Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 28-31: Winding Down in Shanghai - Heading Home

On October 28 I caught a bullet train for the 6+ hour journey between Qingdao and Shanghai.  It was a comfortable trip with lots of interesting sightseeing out the window as the train moved along most of the time at 303 km/hr (188 mph).  The bullet trains are much more like riding in an airliner -- but with plenty of leg room.

Because I had visited this Shanghai train station a few times in 2013, the arrival and transfer to metro, as well as using the metro, was easy.  I found another Muslim noodle place on the way to my accommodations, a 2nd bedroom in Andy's girlfriend's apartment.  Andy's girlfriend, Lingling, has been a friend since getting to know her when she was just finishing up a masters at Portland State, and I had been with Andy on his first visit to her meet her parents in their hometown of  Wenzhou back in 2013.

Since I had already seen much of Shanghai in 2013, and it was raining -- I just used my time in Shanghai to relax and get ready to finish this trip.  I finished up blog entries and made time to meet up with Lingling at a mega-shopping mall near her work for a lunch.

Tonight, October 30, I am at a hotel not far from the airport -- checked in for my 11:40am flights on Halloween to Tokyo connecting to Portland.  The flights will give me back the hours stolen from me by crossing the date line when I began this journey -- and I get back to Portland one hour before I leave Shanghai (10:40am on Halloween)!

Some final thoughts:

- I find it freeing to think that every material thing I needed for 28 days away from home I was able to pack on me -- and I haven't driven any vehicle in the same amount of time.

- as you can tell from this blog, it's been an amazing trip that exceeded every expectation.

 - after 28 days, I'm ready to be home -- and enjoy some of my comfort food!

- I'm already thinking about when I can return to get my scuba certification and more diving in Bali and begin another journey to SE Asia.

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


October 27 - Part 2: A New Friendship

Now, onto my new friend story:  in my prior posting, I noted that I had a superb flight from Shenzhen to Qingdao partly because the businessman seated next to me had been kind and friendly, and spoke excellent English. Before we parted, he had given me his contact information (his English name is Roy) and invited me to contact him if I needed any help during my stay. 

Well, this morning while feasting on the plate of noodles, I put his instant contact information into “WeChat” – the Chinese equivalent of iMessage and What's App which I've mentioned before. And when Roy confirmed our connection, I summoned up my “what's the worst that can happen” mantra when I texted back and inquired whether he might have time for lunch together today. I had already figured out, with Andy's help, that his office was located in the nearby World Trade Center towers – and he could have easily and quickly turned me down.

But while Roy had to decline lunch because he already had a meeting, he encouraged an afternoon meetup. That worked perfectly with my plans because by the time it came together, I had already made plans to visit the Tsingtao Brewery/Beer Museum).  So after the tour, I again found a taxi -- showed the driver the Roy's card (as is common here, English on one side, Chinese characters on the other) and had a limited but fun conversation with the taxi driver enroute to the World Trade Center. 

I easily made my way to Roy's office whereupon he invited me to the building coffee shop. Conversation flowed easily and comfortably, just as it had on the plane -- and I was happy to have yet another person to ask questions about the village culture that I had witnessed over the weekend. Because he seemed interested, I even pulled out my computer so I could share with him photos from the weekend in the village -- and get his insights into the values, honor, attitudes, food, etc.  When we finally took a bathroom break -- after two coffees each -- a couple hours of fun conversation had passed.  And just when I thought he would wrap up the conversation and return to work -- he asked if I'd like to accompany him to a brief tour of another part of the waterfront (that I hadn't seen) and to his neighborhood to have dinner with his wife, his wife's brother and 8 year old.  What a truly wonderful surprise?  I couldn't help but think what a lucky guy I've been with flight seat mates .

So, Roy led the way to the beautiful waterfront, pointing out the corporate headquarters of Tsingtao Beer: 

And showing me another symbol of Qingdao -- and the waterfront:

And then he took us by taxi to a restaurant across from his residence where I met his lovely wife, brother-in-law and son.  It was an evening of fun conversation and delicious food as he assured me that he would only order those menu items that his family typically would eat. His family's English was more limited than his -- but there are some eating/drinking traditions that can easily be conveyed with eyes and smiles.  It was fun for me to get Roy's insight into the very detailed rules of Chinese business etiquette as I couldn't even lift my drink without others at the table doing the same -- and even his son already knew the correctness of keeping my beer glass topped off while allowing my tea cup to be a little less full. Other topics, including his son's fascination with the iPad games such that time with it has parental limit -- exactly the same across the globe with my 9 year old grandson.

Just as on the plane and in the coffee shop, conversation flowed comfortably -- and by the time he drove me to my hotel, it was clear that I had added another friend to my life.  I'll definitely look forward to connecting with him again either in Qingdao, or perhaps as his/his family's host in the USA.

For my foodie lovers, I'll include photos from some of the deliciousness I enjoyed tonight and I should mention Roy's generousity.  He would not let me pay (nor even help pay) for anything -- not the coffee, not the taxi, not the dinner.  

October 27 - Part 1: Train Ticket and Tsingtao Brewery

A call from Andy's boss yesterday confirming a visit by customer prompted a change in today's plans because Andy needed to go to work. Because Andy had the foresight to get me a conveniently located hotel, this presented no problem except that my quick goodbye the night before would be the last time I'd get to see Andy and Carol during this trip.

Little did I know as I bounded out of the hotel and made a bee-line to my favorite noodle shop that this day would turn out so very interesting and I would be adding another friend to my life. I'll get to that story in a bit, but first -- my breakfast (posted mostly for Staci and Martin who introduced me to these amazing Uyghur Muslim noodles):

My next stop this morning was the busy train station to retrieve my ticket for my travel to Shanghai tomorrow.  I've posted the following photo just because I think some of you may be interested in the unique way that the train station manages each queue so that the next customer keeps a distance.

And the following photo is of the credit-card sized ticket I purchased.  Some of you may be interested that in my prior trips to China, I had to rely upon Chinese-speakers to obtain my train tickets.  It can now easily be done with an app -- .

I then walked to the nearby beach....

...on my way to the nearby popular tourist attraction -- a pier with the symbol of Qingdao.

Looking back toward the city from the pier -- but this is just a small section of the massive and beautiful skyline of Qingdao:

I then set upon finding a taxi to take me to the Tsingtao Beer Museum ('s number 2 tourist attraction of Qingdao behind a scenic area that I didn't have time to visit).  I took the following photo from my iPad/Kindle Lonely Planet guide so that I would have the Chinese characters to show the cab driver.  As I have mentioned before, it's still nearly impossible to move around by taxi without your destination in Chinese characters.

At the brewery museum I opted to pay extra to have an English speaking guide lead the way -- and though I quickly learned that the museum/brewery have excellent English language signage, I enjoyed the tour both because I was the only one on it -- and the guide happily took all the photos I wanted freeing me from the head-in-the-corner selfie's.  I also found it fun that she spoke excellent English for all the sights of the tour -- but quickly admitted and proved that she really didn't have a very good grasp of English conversation.

My tour guide:

The tour was truly excellent -- both giving the history of Tsingtao (started by Germans in 1903, run by Japanese during occupation, taken over by the Government, and now run as an Government run corporation traded on the stock exchange).  The tour also included viewing the historical process/equipment as well as current operations including canning and bottling lines -- along with a couple of tastes along the way.

See next posting (upwards since this blog is filed in reverse chronological sequence) - Flight Seatmate Becomes Friend

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 26 - Part 2: More Family Time and Saying Goodbye

Andy's original plan for the day – sightseeing tourist sights in the historically significant birthplace of Confucious, Qufu, was altered when he asked me if I'd rather go sightseeing or visit his other sister's home/village. It was an easy decision I made instantly – I could always return to sightsee, this was an opportunity to visit another village and another home, this time the home of Andy's other sister and her husband – who was our driver, and his parents. In addition, we were going to be joined by Andy's parents again so that they could have more time with Andy and see him off.


Once again I was honored and tea flowed as I was welcomed and given a tour. The visit included learning about both making a living off their plot of land and being shoe vendors at local markets. I was also treated to viewing some antiques that had been passed down through generations.

When we left there, I felt successful in convincing Andy that our lunch stop should be someplace that serves some common, daily food – not the feasts of the last two days. The family agreed on a local noodle place and I again enjoyed a wonderful meal with everyone.

The weather reminded me of Portland – a misting rain – but it didn't stop us from a photo-op stop at one of the cities monuments to Confucius – and a walk in a shopping district. I was very touched with the sisters purchased and gave me a souvenir momento of the trip – and insisted that I be treated to another special treat – tiny apples covered in a deliciously sweet coating.

We then headed to the train station in Qufu to catch a bullet train back to Qingdao.  Good byes are always challenging – this one was especially difficult as I had made to feel a part of the family. I had been able to control my happiness emotions all day but having Andy's mom touch the glass the separated us with her open palm as I did the same on my side of the glass brought such a intense happiness that the tears flowed.

Andy's “wild idea” had been so wonderful, so perfect, so special. It's a visit I will look forward to repeating!

October 26 - Part 1: Kindergarten's American Guest

One of Andy's sisters is a kindergarten teacher (in China, kindergarten includes ages 3 to 5) at a private boarding school in Ciyao. Banish your American notions of expensive “boarding” schools in the USA. I learned that boarding schools in China are a basic necessity required because their parents work long hours in factories often a long distance from their own village. I was glad to accept the invitation to visit the school, so the first stop this morning was at this kindergarten where I was welcomed as a special “American” guest (that's what I'm told it says in Chinese on the board):...

 We were given a tour by both the founder/owner and her husband, pictured above, and her principal (pictured below). Andy surmised that my visit would be the first American/white contact for most, perhaps all the children and it was clear from the warm smiles and eager handshakes that I was most welcome by staff as well as students.

Most of the morning I felt I was channeling my own dad who had been an elementary educator/administrator – as I went from room to room and greeted each child in each classroom individually with a handshake and a “Hello, pleased to meet you” – encouraging a similar response. 

It was a morning of much energy and excitement as I also joined in with following along on a exercise dance led by some of the teachers and led a song (with Carol's help in translating) of my standard “everybody touch your nose, everybody touch your toes...etc etc – including other body parts and throwing a kiss and showing a smile. 

I even attempted to sing a song while playing the electronic piano in the room – but didn't complete it as I couldn't find the volume control on the piano and it was loud!

I tried to greet every teacher – and happily agreed to all the photos they wished. It was very touching to be treated so specially by everyone – but I kept my happy tears in check – though they would flow before the end of the day.

The founder/owner insisted she provide breakfast and while I requested a simple meal, I was obviously battling tradition and much food flowed. It was all delicious including the hard boiled quail eggs that I was encouraged to try.

To Be Continued When I Post Part 2

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 25 - Honored Guest

Once again it is going to be impossible to explain the experiences of these next 2 days -- so a few words and a few photos will have to suffice.  While I knew that Andy was giving me a unique opportunity to observe the village life of his childhood home, I did not realize the depth of the honor I would receive by the loving warmth of his parents and family, and the food-filled celebration of Andy and my visit.  And I was visiting under the best of circumstances -- with both Andy and Carol to translate for me because when one was conversing, the other was translating for me -- and both happily translated my many questions about the culture, the food, the life, the language, the values/beliefs, and the many rules/traditions of Chinese etiquette.

The morning started with his brother-in-law, our driver, taking us to breakfast where in spite of my still feeling plump from last night's large dinner and request for a small meal, I was treated to more food than I could eat.  I've learned that while there is little tradition as to what type of foods can be eaten at which times of the day, breakfast is considered an important meal for daily health.

We then traveled from Ciyao to villages without names, stopping by Andy's now-abandoned middle school on the way to his childhood village.  The opportunity gave rise to lots of discussion about Chinese education and Andy's drive to succeed that earned him the opportunity to attend University in Qingdao.

The next stop was Andy's childhood village and his parent's home -- both the home that he was raised in (now abandoned) and the adjacent one where they now live.

Andy and his parents:

After a welcoming tea with its own special serving traditions, his mother and sisters set about preparing a feast for the occasion -- something reserved for a few celebrations each year and when honored guests visit.  It was clear that Carol, Andy and I were honored guests as Andy told me that this amount of food -- and the inclusion of the otherwise absence of meat in their daily meals -- and the slaughter and preparation of one of their own chickens -- was reserved for such high celebrations.  Much conversation and touring the house and the village occured while these were prepared by the women:

And soon became this:

And we sat around the short table and enjoyed the meal in traditional Chinese fashion -- no individual plates, just picking as we wanted from each of the plates as they were delivered and accumulated -- each arriving just a few minutes after the prior.

Because the women were involved in preparing the meals individually -- they ate together when the others were finished.  I stayed for both meals and continued to enjoy lots of interesting conversation.

In addition to tours of Andy's parents' current home, Andy took us next door to visit his childhood home built of the traditional mud bricks.

And we visited his parents' plot of farming land where we also visited neighbors who were harvesting their crop of ginger for sale and also have a chicken farm (next two photos are of Andy's parents' neighbors).

More tea, more conversation, more tours around the village -- and Andy's mother insisted that we stay for the dinner meal of homemade pork and veggy dumpling.  I've never had fresher veggies as I watched as Andy's mom picked them from the field, and with his sisters, washed and prepared them.  

The women welcomed my request to learn how to fill/shape the dumplings -- but I assure you everyone could tell which ones I made.  It's a technique I failed to master in many attempts but that didn't dissuade me from continuing to add to the growing number.

Because the dumplings were all prepared together, everyone was able to sit and enjoy them together.

It was the end of a happy day -- with a very full stomach from much delicious food when we said good night to Andy's family and returned to our hotel in Ciyao.  It had been a uniquely amazing day where I was welcomed, fed and treated as an honored guest -- but also made to feel like I was loved like family. Photo is of Andy and his mother, dad and sisters.