Friday, October 31, 2008

Some of The Beautiful Color and Details Inside The Forbidden City In Beijing, China on 7 August, 2008

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Another View Inside The Forbidden City In Beijing, China on 7 October,2008

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A Ferocious Animal Stands Guard In The Forbidden City In Beijing, China on 7 October,2008

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The First View Inside The Forbidden City in Beijing, China on 7 October,2008

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The Entrance To The Forbidden City Seen From Tian An Men Square in Beijing on 7 October,2008

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More Chinese Good Luck Symbols In Tian An Men Square In Beijing of 7 October, 2008

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A Huge Display of Chinese Good Luck Symbols At Tian An Men Square In Beijing, 7 October,2008

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Decision Day November 4,2008

John McCain is a decent man. He is a wonderful family man. He is a man of honor who never fell into the trap of giving earmarks or special appropriations to pet projects and special constituents. He has spent the last 50+ years serving his country. He has suffered hardships and privitations that most of us could not imagine. If I was back in the US Navy, I would be proud to have him as my commanding officer. If he showed up at the house, I would warmly invite him in and be delighted to have lunch or dinner with him.

It is a pity that he did not win the 2000 presidential election. Looking back in retrospect, he would have been just the man we needed to carry us through the 9-11 disaster. He would have kept a tight fist on the budget. We would not have the horrible financial problems we have now if he had been in charge. Most probably he would have never invaded Iraq. He would not have allowed right-wing extremist to hijack the US government. He would have made friends for the US all over the world.

George W. Bush stold his moment of glory and place in the history books. Senator John McCain is now a man from another time who missed his chance.

Barack Obama is the man who we need now to confront the crises and problems we face. In the worst case he could be another Jimmy Carter. He could be a man of lofty principles without the tough pragmatism and strength to put these principles into action. Or he might be the next Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man for all seasons, who saved the USA from a disaster during the Great Depression and carried the US through World War II and set the stage for the American Century.

My instincts tell me that Barack Obama is the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I voted for him. I know I took a big risk. I urge you to take the same risk on election day. Vote like your whole world depends on it. Vote for Barack Obama for president!!!!!

Another View Of Downtown Beijing, China From Our Hotel Room Window On The Morning Of 7 October, 2008

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Downtown Beijing, China Early In The Morning As Seen From Our Hotel Room, 7 October, 2008

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A Choir Of Small Chinese Children At The Forbidden City, Beijing, China 7 October,2008

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Our Dogs Eloisa And Copernicus

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Chicken Feet For Sale In An Airport-Guilin, China

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A Sign In The Guilin.China Airport With A Bad English Translation

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Tour Of A Middle Class House In The Charming Beijing Suburb.

Our great tour guide Sammy is seen in the left of the picture. This house costs $1 million US.
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A View Of The Charming Beijing Suburb While We We Taking Our Rickshaw Ride 7 Auguist,2008

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Me Standing Next To Our Rickshaw Driver In Beijing on 7 August,2008

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Elena And I In A Rickshaw Getting Ready For A Ride Through A Charming Beijing Suburb 7 August,2008

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A Soldier Of The People's Liberation Army On Duty In Tian An Men Square In Beijing 7 August, 2008

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Elena ANd I In Tian An Men Square in Beijing 7 August,2008

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Elena In Tian An Men Square in Beijing 7 August, 2008

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Me In Tian An Men Square in Beijing 7 August,2008

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Pacifica, California Democrats Issue Their Prediction On The Outcome Of THe 2008 Presidential Election

State Votes McCain Obama Alabama 9 9 Alaska 3 3 Arizona 10 10 Arkansas 6 6 California 55 55 Colorado 9 9 Connecticut 7 7 Delaware 3 3 D. C. 3 3 Florida 27 27 Georgia 15 15 Hawaii 4 4 Idaho 4 4 Illinois 21 21 Indiana 11 11 Iowa 7 7 Kansas 6 6 Kentucky 8 8 Louisiana 9 9 Maine 4 4 Maryland 10 10 Massachusetts 12 12 Michigan 17 17 Minnesota 10 10 Mississippi 6 6 Missouri 11 11 Montana 3 3 Nebraska 5 5 Nevada 5 5 New Hampshire 4 4 New Jersey 15 15 New Mexico 5 5 New York 31 31 North Carolina 15 15 North Dakota 3 3 Ohio 20 20 Oklahoma 7 7 Oregon 7 7 Pennsylvania 21 21 Rhode Island 4 4 South Carolina 8 8 South Dakota 3 3 Tennessee 11 11 Texas 34 34 Utah 5 5 Vermont 3 3 Virginia 13 13 Washington 11 11 West Virginia 5 5 Wisconsin 10 10 Wyoming 3 3 Total 538 185 353 34% 66% To Win: 270 McCain strong McCain maybe Battleground 89 Obama maybe Obama strong Jim's Guesses

Lee Iacocca Writes

Remember Lee Iacocca, the VP at Ford credited with the birth of the Mustang, the man who rescued Chrysler Corporation from their death throws, and the owner of the famous quote 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way'?  Well, he's back!  He has a new book, and here are some excerpts.
Lee Iacocca writes:
'Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening?  Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder.  We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course'.
Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned 'Titanic', I'll give you a sound bite: 'Throw all the bums out!'
You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore.
The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving 'pom-poms' instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of the 'America' my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?
I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready for and willing to have.
The Biggest 'C' is Crisis          !
Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is forged in times of crisis.  It's easy to sit there with your feet up on the desk and talk theory. Or send someone else's kids off to war when you've never seen a battlefield yourself.  It's another thing to lead when your world comes tumbling down.  George Bush, Dick Chaney and who is this Bozo coming up next?  One of the most Liberal Idiots in the U.S. Senate and he is talking about disarming America.  I can't believe the American people are not seeing what he is about to do to this country.  May God have mercy on us all.
On September 11, 2001, we needed a strong leader more than any other time in our history. We needed a steady hand to guide us out of the ashes. A Hell of a Mess. So here's where we stand. We're immersed in a bloody war with no plan for winning and no plan for leaving. We're running the biggest deficit in the history of the country. We're losing the manufacturing edge to Asia , while our once-great Companies are all moving offshore.  We're getting slaughtered by health care costs. Gas prices are skyrocketing,and nobody in power has a coherent energy policy.  Our schools are the worst in the world. Our borders are like sieves. The middle class is being squeezed every which way. These are times that cry out for leadership and we are getting ready to put the most Liberal Senator in the U.S. Senate in as our next President because we want to be fair and  elect someone just because of his race.  We don't have time to be fair, we need a strong leader.
But when you look around, you've got to ask:  'Where have all the leaders gone?' Where are the curious, creative communicators? Where are the people of character, courage, conviction, omnipotence, and common sense? I may be a sucker for alliteration, but I hope you get the point.
Name me a leader who has a better idea for homeland security than making us take off our shoes in airports and throw away our shampoo? We've spent billions of dollars building a huge new bureaucracy, and all we know how to do is react to things that have already happened.
Name me one leader who emerged from the crisis of Hurricane Katrina. Congress has yet to spend a single day evaluating the response to the hurricane, or demanding accountability for the decisions that were made in the crucial hours after the storm. Everyone's hunkering down, fingers crossed, hoping it doesn't happen again. Well guess what people?  We are having more floods right now.  What are we doing to help these people out?  Now, that's just crazy.
Storms happen. Deal with it. Make a plan. Figure out what you're going  to do the next time.  Why are we allowing people to build in flood plains anyway?  If you build in a flood area, expect to be flooded and deal with it.  Don't expect the Government to bail you out.
Name me an industry leader who is thinking creatively about how we can restore our competitive edge in manufacturing.  All they seem to be thinking now-days is getting themselves bigger salaries and
bonuses.   Who would have believed that there could ever be a time when 'The Big Three' referred to Japanese car companies? How did this happen, and more important, what are we going to do about it?  Likely nothing!
Name me a government leader who can articulate a plan for paying down the debt, or solving the energy crisis, or managing the health care problem. The silence is deafening. But these are the crises that are eating away at our country and milking the middle class dry.
I have news for the gang in Congress and the Senate. We didn't elect you to sit on your asses and do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness is being replaced with mediocrity. What is everybody so afraid of? That  some bonehead on Fox News will call them a name? Give me a break. Why don't you guys show some spine for a change?  I honestly  don't think any of you have one!
Had Enough?
Hey, I'm not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom here. I'm trying to light a fire. I'm speaking out because I have hope; I believe in America ....  In my lifetime I've had the privilege of living through some of America's greatest moments. I've also experienced some of our worst crises: the 'Great Depression', 'World War II', the 'Korean War', the 'Kennedy Assassination',  the 'Vietnam War', the 1970's oil crisis, and the struggles of recent years culminating with 9/11. If I've learned one thing, it's this:
'You don't get anywhere by standing on the sidelines waiting for somebody else to take action. Whether it's building a better car or building a better future for our children, we all have a role to play. So let's shake off the crap and go to work. Let's tell 'em all we've had 'enough.'
Make a 'real contribution' by sending this to everyone you know and care about......our future is at stake!


THe Other View Of Eric Nenno

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eric Nenno and Texas Clemency

Even in Texas the death penalty is supposed to be reserved for the worst of the worst.

One of the unique aspects of Texas criminal law is a reliance on predictions of future behavior in determining whether or not a person is sentenced to death.  In order for any person to receive a death sentence, all 12 jurors must agree that the individual will represent a continuing threat; a future danger.  Some have likened it to a ticking time bomb, bound to explode.

That charge to the jury, “whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society,” is written into the Texas Criminal Code.

Keep in mind that means being a continuing threat in a prison setting, one of the most secure, locked down environments on the planet.  It means being a danger to cause harm not to the general public, but to other inmates, prison employees and guards.

Eric Nenno assaulted and killed a child in 1995.  When he was convicted in Harris County in 1996, all 12 jurors voted that he would be a future danger, and Nenno was sentenced to death.  He faces a scheduled execution tonight in Huntsville.

But what if that prediction was wrong?

During his pre-trial incarceration in the Harris County jail, Nenno was not deemed to be a danger, and was assigned to tasks assisting guards and others. 

In the 160 months that Eric Nenno has been on Texas death row he has not received a single disciplinary infraction.  He has not been a continuing threat to other inmates or guards.  He has expressed deep remorse for the crime he committed and the void that it has left in the family of his victim.  On death row, Eric Nenno has worked to help others and to resolve conflicts.  He has been respectful to other inmates and his guards. 

Eric Nenno has shown by his actions over the past 12 years that he has not been a continuing threat to those around him.  How does our state’s criminal justice system take that fact into account?

The courts have no judicial remedy for a prediction that turned out to be wrong.  Nor does the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have an administrative process to remove an inmate from death row by virtue of his conduct.  Eric Nenno’s only option was executive clemency.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is the one body with the authority to recommend a commutation of a death sentence to life in prison.  Governor Rick Perry must then approve such a recommendation.

Executive clemency in Texas has been criticized by many criminal justice watchers as failing to live up to its historic responsibility as a failsafe.  The facts of Eric Nenno’s case called out for serious review by the Board.  He has proven on a daily basis over the past 160 months that he has not been a continuing threat.  He has demonstrated that he is not the worst of the worst.  But the Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected Nenno's clemency petition, as noted in this earlier post.

The prediction answered in 1996 got it wrong.  It seems that the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was not interested in revisiting the question or how to set it right.

This reliance on predictions of future behavior was the subject of Texas Defender Service's, "Deadly Speculation: Misleading Texas Capital Juries with False Predictions of Future Dangerousness."  It was published in 2004.

In 2005, Texas Appleseed and the Texas Innocence Network published, "The Role of Mercy: Safegaurding Texas Justice Through Clemency Reform," which examined best practices in executive clemency.


Child Killer Executed!

Killer of 7-year-old girl executed in Texas

By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press

Oct. 29, 2008, 1:00AM

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Condemned killer Eric Nenno was the last person 7-year-old Nicole Benton saw when she was abducted, strangled and raped more than 13 years ago.

Her father was among the last people Nenno could have seen Tuesday night when the Texas inmate was executed for killing her and hiding her body in the attic of his home.

Nenno, however, refused to look at Buddy Benton, who stood close to the death chamber window that separated him from his daughter's killer. Nenno also ignored the child's uncle, Donald Benton, and the girl's grandfather, C.J. Bowles, who walked up to the glass to see Nenno, then turned around and stood at the back of the witness area.

Nenno declined to make a final statement from the death chamber gurney.

"No, warden," was his only response when asked by the warden if he had anything to say.

Eight minutes later, he was pronounced dead.

Nenno, a former plumbing supply salesman who lived in the Bentons' neighborhood in Hockley, about 35 miles northwest of Houston, had lured the girl into his home by telling her he needed to get his guitar so he could join a birthday celebration for her father, who played in a band. But once inside, he attacked her, strangled her to keep her quiet, then raped her at least twice after she was dead.

He confessed two days after her disappearance, then led officers to her body.

Nenno became the 13th Texas inmate executed this year and the fourth this month in the nation's most active death penalty state. Another execution is scheduled for Thursday.

Nenno's appeals were exhausted and there were no last-day court actions.

"During the years that I have been imprisoned, I have often thought about the devastating grief and pain I caused Nicole Benton, her family, and her friends," Nenno wrote in a clemency petition that was rejected unanimously by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. "There is no excuse nor rationale which would be sufficient to justify this heinous act of violence perpetrated by me."

"He's had a long time on death row," Joan Huffman, the Harris County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Nenno at his 1996 trial, said. "It is frustrating. Eric Nenno had a fair trial and it had been upheld by the highest courts. Beyond any doubt he was guilty of committing one of the most horrendous crimes I'd ever seen.

"I believe we must save the death penalty for those extreme cases and we make sure every constitutional right is upheld and a fair trial is held. But once done, we need punishment. Thirteen years seems like a long time."

In a recent interview from death row, Nenno said he was prepared to die.

"My salvation is secure," he told The Associated Press. "I know where I'm going when this is all over."

Asked where that would be, he replied: "Heaven."

Nenno, born in Olean, N.Y., went to high school in nearby Smethport, Pa., then joined the Navy, where his attorneys said he was exposed to toxic chemicals during a four-year duty tour that left him brain damaged.

Nenno, however, said nothing could excuse his crime.

"I can't apologize enough," he said.

Police investigating the girl's disappearance in March 1995 knocked on his door and when his nervousness attracted their attention, deputies had him accompany them to a command post.

Under questioning, Nenno said he thought she had been abducted, raped and murdered. Asked what kind of person he thought might do such a thing, he replied: "Someone like me."

"I was not cognizant I had committed the crime," he said from death row. "I had blacked out the memory."

He took a polygraph and underwent additional questioning.

"Things kind of fell apart," recalled Anthony Osso, Nenno's trial lawyer.

"I think she's still in the attic," Nenno told detectives, then showed them.

"For the most part, when you confess to elements of an offense, you make it much easier for the state," Osso said. "His statement led them to the body. He himself took them to it."

Nenno told authorities he'd been having sexual fantasies involving young girls for most of his adult life. From death row, Nenno said he was addicted to pornography and had been drinking the day of the slaying.

Huffman said she remembered questioning a medical examiner at Nenno's trial about the girl's fatal injuries.

"That had to be one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," she said. "The family, they were right in back of me on the front row. I could hear them quietly crying. Some of the jurors were crying. It was heart-wrenching."

The girl's relatives declined to speak with reporters following the execution.

On Thursday, Gregory Wright, 42, was set to follow Nenno to the death chamber. Wright was a homeless man convicted of taking part in the fatal stabbing of Donna Duncan Vick, a sympathetic Dallas County woman who had given him food, shelter and money. Another six Texas prisoners have execution dates for November.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Our China Travel Log

Domingo el 5 de octubre, 2008:
It was a grueling day of indignities. I got sweaty and hot in the San Francisco airport. We had to walk a long distance and go downstairs to get to the gate for lift off. We waited for over a half hour to board the C-P flight. It was hard seats and a room full of sad and tired people. We boarded a new 747 for the flight. It was packed. Elena and I were squeezed between a nervous and neurotic black man on one side and a sick old lady on the other side. It was 14 hours of indignity and hell. I dropped my leather computer case on the floor and could not even reach down to pick it up. Shit!!!!! They brought food and it was acceptable. We hit turbulence at a few points. It was 14 hours of hell. It turned out that the man next to me practices law in Oakland and also works Vietnam. He is married to a Vietnamese. He got a PH.D at Harvard and a JD at Hastings Law School. I introduced him to Tom Miller. He is a charming man but probably a bull shitter.
Lunes segunda fereira el 6 de octubre, 2008:
We got off the plane in Hong Kong. We had a giant hassle finding the connecting airline. I had to go through three desks to get the right airline. We got our boarding passes and went through security. We made our way to the China Air flight going to Beijing. It was a nice place with comfortable seats. The three hour flight was pleasant and passed quickly. When we approached Beijing it was a sunny day. We looked down and saw a modern and prosperous city that could match any in the US and Europe. It was beyond our wildest expectations. We landed and were amazed at the huge size of the modern airport that had been built for the Olympics. We got on a train and rode quite a distance to get to passport control and baggage claim. We went through passport control without problems. We had a little hassle finding our baggage. I changed $400.00 US and got through customs. As we entered the main airport, we were met by a man named Jack who was our guide for Beijing. He was a tall and slender man in his early 30’s. He took us out to the cab area and got us a ride to the hotel. We began the ride to downtown. It looked so modern and prosperous with new cars and new buildings everywhere. We got a very positive impression that stayed with us. Our eyes filled with all of the buildings and prosperity. The bright and sunny day also helped. Our cab took us to the Huandao Boya Hotel in the Haidian District of Beijing. It was tall and could best be characterized as a 4-star hotel. We were met inside the hotel by a lady named Sammy. She was to be our guide for the entire trip. She took our passports for the copying. She got us checked in. We then went up to room 1113 with our bags. We tipped the bellman and thanked him. We got things set up and had a shower. Elena complained about a lot of things in the room. We were too disorientated to sleep after seventeen hours in the air. We decided to do some independent exploring. We went down to the lobby of the hotel. We went out into the street. The weather was sunny and cool. We walked around and saw an area full of shops including small grocery stores and tobacco shops. We saw new cars all over the place and people riding bikes. Traffic moved slow but was also chaotic. We had to be very careful at intersections. We studied the people carefully. All were slender and looked healthy. We bought some drinks. We eventually made our way back to the hotel and crashed for eight straight hours.
Martes tercera fereira el 7 de octubre, 2008:
We got up during the night. We could not get the power to work correctly in the room. We later found that it was energy saving and one had to insert the room key into the slot to activate all of the lights. We were improvising all sorts of ways to get power. We made love and could not go back to bed. I went downstairs and explored the hotel. Even during the night it had many fascinating things including a huge health club. There was a Japanese restaurant and all sorts of other features. It was cold outside. I went up and got a bell man to fix the power. Elena and I went down for an early breakfast. It was a buffet that included a lot of Chinese and American foods including a chef cooking eggs. We had a nice breakfast and went back upstairs to the room. I watched Bloomberg and saw gold go up smoothly. We could not get CNN. We went down and met Jack and Sammy just before eight. We got to meet some of our fellow tour members. There was a criminal lawyer named Barry and his wife Laurie. There was Dennis Chase and his wife Laurie. Both couples were from Orange County. We met Norm and his wife from Toronto. We met Haim and Sarah. We met Steve and his wife from the East Coast. There was a couple from Ecuador and a family from San Jose, Costa Rica. We were taken to a very modern bus. We loaded up and began the ride to Tian An Men Square. We drove through Beijing during rush hour traffic. We got reports on the various buildings and the 8,000+ year history of Beijing. It was once controlled by the Mongols. It has 128 museums and has the nickname of “The City of Museums.” The weather was bright and sunny. We came to an area where all of the buses for the square had to park. As we got out, I activated my Find Me Spot to tell people where we were. Elena got email confirmations so it worked.
Jack carried a red flag so that we could all follow him. This proved to be the standard for the whole tour. It was an awesome moment for me to be there. It covered so much Chinese history including the 1989 uprising when Chinese tanks fired on dissidents. It was also much bigger than what I had imagined. I felt Mao there. The People’s Liberation Army was all around. The square was dominated by a building with a huge picture of Chairman Mao. Elena was fascinated and in awe. She was at a seat of Communism. She did not know how to cope with it all. We explored the whole area. We took many pictures and videos. It was one of those rare and special moments in life. We took a tour group picture.
We then walked across a bridge leading to the building with the huge picture of Chairman Mao. We were not allowed to take pictures there. I felt him all around. I felt his strength and his wisdom. We walked though a passage way and found ourselves in the Forbidden City. This had been the home of the emperors for hundreds of years. It was grand beyond expectation. Even Bill Gates or Carlos Slim could not build such a fabulous structure now. It is amazing that the whole thing was done without all the modern machines and technology we have to work with today. It was humbling. It was built 500-800 years ago and even had under floor heating. There was a separate area for the empress and all of the concubines. We toured for three hours. We made it back to the bus exhausted. We headed for lunch at a restaurant near the site. We sat at tables with a round rolling area in the middle. It was dim sung and various food items were put on the table. One could have Pepsi Cola, Chinese beer or tea with the food. I was skeptical of many things on the tray. I ate carefully. Elena and the rest of the people were more adventurous. After we finished the meal, we were taken to Hutong and the old district of Beijing. We thought that it would be routine and boring. It turned out to be a fascinating experience. We parked on the outskirts of the area. We were taken to an area with rickshaw drivers. Each couple was assigned a rickshaw and a rickshaw driver. We were amazed that such small men were able to haul such large weights for so long. We were taken by our driver for about twenty minutes. We then dismounted and began a walking tour through a residential neighborhood. We got a tour of a typical residential house in the area. It was humble. (We later found out from Jack that it would cost $1 million to purchase.) The area reminded me of Zona 6 in Guatemala but cleaner and more prosperous. After touring the house, we made our way to an area by a lake. We got back into the rickshaws. We began a fascinating tour down an area full of interesting bars and restaurants. We saw luxury cars and bicycles side by side. It was an area we could have spent more time in. What an experience!!!
Our next stop was the summer palace built by one of the empresses. It was on Lake Kunming. It was grand like the Forbidden City. There was a huge structure high on the hill we were not allowed to tour. We saw sites like the Marble Boat of many legends. This is conspicuous consumption at its utmost. It sits on some of the most valuable land on earth. It got cool in the afternoon. We went back to the bus. We made our way to a foot massage complex 30 minutes away. It was three stories tall and looked impressive. We sat through a pitch where I fell asleep. We all got a foot massage afterwards. That was pleasing. I felt relaxed briefly. Then all of the pain returned from the 8 miles of hiking. We went from the foot clinic to a restaurant in a prosperous part of town. It seemed to honor Dong Ching Pao. The food was acceptable but not great. We came back to the hotel afterwards completely exhausted. I turned on the Bloomberg network and saw that the government in the US is now buying up commercial paper. Elena and I were exhausted but amazed at what we had seen. I never dreamed that I would see this with my own eyes!!
Miercoles quarta fereira el 8 de octubre, 2008

It was another magical day in Beijing. We awoke not refreshed. Elena was in a strange mood. We went down early again and had the excellent buffet breakfast. It started the day right. We went upstairs after eating. We then came down and met everyone for the second day of the tour. I got in a talk with Dennis Chase. He is from Newport Beach and served in the US Army from 1967 to 1969 at a finance center in Indianapolis. He never saw battle. His dad was a radio operator, gunner on a B-17. We talked about World War II and politics. We hit it off. Dennis talked about his former dentist, Louis Papdapoulis, who had a mass production dental clinic where three patients died under anesthesia. He has spent 27 years in Folsom Prison and still cannot make parole. He got convicted of three counts of second degree murder. Dennis introduced me to his wife Laurie and his best friend Barry, whom he introduced as a criminal lawyer specializing in DUI’s. Barry was older with a huge belly. He was a big drinker. He told me how he feared the criminal justice system. I also talked to Haim and Sarah from Irvine and the Canadians.
We got on the bus. We rode through the Northern part of Beijing on the way to the great wall. We were amazed at all of the new apartment buildings going up. We heard stories about all of the destruction during the Cultural Revolution. We also got a big briefing on jade and the part that it plays in Chinese society. Women use jade bracelets on their left wrists as wedding rings. This jade is often passed down from generation to generation. Some jade becomes so expensive that it is traded for an apartment. We also heard about all of the jade and family heirlooms destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Our first stop was a government jade factory. It looked drab from the outside but was amazing on the inside. We saw jade being made. We saw some incredible exhibits. We also went through a retail complex that was huge and full of fascinating things. Elena got a small jade pendant. I got the Chinese characters for my name Jack. We wished that we had the money to buy more!!
After the factory tour we got in the bus and headed for the Great Wall. Jack briefed us as we went up an expressway into the countryside. The wall is 6000 kilometers long (3,850 miles) It took centuries to build under three different dynasties. It was designed to keep people like the Mongols out. The section around Beijing used smoke signals to warn the emperor when enemies were attacking. As we approached to wall we began to understand the impressiveness of this engineering project. We parked the bus and looked at the wall. It covers the contour of the hills and is always 1-2 stories tall everywhere. How could people without machines and advanced technology build such a masterpiece of engineering. We have nothing like it in the West. It would be too expensive to build today. Elena and I got out of the bus and made it to the steps where the climb up the wall began. I made it up to the first tower with a great struggle. Elena made it up to tower 5. I marveled at the construction. I was amazed that the soldiers had to climb as well as run up and down the wall to respond to threats. They must have been fit and tough men. I looked out over the countryside. I took many pictures and videos. It was such an awesome moment to be here. I was covered with sweat and my lungs had given out. The cold wind howled. Every day I gain more respect for these amazing people.
Elena came down to my level at close to noon. Our legs were sore and got worse as we began the climb down. Our calves got sore and stayed that way for days. All of the stairs are uneven and that made the climbing worse. We went to a shop and bought T-shirts. We then went to a café. Elena had a coffee and I had a coke.
We went back to the bus exhausted. Jack told us that he brings visitors to the wall in the dead of winter when the snow is all over the ground. All tourists assembled and we went to our next stop. It was a government handicraft factory and restaurant. It looked like a fortress from the outside. We first toured the factory where they make metal vases. This kind of pottery does not break. Wed admired the skilled craftsmen who made it. We walked through a retail complex and went to lunch. It was acceptable but the same dim sung offerings. We had an acceptable lunch. Elena and I then went into the retail area. She found a vase that she loved. It was more or less $200 US. We bought it. We walked around and looked at the many handicrafts on offer.
We were sad when we had to leave. Our bus wound its way back into Beijing. It was a sunny and cool day. We passed the Olympic Village and the Bird Cage. We were not allowed to go in. But we were able to take a lot of pictures. It was surrounded by all sorts of new buildings. These people accomplish such incredible things!! We wound our way toward downtown. I took a lot of videos and Elena took still pictures. We stopped in a market area and were taken to a medical clinic for more briefings on traditional Chinese medicine. Elena walked out. We went to a classy shopping are and marveled at how modern Beijing was. We wished that we could spend hours exploring the city on our own. We returned to the tour around four. I told Jack and Sammy how impressed that Laurie Garver(Barack Obama’s advisor on outer space matters) and Walt Cunningham( John McCain’s advisor on outer space matters) had been with the opening of the Olympics. It was not expected and may not be equaled for a long time to come. Our guides Jack and Sammy were touched. I sensed that Chinese people are desperately seeking acceptance.
Our next stop was the Temple of Heaven. It was built in the 1400’s. It is a huge complex for the emperor to worship. It is in the middle of a huge park and a beautiful venue. It had several large yards full of buildings.
After finishing this tour, we walked back to the bus at dusk. We went to another restaurant for the Peking Duck feast. We arrived and were taken to the lower level. I declined to eat the duck due to my time in the park with the ducks while I was at Telewave. Elena ate the duck with disastrous results.
After dinner we got into the bus and went to a theater complex. It looked like a strip tease joint. I made that comment to our guide Jack. I thought that it would be another amateur effort. It turned out to be a professional and entertaining Kung Fu show. It had the quality of a Broadway play. We came back to the hotel exhausted after the long day. We went right to bed.
Jueves quinta fereira el 9 de octubre, 2008 Hell Day!!!!!!
We played around in the bed during the morning. Rocket fuel did not help. We had an early breakfast. We went back to the room and did the pack out. We went back downstairs after nine. We got a computer in the business center. We checked our emails. Much to our relief, we found two emails about Copernicus. Both were positive and all is well at home. I also saw that I was making a large profit with gold and that felt good!!! We went back upstairs. Elena became very sick with nausea and stomach problems.
We checked out of the room and assembled in the parking area. We had to reorganize our luggage to get it into the bus. Elena became deathly ill and I was worried about her. We made the drive out to the Beijing airport. We had to catch a flight to Yiching. Elena excused herself when we arrived. I had to concentrate on the airline check in and also worry about Elena. She disappeared for a long time. She appeared right before we were to go through security. She lay down for a while to help with her illness. She still felt awful. We made our way through security. I found a café and got Elena a Sprite. We then went to the gate for the flight departure. The airplane left a little late. We got on the flight and we blasted up to an altitude greater than 40,000 feet. We were in clouds and overcast all the way. It was scary flying with turbulence thrown in. We landed in a rain storm at Yiching. We got our bags. Elena was in great discomfort. She asked to be taken to the boat immediately. I urged her to go on the bus with us to the restaurant. She agreed. We began the ride through Yiching. Parts of it were poor and backwards. Other parts had modern buildings and “Mac Mansions.” It ran parallel to the Yangtze River. It was cold and rainy. We found out that the city had been a Communist Party center in decades past. The local people speak their own dialect. Yiching was a center in the construction of the Three Gorges dam project. Over 150,000 workers came in from all over China to build the dam. They spoke Mandarin and were not understood by the local people. Their children now speak the local dialect. When we arrived at the restaurant, everyone got seated except Elena, Sammy and I. Elena first wanted to take a cab out to the boat. I agreed with that at first. Then my instincts kicked in and told me it was not the right way. I got the bus driver and got Elena back to the bus. She lay down in the back of the bus and rested. I ate an awful meal. We all assembled in the bus and Elena was beside me. We began a long and tedious ride through wet streets and dark night roads. Elena would have had an awful time getting there by taxi. It was a circuitous road to the boat. We saw the back bone of the urban Chinese economy—small stalls with small businesses. We got onto a small road that was the final way to the boats. We got off loaded. We had to board one boat in order to get to our boat. It felt like being on the USS Haynesworth again. It even smelled like the USS Haynesworth. I had to drag luggage up three levels. We were kept in a waiting room almost an hour while Elena was sick. We got our room assignments and went to our state rooms. They were better than I had imagined. We set up our things. Elena took her medicine and began a long bed rest. Iw as exhausted and went to bed before nine.
Viernes sexta fereira el 10 de octubre, 2008:
We got up before six. I had a shower. I went up on the deck. It felt so good to be back on the water!!!! It was overcast and foggy along the river. It was also cold. I had my heavy jacket on. I saw old settlements and a town where Chaing Kai Chek’s forces had beaten back the Japanese in World War II. I went to the coffee bar at the front of the deck. I ordered a rock coffee. It was prepared lovingly in a glass vessel. It tasted wonderful! The bill for it was unforgettable-$7.00 US. I went back to the state room. I got Elena up and prepared her for breakfast. We went downstairs to the dining room. It was a buffet-style breakfast. I had scrambled eggs. Elena had a light breakfast. We assembled at 8:15 Am on the lower deck. We walked off our boat onto another boat. We then went ashore. We were accosted by local vendors. We made our way to a tour bus. The weather was rainy and overcast. We caught an excellent tour guide. We learned that Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydroelectric project in the world. It has 26 huge turbines turning out electricity. When it was designed, it was supposed to generate 10% of China electricity. At completion the country has grown so much that it now generates only 3% of China’s electricity requirements. Dirty coal generates most of the rest of the electricity. Over one million people had to be relocated when the water level was changed. 900,000 of these people were relocated to higher ground. They were given better housing complete with electricity, running water, TV’s, etc. It was a quantum leap in their living standards. Another 100,000 plus people had to be sent to other provinces. Several locks were also built that make river commerce easier. The whole project was controversial all over the world. We saw the positive side of the project that is not often seen in the West. We had to pass through security before we were allowed to go to the damn site. All of our carry items were put through an X-ray machine and we were searched. I am sure they fear a terrorist attack. If the dam was sabotaged and the wall breached, over 500,000 people would die almost instantly. China has problems with its Muslim population and foreign terrorists. After passing through security, we made our way to the damn area. The heave clouds, fog and rain blocked out view of most of the project. We toured a commercial area and took pictures as best we could. I ran into a lady from Pacific Palisades, California. Her son had graduated from Tulane in 1997. We got back into the bus to return to the boat. I bought a flute from a street vendor. It reminded me of the book from many years ago about Peruvian Indians playing flutes on the streets of Lima to get small sums of money. It was called Tres Indios. We got back on the boat. Elena went to sleep. I made my way to the Bloody Mary party at one of the bars on the boat. I had a couple of rounds and spoke German with some German tourists. I also watched the boat slowly rise as it went through the locks on our journey north up the river. I had a light luncheon buffet without much meat. I spent time up on the deck in the rain. Elena slept most of the day to recover from her illness. Asia is getting inside me. I love it! I went back to the room and checked on Elena. I lay down with her and rested. Her all day sleep improved her health. We went down to dinner together. It was so so. I then went to work in the business center on the internet. I had hell getting the Wells Fargo website to open. I got Gmail open. Sarah sent an email saying that she wanted to adopt the dogs. I got Wells Fargo to open and paychecks had not been deposited. I checked with WAMU and the check had not hit there. I also checked the Johannesburg account. Gold had exploded and I am almost profitable with gold hitting almost R300,000. My gold shares are up 16%!!! My strategy is working! It was a good night.
I went up on the deck and relaxed. I looked at the city (Wushan) where we had stopped. I admired the new suspension/pre stressed concrete bridge crossing the river. Elena and I went to sleep on the small bed in the cabin. She complained that it was too hard.
Special note: I met a man named Jay in the morning. He was not part of the tour. He told us that he had lived in Botswana at one point in his life and now lives in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. It made me stand at attention. It has grown to 80,000 people and is now a weekend hangout for the rich in Mexico City. Houses are $300,000 to $1,000.000 now. He knew the US consul Phil Mahr. He told me that the man had passed away in 2006. He did not know Betse Streng. It brought back a flood of memories. I could not believe that 20 years had passed since I had been there!!!!! I thought about Walter Carr, the eccentric who travelled all over Central America and Mexico. I thought about Rolle Phipps (died in 19994) and all of the other characters over at the VFW hall. I remembered the room I used to rent and all of the pleasant time I had passed there. I thought about dear Clyde Tewes. Jay mentioned that he had flown from Mexico City to Tijuana and caught an Aero Mexico flight to Shanghai. He mentioned that he and his wife had lived in the Washington DC area before coming to Mexico. He was secretive about his life otherwise. Elena would move to San Miguel today if we had the money.
Sabado el 11 de octubre, 2008:
We got up early. We talked and watched TV. We went down and had breakfast. I had a big plate of scrambled eggs. It was great!!! We went back to our state room to rest briefly. We were told to assemble on the lower deck. When we arrived, we got our badges and were sent to a medium-sized tourist vessel. We began a trip away from the cruise ship up the Yangtze River. It was cold and overcast. I started to rain. It was a strange and exotic experience. We saw parts of the river that will be covered in water next year. We saw hanging coffins from thousands of years ago. We saw pathetically poor people. We kept taking movies and still pictures. It was like something that we had not seen before. This is what travel is all about. We passed through Wu Gorge and Qutang Gorge. We came to a spot in the river where it narrows. We got off the medium-sized vessel and went to a floating barge full of souvenir shops. On the other side of the barge, sampans were parked. We transferred to a sampan for a trip up a shallow river tributary called the Shennong stream. I thought they had small outboard motors, When we carefully got on and sat down, we found four farmers doing rowing with another farmer giving commands. We all had to don life jackets. I had hassles with mine. We had a local woman who knew the dialect and turned out to be a good singer. She called herself Coco. Elena liked her so much that she bought a CD of her songs. I sat next to our main guide Sammy. We began our journey up the river. I saw the poor and sad life most of the people in China still live. I also saw some exotic scenery one would never see in the US. It reminded me of Vietnam. I told Sammy stories about boarding Chinese junks and cruising around Hainan Island. I thought of the 1967 Steve McQueen movie, The Sand Pebbles. It had locales like this one. I told Sammy about that movie. She had never heard of it. We heard about goats and monkeys in the hills. We also heard stories that Yetis were in the area. They claimed that many scientist had come to investigate claims. We sang local songs with our crew. It was an adventure. We were sad when we got back to the barge. I looked for a real Chairman Mao Red Book and could not find it. We went back to Boat 6. I sat next to Dennis Chase. We had a lively conversation about World War II. He told me that he was from Chicago. His first marriage had failed. The kids stayed in Chicago and now gave him grand kids. His dad is 84 years old and still alive. He is active in the 8th Air Force Association. I recommended David Chapman to him as an investment advisor. I later gave him my card with David’s details on the back. We got back to the main cruise ship, The President 2. We went back to our room. After a short rest we got called down for lunch. It was Spanish rice and other good dishes. We ate with Norm and his wife, the Canadians. They sang praises of the Canadian health care system that has universal coverage. They were fascinated with how Elena and I had met. They were interested in Elon Musk and the Mars Society. They were sure that McCain was going to become president.
We went back to our room. The lock failed and the door would not open. It took almost an hour to fix it. Elena got frustrated with the wait. She is very impatient and easily bored.
We got back into the room. We then went upstairs to the deck and watched an amazing panorama unfold. The river was full of barges with containers bound for Shanghai. We saw hydrofoils. We saw small sampans. We saw ships loading up coal for transportation to other parts of China. We heard about river alligators that are going extinct and large trout. We saw farmers living on the hillsides who only made 1,500 yuan ($200 US) per year and had no running water or electricity. We also saw a new city of 550,000 people that had been recently constructed. I saw new buildings and a church spire. I was impressed. I only regretted that it was overcast and could not make out more details.
As we continued up river, Elena went back to the cabin to rest some more. I struck up a conversation with Debbie who was the wife of Jay and lived with him in San Miguel de Allende. She was more open and forth coming than her husband. She said that Jay was in “educational policy.” I suspect that he actually worked for somebody like the National Security Agency, CIA, etc. Debbie told me that she worked in call centers and I believed. She went into a lot of details about San Miguel de Allende and made me really miss the town. We talked about the VFW hall and Sunday poetry reading. She told me that a Costco and Wall Mart were nearby. She reaffirmed what Jay had told me that the medical care was excellent. She talked about the life there and indicated that their house had cost around $300,000 US. She told me about all of her adventures moving from Maryland to Mexico. She also told me that kidnappers and drug dealers stayed away from there. She left and I continued to watch the view along the river. I finally went down to the room and rested. Elena and I went to dinner. We had some lively political discussions with all the Spanish speaking people at our table. It centered on President Correa attempting to grab absolute power in Ecuador. Afterwards I got extra blankets for her to make the bed softer. We made love once and went to bed.
Domingo el 12 de octubre, 2008 Columbus Day!
Ralph Wallace, Riley Williams and Bill Baldwin are dead I am the sole survivor of the group of four high school friends. It made me think hard. I slept well and awoke before 6:00 AM. Elena and I made delightful love with me elevated on my hands and powerful. I felt like I was 18 years old again. We got up afterwards. We went to breakfast. I had eggs and under cooked baked beans. It was an outstanding breakfast. I read more of the book Davisidero afterwards. It is shit!!! Why do great writers only turn out one good book? I washed some underwear.
We got called down to the lower deck. We all assembled to go and see the Temple of Heaven. We were docked near the city of Fengdu (“The Ghost City”) that was on the other side of the river. We were headed for Shilbaozhai which boasts a 400 year old twelve story pagoda. We got off the boat and were mobbed by vendors of various products. I even saw a book with nude Chinese women in it. I was tempted to buy it for Khossrow but Elena objected. We walked through a market area. Once we passed the market area we began a climb up more than 400 stairs to the summit. It was rigorous. We had two or three stopping points where we could rest. I got into a long conversation with the criminal defense attorney Barry. He, like me, is a big supporter of the innocence project. He talked in general terms about his cases. What a fascinating guy!!! I also heard that a big part of the temple had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and had to be rebuilt later. We made it to the summit and took a lot of incredible pictures and videos. We then began the long walk back down. Elena and I were exhausted by the time we reached ground level. I bought some cokes. Dennis Chase found some vodka. We went back to the cruise ship and waited until lunch. We had some meat dishes. Elena and I went back to the room and watched TV. A lot of details on the OJ Simpson case were there. I got bored and went upstairs to watch the views along the river. I saw a lot more interesting views. Elena stayed in the room and rested. I got in a conversation on the deck with a crew member named Tiger Lei. He was doing a 90-day internship there. He was from a poor farming family. He was the first family member to go to college, Tour guide is an honored profession in China. He told me about his life and expectations. He surprised me when he told me that he had to pay tuition for college. It was nothing like tuition in the US but I thought that school would be free. He liked Americans. He had hope for the future. I saw many positive and hopeful things in him. We took pictures together and exchanged contact information. Elena came up and met him. We went back to the room and rested. We then got ready for the captain’s dinner. It was our farewell dinner. The captain showed up in full dress white uniform. Sarah won a small prize. The food was acceptable. We had some free Chinese wine that had a long way to go. We got conned into buying other alcohol. After the dinner, Elena and I went back to the room. We felt the ship rocking and rolling as we made headway toward Chong Qing (Chung King). We prepared our things to disembark.
Lunes segunda fereira el 13 de octubre, 2008: The Day We Almost Died!!!!
We got up well before seven. We went down and settled our bill for drinks, computer, etc. We left our $40 US in tips for the boat crew. We went and had our breakfast. Our baggage was taken down. It came up that we owed one small bill. I had to take care of that. I lost my book in this hassle. We left the boat. The weather was over cast but a little hot. We had an obstacle course to run. We arrived at some trams that took people straight up to the road side. We had to wait in line a while to get into one. Our local guide, Nancy, greeted us when we made it to the street. She explained that the city is now called Chong Qing. It has 32 million people. During World War II it was the capital of free China. It was bombed often by Japanese bombers. I presume that Chaing Kai Chek, General Claire Chenault, and General Stillwell were there. Nancy later showed us a place where they all took tea together. We got into the bus. Our first stop was a temple that was several hundred years old. We then got back on the bus. We made a drive through the city. It has several impressive bridges over the Yangtze River and treacherous traffic. One of the big industries in town is a motorcycle factory. Local people stopped driving the motorcycles after many died in the treacherous local traffic. I heard discussions about the prices of cars. I heard Ford cars talked about in terms of “Fixed or repaired daily” or “Found on the road dead.” We heard that the big earthquake that happened in another province was felt there. We heard that they had a heat wave with temperatures going to 44 degrees C and staying there for 20 days. People had to be taken to World War II shelters up in the hills for heat relief. It is not a city neither of us wants to live in. We made our way to the Chong Qing zoo. It was a pleasant place with a lot of open ground. It was located in a nice part of town. We got off the bus and went to explore. We first encountered a red Panda. I did not know that such animals exist. We next spent an hour going to various areas where Pandas stayed. We found out that the penalty for illegal dealing with Pandas was 20 years in prison. We took a lot of pictures and videos. They are adorable animals. We never had seen them before in person. They seemed to have been designed to entertain humans. This was a special moment for all of the animal lovers like Elena. We bought souvenirs and assembled back at the bus. We were taken downtown to a luxury hotel. We ate Szeuahn cuisine on the second floor of the hotel. It was spicy and tasty. We walked around the area of the hotel after lunch. We looked at grocery stores and other shops. The city started to remind me of Sao Paulo without the incredible restaurants. We took a bus ride through the city. The traffic was mad. We ended up in Ci Qi Kou that is the old town of the city. We were warned to be very alert about pick pockets. We were left on our own for 1.5 hours to explore the shops. It was the usual products on offer in Chinese markets. I went to the men’s room and it was putrid including large piles of shit in the holes in the floor that were the men’s toilets. It was hot and humid. We were relieved when the guide picked us up. We got back in the air conditioned bus. We began our ride out of the city north to the new airport that had been built two years ago. We saw all sorts of new buildings being built in the city. When we got north of downtown, we found a new area with beautiful apartments and homes going up all over the place. Our guide told us that she owned an apartment in that area. She had bought four walls and a ceiling. She had to pay a down payment and fix it up. She was happy to own her own place.
We arrived at the airport. It was modern and clean. We got our boarding passes and cleared security. We were expecting a short and uneventful flight to Xian. We took a bus out to the tarmac. We boarded the plane at 4:30 and lifted off. All was normal until I saw the pilot doing some odd turns. I assumed that he was taking evasive action to avoid turbulence. We were thirty to forty minutes into the flight when a mechanical voice announced that we had to return to Chong Qing due to mechanical difficulties. The plane was so close to Xian that I am surprised that it did not land. It must have been a very serious and life threatening problem. We later heard a rumor that a crack had been found in the pilot’s windshield. We never got a definitive answer. It leads me to suspect that we were lucky to get back that afternoon. When we landed, we were taken by bus back to the terminal. We were given assurances that all was well and we would be on our way soon. All of the Chinese passengers left. We were with a group of French Canadians. Their guide was a Chinese woman of incredible courage. She tore into the airline personnel and kept shouting and creating a scene. Sammy joined in. She is a rough and hot headed young woman. Other passengers joined in. All sorts of threats were thrown around including lawsuits, internet posts, CCTV, etc. It was a pitched battle. I saw in the airline officials the last aspects of the old Communist way. No one wanted to take initiative or take responsibility. We were given some putrid food and promised a hotel room I was sure would be a flea bag. The battle continued. The airline surrendered before ten at night. They said that a plane would be there at 12:30 AM to take us to Xian. Elena and I went up and had a snack. She had Chinese ice cream that she could not eat. I had a Budweiser beer. We went down and came back up with Sammy to the VIP lounge where we used the computer. We then went down stairs and tried to seep on the seats.
Martes tercera fereira el 14 de octubre, 2008:
The replacement plane arrived around midnight. It was from an airline that we had never heard of. We were driven by bus out to the tarmac. It was cold and foggy. We boarded the plane tired and exhausted. We lifted off for the one hour flight to Xian. We had no major problems during the flight. We were all expecting some sort of problems. We hit the ground in Xian after 1:00 in the morning. It was cold and foggy. The airport was far away from town. We got our baggage and had a long walk to the bus. We had to drive almost an hour to get to the Tang Cheng Hotel. We arrived exhausted. We got to our rooms as soon as possible. We got showers on and cleaned up. The baggage came later. We went to sleep. Wake up was around 8:30 in the morning. We went down and had a decent breakfast and filled ourselves with coffee. We tried to wake up. We went to the buses after putting in cleaning. Our local guide began to tell us about Xian. It is a city of roughly 8 million inhabitants. The Silk Road begins in Xian. Our first stop was a Buddhist pagoda that is famous throughout that part of China. We walked around the grounds for over an hour and took many pictures. We began to learn more about Buddhism and the people who practice the religion. Surprisingly religion is tolerated in the new China. Elena and I even took pictures with two officers of the People’s Liberation Army. We marveled at all of the new buildings going up. We next got on the bus for a one hour ride outside of town to the area of the Terra Cotta warriors. Our first stop was a factory where replicas of the warriors are now made. We were taken to a larger shop full of all sorts of luxury goods. We then went to another shop for lunch that was barely acceptable. There were plenty of poor quality goods in the shop with the restaurant. We left and headed for the area where the actual Terra Cotta warriors could be found. We heard that a farmer had found them on his land around 1974. If they had been found before the Cultural Revolution, they all would have been destroyed. An emperor had an army built for him in the afterlife. After all of the soldiers were built, he killed all of his workers to silence them. Ironically 200 years after he died, grave robbers discovered the warriors and did a lot of damage. We came into a large complex with several buildings. It was a long walk to the actual exhibits. We spent the whole afternoon exploring all the buildings and exhibits. President Bill Clinton had come there in 1998 and suggested that they plant trees. The trees made the complex look like it was in Italy or Peru. We gathered at a tea house. We relaxed and tried to absorb all that we had seen. We then had a long walk back to the bus. Elena saw some animal skins for sale. She was sure that they were dog skins. The sellers swore they were foxes but we did not believe them. We got back on the bus and began the long ride back to the city. We admired Xian at dusk and even saw an armed forces recruiting station. We went to another forgettable restaurant. We came back to the hotel late. We had to prepare to move out the next day.
Miercoles quarta fereira el 15 de octubre, 2008:
We got organized in the hotel. We went out to the Guilin airport. It looked nicer during the day. We went through all of the bureaucracy to board a flight for Guilin. It was a 1.5 hour flight and not really eventful. We landed at the Guilin airport. It was modern and professional like the airport we had been to in Xian. We got organized and met our guide Jacky. He turned out to be a devious chap who was good at getting money out of people. We got our luggage and made our way to the bus It was hot and humid. We found out that this city was the hometown of our main guide Sammy. Her mother and brother still live there. The father died some years before. We were taken through town and out to the Reed Flute cave. We walked through the interior and it was very hot. We saw some fascinating natural views. Elena was fascinated. Once this tour was through we took the bus back to town. We went to an area near a lagoon for some photo opportunities. We then went to another forgettable restaurant. We then drove around the city and went to an art museum for a tour. We saw some artists and some original work. We also got some excellent views and photo opportunities. Guilin has 600,000 people and is a tourist center. It is near the border with Vietnam. I came to see a lot of Vietnam in it with time. After the art museum we made our way to the Guilin Hotel. It turned out to be a jewel with 5-star accommodation and excellent service. When we got into our room, we found that we had wireless internet and CNN. I got on the web and checked emails and the like. I watched CNN and caught up on the world. Elena and I got cleaned up. I went down to the pool and had a nice swim. Elena went out with the rest of the group to a dinner and a show. We got back together later and went to sleep.
Jueves quinta fereira el 16 de octubre, 2008:
We hated to leave the Guilin Hotel. It was so nice. We got up and went down for breakfast. I got more internet time and was able to accomplish a lot. We left and Elena lost her room key. Luckily we were not charged for it. We got on the bus and took another ride through the city. We saw so much new construction and new buildings. We heard that the property had got so expensive that young graduates had to go elsewhere to find work. I saw that it looked more and more like Vietnam. It made me feel strange. I was coming home, in a sense. We went to the outskirts of town and made out way to the Liang River. We had a four hour ride down the river to Liang Song. It was a pleasant ride despite the bad food at lunch. We got all sorts of spectacular views and even got to see a number of water buffalo. I was back in Vietnam. It was a sunny and a humid day. I saw the crew drinking beer as they guided the boat down the river. I saw intrepid small boat operators come along side all of the river boats trying to sell souvenirs. I was the local people and their poverty but hopefulness. It looked exactly like Vietnam. I had to come to peace with that sad part of my past and I was able to do it. We went on until the afternoon. We finally docked at Liang Song. It was a slow process and tedious to climb up to the town level. We had a long walk through blazing weather to the Galaxy Hotel. I thought I was going to drop from heat stroke. We got to the hotel and checked in. We had one hour of rest before we went out again to the river. We were going to take a raft ride. The first raft would not support the weight of Elena and I. We were given a second raft and began an hour tour down the river. Haim and Sarah were next to us in another raft. We had to go down several rapids and past several barges selling beer and food. We made it back to our starting point wet and sweaty. We met our guide and got back on the bus to the hotel. Once back at the hotel, we had another forgettable dinner. It was also the birthday of the Ecuadorian man. He was given a cake. Elena and I went to our room and crashed exhausted.
Viernes sexta fereira el 17 de octubre, 2008:
We had to take an early wake up and get our gear ready. We went down and had a barely acceptable breakfast. We all then loaded up on the bus. We had to drive back to Guilin to catch the flight to Shanghai. It was a ride through the country side where I saw riding lawn mowers converted to trucks and all sort so f other ingenuity. We arrived in the city and immediately saw the difference. We made our way to the airport. It was more hassles with bureaucracy and security. We finally boarded the flight run by China Southern Airline. We had a two hour flight to Shanghai. We landed in overcast conditions. It was hot and humid outside. We retrieved our luggage and had a long walk to our bus. When Sammy got on board she told us that she had lived in Shanghai for 8 years. We began our ride to downtown. The traffic was slow and truly congested. Sammy told us about the city and its social customs. They speak a dialect called Shanganese. I thought about Thomas Zhu and where he had come from—Shanghai. It made me miss him very much and like hi much more. We made our way to the river and the Bund. We got out and saw all of the major buildings and the tower. We took a lot of still pictures and videos. It was overcast with a lot of wind. I had to be careful about my hat. We walked up and down the river front. We saw poor people hawking goods and rich people with luxury cars. It was fascinating but also sad. We got back in the bus and began the ride through part of the city. We finally came to a shopping area that looked Avenida Florida. We were let off the bus. We found a Haagen Dazs ice cream shop and went in. The price was high but we each had two scoops of ice cream. It made us feel wonderful. We then went out and explored all the shops. They were for the well off elites of Shanghai. The prices were equal to the US or higher. I had to go to a McDonalds have an order of fries. We saw a lot of other food and did not trust it. We met up with the bus at five and had to wait for the Ecuadorians. We finally left and went to a water front restaurant that was horrible. I did not eat. We then got back on the bus and wound our way through the waterfront area to the place where the river cuisse went from. We had a long wait in line and had to suffer man y indignities. We were relieved when we made our way through a big line to one of the boats and got underway. There were some fabulous views of all the buildings. It was a light show with few equals. It reminded us of the cityscape in the film Blade Runner. We both took a lot of pictures and videos from the second level deck of the boat. The cruise took an hour. We came back to shore and disembarked. I thought that we were headed for the hotel. Some people decided that they wanted to go to the big tower. Elena and I were mad as hell. We considered taking a cab on to the Bravo Hotel. I did not get good vibes about Shanghai at night. We stayed with the tour. We went over to the tower. While some people went up, we explored the large mall nearby. We never found a bar to have a drink. Elena needed to go to the bathroom and there was no sanitary paper inside. I had to go to MacDonald’s and buy a coke to get paper so that she could go to the bathroom. It was another example of the deplorable condition of the women’s bathrooms in China. They are often filthy holes in the wall. We finished with the mall after ten and slowly made our way to the hotel. We were treated to Shanghai’s beautiful night light show. We made it to the hotel and it was a class place. We were warned about the V-8 club that was full of hookers. We made our way to our rooms after eleven and we were exhausted. We got cleaned up and watched some CNN
Sabado el 18 de octubre, 2008:
We got up after eight and went down to have breakfast. It was acceptable. I even had an omelette. We got together on the ground floor and got in the bus. We headed for the Shanghai museum. I thought that it would be another dull museum. It turned out to be a wonderful surprise. It covered Chinese history for thousands of years including not only the Han Chinese but all of the minorities. We had a wonderful time with all of the different exhibits of pottery, clothes, calligraphy, etc. We called Khossrow and Barbara while we were in there. They were shocked to hear from us in from China. I had sent them an email earlier asking if we could watch the election returns with them. We left the museum and drove to a pearl factory. I am sure that the guides get a commission on what is sold. We learned that there are fresh water and salt water pearls.. We saw some interesting products but bought nothing. We then went to have some Mongolian barbeque that turned out to be more civilized than the other meals that we had had. I even fixed a salad with lettuce and tomatoes but Elena would not allow me to eat it because she feared that I would get sick. Our next stop was a silk factory all the way across town. It was run by the government. We got to see silk worms producing the threads and workers creating the final products. It was educational but lasted too long. I got some socks. Other people bought things like silk sheets. I even ran into a lady from South Africa, I recognized her by her Nedbank credit card. Elena and I had coffee and already felt tired. We wanted to go back to the hotel. Our next stop was the peace garden in the middle of a huge market. Sammy gave us an excellent tour of this place where the many women of the emperor stayed. It had many facets. It was fascinating and rich in history. After we finished that tour, we went out and bought souvenirs for all of Elena’s friends. We met up with the group and were tempted to leave and go back to the hotel. We again decided to stay with the group. We wound our way to downtown. We ended up in another market selling all sorts of fake clothes and watches. Elena and I looked at the market stalls and then walked down to the Marriott Hotel. We ended up on floor 38. It was a beautiful setting with incredible views of the city at night. I ordered a hamburger and French fries. Elena had pasta. We both also had Margaritas. A dessert followed. We stayed a long time looking at the views. We finally came down. We got lost finding our way back to the tour. We went up several back streets and saw the city at night. We also saw a luxury car dealership with Ferraris and Masaeratis. I was not allowed to take a picture from the inside. We made our way back to the meeting place for the group. We thought that we had been left behind. Two other people joined us and then the rest of the group showed up. We found ourselves in the middle of a lively disco full of people. We met the bus and made our way back to the hotel. We got the bad news that someone had a flight leaving at 11:30 for Hong Kong so we all had to get up at 6:00 AM…SHIT!! We protested but it did not help. When we got back to the hotel, we said goodbye to Haim and Sarah as well as the Canadians. We went up to our room. The cleaning I had put in as not back. I had to call reception to get it delivered. We went to bed and tried to sleep as well as we could.
Domingo el 19 de octubre, 20008:
We got the dreaded wakeup call at six AM. We drug ourselves out of bed later and got our gear ready. We made our way down to the lobby and had breakfast. We then went to reception and got checked out. We looked longingly atha the V-8 club. It was onto the bus for the one-hour bus ride out to the Prudong International Airport. It is strange that Hong Kong is part of China yet still has its own currency, immigrations, etc. The mainland still treats it like a separate country. We got our bags checked soon after we got in. We sat and waited a long time. Elena went off and the couple from the East Coast kidded me that she had run off. I knew that was not the case. Elena came back and we went through passport control and security. We got to our gate and had a long wait. We went over and had some Italian ice cream. We got back right before the flight left. We found out that we were on Dragonair. It turned out to be a wonderful airline with incredible food and news appears. I even got to see the FT of London. Our meal was superb and we had a good flight. We landed in Hong Kong around four in the afternoon. It was a sunny and a clear day. It felt wonderful and peaceful. I felt that the British still were in charge. We had to get our bags and go to the bathroom. We then made our way to B13. We got our documents and instructions for the pick up. We had to wait and then walk a long distance to get on the bus. We were on an island and had to make it to the main part of the peninsula. We sat next to a group of black ladies who had been to the Olympics of bridge at the Bird Cage in Beijing. We saw some fabulous views as we drove toward the city. I had dreamed of going to Hong Kong since 1971. IT was what I had expected. I knew that it was different than mainland China. I felt that the British still ran the show. Elena and I were driven over bridges with views of port facilities and new buildings. It was such a dynamic place! We got into Hong Kong. We stopped at a couple of hotels before arriving at the Metropark Hong Kong. We got our baggage and went up to the second level. It was humid and hot outside. We got settled in our room. It was not 5-star but it was OK. I got the internet up and that was the best!!! We looked at TV briefly. We then went out to explore the city. We walked away from the hotel and began to explore side streets. It was incredible to see streets full of pet shops, pet grooming facilities, and vets offices. The dogs we saw for sale were adorable and well feed. It was a huge change from the mainland. It made us feel wonderful. We also saw shops full of rifles and pistols that would have made US gun enthusiasts green with envy. I went in and admired the guns, as did Elena. They looked so real!!! We talked to the owners. They told me that the guns were replicas. This seemed to match more with the Chinese aversion to guns. We also saw a lot of model shops with all sorts of aircraft and other military models. These people have a deep love of things military. It amazes me. Elena and I did a lot more walking around and exploring. We found a California pizza restaurant. It was a part of the chain that we knew in Northern California. We went upstairs. We ended up having a Cesear salad, two acceptable Margaritas and some vegetarian pizza. We were so happy to have human food after the slop we had eaten for so many days. We walked onto Argyle Street after eating dinner. It was brightly lighted and full of people. There were all sorts of watches, camera gear, etc. on offer. A lot of the things were fakes. We got lost. We had to work our way back through a market. We found our restaurant and made it back to the street our hotel was on. We walked home. We were hot and tired. We made love and went to sleep.
Lunes segunda fereira el 20 de octubre, 2008:
We got up before eight. We went down the street and had pastries and coffee for breakfast. We came back and went downstairs to wait. At first, it turned out to be messy and frustrating. We started to follow one group and they only spoke Cantonese. We went with a second group but it was not ours. We thought that we had been left behind. We thought about going to the YMCA on Waterloo Road. The hotel personnel told us to wait in the lobby. Ten minutes later someone from Grayline Tours came by and picked us up. We went to a different part of downtown on a van. We then transferred to a large bus. 1was full of tall buildings and all sorts of new construction. It was prosperity all over the place. Our first stop was a Taoist temple in downtown. We heard a long talk and took pictures. I found the name Pedro in Chinese characters. I got it for Pedro in Canada. We next went to Victoria Peak. We had to ride the tram up to the top. I remembered when an episode of Dallas was filmed there. I was really touched and impressed to be there. Elena thought it was not that great. We took a ton of pictures. We had a professional photographer take our picture. We walked around the complex. We looked into a lot of the shops. They were expensive and had classy goods. We finally joined up with Andy and got back on the bus. We made the drive down to the harbor area. We took a ride on a fishing boat. We rode around a lot of Chinese junks and old boats. We saw a giant boat that is a restaurant. I shot a lot of film and had a great time. Elena complained about it. As we continued with the tour, Andy told us a lot about Hong Kong. The mainland is very easy going about Hong Kong. The province chief was elected by 852 business leaders. There is also a legislative council of 152 elected by everyone in the colony. The president of the colony will be elected by all of the people in 2012. All of the school children must learn Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The government provides civilized low cost housing for the poorer people in the city. I was impressed by that. We went to a jewelry store and to an open market. It was a long and a tedious ride sack to the hotel. We arrive around four. We began a walking exploration along Argyle Street. It was crowded at that hour of the day. It was also hot. Elena was weak and irritable from hunger. We finally went to the Spaghetti House. I had spaghetti and a cold cappuchino. Elena had some ribs and they were not good. We had a dessert and Elena’s cheese cake was awful. We walked home afterwards. We felt sick and hated all the people who smoked. We got back to the hotel. We rested and watched TV. We stayed up late.
Martes tercera fereira el 21 de octubre, 2008:
It was travel day and the day that we get two 21 Octobers because we had to cross the International Date Line. We got up after eight and we ate local pastries and drank coffee. Elena went out to explore Victoria Harbor and the subway. I went to the pool up on the 19th floor. It was pleasant. I swam for 1.5 hours. It was a nice water temperature. I hated to leave. I went back to the room and got ready. I got check out time extended to 1:00 PM. Elena came back late and we had to rush to pack. We went down to the hotel restaurant. We expected an awful meal. I ordered some Chardonnay wine. Elena had water. We both had sirloin steaks and they were outstanding. The potatoes and vegetables were great also. We knew that we could die on the plane and it was a good final meal if the end was coming. We went to get our bags and came down stairs. The checkout went down smooth. We rushed to the bus and began the ride back to the airport. I had 28 minutes on my tape I the video camera. I got the full filming and the battery did not take me out. We made it to the airport. Cathay Pacific came right to our aid. A beautiful lady helped us with our self check in. I got an aisle seat and Elena was seated right next to me. We got our luggage checked. We went through security and passport control. We started to shop. Elena bought some more books and white chocolates. I had a coke and worked on internet. We got in a long line to board the plane. We had one more hassle and search. We got on board and began the 11 hour flight. We hit some rough turbulence but it was a good flight. I was able to sleep. Elena stayed up. I worked with the laptop for a while. I was happy when we began our approach into SFO. We landed and got off the plane. We hit a bad person in US ICE who looked at us for a long time on the screen before approving us. I was afraid we had some hassles. We had to wait for our luggage a while. When we got out to door 2, Sarah was not there. I had to call her twice to get her to come and pick us up. She came with Copernicus who was subdued and acting nicely. We rode home and unloaded the luggage. Elena went to sleep. I worked like hell on mail and admin. I started washing clothes and organizing bags. It went on until 9:00 PM. I went off to sleep and Elena woke up and got mad as hell because the big computer was not uploading her pictures the way that she wanted. We got in a hell of a fight. I went to bed later. She joined me. I was relieved to be back. WE MADE IT!!!!