April 28, 2013

My China Adventure – On to Xian

What I love about traveling with a tour company is how they take care of you. For example, today was a travel day so we left our checked bags outside our hotel room doors, they were picked up and taken to the airport and checked in, and our wonderful guide Oscar kept all the claims checks. We didn’t have to deal with them again until we got to Xian, where we just identified which was ours and then they were whisked off to our new hotel. So easy. Who doesn’t love being taken care of?
We arrived late in the evening in Xian and went directly to our lovely hotel, the Grand Metropark. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized it was a beautiful room with a hideous view. China 001
Ah, well…
In the morning we went to the Shanxi Museum where we saw some beautiful artwork, got to try our hand at Chinese writing and had an opportunity to buy (imagine that) student art, some of which was quite beautiful, though I managed to resist temptation.
Then off to see the terra cotta warriors. What an amazing sight – life-size terra cotta soldiers and horses that were commissioned by an emperor to guard his tomb. It was unearthed in 1974 after being buried for 22 centuries. Can you imagine? Some of them are still in pieces. How they put these things back together is mind boggling.
Have I told you I’m not a history person? I like to experience it rather than read about it or be told about it. My mind just does not absorb historical facts. So in the bus on the way to see the warriors our local guide told us everything there was to know about those warriors and to me it was white noise, all that information bouncing around my head and nothing penetrating.
Once we got there, tho, I found it fascinating. For the first 20 minutes. I mean really…how many terra cotta statues can you look at? They estimate there are something like 9000. But if you’ve seen one…well, they are a little different but really…how many do you need to see? We were there for hours. Do I have to tell you…?
Afterwards, of course there’s a gift shop and voila! there was the farmer who discovered the archaeological site as he was digging for a well in 1974. He was sitting at a table looking bored, signing books for tourists.
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China 063 - Copy China 064 - Copy China 066
Later we went out for a dumpling dinner, our best meal as a group. Once again there was a big lazy susan on the table and they brought out dish after delicious dish of dumplings. It’s interesting, as a group we got one drink that was included with our meal and it could be beer or tea or soft drink. We could ask for wine or something else, and pay for it, but you likely wouldn’t get it before the meal was over. My friend Joann had a totally different experience in China. She was on a business trip and was served shots at every meal, and not just one. She said she had to have a bottle of water at her feet to water down the drinks and felt like she needed rehab when she got home. Me? I felt as if I’d been in rehab.
After dinner we went to a Tang Dynasty show, which was…interesting and colorful.
View Dumpling dinner
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April 24, 2013

My China Adventure – Last Day in Beijing

On our last day in Beijing we went to a Chinese Medicine Center where we got foot massages and a consultation by a Chinese doctor who looked at our palms and then told us what herbs and shit we should buy to insure good health. These little “spending opportunities” were kind of annoying on this trip but I suppose it’s a revenue stream for the tour company and a way to keep the cost down. I’m all for keeping the cost down and didn’t feel obligated to spend money on stuff I didn’t need or want so it wasn’t a big deal.
Then, with happy feet, we visited the Hutong – the old city of Beijing, where the homes are very old and grungy and the streets are no more than alleys where garbage is strewn everywhere. We rode in rickshaws - a veritable parade of rickshaws – and then we were taken to a private home where the family cooked lunch for us – 35 people in a space no bigger than my apartment and not nearly as nice. It was an experience and we all clapped for the lady of the house who’d cooked all this food even though it was just like all the other food we’d had so far. That is to say…hmmm,
how to say it politely…fine.
After lunch we went to a market where there were a billion vendors selling the same knock-off purses and bags and clothing and electronics. Whew! That was overwhelming. If they see a spark of interest in your eyes you are a dead man. They will not let you move from their booth until you’ve bargained your way into buying something. Once you get the hang of it it’s sort of fun and there’s a lot of really nice stuff, but you’d need an advance course on market shopping to do it justice.
After all of that we boarded a plane for Xian. Stay tuned…
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April 17, 2013

My China Adventure – Beijing…continued

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What you notice first in Beijing is the traffic. OMG. What I didn’t know was that we would end up spending hours and hours on that bus in traffic that’s like the Kennedy Expressway heading out of the city at 7:00a. Ugh.
The other thing you notice is people spitting everywhere. Men, women…doesn’t matter. They spit everywhere. It’s not the most charming thing about China.
Beijing is also drab and dingy and crowded. But…then there’s all that history. On this day (there was no way to know what actual day it was) we went to the Great Wall which was started in the 5th century B.C. and finished in the 17th century A.D. and is somewhere around 5000 miles long. We climbed 400 steps (I climbed it in fashion boots with heels, and was the first one to the top).
China 064 We ate all our meals off of gigantic lazy susans in the middle of the table and they would bring dish after mediocre dish of various stir-fried foods. Some of it was really good but most of it was okay. One night we had a dumpling dinner where they brought dish after dish of delicious dumplings filled with imaginative and wonderful stuffings. Mostly, tho, the food was not memorable, probably because we were frequenting the type of restaurant that could accommodate large groups of tourists, generally not where you go for gourmet meals.

More pictures of Beijing, including the Olympic stadium and the dragon building.
Stay tuned…the next day we moved on to Xian.

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April 14, 2013

My China Adventure - Part 1: Beijing

I never had a huge desire to go to Asia but somehow it worked its way into my brain and I found myself making my reservations with smarTours, the company I went to Israel with last year. The whole thing cost me $1599. That included airfare, four- and five-star hotels and most meals. Geez, how could I not go?
So, I did!
March 25, 2013 - I flew from Chicago to San Francisco, overnight in San Fran and on to Beijing via Air China (a United partner, so lots of miles). Met my friend Susan from Colorado and stayed at the Parc 55 Wyndham in SF, right across the street from a BART stop.  Bart is $8.25 in San Fran (CTA is $2.50) 1 BARTbut BART cars have carpet and cushy seats. Worth it? You be the judge.
Air China is an interesting airline. When we boarded it was pure chaos; people standing in the aisles elbow to elbow, fighting for overhead bin space, chattering in Chinese and all of a sudden the plane starts backing out of the gate. No announcement, no reprimand to take your seats and fasten your damn seatbelts, just back out and go. Interesting.
It’s not the most customer-involved airline. They served the first meal about an hour into the flight but no wine – flight attendant said that would come later. When, if not with dinner? Breakfast? Contrary to this photo at the right the food was hardly what I’d call gourmet. It was actually pretty ghastly. 1 Air China
Next meal came when we had three hours left of the flight, and we hadn’t seen much of the flight attendants in all that time except for one or two passes with water. The second meal was somewhat less ghastly than the first and TADA…wine. Well, half a glass anyway. They’re not generous in their pours. And you have to eat fast. They serve, then come by about 6-1/2 minutes later to pick up the trays. You have to chow down on Air China so they can get back to their knitting or Mah Jong or whatever the hell else they do in the 11 hours they’re doing nothing for the passengers. 
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Anyway…on to Beijing.
Our guide, Oscar, was waiting for us at the airport. Lin Bo is his Chinese name but he’s called Oscar for Americans. Fabulous, adorable guide; soft spoken, witty, great English with a charming Chinese accent, accommodating, unflappable. We all loved him. But I’m pretty sure I was the only one who was willing to file adoption papers and bring him home with me (something his wife might possibly have objected to).
Arrived at the Penta Hotel in the evening and probably had dinner but I have no memory of it. I’ll chalk that up to the 12 hour flight, the 15 hour time difference and culture shock. I think that was on Saturday the 30th, but I’m not positive. Whatever day it was it was I’m pretty sure it was tomorrow.
Next morning we were up early (which wasn’t a problem since we were wide awake at midnight and two and four a.m.). For days I had no clue what day of the week it was or what time.
First tour was to Tiannanmen Square and The Forbidden City - the former seat of the emperors – and then on to the beautiful Summer Palace, now a lovely park.

Enjoy the pictures. On to the Great Wall next. Stay tuned…
Part 2 

April 11, 2013

Love and Sex and Online Dating

I wish I could take credit for this article but alas, I can't. Anne Lamott wrote it first. It's very funny, very real and very touching. Read on...

My year on Match.com

I'd done so many scary things in my life, but this might be the scariest. At the age of 58, I joined a dating site

Heroes come in all circumstances and ages. The prophet tells us, “Your old will have visions; your young will dream dreams.” Elderly women in a retirement community in Mill Valley protested the war in Iraq on a busy thoroughfare with placards every Friday for years. A man I know of 22, halfway to a medical degree, is pursuing ballet dreams in New York City. Some people my age — extreme middle-age — train for marathons, or paddle down the Amazon, skydive, or adopt. They publish for the first time.
Me? I may have done the most heroic thing of all. I went on Match.com for a year.
The thing was, I had just done something brave, which was to write a memoir with my son, tour the East Coast together, and appear on stages before hundreds of people at a time. But one dream coming true doesn’t mean you give up on other lifelong dreams. You’re not dream-greedy to want, say, a cool career and a mate. And having realized this one long-shot dream with my grown child gave me the confidence to try something even harder: to date.
I recoil even from the word “date,” let alone the concept of possibly beginning a romantic relationship. Those woods are so spooky. I have an almost perfect life, even though I’ve been single since my last long-term boyfriend and I broke up four years ago. I really do, insofar as that is possible in this vale of tears — a cherished family, a grandchild, church, career, sobriety, two dogs, daily hikes, naps, perfect friends. But sometimes I am lonely for a partner, a soul mate, a husband.
I had loved the sleeping alone part. I rarely missed sex: I had tiny boundary issues in all those years of drinking, and by my early 20s I had used up my lifelong allotment. I over-served myself. I do love what Wodehouse called the old oompus-boompus when it happens to be in progress, but wouldn’t go out of my way. Additionally, I have spent approximately 1,736 hours of this one precious life waiting for the man to finish, and pretending that felt good. And I want a refund.
What I missed was checking in all day with my person, daydreaming about him, and watching TV together at night. There, I’ve said it: I wanted someone to text all day, and watch TV with.
I am skittish about relationships, as most of the marriages I’ve seen up close have been ruinous for one or both parties. In four-fifths of them, the men want to have sex way more often than the women do. I would say almost none of the women would care if they ever got laid again, even when they are in good marriages. They do it because the man wants to. They do it because it makes the men like them more, and feel close for a while, but mostly women love it because they get to check it off their to-do lists. It means they get a pass for a week or two, or a month.
It is not on the women’s bucket lists. I’m sorry to have to tell you this.
Also, 91 percent of men snore loudly – badly, like very sick bears. I would say that CPAP machines are the greatest advance in marital joy since the vibrator. It transforms an experience similar to sleeping next to a dying silverback gorilla into sleeping next to an aquarium.
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