| Two-Second Travelogue
- China, Malaysia, Phillipines, & Home
July 5 - Chengdu - Banner: "Cities should be clean like
souls should be pure."
When we walked to the bank, I pointed out "This is Cherry Creek."
Dad totally agreed. -- Tote
More than anyplace since Italy or maybe Greece, Chengdu reminds me of
the U.S. Generally, it's cleaner and the people are more helpful to foreigners
than in the U.S., but there's all the significant earmarks of American
culture, such as toll roads and department stores. (Suburbanites would
feel right at home in Chengdu.) Things are relatively organized - buses
run on a schedule. Despite the language gap, sorting out restaurant or
hotel bills is easier than it has been since . . . well, since forever,
though figuring out menus or whether rooms are available is tougher. There
are no discernable indications that China was ever a communist state,
though Mao's image is still on the money and portrayed in an occasional
statue. The American influence is striking. The major American franchises
are here and well-patronized, and there are similar Chinese fast food
places. I spied Con-Agra cartons on the back of a bicycle outside a "hole
in the wall" restaurant. Government and major businesses sport signs
in Chinese and English. The shopping district in Chengdu would be indistinguishable
from that in Denver - there's chrome and plenty of overpriced clothes,
shoes, and status-type junk. The one major difference is the small number
of private cars. Though there are many privately-owned vans, cars, and
SUVs, the number is still relatively small. Chengdu is not (yet) as mangled
by major roads as most American cities. Though crossing the main roads
is dicey, most of Chengdu is still walkable. There are many streets on
which the only gas-powered traffic is the occasional taxi. Unfortunately,
it looks like this is changing. The division of old neighborhoods by new
"modern" buildings (imagine the difference between two blocks
filled with 10 to 20 foot wide shops or homes and two blocks occupied
by a single multi-storied building) and very wide roads is as prevalent
here as in Lhasa or as it was in the U.S. in the 60's. Unlike Lhasa, the
buildings are much taller and typically covered with something other than
bathroom tile. Drivers behave as if they have the right of way over everyone
else, and cars are big status symbols - even stupid, big, two-seat, red
muscle cars. -- Mark
July 6 - Chengdu - The people here have been wonderful to us.
(It's such a stunning contrast to the Chinese parts of Tibet!) Maggie
and I went to English Corner. It's a spot near the river where those learning
English gather twice a week to speak English with each other. (The riverfront
has been revamped and is now home to all sorts of activities. This morning,
the "English Corner" was home to a ballroom dancing class -
it looked like the cha cha to me - and some sort of martial arts thing
involving flags on sticks.) The English Corner was packed. Curious people,
standing four deep, rapidly surrounded us. We were asked all the standard
questions and then discussed the soccer situation in China. -- Mark
July 7 - Emei Shan, Near Myriad Years Monastery - On the bus to
Emei Shan I saw signs featuring the Statue of Liberty, an eagle bearing
an American flag, and even that defaced hill, outside Atlanta, that features
carvings of some very large Confederate heroes. I also saw signs advertising
apartment complexes in Chengdu featuring a statue of Napoleon and the
Venus de Milo.
While questioning why only foreigners were required to pay for
a ticket to the Monastery, I learned from watching the ticket seller that
spitting on the ground and whacking one's ear are ways of expressing .
. . well, bad things. -- Mark
July 8 - Emei Shan, Elephant Pool Monastery - When we got to the
monastery where we are staying, we saw bunches of monkeys. Duncan and
Tote yelled down to Mom, "You better put your camera away or else
the monkeys will grab it!" Once the boys started throwing rocks at
the monkeys but not hitting them. They threw one more rock near the monkeys,
and two of the monkeys started fighting. They grabbed onto each other
like a human would. They clenched their teeth and pulled their lips back
over their gums. The monastery had dim lights. After putting my bag down,
I went right out there to help the boys keep the monkeys away. Awhile
later, after dinner, we found a camp for the monkeys called "Monkey
Hall." The monkeys kept people out of their rooms and up and about
by squealing, jumping off walls, and scaring people. It reminded me of
the monkey man in India. Dinner was only 20 yuan for all of us to eat
as much as we wanted. They had a giant bucket of rice, and you could go
back to the kitchen for more broth, vegetables, and sauces. I ate a lot
of rice and broth. After we ate we were supposed to clean our own dishes,
so we went outside to a sink and washed out bowls and chopsticks. After
doing that, we went back to keep the monkeys away and then we went back
in and Mom said, "Time for a big experience. It's time to wash our
feet." And I told my mom, "No. I'm not going there to wash my
feet!" But I went anyway. We filled wooden buckets with boiling hot
water and went to the sink to put in some cold water. We stuck our feet
in there, sudsed them up, and rinsed them off. And I've had clean feet
ever since. -- Maggie
With the aid of several elderly Chinese pilgrims, we managed to have an
"all you can eat" meal at the monastery. (To get our room for
close to the right price we all had to get our backpacks on and head for
the door - it was at least an hour to the next place.) After rebuffing
eager monks bearing an English menu three times before the 6 PM dinner
call, we caught on that there might be better deals available. At 6, the
pilgrims took over the dining hall and were only too glad to tell us,
using sign language, what they were paying for their meals. The woman
who came to wait on us smiled when we handed her the correct amount for
five dinners. I think she enjoyed the fact that we outfoxed the monks,
at least as much as the 50 or so pilgrims did - she appeared to announce
our choice and our payment to the dining hall as a whole. That didn't
stop the monk from again visiting our table and, dropping the pretense
of the English menu, telling us that the pilgrim's meal cost more than
twice what it really did. (These Chinese monks are more intent on mining
foreigners for all the cash they can than the delightful fellows in Tibet
- the Chinese monks are more nattily dressed, too.) With the stares of
the pilgrims to buttress our case, he accepted our refusal to pay extra
and retreated. Unfortunately, we had to eat our meal under the intent
supervision of about 15 fascinated old ladies (and wash our own bowls
and chopsticks.) The old ladies made certain that we knew that seconds
were freely available. After watching us eat, and commenting on the size
of our family, six or seven of our audience bowed and thanked us. I have
no idea what they were thanking us for. -- Mark
June and July have rushed by at an extraordinarily fast pace . . . we've
toured more, lots of sightseeing, much less reading, writing, math, and
time for reflection. We also all feel the imminent end to this wonderful
"Big Trip." It makes us feel sad, worried, excited, tired, apprehensive,
and grateful. We each take turns wondering where and when we'll travel
next. -- Monica
July 9 - Emei Shan to Chengdu - We just got back from climbing
Mt. Emei. It was a pilgrim/tourist route. We got to see the classic Chinese
mountains and mist while walking eternal stairways on green vegetable
hills, in the rain. The entire path was stone stairs, for three days.
The mist prevented any good vistas but made for cool hiking. We slept
in a monastery the second night that was infested with monkeys. One pulled
a girl's bag off of its handles and ran off. A guy with a hammer got it
back. -- Duncan
I walked with Mommy. We counted stairs. The stairs went straight uphill.
Mommy complained about endless stairs. Once we got to the top, we bought
dried noodles in a bowl that came with a hot dog. We poured boiling water
into the bowl, added the flavoring packets, and jammed the hot dog in.
Then I cut the hot dog into small pieces. It tasted very good. -- Maggie
Mark was looking through my photos taken on Emei Shan, commenting on the
fat, smiling Buddha statues in some of the temples. They don't seem to
inspire him. I think I know what he means. In the monasteries and temples
in Tibet, there was a dark, reverential sense of ancient holiness. The
golden, bejeweled statues and elaborately painted thankas loomed out either
brashly or silently, but always evoking a hushed respect. The thick smells
of the burning yak butter lamps, the offered chang, the giant vats of
tsampa, the heavy scent of incense all mingled to give these Tibetan holy
places a unique aura. When monks gathered, their chanting hum, the bells,
gongs and horns added another layer to the meditative mystery.
Here in China, although I joined the elderly pilgrims prostrating
themselves before the more garishly painted Buddhas and watched as children
and young couples lit fat red candles and thick, long sticks of hot pink
incense, the sense of reverential respect seems different than in India,
Nepal, or Tibet and more Western. In India, the Hinduism seemed ever-present
and playful. In Nepal, the combination of Hindu-Buddhism seemed somewhat
more serious and a bit more distant from everyday life. In Tibet, the
gompas, chortens, and monasteries held a very strong, pervasive sense
of being surrounded by otherworldly forms and ancient reminders of our
transitory time here. My sense of Buddhism in China, so far, is that it
is more like Christianity in the West. It's not all encompassing, and
it doesn't delve down to one's core. Most people wear it like a cloak,
to be put on and taken off when convenient and necessary. One needs to
remember and make time for the observance of religion . . . very different
from the perpetually swirling, colorful and rich versions of religion
as life in India, Nepal, and Tibet. -- Monica
We're about halfway around the world from New Jersey. From here on, we are
undoubtedly headed toward home. We are all aware we are getting near the
end. Sometimes we're sad; sometimes we're excited; and sometimes we're just
confused. Maybe that rule about no random movements wasn't such a bad idea.
Every now and then I turn around and find someone standing very
close to me, grinning in embarrassment. People usually start laughing.
I have obviously interrupted someone comparing their height to mine. Several
people on the trail measured their feet against mine and laughed at how
big mine were. -- Mark
July 10 - Chengdu to Xian - The plane ride was short and when we
arrived in Xian, we easily took a bus to close to our hotel. We were close
but far enough, so we tried to get a taxi. When a red one stopped (out of
the six that drove past), we found that he didn't want to take us. We tried
some more and found out we had to take a green taxi, because the red ones
couldn't take five passengers. So we did. -- Tote
The children have definitely become confident travelers. This is good and
bad. I am always glad to see them become more competent. On the other hand,
we are now represented in every negotiation with a cab driver or in a hotel
or restaurant or bus station etc. by three and sometimes four people. The
kids are usually much tougher (and a great deal louder) than I am. -- Mark
Unable to get train tickets, we flew here from Chengdu. Chengdu was cheerful;
colorful; delicious Sechuan spicy food (hot pot parties); modern - emphasis
on progressive; and tidy. Xi'an is more rubble-strewn, wet with rain, people
seem more reserved, food is definitely less tasty. -- Monica
July 11 - Xian - Signs we have seen:
Please don't take food and drink to the frolic hall, cooperation
amerce violator for 50 yuan.
I've been sitting here at a table overlooking the loud hub-bub of a typical
indoor waterworld. The children are all having a marvelous time. Mark made
a foray to purchase train tickets. It was his second or third try. He's
just returned giving me a complete account. He had to go through a government
hotel travel agent, because at the station he was told the train we wanted
Please point out money or tickets to the eye.
Please keep sanitation
Pick your steps
No occupying while stabling.
Please flush the closet pot.
No spitting everywhere.
We have found very little English spoken here in Xi'an, and
there's almost no written English.
By trying to talk with people and watching young parents, it appears true
that most couples have only one child . . . and many of those children
appear very indulged . . . particularly the little boy, about three years
old, at the table next to me. Both his parents have spent the last 45
minutes cajoling him to eat a few mouthfuls, trying to convince him to
not hang on the railing (trying to keep him from plunging over it) . .
. he shouts at his parents and struts cockily . . . clearly he's "in
charge." He very cute but obnoxious.
China seems more modern and Westernized than I expected. My guess is that
the life of rural China is more traditional. -- Monica
July 12 - Xian to Beijing - We have been
on many trains, but this one is the cleanest, best run one of the entire
trip. We are in second-class, but we have white lace curtains and clean
sheets and towels and comforters; the food is inexpensive; the dining
car comfortable; the windows are large and clean; the ride is smooth;
and the bathrooms are clean. -- Mark
Duncan: One of my books says that when someone says something is a regional
specialty, you should avoid it like the plague.
Monica: I like regional specialties. They're a cultural experience.
Tote: Mom, you say everything is a cultural experience. You said breakfast
was a cultural experience.
Monica: It was.
Mark: I agree. It was also lousy.
July 13 - Xian to Beijing -
Duncan: Hey Dad! How big would a 4 ton piece of chocolate be?
Mark: Duncan, I've tried to answer all your questions, but sometimes I
just wonder whether it's worth the effort.
Tote: Dad, is bamboo strong? Actually is mahogany too heavy for effective
July 14 - Beijing - Today we went to Tiantan Gongyuan, a park famous
for a large Temple of Heaven. The first place we visited was a fasting
palace, a place where the emperor would live while he fasted before a
sacrifice. Down the road was the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a circular
wall surrounding a round building flanked by two rectangular buildings.
Both had blue tile roofs. The wall surrounding the three buildings was
called the Echo Wall. If you stand behind one rectangular building and
a companion stands behind the other, if you say something, the other can
hear it. Of course this didn't work. Behind this complex was a stack of
circular diases. At the top was a circular stone. Surrounding that were
9 tiles, surrounding that one were 18 tiles, and so on until 81. The last
place we saw was a famous temple with the three-level roof. -- Tote
For lunch we had a sandwich-type thing. It was very good. We even saw
her make the sandwich. You make it with crepe batter, egg (scrambled,
sesame seeds, wet spices (painted on), and flat crisp bread. -- Maggie
July 15 - Beijing - My favorite food in Beijing is the meat stuff
we had with a friend named Jackie. It was chewy, but I liked to suck off
all the barbeque sauce and put the meat on top of my rice. -- Maggie
July 16 - Beijing - At first the Beijing Opera seemed like they
were making fun of someone singing. The singers had voices like that voice
you use when you are making fun of a bad singer. Then she started sounding
like she was practicing karate. At first, I thought it was insane that
we had paid to see this, but after a thief started trying to steal something
from the main character and doing flips and somersaults, and the lady
tried to stab him about a thousand times with her sword but he kept dodging,
I thought it was very good. I can understand why it is famous. -- Tote
There is something cool about sitting in a tiny hole in the wall, eating
peppered squid and onions cooked on a griddle outside, drinking cold draft
beer, and funding the kids' forays to other food stalls along the street
in pursuit of skewers of roasted meat, sausage, and ice cream. -- Mark
July 17 - Beijing - I was surprised to find that the Forbidden
City was so stark. It contained tidy buildings and paving stones, surprisingly
no gardens and nature; and you couldn't go in and tour the buildings.
I need to get a book out of the library to learn about it. It seemed a
very calm place, aside from the 4 million people jammed in there with
us. -- Monica
Monica: We've had too much fun, now we have to do some sightseeing.
July 18 - Beijing - We went to the Summer Palace. A friend suggested
we go in the evening, so we did, but when we got there, the ticket office
was closed, and we couldn't get in. On the street, there were people in
white vans. They said that they could bring us in for money. Dad talked
them down to 40 yuan. When we got close to a side gate, they shut the
windows hurriedly and slowed. The co-driver got out and opened the little
door. We drove in and then to the right. Then we drove past to pick up
the co-driver, parked behind some trees, where they told us to hop out
quickly. Then the co-driver walked with us for a while. Dad tried to give
him the money, but he wouldn't take it until no one was around. Then he
disappeared. -- Tote
We took a bus to get to the Summer Palace in Beijing. But once we got
off the bus, we found they stopped selling tickets already. But then somebody
came up to us and did hand motions, but we couldn't understand him. He
pointed to his white van with dark, tinted windows. We thought he was
going to give us a tour. Tote opened the windows of our van because it
was hot. But when we drove in another entrance to the Summer Palace, the
driver said to close the windows. Then we walked around the lake. It was
very nice and calm in the evening to watch the sunset. But finally the
sun was down, and we decided to go. We walked for quite a while but we
still didn't see a gate. We saw a bridge to an island. We saw a garden
that looked very pleasant, and a temple in the distance. Finally we found
a gate with a man sitting there to open if for us. We found the bus stop
finally and left for home. I fell asleep on the bus. -- Maggie
Monica: I talked that lady down from 120 to 20 but I wasn't even sure
I wanted the thing, so she convinced me that I wanted it. I said, "I
don't know if I want a white t-shirt." She said, "Oh yes. You
want a white t-shirt; you want this purple one, too." So, I bought
Tote: Jedi mind trick.
. . .
Monica: It's a scoop neck t-shirt that I can't even wear with my clothes.
Mark: Definitely a Jedi mind trick.
Monica: If I had stayed there longer, I would have had 10 purple t-shirts
with scoop necks.
Duncan: Dad, you can order fried Bian Hun - a lamb's sexual organ.
Mark: Great. Thanks, Duncan.
Monica: It's probably like Rocky Mountain oysters.
Mark: How can you be sure?
Duncan: Maybe Mom should order that.
We went to Yonghe monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Tibetan Buddhism
even in China has many Chinese things about it. The monastery had cushions
on which people bowed to the many statues, and metal incense burners which
people pile incense sticks in. The monks in the monastery were almost
all Mongolians and wore red shirts and black pants, unlike in Tibet. We
had fun identifying the statues. I found a statue of a small brown man
riding a goat. I wrote to a friend in Tibet to ask who that is supposed
to be. -- Tote
We've scoured the guidebook, ridden the taxi and the subway to other parts
of town, and taken several long walks in search of an interesting neighborhood.
No luck yet. (The boys keep talking about how much fun they had last time
we visited Kansas City, so you know things are a bit less than scintillating.)
On the other hand, we have seen many old men flying kites. Tonight we
saw two (men and kites) on an overpass. The men use elaborate, sturdy
winders - the reels are about a foot in diameter and perhaps an inch thick.
They fly small single kites. They do no tricks or maneuvers. They let
the line out and reel it in. They seem content. Occasionally there's someone
(like me) who stops to just watch. -- Mark
July 19 - Beijing -
Monica: It's just great!
Monica: It's just great!
Duncan: What's great? The food, the fish soup, or the Great Wall?
Moncia: I just ate two enormous fish heads.
My favorite kind of Big Trip day. We hiked the Great Wall in all its unrestored
and crumbling glory outside Huang Hua. Rain, heat, sun, bus connections
in odd, unknown places, and plenty of spots where a slip would prove fatal.
In this section the Wall runs primarily along ridge tops but occasionally
plunges into a valley before soaring up to the next ridge. The sheer drops
and stretches with steep, uncertain footing made me wish I could rappel
down the thing or at least rope in. It is truly one of the most frightening
hikes I have ever been on. On the way home, a mini-bus driver asked me
for more money than we had agreed on. I just smiled and gave it to him.
After all, it was a glorious day, and all of us are still alive. -- Mark
July 20 - Beijing to Hong Kong - These Chinese trains are great!
Again, we're in second-class. Our car is immaculate. The staff is wonderful:
One of the young women stops to chat in English, fold an origami crocodile,
and - nearly beyond belief - instantaneously solves a couple of Tote's
math problems. -- Mark
Our Big Trip is ending. We're all feeling its imminent completion. In
turns, we feel sad, anxious, relieved, happy, excited, grateful, apprehension,
loss, confidence, pride, confusion, and reticent. We have shared, as a
family, a vast array of rich experiences. Although we all, at times, yearn
for the familiarity of our friends, relatives, home, and Denver communities,
we have found the traveling life to be fun, challenging, and rewarding.
I feel that we are each experiencing some sense of grief and loss now,
as we approach the end. -- Monica
July 21 - Beijing to Hong Kong - We've spent most of the day,
since our arrival saying, "Wow! They have [fill in the blank]. But,
it's so expensive!" -- Mark
We took a 28-hour train ride from Beijing to Hong Kong. It was one of
the best train rides of the Big Trip. It was clean, not too crowded (perhaps
because Chinese people need a special permit to travel to Hong Kong),
and efficiently run. We had brought along plenty of food. We mostly read,
played, slept, did math, chatted with other passengers and train employees,
and stared out the windows at the more traditional, agricultural, rural
Chinese landscape. -- Monica
July 22 - Hong Kong - Hong Kong is very modern, but parts are decaying,
and small companies still exist, including several stores filled floor
to ceiling with models, collectibles, figurines, etc. I call them "Grandma
Shops" because Grandma would go crazy trying to collect all the different
sets. Dad, Tote, and I went into a big computer mall. Inside was a store
filled with bootlegged games and software, we piled up a bunch. We were
ready to get them. In the end, Dad said we probably shouldn't. -- Duncan
If we thought mainland Chinese cities were Western and modern, Hong Kong
is even more so. And it appears to be very international. Chinese cities
were mostly Chinese people....here Maggie asked me last evening as we
walked the streets together, "Why are there so many Indians here?" I saw
restaurants serving Nepali food, Thai food, Japanese food, pizzerias,
Pizza Hut, McDonalds, KFC, and heard many different languages. -- Monica
Hong Kong could be an easy place to hate. Lots of signs, big cars, loads
of stores, policemen with semi-automatic weapons, burly drunks with bloodied
faces stumbling down the streets, and many servants. We don't hate it
yet. One curious fact. Though nearly every other product produced by an
American corporation can be found in the parts of Asia we have visited,
American cars are still rare. In Hong Kong this is particularly noticeable,
since there are many big cars. -- Mark
July 23 - Hong Kong - Some people think of Hong Kong as the Dim
Sum Capital. I know it as the City of Outrageously-priced, Ugly Clothes.
It was a nightmare trying to shop for some new clothes. I don't want to
buy a fringed, rainbow, cropped t-shirt with the word "DISCO"
splashed across the front. But the people here don't seem to mind....they
sport a giant Tweety Bird or a tight-fitting glittering, sparkly "University
of Dayton" across their chests. Why a thin, polyester, sleeveless
shirt here costs upwards of US$8 is beyond me! But Dim Sum, on the other
hand, is delicious. The food markets are fun; the Chinese medicine shops
are fascinating; the constant flow of people is exciting to be a part
of. It took me until today to come to some kind of understanding of Hong
Kong. Maybe it was culture shock, or maybe me gearing down to return home,
but the excitement and adventure of a new place eluded me. Today it finally
kicked on . . . I felt I could be here awhile. -- Monica
We've fallen into vacation mode. We eat at costly restaurants (they are
all costly, here), we just hang out, walking around, during the day. Kowloon
(this part of Hong Kong) is more expensive than London was. -- Duncan
July 24 - Hong Kong - We awoke with plans to go to the New Territories
area to swim in a bay and play on the beach. However, it rained. We had
our picnic inside and walked around the Hong Kong University of Science
and Technology, then took the bus and metro back over here to the harbor.
It was a more relaxing, aimless day. -- Monica
Big secret: Duncan is now at least two inches taller than Monica. -- Mark
July 25 - Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur -
Monica: That was the best bathroom in Asia.
Mark: You've been talking about that bathroom for the last hour.
Monica: I know, but it was the best. That was the best airline and that
plane had the best bathroom.
Mark: Free wine, too.
Monica: And the best bathroom.
Monica: Doesn't this seem different than China? The people look so different
. . .
Maggie: If you want me to write about it in my journal, I'm going to say
it looks just the same.
Last night, Hong Kong went into typhoon mode. In most building lobbies,
signs ticked off the rising typhoon warning. When we went to bed it was
a 4; this morning it was an 8. The streets, by Hong Kong standards, were
deserted. Many buses were not running, and some of the hotel's day staff
spent the night. China Airlines canceled all its flights, and while we
were at the airport, all ground transport to the city was suspended. Nonetheless,
inexplicably, our Air Malaysia flight took off without a hitch, nearly
on time, and the flight is smooth.
I suppose we are gradually preparing for re-entry. The prices
in Hong Kong were certainly up to U.S. standards. The kids are currently
playing Zelda on a seatback game/movie/TV/news console. (The color and
resolution are amazing.) I have just finished catching up on the baseball
news in USA Today. (I hadn't really noticed just how bad the Rockies really
are.) I suppose the only thing missing is talk radio, though there's enough
news about the Bush Administration in the paper to reassure me that whackos
are still alive and flourishing in the U.S. (It is interesting to visit
so many countries focused on the future while the U.S. seems fixated on
returning to the 1950's.) -- Mark
July 26 - Kuala Lumpur - The most fun here has been sitting outside
in the evenings and watching the steady flow of shoppers thronging the market
stalls, and the other tourists dining on satay and hot pot along the streets
of Chinatown . . . colored lights and constant motion of people and cars;
aromas of spicy, tropical Asian food; modern music from the CD vendors;
laughter and chatter from other diners; colorful fruits on display; humid
heat; shoppers exclaiming over "bargains"; and the children feeling
comfortable and independent. They've become such competent and enthusiastic
travellers! The people we've met here have been charming, relaxed, easygoing
with warm smiles - and fun. -- Monica
July 27 - Kuala Lumpur -
Monica: I can read all these signs, but I don't understand them.
Mark: Go ahead.
Monica: Pejabat pos. Mee goreng.
Duncan: Thanks Mom. Big help.
We went walking around downtown in the rain, browsed a marvelous bookstore
in the very fancy mall that's part of the world's tallest buildings -
Petronas "twin towners." We strolled the Chinatown markets (my
favorite being the fish market), ate delicious food, people-watched while
sipping Tiger Beer, and the children sought out Magic cards - unbelievably,
they found them in the market - and had a tournament. -- Monica
Facts of which I was ignorant: 1) One can drive to Singapore from Kuala
Lumpur in hours on modern tollroads; 2) Singapore was asked to leave Malaysia
- a reverse of the usual "small group fights with larger group for independence;
3) A British family ruled one part of Malaysia for a century and drew
its police force primarily from an ethnic group known as headhunters.
July 28 - Kuala Lumpur to Manila - I think Malaysia Airlines is
the best airline yet. (Think Nintendo in economy class, free unlimited
drinks, and delicious food.) Maggie got a huge bag filled with treats
from the pilot. -- Duncan
Dad and I went out to look for hotels. We looked at about eight. We finally
found a suite. Mom is amazed at how amazingly fancy the place is. (Dad
won't tell her the price.) -- Tote
It's very difficult winding down the Big Trip . . . the anxiety emanates
from each of us in turn. Thank goodness, it's not constant. We all have
expectations of what we're going to do when we get back. Will it be as
we imagine? Mark will be teaching Constitutional Law at DU and starting
a new public interest venture. Duncan will begin high school at East.
Tote and Maggie will return to Odyssey at a new (for them) location. I
will surely struggle with balancing mothering, wifing, homemaking, working
with Odyssey, and trying to pursue the interests I have. -- Monica
We stopped in Borneo. Monica took her 9000th photo. (I'm not kidding.)
And, fellows from "High Capacity," "Shooters," "Combat,"
and "Genghis Khan" security agencies guard our hotel here in
Manila. -- Mark
July 29 - Manila - We're perched above the beauty of Manila Bay.
I have been stunned by the beauty, and the adventure, and novelty, and
the mystery of so many places and people this year. There is so much left
to see, and so much left to do, and so much left to discover. . . Yet,
this trip, like all trips, must end. (I suppose it is in part this knowledge
that has made the trip so wonderful: We didn't want to waste a day by
overlooking what it brought that was new and interesting and beautiful.)
It's not romantic - in fact, it's downright sappy -- but I confess that
I found the greatest beauties, joys, and mysteries not in the places we
visited but in spending time with Monica and the children. -- Mark
July 30 - Manila - In Manila, like in Egypt, there are armed guards
in front of hotels. But here it's different. In Egypt, the guards were
government soldiers and police. Here the guards are from private battalions;
they're mercenaries. Each battalion has its own name, and it seems like
each guy's from his own battalion. (I've never seen two of the same group.)
Mark and I ask each other several times each day (these days) how we can
travel, travel and work, or just live abroad in the near future. I think
the trip has just whetted our appetites. I don't think I began the trip
with this outcome in mind. . . in fact, I believe I imagined the trip
would sate my appetite for foreign places. I wonder how it will affect
the kids. -- Monica
July 31 - Manila - It's our last day of our big trip. We have
a very nice hotel room. It's two rooms, connected together. We watched
videos. We watched "Dr. Doolittle." I thought it was a good
movie. The pool has a waterfall. It is a very fancy hotel. Each morning
a guy comes in and checks our minibar and brings us a newspaper. -- Maggie
Strange. Tomorrow is so simple, and I'm a bit disappointed. All we need
to do is find our way through a few airports. No pondering a sketchy city
map to figure out where we might be arriving. I don't need to sort what
I'll need tomorrow and what will get stashed in my secret pockets. No
need to figure out where we might stay, trying to envision what the guidebook
authors had in mind when they wrote "large, comfortable rooms"
for one place and "cleaner than usual but charming" for another.
No need to scope out the best way to get ourselves and our luggage wherever
we're going or to steel myself for the usual hotel survey and string of
bargaining sessions to get the best deal. No need to figure out where
to find a new currency or how to do the conversion to dollars. -- Mark
Monica: "I guess I don't need to steal the toilet paper this time."
August 1- Manila to Tokyo to Minneapolis to Chicago to DeKalb
August 2 - DeKalb - We're talking some serious jet lag. Monica
slept until 2 PM. I woke up at 5 AM and collapsed at 2 PM. -- Mark
Just hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa's playing D&D, walking with
Annie, and checking out the labyrinth in the park. It's fun to just hang
out and do whatever. -- Duncan
August 3 - DeKalb -
Mark: So how do you like it here at grandma's?
Tote: After only having a few things in our backpacks, it's great! Everything
we want is here!
August 4 - DeKalb - Ah, it's nice to be back! Like loud noise,
dirt, ruddy-faced drunks, and spending your evenings sitting in 90+ degree
heat and 90% humidity while muscle cars roar past in circles? Try dirt
track racing in Freeport, Illinois. Cousin Jay told us to buy the small
beers rather than the large because the big ones get warm and sludgy before
you can drink them. Even in the time it takes to drink a small one, a
layer of dirt collects at the bottom. (I'm afraid I'm still so jet lagged
I nodded off during this little bit of Americana despite the roar of the
cars and of the folks sitting behind us.) -- Mark
August 8 - DeKalb - It's only been a week, but there are already
times when I find myself wondering whether the big trip really happened.
August 9 - DeKalb - Today Tote learned one of the key facts of
life: Kite string is never tied to the spool. With help he managed to
get his kite out of the tree. -- Mark
August 11 - DeKalb - From the Boone County Fair's description
of one of the fair queen candidates: "Melinda is studying cosmetology
and will be attending Rock Valley College this fall. Melinda plans to
peruse a career as a Lawyer. Melinda also studies and is passionate about
dance, for which she has won many awards."
August 13 - DeKalb to York, Nebraska -
Tote: I didn't gag on any food for a whole year and now I gagged on this
Mark: You gagged on blue cheese.
Tote: That's not food.
After a year of checking restaurant tabs and rarely finding even a small
error, I was surprised when the friendly folks in Amana, Iowa (Amana beats
out Herbert Hoover's boyhood home and presidential library as "Iowa's
leading tourist attraction.") overcharged us $10. -- Mark
August 14 - York to Denver - We're home!