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Floating Village

November 2nd, 2000 · Comments Off on Floating Village

On our third and final day of formal touring in the kingdom of Cambodia, we turned ourProud Man with his family backs to the ancient temples and boarded a boat to visit a floating village. To get there we drove in a car past the neighboring villages.

I was captivated by the housing and the people. It is all so very different than anything I have ever seen. These people rather than fighting with the water, have taken to it. They live in peace and harmony with the tides of the Siem Reap River when the Mekong Delta floods the river reverses it’s flow and returns to this area, flooding the land for months.

KK on the RiverWe chartered an entire boat for $10, had we been a larger group the price would have been the same. It didn’t matter, we loved the thought of having the boat to ourselves. It was relaxing to lounge in the sunshine.

That’s me on my Khmer Yacht!

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Ta Prohm

November 2nd, 2000 · Comments Off on Ta Prohm

Out of all the temples at Angkor, this one is by far my favorite. It is spooky and amazing at the same time.

Built in 1186 by Jayavarman VII, it was dedicated to his mother. The temple was discovered in this condition and left much the same way. The jungle has taken over, with the roots of the giant banyan trees taking possession of the real estate.

At one time 72,000 people, including 2470 monks and 600 dancers lived here. Today it is being invaded by looters and tourists. Considering the cost of admission, I think it is a crime that the government doesn’t hire reliable security to protect the place. But then, from what I have read, it’s the government or the military that is doing the looting! Go figure.Main Entrance to the TempleApsara

Ta Prohm

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November 1st, 2000 · Comments Off on Hue

Hanoi to Hue via Vietnam Airlines

Day 306

No sooner did I walk away from the Airlines counter did a gentleman approach me. He asked it I was going to Hue, of course he already knew that since I just gave them my baggage while standing under the Destination Hue sign. He then introduced himself, saying he used to me a receptionist (he showed me his name badge) at the Thai Binh Hotel in Hue. He wanted me to look at some pictures of his hotel, because he would like me to stay there. He also quickly mentioned the fact that the hotel would send a car to the airport and pick us up, there would be no obligation to stay if we didn’t like the room after we saw it.

Something about his manners and the way he approached me in a business like manner, made me listen to him. I decided to say OK and take the risk. Heck, we can always walk away if it’s not a good deal.

Thai Binh Hotel welcome signWhen we deplaned in Hue (pronounced Way) the first thing we saw was a sign with both our names on it. These people have their stuff together! We boarded the van with a group of others and set off for the 1/2 hour ride to the city center. So far the plan was working!

We pulled up to the hotel and it actually looked like the picture the man had showed me. The rooms were very clean and actually priced at the prices I had been quoted. We decided to stay there.

This whole experience was so very pleasant and eye opening. These people are willing to go so far to get your business. This guy was stationed at the Hanoi airport just waiting for people to check into their flights. He successfully was filling that hotel from 680 kilometers away!

Sarah in cyclocabWe dropped all our junk in a room and set out to take in the sights. On the street we were immediately. approached by a cyclocab driver. His English was better than most, his offer seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t in the mood to walk far so we negotiated on the price and both of us hopped in our own cyclocab. It was time to let others do the peddling for us.

Watching the city go by at this pace was so relaxing. Just like cycling only much slower, we were in “the flow” of the traffic. I had time to take photos and study things more closely. It was very relaxing. My driver did not speak English, so we didn’t talk. For me at that moment I enjoyed the silence.

Sarah in the other cyclocab, had the driver who was trying to practice his English. He kept saying to her, “kiss me, kiss me.” Sarah finally determined after a few uncomfortable moments, “kiss me” is “excuse me” or at least the way the Vietnamese end up saying it.

Our drivers gently peddled us around the city, stopping at points of interest. Hue was the Imperial Capital of Viet Nam. It is full of ancient sites, the Citadel and Imperial Tombs, but we were so tired we didn’t want to get out after the first couple of stops. I think we disappointed them by not jumping into every museum and tourist event. We just didn’t care to exert ourselves today!

A few hours later we were dropped off in front of our hotel. Mr. Dong was $5 richer and we poorer. Oh well, it was just another adventure for us.

Satisfied we saw enough of Hue, we boarded the “open bus” to Hoi An. The “open bus” is not a bus that has open windows or a double decker style. The “open” refers to the feature that it stops at various points along the way, letting people get off to sightsee.

The Open Bus was a cheap mode of transportation, designed probably for backpackers. We got on with enough other people to more than fill the bus. The people who sold the tickets forgot to make accommodations for the customers taking luggage, lots of luggage. The driver piled our bags in the rear seat of the bus, leaving no room for more. The last folks who go on the bus, had to sit on jump seats for the 4 hour ride to Hoi An.

It was not a comfortable ride. Roads in Viet Nam leave something to be desired. First of all the traffic using the road comes in all shapes, sizes and speeds. None of whom pay attention to the other, everyone just does what they need to do, without looking. It is a maze of humanity. Our bus driver being a direct descendant of the Chinese, drove by using the horn. He used the horn so much it almost made more impact when he didn’t use the horn! It drove me nuts!

I tried to cope at first, figuring I would get used to the noise, but it didn’t work. Finally I removed my hearing aids, put on my CD player and tried to mask the horn. It helped. At one point I considered placing a wooden block under his horn to prevent it from working. That, I decided would probably prevent the driver from actually being able to drive.

Guess I was just going to have to get used to it. Welcome to the third world!

We stopped at all the driver’s friends places for food and toilet break. At Marble Mountain he pulled onto a tourist street. All the riders on the bus revolted, and told him to just keep driving, we didn’t want to shop. The driver tried to get us to get out, but we all just sat there, in protest!

Woman running after the busOne of our stops was at the top of a mountain by the American Bunkers just north of Da Nang. It was hilarious to watch the women vendors come running toward our bus in a wild frenzy. They were racing to see who would get to sell us something. We all grabbed our cameras for a photo shot, laughing at the site. What a way to make a living!

The women greeted our bus in a friendly manner, offering to sell us cold drinks, peanuts, U.S. Silver dollars, Tiger Balm and all sorts of weird stuff. They pointed out the sites and accompanied us up the path to the bunker, trying to get us to succumb and purchase their products. They pleaded, “you help me, buy peanuts? Special peanuts, very good!” As always I was amazed to hear all the languages, or rather fragments of languages they knew. Our bus was multi-national but each women could converse with all the passengers.

They were very persistent, I felt obligated to at least buy something, so I did. We bargained for a bag of peanuts and I hopped back on the bus for some peace and quiet. Well it was peaceful until the driver started to drive.

Da Nang viewThe view of Da Nang on the horizon.

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October 30th, 2000 · Comments Off on Hanoi

Departing from “the group” Hanoi to Hue

Day 304 – 305

After spending the first night in Vietnam in the safety of the TK&A chosen hotel, I set out with my backpack to find a place in the “old quarter” of Hanoi. I shared a cab with friends and was dropped off at Handspan Adventure Travel, a fabulously helpful travel agency.

From there I was referred to a guest house located just around the corner. The guesthouse was still in the process of getting rooms cleaned but showed me a sample room. It adequately had all the essentials but dramatically lacked comfort and appeal. Of course for $10 a night maybe I was expecting too much!

I left my pack in a pile of backpacks under the stairwell and set off to explore the city, with the “Lonely Planet” guide book in hand. It was then that I experienced a feeling of, Wow! Here I am in North Vietnam the home of my country’s former dreaded enemy. What if they didn’t like Americans? Did I need to be extra careful and how was I going to do that?

My feeling of in trepidation soon passed. From what I could see and feel, the Vietnamese have moved beyond the war and are busy into building a strong economy. All I had to watch was my wallet. Their smiling faces greeted me everywhere, “Madame? Madame? Taxi? Water? Postcards?” You name it, they have it for sale. I was being bombarded with street salesmen from every direction. I did my best to ignore them.

The hustle of the city was impossible to ignore. Motorcycles, bicycles and cyclocabs were everywhere. People were everywhere. The traffic flowed where it needed to go ignoring stop signs, traffic lights or any sort of conventional control device. Once again I was surprised how it actually worked. Everyone just seemed to “flow” with the movement. The rules seemed to be “No sudden lurches, no running, no stopping just flow through empty spaces in a semi- predictable manner”.

If I had crossed the street here, as I normally did back home, by waiting for the ebb of traffic to recede, I would still be would there. The traffic never stops.

I learned to cross the street by watching others. At first I saw chaos but then realized that was not true. There was organization in the methods, it was all in “the flow.”

Motorcycles ride 2, 3, 4 abreast, they weave and swerve from side to side, flowing with each other but avoiding the constant invasion of pedestrians walking crosswise or with them in the streets. The road is shared with cyclocabs, pedicabs, cycles and cars. Everyone beeps their horn to warn of approaching or just to make noise. No one moves. Most people whether driving, riding or walking ignore the needs of others and just continue about their business. Amazing as it is, it seems to work.

Arriving in this environment where everyone is in “the flow” but you, it is difficult to avoid looking like you just came “up from the farm.”

I was no exception. Walking down the street, vendors hawking postcards followed me, persistently trying to get me to buy something. Shopkeepers beckoned me from their stalls to come in. From every direction I heard people calling, “Madame! Madame!”

My first instinct was to be polite saying, “thank-you, but no thank-you.” That did not get rid of them, actually it seemed to encourage them. Finally after awhile I was able to tune them out, ignore the please and not make eye contact. It was the only way to survive this jungle.

Surprising enough it took an hour for me to get into the flow of the city. It was equally as long for me to lose the “up from the farm” aura. I was now a regular city dweller. That was as long as I kept the map put away.

Vietnam is a third world country. Hanoi has a fascinating mixture of third and first world amenities. On the streets it is normal to see peasant women carry yokes with fruits and vegetables on them or baskets on their heads. Children play on the sidewalks and on the door stoops. Women cook on anything they can find, hibachi pots, grills, metal tanks and rock pits. All this is done on the sidewalk of the gutter just outside their home and between the doors of internet cafes. It makes walking especially around dinner time very challenging. You must watch your step for fear of tripping over someone’s stove!

The smells, sights and sounds fill my mind and ears with pictures for my memories. I didn’t dare invade their privacy with a camera.

I signed up to take a walking tour of the city. It was led by a young man who introduced himself as “Son”. He said his father was a soldier and his mother a nurse. They met, fell in love and in 1976 on Liberation Day, he was born. Standing here looking into this beautiful young man’s eyes, mine filled with tears. He was my son Zack’s age. His father the soldier was a North Vietnamese. My son’s father was a soldier, an American. At that place in time, they were enemies. It was a poignant moment for me.

Around here the Vietnam War is known as the American War. We were the aggressors. Now, when we forget and ask someone about something in the “Vietnam War.” You get a blank look of non recognition. The Vietnamese don’t know what you are talking about! Even funnier was asking how to get to the “Hanoi Hilton,” I was given directions to the Hilton, not the prisoner of war prison.

Adorable little boyThis young Mom and son lived next door to my hotel. She screamed in delight at seeing her photo on my digital camera. The little boy was so kissable! He was waving bye bye to me.

Hanoi in the morningThe very early morning was the only tie the streets were clean and quiet. Later in the day it would be congested with people and pollution.

The walking tour with Son as our guide was very informal, myself and 3 other riders went. We were able to talk and freely ask questions. Son did an excellent job of helping us understand his country and it’s customs.

We visited a communal house where several families lived. As many as 40 people lived in one building, each family had their own room or portion of the building.

Street frontage determined the price of a building, so the buildings tended to be narrow but deep. We traveled down a long hall of the building from front to back dissecting a city block.

The buildings are constructed of block and stucco, reducing the potential for fire. They have electricity and it is miraculously billed per room or family unit. The wiring for the building was not “up to code.” Just looking at it scared me to death. It was a death trap.

Like in China the front of every building has a “garage style” opening. It seems everyone has an “in home” business. If there isn’t a business then it is used as a living room. In this particular building there was no business, all the rooms were used as living quarters. As we walked the length of the hall wall I would steal a peek into the rooms. Entire families occupied one room, sleeping, eating and recreation was all done there.

The bathroom was down the hall, actually it was a trench with 2 stalls. If running water was needed, you ran to get it. Each day the women would carry water on shoulder yolks to store in the building’s cistern. Naturally excessive use of water is frowned upon. It was just to hard to come by!

This was my first close up look at primitive housing in the city. Even though the place was dark and put together haphazardly it was home to a bunch of people. I felt moved and privileged to be able to experience a small part of their life.

Son explained how Vietnamese have very strong family ties. The man is the most important. It is his job to earn money so the family can eat and the children can go to school. It is the Mother’s job to make sure the family is happy. If the family is not happy it is the Mother’s fault. Mom cleans and cooks good meals and the family is happy. Father is the disciplinarian, he is revered and feared. The children feel compelled to follow his rules or otherwise be disowned.

Young people do not “live together” prior to marriage. Fathers of boys and girls will not allow it. Most Vietnamese are Buddhist but many admit they are not religious. They merely follow their upbringing.

The women dress very modestly It is inappropriate for females to show cleavage or even wear shorts. They wear beautiful high mandarin collar tops with side splits and pants, much like pajamas.

I wore shorts and was accepted because I’m a foreigner. I do feel much better wearing slacks.

Our tour took us through a communal meeting place. It was interesting to learn, even though Hanoi is a huge city, the neighborhoods are divided up into smaller chunks, much like our “subdivisions” back home. When a person moves into an new neighborhood, the man is expected to go to the leader of that neighborhood and ask for his blessing and advice. Usually he will be instructed to go around and introduce himself and family to all the people in the area. He is given the rules of the area and expected to follow them. In the meeting place large meetings were held on a regular basis. One thing I noticed was the huge stacks of beer cases piled along the wall. I guess they consume while they meet.

We are similar after all!

Son showed us the different shopping districts of Old Hanoi. Each street is named for the wares that it sells, making it very simple to know where to go to find what you need. I was delighted to see the “paper street, where all sorts of paper and party goods were sold.

Son showed us a paper model of a house. He said when his father died, they burnt a paper house like the one he was showing us. They believe that when you die you go on to live again, by offering a burnt paper house it will assure you of getting this object in the next life. Son’s father never owned his own house. I hope by his son’s actions, he is enjoying home ownership now.

They also sold paper U.S. dollars, clothing samples, models of expensive cars etc. Who says communists don’t have capitalistic tastes? The whole idea was quite charming.

Other shopping districts including what I called the “home depot” street, where plumbing supplies to bricks could be purchased from the multitude of little stalls. Then there was the “silk district”, computer city, backpacks and just about anything else one could think of. I loved just roaming the streets watching it all.

Sarah went crazy in the silk district. Before we left on the trip, most folks bought “sleep sacks” to line our sleeping bags with. I remember paying an outrageous sum of $60 to REI for this very special fast drying silk sack. Here on the streets of Hanoi, we could bargain down to $5! This drove Sarah mad, she couldn’t pass up the bargain and purchased at least 5 or 6 of them.

The most famous entertainment in Hanoi are the Water Puppets. We had Son take us to the theater and help us buy tickets. This turned out to be a stroke of genius, because had we not engaged Son to help us, we would have had to wait to the very late show, as our friends were doing. When they found out we walked up to the window after them and got better tickets, they were a little miffed to say the least!

Vietnam seems to work that way. There are two (or more) prices for everything. Locals pay one fare and foreigners pay another. I guess it’s their way of keeping the economy steady for the locals. Prices for us are so cheap, we don’t even realize it. On several occasions I have seen something and purchased it, only to find out later I paid way too much!

The Water Puppet show was an interesting experience. We arrived just as it was starting, they escorted us to the very front row. I was very impressed to get such excellent seats, that was until the first act when the dragons came out. At first the dragons were playfully squirting water at each other, then the water turned to fire. As I was splashed I got to thinking maybe here front row is not an honor! I did manage to survive.

The show was only an hour and that was about all the time I could take. Listening to very loud music and words you can’t understand didn’t help my attention span. I did enjoy the puppets and the colorful settings. The most interesting part was seeing how many people it actually took to put on the show. While watching I figured there were about 2 people doing it. In the finale, a whole troupe of a dozen young people came out, they were all wading in the water, which surprised me too. I would have thought they could work the puppets from the outside of the pool. But no, they were soaking, dripping wet, standing waist deep in the water. What a way to make a living!

The second day in Hanoi, I went sightseeing, visiting Ho Chi Minh’s museum and mausoleum. The Museum was more like an art gallery. As is anything I can’t read, I walked thru rather quickly only stopping to look at a few pictures. It was merely OK.

Uncle Ho Chi Minh’s MemorialThe mausoleum was closed this time of year Uncle Ho (as the Vietnamese refer to him) goes on his annual visit to Russia. Guess you know when you are famous, because even after you are dead you get to travel. What a life….or death of the rich and famous.

One little funny story occurred at Uncle Ho’s memorial. Sarah and I were walking along trying to find his house. Since neither of us had any clue as to which way to go and no one around could speak English, we just strolled looking for what we could find. At one point we approached a very military looking barracks. I said I hoped we were not in an “off limits territory or we might get shot.” We turned the corner and stood for a minute, just taking in the scenery. At the same time we both noticed some pigeons clustered around a pigeon condo. There was an usual clacking noise, we both thought the pigeons were making the noise. Sarah even started to say they sure were noisy pigeons, then we both noticed just beyond the pigeons a dozen young uniformed soldiers laying on the ground pointing their automatic rifles at the sidewalk where we just had walked. Gulp!

The soldiers were not firing the guns, but just practicing in a “laying down” position. They were not visible unless you were looking for them and then not completely noticeable. We giggled at the thought of them aiming their guns at us, waiting for us to make a wrong move. Of course we knew that wasn’t the case, but then who knows? This is after all Hanoi.

I am so far from home.

Bright and early the next morning we boarded a Vietnam Airlines jet for Hue.

Kristal Kraft Flies Vietnam AirlinesKK flies Vietnam Airlines

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October 29th, 2000 · Comments Off on Vietnam

China to Vietnam

Day 302

I loaded a bus for a 4 hour ride to the Friendship Gate, the land border crossing between China and Vietnam. It was one of those memorable crossings that made me think, “I can’t believe this is happening!”

Our group occupied 5 buses and several trucks. When we got to the border we needed to unload us and all of our gear, clear customs and immigration, then walk 300 yards to the Vietnam border do the same, then load Vietnamese buses and trucks to proceed.

The entire process took nearly 3 hours. We all shuffled our gear and bikes through, getting checked one person at a time, until we were all through.

TK&A didn’t tell us to save some money for the crossing. I got to the exit and learned we needed to pay 10 yuan for the privilege of leaving China, I didn’t have any money, I had just finished exchanging 20 yuan for 10,000 dong and bought a bowl of noodles for my lunch. I now had no Chinese money. I wasn’t the only one who had that problem. [Read more →]

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The Train

October 29th, 2000 · Comments Off on The Train

Avoiding Pain on the Train

Day 303

TK&A scheduled the group to ride on the train, it was an all night ride leaving at 10 p.m. After sitting on a bus for 12 hours the day before, I decided more torture was not in my future.

In retrospect, reading and hearing about the horrors of “the train” I was convinced I made the right decision. The train was a hard seated NON sleeper, instead of taking 12 hours, TK&A scheduled the group on a “local” train that took 17 hours! I felt sorry for my friends who had no choice but to suffer through the experience.

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October 27th, 2000 · Comments Off on Binyang

Luizhous to Binyang

Day 300

I never got to Binyang, but I am compelled to relate the following story.

The riders arrived to find a shortage of rooms. The town was small and not accustomed to having westerners visit. The TK&A group was negotiating to find more hotel rooms. (It was a good thing 19 of us stayed behind!)

One of our riders was accosted in the hallway of the hotel by a drunk. He wisely didn’t fight back, (we are still traveling without passports, police involvement would not be advised!) but ended up being pursued by the drunk who tried to use a cigarette lighter (the lighter’s in China are similar to blow torches) to set fire to his private parts. The rider’s wife reacted quickly by pushing the drunk away. In the meantime, the hotel owner showed up and got into a tussle with the drunk and his friends. It was a dicey place.

Accommodations were reported to have fleas, rats and ants. The plumbing either left something to be desired or didn’t work at all.

With these pressing problems, TK&A wisely decided to move the group ahead by bus to Nanning where we were supposed to stay the following night. The hotel there was a 5 Star International Hotel.

This trip is a trip of contrasts. From the bowels of the earth to the clouds of heaven. All in one night!

Of course the Kristal buses transported all of “my people” to the International Hotel. (You are welcome, Tim!)

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October 25th, 2000 · Comments Off on Liuzhou

Rong’an to Liuzhou

Day 299

The DRG warned us today the first 53 kilometers were through construction. TK&A would be busing the cyclists through this area, because it was that bad. We loaded up the Kristal buses and set out. We hit construction shortly before getting out of the city. It was a mess. The streets were completely torn up and extremely muddy. It was going to be a long day.

Bad road in ChinaTo make matters worse, the traffic was very heavy, going both ways. Of course when the Chinese tear up a road, they do a good job, there was no road left, it was a mud path! Sometimes one side of the road or the other would be so muddy, traffic would have to take turns going over the “better” side. This process slowed things down considerably.

Our driver was very cautious but did get stuck deep in some mud once. We alldirt road in China got off the bus and he flagged down a big truck to tow us out. While all this was going on, traffic piled up in both directions. Of course both directions jockeyed for first position for when the road was clear. They caused a worse traffic jam than before since no one could go either way because everyone was in each other’s way! What a weird way to drive! We all chuckled, this is China!

Motorbike cartAfter 53 kilometers the road was back to normal. We turned the bend and the bike truck was there with all the bikes unloaded, ready for us to hop on and ride. It had taken us 4 1/2 hours to go 53 kilometers by bus! The cyclists that braved the road, beat us!

I rode the last part of the day. It was a great ride, typical of all the fascinating things happening that makes in fun to ride in this country. At one point I had to stop while a huge road crew was chopping down trees. There must have been 80 men and women on the crew. They would use a chain saw to cut the tree andTree trimmers ropes to direct it to fall onto the road! Once it fell the majority of workers would run into the street, cutting the tree into sections, while the traffic waited for them to finish. It was funny to watch.

After awhile I was motioned to go through, they were still cutting and chopping and the traffic was getting more backed up than ever. Oh well, nobody seemed to care!

Building a wall in ChinaThe temperature today got up to 104 degrees, the humidity was high too. By the time I got into Luizhou, I was pretty well spent. In the elevator to my room I nearly passed out. I was dehydrated and hungry. It had been a long time since food.

Our hotel for the night was the best accommodation we have had since we hit China. The rooms were air conditioned, there was a western toilet, bathtub and shower. They even served western style food, I could eat! I made an instant decision to stay for another night and catch up by train. I needed to have an extra day to get clean and rested. This hotel was like an oasis in a sea of dirt. It would be my home for 36 hours.

The next morning as the cyclists and the Kristal buses left for Binyang, I waved “good-bye!” I was free from the responsibility now. It had been fun and I loved every minute of it. The buses were a welcome treat for many, as I was told over and over again.

Tim Kneeland didn’t like the buses at all. He actually yelled at me this morning for causing so many problems. He said I was rude and inconsiderate for not supplying him with a list of the riders. I was not clear where he was coming from, since I saved him and Odyssey money (assuming that actually have some) not to mention time for the staff who would normally be having to pull people off the road, making numerous trips. No, that consideration was not made. No thanks you’s were forthcoming. He was just upset, because he had no control.

As for giving him a list I said “sure.” I didn’t tell him what year.

My thoughts on supplying a list are “no way.” By doing so I would only put the people on it in jeopardy. As soon as staff had a question as to where one of them were, they would write them off. Even if they were on the road and needed assistance. The system stinks, but they continue to use it.

Oh well, it’s my day off and I plan to rest and enjoy it. I feel a cold coming on, it’s feels good to be somewhere for a day, just hanging around.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought that way, there were 19 of us that stayed back in the hotel.

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October 24th, 2000 · Comments Off on Rong’an

Longsheng to Rong’an

Day 298

It was the first day of the Kristal buses riding the road. Since the weather was lovely, most of the “Kristal Customers” were cycling, so the buses to Marco’s dismay were barely half full. I reminded him had already been paid and he need not worry about it! Good grief, this is the sort of guy you don’t want for your landlord. You could return from a vacation only to learn he had rented your home in your absence!

Even though we were in a bus, it was slow going. The road was busy and we were not able to make very good time. The cyclists were having a bad day. We came upon Rich who was just getting up off the road, he had been hit by a motorcycle and was suffering from a few abrasions. We offered him a ride, since his private vehicle was not around, but by the time he got on the Kristal bus, his bus arrived. TK&A support was nowhere to be seen.

We went a little further down the road when we stopped behind a traffic jam. One of our riders and one of the Kristal bus customers had been in an accident. It was Jim. My heart jumped in my throat, but soon returned to normal when I saw Jim standing up, looking OK, just a little bloody. A pedestrian had stepped in front of him and he hit the guy. Jim’s front teeth went through his lip, but he was mostly nervous about the huge crowd forming around him.

The “victim” was leaning against Jim’s bike and talking to the crowd, describing his injuries. He looked OK, just a few abrasions, but he was not acting OK. He was hurt and he was looking for retribution. Jim got the message. He ended up paying the guy so he could go to the hospital and be looked at. But only after one of our riders who is also a Doctor came along and examined him. She found him to be fine, just scraped.

Geeze, that was a close call. Jim handled it well and the crowd moved on to witness other things. It was the first time I had ever worried about not being able to communicate in China. They knew we were “rich” Americans and we were not going to get away easy. Of course “easy” is relative.

We popped Jim’s bike in the truck and put him in the bus, on we went. It was turning out to be a good thing to have a bus. We were cleaning up our cyclists off the road, not what I had hoped to do! By day’s end 6 cyclists had gone down. None were seriously injured, but all had either/or abrasions and some needed stitches.

The condition of the road, the huge amount of traffic and congestion coupled with the general uneasiness of the tour was taking it’s toll. Riders need to be focused on riding and not worrying about the future. We are all wondering if there will be enough money in the bank for TK&A to get us home, or do we only get to go “halfway ?”

We pulled into Rong’an very late in the day. It turned out to be a long and difficult day on the bus. I had not intended to ride the bus all day, but as it turned out, I was glad I did. The first day on the road with me on board helped work out a few wrinkles and now the drivers hopefully will be familiar with the routine. The drivers were great, we managed to communicate our desires and our needs were met. It was a good day.

My hotel was down the street and around the block from the main hotel. I found my luggage and pulled it down the street, feeling a thousand eyes on me all the while. Rong’an was “off the beaten path” of the tourists. Whenever we have stayed in cities that don’t get tourists, they tend to be very curious. This city was going to be like that, everyone was watching.

Parents were positioning their children close to me, so the kids to “look” at a foreigner. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended. I chose the latter. It is fun to be the center of attention. It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are cities in the world this innocent. Once again I felt as though I was in a movie set, it was all surreal.

After dinner I was craving something chocolate. Feeling safe I walked the city streets just enjoying the sites and searching for a Hershey bar. Ha! I walked up the “food” street, every China city seems to have one. They all look very similar. The cooking tables are arranged near the edge of the street, where passer bys can view what the cook has to offer. The food is chopped, sliced and diced all neatly on plates, with the exception of the larger items, usually the protein. They keep the protein in it’s original shape, guess they think it is more appetizing or perhaps it keeps better that way. For me, it was interesting to identify common creatures, I saw puppy dogs, ducks, geese, chickens in full feather, frog, rat, bat and snake.

Disgusting? Yes. Normal? Yes. Did I eat it? Hell no! I have a rule in China. If I can’t identify it, I don’t eat it. China is so very interesting, there’s never a dull moment on the streets.

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October 24th, 2000 · Comments Off on Kyoto

We arrived at the hotel just prior to noon, local time. We lost an hour on the clock and had been traveling via bus and/or plane for the past 26 hours. I am wound up, our hotel is located across the street from a Japanese Castle, it looks wonderful, with pagoda like guard houses on each corner. This is going to be a cool place to stay.

Our room was amusing, everything was on a small scale, I felt like I was in Lilliputanville! The ceiling in the hallway could be reached by merely raising my arm. The toilet and sink were both very low to the ground. Even the beds were short and low. It was perfect for my room mate Shelli, who is a tiny, little size person.

It was lunchtime, so a group of us opted to find a local noodle house, not to far from the hotel. We were lucky to have Sara Lindsey with us, a lady who had lived in Japan for four years, and to our absolute delight, spoke Japanese! We set off for our latest adventure.

Sit down (on the floor) dinner in KyotoSitting on the floor, we ordered from a Japanese menu, thankfully the pictures

shed some light as to what we were getting!

Upon entering the restaurant, we encountered a row of shoes. It was an obvious reminder to remove our shoes prior to entering the room. We obliged, carefully stowing our shoes in a row. We choose our places, sitting on pillow like mats on the floor. My knees were not happy.

In the evening after dinner Sara took us to a neighborhood bath house. It was my first time going to one, as well as the others in my group.

We entered the property via an open door, shrouded with the fabric panels hanging half way down from the top. There were places to store our shoes, lockers, shelves and also the floor. I took mine off and placed them in a locker. In the meantime we were welcomed by a little Japanese lady who instructed us in Japanese what to do next. At least she instructed Sara, who in turn directed us.

Kristal Kraft in Kyoto Japan BathhouseInside we paid 350 Yen ($3.50) for the bath with a towel, which looked to be a large wash cloth. We were given plastic baskets in which to store our clothing, then provided with yet another locker. The attendant handed each of us a plastic bowl/bucket and a bar of soap. Normally, the locals bring their own towels and toiletries. Being “gaijin” (foreigners) we obviously needed all the amenities provided. She determined our needs and filled them.

Sara explained Japanese customs to us. They people look for and provide “harmony” at all costs. They do not want anyone to “lose face” so they never call attention to mistakes and help each other along if things, like bringing your own towel to a bath house are overlooked.

We saw examples of this over and over again. If we got lost, they would take us, sometimes by the hand and show us the way. My pieced ear ring popped off my ear onto the floor in the bath house. When the women was I needed help looking for it, they were down on their hands and knees with me looking for it. When I finally found it wrapped in my hair, they cheered. It was such a team effort, so supportive and warm.

The dressing room was adjacent to the cashiers stand, men had their area to the right, women to the left. Standing at the cashiers stand, one could see directly into either side. Dressing in privacy was not an issue for these people. Nakedness is not a big deal. For us, we could stand off to the side to seek privacy, then rush to the inner room where the water was located.

In addition to the lockers, the dressing room was full of mirrors, it looked very much like an old fashioned beauty salon. They had those old bee hive chair hair dryers lined up against a small portion of the wall. It was a busy place, with supplies and things stored all over.

Inside the bath room were several tubs, hot, hotter and hottest. Each side of the wall was lined with facets about 10 inches from the floor. The procedures of washing were done in a kneeling or sit-down position. Just above the facet was a shower head, it too was only above my head, when I was kneeling.

In one corner there was a sauna that would seat about 6 or 7 ladies, it was a very hot sauna, probably the hottest I have ever encountered. Just outside the sauna was another tub, this one had cold water in it. On the interior wall there was shower enclosure that once the door was shut you could push a button then water would spray at you in various pressures and temperatures. You could only control the “on” switch, after that you had to take what came. It was a screaming experience!

The most amazing part of this whole experience was watching these beautiful Japanese women of all shapes, sizes and ages go through their bathing ritual. I do mean ritual. They gracefully soap their body parts with such determination and purpose. It is if they are covered in an inch thickness of clay and the only way it will come off is to gently scrub it off lathering and re-lathering until it is all gone. We were there for 2 hours, while we enjoyed all the tubs over and over, their was one young lady scrubbing her body the whole time. She was almost in a Zen like trance, so methodically graceful.

Of course us Americans did the once over lather then into the tubs for fun and relaxation. We didn’t wash nearly as well as the locals and I fear they must think of us as “dirty”. But then I did take a shower before I went to the bath house. How dirty could I be?

After an evening of relaxation, I was addicted to the Japanese bath house and made a vow to enjoy one everyday that I could when in the country. The experience was even better than I imagined it would be.

The plot has thickened, tonight at dinner we were told that our bicycles are having such a good time in Kuala Lumpur, they have decided not to join us in Japan. We will be busing from camp to camp on the Japanese leg of our bicycle tour. Guess you can say the bikes have gone “off route”.

Seriously though, Tim of TKA told us he can get the bikes into Japan, but cannot assure us that he can get them out on time for our tour of China. In addition we will be leaving Japan on 4 different air carriers from 3 different locations in the country for Hong Kong. A rider put this in simpler terms; Our exodus from Japan will be the same as hiring someone to fly you from Los Angeles to San Francisco. When the trip day comes, you are bused to Denver, board a plane to fly to Oakland via Honolulu your are taken by ferry to San Francisco. . Thus making the trip 2 or more times as long and far as necessarily. Kind of like flying to Kuala Lumpur from Cairns to get to Osaka.

Kristal Kraft in the Gion DistrictHow are folks handling the news? Some are absolutely furious others don’t care. I am planning to stick with the group and see what adventures are to follow. It’s Zen to go with the flow.

The Kyoto layover day was exciting. With Sara’s guidance, we purchased all day bus passes and set out to see the famous Kiyomizu-Dera Buddhist Temple.

On the way to the temple we passed various shops selling Japanese souvenirs. Silk sack type purses in every size and color are very popular, as well as beautiful Japanese fans and many confectionery shops. The food places offered us samples of their goodies. I enjoyed the Yatsuhachi a confectionery with bean curd paste filled with a cinnamon chocolate. They look like uncooked ravioli and were very tasty.

School children in Kyoto

My day ended with another wonderful experience at a Japanese bath. The story of getting there is of interest. We had planned to go directly after dinner, but I got involved “substituting” for someone in a Scrabble game. My friends were ready to leave to the bath house before the game was over, so I told them to go ahead, I’ll catch up. Later Shelli came back to tell me our “normal” bath house was closed tonight and showed me the location on a map of another, where they would meet me.

templeIt was at least an hour before the Scrabble game ended. I headed off towards the bath house, my toiletries bag in tow. Following my map and counting the blocks, I went to where I thought the bath house should be. Of course my map, the streets and all the signs are in Japanese, there are no English letters anywhere. I was not able to find a bath house, smell soap or get any other clues. Finally I saw a well lit store that appears to be a Japanese 7-11. I walked in hoping to find an English speaking sales clerk.

As I stepped in line behind the store’s only customer, the gentleman behind the cash register looked at me and before I could utter a word he said, “Japanese bath house for American Cyclist!” I was stunned, but figured my friends must have been here asking for directions too. He took my map, drawing on it where I was and where I needed to go. Then he led me back out to the street and got me started in the right direction. Within 2 blocks I found the bath house, exactly where he said it would be. My friends were there and were they ever surprised to see me. They had all but given up when they found the place with the help of a pedestrian. None of them had talked to my helpful guy at the “7-11”, how he knew who I was and what I wanted I can only guess. It remains a mystery to me!

My second night in a bath house was just as delightful as the first. Bathing in this manner is a Japanese tradition I am becoming addicted too.Ric Shaw Running, Kyoto, Japan

Catherine cleansing hands to enter the temple

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