Chasa's mom in China
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Sunday, September 1, 2002

Back in Beijing

Hey everyone! I'm back in Beijing where it's about 32 degrees Celsius (about 94 degrees F), extremely humid and smoggy. This, after two days on "local" trains...that means no a.c. and straight- backed bench seats. One of the other tour members and I joked that Explore (the tour co) should change its name to "Endure"! We go to see the Great Wall @ Mutianyu tomorrow. We already saw part of the Wall before going into the desert. That section was basically made of adobe-like bricks. They used the material found in the different local areas to build it. Tonight we are going to see some Chinese acrobats and tomorrow the Chinese opera (probably the loud, squealy kind). Only about 2 days left and it has been one heck of an experience. I would say the single biggest hinderence to comfortable travel here is the food. You look @ a food, expecting it to taste a certain way, but once you get it on your tongue, it's nothing like that. My Western palate has cried out for McDonald's a couple of times...and I don't particualrly like McD's @ home, but my stomach was saying, "Give me something I know." The next biggest discomfort would be the air quality, which has been perfectly horrendous, except in the desert and the grasslands. I don't what the atheletes are going to do, when they come here for the Olympics. Black smoke belching everywhere...it's absolutely awful. At Datong, where we were yesterday, it looks like Pittsburgh used to look, before the clean air laws were put into effect, all of you, be grateful the clean air we're privileged to breathe. It really can't be taken for granted. The country is beautiful and the people are as sweet and welcoming as could be. It's a far cry from Turkey, where one has to be so cautious about photographing them; here, they love it! Well, think I'll close for now and plan on seeing most of you soon after I get back. Debbie and Bryan, remember to get that Problem Loan List started around before I get back Thursday, if you can. Hope you all had a good Labor Day weekend.


Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Hello from ??????

Hey everyone! I'm really not quite sure where I am right now, but I emerged from the camel trek unwashed but unscathed this morning. Yes, I will have lots and lots of pictures! I had the best time. I expect there's some Bedouin back in my family tree somewhere...probably back in the Will side! Kept my seat and the 2nd day they let us off the tether. It's just like trail riding, only you're on the dunes. I really liked my camel. I will miss him. We did get into a few arguments, but by and large, we really bonded. I would never consider myself an accomplished rider, but I found all the horseback riding times served me well. They're a little harder to steer, (horses would be too, if they had a stick through their noes and only one rein) but essentially neck rein. Yesterday, as we were going through some salt flats toward camp @ the end of the day, I think my camel had had enough. I could tell he was eyeing this grey, soft-looking dust and the next thing I knew, down he went and I said to myself, "He's going to roll", so I jumped off grabbing the daypack and sure enough, that's just what he did! Only camel in the whole pack to do so...the little twit! One lady fell off the first day and had to be trekked back to town to the local hospital for an X-ray (nothing broken) and another fell off yesterday and may have a concussion, but she doesn't want to go to the hospital; her fingers did let up tingling some this afternoon. It's absolutely unreal out there, like the ocean, but not wet. At night it gets really cold, but I still was able to sleep outside. Total of 14 hours on the camel the last 2 1/2 days...not having ridden lately, I can certainly feel what I've been doing! I am also trying to the re-hydrate. They tell us it was around 110 degrees F out there yesterday and it has to be as hot today. But absolutely no humidity, which, strangely enough, is playing havoc w/ my sinuses. I am getting some amazing pictures...really surreal landscapes. We had a memorable meal two nights before going into the desert. Four of us went to a local hole in the wall and of course, the menu was in Mandarin and the employees and customers spoke very little English, so we ended up ordering what the table next to us was having, which they said was chicken. The first 2 dishes came out and were fine...shredded vegetables and green beans; then the main course came out (we eat family style and I am getting very adept w/ chopsticks). Yes, it was chicken...we could tell by the feet in it! (as well as other unknown chicken parts. Plus is was so spicy, we couldn't begin to eat it, so they took it back and brought out another. Damned if that wasn't almost as bad! Then this young boy w/ a guitar showed up w/ a selection of songs (in Mandarin) on a sheet...one song for 3 yuan (that's about 40 cents). I didn't have a small bill, so just gave him an 10 and tried to get him to keep it (they refuse to take tips here). Instead, they made me pick another and another song. He was going to earn that full 10 yuan! Funny thing was they all sounded alike. We decided he must have only known one chord. And he sang loud! The Chinese seem to like everything loud. From the loudspeaker in Tienimen Square to the honking cars to the way they talk (actually, that's mostly the men). Well, think I'll close for now. This keyboard is pretty funky and I'm getting tired. Need to get more water before meeting for dinner. Great tour group. Making friends from the UK, Scotland, Canada, Chicago, Seattle, Hong Kong. Everyone take care; it'll probably be a few days before I write again. We have a night train tomorrow, then staying in nomad gurs (felt tents) the following night. We can ride horses there, if we've recovered enough!


Thursday, August 22, 2002

Hello from Xian

Hey everyone! This may be the last message you get for awhile, since we head out of here tomorrow and I don't know what Internet facilities are available in the next town, then it's the desert after that. It's hot here...white-hot light and humudity. Our local guide says she thinks it's much better than usual, but I'm dying. I think I'll buy an unbrella after I get done w/ this letter and use it to keep the sun off just like the local women do.

The night train from Beijing was neat, but most of us didn't sleep a wink. We got here yesterday morning about 7 am. The train station was full, because there's several universities here and they start term about this time. It was like a steaming, teeming mass of humanity and very claustrophobic. None of us had had showers, either (these trains don't carry enough water for that) and at 7 am, our rooms weren't ready, but the hotal gave us 4 to use to get cleaned up. Oh, the simple pleasures of life...like being clean.

Yesterday we went to a Buddist temple (I burned some incense...hope they don't kick me out of St. Sylvester for that) and then to an Islamic mosque...quite the religious day. Then in the afternoon, went cycling w/ several others on top of the ancient Xian city walls. What fun! Today we saw the terracotta warriors. Wish I could tell you something interesting about that, but I've reached the point where I've developed "tourist haze". I can't listen any longer. It is a World Heritage Center site, but once again crawling w/ people (Lesley, it's like being in Meijer). So it's meltdown time for me for awhile. A full night's sleep would also help. Oh, at the Forbidden City in Beijing, some Chinese boys asked to take my picture, because they said I looked like a scholar!!!Think I'll shave my head now and see if I can grow one of those long scraggy beards to fit the part. Actually, several of our Caucasian group have had their pictures taken. It's a trip.

People are still as nice as can be. I got a great picture yeaterday of two toddlers @ a local shop...can't wait for you to see it. They're precious and I got their address so I could send copies to their families. Camera is holding out, haven't used up the first 128 mg memory card yet. Have also managed to keep the battery charged up, though the outlets vary. I brought two adaptors, though, just because of that. Tour group is a great group of people, too. Will close this rambling letter and try to communicate again in a few days.


Monday, August 19, 2002

Hello from Beijing

Hi everyone! Just a few lines to let you all know that I have made it safely to Beijing. The flight, though long (13h 45m), was uneventful enough. We went north through Canada and over Alaska, across the Bering Strait and south (yes, south) through Siberia before arriving here. Seems like I was the only who didn't get ripped off by the airport cab drivers, though mine wasn't sure where this hotel was! I feel pretty good...maybe it just hasn't hit me yet. I was delighted to learn the time difference was only 12 hours and not 13 as I had thought! Beijing is very big, somewhat shabby (like Istanbul, those of you who've been to Turkey) and the air quality yesterday was terribly smoggy...to the point it burned my throat, Everything smells like stale cigarette smoke. I've met several of my tour members, although the rest of the group won't be here until 3 this morning, delayed by mechanical problems; they're coming from the UK. We leave very early tomorrow (7:45 am, earlier than work!) to go to the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, then catch a night train to Xian. Have done alot of wandering today. Everybody here is very friendly and sweet, although most don't speak much/any English, so we do alot of pointing and smiling! We get stared at alot. Lesley, I met a university student today (Jack, but really Wang) who thinks for sure he has seen you before!! Maybe in Hong Kong?? I took his picture, so I'll let you look when I get home. He and his friend both spoke very good English, so we had an extended conversation. Those who do are very anxious for conversation w/ us natives. I brought a small album showing pictures of my family (including Chloe) and scenes around Vinton Co and McArthur. It's been a big hit. When I was showing Jack, a small crowd of women gathered to look as well! Met our tour guide this afternoon and she went into some detail on the camel trek. Seems we will have access to water @ camp, so will be able to wash sometime wi/ those 2 1/2 days! (Thank goodness! I was afraid they would make me sleep w/ the camels by the 2nd night!) So anyway, that's about it for now. Shirley, send my lunch to Xian, will you?


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