Archive for April, 2008


Is it Beijing or Peking?

April 30, 2008

Tom  Beijing (called Peking by foreigners) – has 15 million people, is the capital of China, and was the capital of the Mongol, Ming and Qing dynasties.  It is undergoing change/development unprecedented in world history.  The city is located on a plain that runs from the Yellow River in the south to the low but jagged mountains about an hour north of the city where the Great Wall is located.  The only hills in the city are the result of the excavations for the moat around the Forbidden City and the result of dredging for the formation of the various lakes by the different emperors.  These hills are topped with temples that provide sweeping views of the city.


The air pollution for the past two days has been horrible.  Note the picture of my brother Pat (with face mask) getting ready to board the subway. 

What will they do during the Olympics?  They may close down some industry and coal burning power plants but they can’t control the dust/sand blowing in from outside the city.  At the same time, the city is CLEAN, you don’t see litter anywhere – in fact they even scrub the sidewalks! – I think this is a demonstration of cleaning equipment.

Also, they don’t permit cars on the roads that are more than 10 years old – I wouldn’t be able to drive, I’ve got a 1997 and a 1991! 


Everything is BIG, the size (area) of the city, the population, the new skyscrapers, the monuments, the parks, the temples that remain (after the cultural revolution –  only about 50 out of 2,500 temples remain), the avenues, the Forbidden City, the demolition, the building cranes, the Olympic venues, the government buildings, the new airport, the new highways, etc., etc. 

In relation to cultural and urban scale I would draw an analogy to the vastness of Alaska.  The structural development here is amazing – where will it end?  Can it be successfully accomplished in conjunction with the rural to urban change, the poverty that remains, the communist government, etc., etc.?


After my presentation on “Fitness for Life” at the US Embassy, we ate lunch in the Kerry Center where Joe’s office is located and then took the subway to the Beijing Urban Planning Exhibition Center.  It was an excellent introduction to Beijing in that it had exhibits, models, and movies explaining the current and future development of the city.  There was a huge model of the entire city with sections you could actually walk over (thick Plexiglas).  Afterwards, we walked past Mao’s tomb and then through Tiananmen Square past the Great Hall of the People and the National


I took a picture of a young Chinese dance group,

then our group,

then my brother Pat in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City. 

Our Chinese dinner that evening had some interesting menu items – fish lips, goat brain, cow intestines, snake, vinegar jellyfish, braised hoof of sheep, grilled bull’s tongue, stewed camel, chicken heads, and fungus on greens for the vegetarians.   We were also entertained by a “pop” Chinese dancer.


Helen Lost on Great Wall

April 29, 2008

Helen – First day in China and we go to the WALL….it is a long drive and the pollution is heavy.  Tom’s brothers, Joe (American Embassy China) and Pat (who just visited us in Sri Lanka), Tom and I are off for the first adventure.  We pack a lunch and will be walking part of the Great Wall at Simatai.  Joe partially tore his Achilles tendon about five months ago and still isn’t ready for any long, strenuous hikes, so we decide to take the cable cars and mini train as high as we can before we begin our hiking.  It is truly amazing that we are exploring another of the “seven wonders of the world.” 

The route in stone

Cable cars

View on the way up

This is amazing

Built east to west across the historical northern border of China

Comrade protector of the Great Wall

After lunch, we turn around to retrace our path to the rides down the mountain. 


Tom, having a great time

It is estimated that the wall (all parts east to west) is about 5,500 miles long!

Returning to our drop down point

As I understand it, we are going to walk some distance in the opposite direction before going down.  Pat walks ahead of us, and then Tom and Joe begin talking to someone, so I begin walking, following Pat.  Relatively soon, I pass Pat and continue slowing, waiting for the others to catch up.  As I hang out in one of the outposts, Pat passes me and I say, “I’m behind you now!”  Slowly, I continue walking; now alone, thinking I am behind one brother and in front of the other two.  I never see any of them again for quite some time.


I keep walking; pass the walk to the train and cable cars. I am walking slowly and constantly turning around looking for the other two, knowing that Pat has to pass me when he returns.  I finally see Tom and Joe on the top of a watch tower and begin waving and calling them.  They are pretty far away, but I recognize Tom’s orange shirt and Joe’s hat.  They don’t see me for quite a while, but finally they wave.  I don’t see how they can miss me with my bright red jacket!!  Now that I made contact, I assume that they will follow me, so I begin walking again. I pass the walking path back to the parking lot, then continue and am deciding if I should continue to the swinging bridge which crosses the river.  I decide to wait, and can’t understand why they haven’t caught up with me…either set of brothers.  After a good half hour, I am getting upset and decide to return to see if can make contact with Tom and Joe and hope that Pat catches up with us later.


Still without contact, I am getting upset now and decide that I am not climbing up to the watch towers and decide to descend to the parking lot and hope that they figure out my plan.  I hate being by myself and not knowing what they are doing.  As I get off the cable car and begin walking I hear over the loud speaker “HEY HELEN, THIS IS JOE.  WE ALL THREE ARE AT THE PARKING LOT. PLEASE LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE!!” Am I ticked????  YES!!!!  As I come to where they are, they are totally upset and ready to send out the search and rescue to look for me…I just walk pass them all and go to the car and don’t talk to any of them for at least two hours.


It all comes down to communication!!!!  Of course, we need some help in this area. 


I am sure that there will be more detail in the blog…but this is just a head’s up that our lives continue to be challenging.


Tom – Now, Helen wanted to leave our lunch site before everyone else.  On the way up we had stated that we would return by the same route that we had scaled the wall because of Joe’s Achilles’ tendon problem.  Why did she pass the appropriate descent trail?   We may never know.  I know that I was ready to go up and search the route and then if unsuccessful call Search and Rescue!


Travel to China

April 28, 2008

Tom – Our Cathay Pacific flight left Colombo at 1:45am, flew over the Bay of Bengal and landed in Bangkok at 7am local time.  While landing I was able to see one of the Buddhist Temples along with its large golden Buddha from the air.  There was an hour layover but we were not permitted to leave the plane.  The flight continued at 8:30am, flying over Thailand, Vietnam, Gulf of Tonkin, Hainan Island, Macau, and into Hong Kong.  We arrived a little after noon and had a two hour layover until our next flight.  I used a Starbucks gift card I had received at Christmas and bought a plane cup of coffee for $34 Hong Kong dollars – that equated to $4.36 U.S.! 


The final leg of our flight was on Dragonair and left Hong Kong at 2pm.  The in flight meal was excellent just like the two meals we had received on Cathay Pacific.  They even gave us free playing cards!  Our plane landed on time at 5:20pm and my brother Joe was there to meet us at the airport.  We drove to his home in an international compound and were greeted by his wife Linda, son Anthony and my brother Pat who had arrived three days earlier.


Last Day Sri Lanka

April 27, 2008

Tom – We went to 8:30 mass at St Theresa.  Look at the pictures and note how the figures look Sri Lankan. 

Nativity scene

I then went to the car rental company to close out my account, but on the way, dropped Ruki and Helen off at House of Fashion for one last shopping spree.  They allowed me to keep the car for today and then a driver will come to our guesthouse at 10:30pm to drive us, in our car, to the airport.  They have treated us very well.


Helen – Ranjan brought me another small painting of two Sri Lankan women which I had admired in his store.  About 1pm when we were ready to drive to the warehouse, we called to be sure someone would be there, and guess what???   They were closed on Sundays…there is always a snag!!!   We will have to call Chandra (the man from the antique store) to pick up two more small boxes of our things and take them to the warehouse on Monday, which he said he would do.


So now we are packed, and have 8 hours before leaving for the airport.  I think that we are going to the Galle Face Hotel for ice café and to use their internet.  Afterwards we will be back at the guesthouse where Ruki will make us a farewell dinner.


It’s really hard to believe this will be our last entry from Sri Lanka.  We have loved our time here and had a few adventures.  China should have a few highlights with the wall and terracotta soldiers (another planned tour trip – to Xian) but home is looking pretty good.   I can’t wait to see and smother the kids with hugs and kisses.  I have really missed them and am looking forward to talking to all my friends as well.  As they say “THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME!”



Loose Ends and Shipping Day

April 26, 2008

Tom – Tried a new fruit this morning, it is called a mango steen.  The white part, surrounding the seed, is what you eat.  It is sweet and delicious.  The outer fruit and seed are bitter. 

Wrote the diary for the blog this morning and then took Helen to exchange our Fibretec picture for some Fibretec shell serving dishes.  We then went to the bookstore to pick up the Sri Lankan cookbook that I had ordered for her.  Ranjan took us out to an Indian restaurant in the Taj Sumara Hotel for a farewell dinner and also presented Helen with a silver ring and two pendants.


Helen – Is it REALLY worth the effort??  Tom makes the day sound calm, when in reality it was nerve wracking!!!  The furniture logistics were a nightmare!!  On Friday, Chandra the son of the Antique store owner, called and said that he was not able to get the bookcase into his van (only the two chests and the bottom and doors of the bookcase) so the bookcase would be going to the shipper tomorrow.  They couldn’t use a truck (lorry) for everything because trucks are not allowed to go through the city due to security (another bus was bombed Friday – 24 killed).  He said he would be at the house to show me the pieces he had and also to pick up the extra weight we wanted to ship back home.  As expected, he came late and therefore I was not able to go to the shippers with him to check on things there and get our paperwork done.  He told me not to worry that he was going to take the bookcase to the shipping warehouse on Saturday, call us when he was outside of Colombo, and we could follow him to the warehouse.  We paid him with our Visa so if anything happened, we could stop payment.  The next day we waited for his call, knowing that the warehouse closed at 3 and it would take from 1-1.5 hrs to get to the warehouse, we thought that he would be here at the latest by noon. 


About 1 o’clock, we began calling his cell phone and it said that the phone was turned off.  Then we tried the store and that phone was also turned off.  Panic set in, Ruki raised the anxiety level with talk about how we should not have paid him until we were at the shippers, he probably took all our stuff and we would never see it again.  I kept calling for at least two hours and nothing.  About then I called the tourist police to ask someone to go to the store to have them call us (the store is almost two hours away!!).  I had some problems talking with the police on the phone and they said that they would call us back.  Meanwhile I found Chandra’s residence number and finally contacted him at home.  He became upset with me for asking why he didn’t contact me and said that the truck was on its way and they would call me around 2:30.  


Feeling better about his honesty, we ran our errands to Fibertec, bookstore, and  had lunch at the Commons.  We returned early and waited for his call.  At 3:30, I called again, now he was upset with me for doubting him, said that we could cancel the transaction and he would return our belongings on Sunday.  I put Ruki on the phone and she got the information about the shipping company, people and phone numbers, she was informed that we could still go to the warehouse because they were waiting for the truck and would remain open until it got there.  Ruki then called the warehouse and spoke to a man who reassured her that our belongings were there and he named most of the things there.  Since it was late, we decided to go the next day, Sunday. This would give us a chance to repack our suitcases again to get them into the weight requirements for our flight to China.  



Final Presentation in Sri Lanka

April 25, 2008

Tom – Pat left this morning taking the Airport Express van at 6am.  Helen and I went to Hatton National Bank to close our account with the Fulbright driver.  It took over an hour to close the account and then convert the rupees to dollars.  Helen worked on the Fulbright computer and then took a Tuk-Tuk home while I headed for the Ministry of Education.  In a semi-formal exchange, I passed on the FITNESSGRAM/ACTIVITYGRAM software and the five books related to the Physical Best program ($500 value) that Human Kinetics publishers had donated to the Minister. 

He seemed genuinely impressed and in turn passed the material on to his Director of Physical Education. 

Dr. Rajaratne from Peradeniya University also attended the meeting.  It appears the Director of PE may just sit on the materials – if that happens, Raj will go to the Minister and request the materials so he can start using them in Kandy.


I prepared for my presentation in the afternoon and got to the Fulbright office at 4pm to set up my computer and the projector for my “Fitness for Life” presentation.  Fulbright had light snacks and tea at 5:30 which was followed by my presentation.  I didn’t bring my power cord and about 45 minutes into the presentation the computer battery was depleted (it started fully charged!).  So, I used the flip chart for the rest of the program – I believe it went well.  There were about 30 people there and they had some good questions – even the owner of the car company where I rented my car attended!  The Fulbright director suggested that I apply for a Fulbright Specialist grant to return to Sri Lanka for 6-8 weeks to follow-up on the projects that I started – we’ll see.


After answering questions and wrapping things up, Helen, Ruki and I went to the Gallery Café for dinner.  Ruki paid for the drinks and I paid for dinner – her bill was higher than mine!        



Car Wash and Galle Face Hotel

April 24, 2008

Helen – On the way back to Colombo we stopped to have the car washed.  On earlier trips we had noticed the water hoses spraying skyward wherever there was a small waterfall.  At first we couldn’t figure out what they were advertising but soon discovered that they were carwashes.  So today we decided it would be our last chance to experience this novelty.  We chose the very best one because it took him about 45 minutes to do it and Tom said he did it as well as he would have done it himself…that young man was meticulous and only charged about $2. 

It had not rained the entire trip and you know what carwashes mean…yes, it poured not long after the task was completed.  On the way into Colombo we stopped for some bananas and pineapple.


Tom – I took care of business in the afternoon while Pat went off for another massage.  It was Pat’s last night in town, so we took him to the Galle Face Hotel for dinner.  It was built in 1864 and sits right on the ocean near downtown.  It had been raining but we still choose a table outside right next to the ocean.  There were green lights playing on the breakers, a heavy mist, salt spray, and lightening all around – it was surrealistic!  We had our initial wine there and then, with the coaxing of the maitre de moved inside under the tent.  It proved to be a good decision because it did rain.  Our only option for eating was the buffet but it proved to be marvelous.  




April 23, 2008

Helen – Tom dropped off Pat at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens this morning after first stopping briefly at a Buddhist temple.

Into the mouth of the lion – you may recall the huge lion entrance at Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

Door leads down to tunnels

Tom worked in his office and picked up Pat and me for lunch.  We went to the Senani Restaurant (overlooking Kandy Lake).  Pat went for a massage in the afternoon, then did a brief visit to the Temple of the Tooth and took in the Kandyan dancers and Fire Walkers at the Cultural Center.  Tom meanwhile did his own two hour tour of the Temple. 

Pilgrims approaching the entrance

Extensive and historical grounds and out buildings



One of many holy sites in complex

Shenani prepared a wonderful Sri Lankan dinner for us and we ate along with Anada, Andrew (minister from Scotland) and a German woman who is studying Buddhism. 



Drive to Kandy

April 22, 2008

Helen – The drive to Kandy was loooonnnngggg! 

Another boat left high and dry by tsunami

We stopped at Tangalla to see the hotel built like a ship and then stopped at Rawana Ella Falls,

Watch those monkeys – their thieves!

Friendship between Sri Lanka and Iran?

We had drinks overlooking Ella Gap

and continued through beautiful Nuwara-Eliya

Hindu temple

The drive took 11.5 hours! 

We needed to get to Kandy before dark and we just made it.  We wish that we had more time in Nuwara-Eliya because it was a beautiful and lively city in the hill country with many lovely buildings from the British times.  We went to Pizza Hut for dinner! 



April 21, 2008

Helen – Breakfast at hotel

I had a great time in Matara shopping with Nicole and slept the best two nights of our trip on the fabulous  hotel mattresses.  At lunch time, Nicole and I stopped for rotti’s at the local vender.  His weren’t ready yet so we went to the next one.  Just minutes after we left, Tom and Pat came to the first vendor, on their way to the Fort, and the man said, “Your wife was just here!!”  Tom and Pat waited for theirs and it was nice to know they remembered us.  In the evening we ate at a local restaurant across from the Matara beach.  Pat was a trooper eating with his hands, but everyone could guess that it was a new experience for him because he didn’t have it all piled on one dish with his rice.  He had each curry in a separate dish and didn’t want rice; it worked for him!!  Kanthi had seen Tom in town earlier that day and then stopped by the restaurant to see me.


Tom and Pat went snorkeling at Polhena (where we went before) in the morning, then to the Matara forts, the Weherahena Temple and on to Dondra to see the lighthouse and stand on the southern most point of Sri Lanka.  We had dinner at the “Uprising” –

Moon rise from the hotel