Monday, April 29, 2013

April 28th in Beijing with Dylan, hot pot, negotiating, Vagina Warrior, and more

Sunday, April 28th, 2013
Today Dylan got up early so we could go to the Antique Market. I woke up at 6:30, way too early! I stayed in bed a bit too long then finally got up and showered and got dressed, had a yogurt, then went downstairs to check my email before leaving. I received an email that filled me with so much joy, tears welled up in my eyes. Julie Willard wrote me to tell me I'd been awarded the Vagina Warrior Award. Here's what she wrote about the award:

Dearest Susan,
I write to you today to thank you for all that you have done for One Billion Rising RVA, The Vagina Monologues, me, and women everywhere. In the V-Day 2005 - 2006 campaign Eve Ensler introduced a way to recognize the work of amazing women just like you, women who have either personally experiences violence or witnessed it in their communities and who have then dedicated their lives to helping those affected by violence - women who work to change the world. V-Day Richmond 2013 and The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance is honored to announce two winners of this year's Vagina Warrior awards, Susan Singer and Janett Forte.

2013 Vagina Warriors
In the words of Eve Ensler:
Every day, women around the world work tirelessly to change the world, to end violence against women. The Vagina Warrior award is presented to women in order to honour them for the work they do.
They are fierce, obsessed, can’t be stopped, driven.
They are no longer beholden to social customs or inhibited by taboos.
They are not afraid to be alone, not afraid to be ridiculed or attacked.
They are often willing to face anything for the safety and freedom of others.
They love to dance.
They are directed by vision, not ruled by ideology.
They are citizens of the world. They cherish humanity over nationhood.
They have a wicked sense of humour.
Vagina Warriors know that compassion is the deepest form of memory.
They know that punishment does not make abusive people behave better.
They know that it is more important to provide a space where the best can emerge rather than “teaching people a lesson.”
Vagina Warriors are done being victims. They know no one is coming to rescue them. They would not want to be rescued.
They have experienced their rage, depression, desire for revenge and they have transformed them through grieving and service. They have confronted the depth of their darkness. They live in their bodies.
They are community makers. They bring everyone in.
Vagina Warriors have a keen ability to live with ambiguity. They can hold two existing, opposite thoughts at the same time.
Many Vagina Warriors work primarily on a grassroots level. Because what is done to women is often done in isolation and remains unreported, Vagina Warriors work to make the invisible seen.
I feel so honored by this. I love Eve's description of Vagina Warriors. They are inspiring words to live by. I will print them out when I get home and post them so I can re-read them if things get tough. They certainly describe the kind of woman I want to be. I look forward to putting this line on my résumé! And I can't wait to have someone ask about it - I imagine it'll lead to some great conversations!
My excitement about being a Vagina Warrior led me to be late meeting Dylan at the subway station. I felt bad about that - we had no way of being in touch, so the ten minutes I kept him waiting were probably upsetting for him. We went to borrow a cell phone from his school later in the afternoon so we could call each other next time. That'll be convenient, though it was certainly reminiscent of the good ol' days having to determine in advance when and where we'd meet. Kinda fun, and it works too! (As long as I'm not late!)
large building where most booths are
some of the weekend sellers
We took the subway about an hour to the opposite side of Beijing where we met a friend of Dylan's, Matt, who is an avid collector of all things Mao as well as of stamps. He had told Dylan about an antiques market that is terrific on weekends especially. He suggested we get there early in the morning to get the best stuff. There are many vendors who come in from the outlying areas on the weekends to entice people who are out to buy. It was an impressively large, sprawling area. Around the perimeter, there are permanent shops, primarily jewelry stores, I think. Then there's a huge building with 2-300 stalls in row after row of stuff. The rows are organized by type of product: paintings, brass statues, wood carvings, beads out of stone primarily- lots more, but I didn't get to see them all. In addition to that, outside there were 100's more vendors with 2x3' spaces on the ground where they displayed whatever they had to sell - primarily fake antiques like vases, chess sets - when the vendors saw us white people coming, if they had a chess set for sale, they invariably pointed it out to us and said "chess". It was usually their only English word. From that I am assuming the chess sets are very popular with Anglos.

I love this juxtaposition of statues - dragon teapot from ancient Chinese civilization, Chairman Mao, the elephant Shakti (?) from India, perhaps; then Hotei, a Buddhist guy.  I think this parallels the mishmash of history and civilization I saw everyplace I went in China.

Many of these statues are from "Year of the..." series - rabbit, pig, etc.
There were also tons of statues-those were very interesting to me. Buddhas and Quan Yins were mixed in with Indian Shaktis(not sure that's the right name) and, interestingly, Chairman Maos. The mishmash was fascinating and bespoke volumes about the culture. Flea markets are a great way to learn about a culture, I think.
List of interesting wares:
* Round pieces of marble that look like Chinese brush paintings, with seals and calligraphy on them to turn them into art, matted and framed.
* Jewelry made of some sort of material that looked like glass or plastic with stuff trapped inside the way amber traps stuff, but it was none of that. It's a stone that comes from Brazil.
Mao's Little Red Book and the pins given out as awards
* Round red pins out of very cheap metal, with Mao's face on them, given as awards in the communist era. Dylan's friend Matt collects them and knows a lot about where they were made, what they were given for, etc. Also, copies of Mao's Little Red Book
painting of a Red Guard soldier
* lots of documents from the Mao era as well as remakes of posters, etc. I was surprised to see the era so alive and well. I had thought they would be so happy to be beyond it they wouldn't want a inning to do with it ever again. But that might be an American perception. There are certainly plenty of people who collect Nazi paraphernalia for whatever strange reason.

We wondered what would happen if it began to rain?
* Books, books, books! Plenty of them in English. I found a huge beautiful book about Lucien Freud that I lusted after heavily until I thought more about trying to get it home. My luggage is already starting to get heavy. But it's a beautiful book. I did buy one book - I have no idea who the artist is, but it's a Chinese person whose art is an interesting mix between Chinese brush paintings and realistic Western art. There are some lovely portraits and nudes. I didn't see any art that could be considered at all controversial.

* I saw a book by Taschen, a publisher, about Monet which I'd seen in the Musee Marmottan in Paris for lots of money. I imagine it was cheaper here, but I didn't look into it- I wasn't quite interested enough.

* Opium pipes of many different materials,

* Beads of many stones, especially turquoise, beautiful turquoise with various colors throughout. I worked on getting a few of them, but they were too expensive. They're actually cheaper from my wholesale jewelry catalog I have in the US.
* Paintings - stall upon stall upon stall of brush paintings, probably prints for the most part, based on the price. They were startlingly cheap. There were also typical scrolls and some paintings on canvas which were, for the most part, quite hideous, poorly done, gaudy colors,weird subject matter. I passed those by quickly. There were also a few exquisite paintings done on silk with a great deal of skill. Some were of people, some flowers with birds. I thought about buying one of a lotus with stark red flowers. The vendor wanted $100 which was very reasonable, it was just more than I wanted to spend.

* Swords

*Slingshots carved from wood

* Zillions of statues as I mentioned before

* Buddhas and Hoteis of any description and any material.  We found one particularly appealing one which I ended up buying for Chris.  His friendly smile reminds me of my love!  He has a bat resting on his belly which apparently means good fortune.  The character for "bat" in Chinese sounds like the one for "good fortune", thus the association.

* Lots of teapots.  If I were a tea drinker or a teapot collector, I would have been in heaven!  They were quite appealing. 

* Little insect-shaped boxes whose wings spread out, disclosing hiding places in them. I couldn't quite figure out what you could store in them -the openings were tiny.

* Uh, interesting statues, for, uh, personal use(!)  Yes, made from stone.  Not sure about the sanitariness of second hand dildos...

* And then there were the much larger statues for gardens, homes, official places, etc.  I would have loved to have brought those giant lions home for our driveway to complement (and compete with ; ) ) our neighbor's stone gates!

Because the goods were laid out on the ground in this section, we had to squat down to look at them carefully - my squatting muscles are really getting toned this week! At one point, Dylan was negotiating, so I just plopped down cross-legged on the ground to wait for him to be done. Dylan told me later, that was a very uncommon thing to do and that people were looking at me strangely. Apparently they perceive the ground as very dirty. It's an interesting perception - on the one hand, of course, it's filthy - people are walking all over it all day, plus pretty much everyone hawks a big one and spits it out whenever and wherever the need strikes, so the ground is certainly covered with lots of dry spit. On the other hand, there are many, many street cleaners throughout the city, so there is little trash around. My mother, who does collages using found objects, asked me to pick up some trash - literally - off the ground for her to use, but there really isn't any. So the streets are clear of trash, just not of dirt. I didn't sit on the ground again! Dealers cope with that issue by giving potential customers tiny little stools that are about 9 inches off the ground to sit on while looking and negotiating.
Which leads me to another topic - negotiating! Oh my goodness! I couldn't do very well without Dylan! He is phenomenal at bargaining. We'd better all hope he becomes a diplomat and is the one at the negotiating table when the going gets tough. The vendors typically start very very high with tourist prices, say1200¥, or $200. Dylan will laugh right in their face and say, in terrific Chinese, "Oh come on, that's a joke, right?" First of all, they're caught off guard by the fact that this tall white kid speaks such good Chinese then by his manner which is so friendly and ingratiating. They immediately cut the price in half and tell him, oh, that was the tourist price, but of course they won't charge him that since he speaks Chinese so well. They comes a rapid flow of negotiation of which I don't understand a word, but I see Dylan being very friendly, smiling, but hard as nails under that,driving for a price he and I have come up with that I'm willing to pay or let go of the object of desire. He says the trick is to be completely willing to not get what you're bidding for so you're not invested in the outcome. Then you can negotiate without worry or attachment. At some point, I see the vendors get miffed and tell him he's crazy or out of his mind, that they need to make some money, for Pete's sake! He needs to give them a break! They go back and forth, usually getting to the point where it feels uncomfortably acrimonious to me, and I just want to crawl under the floor, but I trust him to know what he's doing. Right around that point, something breaks - he'll smile to show he knows it's all just a game; the vendor smiles; they come to agreement on an absurdly low price, after about 20 minutes of arguing hotly, and we pull out the money as they finally look at me for the first time and tell me what a good wheeler dealer he is. (Dylan translates that proudly, though its also obvious what they're saying.). I smile fondly as I receive my goods and we leave,satisfied with the outcome. I hope the vendors are too!
Of course, there are times that doesn't work. Like in the scarf shop at the Silk Market the first day I was here. They have beautiful scarves out of silk, polyester, pashima, cashmere, etc., and there are many stores that carry them. They aren't that cheap - I got scarves made in China for less in Paris than they're selling them for here, ironically enough. Anyway, I found two I wanted, if the price was right. Dylan went to work. I think the woman in the store started at 250¥. Dylan laughed congenially. They began in earnest. We were aiming for 50¥. He got he down to 60¥, or $10. I was OK with that,but he wanted 50¥ - didn't want to lose face. She wouldn't budge. We left. She didn't come after us like they'll often do. I forgot to mention that - Dylan will often leave the proceedings 2-3 times only to be called back or hauled back for a new, lower offer - that's where lack of attachment to the outcome is really helpful. We left that shop. A while later, after looking in other shops, I decided I would, in fact, like those scarves and would pay 60¥ for them so we went back. When I saw the two I'd chosen, (after having looked at so many others in other shops) I realized I didn't really want one of them so I asked about getting another one in its place. Apparently it was more expensive than the previous one. She wasn't interested in 60¥ anymore. Dylan worked on her. Finally she became so exasperated, she pushed him physically out of the shop, fussing at him all the way, telling him not to come back. I don't think there was any serious ill will on her part, but she was completely clear that he shouldn't come back! He was kind of proud - it was his first time being kicked out of a shop for his negotiation tactics.
So with all of this, I have mixed feelings - gratitude and pride that he manages so well - after all, I like getting a great deal! My mother and I are both pretty good at bargaining, (to the embarrassment of our loved ones at times) but we're no good at all compared to Dylan. Then there are my motherly feelings - this is the child I named my "one more boy" - if he would get in his mind that he wanted something, he would bargain with me the same way he bargained with all those vendors who didn't know what hit them- with a smile, letting me know it wasn't all serious, but with a will of iron to let me know he wasn't going to stop until he won. It was exhausting. I could always play the Mom card, and did when appropriate, but he won a lot more than any other child would have due to his persistence. And that's where my pride and gratitude come to the fore again. Remember, Dylan is the child who had a condition that caused him to lose the ability to walk when he was 10. It was his blasted persistence and iron will that brought him to the place he's at today, walking very well, thank you very much, traveling the whole world starting when he was 16 when he went to Spain and Germany for the summer, meeting Laura there, and Peru, alone, at 17, to tutor orphans. The kid is unstoppable. Truly amazing. So I stand in awe, listening as he negotiates $3 off a trinket, knowing where his will has gotten him, proud, adoring, bemused, and almost tearful knowing what an amazing person he is.
Five hours and fifteen pounds of goods heavier, we finally left the fascinating market to return the the university area. Thankfully after 4-5 stops, we got seats on the subway for the rest of the hour long trip. Dylan has a high risk, high gain strategy for getting seats that almost always works for him. I was glad for it. I was tired!
On the subway, I notice that virtually everyone has out their smart phone and is reading or playing a game or texting or whatever (though these pictures don't show that, I realize!). There certainly is no eye contact unless I happen to notice them looking my way which happens a fair amount since I'm a bit of anomaly - white - though not so much in Beijing. Dylan says it happens much more in the country where people may never have seen a white person before. He suggested I consider how I'd feel if I saw a real live Eskimo- I might want a picture of him even though he's a perfect stranger. Here in China there's little hesitation about taking photos of people or anything else. No one has looked askance at me for taking pictures of any of the odd things I've photographed while here, themselves included.

image.jpegOnce we got back to Dylan's dorm, I checked facebook quickly then we rode his scooter (Thank goodness for his scooter! It saves us a lot of walking! He thought I would refuse to ride it since he has no helmets and it's pretty crazy driving around here, but I am lazy enough to overlook those facts and just be grateful for the ease of it.) to the place we got massages the first day I was here. Yay! Dylan left me there for a massage while he went to hang out with a friend who is leaving China Wednesday. I got a very different massage this time. The masseuse, again a man, moved fast, jiggling me rapidly the whole time as he also dug into my tight spine muscles. My legs were particularly tight, especially my right calf. Dylan said he suggested I go to a doctor for it because he thinks its so bad. I think it's from wearing a bad sock today that bunched up in my new shoes and made me walk funny, causing me strain in that muscle. It is certainly sore, but I don't feel a need to see a doctor - I can't imagine what one would do for me. It's massage was an hour long and cost 88¥ - that's about $14. I will be doing that again! This one wasn't relaxing because of the jiggling effect but it kept me very present to the moment, and the ultimate effect was good. I'm grateful. My body has been going through a lot with so much travel and walking and airplanes and bad air, it's good to give it massages to let it know I love and respect it and want it to feel good.
Speaking of bad air, the pollution index my first day here was 30, about like in other big cities - just fine. The next day it was at 130, unsafe for young children and the elderly. Today it was 159. Dangerous. I don't know what to do with that information. I could wear a mask, but I don't know how that would really help. It'll filter out the whiffs of fluff from blooming trees, but I don't know how it will keep anything else out. There's a filter on it, I guess, but it isn't a gas mask. It's just a paper filter. So I just breathe and hope I'm not getting too much poison with each breath. It's not too pleasant a thought. It was supposed to rain today which would have left the air cleaner - I'm glad it didn't rain - wish it had rained - I'm sure you understand!
After the massage, we met two of Dylan's friends, Steven and Hannah, for dinner of hot pot. Eating out is interesting - generally, you get a menu when you come in, figure out what you want, enter it onto a sheet with all the options listed, the call the waitress over, loudly - they don't get tips,so they're helpful but not particularly attentive. You pay when you order. They bring the food, you eat. If you need something, you call her over again. Chances are she won't check to see if you need anything.
At the restaurant for hot pot.
The piled up rolls of meat and the veggies:


The hot pot was interesting. There was an induction burner built into the table. The waitress brought a large pot which was divided in two over to the table. Half had a curry broth in it. The other half was more mild and maybe chicken broth based. She turned on the burner and waited for it to heat the oil/broth mixture to boiling. Meanwhile she brought out two plates of meat which was very very thinly sliced then rolled up - thinner than paper. It came from the freezer. We also got a heaping plate of vegetables - lettuce, spinach, winter melon, carrots, needle mushrooms, Jew's ears mushrooms (sorry about the vile name), bok choy, fake crab, fish balls, and perhaps a few other things. We also got a packet of peanut sauce sort of like thin organic peanut butter. That and chopped cilantro were to go in a small bowl (about 3 inches in diameter) as the sauce. We also got a plate of linguine-width rice noodles, cellophane noodles, and some floor spaghetti-size noodles along with inch-wide flat tofu skin "noodles", all of which were also mean to be cooked in the hot pot. Using chopsticks, we picked up our choice of food and put it into the boiling liquid and waited for it to cook, then fished it out, put it into the peanut sauce, then ate it. It was quite tasty. A fun way to eat, because it took a long time so gave us lots of time to talk and visit. It reminded me of fondue parties I went to in Germany when I was a student. Similar, but different.
After dinner Dylan and his friends were going to go to KTV or karaoke to sing and drink and have a rousing good time. Dylan and his friends were all generous enough to invite me to go along, but I decided to come back to the hotel instead so I could write this blog and so they could have fun unimpeded by thoughts of what I might think or feel. We stopped by a store to get me some yogurt for breakfast and Hannah started to say something, presumably about getting some kind of alcohol to drink, but she stopped herself from speaking - I named it and we all laughed. It confirmed my thought that it would be awkward for me to go along, no matter how nice they were to ask. I've been glad to be here too. I didn't have the energy to write last night but really wanted to so this is good.
The hostel where I'm staying.

across the street from the hostel

across the street from the hostel
The street the hostel is on. My room is in the back so I don't hear this traffic.

When I got here, exhausted, my door key wouldn't work. The housekeeper heard my key card beeping so let me in but indicated I should go downstairs. They'd locked me out to make sure I'd pay my next two days' rent. Very effective in a world where we don't speak each others' language! I certainly understood!
Coming upstairs, my heart sank when I saw four adolescent young men enter the room next to mine. It seems there are many more teenagers than just these four on this floor - on both sides of me, I think, based on the fact that they occasionally try to open my door. There is lots of noise in the hall - it's 11:30. The noise outside has stopped but not inside yet. I expect it'll continue through the night. I'm thankful to have my music on my iPad so I can drown out the crowd pretty well.
Travel helps me appreciate my creature comforts SOOOOOO much!
So that's it for today! Thanks for reading!



Birthday cakes I saw in a bakery window on my walk home tonight. Dylan says the baked goods are very airy and light, nothing like our Crisco icing cakes!

A sense of the number of bikes here at the university. They are ridden by soooo many people and are used for work - I've seen pickup truckloads of stuff piled on the backs of bikes - it's very impressive and nothing like the way Americans generally ride bikes for sport or pleasure. These bikes are old, too. Nothing fancy about them, generally speaking.


Magazines for sale at a newsstand where I bought a SIM card for the phone Dylan borrowed for me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 25, 2013 Arriving in Beijing and the first day here.

5:23 am and I've already been at the airport for about 10 minutes already.  I was the second person to go through customs, so I got out just as the plane was scheduled to land.  Dylan is planning to get here around 6 so I have a little time to get acclimated.

The flight was completely fine, luxurious even, as I was seated by a window by an emergency exit with tons of leg room next to a man who spoke very good English and wanted to talk, so I had a very companionable travel friend the whole time - until he fell asleep and snored a bit.  Thankfully I brought my ear plugs with me - I don't travel without them! - so that was OK.  I got about 3 hours sleep.  I'm sure it will catch up with me soon enough but for now I feel fine.  We had dinner and breakfast on the plane, both of them not very good but adequate.  I'm so thankful Dylan knows his way around and will take care of my gustatory needs at least for today.  He has class for 8-10 this morning so I'm taking he'll take me to the hostel, which is near his University, and let me unpack and sleep for a while then will come and get me after class.  I'm guessing he didn't sleep too much last night either.  He's usually up til around 2 or so.  

I had some hopes that I would be waylaid in Amsterdam so I could go see the VanGogh and Rembrandt museums today but by the time I landed at that airport and walked the half hour to the right gate, I was just as glad to continue on to Beijing without interruption.  All this traveling is quite bizarre to me after so many years of staying at home, only going to the beach or to visit family.  The time of raising kids is so focused and concentrated on just that and almost nothing else.  It's strange having so much time and so many opportunities for myself without having to considers the kids.  They are off on so many adventures themselves, it isn't even possible to take their schedules into account!

I look up from this writing every so often, searching the floor for a very tall white man.  I think he probably stands out from the crowd quite a bit.  The hall was almost empty just a few minutes ago.  Now it is getting crowded. I trust he'll find me.  

He did!  Of course.

We came by taxi to his dorm which is a striking, modern building at Beda University.  It was fun, and a little bit disconcerting somehow, to see his room, the very one I've seen on the Internet so often as we've Skyped.  We talked for a while until I realized I wasn't making a lot of sense anymore because my tiredness was starting to take over.  That was around 6:30.  I guess I didn't last all that long!  Dylan's roommate wasn't there so I curled up in Dylan's bed and tried to calm my brain and my body enough to be able to fall asleep.  It certainly felt good to be horizontal!  I drifted off to sleep a couple of times, waking to unfamiliar noises,then falling back asleep.  At one point, Dylan's roommate, Taka, returned.  I heard enough to recognize I probably needed to sit up and do the polite thing - greet him from my haze and be friendly.  I think I might have embarrassed him, but I was too tired to be embarrassed myself.  I fell back asleep.  Dylan left for class.  Taka was in the room, but I didn't notice.  When Dylan got back, he took a nap too.  I finally roused myself around 11:20, thinking it would be wise to get up and have a day so I could get on a decent schedule.  I checked email til Dylan woke up a few minutes later.  

We rushed a little bit and got over to one of the many student cafeterias near him for lunch.  I've posted a picture of me eating there.  It was interesting.  When we went in, we picked up a eat of green plastic chop sticks - no other utensils were available.  Then we went to the perimeter where there were 10 -12 different serving areas, each offering different things.  I think some had noodles others Chinese pancakes, maybe some spring rolls.  The food we got was pretty good - about like a typical Chinese restaurant with rice and some sort of vegetable or veggie/meat mixture in a sauce.  The sauces had a bit more subtlety and variety to them than most restaurants ive been too though.  The sweet and sour pork was especially good.  I was also craving vegetables - they were hard to come by in Paris - so I had a bok choy dish with egg in it.  Dylan got some mushrooms which were quite flavorful and interesting.  We had one other dish to but I can't remember what it was.  All that cost 12 ¥ or $2.  Oh yeah, we also got drinks, some kind of plum juice, I think it was.  It was more food than we could eat.  

After lunch we walked through the campus so I could see the classrooms where Dylan has spend so much time these last months.  The buildings themselves were about 100 years old and quite beautiful, fairly ornately decorated with what look like "typical" Chinese ornamentation - curved, sloped roofs, lovely colorful trim below the roof, lions and other figures balances on the corners and edges of the roof.  The windows had beautiful lattice work rather than our typical American rectangles.  It was a pleasure to look at.  While in one of the classroom buildings, it seemed like a good idea to use the facilities.  That was when Dylan broke the news to me that the toilets are generally squat toilets.  That means they are a porcelain hole in the floor over which one squats to excrete whatever one needs to eliminate.  He then handed me a little package of tissues wrapped in plastic to use because bathrooms do not generally come equipped with toilet paper.  And what toilet paper is used is to be deposited into a trash can in the stall NOT flushed with the bodily wastes.  I tend to forget then feel bad about not being a good enough person to dig in there and get it out.  I am noble enough that I am squatting (not that I have a choice, I realize).  I am not also going to dig my toilet paper out of there!  I WILL however do better about remembering. 

It's interesting being so close to the floor - it's good for my leg muscles, and it makes me really pay attention to the cleanliness of the floor.  My nose is only about 10 inches off of it.  I also will not wear skirts unless I know I'll be able to use a US style toilet that day.  Too much to keep track of, and I definitely wouldn't want it joining my toilet paper in the drain...

Having survived the excitement of a new way of going to the bathroom, we took off to walk around the lake.  There is a splendidly beautiful manmade lake on the campus which is extraordinarily beautiful right now because things are blooming all over.  There also was virtually no pollution today. It was at a 30 today, equivalent to most major metropolitan areas.  Other days it's been closer to 300. On those days the sky is white, the buildings blend into that white, at least 1/3 of the people wear masks to help them breathe.  Dylan and my seatmate on the plane both exclaimed how lucky we were today that the weather was so perfect.  The temperature was about 70 a lot of he day getting cooler in the evening.

The lake was so beautiful.  It was planted with many blooming trees and flowers and was filled with coi.  There were many people there taking pictures with very good cameras with very big lenses.  My iPad just didn't measure up but I was nonetheless very glad to have it.

Part way around the lake, Dylan and I sat down and talked for a while, catching up, enjoying each other's company.  I loved it!  I really like my kids, their fundamental personalities as well as the adults they are becoming.  That feels great.

We returned to his dorm to get my luggage so I could go check into the hostel he found for me.  It's on the other side of the campus  so we decided to pay a taxi driver the $2 or $3 to drive us there rather than haul it the mile or so over cobblestones and through roads, up and over bridges, etc.  I'm sure you get the picture!  

The hostel is very nice.  My room is clean, fairly spacious, with a double bed, dresser, desk and luggage rack.  The room comes with a bathrobe and some sandals to wear to the bathroom.  The towels are not Egyptian cotton - I will definitely be using Chris's camping towel to supplement those.  They're closer to dish towels in size and thickness - worn out ones!  Other than that the room is great.  You can't drink the water here AT ALL without boiling it, so the hotel provides thermoses in each room and a dispenser on the third floor where you can get as much boiling water as you want.  Dylan has a water boiler in his room plus he and his roommate have a water dispenser with 5 gallon jugs which someone delivers to their room as needed.  The university provides the hot water to the students.  Several places on campus there are small buildings with many different-colored thermoses lined up on the sidewalk and steps, awaiting the students who might need the water.  Water is at a premium in Beijing.  In Dylan's dorm,they have to use their room card to turn on the faucets in the bathroom to wash their hands.  They do have a faucet and sink in their room though which gives them all they want without of a card.

I don't have a bathroom or sink in my room - that was going to be $50 per night.  I decided to opt for $30/night instead and use the one down the hall.  I'd rather use the extra money for more fun stuff!  And besides, they gave me such a handsome robe to use this way!

After checking into the hotel, we road Dylan's scooter over to a place where his friends were waiting to get a massage.  Oh my goodness I am so glad I did that!  My body has been so contorted this last week with airplane rides, hauling my suitcase up and down zillions of steps in Paris, sleeping too little, sitting too much 2 days, and walking about 10 miles/day the other days.  I definitely needed the massage!  There was a woman at this door who assessed what each of us needed.  She looked at my tongue and said I looked very worn down.  Yep! (I actually feel great,but I can well imagine that my body is worn down! Dylan had said the massages cost 88¥ , about $12, for a hour, but the woman said I needed a better one than that to revitalize me.  I believed her. So I paid the princely sum of 188¥, or about $30, for an hourlong very intense,targeted massage,one of the deepest,most pointed ones I've ever had. It was wonderful.  The set up was fascinating.  Dylan and I were led into a fairly large room with three tables in it.  We were given clothes to put on, the tops of which resembled the striped outfits holocaust victims had to wear.  The bottoms were white pants with elastic and a string tie at the waist.  Dylan's came up to his calf.  Mine fit but the top was gargantuan.  The masseuses,both men, came in once we were ready and had us lie down on tables with permanent holes cut into them for our faces.  The massage was excellent.  Interestingly, he did it through the pjs I had on as well as through a thin blanket. The man found places I didn't know I had, and he let me know I was sore in those places.  It was partially -mostly - pleasurable, but sometimes it was too much, and I had to get Dylan to ask him to lessen up on the pressure.  He told me that my thighs being so tight meant my energy was drained.  He also massaged my belly a lot - that's something US masseuses don't do as a matter of course.  There are lots of sensitive spots for me throughout he region.  When he got to my belly button, that was especially sensitive.  Interesting to experience.  Other than the fact that he room was fairly chilly, it was a great massage.  I plan to go back once or twice more while here.  Dylan enjoyed his a lot too- he said that his guy did things to his back no one has done before - in a good way.  

After the massage, we went upstairs in that building to a wonderful cafe lined with books.  It's called Heaven Cafe, I think.  It was a wonderful space.  Expensive for Chinese standards, but great to hang out in.  Several of his friends were there doing their homework.  It's very fun listening to Dylan speak Chinese.  It's such a different language, so utterly incomprehensible to me, I'm extremely impressed with how well he an speak it.  

From the cafe, we decided to go to dinner at a dumpling restaurant nearby.  Chris and I made some Chinese pork dumplings recently, so I was feeling very curious to learn what the real thing would taste like. They had about 30 different kinds.  We could have gotten a platter of 40 of them with different color wrappers - green, yellow, black,orange and white, I think - but we simply weren't hungry enough for all that.  Instead we got veggie ones with carrots and cabbage in them (the ones we preferred) and some mutton ones.  Those were OK but a bit strong tasting.  We got 12 of each of them for $4 total.  The dumplings were served with a teapot full of the water they were cooked in for us to drink with them.  It's supposed to be healthy.  It tasted like weak broth.  Overall, it was a good meal, and very cheap!

After dinner, we were both feeling tired and Dylan had to go back to fill out an application for a conference he wants to take part in this summer, so he brought me back to the hotel then took off.  I was glad to come up to my room and unpack and put things away. This will be my home away from home for the next nine days.  I hope it won't be too noisy outside - that's the only problem I can foresee.  It's not the busy street, but there is a lot of activity out there during the day.  Tonight it's not bad.  I have earplugs.  And I'm exhausted.  I'll manage!

Speaking of which, it is time for me to go to bed.  It's been a terrific day, but I'm tired and ready to sleep.  My body might be confused.  It's 4:40 PM Paris time and 10:40 am Richmond time.  They're about to start the day I'm just ending.  I'm trying to just let my body relax and move through the days as it needs to  slowly or quickly, napping or not, sleeping when it needs to at night.  The jet lag hasn't been bad at all, actually.

Tomorrow we're going to get Dylan a cell phone so we can call each other then he'll have a better phone when I leave (he wants one anyway - I'm just a good excuse to get one) then well go to the Forbidden Palace to do the tourist thing before the weekend (hoping to avoid holiday weekend crowds (it's May Day)) then, if there's still time, we'll go to the silk market to visit his tailor to see what sort of fabrics and clothes we cAn find just for fun...  He's not out of class til noon, no I'm looking forward to some major sleep between now and then..

thanks for reading! Have a great day! 

 the Beijing airport at 5:10 AM

 Our first meal together at the student cafeteria.  I think I'm looking a little bit weary, though it's after a 3 hour nap.
 the gate to the classroom where Dylan had all of his classes last semester
 Not my favorite thing about China!  A squat toilet and the basket for putting the paper in when you're done.  My squatting muscles are getting stronger!
 The fire extinquishing system.
 Confucious in the corner of Dylan's classroom building.
 up on the wall in his class building - they weren't allowed to speak any English.

 We saw several statues like this of beautiful, natural stones treated like sculptures.  I can see why.  They're beautiful.
 Dylan in the garden by the lake.
 The lake at the University.  A beautiful, serene place to walk.

 building by the lake.  Very pretty, but Dylan didn't know what it was used for.
 a famous tower, but I don't think you can go into it.
 Dylan's dorm building.  Very nice.
 Dylan's massage outfit.  Mine was equally charming but the legs were longer on me, and the shirt was much larger!
 at the cafe after the massage.  I guess I was feeling good!  (or silly!)
 Our meal at the dumpling place. 

Day 2

 Typical street scene, this one is by the gate into the University where I was waiting for Dylan to get me after his classes.  The  gates are guarded by men in uniforms in order to keep the students protected and safe.

 bus in China
 The pollution was pretty bad today, 130 as opposed to 30 the day before.  The sky was no longer blue.

 Korean food, beef, and rice, that we ate at the Silk Market.
 Bacon and Tofu - that seems like such a weird combination since bacon is seen as so unhealthy and tofu so healthy in the US.

 vegetable dish with DELICIOUS water chestnuts - they actually had flavor - not just crunch.  The mushrooms are called the horrible name of Jew's Ears.  They tasted great, but the name is not my favorite.
Dried Fried Green Beans

Monday, April 22, 2013

April 22, 2013 Day 3 of the conference - with Laura in Paris

Sitting in a church in the middle of Paris. The church is steeped in silence and the smell of incense from centuries of burning it.

I feel at peace, happy to be insulated from the noise outside and the hustle and bustle of the crowds. The sandy stone of the gothic columns reaches skyward. The sun, which is streaming blue and cloud-free outside, is filtered through translucent but not transparent panes of centuries-old glass. It mixes its patterns with the masonry of the walls. I am captivated by the movement of light across the walls as the minutes pass.

The centuries collide at the altar where a modern tableaux claiming that Christ est resuscite! And the 16th century altar proposes the same message. The small altar towards the front is much more modest and less imposing than the stone one framed by angels, mounted by a gold-bedecked cross in front of the pipes of a beautiful organ. The golden candelabras are as tall as any priest and appropriately hold 20 candles each since they are from the time before electricity.

There are no lights on in the sanctuary but it is light enough here, perfect for contemplation and for leaving the outside world behind. Only the ripping of paper or ringing of the phone in the office adjacent to the sanctuary is a reminder of modern times.

Mary prays in her own side chapel, votives lit to ask her intercession for many, flowers at her feet in thanks. A pieta, much smaller, is in another area, her face displaying the agony of her blessed child's gruesome death. The imagery of the Catholic Church is more disturbing than not most of the time.

Notre Dame this morning was full of curious tourists, hundreds lined up outside, moving quickly into, around, and out of the cathedral. An orchestra was setting up instruments for a concert to be held there in two days time. I was reminded of the time in 1981 when I sang there. I was on a choir tour of Europe with my college choir and had the honor of singing several songs in that beautiful space. Our notes resonated throughout the acoustically wonderful space and I felt moved to tears with the pleasure of singing there. Knowing how many people had come and gone through the place, how much history had been made there, how much amazing art had taken place - the stained glass, the organ, the bells, the stone and wood carving - the artisanship and craftsmanship moved me deeply. To be singing there gave me chills.

Being back there today with Laura, so many years later, telling her about it gave me pause to consider the wonders of my world. I never could have imagined then all that has transpired since, especially the lives of my precious children and that I could share that space with one of them almost exactly 32 years later. I could picture the 60 of us fresh-faced college students prepped for perfection in tone, enunciation, projection and comportment, singing our hearts out, aware of the magic of the moment. It brought it all back being there with Laura today. Though I can't remember which songs we sang, I saw us in our black skirts and white blouses with red sashes, the men in tuxes, lining up, playing a tone so we could sing a Capella then following Dr. Lendrim as he led us in song.

Ah, I do wax poetic today!

Back here in this smaller church with only a few people, mostly in prayer, I breathe deeply and notice the sounds of cars swooshing by outside, the shoes of a tourist on the stones as he walks quickly by the altars, looking for familiar names of artists.

I find it interesting that we honor artists as great and grand in perpetuity, but in life it's difficult for us to acknowledge that what they're doing might be important or worthy of attention or payment. Artists seem to be the ones who notice and point out what's going on in society. They are the canaries in the mine letting us know when the air is getting too thin and we need to beware. Their lives are at times equally disregarded until they are dead when they are recognized as having been prescient and important.

Sitting here in the church, I asked God to let me know what's next, to lead me where he would have me go. I am clear that God has things for me to do. My job, it seems, is to stay open and courageous enough to follow through on the leadings. I don't know what it will be like in China but I am guessing there's a good reason for me to go there and that way will open so I will know what it is. I was imagining my speaking to Dylan and asking him if he knows what the government is doing in East Turkestan and what he thinks of it. I want to make him aware so that he isn't taken in by everything he's experiencing.

The woman behind me to my right just began singing, "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu Jesu." I looked over at her and she smiled at me. Her voice was so beautiful. It filled the space like an angel's. Thank you for that, God. It brought me back to you from my head space. Beauty is powerful. Truly domineering and all encompassing when I can let it be. Please let me be a vehicle for beauty, God, in bringing it to others. It brings me such joy. I would like to spread joy the way that woman just brought it to me with her glorious simple voice. Thank you. Amen.

After leaving the church, I wandered the streets for several hours, until about nine o'clock when I figured it would be a good idea to head back to the hotel. Unfortunately, I didn't quite do that - I went to the right station, but when I asked someone if I was on the right train, she gave me wrong information - well, it was right AND wrong - the are two stations with the name Charles de Gaulle in them. One is the airport. The other is not. She gave me the correct information that I was headed in the direction of the other one. I noticed about 20 minutes into the ride because I was busy editing my pictures and assuming I was going in the right direction. Finally it dawned on me that perhaps I wasn't. I asked the very kind people I was sitting with if we were heading towards the airport. The looked quite regretful to be informing me that no we weren't. The woman got out with me a couple of stops later to show me where I needed to go to retrace my steps so I could take the right train the next time. When I got back to the original station 20 minutes later, another couple of good Samaritans were kind enough to show me the way onto the right train. I think I am going in the right direction now. I'm a bit tired but don't really mind having gone off in the wrong direction earlier. It was good having the time to sit and work with my photos and focus inward. The whole day has been pretty extroverted, so it's good to chill and be inside my own head for a while.

Tomorrow the folks from the conference, me included, will take a bus tour of Paris. I don't have any idea where we'll be going, but I've hear we might be going on a boat, to the Eiffel Tower and to the Louvre. That would suit me just fine. It'll be lovely to have a chance to spend some free time with the participants of the conference too. They've been so busy with lectures and workshops there hasn't been much free time.

Tomorrow evening I'll have to get myself ready for China. Crazy!
I'm still kind of hoping that the plane will be delayed in Amsterdam for several extra hours so I can make a detour to the Van Gogh AND Rembrandt museums on the way to China! Wish me luck on that one!

Images I saw today that struck me as interesting:
- A couple of gay bars with scores of handsome men lined up outside waiting to get in.

- A slender Swiss man with dreadlocks playing a fascinating instrument which resounded beautifully throughout the plaza in front of the Pompideau. I wanted to buy a CD from him but I didn't have 10€ in cash, darn it. I recorded a video of him playing. He licked his fingers to get a different sound and otherwise played it a bit like a steel drum. The instrument looked like one of those turned out instead of caved in and it was hollow turned out on both sides like an almond but round. There were indentations all around it where he would play and a bump on top where he could make it sing a higher tone while dum dum dumming around the edges. I was captivated by the sound.  (I promise to remember on my next trip that videos can only be recorded ONE WAY!)

- a photography gallery with images of twirling dervishes and another of four Tibetan monks at a waterfall with seven levels. Both were quite magical.

- Another gallery with a statue of a Venus similar to that of Willendorf but with a more elongated upper torso, about 6 inches tall, huge breasts and hips. It makes me even more curious to take pottery and to create some forms out of clay. Sculpture seems to be calling me. That and the desire to make some beautiful plates and bowls with gorgeous glazes. I might have to do that this summer just for fun!

-scarves upon scarves upon scarves. Parisian women wear scarves. And no wonder - it's been about 50 degrees Fahrenheit each day we've been here, so it's been chilly. Scarves are the perfect fashion accessory for warmth and chic-ness. I looked through a lot of scarves myself today and ended up buying 5. My friend Kathy Benner loaned me several of her fabulous silk creations for the trip and has certainly shown me the joy of wearing them. Now I'll have some of my own as well. I have a lot of scarves at home, but the ones for sale in Paris as well as the ones Kathy loaned me are wider and longer and warmer and easier to keep on. They're a different beast.

- early this evening when I went into an interesting African goods shop to look at their fabulous material, I was told by a charming man (who, admittedly smelled strongly of alcohol - not to diminish the truth of what he said, mind you(!)) there, "Vous etes tres belle!" (you're very beautiful.) Further, he told me he'd like to spend some time with me. I told him no thank you I'm married, happily married - not interested. Flattered, I turned my eyes away from him and moved away. When he realized he wasn't going to get anywhere with me, he left the store. The woman who ran the shop rolled her eyes and said she was so glad he finally left - he'd been there too long. Then she warned me to put my iPad away and to watch my things carefully. Chances were he had scoped me out and was going to be watching when I left so he could follow me. Yuck. That made me uncomfortable. When I left the store I saw him down the street and went the other way of course. I checked to make sure he wasn't following me and held my purse close to me for unite a while afterwards. I'm always fairly mindful of it and of my surroundings but that made me even more so - for a while, at least. I actually felt very safe all day. There were so many people around all over the place, I didn't worry at all.

When I was in Paris in 1981 on the choir tour I was with a group of students on the Metro. We were talking and laughing as American students tend to do. Suddenly I felt a hand in my pocketbook. I turned around quickly and said in perfect French, " what are you doing?" I remember being particularly impressed and surprised that my French came out so well in such a tense moment. The guy looked at me defensively and said, "nothing! I'm not doing anything,". He jumped off he metro as quick as anything at the next stop. I felt so fortunate. My passport and plane ticket and money were all in there - that was in the days before credit cards or electronic tickets, so I would have been up a creek if he'd gotten all that. Good thing Monsieur Cloutier taught French so well - I was prepared even for a pickpocket on the Paris metro!

I'm just noticing that its 10:50. The last shuttle to the hotel leaves at 11:30. I hope it isn't actually earlier. I would be frustrated if I had to take a taxi to the hotel! Silly me.

- I wanted to go to the Sainte Chapelle today with Laura but when we got there the line was very long and it was going to cost 8,50€ to get in - frustratingly expensive. It's a very beautiful building but I didn't feel like paying $11 to see it. We were also planning to go to the Pompidou but didn't go there either. We decided we'd rather enjoy each other's company and hang out wandering the streets. That was a terrific decision. Laura and I haven't had all that many occasions to be grown ups together hanging out enjoying each others company so it was quite a treat. I look forward to more when she gets back home after her Fulbright this summer.

By the way, she's looking for a job teaching or working in Human or Animal Rights or as a vegan pastry chef - the woman has MANY talents! If you happen to know of any jobs available, she's interested in living almost anywhere, overseas or in the US. She's a hard worker, a wonderful teacher, a solid thinker and will be an amazing addition to any organization. She is completely fluent in German, 90% fluent in Spanish and speaks some French and Portuguese as well. If you know of any positions that might be a fit for her, please let me know and I'll pass the info on to her. Thanks so very much!

There was lots of PDA in and around Paris.  It was sweet to see the love and desire expressed so openly.

I LOVE having public transportation so available and affordable.  I wish every city in the US would have it!

"Fashion - the art of being unique."

There were many flower shops around Paris with their beauteous bounty cascading over the sidewalk, beckoning passersby to indulge in the burgeoning blossoms.

Seen in the window of a used book store

at the top of the escalator at a subway stop

My perfectly gorgeous girl and me on a perfectly gorgeous day in perfectly gorgeous Paris at the perfectly gorgeous Notre Dame cathedral!

Apparently these locks are quite a thing all over the world.  Lovers buy one and attach them to bridges or other monuments to show their attachment for one another.  I saw them in China on the Great Wall as well.

the money shot!

In case you didn't bring your own lock, you could get one right here on the other side of the bridge from Notre Dame.

Even the mannequins are fashionistas here!

Laura, taking off for Germany.  I'll see her again in mid-July sometime after she's done with the Fulbright!  Au revoir, Laura!