Friday, September 30, 2011

Joyeux anniversaire, Kelly!

Yes, happy 40th to French!  Given that I have no foreign language skills, it is a real treat to have a daughter-in-law who speaks French.  Not only did Kelly bring much needed language skills to our family, but her musical ability is much appreciated, as well.  I especially enjoyed watching her play piano for Adam from the time he was only a few weeks old.  It seems with two active young boys, there is little time now to indulge her interest in piano....but, maybe someday again.  I understand Joe was particularly delighted to have a "donut birthday breakfast celebration."  I hope the rest of your special day is everything you envision.  I hope you are thinking of some place special for you and me celebrate with a birthday lunch during my October visit.  Perhaps some place Thai!!!  Passez une bonne journée.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Isaac aka Toddler Extraordinaire

Is there anything more endearing than witnessing a baby's first steps?  Imagine the change in perspective and sense of mobility as a baby crosses that threshold from crawling to walking.  I would love to have had a decoding of Isaac's mind as he embarked on his new status.  It was such a thrill to see his face last month as he took those first steps.  As we have observed his determined, wobbly gait via Skype, there is no doubt that this young man is ready to explore the world.  Diane says it is so amusing to watch as he gleefully explores each corner of their house.  Clearly, he is quite proud of his new status.  So, Nana and Grandpa want to convey a bevy of virtual Hugs and Kisses to celebrate Isaac's first birthday!!! Can't wait to see you in a couple of weeks to bestow the real things.....perhaps we can also add a nice messy chocolate cake.  Clearly being a little guy who loves to eat, we might have to appropriate a portion for the rest of us first.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Happy B'day, Favorite Son!

From before he was born, Jeffrey has always been the kid closest to my heart.  You see, his long, lanky 8 1/2 lb. body was crammed under my rib cage so high that I still had bruised ribs for days after he was extracted via C-section 45 years ago.  At that time, any C-section baby was placed in the neonatal unit for the first day or two.  Also at that time, C-section mothers were given significant quantities of pain medication.  In my doped-up state, I cried as I first viewed Jeff (all 8 1/2 pounds) as he lay among those preemies.  In my foggy brain, those long arms conjured primate images for tree swinging instead of the foretelling of the handsome 6' 1'' man he would become.  Over the years, those long arms have wielded baseball bats, basketballs, tennis racquets, hockey sticks, fishing rods, woodworking tools, and hoisted over his head two adored sons...and there is still nothing better than a hug in those arms of My Favorite Son.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Today's birthday girl, Sophia Elizabeth Catalano, seems to always be creating a movie script in her mind.  What a delicious imagination resides in this four year old curly headed wonder!  I am always amazed at her choice of characters to inhabit as she plays.  One day a princess, the next one of her favorite Disney horses "Spirit" or "Rain".  It is so fitting that she be Sarah's daughter since Sarah's pediatrician dubbed her "Sarah Bernhardt" as an infant.  I am so pleased that Sarah's creative genes are being passed along to another generation.  So yes, Sophia!!! It is finally Friday, and we send a big Happy Birthday Hugs and Kisses Fest your way.  I can't wait to get to St. Louis so we can officially celebrate with a "Birthday Tea Party."  Be thinking of who we will pretend to be.....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Change of, not me - Diane and Steve!

Yes, three years ago Diane and Steve's life forever changed.  Owen Claes Young made his grand entrance and life has not been the same in the CA Young household.  Gerry always says, "Getting married is nothing.  Having that first child is the game changer."  For Nana and Grandpa, it has been a blast watching the development of this paragraph spewing, train obsessed, swing and water loving bundle of energy.  Watching him incessantly jump into the pool brings flashbacks of his mother's inability to heed my pleas of "Wait, wait - there's no one to help you!"  Brave?  Hardly....I think they both were just born with that "It's just so much fun, I can't stop myself" gene.  Couple that with their wicked grin and the mischievous glint in their blue eyes and it's easy to see why they are so much fun to be with.  Happy Birthday, Owen.  We can't wait for your Three Year Old adventures....we hope to share as many as possible with you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Big Bang on the Third

I bet you think EVERYONE celebrates with a big bang on July 4th...well, in the Claes Family July 3rd is even a bigger day of celebration.  It's Diane's birthday!  Of course, Caron certainly did not think so the day we brought her home; however, I am sure she now thinks having Diane for a sister is cause for BIG celebration.  Gerry's impression of Diane's birth is seared in his memory as the hottest July in St. Louis history....and the air conditioner was broken in his car. 

In 31 years Diane has added mountains of blessings to our lives including a delightful son-in-law and now two heartbreakingly adorable grandsons.  Happy Birthday, Diane.....and thanks for the memories!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Rubber Chicken Circuit

Well, it seems politicians are not the only people to be subjected to the "rubber chicken circuit."  Saturday night we invited three couples for dinner on the deck.  Their names will remain secret to protect the innocent.  As the last guest left, Gerry and I turned to one another and said, "THAT was the worst food we have ever served guests."  Gerry prepared two "beer can chickens."  These have always been the juiciest, tastiest chickens he prepares on the grill.  In my concern to be sure we had enough to feed eight people, I bought the biggest chickens I could find at Stauffers.  Big mistake.  They must have been the oldest chickens imaginable.  I placed a bite of a breast in my mouth and immediately placed it back on my plate.  Pure rubber.  I don't know how some of the people managed to eat it.  One guy even had seconds, I think.  Well, it didn't get any better.  Dessert was a disaster.  Again, a tried and true Rhubarb Crisp recipe; however, I used rhubarb that I had frozen.  The rhubarb turned into slimy goo.  Although polite, more than one person just could not consume it - me included.  Fortunately, the wine was good and the company terrific.  I just hope they will accept a rain check if I promise to buy pizza!  This was the first time I ever wrote apology notes to guests.  I think I am getting too, too old to entertain and in the future need to call the caterers.

I have been trying to update entries to our China experience.  I think I only have three days left.  It was a fascinating trip, one I recommend to everyone.  It was truly a visual assault, and one can develop mental fatigue trying to absorb so much history, current culture differences, and the relationship between modern China and the USA.  I think more Americans need to be cognazant of China; certainly, even average Chinese are constantly aware of the USA - and in a competitive sense.  When I complete the final three entries, I will let you know so you can go back to review them, if you wish. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Before There Was a Singer Named Pink.....

...there was a little girl, Sarah, who was born loving everything PINK.  For all of her childhood, she insisted on being surrounded by all things pink; did you ever try to buy a pink coat for a child with a June 19th birthday.  Not so easy in the middle of summer.  Well, now Sarah and her husband have their own two little bundles of femininity in Sophia and Sally.  We thank them for this addition of cuddly and softness in a sea of testosterone laced grandsons. 

Sarah, we are so proud of all the terrific young artists you are helping to produce in your role of Art Teacher.  Our family and the world is a better place because of you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Well, Not Exactly!!!

Safe and sound in Lancaster, PA.  But as will often happen, the return flight was not exactly as planned.  Sunday, when we arrived at the Beijing airport, second busiest in the world behind Atlanta Hartsfield, someone whispered to Gerry and me, "I don't want to start a rumor but I thought I overheard someone say that our flight is delayed 3 hours."  Thus began our 33 hour saga.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes it was confirmed; we were delayed and would miss our connection in Toronto.  The flight crew needed three more hours between flights.  We slept about four hours in a Doubletree, compliments of Air Canada, and arrived at BWI at 9:00 a.m. Monday.  At 11:15 we drove into our driveway on Jasmine Lane ever so glad to see our home and Diane and Isaac, who were in town for Cheryl Boger's wedding shower.  Exhaustion was trumped by the thrill of Isaac's smile.  We spent a few hours marveling at his little personality before leaving at about 3:30 p.m. to drive BACK to BWI so they could head back to Steve and Owen.  By the way, Owen says he misses his mother but not Isaac.  Imagine that!  Consequently, I plan to take a day or so to chill out.  I will then go back to edit each day of our trip to include more of our activities.  We had such limited access to computers on the trip I could not write very much each day.  Hope all has been well with each of you. 

Homeward Bound

Fly Air Canada Beijing, Toronto, BWI, scheduled to arrive 10:30 p.m.  Clear customs, pick up car, and begin the last 1 1/2 hour leg to Lancaster. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Tour Tiananmen Square.  At 100 acres, it is the world's largest public square and was initially the "front door" of the Forbidden City.  Completed in 1420, the Forbidden City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the world's largest palace complex and home to many buildings with 9,999 rooms.  Now known as the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties where outside visitors were forbidden for five centuries. 

Visit the Summer Palace, once the summer retreat and playground for the imperial family and royal court during the late Qing Dynasty.  It spans over 700 acres.  Take dragon boat ride across the garden's lake.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Motorcoach to the Badaling Hills to walk along one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall.  Here, it is nearly 28 feet high and wide enough for ten people to walk along.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site that once stretched for more than 6,200 miles and symbolized the country's isolation from the rest of the world.

Visit the valley the Ming Emperors chose as their burial place, walk along the Sacred Way that leads to the tombs.  Beginning with a grand marble gateway more than 400 years old, the long avenue is lined with 18 pairs of massive stone sculptures of elephants, lions, camels and mythical beasts. 

POSSIBLY - Peking duck dinner followed by Peking Opera.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Xian & Beijing

Visit the Terra Cotta Army, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  View the thousands of soldiers, archers, horses and chariots that were buried with the Emperor Qin Shi Huang more than 2,000 years ago.

Fly to Beijing.

For both Gerry and me, the Terracotta Army was a highlight of the trip.  Caron had visited the site when she was in China so we had enjoyed her pictures, and Gerry was delighted by the replica set she brought to him.  Also, with Caron, we saw some of the traveling display when it was in Washington, DC.  There is no comparison, however, to seeing the massive display in person.  It is close to preposterous that they were created for Qin Shi Huang, first Emperor of China, about 210 B.C., and subsequently discovered in 1974 by members of the Yang family, who are farmers in the area, while they were digging a water well.  Also preposterous is the fact that these farmers received only a token amount for the discovery.  Ain't Communism grand.  Imagine the same scenario in America.  Only one of the discoverers is still alive; he was autographing books when we were there.   With this, the Great Wall, Versailles,  pyramids, and many untold number of other historical structures, I am overwhelmed by the total disregard for human lives by tyrannies around the world.  I try to find value in these works, but I never seem to quiet my revulsion of these evil men.

When we arrived in Beijing, our terrific tour guide, Shan Shan, directed our bus driver to detour through the Olympic venues.  The bird's nest was a fascinating structure.  I found it interesting that huge tracts of the city had been cleared for many of these venues.  Sadly, we were told that the Olympic tennis facility was being razed.  Given that they are covering every possible foot of land with high rise apartments, I can only assume they will do the same at this site.  Recreational facilities for the masses does not seem to have the same priority in China as in the USA. 

Before checking into our hotel, we were taken directly to dinner.  When the bus pulled up to a Comfort Inn, I experienced a feeling of concern.  Mind you, in the US, I frequently stay at Comfort Inn hotels; however, seeking fine dining at Comfort Inn has never crossed my mind.  Sure enough, there was a consensus that this was one of the worst meals we were served in China.  Since our lunch had been quite good in Xian at what Shan Shan called a "Mom and Pop" restaurant, I took the attitude that my digestive system would benefit from the rest.  The Westin Hotel was so inviting that it is near impossible to be in a funk....although, to be honest, there were some divas throughout our trip that still found things about which to complain.  Bless these guides, I would not have their job for all the tea in China....sorry, just had to use that.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hey, Mister, Can I Shine Your Shoes?

The following is copied from Gerry's blog about our trip.  It cannot be said better, so a little plagiarism is warranted, don't you think!

One of the challenges one faces when touring China is “running the gauntlet”. This refers to the horde of merchants who are always hanging around when a tour bus or cruise ship arrives at a tourist destination with a load of westerners. These merchants are some of the most aggressive sales people you will ever encounter. They are hawking all kind of merchandise. You can buy a genuine imitation Rolex watch for as little as $5.00 any kind of tee shirt for $5.00 or almost any kind of trinket or book imaginable of one of China’s tourist attractions.

They also offer all kinds of services ranging from “freshly” prepared fruits to offers to carry your bags. One of the most innovative merchants I encountered on our trip to China was the shoeshine lady. I first met her as we were debarking from our river cruise ship in Chongqing. She offered to shine my shoes but since I was wearing tennis shoes I didn’t see the point. She followed me for about a quarter mile and I thought I had finally lost her when I reached the promenade above the river.

There was a very nice view of the opposite side of the river and I stopped to take a few pictures. While I was taking a picture I felt something brushing against my shoes and when I looked down, there was the shoeshine lady “cleaning” my tennis shoes. I started hopping around as if someone had given me a hotfoot and began yelling; “what in the hell are you doing?” The more I hopped, the more she tried to “clean” my tennis shoes.

Fortunately I was only about 50 feet away from our tour bus and I made a mad dash for the door. I managed to reach the safety of the tour bus and when I got in, everyone was having a good laugh at my expense. A few of group said that my encounter with the shoeshine lady was one of the more entertaining events of the entire tour.

When I looked outside the bus I saw the shoeshine lady with a big smile waving at me. I decided that she earned a nice little tip for bringing some grins to our tour. I made a mad dash out of the bus and threw $2.00 to her and retreated back into the bus before she had a chance to “clean” my tennis shoes.


  1. Never look a merchant directly in the eye.
  2. Keep moving; once you stop they will be all over you like flies on cow manure.
  3. If you express any interest in their wares you will have a tar baby stuck to you for the duration.
  4. If you are really interested in an item ask the price and then offer 25% of the asking price. After that the best negotiator wins.
  5. You are not buying quality.
  6. The merchants do not have a return policy.
  7. If your watch works for more than 2 months you got a “good” deal.

Chongqing & Xian

Dock at Chaotianmen Port, Yuzhong District, Chongqing.  Tour Chongqing, perched on steep hills at the confluence of the Yangtze and its major tributary, the Jialing river.  Chongqing was the capital of China during WWII, when the American Volunteer Air Group, the "Flying Tigers," was based here.  Visit the Chongqing Zoo to see China's national treasure, the Giant Panda Bears. 

Fly to Xian.  Check into the Golden Flower Hotel by Shangri-La.

Xian is in the Yellow River Basin, one of the birthplaces of civilization. It has seen 3,100 years of development and 13 dynasties. It reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty.

This morning we woke to see our boat in the middle of the river.  Apparently, that is as close to shore as they can get.  Therefore, we walked across metal floats that were tied together; yep, a little unstable to say the least.  As soon as you exit the boat, a hoard of men are waiting to "assist" you to shore.  Although I was warned about this, I was startled when one man aggressively grabbed me.  I reacted quite strongly to let him know I did not want to be touched.  We had been told that Chinese have a different concept of "personal space" and will crowd you in confined spaces.  I tolerated that to a point; however, this was just too much!  We then climbed 150 stairs to our bus.  Yes, sir!  Someone counted.  Gerry and I had no difficulty, but clearly this was a real problem for several people.  Amazed this has not prevented some people from reaching the buses. 

At the Chongqing Zoo, everyone loved seeing the Pandas!  Really adorable.  Gerry and I had seen the panda at the Washington, D.C. zoo and were just as fascinated again to see how much bamboo they can consume.  For me, the most interesting sight were the shedding Bactrian camels.  Truly weird to see portions of their hair hanging from their body.

Bactrian Camels are much less common than dromedary (one-hump). Bactrian camels are native to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Aside from the obvious difference of the number of humps, Bactrian Camels differ in a few other key ways. For example, the Bactrian camel grows a thick coat of hair each winter. That coat of hair falls off every spring. This is to deal with the extreme variation of temperature in the Gobi desert where summer highs often top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter months can see significant amounts of snow. In general, Bactrian camels are much more mild-mannered than their hot-tempered dromedary kin. (The Dromedary camel has a uniform length of hair year round.) Estimates for the number of Bactrian Camels in North America range from about 400-800 head.

A food note:  At lunch one of the items was a Parker house roll with several slits that had been deep fried.  OMG, really???  Oozing grease.

We boarded the plane on the tarmac in 100+ degree clear weather.  On the whole, I have been impressed with the airports and planes. Our guide said that China had made good strides in their air travel compared to roads throughout China, but were now making more effort on the roads since more Chinese can afford cars.  Flying into Xian, I was delighted to see miles of wheat fields. Finally, farming as we know it instead of small plots on hillsides. Also, the air is much less smoggy. 100+ degree and raining as we deplane on the tarmac.  Another thing that has impressed me is the fact that most road/street signs have also included the English translation.

A great sight - driving through Xian at night seeing the lights atop the City Wall.

When Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), captured Huizhou, a hermit named Zhu Sheng admonished him that he should 'built high walls, store abundant food supplies and take time to be an Emperor,' so that he could fortify the city and unify the other states. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang followed his advice and began to enlarge the wall built initially during the old Tang dynasty (618 -907), creating the modern Xian City Wall. It's the most complete city wall that has survived in China, as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world.

One of the options on this trip was the Tang Dynasty Dinner and Dance.  We are so glad we elected to do this.  It was set in a beautiful theatre, the dinner was excellent, and the performance was a highlight of our trip.  We loved the colorful, elegant costumes and were in awe of the grace of the dancers.  Their voices were remarkable.  This, from someone who can't carry a tune, but I think this was the universal opinion. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yangtze - Shibaozhai

Visit Shibaozhai Temple, climb the stairs of a 12-story pavilion built in 1650.

Well, it took a few days but we almost created an international incident this morning. After leaving the boat to visit the Shibaozhai pagoda, Gerry wanted me to ride a rickshaw to the top of the hill - thinking it would be a great photo op. He negotiated the price, paid the guy, I got in the rickshaw and Gerry took a pic as I was being carried up the hill. After about 20 feet, I asked to be put down because I was very uncomfortable being carried by other humans. Then, the trouble began. The guy kept motioning for me to stay in until the end of the trip. I gave him more money and tried to convey that I wanted to walk. He kept talking and motioning. I kept shaking my head and walking. I thought I had escaped, but NO. He got reinforcements and encountered me again at the top of the hill. By then Gerry had caught up to see me surrounded by several animated Chinese. To the rescue he came. Well, not exactly. We finally had to get our tour guide involved and ended up paying the guy more just to get him to go away. From the minute you set foot on the shore, you are inundated by people trying to sell something. Tables are set up for quite a distance. Gerry calls it "running the gauntlet." So far we have bought none of it because our guide said most of it was substandard or fake. After this morning, we will be buying our souvenirs at the Lancaster Wal-Mart. Plenty of "Made in China" items there.

The pagoda was been one of the most interesting sights - again, we think. The vistas should have been spectacular; however, it is impossible to convey to you the unrelenting smog. It has really started to wear on us physically and psychologically. Many people are complaining of air passage irritation, and Gerry has had it. He wants to see sunshine and a clear sky. I think he will be out of luck until the morning after we arrive in Lancaster.

Gerry decided when in China, do as the Chinese.  He washed his clothes and hung them on the balcony to dry.  Took two days because of the humidity, and I think he still packed a few damp things in his suitcase!
Last night the crew performed. There were some delightful skits. All of the Viking personnel have been outstanding, and our accommodations are very good on the ship. The food has been mixed. The filet mignon night was very good, the Chinese night was terrible, and the other nights have been mediocre. The breakfasts and lunches have provided more than enough good food for us, and we never seem to pass on the desserts. Gerry has gained no weight; Ginny can't say that.

Tonight is our last night on the ship, and we are very much looking forward to our excursion in Xian. Caron, I will think of you as we view the terra cotta warriors. Everyone stay safe and well. Cough, cough from China.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Yangtze - Wu & Qutang Gorges

Cruise through Wu (Witches) Gorge, mist-enshrouded mountains including the legendary Twelve Peaks.  Board a sightseeing vessel for a cruise on the Daning River into Lesser Three Gorges.  See some of the Yangtze's most beautiful scenery in these gorges which is inaccessible by larger ships.  Return to ship and sail into Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of the Three Gorges.

Today we saw an example of ancient caskets hung on rock ledges and monkeys scampering on the gorge walls.  The monkeys generated the most interest!  AGAIN, the smog diminished ones enjoyment of what is probably grand scenery.  Everyone was lamenting that their pictures are going to be less than desirable.

We have decided that lazy susans are not always the best manner of table service.  There have been more than a few glasses knocked over by extended spoons, and inevitably we start to turn it when someone else is trying to serve themselves. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Yangtze River - Three Gorges Dam

Sail through Xiling Gorge, the largest of the three Yangtze River Gorges.  Tour Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric power station in the world which became fully operational in 2011.  Tonight we begin the four hours of naviating the 5-stage locks of the Dam.

Though interesting, Three Gorges Dam is not nearly as impressive to view as Hoover Dam.  Perhaps it is the angle from which we viewed it or the viewing site distance away from the dam.  However, I say again, "Man, would I love to own the concrete business in China!"

The gorges are gorgeous....we think.  The haze is still so pervasive that it is difficult to see the vistas.  Yesterday we toured the dam, the world's largest hydroelectric facility.  Massive, with 39 generators.  It was interesting watching as we began navigating the locks.  One was a series of five locks.  I watched as we went through the first; but at 10:30 p.m., I decided the pilot could continue without me.  Bed beckoned. 

At dinner tonight, one of the men at our table had attempted to climb Everest 5 times.  At best he reached within 500 feet of the summit but had to turn back.  Gerry set him straight by informing him that he had COMPLETED his climb of Half Dome!  This guy was one interesting individual, but best of all, he had a great sense of humor.  One of those people who are so accomplished that they do not have to take themselves so seriously.  We could have spent much more time with him.  He was most proud of his granddaughter who accompanied him on a recent climb.  He is 72 and looks forward to when he turns 80 and plans on taking a grandson who will then be 11 years old, as was his granddaughter. 

It is eerie seeing structures perched on the mountains.  It is hard to imagine the isolation of whoever occupies them.  We've toured mountainous regions in the US, but this certainly has a different feel about it.  I keep wondering how much more vast it appeared before the dam was constructed. 

Today is Dragon Boat Festival day.  Interesting as we tour everything because the Chinese seem to assign symbolism to so many things.  Though not totally convinced, we did want to rub the 2,000 year old rock to guarantee longevity for ourselves.  Heck, you never know.

Hope you are having a great day.  I personally have lost track of what day of the week it is or much of what is going on in the rest of the world.  I did see some of the French Open men's finals and we occasionally see a few minutes of CNN.  Take care....

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Yangtze River - Yueyang

In Yueyang visit an elementary school renovated and sponsored by Viking.  Welcome Reception to meet traveling companions.

Today we docked at Yuyuang to visit one of the three elementary schools that are supported by Viking.  It is considered rural; however, it is a city of 2,000,000 people.  The classroom we visited was a third grade class of 78 students.  The size of the room would be considered small by US standards but 78 small desks were crowded into the class.  The room contains no bulletin boards, only a blackboard in the front and back of the room.  I saw no books; it appeared the lesson was written on the blackboard.  The floor was concrete and the furnishings were basic and quite old.  The lack of color or stimulation in the room was striking.  The physical condition of the school aside, the Chinese place intense emphasis on education.  The guide continues to stress the extreme competition that is felt by young people to excel.  About 95% of the children attend free public education through 12th grade.  The remaining 5% are children of the very wealthy and attend private school.  At the completion of the 12th year, students take a 3 day exam which will determine whether and what higher education will be possible for them.  At the time they enroll in college, they stipulate an area of study.  When completed they will only be permitted to seek careers in that area.  They cannot choose to switch areas later in life. 

Women are to retire between 50 and 55; men are to retire between 55 and 60.  Our guide said it is the norm for three generations to live together - usually in a two bedroom condo.  She and her contemporaries give 80% of their income to support their extended family.  Take note Jeff, Sarah, Caron, and Diane.  I can see this might be a Chinese custom that has real merit! 

It is mid afternoon and this is the first time since arriving that the smog has dissipated.  We can actually see clearly on the banks of the river.  I don't know if it is because we are far enough away from an industrial area or what.  I have never seen such heavy river traffic, nor have I previously seen water buffalo in their natural environment. 

The population issues and their consequences are just overwhelming.  We are still trying to process what we are encountering.  Clearly most are in favor of the one child policy and express the hope that within several years, India will surpass China as the world's most populous country.  They quite obviously still have animosity toward the Japanese and do not shy away from expressing it.

Tonight we will attend a Chinese dinner to welcome everyone aboard.  Hopefully, I can push myself away from the table and avoid the "stuffed" feeling I have experienced since arriving.  Oh, me of so little self-control!

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Shanghai & Wuhan

Fly to Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, renowned for its museum with artifacts dating to the Warring States period.  Enjoy a musical performance of the museum's noted collection of chimes and bells.  Embark the Viking Emerald ship.

Our room on the ship is quite nice, a little larger than when we sailed NCL to Bermuda.  We had really been looking forward to sitting on our balcony enjoying a glass of wine; however, the smog is so heavy that you can hardly see the scenery.  The Emerald was refurbished and is quite comfortable.  One of the young ladies serving our table today is named "Candy".  Although I know it makes it easier for the passengers to refer to the crew using "Americanized" names, it seems a little offensive so we always try to ask their given name. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Tour Old Shanghai and Yuyuan Garden, dating to the Ming Dynasty.  Drive along the Bund, the city's elegant riverside promenade.  Lunch in a local restaurant, tour silk carpet workshop, and Shanghai Museum.  Dinner and Acrobat Show.

I was interested to see whether we would be put in a lesser hotel since we booked one of the lowest categories. The guide alleviated my concern when she said that Yao Ming had chosen this hotel for his wedding celebration. Gorgeous hotel, great bed, quietest hotel room in which I have ever stayed, and an indescribable breakfast buffet. I even had Peking duck, hot fudge sundae, lox, and watermelon juice one morning. It is obscene.

We toured the city and visited a silk rug making factory. I really could have done without the shopping.  Though the rugs are true hand woven works of art, we are in the de-accumulation stage of our lives.  The dim sum lunch was quite good.  The museum probably was more interesting than I have the intellect to appreciate OR I am a little tired.  The Acrobat Show was entertaining; however, I suspect it was local performers and not the level that is perported by the guide.  Our guide is Shan Shan, a 30 year old young lady with a bachelor's degree.  Her English is quite good; but even though it was her college major, it is apparent from sentence structure and some word usuage that it is not her primary language.  Her mother was a college English major and worked at the U.S. embassy.  Since Gerry and I can say nothing but "Hello" in Chinese - nor is there any hope of learning more - I have to admire her.

Our food has been average, except for the incredible breakfast at the Shangi-La. Gerry and I survived the jet lag reasonable well. The only problem may be that we will overeat and have to waddle onto the plane. It has been quite an education regarding the present state of China. Hope to write more on this later.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Touchdown Shanghai

Shanghai is the largest city in China, beginning 5,000 years ago as a tiny fishing village.  Seriously, coming from the US, wrapping my brain around the concept of a 5,000 year old city is a stretch.  Staying at the Pudong Shangri-La hotel on the Huangpu River with views of the Bund Promenade.

On the one hour drive into Shanghai from the airport, we encountered continuous high rise apartments.  We learned that all of them had been constructed in the past 12 years. Absolutely a sea of people.  I was not expecting to hear they were that newly constructed because they looked rusty and rather worn.  Clearly, the construction material was substandard.  What could have been nice looking buildings were ruined by the fact that everyone of them had laundry hanging outside and many had air conditioners hanging out of the windows with wires running along the outside wall.  From the time we departed the airport, smog has been unrelenting.  Heavy smog.  More than we have ever encountered in LA or anywhere else. 

Arriving at the hotel, it is apparent that there is also great wealth in China.  In contrast to the high-rise condos we saw coming from the airport, there are many massive, architecturally interesting buildings along the Bund. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Winging Over the North Pole

Departing Air Canada from BWI to Toronto and then a 14 1/4 hour into Shanghai, a total of 17 3/4 hours start to finish.  We are talking achy joints and pent-up energy combined.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What is it?

Okay, I know we forgot something. The only question is, "What is it?" Hopefully we won't even notice. We both packed and had no trouble being below the 44 lb. allowance. Of course, Gerry gets the blue ribbon. His roller bag only weighed 25 lb.

On our way to the hotel near BWI, we stopped at Baltimore Inner Harbor for dinner. The harbor and boats are still enjoyable to see; however, we both kept observing how different Inner Harbor is compared to our first visit about 25 years ago. At that time, there was such an energy no matter which day or evening of the week you visited. Now it is a little tired, and there are a few empty storefronts and fewer people. We reflected back to the first time we brought Caron to the Children's Museum. We arrived in the afternoon and 5:00 p.m. came too soon for her. When we were escorted out, she sat on the steps a very unhappy little girl. Now we take the grandchildren to children's museums. Times change!

Now I am off to bed early so glad that I can sleep until 6:00 a.m. instead of 2:00 a.m. as originally planned when we were leaving from home to catch our flight. We are optimistic there will be NO delays or snafus tomorrow. Wanna bet?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Disaster Averted

Our plans had been to leave our house in Lancaster at 3:00 a.m., drive to Hunt Valley, take the light rail to BWI for our flight to Toronto where we would board our Air Canada 14 hour flight to Shanghai.  A couple of days ago, Gerry asked, "Now, what time do we return to BWI?"  When I checked, I realized that IF we arrived on time from Beijing to BWI, we would not arrive early enough to catch the light rail back to Hunt Valley to retrieve our car.  I do not want to think about how we would have felt had we realized my mistake upon our return.  NOT funny.  Consequently, I booked a hotel close to the airport which has 24 hour shuttle service and parking privileges for our car while we are out of the area. 

My clothes have been in my suitcase for two day!  I was delighted to find that my clothes only weigh 15 lbs.  Given that my suitcase weighs 10 lbs., I have about 15 lbs. allowance for the other "must haves" that have been noted on the blogs of people who have just returned from this tour.  Interestingly, the #1 item mentioned has been toilet paper.  Although we are staying in 5 star hotels and the rooms on the ship used for the Yangtze portion of the trip are well appointed, during the day when we are out and about in China it seems that we might be faced with "squaty-potties".  DON'T ASK!  SO, I am packing toilet paper.  Also packed are my Nook, i-pod, camera, and the books about visiting China that my daughter, Caron, gave me for Christmas.  Yep, the weight of "stuff" adds up. 

Fortunately, one of the most important items I am packing for the trip weighs almost nothing.  My daughter, Sarah, gave me a wig for Mother's Day.  You know how profusely I sweat in the event of humidity or high temps.  After a day of touring, you know my head will not be a pretty sight.  Given that often we will be expected to go to dinner with little time to waste, I am so relieved to think that I can just don my "rug" and be on my way.  In one of the books Caron gave me, it mentions an ethnic sect of Chinese called Uigher, pronounced "Wigger".    Well, it now seems I will be a Uigher!!!  Thanks, Sarah.  I expect your gift will often save the day for me and the appetite of my dinner mates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Sunshine on My Shoulders

Finally, we have a day of sunshine, but I must force myself to stay inside and start to organize my "stuff" for the trip.  I got my hair chopped off this a.m. to minimize the primp time.  I went to the bank to get a slew of ones, fives, and tens.  We are told that we can use U.S. currency for much of the small purchases and tips.  I'm finally going to look "big busted" with some expensive padding.  I haven't asked Gerry where he will be concealing his stash.  Perhaps I will be Dolly Parton to his Tom Jones.  I've notified the credit card company, bank, Verizon, etc.  Crazy how complicated our lives are!  I also just checked reviews of Air Canada.  Of course, there were some not so good reviews - oh, well.  Bad timing - I should have checked BEFORE I booked the flights.  I will just be happy if the plane stays airborne for the necessary amount of time.  That to me is a successful flight.  Hope you are enjoying sunshine today....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crunch Time

Six months have passed since we booked our trip to China.  It is now six days until we leave, and it is now time to kick up our preparations schedule.  We have our passports, visas, and inoculations.  Well, at least ONE of us has full immunity!  Gerry and I use the same medical practice but different doctors.  Gerry was scheduled to see Dr. Warren at the time we booked our trip.  He mentioned to Dr. W he would be going to China, so Dr. W said he must immediately start his inoculations because the Hep A and Hep B shots required 6 months to become effective.  At Gerry's urging, I made an appointment with my doctor, Dr. Fuchs.  Dr. F said I was only to receive the Hep A shot.  When I related to him that Dr. W gave Gerry both A & B, he said only A was necessary because B was only indicated for sexual activities.  Well, imagine the conversation I had with Gerry to determine what he said to Dr. W that would indicate he would need the Hep B.  In the ensuing months, we have had a few laughs about the fact that only Gerry will be able to have sex in China.  I later inquired of Dr. F whether I should have the Hep B shot, only to be told again, "No, it is not needed."  Last week, I received a voice mail from Dr. F indicating that he just noticed that I had not received my Hep B shot.  Incredulous, I immediately drove to the office to get the first of three shots for Hep B.  The nurse was apologetic and said, "Well, you will have a little bit of immunity."  I suppose now I can have a little bit of sex in China. 

The challenge now begins to assemble everything we will need for two weeks and not exceed 44 lbs. each, including the weight of the suitcase.  I was a little dismayed when I realized my empty small roller bag weighed 10 lbs.  Hmmmm....

Before we leave I will try to post headings for each day of our trip so that you can follow us even if I do not have access or time to post.  This is my first attempt at a blog so I am not sure if I will be able to post pictures until I return home.  Just learning....