Episode Twenty

January 2014 – February 2014

In this episode, I return to Shangri-la, Hong Kong, and get to see my wife’s childhood home in her hometown. There are a lot of photos of our time with my daughter and her boyfriend, oh did I forget to mention him? So did she until she asked if she could bring him to China with her. He is a wonderful guy, and we really enjoyed ourselves together.

Yunnan Province was my favorite place to visit. It is such a diverse area biologically, geologically and is home to dozens of indigenous people (ethnic minorities).

The view from the local 100 Chickens Temple in the old Tibetan town in Shangri-la. This is not on many tourist maps.

Most of the old Tibetan town burned to the ground months after we visited. The buildings were very old, wooden and crowded together. The charm of the place is gone forever. It is sad, because the locals are so incredibly friendly. But a lot of it has been rebuilt with more fire protection.

The younger folks treated us to delicious Tibetan hotpot.

Local Tibetans dancing in the square.

Tibetan yak noodle shop. Delicious.

Yi minority lady (large head covering) and local Tibetans.

Dogs on the roof

Traditional Tibetan store.

Local ladies dancing in the famous UN heritage city of LiJiang. They were singing in Chinese, “This is it, there isn’t any more….” Because they had been dancing for a long time 🙂

There is such natural beauty in the high mountains. This is a view of the mountains from an old temple.

Bai Minority temple. A local lady gave us a puffed rice snack.

One of my best students, from my first year teaching, worked in the area at a very exclusive hotel in a restored elegant traditional building.

Indigenous Naxi Cowboys

Hong Kong. Because the five-star hotel was under renovations, we were able to get my daughter and her boyfriend an amazing room with views out two sides of the Hong Kong harbor area.

I got to visit the family home during the Spring Festival, and I was allowed to put the door guardians on the front door. Hong’s older brother wrote the poetry. We took my nephew and step-son, older and younger brother, his wife and a dog in one car (see story below – another of what I call Cantonese Opera moments)


from the roadshow

I am writing from Shangri-La – the name was changed in 2001, but this is historically Tibet. We are traveling with my daughter and her boyfriend. It is an education for dear old dad. Her boyfriend is a good guy, I can tell. I approve of the guy and have been getting to know him while we journey from Hong Kong to the edge of Tibet. Hong and I rented a car and have planned out many things. They had read the Lonely Planet travel guide and wanted to see several places that were not possible, so we have all been getting a lesson in what tourism people say something is and what it really is. Also travel in China is still pretty primitive at times, like the local govs announcing the completion of a road, only to find, it is still under construction, and that was only a small part that was completed, adding hours to travel time.

We have visited many interesting places, and I have been trying to make sure they have fun, while keeping Hong cheerful. I am satisfied to see my daughter happy, hearing another guy make her giggle is medicinal for me. I feel things right now that I have never felt before. I feel a letting go process is being completed, and I must live with the facts of life. It is hard to define, maybe I can figure it out better later.

The grassland we visited is home to the endangered black necked crane and is being preserved for eco-tourism, which is a joy to see actually beginning to take hold. The mountains we crossed, and will visit tomorrow, are high as Pikes Peak, so altitude has been an issue. The Tibetan people are the kindest people I have ever met. They smile and laugh so easily, they work hard and exist on the edge of civilization continuing their customs, carrying on as they have for centuries. My heart is calm around them, as they seem to fit so completely into their environment. They also have a coolness, the style of clothing, modern/ancient mixed together. I feel a connection to them.

From tranquil mountains of Shangri-la to the raggedy edges of my existence, I send out my wishes for the New Year – here’s to we humans and our wonderful world, let’s do what we can to keep lit the generational signal fires – to guide those who come after us towards peace and humility.

From Shambala


from the center square

Tonight I am nested within a cheap hotel – about twelve dollars a night. So my daughter and her boyfriend can have my apartment to spread out in. Hong is away, and I have spent a couple nights here. Tonight the floating illegal mahjong game is being run in the room next to me. Mahjong is a game of matching tiles and is a way old people and layabouts pass their time and it is notorious for gambling. This hotel has an hourly rate is a haunt of lovesick students, temporary romantics and somewhat on the sleazy side, but what the hell.

Tomorrow we will take my daughter and her boyfriend to Shenzhen which is a massively new metropolis. It is the place with many mega factories that assemble electronics, such as iPads, etc. It was the first city to be opened to reform economics, and it borders Hong Kong, so we will take the subway to the border, cross into Hong Kong and spend a last day together before they go home. So the future will be what they make it, and I will always be standing by with my door open.

The other night we all escaped near death driving over a foggy mountain with no heater or defroster to speak of – it was disabled by some halfwit mechanically inclined friend of the family who thinks he knows about cars, but basically just finds a work around. The road was dark and fog set in. I kept wiping the windshield trying to keep it clear. One moment Hong froze behind the wheel and said she could not see a thing, then she yanked the wheel towards the wall, which I could see. I talked her over to the side of the road, and taught her to look at the white line on the side. It is a divided highway, watch the white line when cars come towards you. Well we made it down off the mountain, got a room and all felt the adrenaline draining away. So each day hereon will be a finer day.

The ceaseless mahjong players made it a long night in the Cantonese no-tell hotel. I sailed off to fitful sleep fully clothed and thinking perhaps this would make a good opening for a science-fiction story.

From the dingy alleyways of Canton


Da crux

Tomorrow I am finally going to Hong’s hometown region for the first time. I will make an offering in her childhood home; no one lives there any more. The ancestor tablets are there – they tell the names and dates of ancestors. Hong’s grandfather and great-grandfather had powerful mojo. Last year I sent delicious American candy with her dad and brother to leave as an offering. When they came back later in the day to gather everything, the candy was missing. So I am bringing some candy my daughter brought with her. She is back in the US and studying hard.

Soon it will be the Spring Festival – Chinese New Year. 2013 is the Year of the Snake – I will find out what that means for the future. I have made some homemade candy to bring to the family get together. All across China people come together on Chinese New Year’s Eve – Saturday night, and eat dinner, watch the national variety show on TV – hundreds of millions watch because it is on most every channel. At midnight a trillion firecrackers and a billion fireworks light up the sky, often late into the night. The next day over a billion people have a day off. I will enjoy the exuberance.

Abiding by the laws of physics only until I can crack the I-Ching


from the other side of the fence

The candy was well received at New Year’s, but not New Years Eve when I was there, it wasn’t until the next night, and I bowed out of ongoing celebrations – then the candy went quickly. Hong and I had a big-bang of a misunderstanding – her fault not mine – misunderstood phrases I uttered while exhausted – no sleep for two days, and it seemed she was spoiling for a fight anyway.

Here’s an example – no sleep for almost two days, we stop in a city where one of her cousins lives. I get out of car to go with Hong and two brothers to meet cousin, and am told to stay in the car by her younger brother, I turn and notice the two boys are still in car, and the keys are in it – I guess I am not welcome to visit. Older brother also brought his six month old black lab and another cousin had given them two live chickens which were stuffed in a gunny sack in the back. So I wait with the car, feeling like the ugly sister. 45 minutes later they come back out with cousin and her husband, we say hello. I reach over to pick up a box-marked apples, which her cousin had brought out, and a chicken sticks its head out and pecks my hand – I said, “F**k!!! A Chicken.” Thought that would be the end of it.

Afterwards we were told they were in a hurry, but 7:30PM, boys and I had not eaten yet. I said we were stopping, brothers and Hong said we should get it to go. I said the boy and I had waited in the car long enough for them and would eat inside. So Hong snapped at me, saying I had been unreasonable, and she thought I had said – Another F**king chicken”… blah blah blah. So silence all the way back and into the next day. Just before time to go to brothers for traditional dinner, she had me sign an agreement that I would not complain about unusual food… I rose to my own defense and let her know in no uncertain terms that she was wrong, and I had been perfectly happy for most of the entire trip – more details would make this into a pointless rant. Let’s say the night went well, and misunderstandings are two way street which my wife must understand.

The strange foods she was referring to was the night we arrived in her hometown, after being delayed three hours for brothers, dogs, change of plan…At 11:30 PM the two brothers wanted to meet a friend for very late eats. I said I would have tea. So in we troop with two boys and the dog, and watch Hong, her two brothers and friend eat – catfish porridge, pigs livers, intestines, fried pig stomach and hot pepper spare ribs. I had tea. The culture sometimes is way out of kilter, but irresponsibility and blind ignorance are not things I easily let slide when people try to jam them down my throat as being normal.

Despite her rant at me, I was very happy to see her hometown and family home, even though there was no running water (mom refused to pay the $2 a month fee to keep water available), which caused us to waste another two hours finding a friend’s massage hotel, where we took turns taking a shower – arriving at family home around 2:30 AM.

We ran into one of her old teachers what a sweetie. In the market, next to vivisected roasted dogs split head to tail we met another cousin who sold fish, her husband was cutting frogs into quarters with scissors as they visited, and another cousin – ex-con, and the neighbor – a wonderful old guy. I spent the night, not sleeping, in Hong’s old room – the nostalgia for a poet like me filled my heart with golden light. So many good things, ancestors, boys and firecrackers,… so her snapping slides off my back. We are back at university, and waiting for her younger brother, who has borrowed the car all week – every time he damages something.

one hand on the wheel and the other fiddlin’ with the knobs

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