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Captain's Log: Stardate 16-8-2013 Supplimental

How about a Q and A session?

sunny 97 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

Ok, no pics on this one. We are waiting for our flight to Chengdu and it's late "due to air traffic congestion."

So, let's have a little fun on the "small game." A phony Q & A session. If I don't finish this before we board (currently set for 90 mins from now) I'll finish tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm thinking we are getting in to our hotel on a late night timetable. Ugh. I'm pretty sure it's a long drive to the Panda Center, and that is just the morning schedule. We hit Dufu Cottage in the afternoon. Bruce and I have been having fun with his name for days. Can't wait to be laughing hysterically for no reason once we get there.

Ok...the Q & A

Q: What is the strangest things you have witnessed in China so far?

A: Probably some of the English language T-Shirts that make no sense. It's largely a fashion statement for the Chinese. Now, they don't get a total pass. Most of the younger people start learning English early, like we teach French and Spanish to our elementary and middle schoolers. That's how Faye, our most recent guide, learned hers. But there are some real howlers. We've put a few in our pictures, we'll try to get some more up.

Q: What has surprised you the most?

A: There haven't been a ton of surprises. I like to do my research and I did a lot this summer before we headed over. I guess what is interesting is some of the things I read about that have become readily evident. The dust, the construction, the masses of people, the jostling, the cigarette smoking (unbelievably bad) the poverty, the staring at us (two old westerners with two little Chinese girls who speak english, not Chinese), the people who walk up and ask questions. I get quizzed by people when I'm at the bathroom, I think so they can practice their english. When I tell them I'm American, they don't act surprised. It's probably similar to the way we can't help staring at Amish in Lancaster County; we expect to see them, but we still can't help staring in surprise. "Gee, they really exist?"

The biggest surprise for me is the incredibly evident Chinese wealth as evidenced by automobiles, luxury stores (full of Chinese, not westerners), large groups vacationing at 5 star resorts, and on. Bruce and I agree: Mao may be on the money, but he would be cheesed to see what has happened to his socialist revolution.

Q: What do you like the most over there?

A: The people have been largely outstanding. Our guides are little short of amazing. I know this is what they do for a living, but they know they will never see us again, yet they keep in touch. We have continued to exchange emails with every one of them. Example: When we left Nanning, the driver threw away a bag that he thought had trash in it. It actually held a tile from the site where Laurie's original SWI had been. She had picked up a piece as a memento. Bruce just got off the phone with Hannah: she had obtained another tile and will be sending it to our hotel in Beijing. Seriously. I can't tell you some of the other amazing things she did. Sandy got us front row seats to the cultural show. We wouldn't have known the difference, but he worked hard to do it. Faye just saved our bacon when there was a discrepancy in Laurie's passport. Evidently, the ticket had her old passport number on it; Bruce had to get her a new one this summer because the passport must be more than 6 months from expiring when you travel. This young lady in her early 20s cut through some pretty tough red tape and got the situation resolved in around 15 mins.

Q: What do you like least?

A: Hard to say. Some of it is simply comfort issues, and I know that, as an American, I am spoiled. They consider air conditioning at 80 degrees to be ok; we don't. We drink a lot more fluids, especially because we sweat so much when it's hot, and we miss ice-cold drinks with ice. Some roads are super smooth and nice, others are like tank traps at Normandy. Dust, heat, noise, yelling, chattering, excited gesturing, massive crowds and pushing, and a resistance to lining up. All of these can grate on your nerves if you let them. Being pre-warned made it easier for me, but didn't make me like it any more. I also have strong opinions of a national/cultural need to do things for higher reasons. I see an important place for religion there. I think it is something some are seeking, but for many, it's simply about getting ahead, keeping your forward momentum, and advancing. Most of those we meet are interested in coming to visit America. We would love have them come visit. I think it would be more of a cultural shock for them than China has been for us. That's due to availability of information. Many Chinese are learning to get around the "Great Firewall of China "(government blocking of websites like US Google - they use Hong Kong, and Facebook) But most aren't interested in wasting their time with that when there are so many approved portals they can go through. In 20 years, what will the government do when all that is for naught? Interesting question.

Q: What would you hope people would take away from your experiences from this blog?

A: Ah, I'll save that for the end...many places still to go.

Q: What is modern air travel like in China?

A: Pretty good. Most of the facilities are new, security is not nearly as draconian as it is in the US, and luggage comes out quickly. I could tell on our flight from Nanning to Hefei that a number of them were flying on a plane for the first time. They were posing, taking pictures, and having to be told the flight rules. I love the way each member of the flight crew is introduced over the PA and they bow as each name is announced. It's kinda fun. The attendents work hard because they need the job and want to keep it. For the most part, you see that around China with service personnel except the stores. You can tell the store salespeople are bored; and not on commission! Probably because they see us Americans. We spend all our money just getting there and are cheap, or don't buy much in the stores. Whereas the Chinese figure they are on "vacation" and drop a bundle on gifts, souvenirs, and parties when on vacation. At least, this is what Sandy told us, and I'll bet he's right!

Q: Do you tip in China?

A: In theory, no. But westerners have ruined things there also, and it's starting to get expected. The Chinese culture would say that you shouldn't get extra money just for being proper in performing your tasks. But the consumer culture is booming in China and tipping is catching on. In a few years, in the major cities, it will probably be like most cities in the world.

Q: What do the Chinese do for fun?

A: From what we saw, smoke, drink, eat, talk loudly, and stare (just kidding on that last one). We see a lot of ads for liquor (not beer), fashions, but mostly by the government (police, admonishments to behave better (I don't know what else to call it) and government construction.) The models are starting to look western in revealing outfits and made up to a T western-style. Looking around the airport here, many of them read a lot (books, newspapers, etc) but, and here is another big surprise of the trip, EVERYONE, AND I DO MEAN EVERYONE, OWNS A CEL PHONE. The telephone is a relatively new reality for many Chinese. We had wired phone technology for a century; China has not. Cel technology has allowed them to connect hundreds of millions of people simply by putting up massive numbers of cel towers, not miles of pole and wires. People are motorbiking with one hand and yelling on their cel. They walk and text and expect others to get out of their way (from what I have witnessed, amazingly, they do.) Numerous signs tell people on the highway not to text and drive (they do anyway) I have seen people in what looks like abject squalor texting on a smartphone. It's truly amazing. There are few iPhones, unlike the USA here. The smartphones are largely Android, with those huge Samsung Note IIs being most popular. There are other manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, and others. But you can walk for a long time around any public areas and see swarms of people in groups, or individually, swiping, texting, or, more often, yelling (not talking quietly) It's quite a massive experience.

Q: Anything you forgot?

A: Sure, and perhaps I'll do another of these sometimes. Some I hold back on. We have had weird blockage of some sites we use from time to time. I don't know if that is intentional or accidental, but it does make one a little paranoid. Some things I hold back because it sounds petty. Like the spitting phenomenon. Chinese spit...a LOT. It's ok, because it's usually presaged by a loud HOOOOWWWWWAAAACCCCCCK..then a pause, then PTOOOOH. So you do have time to not get in the firing line. I attribute it, as outlined in one of my guide books, to the smoking, but also the poor air quality. Bruce and I are ready to leave Hefei. It's nice, but it reminded us of Anaheim in the 1970s...or worse. Hopefully there is a clearer air in the hilly regions of Chengdu.

Well, I hope this has been fun. Allegedly, our plane leaves in 30 mins...but I'm preparing to be disappointed. :) It's all good. The Chinese take it in stride...and I think I should too.

Zai Jian

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:48 Archived in China Tagged me buildings people parties night hotel research prep Comments (1)

Just a few days away

Planning, packing, and preparing

sunny 83 °F
View Preston Family Trip to China on Kwpres's travel map.

I admit it; I'm a technogeek. I have spent the last few days largely focusing on making sure that I take advantage of things that might be useful in the event of unexpected happenings. One thing one can usually be sure of when traveling is the unanticipated and Mr. Murphy's law. (I'll have to find out if there is a Chinese name for Mr. Murphy) I am not saying that I expect "bad" things to happen, I'm simply saying that I want to have as many tools available to deal with sudden changes or the need to pivot to Plan B, C, and so on. (The Chinese have so many more characters in their alphabet; is this why? ;) )

Laurie has done a lot of thinking along the same lines and several days ago presented me with a wonderful notebook full of our reservations, information on possible excursions, and even some Chinese phrases that I should get to know. large_IMG_0280.jpg I must admit that I am not too good at languages (a frustration for my wife who is excellent at them; I wish she was coming!) So...I came up with my techno response: Google translate!

I am bringing my iPhone 5 and have already gotten it "unlocked" (so that I can put a China Mobile sim card in and use it in China on their system!) and have added some nice apps, most of which are free! I have some Seoul apps (even one that helps you find a public toilet!) a Seoul tourism app that does maps, and some other tourism maps that cover sites in Hong Kong and each Chinese city we will be in. While most of these work offline (so you don't need data connections...and roaming charges!) my China mobile sim will give me some data connection. Woo-hoo! I can still iMessage my bride back in the States! I also expect to make use of whatever WiFi my hotels or restaurants have. Portable batteries to charge the phone, my camcorder, plug adapters, a myriad number of other electronic items are joining me on the trip. I really want to make sure we document this. Of course, this blog will be an important part of helping those at home continue to experience it in a small way as well do our "Today is Tuesday, it must be Chengdu" tour!

Finally, I will need some clothing. Yes, even the Chinese don't like to see nekkid foreigners. This part of the planning has been going on since June. I'm using lightweight clothing that can be sink washed and dried overnight. That includes "underclothing" and then keeping the toiletries to a minimum.large_IMG_0281.jpg Most areas in Asia still struggle with their water systems because it will take decades to replace old piping, not because modern water purification systems are unknown to them. I expect a lot of bottled water, even to brush teeth in, but I still hope to find some acceptable swimming pools in order to keep up my "conditioning." I know this will be a physically energetic trip for a couch potato like myself, but I have been working to get myself into a little better shape in order to be a help and not a burden.

I'm getting excited about the coming weekend. Sunday, I leave for Boston where Bruce and the girls are participating in a reunion of those who went over in 2003 when Hayley was added to the family. Monday morning, we leave Logan for a flight to JFK in NYC. Then it's 14.5 hours in a Korean Air Airbus Jumbo for the initial flight to Seoul. I'm getting geared up and ready for this wonderful opportunity to be part of a blessing...

Till then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 15:48 Archived in USA Tagged me research prep Comments (1)

Three weeks to go

being a teacher, I'm consumed by research and "logistical" preparation

I'm the kind of guy who does a lot of research before attacking a major task. This has manifested itself in my work as an educator, my previous life as an investment adviser, and I am taking this forward in preparing for this trip to Asia.
KPresearching.jpg
It's been a major task getting the decks cleared this summer to prepare for this hectic trip through the three main Asian areas we will be visiting. Check my map above for our current inventory. It will be up there for every day of this blog.

So, many of the days show me in this mode getting ready to use our full technology to research, then document and blog. There has been a heavy usage of search engines to find what you can and can't do, especially when it comes to blogging in China. There have also been some books that have been helpful. I know Bruce is using the DK guidebook, and the Lonely Planet series.

My concerns are more mundane. (How to not be an "ugly American" or how to deal with asia's famous "squat toilets." At my age and girth, squatting is something that presents certain anatomical challenges.) Any way, I'm sure have more to say about this and other concepts of great "international import" once we get over there. I will try to keep a regular blog even though we don't have "wheels up" until August 4th. And that's just for Boston!

We head out of the country from JFK on August 5th. First stop, as you can see from the map, is Seoul. I'm currently starting to go through some of my Dad's old letter from his time with the Marine Corps in Korea from 1952-1953. I'm sure he would be stunned to the see the ground today.

More tomorrow...

Cheers,

Coach

Posted by Kwpres 13:08 Archived in USA Tagged prep Comments (0)

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