Mahaffy's Travels

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
Trip End Jul 23, 2004

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Flag of Hong Kong  ,
Monday, April 12, 2004

The trip back to Hong Kong to pick up my parents was pretty uneventful, minus Phil's detergent-induced dermatologic emergency... (I thought the last few entries lacked dramatic tension; a big thanks to Phil for providing some new material)

So we headed to Kunming from Lijiang (beautiful train, lovely soft comforters... my hip bones have almost forgotten India's hard sleepers...) and spent the night again at the Camellia Youth Hostel. I woke up at 6 am to hear Phil muttering irritated unpleasantries from the top bunk, and asked what was wrong, with a "this better be important" tone that I regretted as soon as I saw he was completely covered in hives. And not the little hives like I got when I ate a whole pack of Chewels liquid-center gum (although I did get to go home from school and watch TV; not a bad day at all), he had these huge raised welts all over his arms and legs, very horror movie, science-experiment-gone-wrong kind of thing, including one that kind of looked like Abe Lincoln. We packed up, moved to another hotel, Phil ate the daily maximum of Benedryl, and I silently hoped it wasn't leprosy. Just kidding. I was pretty sure it wasn't. Just another benefit of traveling with a nurse...
We got to Hong Kong four days before my parents were due in order to get another Chinese visa and not pay the express next-day fee. It was still insanely expensive, but after a few days in Hong Kong (motto: Napkin-sized skirts are supposed to cost $500. Really.), I was numb to spending ridiculous amounts of money on virtually nothing. We ate a lot of fried tofu from the "bits-n-ends"-style street stalls.
My parents came on Sunday night, March 28th; they couldn't miss me as I was the one elbowing everyone else out of the way and jumping up and down like an untrained Lab. The first thing I thought was, "They look the same!" as if I expected them to have morphed into unrecognizable people after only 7 months away from my energizing presence. It was funny, but I got more homesick when I saw them than I had since we first landed in Bali; like once I got to see what I've been missing, it made me a little sad for being gone. But not for long. Mom brought me chocolate marshmallow eggs, which banished all thoughts but those of feasting.
The train from Hong Kong to Beijing was uber-plush, and we had the added bonus of having only the four of us in a six-person car. Probably a good thing, because, between Mom and me, we talked most of the 26 hour ride. It was a strange position to be in, as travel guide to my parents, the original rough-travel backpackers. The last time I traveled with them was almost 10 years ago: I was in Europe for the summer with my 15 year old sister, and my parents met up with us for a month. Then they took off to France, and Libby and I went to Spain, but while we were together, my parents were responsible for hotels, transit, food acquisition, everything. This time was different; Phil and I were the ones making the arrangements, and my parents looked to us for advice on local food and the best method of bargaining. It was a new role; it felt awkward, a little, but I really enjoyed being able to make things (mostly) smooth for the two weeks they were here. And it helped me firmly scratch "travel guide" off my list of possible career options. Too many details...
Our first day in Beijing we went to the Forbidden City; the buildings are a little repetitive, but the huge gardens and ever-present rockeries are cool. It was really cold, and the wind was brutal, so we took the speed tour and headed back for some heaping bowls of fried eggplant and sauteed green peppers. There is some really good food in Beijing. I think we ate most of it.
The next day was the requisite visit to the Great Wall. We took a bus to Jinshaling and walked along the wall for 10 km to Simitai. It was a pretty tough hike; several parts of the wall have been restored, but most of it has been left untouched, which meant some hands-and-knees scrambling up crumbling steps. My mom never complains (well, except about the deer that eat her rosebushes and the swarms of summer Jet Skiiers), but it was a strenuous 4 hours even for us healthy under-30 year olds; for someone who had polio as a kid and a hip replacement for a degenerating joint, she moves along pretty well. The effort was certainly rewarded by the views; in the immortal words of Richard Nixon (1970), "It really is a great wall."
Our last day in Beijing was spent doing necessary planning for the rest of their visit; train tickets, plane tickets, all the stuff Phil and I have been doing at a much more relaxed pace. Very stressful when you have to be somewhere at a specific time (my co-workers will appreciate my struggle with that at home, too). That night we went to a performance of Chinese acrobatics, which had many similarities to Cirque du Soliel, including young girls that can bend themselves into extremely bizarre positions while balancing potentially breakable items and other (equally contorted) girls on their extremities. Although the show was performed in what looked like a high school auditorium (I half expected the Elk Rapids cheerleaders to bounce on-stage), it was an impressive performance. It may be the only chance I will ever have to see 15 girls dressed like Judy Jetson ride on one bike.
I love overnight trains: we woke up in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, famous for such pearls of wisdom as "Man who fart in church sit in his own pew". On second thought, I think that particular nugget was from President Bush's State of the Union address. Although Confucius was not particularly wealthy while he was alive, his decendants were, and there is a huge temple and mansion complex, as well as a park/cemetary where 77 generations of the Kong family have been buried. The highlight was definitely the park; very peaceful and green, and the weather was perfect. Except for the lack of culinary delights in Qufu (Phil ordered chicken with green peppers and got a plateful of chicken necks. In case you haven't ever fondled a chicken neck before, it's not exactly a succulent meat extravaganza, more like being served Calista Flockhart), it was a pleasant day. Took a bus to Jinan and caught the night train to Xi'an (with a 5:00 am arrival!), where we saw the Terracotta Warriors, and then the flight to Zhangjiajie (a treat from Mom and Dad to spare us 41 hours in transit). We were lucky enough to have learned from Lucy and Michael (our Tiger Leaping Gorge co-hikers) that the other sights in Xi'an weren't worth the effort, so we got a dorm room for the day, slept a few hours, and then spent a couple of hours seeing the three excavated sites of the Warriors. I especially enjoyed the brief historical-update film, shot in 360 degrees. It was kind of an indie-Braveheart, with lots of smoky battlefields and close-ups of dramatic 3rd century death grimaces. Mom got vertigo from the NYPD Blue-style cinematography, but I thought it added a nice touch to the chaos-of-war feeling.
Zhangjiajie was the entryway to the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, which is a national park of karst limestone rocks and some incredible views. We stayed three days, climbing up the paved paths the first day and then (predictably) getting lost the second day and walking along a fire road for a couple of hours. It was a nice way to relax; we had a cozy hotel with heat (our first in 7 months!!!!) and hung out at night drinking the local beer and eating cookies. Now that's a vacation.
We went back to Hong Kong on the 10th, and, as a fitting transition back to city life, ate at Pizza Hut (Phil and I had been craving it for weeks; Mom and Dad were understanding enough to forfeit a real Chinese dinner, and they even treated!) When we took them to the airport the next morning (with a going-away package of cookies for the long flight), I was okay until they hugged us goodbye and went through the security check. Sigh...
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