Monday, December 29, 2008

This Is It

After almost two weeks of travel, we are about to return to Maplewood, back where it all began...

Lots to do in the coming weeks, beginning with enrolling the kids in school... I will get back to regular postings, which should help me etain my sanity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home, We're Headed Home

...well, eventually.

II am writing from Tokyo Narita Airport. We are gone from Beijing...exahusted, worn out...too tired to feel much emotion except happy that we are finished with the packing and loading out and good byes. Lots of great memorable times in the last week or two alone.

And lots of little boys crying, too. Jacob's friends almost all cried saying good bye. It was sweet...and sour.

We will be in Honolulu tomorrow morning, which will still be today, in the longest day of our lives, a 48-hour marathon. Look at a globe and the int' date line and you will understand.

We had a 6-hour layover here and went into the town of Narita for a nice afternoon and a great teppanyaki/sashimi dinner.



Sayonara.... and go Steelers. Happy I will be home for the playoffs.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tick tock tick tock...



It has been intense and difficult. I just said good bye to Ding ayi, who was in tears. She and Anna have been so close. Really nice relationship. She has been a big part of our family.

They had a big ceremony in school today, giving each of them a picture of the entire junior school (second through sixth grade) signed by their class and friends. There were a lot of kids. I hear that a total of 50 are leaving Dulwich. Things are definitely going to get interesting around here.

Afterwards, I wanted to take pictures of the boys and their buddies. Jacob's friend Kerk was sobbing uncontrollably. He lives across the street and he and Jacob have an extraordinary relationship, constantly in and out of one another's houses. I know how much Jacob would miss Kerk and that is how much Kerk will miss Jacob. It's tough to replace that kind of friendship. Those two are so cute together, totally in sync.

Jacob and his friend Edward, who is also leaving, looked bewildered and lost.

Eli is finally understanding what he is leaving and he was sobbing at bedtime last night. Now he is talking about coming back for a visit. We may try for April break. it is highly recommended if feasible.

I am glad he is feeling the complexity a bit. He has been so gung ho about leaving. I feared he was really idealizing the U.s. and overlooking what he was giving up. I think it is healthy for him to be more well rounded. The rest of us have been processing this for months.

Anna asked again yesterday why mommy has to move. But she will be fine quickly. She is amazingly resilient happy and social.

I am very glad we are going on vacation on our way back.. that is seeming smarter by the day. Giant decompression chamber.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

MOving along...

So time ticks away. We're down to five days.

The WSJ.com Chinese event on Sunday night was rally nice. I am falling further and further behind on my photos. We have been continuing to clean out the house, tidy up school affairs, etc. We went out to dinner with a bunch of friends at Da Dong, a great duck restaurant and more. I am going to miss the food a lot.

Feeling pretty good. Sad but happy to have had this great experience and almost ready to go home after all this. We still have two more gigs to go.

Growth of a Family



Just came across this pic of our new family leaving our house in Ann Arbor. Sept. 1998.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hungover

I am hungover both literally and metaphorically. Packed up the house Tues, Weds, Thursday, barely staying one step ahead of the packers. Going away party for Becky, work, on Thursday night, leading to a wine-soaked Italian meal until the wee hours. Last night, we had our going away party.. really nice time with so many great friends at the Orchard, which has been one of our favorite restaurants and bases since we arrived here. The band played. It was a late night and today... I can barely move or think.

Lots of pictures coming soon if I can get them off my camera.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Video... ran with my column

Out of the House

Well we are out of the house and back where we tarted three and a half years ago: living in a service apartment with all our belongings boxed up and out of sight. the best thing about how difficult the move is is it eliminates a lot of the emotion. You just become happy to be moving on and done with it. The movers were there three days and we made it a lot more stressful by packing up one room while they loaded another. But I wouldn't trade that trip to Tibet for anything, including a less stressful move.

Three days packing and no six weeks or so until our stuff arrives in Maplewood. Only 8 or 9 days and four gigs to go until we leave.

Just came back from office official going away party for becky. Very nice affair.

I somehow wrote a column amidst the chaos of last few days wad it will be up online within hours.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Going Out With A Bang

Big today tomorrow, as the movers are arriving to begin packing up our house. It is all a little surreal and quite exhausting... We are ripping through our house, dividing into multiple piles: sea ship, air ship, keep, giveaway, throw out, sell...

Anyhow, I still have four gigs left, including this one. We are playing acoustic Sunday night and the real event is "meet Alan Paul." For Chinese readers of my translated column.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Random Great Wall pics



Our friends Mark and Karen and family, from that last wild Wall trip.. I had to put them up so Mark can easily download... don't ask.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tibet continued...
















What a great coda to our time in China. Tibet was really fabulous. It is a mythical place and yet it did not disappoint. Not to bad to look at, huh?

These pictures were taken in a few different places. The ones with the yeks and the blues, blue water in the lake were a couple of hours outside of Lhasa. The yaks were at the top of a pass, which was about 15,000 feet high. The lake was down the other side a bit. It is a holy lake, and very beautiful ne. The snow mountain on the other side is about 22,000 feet high.

As I said in an earlier post, one cool thing about being there now is all the rural pilgrims in the city.. They just had the most incredible faces! The similarities in both looks and some styles (silver and turquoise jewelry being the most noticeable example) to native Americans is really quite stunning. I’m not sure if anyone has done DNA testing but I would really like to know if there is a genetic connection. Sometimes you really feel like you are looking at American Indians.

Anyhow, many of the most incredible looking people were from the country side and they are still wearing their traditional dress. Our guide would point people out and tell us exactly where they were from. He could tell by their hair ornaments, their jewelery, their hats, the colors of their aprons. Ad he was always right. That fascinated me. Really, just looking at them was my favorite part of the trip and it would be a tremendous loss to not see them.

There is a definite military and police presence in the Bokhur Market, with Chinese army troops stationed on a couple of rooftops and occasionally marching through in formation, little groups of four or five shoulders armed with machine guns. Other than during the Olympics, I have ever seen armed soldiers in Beijing, and apparently they were not here before the March riots. If you looked carefully, you could see soldiers on some rooftops as well.

On Beijing Lu, where the worst rioting happened, you can still see some damaged buildings and there were more Chinese soldiers there, on some corners, standing at attention with riot shields. It is a tricky situation and everyone needs to compromise but people calling for Free Tibet seem hopelessly na├»ve to me. Great powers do not willingly give up huge chunks of land. I’ll just leave it there because I don’t want to get into a political rant of any stripe.

Going there it is hard not to feel great sympathy and admiration for the Tibetan people, but also to see a lot of concrete improvements the Chinese have brought there, in terms of infrastructure, poverty alleviation , etc. And I know for a fact that people – Tiebtan people – are being hurt by the economic pain that is partly due to a fall in tourism since the disturbances.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tibetan Portraits












Few people travel to Tibet in winter, in fear of it being too cold. But the weather was a pleasant surprise. Though t e mornings and evenings were cold – probably about 25-30 degrees – the days were warmed by a strong sun. It was 50-55 degrees – considerably warmer than Beijing – and really nice and pleassnt.

Other advantages of winter travel: very few tourists (even more so since the riots last March) and many more pilgrims. I wrote earlier about the stream of Tibetans on pilgrimages to Lhasa, streaming around the Bokhur Market and walking a path around the holiest sites – the Johkur Temple and the Potala Palace.

The people are just so cool looking. I stood outside on the edge of Market while Becky was looking at necklaces, smiling at people. When we made eye contact, I said "Tashi Dalek" which seems to be like shalom -- hello, peace, love, greetings. Then when it seemed right, I pointed to my camera and said, in Chinese, "may I?" Most stopped and smiled, a few -- mostly old woman -- shook their heads no or waved their hands. One guy asked for money. The rest stopped and looked right in the camera.

I think they have amazing faces.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lhasa Day Three

Well, my camera broke yesterday. Luckily, we had a spare, pocket camera.. until that broke too. I don't know what is going on. Perhaps the altitude? Neither was dropped or anything.. worked and then didn't.

Anyhow, I did get a lot of great pictures beforehand and they will hopefully surface sooner or later.

We went to high mountain lake, passing a pass of about 15,000 feet. Gorgeous. On the other end of the lake, about 60 km away was a 22,000 foot peak. Just an unreal sight, which I hope to share with you sooner or later.

No more guesses on the pilgrim's age? Dr. Kann perhaps, an expert observer of humankind?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lhasa Day 2

We made the rounds today. Visited Potala Palace, highest and largest palace in the world in the morning, then the Bokhur Market, filled with pilgrims circling the city and the Jokhur Temple.. the holiest of holy spots for Tibetan Buddhism. In front there are lines of pilgrims prostrating themselves. Our guide some people do it for days on end.

It's all very moving. Feeling better in terms of the latitude. Tomorrow we are going to higher lake in the mountains. Too tired to write more.



In front of Potala Palace, after our visit.

With our very nice guide Li Don.

Hundreds of pilgrims walk loops around Lhasa all day.
The mountains are stunning.

Turning the prayer wheel.

Pilgrim from the countryside making her
first visit to Lhasa. This was at Potala.
Anyone care to guess her age? Winner gets
a bag of yak jerky.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Made it to Lhasa


We are in Lhasa, chilling now at the Himalaya Hotel. Lo and behold, they have internet access pathetically, the first thing I did was check if the Steelers won and read up n the game. It is an illness.

We basically just pulled in from the airport and came here, meandering through town a bit. I’ve heard a lot of people say that Lhasa has become “just another Chinese town” but that is rubbish. First of all the geography of the region is too breathtaking, stunning and just plain odd. I doesn’t look like anywhere else.

Coming in from the air you start passing over large brown mountains, just a few of which are really high and snow-capped – as cool and impressive as they are they are nothing like the big glorious beauties we saw in Western Sichuan on that crazy trip. Descending, I was struck by how dry it was; everything brown. I saw lots o glacial valleys. We had a really bumpy descent, being thrown all over the place until we came through the air pocket.

The drive no town – about 75 km —is quite stunning, crossing over two rivers, one of which is clearly a big alluvial plain and swamp n the spring. We passed through a mile-plus tunnel – which is two years old and supposedly the first tunnel in Tibet and stopped at a giant carved Buddha, which is 900 years old. (See photo)

Nearing town, you come around bend and suddenly the Potala Palace is visible, It is the palace of the Dalai Lama and before that the Tibetan kings. It is huge and sits a top a hill in the center of the city. For centuries it was the tallest building in the world and, as I said, you can see it for miles.

Up close its scale is stunning; it is just huge, huge, huge. We are going in to visit tomorrow morning.

I would like nothing more than to say I was unaffected b y the elevation – Lhasa is 3,700 meters, which I guess is about 11,000 feet . I figured after all those hikes up to Snowmass’ Hanging Valley Wall at a similar elevation I’d be fine but I definitely feel a little lihgt headed and headachey and just generally buzzy. Not too bad at all, just weird. And that is with taking Diaxomol in a small dose since yesterday. I had a coke at dinner and really felt better. Caffeine is always my friend.

They have an Oxygen machine in the room but I won’t be needing that. Hope to be off the meds by the end of the day tomorrow.. in the meantime just taking it easy and drinking lots of green tea and water.

Very happy to be here, even for a too-brief visit

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lhasa, Here we come

B and I go to Lhasa, Tibet tomorrow morning for four days. We will be bcak late Monday night. Kids are staying at different friends. Our last great travel adventure for now. Details to follow, eventually.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the Kitchen



Hou ayi shows Jacob how to roll out cookies.

I am going to really miss her and not just her fantastic food. She is a great person in addition to being a great cook and wonderful employee. She made us this huge needlepoint as a going-away present. I will take a picture and get that up soon.

Some things cross cultural barriers. I showed this to Hou ayi and she said, "Ai. Wo hen pa!" ("I'm so fat!") That cracked me up.

Great article about China

I generally really like James Fallows' work a lot. He is very sensible, writes cleanly and clearly -- and we share most of the same opinions. This is very convenient. Latest point in hand is this story about how and why China has such a hard time projecting anything a reasonable international image.

We Are the Champions...


We had our bi annual mixed gender 3 v 3 hockey tournament on Sunday night and Team Grace, featuring yours truly won the whole thing in stirring fashion. I am leaving my hockey career in a blaze of glory, including a two-goal game and overall solid play. Big fun.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Starting to wrap things up

We’re still taking it one day at a time but we can count how many weekends we have left on one hand now and it all feels a bit surreal.

It’s weird because obviously when we came here we knew it wasn’t permanent and we don’t want it to be. Yet some part of us feels like traitors for leaving. Whenever you go to these going away parties and prepare to say good bye to people you always have mixed feelings and a little bit of a sense of sticking it out while others abandon ship. “They’re leaning but we are still here; we’re tough. We’re real.”

It’s not really rational or fair and you don’t really feel that way, but there’s an element of something there percolating around.

And we are loyalists to whatever our cause is. We are put-down roots people. And it feels all wrong to be on the “traitorous” side of things. Even though I know no one really thinks we’re traitors, it still feels wrong.

Does that make any sense at all?

I’ve had some interesting conversations with people. My friend Dierdre, who is an expat lifer, said to me, “I’m just surprised you guys are going back to where you came from.”

“Why?”

“You just don’t seem the type.”

“What do you mean?”

“You travel every chance you get. You love living here. You love all the adventure. I’ve seen so many people who spend all their time abroad pining for home. And I’ve seen people like you who take advantage of every minute they are living somewhere else. And it is really hard for those people to go back where they came from.

“I’m sorry but I think you are going to struggle. Be careful.”

I guess I could have been insulted by that, but I really welcome having frank talks with Dierdre, who is generally insightful and always refreshingly open, honest and straight-forward. And I know what she means.

We have thrown ourselves into life here and we have never lived like it was temporary even though we knew it was. I think that has really been a key to our success, and I’m nervous going back about not throwing myself back into life there. I don’t ant to live in the past there anymore than I did here.

I need to be careful about that. I’ve never been a nostalgic “those were the days” guy and I don’t want to start being one now. Feel free to smack me if I ever say something like “did I ever tell you about the time my band Woodie Alan played this big festival?”

Anyhow, we are moving along.. shopping for furniture, overseeing some work on our home back in Mwood, booking final gigs, and planning a host of going –away parties…There should be enough so that people will be sick of us by the time we leave…. An official transition one for the paper, with sources, officials, etc, plus a bureau party for the bureau, plus our own farewell bash.. plus the kids all want them, which I think is a great idea. Plus Thanksgiving here, which will be just in front of the moving truck and packers.

Also, we are headed to Tibet next weekend.. kids will stay here with friends. So that’s exciting.

Obviously, before we know what hit us we will be back in Maplewood.

We are also going to have problems with our shipping because we are WAY OVER our weight imit.. among the things we are returning with that we didn't move here with:

two couches, two large chairs, huge dining room table (solid wood), eight dining chairs (solid wood), huge solid wood buffet and hutch, three large Chinese antique tables... three or four semi antique dressers/buffets.. approx. 10 large paintings...two or three mid sized stone statues, a bunch of small ones...

And so it goes….

Friends








We came a long way to become dear friends with a guy from flint, but it was worth it. We have had Sunday brunch/lunch with the Kronick Family almost every day for to years, following Sunday School.

Just great family friends. Samuel has been one of Jacob's main hombres almost since day one. he and Eli are also very close. Eli and Scott have a great relationship (as you can see in these pics). Anna worships big sister Jacqueline. Lisa is also a great friend and someone whose opinion we greatly value.

Scott and I met by being randomly assigned to coach soccer together within the first weeks of our arrival here and have coached every session together. That's about 10 teams. It's really been a lot of fun.

Eli at school

Eli is having a great year. He has received his bronze and silver certificates for good effort and behavior, which he is very proud of. He has a really nice teacher who likes him and does not try to always pound his square little peg into round hole.