Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 New Year's Letter

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Can you believe another year is behind us with yet another on the horizon? How lucky are we? Despite the fiscal cliff, gun control (or lack thereof), an unconciliatory Congress reflecting a divided people, no peace in the Middle East,  and the doubling of cat-tuna prices at Trader Joe’s - my glass is 7/8s-full and will likely remain so.

This year my adventures were distributed across the calendar and brought a continued sense of excitement and preparation to 2012. 
the Narrows
In July I explored the canyonlands of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in Utah. “The GSENM,” you ask, “What and where is that?” The national parks of Utah sit in a large ring and that grand expanse of wilderness between them, that great treasure trove of mineral and ore, THAT is now the GSENM.
In his establishment proclamation of 1996, President Clinton acknowledged that our national parks protect gems that become magnets of commerce and islands unable protect animal migration corridors and species from extinction (i.e. wolves in Yellowstone). With the stroke of a pen, he created 11-million contiguous acres of the GSENM and in so doing, stopped all mining, drilling, and destruction of this vast wilderness.

This is not a national park: there are no visitor centers, no carefully manicured scenic overlooks, no trash cans, flush toilets, shuttle buses, handrails, paved trails, no quick and easy rescue. It is as it is. And what it is is raw, naked mysterious and dangerous. There are flash-floods in narrow, unscalable canyons; there are sand pits that eat cars; pools of quicksand; rattlesnakes, scorpions; there are roads passable only by four-wheel-drive vehicles... There are box canyons, crevices, sharp cliffs, bone breaking falls; there are twisted ankles and heat stroke and inescapable situations.
   And there are sunsets bursting behind storm clouds, shooting stars the likes of which you haven't seen since you were a kid; there are sounds of desert waters, chattering coyotes, wind against sandstone, silence. ~ G K Chesher, Heart of the Desert Wild.

wind-sculpted sandstone
Half the trip was spent river-walking, the other half scaling sandy banks teeming with poison ivy, snakes, and ticks only to drop again into cool, canyon waters. Cliffs towered overhead, the rock a soft pink, the world - silent except for its own gentle heaves. And this is why I go to the wildz - to re-set and resynchronize my own heaves to that where God is most present - in the world of Her creation, the natural world. 

Lael and Mom in Guilin
“I want to go to China one last time and I want you kids to go with me,” Mom said last year. And so we did, six of us: my sister Gina, her husband Michael, niece Lael, nephew Collin, Mom, and me - for 16-days. Such an adventure starting with the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Great Wall in Beijing, to the Terra-cotta Army in Xi’an, the Floating Mountains of Guilin, hoú-hoú sung (good, good food) of Hong Kong, and the Portuguese settlement of Macau. Follow my nearly complete Asian Chronicles at
China’s antiquities are mind-boggling and breathtaking and... much walking is required. Go while you are still mobile; China does not indulge the immobile.

w/the Fred and Tina
I paused in Honolulu for ten days and readied Mom’s condo for sale. We met visiting Portlander's, high school beau Fred and his lovely wife Tina, for dim-sum breakfast in Chinatown.
“What happened to you,” Mom exclaimed, ever the wordsmith, “You were such a cute kid!”
“What do you mean what happened to me,” Fred chuckled, “I’m still a cute kid!”
Mom is moving into Craigside - a continuing care retirement community that offers all levels of service from independent living to skilled and memory care. She expects to move for the last time by February first. Craigside sits not more than 1/2 mile from both her birthplace and lifelong church. Many fellow parishioners have taken residence there so her Christian community is imbedded within.
I am continually impressed with the results of my parents future-planning. Sprouted in times of true scarcity, their means were meager, their plans frugal, their tenacity unwavering, their results - fruitful. I hope it can one day be said that I was a good student and learned their valuable lessons.

I returned from China/Honolulu late October and on November 5th, I moved into my new office  at the Kaiser Roseville hospital campus - hired as a nurse practitioner in the new, Neurology Memory Clinic. Some minuscule part of me grieves in leaving the world of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and... the brain is the next frontier.
The bulk of my work will be in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s occurs because a build-up of plaque and tangled proteins inside the brain clogs the pathways of cognition, memory, and synaptic plasticity - thinking, learning, memory, mood, even functions like swallowing. Not a day passes that I don’t remember, sometimes tearfully, Dad’s struggle. His plight lends valuable insight and infinite compassion for these patients and families. 
To date - there is no cure. What about prevention? A healthy lifestyle is believed to help. If you smoke - stop. Eat a healthy diet (more plants), get regular exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. While this is not new news - the good news is a healthy lifestyle is within your control.

I tendered my resignation at Mercy General Hospital in November and left the open heart team, a job I’ve held since 2004. You know I loved that job, loved the work, loved the skill-set, and patient population. But it was not a job I did easily or well just 3-4 days/month. I feared missing something and causing harm. And working Saturdays at Mercy had me with split days off; that was tiring. So with great sadness, I resigned.

On December 13th I organized a walk: Neuro Steps UP & Steps OUT. It was an employee Live Well Be Well, 25-minute, lunchtime walk that resulted in 20 walkers and a burgeoning walking movement on the 4th floor of Med Ofc Bldg 2. I organized a rain route and a sunny route and subsequently have six new, lunchtime, committed walkers in Neuro. And so it came to pass that I was knighted the Live Well Be Well champion of Neuro - a role that is well-suited to my natural proclivities, energies, and interests.

On December 18th and through no efforts of my own, I became a great-aunt for the second time. My nephew Nicholas and his wife Lindsey welcomed their first child Jaydalyn - and we did too.

Lastly, some of you know that my cat Puck discarded me like a stinky piece of cheese and went Rambo 2-years ago, only to return at Halloween 2011. While he remains feral, he does come home almost nightly to eat and sometimes sleep in the garage. The prodigal son returns...

What’s in store for 2013? 
I have been practicing Power Vinyasa Yoga for eight months. I am working on balancing poses and handstands - having mastered the headstand. Always another mountain, eh?
Classmate and dear friend John and I attended the annual reunion, UCSF Days in April. A subsequent conversation resulted in an invitation to give the in-patient/out-patient Diabetes Management lecture to the Acute Care NP class of 2013. I am thrilled and will lecture in April.
In July, my best backpacking buddy Bill and I intend to bite off another piece of the Pacific Crest Trail from Sonora Pass to Yosemite. “We have to get in there,” I said several years ago as we gazed into the wildz beyond Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Our route will bring us into Hetch Hetchy from the north-east, hiking along the water for the last few miles. We will be in-z-wildz for a week; care to join us?

My next frontier: “I’m still trying to figure out how to wean them off their dementia.”
Love hearing from you - please do stay connected. 
May 2013 be an expression of your heart’s greatest desires 
and deepest yearnings. 
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!   Lorin

Monday, December 24, 2012

Asian Chronicles - 6

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To Shanghai / Suzhou - Tuesday 10/2/2012  

If its Tuesday, it must be Taiwan Shanghai.
“Xian is the root of China,” Peter explained as our bus raced toward the airport. “Beijing is like a branch; Shanghai is like a leaf.” We were headed for the newest, shiniest, showiest leaf in China’s ancient forest - Shanghai.
I am not a city lover and have no real desire to tour Asia’s leaves. Cities worldwide have become amazingly homogenous with Starbucks, McDonald’s, and “Kentucky.” The days of buying cheap in Asia are past. Most of what I saw could be purchased on Amazon at a better price and sans the need to lug it home. 
I would much prefer eco-travel while touring their antiquities. Peter encouraged our return to Xi’an for deeper exploration. He leads tours down the Silk Road toward Istanbul. “We ride camels across the Gobi Desert and sleep in tents.” Now yer talkin’!
“No thank you-u-u,” my niece Lael said softly, rolling her eyes.

Deng Xioping was a reformist leader in the Communist Party who led China’s charge toward a market economy. In 1979, he opened Shanghai to outside investment companies. Today, 60% of multinational companies have offices in Shanghai. 
The Shanghainese have new money; their women are known to be “Hi-i-i-gh maintenance,” Derek said, lifting his nose in the air before cackling like one of them. “They talk high and fast. You will hear them ngah-ngah-ngah-ngah-ngah,” he yammered in falsetto, opening and closing his hand in the form of a yapping mouth. Derek giggled again.

At the airport’s security check-point, passengers relinquished their lighters - scads and scads of Bic lighters. At the other side, exiting airports, peddlers peddled those lighters for a few yuan. Talk about a racket!

“Good afternoon,” our Shanghainese tour-guide said, “Aloha.” She was a tiny woman, about five-feet tall, in her early 30’s. Her black hair was trimmed pixie-style; we call that rice-bowl in the islands. A rice-bowl haircut is a blunt cut of every hair extending beyond the lip of an inverted rice-bowl placed on the head. It was the typical haircut of Chinese immigrants to Hawaii at the turn of the century. Hence its name: rice-bowl haircut. Okay, she was Shanghainese, it wasn’t quite a rice-bowl haircut.
“You are from Honolulu.” she continued. “My name is Loo-Loo. My family name is Loo, L-O-O,” she spelled it out for us. “You can call me Loo-Loo. You can remember?” 
She began to lay out the rules. “Shanghai streets very busy. You cross at zebra-cross.” Zebra-cross? Loo-Loo pointed outside the bus - to white striping painted on black asphalt creating black and white roadway striping. Ah, zebra-cross is a crosswalk. Loo-Loo pointed to an overpass, “You see the camera? They send us ticket for no seatbelt.”
“If you need to go to the bathroom, you say, ‘I want to sing a song.’ We don’t say, ‘I go to the bathroom.’ We say, ‘I go to sing a song.’” Seriously? “When we are near a bathroom, I will ask if you need to sing a song. Okay?” 
Can I just say... there is something seriously warped in a culture that suppresses communications regarding the universal, biologic need for elimination to that degree. I’m just sayin’...
“You know Chinese banana?” Loo-Loo asked. We gave her a puzzled look. “Chinese banana are Chinese people with no Mandarin.” er... that would be us. “You know what is an egg?” Yellow inside, white outside, I began to problem solve. I would think that was the Chinese person who did not speak Mandarin because they are yellow inside and seemingly white outside without Mandarin. But noooh, eggs are Caucasians who speak Mandarin. But... but Caucasians aren’t yellow inside... Whatever.

187 mph
Our destination was the Bund, Shanghai’s business waterfront. We could arrive one of two ways: via tour bus or Maglev Train. Maglev = magnet levitation. In a joint venture with Siemens, China built the first commercially operated, high-speed, magnetic levitation line in the world, to connect the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to the outskirts of Shanghai. Construction of 18.6 miles of track began in 2001 and was completed in 2004 at a cost of 2.1 BILlion. (They ran into swamps requiring deep pylons and likely more than a few corrupt officials with deep pockets.) Top operational speed of the train is 431 km/h (268 mph) though is was clocked at 501 km/h (311 mph) in a test run. The journey to the airport takes a mere 8-minutes. The hope was to ultimately connect China by affordable and time efficient rail, i.e. Shanghai to Beijing. (Stats from Wikipedia)
Collin awaiting blast-off
However, ridership has lagged as the depot is located 20-minutes outside Shanghai’s City Center, forcing riders to board yet another form of transportation. Additionally, ticket prices are double that of local cab fares. We paid our fare and boarded the virtually empty train; our ride was smooth and quiet. No clackety-clackety-rickety-rackety, this was first class comfort terminating at a fancy depot in the middle-of-nowhere. Hmmm. What pocket-lined official approved THAT? The larger project, the unification of China by Maglev rail, was scrapped due to cost overruns and low ridership. No duh!
The Bund is like ... like Hong Kong harbor’s Mini-Me. (See Austin Powers - The Spy Who Shagged Me). It has it’s share of towering glass and high finance, a dirty waterway, and luxury shopping. Again, nothing I couldn’t get on Amazon. But don’t take my word for it as I am constantly perplexed with the near universal enchantment of modern cities - give me Petra or terra-cotta soldiers.

We boarded our bus again, this time destined for Suzhou, approximately 90-minutes from Shanghai. Suzhou (pronounced Sue-joe, where the J is soft - like Jacque and Beijing) is within the southern Yangtze River delta and is known for China’s silk industry and series of canals that has it dubbed the “Venice of the East.” 
The Grand Canal is the longest (of course it is) canal (meaning artificial and manmade = hand-dug by Chinese peasants) in the world (1,400 miles). Beginning in Beijing, it connects the Yellow River in northern China to the southern Yangtze. Oldest sections of the Grand Canal date back to the 5th century BCE and various sections were combined for its completion during the Sui Dynasty in 581-610 CE. With the completion of the Grand Canal, Suzhou found itself along a major trade route when, in the 10th century, China invented the pound lock (think Panama Canal). Locks allowed river barges to traverse the 138-foot Shandong mountains and float goods up and down The Grand Canal’s length.
The names of southern cities along the grand canal: Xuzhou, Chuzhou, Yangzhou, Taizhou, Suzhou, Huzhou, Hanzhou all end in zhou, meaning boat. 
More recently, Suzhou’s New District is a designated region for technological and industrial development. Think iPhone. 
“In 2003, the district's total output value was 25.1 billion yuan. Industrial sales equalled 70.06 billion yuan. ... with exports of 8.76 BILlion USD.” - Wikipedia. THAT was 2003 - pre-iPhone!

shoyu duck feet
Our bus raced along a multi-lane freeway past large, high-rise industrial complexes, each housing tens of thousands of workers. Mid-way between the two cities, a rest stop provided a place to sing a song and vendors with local delicacies: shoyu (teriyaki) chicken and duck, duck feet, duck tongue, chicken feet, and crucified chicks.
shoyu chicks
The bathrooms were mostly squattys and hand-washing occurred at a central, stainless steel trough outside. There, an old woman vomited into a trash can and young mothers were known to hold their children over the trough to urinate.
“Don’t touch that Amma,” Collin grabbed Mom firmly by the arm, “We have hand sanitizer.”
“Gawd Collin, I didn’t know you were such a germ-a-phobe!” Mom exclaimed as he led her away. Such were the beginnings of calling him “the Phobe” for the remainder of our trip.
Bicycle and tricycle traffic was infrequent on the freeway that was marked with pedestrian crosswalks! If flagged, the public bus stopped anywhere along the freeway. Grace and patience are requisite for driving in China.

deep-fried fish
We disembarked in Suzhou and walked a narrow path between construction site and crumbling building to a restaurant. Chilled appetizers of aspic and liver paté turned out to be variations of dried, pickled, and smoked tofu. The deep fried fish had an unusual presentation, one I’d never seen. My companions said the food was greasy. I picked at vegetables to put on my rice and then... then they brought me a plate of stir-fried vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas, green and white onions, and carrots followed by an egg fritter in broth - I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
We were serenaded by a woman playing a pipa - a pear-shaped, fretted lute. I’m sure she was good - if one has an ear for the screechy, nasal songs of China.
After dinner, we checked into our hotel - the Jasmine Holiday Inn. It stood alone, adjacent to several blocks of pure carnage, fields of rubble and destruction. Woe be to them when reconstruction begins, we thought. The place will be a construction dustbowl. 
That night we hit the streets, wending our way past food carts, shoulder to shoulder with the locals, past a “Kentucky”. 
“We like Kentucky,” Loo-Loo said. “McDonald’s not so popular.” Apparently Kentucky has made a teriyaki-like recipe that is quite popular in China. Smart guy that Colonel Sanders. Hawaiian islanders eat teriyaki chicken sandwiches and burgers. McDonald’s would be wise to figure that out in Hawaii and China. Wait! What am I saying? Fast-food is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality! I hope Mickey Dz fails and leaves China altogether! But I digress.
The curbs and sidewalks were uneven and unlit; the footing treacherous. The streets were streaming with cars and scooters, all with horns a-blare, as if to say, “Look at me and my new moneeee.” The annoying and incessant honking did not abate until shopkeepers closed after 10 pm. 

The dawn was quiet, the denizens of Suzhou still sequestered within save the errant motorist careening down the street, horn blaring like a rooster announcing dawn - look at meee, look at me and my new moneeee. I pulled the curtains back to glare disapprovingly.
Breakfast was a wonderful, international buffet on the sixth floor. Suzhou was gray and drab in the morning light, a real industrial town. 
“Nē hoú,” we said aboard our bus. “We don’t say nē hoú in Suzhou,” Loo-Loo corrected. “We say jóusàhn.” (pronounced jow-sun) Ah, we know jóusàhn - it’s Cantonese. My Popo (grandmother) was from Canton, spoke Cantonese and used jóusàhn. We had arrived in southern China, where Cantonese - pure Chinese - is spoken and the temperate climate allows for vegetables and the food Americans know as Chinese food.

Our first destination was “The Lingering Garden” - a renowned, classical, Chinese garden. What are the elements of a Chinese garden? Do you remember? They are: water (yin), rock (yang), flora, and architecture. 
The Lingering Garden was commissioned in the mid-1550’s by a local official. The bamboo groves and stone forest were added by subsequent owners and in 1823CE it opened to the public as a resort. The garden has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair during multiple eras. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the government of Suzhou took ownership of the garden and its restoration. It reopened to the public in 1954 and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001. 
Lingering Lael
As we waited in the queue outside, a young Chinese mother stopped to request a picture of her toddler with my niece Lael. Lael lifted the child while mother and grandmother cooed to get the child’s attention. 
“It’s because you are so model-esque,” I said.
“It’s because I’m the only black girl in China,” she countered, “And they’ve never seen one in real life.” Lael was gracious and accommodating with their curious stares.

Lael, Mike, me
Auspicious Cloud Capped Peak
The buildings of the garden occupy 1/3 of the total area and are traditional Suzhounese with black-tile roofs and white-washed walls - all very yin-yang. The central garden harbors the oldest sections and the great Auspicious Cloud Capped Peak.
The crowds were thick with tourists and tour groups. We shuffled slowly, shoulder to shoulder. Loo-Loo provided a running dialogue through our earbuds while some groups used bull-horns, though signage clearly prohibited their use. 
“It’s a holiday,” Derek said. “There is no one here to enforce; that’s why.”
And why did we spend a fortune to come to China during their national holi-week? Grrrrrrrrr. My bad. We should have paid more attention. Be advised - DO NOT go to China during the first week of October!!!
“Look out the windows,” Loo-Loo said. “Each window is a picture frame and each frame has three views.” The main structure contained men’s and women’s chambers. The men’s chambers were ornate with carved rafters and window casements, better views, and cushioned chaises for smoking opium. The women’s chambers were spartan.
I was intrigued with several ancient weather stations: a wooden plaque holding two stones, one round, one square. The round stone is above the square - remember round is a symbol of heaven and square a symbol of earth. The round stone (a barometer) becomes moist when barometric pressure falls and ambient humidity rises. The square stone turns a reddish hue with rising temperatures. I wondered if forecasting was possible or if the stones merely confirmed the current weather pattern. 
The bonsai garden was fabulous... but there was no lingering in the Lingering Garden. We were off to the Silk Factory. Why is the silk industry in Suzhou? Because the climate is favorable for orchards of mulberry trees, on which silk worms feed.

Loo-Loo pointed to the treelined roadway.
“Camphor trees,” she said. “You know camphor? C-A-M-P-H-O-R, camphor. Camphor tree is all over Suzhou; everyone has camphor tree. When you have daughter, parent plant camphor tree. When daughter about sixteen, matchmaker come. Don’t look at girl, look at tree. Tree big and strong, girl too old, no one want her. When girl marry, parents cut down tree, make camphor box for wedding.”
My Popo was matched by a matchmaker. She was a picture-bride from Canton, bound feet and all, sold to my grandfather’s family in Hawaii. I wondered if the camphor story was still true in China, where a girl’s value is determined by the horticultural skills of her parents and a tree in the yard. 
Loo-Loo expounded on the one-child policy. “Now, not enough girls. No baby girl adoption to US anymore. You know? Now, you want grandchildren? You buy condo for son and his new wife. You buy BMW.” Loo-Loo laughed, she - the mother of a young child. Well that’s an interesting turn of events, eh? So much for the camphor tree!

We gathered in a large room where they delivered Silk Basics 101. The lifespan of a silkworm is thirty-days. This is a government store; no price negotiation. Silk is sold by weight. It is lightweight, warm in winter, cool in summer. 
“Polyester is shiny; silk - no. Polyester is itchy and if you catch it on fire - the smoke is black. Silk no itch and when it catch on fire - the smoke is white. It smells like burning hair, like natural fiber. Silk pillow very good for you, good for migraines. Inside, a little pocket of herbs and silkworm poo-poo,” Loo-Loo held up a long, narrow sachet. “We call poo-poo pillow. You have neck problem; you get poo-poo pillow and neck problem go away. Very good for you.”

We poured out onto their showroom floor, stopping at a clickety-clackety machine that unwound cocoons. “One cocoon is one thread,” Loo-Loo said. Women stirred cocoons floating in hot water with a natural-bristled brush, until it snagged the thread’s tail. Then both thread tail and cocoon were lifted onto the machine for unwinding. The pupae (the worm metamorphosing into moth) at the center, looking a little like a shelled pecan, were discarded and likely used for fertilizer in the orchards which gave them life.
Dbl Cocoon
Silk Stretch
Double pupae, two pupae in a single cocoon, were de-bugged by hand because the cocoon is not unwound but stretched over a frame for blankets and comforters. The dried cocoon felt soft and lightly textured, like merino wool. We watched factory workers stretch a double cocoon over a twin-sized wooden frame. They let us do it next and I jumped in to try. The cocoon was amazingly tough and difficult to stretch, but stretch it we did without a tear - a sign of silks resilience over our skill. Our purchases were compressed and packed for shipping.
Carved Elephant Tusk
Lunch was followed by a visit to the Suzhou Museum of Art designed by Ieoh Ming Pei - better known as I.M. Pei. I.M. Pei was born in Canton in 1917 and moved to the US to study architecture in 1935. He is an award winning designer, best known for the Pyramid at the Louvre in France. The museum at Suzhou is his most recent work and, given his age, perhaps his last. The museum was beautiful, the works of art contained therein, breathtaking. We did the breakneck and breathless, 45-minute tour where I could easily spend 3-4 hours.
Eight Immortals
Intricate Fretwork
The walk back to our bus was through a street-fair of merchant booths where a pungent odor filled the air.
“That’s stinky tofu,” Derek said. “It’s fermented more long.”
Squares of tofu simmered on an outdoor griddle, filling the air with ... stink. Christie (one of the younguns) bought a small bowl and we all had a taste. It was tart, its flavor much better than its smell.

Just before dinner we took a short boat ride down the Jing Hau, the Grand Canal where some Suzhounese have homes along the water. Near the dock, a man red-faced with drink tailed us looking for a handout, “Hey money, money,” he called out, “Hey money, money.”
The pace of this tour was getting to us and we welcomed the opportunity to eat-in at our hotel.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Asian Chronicles - 5

Xi’an (pronounced Shee-ahn) - Home of the Terra-Cotta Warriors 9/30/2012

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Our wake-up call came at 0600 and bags were collected for an early flight to Xi’an. I tucked my breakfast-in-a-box beneath my arm and boarded our bus which groaned as we pulled away into the darkness. I watched the city lighten from elevated freeways snaking their way through Beijing’s cement canyonlands.
The day broke clear and bright. Beijing, infamous for smog so thick it burned and left a disagreeable tang on one’s tongue, once again basked in clear skies lassoed by the God Maui and dragged trans-Pac for his people.

Dawn beget the Moon Festival, a mid-autumnal festival held on the full moon of the fifteenth day and eighth lunar month. While we know China as an industrial powerhouse churning out goods faster than our rapacious appetites can consume; they know themselves as agrarians. The Moon Festival is one that celebrates harvest. Notice its proximity to the equinox, a time of nearly worldwide thanksgiving.
“The full moon is round,” Angela said, “Round is a symbol of heaven, perfection, and family. The Moon Festival is a national holiday and a time to return home.” 
Moon Cake is a flakey pastry filled with sweetened black beans and lotus blossom seeds eaten in remembrance - to celebrate the sweetness of life and family. This year, the full moon on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month fell on September 30th. 
October 1st is China’s National Day. Equivalent to July 4th, it is the day Chairman Mao stood at the Tiananmen Gate of the Forbidden City in 1949 and declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It is the first day of a national holi-week. That the two holidays fell conveniently together, creating eight consecutive days without work, was fortuitous. The government lifted all road tolls and the Chinese mobilized.  
There is great internal demand by the Chinese to tour their own country, for it has only been allowed in the last decade. Why am I in China at this time, competing with them to see their antiquities? I became suspect of a tour company who would schedule my 14-day tour during an 8-day national holiday.

“Yes, time flies. Our three days together almost over,” Angela bid us farewell. “You are a very lucky group: no fake money, no pick-pockets, even the weather,” she pointed outside the bus, “Blue skies. You saw many things in Beijing,” she said before summarizing our trip. “I hope you return to Beijing again. How will we know one another from Green Bus? What’s our code word?”
“Ding-ding hou!” we chorused before erupting in laughter. 
“Yes, twenty or thirty years later we will know Green Bus from ding-ding hou,” she laughed. We hugged Angela and boarded our two-hour flight to Xi’an. 

In-flight we discussed our personal want for more museums, artifact, antiquities and less shopping.
Derek said, “If we do that, half the people sit outside; they don’t want. The government makes us go to pearl factory, to jade factory because so many people get rip-off buying fakes. They complain and the government can say - look, we gave you a chance to buy the real one.” I heard a low growl from a dark recess - Monkey curling a lip to bare his teeth. (Ask Dr. Google about Monkey and Monkey Mind.)

The local guide palmed our green flag and microphone. “Nē hoú,” his deliciously deep voice resonated through the bus.
“Nē hoú,” we echoed.
“Welcome to Xi’an. I am called Peter.” Peter is a 40-ish scholar working on his PhD in Chinese History - purrrfect!  He is tall, six-foot or so with a longish crew cut standing straight as bristles. Wire-rimmed glasses perched on a puggish nose over buggish eyes. I wondered about his thyroid function and scoured his anterior neck with my eyes, wanting to palpate the gland and instruct, “Swallow.” 
“Nē hoú má?” (How are you?) Peter asked.
“Ding-ding hou!” we chorused again to laughter he could not comprehend.
“Oh, that good?” His brows rose, he smiled broadly, his words more statement than question. “So you know how to say good and var good. What if you are not so good? Do you know ma-ma-hu-hu?” He waggled a splayed hand at us, “So-so?” 
Our heads shook no.
“Ma means horse. Hu is tiger.” His intonation was precise and deliberate. “Ma-ma-hu-hu is horse-horse-tiger-tiger, or so-so.” He waggled his hand again. Love it! “Can you say ma-ma-hu-hu?
“Ma-ma-hu-hu,” we echoed.
“Var good,” Peter smiled, “How do you say thank you?”
“Xièxie (pronounced sheh-sheh),” we said without hesitation.
“Var good,” Peter said, “How about no thank you?”
“Bullshit,” Collin said laughing.
“Bùxuè(pronounced boo-sheh),” Peter corrected, laughing, shaking a finger at him. “They know bullshit. Bùxuè is no thank you. If you want something stronger you say bùyào (boo-yow). That means 'NO! I REALLY don’t want.'”

Xi’an is one of China’s ancient cities dating back to 2700 BCE. “Confucius was from Xi’an,” Peter said. “Chinese Buddhism start here. Seventy-six Empros ruled Zhong Guo from Xi’an. Zhong Guo means Middle Country; it is the ancient name for China. Xi’an was the capitol city for 1500 years.” He pointed to several green hills dotting the landscape between the airport and city. “Those are toom,” Toom? “Crypt of Chinese Empro.” Ah, tombs of the Emperors.
Eleven mound tombs with 200-300 chambers apiece surround Xi’an. Legend says Emperor Qin (China’s first Emperor) was buried in an elaborate tomb, between two rivers of quicksilver, surrounded by an army. It was thought to be mythos until 1974, when a farmer digging a well uncovered a clay soldier. He thought he found ghosts of the “element generals”: earth, wood, metal, fire, and water.
One by one, an army of thousands emerged from the soil: infantry, archers, cavalry, charioteers, horses, acrobats, dancers, singers, bookkeepers, flagman, etc. They would become known as the Terra-Cotta Army, putting Xi’an on the map, and catapulting tourism to its top industry.
The farmer was compensated approximately 10 USD, a generosity because land and air are owned by the government. Under different circumstances, he might bask in the lap of luxury as his farm generates an enviable income for China. Rather, he signs books in the gift shop, apparently an embittered old man.
“Twenty-one hundred years ago Xi’an was invaded by Ghenghis and Kubla Khan. So there are many Mongols in Xi’an. Many Muslims came over Silk Road so Xi’an is var multi-culture,” Peter continued. “We have many Muslims and a mosque. You will see women with veil. We have tolerance for many people. My family came here during Culture Revolution, to run away. Some of my family were imprisoned. I have no love for Chairman Mao.” I was surprised by his candor.

We drove immediately to the Xi’an City Wall - one of a very few intact city wall fortifications remaining in all of China. Unlike some crude rubble sections of the Great Wall, Xi’an’s wall is of ashlar construction, probably filled with crude rock (and bodies) and veneered in finely masoned rock brick with thin, mortared joints. Scaling this wall would be difficult. We clustered inside the moat at an exterior gate; sheer walls towered sixty feet overhead. Clearly, approaching enemies were easy pickens’ for archers perched above.
There we watched a “gate opening ceremony” with dancers, acrobats, and a fellow that tossed a large vase into the sky to catch and juggle it with shoulders or legs or head. The narrator, a young woman in costume, spoke English phonetically. Her initial proclamation was nearly over before I realized she was speaking English. We encountered this memorized, phonetical English in several prepared speeches - their words mispronounced and mis-intoned. It was more difficult to understand than you can imagine. 
Inside, we climbed a long, steep stairwell to the top of the wall. A guard tower housed a small museum with old uniforms - raw silk with plates or disks of metal and leather attached as armor. They were both utilitarian and artful.
Marathons are run atop the wall - three times round its eight-mile square. Stairs are outfitted with metal ramps and they rent bicycles. Had we more time, I would have loved to pedal its circumference. 
We attended a Tang Dynasty show and were served seventeen different dumplings for dinner. Dumplings shaped like koi, encased fish. Snout shaped dumplings contained pork. Rooster head dumplings held chicken. They were creative in their presentation both at table and on stage.
The Chinese version of a geisha playing a koto sat on stage and hammered at a guzheng. She was joined and the quartet played the guzheng, an er-hu: a boxy, stringed violin of sorts, a suona: a nasal, reed oboe and a pipa - a plucked mandolin. I was reminded of the thin, reedy music my Popo played on her transistor radio.
“S’cuse me, ham dumpling” our server hollered before plunking the platter onto the lazy-susan.
“Did she say ham?” Collin asked after tasting it. “I think she meant to say Spam.” How fortuitous! Hawaiians consume more Spam than the rest of the world. How could our hosts have known? The theater was dark, my eyelids heavy. We fell into bed that night - exhausted.

Terra-Cotta Army and Wild Goose Pagoda 10/1/2012

“Nē hoú. How you lie brehfus?” Peter asked. “Var good? Today we see the terra-cotta soldier of First Empro Qin (pronounced Chin), Q-I-N,” Peter said as our bus left the hotel. “This is the first day of one-week holiday; we see soldier first, before many crowds. Then we have lunch. In north China we grow winter wheat and make noodoo, no rice.” he shook his head. “I eat noodoo every day,” he said, rubbing his belly. “I love so much. Today I take you to noodoo house.”
I love noodles so much myself. Sometimes I sign-off with “toodles noodles” in deference to my love for noodles. I am liking this character Peter var much. We speak noodooz!

We stood outside the gate, tickets in hand when Peter’s voice came through my earbud. “Sticky rice, sticky rice,” he said, making gathering motions with his arms. “When I say sticky-rice, we stick close together; okay?” We nodded. Already the crowds thickened. 
“Sticky-rice,” he instructed while we were counted, passing through the secured entrance where bags were scanned airport-style. We queued for electric trolleys and rode into the Terra-Cotta Army Museum. 
Four excavation “pits” are housed beneath large hangars.  Seven thousand figures have been unearthed. They are full-size and each is different. The theory is that I carved your face while you carved mine. Most faces are Chinese: small, narrow, with flat cheekbones and small nose. Some faces are Mongol: wide with high cheekbones and broad foreheads. The conquered, the captured, the  enslaved, they theorize.
Collin-need I say more?
The Army’s silk clothing and wooden weapons have long decayed but the soldiers, the soldiers are clay and they have endured. Each soldier was painted but when they are unearthed and exposed to air, the paint oxidizes and quickly disappears. Because of oxidation, digging has slowed and some areas have been reburied.
Niece Lael & me
Pit 1 contains the infantry. Pit 2 contains archers, their top knots askew to enable rapid retrieval of arrows from their quiver. Pit 3 contains guards and chariots. Two bronze chariots have been found. They are built to 1/3 scale and are believed to be two of eighty-one. One general, standing seven-foot, a full foot taller than the rest, has been disinterred. 
Obviously, the Terra-Cotta Army Museum is a UNESCO site of world cultural legacy. The presence of underground artifacts inhibits building and digging in Xi’an.

Guide Peter
Pit 1 was an enormous hangar. We strolled along its edge and peered into the dirt. At the far end, the “hospital” mended the fragmented warriors.
“Aloha,” Peter’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Green bus, I’m here.” Okay, I’m HERE; where are you? Our guides actually did this frequently enough to be annoying. “Aloha - Green Bus, I’m here,” is not a particularly helpful piece of information. I need to know where here is i.e. “Green Bus, I am outside Pit 1 between two buildings, near the bathrooms.” This would be far more useful and was precisely where I found Peter gathering the group for a lua-break (lua = Hawaiian for bathroom) before entering Pit 2.
We descended approximately twenty-feet below grade, into a dimly lit, underground Pit 3 to view the chariots. The crowds were ten-deep and I waited, consistently pushing forward until I reached their encasement. Green Bus had long passed when I finally snapped my pictures and raced after them.
Our last stop was a theater in the round playing a documentary recounting the tale: the well, the discovery, the excavation, the confiscation, the collection, the wealth. It emptied into the gift shop where the hapless farmer works seven days each week, signing books. He allows photos when a book is purchased. His photo was captured via shoot-from-the-hip iPhone (not mine).

Our group surged into another Museum gift shop, flowing over their sales floor and up the stairwell to the  Noodle House. Two noodle chefs were at work. A young, tall and lean man twirled and twirled noodles like a jump rope in a process that thins and elongates. When it stretched sufficiently, he cut a section and began again, twirling and twirling, the rope of noodles hitting his floured table with a loud thwack at every rotation. He worked next to a large, boiling vat where the noodles cooked before they were scooped, with a wire ladle, into bowls. His noodles were mein: long, thin, spaghetti-like noodles. 
An older, stout fellow worked with a lump of noodle dough from which he whittled thick, short sections. He stood away from his boiling vat and his whittlings jumped into the pot. He made fahn noodles: broad and thick like sagnarelli - a flat, ribbon cut pasta. I wondered if their physical  likeness to their noodles was more than coincidental. 
The noodle sauces were Szechuan-style, spicy and thick with black beans. The buffet contained many vegetables and a childhood favorite - boiled peanuts. It was easily the best meal I ate in all of China and I was longing for something besides onions and bell peppers. I echoed Peter’s sentiment, “I love so much.”
Emperor Qin’s mausoleum is the only one that has not been plundered, pillaged or excavated. Apparently the quicksilver legend is true. They conducted extensive ground penetrating sonar and have identified his tomb 150 feet below grade. A sarcophagus sits on marble floors in a large room with the bones of his wives - who were entombed alive. Of the two rivers... they obtained core samples using penetrating probes, the area is highly contaminated with mercury. It will be many, many years before his tomb is disturbed.
Emperor Qin diverted substantial manpower to his soldiers and tomb, and China's the fields lay fallow and his young country starved.

We paused at the nearby “reproduction factory” where you too, for a mere 6000 USD, can have a life-sized warrior made in your likeness.

Leaving the warriors behind, we boarded our bus for the Wild Goose Pagoda (Dayan Ta) Park. “You will like var much,” Peter said, beginning to tell its tales.
Built in 652 CE, the Wild Goose Pagoda was part of the Da Ci’en Si Buddhist Monastery until Mao, in his effort to cleanse the nation of God, sent the Red Guard to execute monks and nuns. Some were thrown from the Pagoda which stands at 64 meters (210 feet). 
“Hello?” Peter’s phone interrupted his tale. His face took on a somber expression. “Yes, I sink so. Yes.” He looked up at us. “That was our company telling us to be var careful. A bus crash today in Beijing. They have thirteen German tourists, six died. We have sher-fu, var good driver, masterful. He will be careful.”

The monastery was beautiful with cobbled walks, old pines, lush undergrowth, ancient pillars, and a temple bell. The Pagoda leans, its crumbling rock, chinks, and frailties hidden in the glow of late light. It was originally erected to house 1,335 volumes of Buddhist scripture - which were destroyed by fire in 1968 on Mao’s orders. One does wonder what sources Mao’s continued reverence; doesn’t one?
I sought a small, jade Buddha, a request from my buddy Wade. I thought it appropriate to purchase a Buddha within monastery walls, and so I did.
We strolled through a curious garden of marble steps and pillars. What the heck? The steps are for horse mounting and dismounting, the pillars for tying one off. We left the monastery as daylight faded.

“Tonight we eat hot-pot. You know hot-pot?” We gave Peter a puzzled look, shaking our heads no. “Hot-pot is shabu-shabu.” 
“Oh-h-h,” we chorused. 
“I don’t know shabu-shabu,” Peter continued, “But Hawaii people tell me hot-pot is shabu-shabu and I am sinking dis is so.”
We sat at round tables and each had a small brazier and pot filled with broth. A separate table displayed various condiments. I rounded the table, gathering greens, mushrooms, shoots, and seasonings for by hot-pot. This is more like it! Within minutes I had blanched vegetables over noodles. YUM!
“This is a better way to eat; yeah?” Collin said. “You eat less coz you get full while you’re cooking.” 
“There is some physiologic evidence for that,” I said. “It let’s your brain catch up with your belly. It lets the signal for satiety get there.” Its why Weight Watcher’s advises drinking 8oz. of water 30-minutes before meals. Its why we tell people to chew 30-times before swallowing. Its why we advise putting your fork down between mouthfuls. It slows the meal and allows transit time for the chemical signal from belly to brain to suppress the drive to eat. For some, this signal travels quickly; for others, not so fast and they eat and eat and eat. Hot-pot is definitely a good food strategy for the arsenal.

“Set your bags out tonight,” Peter said as we rode toward our hotel. “Tomorrow we have var early flight. We pick up your bags tonight. But remember to keep clothes for tomorrow.” He told the tale of John from Utah who packed all his clothes and slept naked. John was missing at breakfast and queuing for the bus. Peter went to his room. 
“John, John.”  In his retelling, Peter knocked at the air in front of his face. “John, are you asleep?” John wasn’t asleep - he was nude! They wrapped him in a tablecloth and intercepted his luggage at the airport before his flight. “Don’t do that,” Peter poked his finger at us while we laughed and laughed.

I later reflected upon these Chinese antiquities, so old yet not tumbling and crumbling as the ruins of Europe.
“Do you think they were better masons,” a friend asked.
“No, I think they had harder rock.”