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Back to China

Tomorrow just after midnight I’m off to China. School starts on the 20th so I’ll have some time in Beijing, a day and a half, before I fly to Jinan. I’ll be the only American teacher there till Saturday night, when a new technology instructor arrives. The other English teachers, 4 of them, are still waiting for their visas. China sure has failed to improve this system. They may be in the same boat I was in in the fall having to make up classes. It’ll be especially rough on whoever is teaching 24 hours (a policy I’m 100% against).

I’m pretty well organized to go. I just have to pack toiletries and do a bit of laundry. I’ve got a few books to return to the library. (Ah, how I’ll miss using a library where I can take out books. We’ve never been encouraged to check out books in Jinan.)

I’m flying Eva Airlines for the first time. First I fly to Taipei and then to Beijing. On my way home I’ll spend a couple days in Taipei, but that’s not till June.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to blog and get online to most sites. There’s been news that China’s cracking down on VPNs. We’ll see if that’s so. It’ll be weird to be the only teacher at school from Friday – Saturday. It’ll be rather eerie. Usually everyone arrives the Wednesday night before the semester begins. This time they might be an entire week late.

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Architecture

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Selfridge’s  – London

Shrine in Kyoto

Heian Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Spring 2013 028

Buddhist Temple – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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St. Sophia Russian Orthodox Church

For those Long Flights

These tips should help your skin and general feeling of well being.

Ctrip Review

I’ll never buy train tickets online from Ctrip.com. I thought it would make getting tickets a lot easier, but boy have I been proven wrong.

First I signed up for an account, as I would for any website. Then I selected my tickets. Again this was typical and I didn’t have any problems, but it took longer than most sites. I then selected my tickets and the page loading was slow and I had to start over three times. After investing an hour in this process I found I would have to pay a $10 fee for each ticket. The usual fee is 50 rmb (around 90¢). I went ahead and bought just one ticket planning to get my return ticket at my hotel.

Ctrip’s site says consumers can pick up their tickets at any kiosk. That was key for me.

I went to a conveniently located kiosk and was told that the only place to pick up the Ctrip ticket is at the train station. Yikes! Chinese train stations are known for slow service and long lines.

I wound up having to go to the station where I had to wait 50 minutes to pick up my tickets. Ctrip is a horrible way to go for train tickets. If I’d just gone to the station and bought mine there I’d have to wait in line for 50 minutes, I’d still have saved an hour and $9.10.

Sepia Saturday

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From LOC, Flickr Commons. Date: between 1865 – 1870

The prompt for this month is “Travel or Transport,” which provides loads of inspiration. My favorite is the image above as it’s so whimsical.

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LOC, Flickr Commons. Doesn’t this beckon you still?

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I’ve never traveled this way. Would you like to try? (LOC, Flickr Commons.)

Novotel Blackfriars, London

I just stayed one night at the Novotel Blackfriars in London, but I’d definitely go back. Though small, my room was nicely decorated and the bed was so comfy that I felt like a princess, like the princess in “Princess and the Pea.” The small bathroom was stylish with slate floors and chic toiletries.

Best of all, the location was great. I could walk to the London Eye in 10 minutes and to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey in 15 minutes. It’s half a block from a tube station.

Of course, there’s free wifi and a fitness center, which looked clean and up to date.

As a gold level member, I usually get a plate of fruit and an upgrade. On my stay I didn’t get either. Perhaps there were no bigger rooms available. As for the fruit, which I missed, I got a free drink voucher. I’d hoped for fresh orange juice at the adjacent restaurant, but all they had was standard concentrate. Novotel should just get some fruit to welcome us.

I didn’t eat any meals there. They have a breakfast buffet for $13, but there were several other choices where I could get a good breakfast for less.

Back in the USA

After a 2 hour delay and a 12 hour flight, I’m back home in the USA. Jetlag has set in and it’s 2:42 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour. I’ve gone through some of my junk mail and tossed most of it. I’ve eaten a Mertz cheddar cheese on rye sandwich and had some red wine, which I hope will make me sleepy. I am wondering about some other treat as the sandwich wasn’t quite enough. I’m happy to be back where the internet is free. Many times last semester I wanted to throw, just hurl, the school computer out the window because it’s so slow and limited.

My flight home was nothing special ~ which is sadly the case for air travel nowadays. They got us the ho hum dinner fairly early on and then brought out the snack about a half hour after dinner. They must mindlessly follow a schedule that favors the staff’s break time over logic and customer service. I lucked out with a seat mate as I sat by Ming, a young Chinese girl who was visiting her sister in Albany. Like Ming had, the sister was getting a Masters degree in the US. Ming worked for a company that helped the government with city planning. We talked about Christianity, social trends and materialism in China. I mainly listened to Ming who made it clear that I’d underestimated the materialism, competition and greed found in China.

We did not have the individual screens, which I love on flights. Why has United done away with this? It’s a crap shoot in coach if you’ll get them. So we were all stuck with the same movies. I watched one, Eddie the Eagle, which wasn’t too bad and The end of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which didn’t make much sense since I missed the beginning and it’s not like the story by Thurber.

It’s a shame that air travel has become so substandard. Would it kill them to offer better food or even choices of food? Or to offer more cordial service? Attention United Flight Attendants — it’s not professional to discuss the “woman who’s driving me crazy” when you’re standing in the middle of the cabin for all to hear.

 

Sepia Saturday

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Sepia Saturday’s prompt is a photo of Queen Elizabeth II and her sister. I’d like to honor the Queen on her 90th birthday so I’m sharing a photo of her and Prince Philip on a train in the Yukon.

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Sepia Saturday

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This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt led me to find some photos of vintage hotels, that I wish I could travel back in time to and stay in to enjoy the elegance.

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Palmer House, Chicago

 

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Jerome Hotel, Aspen – looks desolate here but was plush in its prime

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Sherman House, Chicago

Country Driving

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China expert Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is wild and crazy ride through a China in transition. Part travelogue, part memoir, Hessler begins by describing  his trips from Beijing out west along the Great Wall (make that Great Walls, because it never was one wall, but the Europeans thought it was and kept referring it to as the Great Wall so in the end the Chinese figured, “just go with it.”) He drove beaters he rented from a chain smoker who’d just laugh whenever Hessler broke the company’s rules. Throughout part one he sprinkles the questions from the drivers’ test.

133. If you drive for four hours, you must stop the car and take a mandatory rest of at least

a) 10 minutes

b) 15 minutes

c) 20 minutes.

356. If you give somebody a ride and they realize he left something in your car, you should:

a) keep it for yourself

b) return it to the person or his place of work as quickly as possible

c) call him and offer to return it for a reward.

My favourite part of the book was part two when Hessler rented a small house in rural Sancha, two hours outside of Beijing. In time Hesssler becomes “Uncle Monster,” almost part of the Wei family. Here I learned so much about life in rural China. The Wei’s are a young couple and parents of the only child in the village (because most young villagers went off to seek their fortunes). Hessler gets involved with the Wei’s who rented him the home on behalf of their cousins. When their 5 year old son gets a rare blood condition and the family is given the brush off at a hospital in a city near the village, Hessler steps up to get better healthcare in Beijing. I was stunned by how uncaring and out of touch the healthcare professionals were. Hessler saw that the parents were getting 2nd class treatment because they looked like peasants. He then began asking questions on the parents’ behalf. He wanted to make sure the boy got clean blood, but the doctor he spoke with kept insisting there was no way to be sure the blood wasn’t contaminated with HIV or hepatitis. She didn’t believe there were tests for these diseases!

I also was particularly struck by Hessler’s description of teacher-parent conferences. All the parents sit in rows of chairs as the teacher describes each child’s behaviour and progress for all to hear. “Xiao Gao always wets his pants and starts fights with other boys.” “Xiao Wang is horrible in math and is lazy.” No privacy here. When the boy was publicly called out for not sitting still his parents beat him and teased him mercilessly.

In the last part of the book, Hessler goes south to see how a rural community changes with its first wave of manufacturing comes to town. He sees the change through a relationship he cultivates with men starting a factory that makes bra wings. I know more about these metal pieces on bra straps than I ever dreamed. I also learned that most of this manufacturing boom is lead by teams where the highest level of education for its leaders may be middle school, that most factories prefer to hire young girls with little experience or education as such girls cause the least amount of “trouble.” If you lie in a job interview, even if you provide a fake ID and misrepresent who you are, you are likely to be most valued because it’s assumed you “really want work.” As I read, I couldn’t stop thinking what a house of cards this whole boom is.

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