Home Again! Landed in Albuquerque right at midnight, Tuesday, 12/26, and then got home at 1:00 am, just about four hours short of three weeks after we left, though I think you should get extra credit for crossing the international dateline. A few moments of panic when I couldn’t find the car and house keys in the secure niche I had put them in my backpack, but just about the time Susie said, Let ME Look, I found the little side pocket in the big pocket wherein they resided.
Had a great Christmas weekend in Las Vegas with daughters, Heidi and Mandi (well, great being with family; the sniffles I flew home with turned into an achy cold. Susie had some stomach distress, and both of us took a couple of nights to de-jetlag). One Vegas highlight was seeing an Ansel Adams display at the Bellagio’s Fine Art Gallery. And, Heidi brought home a Christmas meal prepared by Bellagio, turkey plus lots of fancy trimmings that we all enjoyed Christmas Eve day.
Note added: A most statistically unusual event happened. Heidi and Mandi independently each bought me the same pair of T-shirts -- "Hopelessly Overeducated" and "I'm sick of being my wife's arm candy" were the two inscriptions. Now, why would either one of them think that those were appropriate inscriptions, much less both inscriptions and both of them? They discovered this coincidence late Friday night and there were continuing whoops of laughter downstairs. I asked what was going on and Susie said you'll find out Christmas.
There were a few China things I wanted to talk about earlier, but didn’t get them in the blog postings at the time. So, I’ll post them now. But first, the reason for the trip: Malia XiaoFong Easterling, in this picture that I copied from Jeff and Valerie’s blog, at home in Colorado having Christmas fun. (Can you believe, I just had to add the word ‘blog’ to the Microsoft Word dictionary?)
In the Rio Grande library system, before we left, thanks to the miracle of search engines, I found a novel set in Hunan, the province Malia hails from, and took it with me to read. The title is, A Dictionary of Maquiao, written by Han Shaogong, translated by Julia Lovell. The book is organized loosely like a dictionary: the author lists words and terms used in the mountain village of Maquiao, usually in much different ways from elsewhere. The listing is sort of chronological, not alphabetical (in either English or Chinese, I gather). Each dictionary term is the launching point for tales about people and events in the village. The book's narrator is an “educated person,” sent to the village during the Cultural Revolution, now, later, reflecting back on his time there. The author was himself one such “educated person,” but I don’t know to what extent this book is autobiographical, though I would guess highly.
One example. A periodic chore is to chop firewood on the mountainsides and carry it back to the village. The idea is put forward by the educated youth is that if, once, you just leave the firewood where it is cut and let it dry out, then the next time you cut firewood, you again leave the freshly cut wood and carry out the dried wood which is now not so heavy. Etcetera. That’s an application of science. No, Uncle Luo says, “What d’you mean scientific? You mean lazy.” All those city machines like cars and trains were just thought up by “lazybones.” Science is not respected in Maquiao.
Most of the tales are much darker than this. Poverty, disease, and violence constitute much of the story of Maquiao in this telling. The Glossary reminds us that 30 million Chinese died during Mao's Great Leap Forward -- mostly rural peasants. At any rate, the book helped me get a feel for China - about the extent of the research I did - and I’m glad I came across it.
I frequently picked up the China Daily, China’s National English-Language newspaper. Its emphasis is on business and there were many stories pertaining to a large high-level US delegation being in the country for two days of dialog and other activities. Our Treasury Secretary led the group that included several other cabinet members and the head of the Federal Reserve. Also, George (41) and Barbara Bush were in the delegation. Don't know how much coverage this story got here.
Also, China has been marking the five-year anniversary of its admission into the World Trade Organization. Trade between the US and China has grown rapidly in those five years, on both sides – that is both our exports and our imports. Daily, there were stories about deals being made – Home Depot bought a chain of Chinese home supply stores, Wal-Mart is opening its 69th store in China, …. You might be interested to know that Wal-Mart has permitted its employees to unionize and one store now has its own Communist Party branch!
All this is particularly interesting to me now because my book club, the Last Thursday Book Club, recently read The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman. The book deals with globalization and primarily the growing roles of India and China in providing goods and services to the US, in some cases, but not all, replacing things that we might have done internally. Trade agreements as well as modern computing and telecommunications technology has enabled these developments. As a footnote, in Las Vegas I set up a computer for Heidi – Hewlett Packard computer from China, Canon printer from Vietnam.
There are lots of pro and con arguments about all of this, good and bad aspects. Trade enables China to modernize in a big way, makes them a player on the world stage, perhaps makes them less of a threat. Millions of Chinese have been lifted out of “dollar a day” poverty, as one writer put it, but many people have gotten very rich, so there’s a bigger difference between top and bottom. China human rights, labor, and environmental conditions are seriously lacking.
My impressions of three large Chinese cities, I’m including Hong Kong, are mixed. You can feel the excitement from all the new construction of towering, gleaming offices, banks, and apartments. And from the hustling young business men and women you see in the hotels and on the streets. But, the miles and miles of decrepit high-rise apartment houses are depressing. And you have to feel for the guys hustling big piles of scrap on bicycles and hand carts. My sense, though, is that increasing trade, despite glitches and real problems, will on balance benefit both/all trading partners. There’s no doubt that China and SE Asia is an increasingly important part of the world.
Well, enough heavy stuff. Let’s get back to being a tourist.
We were advised ahead of time not to drink tap water in China. Also, keep your mouth closed in the shower and don’t brush your teeth with tap water. There was also some advice to take several extra toothbrushes. I think the scenario was that if you could only rinse them in bottled water, they would tend quickly to get yucky with toothpaste, so toss them. Well, Susie took 26 toothbrushes for us, I believe. In case you’re planning to go to China, let me tell you: we didn’t need them. The hotels supplied a couple of water bottles daily and that generally sufficed for drinking and rinsing toothbrushes. They also supplied toothbrushes and it was easy to buy additional bottled water. Susie gave Mandi and Heidi each a bunch of toothbrushes, wonderful stocking-stuffers, by the way, labeled as being used only once by Yo Momma.
Hunan is known for spicy food – In Changsha, Ellen kept calling our little girls the “Spicy Girls” – but we didn’t find much, partly because our adult-sized spicy girls, Susie and Valerie, weren’t interested. The hotel has a buffet and we ate there the first night. Jeff was our most adventurous, he had snake which he had read was a Hunan specialty. Tasted OK, he said, but too many ribs in it to eat easily. The next night Susie and I went into another restaurant in the hotel. Menu had so many items like goose web, fish jaw, ostrich tendon, boarsblood ball, and cock’s comb that Susie didn't want to even consider the less exotic items, so we went elsewhere and ordered fried rice. We came back to that restaurant a few days later and Jeff and I each had some good spicy dishes made from conventional, by western standards, animal body parts and Susie and Valerie averted their eyes from the menu.
Jeff has a great description in their blog, so I’ll just refer you there. I tried to capture some of it in a picture. Here’s a mother with daughter in tow casually crossing several lanes of traffic -- buzzing buses, scooters, and cars. And they worry about how well a baby is bundled up inside a hotel lobby!
Great trip for a great purpose. Enjoyed creating this blog and hearing your responses. We're recuperating well and, as Susie said, it seems surreal just to think about where we've been and what we've done the last three weeks.
Rob and Susie, Jeff, Valerie, and Malia