a piece and started eating it with our forks and knives, because it was quite hot. He seemed to handle the fork and knife somewhat awkwardly, and made a face when he started eating the pizza. We weren't sure if the face was because of the taste of the pizza or the fact that he was probably not used to using forks and knives over chop sticks, but we found out later through a helpful translating doorman at the hotel that he didn't really like the pizza. Too bad. We're going to give it another shot and take him to a more traditional Chinese restaurant next time.

But I digress.

Saturday - Stop #2 - Guiyan Zenist Temple

There aren't very many things stranger than going to a temple to look at a bunch of false gods. When we first got there, we (at least I) didn't realize this was a working temple. Like at the museum, I thought we'd be looking at some ancient temple with little informational signs where tourists like me (strike that...none of the tourists are like me. I'm a freak show here) look at how they used to do things. Nope. I paid 10 Yuan to enter a place of worship of some religion that has more false gods than I could count.

The first thing they do when you walk in is hand you a few sticks of incense, which break as soon as you try to grab them. I reach down to pick mine up, holding up the line behind me. Finally the lady hands me three more, which also break. Apparently incense is thin and breakable. I don't have a lot of experience with incense because my brother was allergic to it growing up and I never got into the habit of using it after he moved out.

I take my handful of tiny bits of incense through the doorway and there are stands with ash, burning incense and flames, where people are lighting the incense and sticking them into the ash and leaving them there. I don't really know the purpose of this, but Dad and I assumed it was some kind of worship practice, so I threw mine in the ash without burning it and dad threw his little bits into a big decorative pot. Going to hell for idol worship? No, thank you.

The first thing we saw was a REALLY tall statue of a lady with her head on fire. We called her "hothead."

"Cool," I think. "That's a really tall statue..."

This was the point when we realized that people were actually there worshiping, and we thought it was pretty weird. People would come up, put their money in the little box, kneel down and pray to hothead, and put their foreheads on the ground.

So we chose to mock the false gods instead.

Inside the temple

What I didn't know when I took these pictures was that you weren't supposed to take pictures inside the temple. We had entered through the back instead of the front of the temple, and therefore didn't see the signs that had a picture of a little camera being crossed out. I found out about this the hard way though, because when I tried to take a picture of "false god with tiny dentists working on his teeth" next to "giant false god with lots of arms" the lady who was there guarding "giant false god with lots of arms" said "AIGO ADFHGODF BCLGWRIO CD DIOGDFHX IOHDFO VIXO CIOVE FGKLJ FDIO DFGIOSDF VID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" so I got the idea the I wasn't supposed to do that anymore. However, I did get a few pictures of some of my favorite false gods, and I have them here for your pleasure.

  • "Just killed a mosquito" false god
  • "Raise the roof" false god
  • "T-sip" false god
  • "Touchdown" false god
  • "Two false gods playing poker"

The Turtles

Okay, I don't know the purpose of the turtles, but there were a lot of them, and I took a bunch of pictures of them. Because I like turtles.

Saturday - Stop #3 - East Lake

East lake is one of the biggest lakes in something or other places and blah blah blah about location. It's also one of the things that makes Wuhan so beautiful. It had bridges, trees, boats, and other pretty stuff.

But more importantly, it had people who wanted to take their pictures with us. No joke. At one point, Darlana and I were standing around and a girl came up to us and said:

"Excuse me, can we take a picture with you?"

Apparently when you're in a city that doesn't have a lot of white people in it - okay, no white people in it - white people are so much of a novelty that you will ask to take their picture if you are brave enough.

While we were getting our pictures taken, she said "you are so beautiful!" to Darlana and I. So perhaps I had it all wrong. Maybe people weren't staring because we're such a freak show - maybe they're staring because we're just so crazy beautiful...

...nahh, that can't be it. We're usually with Dad.

The squatty potty

We had heard about the squatty potty from Sarah Campbell and others who had visited or lived in China. But the stories I heard about the squatty potty were mostly from my dad, who had visited India, where the squatty potty was similar to a trench, or at best, a simple hole in the ground. (However, it's hard to know what's true and what isn't from reading his blogs.)

Like pretty much everything about China, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. While I still haven't had to use one, it has the drain of an actual toilet, but it is in the ground rather than a toilet, which probably wouldn't change the way my mom uses public restrooms at all.

At one point, I was looking through my pictures with Betty, who works in the Club Lounge at the hotel, and she said "is that a toilet?" I guess it is strange to have a picture of a toilet in my tourism pictures.

Sunday - Stop #1: Yellow Crane Tower

The 5-story Yellow Crane Tower is a really well-known tower in China and the symbol of Wuhan.

The Yellow Crane Tower has a very long and complicated history. It was first built in 223, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280). Due to the ideal location, it was built by Sun Quan (182 - 252, King of Wu) as a watchtower for his army. After hundreds of years, its military function was gradually forgotten and the tower was enjoyed mainly as a picturesque location.

I think it's important to point out that the day before we went, Dad had woken up at 3 a.m. and, bored, he decided to do a little bit of exercise (a little bit being walking down 19 flights of stairs, then back up 5 flights of stairs). As a result, he was quite sore on Sunday.

The fun part about that was listening to him whine about the million bazillion quadtrillion stairs we had to climb to get to the top of the tower.

I was surprised to see what looks like a Christian church in the middle of Wuhan. I talked to Betty, who works in the Club Lounge here at the hotel, and she said it's probably not a real working church. A bell and stuff

I am so happy!

This is the second picture during the weekend in which random people came up to ask us if they could get a picture with us. The little one in red asked me if it was she could take a picture with me, and then asked Darlana to get in the picture too.

As we were taking the picture, my dad, who had been in the gift shop, came and got behind us and did what he's doing in this picture. When she saw him, she said "I am so happy!"

It's hot. Let's go shopping.

So it was hot. We decided that we'd rather be shopping in a semi-air conditioned environment for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, we had already told the driver that we wanted to go to a big famous hill in Wuhan after the Yellow Crane tower.

When we told him to go to the shopping mall, he likely thought we wanted to go shopping after the hill, so we ended up at the hill.

We looked at the sign at the bottom of the hill when he pulled up. 3 km to the top. That's almost 2 miles. And we were tired. We did our best to tell him through gestures that we didn't want to do the hill after all, and since we were very close to the Wuhan Botanical Gardens, we pointed to that on the list as an alternative activity before we headed back to the mall.

I'm not sure what we did to tick him off, other than the confusing directions to go different places, but he got back at us. We ended up at...

The Wuhan Zoo

Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

It was. This zoo makes the Little Rock Zoo look like San Diego. And trust me, the Little Rock Zoo was lame.

We figured we'd walk around for a while because we didn't want to turn the driver down again when he took us to the wrong place again, but oh man, this zoo was ridiculously awful.

Aside from the fact that it was 350 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there were no animals.

Okay, there were some animals. There were pigeons, and a few geese, and 4 lions that may or may not have been alive. Oh yeah, and these goldfish, that kids were actually fishing for with tiny little hooks.

And there's always the smelly algae we found in the pond. Fortunately we couldn't capture that smell on film, so you'll have to take our word for it. But it was icky. I'll just leave it at that.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Jack splits - Jack's version


So, you may be wondering why I am writing to you at 4:30 in the morning (or maybe not), but I have had an interesting evening. Before we go any farther though, let me just say that everything is OK.

This evening, I was just sitting around doing a few things on the computerwhile watching a movie. By the time I was ready to go to bed, it was 2:30 AM. As I am going into my bedroom, I decide that I need a drink of water (Mistake #1). I walk out of the room and into the hallway. It is pitch black. I decide that I should turn on a light, but figure I should not turn on the hall light as it might disturb my sleeping roommate(sp?) (Mistake #2). I then decide to turn on the light in the foyer, but half way there decide I will just wait until I get to the living room to turn on a light (Mistake #3). As I change my route I remember that there is a pillar somewhere in this room so I put my hand out to feel around for it. I start to raise my hand, but I am a split second too late. I know this because my face runs directly into the corner of the pillar. I feel the impact from my forehead to my upper lip. I immediately lean forward and start trying to figure out if I have busted my lip, which I have. As I am doing this though, I feel something running down my forehead. I put my hand up to wipe it away and see that my hand has blood on it. I then go to the bathroom to grab some toilet paper to stop the bleeding. When I get there, I notice that I have a fairly large gash in my forehead. "Great , this is going to require stitches!" I think to myself.

After holding the toilet paper to my forehead long enough to stop the majority of the bleeding, I call you mom and wake her up. I explain the situation to her and ask her to see if she thinks I need stitches. I go over to your house and we decide I should get it looked at. Off o the Emergency Room we go (at a snail's pace by the way). I am really not that worried about it because most of the bleeding has stopped, and I really feel like an idiot.

We get to the Emergency Room and get all the paperwork filled out. They call me back to a room fairly quickly and a couple of nurses come in to ask a bunch of questions. One of these questions is " When was the last time you had a Tetnus shot?" to which I reply, "I don't know!?" "Well you're getting one today," says the nurse.

The doctor finally comes in and decides I don't need stitches, I just need a little super glue. He said that because the cut was in such a straight line and there were no jagged edges, we could use glue instead of stitches.They fixed me up and sent me on my way. It looks like I am going to have a pretty nice scar going halfway between my nose and my right eye. Like I said, everything is OK, but it sure made for an exciting evening/morning.

I hope you are still enjoying your time in China. I will try to send some pictures of the cut when I get a chance. We have pre and post Emergency Room pictures.

I love you so much, and I can't wait to talk to you again.



Change in Travel Blog

Hi everyone - I changed my blog to blogger because of the firewalls that prevent spam on the comments. However, since they charge per computer for internet at the hotel, I have to do my editing offline and then upload all at once when I get the chance.

My travel blog, therefore, will be at from now on.

Also, if you want to be notified when I post something new, e-mail me and let me know!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 6, 2007

China: First Impressions

Note: This blog entry has been published with pictures here.

I’m finally in China! Not only am I in China, but I’m in a CRAZY nice hotel in China. No joke. Nicest hotel I’ve ever been in. But let me start from where I left off in the last post (which is under this post, if you haven't read it yet).

Dad and I got 5 hours of sleep in Shanghai during our overnight layover. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of sleep, but after 27 hours of being up, it’s like having just kicked that annoying guy at work in the crotch a couple times. What a great feeling.

So fun fact about China – it gets crazy bright at 5 in the morning. This means that you’ll probably wake up then because your body is used to waking up when it’s light out. Imagine that. Or it could have been because it was 4 p.m. in Dallas at 5 a.m. in Shanghai. Whatever. I’m all screwed up either way.

Oh man, I just got really excited because Scrubs is coming on next. So much for any kind of Chinese culture via television. I’m going to watch Scrubs while I write this. In English.
Okay, so anyway, on to the airplane ride. The ride from Tokyo to Shanghai Wednesday night then Shanghai to Wuhan Thursday morning were in “economy” class for me (first class for Dad, of course).

Tokyo to Shanghai on Wednesday night was pretty much a blur. I was so tired that I fell asleep, knees up against my ears and all, before we took off. No, I didn’t stay asleep the whole time, but the 10 minutes here and there I got were glorious.

As for Shanghai to Wuhan on Thursday morning – Dad and I sat in the airport for several hours just because we had been ready since 6 a.m. and our flight wasn’t until 10. After we checked in, we headed to the first class lounge, and apparently there were several different ones. The one we were assigned to was about a quarter of a mile from the place we checked in, which was noooooo problem because there were a bunch of those handy dandy moving sidewalks going that way. Unfortunately, we ended up going way past the lounge and had to go back, and in China (and Tokyo too, actually), the moving sidewalks only move one direction. There are none that come back. Same goes for escalators. And you know what direction those escalators go? Down. They go down. Which means you have to walk when you want to go up. And with a 30 pound backpack on your back, if that’s what you brought with you. I think I lost 10 pounds in that airport.

Oh yeah, and as we were sitting in the terminal before boarding our bus that took us to our plane (that's how they do it here, apparently. More room for planes that way) I look over at two airport workers as they start to each other loudly in Chinese. All of the sudden, Dad makes noise.
"Ching Chang!" he chatters. Pause.

"Shi how!" he says. Pause. .

"Chin shea!" he says.

I'm looking back and forth between my Dad, who is making Chinese-sounding noises and everyone else, who are talking in Chinese. I lean over to Dad, glancing around the room filled with Chinese people.

"Do you really think this is the best place to be making fun of the Chinese language?" I ask. He looks at me, confused.

"Making fun of the language?" he asks.

"Yes, weren't you just making noise like you were pretending to talk Chinese?" He starts laughing.

"I was reading names of cities," he laughs, and points to the big board of departing flights.
I read the names, which are indeed what he was reading. Apparently I don't know my Chinese geography very well.

I just picked up the remote to re-see something on TV. That doesn’t work without Tivo.
Also, apparently that “rambunctious kid chattering stupidly while kicking the back of your seat” thing is universal. At one point the kid stood up on the seat and pulled my hair from behind. There’s some birth control. Oh and by the way, I think “GRRAWWWWWWWAAAAAA!!!!” means the same thing in Chinese.

So we get to Wuhan, and the nice driver comes to pick us up and as we walk to the car, I decide that it’s hot here. Everyone told us it would be, and they were right. However, it’s not really worse than Houston in the summer. It was 40 Celsius (about 100 F) and the air conditioning in the van didn’t work that well when the driver had to stop. Nice guy though. He hit a bump and I said “weeeeeeeeeeee!” and he said “Sorry!” – I think that’s the only word of English he knows. Good luck, Dad and Darlana.

The hotel is insane. I’ve never been anywhere this nice before. Everything's marble or oak or tiny tile or whatever. Plus, since Dad is a platinum-gold-diamond-chrome-jewel-crystal-something-or-other member, they upgraded our room and we get to go to the Club Lounge, which means free food for Mandy.

The pool is an indoor Olympic sized one, with skylights, fancy chairs, and a swim up bar table thing (it's not really a bar with alcohol, but it's there. I'm not really sure why but it looks fancy).
The workout facility (where you walk in and attendants pop to attention everywhere, I think to hand you towels if you may want one) has individual flat screen TVs in front of all the workout machines, which are also each stocked with towels, bottles of water, and headphones.

Turn into the male or female changing rooms, and you'll find a "relaxing room," where the nice lady tells me you can get a foot massage, massage rooms (massages are only 200 Yuan for an hour, which is about $30), hot and cold whirpools, a steam room, and oh yeah, you can change and shower in there if you want to.

The beauty salon is also nearby, where I can (and will) get a 35 Yuan pedicure or manicure ($6). Yeesssssss.

We also have a doorbell outside our room. The first time we heard it, we were a little confused.

"Is that a doorbell?" I ask Dad.

"No," he says, "it can't be a doorbell. It must be something outside."

It rings again, and curious, I get up and open the door. There is a little lady in a crisp Renaissance Marriott uniform on the other side, holding a silver tray. On that silver tray was something I've never seen in my life on a silver tray.

Two band-aids.

"We noticed you had a cut on your finger when you checked in so we brought you some band-aides."

I know you probably don't believe that, but Dad can vouch for this. You absolutely cannot make this stuff up.

Apparently Dad had pulled back a hangnail at some point in the trip and had a little bit of dried blood on the side of his finger. The front desk lady noticed this and sent the band-aides to our room (on a silver tray, no less!). That's just an idea of the level of service you find here.

Wuhan Wal-Mart

Okay, on to the outside world. I didn't go out a whole lot today, but after I ate my free breakfast this morning and my dad and Darlana went to work (yeah, I got up at 6:30 a.m. today and wasn't ticked about it. Apparently I'm a morning person in Asia. Who knew?), I took a little walk (in a straight line - because I'm afraid to turn when I walk away from the hotel) to Wal-Mart, which takes about 15 minutes from the hotel. Not a bad walk, except that it's 115 F out and I'm a freak show.

Elizabeth and my other sign language friends know what it's like to get stared at when we're talking to each other in sign language. People can't help it - it's interesting. It's different. You don't see it much. I'm sure it's the same if you've ever been in a wheelchair. But that's what people did to me for just walking by them. Apparently they don't get a lot of 5'8" light brown-haired white American chicks who don't speak a word of Chinese here. I didn't get any of that in the hotel, but man, the minute I walked outside, they were interested in me.

The heat didn't really bother me until I was on my way back from Wal-Mart. At that point I had been in the heat for quite some time and I was ready to get back to my comfy little spoiled air-conditioned life in the hotel. Plus it's more fun to be out with other freak shows, like Dad or Darlana. Dad's bigger than anyone they've ever seen and Darlana's blonde (and Canadian). I'm pretty Chinese compared to the two of them.

What did bother me is that cars will hit you if you're in their way, and there's a point on the way to Wal-Mart where the sidewalk becomes a road, like a REALLY long intersection. It's pretty scary to be the pedestrian here. The driving is surprisingly not too bad (nothing like Rio!) except for this fact.

Wal-Mart in China isn't way different than U.S. Wal-Mart, except for the (smelly!) fish market when you first walk in, mostly because I think we put it there for Americans like me. All the signs there were also in English, which you definitely don't see anywhere else in Wuhan. Plus it was right next to a KFC, McDonalds, and Pizza Hut.

The Wal-Mart here is underground, I think because it's easier to keep it cool that way. After walking down into the tunnel, and turning into the store, the first thing I saw was a bunch of lockers on my left. I was a little confused. Did they not allow backpacks in the store? If they didn't, I would need a locker, because I was carrying a backpack. If they were just there for convenience, I didn't mind carrying my backpack through the store. I went over, hoping I would see something that indicated whether or not I needed a locker. What I saw was something like baidof hgiwo nfjkdslu bioadf gnklda iochbakld jfk ldaboa hdkgls fadsjkgou giosw asdgio hsadfkl dasigoh jdfio afgjsd asdjgiohd fkbndx kl ghioa sadhgio adsjgkl jdioghas odghiaso, except in those funny little pictures. Not helpful.

I decided I'd just keep it with me, because I didn't have any coins anyway and that's what the lockers took. I started walking into the store and the greeter (yes, there's a greeter here too) stopped me and said something to me about my backpack. Uh oh...what did she just say? I give her my best "I'm a stupid American who doesn't speak Chinese" look and say "huh?" and she says "You need to put the water inside your bag" in pretty decent English. (My backpack has a little side pouch for water, where I had a bottle of water) I happily comply, just excited that somebody said something I understood, and walk into the store. Side note: if I work at Wal-Mart, I probably will not learn another language for you. I'm not that ambitious.

My quest is a laundry hamper (I was looking for one of those foldable mesh ones), some wire hangers, and a suction cup hook for the shower or shelf to put my loofah and put all the little shampoos and things in (the shelf in our shower is pretty small and dad had to put his razor on the very top of the shower in the back, which made me laugh and sad for him at the same time. He's so tall he probably didn't notice though.) It was actually very easy to get around and find things, because like I said before, everything is also in English there. Yay! I found the hangers and shower caddy, but had a little trouble finding a mesh hamper. I did end up finding a small, foldable hamper that is apparently meant for kids, because it looks like a duck when you open it. I think it's cute though.

I found all the things on my list (and spent only US$7 total) and went to the checkout. One of them was labeled "speedy checkout." I wasn't in much of a hurry seeing as how I have about 3 weeks to kill, but speedy is always nice anyway. It was crazy busy in there anyway, and I was still a freak show.

Perhaps speedy doesn't mean the same thing in China, because I think I waited about 45 minutes in that line. I realized about 15 minutes in that I should have gone to look for some swimming goggles to swim laps with, but I didn't want to get out of line, so I stayed. It didn't take the checkout girl long to figure out that I didn't speak Chinese, so she pointed at the price on the computer then the change on the receipt for the transaction. Looks like it's not her first time with a stupid American. I appreciated it though. There's not many things more stressful than somebody rattling something off in Chinese and looking at you quizzically while you try to figure out what you're supposed to say or do now.

The only other thing I have to tell you about Wal-Mart is that the bags still have the smiley face on them, and that apparently there's a I can't visit it right now because we don't have internet enabled in the room yet and I'm too lazy to get up. Maybe you'd like to; I don't know.

That's all for now. I'm going to the pool! (It's a hard life).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Things I learned today…er…yesterday…tomorrow?

July 4, 2007 3:41 p.m. (to 6:05 p.m.)
Tokyo, Japan

Business Class
Business class is better than coach. Not just a little bit. I’m talking a LOT better than coach. That must be why it costs so gosh darn much money. Along with the crazy amount of space, you also get free stuff (the picture is of me trying to touch the seat in front of me with my free-sock clad feet and failing). There’s the standard fancy meal/free alcohol, but you also get a nice little toiletry kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, lotion, lip balm, socks, earplugs, a sleep mask, a pen, and other nice little goodies. Also, while they give you a free pair of earbud headphones, you get to borrow super-dee-duper nice noise canceling headphones too. While watching the same 2 episodes of the office 8 times in a row is a little irritating, watching those episodes on your fancy little personal TV without any airplane noise getting through your headphones makes it worth it. I’m a fan.

The service by itself is something I could write an entire blog about. I don’t know if this is normal of business class flight attendants or if this woman was just an exceptionally nice person, but she talked with us for a long time, and brought me extra brownies every so often when it looked like I hadn’t eaten in more than 10 minutes (poor Mandy). Nice job on the flight attendants, American Airlines. Maybe it’s just the $6,000 plane ticket, but I think you did better this time.

The International Date Line

The International Date Line is a fancy little imaginary line that separates one side of the world from the other and serves to confuse the heck out of your system when you travel across the world. I, for example, have been up since Tuesday, July 3 at 5:30 a.m. and it is now Wednesday, July 4 at 3:51 p.m. here. My body doesn’t realize this and definitely thinks it’s 1:51 a.m., but is equally confused by the fact that its eyes are looking out upon a bright, albeit overcast afternoon in Tokyo. Today Dad and I flew across the world and it was about noon the entire trip. Interesting phenomenon. Because we can use our fancy little personal TV screens in business class to watch the plane en route to our destination, I watched as the airplane wing I was looking at crossed the International Date Line, and so I took a picture of it in case you were wondering what the International Date Line looks like. This is also my picture of the day.

The International Date Line


It feels like I should be able to call Jack, but I can’t because that would be expensive. Plus it’s 3:12 a.m. in Dallas, and he would be mad at me if I woke him up.

Happy 4th, Japan!

It’s Independence Day and nobody’s off work or celebrating, and I don’t think there will be any fireworks tonight.

The Admirals Club is nicer than the airport

Mandy enjoys a ham and cheese or egg salad finger sandwich in the Tokyo Admirals Club. Mmm mmm free food.

So at one point after my dad told the friendly flight attendant about the trip he's taking me on this month, she said "in my next life, I want to come back as your daughter." Good call, nice lady. Because being his daughter also comes with companion status in the Admirals Club, which means fancy chairs, free food and drinks, free internet, and abundant power outlets (which, as we all know, are not easy to come by in an airport, and if you can find them, you run the risk of crazy lady unplugging your laptop cord because her battery has died). If you've never had the privilage of hanging out in the Admirals Club, I'm torn between doing an "in your face, I got to go" dance and pretending it's not any better so you'll feel better about your uncomfortable, loud airport waiting time. But I can't lie; it is better. Oh, so much better. But look on the bright side: I'm writing this blog from the comfort of the Tokyo Admirals Club, and therefore you are all benefitting.

Airplane Magic Act

I mentioned it was overcast in Tokyo. We watched a lot of planes take off and disappear about 1,000 feet off the ground. It was pretty cool. After waiting around about an hour and a half with my video-enabled digital camera and missing 3 departing planes, I finally got this video for you to watch. Hey, I had a 7 hour layover. What else is there to do?

Here are some other pictures that we took that are worth seeing today:

Our route from DFW to Tokyo was slightly north. Read about that in Dad's blog entry.

Dad sets his watch to go off in an hour so he can get up and move around to prevent blood clots and another pulmonary embolism. Move around while you're traveling, folks. It could save your life.

These are pictures of Montana from the air. Not too bad if I do say so myself.

Tokyo - That's really all I could snap after we went under the clouds (see "Airplane Magic Act") and before we landed.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Going to China Tommorow!!

Not much to report yet here, except to stay tuned for China updates. I'm leaving tommorow and will be arriving in Wuhan on Thursday at 12:20 p.m. (which is 11:20 p.m. here in Texas). I'll be back in Texas on July 30. There will be pictures, and there will be stories...

Now I have to pack and take CCCC tests. That sucks.