|I have been elected to serve as a delegate to the convention of the Association of Mouth & Foot Painting Artists in Shanghai, China. We leave Seattle for San Francisco on April 7, 2005 and board flight 827 a little late but have good seats right by the galley in business class. We certainly have plenty of legroom, In fact, the seats make into almost beds. During the flight, I ask Anne to help me floss between my 2 lower front teeth. The floss snags on a chip and removes a piece of tooth. It doesn’t look bad but feels to me as if I could drive a truck through it.|
Upon arrival the next day (8th) we are met immediately by a nice woman who shows us to the wheelchair van that brings us to the hotel, The Four Seasons. Our room is equipped with single beds and no way for me to get a shower or bath, but it is very nice and plenty large. We are in bed by 9:30 exhausted but excited.
Anne is up early and goes down to the 4th Floor to work out. She finds out that the only opening for a massage is at 6:30am so she runs back to the room to tell me. The facilities for working out and massage and everything on the 4th floor are superior. The massage with a petite girl named Sonny is one of the best she’s ever had. She used lavender oil and a rosewater foot soaks. She is back in the room to get me out of bed by 7:40. We are down to a buffet breakfast by 9:00 in the Studio Café on the first floor.
We stop by the 3rd floor office of VDMFK and greet the staff. Then we are off for the museum and sight seeing. We make our way to the Shanghai Museum of Art first where we see a delightful collection of textured abstract paintings and a curious collection of altered photographs and video productions. The adjacent gardens are in bloom and feature canals, fountains and trails. We continue our way into thickening crowds and increasing heat towards the Shanghai National Museum in Peoples Park. We find a mall that has a difficult access and then eat in a quaint Chinese restaurant that isn't so great, but the beer was good and the price was right, only 51 Yuan ($6) for the entire lunch. At the National Museum we see an astounding array of ancient jade and bronze, marvelous ceramics, Buddhas, paintings and calligraphy.
We pick up a few items in the gift shop and descend a treacherous incline to the street on our way back to the hotel. It has gotten quite cold and windy and we are pleased to return safely. After a pot of Jasmine Tea on the balcony bar, where we listen to a quartet of strings, we have an authentic Chinese dinner in the restaurant on the second floor and begin to meet with the attending delegates.
April 10 Sunday
Anne is up early for her workout and inquires about a foot massage for me. There is an 8:30 opening so she hurries to the room, gets me up and transfers me into a lounge chair by the indoor pool. For the next hour Michael pushes, prods, pokes and rubs my feet until sensation has returned in a way I have not felt for many years. We have an 11:30 reservation for brunch in the café so bide our time with the newspaper and greet a few early delegates and staff. Brunch is expensive but is a sumptuous feast and we linger long over lobster, giant prawns and a wide assortment of culinary specialties. Back in our room, we receive our convention packet that includes a collection of teas and 2 terrific books on China and Shanghai.
We decide to wander the business district in search of postcards and tour many fancy shops and boutiques. We are unlucky in acquiring any postcards but do purchase a Swatch with a Chinese character on it. We return to the hotel in a chilly breeze and visit with many delegates including the Yendels, Wells, Janz and Francesconi. Tom and Lucy later join us for dinner and we enjoy catching up and hearing about their kids. We extend an invitation to them to come and have an exhibition at my gallery in Seattle.
We rise early after Anne has her workout and have breakfast in the hotel café. Most everyone has arrived and we begin to greet old friends and introduce ourselves to others. Rain is falling lightly and a cool wind is blowing but we have set our sights on a busy flea market about a mile away. We get proper directions, borrow a movie, The Manchurian Candidate, to watch later and begin our trek. Bicycles and pedal carts jam the streets and curious smells assail our senses as we negotiate our way. We are quite used to the open stares now and the language barrier prevents us from further assistance in finding our way.
By dead reckoning we locate the market and are immediately set upon by hawkers peddling fake designer watchers, dvds and bags. We brush past them in favor of the legitimate vendors also selling knockoffs but of a superior quality. It takes a few purchases to get the hang of haggling the price down but soon Anne is bargaining with the best of them. We develop a thicker skin as we ignore pleading salespeople and focus on those articles we really can use. My two Tommy Bahama shirts would have cost more than $200.00 anywhere in the US, here $10.00 each. A collapsable umbrella for a buck and a half, silk bottle bags for next to nothing and a small tabletop tripod for our new camcorder. The drizzling rain has abated for the most part and we have no room left in my pack for carrying purchases so begin our roll back to the Four Seasons.
Thankfully, the name of the hotel is emblazoned on the upper cornice of the building since we get slightly turned around and we’re able to return safely and show off a few treasures to our American colleagues over a late lunch. We visit for quite awhile before preparing for the evening’s opening reception and dinner. It’s great to see Simona again and we catch up on her dancing activities. Allison Lapper eats with us and describes a project she is involved with that includes a 16 foot sculpture of her carved in Carerera marble that will stand in Trafalgar Square for 2 weeks before finding a permanent home somewhere in greater London. After remarks by Director Herr Moosleithner we dine, visit and enjoy our immense good fortune.
We are up early and have breakfast at the designated place on the 2nd floor. We eat with Simona and her mom. I stay in the room to watch a movie and finish my book while Anne meets with Lisa Chen, her sister Teresa, Jen, Tom and Lucy Yendell and go to the garment market to pick out fabric and have clothes custom made. She is overwhelmed by it all and couldn’t have done it without Lisa. She has a vest made for me and two jackets for herself. She also buys a shawl that is velvet and silk. They will deliver the clothes on Friday to the hotel. The prices are too good to be true. Lucy, Tom, and she take a cab back to the hotel at 12:30 and have lunch before we get ready to go to the exhibition.
Anne, Lucy and I walk to the Shanghai Art Museum so we don’t have to deal with the buses. It is a wonderful exhibition with 196 beautiful paintings. My favorite pieces in the show are by a new Chinese artist named Chang Jiang Li. After the exhibition we come back to the hotel and have dinner in the ballroom as a group. We spend the remainder of the evening visiting and meeting delegates.
I pass on breakfast on account of little sleep but get up and am at the general meeting by 10:00AM. After the meeting we have lunch in the ballroom and then everyone is off for different activities in the afternoon.
We walk to the museum and have a difficult time making them understand that I need a table to demonstrate my painting so I can be filmed. That finally happens and there is a group of students from East China Normal University who have on red sashes and are there to see the exhibition. There is also a man who is in a wheelchair and an artist. He wants me to write something that says that China and the US are united. After the museum, we walk to find the Jing An Temple. It is really beautiful and worth the long walk to get there. It seems so out of place in the middle of all of the modern high rise buildings.
We check out a beautiful garden across the street before heading back to the hotel. A guy on a bicycle stops us and asks why I’m in a wheelchair. He says that he thinks Chinese medicine could help me. We find our way back to the hotel and have a great dinner before retiring to the room to write.
Outsiders are not allowed to the morning session so Anne guides friends through the knockoff market for more bargains. Comments at the meeting are cut short since we are bound for a river cruise on the Huangpu River. Traffic is thick as we load onto buses and head towards the Bund. We secure a window seat and begin to take in the sights.
The giant Pearl Tower is directly across the waterway and gleams through the heavy smog. An entire city of skyscrapers is on the rise and we all wonder what the eventual impact this will all have in the future. We sail along with hundreds of other ships, ferries, barges and freighters from one giant suspension bridge to another. Lunch is an ample buffet of local fare washed down with glasses of Tsing tao beer. Anne takes many pictures of the view and our friends and we will be thrilled to relive the experience in the days to come. Back on the bus and head back to the hotel where Anne corrals Shirley and Kristi to join her and Jamie and Kathy for yet another trip to the market for last chance Shanghai shopping. Trevor, Dennis and I secure a small table in the lobby lounge and discuss business and general views. More people join us and by the time the ladies return we are a crowd and have finished 3 bottles of wine. We dine later with Simona, Adir and the Italians in the steakhouse.
This day will be devoted to saying goodbye to Shanghai and to friends old and new. Simona gives us a DVD of her dance performance that we will submit in hopes that she may come to Seattle sometime. Our joint excursion will be to Shanghai’s old town and Yu Yuan Gardens. It is an absolute mob scene with locals and tourists swarming all over the shops that lead to the ancient gardens. Our guide, Shirley, tells us some interesting facts as we wait our turn to enter the grounds. The access is difficult at times but the beauty and historical significance is worth it all. Anne buys an impressive fan and we decide on a couple small paintings on our way back to the buses. We all drive to the historic Peace Hotel for lunch and experience the lingering decadence of Shanghai’s shady past.
We have some time to relax and catch up on notes and write some postcards while the funeral of Monaco’s Prince Rainier is broadcast on CNN. We dress in our finery and join the other delegates at the reception preceding the gala. Anne begins distributing the parting gifts we have brought from home and we receive some delightful presents in return. We enter the ballroom to the strains of a traditional Chinese music and young contortionists on stage who twist their bodies in unbelievable positions. Simona and her mother join us and we sit next to Julie and Johnny Ang. VDMFK Director Moosleithner delivers remarks and then we are entertained by a magician, martial arts teams, acrobats and a string quartet. We distribute our remaining gifts and bid farewell to our friends and finally are in bed by midnight only to be awakened by Lisa requesting Anne to her room to pick up her jacket and my vest.
Our flight is supposed to leave at 1:15pm so we have some time for breakfast and talk to delegates. Our transport guide, Wendy, arrives and we load for what is supposed to be a 30-minute drive. There are anti Japanese protests under way that have migrated from Beijing and thousands of students have taken to the streets and bewildered police are redirecting traffic as best they can. The object of their derision is new school texts that rewrite the terrible atrcoities the Japanese inflicted on the Chinese in the past. We are obliged to take an alternate route but this way too is obstructed and we are soon in the thick of angry and shouting crowds.
It soon becomes apparent that we will miss our flight to Xian and there is nothing we can do but appreciate the first civil unrest since Tiananmen 16 years ago. We get some historic footage with our camcorder as we near the Japanese embassy, the site of the largest crowds and witness violence against motorists who happen to be driving Japanese cars. Wendy is excited by the demonstration and doesn’t seem too concerned that we have missed our flight and reassures us that there is no worry and the travel agency will arrange for the proper changes. We are met by Wendy’s boss and change our ticket and are ushered through security and deposited at our gate for a 2 -hour wait. We relax in a disabled lounge and Anne does several postcards. Our flight finally appears but there is no aisle chair. We are obliged to sit in first class and rest beneath thick, yellow comforters for our 2-hour flight to the ancient capital of China.
We are rather exhausted by the time we touch down, transfer to my chair and recover our bags. Our guide, Liu, is there to meet us and escorts us to our waiting van. It is not a big surprise that there is no lift into the van but there are no ramps either and we are forced to rely on brute strength to lift me up and into the back seat. Since we are running late, there is no time to check into our hotel and head directly to the dinner theatre in the middle of town. We pass by the city walls and go through the western gate that is illuminated against the evening sky. The evening’s entertainment is a spectacular production of music and dance from the Tang Dynasty. Authentic costumes are brilliantly lit and though the room is a tourist must-see and we feel kind of corny in parts of the show, it is exciting and terrific introduction to our adventure. We purchase a DVD of the show rather than film it ourselves and re-enter the busy night and load for the ten minute drive to the Sheraton. Our room is adequate but not nearly as nice as our room in Shanghai. We crash on the hard beds and are asleep within minutes.
We rise and rush downstairs to grab a bite of breakfast before loading in the van and driving to the Shaanxi History Museum. Built in the last couple of years in the Tang style, the museum is chock full of treasures from most of the dynasties going back to prehistory. Liu is quite knowledgeable and shares his learning and enthusiasm for China’s considerable achievements. Next we travel to an ancient Big Goose Pagoda that is also an active monastery. I am unable to scale the steps so explore the grounds while Anne and Liu pay their respects. It is a warm day and people are flying kites outside the grounds. The gardens are beautiful and the trees are pruned beautifully.
We load back in the van and drive down a very picturesque street. We arrive at the Defachang Restaurant for lunch and there is a steep ramp but the three of us get up it without any problems. We are seated at a large round table alone for an endless dumpling lunch. We probably eat 16 different dumplings with soy, chili sauce, and vinegar. Afterward we walk through a local flea market on the way to the Grand Mosque. It is built with a Chinese architecture but with a Mosque theme and Arabic writing. I couldn’t see a lot of the Mosque because of the steps so Lui showed Anne and I sat in one of the courtyards.
We walk back through the flea market and buy a Chinese flute and a new suitcase. We load back in the van and are off for the wall that surrounds the city. We arrive as they are doing the traditional ceremony to welcome visitors in the gates through the wall. I stay in the van while Lui and Anne go up the stairs to the top of the wall. We come back to the hotel for an hour and recharge the cameras and are off for dinner at the Wan Nian Hotel.
Today is the day we have waited long for and anticipated the most. The famed terracotta army of Qinshihuang lies about an hour’s drive from Xi’an and will provide an unprecedented look back in time to the magnificence and power that can be yielded by a single person. We rise early, have a western style breakfast and mail our postcards while waiting for Lui to arrive. When he does we load and begin our drive out to the countryside. The rustic nature of the villages we pass shows us another side of Chinese life and we know that we will soon be passing the mountain that houses the emperor’s tomb. We begin to see shops selling reproductions of the warriors and know we are getting close. The complex comes into view and the fresh construction tells us that we have come here at a perfect time. The crowds aren’t too bad and Liu is able to move me around and describes the sights. We first view a brief film that presents the history of the emperor and his reasons for constructing his army of clay.
Next, we enter Pit #1 and see hundreds of warriors in battle array. The sight is overwhelming and it is almost too much to take in. The fully restored figures are placed near the front and we are able to make out the facial characteristics from the deck surrounding the pit. Anne concentrates on filming the army and is able to circumnavigate the entire hall. We learn how the different infantry, charioteers, archers and officers are identified by their uniform and hairstyle and by their relative size. Behind the fully restored warriors we see the jumble of pieces that constitute the condition that the figures are originally found in. there is no restoration occurring during viewing hours but it takes little imagination to realize the colossal effort that goes into, and will continue to go into for decades to come, the reconstruction of this extreme archeological endeavor. We next view the bronze chariots that have been unearthed at a different site in the temporary exhibition and then make our way to Pit #2. Here there are only a few complete warriors reconstructed and placed in glass display cases that allow for close up examination. The majority of the area is still covered in earth with a few warriors protruding from the ground and appearing to be waking up after centuries of slumber. The entry ramps have been exposed and the process of installation is clear.
The last pit is reserved for higher-ranking figures and will probably remain as it is. The figures are more deeply placed and in no particular position. We have seen the treasures and now require some nourishment. The restaurant escalator is utilized to help me ascend to the dining room. Our lunch is very good and we sit next to a cook producing handmade noodles. We’re able to locate an elevator for our descent and purchase a guidebook in the nearby gift shop. I have Anne deposit a pin in the corner of the planter near the wheelchair ramp to Pit #1. One of the villagers who discovered the warriors signs our book. We return to the van and are glad to have come early, as the crowds are still packing through the entrance. It begins to drizzle slightly and both Anne and Liu catch a nap on the way back. We’re offered a tour of a jade and carpet factory but know there will be strong pressure to buy something we don’t really want so decline the suggestion. Back at the hotel we stay in and catch up on packing and writing. There is really nothing in our immediate area of note and Anne is somewhat tired so we bide our time, have a pleasant dinner where we engage Michael, a young, Dutch employee of the hotel in conversation and rest in our room until bedtime.
We have time for a leisurely breakfast and speak with VDMFK President Eros Bonamini for a while. Liu is there a little early so we load up and head to the airport. Along the way we see more mounds that are the burial sites of other emperors and it seems remarkable that they are undisturbed. At the airport, we have a light lunch and speak with a young Indian couple who have just come where we are going. Liu helps us through our check in and we discover that we’re over our allotted weight and have to pay $40.00 for the extra pounds. Just like our flight here from Shanghai, my wheelchair will only reach first class and we are again subjected to premier status for the hour and a half trip to Beijing. It is fairly warm when we touch down and have little trouble deplaning and recovering our bags. Michael, a young guide from destination China is there to meet us and escorts us to our waiting van. Mercifully, this one has a lift at the end but is so short that my head bumps the roof and I can only see out by leaning way over to one side.
We become acquainted during the drive into town and arrive at the Penninsula Palace Hotel in time to unload the bags and freshen up before our scheduled Peking duck dinner at Hepingmen Restaurant a few miles away. It is one of the poshest rooms we’ve ever had with a big flat screen TV, marble bathroom, separate controls for every function, even a readout of the outside temperature. We meet downstairs at the appointed time, load and are almost immediately entrenched in traffic due to the lowering of the flag in nearby Tiannamen Square. Soon though, we’re moving again and arrive ready to feast on succulent duck and side dishes of beef, mushrooms and bok choy. Anne burns her mouth a bit on the soup and is surprised to see the long spouted teapot refillers who pour from 3 feet away without spilling a drop. Our duck is sliced at our table and we are shown how to dip the pieces in hoi sin sauce, add a few strands of onion and wrap in a mu shu type wrap. It is absolutely terrific tasting and we try to ignore the process of fattening up the young birds by force feeding them 4 times a day.
The room is decorated in typical Chinese style with red and gold columns and an enormous painting of the Great Wall at one end. Michael reappears and we exit down a steep ramp and return to the hotel. We spy Tom Yendell and brother David with Ruth Christiansen and her companions and spend a few moments visiting. In spite of a cold wind, we decide to wander a pedestrian shopping street nearby and look at some cameras and things but purchase nothing. The cold drives us back to the hotel where we lounge in our room and luxuriate until bedtime.
My snoring has impeded Anne’s sleep a bit and the hardness of the mattress has kept me from a full night’s sleep but we’re ready for an eventful and memorable day. Anne gets a workout in and returns to inform me that a new pope has been elected. Benedict the XVI is a German and even more conservative than his predecessor. We run behind time some and have to wolf down our complimentary breakfast buffet. Michael is not there to meet us but his replacement, Jason, speaks better English, is a stronger fellow and will be more fun to be with. It’s very cold and windy as we load into the van and drive to Tianamen Square.
The vast plaza is filling with tourists, students, Rolex watch vendors, soldiers and a long queue for nationals to view the preserved body of Chairman Mao. If not for the cold we would be tempted to hang out and soak up the atmosphere but opt for a couple quick photographs before descending the underpass that leads to the Forbidden City. We enter the grounds under the enormous portrait of Mao and trod the avenue once reserved for the Emperor alone. Much of the city is undergoing renovation in preparation for the 2008 Olympics and is shrouded in plastic. It is an extraordinary sight and Anne does well to capture it with our 2 cameras. The access is difficult as expected with my chair and we elicit help to climb one of the flights of steps to an enormous hall. From the top I can tell that the going gets even rougher so I decide to enjoy the heightened vantage point while Anne and Jason explore the inner grounds. It is a marvelous time and my imagination reels at the history and culture this area has witnessed.
The sun begins to break through and immediately warms everyone. The wind chill is still in effect but it is much more comfortable as Anne and Jason return. We begin our departure and choose a corner to the left of the main entrance to stash a pin under a large stone. After loading into the van we drive to a Spanish restaurant, Mare. I order the foie stuffed chicken and Anne gets seabass. Both dishes are superb and we feel well rested for the afternoon’s adventure. The Temple of Heaven occupies three times the area of the Forbidden City and features temples, halls, gardens and avenues of pine and cypress trees. Multitudes of locals are playing card games along a railing and several singing groups are generating music that is alternately pleasing and grating. Lucky birds (magpies) are flying about and we run into a couple we met at the airport in Xian. We get some help ascending a steep incline and then arrange for a group of soldiers to carry me up and down other stairs. Anne accesses other areas and gets close to majestic temples and acoustical anomalies. We pass by enormous braziers that once held sacrifices of young children who were burned alive and struggle to appreciate the ancient customs.
We have determined to attend an evening acrobatic performance so return to the hotel for a brief rest, type some of this journal and dress up a little. Our seats are front and center for an incredible display of balance, strength and agility. The costumes and dramatic lighting create a fantastic show of jugglers, tightrope performers, tumblers, bicycle teams and jumping lion dancers that are a marvel to behold. Again I feel a typical tourist but am pleased to witness this extravaganza in the country of its origin. It isn’t too late by the time we return to the hotel so Anne watches a movie while I type and gather things in preparation for our next full day of our far eastern adventure.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
After a prolonged morning routine we are down to breakfast by 8:30 and run into Tom and David just as we are leaving. We talk about the Great Wall and they say it is way too steep to even think about climbing so we probably won’t be there too long. We will be visiting the Juyongguan Section. After we arrive it is obvious that I will not be able to get up any of the wall so we find a place for me to stay and write post cards while they attempt the ascent. I draw quite a crowd who watch me write postcards with my mouth with an awesome view of this engineering marvel. Anne decides to climb all the way to the top and Jason assures her that the first section will be the hardest , but after we arrive at the first level she sees that there is actually a long way to go and many more stairs that go straight up. She is committed and goes for it. They take several short rests and drink all their water and make it all the way to the top. Jason admits to her that this is the first time that he has actually made it all the way to the top.
After they climb down we reconnect and are loaded up for a drive further up in the mountains for a great lunch. The restaurant, Commune by The Great Wall, is very contemporary and looks quite out of place. One of the best meals we have ever had. After lunch we are off for the Sacred Way leading to the Ming Tombs. It is a beautiful and quite fragrant walk with extraordinary ancient mythical animals and high-ranking military officials (marble sculptures) lining the walkway. We learn that the turtle is a symbol for longevity and one of the children of the dragon. We must touch his head to have good fortune the rest of our lives and if we touch his rear all of our dreams will come true.
After this adventure we stop at a teahouse for a wonderful Chinese tea service. We buy a lot of tea, some cups, a strainer and got three pee-pee boys for free for buying all the tea. We load back in the van and it is time for dinner, which I can’t believe. Jason takes us to the Imperial Resturant at Beihai Park on a beautiful lake that they called the North City Sea. I have to be carried over many tall thresholds and up and down many stairs. The atmosphere is amazing with ancient paintings, gilded furnishings and the ever present dragon. Jason delivers us back to the hotel and we spend the rest of the evening doing my journal and stamping postcards.
I don’t get much sleep and Anne is sick at her stomach. This should be an interesting day. I skip breakfast for a little more sleep but Anne brings some food back. We meet Jason and drive to the Summer Palace, an enormous park with numerous halls, pagodas, a huge man made lake and a long covered walkway. The access is difficult at times but it is a beautiful and warm day and in spite of the crowds it is a most enjoyable time. Anne takes many pictures and film footage and I acquire a couple 2008 Olympic pins for my collection. We take a ferry across the lake to the south island where Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets will carry the Olympic torch the last leg of its journey. We hear about more human sacrifice to appease the water god and cross the seventeen arch bridge. Lunch is not too far away and comprises more typical Chinese fare. Then we stop briefly at a stamp store and acquire a few sets before making out way to our last shopping spree at the silk market, a 3 story mall that sells just about everything. I buy one more Tommy Bahama shirt, a Rolex knockoff and a sweet hand-carved wooden jar for my brushes. Anne buys several shirts for the kids, a beret for Janie and a linen blouse. We return to the hotel to freshen up and begin to pack.
Dinner will be a grand affair at a private club in the Yutan neighborhood so we dress up, I even wear a bow tie and matching vest, and Anne wears her beautiful dark blue dress. It is a very impressive establishment and though I struggle along tight corridors and over steep thresholds we enjoy dinner very much and are pleased that Jason can join us at this farewell meal. The moon is nearly full as we depart and load into the van and Venus looks to be right next to it. Jason has picked up the Chinese zodiac seals we have had made for the grandkids and they look terrific. It’s been one of the most amazing journeys we have yet been on and now we labor to continue packing and prepare for an all day flight.
Jason greets us and gives us a miniature set of buddahs as a departing gift. We are away to the airport and tip both Jason and our driver. Our long flight seems mercifully short and eventually we touch down at SeaTac Airport. It is great to be home and we are both amazed that our yard is in full bloom after only being gone a short time.