I am just back from a trip where I was planning to do so many things that I couldn’t manage. One was to keep up with Cee’s Compose Yourself series. This is probably late, I can’t seem to get my dates straight.
I am using this week’s essay and prompt to look at pictures I took while away instead of trying to take new ones. To try and see the pictures with new eyes.
The above three pictures all have straight leading lines. When I took the pictures part of what I was trying to show was a sense of how big distances were. I think that is why the lines wound up dominating the pictures.
Here are two pictures taken of the same archway, with the leading lines of the wall on the edge of the steps at two different angles. Picture 1, before and after editing:
I cropped it slightly and removed the bit of my son’s head since it seemed a distraction. With his head gone the horizontal line of the wall leads your eye to the stairway.
Picture 2: I left James in since he seemed to be a leading line:
The bent lines of the dead tree draw you into the living one planted in its core:
While this picture is pretty dark, experiments I did with compositions led me to prefer this one, which has a road curving toward the temple gate just slightly visible because it reflected the lights shining on the gate.
in this picture the curved edge of the koi pond leads your eye to the boy and his grandfather.
Train tickets safely tucked in my neck pouch, we began to ascend Mount Tai.
Mount Tai, a block uplift formation, rises somewhat abruptly from a plain. It has been a center of worship for time out of mind. Both as a location for and as the subject of worship. The origins of its significance are related to it forming a physical connection between the earth and the sky.
It is a place where myth, legend, mystery and history intermingle.
It reminds me of the “old magic” that is referred to in literature such as the Lord of the Rings, Narnia, the Dark is Rising series and other fantasy genre books. One almost expects that one of the nearby peaks, barely visible through the haze, might house an oriental version of Hogwarts.
But when you start up the thing you most notice is the stairs.
Mount Tai is well known for stairs. Many sources give step counts, 6660 to 7000 is the most common range.
As we climbed up the stairs I had to “stop to take pictures” pretty often, especially on long steep stretches. A few times I got lectured by my son that I shouldn’t stop except on landings, because he was afraid I would topple over. What he didn’t realize was that the stopping was in part needed to preventing the toppling. The scenery was okay, it would have been better had it been less hazy. Few pictures I took were all that great. If the air had been a bit clearer the fall colors and mountain scenery would have been “just like a Chinese painting”.
As we started up the dominant traffic was folks coming down. I wondered how many of them had come on the train with us. There were people of all sorts coming down, young and old, hale and ones that were being assisted, a fair number of folks were limping a bit or seemed like their feet were hurting. As the morning wore on the downhill traffic slowed to a trickle and, while it was never a wilderness experience, it wasn’t crowded any more. It took us about 4 hours to reach the Midway Gate to Heaven (Zhong Tian Men).
Travelers who don’t need to “stop to take pictures” as much as I do will do this in about half the time. After lunch we assessed the situation and decided that
I was already dragging, and it would be after dark before we reached the top.
We had packs on that affected our (especially my) balance. James was talking about carrying both packs and staying behind me in case I fell as we went up the steepest part, which was very, very steep (his concern warmed my heart , but the plan seemed like it would set up a domino effect more than it would prevent a disaster).
It was pretty hazy so visibility wasn’t terrific, we weren’t going to miss any spectacular views.
We wouldn’t have any time or energy to explore at the summit if we continued up on foot.
So we took the cable way.
In some ways this follows the tradition of emperors, who were carried up on litters then got off to walk through the South Gate to Heaven, reputed to be the way to immortality. The emperors probably walked a shorter distance than we did coming downhill from the cable way to the gate.
Guess what you did after going through the gate?
Our hotel was just below the Jade Emperor Summit, about a half a mile up stairs from the gate! Boy was I glad we weren’t going through that gate well after dark to learn that we still had a fair ways to go!
We explored until dark.
View from pathway exiting cable way.
Panoramic view of the summit, a bit too hazy.
Did I mention that this is not a wilderness experience?
This sign makes it sound like the rocks are either profound or a little kinky.
Rocks described by sign.
View toward the southeast.
View from pathway near Azure Cloud Temple.
View of Confucius Temple from Shenqi Hotel entrance.
View of Qingdi Palace and Shenqi Hotel from Jade Emperor temple.
We think this may be a weather station…it looks a bit like something Dr. Seuss might have drawn.
Evening fire lit at Qingdi Palace.
The Shenqi Hotel, which calls itself a three star hotel, was comparable to the hard sleeper on the train. The beds were a little wider and we didn’t have to climb up to them, but the room was barely large enough for the two beds and a modest walkway between them. We had kind of a scary incident when we realized that our door did not lock. The maid for the floor came over locked the door with her key then took our key away to fix it while we were out doing the exploring that resulted in the gallery above. That meant that our belongings were in a locked room for which we didn’t have a key…we weren’t sure if that was an improvement over the previous foray when, unbeknownst to us, it wasn’t locked at all.
When we got back she had made the key work, but an alarm went off every time you shut the door…a loud one. It always took several tries before the door would stay shut quietly.
The towels were threadbare, the shower cubicle moldy and the toilet made a little noise when flushed but nothing actually disappeared. We were told that hot water would be available for showers from 8 to 11 pm.
In spite of hard beds, alarming door and cold water wash up, we were so tired we slept through the hot shower window. We were awakened by the call for folks to go out for sunrise. We bundled up and trundled out.
For now I am working on a series of posts that narrate some of my experiences. Mostly ignoring the daily post prompts and challenges from which I usually draw inspiration.
However, this prompt made me think about something I noticed recently: November, for writers, seems to be “weird acronyms that look like chemical formulas month”: NaNoWriMo, NaBloPoMo (not sure what sodium has to do with writing). The premise of these seems to be to do something everyday during the month of November. Do they not realize that the holiday season has started? That many of us have to find and prepare that special turkey, plus all the rest of the trimmings, get packages ready to mail, decorate, deal with family drama…When I read about these challenges it seems like they must be dreamed up by kids (adults can be kids too) who have family elders who will deal with the responsibilities while they take a month off to pursue their dream of being the next J.K. Rowling.
And yet there is a lot to be said for a program that emphasizes the benefits of steadily working toward a goal. To achieve the goals is impressive, requiring self-discipline and other skills that are rarely spotlighted in our microwave-ready-in-a-minute-or-less culture.
When I was a kid I loved reading and wanted to be a writer. So when NaNoWriMo penetrated my consciousness, probably through someone’s blog, I read up on it a bit. I had a problem with the “no plot, no problem” hype, but, as I looked deeper, I saw that it was, mostly, just hype. A lot of the material was about preparing for that month of intense writing. Done properly, it really looks a lot like a regular writing course with an emphasis on the need to sit one’s bum in the chair and write everyday, but it is also way more than one month long.
Am I in? No. My experience blogging tells me that I can’t write 1667 words in a day. Just as I simply can’t do a pull up. Even the idea of blogging everyday (there are several folks who do this routinely without a special month-I really admire their ability to come up with ideas) is more than I can really handle.
So, for now, I am plodding along with a more modest goal: to practice my narrative writing skills by trying to tell about my recent trip to China. My goal is to write some everyday, but I am not going to commit to that goal. These narratives are longer than what I usually write. I think I need to work on narrative of what I have experienced before I tackle fiction, if I ever do. Maybe, someday, I will be ready to but I know it won’t be
started during the holidays
1667 words a day
everyday of the week
Maybe some of us can band together for a SloMoWriCh (Slow Motion Writing Challenge) someday. Until then good luck to all, the ambitious everyday-ers and those of us who are a little more modest and changeable in our goals.
In the middle of the night I received an email saying “no we really couldn’t get you train tickets.”
These little quests do matter: four and a half hours in a smoky hard sleeper at the beginning of a trip is fun, especially when followed by a night in a comfortable bed. Very different from the same train ride late on a day when one got up to watch the sun rise, then spent the day on one’s feet with a pack on, arriving just a few hours before one has to go to work.
So before we started exploring we found the office that sold train tickets…padlocked. Inquiring at the tourist information office next door we learned little except that she seemed surprised that it wasn’t open. She kept coaching her son in math during the interaction, which went a bit like this:
“You want train tickets? That is next door. What is three plus four?”
“They aren’t open? They should be. If you think six is the answer to three plus four you will not do well.”
We decided to try a little later since she seemed surprised that it wasn’t open yet. Our planned route changed not a bit:
We used the hour to explore Dai Miao. It is a Taoist temple to the God of Taishan. It is very old and includes a small palace for the emperor to stay at when visiting the mountain to perform key rituals. It is a large area with a lot of interesting things to see. Too many to try an capture in pixels in an hour or so. Here are a few that caught my eye.
Dai Miao north gate in daylight.
Snag in the temple wall.
Entrance to a bonsai garden.
Mother and child paying respects to God of Taishan.
Shrine of God of Taishan.
Tang Pagoda embracing her child.
My favorite snag viewed from top of the wall beside the north gate.
Back of the north gate.
From Dai Miao, just like emperors, Confucius, and even Chairman Mao we began our journey up Mount Tai.
First stop: train ticket office.
With the much desired fast train tickets in our possession, leaving at a very civilized 4:30 pm, which would allow us to both enjoy a leisurely morning on Tai Shan and arrive in Weifang at 6:20 pm, with plenty of time for hot showers, uniform washing, and a good night’s sleep, we approached the mountain with an “it’s all good” attitude. Surely, if we could get train tickets we could do anything?
If you recall we, my son and I, were on a “hard sleeper” car on a local train bound for Tai Shan from Weifang, both cities in Shandong Province, China.
China has a wonderful train system. They have many clean, ultra-modern bullet trains that whisk you efficiently around the country. For obvious reasons these trains are very popular and often fully booked well in advance. On one of those trains the trip from Weifang to Tai’an takes about two hours. The train we were on, a K series local train, took about 4.5 hours for the same trip.
We arrived at Tai Shan train station a little before dark. Being the sort that plans ahead I had made us hotel reservations in Tai’an (since we didn’t have train tickets in advance and James had to work that morning, I figured we might be arriving on the late side).
Tai’an is the city at the base of Mount Tai/ Tai Shan. The thing you mostly do there is see the Dai Miao (Temple to the God of Mount Tai) and start and end your trip to the top of the mountain.
Since the big thing to do is watch the sunrise at the top of Mount Tai a lot of people, probably most of those who got off the train with us, head straight up to the top, hiking overnight and perhaps renting a thick army type coat to bivouac in, watch the sunrise, then come back down the next day.
I like to take things a little slower, and, in truth, can’t keep up that type of pace even without jet lag, I don’t think I ever could have. Our plan was to spend the night in Tai’an, have all day Sunday to hike up Mount Tai, spend the night at the top in a hotel, see the sunrise, explore a bit then take the cable car and bus down and the fast train back to Weifang so we had time to wash and dry James uniform in time for him to wear it to work on Tuesday morning.
So it is about 6:00 pm on Saturday and we are at theTai Shan train station and need to get to our hotel. Being easily distracted I noticed this sign:
According to my Lonely Planet guide there is a bus that should take us to the north entrance to Dai Miao, which is right next to our hotel. We walked to the various places where buses came and went near the train station but none of them were interested in telling us which buses stopped where and we never saw bus number 3.
James and I would not stand out in the US or Europe, we are both pretty medium: medium fair (hair is light brown\ash blonde, green eyes) and are mid-range heights (he is just about 6 foot and I am 5′ 6″) and medium build, but in China we stand out. This means that folks notice and approach us. Sometimes they just want to say “hello”, or make their children do so. Some people have wanted us to be in pictures with them. Even though I am an introvert, most of this is fine, and often kind of fun, since I like kids and it gives me a chance to practice my few words of Chinese. The attention that makes me nervous is when we are approached by people who want to drive us somewhere.
Buses go where they go and everyone on the bus is going to the same place. That gives me confidence when I am unfamiliar with a destination. Next, in my book, is the official taxi stand taxi, when I have clearly written in Chinese my intended destination I feel fairly confident, anywhere except Beijing, taking a taxi. Far, far below that is the driver who accosts me while I am trying to get my bearings (in a new city, I like to haul out a compass and map and figure out which way is North and the general lay of the land and the direction I want to go in).
Since we couldn’t find the bus, we were discussing whether to walk or find the official taxi stand, and getting our bearings. We were a bit tired since James had had to be up at 6 to get to work on time and I went along with him, so we were leaning toward taxi.
This is where I wish I was more savvy. We saw an official taxi and were headed toward it when accosted by a driver guy. As we got closer we saw that the taxi had a flat tire. I wonder, and there is part of me that hates being this cynical, whether that taxi was (and may still be) there as a decoy to attract folks who missed the official taxi line to provide easy targets for these drivers. Alone I would have pleaded ignorance and incomprehension, then gone back to the train station entrance. James spoke enough Chinese to cut a deal just slightly more than cab fair should have been to take us to our hotel.
The hotel, called Yu Zuo, was a decent place, beds a bit harder than Weifang, which in turn were a bit harder than at the airport hotel in Beijing. They were softer than the hard sleeper. The hotel was well done architecturally as a match for the Dai Miao next to it.
By the time we arrived, checked in and washed up a bit it was dark. We wandered out to see what we could see
…and find something to eat, which we found in a small noodle shop about a block from the hotel. This guy was amazing, he made noodles by hand from a blob of dough, thin, uniform spaghetti type noodles, no machine. The soup, noodles with beef and tomato, was absolutely delicious.
We went back “home” to our hotel to sleep.
Just one more quest: try to get tickets to return to Weifang on a fast train so we wouldn’t have to stay up all night blow drying James uniform. After wrestling with the CTrip website for over an hour (James went out like a light) I fell asleep after receiving an email that all was well with that.
This was my 3rd day in China. I just needed a little sleep.
I am a planner. Before I travel I research locations, accommodation and transportation options. I study maps and schedules and figure things out. I don’t just make a plan I also look at what can go wrong and figure out options so that if things go awry I have an idea about what to do.
I just returned from a trip to visit my son, who lives in Weifang, Shandong Province, China. I left home with a plan. I was ready.
On my two previous trips to China I did tourist type things, specifically Western tourist type things, as part of my visits. This time was different. The duration of this trip was shorter and I went primarily to spend time with my son, since I hadn’t seen him in over a year. Never-the-less I thought I would try to see a couple of things not on the typical Western tourist track, destinations fairly close to Weifang that are important to Chinese people.
One planned excursion was to Mount Tai, aka Tai Shan, aka Mount Taishan. There may be a few more akas. Mount Tai or Tai Shan (since shan means mountain to say Mount Taishan is redundant, although the UNESCO site does so). Mount Tai is a sacred mountain, they believe that it has held spiritual significance since the stone age. More about that later…first we had to get there.
My son was able to take a day off of work and come with me, but we didn’t find out until the evening before. Too late to get train tickets on a fast train.
James got done with work at about 10 am and we took the city bus from his place to the train station. We chose a ticket line and waited for our turn. We were the second from the window when the woman selling tickets picked up her glass tea jar and left. Some discussion (held by others then explained to my by my son) revealed that she was on her lunch break. This was clearly explained by the sign over her window (if you could read it). Since all the other lines were long and all the other workers were scheduled for lunch breaks the fasted alternative was to just wait until this gal got back. When she did we learned that all of the seats on the train we wanted were sold out. We opted to ride in a “hard sleeper” over taking a later train.
Yes, the hard sleepers are hard. There is also not enough room between the berths to sit up all the way. On the plus side they provided a pillow and comforter. I used my backpack as a foot rest and reclined on the pile of comforter and pillow. It wasn’t too bad until the woman below closed the curtain and her husband started to smoke (he didn’t do so in the compartment itself but somehow the smoke found its way in), then my bladder said “times up!”
To get up and down from our middle berth there is a flip down metal foot hold, about 3″ by 5″. I successfully maneuvered myself down and utilized the facilities without needing a clean up crew. I felt a bit cocky at that point, but still decided to sit the rest of the trip on a jump seat in the corridor where I could look out the window and the smoke could blow away.
One question still haunts me: could I have made it up onto the top berth if that had been our lot in life?
I got home yesterday, October 29 at about 8:15 am, Pacific Daylight Time, my day had started in Beijing, China at about 5:15 am (Beijing time). The shuttle to the airport picked me up at about 8:15 a.m.
I tend to be where I am pretty completely. But yesterday I got home about the time I left the hotel. Did the day happen?
In sci-fi there is a lot of literature about time machines. I say they exist now: airplanes whisk us through the space time continuum. When you are aboard you aren’t really anywhere or anywhen, so in some ways the day didn’t happen. But boy was I tired out by the day that wasn’t!
In Chinese “I don’t understand” is “wo bu ming bai” (. It literally means “I not bright white”. Truer words never spoken!
Yesterday I arrived at my son’s school gate. The journey to that gate was long, and tiring.
Let’s see if I can figure it out:
1) I arose in Seattle Tuesday morning at about 6 a.m. (In China it was Tuesday evening at 9 p.m.); I ran errands and shoved even more things into my already bumping up against the weight limit luggage (the bag I checked weighed 49 lb with a limit of 50 lb, the weight limit on my backpack is what I can lift into and overhead bin and I was right up against that limit as well (about 30 lb)).
2) Picked up at 1:30 p.m. And arrived at the airport at 2 p.m. PDT, 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. Wednesday China time. The flight left at 5:00 p.m PDT (8:00 a.m. China time). It arrived at 7:30 p.m. China time (4:30 a.m. PDT). I accrued about an hour of sleep on the flight.
3) The line at the Chinese passport check point was pretty short but there was only one guy working it and someone five people ahead had some type of complication, so the wait was disproportional with the line length (this is one of the on-going themes of my life)
4) Airport hotel shuttle bus was waiting, got checked into a wonderful place, took a hot bath and I was in bed, relaxed and comfortable by 10:30 p.m. China time (7:30 a.m. PDT). But I wasn’t real drowsy I remember seeming 11:30 on my watch. I know I slept some but was awake and not drowsy by 4:30 a.m. Beijing time (1:30 p.m. PDT). I was relaxed and comfortable so let’s give it the whole 5 hours.
Quick summary we are at a sleep total of 6 hours and a elapsed time of 28.5 hours.
5) Delicious/leisurely breakfast at 6:30 followed by somewhat less leisurely tooth-brushing, restowing and race to get a shuttle to the airport to get a shuttle to the train station. That went surprisingly well, I got my ticket and got to the boarding location at the same time the bus did. Big Bertha got to ride below but I had the backpack with me and the bus was full, so I had it in my lap. I had to get off the bus last so I had room to put the pack on since I can’t carry that much load unbalanced.
6) Two security checkpoints (lines with x-ray machines for luggage and metal detectors for folks) and two ticket lines later (I waited in the wrong line for a while) and I had a ticket to ride and was ready to heed natures call. About 10:30 a.m. China time (7:30 p.m. PDT).
7) The longest 5 minutes was heeding natures call. All’s well that ends well and the more so when the ending well part was in question: squatty-potty, 30 lb or so backpack…Nothing snapped (like a knee) and I didn’t have to push up from the floor to re-erect myself. So now its about 10:40 a.m. and my train is scheduled to leave at 12:50 p.m.
8) The train was delayed. There was a seriously crowded melee and confusion (mostly mine). But I got to Weifang about 4:40 p.m. Beijing time (1:40 a.m. Seattle time).
9) With backpack on and Big Bertha in tow I got a taxi and handed the driver my carefully printed out address sheet. He let me off across the street from the school.
10) I slung the backpack back on, extended Big Bertha’s handle and trudged across the street during a break in traffic and arrived at the guard gate about 5:30 p.m. China time (2:30 a.m. PDT)
Elapsed time is 41.5 hours, accrued sleep time 6 hours. I did study Chinese for about six weeks before this trip, but when the guard said something, I came out with “wo ming bai”, when I clearly didn’t ming bai (and I probably didn’t look real ming eyed and bushy tailed either!).
I quickly corrected myself (I doubt he believed that I had understood), he called someone who spoke English (she also worked with James and knew I was coming so explanations weren’t all that important)…All’s well that ends well.
This really was a challenge. I think the vast majority of the well composed pictures I have taken have been by accident. I tend to want to gather all the details of a scene (may be my engineering background to want to get all the facts together). Also, this week produced rain when I had time to play with my camera.
I tried a couple very different subjects, so the conclusions aren’t universal.
First was “pink sky in morning, sailor take warning”:
The first two pictures were taken with slightly different viewpoints and zoom amounts. The subject I intended was the pink cloud. In the first picture it dominates the scene, but you don’t have a sense of how small an element of the sky it was. In the second the tree branch shadow seems like it was the intended subject but the other trees, street and cars make the picture cluttered and they draw the eye away from the cloud.
The third picture is a cropping of the first picture to test my 20/20 hindsight theory that the branch as a subject and the pink cloud as a backdrop is a better composition choice.
“Come into my parlor”:
I am not sure why, but I like the second picture best. It might be because in the first the sunlight on the web makes it seem as if the web is the subject. In the second the web is there, but the more subtle concentric circles of the web seem to draw the eye to the sunlit spider.
For the emotional challenge I went through old pictures and found some using the same subject: my puppy friend Ginger.
Ginger makes a good subject: she is middle sized, has a very expressive face and nice gingery details. Sam is equally cute but she is so black that it is really hard to get a good picture. Asta, also extremely cute, is kind of a bland color; she is so light that it can be hard to get a picture where both she and the background come out well, she also moves fast so a lot of her pictures are blurry.