I’m at the end of my 3rd day in Costa Rica and it’s been a blast. Too busy having fun to keep a running log, so I’ll probably just end up with one long blog post and a ton of pictures at the end of this trip 🙂
A quick recap, we spent 2 days in Manual Antonio. Went white water rafting, sky diving, got a nice massage, ate at some nice places and had a bit too much to drink (not in that order). It’s been great, here’s a random shot from the rafting adventure. I’m the white guy on the right who looks like he’s taking it too seriously – I was having fun, I swear!
Finally time to post something on here that isn’t about China 🙂 I’ll be going to Costa Rica in 2 weeks with a couple of friends and figure I might as well blog it up while I’m there. It’s going to be 8 days of adventure packed travel and debauchery! We’ve got sky diving, ziplining, white water rafting, horseback riding and more on the itinerary and there is bound to be a plenty of drinks and shenanigans in between. It’s gonna be great 😎
On an unrelated note, I’ve started a fun new business selling patent art! It’s called Patent Earth. So far I’ve got a modest but rapidly growing selection of awesome patent art prints, a lot of them from the 1800’s and early 1900’s, and each one is available as posters, framed prints, canvas prints and t-shirts. I’ve ordered several samples and they’re all awesome. Patent art is just plain cool, and it’s a lot of fun to just peruse patents looking for cool stuff. And I’ve managed to automate a lot of the work involved, so I’m pretty confident that within a few months I’ll have the biggest selection of patent art on the web! I’m pretty excited about it. Here’s a picture of me showing off one of my favorite prints:
I’ve been home for a couple of days now, and finally have gotten the lasts posts I’d started a few days ago finished and posted. I also put together a social website where members of our group can get together, discuss the trip and share their pictures & videos – that site can be found at http://vj70china.com
The flight from Beijing to Dallas wasn’t bad for a 13 hour trip. From there it was another 1 hour flight to Austin, where I arrived just after 9pm. I spent an hour or so visiting with my family (they live just down the road from me) before returning home.
Walking into my own house after 2 weeks away was interesting, it was almost as if I was seeing it for the first time. I guess those 2 weeks of being a stranger in a strange land just had me looking at everything as though it were new. I finally got to sleep at about 2:30am the next morning, I slept until 3pm. It’s taken me a couple of days to correct my sleep schedule.
Now that it’s all said and done, I’m very glad I went on this trip and I’m glad to be back home. I’ve been going through the 1000+ photos I took gradually and some time soon, I will post a whole lot of them here.
I woke up feeling ill in Dali. I think it was something I ate the night before; so traveling back to Kunming was not a great experience for me. First there was nearly an hour long bus ride to the airport in Kunming, then the actual flight back to Kunming. I was actually feeling better by the time I got on the plane and feeling better still when I got off the plane, but the bus ride to our hotel in Kunming brought all the nausea back and I rushed up to my room as soon as I got the key card.
There were some more activities and meals that night but I skipped on them, staying in my hotel room to recover. I finally felt better later in the evening and went downstairs to have some hot tea and wait for everyone to get back. A few others joined me who had also decided to skip out on the days activities, so we just sat around chatting for a bit.
At this point, a few Chinese walk up to us and ask if we know David Hayward who is one of the veterans. As it so happens, his granddaughter was among our little group. It turns out this one of the Chinese group’s father used to work directly with David Hayward during the war – they had seen him mentioned in the local news paper and came to the hotel in hopes of reaching him. It was really very cool, and made for a nice unexpected reunion when everybody else finally returned.
There was another unexpected surprise too – a rather unwelcome one. Due to a funding shortage, we had purchase our own airplane tickets back to Beijing. It was $168, pretty cheap as far as airfare goes but still a very unpleasant surprise. I hadn’t spent much money on the trip so I was able to cover it, but at that point I was looking forward to returning home with a couple hundred bucks left in my pocket and now that was reduced to about $30.
Oh well, shit happens. I paid, because it was either that or be stuck in Kunming, and the next night we woke up early again and headed to the airport to go back to Beijing.
This time we just stayed in a basic airport hotel in Beijing so that we wouldn’t have to deal with traffic on the way to catching the final flight. We still got to deal with tons of really bad traffic that night though when we headed out to dinner – it took us a solid 2 hours to get to the place, which supposedly has some of the best Peking Duck in all of Beijing. It was an upstairs restaurant with no elevator or handicap access, which was a problem with our group that included several guys in wheelchairs. They ended up moving a bunch of tables down to serve us, and finally we ate along with some guys from a local veterans group including some who apparently had a long history with the guys in our group.
It was a good meal – the duck was definitely good – but I think most of us would have settled for something less to not have to spend all that time on the bus. Oh well. We headed back to the hotel, got some sleep and the next morning went to the Beijing airport to fly back to America. It had been an amazing but exhausting journey across China, and we were all happy to be headed home.
The next day we rode by Bus to Dali. The trip took several hours, and it was more of that glorious mountain view the whole way. I spent pretty much the entire trip watching out the window and taking pictures.
Along the way we took a rest stop at in a town called Yongping. It was pretty much like any truck stop you would stop at on the edge of any small town in the U.S., except most the town’s architecture was in that old Chinese style which I’m a big fan of. Off to the side was a row of hedges around a sign supported between 2 pillars; the whole thing was covered in webs occupied by a bunch of spiders that looked similar to Orb Weavers. The rest stop had a large and reasonably clean restroom which was nice, and the standard convenience store with a large selection of snacks, candies, beverages and souvenier-like items. All of these items were aimed at women – shoes, jewelry, purses – and I grabbed a couple of ornate cloth person shaped like fish to give to my mom & sister back home. At 14 RMB each they were very inexpensive – that’s about $2.23 USD.
As I was waiting to check out at the register, there was an explosion outside. It wasn’t quite an earth shaking explosion, but it was definitely something blowing up outside and was way to powerful to just be a vehicle backfiring. Everyone in our group was very startled and started looking around; somewhere across the street a small cloud of smoke was rising. But locals didn’t seem phased, there didn’t seem to be any buildings or anything where the smoke was rising from, and there was no screaming or panicking or sirens. So after a moment we shrugged it off and went about our business. Never did find out what it was, maybe it was a nearby mining operation or construction or something.
After hours on the road, the arrival at Dali felt very sudden. We took our hundred-someteenth turn around some mountain and then bam – suddenly we’re in a city.
The city of Dali is pretty big, at least by my standards. It has a population of something like 6 and a half million. It also sits an elevation of about 6000 feet. It has a long history, with the original town of Dali being a walled town that is several hundred years old. And unlike many of the old Chinese towns, Old Dali stills stands in it’s original form. The sprawl of city surrounding it is called New Dali, and it’s growing rapidly. One thing that struck me as very unique is that in the middle of this big city, there is still a lot of farming going on.
We had the pleasure of staying at an ancient hotel near the heart of Old Dali. The building was around 500 years old according to our guide – of course it is maintained in a modern style, retrofitted and reworked to have plumbing and electricity and the like. Although on the outside it did appear as mostly real, original, unspoiled ancient Chinese architecture, the inside of the rooms felt like any basic economy hotel room you’ve ever stayed in. Unlike all our previous 4 and 5 star hotel stays, this place was very simple and humble. I liked it – my grandfather was not such a big fan of the rooms due to the dim lighting and smaller, stiffer beds. It was also just a lower class place in many ways – where the higher end hotels provide a separate lotions, soaps, shampoos and conditioners, flat screen TV’s & free teas and fruits, this place had a 3-in-1 bathing soap dispenser and 2 free condoms on the night stand. And an old school CRT TV.
But there was no denying the wonderful atmosphere of the hotel. It was called the “Landscape Hotel” because there are impressive gardens and plant arrangements throughout the place. It is divided into 6 court yards, each one with a garden in the center and beautiful paintings on the walls (actually on the walls, not hung pictures). It had a covered bar and other covered benches that were also very ornate, brightly colored & built with that classic Chinese architecture. Along the stone paths were more flowers & garden plants, more great paintings on the walls and a koi pond full of beautiful fish. There was also a restaurant area, and a couple of small shops selling awesome stone & marble works that Dali is apparently famous for, as well as some jewelry made with the same polished stones.
And there were books. Along some of the walls around the central sitting areas were bookshelves containing all kinds of books. Of course, they were all in Chinese so I didn’t spend much time reading. But I definitely appreciated the fact that they just had a large selection of literature for anyone who just felt like lounging around and reading.
We didn’t do much in the way of events or activities that day. It took a while to get all our rooms sorted out and many of us were feeling rather frustrated by the time we finally got our rooms. After finally getting my room and dropping off my bag, I came back out and found a couple of guys in our group setting in one of the bench area’s with a beer, which was apparently available in the restaurant just a few feet away. So I grabbed one of my own – a large Dali beer that only cost about two and a half bucks – and joined them. It was good to just unwind and relax for a bit. A little while later my grandfather sat at the next bench area over to be interviewed by a movie producer who’s working on a production about flying the Hump. After a few minutes I moved over to their side to listen in.
Later we walked a few blocks into the central part of Old Dali to eat dinner at a place called “Yunnan Cafe”. There are no cars in this area, only scooters/bikes and foot traffic. It’s basically a shopping & eating district. The Yunnan Cafe is 2 stories and also has sidewalk seating, which is what I opted for. The food was good, and we sat around eating and chatting until after dark. After that, the group left sporadically and my grandfather & I went off on our own to go back to the hotel.
We got lost. It was not a complicated route but when we got to where we expected the hotel entrance to be, we didn’t find it. I ran up and down the block looking for it to no avail. Finally I turned on the location tracking on my phone and we navigated that way; later I realized that I actually had run into the parking lot early and just completely failed to recognize it in the dark!
The next day was full of activities. We toured the factory of a tobacco company that sponsored part of the trip, then went to a tea factory where we toured their tea museum and enjoyed a tea ceremony. After that we drove all the way across town to a government building where dinner was being hosted. This was not a very pleasant journey; it was pouring rain so the the drive was slow and when we finally got there, the parking lot was so small it was almost impossible to get the buses into it. Ten minutes of maneuvering later, we were in but had to wait another 10 minutes inside the bus for the rain to die down. Finally we got inside, where we were shown a presentation of their future city planning before finally getting a chance to eat.
The Mayor of Dali came to eat with us but because of the traffic and weather, we were already done eating when he arrived. So we just hung around for a few minutes so that he could meet people and all that; a lot of us were eager to leave, but we didn’t want to be rude to the Mayor who had just spent all that time driving to be with us.
By the time we got back to the hotel, it was almost dark and the mood was not that great. But we were finally free; my grandfather decided to go to his room and call it a night so I went out and met up with some others in our group for a couple of beers. I ended up at a place called the Bad Monkey bar which was a pretty decent watering hole, and they actually brew their own beer (not on site though). I tried their IPA (it was good!) and bought a couple of their t-shirts before returning home a little after midnight and hitting the hay.
We were getting close to the end of our journey at this point. The next day we would fly back to Kunming for 1 night, then to Beijing for 1 night and then finally home.
After our second day in Kunming, we departed for Baoshan which is fairly close to the border between China and Myanmar. We had to leave very early and I was sleep deprived. We had been told to leave our main luggage in the hotel in Kunming because we would be returning there in a couple of days; so I re-packed some essentials into my backpack with the intention of just taking the one bag as carry on.
In the airport I realized I’d packed things they don’t let you take onto a plane these days – shaving cream, toothpaste etc. I didn’t want to have to throw all that out so I decided to check the bag at the last minute.
Moments later I was handed my ticket and realized that I had left my passport in my bag, which had already been checked through. This was a bit of a freakout – you need your passport for pretty much everything around here. After floundering around in a panic for a few minutes, we were able to work it out with the folks at the airport and they let me through along with another party that had forgotten their passport. I’m pretty sure this only happened because of the esteemed group that we were a part of – if I had just been another tourist, I would have been pretty screwed.
We landed in Baoshan, and were greated by a military marching band and girls in ethnic dress representing the different ethniticies of the region, of which there is a great variety in Yunnan. That was very nice. Then we piled into the busses and set immediately about the next activity which was a long ride through the rural mountains. Our destination was the site of Nujong River (I don’t think I’m spelling that correctly), which was known as the Sawleen river during WW2. There was a particular spot on this river where a key bride had been bombed during the war just barely in time to keep the Japanese from flooding into Kunming, which was a key point for supply drops being brought in by the Hump pilots from India. If the Japanese had made it across that bridge it probably would have been game over for China, so historically speaking it was a very significant event.
We spent several hours of driving along winding roads through the mountains. It was one of the highlights of the trip, for me at least. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and many of the people living in this area live basically the same way that their ancestors did. We passed countless mountain side farms where people were harvesting corn, rice and tobacco by hand. Farmers were walking their oxen on the side of the road, and you could tell by the way they looked at our bus convoy that we were a very rare sight for them. We stopped at a lookout point that overlooks the Nujong river – the view was simply amazing. Some of our escorts had brought along a couple of drones and were flying them around taking video.
We made a stop in a small village called Mang Lin, where the local government had just installed brand new western style toilets specifically for our group. This was a very impression accomodation. It was far from the nicest bathrooms I’ve ever used, but still much better than a hole in the ground which is still pretty typical in that part of the world.
Once we got near the bridge site on the river, we stopped at a military checkpoint where a lunch had been prepared for us. We were not allowed to bring cameras inside. The meal was hosted in a makeshift courtyard covered by tarps. It was hot and not very windy because we were in the middle of a deep valley, but the food and the company was very good. Most of it was western style food, but in another area they were serving Chinese food for the employees and soldiers. I finished my course of western food and still had a bit of an appetite so I wandered over to the Chinese section and grabbed a bowl. I was the only non-Chinese person there, and they thought I had made a mistake and tried to steer me back to the western side. They gave me a doubtful look when they realized I actually intended to try the Chinese food. I was expecting some kind of crazy spicy stuff, but it was actually pretty tame and tasty.
After the meal we made our way down to the river site which was less than a mile down the road. The locals were out in numbers watching the spectacle we were creating – our guides told us this was probably the most interesting thing that had happened in that area since WW2 had ended, and I can believe it.
One crazy thing is that even in this most remote part of China, where many people are quite literally living hand to mouth, they still have smart phones! They were all taking pictures of course, which is something we’ve all grown quite used to by this point but it was still quite surprising all things considered.
The bridge that had been blown in WW2 had just been reconstructed in the last 3 weeks, and is to be the site of a new WW2 museum. I don’t know who is going to visit a museum that far out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s what they’re doing. Given how stoked the Chinese are about this particular bit of history, it may actually be quite successful.
We were all given chrysanthum flowers, which apparently represent the spirit of the dead or something like that, and on the count of 3 we threw them from the bridge into the river to kick off the ceremony. Then we took seats on the opposite side of the bridge and listened to speeches. This part of the journey pretty much sucked. Everybody was supposed to keep their speeches short, which they didn’t do. The speeches ran long while we all sat baking in the sun. Finally somebody got on stage and put an early end to the speeches, after which they officially broke ground for the new museum and had each veteran plant a tree at the site. This was all ceremonial – the trees were already in place. The veterans shoveled some dirt onto them and watered them, and then autographed the shovels. This probably would have been a lot more touching if we weren’t all worn out from sitting in the sun for so long.
Fortunately in the end, everyone came out okay. Then we rode the busses back down through the mountains, and made another stop along the way in a town called Yo Wan. There the veterans gave authographs and posed for more pictures, and there was a book signing as well. After that, we went to Baoshan and finally got to check into our hotel rooms.
Over all it was an awesome day, but also very long and exhausting. And I had been paranoid the whole time that my bag might have been lost, and my passport along with it which would have been a major problem. I was relieved to finally get my bag and passport back.
The hotel was supposed to be high end but… well, let’s just say it seemed they had built it very hastily. Random switches didn’t seem to work, the elevators would stop on random floors… the place had been very recently built so hopefully they will get those issues ironed out in the near future. It was also the only finished building in the immediate area, and surrounded by construction sites. The whole area is being developed very rapidly.
At any rate, we weren’t there very long – we checked out the next morning to head to Dali.
It was a pretty busy day for us Kunming. We went to the Kunming Museum where I was amazed to see that there is an entire section of the museum dedicated to Flying Tigers & Hump Pilots complete with pictures and descriptions of all the veterans in our group, as well as plenty of displays with old uniforms and equipment.
After touring the museum, we settled into a room to conduct a press conference featuring a handful of the veterans. Once the Q&A session concluded we piled back into the buses and went to a nice restaraunt for dinner. The dishes were good and served on one of those tables with a rotating center. One of the dishes was a spicy soup that reminded me of Thai food. Apparently they really like their spicy food in Yunnan.
The next stop after the meal was a Sunday church service. This was a pretty unusual stop – religion is not practiced in China the way it is in the U.S. You actually have to get a special permit to open a church in the first place and can get into trouble for unauthorized religious practice.
When we arrived at the church we were greeted with much fanfare before the service began. Some aspects of the service were very familiar, others were pretty unique. They also gave each of us a bible printed in Chinese.
The service lasted for about 2 hours and then it was back to the hotel to rest for about an hour. Then came a formal banquet & honorary citizenship ceremony hosted in the hotel, with many representatives from the Kunming government present including the mayor of Kunming.
All of the veterans in our group were made honorary citizens of the city of Kunming. It was a very touching ceremony. After that, the banquet began. There was something like 8 courses, all of them were excellent – even the fish, which I’m not normally a fan of. The only thing I passed on completely was the shrimp. During the meal, the government representatives made their way around the room, meeting and toasting each of the veterans and their family members.
Once the ceremonies and banquet ended, it was time to get packed and get to sleep because we had another very early flight.
This post is going to be without pictures because I’ve been up since 4am (it’s 10:40pm right now) and I just don’t feel like sifting through all those pics. But I’ll definitely post some more pictures later.
Yesterday was our last real day in Beijing. Our group went to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing where we got to meet Ambassador Max Baucus and many of the other Embassy staff. We were only there for an hour but it was a nice reception and a great time for the veterans. We all got a small gift bag and lapel pins with the U.S. and Chinese flags on them which was pretty neat 🙂
After that we had a bit of downtime and I joined part of the group on a shopping trip to the “Silk Market”, which is apparently a pretty well known shopping mall where you can haggle on prices. Unfortunately for me I spent a good bit of money before realizing just how hard you should haggle. In case you’re wondering, you should offer them 10% of their asking price and take it from there. If you pay half the asking price, you’re getting robbed.
After that we returned to the hotel, had dinner and then a final get together with our hosts, the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. They sponsored the entire Beijing leg of our trip and treated us very well the hole time. The presented a very nice montage of photos and videos compiled during our visit, followed by a picture book of our visit and a DVD copy of the montage for everyone. It was really very cool, and surprisingly heart felt considering how brief our time was together. It really highlighted how much they valued our time together.
The next day (this morning) I awoke at 4am to get all my stuff together because we had to be out of the hotel shortly after 5am and on the plane by 7:30am. After a final round of photos with our CPAFFC friends at the airport we were off, and landed in Kunming in the Yunnan province shortly after 11am.
Kunming is not a very big city by China standards, with a population of just over 7 million. It is a very significant part of our journey because this was the primary location where the Hump Pilots delivered supplies and distrubuted them to the U.S. and Chinese forces during WW2. In many ways, this is where the future of China as we know it today was cemented, and the reception we recieved upon arrival was nothing short of amazing. There was music, dancing and people were lined up to take photos like we were celebreties straight out of Hollywood.
As usual we launched right into activities which included an elaborate welcoming ceremony with an impressive formal tea reception. To my shock, I was called to the stage along with my grandfather to talk about our experiences. I was totally unprepared for this but I handled it better than I had expected.
After that it was dinner and then, to my pleasant surprise, nothing was scheduled after that. So I got to spend a few hours wandering around the Green Lake area of downtown Kunming. I finally got to be a tourist.
It was amazing. Central Park is probably 10 times as big, but it has nothing on Green Lake. All over this beautiful park were people singing, dancing and generally having a good time. While Beijing felt very much to me like NYC, the scene around Kunming is very different and it made me feel for the first time like I really am in the China I’ve always wanted to see. I probably spent 2 solid hours just walking around and taking it all in before I dropped into a random pub and just relaxed and had a couple of beers. It was nice. More than nice – it was exquisite. I really like this place, and am glad that I will be spending a little more time here before we head back home.
I’m also glad that I will be getting more than 5 hours sleep tonight, so I’m going to call it a night now!
Today was a very memorable day. We woke up extra early to make it out to the Forbidden City from which we observed the military parade. It was pretty awesome to be in the Forbidden City under these circumstances – it was largley empty, and completely devoid of tourists.
My grandfather and I had some of the best seats in the house, literally front row. It was a strange feeling having all these Generals (from a variety of countries, not just Chinese) sitting behind me – there was an awkward moment where a Russian General (or at least some kind of high ranking, heavily decorated officer) sitting behind me had set his hat on my seat and I had to ask him to move it. Fortunately he didn’t seem too miffed about it.
The military parade was impressive, and I got a lot of amazing photos and videos… and that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
Afterwords we went to the Great Hall of the People and enjoyed a fabulous meal in the most impressive dining room I’ve ever seen. The novelty was greatly enhanced by the presence of very high level politicians and world leaders, including Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin seated just a few tables away. At first there seemed to be a distinct lack of security personnel, until I realized that one of the people eating at my table was actually on security detail and there was one of them seated at nearly every table. Once the rest of the table caught wind of that, we had a nice chuckle.
The food was excellent, I lost count of how many courses there were. Unfortunately I stepped away from the table for a moment and when I returned my desert plate was gone – I didn’t even get to taste any of it :'(
After the banquet it was back to the hotel for a couple hours of rest, then back to the Great Hall for the Commemoration Preformance. This turned out to be a musical re-enactment of World War 2 (from the Chinese perspective, of course) and was one of the most elaborately produced and well performed stage shows I’ve ever seen. And that’s all I’m going to say about that for now.
All in all, it was a day I will never forget – there has been a lot of build up to this day and it certainly did not disappoint! I’ve also got several souveniours including a hat from the parade, a fancy menu from the banquet and several uber-official invitations to these functions. The invitations, aside from being fancy and elaborate, were also microchipped – I saw my face pop up on a screen as soon as I walked through the metal detectors. Hell of a security setup.
It’s been an eye opening experience, and I’m greatful for it. I’m also greatful that I get to sleep in a bit tomorrow 🙂