Yokohama Days

Saturday. 14 June 2008

Felt my first earthquake this morning. It was a 6.8 or so, however being about 150 miles away, it did nothing more than gently sway the building around for 10 seconds or so. If I had not been sitting motionless on the 5th floor of a high rise, I could not have felt it at all. Makes you really hope these Japanese engineers figured out this earthquake stuff long ago.

Spent an evening on the town with the US Army. They have a curfew so I ended up playing darts with a Japanese bartender at a little hole in the wall called “Party Animals”. It was founded 20 years ago, and has stayed true to the 80’s. It still has Spudz McKenzie proudly displayed and had some great late 80 / early 90 music on the dvd. When is the last time you saw the videos for “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice, Ice Baby”- back to back? Anyway, I kicked butt at darts. Seems 4.5 months of no practice has actually helped my game. Wish that was true for my pool game………..

Sunday. 15 June 2008 Happy Fathers Day

Had my first major oversleep of the trip today. Got to the rally point about 31 minutes late. The Army boys gave me 28 minutes. We just missed each other. Probably blew by each other on trains headed in opposite directions. Spent a few hours searching their likely locations but trying to find 3 white guys in Japan is not as easy as it would seem. Especially outside a major naval base………..

Anyhow, as I had some free time today, better learning Apples’s iMovie seemed to be a good use of time. After several hours of adding music, titles, and editing out all the bs, I have determined that video has been a highly underutilized medium thus far on my little trip. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but putting some good ole’ rock music to a few short movies really adds some emotional kick.

I am sitting on the roof of the hostel. 6 stories up, 11pm. I have a borrowed stool from the front office, a Coleman folding table (‘found’ in the stairwell), and a little sample of Japanese Whiskey…. instant rooftop office. Only thing missing is electricity, wi-fi, and a hot secretary. The view and cool breeze make up for all that is lacking.

There has to be some sort of old folks or veterans home in the neighborhood of the hostel. There are countless old men wandering around- all day and night. It must be a Veterans home because it is all old men. Lots in wheelchairs. Occasional eye patches and walking sticks. A lot needed to see a good Psychiatrist a long, long time ago. There are some crazy old dudes hobbling around here. I hope one of them doesn’t have a WWII flashback and put a cap in my #ss……….

OK. Just had two more tremors. Quick 2 second bursts, but still earthquakes. There are no subways or other shake inducing features near my location.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Failed to rendezvous with the army boys once again. This no cell phone stuff blows- makes one wonder how we got along with out them. Caught part of a Japanese baseball game this evening . Finding a bunch of white guys in a stadium is not as easy as it would seem. Oh well. Anyway, I procured a standing room ticket in the visiting team’s bleacher section. The game itself is identical, but the fan customs are quite different. They have cheerleaders, and yell leaders in the bleachers, complete with drums and some horn players. The yell leader dude calls out a cheer, and the whole bleacher section goes with it. And the entire bleacher section on the left field side was cheering for the visiting team. The redeeming item of note is that beer in the stadium is cheaper than in some bars near the stadium.

Went to the Tokyo Photography Museum today. Good inspiration. A famous Japanese photographer, MORIYAMA Daido, had a 2 floor exhibit. All black & white. His mantra for a few decades was “coarse, shaky, and blurred.” Taken not with a fancy SLR or large format camera, just a simple viewfinder type camera, more like a point and shoot. Spent the first 25 years of his career trying to define photography…. He finally came up with “a fossil of light and time”. Anyhow, I was inspired, so the Yokohama photos are in black and white, with an occasional artistic coloration…..


First theft of the trip has occurred. My cooked meal of the day (for this week) is eggs, sausage, and potatoes. As they don’t sell Tabasco at the local grocery, I settled for a ground chili pepper. Someone pinched it from the hostel kitchen. This violates one of the most basic rules of life- “Never mess with a man’s lunch” - That meal may be all he has to look forward to for the day. I bet it was the crazy old lady who walks around the hostel in a t-shirt and panties and doesn’t lock the bathroom door. I have been visually scarred for life. There is a reason they don’t keep knives in the hostel kitchen………

At least it was a pepper shaker and not the MacBook……..

Which bring me to total trip casualties:
- 4 pairs Sunglasses
- 1 Trekking Pole
- Approx 6 Blue Ink Pens
- 1 Leatherman Micra- with no blade (New Zealand TSA)
- 1 Utility Knife- with no blade (Australian TSA)
- $20 overcharge for beers, lost despite best efforts of interpreters……

Yokohama Random Thoughs:

Question of the day:
Is it a good thing when a Japanese lady says in broken English, “You are like Robin Williams” and a minute later compares you to a kung fu master?? Too bad she was married with a kid.

Thought of the day:
To sum up Nepal, my friend Shelli, from the Everest hike, said “when I’m having a bad day at work, all I have to do is stop and think of that trip, and it makes everything better.”
Amen. Makes me want to go be a Sherpa Guide.

To quote Aaron Tippin:
“You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything. You’ve got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string.”

“If I didn’t earn it, I don’t want it.”



W-R-F, 11-13 June 2008

Back at MSM, we abbreviated Thursday as “R”. T, you see, was already used.

Kinda like back at St Joe Minerals Corporation, the Engineering Department eliminated certain letters from their part identification protocol. Letters such as I, L, O, and U just weren’t used. Too easily confused with things such as “1” “0” or “v”.

Anyhow, word from the ladies in Hiroshima was that Kyoto was the coolest spot in Japan. Since it was on the high speed rail line between Hiroshima and my final destination, it made sense to hit it. Rolled in W afternoon, toured the town on R, and rolled out on F afternoon. With only one day to cover a city of 1.6 million people and 20% of Japan’s National Treasures, I decided on bicycle wheels. I owned said mountain bike for about 10 hours. Best guess is 25 miles and 400 pictures. Needless to say, my ass hurt. I haven’t covered that kind of bicycle miles for probably 17 years. (It is Sunday as I write this, and my ass still hurts)

I looked for it, but I could not find that damn Protocol.

The reason Kyoto has so many temples and historic stuff intact is that it was on the short list to get a nuke. We didn’t bomb cities on the shortlist, better to analyze damage if you haven’t already bombed the snot out of a place.



Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Today is one of the possible bad days for China. Digits add up to 8. Hopefully it isn’t a massive earthquake in central Japan since I’m sitting on a bullet train going somewhere north of 150 mph. It is fast. Japan’s rail network is incredible. The train station was a walk in the park compared to Beijing. It was clean, not crowded, and extremely efficient. The train is mostly empty.. maybe at 20% capacity. Did I mention fast?

Bullet Train

Friday, 13 June 2008

Just left the site of the world’s most hard core payback ever, Hiroshima. I didn’t know what to expect; turns out there is a thriving city on top of ground zero. I think it took until 1966 for Hiroshima to rebuild to its pre-war industrial level.

There is a great museum and park located between two rivers in the center of town, near to the hypo-center, as they call ground zero here. The museum has a good discussion on why Hiroshima was selected as the first target. The decision was made months before the attack. The US started analyzing targets in 1944. Primary reasons: (a) We had not yet bombed it- better to observe damage results, (b) favorable topography- nice and flat, (c) no American POW camps, (d) it was a center of military industrial output, and (e) it was headquarters of Japans 5th Army and the country’s secondary command and control center in case of invasion of Tokyo by the Americans.

Invasion adversity would be the best reason for why we dropped the bomb at all. Japan’s Imperial Headquarters was publicizing plans for “100 million deaths with honor” as part of a ‘decisive battle for the mainland’. Two words- screw that. As harsh as dropping Little Boy was, it saved millions of lives that would have been lost in invading Japan. We killed more people carpet bombing other cities than we did in the two nuclear attacks. It would have been a slow, painful march across Japan. Every peasant, child, and factory worker would have taken up arms for the Emperor and they would have died, taking hundreds of thousands of Allied troops with them. Think ‘kamikaze’…….

I’ve been to Truman’s Presidential Library- to learn about the man that ultimately made the decision to drop the bomb. After seeing both sides of the world, I maintain it was the right decision. The Japanese have no hatred of America for what we did. They seem to have accepted their militaristic past and put it behind them, having been on the receiving end of a major ass kicking.

Other related thoughts:

The MAD policy (Mutual Assured Destruction) followed during the cold war and to an extent today works. Russia and the US could not attack each other because we each had enough bombs to really screw each other up.

Lets hope Pakistan and India subscribe to MAD. If not the fallout should be pretty benign by the time it drifts through the stratosphere to the US.

Which brings me to Iran. MAD does not apply to radical Islamic thinking. These guys believe it is honorable to die while attacking infidels- read women and children- you and I- anyone who does not subscribe to their beliefs. Iran’s radical leadership may be willing to sacrifice a few million followers in a return for wiping Israel off the map. In their mind, that would be a good, honorable trade.

Anyway, enough of the soapbox.

They kept the ruins of the famous domed building that was located about 170 meters NW of the hypocenter. Since the bomb was airburst at 600 meters (1800’), the force basically came straight down on this building, completely destroying the interior while leaving the concrete walls and some steel standing. Needless to say, everyone in this building died instantly. Probably the closed person to survive the initial blast was a guy in the basement of a concrete building about 400 meters from the hypocenter. The concrete walls of that building survived and are actually still standing –it is a tourist information center now. They reused as many of the concrete structures as they could.

Radiation you ask? Two words- half life. Within a week, radiation levels were down to 1/ 1 millionth of the levels immediately after the attack.

Heat. The fireball itself was around 230 meters (700’) in diameter. But it was hot- something like 1 million degrees at its center. This put ground temperatures near 4,000 degrees Celsius. Enough to melt stone.

Pressure: The shock wave was the equivalent of something like a 400 mph wind, if I recall correctly it delivered a few thousand pounds per square foot near ground zero. It basically leveled anything that was not concrete within about 1.25 miles.

Relatively speaking: The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was named Little Boy. By today’s standards, it was just that. The Soviets once tested a bomb over 3,300 times more powerful than Little Boy. That puts it as more powerful than the sum of every single bullet, bomb, and ordinance used in all of WWII. My memory is a little rusty, but I’d say a medium sized modern device would throw out a fireball around a mile in diameter in lieu of 700’. Its hard telling what that Soviet monster would have done…….

Nuclear Survival:
Below are some links on surviving the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Old US army field manuals give good instructions also. Basically you need to know that fallout and radiation are bad and how to avoid exposure to these things. And I would recommend being armed, you may need to keep contaminated people out of your hizzle. Remember the 80’s TV movie “The Day After”…….

Next stop, destination unnamed…….





Hong Kong

Sunday June 1, 2008

The Fab 5 flew to Hong Kong from Shanghai. Hong Kong spend over 100 years as a British Colony, the Brits gave it back to China in '97. They should have kept it. We stayed at the Holiday Inn on the Golden Mile. Basically a perfect location from which to base our exploration of HK. The subway was practically in the hotel basement. The ferry was a 10 minute walk. The harbor light show was about 6 minutes away. 7-11, ATM, and McDonalds within 2 blocks. All systems go....

After dinner at a seafood type place with some life size pirate replicas, we headed to the harbor to take in the sights. We snapped a few pics and found a pub with a patio on the water to watch the city lights. Unfortunately we missed most of the light show, since we did not know it existed and the majority of it was blocked by a large building from our vantage point.


Monday, 2 June 2008

After McDonalds breakfast we boarded the ferry to travel to Hong Kong Island. The hotel is in the Kowloon District, which is a peninsula jutting off of mainland China. Our primary objective was to ride the trolley car to the city viewpoint on Victoria Peak. Unfortunately, like every other day in China, it was cloudy and hazy. So needless to say, the views were limited. Still impressive, but not near as cool as they could have been.

We wandered down the mountain on the footpath. The only other people we saw were jogging up the mountain with dogs. Eerie. The path down ended near a zoological / botanical garden. We were looking at some monkeys when it started to rain. We hightailed out of the park and headed for the ‘social district’. Here we found a bar that had American microbrews. A Pyramid Hefeweizen never, ever tasted so good. Words can not describe the euphoria of that first sip of quality hefe’ after 4 months with none. I don’t smoke crank, but I imagine it would be a similar sensation. The hefe was followed by a Full Sail Amber. Again, heaven in a bottle.


Tuesday 5 June 2008

Today we hit a “Walking Tour” as recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook. Dr. Muchard did a great job of navigating us around the city. From my viewpoint, it was refreshing to be able to follow a group around and not have to worry too much about where we were at. We hit markets, lots of markets: Flowers, gold fish, jade, electronics, sport goods, womens goods, and the local market. The local market was probably the most interesting. It provided a basic look at how people live and shop. Turns out that on this same day, in a different market, the government sampled some chickens and on Friday announced that they had found the bird flu, H5N1, the deadly one. We had looked at chickens in the market that day……..

After walking all day, we took the subway back to the hotel. If one word could provide advice to the USA, that word would be “Trains.”


Wednesday 4 June 2008

The Texas Four rolled out of the Holiday Inn around 5:30 am to catch a plane back to the US of A. Apparently there was speculation back home that I would be joining them on the flight home. Said speculation was errant.

I caught a little more sleep, and then rolled to the coffee shop for breakfast and caffeine. Major activities for the day centered around figuring out where to go next. It is not quite as easy as throwing darts at a map, unfortunately. One has to figure costs, visas, and monsoons. Bottom line comes down to this- when presented with the opportunity to drink beer with a lifelong friend in a foreign country, you arrange to make it happen.

Managed to find a great internet cafe. Great online security- it basically uninstalls everything when you log off. Fast connection. Comfortable seats. Security is the biggest concern in internet cafes, you never know when one may have worms or a key tracker installed. I felt secure doing online banking at this joint. The good news is I found some money that I had forgot about so that bodes well for the travels.

Moved across the street from the Holiday Inn to the Cosmic Guesthouse. Smallest room yet. At least it was clean.


Thursday 5 June 2008

Today was a shopping day. Picked up some new trail / running shoes. A requirement for jogging and exercise. Got some new socks also.

Got a Bluetooth headset for the computer to improve my Skype experience. If you have not used it, Skype kicks *ss. It is phone over the internet. I can call any number in the states from anywhere in the world for about $0.02 / min. And Skype to Skype calls are free. And they can include live video if both ends have webcams and good bandwidth. Nothing like a video call to brighten your day. And my Skype number will automatically forward to any cell phone number I am using. So basically, someone can call 713.895.1695 as a local number from the states, and Skype will forward it as a local call to whatever local SIM card I happen to be using. Pretty cool stuff.

Got some vitamins also. One of my books said vitamins are good for the brain. I’ll let you know if I feel smarter after a few weeks of supplements…….

Friday 6 June 2008-06-07

It rained. All day. All night. Booked a ticket out of Hong Kong through a local agent. They were about $100US cheaper than I could find a ticket online. And believe me; I spent some time online looking. (It was raining- not much else to do). Called a foreign travel agent in my next country of travel to book my onward journey. This ticket was $500 cheaper than I could get it online. That is a good thing. Note that most places require you to have proof of onward travel before they will let you in the country. Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, and several others are like this. Hong Kong was not that picky.

Found a slice of Hong Kong heaven. DelaneyÕs Irish Pub. Good food and FREE wireless access. Fast wireless to boot. Spent a good 5 or 6 hours there. Updated the web page, completed slideshows, etc. A glowing Apple logo is a chick magnet, entirely underutilized.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Woke up and it was still raining. It rained all day- again. Probably for about 40 hours straight it rained. Finished work on the webpage, printed stuff for travel purposes, and did a little shopping for office supplies. The morning saw record rainfall over Hong Kong. 400 flights were delayed. 14 were cancelled. The only road to the airport flooded. There were around 89 landslides. 3,657 lightning strikes between 7am and 8 am, along with 6Ó of rain between 8 am and 9am. The city average rainfall was around 12 inches over around 12 hours. In Houston, this would be more intense than a 100 year storm. Needless to say, my $2 umbrella paid for itself.

Made the walk (in the rain) to the harbor to watch the Symphony of Lights one last time. Truly one of the most impressive things I've seen. A taming of the concrete jungle, so to speak. It could never happen in the US. People would sue because of light pollution and noise. The FAA would complain because the lasers might confuse pilots. And to boot, nobody would pay to install it since you can not directly make money from it.

Sunday. 8 June 2008

On plane. Newspaper says that Bird Flu H5N1 was just found in chickens at a Hong Kong market. It was not the market we went to a few days prior. Good time to be leaving. If you’re superstitious, look for something bad to happen to China on either 6-11 or 6-20. The May earthquake hit on 5-12. The Tibetans protested on 3-15. Significance? The digits of these days add up to '8'. Eight is traditionally a very lucky number for Chinese people. For that reason, the Olympics start at 8pm on 8-8-2008. And by the way, that earthquake was precisely 88 days before the Olympic start date.....

Lead Time Calculator


Day 121

Day 121, June 5, 2008

4 months on the road. No planned end in sight. Waiting on a painfully slow wireless connection. Trying to figure out where to go next. Life is rough when these are the biggest concerns on one’s mind. Especially when they aren’t concerns at all. Basically just a series of small challenges to overcome and decisions to make. I learned from an unnamed source that this is a basic definition of life: Living Things Decide. A tree grows towards light, a bacteria ‘decides’ to eat and multiply, worms decide to eat poop, etc. Our decisions are a bit more complicated, but to stay alive, we have make decisions and act on them.

Sent the hiking boots home with the Houston crew, so I bought some new Nike trail runners today. The idea is to start running to get in shape. I’ll keep you updated on the progress.

Also added some pages to my passport at the US Embassy. Compared to the Indian Consulate or even the Chinese Consulate, this was a smooth, silky operation. There is a reason why we are a superpower.

McDonalds does not give free Coke refills in Hong Kong.

I finally broke down and went to KFC. Tastes of home, tastes of home. Fried chicken never, ever tasted so good.

Just got email from Eckroth. The Texas four made it home safely.

Damn Arabs. Somebody needs to put out more gas so the price of airfare will drop. I have to visit a local travel agent in the AM. I can’t bear to book tickets online at the prices I am looking at…………….

Slept in this morning, and yesterday morning.



Saturday, May 24

Met up with the Houston Four in Beijing. Jessica, Jennifer, Julia, and Dr. Muchard joined me for a 6 day tour of China. They got in around midnight so we downed a bottle of wine and got some sleep.

Jessica: Oh, yeah the wine, not quite vinegar but not exactly what I’d call an excellent bouquet. I doubt I’ll take a return trip to explore the Chinese wine country.

Jennifer: I don't remember the wine. Oh wait, yeah I do. It was bad.

Dr: Direct quote describing said wine from the label on the bottle: "Tasting best and delicious production elaborate brewing and classical making the wine was made of best grapes in the world and with internal advanced technics it is clarity and hasfull-bodied fruity-smell. Vinosity and long aftertaste."

Sunday, May 25

We decided on a train/foot tour of Beijing. Rumor was that there were tours of the Olympic Stadium so we headed that way via the subway. The other determining factor was that the stadium was not on our tour itinerary. We made it there and were greeted by armed guards, chain link fence, and a lot of confusing signs and instructions for tour tickets that did not exist. Se la vi... at least we saw the darn thing.

Next, we were off to the Temple of Heaven. It is huge, probably covers a good hundred acres. Another one of these deals where you tromp accross town and are greeted by a huge brick wall with no way in. I struck up a conversation with a Swiss flight attendant, but she had no idea where said temple was at. Eventually we found our way in and saw the sights. It is amazing what can be build with unlimited time, money, and man power. The air in the gardens here seemed cleaner than outside the temple gates. The air in Beijing resembles a fog. It hurts to breathe after a while. It makes Houston look and smell like a garden spot.

We returned to the hotel just in time for our first group meeting. 15 total: 3 Brits, 4 Minneapolis, 5 Texans, 1 Louisiana, 1 East coaster, and 1 Canadian. After the meeting we ventured out for our first of many group meals. Leah orders a variety of dishes and they all come out to a huge lazy susan in the middle of the table... round and round it goes as we sample the various dishes. By the end of the trip, everyone's chopstick skills had greatly improved.

Jessica: Should have packed a hard hat because Beijing equals one big construction site. The Olympic Stadium excursion was a bust but I suspect they hid the ticket booth when they saw 5 Americans approaching as other folks were clearly touring the Olympic Village. The signage was funny though like the “Tickets 300 m à” only to walk 300 meters à to find a sign that says “ß Tickets 200 m”. I also liked the English translation at the ATM that said “Question Authority” when what I think they meant was go inside to speak to teller. Our guide book called this type of translation “Chinglish”!J

Jennifer: I suspect that some of those stadium guards spoke english, but just didn't want to deal with us. I like how Larry fails to mention that the Swiss girl's body building look-a-like boyfriend did know where the temple was.

Dr: Sincere thanks to the five people working at information desk at the mall near the Olympic stadium who made their best efforts to attempt to figure out what we were looking for. Needless to say there was a big language barrier. They ended up giving us directions back to the gated stadium entrance.

Monday, May 26

We headed out of town in our small tour bus to the Great Wall. We went to a less visited section of the wall and enjoyed the lack of crowds. Persistent vendors, but not a lot of tourists. Unfortunately it was a hazy day, so the views were 'limited.' Still, it was cool to see it.

The parking lot is at the bottom of a large hill so we took a cable car to the top. The wall is on top of a large ridge line. We took the slide back down, a stainless steel slide with a luge like sled you sit on. Without slow moving sledders blocking traffic and Chinese dudes with bullhorns telling me to slow down, it could have been a kick ass ride. Instead is was merely 'cool.'

Jessica: So many steps, so little time. You often have to climb up to go down. Why anyone would want to attack by climbing this wall is beyond me…so I guess it served the intended purpose. Although limited, the views were worth the climb. The toboggan ride down almost made me want to climb back up and do it all over again.

Jennifer: The great wall has more stairs than anyone tells you ahead of time.

Dr: The tobaggon slide at the Great Wall represents true capitalistic spirit: attempt to extract as much money as possible from visitors at major tourist attractions. But it was still fun.

Tuesday, May 27

We took a tour of Mao's Mausoleum, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We then had lunch at a local house and had beverages on a small lake surrounded by bars and restuarants.

Mao's Mausoleum
No cameras allowed. This dude killed over 30 million of his countrymen, but they line up to see his well-preserved body like it was the new ride at 6 flags. He died in '76. Our tour concensous is that the 'well-preserved body' is actually a wax replica. We could be wrong though.......

Tiananmen Square
Epicenter of the June 4, 1989 Pro-Democracy reforms that were smashed by the governement. Death estimates range from 300 (China Government) to 3,000+ (Chinese Red Cross). The NSA puts the number between 180-500 . It was a pretty peaceful place at the time of our visit. It is a very large area, centrally located in Beijing. Adjacent to it are Parliment, Mao's thing, and the ancient Forbidden City.

Forbidden City
Old temples, gardens, and royal palaces. Can't describe this part without saying that the Houston Four got separated from the group for a while. Tour guide Leah was briefly worried, but eventually we found them.

After this we boarded a bus for lunch at a local house. Lunch was good. Most houses have no toilet facilities. There are public restrooms on every block. I don't recall if these folks had a toilet or not. After lunch we boarded a rickshaw caravan and rolled to a few locations along the backstreets of Beijing. Good times. Severa of us hit the lakeside resturaunt with Leah and then headed back to the hotel to prepare for our overnight train ride to Xian.

We rolled taxis to the train station. There are a lot of people in China and this is demonstrated while you sit around a train station for an hour. We boarded around 10:30pm and arrived in Xian around 8:30am. The train is a narrow hallway down one side, with sleeper cabins down the other side. 6 bunks to a cabin- that top bunk is high. Luckily they have sides so it would be real hard to fall out. No doors on the cabins either. There is a bar/resturant car, but we didn't make it there as we brought our own sleep medication.

Jessica: An interesting day. A “well-preserved” chairman, the first of many baby butt sightings, a rickshaw ride, local fare, a cool beer, and a midnight train...could almost be a country song. Oh, yeah, as for the separation from the group, we were never lost, we knew where we were the entire time…about 4 blocks west and 6 blocks south of our hotel.

Jennifer: The square was peaceful, but I did see a guy hold his kid over a trash can while the kid took a dump. True story. I am not going to address the overnight train, since I am trying to forget it. Lesson: if someone ever suggests that you take an overnight train, decline. And for the record, we weren't lost, just not where Leah thought we should be.

Dr: When separated from your tour group in China, simply locate another tour guide leading around a bunch of English speaking people and ask him to use his Chinese cell phone to call your tour guide. Don't spend 30 minutes attempting to locate and use a local pay phone (they only take Chinese phone cards) or trying to dial your guide's Chinese cell phone number on your cell phone. Our apologies to the rest of the group who had to wait around while we figured this out. Also - our sincere apologies to the two people in our bunk compartment on the train who were not associated with our tour group and had to listen to us enjoy Larry's "sleep medication" while they actually tried to sleep.

Wednesday, 28 May

Xian Orientation Walk. Xian is pronounced 'She-an'. That is the easiest thing I found in Chinese. The air here was slightly cleaner than Beijing, but only slightly. We checked out the city wall, which is about 10 miles along and surrounds the original city boundaries. There's a bell tower in the center of the city. Saw some cool stuff at a museum. Overall a very relaxing day. A few of us finished out the afternoon with Chinese massage at Leah's club. It had elements of Thai massage, with touches of pain and pleasure. My favorite move was when the masseuse massages your back with her knees while kneeling on top of you. Freaking awesome.

Jennifer: Instead of massages, some of us went to the market. I saw a purse at the market that I already own. The exact same purse. Turns out Harwin Street in Houston is our very own China right here.

Dr: The massage place was very upscale and at 120 Yuan (around $17 US) the 90 minute massage was a bargain.

Thursday, 29 May

Terra Cotta Warriors. Located about an hour bus ride from the hotel. Pretty cool to see. I say again, it is amazing what unlimited manpower can do. The warriors are buried to protect the emperors in the after life. One of the emperors wanted to bury his actual army with him, but one of his wise men convinced him that the army needed to stay alive to protect his children and family.... good call.

Luckily I brought the tripod along for the dimly lit viewing areas. It was one of those 'intuition' moments, halfway out the hotel door, turn around and get tripod, even though I hadn't used it for weeks. Ignored the 'no tripod' sign at the viewing areas and never got any slack from the numerous guards. Guess they didn't care that much........

Jessica: Very cool if not a little freaky to see life-like, life-size terra cotta army men positioned in precise military formation for eternity. Especially when you consider that in the 3 pits that have been uncovered there is estimated to be approximately 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses and the experts estimated that it took approximately 1 to 2 weeks to create just 1 figure and all this was done around 210 BC…oh, the joys of limitless manpower! Freakin’ amazing!

Jennifer: creepy.

Dr: It took 700,000 people 38 years to build this thing. Amazing.

Friday 30 May

We rolled out fairly early to catch the flight to Shanghai. It was an uneventful flight- just the way I like them. It is amazing the contrast in some people; they can be extremely gifted in certain skills but as irritating as fingernails on a blackboard otherwise.

We did an orientation walk around this bustling city. Apparently it was the gateway to China back in the roaring 20's. I think one of the Indiana Jones movies started here, maybe Temple of Doom.... We walked our rears off. Hit a museum and a historical part of town.

I believe this is the night we hit Pizza Hut for some comforts of home. After dinner we went down to the Shanghai Bund, which is a long pedestrian area that allows viewing of the city lights across the harbor. Good views.

Jessica: Yes, Temple of Doom starts in Shanghai…(LR – I’m not sure I like your lack of respect for Dr. Jones.) Personally, I was hoping to see a wild “Anything Goes” number on The Bund that evening, but the communist tried to rid the area of debauchery back in the ‘40s when they kicked out the Americans, Europeans, and Japanese so now there is only a handful of bars on The Bund and it kind of resembles the Vegas light show downtown at night. (I learned on this trip that the Chinese really like the neon lights…everywhere you go there are neon lights.)

Jennifer: The best part of the Bund was when all the people trying to peddle their wares, literally packed up and scrammed in about 3 seconds flat. We're talking kites out of the sky, stuff thrown in bags, packed up and ran. Turns out the cops weren't coming, but the tax man was.

Dr: It is interesting to see how American chain restaurants are implemented in foreign countries. Starbucks is exactly the same. Pizza Hut is upscale compared to the American version. They serve wine and the waitstaff wear fancy uniforms. Too bad the pizza was lousy.

Saturday 31 May

Day trip to Zhu Jia Jao, a traditional village situated on a canals system. Kinda like the Venice of China, but not quite. We took a ride through the canals in the water taxis. Wandered the alley ways and shops, checked out a temple, ate lunch, and headed back to the big city.

Our afternoon was free, so the big group split up. Several of the group went up in the Shanghai space needle looking tower. The Fab Five went to see the Jade Buddha and and area of town loaded with art galleries. This was the only one open:


We had one last group dinner that evening and everyone left town the following day.

Jessica: Water taxi was cool, alley ways and shops were full of interesting foods(?) and things. I was a little disappointed in the Jade Buddha as I like my religious artifacts a little less commercialized (we had to pay for admittance into the temple and then pay again to see the Jade Buddha and in order to see one of the Buddhas they route you through a gift shop. Unbelievable, but definitely capitalism at it’s best!)

Jennifer: Have you been Jade Buddaed lately?

Dr: The above-mentioned canal also serves as combination disposal system for untreated sanitary waste and direct (i.e., no treatment) source of water for domestic chores.