Thursday, March 10, 2005

Back home

I am back at home in Oakland. Very tired, as I did not sleep much on the plane over. I had written another entry from China, but it got eaten when I tried to upload it, as blogger was unavailable.

It mostly was about the difficulty of getting Fried Fish without Pork on top. By odd coincidence, after writing it I went to another restaraunt and asked for fried fish. I said "no pork, no shrimp, no ... just fish. And vegetables". The waiter repeated "just fish". Of course when it arrived I poked at a suspicious chunk in the sauce with the back end of a chopstick and asked "what is this". Of course the answer was "Pork". So I sent it back, and they got it right the second time. It is not just a language problem, there is a cultural inability to understand why someone would not want want pork on their fish.

I also mentioned the Jewish tour of Shanghai, which started at my hotel, and included the Synagogue I mentioned earlier. A very interesting bit of history, unknown to most Chinese (and to most Jews I expect). I would urge anyone visiting Shanghai to get in touch with Dvir.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Some more Shanghai

I visited Soong Ching Ling's residence yesterday. She was Sun Yat Sen's widow, and after his death she went over from Kuomintang to the Communists. They were pretty happy with that, and she had a nice house with a big garden that is now a memorial to her.

It was interesting to read the Telegrams she exchanged with Chiang Kai Shek in the 1920s, when she broke with them. Especially because although they were both Chinese (of course) the telegrams are in English. Soong Ching used more Telegraphese than Chiang did, words like unpropose (or something like that). It was interesting that he accused the Soviets of interfering with their communication, and said that if she were in China she would know why the Kuomintang had broken with the Russians. She remained loyal. Since she lived past 1960 (to 1981 in fact) I was wondering about her reaction to the Chinese Communist split with their Soviet brothers, but there was nothing in the museum to show it.

I especially enjoyed one vitrine that displayed her 1951 Stalin Peace Medal, and the gushing letter that accompanied it (Stalin was for Peace it seems -- as I recall it was the kind of peace you get when everyone who disagrees with you is dead or in jail, but she may not have agreed with me). The thing that made me laugh out loud though was another item in that same case. It was a presentation of stamps from Kurt Waldheim, when he was UN Secretary General in the early 70s. I thought "wow the Commies and the Nazis both loved her! She must have been something!". I wonder if the curator did that deliberately, or it just happened that way. Funny enough in either case.

I also enjoyed a letter from Zhou Enlai, also in English from 1946, in which he praises the British, who at that time had a Socialist Government almost as Red as the Chinese, and he predicts that the "Imperialist" Americans will soon suffer economic catastrophe. Of course we now remember the post war years in America as one of the greatest economic booms in human history, while it was the Brits who had trouble then. I have not enjoyed a history lesson that much in quite some time.

Today I visited the Ohel Moishe Synagogue. I had not realized how many Jews found refuge in Shanghai during WWII. Apparently the Chinese consul in Vienna, one Dr. Ho, signed 20,000 visas for Jews in the years just before the war. It brought tears to my eyes to read that.

They settled in a section of Shanghai that had been abandoned after being bombed by the Japanese. They survived the Japanese occupation in a ghetto in that area. The Japanese of course refused to heed Hitler's call to kill the Jews.

Since everyone likes to hear about my food, I will tell you about lunch yesterday and today. Yesterday I went to a Vegetarian place in the Mall I mentioned (which I learned today is the largest in China). The "pork" was tasty, the only problem was the mint leaves were arranged on the edge of the plate, and fell on the table every time I took some more.

Today I had some soup with vegetables I picked out. I tried to avoid the obvious meat items on skewers, but some things were hard to figure out. It was especially difficult because the man helping me did not speak a word of English. It got worse when I said "Shi Shi" (Thank you) and he assumed I spoke Chinese. No amount of incomprehension could dissuade him from trying to converse with me after that. I suppose that with a billion people here they feel they don't have to learn English to have someone to talk to.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

In China

Apparently the Chinese censor the internet, so while it may be possible for me to post to my blog (I am trying right now, and if you are reading this, it obviously worked) I can't see it from here. Everything on blogspot.com is blocked, it seems.

Until I was reminded of that, I would have just talked about how modern and western this place is. I was in a huge shopping mall earlier today. It was full of Sony and Nokia and Motorola etc. Even the plumbing fixtures were American Standard and Sloan Valve USA (I read a lot, including the writing on plumbing). Perhaps we don't have to worry about the Chinese completely overpowering the American economy, if they still import flush valves from us.

On the way in from the airport I even saw a huge billboard for Cadillac. I suppose it would have been more impressive had I actually seen a Cadillac on the road, but I didn't. Just a BMW 7L and an Audi A6 1.8t (not a combination available in the USA I think).

There are some amazing buildings in Pudong. I was stunned. One of them at least I remember from an architecture exhibit I saw recently in a Modern Art museum in the states. Very impressive.

I am at the Public library now, I took a Subway to get here. That was quite an adventure. I may stick to cabs from now on. Packed does not begin to describe it. Stuffed perhaps. After I squeezed on, a couple more people would push and push, forcing me into the folks in front of me, and eventually either getting on or getting stuck in the door and giving up. Unreal.

I read once that Japan has officers whose duty it is to shove people into trains, so that they are as full as possible. That seems to be a task delegated to the public in China. They could also stand to have some conductors yelling "Let 'em off the train!" as I recall from NYC. Here the rule seems to be to start pushing on as soon as the doors open, never mind the folks who want off.

Saturday, March 05, 2005


I am in the Bangkok airport, thinking about making use of a "day room" to take a nap. My flight does not leave for several more hours. I had thought of going into the city, but decided that the terrible traffic would make it not worthwhile.

The flight here involved another stop in Calcutta, but we were not let off the plane. Druk does not fly direct. I am beginning to enjoy the oddities of air travel out here though, the innumerable stamps and tickets and receipts that one accumulates for security check, customs check, airport tax, visa fee, etc. etc.

I was thinking about opening a theme park with an "international air travel experience" where you would stand in line and have your documents checked, and get interesting stamps in your passport and boarding pass and baggage tags.

Perhaps not too many people would really enjoy it though.

Driving to the Paro airport I was impressed with the amount of arable land the Bhutanese sacrificed for the airstrip. The Paro valley is U-shaped, like the one in Gangtey, whilst Thimphu, like much of the rest of Bhutan, is V-shaped. The Bhutanese work very hard to terrace the hills to eke out some more land.

Yesterday after blogging from the Rainbow Tours office we were able to get to the one last thing I wanted to see in Bhutan: archery. The national sport. We went to an archery range that had targets on either end, and disturbingly small backstops, especially since the targets were 130 meters apart! The archers were all using fancy composite bows imported from the US, and were able to hit the targets, or at least come very close. I was impressed.

After dinner we tried to find a place to go out, but Paro closes early, even on the weekend. We wound up at a bar with live music, albeit a bit odd. The singer/drummer and drummer/guitarist were both wearing Gho, the national dress. I hope noone will be offended if I say that Gho look a bit like bathrobes with large cuffs. The drum set was a Roland electronic gizmo. The guitar was real. I could not tell if the singer was using a gadget to process the vocals, or was singing falsetto. The evening became even more surreal when a rather drunk young Bhutanese fellow who had pulled down the top of his Gho began dancing around with what looked like a bunch of wilting weeds in his hand.

A fight did not start when his friends dragged him away, although I thought one was about to.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Momos are a sort of Chinese dumpling, except that the Bhutanese version can have cheese as well. Of course there are ones with meat, but I did not try those. I had a dinner at the tour operators house, and she had some excellent Momos with cheese and vegetables.

The main dishes here seem to be a sort of "au gratin" with chilis. I have had potato and mushroom versions. There is also a version with just the chilis.

I also enjoyed a cold dish made of fresh chopped chilis, tomatos, onions and cheese. Very spicy, but delicious.

The internet is a bit difficult here, so if I owe you an email, I apologize. I was going to put up a picture of a yak for you to admire as well, but Flickr seems to have changed its UI, or something went wrong, because I could not get it. Try:
this yak?

which should work.

I also saw some black-necked cranes in Gangtey, but could not get a good picture as I do not have a telephoto lens (a definite limitation of rangefinder cameras).

I am leaving Bhutan tomorrow for Shanghai via Bangkok, a long day.

Perhaps the internet in China will be more amenable to blogging.

A few last random impressions from Bhutan:
The cows that graze on the edges of the steep cliffs. We saw one dead in the road that had fallen, they are not mountain goats after all.

The roads that are one lane wide but have two way traffic, including large Tata trucks and buses. Not much in the way of guardrails either, which makes for some excitement.

The Dzongs are ancient fortress/monestery/government office buildings. This is a Buddhist country, no churches allowed. "Seperation of Church and State" definitely does not exist. Although since 1907 they have a King, rather than a priest/king.

Beautiful forests, lawns of shrubby bamboo, flowering rhododendron trees, wild peaches. A "zoo" with only Takin, a sort of deer that is the national animal. Even saw a baby one.