Let’s finish this up!!!

Since we have been back home for 2 days that  means that it is time to finish up this trip AND this blog

Our last 10 days in China were fairly quiet.  We enjoyed several relaxing days in Kunming after the Dali debacle, although I caught a cold and didn’t feel wonderful.   We had ideas to do a bit of sightseeing while we were relaxing, but the weather did not cooperate so we mostly stayed inside, although we did enjoy a morning of shopping at a local Antique market.IMG_6282

We bought a few fun pieces but our favorite was this metal monstrosity….

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We stood in the shop looking at it for a long time and finally the shop keeper picked it up and indicated that it was a pipe!!!   Well, it had to come home with us!!

On Sunday we flew to Beijing for Michael to do his last work session.  That evening, his hosts took us to a “traditional” hot pot restaurant that used Copper pots with coals in the center to heat the water…..IMG_6306

The menu was a huge book and JiangFeng and Chaoqun spent several minutes trying to decide exactly what we would cook in our hot pot…..IMG_6302

….but eventually they decided and the food started to arrive.   First came thin sliced meat…..

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….and trays of mushrooms and greens…..IMG_6320

All of these were put into the pot to cook……IMG_6322and then “chop-sticked” out, dipped in a Sesame sauce and happily eaten!!  It was a fun meal and the one mile walk back to the hotel was good for our swollen tummies!!

Unfortunately Michael woke up very sick the next morning….probably from the food he ate on the plane to Beijing.  We spent a tense Monday with me force feeding him crackers (1/4 at a time) every 15 minutes.   The people at the Beijing Forestry University were super sweet and told him to take all of Tuesday off as well!!  So, since he had yet to do any work for them, we changed our plans for the end of the week and stayed an extra day with them.   On Wednesday he was able to spend the entire day at the University and the day was celebrated in the usual way…..a banquet for all the dignitaries…..IMG_6370

I spent all that day in our room working on a hand-work project that I have been enjoying!! 

On Thursday we moved to the Grand Hyatt in downtown Beijing and spent our last two days in sheer comfort…..IMG_1932

The only time that we left the hotel was to do a bit of shopping at the Beijing Pearl Market, once again visiting Lynn’s shop on the 4th floor, coming out with full shopping bags and empty wallets.

There were two or three “quilty” ideas that caught my eye at our Beijing hotels.   The first was a light in the elevator…..IMG_6333

When I first looked at it, I saw the inset circles and thought that it looked interesting.   But, when I looked again, I realized that the circles were not just lines but had depth as well and that, when you looked at it from different angles, the design changed…..IMG_6332

Every time I stepped in it to travel between floors, I was madly taking photos trying to get different angles on the shots!!

I also liked these “walls” in the dining hall….IMG_1926

….and this carpet in the last hotel…..IMG_1941

We left on Saturday morning and made the 11 hours  flight into Seattle.   It was a super easy flight and went really fast.  We enjoyed a meal in Seattle and caught our last Delta flight to Atlanta.

Our sweet Son and Daughter-in-law brought our car to the airport and dropped it off so we were able to hop in and make a fast no-traffic trip home!!

Now let me say that this trip has been different from previous ones.  We had more time to ourselves and had some really fun times, but also had some near disasters.   We have learned more about how to travel in China and will be sure to follow these new “guidelines” in future travels.

Right now, we are enjoying sleeping in our own bed, showering in our own shower and eating our own food!!!

Thanks for traveling with us!!

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The near and far of Xishuangbana

Friday was my last day to walk around the Gardens and I realized that I had mostly taken “tight” telephoto pictures and that I hadn’t looked at the wonderful views around me so I  replaced the telephoto with the normal lens and off I went.

While walking in the shade garden, this man-made fog came rolling in…..IMG_1878_thumb

I was instantly reminded of Harry Potter in the maze during the Tri-Wizard Tournament!!   Fortunately I didn’t turn upside down when I walked into it!!

There are some low mountains around the garden and I loved this photo from early in the morning…….IMG_2059_thumb

…and this one from after dinner one evening….

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They have done a wonderful job of building structures that fit into the garden atmosphere, including this walkway across one of the ponds…..IMG_1923_thumb

I remember this pathway from our previous visit and it was still exciting to walk thru….IMG_2166_thumb


The palm trees formed a wall along the path but you could look thru the trees to see the beauty beyond….IMG_2177_thumb

I hopped into a small museum and laughed when I saw the wall outside of the building.   The vine had obviously attached itself to the painted wall and then left it’s imprint….

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Of course, I kept seeing things that I wanted to take closer photos so I decided to just run a test and start switching lenses whenever I want to.   The bottom line is that it only takes about 20 seconds to switch from the telephoto lens to the regular lens.IMG_2314

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In the afternoon, I completely changed direction and went out with the close-up lenses and played for a while in the shade garden next to the hotel.  These lenses are some that came as part of the camera kit so are not wonderful quality and I found them hard to focus.  I got a couple of good photos…..IMG_2436

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….but was honestly happier with the ones that I took using the telephoto!!

On Saturday, we were supposed to visit a couple of Dai (a local ethnic group) villages but it rained ALL day so we decided to just spend time working at the hotel.  On Sunday we returned to Kunming to prepare for our Dali trip….but you already know THAT story!!

Photograph, Work, Rest, Repeat….

Since the last two posts were a bit “angst inducing”, I will now back and finish the photography around XTBG…..

Both Wednesday and Thursday were very similar in schedule and content so both are included in this post.

Each morning started out with a walk around the garden….before all of the tourists hit!!

I am very much enamored with this Giant Lily pond…..

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The big lily pads are mesmerizing to watch as they slowly drift from place to place.  Many of them don’t seem to move at all, but one was  moving around a lot….maybe it has a submerged motor on it….or a fish nibbling on the stem???

The pads are strong enough to hold a human being, as evidenced by the brisk trade that the “lily pad operators” are doing each day…..IMG_1862

You can pay to have your child sit/stand in a lily pad while you snap photos!!  They put a green plastic disk inside the pad which I assume protects it and keeps the child’s feet from going thru it.

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Once the child is properly stationed, the posing begins…..IMG_1855

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I sat and watched for about 30 minutes one day and it was fascinating to see the required poses…..they HAD to be required because EVERY one did the same thing!!

It was interesting to see the underside of one of the Lily pads that had been damaged and removed from the pond…..

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I came back and asked Michael about these plants and he reminded me that the pads are the leaves for the plant and the blossoms and seeds form in the normal way…..

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The really nice thing about going out earlier is that you are not accosted by huge crowds of people.    One of the mornings I was able to get to the Distinctive Plant Garden before ANYONE else…..IMG_6107

It was quiet and peaceful and oh so wonderful!!!   I was even able to take a photo of this special tree…..IMG_6105

I had tried the day before and there were so many people in front of it that you couldn’t really see it.  It reminded me of the Mona Lisa or the Venus De Milo in Paris…..completely surrounded!!

I did have one laugh while I was in this area….. a couple (I assume husband and wife) both walked up to exactly the same spot, aimed their phones at exactly the same scene and both started snapping away.   I could hear the shutters clicking in unison.

On normal (ie…not early) mornings, the buses lined up at the Distinctive Plant Garden were my signal to keep on walking…..IMG_1955

As the loaded buses would pass me on the road, this was my normal view….IMG_1915


These were some of my favorite flower photos for the day….IMG_2144

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As I am walking around, I try to be sure that there is a smile on my face, especially as some people tend to stare at me, and I eventually get tired of smiling and my face starts to seize up.   I am continually afraid that I end up looking like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory….

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In one of my wanderings I ended up in a deserted forest area and had fun taking more photos…..IMG_1970

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I had numerous interactions with young people but one young boy said “hello, what is your name?”  I told him and asked his name.  He told me and I shook hand and said “nice to meet you”.   HUGE grins followed.

i loved the colors in these gorgeous leaves….IMG_1996

….and have always loved these really funky flowers…..IMG_2017

This white plant was gorgeous.  Be sure to look for the anther tips in the second photo…..IMG_2044

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These last two photos were taken in a garden very close to the hotel…..IMG_2230

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The  garden caretakers were out in force on one morning…..

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Each of our evenings ended in a banquet of some sort.   Some were more formal…..IMG_6131

….and some leaned more toward the fun side…..IMG_6087

The heart in the center was made out of different types of Sticky Rice and was an excellent addition to the meal.

Speaking of food, I had bought a jar of Crunchy peanut butter when we first arrived in Kunming and I would have it with crackers on the days that Michael was working during the lunch hour.   I had run out of crackers so I bought another package of them at the hotel store in the Botanic garden.   When I first opened them I noticed little black seeds in the crackers and was wondering exactly what they were.   My  questioning was answered with the first bite….they were Anise seeds!!!   As long as I put the Peanut Butter on one cracker (as opposed to making a sandwich with two crackers), the peanut butter to Anise ratio was palatable and I enjoyed every bite!!

One more day from Xishuangbana to come…..



I’ve had about as much vacation as I can stand!!

When I left you yesterday, we had taken refuge in a $25 per night hotel.  We both slept fairly well and awoke to a set-in rain and no place to find breakfast.  I had brought some cheese crackers from the US and we had two packages left so we each had half a package of crackers for breakfast and a bunch of pain killers to take the place of the caffeine in our lives.

I walked back down to a store on the corner and bought more water, a Coke (for a little caffeine) and two bags of potato chips, which we had for “Morning Tea”.

We stayed in the room until noon but felt that we should go ahead and check out.  The proprietors were super sweet and were always smiling when we saw them and, as I said, the room was as clean as I have ever seen.  They had a sweet little boy (maybe 2 years old) who was often in the waiting area, once excitedly blowing bubbles with his bubble wand. They had taken 20 Yuan too much when we checked in and we were told that they would return it when we left (probably as a deposit for the key).  We tried to wave them off and leave the extra $2.50 with them, but they would have nothing of it and motioned for us to take the money!! 

I know that this place doesn’t look like much, but it sure saved our bacon….IMG_6264

….and if I knew the name of it, I would write an amazing review.  Of course, no one would be able to read it but that isn’t the point!!

We walked back to the train station, were greeted by a smiling identity checker, and fortunately were allowed to go in this time, although we were 6 hours early for our train.  We are not unused to layovers, having once spent the night in the Newark Airport McDonald’s and 17 hours in the New Delhi airport, so we settled down with our computers and Kindles and waited it out.

Eventually we started getting hungry so we pulled out what we have now named the “Dali Diet”…..IMG_6266

After a while we got hungry again so I went scavenging in the shops and scored OREO’s and Coke Zero for me……

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….and sweet, milky coffee for Michael.  He was so desperate for caffeine that he didn’t care about the milk or sugar and even used a straw to drink the hot liquid……IMG_6268

Now before I go on, I know that there was tons of food around us but, quite honestly, we were in too delicate of a condition to try to communicate exactly what we wanted!!  It was simply easier to be a little bit hungry!!

It was interesting watching the train station as the day went on.  It would be empty right after a train left but then people would start filtering in and filing all of the seats.  About 30 minutes before a train was departing, people would start lining up (if a mob can be considered a line) and waiting for the gates to be opened.….IMG_6275

When they were opened, everyone would rush forward to be the first ones on the train.  As soon as the first rush was over, people for the next train would start amassing by the gate.   After about 10 minutes, a railway employee would start talking on a hailer telling people that they needed to get on board and also making a lane in the throng so that those late-comers could get thru to the gate.

It was fun to watch the personal interactions in the terminal, like these two little girls sharing 1/2 of a small watermelon…..IMG_6273

They almost dropped it several times but always caught it before it slipped and then they would laugh and start eating again.

We loved this sunflower seed dispenser…..IMG_1916

By the way, Michael took this photo while we pretended to be taking a selfie….our newest method of surreptitiously taking photos.

And, this is a blurry photo, but I wanted to show the stairways in the terminal…..

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This ramp in the middle is designed (as you can see) for rolling your suitcase.   That is fine for going up, but we saw many people trying to roll them DOWN the stairs and invariably the suitcase would get ahead of them and almost cause them to fall down!!

When it was about an hour before our train was set to board, we left our chairs and moved to our waiting area.  Since we had watched so many trains leave before us, we knew the drill!!  When the train previous to ours lined up, we moved to the edge, just outside of their line.

At this point we had the nicest interaction of the day.  A young man started talking to Michael and asked where we were from.  He was in his last year of High School and his English was magnificent.  He told us that he had been on a fun-filled vacation in Dali (so that was possible!!) with his family and then proceeded to introduce us to his Mom, Brother and Aunt.    His Mom beamed proudly as her son talked to us!!

When it was our time to line up, we moved up with the throng to the front of the line and then realized that we were probably in the wrong line….we had blue tickets and this line was for red, but we decided to play dumb American’s (not a stretch for us) and just walk thru.   The ticket-taker just looked at us and let us go past.   She probably thought that it simply wasn’t worth the effort to stop us!!

We found our seats and enjoyed the 2 hour ride back to Kunming but, of course, it was pouring down rain when we arrived.

As we were walking out of the terminal there was a crush of people trying to get their umbrellas opened before we stepped out and it was quite a mess for a minute or two.  We eventually made it to the street and started trying to hail a taxi.

We had previously been told that Kunming Taxi Drivers sometimes don’t want to stop for fairs or will be really selective about who they get.  We must have made a VERY bad impression because we could not get any of them to stop for us!!  We decided to walk a bit down the road and try again when we weren’t as close to the train station so I got out my phone and made sure that we were at least walking in the direction of our hotel.   We tried several more times but could not get a taxi!!!

Finally, we decided that we would just have to walk the 2.2 miles to the hotel…..carrying our backpacks on our front, me with my purse on my shoulder and Michael with the duffel bag around his chest and on his back…and holding our umbrellas against the solid rain that was falling!!

The next hour is pretty much a blur as I think that we have both tried to block out the experience!!   At one point we were sluiced by a car hitting a HUGE puddle and we twice crossed roads without lights, which is tricky in the daylight and almost impossible at night!!

Fortunately neither of us slipped down on the wet sidewalks and we thankfully arrived at the hotel, a sodden mess!!!

We quickly unpacked, laying all of the wet items around the room.  We were happy with how our backpacks performed as only the outside pocket got wet and those only had items that were in Ziploc bags so that didn’t matter.   The duffel bag was soaked and a few of the clothes were damp, but nothing was ruined.

Needless to say, a shower was the first order of business and then to sleep the dreamless sleep of the exhausted!!!

To finish this drama, let me say that much of this fiasco was our own fault…… but not the part with the misplaced reservation.  We did, however, venture out on our own without any language skills and this is what got us into trouble.  Having said that, we have ventured before and have been fine, but these trips were always in large cities were English was more prevalent and the hotels that we stayed at were bigger and had English speaking employees.  We didn’t account for the fact that Dali was more rural and was not prepared to deal with the likes of us!!

Today, after having a nice breakfast at the hotel and a Hamburger and Fries lunch at Salvador’s, we can look back and see our mistakes but can also see the humor of some of our situations.   Again, we had angels who helped us when we didn’t know what to do and we met some very sweet people along the way.

We will always be thankful for Fred (our Taxi driver) who put up with SO much from us!!!  He even tried to reduce the fare on the return trip but we insisted on paying him the full fare, plus a bit more.   We hope that he, and everyone that we met, will have come away from the experience with a good feeling about Americans….even the crazy ones!!!

And yes, we will adventure again….maybe not in rural China, but we will certainly continue to enjoy our travels in the world!!

The Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very Bad Vacation!!

In all of our years of travel we have had very few disasters….well I guess that we were on a boat that sunk in the Florida Keys….but other than that most of our travel has been fun and successful.   Today (Tuesday) was NOT one of those days!!!

But let me start at the beginning….a very good place to start.

A few weeks before our trip, I was searching for things to do in Kunming and came across an article about the Bullet Train and that it had just opened a route between Kunming and Dali.  Now we had visited Dali briefly on our first trip to China so I thought that it might be fun to take the train and spend the night.

Our first thought was how would we get tickets….  well, one of Michael’s colleagues told us that her husband worked for the Train service so we mentioned it to her and she said that she could get our tickets……okay, first problem solved.

Now we needed a hotel in Dali, preferably by the Ancient City.  We got onto hotels.com and found a lovely small hotel that looked perfect and we booked it.  Hotels.com took our money and confirmed our booking and then sent several emails reminding us that our trip was upcoming.  So, we were good to go with the hotel!!

As we hopefully lit out on our journey, we started checking off the steps that we needed to take…..

Step 1  –  get a taxi to the Train Station…..our hotel helped with that and we were on our way.

Step 2  –  figure out how to check in and get to the train platform…..that all went very well.

Step 3  –  enjoy the 2 hour journey to Dali as our train reached 200 kilometers per hour (about 120 mph)…..

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The views from the windows were wonderful, passing small towns and huge agricultural areas…..

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Step 4  –  this is where the wheels fell off!!   Chinese taxi drivers are notorious for not wanting to use the meter and instead set a price and then increase it when they get to the destination.  I had asked God to give us a fair taxi driver who would work by the meter…..and He did just that.

But, after about 40 minutes of driving, we were completely certain that he was going in the wrong direction and when he started to get onto a Toll Road, we motioned for him to pull over.   He finally called a friend who spoke English and this friend helped us to understand that our booking was actually in the Shanxi Ancient town which was about 2 hours away.  Mind you, the information on Hotels.com said Dali !!  But, he assured us that the drive would be enjoyable, the hotel would be nice and since we didn’t have to be back to the train station until 6:00 the next day, we would have all morning to enjoy the area.  So, we motioned for the driver to keep going.

After about an hour we were able to get passed our frustrations and start looking at the scenery and enjoying the rural nature of the area.  IMG_6229_thumb

More problems arose when we got into the Ancient Shaxi area as the driver didn’t know EXACTLY where the hotel was.   We were using Google Maps and were pretty sure that we knew, but the streets were pedestrian only and we would have to walk.   One of us had the thought of “what if the taxi driver leaves and we don’t really have  a hotel” so we decided to wait to pay him until we found out for sure. 

An interesting interlude happened at this point.   Our driver (I named him Fred) and Michael had both stepped out of the car and as I was starting to join them, the car started rolling forward….down the slight slope!!  I pulled my leg back into the car and the driver jumped into the front seat and slammed on the brakes and just before his tire when into a ditch that would have had him stuck in the mountains with us….

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Fred got back on the phone and called his friend again.  The friend (lets call him George) said that he had called the hotel and that they did not have any American’s staying there that night.  Michael gave him the reservation number and George said that he would call us back but we never heard from him.  Our gut feeling is that he simply decided that the whole affair was too hard.

So here we stood, us, Fred and a small group of onlookers. IMG_6252_thumb5 Finally Fred called someone that he knew and the cavalry arrived on a three wheeled cart.   As they drove up one of the men stepped off and said Hello to us…..we both thought “Hurray….he speaks English” and he did speak SOME English but not much.  He sweetly told us that we should have reserved a room…..WE DID RESERVE A ROOM!!!!!

Also, he kept telling us that Fred wanted to be paid for the trip.   We knew that and had full intention of paying him… but not yet.     Finally, we decided to return to the train station and see if we could get another train back to Kunming.   We accomplished this by using Google Translate and putting in Dali Railroad Station.    When Fred heard that we wanted to go back to Dali he nodded his head and made a downward winding motion with his hands indicating that he knew that we wanted to go BACK down the mountain switchbacks!!

So, down we started.   Michael again used Google Translate to tell Fred that we needed a bathroom and he soon stopped for us.   

We were off again but Fred pulled into a small restaurant and indicated that we should stop and eat.   We all trouped in and he ordered 5 delicious dishes….a Spicy Beef with Peppers, Sautéed Greens, a delicious Hash Brown pancake and two things that we are not sure about.   The first were these worm looking things although we are pretty sure that they were a root of some sort and not an animal.  They were served with sautéed walnuts, cashews and peanuts….IMG_2517_thumb4

The second was this dish that we presume was cartilage from some animal.   It was slightly chewy but  was fried well and had a magnificently hot pepper to dip it in…..IMG_2528_thumb4

The women who were cooking were super sweet and let me stand and take photos of them working.IMG_2519_thumb4

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It was an interesting meal with no one being able to communicate but Fred was a great host and insisted that we try each dish before he would eat any of it.

The bottom line was that, after eating, we started to feel better and again started to enjoy the journey a bit more, and even enjoying some of the scenery that was flying past us…..

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Although, in truth, this was my view for most of the day…..

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While traveling we had the idea that we might be able to find a big hotel (Hyatt, etc) in Dali and could get a room there.   Michael contacted the one that we found, but they were full for the night.   We could have kept trying but the problem now was that BOTH of our phone batteries were dangerously low and we were afraid that we would HAVE to have them before the night was over.

As we neared the city, we noticed that Fred went a different direction off of the expressway and we could see by the signs that he was heading to Ancient Town, Dali…..you know, the place that we thought we were going in the first place!!!   Also, he kept pulling over to the side of the road and making phone calls.   He was also concerned because his phone was apparently about to die as well.   He finally pulled out a portable charger but the connection wasn’t great and he kept having to reach over and hold it in place while he was driving.  This did NOT improve his driving skills!!

Finally he stopped for one more call and handed the phone to Michael.  This time it was “Mrs. George”….or someone else who spoke English.  She said that Fred wanted to know exactly where we wanted to go!!  We then realized that he was thinking that we were going to another hotel in town and was being kind to us again.   And here we were getting frustrated!!

Now that he knew exactly where we were headed, he made the most of the time by driving faster than he previously had.  The only problem was that he hit a speed bump really hard and we heard the unmistakable Flub-Flub-Flub-Flub  of a flat tire!!!   By this time, Michael and I had the crazed look of “The Joker” on our faces but Michael hopped out and helped him to change it…..

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In about 20 minutes we were off again and fortunately there were no more issues before we reached the station.   We felt sure that Fred called his wife and said “You wont believe what happened to me today”!!!!   We felt a bit the same way!!

Now we move to the next part of this saga….getting a new ticket to Kunming.  We asked two different people where we bought tickets (at least I THNK that is what the Google Translation said) and one finally pointed down as if we had to go downstairs.   We started downstairs but had no idea where the ticket office was.   At this point, one of our “angels” showed up and tapped Michael on the shoulder and pointed for us to follow him.   He walked thru a gate at the side of the stairs and showed us the booths.  At least he showed us the LINE for the booths!! 

We went up to one of the short lines with hope in our hearts, but that was dashed when the girl (in excdlent English) told us that we had to go to one of the other booths…..sigh.

We joined the queue and stood patiently (sort of)  in line while watching person after person cut to the front.   The pattern was always the same….they would run up to the second or third person in line and excitedly exclaim that they were late and HAD to be allowed to cut in, and amazingly it often worked.   We saw one man try 5 or 6 times, but his persistence was rewarded as some soft hearted fool let him in ahead of us.  Then, when we were next in line, a young man came running up to me but we were NOT in the mood and both looked at him and said a stern “NO”!!!!!  He tried to push in but Michael gently pushed him back out of line.   Now the funniest part of this interlude was that the little man behind us had been grumbling (in Chinese, but grumbling sounds the same wherever you are) when someone would cut in.  He even had words with one of the men when he was leaving the line.  After we had turned the young man away, the older guy tapped Michael on the shoulder, smiled and pumped his fist in the air a couple of times.   I think that Michael now has a fan in Dali!!

Okay, we were at the first of the line….  Our teller did not speak any English but he worked hard to understand us.  Unfortunately there were NO more seats on a train to Kunming until 8pm the next day and we already had tickets for the 7pm train.  Okay, so we are going to spend 22 hours in the Dali train station.

We headed thru the ticket gate but were turned away because our ticket was for Wednesday!!  As we walked back outside, we were seriously concerned about exactly where we were going to wait overnight until we could enter the station.  And, of course, it started raining just as we walked out!!!

We decided to cross the big street in front of the train station and see if we could find someplace (ANYPLACE) to at least sit and regroup!!  We found one large building and saw the promising word “Hotel” on it, but were told that they didn’t have any rooms.  We weren’t sure exactly what she was saying but a young man, we assume to be a hotel porter, used GT and confirmed the worst.  We asked if there were other hotels nearby and this new angel walked us out of the 5-star hotel and two doors down to a small 5 floor walkup hotel.  He stayed with us until we were checked in and heading to the room.  The cost of the room was $25 and, of course, we were on the 5th floor!!

We didn’t have high hopes for this room but we found it to be clean and comfortable, although the “shower/sink/squatty potty” bathroom was interesting to use!!

Since this post is already too long, I will stop here and finish the saga of the “Vacation from hell” tomorrow.   And, in case you are worried, we are now safely back in Kunming!!!

No whale petting today…..

Michael got onto the shuttle at 9:30 and I started walking.  Today was all about photography….using the camera, the telephoto lens and my phone in every way that I could.

As I started out there was a slight sprinkle of rain, just enough to make me take my glasses off but not enough to ruin the morning.  It actually felt pretty nice and helped take a bit of the heat away.

I started walking down a quiet street….one that the tourists weren’t interested in and I immediately started taking photos.   BTW…..if you aren’t interested in flowers and bugs, you should skip this post entirely!!

My first stop was to this flower, complete with a feeding moth…..

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There are no bugs in this photo but definite evidence that they have been here…..IMG_1490

It has been really fun to use the telephoto lens as a “macro” lens and to be able to get  “up close and personal” with bees and ants without have to get TOO close.  Again, I am disappointed that I haven’t used it before now.

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IMG_1540I was enthralled by the water dancing off of these yellow flowers………..

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I entered one very sweet  area that had several fun vignettes….IMG_1531

I spent about 10 minutes literally chasing this butterfly around a plant in order to get a good photo.    I honestly felt like he was mocking me, but the end, I won out!!!…..IMG_1566

As I have been working thru the photography course, it has made me learn more about our camera and one of the first things that I learned was that I could click one switch and change it from “Auto-focus” to Manual-focus and I have found this to be so helpful.    As an example, this water plant puts out a very fine flower on a long stalk at the top of the flower.   You can see them a bit on the left, top side of the photo….IMG_1545

When I tried to take a photo of the flower by itself, the auto-focus couldn’t find it and kept focusing on the shrubs behind the flower.   But with one click of a button, I could use manual focus and easily photograph exactly what I wanted…..IMG_1572

I have noticed that most of the flowers here are either red or yellow and I realized that I was highly attracted to the red ones….probably the same way that the insects are!!…..IMG_1595

I have long been enamored with this type of flower….

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….and even more so when you get up close and personal…..

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You can even see the halo from the tiny hairs that encircle the bottom blooms!

By the way, all of this photography takes time.   When I looked at the time this morning, I had already been out for an hour but had only walked 1/2 kilometer!!!  This may take a while!!

I finally reached the pedestrian bridge over the Mekong River (it is called something else in China) that leads into the town of Menglun.  The river is extremely swollen at the moment because of the overabundance of rain..…IMG_1625

I was really looking forward to this sight because I had remembrances of walking thru the town and especially of a “Spicy Rice” restaurant that was about 5 doors after you crossed the bridge.

It was a sad sight that greeted me when I arrived at the other side…..IMG_1635

….and found that the road was completely torn up.   Many of the shops were still there but there were no tables out so I am thinking that they are closed at the moment.  I also walked a bit into town but many of the roads are under construction and picking my way thru rocks, mud and debris was no fun at all.    I was disappointed as I quickly made my way back into the garden.

When I first saw this woman coming toward me on the bridge, I thought that she was pulling a grocery cart but when she passed, I could see that it was a different type of stroller……

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By now it was 11:00 and tourists were out in force, so I decided to concentrate on walking back to the hotel.  But, just when I thought that I was going to quit taking photos I saw a beautiful tree with pink and yellow flowers….and what’s a girl to do……

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Then there were Waterlilies…..

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…and more mocking butterflies….

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….and water reflection scenes…..

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….and more flowers with bugs….IMG_1687

….and then the “oh crap” moment when I realized that “You are here” was NOWHERE near where I wanted to be…..

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On a whim I decided to do a quick tour thru the ever-popular Distinctive Plant Garden and found this sweet boy “singing” at the top of his lungs to try to make the plant dance…..IMG_1694

There were “Gangsta” posers galore…..

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And just when I was ready to finally head for the hotel, the heavens opened and the rain came down!!!!  I took shelter, along with a BUNCH more tourists waiting for the rains to subside. 

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Many people used this opportunity to purchase snacks at one of the vendors located around the entrance and the cutest thing was one man who bought a coconut for his family…..one coconut and SIX straws!!!

I eventually made it back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon going thru two more lessons of my photography course and running outside (between showers) to test out what I was learning.  The first lesson was about shutter speed and the idea of slowing the speed down to let in more of the ambient light.  I spent some time taking photos of one of the waterfalls, starting off with a fast shutter speed so that you can almost see the individual drops of water…..

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…and ending with a slow shutter speed where the water appears more as a sheet….

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These would be better if I had the camera on a tripod  but I was happy with what was accomplished with holding the camera.

The evening ended with a banquet…..

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….consisting of many wonderful foods.   One of the most interesting were these cucumber slices that were served with sugar…..IMG_6062

I am not a huge cucumber fan but these were delicious!!

A quick tram ride back to the hotel and the day was over!!!

28 flights…..

As we were heading out to breakfast this morning, Michael opened the door onto our balcony and a small Gecko hurried into the room.  Michael chased him but he ran under the dresser before we could catch him.   I told Michael that I did NOT want to wake up in the middle of the night with him plastered to my face with the suckers on his feet!!! 

For this our first day at XTBG, Gang (pronounced Goung) wanted to give us a tour of the garden, especially to give me an idea of where I might be walking in the next few days.  We walked quickly past many things that I will go back and photograph when I have time.  Most Chinese people stroll when they walk and their path is erratic.  Michael likened it to a dance with no predictable steps.   But Gang was different…..he walked in a straight line and FAST…..even I, with my long legs, had trouble keeping up with him.

We also had to be careful when walking because many of the stone paths had a slimy layer of mold on them and you wouldn’t know it until your feet started slipping.  I had numerous “near misses” during the walk and will have to remember to be careful tomorrow!!!

One of the first places that we stopped was the “dancing plant”, also known as a “Telegraph Plant.  This plant has small leaves on a hinge and they will move in response to certain stimuli….like singing!!!   The tour director would sing and all of the tourists would crowd around to get a photo of the moving plant….

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While I was photographing this event, Michael was approached by two gentlemen who were English teachers in Nanjing.  He enjoyed meeting them and I think that they enjoyed practicing their English…..

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This photo looks like a normal flower…..IMG_1290

….but on closer inspection, we found a moth feeding on one of the flowers…..

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….and ants on another area of the stem…..

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The ants are considered to be nectar robbers…..let this non-scientist explain…..   The nectar on a flower is located down inside the flower and the pollen is on a stem (anther) above the nectar.   Normal nectar feeders, like bees and butterflies push past the anther to get to the nectar, thus taking the pollen away to fertilize another flower.  The ants don’t push thru the pollen so they  “steal the reward” but don’t help the plant.  They do help the plant in another way….they protect it by attacking other birds or herbivores that might eat the plant before it can be pollinated.  Okay…science lesson is over!!

Taking photos is sometimes a trial as many people will crowd around you to take the same photo.   In this case, I stood my ground and got a nice photo of this interesting plant…..

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By the way, I love the chandelier in the hotel lobby……

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It reminds me of some of the flowers that I am seeing in the garden.

In the afternoon, we were picked up by two of the  XTBG researchers with the plan for them to take us (and another visitor named Doyle)  to “Green Stone Forest”, a rock formation just a few miles from the garden.  The only problem was that, just as we hopped onto the open bus to make the trip, it started POURING rain…..this is the tropics you know!!    It was fun to be riding in an open car with thunder booming around us, even though we had to use our umbrellas in the cart to keep semi-dry.

We arrived at the visitor center next to the forest and sheltered there until the rain had mostly stopped.   It was hard to tell if it had really stopped since there were so many tall trees that water was dripping off of.  But on we went.

The road that we walked on was extremely slick, especially along the edges and one of the women was VERY concerned that we were going to fall down.   As we would drift toward the side, she would come beside us and shoo us back to the middle….kind of like a Mother Hen!!

We reached the first set of stairs leading into the forest and UP we went….IMG_1380Michael’s comment was “Just what we want to do is go higher during a Thunderstorm!!”

As we walked, we saw typical rainforest flora and I was greatly reminded of our walk on Barro-Colorado island in Panama.  There were HUGE Buttress Trees…..

IMG_1359…..tangles of vines….IMG_1341

…..and interesting, if not slimy, Crustaceans….IMG_1337

There were many stops to discuss science….

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And more steps going ever up….

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We were one of the few parties of  people in this area and Michael asked why.  The answer was that  Chinese people don’t want to exert themselves on the steps and the tour guides don’t either.    But, they missed out on the best parts.    We kept seeing this sign but were not sure of what they were trying to say…..

IMG_1383 ….maybe it was supposed to be “No Running”.   Since we were both huffing and puffing our way up the stairs, there was no worry of  this happening!!!

We came to the area called “Couple Peaks” (Instead of Twin Peaks). and enjoyed a magnificent view of the rainforest….

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So now it was DOWN the very steep stairs…..IMG_1409

….and back up again to the second peak….IMG_1417

This one was even more interesting as the floor was made of GLASS panels….a little freaky!!

The view was gorgeous……IMG_1421….and I had to get one “Art” shot including a pink hat…..IMG_1426

After another round of picture taking before the clouds settled in…..

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…..and we headed back down again, stopping often to take photos of interesting things along the way…..IMG_1468

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The student who was with us wore a Mosquito coil clipped onto her bag.   Since there are some cases of Malaria and Denghy Fever in the area, the researchers and grounds people often wear these to keep the pests away…..IMG_1416

I just made it a point to stay close to her!!

There were signs of scientific research going on in the forest as well.   Here they are re-introducing some endangered Orchid species…..

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This is an area where a Bamboo plant had died.  Apparently this is a species that grows very big, flowers and then dies…..

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As we walked I marveled at the way they took care of the forest so that the “people” impact was low…..IMG_1454

….and to their credit, there was VERY little trash or signs that people were around!!

As we were leaving the park, there were huge groups of tourists coming in so I think that we timed it JUST right, even if it was during a storm!!

Michael and I had dinner at the hotel that evening and I braved drinking a Sprite that had been poured over ice.  We normally avoid ice because you never know what kind of water they used to make it but I had seen them pour the drink into the urn and I immediately siphoned off my glass so I am telling myself that there wasn’t time for any of the ice to melt….  only time will tell!!!!IMG_6026

Oh, by the way……… the title of this post “28 Flights” refers to flights of steps.   My phone counts steps, miles and flights of stairs and it told me that I had climbed 28 of them before the day was over…..IMG_6008

  It is certainly a good thing that I have my new knee!!

The Hole in the Wall…..

On Saturday Michael wanted nothing more than to have a long walk, something that he had not been able to do all week long while he had been teaching.  So we set out to try to find the Antique market that I had searched for on Friday.  We both had in our minds that it……

1.   was on the right side of the street as we were heading away from the hotel,

2.   was close to the river

3.   was on a very large street

4.   was in a old, wooden red building.

So, off we went, walking down Renmin Road.  After about 2 miles, we decided that we were obviously not on the correct street!!  Since the major streets run in concentric circles around the city area, I suggested that we take a perpendicular road to the next ring out and walk back home that way.  It ended up being a good choice!!  About 1/2 mile onto the new street and we both (at the same time) pointed across the street and said “THERE IT IS!!!!”.

We excitedly crossed the street, entered the maze of shops and then stopped short because almost all of them were closed!!  We are not sure if they open later on Saturday, or maybe not at all on Saturday, but we marked the position in our minds and have vowed to go back on a normal week day!!

AND, to add insult to injury, the building was about 200 yards from the CarreFour that I had visited earlier in the week!!!!!

As we walked, we came across an area of the town that is being refurbished but is trying to keep the old character of the area……IMG_5925

I loved these doors……IMG_5926

We spent the rest of the day just relaxing and letting Michael enjoy some down time.  In the evening he had a fun interaction with a family that was in the hotel for a 100 day party for a little baby…..IMG_1905

 

Michael was sitting out on the balcony next to the dining area and this party was going on inside.  One of the guests came outside and introduced himself to Michael and told him that the 100 day party was a really big deal.  He also brought out a partial bottle of wine to allow Michael (and myself later in the evening) to join into the celebration.    There were many people there and we figure that this one night would have cost thousands of dollars…..and for a baby who didn’t know anything about it.

The decorations were all blow up animals and balloons and this one little girl came out with her Unicorn and paraded in front of our table…….IMG_1901

Michael asked her “what do you call that animal?” and she gave him an incredulous look and said (in perfect English), “It’s a Unicorn”!!   We are pretty sure that, in her mind, she added “Dumb A—“  to that statement.   Later in the evening we talked to both she and her Mom and were amazed to find out that she was only 4 years old.   We predict that she will go far!!

On Sunday afternoon, we flew to the city of Jinghong and were picked up by Gang, the researcher who is organizing the next week of our trip.   He walked us to the car and we proceeded to drive an hour to the town of MengLun and the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden. 

Now you know me and peacocks…..  I took SO many photos trying to get a picture of these fun city decorations…..IMG_5939

The “tropical” part of the area showed itself as we drove with ominous clouds swirling around us…..

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Gang knew that we loved spicy food and he was determined to give us a good first meal!!  The driver of the car suggested a restaurant, so we picked up another researcher from XTBG and headed to the restaurant.     Most restaurants in China have individual rooms where groups will sit around a big round table and enjoy their meal in privacy.  Unfortunately there was only one individual room left and it literally was a “Hole in the Wall”……..IMG_5984

….not just this “open to the world window”, but also several large holes in the bottom of the wall!! 

As usual in a place like this, the food was magnificent, starting with tiny deep fried fish and were spicy, crunchy and wonderful……IMG_5968

I know that they look weird but they were so good and probably my favorite for the evening……IMG_5978

As Americans, we don’t tend to eat this delicacy, but we have now enjoyed them in Italy, Portugal and China.

Other meal highlights included  a tasty Bok Choy and another green veggie with tomatoes…..

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We also had a fish soup that had a whole fish in it…..

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and lots of Sichuan pepper corns.   These little fire balls not only have a pepper flavor but also a bitterness that adds to the heat.   I tend to avoid them while Michael picks them out so that he can have more!!!

The most interesting dish was a vegetable that was a mix between a green bean and an okra pod.   It didn’t have a lot of flavor by itself, but when you dipped it into the salsa, it made all of the difference in the world…..IMG_5974

I think that the Salsa would have been good with a bag of Tostitos.

I enjoyed watching our driver eat the spicy foods.   Apparently he enjoyed eating them but his body couldn’t tolerate the heat.  There were times that his entire head was sweating and he was constantly mopping it with a napkin. 

We finished the trip onto the Botanic Garden property and checked into our room at the Royal Waterlily Hotel…… tomorrow starts a new week in a new place!!!!


The “Art-less” Day

Since it wasn’t raining today, I decided that I wanted to take a long walk and I didn’t really care where.   I got onto Google Maps on my computer and, while exploring the area, found two art galleries listed.  I thought that those sounded fun so I set my course for the first one.

As I started out, it sent me down a new street.  My initial thought was that it was fun to see something different,  although, different  here is still much the same!!

It was a great walk and I arrived in the area in about 15 minutes, but there was no noticeable Art Museum, only a lot of construction!  So let’s head for gallery number 2…..

The area that I now walked thru was not as glitzy  and passed lots of little shops, each selling only one type of good.   One shop only sold combs and brushes. 

I was extremely happy to see this sign……

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…..thinking that I had indeed found the desired gallery.  But disappointment ensued as I climbed flight after flight of stairs and only found offices and bathrooms…..no art in sight!!!

Okay, let’s head for the next destination….. When we were here in 2012, we had found a fun “antique” market and I thought that I had found it on the map so decided to find it.  After another 20 minutes of walking I found only a cavernous, empty building. 

Strike 3 and I was heading home!!!

But all was not lost for the day.    As I walked, I passed a small park that had numerous military monuments.  Several were very interesting…..IMG_1223

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I loved this design and can see using it on a quilt someday…..

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Speaking of quilting patterns, I really like this iron pattern around one of the tree beds…..

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I enjoyed watching this man walking down the street with his wagon of vegetables trailing behind him…..

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These two scooters were fun to watch….  Apparently the front one was not working and the rider was “walking” it down the street.  The back driver would slowly catch up with the first one and give him a gentle push.  They were actually moving fairly well!!

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While on this walk, I did remember that the easiest way to cross busy streets is to stand next to a local and, when they start, you stay right beside them.  We used this same technique in Rome by finding an old Italian Grandmother because no one wants to run over her!!!

As I neared the hotel, I passed a small opening to a park area and could see lots of people sitting around inside.  I decided to check it out and found table after table of people (mostly men) playing traditional games….IMG_5916

I walked thru the group and on toward what I thought was the end of the park.  Instead I reached a bridge that led to a large complex of buildings that looked very much like a Buddhist temple.  The only difference from the ones that I had seen was that there wasn’t a huge crowd of people milling around.   So, I decided that it was no longer in use as a place of worship.  But, it was still a great place to take photos…..IMG_1248

….especially of the gorgeous and colorful designs that adorned the walls and ceilings….IMG_1263

I spent a long time inside the building taking photos and enjoyed the peacefulness of the place. 

Although there were no Buddha’s present, it was obvious that offerings were still being made there…..

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The guard inside the building  patiently watched me take copious photos and as I was leaving he gave me a smile and a thumbs up.   I returned the same!!

As I walked back into the hotel, I was disappointed that my original plans had not materialized but, as usual, Kunming had not failed to provide an interesting experience!!

Mapping it!!

The morning started off rainy again but by 1:00 I was ready to “get out of Dodge”!!    I headed for the lake and decided to walk around the outside of the lake, stopping to take lots and lots of pictures……IMG_1132

I could hear various people singing from the island in the center of the lake, including one VERY screechy woman and one gentleman with a magnificent operatic voice!!  As I walked further, I could hear a single wooden flute playing Frere Jacques……so much diversity!!

One thing that has changed in the last 8 years since we have been coming to Kunming is the proliferation of Starbucks.  They seem to be everywhere now.  I remember that we walked all over this area trying to find a place with good coffee and now the hotel has it’s own Espresso machine!!

As I walked thru the lake area, I had a magnificent time playing with the telephoto lens at the gorgeous Lotus pool…..

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The surface of much of the  Lotus pool is covered with a water plant called Duckweed……IMG_1147

At one point, I simply sat down on a bench and enjoyed the beauty around me.   In the photography course that I am  listening to, he says that “sometimes you have to pet the whale”…..meaning that sometimes you have to put the camera away and simply enjoy the moment!!

This gentleman was running a game…..

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…that used a pyramid of cans and a ball…..IMG_1167

I wanted to head to an area around the lake that I had enjoyed in previous years but unfortunately that area was closed for some major construction.   If it is like the rest of Kunming, they have torn down the old buildings to put up fancy new ones that will, unfortunately, deteriorate rapidly.

So I had reached the other side of the lake and wasn’t ready to head home yet so decided to just start walking down the bordering street.  I realized again how freeing it is to go out with Google Maps on my side.    I don’t have to concentrate as much on where I am going and can just enjoy the views.

I came to a park entrance with a long set of stairs leading up to a large house and decided to see what it was.  Besides, climbing steps aren’t a problem…..I’ve got a brand new knee to do it with!!!

The funniest thing about this entrance was watching a man photograph his wife (I presume) as she stood in front of the entrance.   He kept shooing other people away so that they were not in his frame and kept stepping further and further back and into traffic.  I was amazed that he didn’t get run over by one of the motorbikes.

This gentleman was sweeping all of the leaves and petals that had fallen onto the sidewalk.  I laughed as he took his broom and beat the underside of the flowering shrub to knock off even more of the flowers!!

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I had two cute “hello, how are you” interactions.   The first were two girls, maybe 13 years old, who were walking toward me and I could tell by their body language that they were debating whether or not to talk to me.  So, I decided to put them out of their misery and initiate the conversation myself.  When I said “Hello” there were instant smiles, and a big “Hello” back.   I extend the conversation by asking “How are you?” and they responded with the classic “Fine, thank you”.   So, the pleasantries had been observed and it was okay to move on!!

Then, about 5 minutes later, I saw three older women walking toward me and one turned to the other and I heard her say a tentative “Hello”, as if asking her friend if that was right.  Once again, I jumped in first and said hello to them.  More big smiles and enthusiastic “Hello’s” were returned. 

I had a glimpse of something white among the greenery and then I saw this gorgeous Spider Lily……

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It was up fairly high and I was again thankful for the telephoto lens!!!

The Chinese people love to take photos of themselves and honestly look quizzically at me when I am only taking scenery photos.  I saw three fun examples in just a few minutes.   The first one looked a bit dangerous as this young woman tries to recreate the classic Titanic pose without having Jack to hold onto her…..

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…..or maybe she is a Gargoyle in training!!

This young woman meticulously set her camera so that she could sit on the steps and take photos of herself…..

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But my favorite for the day were these two young women posing in front of of a traffic mirror.   They were making faces, laughing and having a wonderful time.   And, if they look closely at their photo, they will see an American’s feet in there as well……

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I walked a bit further and heard noises that sounded like a Taekwondo class so I eagerly looked for the sounds source.   Instead of a class, I found a group of teens who were apparently practicing for a play or some performance…..

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As I continued walking, I kept wondering exactly what this place was since there were lots of large building and beautiful green areas.  It was then that I had a thought that it might be the old Yunnan University campus.    We had been told that the campus had moved about 40 kilometers away, meaning that the old campus would be vacant.   About 30 seconds after I had this epiphany, I saw this sign that confirmed my thoughts…..IMG_1211

Most of the buildings were deserted although there were still a few signs of life…..IMG_1217

I do wonder exactly what will become of the campus, although right now it seems to be a fun family hangout!!!

By this stage, I really didn’t know exactly where I was although I had a basic idea of which way I needed to go.  I fired up my map and did a quick check to see if I was right and then just kept on walking.   I reached a street that had office supplies, copier services and other business supplies.   I entered one of the craft stores and ended up buying some fabric paints.   It will be interesting to give them a try when I get home!!

About this time, gigantic drops of rain started splatting down on the sidewalk so I quickened my step to get back faster.   Fortunately, about the time that I got my camera put up and my umbrella out, the rain stopped and I stayed dry after all.

I passed on interesting screen in front of a doorway…..

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And, before I knew it, I was back a Salvadores and knew exactly how to reach my hotel oasis!!

One other thing that we have noticed on this trip is that there are kids, especially toddlers, EVERYWHERE!!   In 2010, we commented that we didn’t see many children but it is obvious that the government’s relaxing of the “one-child” policy is working the way they planned.   Now, there will be a new generation of  young people to move into the work force as the older generation retires.  By the way, China has a mandatory retirement age of 60 for men and 55 for women!!

And, I leave you with this liability insurance nightmare from one of the sidewalks by the hotel…..IMG_5888

THIS. CAN.  NOT. BE. SAFE!!!!