Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coming Home

Breaking out the passport tomorrow and heading home for R&R.

Over the next four weeks I will visit the following spots and anywhere
close or in between, so let me know if you want to get together:

New York

See ya!

Sent from the iPhone of
Paul R. Koch

Friday, September 9, 2011

Mutianyu Under Blue Skies

Lucky choice, or maybe they seeded the clouds for our pleasure, but
MeeMaw, Pop-Pop, the boys and I, rode up to Mutianyu Great Wall on the
most glorious day I have seen since moving to Beijing. Unfortunatley
days like this are a rare exception here, but we made the most of the
opportunity and had Driver Tom drive us the 60k to the Wall. We took
a gondola ride to the top of the mountain, walked the wall from
guardpost 14 down(and up) to guardpost 10, then took a speedy tobagon
ride to the bottom.

Great fun, great company, great day!

We've visited the Wall many times, and have never been able to see Beijing in the distance.  Clear view for 90K today!


Random Wall-top Modeling Shoot

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"That Way"

Mom and dad got here last Sunday and we spent a few days getting them adjusted to the 12-hour time change before engaging them in a hectic circuit of sightseeing of the Beijing standards.

Monday, Labor Day, looked like an opportune day for a road trip, so we put the boys onto the school bus(they have no Labor Day holiday at the International School) then Mom and Dad, Joanne and I, loaded the car and departed for Qinhuangdao.  

Following our last road trip to Qinhuangdao, a day that was challenging to say the least, I am pretty sure Joanne and I decided that we would never go back again; however, when deciding on something that would be pretty cool for mom and dad to see, we conceded,  "it couldn't possibly be so difficult the second time around."  This time our mission was not simply to go to the beach as it was in June; instead, we decided to make it our mission to see Lou Long Tao (Old Dragon's Head). The location where the Great Wall ends in the sea.   Our day was great, beautiful skies, good company, and a truly amazing view of the Wall.  Lou Long Tou once served as the marine and naval training location for the Qing and Ming Empires, and remnants of those barracks and training grounds cover the landscape and seascape of the Baidaihe shoreline. 

We toured the facility and ended where the end of the Wall resembles a dragon drinking from the sea.  Once finished,  we headed for lunch at the beach.  We settled on showing mom and dad the same beachfront restaurant from our previous visit.  We ordered tofu, vegetables and noodles and stayed away from the "speculation meat" that recurred on many of the choices on the menu.

We loaded back in the car at around four, all of us ready to head back West, planning to arrive in Beijing by 7.  I called Ayi to let her know that we would probably be a few minutes later than her daily departure time of 6:30pm.

One wrong turn!

It turned out when reviewing our mistakes on the map this morning that we were never actually too far from G1 - the main artery from the ports at Qinhuangdao to Beijing and beyond.  Certainly if we had the correct resources we could have course corrected and been back on the fast G1 highway with little disruption, but instead we gave mom and dad a truly Chinese epic adventure with that one wrong turn.  

"This looks right to me, what about you baby?"

"Yeah we definitely came this way."

"I'm sure this is it."

Seriously, I am pretty sure the road was there the last time we left Qinhuangdao, I swear.  Now the highway we thought we remembered shone of new concrete, fresh and white and closed to traffic.  We ran along side on the access road.  The access road, well, it too was white, but not the new white of the road to our left; instead it was white with blinding clouds of dust.  A heavy dust kicked up off the side road as the trucks in front of us bounced through the giant potholes littering the beaten road.  Yet, the glistening and new highway, just a few yards away gave hope.  I am sure that at any moment, the access road will merge us back onto the highway, connect us to G1 West, and we can get back on our way home.  Just a few more Kilometers.

A few jersey walls redirected us off the puckered side road and across to the other side of the closed-for-construction highway, and there the access road seemed to continue on.  Looking back on the situation we should have followed my mother's suggestion and turn around,right then.  I, however, having spent the last twenty minutes white knuckled with both hands on the steering wheel, felt that the road certainly could only get better, and to go back would mean enduring those 20 minutes of bouncing, leaning on breaks and fearing that the front right tie rod on the van was going to snap.

I stopped and asked for directions.

Despite the the cliches about men asking for directions, I have no problem doing so, and in most cases, I have found Chinese citizens quite willing to help, so I tried.  "Wo yao Beijing. Shenma Lu Beijing?"  I asked, knowing full well that my Chinglish is horrible and probably makes no sense; I just hoped that he could piece together my broken language.  I had said, "I want Beijing, what street Beijing?"  He looked at me like I was crazy through the Georgio Armani shades that he adjusted, squinting in the sun.  He then screamed at me in loud Chinese for about twenty seconds.  It could have been scary, and may have been to some, but while many often perceived the tonal phrasing of Chinese as angry, I think he was simply under the impression that if he yelled louder I would understand better.  Despite all the words flying over my head without any understanding, he held out his hand and pointed - a gesture I could latch onto.

"Beijing - This way?" I said, pointing.

"Due, Due," he responded.  Sweet, I know what that means.  

Then he started in again, and this time his loud exchange ended with him pointing the opposite direction, and the only word I could make out was Qinhuangdao.  Oh shit, now I am confused, keep forward that way or go back?  

Joanne took the initiative to phone a friend.  Joanne's coworker Jay had his Ayi speak to the roadside man in Chinese.  The exchange lasted just a few minutes in which the man on my end kept repeating, "due, due." (correct, correct) Alright, they are in agreement, we must be good to go.  The man looked at me and handed the phone.  I set it to my ear.  

Jay said, "hey man, did that help?"  

I bit my lip.  "If you tell me what they said. I still can't understand them."

"Oh, right.  Uh, Ayi says just keep going."

I leaned out the window one more time to my new Chinese acquaintance.  "This way?" I pointed.

He held up his arm in response. That way

We bounced along.  Testing the tie rod with each pothole and enduring the stares of the Chinese who lined the streets selling grapes and wares.  Later we joked that we had taken a tour of Chinese wine country.  My phone was plugged into the charger, but I had taken so many photos at the Wall earlier that the battery had completely depleted.  I couldn't get the charger to take, so I asked my dad to hold the charger until we got enough battery to check the GPS.  

No phone, no map, no GPS, yet we kept pushing on, knowing that if we headed toward the sun at least we could say we were going West.  

At the rate we had been traveling we were already looking at a late arrival, but a call to Ayi, and she let us know that she would stay until we got home.  She's the best!

We stopped again. "Bei Jing," the woman said as she pointed, indicating that we continue the road we are taking. That way.

We passed vineyard after vineyard, debating the angle of the sun, and enduring a stretch of heinous potholes following each short stretch of somewhat "improved" roads.  Every15-20 minutes I would stop the van to ask a local street walker if we were still headed toward Beijing; each time they responded with some form of that way.

We all got quiet as the sun slipped beneath the horizon; our only guide had dissapeared, and I found myself thinking about how cold it would be if we had to sleep in the car.  Dad continued to jiggle the handle on the iPhone and when the charge finally held long enough to power up the phone, the GPS resumed, but within seconds the power cut out again.  That GPS eats battery fast.  Joanne's phone was failing as well, as she had been calling her friend Cami and trying to solicit help finding our location on the map.  The same problem recurred though.  We could not find a single sign that we could read, nor could we identify a single landmark that Cami could find on the map.

"I see a blue sign up ahead, everyone take a look and see if you can read it."

We bounded down a hill pumping the breaks and squinting with each attempt to navigate the potholes on this stretch, and as the overhanging willows which darkened the road cleared out in front, we made a left onto a real, solidly paved, road.  Hope.

"Should I ask these guys?"  I offered to my passengers pulling onto the shoulder.  

A group of three police cars sat on the opposite side of the road and the officers stood as if they were finishing up the investigation of and accident.  

"Ni hao pengyou,"  I said.

They collectivley laughed at my poor pronunciation.

"Wo shi Beijing ren,  Bu zhidao Beijing. Zynali Beijing?"  I waved my hands back and forth in attempt to clarify my Chinglish stating that I am from Beijing, but don't know where it is.

They pointed, seeming happy to be communicating. "Ne ge, ne ge.  Okay la!"  I felt relief knowing that once again we were being pointed in the same direction as we were traveling, but these guys seemed willing participants in the conversation, so I tried to get a bit more info.

"Zhe ge lu xiao da.  Wo yao Da da!" 

They laughed again, but the men knew what I wanted.  This road small, I want big. They pointed, excited, and repeated, "okay ,okay, okay."   I held my palms up, questioning.

They looked at me and exchanged looks with each other, then one officer who had to this time been toward the back of the scene stepped up pointing at his car.  A police escort!

We followed him two turns and must have been closer than just two kilos from the G1, but undoubtedly we never would have found it.  I stopped along side his cruiser which still had its lights spinning from escorting us to the toll booth, and I jumped out holding out a 50 kuai note to thank him for his generosity.  He stepped back holding his hands up, indicating that he didn't want the tip.  Wow, faith in humanity!  I shook his hand and made my last Chinglish attempt for the night.  "Ni shi hao ren.  Hen Hao ren!"  He nodded thank you, then we each popped open our driver's side doors and were on our seperate ways.

G1 was a beast.  Trucks, many without lights on, carrying absurd loads and moving at speeds ranging from 30mph to 80mph littered the highway.  Many times I had to endure the fearful inhales of my passengers as I stood on the brakes to avoid rear ending a truck dragging along well below the flow of traffic in the left lane. But generally we were moving at high speed, knew where we were headed, and would be home to our boys soon.  We all breathed easier, but as we passed the green sign indicating 200K to Beijing, we all did the math in our heads.   

Six hours after leaving the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Quinhuangdao, we pulled into our driveway at River Gardens, thanked Ayi for caring for our children, and hit the couch, exhausted.

Today I am going shopping for a map, a phone charger that works, and a GPS.

Paul Koch (@pkoch9999)
+151 1692-2787

Laulongtou - Old Dragon's Head