Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kolden, "Wild Kingdom" Report, Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Good morning, kids!

Driving home last night I surveyed the storm's aftermath.  Branches were tossed about as were garbage cans and other detritus.  Fortunately, only small branches remained in the yet-to-soak-in lake in my yard.

After supper I spied these young whitetail bucks in velvet browsing.  They have yet to shed their winter coats and it is probably just as well in light of the cold rain and high winds they endured of late.

I saw movement and discovered a porcupine grazing in the alfalfa field.  The punk rock hairdo created by guard hair standing erect on his head, made me laugh.  The photo is poor quality but, I had to post it.  It's fairly rare to see a porcupine in the daylight.

Since the porcupine was heading away from the house, I got ready for bed and then Jim informed me that instead of the porky leaving the house, he came right up and began snacking on the raspberry bushes!  Pictures were impossible as there was little light left.  I was admiring the porky and deer eating raspberry leaves when along came a raccoon!  The deer was not a bit afraid of the raccoon but, gave the porcupine a wide berth.  Soon, the porcupine wandered into the brush and the deer was not far behind him.  Trailing the pair went the raccoon!  I wondered what was so enticing that three animals of differing species were attracted to it?  I also wondered if there are cameras that function in near zero light conditions?  It would have been priceless to have that shot at close range. 

Today,  there was "smoke on the water" again.  The sun was already up so pictures of the sunrise were out.  I did capture this shot of leafy branches with the fog behind.

Looking at this shot, I wonder where the trail might lead?  Does something wonderful lie just around the corner?

This dove sat quietly in the sunshine.

This small puddle of rainwater is now home to a duck who was out for a morning swim.

Fog hung in the air on the river bottom, even as the sun shone brightly.

Water stills rushes from the hills to low lying areas, making more "temporary duck ponds".

Even the cows were contented today, grazing in the sun's warmth.

Thought for the day:  Remember to think positive.  The glass IS always half full. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kolden Rain Report, Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good morning, kids!

We've had much rain in the past few days.  I woke to drenching droplets and gray skies.

The thirsty soil has been getting a much- deserved, deep drink.

I was tickled to see the fat drops highlighted at the base of the historic Missouri River Bridge.

This shot is from last weekend.  I forgot to include "Tom Turkey" in my previous report.  He took off running when he saw me.  Being spooky is how he has survived this long, undoubtedly.

This is the home of "Mama Robin" and her 4 blue eggs.  She's had quite a ride these past few days with all the big wind and heavy rains. Will have to check and see if she's "still aboard" this tiny tree.

We had a bit of a lake in our yard this morning.  Mother earth is getting a much needed soak.

This rooster sat, hunched up and unhappy, while his hen grazed last night.  I tried to get a shot of him shaking off the rain with no luck.

Here is a street puddle in town being pelted with huge droplets.

The sun occasionally shone through the dense cloud cover blanketing our area as the strong winds pushed the clouds on by.

I like the "feel" of this shot, in particular the foreground -only focus.

Again, the sun tries valiantly to burn through the cloud cover.

                   For those of us with gardens seeded, this drenching rain is nature's perfection. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

China Trip, Chapter Three, "China!"-Under construction

Chapter Three - China!

Penny, Liping and I were off to the silk market on foot, amid a cacophony of sights,
sounds, smells and motion! I could not always identify what we were looking at but I think these are dried (perhaps salted ) fishes.

There was an assortment of bulk, dried fungus and critters for sale.

I was glad that I'd put on a cooler top than I had been wearing on the flights, as it was warm out. The market was a hall lined with  vendor's booths separated by tarps. My first purchase was a pair of socks as the
ones I was wearing were too short and my heel was getting sore. I paid about 45
cents for these NBA anklets.

We found small hand crank flashlights for less than a $1.50 each and we each got one.

It was a sight to see. Many of the vendors screamed their own advertising at the top
of their lungs. One woman was selling dried mushrooms by weight and she had her
small child strapped to her back. They both seemed quite content with the

Penny bought the most, scoring silk pajamas (which Meiya petted when I wore them -
she liked the feel and so did I), a jewel encrusted cardigan and three silk blouses.

I bought a necklace for 1O Yuan (about $1.35) and a silk blouse for 10 Yuan. Liping
got two tank tops for 40 Yuan (just under 6 bucks) and also one of the silk blouses.

We nearly had to give the silk blouses back as Liping had bargained for a 30-Yuan
price and then the vendor raised it to 38! Penny was going to wear one of the new
shirts as it was thinner than the one she had on but, Liping made her take it off
and we were instructed to walk away. After a heated discussion, the dealer relented
we ended up with our price.

We stopped by a teahouse on the way home and bought a
tea presentation case and one "disk" of Puehre tea (black tea native to Kunming).

Once home, we were served a delicious dinner of many courses.
I was having some coordination problems working the chopsticks and decided lack of sleep was to blame!
As soon as dinner was over, I went straight to bed since I'd had little more than
naps for the last 2 days. On my pillow I found a baggie of my favorite homemade
peanut butter cookies, baked by sister Penny and carted to China, as well as a new
towel, terry cloth robe and washcloth. Near the door were new slippers for me and a
pair of thongs or shower shoes, to be used when going to and from the shower. I'd
also been provided a brand new toothbrush and cup for rinsing! Liping and her
parents had thought of everything! It was like a luxury hotel.

The next morning, Liping's father served us large round fried eggs and a cereal that
looked like paste and tasted like dirt to me.

 The eggs were good. Milk comes in little cartons like juice boxes or bigger cartons about the size of a small cereal box.

We got a call from Nate (Penny's son, my nephew, Liping's husband, Meiya's
father) that we should let Jim know that I had arrived safely! Liping set me up on
the Yahoo messenger site and I called and talk to Jim.

We then got ready and headed
out shopping! Many tiny shops abound, one right next to the other with homes

Wares were displayed floor to ceiling and even on the ceiling in some
shops! We tried on jeans in one place after the shopkeeper measured us however they
didn't even begin to fit. If the hips fit okay, the waist bagged terribly.

We spied a street vendor who had watermelons in a little cart behind his bicycle.
Liping bought one to take home.

 The street vendors were everywhere, selling  everything you can imagine. Many of the English translations on t-shirts and such  made little sense and we found them hilarious! Some t-shirts seen were:

"I give all a cheerful smile because I am in the happy monkey." (Alright then!)

"When all hope is lost, glitters is gold." (Huh?)

"She is my princes." (No spell check?)

We also saw a shirt with a picture of a cute little orange cartoon character
flashing the peace sign. Emblazoned below it was the not-so-peaceful message: "
F**K OFF" (Something was certainly lost in translation there!)

Penny was toting a "Mao bag" (canvas bag with a picture of Chairman Mao on it) that
she had purchased while waiting for me to get to China and I also got one at the
same shop while Penny got a camera bag. Liping did all the "bargaining".

We lunched at a teeny ancient "restaurant" (and I use the term loosely).

It was really just a hole in the wall lunch counter with seating for about 4 on the street level and
seats in the attic for about 12 up a steep narrow set of stairs. Liping ordered for
us and Penny and I climbed up the stairs after squeezing by those sitting at the

A few short legged tables and chairs were up in the attic and there was a
"window" that allowed a view into the attic next to the restaurant.   I found it odd to view a person's legs through the "window"!

Our lunch was noodle bowls. They were a mix of color and texture and were very
picy. Dessert was a gelatinous clear pudding with sugar and a little cake patty
that was soft and made of rice. You were to stir it all up and then eat it.

After lunch, Penny bought a blue and white pottery bowl and a fancy chopstick set while I
bought a red lipstick case and mirrored jewel box. We each got lacquered boxes at a
shop brimming with interesting and ornate wooden items.

 I got two smaller boxes and  Penny got a larger one. Liping did all the bargaining for us at this point, giving
us hints in English.

On the walk back home, I bought two pair of sunglasses and it was a good thing as I let Meiya hold mine and she promptly broke one of the bows off of them. I'd had that pair for several years (which for me is a record) so I was due for new ones!

Once back home, we are served a banquet of many dishes and after, Liping, her
father, Penny, Meiya and I walked to the silk shop to order clothing.

 Penny is measured for a jacket and blouse and I for a top. There is a lady with a horribly
bent spine and a large hump on her back working there. She's only about 4' tall but
has a dazzling smile and beautiful face. We see several other women sewing clothing
including one working on a very large hand embroidered silk wall hanging. She had
been working on it for 6 months and when finished it would only bring about $1400.00

On the second floor were bolts and bolts of silk and a woman sewing at an
ancient machine. A birdcage clung to the ceiling and a bird fluttered about in itsbamboo prison seeming quite upset by our presence.

Meiya became restless so I took her for a walk down the street to where a shoe store
is playing music. Meiya is mesmerized! She loved the techno beat and danced by
shifting her weight side to side, stiff legged.

After a time, we head back to the
silk shop where Liping's "Baba" (father) thinks that Penny's jacket or shirt should
be mid thigh length and he gestures as such, repeatedly and vigorously. (We will
later have hysterics about the gesturing in regard to our "wide parts" on a regular

Liping is irritated by her father's strong, antiquated opinion. Penny
suggests that he take Meiya and head home, a suggestion, which Liping apparently
agreed with. We are pretty sure that Liping does not ask her father to go home but
possibly orders him to go. He leaves immediately; we finish the measuring and soon

The next day will bring our trip to Lijang and I have trouble sleeping. I am mostly
ready to go and even so my wheels keep turning, thinking of the many things I could
be up doing. I had green tea before bed and suspect it was a caffeine load that I'm
not used to at time of sleep. Penny woke to use the bathroom and since we were to
get up at 0430 a.m. anyway, we stayed up talking and giggling until finally we got
up and showered. We were ready for breakfast by the time Baba served us delicious
oatmeal, boiled eggs and fruit. Mama and Baba hailed a taxi for the four of us
(Penny, Liping, Meiya and I) and we were off to the airport where we decided that
the city speed limit must be 65 mph!

We caught an early morning flight to Lijiang. Set our alarm clock, Kitty's watch
alarm and instructed Nate to call us, all for 4:30 AM. Two out of 3 succeeded (the
watch was set correctly but not turned on). Kitty and I coulnd't sleep well for fear
of missing our flight - some residual trauma from earlier missed flight issues,
perhaps? Or perhaps it was the continual peeing (no more tea for Kitty before bed)
and pooping (3 times in one night - she's no longer full of shit). And she came back
admiring the rainbow hues of the last one. I asked if she took a picture and the
giggles were on. By the way, there will be odors in China, and some of them will
come from you! You will probably find yourself coming out of a restroom humming
'smelly cat, smelly cat, what are they feeding you'...

Things I have learned:

China has dairy and bread.

Guests are not allowed to help with meal preparation or dishes after the meal.

Attempt to carry a used bowl or chopstick to the kitchen and you will be instantly
surrounded by 2 or 3 excited Chinese people that I think could play guard for the
NBA. They will remove the dish from your hands and escort you to a soft seat.

We arrive at the Kunming airport and get in the line to check in with a large tour
group. One couple was from Pittsburgh! Locals! We get our boarding passes and go
to security where Liping and I are wanded and frisked! (I was thinking oh,
no...."examined" again!) I imagine that a small Chinese woman carrying a squirming
toddler does pose a significant security risk. Penny only had her bag riffled
through...her knitting needles and hairbrush were closely examined.

 We have time for a quick cup of tea before boarding and after proceeded to our "waiting hall" which
is what the boarding gates are called at the Kunming airport.

Flight recording on the way to Lijang: "The passenger in the lavatory should put
oxygen mask on their position!" And you thought it should go on your face!

We arrive in Lijang after a short flight over mountainous terrain. We were picked up
by Liping's cousins, one who worked at the hotel we stayed at (known hereafter as
Hotel Uncle), another cousin who worked in a bank (known hereafter as Uncle Banker)
and a life long friend of theirs who was no relation (known hereafter as Uncle
Wannabe). They arrived in a nice mini van and there was enough room for us all. The
ride into town was unusual; we drove in all lanes, honking as we prepared to use the
centerline as another lane in passing. Apparently the centerline is only a

We saw many people threshing bountiful wheat crops by hand! They were standing the
shocks up to dry. We did see one teeny motorized threshing machine, about six feet
long and a few feet wide. We also saw water buffalo picketed, grazing. Many people
were walking along the highway wearing traditional dress of the nationalities of the

One of the men was smoking in the car and there was no ventilation. I was starting
to feel a bit queasy when Meiya threw up all over her poor mother! I told Liping to
tell the men that Meiya was allergic so they wouldn't smoke in the car with us
anymore. I don't know what she ended up telling them but we never experienced anyone smoking in the car with us again after that, at least not for long!

We pulled up to a fancy hotel and Penny approaches the counter with Hotel Uncle to
check in. She dug into her soft cotton money pouch that she continuously wore
tucked into the waistband of her pants for security and produced her credit card,
intent on paying for our rooms, only to have it waved away by Hotel Uncle. It was
at this point that she noticed Hotel Uncle was wearing a nametag that matched that
of the woman behind the counter and she surmised that Hotel Uncle was an employee,
causing us to wonder if perhaps he got an employee discount? We decided that maybe
we were to pay upon check out. My notes say Liping told us 'he paid for it' at this

We followed Hotel Uncle into the elevator and rode to the 8th floor where we
discover that we have not one but, two rooms with two beds each, complete with down
comforters, spectacular views of Jade Dragon Snow mountain, fridge, hot and cold
drinking water, green tea bags and complimentary slippers. Other complimentary items
included a shower cap, bar soap, toothbrush with toothpaste and a comb. The glass
door showers had soap and shampoo dispensers in them and the facilities included a
western style toilet complete with toilet paper. We tried to talk them into just one
room, but Liping decided the beds were not large enough for Kitty and I to share and
get a good rest. Over-ruled, which we are becoming quite accustomed to. I even
sniffed my money yesterday at one point to see if it was bad! I gave Meiya a quick
bath in the sink and some fresh clothing (there was a slight vomit-scent about her
We unpack and get to rest a bit before lunch. Penny takes a nap and I can't sleep so
I peruse the hotel literature. I find a book that describes the area, the mountain,
the local food, "old town" and many other attractions to be found in both Chinese
and English, again with hilarious translations. One of the neatest things in the
book (which I later bought) was the hotel sending "warmest regards to your family"
to each of the guests! How many times has a hotel sent written, warmest regards to
YOUR family?

After our rest we are whisked away to a restaurant via tour bus! Uncle Banker,
Uncle Wannabe, Singing Uncle (dubbed this for obvious reasons), and "Little G" (son
of Uncle Banker who we picked up on the street near the hotel) complete our

Little G gets his nickname based on his 'Urban Frog Prince' jacket and
electronic gadgets. At the restaurant we meet more family members. We are served on
a large glass rotating lazy Susan perched on top of our table. Our dishes are a rice
bowl with two teacups and chopsticks. We get our first taste of Yak Butter tea,
which Penny thought was NOT good - tastes a bit like I imagine it would if you
dipped a yak in hot water. I found it to be okay and even had seconds. It's a bit
salty and more like broth than tea. The meal was wonderful with many colorful
dishes, most spicy. We all ate "family style", each grabbing bites of food from
the serving dishes with our chopsticks, which were directly eaten. Note: If it
looks like asparagus, it may not be asparagus. It may really be a very hot pepper
that will remove feeling from your lips and mouth. After stuffing ourselves, we
visit a large statue of chairman Mao where pictures were taken.

While leaving the parking spot in our personal tour bus, we catch a fire hose style water line being
used to flush out a plugged sewer line (I'm guessing here). There was much hollering
preceding our screeching halt. The Uncles and the workers were looking and
discussing this dilemma amongst them and finally the water was shut off until we
could get untangled from the hose. I'm not sure if our hosts had to pay for the
damage but we did see cigarettes being handed out just before we left the parking
lot, leaving the hose somewhat mangled and leaking in our wake.

Next stop was Black Dragon Pool. While there we observed Naxi dancers, walked
around the huge, natural pool (was a small lake really) and visited a Buddhist
temple. The 3 women in our party entered whilst the Uncles entertained Meiya in the
troller. You must step over the threshold when you enter, as that is considered
the shoulders of the religious leader (I think it was) and you would never walk on

Calligraphy was on display and for sale in the lower area, with the monks and
Buddha upstairs.Liping stuck 1 Yuan for each of us into the collection box, and we
each lit an incense stick (Liping had 3, I suspect one for Nate and Meiya also). We
knelt down on a pillow and bowed low and then stood up. Repeat until you've bowed 3
times and place the incense at the altar. I believe the smoke carries your prayers
to God.

It was my first visit to a temple and therein we met a monk who spoke
English. He asked for an American dollar, which of course we did not have, since
US currency is not widely accepted in many parts of China. He said he was
collecting currency from around the world and currently had 18 countries (no US). I
offered to mail him a dollar once we returned to Kunming, to which he readily
agreed. The monk wrote his address on a slip of paper, handed it to me and I put
it in the rear section of my neck pouch for safekeeping. (Later, I went through
all my things looking for that address and couldn't find it! I did find it upon my
return to the US. Since it's written in Chinese I'll just have to tape it to the
envelope and at Liping's instruction, I'll add PRC and the zip code. Hopefully it
will mean more to the monk when he gets mail postmarked "Wolf Point, Montana,
USA"!) The railing outside the temple held many padlocks. Apparently young couples
apply one as some sort of togetherness symbol.

We stopped for tea in a little shady
garden. Liping's cousins doted on Meiya and entertained her with much gusto! It's
hard to believe that Chinese couples want boys after seeing the way they all doted
on Meiya. But the eldest son is responsible for taking care of the parents by
tradition - that's probably where it comes from. He will remain at home after
marriage - his wife moving in with the family to help with the work (this is still
the case in rural areas).

Before leaving, Penny and I visited the facilities and
yes, they were of the "squat" variety. I had already been "schooled" to bring my
own toilet paper. In my preparation research, I had learned to grab the "packets"
of napkins that are served with each meal in restaurants and this was good advice.
I also had laid in a supply of Kleenex travel packs and they came in very handy for
this purpose as well. We also learned to stand well back in the toilet to avoid alot of splash.

We load back up in our own personal tour bus and arrive at "Old town". This is a
very historic city, ancient even (700 years old), that is a great attraction for
many. This is to be our first solo-shopping foray where we fail miserably. We
thought we had made a good deal however Liping told us to only offer 1/4 of the
asking price at most. I think we'd bargained the shopkeeper down to half or less and
we did buy a couple of the purses at that price. Liping told us we could get better
prices at another shop.

Meiya spied the little Naxi ponies and she and Grandma Penny go for a ride on one.
Meiya thoroughly enjoyed herself!

We all sat at tiny tables at a little "restaurant" in the alley (again I use the term loosely) and have tea and a snack (some grayish gelatinous substance I believe is tofu or soy?) before Penny, Liping and I took a
little walking tour through the living quarters of old town. We were shown a "motel
room", a second story building turned into guest quarters. The room had a western
toilet and a sky light over the bed. I was quoted 100 Yuan but really was 180 Yuan.
The girl didn't know how to say "eighty"! (Total about 26 US dollars and change).

Next came a surrey ride through old town. Meiya hollered, " Woo, Hoo" the whole way
and had a big grin on her face. The driver got the little Naxi pony running and the
ride was fairly rough. With each bounce of the surrey Meiya giggled with delight. I
don't know how the ponies got footing enough to run on the ancient, slick
cobblestone streets, especially with 6 or 7 of us in the surrey!

Old town was something to see. There was a canal running through the streets and I
saw people washing their greens in it, dipping in to fill buckets (for washing and
drinking I'm sure). We saw people doing their dishes in buckets right on the street,
even at the open air "restaurants".

 There were little pathways winding this way and
that and it would be terribly easy to become disoriented or even lost if one didn't
know their way or pay attention when walking the narrow streets. It was easy to
imagine people walking those same streets hundreds of years before and to wonder
what their lives were like, and their clothing.

When our surrey ride ended, we again loaded into our tour bus and drove to another
restaurant. The feast was beginning as we pulled up, we just didn't know it! While
parking, we saw a man bleeding a chicken. Turns out it was hand picked to be
butchered for our supper! We entered the restaurant and went upstairs to a private room
where we were served tea in tiny paper cups inserted into plastic handled holders. We
were served many dishes and later a "hot pot". A hot pot is a boiling cauldron of
broth in which meats, greens, tofu and vegetables are boiled and then eaten. This
was to be our first experience with chicken feet and heads.

 Rice wine was served with the meal, and it was not good. It tasted a bit like lighter fluid. Two sips
made my eyes cross. Very high alcohol content. Fortunately the hot pickled veggies
were excellent and that removed the jet fuel flavor from my mouth. There were many
bowls of greens and veggies brought in and placed on a rack to be added to the hot
pot at our leisure.

 One of the bowls contained clotted chicken blood balls. I did
try one out of curiosity and they were bland tasting. "A bit like boiled veggies" I
told Penny as I handed her one to try. She made a face that was I'm sure similar to
that made by me when tasting the rice wine! I knew from the look on her face that
she was mentally beating me up at that moment, while she slowly chewed her bite of
boiled, clotted chicken blood! Yes, I will get even for that one. Biding my time.

As I dug in the hot pot for "just the right piece" I was startled by an eyeball that
came floating up, still attached to the chickens' head! I whispered to Penny to
quickly look and then, right in front of her, the chicken's foot came popping up! We
got a picture of the foot, it was black:

We left the restaurant and again went to old town to take it all in after dark when
it becomes a totally different place, complete with bars blasting music from bands,
lip synching actors, karaoke and DJ's. The shops were uncrowded for the most part
and we bought postcards. We walked and looked a lot and Singing Uncle (cousin who
sang a lot) packed Meiya around. She loved hearing him sing, as did we. He had a
great voice. It was just "Little G", Singing Uncle. Liping, Meiya, Penny and I
threaded our way through old town. Liping knew I was searching for the "old" coins
with the holes in the center to make earrings out of and she bought four!

 As we were leaving, we saw a beggar laying face down on the street. He had no meat on his leg
bones, which were cut off about at the knee and stuck out at 90-degree angles from
his body. He had a bucket in front of his face for money. I was mesmerized and
horrified at the same time. I momentarily considered taking his picture but quickly
decided against it. I later saw another amputee beggar but the image of the first
beggar was seared in my mind. We walked many blocks home. Liping carrying Meiya all
the way, and now know that next time, we'll take a taxi!

China Trip, Chapter two, "The Arrival!"

Chapter two The arrival

Things I have learned so far this trip:

1.Leave one day early so you can arrive at the departure airport with those you wish to travel with.

2.Never allow yourself to be given paper tickets by any airline for ANY REASON.

3.Always allow many hours between connections. "Good" (tight) connections mean more chance for missing that connection.

4.If you find yourself in my situation, just go right to departures for any airline and buy a new ticket. You can worry about the refund later and you might actually be able to catch those you wish to travel with. Don't waste time calling the 800 #'s for airlines because they can't help you. If you booked through a travel agent, call THEM, immediately.

5. Pack all clothes and toiletries and anything else you'll immediately need in your carry on luggage. I would have been shopping for new if I hadn't done this.

6. If you want traveler's checks, buy them in your hometown even if you need to open a new account to get them.  I recommend taking your debit card if you are traveling to a large city. There are  24 hour ATMs which will give you Chinese money (so no finding a bank and standing in line and filling out forms to exchange your traveller's checks or American cash). The charge was only $1.50, but Wells Fargo charged me $4.50.

Things I did right:

1. Have a wheeled carry on with a second bag that slips right over the carry on's handle

2. Stayed the course. Did not let them (Korean airlines) "win".

3. Packed candy in my carry on

4. Brought a travel wrap in my carry on.

5. Pack clothes and toiletries in my carry on.

Jim's Aunt Maggie told me never to pray for patience, that "tribulation bringeth
forth patience". She was certainly right! I'd been through some "vacation hell" so
far and was several days behind my sister who was in China.

I made my way to the underground train and my departure gate. I had time to kill but, was taking NO chances after my luck (or lack of) so far. On the train, I spot a woman with many rings on. Although she looks like hell, I compliment her on her "jewels" and we strike up a conversation. I could tell by looking that she was exhausted (under the carefully applied makeup and shiny hair).

Turns out she'd been stranded in Seattle for 18 hours and had bathed in the bathroom sink. She'd been given coupons for food and drink by Northwest but no hotel room. She wasn't terribly impressed even though what she got was a heck of a lot more than I got from Korean! (One bag with a wheel broken off and the second that I imagined to be suspiciously light. I should have checked it when I picked it up but didn't and I busily imagined the Korean employees taking all my Levis since the bag sat for three days in their easy reach.)
Dolly, the woman from Florida who had been stranded by Northwest, said she was flying to Alaska to meet a man she'd met on the Internet some months before. She and I visited until her flight boarded and she invited Jim and I to come to Florida. She said she'd show us the sights. Turns out she collects shot glasses and spoons.

I went to my gate to await my flight. I wrote a card to Jim and one to my mom for mother's day. The only mail receptacle was outside the airport and the gate agent said he'd drop them in the mail for me. (Mom says she got hers while Jim never received his.)

After boarding, I wrote in my diary at 7:42pm on 5-3-08: "Well, believe it or not, I am on board a United airlines flight to LA, bound for Beijing! We just took off - the plane made some funny noises and kind of had bouncing wings and fluid swooshing off the wing out my 14F window seat....guess it is an seatmate is from Sweden and he is tired. Like I will be when I get to Kunming. I'm tired right now and I never thought I'd be on another plane!"

The flight is smooth as silk and only about a person in every other seat. I was given OJ, water and two packs of pretzels. I now have a collection of them!

10:02, beginning our descent into LA. I bet I'll sleep like a baby on the way over to China. I am feeling drained.

10:22, Best landing I've ever had. The pilot just feathered the plane to the ground and I told the captain so on my way out of the plane.

I had trouble finding my way out of the terminal and spotted two flight attendants who told me to catch the bus to terminal #two. I was the last person on bus number two and had to stand behind the driver. A whole group of folks tried and almost succeeded in getting off at the wrong stop in spite of the driver who gathered them back up and got them back on the bus. This forced me to the back of the bus where a kind faced Asian gentleman initiated conversation. We were both relieved to learn that we needed Air China and since I needed a boarding pass for the Beijing-Kunming flight we got into the ticketing line at Air China where I noticed the most lovely, little, old Chinese woman who was about 4' tall. My friend had told me his name was
Jow (Zhao) and he thought that we may be wrong by standing in line but, as it turned out, we both needed to be there to get boarding passes. Zhao's English was very good and we visited about our countries. He said he works as a software developer and has been to Memphis, LA, Cincinnati and many foreign cities. His two older brothers live in the desert area in NW China where his parents farmed until a "Yao Man" killed his father. Apparently his father was riding his bicycle to the mountains (several hour ride that he took every day to get water) when the Yao man who worked for the military struck and killed his father with a military vehicle. Zhao said the road was good, his father was off to the side as he should have been, the sun was not in the driver's eyes, etc.. The Yao man had a license but didn't know how to drive and a small stipend was made to the mother after this healthy 76-year old's life was snuffed out. Zhao was deeply affected and even though this tragedy was about four years ago, he still mourns his father.

We got our seat assignments and made our way through security and to our gate where Zhao gave me his cell phone number so that he could serve as a translator in Beijing if I should have trouble. He also wrote me a note that said, "I am going to Kunming, via Air China, can you help me find my way?" So thoughtful! We took pictures together and exchanged email addresses while waiting to board the plane.

Upon boarding, I showed my boarding pass to the attendant and he pointed across the entryway. I was shocked! Next to first class and the seats that make into beds, this was probably the best seat on the plane! Tons of legroom and no one sitting next to me! We pushed back and I am thinking that for as badly as "round one" went, "round two" is shaping up pretty well!

We travel down the runway for what seems like a long time at a very high rate of speed until ZOOM, we are airborne (I've never been on a plane this big before - is a 747-400 I think). The flight attendants all seem very interested in the fact that I am writing continuously in my notebook. Wonder if they think I'm a real writer and
will feature them in an article?

Note*- LA airport is filthy compared to Denver and Seattle.

We are served an awesome little meal, I should have had the pork noodles but had
shrimp fried rice instead. It was served with a roll, fresh fruit and an delicious
and unusual salad made with chicken, corn tomatoes, lettuce. The meal was followed
by Jasmine tea that was SO good! (I made a mental note to get some while in china.)

Catherine, (from Beijing but, living in LA now) was a lady I met at LAX in the line
to purchase water. She sat by me a lot of the flight as her small son Bryce was
stretched out across her seat with her husband Scott.

We had wonderful conversation about our lives and she told me of losing her mother and later dreaming of her. I gave her a pair of earrings and Bryce some string cheese and pretzels. Both
Catherine and Zhao had offered to get me through customs and on my way to my
departure gate for Kunming. Such kindness from strangers! I later gave Zhao a
dishcloth in return.

I managed to get several naps as did the guy a few seats over. Turned out he too
spoke fluent English and he assured me that the connection to Kunming is easy to
find. He was the 4th person who assured me that I would have no problem. I am also
told that since we arrive so early, the airport will not be crowded. I was anxious
to see what their definition of "not crowded" was!

Customs forms follow breakfast and I notice the flight crew cleaning the bathrooms
again. They cleaned them about every 30 minutes all flight long. Lots of male
"dribblage" I suppose made all this cleaning necessary. They even had a great
smelling hand lotion in the lavatory as well as toilet seat covers.

Since my seat was near the bathroom, I became a self-appointed bathroom monitor.
Most folks could not figure out how to open the bathroom door (myself included on an
earlier flight). You had to push right in the center of the door and it opened in
(bi fold fashion). I had to make many pushing motions to get people into the
bathrooms! I also rescued a little old man after I noticed the door bulging out on
its hinges repeatedly, accompanied by some very furious banging. The man was
relieved to be let out and you could just tell that he wanted no part of being
locked in that tiny bathroom for the rest of the flight!

Breakfast time was coming as they'd turned the cabin lights on and our choices were
fish or pork. I chose pork and it was served in gravy with mushrooms and maybe
eggplant with rice and Chinese broccoli, green salad, bun and lemon cake for
dessert. Jasmine tea followed again. Really good grub for airline food!

We had a smooth landing and the signage at the PEK airport was in English and quite
easy to follow. We all sailed right through customs and Zhao went with me to baggage
via an unmanned monorail, to claim my bags and help me recheck them. Zhao and
Catherine and family departed and I proceeded upstairs to clear security, for the
3rd time since arriving Seattle. I did just fine until I was detained after going
through x-ray. I was wanded, made to remove my shoes and patted down like you can't
believe. The young woman is now as familiar with my breasts as my physician and she
even had her hands IN the waistband of my underwear! I thought surely we should be
introduced at least and maybe she should buy me dinner if she was going to go any
further! And, she had no gloves on! (I was mentally calculating how long it had been
since I'd showered.)

Meanwhile, another male examiner (my new name for airport security) is loudly
exclaiming, "SEER! SEER!" while looking straight at me. Having no clue what in
blazes he wants and feeling a bit off kilter after just having been felt up by the
"examiner" I proceeded to hand him my boarding pass. That didn't make him happy at
all so I just shrugged and told him that I was sorry and I didn't understand what he
wanted. (I'm sure he perfectly understood this). Finally he made a cutting motion
with his fingers and I realized that he meant scissors. The light went on in my head
and I said, "YES!" (I had tiny scissors in my knitting bag that I'd carried clear
from Williston.) He motioned for me to get them out and I did at which time he held
them up for the rest of the "examiners" to see and there was much speaking and head
shaking and nodding. He then set the scissors down and I went to pick them up which
was met with an enthusiastic two hand gesture indicating that I was NEVER to touch
my scissors again. They scanned my ticket into a computer and it looked to me like
they might be locating my seat on the plane's layout. I was wondering if
I would now be flagged by the worldwide TSA since I had been carrying "SEER"? I then
"inquired" about my shoes by sticking one stocking foot up high enough for the
"examiners" to see. He nodded and eventually my shoes came sliding down to me. I
gathered my things and put myself "back together" and went immediately toward my

It took awhile to get there and along the way I found an open, little, bistro type
cafe where I could buy water. I didn't have any Chinese currency at this point so I
gave the girls working there a $5 bill. After much calculating, giggling, chattering and
examination of the money, the girls gave me some change and then thanked me in
English after which they giggled madly. Guess they were trying to practice up for
the Olympics and the influx of English speaking people.

I decided to check out the facilities and see if there were any squat toilets that I'd read so much about in
the restrooms. I knew at some point I would find them in the restrooms however this
visit revealed only new, squeaky clean western toilets.

I finally arrived at what I thought should be the gate after traversing escalators
and long corridors only to discover that there was no sign that said, "Kunming." The
waiting room was full of folks and I approached one little lady and questioningly
said, "Kunming?" She rattled off a speedy and lengthy reply, in Chinese, to which I
could only shake my head. She smiled and shrugged and showed me her boarding pass
that said, PEK (Beijing) to KMG (Kunming). I knew that if she was in the right
place, I was too and that I should just follow her! Soon a little bus pulled up
outside and the sign on the overhead board changed to Kunming and everyone waiting
hopped up and got on the bus.

The little bus was crammed with bodies and took us
right out on the tarmac to a waiting plane. The line to board was not too orderly
but, no one pushed or shoved, they just "took cuts" in line. We boarded via stairs
just like "Air Force One!"

I was seriously a minority at this point (dirty blond hair and blue eyes), as I had been since leaving LAX but, the man a few seats over spoke excellent English. He was a language major going to Laos for Holiday. The woman who sat in the middle also spoke great English. Her name was Lin Juan and she was a corporate lawyer who aspired to attend one of the top 10 US law schools. My bet is she'll make it.

After a nap, we were served a "box lunch" with a hot dish. The box lunch was eggs
boiled in tea, a pack of pickled veggie relish, and a sandwich made with mystery
meat. The hot dish was porridge made of rice( I think). The other option had been
the western meal and this particular time, I should have gone western. They were
given scrambled eggs, toast, white round sausage shaped like small hot dogs and
toast with the box lunch. We had been given the dish of bland porridge. I took one
bite of the porridge and covered it back up. Not fit for consumption without
something for flavor. Apparently the pickled veggie relish is supposed to be added
to it but I had already eaten it on my sandwich. Who knew? Lin Yuan gave me her tea
soaked egg and her relish. She said she had gone to boarding school having to eat
the relish every day of her life and didn't particularly care for it. In return, I
gave her and the language student candy. I was given a Chinese newspaper printed in
English were I learned of the dreaded Hand, foot and mouth outbreak that had killed
22 children near where I was headed. (I later would wonder why kids died from a
normal childhood disease?) In between naps, I wondered if the airlines put the
bright, English speaking folks near me knowing they spoke English or if it was just
a fluke? Sure made my flight to Kunming more enjoyable either way!

My flight arrived In Kunming and we were unloaded on the tarmac and herded onto a
crowded bus. I noticed many smells - some of them familiar (garlic, onion, cigarettes,
smoke, body odor) and some of them unfamiliar, as we stood crowded onto the bus like
cattle in a semi. I couldn't help but think how Jim would be hating life right now
as I took note of the fact that there was no ventilation and NO windows on the bus.
I was even feeling a bit claustrophobic, despite my elation at having arrived in China after experiencing "vacation hell", airline style.

I was the last from my flight to enter the terminal and I immediately spotted sister
Penny toting a GIANT bouquet of yellow lilies, waving to me from across the glass.

Liping (Penny's daughter in law), Liping's daughter Meiya (Penny's granddaughter)
and Liping's father, mother, and brother Lifeng were all on hand to greet me and
they held up signs that said, "Welcome Kitty!" "The Adventure Continues!" and
"Welcome to China" in Chinese. I got so tickled by it all but, couldn't leave the
secure area until I got my luggage. I waved at Meiya through the glass and she gave
me her index finger and one thumb farmer wave.

I was completely fried by now, to say the least but, needed to get my luggage and
make my way through the teeming throng of folks trying to get their luggage tags
checked by the little man checking tags and leave the airport. I chatted with a
friendly man from Mexico while we waited for our bags and he just shook his head at
my tale of Korean airlines and their superb customer service.

Once I made my way through the jostling bag line and out of the airport we grabbed a
taxi, as there were too many of us to fit into Lifeng's car. Liping, Penny, Meiya
and I squeezed into one taxi and we were off in a drizzle, headed for the Jin condo
where we would spend our nights in Kunming.

Traffic zoomed along madly with lots of
honking and speeding. The driver was a bit on the aggressive side and it seemed that
pedestrians take their lives in their own hands when crossing streets (only saw one
official crosswalk with blinking stop and go lights the whole trip) but, we made it
in one piece to the condo, in spite of the many mopeds and bicycles jockeying for
position on the narrow, crowded streets. My luggage and the rest of the family also
made it and we all went up to the 3rd floor walk up. I hit the shower after a brief
tour of our room and the bathroom. Apparently the silk market was closing at 5pm and
we only had a few hours to shop! Finally, I was able to start my "sister's excellent China adventure vacation! This was the final day of the 'silk expo'.

Things I learned thus far:

1. Many Chinese people speak English

2. Most Chinese people are NOT rude or pushy; they are very friendly, helpful, courteous and generous.

3. Many young Chinese leave China to be free. They feel like they are brainwashed from the time they are old enough to understand language and taught to follow along like sheep, never questioning the government.

4.After boarding a plane, most Asian people curl up and go promptly to sleep, even during takeoff!
5. Airplane bathrooms are hard "find your way into" (and sometimes out of) no matter your race!

6. The Kunming Airport loudspeaker is WAY too loud, probably causing everyone who passes through hearing loss. No Chinese OSHA overseeing the volume perhaps?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kolden Robin Report, Saturday, May 22, 2010

Good morning, kids!

Leaving work Thursday night, I noticed heavy, dark clouds in the west.  I decided to drive up by the cemetary to get a better look.  Swirling, tiny funnels were forming at the cloud bases.

I decided that I'd best head for home  as the thought of hail crossed my mind.  Turning around , I spied this robin, listening for worms.

He'd look and listen, remaining perfectly still.

He'd cock his head one way and then another.  When he heard something "good", he'd peck the ground in an attempt to capture a juicy worm.

While I did spot him with a worm initially, he was not fortunate enough to capture a second worm while I watched.

As I drove out of town, the wind began to howl, stirring the dust and debris up.

As I drove on, I noticed an airplane coming in for landing and decided to try to capture the arrival. 
The pilot worked diligently to bring the plane down in the heavy winds.

I was lucky enough to spot this robin nest while mowing the yard! I glanced at the small tree and was eye to eye with the female who indignantly flew from her nest. I quickly got the camera and took this shot of her four gorgeous eggs.
This was the view from my window.  I wondered if we might see some showers but nothing materialized.

The squirrels remain busy burying and eating the black walnuts from the yard.

While watcthing the squirrels, I spotted these deer between the big cottonwoods.

The river was glorious, shrouded in fog.

The fog did not last long and I captured its essence as it dissipated.

Heavy dew drops shone in the grass.

A rooster pheasant walked out of the tall grass and stood in a spot with little vegetation.  He proceeded to preen his feathers and I wondered if he was not enjoying being so wet!

I spent considerable time waiting and watching for this rooster to flap his wings. 

None of my shots are national geographic quality but, I keep trying!

I love the stripes that appear in the wings here.

The rooster stayed out of the tall grass for a time and I was able to get a few shots of him. 
It looks like the rooster is giving me "stink-eye"!

Please help keep America Beautiful....don't litter!