Archives for the month of: February, 2011

Ok, so I know that I already sort of did today’s post, but really, this is the “real” post, the first one was becuz I was impatient and I had a break when I supposed to be “resting”.

Today – full 8 hours and 45min of yoga. Feels good to get back to it, a bit tight around the edges, but things loosen up and start to flow about 25min in.

Unexpected surprise at breakfast – orange glazed duck! My day is made.

I get tea twice at breakfast, once to welcome me and twice becuz…someone cleared away my table and my tea while I getting food!

I had to laugh.

Drive an hour and half from Shanghai to Hangzhou. What I am doing in Hangzhou? What is a “Hangzhou”? Some backward, backwater, I left Shanghai for some place I’ve never even heard of?

I keep falling asleep in the van and waking up in strange positions. Man, I hope I don’t snore, that would give Tony and Mr. Wong something to laugh at for sure.

Hangzhou, we start at the city park, which is free, very smart local government here. And from the park to a boat for a cruise of the West Lake.

Apparently it is a very famous, very romantic lake and people from all over come here to enjoy the park and the lake cruises and hang out.

The cruise is lovely. I grab my fleece before we set off, if it is a boat, you know I’m going to want to sit outside for a least a bit and feels like fleece weather.

Happy I did, almost make it outside for the first half of the cruise, but go in the indoor part due to cold. I last longer than Tony though so that is something. I was good and didn’t even say “Hey, fierce Canadian chick here! We laugh at this kind of cold!” when he decided to go in.

Yes, I am being on my best behaviour here. I figure this is a better way of making friend, you know?

There are only about 10 or so passengers, but some of us rowdy, some of us are quiet, so a good, solid mix.

Being on water recharges me, all those negative ions are filling me up and I look into the water and just enjoy being out of the bustling city, slowing down from “Shanghai speed”, just relax, unwind a bit and enjoy. Waterwaterwater. Water everywhere, lots to drink.

Waterwaterwater.

After the cruise it is lunch time.

Duck again with that same chicken, fried rice and cabbage.

Why do they keep feeding me this stuff?

No matter, the duck is tasty and I guess business is business.

Whatever, at least they are putting food on the table that I can eat.

Thank you Tony for making sure I can eat!

After, it is all about tea!

What I didn’t tell you was the tea alchemy that the interpreter showed me.

She took two glasses. In one she put some uncooked white rice and then she grabbed some iodine and poured it over the rice. Yikes! She poured it! Sloshed and ran down the outside of the glass.

(I think of Smokehead Whiskey and time with friends at home when she brought of the iodine, are you there, are you reading, you know who you are.)

Man, that much iodine. That stuff will kill you. And me. And everyone around here. What a way to ruin good rice.

She pours hot water over it and swirls it around.

Pours some hot water in the empty glass and pours some of the iodine-poisoned water in. The water in both glasses is black, indigo and all I can think of is “poison in the water, poisonpoisonpoison!”

What a waste of hot water.

Then she takes some of the tea leaves – in they go to the poison!

And.

Well.

The water starts to clear.

She sloshes both glasses and puts some tea leaves in the other glass. Same thing – the poison is becoming cleansed out of the water.

She pours water from glass to glass for a bit and we look at the white rice. White rice, then black, now…no way.

No. Way.

The rice is turning white again.

Magic!

Witchcraft!

Sorcery!

Alien technology!

Tea.

The water isn’t clear, but I can see through it again, through the clouds in the water.

(allusion to Carly Simon “clouds in my coffee”)

We talk and drink and eat tea.

The interpreter says I have very beautiful skin and we all agree it is probably the green tea that I drink. Who would have thought? Me with beautiful skin? I laugh to think, but yes, I will take it.

After eating up our tea, it is “rest time” for bex and yeah, I tell you about the tea. All About Tea – I think that was a movie. Wait…

Then, dinner time.

Tony explains he is taking me to another local place – he said he talked to his bosses about how the lunches are fine for bex, but she really isn’t enjoying, the rice, the chicken they are not really for her, can he take me somewhere else? Somewhere local?

His bosses say “As long as bex is happy, we are happy.”

Which I think should be their new slogan. I’d even make-up tee shirts for them.

Truth? I think it should be your slogan too, live by these words “As long as bex is happy, I am happy.” I think you will find it is a great way to be.

Yes, you can have a tee shirt too…

Plus I’m pretty easy to keep happy – tea, water, bubbles, good food, better company and conversation. Yes, the life of a bex is indeed sweet.

Dinner – local place, chain again, called “The Grandmas”.

Oh.

Spicy eggplant, spicier prawns with fiery pepper sauce (dig down with your chopsticks and you will find cucumber and bean sprouts!), famous pepper fish from West Lake and fried tofu skins with tomato sauce with fan (rice) (look at me, using words and all).

Oh.

I tell Tony as he and Mr. Wong drop me off for the night: Tell your bosses I am five times happy.

How can a day start of wonderful and get more wonderful with every new experience? Shouldn’t the day have peaked with duck from breakfast? How is this possible? It is like…a perpetual going up machine! Up she goes, up she goes!

And.

My tags and other functions work again from this new hotel room.

Hangzhou. Hey, do I have to say it?

Yes.

Hangzhou. I love you.

Advertisements

From this day forward I will drink laughter and eat green tea.

I couldn’t stand to wait to tell you. And I’m only going to tell you about this. For now.

With this taste in my mouth, sweet, sweet, wisdom will drip from my tongue. I will talk with dragons and amaze them with my insight.

I speak with Master Lao and Master Kong, Watts and Bob with my words and poetry and ability to reveal Truth and Beauty. Buddha and I will laugh together. They will see the light in my eyes and know that I am new kind of auspicious animal.

Tony takes me to a green tea plantation. I see and smell tea trees and the cultural interpreter tells me all about tea.

She puts a pinch of their second best dried leave in a glass and fills half-way with hot water. We all lean over our glasses and inhale deeply.

Hot, humid, fresh, green air through my nose and downdowndown to the bottom of my lungs.

Yes, I have been doing very with my diaphragmic breathing, all my alveoli come alive. Wake up little alveoli, wake up.

She laughs when I disagree, no it doesn’t smell like spinach, I hate spinach! it smells like…green tea. Tasty, tasty green tea.

Our glasses are filled up the rest of the way.

First sip – everything changes.

I’m told all about the process, the story, the history of the town, the tea, people who love tea, what tea is good for.

And I become a tea eater.

This kind of tea is so fresh, only dried and is full leaf – they eat it. I eat it.

More hot water, more to inhale, more to eat.

Examples of the tea grades are brought out – three grades, the highest stays in the country, 2 & 3 are for export.

Finish my cup, eat some more leaves.

More hot water, more to inhale, more to eat.

Then they bring out the very highest grade – Emperor Grade.

So, correct me if I’m wrong – there are four grades, but Emperor Grade doesn’t count?

Yep, ‘cuz four is bad luck, keep up, bex!

I’m invited to take one leaf of the Emperor Grade and eat – I do, I do, I do!

A few of taste buds commit suicide, vowing to never taste anything else again.

I finish my tea, I’ve eaten all the leaves.

Tony and the interpreter laugh, Tony says “You are real tea drinker.”

I say “No, I am tea eater.”

They laugh again and nod.

I’m offered more tea. Tony intercedes “Can she have some of the Emperor Grade.”

Ok.

Well, hello Emperor Grade Green Tea. Where have you been all my lifeÉ

I’m in love. This tea, this tea. My eyes well up as the first drop touches my tongue.

This tea brings a lightness to my heart.

I never knew happiness had a taste.

I taste happiness – it is Emperor Grade Green Tea from Hangzhou.

I find another place to call home.

Sip again. Eat a leaf. Sip, eat, sip eat, yes more hot water please.

I lose myself and lose my mind, I lose time and space. All I know now is the tea and the tea is everything – the water, the leaves, taste the beginning of tea, the end of all things, life tastes like this. Magic in a glass.

A special sort of alchemy works in the body, is it possible to feel things change in my liver, my stomach? Poisons are breaking down, I feel it.

More hot water, more to inhale, more to eat and drink.

I lose count.

I eat all the leaves.

Tony catches up.

I give in to temptation and bring some for home – tea like this I will live on, I have now read every book, understand every poem, painting. I am One with the tea.

But the best part.

The three of us sit. I look around, finally open my eyes and look at the room I’m sitting in.

me: Does that say “tea”? (points to calligraphy wall hanging)

Tony and the interpreter look.

Tony: Yes! How do you know that? You read Chinese?

me: I know one word. My friend, she was nervous about me being alone in China, she teaches me to read one word “tea” so she knows I will always have something to drink while I’m here.

Tony and the interpreter laugh again.

Tony: You are real Chinese – the one word you can read is “tea” and you love to drink tea!

me: I eat tea.

More laughter.

I open my eyes and look again.

me: Is this from a fan? (points to art on the wall)

They look.

Tony: How do you know this?

me: I collect fans. I love fans. It looks like art that was once a fan.

Tony: (laughing) You know everything! You are real Chinese, you will come a live here and be a tour guide.

me: I don’t know everything. But, I’m learning, I learn.

As the conversation settles and we settle into each other, friends over cups of tea, I tell them about Three Cups of Tea, I make a “tea vow” and promise to return again for a third cup, to become family.

Then a new taste fills my mouth.

Sweetsweetsweet.

Oh, oh, oh!

Pleasure, Truth, Beauty, Double Happiness, Angel Tears, Devil’s Lies – nothing has ever tasted so sweet.

It is the aftertaste of the Emperor Tea.

I will hold this taste in my mouth forever.

This is the kind of addict I am. This, This, This, so much This.

Tony and I (after respective trips to the loo – we had a lot of tea!) bid farewell and meander through the tea shop. We are offered candy, bars made with green tea.

me: No, no, no thank you. I can still taste the tea.

Tony laughs: You are a true tea eater. You are real Chinese, I think.

me: Yes, yes I am. I am visiting home, I come home.

Tony smiles: I think, for you, this tea you buy will not last long. You will be back in 3 months. I will see you then.

I laugh: Two years. Two years I will be back. I will nothing and leave with cases of Emperor Grade Tea and jade.

Hangzhou, you have a piece of my heart – I leave it here with a promise, I will return in spring, I will drink your tea again under your mountains and breath in your tea in my lungs. I will be homesick for you until I return.

I will return.

For now, I will eat tea and dream of you.

‘cuz of course a “night off” includes spending time with you.

Bad sleep last night, body can’t stay in bed 8 hours, so up at 6:45 am. No yoga today, I’m taking the day off. Hot shower relieves some sleepiness and gets the lymph flowing a bit and eases some of the lactic acid. Why do I have lactic acid, all the working out I did on the plane yesterday?

Breakfast is a near disaster – get served coffee instead of tea, I catch it just in time and ask for another cup, tea, please, tea…imagine today with me on caffine? It would have been days before I slept!

Museum is lovely, get into an interesting conversation with a charming old gentleman about this one piece of calligraphy we are both smitten with. He is trying to tell me something about it – what it says, the history, who owned it, something. My Chinese is still no good, so I miss most of the conversation. My loss. We agree, it is a beautiful piece.

Yes, I realize he was probably just trying to figure out what I was doing looking at things that I can’t read and have no way of understanding. Let me tell you – beauty is beauty and beauty crosses time, space and culture. It…let’s face it, it can Truth.

The aesthetic can be another way of getting at the metaphysical and the epistemological. I mean, right?

I hang out in front of a few of the cursive pieces – these are my favs and rare to see originals at the museums I often find myself hanging out at. Love the flow, one words flows into the next. There is poetry here I don’t understand.

Thoughts of water again – ink is mostly water, so to do calligraphy is to have some extended sense of the flow of water down the brush and onto paper. Work against the flow, try to control it and it will never work, water goes where it wants. Work with the water and…well, there it is again, isn’t it? Get into the flow. Give it up and become part of it. It is meditation.

Cursive style, see the brush strokes clearly, each character flows one into the next. Imagine the dip of the brush in the ink well, swirl of the brush on ink stone, first touch of brush to paper and through each character. Swoop, swoop, swirl, curl and back again.

One day, I will learn to read, I will unlock the poetry. I will read it to you, in broken words and fail to capture the essence. I will fail. But I will try.

Talk to some strangers – something about me and museums I guess, quietly magnetic.

Waiting for Tony, my guide, at our meeting place, some man wants to talk to me and calls me “beautiful” says I have “big beautiful eyes” – smile and turn to find Tony, let’s get out of here, Tony!

We chill at the “People’s Square” and I get some notes in the moleskin, between watching children blowing bubbles with, get this!, “bubble guns”, the fountain, people taking pictures and families generally enjoying a day out and in the “People’s Square”.

Bubbles in the wind and floating through The People’s Square in Shanghai.

Then, off to Nanjing Road – shopping heaven, or for those like me, shopping hell. (Am I allowed to say “hell” on this thing? Oh well, too late now.)

Wow – everyone wants to buy something, everyone wants to sell something.

Except me, there in the middle of all of it, walk one end to the other and delight in what a bad consumer I am. Bad consumer, bad, bad consumer. I think I must give off a vibe, a smell or something, even those people who are hawking “Watches, lady, you want to buy and watch?” and “Hey lady, shopping bags, very good price!” don’t seem to try very hard with me. I say “No thank you” shake my head and keep walking.

I’m sure you could find a million things to buy there.

There were more than a million things to buy there.

No, I didn’t count.

Yes, I realize that if I didn’t count there is no possible way I could know how many things there were for sale.

Look, tonight, please, don’t be difficult. Let’s just use “a million” as me meaning “a whole wack-load of stuff”, ok?

Thanks!

For fun and curiousity, I go into a store I’ve been in at home. Compare packaging, ads and products.

Products are mostly the same, except for this stuff called “whitening”, seriously, this garbage is still around? What is up with that and when will people learn?

Lips in cosmetic ads are redredred! Which looks kind of odd with some of the eyes and cheeks – unbalanced to my eye.

Packaging is more and slogans are a larger font.

Interesting.

Ride the escalators up and down in one mall, looking into stores and trying not to make too much of a bother of myself.

After that, we are off to Chinatown!

I know, I know.

I swear, this is what Tony called it, I’m just repeating what he said.

Know what it looked like?

Chinatown.

Seriously.

All the new buildings are built to look like traditional buildings and temples. Only with second and third floors.

I’m warned about pickpockets then sent on my way for 45 minutes – my time-line, not Tony’s.

I walk in circles, take lefts, rights, double back, cut through the crowds with ease and don”t buy one single thing.

I was tempted.

There was this one shop that had some ceramic tiles that I loved.

Guess what they were of.

Guess!

Tintin in Shanghai! Hilarious. Come all the way to Shanghai to see a Belgian comic.

They were pretty nice.

Do you remember that one? Tintin, The Blue Lotus?

The lady in the shop was all “Look, Tintin came to Shanghai!” I was all “I know! That is why I’m here, good enough for Tintin, good enough for bex!”

No, that is not my new motto.

No, you don’t have to make a tee shirt that says that.

But thank you anyway.

I’m given 2 hours to relax at the hotel after and struggle with the cable connection in my room.

We met for dinner and Tony takes me to a local place.

Dinner – whoa.

Another incredible meal in China.

Chicken stock soup with long egg noodles and greens, steamed chicken (is this tea-steamed, I think it may be! oh yum!), har gow (my favourite!), cooked cucumber with crab on top and steamed sweet dumplings stuffed with fruit and cream.

Oh yes.

This is what I’m talking about. This! So very this.

Tony said “I ordered you my favourites, I hope you enjoy.”

Oh, thank you Tony! I’ve never had (except the har gow!) any of this before. All new taste sensations.

Love it, love it, love it.

Tony double checks on me before I’m done and asks if I need him to stick around and walk me back to the hotel.

The food has made me brave, I say “Nope! I can do it on my own.”

He nods, says “Take a look around. Shanghai at night.”

So, talking to strangers, being called “beautiful”, shopping, crowds and walking home alone in the dark. Not one panic attack.

Shanghai, today, with you I am brave.

To top the day, I trouble shoot the internet connection in my room and return a valuable device to the IT guy on duty tonight. I’m helpful, I’m polite, I’m charming.

My version of a night off.

I’m in Shanghai!

Slept in – where was the wake-up call Howard ordered for me? Never came. The body decides enough is enough and up at 6:45 am exactly. 15 minutes shy of the required 8, so not too shabby there, body, thank you.

Re-packed, re-ordered things to fit, to not-break-please! and to be manageable.

Breakfast is so very whatever.

Howard is called into a meeting this morning so I am in the care of tour-guide-wanna-be Lance. Oh Lance, the hardest job, Howard has left to you!

Lance gets my tic without any worry and then, then we look at the lines. Where are all these people going? What will they do when they get there? Why didn’t we plan to arrive sooner? What are we going to do and which line should I get in?

Lance chooses the most promising looking on – is now the time to tell him I have the worst luck with lines? – and we realize ten minutes late it is The Wrong Line.

We switch lines.

Ok, ok, we are moving, slowly, but surely.

No, I didn’t just call Lance “Shirley”.

Yes, I realize that is a really old joke. Too late to do anything about it now, get over it!

We say brief good-byes and I offer him the most that I can – a reference from an actual tourist when he needs one, he has my contact info, so fingers crossed that Lance will find employment soon as a tour guide. The people who get him as a tour guide will be delighted with his friendliness, his out-going nature and his charming-boy-smile. Good luck Lance and good-bye Xian.

Through the security check and set off the alarms the first time ever – it is no fault of mine – the guy told me to keep my jacket on and it has a zipper, so I knew it was going to happen. The woman doing the actual check chides her colleague for letting me keep it on. Hey, I know the rules.

No, I don’t think it was that. I think he was distracted by my awesome hair.

The plane is delayed one and half hours.

Reason? The weather.

Man, if these planes lived in Canada they would never get anywhere on time.

I use the time wisely. People watch, chill out, jot down some mole-skins notes, write out an interlude post before I realize just how much the brain is not functioning.

Let the brain go off-line for a bit.

Board the plane and then –

We are delayed again.

We are soooo delayed that they serve us lunch as we are still waiting at the gate. I take advantage and eat.

I pretend not to understand the woman beside me who wants me to move so she can sit beside her husband.

Yes, I know what a jerk-move this was.

The last time I was nice and switched seats with someone who wanted to sit beside their friend, they gave me a seat next to a lovely couple whose baby cried almost all the way from Toronto to London.

No, not London Ontario. London England.

Yes, it was very helpful that I had a doggies plushie and a moose plushie with me at the time – the baby really enjoyed the little plays I put on for it. Problem was that I couldn’t stop, every time I went to put them away, the baby would start crying again…Nope. I no longer switch my seat.

I play the “I-don’t-understand-becuz-I’m-a-stupid-tourist-and-don’t-know-any-Chinese” card.

Yes, I am trying to use a metaphor here.

She looks at me in a very exasperated manner, I am tempted to tell her “Listen lady, you want to sit beside your husband, so what the rest of us do – show up on time and you can get the seat you want!”

After eating, some water, the couple doing a series of complicated deals and moves, the lady moves away and across the aisle and the couple that was across the aisle moves in front of me.

Upside: now there are only two of us sitting in a row of 3 seats. See what being a complete jerk got me? Extra leg room!

Yes, I am a aware that I have no need of extra leg room.

It is the principle of the thing.

Loose track of time for a bit, being in that neutral head-space and then –

We are off.

Finally discover the way to fall asleep on the plane – be incredible, unspeakably tired.

I snooze.

I wake and wonder what is on the agenda once I meet my guide.

Did I tell you I lost my schedule?

I did.

I had it one moment and it was gone the next. The rest of the trip is a surprise.

I’m last to collect my luggage, I’ve been lagging, no rush here and last out of the gate.

Hello Tony!

Tony is my new tour guide and, thankfully, my last. He is with me from now until the end of the journey.

We talk, we find our driver, Mr. Wong, and then we are off to the waterfront where people come to see Old Shanghai on one side and New Shanghai on the other side of the river Pu.

Beautiful, I wander up and down and take some pics for about half and hour and then, really I’m tired, so off to the hotel!

15 minutes to rest and relax and then, dinner time.

Dinner is another lonely kind of meal – Tony and Mr. Wong eat in the kitchen, I eat in the restaurant. You know I have no worries about eating in a restaurant by myself, but seriously? Next time I may just have to insist that I eat in the kitchen too – it may be way more interesting.

Then – Traditional Chinese Acrobat show!

Wow – Saturday night and I’m out on the town.

Impressive stuff. I think the contortionists will probably give me a few nightmares, but the plate spinning was pretty incredible. I especially liked the end where they let all the plates crash to the stage and like most of the audience didn’t realize they were spinning plates and doing all that stuff! What did people thing they were doing?

The motorcycles were a bit scary. And kind of loud.

All in all a great time.

Back to the hotel – cable connection in the room, so try to upload some pics. Bonk! No go on that and looks like tags still aren’t working either.

Upside: I can post in my pjs again!

And yes, please imagine who ever you want in their pjs, working hard in a hotel room in Shanghai…

Schedule a wake-up call, this alarm clock is silly and too tired to figure it out. Skipping yoga, sleep is more important at this stage.

Yes, I’m behind in reading and commenting, can only hope I will be forgiven, I have the night off on Sunday, so hope to get a bit caught up!

Oh, that bed is calling my name…

Slept in until 6:30am – luxury, but I’m in need.

45 minutes of yoga, mostly taking advantage of the crazy amount of space the hotel room has!

From there we hit the ground, full tilt. We are out in force today as well, from me, my guide Howard, our driver, we’ve picked up an aspiring guide – hey, the more the merrier, yes? So, welcome aboard this crazy ride, Lance! Hope you still want to be a tour guide at the end of this, otherwise I will have dashed your dreams and that is something I could not bare…bear? Man…you know what I mean hear, so please just pretend I’m doing it right.

Yes, I am a bit lazy this evening.

Yes, I know I should be a bit more careful about what I’m writing.

Seriously, though, if you knew what I did today, you would be more than willing to forgive me this error, this laziness.

No, I don’t think I will tell you about.

Seriously.

Ok. But only becuz I know you reallyreallyreally want to know…

From the hotel it is off to the city walls which is close by, each of the four entrances used to have 3 gates, 3 only have 1 gate left and the remaining one has 2.

Yes, I did try to cram as many numbers into that sentence as possible.

Look, all you need to know is that we went to the closest historical city gate for the wall and that it is also the one that is best preserved, ok?

We climb up and look down – as a side note, there seems to be a lot of climbing and looking down on this trip, not sure why that is, but maybe something to ponder later… – we talk, take a close look at the drainage system (it is different from other places, more utilitarian and not as fancy) and take close looks at the bricks.

There I am handed over to the care of a Feng Shui Master who explains the principles of Feng Shui to me – which is good ‘cuz you know the suspense was beginning to kill me. I get it.

No, I’m not going to tell you about it.

Why?

Becuz we are going to come here after we visit Beijing – I think you will really enjoy hearing about Feng Shui and from a Master, not from someone who got like a small lecture about it and made some pretty good guesses about whether or not things have good or bad Feng Shui.

From there we start our journey to see the Terracotta Warriors, we stop half-way and look at a government sponsored workshop that does replicas of them. Very interesting process and you know how much I like looking at kilns. I ask a couple of kiln-related questions and find out that mostly they don’t use the traditional ones another more due to pollution, they use electric ones.

So, be sure not to bother asking that in case we go to the same workshop.

Can’t say I’m too disappointed, I mean, as a rule, I’m against pollution.

From there – time for the real thing.

I don’t have the words to express the feeling of standing in front of the warriors at “Pit 1”. I’m not sure there is a word to express it.

My heart soared and was grounded at the same time. I felt connected, totally within the Great River of Humanity. Looking into faces of people who died a few thousand years ago – I am moved by the sheer and utter human-ness of expression, of feature. A treasure of human kind, an expression of human intelligence and craftsmanship.

Yes, I was moved.

It was…dare I say?

Awesome.

And not in that “hey, have you read that book where that guy lists everything that is awesome” (and no, I haven’t read it, I will muddle through on my own and figure out what is awesome on my own), but in the “my heart was filled with awe” kind of way.

After Pit 3, we take lunch. I eat alone, why are my tour guides not allowed to eat with me? But, the silence gives me a chance to process and jot down a few things in the ole’ moleskin. Pen to page, pen to page.

After Pit 2 –

Yes, we did them out of order. Problem with that?

Sooooo, after Pit 2 it is time to leave and go to –

Another Buddhist Temple!

This one is huge and beautiful. Howard, my guide tells me the story of Buddhism and we compare notes. Slightly different names, slightly different stories of birth and loads more dragons and gods in the version he knows.

We share a bit of a laugh.

Walk around and peer into buildings, visit all the different Buddhas that have around the place.

We also visit a pagoda “forest” – which is calm and peaceful and I’m ready to sit down and chill out for a while.

Nope! No chilling out – it is time for the next stop.

Xian Museum of Civilization.

I get an hour and half to amuse myself with the exhibits – 45 minutes in each gallery. I cheat and spend 45 in the first one, 30 in the second and the remaining time in the third.

Why?

Becuz my favourite dynasties are all in the 3rd Gallery and I figured it out.

By reading the signs.

Yes, not a lot gets by me, my friend.

We are the last ones out and I’m invited to have a cup of tea in the museum shop.

Big mistake.

Let me tell you about the magic teapot. “The Magic Teapot”.

In the third gallery there was this one teapot that was quite beautiful – it had a lion spout and phoenix handle and the glaze was a light-ish green, almost like that green in the Song Dynasty, but not quite the same.

The write-up for this teapot was completely confusing. It said that there was a hole for the spout and a hole in the bottom. Which, for a teapot, doesn’t seem too smart to me. It also said that when the teapot had liquid in it and was upright, not liquid would leak out on the bottom hole.

How is this possible?

Magic.

As I sat and had my tea in the shop (again, big mistake!) the lady showed me how the teapot works.

I describe for you:

She showed me both the holes – one for the spout, one in the bottom. Then she poured water in the bottom hole and filled it over. I’m about to yell “Noooo! It will spill!!!” and not a drop spills out.

She tips the teapot and pours out all the water.

Magic.

Then, then she shows me a teacup – same principle, similar design.

The teacup had a dragon head rising out of the centre and a hole in the bottom.

When the cup is a little full, nothing drips out the bottom hole. When it is a lot full, nothing drips out the bottom.

When the liquid is the same height as the dragon’s mouth, it all spills out the bottom.

Hmmm.

They offer to sell me one of the replicas.

I’m tempted. I resist.

We go back and forth, me just saying “No. Really. It will break. I don’t have room in my bags.” and them saying “It is very unique. It is like the one in our collection.”

And you know.

Well, you know how this story ends, don’t you?

She offers to throw in the teacup if I get the teapot.

And…well, I want the teapot.

I mean.

I reallyreallyreally want the teapot.

And, you know that I have been struggling with this removing want from my heart and releasing these kind of attachments and emotions, but…

I want the teapot.

I buy the teapot and pick-up the teacup for free.

Howard remarks to me “I’ve never seen them do that before, never have they thrown in a teacup. The teacup itself is worth money.”

Yeah, I wasn’t trying to bargain or anything. I was trying my best not to buy it, but apparently…

So.

So, I bought something for myself. The thing that I take from this trip for me and only me – a teapot with free teacup.

Yes, I know that I got put through a “hard sell”.

Yes, I know they got me when my defenses were down and I was tired from the day and travel.

Still.

I love this teapot. I love the teacup.

If you come over I will serve you tea out of it and let you use the teacup too. I think you will really like it too.

Howard laughed at me when I said “This is the first thing I bought for myself.”

After.

After.

After.

Yes, still more, the day isn’t done yet!

We go for a dumpling banquet.

You know how I was telling you about my pants being loose?

Don’t worry about it, problem solved. I ate a pile of dumplings and I’m happy to let you know my pants are once again snug. So no danger of them falling down or anything…

Then a show.

Not everyone had the dumplings, so others arrive to share my table, with me is now a gentleman from Japan and a couple from Italy. Our common language is English so we trade stories and schedules around.

The show.

What fun! Music and dancing!

I don’t know what is up with this audience, but I’m having a great time.

My favourite?

I liked the flute solo with strummed instrument best.

I also really enjoyed the pieces that were all percussion instruments as well – very interesting.

Thought about atonal music and how it captures and expresses nature in a truer to form kind of way. I enjoy.

And what is it with all those people taking flash photography during the show? Don’t they know 1. their flashes can’t reach the stage 2. if the flashes do reach the stage it washes out the stage lighting and 3. it is really annoying for other people watching the show to have flashes go off. And oh, yes, how unfair to those performers.

Home then, after bidding farewell to others also on the road.

Home now and obviously catching-up, catching-up, catching-up.

And yes, still behind…

The “calling my plane” ended up being an announcement about how the plane was delayed. Oops!

One hour of waiting game – a man sits beside me and, after staring for an uncomfortably long time at me, decides to strike up a conversation.

This is kind of how it goes, remember we are speaking difference languages, so whatever:

Him: So, come here often?

me: Yes, I’m going to Xian.

Him: Well, obviously, otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting at this gate. See? We are all going to Xian, get it?

me: Canadian. I’m Canadian.

Him: Ok, crazy chick. Let me see what your passport picture looks like.

me: Yes, Canadian. I’m from Toronto.

Him: Man, learn some lingo. Your passport photo makes you look like a crazy person. And your hair is long now.

me: Yes, very excited about to see China, it is my first time here.

Him: I hope so ‘cuz your use of the language sucks serious rocks.

me: Thank you, it is a beautiful country.

Him: Whatever. I’m going to see what the delay with our place is. I hope I’m not sitting next to you on the plane.

me: Thank you, you too!

Sometimes it is helpful to know a few things.

Flight is quite quick and mostly painless, tons of turbulence this time round, so now running up and down the aisles for me. I think I’m learning how to snooze on planes and not be so nervous about take off.

Yes, I am a bit afraid of flying.

No, nothing serious, just, I really hate take offs.

Yes, the amount of flying I’m doing is a bit of a challenge.

Whatever. I can do this. I mean, I am doing this.

Meet new guide – Hi Howard! And we delay going to the hotel in favour of a walk around through the Muslim area of Xian and compare notes about what we are supposed to do.

He is pretty concerned about the state of my tummy – I guess word travels fast in these parts – and I spend a lot of time assuring him that hot pot for dinner is perfect. I love hot pot and let him know about the no mammal thing.

Our walk takes half the time it should – don’t blame me! I did my part by taking loads of pics, I guess I’m becoming pretty quick on the shutter.

To use the half hour we take a longer walk and end up – at the restaurant! Yay!

Hot pot is delicious and fun.

I think I must not be very fun for the tour guides – most of the food I’ve already had in some version or another and I keep asking for tea and not taking soft drinks. Oh well.

I also think that they are much more used to people who don’t know a whole lot about Chinese culture, so me knowing a few things is kind of throwing them off a bit.

Sorry!

Dessert is a fried dumpling that we can dip in sweetened condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk. Yum. But like…urmmm as well.

Check into hotel and I don’t what it is but this one too has the crazy window in front of the bathtub that lets someone on the other side of the room see right in. I didn’t know seeing someone in the bath was such a big thing. Man, if you want to see me relax completely, then pour me a cup of tea, give me a snuggly blankie and a good book to curl up with. And put on some quiet music and don’t talk to me.

All I’m saying about that.

Oddest thing about the hotel room? There is no clock? What is up with that?

I’m something of a savant about figuring out how to set alarm clocks and finding local radio stations that aren’t completely lame, so that I need to rely on a wake-up call to make sure I’m up at the time I want to be up at is something of a bummer.

I’ll live, I assure you, but still. I like setting new alarm clocks and finding radio stations.

Yes, I realize that I just implied that I like setting new alarm clocks. Seriously, some of them are pretty complex and require some about of trial.

Anxious to get a good night’s sleep – Friday is a full day! So it is off to bed with me.

Ok, off to that bath.

Hey, you know what is completely wacky – I’m doing this post from the hotel lobby, free WiFi thingy again, and they have one of these player grand pianos and it is playing some of the strangest music…

Can we just assume that I’ve told you to stop imagining me in the bath?

And really, if you are going to have a player grand piano playing, turn off the PA that plays music – my ears are getting a bit confused!

(this was originally written in the Beijing Airport waiting for a flight from Beijing to Xian in Notepad and pasted here)

What I hadn’t considered was with every new meeting, new friendships, new attachments there are also new good-byes to live through.

I am lucky – my heart grows and I give pieces of it away.

My heart propagates with seeds – Grace is given seeds from my heart, to plant in hers. Let them grow, Grace, let them grow and I will be back to Beijing soon. See you then.

After meeting and exchanging “real names” (does anyone else do this anymore, keep their real names secret from all but the closet, most private persons in their lives? I do – you know mine. I know some of yours’…) it is off the Forbidden City.

Mr. Lee takes us through the Hutong area and I get a better look at some of the traditional homes – they are so different from the high rises and modern homes we have been wizzing past.

Walk on Teinman Square, take a look at chairman Mao’s mausoleum – the line to get in snakes and snakes back on itself. Walk on the stepping stones as Grace related the history to me. The mind is full of thoughts of revolutionrevolutionrevolutionrevolution.

We walk down to one of the Forbidden City entrances and jostle with the crowds. Sunny today, so people are back in force. Quite a sport, staying out of others’ focus and keeping people out of the camera lines.

It is a drive-by, we skim the surface, but what a surface! The discipline, the order, the pomp, the circumstance. Ritual, tradition.

Every decoration, every step is steeped in history and heavy with meaning. Dragons here, phoenix there, lions, lions, clouds, peony, chrysanthemums, clouds, pearls.

Met a few more dragons – today it is number 6 and number 4 (was it number 4, help me out here, Grace). I’m still missing a couple – 2, 7 and 8, I think. Maybe they will show up in another place. The mind fills with dragons – hard-working dragons, dragons at the top of pillars, dragons who love music, dragons who like swords, dragons who watch and summon the Emperor home when he is away too long. And ordinary, run of the mill, everyday dragons.

It is rushed and we decide, next time, next I’m in Beijing with you, we will take a day, one day to explore the Forbidden City more and look at some of the smaller rooms.

How many rooms are in the Forbidden City?

Guess.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The other things we will do is re-visit the Summer Palace – I’d like to see it in late spring. You can climb the Great Wall, I’ll wait for you at the bottom and prepare a picnic of cold duck and other assorted lovelies, a proper feast for heroes.

We will do the jade factory again, ‘cuz Grace and I really like jade. We think it would be ok if you decided to buy us each some. I think I’d like a bracelet.

We will also visit more local temples – this time, this first drop of Beijing, was “tourist stuff”, I want to see the local temples – Taoist and Buddhist mostly.

Yes, I know you aren’t very surprised at that.

I think, on some level, I’m getting it. It is one thing to understand the symbolism and another to experience it. To say “Yes, that means double happiness.” but to see where it is, to understand how heavy that pillar is that dragon holds up. Different entirely.

Different from books anyway.

It is like. Much of my learning comes alive.

Yes, I mean “as much as buildings can come alive”.

But, for now, it is bye-bye to Beijing. Trying hard not to cry, trying to have a happy heart with a good friend left behind, one I hope to see soon.

Happy that my heart learned to grow again – otherwise these goodbyes would be the death of me.

Next, place ride to Xian and there we will see — they are calling my plane…

it happened in Beijing.

I did know it was going happen, I mean, it happens sometimes when I’m home. Not related to traffic, air quality, nothing that I do, nothing that I eat. I’ve actually been expecting it, any day now.

Yep. I got sick. In Beijing.

It wasn’t motion sickness, it wasn’t a sudden realization that I’ve left all my responsibilities, a job that I love, family and friends, it wasn’t the Summer Palace, it wasn’t the pearl factory, sometimes people just get sick for almost no reason.

We were on our way from the pearl factory to  the Wutong area of downtown, which is where the “native peoples of Beijing” traditionally lived. Driving is smooth, traffic and Mr. Lee are all good and suddenly, something isn’t right at all.

The body fails.

I let Grace know right away – hey, if you are going to be sick, better in a car that is pulled over than a moving car and Mr. Lee pulls over and we stop for a bit.

I get some fresh air and listen.

Listen.

Listen.

Yep. The tummy is unhappy about something. Nerves? Breakfast? Homesick? Who knows – the result, I’m ashamed to admit is going to be the same.

I let them know I should lie down and yes, I will probably be ill soon.

Mr. Lee is prepared and hands back some bags, making me think that perhaps I’m not the first person to get ill in Beijing.

We start off the hotel and I rattle off to Grace the list, the “if I’m going to be sick, this is what you need to do” instructions.

Yes, I do have a list of instructions that I tell people if I’m about to be sick around them

Yes, I realize that is probably not the normal kind of thing people get prepared for.

Look, I figure that I know the best of way taking care of me, and eventually, sooner or later, if we spend enough time together, I’m going to sick near you and you will be in charge of taking care of me for while.

Isn’t it nice that I come complete with a list of instructions?

Yes, it is all found in the “Care and Feeding of your bex” handbook that were given as you got on this crazy ride. Chapter title: “when your bex gets sick”, Subsection 2: what you should do, page 1.

Seriously, look it up.

I’ll wait.

Ok?

No, I won’t be getting sick because of something you did or said, as I said, sometimes people just get sick.

So, don’t take it personally, ok?

Ok.

Breath deep and relax into a bit and try to sooth the tummy with some pep talk – yes, we will be back the hotel soon, yes, we will lie down, yes, I will go a bit easy on you the next couple days, yes, I will give you a rub and a hug.

It doesn’t work.

I look at Grace and I can see her expression chance – I’ve gone pale. I tell her “Ok, I’m going to be sick now. Remember what I told you.”

She acts according to instructions.

It is only mild shock this time, for which I’m thankful, the ride the rest of the way is smooth as…silk, can I use that cliche here? I mean you know I hate to use an overused cliche, especially considering where I am and everything…look all I’m saying is the van ride is smooth – no bumps, no sudden turns. Mr. Lee drives like he taking care of someone who is sick in his backseat. I mean, he is, but the drive feels like it.

After a frantic run to the crazy bathroom, Grace tucks me in and boils some water and puts some in a mug and places it on the bedside table.

Urg.

She starts to settle in, but I can tell you I’m absolutely less fun when I’m asleep, so I tell her leave.

Yes, I am assuming that I’m less fun when I’m asleep. Sorry…yes, you are right this is pretty much a sweeping assumption, ok, I’ll change.

I’m less fun when I’ve just been ill, so I let her know she can head out.

Grace is still concerned and wants to consult a doctor. No, thanks. I like doctors well enough, but this is nothing. Nothing.

Grace lets me know she will call later (not too late, I tell her) and see if I’m feeling better and if so, we will see the Forbidden City and Teinman Square before my flight leaves.

I’m feeling better, after a sleep and dinner.

Yes, I was hungry after all this so I had dinner, did you expect me to starve?

Yes, I had some ginger all. Say what you will, ginger works well for me. Not that there is much real ginger…

No, I don’t blame Beijing for this bout of illness.

Yes, I still want to come back.

Yes, you are still invited…

Upside: After feeling better, there was nothing on the schedule that I needed to do, no where to be, so spent some time renaming pics in prep for uploading to flickr when I have better connetivity.

Another upside: I’ve never had ginger ale in China before, so now I can say I have!

Also an upside: I’ve also never had pizza in Beijing before and now I have.

Yes, I had pizza for dinner, I needed the carbs and white flour to settle everything. Yes, maybe the tomato is too acidic, but it has never bothered me. Yes, I was bit nervous about the cheese, but my tummy seems a-ok now.

Yes, I realize that I had pizza and ginger ale in Beijing and missed out the dumpling lunch…please, let us never speak of it again.

Haha – Cindy Lauper`s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun“ is playing on the hotel PA. This hotel is wacky.

Where to begin this one?

How about: “The next time I’m in Beijing, I want you to join me”?

Sounds perfect, so here we go…

The next time I’m in Beijing, I want you to join me.

Supercooltourguideextraordinairre, Grace and holycrazybravestdriverever Mr. Lee pick me up at 9am – sharp.

We are off to –

Well, we are off. Dodging Beijing drivers, getting stuck in rush-hour traffic, listening to Grace ratlle off various historical facts, figures, number and dates. Me asking stupid questions (what is that building over there?, what does that sign say? do the different license plates have meanings? etc etc)

Then we arrive.

The saying goes something like “You are not a hero unless you climb on the Great Wall.”

I did it.

Near the South Entrance, which the most important, protected China against the Mongolians and also served as the major trading post with them, we visit the Great Wall.

Wow, is it ever…well, great. I mean, like, Great, you know?

Grace comes with me on the climb up, up, up, (She sometimes does this twice a week during the summer!) and UP! some more.

The risers of the stairs are uneven heights, so it is hard to get a “step-step” rhythm going and the bricks are worn or grooved in places. The staircases get steeper and narrower as you ascend.

Me, I try not to think about how high it seems we are.

Me = now afraid of going down those same stairs, call it off at the second watchtower and look around for a bit.

The Great Wall.

Many people around, climbing, fulfilling a life-goal, checking one more off “the list” and little me on this Great Big Wall.

Man, it is a long way down.

After I get a few snaps, we start the descent. I must look pretty nervous and wanting to grab onto the handrail, ‘cuz a gentleman sitting on one of the steps, beside where the handrail should be (there wasn’t one at this point) reaches out his hand to me for me grab – he smiles and I know I’m going to get down safetly. His grip is strong and sure, friendly and as my fingers slip away from his, he gives them a squeeze.

The universe, it seems, looks after its own.

I think. Maybe, he may have been a dragon. He smiles at me as if he knows something I have yet to learn.

From there, it is a jade factory. We look a few things, I love jade, so I’m a pretty boring audience and then I’m challenged to find a real jade bangle out of 3 pieces, two are fakes. There are knowing smiles and I know I’m about to make a fool of myself. I touch each of the bangles in turn and point – this one, this one is real jade.

Faces fall – I’m right!

We discuss the sound jade makes and how it looks under the light.

Then, my dear friends, it is time for shopping. There is plenty of space in the place and I’m feeling pretty calm about things. I pick up a couple of things – nothing for myself, mind, but for other people, you know, who need some jade in their life.

I’m watched as I compare pieces – I don’t really know what I’m comparing exactly here, but I figure, I’ll just know which is right for me. I look, compare and make my choices.

Know what? Apparently, I have very good taste in jade. The two pieces that I choose are full of gorgeous and I’m complimented on my choices.

Are they really that Great? Who knows! I’m hoping that they are well-loved.

Then it is time for lunch – we do Szechuan, firey, peppery, Szechuan. Some yam in blueberry sauce, mushrooms and bok choi, deep fried tofu and a fish that comes out covered in spicy sauce and peppers. Oh, heaven.

Why is it that people keep being surprised at how well I use chopsticks? Seriously, in this world, in this day and age, you have to be able to eat food three ways: with knife and fork, with chopsticks and with your hands. Know these and you will be ready to eat anywhere in the world.

Then, time for the Ming Tombs – very beautiful and solemn. Stirring in a “hey, pay attention, this is serious history” kind of way.

I learn a lot about the history of 13 Emperors, you will learn a lot too when you join me here next time.

As it is only me and I don’t really dally about or take long shopping or eating or walking, we are off our schedule by 1 hour. 1 hour! The discussion is rapid – what to do to entertain a bex for a whole hour.

Man, I should tell you how easily amused I am, a ball of yarn and I’m good. And I don’t even knit or anything, I’d just chase that thing around on the ground or toss it from hand to hand or start playing cat’s cradle with a piece of it…

Instead of yarn, I get invited to see a grocery store. Jumped all over that one – we end up at one of the largest ones near the place we are having dinner.

Wow, loads of things I recognize, Grace and I compare names of things and what the store has compared to what I see in my grocery at home.

Most interesting thing I see: lotus root for sale! Lotus root! I love lotus root, it is one of my favourite things! I love the “crrrrruunnch!”, I love the “snap!”, I love how it makes you wiser with every bite.

But, I’ve only ever seen it in finished dishes before, usually with a very tasty sauce.

Know what it looks like?

A root. Seriously, on the outside, it looks like a really big, really, really, pale carrot that has been brushed off of excess dirt. Look from the top or bottom and you can see all the holes. So the root is in the ground and the flower grows at the top, lovely and tasty.

Dinner is Peking Duck. I ate Peking Duck in Beijing. hee!

There was so much food too, for just the three of us, so we decided that when I’m come back that I should bring all my friends and all my family. And they should bring all their friends and family.

It will be a lot of fun.

I’m thinking 2 maybe 3 years, so start saving your pennies ok?

After dinner it is kungfu show (how is your kungfu?) put on by some monks. Cool stuff, loved seeing the different styles that are named after animals and enjoyed the narrative that went along to explain the study and practice of kungfu. I’ve never seen such lively monks before!

Showmen all of them.

Then, home again, home again.

Interesting theme during this trip: Everywhere I visit, people keep suggesting that move there and get a job. Today, Grace keeps this pattern alive. Seems like there are plenty places in the world that I can now consider home. Great feeling, that.

 

An hour away from meeting the tour guide and sitting here in the hotel lobby – 80s music is playing over the sound system, so I’m not exactly sure what it up with that.

Here are couple of things that I’ve just discovered – although I can post directly from the WorPress dashboard (my preferred method, I know someone of you life other ways, but call me old fashioned..as much as using this this is “old fashioned”, I mean.)

It seems that a few of the functions are not working properly – I can put a post in a “Category”, but can’t tag it, I can receive comments, but can’t reply back to them…which puts me in an uncomfortable position, it seems that I now risk the danger of this becoming less a conversation and more becoming…well, something else.

I’m trying to figure out how to address this ‘cuz I think there are some interesting points and things to think about, so maybe I will just have to post replies to comments as posts…I’m going to have to think about this one.

If there are any suggestions, let me know, I don’t want anyone thinking or believing that I’m too busy or unappreciated or don’t want to hear and think about what you have to say and respond back to you…Sorry. These are really funny issues, I have to laugh.