May 07

Trip Report — Germany 20April -06May 2017 with Jonathan ★★★★★

I felt it necessary to return at least once more to Germany, and this time, to also do a long bike ride. Jon became very interested in doing that with me. The plan was to ride from Benningen am Neckar to Krefeld am Rhein, then take the train to Berlin, then Würzburg to see Katja and Hannes, and then home from Frankfurt. In Benningen, we would spend time with Heinz and Debbie, and in Krefeld, with Herbert.

After arriving at the Seatac airport, we were informed that the Lufthansa computers were shut down, and taking a while to reboot. Thankfully, they got everything ultimately fixed, and we were checked in. It was quite easy to get the bicycle on. There was a group from Moses Lake on the same plane, headed for Nigeria for a medical/dental project, and I was pleased to see an old acquaintance, the retired surgeon Jim Irwin.   After boarding the plane, a brief moment of panic ensued when we realized that Jon left a bag in the terminal; fortunately it was able to retrieve it right as the plane was closing its doors. The plane was a 747 and fully loaded. I can’t really describe the flight because I slept through it, thanks to a sleeping pill. Our arrival in Frankfurt and getting our bags with Jon’s bike was uneventful.

Arrival in Germany

Friday, day 1 Much of what happened the first day we don’t remember. We were able to get the bike box to the bike shop without a problem, and get it reassembled. On checking with the Deutsche Bahn, we were informed that we could not take the train route that I had planned and used before, but had to go through Karlsruhe. They gave us a schedule with a number of transfers. At first things seemed ok, transferring in Weisbaden and then Mainz, but on the way to Karlsruhe, we were informed that there was a problem with the track, and that the train would go no further. No advice regarding what we should do was offered. Thankfully for a young student with a bike next to us, we caught a train in another direction, then transferred again, and after a bit of hassle, finally made it to Karlsruhe. Even then, the train to Karlsruhe stopped at every stop like a bus, and ended short of the Hauptbahnhof, making us figure out what to do from there. We were late with that connection, the transfer in Stuttgart was again late, and 20 phonecalls later to Debbie Fuchs, we finally had Heinz just get us in Ludwigsburg. It was a delightful evening with Heinz and Debbie, but jetlag had us zoned early. Debbie made us a wonderful meal with Spatzele, and the things she wanted from America were dug out, making our bags lighter.

Debbie and Heinz Fuchs

Jon and I ready to roll

Saturday, after breakfast, I realized that the bike was missing its front rack. Thankfully, Heinz was able to find it in the garage and it easily installed. The Neckar Radweg was quite easy to follow, and we rarely had any problems with feeling lost. It was a beautiful ride, passing mostly through wine country. I did not record this 30+ mile segment on Garmin. The weather was overcast and cool, with only a light rain, atarting just becore we got to Heilbronn. The owners of a hotel Die Grüne Krone were most friendly. We took showers, went out to dinner at Die Barfüßer, were they brewed their own beer. Beer never tasted so good! It was nice having real German food again.

Riding the Neckar, with a light rain.

vineyards along the Neckar

Heilbronn Rathaus. Probably seen by grandfather on his way to America

Wonderful hotel, die Grüne Krone.

Sunday 23April —  Today was fairly uneventfkul. There was no tain, but  it was mostly cloudy and cold. The Neckar valley was broader now, with fewer wineyards. There were plentiful castles and ancient structures along the, most of which  could not be nicely photographed. A moderate amount of the trail was gravel, but still easy to ride on. The bikes worked well without problem. Arrival in Heidelberg brought back old memories, and Jon and I stayed at a hotel where Betsy and I stayed, the Tannhauser. Dinner was delicious, and Jon and I crashed early, ready for another day.

Jon in excellent form

Typical Travel

Castles everywhere

Gutenberg house

Jon loved the Spargel

Monday. 24April —Today was absolutely beautiful, riding through both countryside and industrial areas. Starting in Heidelburg, we crossed over the Neckar and rode though fields that flanked the Neckar. It was sunny all day, and reasonably warm. The trail eventually ran close to the Neckar as we came into Mannheim, coming right to the junction of the Neckar and Rhein. We decided to stay on the right side of the Rhein until we got to Worms. The bridge at Worms was a mix of the old brick Niebelung Brüke and modern construction. After quickly finding a hotel, we toured the Luther Denkmal, as well as the cathedral (Wörmer Dom), probably a site for Luther’s trial. After a Wörmer Diät of Schweinemedallions und Spargel, washed down with sufficient beer, we crashed for a bit, then went out for a beer, engaging in conversation with a very nice German software salesman from Northern Germany. Bedtime was a little more normal today.

Niebelung Brücke

Luther Memorial in Worms

Wörmer Dom, possibly where Luther was held for trial

Worms city wall

Tuesday, 25April—Last night, the conversation at the bar strongly advised us to stay in Mainz. Unfortunately, there was a Messe in Mainz (convention) which tied up all the hotel rooms well outside the city. Bike travel went quite well, but it was very cold. We were quite bundled up. When we got about 10 miles past Mainz, we looked for a recommended hotel in Heidesheim but they also fully booked because of the convention in Mainz. The most fascinating thing about Heidesheim was a complex of old historical buildings. A person saw us looking bewildered at the structures, and then came out to explain to us that these buildings were used in 1941-1945 by Hitler to house invalids and Lebensunwertiglebens before they went off to the gas chamber. But, we didn’t (couldn’t) stay there. Therefore, we had to make some hard decisions. It was about 5 pm, and Jon was able to reserve a room on the internet in Bingen. We quickly caught the train from Heidesheim to Bingen. Bingen was a lovely town. We stayed at the Hotel Krone, went out to dinner (no photographs tonight), we had regional dishes and wine, and crashed at a reasonable hour. Jetlag was finally moving behind us.

Real food

One of many castles along the Rhein


Wednesday 26April — Both Jon and I slept well. The weather report said “rain” but it remained mostly sunny with no rain, and not nearly as cold and windy as yesterday. Today gave absolutely no challenges to route finding, and no hills, so travel was smooth. We got to see many castles, as well as the Loreley. I also saw a hint of several Rheinmaidens poking their heads up out of the water. Lunch was in the Roman colony of Boppard, also a part of the Hunsrück region of Germany. Koblenz came soon after. We quickly found a lovely hotel in Koblenz, feeling great about our travels.

Die Loreley

Real food


Thursday 27April — The hotel in Koblenz was a fairly small mom and pop operation of an elderly couple, and very friendly. We found our way back to the Rhein, took note of the Deutsches Eck (where the Mosel flows into the Rhein), and rode on. We stopped for lunch in Remagen, after inspecting the remaining support structures of a famous bridge. Lunch was our first Döner in Germany. After arriving in Bonn, we found our hotel, dumped our stuff, and then hurried to the house where Beethoven was born. It was a small but nice museum, but unfortunately, we were not allowed to have cameras in the museum. We had a late dinner before retreating back to our hotel. Tomorrow means a new phase in our travels, in that we will not be bicycling any more. We had to make a change of plans since Herbert was needing to be in Würzburg on an urgent basis. We will spend two nights in Hamburg and then three nights in Berlin.

Deutsches Eck

Bridge at Remagen

First Döner in Remagen


Friday 28April—today makes it one week in Germany. We woke up a bit late, had breakfast, and then checked out. We had a few hours to spend before the train, so drifted around the downtown area for while before heading to the train station. We got to Hamburg late in the afternoon, it was rainy, and the hotel was a bit removed from the downtown area. It took us about an hour to reach the hotel. It was a Holiday Inn, we were able to stow our bikes in the room, and they upgraded us free to an executive suite room. Nice.

Beethoven birth house in Bonn

Saturday 29th April—Hamburg; the walk back to the train station now took us only 40 minutes, and we spent all day walking the city. We went to the Rathaus, Alster area, and the Brahms museum. Jon was able to actually play on a piano that Brahms played on. We had a Hamburger hamburger in the St. Pauli area, and then went to the Speicherstadt area, hoping to get into the model train museum. The wait would have been over two hours, so we skipped it. We saw the new Elbphilharmonie building, a fairly impressive site. Lastly, we slowly wended our way back to our hotel. All in all, it was a successful day.

Hamburg Rathaus

Entrance to Brahms museum

Jon plays on a piano that Brahms actually played on

Jonny eating a Hamburger hamburger in the Reeperbahn Burger King

Typical train station site

Sunday, 30April—This was a busy day for us. We woke up at 4 am in order to catch the 6 am train to Berlin. This train had almost nobody on it, so were able to catch up on the sleep we lost waking up so early. Berlin was mostly sunny but cold. Even though our bikes were loaded, we were able to work our way around the city, visiting many of the usual sites that are in Berlin, like the Seigesäle, the Gedachniskirke, the Brandenburgertor, Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz, Hackeschermarkt (where we had lunch), and finally checking into our hotel (Ibis) across from the Hauptbahnhof. I zoned out and hit the sack early. Jon wanted to enjoy a cigar, but it was just a little too cold out for that. We were prepared for a big day tomorrow.

Jon didn’t want this photo with Marx and Engels

Brandenburger Tor

Berliner Dom

Inside the Berliner Dom, the largest Protestant church in Germany. The Beatitudes are displayed in the Dom ceiling.

Jon high on the Dom

Monday 01May—Today was supposed to be museum day. We discovered that only a few of te museums were open owing to today being a holiday. So, we toured the Berliner Dom, an awesome work of reconstruction (see photos above). We walked around town, and then hit on the Naturkunst Museum (natural history museum) which held the worlds tallest dinosaur, a trex recently uncovered in Montana, countless stuffed animals, illustrations on how the animals were prepared, rocks, insects, and slimy creatures in glass bottles of formalin. It was a huge but most fascinating museum. Coming back to the hotel, we discovered the Medicine history museum founded by Virchow, a must to see tomorrow. We did a late dinner at a Bavarian style restaurant, and hit the sack afterwards.

Berlin Döner

Berlin Currywurst

Stuffed Knut in Natural History Museum

Tuesday 02May—This was a little lazier day, but for the best, since the weather was cold and drizzly. Jon and I did some more walking around the city, then visited the Neues museum of Egyptian artifacts, as well as the Pergamon museum, which had some major walls and gates brought back from the mid-east, including the Ishtar gate from Babylon, which Daniel from the Old Testament surely would have frequently walked through. It is incredibly beautiful. We had lunch again in the Hackescher Markt, then hopped the train back to our hotel, freshened up, and ran to the train to meet Marike in the Zoological Garten area. Marike pointed out where the recent terror attack occurred. We had coffee, then all three of us went back to the hotel. I showed her my bike (she really needed a new bike), and she decided to take it. We went out to dinner, and finally had to bid her farewell. It was nice to see Marike again.

Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtnis Kirche

Isar Tor

Schweinehaxe

Marike enjoys her new bike

Wednesday03May—no pressure today. We caught the 8 am train to Magdeburg, and had three transfers, all of which went well. The last was a little strange, since the train was marked differently from what was indicated, and it was packed to the brim… Sort of. By the train doors, a large group of young students aggregated, blocking entry and exit for everybody else. Then, the train poorly indicated next stops, making us think we might have been on the wrong train, or gone past our stop. But, we ended up correctly, and met Hannes. I rode the bike up to their home, while Jon went with Hannes and the bags. It was pouring down rain, so I arrived a bit wet. It was nice to see Katja and Hannes again, but we expected Herbert to be here. He wasn’t. A phone call to Herbert suggested that he had never left Krefeld, but would come tomorrow. So, we spent the evening chatting with Katja and Hannes.

Thursday 04 May—today was another lazy day. Originally, the Wagners wished to take us to Bayreuth, but then we heard that Herbert would be coming, so we laid low. After breakfast, we went to an area that was a walking path up in the vineyards above the Main. Gustav came along for exercise. It was a beautiful site overlooking the river valley, and we could also see the Radweg that Peter and I had done a few years ago. Coming down, we went through the old city of Karlstadt, and then spent a quiet afternoon waiting for Herbert to come. No Herbert. So, we went out to a phenomenal restaurant, where we went when Peter and I were with the Wagners. The food was incredibly good, and the ambiance was an arched cellar. Once we got home, we finally found Herbert waiting for us. The Wagners (and I) were not too happy that he showed up so late. But, it was good to see Herbert again, and to talk with him. He did not appear in the best health though he had not had medical encounters of a serious nature. The time with Herbert was all too brief before we needed to hit the sack.

Walking with Hans-Jurgen and Gustav

View of the Main from above

Marienweg

Wege Wein – well marked routes through the vine yards

Old city street, with Hans-Jurgen

The restaurant Keller

Herbert at last!!!!!

Friday 05 May—it was an early wake-up and breakfast, and a quick goodby with Herbert. I rode the bicycle down to the train station, and Jon came with the Wagners. The train ride was smooth, but the bicycle car was loaded with young school students, apparently on an overnight field trip. We didn’t get to sit down for most of the trip to Frankfurt. On arrival in Frankfurt, we first had our last Döner, took the bike again to the bike shop, and then went for a walk around Frankfurt. We were able to check in early to the hotel, leaving us free to roam without luggage. We had a very small dinner, repacked al of our goods, picked up the boxed bike to bring back to the Ramada Inn hotel. Bedtime was early.

Saturday 06May—last day in Germany! Neither Jon or I slept well, as there was too much noise outside. We got up by 6 am, completed packing, and headed to the train station. We decided to make two trips to the airport, since we both had heavy luggage, plus a large bike box. That was successful, though we probably didn’t need to get up quite as early as we did. We were able get checked in very easily, and got some duty free shopping done before boarding the plane. We slept on the plane. The only strange event was the transfer in Chicago. I knew that we only had a little over an hour to accomplish the transfer, so ran like mad, dashing through customs, collecting our bags and bike, re-loading our bags and bike, then dashing through security again, and finally making it to the terminal about 2 minutes before the plane was supposed to leave. At the counter, the man told me that I had an hour to go. I had NO idea where that hour came from, regardless of how many times I rechecked our schedule and timing. Anyway, we got home, lovely Betsy was able to pick us up, and was able to get unpacked that evening. Of course, with jet lag, I couldn’t sleep all night, but that’s another story.

Germany was great and it was so nice seeing wonderful friends. My only regrets were being unable to ride the bike more, see the Kretschmars, and spend more time with Heinz and Debbie and Herbert. I would maybe do it more in the summer or fall with a foldable bike, and spend a month or two again at the Goethe Institute.

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Feb 12

Israel2015-843

The trip to Israel went from 10-22January. In the aftermath, Betsy and I spent the next 10 days recovering from jet lag, while simultaneously fighting off the crud that grandchildren seem to have given us (or perhaps we gave to them?). This was a trip planned with people from church, and so there were only three people that we did not know on the trip, though they were enjoyable to get to know. This trip was planned to include sites that Betsy and I did not see on our trip with John Delancey. I am not going to do a blow-by-blow account of the travels, since they would be uninteresting, but will mention sites that we did not see previously. There were a considerable number of new places that we went to this time compared to our last trip with John, and the older places had a fresh perspective. Being the down-season, there were far less crowds, especially at the “holy” sites. It added to the ambience to be with people you knew, although the most significant interactions happened when sitting around on the sea of Galilee enjoying cigars and good conversation. John again was a total delight to be with, and a wealth of information. Unfortunately, the stuff I wished most to remember from him I don’t, being somewhat brain-dead from jet lag the first few days. As usual, I took way too few photographs. On this trip, I used my Canon M1 camera. The beauty of the M1 is its lightness. The problems with the M1 are the inability to see the image in bright light and its extreme slowness. So, here are a few photos from this trip.

We saw lots of archeological sites. Unfortunately, they all looked the same!

We saw lots of archeological sites. Unfortunately, they all looked the same!

Flowers in bloom. It was a beautiful time of year to visit.

Flowers in bloom. It was a beautiful time of year to visit.

Valley of David and Goliath, near Gath in the Sephelah

Valley of David and Goliath, near Gath in the Sephelah

Cave at Moresheth, where Micah used to hang out.

Cave at Moresheth, where Micah used to hang out.

Wadi below ancient Be'er Sheba, where Abraham planted his digs.

Wadi below ancient Be’er Sheba, where Abraham planted his digs.

Kamelfahrt

Kamelfahrt

Kamel kopf durch Kamelfahrt

Kamel kopf durch Kamelfahrt

The Judean desert. The green area deep in the valley would be the road from Jericho to Jerusalem

The Judean desert. The green area deep in the valley would be the road from Jericho to Jerusalem

More road to Jerusalem

More road to Jerusalem

Shiloh, where Samuel used to play as a kid.

Shiloh, where Samuel used to play as a kid.

Beth Shean, on the other side of the Jezebel Valley

Beth Shean, on the other side of the Jezebel Valley

Ancient village in the Golan, destroyed by the Romans

Ancient village in the Golan, destroyed by the Romans

Dan at Dan

Dan at Dan

Rob, sitting at the gate in ancient Dan

Rob, sitting at the gate in ancient Dan

The dynamic duo, John and Schlomo, at the altar at Dan

The dynamic duo, John and Schlomo, at the altar at Dan

Rob, fetching baptismal water from the Jordan. Actually, this is the Dan, one of the three sources for the Jordan river, so, Rob might be accused of being Unitarian.

Rob, fetching baptismal water from the Jordan. Actually, this is the Dan, one of the three sources for the Jordan river, so, Rob might be accused of being Unitarian.

Climbing the last scramble to the top of Arbel

Climbing the last scramble to the top of Arbel

The Horns of Hattin from Arbel

The Horns of Hattin from Arbel

The cliffs of Arbel

The cliffs of Arbel

View of Arbel and the Horns of Hattin and the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes

View of Arbel and the Horns of Hattin and the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes

Heulenmauer. Wir Heult! Wailing at the wall.

Heulenmauer. Wir Heulten! Wailing at the wall.

Last view of Jerusalem. Looking at the south end of the Mount of Olives, with the Kidron Valley heading down to the Dead Sea. The mountains in the distance are in Jordan.

Last view of Jerusalem. Looking at the south end of the Mount of Olives, with the Kidron Valley heading down to the Dead Sea. The mountains in the distance are in Jordan.

 

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Nov 13

ChinaBlitz2014-582

Who ever heard of going to China for just 2 days? On this trip, Dr. X. Liao and I left from Seattle at 1300 last Friday, and returned home at 1030 this last Monday. It took 3 days for my brain to de-fog to write this blog. The trip was made possible by a generous benefactor Mr. Lu, who covered the entire cost of the trip, loading us with numerous gifts to take home with us. I had provided care to the brother of the person that made this trip possible, the brother having had a very good outcome from with healthcare with Dr. Liao. Thus, he was interested in establishing a stronger American presence in China for healthcare.

The flight each way was 10 hours, but with the crossing of the date line and 10 hour time zone difference, flying Hainan Airline on a direct flight from Seattle to Beijing, and arriving the next day at 1730. Mr. Lu’s oldest son picked us up at the airport, did tea with us at his office and taught me extensively on the proper handling and brewing of Chinese tea (we had pu-er tea, Betsy’s favorite), and then dropped us off at the train station, which  put us on one of the high-speed trains. We rode business class, which gave us reclining seats and shear luxury. These trains are even nicer than the best trains in Europe–they are really nice. In 1.5 hours, we were in the town of Jinan in the Shandong province, located south and east of Beijing, about ⅓ of the way to Shanghai. Jinan is a smaller little village of only 8-10 million people. Mr. Lu picked us up from the train station, took us out to dinner, and then dropped us off at our hotel, a 5 star hotel (that incidentally, the really good rooms cost the equivalent of about $100/night).

The next morning (Sunday), we had breakfast at the hotel, and then hopped in the car for a sight-seeing tour. About 1 hour drive south took us to Qufu, where we were able to see the Confucius temple.  It was a large compound, a little bit like the Forbidden City, though not nearly as large. Most of the buildings were built starting in the early Ming dynasty (about 1300 ad), though it was the site were Confucius was born and lived many hundreds of years ago during the Shang dynasty.  Sitting beside the temple grounds was the Confucius “Mission”, where about 70 or more generations of families lived after Confucius. The Mormons would like to get ahold of that genealogy!

Dr. Liao, Mr. Lu, me at Confucius temple

Dr. Liao, Mr. Lu, me at Confucius temple

Entrance to the temple

Entrance to the temple

Burning incense to Confucius

Burning incense to Confucius

Leaving there, we visited a university of 10,000 students that was built and funded by Mr. Lu. We toured several of the buildings, which he had built after the style of a European mansion, quite luxurious. We were then to meet the doctor in charge of one of the Jinan hospitals that had been talking with Mr. Lu about the development of an American style clinic for cancer patients. There was an hour meeting where Dr. Liao explained his vision, and the 5-6 hospital surgeons and oncologists listened carefully, asking various questions. After that, we had dinner at our hotel with the hospital surgeons and Mr. Lu’s brother, our patient. Somehow, they manage to find very large round tables, and this one had a motor that slowly turned the large central lazy Susan on which multiple dishes sat. One would take small portions of 20 or more different dishes, giving the diner the opportunity to try multiple things. For me, most of the food was quite unrecognizable, but everything tasted very good. The difficulty that I often have with he more exotic Chinese foods is not with the taste so much as with the texture of the food.  In addition, there are flavors that westerners are quite unfamiliar with, such as that of lotus root. I find that my favorite Chinese foods are the cheap foods that are found on the street at inexpensive restaurants. The fancy restaurants are just too exotic, and I don’t care to eat chicken feet or various forms of slime.

University in Jinan

University in Jinan

Inside of the buildings of the university

Inside of the buildings of the university

After breakfast in the hotel the next morning, we did a tour of several other clinic possibilities, including converting a very nice but underused hotel into a large outpatient clinic, and then driving through a very modern and fancy district of Jinan next to the train station for possibilities. Mr. Lu dropped us off at the train station, loaded with massive amounts of gifts, and we hopped the train back to Beijing. In Beijing, a taxi took us to the airport, and a flight home (in which I slept most of the way) left us in Seattle. We left Beijing on Monday at 5 in the evening, and arrived in Seattle at 10:30 on Monday in the morning–it’s like going back in time, and definitely confuses your internal clock. Mr. Lu’s gifts included 12 very expensive discs of pu-er tea, a number of boxes of very expensive finest Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) tea, also one of my absolute favorites, a tea server (I can’t even tell you what it is, and a photo won’t work, you just need to see it in action), as well as oodles of Chinese candy. For all of his kindness, I dearly hope that I could have been of help to Mr. Lu’s vision.

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Sep 07

BlackHills2014-33

This blog is a combination of two activities, the first being a visit of Betsy and I to our daughter Rachel and her husband and two daughters, who live in Sioux Center, Iowa, and the second being a bicycle trip I did with the Adventure Cycle Association in the Black Hills, starting in Rapid City, South Dakota. The bicycle trip begins at the 30AUG spot, so if you are only interested in that, please skip down everything else.

23aug We decided to head to Iowa early in the morning on Saturday, rather than late on Friday. At the very last minute, Betsy and I both decided to take a slightly longer route, which went first to Portland, and then out the Columbia River highway. The alternative would have been to go over Snoqualmie Pass through Yakima and Tri-Cities. We drove down through Pendleton, Baker, Ontario, Boise, and finally settled in for the night at Mountain Home, Idaho. I don’t take photos from the car, so no photos were obtained today.

24aug Today was a long, hard day of driving, never getting on an interstate highway at all until the last five miles. We left Mountain Home on a side road that took us through the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Betsy had never seen this, and it was not a major delay in going this way as compared to simply taking the interstate to Idaho Falls. Once we reached Idaho Falls, we continued on the road that followed the Snake River to the Grand Tetons. I’ve traveled this road before, having gone a number of times to a church associated Labor Day Weekend Youth Rally on this road, located just before the Wyoming border. Driving up through the Tetons, we then entered Yellowstone Park, and left out the east entrance towards Cody. Oddly, I felt that many areas of the Northwest were far more beautiful and spectacular than Yellowstone NP. We then headed north on route 14a through the Bighorn Mountains. I had thought that I did this route before, but apparently not, and must have done the straight route 14. 14a went through Lovell, but then is a ridiculously steep climb for over ten miles, throwing us into snow, and the tops of the mountain peaks. It was most grand, and created dreams of the ultimate challenge bicycle ride. I love the Bighorns, in my estimation one of the most beautiful spots in the Rockies. We then hit a long, steep descent which put us into Sheridan, Wyoming where we spent the night.

25aug today was mostly driving on I-90, with the exception of a bypass the see the Devil’s Tower. Betsy and I took a walk around the tower and then quickly dashed back to I-90 to get to Alex and Rachel. Only a stop in Sturgis to get lunch held us from getting to Sioux Center at about 8 pm, weary and ready for bed. But, what a delight it was to see the children (we include Alex in that) and grandchildren.

26aug Today was a lazy day, with me riding around town with Alex, doing a short bicycle ride with him, and then grilling steaks on the barbeque.

Lily

Lily

Adalyn

Adalyn

27aug Today was another lazy day, with a visit to the foreign candy company, as well another bicycle ride. We had lunch at Culvers in memory of Diane.

28aug Today we went to Lester to visit the relatives. We were invited to Wes and Esther’s for lunch. Also at lunch were Phil and Donna Mogler, Wes’s mother, Alex, Caleb, and Tessa. Uncle Phil has always been a wonderful memory to me as far back as when I was 3-4 years old. Wes and Esther have been  most special cousins to our family, and I always try to see them when I come to Iowa. After a fantastic lunch with the most delicious Iowa corn, we had heavenly apple pie. Esther then took us to see the town of Lester with some brief stops, and then to see Roy and Melissa, as well as Tim and Carissa. Tim and Carissa were homeschooling their 5 children, all of them most wonderful kids, who were living in the original home of Carl and Pauline, where dad and all the aunts and uncles on that side of the family were born. The house was quite remodeled, with walls moved and additions added, but it still felt like the old homestead. The house looked like a school, as the children were being home-schooled. What a delight it was to see old relations. My only regret is that we didn’t have either time or opportunity to see more relatives in the area. Dinner was at Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center, since Alex needed to go to a major fireman’s meeting.

Phil and Donna Mogler

Phil and Donna Mogler

Esther, Wes and Grandma Moser

Esther, Wes and Grandma Moser

Roy Feucht showing off his high heel cowboy boots

Roy Feucht showing off his high heel cowboy boots

Roy and Melissa Feucht

Roy and Melissa Feucht

Tim and Carissa Feucht and family. The house is the original homestead where my father as well as uncles & aunts were born

Tim and Carissa Feucht and family. The house is the original homestead where my father as well as uncles & aunts were born

Tim and Carissa Feucht family

Tim and Carissa Feucht family

29aug This was my last full day in Sioux Center. It was mostly a lazy day, packing and getting ready for the bicycle trip, as I tend to forget things. In the evening, we had dinner at Archies in LeMars, followed by Blue Bunny ice cream at the Blue Bunny fountain. Archies, by the way, is steak to die for, if you didn’t know that already. In the evening, we had a wonderful time with Alex’s parents, as well as with Kurt and Colleen, who came over (Kurt) for a cigar and beer. It was a wonderful way to end my time with Alex and Rachel.

30aug Today was an early rise, and long, six hour drive to Rapid City, where my cycle ride was to begin. We had the usual formalities, including the explanation of the next day’s ride, as well as dinner. I crashed early. That night had some heavy rains, high winds, and thunderstorms, which I haven’t seen in a while. The ole REI tent held up well, and I was able to wake up dry.

Patrick, the bicycle mechanic

Patrick, the bicycle mechanic

Doug, the luggage manager, always the most friendly dude.

Doug, the luggage manager, always the most friendly dude.

The daily board

The daily board

Tony Neaves, a superb leader of the pack.

Tony Neaves, a superb leader of the pack.

Fetching dinner with Tony and Lou

Fetching dinner with Tony and Lou

 

 

31aug This was our first day of riding, and supposedly the hilliest and hardest. There was moderate climbing, but it was fairly straightforward.  I arrived at the campsite just west of Deadwood at about 13:30, so had time to shower, read, and enjoy a cigar. Dinner was based on the Chinese theme, though not like anything we’ve ever had in China. It was another quiet evening, ready for tomorrow.

On the road, ever upwards

On the road, ever upwards

One of the smaller towns in South Dakota

One of the smaller towns in South Dakota

Arriving at last in Deadwood

Arriving at last in Deadwood


01 sept Labor Day! Deadwood to Hill City. Today was almost completely on a non-paved gravel road, the Mikelson Trail. Riding was made a little more complex by the presence of rain, which made the fine gravel act a bit more like mud, the tires sometimes sinking up to a half inch into the trail. There were several climbs that we were told would be no more than 2 percent grade bit were actually between 3-4 percent grade. Compounded by the muddy gravel, it was a bit of work to get over those hills. The ride was gorgeous in spite of the grey clouds and rain. The day ended with cold but beautiful ble skies, which dried out all of our equipment.

On the Mickelson Trail

On the Mickelson Trail

Kathy pausing for a photo opportunity

Kathy pausing for a photo opportunity

Somewhat wet trail in forested area

Somewhat wet trail in forested area

The trail opening up into prairie

The trail opening up into prairie

 

02sept Hill City to Hot Springs. This AM, it was so cold I was freezing. I wore normal clothes for the ride, but had to constantly blow into my hands to warm them up. First stop was Crazy Horse state park. I only went to the entrance to get some photographs. Oddly, I had seen the Crazy Horse monument 35 some years ago, and it didn’t seem to be and further along to completion as 35 years ago. I rode onward. I missed a turn onto Argyle Road, and went about 1.5 miles too far before figuring out what I did.  Argyle Road was off the Mickelson Trail, and was a normal road through the countryside, but gravel. The gravel was very loose in spots, and it was over 10 miles of this stuff. The only good thing about it was that it was mostly downhill, though there was rolling hills, with occasional 8-10 percent grade. This was granny gear country!  The temperature was easing over 90F as I rolled into camp, and there was practically no shade… One time I would have easily settled for a hotel. I finally found a cool, comfortable spot and refused to move. Cold beer never tasted so good.

One of several tunnels on the trail

One of several tunnels on the trail

The trail now following a creek. Gold mining was still happening off of this creek

The trail now following a creek. Gold mining was still happening off of this creek

Verruckter Pferd (Crazy Horse). Not much work on it since I saw it last 35 years ago.

Verruckter Pferd (Crazy Horse). Not much work on it since I saw it last 35 years ago.

Rock formations off the path, awaiting a sculptor.

Rock formations off the path, awaiting a sculptor.

 

03sept Hot Springs to Custer State Park. Today started a bit chilly but soon warmed up, since it was climbing from the get-go. The first stop was at the Wind Caves, but I decided against doing a 1.5 hour tour and rode on. Soon, a group of us riders encountered a herd of buffalo in the road, and needed to wait over forty minutes for them to move off. It was rather crazy being only about five meters from very large buffalo, but they didn’t seem to mind us. We again encountered buffalo at the water stop, where the entire stop was overrun by  buffalo, making it necessary for them to bring in the water jugs, since the buffalo were quite interested in them. Moving into Custer State Park, it was quite woody and mountainous, giving us a very long steep climb over “Heartbreak Hill”. The remainder of the ride was nearly completely downhill into camp.

Bison statues in the town of Custer

Bison statues in the town of Custer

Entering Wind Cave National Park

Entering Wind Cave National Park

Bison in the prairie

Bison in the prairie

Bison obstructing the road. We had to wait 40+ minutes for them to move off the road

Bison obstructing the road. We had to wait 40+ minutes for them to move off the road

Bison raiding the water stop

Bison raiding the water stop

Federal regulations demand you stay a minimum of 25 meters from buffalo. We were within 5-10 meters to them.

Federal regulations demand you stay a minimum of 25 meters from buffalo. We were within 5-10 meters to them.

Buffalo Ken

Buffalo Ken

Custer State Park. I didn't see any buffalo in the state park.

Custer State Park. I didn’t see any buffalo in the state park.

 

04sept. Custer State Park to Hill City  My impression from the sounds of the night was that it had rained. It was darker than usual for my 6am wakeup, and I thought I was going to have a cold drizzly day. The sound of the babbling brook only a few feet from the tent did not help. Instead, I found it to be warm outside, a cloudless sky, and the first (and only) time the tent was totally dry. After breakfast, the ride included a moderate amount of climbing, but nothing difficult, until we arrived at Keystone, the gateway to Mt. Rushmore. A few of my friends decided to bicycle to the top, several later regretting that decision, though I was thoroughly impressed with them, as it is a four mile, 4-10 percent grade, not an easy task. My bicycle and I were shuttled to the Mt. Rushmore visitor center, got the obligatory photos, and then headed down. The last ten miles to Hill City paralleled a historic steam engine that connected Keystone and Hill City, though our time was faster than the train. We then camped in the same Hill City campground as earlier in the tour. That evening, the beer was complementary, and well enjoyed. I also was able to enjoy cigars with Cyndi and Matt.

The Presidents.

The Presidents.

 

05sept Hill City to Rapid City. After a quick breakfast, we discovered everybody usually anxious to get on the trail. Thus, we found that we were among the last to leave camp, though still among the first to arrive in Rapid City. The route was on a beautiful backroad that wrapped around Lake Sheridan, and then took the Sheridan Lake Road into town. There was a moderate amount of climbing, though not enough to work up a sweat, and since it was mostly downhill, we had arrived at the water break site having not yet consumed any water or even digested breakfast. We arrived in Rapid City by 9:30am. After telling new friends goodby, I went to get Betsy. She was staying with Alex, Rachel and family in a Rapid City hotel with a connecting water park. They had also had the opportunity to see much of the Black Hills, though from a car, and not a bicycle. It was hard to tell them goodby, especially Lily and Adalyn, whom Betsy and I have fallen in love with. By evening, we were able to make it to Butte, Montana.

06sept Home…. We headed out from Butte at about 7:15 and arrived home at 3:30 in the afternoon. We quickly unpacked the car, and I then downloaded our photos, and started to write this blog.  The trip was super, but it’s always nice to be home.

How would I rate the Adventure Cycling part of the trip? In my eyes, it was superb. They give you enough freedom to let you ride according to your own personal style. They feed you very well. One always meets new friends that you enjoy riding with. The routes are never terribly challenging, though still demanding. They stick to their name of truly making every trip an adventure. I would rate this trip as highly successful, and a superb way to end up the riding season (for major trips).

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Apr 29

China2014-586

I have had a flurry of writing at the beginning of the year, but it has now been two months since I’ve written a review or commentary on my life. So, away we go with a trip to China. Together, Betsy and I took over 1200 photos, so, you are seeing only a small sampling.

Dr. Liao invited us to go on a trip with him to China. He had been suggesting this to me for quite a while now, and we have finally gotten around to going. The trip lasted from 10-26APRIL, and we visited 5 cities, representing central China. The weather was cool, with intermittent rain. The atmosphere was not smoggy, but actually quite hazy, making for less than optimal photographs. Click on the individual photographs for a larger view. Here is the blow by blow of our travels…

Friday Diane tok us to the airport, and we met Mike, before getting on the Hainan express to Beijing. The flight went 1 hour shorter than expected, and eleven hours later, 4:50 the next day, we landed in Beijing. After finding our hotel and checking in, we went out for a quick dinner, and crashed.

Sunday: Mike had arranged a guided tour for today, which included first a visit to the Great wall. It was  great. According to Mao, anybody that visits the Great Wall is a hero, so, Betsy and I are now heros. After that,  we visited the tombs of the Ming dynasty emperors, with a focus on the third, Yongle. We then visited a silk factory and purchased a silk comforter, a jade factory, and a tea specialty house for a tea tasting. That evening, we decided to do some Chinese cuisine, which we enjoyed. This was on what was called “bar row”, where we met a friend, XiaoDong, of Mike, who joined us at dinner. This restaurant was on a lake, which we then walked around before heading home. XiaoDong is a biomedical scientist, possibly in line for the nobel prize, but very delightful in personality.

Dr. Liao at the Great Wall - a real hero!

Dr. Liao at the Great Wall – a real hero! 

The tomb area of Yongle

The tomb area of Yongle

The restaurant menus come as picture books. Here is an example.

The restaurant menus come as picture books. Here is an example.

Out for tea

Out for tea

Monday: first, Tian’nanmen square, which is just a large plaza. We wished to see the Chairman, but his tomb was closed, as well as the Forbidden City. So, we opted for seeing a flower garden next to the Forbidden City, and then going to the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace was build by the Ming dynasty, but burned by the British, and then again by the British and the French, and each time rebuilt. It was massive, with a very large lake in the center. The Buildings were all over the hillside and very ornate. After dinner, Betsy and I were exhausted and crashed.

The gardens next to the Forbidden City

The gardens next to the Forbidden City

Ming dynasty architecture at the Summer Palace in Beijing.

Ming dynasty architecture at the Summer Palace in Beijing.

A stiff climb up to the top of the hill in the summer palace area.

A stiff climb up to the top of the hill in the summer palace area.

Boat trip across the lake at the Summer palace

Boat trip across the lake at the Summer palace

 

Tuesday:   A quick breakfast first was followed by a trip back to Mao’s grave, and then the Forbidden City.  Mao’s grave was most interesting. There was an hour long line, as roughly 200,000 plus people visit the grave each day. You pass through security, and are not allowed to have bags or cameras, no photos were obtained. You are sold white flowers to leave at his grave. In the building, you enter a large room where his statue is sitting in a friendly pose,  carved in giant white stone, similar to the Lincoln memorial. In the next room, his body lays in state, reasonably well preserved. Mao has had a comeback in China, remembering him not so much for his colossal mistakes (the great leap forward and the cultural revolution)  but for his absence of corruption and for uniting the Chinese people.  We then went to the Forbidden City. Mein Gott! This made any European palace system, including Versailles, look like kid’s stuff. The palace and grounds were huge. There were over 8,000 rooms. There were huge squares. Sadly, Chaing Kai Shek looted most of the treasures of the Forbidden City. Schwein! They now sit in Taiwan, and don’t belong to them. Every building was exquisitely decorated in the most ornate fashion. It all made you feel quite small. The evening was spent having Peking duck, and then cha he pijiu (tea and beer) on a rotating restaurant on top of our hotel.

At the enclosure leading to the Forbidden City.

At the enclosure leading to the Forbidden City.

Inside the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City

A small section of the Forbidden City showing its immense size

A small section of the Forbidden City showing its immense size

Wednesday:  Today, we say goodby to Beijing and hello to Xi’an. After breakfast, Mike and I first visited the Beijing Hospital, the best hospital in the country of China. It was a zoo. There were wall-to-wall people lined up various activities, such as waiting to pay for an appointment, waiting for the doctor, etc. There is no such thing as an appointment time as it is first come, first served. The hospital was nice, but just miserably crowded. After that we went to the Beijing Cancer Hospital, the best cancer hospital in the country. We met a doctor friend of Mike’s, and toured the place. It also was a zoo. China needs a better system—they have great doctors but no system. From there, we checked out of our hotel, ran down to the other end of Chang’An Jie (Long Peace Street) caught our high speed train to Xi’an, was picked up by a driver, and delivered to our hotel after having dinner. This hotel would have been a $4-500 hotel in the US, but we paid slightly more than $100. Throughout the travel, including the high sped train, and the hotel, it did not seem like we were in China, as things seemed to be nicer than in the USA. Construction was occurring everywhere you looked.  There was an unbelievable dynamism occurring.

A crowded waiting room at Beijing Hospital

A crowded waiting room at Beijing Hospital

Thursday:  this was another hectic day. After a quick breakfast, we headed off to the terra cotta soldiers of Qin She Huangdi. The site was massive and overwhelming. We then went to a site that had the swimming pools of the emperor’s favorite concubine. After a massive lunch, we headed to the museum and burial site of China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetain. Dinner was again held, with a bit of overeating, but meeting some of Dr. Liao’s acquaintances in Xi’an.

Main area of the Terra Cotta warriors. There are over 6000 that have already been excavated.

Main area of the Terra Cotta warriors. There are over 6000 that have already been excavated.

Terra Cotta soldier wanna be's.

Terra Cotta soldier wanna be’s.

A typical lunch scene.

A typical lunch scene.

Today we got to try duck's feet and duck's heads

Today we got to try duck’s feet and duck’s heads

Mike practices his calligraphy at Mr. Yeung's office

Mike practices his calligraphy at Mr. Yeung’s office

Our most gratious host, Mr. Yeung.

Our most gracious host, Mr. Yeung.

Example of instructions everywhere not to walk on the grass, in poetic form.

Example of instructions everywhere not to walk on the grass, in poetic form.

At the swimming pool of the emporer's concubine. She was reportedly the most beautiful woman in China (next to Betsy, of course)

At the swimming pool of the emporer’s concubine. She was reportedly the most beautiful woman in China (next to Betsy, of course)

Friday: another quick breakfast, and then we headed off to a local Xi’an hospital. This was a private hospital, and they were in the process of building an entirely new hospital, which we toured in the construction phase. It is 27 floors,  1000 beds, with both in and outpatient facilities in the same structure. They then held a conference to ask our ideas on forming a more American style service to the hospital. The hospital is private, in that it was owned 80% by the doctors and nurses in the hospital, and 20% by other investors. After lunch, we went to a museum of ancient history, where relics from s far back as the Shang dynasty were on exhibit, going up to the Tang dynasty. I was amazed at the exquisite character of the workmanship in the bronze material. Xi’an has the largest complete still existing city wall in the world. It was huge, 15 km in length, and bounded by a river. We looked at the gate which was essentially the starting point for the silk road. There were amazingly no tourists there, but it was an impressive site. After paying a visit to a local Catholic church, where they were having a Bible study, we headed off to dinner.

Part of the 15 km wall of Xi'an. It was very large on top, room for 4 lanes of traffic.

Part of the 15 km wall of Xi’an. It was very large on top, room for 4 lanes of traffic.

Saturday: We checked out of our hotel, which was probably the nicest hotel that I’ve stayed in ever. There was even a private sauna in our room. We went to breakfast, and then visited the large Buddhist temple in town. Xi’an was one of the main towns that promoted Buddhism early on in its introduction to China, so it was a significant town for Buddhism. The restaurant experience for lunch was most unique, as Betsy and I saw foods that we never dreamt to be possible. Duck feet and duck heads, chicken feet, squid, frog legs, and vegetables that I have never even heard of before. The food was Anhui, which I’d probably avoid in the future.  We later stopped at the largest hospital in Xi’an, and drifted around. It certainly was large enough for over 2000 in-patients. Next stop was the airport. So far, we’ve been in a city of 22 million, and 8 million. We are now heading to Chongqing,a city of 11 million persons. Small towns just are a bit hard to find. Dr. Liao’s two older brothers met us for dinner. Dinner in Chongqing was at a hot pot, where each seat has a hot plate that has a sauce pan with boiling water with spices. You take various items and cook them yourself to eat. The hot pot was first done done in Chongqing.

Our hotel, on the banks of the Yangzi river.

Our hotel, on the banks of the Yangzi river.

The cross-walk just outside of our hotel.

The cross-walk just outside of our hotel.

Sunday- this was a lazy day. We started out by hitting a McDonalds for Betsy’s sake for breakfast. Mike left us alone to tend to family issues, and we were able to spend a relaxing morning in our hotel room. We took a long walk along the Changjiang (Yangtzi River), while Mike went to help resolve family issues. Later, we met Mike’s brother, who is a physics professor at the University and Susan, who took us to a historical museum in Chongqing where the forces of the Kuomintang slaughtered a large number of Mao supporters who were in prison here. The evening was a family get together, where we met Mike’s parents, and had a large, real Sichuan dinner. Nothing was recognizable except for the kung pao chicken, which was super-hot.

Historical museum of the Chongqing prison.

Historical museum of the Chongqing prison.

Old shopping district in Chongqing.

Old shopping district in Chongqing.

Les Trois Mousquetaires - Two of Mike's three brothers

Les Trois Mousquetaires – Two of Mike’s three brothers

The Liao family gathering in Chongqing. Mike had the sweetest parents.

The Liao family gathering in Chongqing. Mike had the sweetest parents.

Monday- breakfast was at Starbucks! We took a walk again along the Changjiang before checking out of the hotel. Mike’s brother, the physics professor, picked us up from the hotel, and we went down to the center of town, which was a large shopping center with super-rich shops such as would be found in Bellevue, or on the Kö. Lunch included the standard Sichuan cuisine, which was quite hot and spicy, but very flavor-able. Much of the food was unrecognizable to us, and contained very strange creatures. We then dashed to the airport, flew to Hangzhou, and was picked up by Mike’s sister-in-law, who taught traditional Chinese medicine at the medical school in town. This includes using acupuncture, herbal medicines and things of the like. Every hospital has traditional medicine doctors, who are used in treating select illnesses. We got to our hotel by 9pm and collapsed. The area of the hotel is called the Xihu Qu, or the Westlake District, the most expense real estate in all of China. I’m told that Hangzhou was an area of the first experiments in capitalism in China, and there was clear success.

Mike's sister-in-law outside one of the pagodas on WestLake

Mike’s sister-in-law outside one of the pagodas on WestLake

Pagoda on WestLake

Pagoda on WestLake

Tuesday—after breakfast at the hotel, we were picked up by Mike’s sister-in-law, and toured a number of museums and places of interest. The museums in Hangzhou were all free, making it nice. We first went to a silk museum, where they had on display historical silks from many mons ago. They also had a nice display of the silk making process. We went to a large experimental farm established by one of the emperors from several hundred years ago. We toured a ceramic museum, which showed the development of porcelain from ceramics many moons ago. We went to one of the large pagodas on the banks of Xihu. There was lunch, and the took a long walk around Westlake, including a boat ride to one of the islands in the lake. The Xihu (Westlake) area is like one massive park on steroids, very popular and thus very crowded even in slow times, though not often visited by foreigners. It is meticulously cared for, massive flower beds, and most beautiful. We had dinner on the lake. Hangzhou is known for its particular cuisine, which is not hot, but distinctly different from other Chinese cuisines. The food tends to have more fish in it, and tends to have a more slimy character. After dinner we were tired, stuffed, and wanted to crash.

WestLake area

WestLake area

View of part of WestLake from the top of the pagoda

View of part of WestLake from the top of the pagoda

Scene on WestLake

Scene on WestLake

Mike searching for directions

Mike searching for directions

Wednesday—This was a slower day for us. We spent much time walking along Xihu, people watching, buying tea and other things, eating at Burger King (not as good as the US), and then drifting on back to the hotel. We then met Dr. liao’s brother-in-law, who is working on a PhD in constitutional law in Beijing. He took Mike and I on an extended tour of our hotel side of the lake (Xihu). We again visited a number of museums, and then tried this famous local dessert made out of the powder of the lotus plant root. It tasted good, but was a bit slimy in texture, but is well liked by Chinese. We had dinner in a very popular restaurant along the shore of Xihu, and the restaurant where Mike was married. Dr. Liao’s nephew Andy was with us, 11 years old, and who will be starting boarding school in Connecticut this August.

Elderly couples dancing in the park in Hangzhou. This was commonly seen by us.

Elderly couples dancing in the park in Hangzhou. This was commonly seen by us.

Mike's brother in law, talking seriously with Mike.

Mike’s brother in law, talking seriously with Mike.

Outside of one of the museums with Mike's brother in law.

Outside of one of the museums with Mike’s brother in law.

Lotus schleim. I actually tasted good.

Lotus schleim. I actually tasted good.

Scene from the WestLake park.

Scene from the WestLake park.

Girls loved to have their photographs with Betsy.

Girls loved to have their photographs with Betsy.

Thursday—today we were picked up by Mike’s sister-in-law and taken to the train station. The ride was one hour from Hangzhou to Shanghai. In Shanghai, we first found our hotel, and then took a cab ride to the international district. We saw the building where Mao and twelve people wrote the constitution for China, and then we went out to eat at a faux-German restaurant. The beer was good, food very so-so. Afterwards, we walked along the riverfront, looking at the buildings of Shanghai, and slowly drifted home. Hangzhou was a small town of only 3 million people and 8 million in the metropolitan area, but Shanghai had 10 million in the city and 20 million in the whole area, a little bit larger city.

Shanghai architecture across the river from Mike and I

Shanghai architecture across the river from Mike and I

Friday—today is a lazy day, with a focus on shopping. We went to two shopping areas, where we focused on buying tea, porcelain, and gifts for the kids. The first shopping district was close to our hotel, anf a very long shopping road, off limits to cars, and with very fancy shops. We then hopped in a taxi, and went to a very large shopping center with a Ming dynasty architecture motive. This place was huge, we spent all of our renminbis, and had an awesome time. We then got ready for dinner, hopped the subway to the other side of the river that runs through Shanghi, and went into a very large shopping center, larger than anything that I’ve ever seen in the US. It was a total of thirteen floors. Before entering, we got an appreciation for the building architecture of the new Shanghi, which is beyond anything found in America. Dinner tonight was with Drs. En and Mrs. Li. He taught biochemistry and did biochemical research at Harvard University, before getting a job working for Novartis, back home in Shanghai. China, because of its burgeoning economic status, is extremely favorable for scientists, and it is very easy for me to see why. Dinner, by the way, was probably the best meal we ever had in China, though entirely Chinese. En has apparently lived long enough in the US to know what the American taste would like.

Ming style architecture in large shopping district in Shanghai.

Ming style architecture in large shopping district in Shanghai.

Typical buildings in Shanghai

Typical buildings in Shanghai

More very creative architecture in Shanghai

More very creative architecture in Shanghai

Family at a small tea shop where we purchased tea and tea cups

Family at a small tea shop where we purchased tea and tea cups. Note that Oma cares for the baby.

Inside the large shopping mall. This only a small view of the whole mall.

Inside the large shopping mall. This only a small view of the whole mall.

Dinner with our gracious host in Shanghai, Li En and wife.

Dinner with our gracious host in Shanghai, Li En and wife.

 

Saturday—we are eager to get home, though we have most thoroughly enjoyed China, and it is sad to say goodbye. A cab ride got us to the train station, and the train from Shanghai to Beijing was 5 hours, with 5 stops. It was mostly through very flat farmland. In Beijing, a friend of Mike’s picked us up and shuttled us to the airport, a little over an hour drive, and giving us our last taste of crazy Chinese driving. The flight home was 9 hours. We left Beijing at 4:30 pm and arrived in Seattle the same day at noon. It was two days packed into one. After saying goodbye to our dear friend Mike, Sarah shuttled us home. We unpacked, and noted piles of tea, as well as no broken porcelain. It was good to be home.

Thoughts on China…

Just a few minor observations. Cars… Brother Dennis purchased a Chinese vehicle in Belize, which was a total piece of junk. I anticipated that I would see cities full of junky cars and rickshaws, bicycles, and baby taxis, like in India. Instead, there were no rickshaws or baby taxis, almost no bicycles, and the most popular car was the Mercedes Benz, followed closely by the other German cars, BMW and VW. Chinese cars are reportedly next in popularity, followed by American cars,  and Korean/Japanese cars were the least frequent. I did not see a single Chinese made car until Chongqing, but it was a nice looking sports utility vehicle. Supposedly, they have vastly improved the quality of their vehicles. At the end of two weeks, we saw less than five Chinese built vehicles.

Secondly, the big cities do not have slums. They do have poorer parts of the city, but nothing that I would call a slum. The countryside had some very poor areas, but no worse than found in Belize, Jamaica, Cameroon, or Bangladesh, the “third world countries” that we’ve been to. The dress that people wear is identical to the western world. There was no ability to recognize that you were not in the US or Europe except for the Chinese writing, and that everybody was oriental. There is minimal unemployment in China, as there are no unemployment checks, welfare, food stamps, or anything of that sort. In a strong sense, it is more capitalistic than America! Regardless of your status or education, if out of a job, you will take anything in order to survive. The state will not be your nanny. There are no messy employment laws, and you can fire an employee at will. Employers tend to treat their employees well. One morning, we saw at a clothing store and then at a restaurant all of the employees out in front of the store doing Zumba like exercises. Many larger firms will have a cafeteria for free lunch. Our friend also had a large library at his firm for employees to encourage their continued education.

Thirdly, traffic is absolutely horrid in China. Why most the cars do not have bumps and scrapes is a total mystery to me. An American traffic cop would find violations literally every second. People use the shoulders of expressways as a passing lane. People run red lights. Cars do not yield to pedestrians but vice versa. People will aggressively violate every traffic rule on the books to pass a car in front of them. I watched my taxi driver pull into the on-coming lane of a four-lane road in order to beat a traffic light. I could not ride in the front seat of a car. Historically, I feared the taxi drivers of NYC. Now, China has exceeded that 10-fold. Next time I go to China, I bring mass quantities of Valium if I anticipate an automobile ride.

Fourthly, the Chinese put a very high value on family and relationships. This is a little odd, since their value for human life is less than in the US. Everywhere we went, we saw grandparents with grandchildren. I was surprised to see that the state was not raising the child, but the grandparents. In family relationships, the grandparents are usually asked permission for any major decision, such as marriage.  The eldest son held priority in family decisions. Nursing homes did not exist, as the children were expected to care for their aging parents. I did not expect this.

Fifthly, the language and poetry are important. Everywhere you go, you see poetry. Apparently, the Chinese language lends itself easily to poetic expression. We would see signs not to walk on the grass, and it was written in a poetic fashion (so I am told by Dr. Liao).  The Chinese hold those who are masters at poetry in the highest regard. And, the person in recent history who excelled in poetry was none other than Chairman Mao.

Sixthly, Mao Ren Zi (Chairman Mao) is the most poorly represented person in the west. Before my visit to China, I viewed Mao as nothing but a beast who slaughtered millions of people. That is perhaps true, but it lacks the full impact of who this man was. Why is it that Mao now has a near 100% acceptance rating in China? Why is he generally appreciated everywhere in China, and not because it is forced on the Chinese people? As mentioned above, the Chinese knew that Mao was most brilliant, and had a mastery of the language beyond most intellectuals. His poetry is everywhere, because it was very well done. During the years that Mao was chairman, he changed the Chinese language for the good, like having the symbols simplified. The Chinese now read and write right to left, like we do. Why? They used to write up to down and backwards, but Mao had that changed. Mao not only liberated the farmers, but also women, stopping crazy practices like feet binding, and giving them more rights. Secondly, the greatest problem with all Chinese emporers and rulers was serious corruption. If one faulted Mao for anything, it certainly was not corruption. Chaing Kai Shek was very corrupt, and the peasants knew it well, which is why they flocked in support of Mao. Mao had no love for the privileged elite, and exalted the poor peasants to a better living. That is seen well in China nowadays, with there being many multi-millionaires, but the farmers in the countryside have a reasonably good living in comfortable circumstances, and not as it was before 1949. With the current corruption in government, there is a sense of nostalgia for a leader who could act for everybody’s best interest without corruption. People often cite the fact that Mao murdered millions ruthlessly. Actually, most of the deaths under Mao’s watch were from serious mistakes that he made, and most people in China acknowlege that. I am referring to the great leap forward, and to the cultural revolution, which were truly stupid mistakes, which led to millions of Chinese dying, though not intentionally by Mao. One cannot forget history. China is a somewhat diverse group of people, with 56 ethnic groups, multiple religions, and multiple languages. In my reading of Chinese history, I don’t know of a single emporer that did not have to do a major “purge” to acquire unity and control of the country. Now, perhaps unity in China is not a good thing, but that is not something that I would propose—I don’t wish to be like the French, who felt the a united Germany (back in 1870) was not a good thing, since they would lose control of the weak individual German states. In any case, power was used consistently to achieve unity in the country. Finally, many in China view there to be two major revolutions in the country. The first was with the rise of the Qin dynasty, a very short dynasty from 221 to 206BC, and best known for the terra cotta warriors. What most don’t realize, was that the Qin leaders were quite ruthless at leading to the unity of the country. They also unified the language, and standardized many things, such as the width of wagon wheels. Important? Think about India, that has 5 different gauges for the railroads. That wasn’t to happen in China, because of wise but strong leadership. The second revolution was with Mao. Mao is now gone, and we are able to speak freely about him. There is much wrong with Mao, and I don’t think that the ends ever justifies the means. No doubt, Chairman Mao is a complex person, and my attempt to understand why he has such a pull in Chinese society at this time now has a little better insight.

Finally, what about “communist” China? Are they “communist” only in that the leadership is not necessarily elected, and that they do not permit criticism of the government? In China at this time, that is not bad, because the leaders have been capable of brilliant leadership. What about restrictions of speech? Facebook is not allowed in China, as well as many other forms of social networking. But then, homosexuality and pornography are also not allowed. Is that bad? I wish it were so in the USA. Meanwhile, the USA is far more communistic and socialistic than China. Perhaps we need to re-think the corruption and evil than rules strong in Amerika?

In conclusion, this trip to China was fantastic, and Betsy and I thoroughly enjoyed ourself. The food was sometimes slightly wearisome, but was always quite good – just not what we are used to. The mass crowds were also a little challenging. China was nothing like we expected, and the wealth and immensity was overwhelming. I now have a feel for Marco Polo returning to Italy only to find that nobody could believe his fantastic tales of China. China truly is dazzling, and the people everywhere were friendly. Most signs had English translations, suggesting that we Amerikans are still welcome in China. Hopefully, we don’t create an artificial war that treats China like an enemy. They have no interest in war, as their internal problems are great enough. I would hope that politicians could see China as a friend, understanding the differences that separate our two countries.

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