Friday, July 30, 2010

A Little Poem

Get up off your lazy butt
Now it's time to go do... what?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jiangsu, part 8: Train to Suzhou

Splat-crash went the jar of greens, then the man slowly walked to the restroom. Those nearby in the train station glanced up briefly.

A minute later, the cleaning woman didn't notice the broken glass and walked right by, dustpan in hand.

We were waiting for the 12:04 train to Suzhou. People raced through the massive waiting area to catch the 11:39 train to ... somewhere. They were like a huge swarm of locusts as soon as the sign changed from red to green, but there was plenty of time between that push and the last-minute race just before the train left. The sign turned from green to yellow...

The cleaning crew evenutally swept up the broken glass and spilled vegetables.

I got a KFC spicy chicken sandwich. Dark meat instead of white, but the same mayo and lettuce, though. Chunlin brought me a cup of coffee. Very nice of her.

Chunlin is the epitome of first and second languages.

The time for our swarm approached and people started queuing before the sign changed to green. We waited till the crowd had dwindled before we stood and got on the train.

o1 - Shànghǎi Train Station

The ride was comfortable. The train reminded me of the one between Philadelphia and New York, but cleaner.

o2 - Sūzhōu Train Station

The Suzhou train station was under construction, presumably for the new high-speed rail line going in between Shanghai and Beijing.

m6 - Sūzhōu Station

m5 - Sūzhōu Train Station Construction

Once outside the station, we were swarmed by hawkers for hats, maps, and tour groups. Chunlin talked to one or two tour-group people while I grew agitated. Time was short and I didn't want to wait around on someone else's schedule. Then again, we didn't really know how to get where we were going.

o3 - Outside the Train Station

Eventually, Chunlin got one of the tour groups to sell us train tickets to return to Shanghai, for a little fee, and I got to not go on a guided tour.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Last Weekend Down Wahkiakum Way

Last weekend, we camped at Skamokawa on the Columbia River.

9 - Chunlin and Christina

Down the road in Cathlamet, the annual Bald Eagle Days were in full swing. The local fire departments had a game to play.

25 - Fire Department Water Fight

We then returned to our campgrond and hung out on the beach, watching a couple ships go by.

45 - Skaugran Sun

55 - Hi, Chunlin!

51 - Into the Water

Then back to Cathlamet for the fireworks show.

81 - Last Moments of the Show

We bought a glowing sword.

82 - Christina Signs Her Name

Sunday, we drove Highway 103 and stopped in Oysterville to buy clams and cherries. The cherries were eaten quickly; the clams waited till we got home.

89 - Chunlin with Cherries

91 - Oysterville and First

We then visited the beach at Long Beach. Saturday had been a sandcastle-building competition, but they were washed away by Sunday.

97 - Mark at Long Beach 2 - Ch

Tiring trip. Fun trip.

92 - Naptime for Christina

More photos on flickr. Many more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jiangsu, part 7: Quanfu Temple

n42 - South Lake Street

Toward the south end of Zhouzhuang, foot traffic thinned out.

n44 - Through Baoen Bridge

This must be the working area of town, along the South Lake, where they use cormorants to fish.

n46 - Cormorant Reflection

n51 - South Lake Nets

At the edge of the island sits the Quanfu Temple, a big Buddhist complex.

n54 - Quanfu South Temple

n56 - Quanfu South Temple Buddha

n58 - Out the Back Door

n52 - Quanfu Temple Lake

n62 - Many Fish at Quanfu Temple
Plenty of fish in their pond...

n66 - Quanfu Temple Bridge Pavilion

You're not charged an entrance fee, and they don't outright ask for donations, but we still ended up paying several yuan for visiting.

They had a room that you couldn't enter, but could approach a large, open window from the outside. Across the room were bells. Since it would be good luck to get one of the bells to ring, everyone throws coins at them.
n69 - Coins
We missed every throw. Not all of those coins were ours, thankfully. I wonder how often they clear the floor?

The shops of Zhouzhuang are ready for tourists. We bought two silk weavings, with much negotiation. Before going to the temple, we looked at one weaving I liked. The shopkeeper asked 150 yuan, then 120. While starting to walk away, I countered 40 yuan (in Mandarin). We kept walking. Before we got too far away down the alley (about 100 feet), the shopkeeper had lowered her price to 80. We didn't return, though.

After visiting the temple, we stopped at another silk shop. The asking price for the same design was 250 yuan. Chunlin told her that the other shop had dropped to 60. This shopkeeper accepted the price and a sale was made. For the other weaving, Chunlin talked the price down from 1200 yuan to 250. We had to try to leave a few times. I helped by acting like I didn't care and just wanted to leave and go eat something. Long bargaining is tiring.

n74 - Qinglong Bridge

n80 - Chunlin on Back Lake Canal

We were indeed hungry at this point, so we went to a teahouse. Luckily we bought some snacks at a nearby pastry shop, because the teahouse prices were quite high. They let us eat the other food with their tea, though, so that was nice.

n83 - Out the Restaurant Window

And then we met back up with our pedicab driver, who took us back to the bus station. Ready for another long bus ride?

There was no need to turn on the bus's air-conditioning. It was raining outside and therefore couldn't possibly be hot on the bus...

More photos on flickr, of course.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Best Traffic Jam Ever

This weekend, we drove to southwest Washington for Highway 103. Yay! The three month hiatus is over.

We had a bit of a late start, since we didn't tell Christina she was going with us till Saturday morning. So when we hit traffic in Fife and Tacoma, I figured it was just normal Tacoma I-5 traffic.

But the slowdown slowed down south of Tacoma. Near the Highway 512 interchange, it got even worse, so we exited and stopped at Dairy Queen for lunch. Good but pricy food, but we knew that. I only chose Dairy Queen because it was to the right and everyone else was trying to turn left.

When we finished lunch and tried to get back on I-5 south, traffic was inching along. I think it took a full half hour to make our way down the on-ramp.

In that time, however, I spotted numerous people sitting in the McDonald's parking lot. Were they just watching the traffic jam, waiting for it to clear out before getting back in their cars? Nope.

Blackhawk helicopters roar overhead, troops dangling their feet out the side doors. An Apache helicopter circles the area. Some fighter jets do maneuvers in the distance, above McChord Air Force Base.

It was the annual air show.

While we still sat on the on-ramp, two giant airplanes appear on the horizon: C-5 Galaxys. Huge airplanes, seemingly moving very slowly through the air. A third one follows, lumbering toward us.

Low over the air field, a dozen paratroopers leap out. "Look! The plane is pooping people!" Their parachutes open instantly and gently they float down.

The trio of Galaxys circle the area, performing a couple more flybys. They bank hard, wings tilted at a 45-degree angle, and it's more impressive than anything the fighters can do.

Eventually we get on I-5 and merge into traffic. Once we pass the McChord exit, we resume speed and continue our trip. But that was certainly the best traffic jam ever. Great seats for the air show!


Front Yard Roses

We return from our weekend trip and are welcomed home by these roses. After two or three extra traffic-related hours of driving, they were quite nice to see.

Front Yard Rose

This year, they're Chunlin's roses. Last year, they were my roses. They bloom nice whoever is taking care of them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jiangsu, part 6: Going to Zhouzhuang

Instead of heading to the Shanghai World Expo for a second day, we decided to go to the nearby old canal town of Zhouzhuang.

On the bus, I noticed something amissed with the emergency escape hammer.
n8 - Someone Loved the Emergency Hammer Too Much
There was no hammer!

Good thing we didn't need it.

Our bus avoided the toll expressway and took the old roads. Save money, pay time.

Our bus had a sign-in sheet. The attendant (not the driver) had Chunlin write, "Mark the American foreigner" in Chinese for me. Ma ke Mei guo lao wai.

When we arrived at the crossing into Jiangsu province, the bus stopped for an ID check. Police took all the Chinese cards. Just keeping tabs on everyone, you know...

Through cities and fields. Powerlines everywhere, tall buildings on the horizon every which way. Quickly back into another city and out again. And a left turn finally with a sign for Zhouzhuang.


We bought our tickets for the return bus at 15:40, then hired a pedicab to take us through the new town to the ancient town.
n9 - Pedicab through Zhōuzhuāng

n11 - Chunlin and Mark in the Pedicab

100 yuan entrance fee for the historic section.

We walked for the bridge to the old town since our driver couldn't quite get us up the hill.
n13 - Yunhai Pagoda from Zhōuzhuāng Bridge

We arranged for the pedicab driver to be waiting for us and ventured into the old town.

n18 - Quangong Bridge Reflection

It instantly reminded me of Venice, but smaller and with fewer closed-up buildings. But that's probably something to do with the 100 yuan entrance fee.

n23 - South from the Double Bridge

Chunlin bought some ham hoof hocks.
n16 - Lunch!
She had a couple of them vacuum-sealed. We ended up giving them to her brothers in Beijing.

Zhouzhuang is a lovely town. Tourists are expected.

n27 - Crowd at the Double Bridge

n28 - Taiping Bridge Corner

Zhouzhuang is an old trading center on the network of canals all across that area, connecting to the Yangtze and the Grand Canal that carried goods north to Beijing. The Mongols put the capital in Beijing, but that region didn't have enough farmland to support the imperial bureaucracy. Therefore they buit the Grand Canal to the fertile fields of the south. And so the cities on the interconnected lakes and rivers prospered.

n24 - North Double Bridge Reflection

While we were there, Christina called. It was prom night back in Seattle.
n19 - Chunlin Takes a Call from Christina after the Prom
Christina wanted to stay with friends at a hotel until 4 a.m. We said no and had Christina's father pick her up at one o'clock. Staying out till 4? Trouble that way lies...

(More photos on flickr.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I'm tired.


We left the hotel shortly after 6 this morning to beat traffic and get breakfast before starting work in downtown Pittsburgh. Our hotel is in a suburb 1/2 hour out of town.

Tomorrow, I'm driving my three coworkers to the airport, leaving the hotel at 4 a.m. and then driving to Cleveland. I'll stop for breakfast somewhere between.

I think bedtime is coming soon.

Downtown Pittsburgh is pretty nice, actually, by the way.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Feast of Hívo

I hope you're having a joyous Feast of Hívo today. Drink up!

May He bring me swift travel tomorrow, for I'm going on a business trip to Pittsburgh.

Yay, Pittsburgh. Three days in Pittsburgh.

They like Hívo's beer there, don't they?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Jiangsu, part 5: Wangting

Sitting on a train. Sitting on a train sitting on the tracks. Sitting on a train sitting on the tracks sitting in a small town east of Wuxi.

Sitting in Wangting.

m1 - Wangting Station

Scheduled stop. Very long stop.

m3 - Mark on the Train - Ch

On the overnight train from Huangshan to Shanghai, our train stopped and waited in Wangting for our turn to get into the big city. Other (express) trains zipped by. Each time, I thought, "This is the train we were waiting for. Now it's our turn."

The other train would always disappear. We would always continue to sit.

m1 - Wangting Station

If we had thought to arrange a transfer in Changzhou, we could have arrived in Shanghai by then. Three hours of waiting, it must have been, all told.

m4 - Kekoukere

Breakfast was eaten. People roamed the train cars, getting hot water from the dispenser for their morning noodles, going to the toilet, etc. Quiet conversations.

Another train bounced us sideways.

Was it our turn?


m1 - Wangting Station

Chunlin's feet and legs were sore, so I took it as a blessing we weren't running around Shanghai already. Forced rest and relaxation.

m2 - Chunlin on the Train

Chunlin asked me, "Are you getting tired of this train?"

m1 - Wangting Station

I replied, "It'll probably be another hour before we mov--"

The train jolted forward, cutting me off.

Seriously. That's how it happened.

Look! The scenery is changing!