The Daily Dose June 30 2005
Ah, where to begin and so many things to share… It's been two weeks since I wrote anything!
To begin with I'm here outside Dequing, China, a 50K-population (small) town north of Hangzhou (pronounced ‘Hongjoe’), China—this after a whirlwind sight-seeing trip with Subodh, wife Mira and their neice Nisha Acharya to places like Beijing (Ti'an Namen Square, Mao's tomb, etc.) and the Great Wall (80KM west of Beijing). During all this I’ve ‘shot’ many photographs (now happily back to 'shooting' film) and they are available in the Gallery (new Album 'Kathmandu to Hangzhou, China’)
Now, with my Nepali friends departed back to Kathmandu, I'm ensconced in a 'villa,’ in a village near Apollo Development Park, an agricultural facility my friend, and former student, Stephanie Zhao is working for (never end a sentence with a preposition). Thus time to rest, relax and get my Chinese visa extended. I'm afraid, however, I will have to go to Hong Kong to do such. And Hong Kong from here is a 14-hour train ride.
June 19-20th (beginning in Kathmandu): ‘Bhat, but no Dhal!’
What a 28-hour period! I pack and am ready on time, of course, the morning of the 19th. I call Subodh and he informs me that 'Guru' will drive me to the airport first, and then will return for them. Padam arrives with 'Guru and I'm loaded and moving through rush-hour Kathmandu before you can say 'dhal bhat.'‘Guru,’is Subodh's driver who's‘given’name is Krishna (one of three Hindu Gods). He is especially facile with Nepali traffic (dodging and avoiding collisions with everything from bicycles to elephants).
As I ride through Kathmandu I'm somewhat relieved, as I can no longer take the dirt, heat, congestion, and utter chaos of‘distopeia,' a city destroying itself.
At Tribhuvan Airport I wait for Subodh and Mira, paying my 1,700Nrs. / $22U.S. departure fee. The Nepali government 'milks’tourists 'every which way but loose!’ They arrive with two young Nepali woman, ‘Deepti,’ a relative, and another Nepalese woman. The latter is attended by her father, some official policeman dressed in his uniform. This older Nepalese woman is going to Bangkok to rendezvous with her Nepali husband. All of these extra people are a surprise to me. The Nepalese will constantly surprise you!
We go through the lengthy and involved check-in procedure, but I’m relieved of having to pay for excess baggage as the ‘uniform’ has clout. Thai Airlines allows 30KGs (70lbs.), but I'm sure the total of my two pieces (bicycle in box, plus one other) is at least 80KGs (170lbs.).
As I've said so many times, it's not ‘what' you know but WHO that's important. If I'd been traveling alone, I would have had to pay mucho dinero for the excess.
The security is unusually thorough, and I'm not allowed to have extra batteries in my backpack (to carry on board). But, the clerk, after confiscating two AA batteries, misses my extra camera batteries, and thank God as they're the expensive ones.
I'm lucky to have a window seat on the left side of this Boeing 777, and once aloft it allows me to take a photograph of the Mt. Everest complex: (Lhotse, and Nuptse included), a veritable erection above the clouds. Check out this photograph in the Gallery ‘Kathmandu to Hangzhou.’
The in-flight dinner is unusually good too, and it's a pleasant trip, all the way to Bangkok (three hours). I certainly can recommend Thai Airlines having flown with them several times
Taxiing to the terminal at the Bangkok International AP I notice golfers (at an adjacent golf course) playing golf in mosquito-net headgear. You'd have to pay me much money to live in Bangkok! You'd have to pay me a bundle more to play golf in Thailand!
Walking to wherever to wait for our flight to Shanghai the Nepalese woman's husband arrives. I take a photograph of our traveling group (in Gallery). Then Subodh and Mira try to call her brother using the husband's ‘mobile.’ Mira's brother, I find out (another surprise) is the newly appointed Ambassador from Nepal (another surprise). No luck, however. Then one of those things that can only be labeled ‘synchronistic.’ We run right into the man, Mira's brother walking in the opposite direction, he having come to the AP to greet some country official. I'm mean what are the odds, as the man (whose name I should know) didn't know of Subodh and Mira's arrival? Had it been me I would have called ahead to let him know.
Afterwards the six-hour wait for our flight to Shanghai, is an ordeal. What to do in the Bangkok Airport for six hours? Well, this one has a hotel by-the-hour, and plenty of foot massage stalls. If I'd had the money, I might have considered both, or something else if I weren’t a celebate Taoist monk! But, converting dollars to ‘Bhat.’ We buy tea and snack. Note: This trip entitled, ‘Bhat but no Dhal!’ ‘Bhat’ is the Thai currency, as Yuan is for China, and rupees for Nepal and India. And of course, the play on words for the Nepalese food, ‘Dhal Bhat.’ (blat in Nepalese is ‘rice’).
Afterwards we stroll-browse what must be the longest ‘Duty-free’ shopping corridor of any airport in the world! I'm betting it’s 1-kilometer in length, with hundreds of shops selling every known product.
There is even a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) where Subodh insists we eat! I haven't had fast-food fried chicken for twenty years, but succumb to Subodh’s insistence. It didn't kill me, but I won’t eat it again unless starving to death! Sorry ‘Colonel,’ my mother’s was better!
We try to sleep on the Thai flight to Shanghai (which departed at 0100), but it’s pretty‘bumpy,’ the seatbelt sign going on several times (which means the pilot, having to deal with ‘clear air turbulence’ wants everyone, to stay put).
Pudong International Airport, one of two serving Shanghai, is new and immense! We walk what seems like a mile to go through some unusual surveillance, an infared camera hooked up to a computer monitor. They’re concerned about ‘bird flu’ in China, people bringing in plants, etc., and I don't know what else (no doubt street drugs). Then the passport clearance, which involves checking the Chinese visa (bar code) for authenticity.
The Chinese government is very clever when it comes to controlling people--not only travelers, but their one-billion+ population. Note: You’re not allowed to have CNN, the American news channel, here in the ‘People’s Republic’ of China. My joking lament on this trip becomes, ‘Many!’ ‘Many people!’ ‘Many words!’ ‘Many’ of everything.
Traveling with everything I value I'm happy to see my luggage on the conveyor belt and it was no exception that morning. I get a cart and load my two cumbersome and heavy pieces on board (one a bicycle) wheeling through customs without declaring anything.
Outside we are greeted by Nisha and Deepti’s sister, ‘Deeva’ (both having just graduated from Shanghai Medical Schools (the ‘First one and the ‘Second’ one). Nisha, by the way, is Subodh and Mira’s neice and the reason for their coming to China (her graduation from the ‘Second’ Medical University). I'm impressed with these two young women’s efficiency negotiating a van and then we're off to Shanghai, some thirty kilometers to the north.
The thing that strikes me right off the bat is the ‘civilized feel’ of this part of China. It reminds me of L.A., seeing Oleander bushes along the ‘freeway.’
Note: I grew up with Oleander bushes in Arizona and California, remembering my mother’s admonition: ‘They’re poisonous!’ It’s somewhat nostalgic to see the pink and white blossoms, as I haven't for years!
With the traffic, zooming along and bearing right (steering wheels on the left) I feel right at home. Note: In Nepal it’s like it is in the U.K. where traffic ‘bears left,’ and the steering wheels are on the right.
We're dropped off at Nishas’s dormitory apart of Shanghai Second Medical University, right in the heart of Shanghai. After resting and a dhat bhat lunch we tour the University where Nisha has been studying for the past six years. I'm told it's famous for treating burn patients.
Nisha then checks Subodh and I into a nearby hotel (the En Yi). Mira is staying with Nisha in her dorm room.
After Nepali milk tea, served in Nisha's dorm room, we're off to see a little bit of Shanghai. We walk and ride the subway to ‘People’s Square.’ It's a lovely, warm evening the sky full of kites, a large fountain in the center, and flanked by the Shanghai Museum and some large Chinese Government building (whose name I should know). We sit and observe as sunlight turns to neon, while people try to sell us everything from hotels to kites, to food. There are beggars, and of course, I give them what I have.
From here Nisha leads us to Jiyang (walking) street, where there is a mass of people out after the heat. Subodh, Mira and Nisha can’t pass up the bargains, while I'm more interested in observing Chinese humanity. Thus, I wait outside the stores while they're shopping. I'm accosted by a Chinese woman, who wants to know where I’m from (they always ask this question)? Then she asks if I like ‘…girls or boys?’ I tell her girls! She is probably a prostitute, although she didn't pursue anything with me. A bum asks for money. When I hand him a coin (of which I don't know the value) he gets angry and throws it in the trash. I chase down another bum to give another coin to… He is more grateful. Always thank whomever for whatever! Subodh, Mira, and Nisha are now laden with packages, and we take a taxi back to SSMC/hotel.
We pass the ‘Peace Hotel’ on the way back.
We're back at our rooms by 2300 hours (11P.M.), and exhausted. It’s been 30 hours since I was last in a bed. But, before falling into, I take a cold-water bath (angry at the hotel). The next day I find out I had the faucet turned incorrectly! Yes, there is hot-water bathing in China I'm glad to report!