Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 2

Part of a series of posts about my experiences on a trip to China in October 2015. The series of posts related to this can be seen on my page “Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye”.

Continuation from Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye

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:

Can't help but wonder: Where do you buy real tickets?
Can’t help but wonder: Where do you buy real tickets?

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.

Yu Zuo Hotel entrance.
Yu Zuo Hotel entrance.

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.

To be continued…

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye Part 3


Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye

Part of a series of posts about my experiences on a trip to China in October 2015. The series of posts related to this can be seen on my page “Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye”.

The best laid plans…

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.

Always read the bottom line...if you can.
Always read the bottom line…if you can.

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?

To be continued…

Sleeping Dragon Slowly Opens One Eye-Part 2




Neither here nor there

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!

Not so bright…

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.

Subjectivity-Compose Yourself Challenge

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge: What all well composed photos have in common.

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.

A Smile

The question posed is “If one experience or life change results from you writing your blog, what would you like it to be?

A smile. If you look at a picture or read a post and smile then I am happy also. Striving for a chuckle is just being an over-achiever.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Singular Sensation.”

Close Up or Far Off-Compose Yourself Challenge

This post is a response to Cee’s Compose Yourself Photo Challenge: How your camera is not like your eye.

I call my camera a semi-automatic, a Nikon P610. It has a single lens: 4.3 to 258 mm focal length range (I think they call this a “wide angle zoom”). It has the ability to adjust many things but not change the lens so the only focal length adjustment is to zoom or not.

I wasn’t sure if I had a comfort zone. So I did a couple experiments.

The cormorant on the dolphin:

In this series I like the close up the best. The bird is too small in the other two pictures, and the dolphin isn’t very interesting without it. Somewhere between the 12.5 and 125.4 might have been nice, but the ferry was pulling out.

Raft of seabirds:

I don’t really like any of these very much, but the series gives an idea of the full range of what my lens can do. To get the full raft of birds into the frame means that there are too many other things in the frame and the birds do not contrast much with the water so they don’t grab your eye. In the two close ups you can tell that the birds are there, but they are scattered, it feels like a cacophony not a composition.

From those two sequences I decided to try and use no zoom as my “out of comfort zone” trial. Here are some pictures of the beach taken at 4.3 mm focal length:

What did I learn?

  • I like this focal length best when there is an obvious subject in the foreground. My favorite is the one with Ginger close to me.
  • Mostly stuff is too far away to really capture your attention.
  • The big picture has so many things in it that it is really hard to make your intended subject pop. It might work better for a simpler background with a larger subject.
  • It works better for dogs than birds.

Applying what I learned– I took these pictures today without zoom




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