Last Stop, Beijing — the final installment

Beijing used to be Peking.  Now the only things called Peking are Peking Duck and Peking Airport. On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao (as our guide always called him) seized control of the city, announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China and changed the name back to Beijing.

This was our most anticipated stop.  Here we would visit the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Jim was excited beyond belief to see these places.  In 1976, the Cultural Revolution came to an end.  Remember the picture of the student standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square?  My mother kept a copy of it hanging on the wall in her bedroom. I got my political leanings from her, as did my brother (well, his leans in the other direction) and sister.  Just an FYI for all my Facebook friends!

First stop, check in at the Ritz Carlton. Wow!  Very nice! Since we didn’t make it a habit of staying in really nice hotels, I found the bathroom amenities of special interest … the shampoo, lotions, etc.  This one had a drawer with complimentary shaving kits, toothbrush kits, comb kits, among all the other things. I made sure to remove those everyday so I’d get refills. I’ve got a great supply in my bathroom at home if one of my house guests ever forgets something.

Our first venture out the next day was a drive to see the Great Wall.

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There are several places you can go to climb it.  We went to one of them, Badaling Hills. Once again, we were among the one million Chinese tourists also visiting. We had to stay in a group as we entered the gate, so we were pushing and shoving, as instructed by our guide. He had the exact number of tickets for us to enter and didn’t want anyone to get in the middle of our group and screw things up. Push. Shove. We’re here!

Oh my! This place was amazing. From the parking lot up to the wall was a huge, long hill.

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So we hired a wheel chair for Jim and I to share.  Why walk when you can ride? Jim rode up and I walked. The Wall is 3100 miles long, (or 4000, depending on the expert) built between the 5th century BC and 16th century AD. No, we didn’t walk the whole thing. Once on the wall, we decided we didn’t need to make a contest of it. We went halfway up the first segment, looked around and decided we’d just tell everyone we climbed the whole segment or the whole thing depending on who we were talking to. Steps in China never have handrails.  We were a little concerned with the crowds around us that we’d get bumped and go tumbling down.  The views were amazing … the valleys … the hills … other segments of the wall. Yep. It looked just like the postcards. Seriously, it was amazing.

We drove back to Beijing and went to the Sacred Way.  This was a tree-lined avenue bordered with massive sculptures of animals. As I remember, it was 1.5 miles long. They really were trying to kill us! And remember, it was in the high 90s to low 100s.

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This avenue led to the Ming tombs. By the time we got to the tombs, after having done the Great Wall, most of us just wanted to know where were the buses.  Remember, we were all old.

The buses then took us to a hutong. Many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. The older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations. These are narrow alleys with residences and businesses along each side.

We took pedicab rides around the area and spent some time in one of the residences. Our driver had to work really hard to get Jim and I around.  We are not skinny minnies.  When it came time to pay, I paid him for 3 people! Maybe I should have paid for 4. He was a really skinny man.

Back to the hotel to clean up and go to dinner.  Once back from dinner, Jim and I enjoyed hanging in the cocktail lounge … our favorite end of the day activity.

Next day, up and about to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square was one of my most memorable places.

It was enormous and imposing. It can hold one million people. This is where Mao Zedong lies in state in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall.

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Another huge building is the Gate of Heavenly Peace with a gigantic picture of Mao on the outside of it facing the square. He’s watching us!

From there we walked into the Forbidden City. This was the Imperial Palace from the Ming to Qing dynasties, 1420-1912. There were 999 rooms. Who knows why they didn’t add one more.  Our guide told us why, but I didn’t quite understand it.  Something about religion or superstition.  Since it was the palace of the Emperor, no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission.

Now here’s where it gets interesting!  Remember when I mentioned the name tags in my earlier post?  This is where they come into play. We were to wear these tags at all times.  Our guide had put his cell number on the back, in case we got lost. We were instructed to find someone with a cell phone and call him. Once again, we were in mobs of people. At one point, we stopped at a gate and Jonathon told us to go into this one particular square, look around for 45 minutes and then come back to this same spot. Off we went to take our pictures, etc.  The crowds got to be too much and I told Jim I was heading back to our meeting place. He proceeded on.

Back at the meeting place, Jonathon began counting heads.  I could tell he was coming up short.  After his second count, I was able to get his attention to tell him Jim wasn’t there. We had rented a wheel chair here, so Jonathon and our wheel chair guy went in to look for him.  They couldn’t find him.  They went back in a second time.  No dice. After waiting another 15 minutes or so, we made our way to the gardens, hoping he was there.  He wasn’t.  So Jonathan and the wheel chair guy went back in to look for him.  Still no Jim. We were due at the lunch place and Jonathan was not sure what he should do. One of his group was lost! Finally, he made the decision to leave. When we got on the bus, he came to me to talk.  That’s when he found out Jim wasn’t wearing his name tag. Then I had to tell him Jim didn’t have his room key. And then I had to admit he didn’t have the card with the name and address of the hotel. Now he really got concerned.

Finally I told him, “Jonathon, this is not his first rodeo.  He’ll just have to get a cab back to the Ritz Carlton.” Kinda cold hearted, I know.  But, there was a bus load of people just waiting around getting hungrier and hungrier.  Herein was the problem. There were two Ritz Carltons in Beijing, on opposite sides of town. There was a good chance he would end up at the wrong one. Off we went to lunch.  Jonathon was so quiet.  Usually, he was talking while we were riding.  Then, his phone rang.  Jim managed to call the other guide to contact Jonathon that he was getting a cab back to the hotel. Jonathon was so relieved.  Now he was the guide we knew and loved … talking, laughing.  He told us that this was the first time he ever lost anyone in 20 years of being a guide. Jim loves being first!

This is Jim’s account of his wonderful adventure:

The morning we were leaving the hotel to go to the Forbidden City, my name tag fell behind the end table. My name had long been smudged off, so I left it there. The Forbidden City was so much bigger than I expected. And there were thousands of Chinese tourists. Our guide told us where to meet and at what time.  I, of course, was not listening leaving it all up to Irene. 

I went into the garden and took some pictures then left to go back. I could not find Irene anywhere nor could I find anyone from our tour group. I walked all the way back to the entrance gate and saw a shack with a sign that said tour guides.  They told me I had the go all the way back to the garden. I had just had total knee replacement in March and again in June, I wasn’t sure I could make it. I started walking and soon saw a couple walking toward me with Viking River Cruise name tags. They were from the other bus and had told their guide they would be going on there own. I got the phone number of the other guide but I could not call from their phone or mine. We had been told to just ask anyone and they would let you use their phone. But very few spoke English. I did see a couple that looked non Asian, I asked to use their phone and I was able to call Jimmy (the other guide) and asked him to call Jonathan. I was not worried about me, I knew I was going to be able to get back to the hotel. I was concerned about Irene and the rest of the group. I walked out of the Forbidden City and started looking for a taxi. None of the drivers understood what I was saying when I asked to go to the Ritz Carlton. Finally one held up two fingers and said two hundred. At this point I didn’t care what it was going to cost. I got into the taxi and we started. Soon the driver turned to me with his cell phone and pointed to the screen. He was listing all the hotels in Beijing and he did have the Ritz Carlton in the center. I said, ” Yes, that’s it.”  About five miles later he let me off at the hotel …  it was the wrong one. There were two Ritz Carltons in Beijing. Each was about five miles in opposite directions from the Forbidden City. Luckily Jonathan had called the hotel in case I would be brought to the wrong one. They put me in a taxi and I was soon at the correct hotel. Shortly after the bus came and Jonathan gave me a big hug. When I told him my story he laughed and said, ” Those cab drivers couldn’t even pronounce Witz Cawton.”

Next day, we were heading home.  Tired, but ready to sleep in our own beds and sit in our own chairs.

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Can you say Xian?

I didn’t think so.  Neither can I … I think I learned how to say it when I was there, but it escapes me … as does a lot of things nowadays.

After driving to Chongqing, we went to the zoo to see the Pandas. Having lived in San Diego, CA for nine years, I had seen the pandas many times at the San Diego Zoo, so I wasn’t really interested. 0817162111b

We had lunch and then flew to Xian. This city dates back 3000 years. Here, in the U.S., we think  our 150 year old buildings are old. We’re very impressed with things dating from the 1800s, hence the popularity of Antiques Road Show. Xian was the capital of China for 12 imperial dynasties. It sits at the terminus of the old Silk Road. There was a wall with a moat around the city which I would have liked to have seen, but we didn’t have the energy to walk any segment of it, nor did we feel inclined to bicycle around it. Actually, I don’t bicycle anywhere.  Lord, I might break a hip or something.

We boarded our buses for the ride to our hotels.  We stayed at the Hilton.  Actually, all the hotels we stayed at were top-notch; more top-notch than we ever choose ourselves. We never thought about the fact that we were, in fact, paying for them. So we were just very impressed and felt very wealthy …  hobnobbing and all that. I had forgotten my hair gel when I packed and there was no shop on our boat, so I asked at the front desk if they had a gift shop where I could get some. There was not. After a little confusion as to what I was asking, one of the managers told one of the other managers, (an assistant, I assume, and he was really cute) to take me out to a salon where I could get some. Having seen the traffic on the big divided street as we came in, I was a little fearful. Scary, crazy drivers.0818160719a-640x480So Jim and I and this manager ventured out into traffic “hell”.  We crossed it without losing life or limb and entered a barber shop.  All the men turned and watched us.  Really.  All activity stopped. After gesturing and head shaking, I managed to get this one man to understand I wanted gel.  I got some in a really pretty pink bottle.  I don’t know what kind it is because I can’t read Chinese.  And I think it cost a lot of money.pink-mousseAnd I would have liked to have stayed around that shop longer because one man was getting pin curls in his hair. You older ladies will know what those are.  I wonder what he looked like in his “finished state”?  Then, you guessed it, we had to cross the street from “hell”, again. We made it!  Life was all good after that. I might have looked really dorky with those black braces on my feet and ankles, but my hair looked good. And it smelled really good, as well.  I had been using a hairspray that I found in my cupboard at home and once I had to use it, I remembered why I had it in the cupboard.  I hated the smell!  Well, now my hair smelled good, in case anyone wanted to smell it.

We ate dinner at the hotel that night and just did our own thing.  Some people went out and shopped;  others did the city wall thing.  We did the drinking in the cocktail lounge thing.

Xian is the sight of the Terracotta Warriors. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what they are, don’t feel bad.  I’ve found many people since we got back that never heard of them. The Tang Dynasty ruled over China from 618 to 907.  One of the greatest emperors, Qin, (pronounced Chin) wanted to be sure he was protected even after he died, so he had an army of warriors sculpted to protect his flanks in his afterlife.  These were all formed from terracotta and were life-size. Their faces were all different to resemble actual men in his army.  They’re dressed in the kind of uniform they would have worn based on their station on life. And their hats are different.

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In 1974, a farmer digging for a well unearthed part of these figures. A young archaeologist heard about it and the excavation began.  There are now 7000 figures that have been unearthed. There are many more, but they need to find a way to unearth those until they can find a way to do so without the painted surfaces getting destroyed.  There are even horses and chariots! And they haven’t opened Qin’s tomb because he was buried on a layer of mercury. They don’t know how to deal with that either.

As with every other “touristy” spot, about a million Chinese were vacationing and visiting here too.  This time, though, they didn’t have their umbrellas as this was indoors. I didn’t have to worry about getting stabbed in the eye.  We learned here as well, that Chinese have no “personal space”. To a Westerner, this was disconcerting to say the least. I still chuckle when I think about a very nice, quiet, proper, lady from Scotland elbowing people out-of-the-way while trying to move back from an exhibit. I guess you could say our tempers were being tested.  And we weren’t winning. My own confession?  I was near the front of one exhibit and was in the process of taking a picture when a lady squeezed in front of me, blocking my view. So what did I do?  Every time she raised her camera, I leaned into her so her camera jostled. She never even noticed or looked around. Kinda spoiled my fun. Okay, so now you know … I have a mean streak in a “get back atcha” kind of way.

Thankfully, this was all indoors so it wasn’t quite so hot. Not cold, mind you. They don’t seem to have cold air-conditioning over there. But, it wasn’t hot until we walked outside into the high 90s, once again.

Believe it or not, when we got back to the hotel, we decided to go out and find some of the shops people had told us they found the night before. We never found them, but we did manage to get lost.  After some mini arguments, we made it back to the hotel.  I was right, of course.  I have a great sense of direction.  Really great. Great sense of direction. Believe me. (mimicking Donald Trump, here).

That night we went to the Tang Dynasty dinner and show.  On the way, we saw a telephone lineman’s nightmare. 1471516747137-320x240I really enjoyed the  beautiful costumes and the dances, which were ballet-type dancing with a little acrobatic during some of the stories.  All in all, it was a good, but exhausting day. Again. Time to pack up to get ready to leave the next day for Beijing. This will our final city before we fly home.  Bring on the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  We are ready!

 

 

 

 

Three Gorges Dam … and then some

Goodbye Wuhan……Hello Three Gorges. As we were departing Wuhan and heading down the Yangtze, we happened to look out and see … what else?  A Walmart!0814162253 (640x623)

That’s some kind of cruise ship that we are passing.  We saw a number of them in different areas. Notice the high rises.  It’s quite common to see these all over the place.  The cities seem to build up, not out.

But, we did find little towns along the river that just appeared.  0815160137a (640x480)

We were told that a building boom occurred via corrupt officials and contractors that resulted in many buildings never being utilized.  Ghost towns.  I don’t know if this was one of them, but it sure looked ghostly to me.  And yes, the water color is accurate.  It was brown, for sure.

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I don’t have anything to say about this.  I just liked it.

Eventually, we arrived at the dam.  You couldn’t go on or into the dam.  You had to view it from above. To get up there, you had to climb a 1,000,000 stairs.  Well, there were landings after every 100,000. Okay, so I exaggerated — there were only 900,000. Here’s what it looked like from the top.0815160405 (640x480)

I know my civil engineer brother John will be very chagrined with me if he reads this, but it didn’t impress me much.  I know it’s an engineering marvel, but when’s lunch? I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. It was really big, though.0815160411 (640x480)

The worse part, our trusty guide, Jonathon told us it would be an easy 5 minute walk down to the buses.  A walk in the park he said. Well, we did walk through a park. It was a walk from hell. We all learned then that he lied.  We never believed him after that when he would tell us about short walks, etc. It was hot, we were sweaty and we all just plodded along, putting one foot in front of the other. Did I mention the Chinese all had these pretty little umbrellas to protect them from the sun?  You had to be really careful around them or you’d lose an eye. I wanted one, but never had an opportunity to get one. Not the pretty ones they walked around with. And they all had Chinese fans.  I brought one back for my granddaughter, but I don’t think it was much of a hit. Remember when we had those growing up?

The next day, we had an excursion to go on sampan boats into the Lesser Three Gorges below this dam. Some of the most beautiful scenery occurred here.  The Ba people used to hang their coffins on the hills a thousand years ago.   The villages and farms along here were abandoned and the people relocated when they built the dam.  I must confess at this point, I didn’t go on this excursion.  Boats aren’t my favorite thing.  AND — Jonathon said we would not have the ability to go to the bathroom for the hour and a half trip.  That did it for me.  Count me out! I didn’t want to get motion sick and have to pee all at the same time. No sirree, Bob. Jim went but he didn’t see any of the hanging coffins. And he said the boat would not have made me sick. I still would have had to pee.

The bus took us back to the ship and off we went on our way to Shibaozhai where we would see  and visit the Shibaozhai Temple.  It was built in 1819, without the use of nails, I was told.

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When we arrived those steps were filled with people washing their clothing in the river.  I’m not sure how clean they could get them in that brown water, but they were washing, nonetheless. We had to walk off the wharf, up 50 or so steps, up a hill, through a village and then cross a suspension bridge to get to the temple. Confession time again … I didn’t go. I stayed on the boat and talked to the other wimps, of which there were four. Jim walked up and through the village but didn’t go all the way to the bridge. It was really hot and his legs were bothering him. My feet yelled “uncle” days before. I looked at all those steps and that hill and it was all she wrote.  Not to mention suspension bridges.  Aren’t those the things that sway and you can see through them?  Yep, that was the case!

Jim got pretty done in by his day and ended up falling asleep kinda early.  I was sitting on the balcony reading in my pjs while we sailed along.  I could see something blue off in the distance. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it looked like it might be interesting so I kept my eye on it.  As we got closer, I realized it might pass by on the other side of the boat and I might miss it.  So, I decided to head up to the observation deck where I could see better.  Most nights it was pretty quiet up in the lounge so I just kept my pjs on.  Who would see me, really?  Well, it was our last night onboard and I forgot its always a big deal.  I walked into the lounge to get out on the deck and the place was packed, what with people doing the Macarena and such.  I pretended like I was invisible and went out on the deck.  What a marvelous sight!

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It was a bridge!  And the suspension sections kept changing. I loved it! On the one bank was a city with skyscraper after skyscraper.  On the other, it appeared to be a hotel or resort complex.  As we passed under it, people on the bridge were yelling down, “Hello.”  We were yelling back.  By this time, everyone from inside the boat had come out.  I took that opportunity to slink back to my room. What the heck — I’ll never see these people again.

Tomorrow, we get off the ship at Chongqing (chongching is how it’s pronounced.)

 

On to Wuhan …

Right, I never heard of it either. It’s the gateway to the Yangtze River Gorges.  We flew out of Shanghai and were told that any flight within three hours of the scheduled flight time was considered on time.  I believe we waited an extra hour to board.  I guess pretty good by Chinese standards. Did I say, “I hate waiting?”  Well, I do.

We were given box lunches to eat while we were waiting to fly out.  We all started digging in when I discovered all my sandwich halves had mayo on them.  Did I mention I hate mayo?  I really didn’t know Chinese people ate mayo.  I thought it was an English thing. So I threw them away and made Jim promise if they gave us peanuts on the flight, he’d give me his.

It was a pleasant enough flight and they actually served lunch, so I arrived well fed. But, I was tired and cranky –mayo on sandwiches does that to me. We boarded our buses and were told it would be about 45 minutes into town.  Wow!  Such a lot of construction going on.  Since our boat wasn’t going to be ready, we were going to stop at a museum. I like museums. I really couldn’t tell you much about this museum because all-in-all, we saw so many museums they all ran together.

The one thing about this one was the entertainment.  They had a little ensemble of retired people who performed Chinese music for us.  Delightful!  There were three men who played something called a 2-string violin. This instrument sat between their legs like a cello and only had the 2 strings — hence the name. The man that sat in the very front — I guess he was the first chair — was very animated and clearly loved performing.  The man behind him and to his right never even smiled. I enjoyed the women who played things I can’t identify. They finished with Auld Lang Syne. We stood and cheered.  It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.  I wish I had taken a picture.

We boarded our ship and while dining, started our journey down the Yangtze River. The next day, we took an excursion to an elementary school in Yueyang. This was another of my favorite things. As we walked onto the school grounds, two lines of students were lined up saying, “Welcome to our school.”  They put on performances for us and then we went into individual classrooms for discussion with the teachers.  Since this was summer break, so only the students who lived nearby were the ones in attendance for us. Can you imagine this happening in the U.S?0813162137 (640x480)0813162143a

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This was a 6th grade math class.  There were 75 students in the class; 41 of them boys.

If you notice, some of the students had red ties.  These are the exemplary students.  They achieve high scores and are designated as good citizens.  There are four levels they need to achieve during their schooling years.  If they achieve the 4th level, they can become Party members, which affords them all the perks of being such. They get the best university opportunies, jobs, etc. Our guide was not a party member.  Most of China’s citizens aren’t.

Prior to making this trip, I knew we would be visiting a school, so I went to the dollar store and bought pencils and such to give out. All were made in China!  Of course. I gave them out anyway because so many of the students are poor at this school.  Viking River Crusies sponsors this school — actually they sponsor three of them in China.

Back on the ship and heading 150 miles to the Three Gorges Dam.  I’ll fill you in on the next post.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Good Morning, China!

Our first full day in China started by meeting our guide, Jonathan.  This is not his real name.  None of the guides used their real names.  They all had English names. This I noticed was true for the hotel staffs too. I guess they figured out we would never be able to pronounce or even figure out how to say their Chinese names. So –simplify!

We were all given name tags.  On the back, our guide had written his phone number in case we ever got separated from the group, we could call him or have some sympathetic bystander do so. We were instructed to always wear our name tag.  Remember this because it will come into play later in this blog.

Before I proceed any further, I must inform you that I hate hot weather. Many of you hibernate in the winter.  I hibernate in the summer. Sunshine, let’s get this show on the road!

First stop — Yuyuan Gardens. These five acres of gardens date back to the Ming Dynasty. These weren’t gardens in the sense of large rolling hills with patches of azaleas, various flowers and fish ponds like I’ve been used to in the U.S. These were a different kind of beautiful.  And old, really old.

And it was hot.  Really hot. Like 97 degrees hot. We learned that in stepping over a threshold, men stepped with their left foot first, women with their right.  Or maybe vice versa.  I guess I didn’t really learn it. I don’t remember why. I think it had something to do with fertility. I must have been talking when he was explaining.

We left the gardens and walked to a silk embroidery factory.  I think this was a 10K walk. Chinese people walk a lot and we soon learned when we were told it would be a short easy walk, we shouldn’t believe it. Between walking in the gardens and walking to the factory, someone who had a Fitbit on said we walked 5 miles.

The silk embroidery was beautiful.  There was lady doing a demo and it was a real art.  A dying art, actually, because young people don’t want to sit quietly to do something like this.  For those of us who do needlework, we found this to be sad. All of the pictures for sale were quite expensive — $$$$.  Since I already spent $$$$ on this trip, my budget didn’t allow the expenditure on any of them.  😦

We went upstairs for lunch, the first of our Chinese meals.  We got beer!!  Can we say, “Hooray?” Boy, it sure went down good.  (I’m not a beer drinker, but I really liked all of the Chinese beer we drank.)  We ate an array of things; most of which we didn’t know.  Some good, some not so good.

We left and got on the bus to head to Shanghai Museum. This museum displayed 5,000 years of their history.  Boy, the United States is such a baby! I think the population of Shanghai is 25 million and 24 million were in the museum that day. Jim and I did a quick perusal of some of the exhibits and then found some benches to sit on.  We really should have trained for a marathon before we took this trip.

After freshening up at the hotel (a really nice Westin, btw), we went for dinner and then on to see the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. In China, when they start school. it’s determined what they are good at and that seems to be what they study.  So, this troupe was made up of those who studied at least 10 years.  What I saw was very good, but I have to confess, I fell asleep and woke up at the end when the motorcyclists were taking their bow. I understand they were the hit of the show.  But the long flight and busy day got the best of me.

Tomorrow we fly to Wuhan……………….

 

Time flies when you’re older, but this is ridiculous!

I have to say, I need to really concentrate to determine what I’ve done this year so far.  It’s just been jam-packed; not with all pleasant things, either.

January and February are a blur.  Did I have fun?  I can’t remember. But then, I can’t remember a lot of things.  Time to get more serious about Lumosity. It’s supposed to keep our minds young — or something.

March —  Jim got his first knee replacement. That required nursing and transporting on my part. He healed pretty quickly, but there were 3x a week physical therapy sessions that I had to take him to until he was able to drive himself.  Since it was his left knee, he was able to do this within a few weeks.

April — I had house guests and my son’s 50th birthday party to plan and host. All in all, it was a fun month, but busy.

May — Well it started off with a trip to New Bern, NC with my kids. That trip included a trip to Aurora, NC to dig for fossils and shark’s teeth.

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Well — some of us did!

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This little girl was not one of us, but she sure did know her stuff!

Back and forth between Raleigh and the beach.  The month ended with my family coming down to the beach for Memorial weekend.  I believe it rained a lot. But remember, my faulty memory.

June — The 1st to be exact. Jim got his right knee replaced. More surgery and therapy. This required more driving on my part because he needed his right leg to drive.  But all went well and before long, he was taking care of himself. We paid for a Viking River Cruise to China to take place in August and the emphasis was on Jim being well enough and in good enough shape to be able to walk without trouble.

July — And then it happened!  My kids came down to the beach for the 4th and we decided to go to Brookgreen Gardens.  It was so hot and humid, we decided to cut the day short and head to the zoo area.  Well, a lesson for all of us — don’t walk along reading a map or this will happen to you.0705160744_resized

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Two weeks later when I decided I really needed to see a doctor.

Walked right off the curb. I have to admit, I tell younger people I was playing Pokemon Go and wasn’t looking where I was walking.  It just sounds better than being a dope, doesn’t it? As a result of this, I wasn’t able to walk much for the rest of July.  Since time was of the essence, I elected to do physical therapy five days a week.  Three days a week just wasn’t going to work.

August. The progress on my feet and ankles was encouraging.  I’d be able to do it! Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus! Now, pay attention. Never minimize any physical ailment at the check-in counter at the airport! You get perks!  Like a wheel chair and early boarding. Don’t let pride get in the way! Accept it and rejoice. Well, this lasted until we got to China.  They didn’t care about this sort of thing. I was on my own.  They didn’t seem to care about people movers at the airport much, either.

The swelling in my feet and ankles had pretty much dissipated by the time we left Raleigh.  But, by the time we arrived in Shanghai, they were enormous and stayed that way the entire trip. Our first day, we were free to do what we wanted.  So we went to the Bund.0811160822 (640x480)0811160830a

While there, Jim’s camera on his phone wouldn’t work. Now after an 17 hour flight, I didn’t have much in the way of patience.  Not that I ever really have, truth be told. With that in mind, I saw a couple of young Chinese guys.  Who better to ask for help, right?  Don’t all young men know electronics?  I got up and walked over to them and asked if they spoke English, which they didn’t.  Through sign language and gestures, I didn’t exactly get my point across — did they have an iphone and could they figure out what was wrong.  They thought I wanted them to take our picture. So we had no choice but to stand there and let them take one, which of course we knew wouldn’t work. At that point, they fooled with it, got it fixed and took the picture.  I knew they could fix it! You go, Irene. At that point, a lady they were with came running over and wanted all of them to take a picture with us.  We found this to be the case throughout our trip.  They wanted pictures taken with Americans — some of whom were British, but who was going to tell them?  Or did they think we were Bristish and didn’t care that we were Americans? I regret I didn’t take the same picture. So here’s the one of Jim and I.

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I’ve bored you enough for this post.  The next post will give you more insight into the actual trip, our reflections and how I am convinced our tour guide tried to kill me with all the walking. I can tell you’ve had enough.  I can see your eyes rolling.

A Mutual Admiration Society

Back in the summer of 2002, I moved from Southern California to Raleigh, North Carolina. After getting settled into my new home, I decided I needed a job or something. I got back into volunteering. I tried a number of things: helping with blood drives for the Red Cross, working with Habitat for Humanity, and others. And then, yahoo!  I noticed an article in the newspaper about the USO needing volunteers to help in their Center at the Raleigh-Durham airport. Well, help is what I’m all about! Heck, I owned bakeries. I can serve people food. I managed a coffee house.  I can definitely make coffee. I got on this right away.

I got assigned to the every other Friday evening, 7 to 11 p.m. shift. I worked with a great guy who had been in the Navy. Mike introduced me to YouTube. When it was a slow night, we’d laugh at things people posted. What kinds of “official” duties did we manage?  We’d make sure anyone wanting entry into our Center had some sort of military ID and we’d have them sign in. We’d offer them food and snacks. We’d give them general Center information: computer passwords, calling cards if they needed to make calls, personal care items they might need, etc. It was a small Center and had about 100 volunteers, many of whom were there doing something all the time.  USO.2

A few years later, I became an employee — Administrative Assistant. This was before, or in the early stages, of everything being computerized. I created tons of spreadsheets to make my job easier. And then — someone from the new Center at the Charlotte airport created a computer program for volunteers to sign up for shifts or cancel their shift, and log in their hours.  Revolutionary!  I loved my job! And then … I moved to South Carolina. I mourned my time at the USO. This was back in 2008.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’m back!  Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. When the airport completed renovations on Terminal 2, the USO moved into space there.  Much larger and more modern. There are now 300+ volunteers divided into categories: Center volunteers, Ambassadors (they wander the terminal looking for military who might not be aware there is a USO available to them), and Out of Center volunteers (this is what I get to do). I can’t work in the Center until someone currently holding a shift decides to give it up.

Yesterday I worked Guard 2 Beach, a bike ride from the National Guard Joint Force Headquarters here in Raleigh, to Carolina Beach, NC. It’s a 3 day bike ride. We handed out water, energy bars, etc. They thanked us. We in turn thanked them. A mutual admiration society. All branches of the military were represented among the riders, along with some civilians. 0520160948c

That’s me. A civilian. I’m not related to anyone who has ever been in the military. And sometimes I feel like an outsider. When I worked in the Center years ago, it never seemed to come up.  But, when I’m working these events the conversation always seems to get around to their connection. A son or daughter serving. A husband. A wife. A brother or sister. Growing up a military brat. Retired from the military. When I was asked yesterday by one of the men, who I had in the military, I responded, “No one, I just volunteer because …” I found I couldn’t articulate an answer.  He answered for me, “Because it was the right thing to do.” It made me feel accepted. ‘nuf said.

Is Camino de Santiago in my future?

About 30 years ago, I read or heard of Shirley MacClaine’s decision to embark on a spiritual walk — Camino de Santiago in Spain. I’ve been interested in giving it a shot ever since. The spiritual aspect is less important to me than the experience part. There are several routes to take — some more strenuous than others. The distance is anywhere from 400 – 500 miles. Many people do about 10-15 miles a day. You don’t have to walk the entire length at any one time. You can do as much as you want. In 2014, there were 200,000 people who set out on this journey. The Camino de Santiago is a series of routes stretching across Europe and coming together in Santiago. These walks were first taken in the 9th century. I have no idea where on the map these walks start. I need to check Google maps or Google Earth, which is what Jim just did.  “Yo, look at those mountains!” (The Pyrenees.) I’m guessing we won’t be doing that part. Which actual route we would take would need to be researched and decided on — mainly which is flattest! I’m thinking the  Camino Frances — Sarria to Santiago, the most popular. This would be of moderate grade and we’d get the Compostela because we would complete 100 km.

 

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Cathedral Santiago de Compostela  courtesy: hdwallpapers.cat

 

What brought it to the forefront of my mind after all these years/decades, really?  Well, on Saturday when I was working the golf tournament as a USO Volunteer, another volunteer (not USO) shared the Coke trailer with me. She mentioned she and her husband had done the walk twice. The last time, two years ago. She was just a few years younger than me and didn’t look to be in any better shape than me, so I got really excited. I wish I had exchanged phone numbers with her because I have more questions.

Jim and I are taking a trip to China in August and as he was looking at the questions required on the visa, I was telling him about wanting to do this walk. When he asked where on our trip to-do list I wanted to place it, I replied, “At the top.”

He paused a good pause and said, “Before Paris and Istanbul?” You betcha. I’ve been to Paris a number of times, and even though it’s my favorite city, I always prefer new experiences. I’ve not been to Istanbul, but Jim has. It was actually at the top of the list, but got bumped by this walk. It can wait a little while longer, I think. Maybe by the time we go next year, Turkey and Syria will have gotten their acts together.  Dream on, Irene.

Too Many Distractions or is it ADD?

I know, I know.  I’ve been MIA. I’m thinking goals don’t work for me.  I set a goal of posting once a week or once a month, or whatever. I can’t remember what my goal was. Obviously, it hasn’t been working for me. I kicked that goal to the sidelines. I guess it’s just that I’ve been distracted. Too many activities. And we won’t discuss the days spent just sitting on my butt playing games on my electronics. No — we won’t discuss that. You all know about that. You wake up and play a few games while you drink your coffee and next thing you know six hours have gone by. What the heck?  Where has the morning gone?  And I haven’t had my breakfast! Do I eat breakfast or just go right to lunch?  I do that too often anymore.

Since moving back to Raleigh, for the most part, I’ve been filling my calendar with volunteering. And since my grandchildren go to year-round schools, I help with them while they are tracked out, which happens about every ten weeks. They are just finishing up three weeks of being out of school. Tomorrow will be a rude awakening when they have to get up early again. Well, not for my grandson.  He still gets up early. But my granddaughter — that’s another story.  Her days have been beginning at noon. Tomorrow, six a.m. is gonna be real early.

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One of the volunteer jobs I’ve taken on is tending the rose gardens at the North Carolina Museum of Art, here in Raleigh. My grandson, Shane, enjoys working with plants so I’ve taken him with me on a few occasions to help clip stems and pull “the oaks”, which is the seedlings of oak trees that have taken root.  He seems to like pulling “the oaks” best. The roses hurt. We say, “ow” a lot. Pulling the oaks doesn’t hurt. The don’t bite back. You’ll notice his gloves.  They don’t make gloves small enough for a six-year-old. These were the smallest to be found.  He was pretty jazzed about them and the plants we bought for his house.  You need to take a bucket full of money any time you shop with kids, no matter what kind of store you go into.

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Most times, I go by myself.  I get more accomplished. His attention only lasts for about 45 minutes. Actually, my attention really only lasts for 45 minutes, but I don’t want to be called a wimp, so I tough it out. Act like a grown up. And let’s face it, those rose bushes are mean. Stop paying attention just for a minute and they stick you with those nasty thorns. Why did God make such pretty flowers and then add those thorns, I wonder?

I went this morning and as I was driving home, I had to keep pulling thorns from my arms and legs that had decided to embed themselves in me.  I was so scratched up, I didn’t even feel them stick me. Of course, I had those bloody spots I had to keep wiping. I chose to work today in a pretty bed of yellow roses.  They smelled so good, I decided to stick around. And they in turn, stuck me.

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There are 800 bushes planted around the museum, so the work is never-ending. We need more volunteers. Anyone live in the Raleigh area?

Wish my mom were alive and living here.  She’d have those roses trimmed in a second. My Mom would get a kick out of me gardening. When I was a kid growing up, we had to work in her gardens everyday before we could go play. I hated it. I would bargain to do other things, like dust, but it never worked. And here I am, voluntarily gardening. Go figure. Must have rubbed off.

Actually, it wouldn’t hurt if I did some dusting and vacuuming in my house. What a switcheroo I’ve done.  I’ve gone from bargaining to dust to get out of gardening, now I garden to get out of dusting. Whoa! Scary. I’ve become my Mom.

So tomorrow?  I will be selling beer and Cokes at the Rex Open Golf Tournament. The USO is a recipient of the money made on selling these refreshments. The last time I worked a golf tournament, I sold Mulligan’s. I had no idea what they were until one of the golfers told me they were do-overs. Do-overs are good things.  We should have more opportunities for them. I think selling beer will be more fun. I’m guessing I can’t drink any, though. Dang.  I’d really have a good time. And I’d be such a hoot!

 

 

Thin mint whore

From one of my favorite bloggers …..

Aging Gracefully My Ass

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Recently heard at a TMA meeting: “My name is AGMA and I’m a Thin Mint whore.”

I know. Shocking. But I bet I’ll get a lot of views because I used the word whore.

It’s been my dirty little secret. For nearly four weeks every year, for the past 55 years, I have given myself over to a life of Thin Mint lust and passion.

It started innocently enough back in the early 60’s when I did my first stint as a Brownie. That’s how they do it – they get started when you’re young. They let you “sample” the goods, teasing you with things to come, knowing full well that you will want more. Much more. And I did.

Then I started supplying; selling them door to door when I became a Girl Scout. Back in the day, there was no parental unit taking an order sheet to work…

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