Archive for the ‘Helen’ Category


Panjiayuan Flea Market, White Cloud Temple, Olympic Venues

May 10, 2008

Helen – Today was my day!!!! Tom and Joe took me to the largest flea market in China!!! 

We couldn’t even begin to see it all but I did enough damage in the three hours of shopping. 

The vendors thought I was very good at bargaining and kept giving me the cut throat sign as we had a price war and then gave me the thumb’s up at the end. 

It was a lot of fun! 

One of my prized purchases was a painting of a girl carrying a baby followed by a goat for $45.  

 Our next stop was the White Cloud Temple….Taoist…which was sort of the first national religion,
Lots of statues and incense and bowing….
Note the Ying-Yang symbol
it went on forever even though it looked relatively small from the entrance. 
There was a wishing bell near the entrance….it was enclosed in a large Chinese like coin that was hanging down in a pit.  You bought 50 throwing coins for $1.50 and then threw them at the little bell.  If you hit the bell, then your wish should be granted.  Tom and Joe shared the 50 coins.  Joe hit the bell once and Tom hit it three times. 

Twelve Chinese Zodiac birth signs/years – Helen’s (1945) is a rooster and Joe’s (1950) is a dog, though he has his hand on a monkey.  They were both born under the Aquarius sign according to their birthdates and the Western monthly astrological signs.
Beijing Tower – Central TV Tower
On the way home we stopped to see some of the Olympic structures.  The “Birds Nest,”
the large stadium (110,000) for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as for track and field
Administrative building
and the “Water Cube” (shaped like bubbles) for the swimming events. 
They are unbelievable! 
They are not open to the public yet but we drove pretty close to get a good look.  The facilities are impressive, however, we think people going to the Olympics are going to be surprised and upset with the air pollution, traffic and costs, let alone the difficulty in communicating.  There are relatively few people who can speak English and foreigners are not going to be able to read or pronounce Chinese figures.      





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!


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.  



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



Bringing Home Furniture!!!

April 20, 2008

Helen – We began our round trip – traveling to Matara and Kandy and back to Colombo to show Pat the sights and where we lived.  We were having trouble, as I mentioned, getting our things home through China because of weight restrictions and overweight charges from here to Beijing on Cathay Pacific airlines.  So, on the way to Matara, we stopped at Sudath Antiques, where we had stopped three months earlier, and I bought a rice box, spice chest, and a two door bookcase!!!  They will bring them to Colombo on Friday morning where I can inspect them, pay for them, and then add all our other possessions that we want shipped before taking them for packing and to the shipping lines.  Since I will be on the road, I guess I really can’t say it is all taken care of…but it is close…and hopefully will be done without too much hassle. 

Bodhi tree and flags at Buddhist temple

Tom – We stopped in Galle to do the walk around the ramparts of the walled Fort City built by the Dutch (another UNESCO World Heritage site) that was damaged by the tsunami in 2004.

and then stopped at the Sri Gemunu Beach Resort for ice café in beautiful Unawatuna. 

We also stopped in Weligama to give Pat a close-up view of the colorful outrigger fishing boats.     

After settling into the hotel (Surf Lanka) in S.K. Town right next to the house that we had rented, Luke, the hotel manager, made us the most delicious fish dinner.




Some Colombo Sites

April 19, 2008

Helen – Upon waking, Tom suggested that I ask Ranjan if he would go with us to the Antique stores we visited before on the way to Matara.  Ranjan is also interested in perhaps sending some things to his daughter in Springfield so now we are thinking about sharing a small container. My hopes are up again but tomorrow will decide the outcome


I can hardly believe that our time here is really coming to an end.  Tom drove to the airport to pick up his brother Pat who is flying in from Denver.  He decided to drive since it is another Poya (full moon holiday) day and traffic should be minimal.  We are doing the “redo” trip with him and spent the first day in Colombo.


Shortly after Pat arrived, we took a Tuk-Tuk to the city center to see the Gangaramaya Temple

It was crowded because of the New Year holiday.

We took off our shoes, because you can not wear them on holy ground, and left them by the gate.  I decided to carry mine and someone “carried” Pat’s away.  Yes, within his first few hours in the country, his new New Balance shoes were taken.  They left his socks and Tom’s sandals. 



Satellite temple on Seema Malakaya island 

We had to return to Ruki’s to get another pair of shoes.  When we left the first time, I locked all the doors, inside and outside, because Ruki, Irene, and Ciani all went to a birthday party.   Now I could get into the hallway but had no access to Pat’s room to get his shoes.  I tried everything, e.g. different keys to access the living quarters downstairs, to no avail.  Thank heavens, they returned (with leftovers from the party for our lunch!) and we got his shoes and then returned to downtown to finish our planned trip. 

Pat was a good sport about his loss and wouldn’t let it dampen his spirits.  We finished our touring, took a Tuk-Tuk to the Fort area and had iced drinks at the Grand Oriental Hotel with a lovely view of the harbor (no pictures please – security zone).  The waiters and waitresses were dressed in sailor uniforms.



We then walked to the train station and took the local train (second class) to Mt. Lavinia Hotel for iced cafes on the terrace.  As we waited on the train platform, a man with an arm and neurological disability (e.g. had little use of his arms and hands and could not speak), sat on the concrete, opened his bag with his feet and demonstrated his skills using his legs and toes.  He could cut string, thread a needle, set the string on fire with matches, use a small wrench to unscrew and screw nuts on bolts, and put everything away into his bag.   After giving him a tip, he gave us the Big Toe up sign! 


The train ride was awesome; open windows with people hanging out, ceiling fans, and the occasional beggar.  

We were watching the stops closely but we weren’t sure the train was going to stop at Mt Lavina because we didn’t see a station…so when it slowed down, we jumped off because others were doing it too; stupid – the train stopped!  However we found ourselves in the middle of the tracks and had to make our way to the station – all’s well that ends well!


It was too early for the sunset and dinner at the hotel so we just had ice café.  Pat told the pool attendant that he was staying at the hotel and so got a bathing suit, towel, and a cool dip.   We took a cab back to the city and ate local food at the Green Cabin where Ruki had taken me for my birthday.

 Afterward we walked to the ocean crossing the railroad tracks.  We showed some teenagers how to put coins on the tracks to get them smashed by the train – something Tom used to do in Chicago!

They were delighted!

Pat and sunset across the Indian Ocean