The steps of the Great Wall of China were designed unevenly to slow down invaders. Don’t know how effective they were against barbarian soldiers, but they worked well against my bumbling feet. I took a tumble three times. Even watching how I placed my feet on a riser, the next riser surprised my toes just the same and down I went into another harmless sprawl. It was funny. Like I’d forgotten how to walk. The irregular stairs combined with the steep incline made simply walking adventurous, so I was comic relief among our tour group that afternoon.
The Great Wall, first built in the 2nd century and expanded by ruling dynasties, runs east to west across northern China, spanning mountain peaks and snaking through the wilderness of vertiginous cliffs. It was a beautifully sunny day and the views across Badaling’s valleys were dazzling.
A serene corner in the Forbidden City.
My trip began in Beijing at Tiananmen Square, or “Gate of Heavenly Peace,” which marks the entrance to the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Tiananmen Square, said to be the world’s largest public space, was designed to hold one million people and it has held at least one million twice in its history, once on what became known as National Day, the day the People’s Republic of China was established and again during Mao Tse-tung’s funeral.
After Beijing came Xi’an, a city of 12 million, in central western China, for a visit to the Terra Cotta Army archaeological site. When first discovered, brought out of the soil after 2,000 years, the warriors were brilliantly painted. Within minutes of exposure to air, the paint disintegrated right off of them, but nevertheless, these meticulously crafted clay statues are magnificent. The name of the artist can be found somewhere on each statue and each statue has distinctive facial features and expressions: infantry, mounted bowmen, cavalry, along with the officers of the regiments. There are thousands of them buried in Xi’an. It is calculated that only a portion has been found and that there are thousands more depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, still deep in the ground along with horse statues, wheel carts, and military weapons, buried with the emperor to protect him in the afterlife.
The Yangtze River cruise began at the port city of Chongqing (population 30 million) where we boarded the ship, the Viking Emerald. China’s cities are humongous!
Sunrise at the Three Gorges on the Yangtze
The Three Gorges region is gorgeous! We were on our way to view the Three Gorges Dam.
More photos to come!
Sunday, April 1
Sunday dawned sunless, and from Kyoto we took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line #495 to Hiroshima, two and a half hours away, through hilly countryside spread with suburbs and industrial buildings. Amid the forested hillsides, large clusters of cherry blossom trees, like floral fireworks against the melange of dark green woods, catch your gaze.
We visited the Atomic Bomb Memorial and the nearby ruin of a building standing behind an iron fence in stark testimony to that terrible day. If you’re interested in learning about A-bomb survivors, go to http://blog.livedoor.jp/mitokosei/
The Atomic Bomb Memorial stands in a beautiful park backed by a pristine lake. An eternal flame of peace burns at one end of the lake and is not to be extinguished until there is no more war. It will indeed burn for an eternity. Mankind cannot seem to not go to war.
March 31, 2018
Sakura (Cherry Blossom Festival season) in Kyoto was lovely. The cherry blossom trees were astonishing, gorgeously covered in white blossoms looking as if hundreds of ivory-winged butterflies had settled on the branches. Families picnicked beneath the trees, and many Japanese wore the traditional dress in celebration of the holiday–the women in lovely, brilliantly patterned kimonos, the men in the more sober, elegant yukata. We walked about, took photos, and enjoyed the beauty of Maruyama Park. Then we caught a taxi to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest to do the forest walk. That was wonderful, but a bit exhausting for me as most of the the path, winding through a magnificent forest of bamboo, is on an incline.
Back in Kyoto, we strolled the Philosopher’s Walk, along a canal, enjoying the breath-taking sight of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. The flowing canal, cherry blossom petals floating on the water, darkened as evening descended and the air turned smoky with twilight.
View from side door of the Lions Mansion Apartments, Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku
March 31, 2018, Tokyo
After the long, long flight from LAX to Haneda International, Japan, and a train ride from the airport, Medy and I finally arrived in Tokyo. We got a bit lost trying to find the Air BNB apartment in Shinjuku ward, but after wandering the streets, knowing we were close, we finally found the address in Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku. We were greatly relieved.
The apartment was a single room, none too big, with two beds, a tiny bathroom and a kitchen sink area with a small cabinet above. There was a closet stocked with room supplies which we were not to touch according to the rules sheet the owner left for us. The bed linens appeared clean, the floor was brown linoleum, the walls an unmemorable color, possibly with a pattern on them, but it’s fuzzy in my mind now.
We freshened up and went out to find dinner. Night had descended, neon dazzled the streets of rollicking Shinjuku seeded with night clubs, cafes, shops, and full of people seeking dinner and entertainment. Ramen restaurants are everywhere, from fancy dining to hole-in-the wall cafes. We popped into a shoebox-size restaurant and had large bowls of savory ramen brimming with noodles, enoki (tiny capped white mushrooms), dried seaweed, green onions, a slice of pork, and a boiled egg. Smoking in public is common (some places provide designated smoking areas and on the trains smoking is only allowed in the smoking car) but in cafes and restaurants, puffs of cigarette smoke wends its way all over so breathing was a little difficult, but the ramen was delicious.
The next day we found our way to Shinjuku Station and, using our Japan Rail passes, caught the Shinkansen bullet train to Kyoto, chasing the cherry blossoms. The blooming season runs north to south and Tokyo’s Sakura blooming was over, the blossoms limp and fading. But first, that morning, we went to Caffe Veloce for breakfast. The coffee was to die for! So delicious we lingered amid the golden wood contemporary decor and had a second cup. I ate most of a sweet bean curd-stuffed bun (a little too rich for me) and Medy’s bun turned out to be filled with ham and cheese. For a coffee cafe, Caffe Veloce was very quiet. People came in, quietly ordered what they wanted, carried the tray to a table, sat and ate, very little conversation, none really.
Japanese train stations are all over the city and are impressively clean, neat, and extremely busy. Hundreds of people flow through as smoothly as schools of fish, heading for the many platforms to catch fast trains that run all over the city and out to the suburban areas and other cities. There are uniformed staff, platform guards, and gate clerks, and automatic ticket machines for wherever you want to go in the metropolitan and suburban areas.
The train was SRO, but after about a half an hour as we left Tokyo behind and entered the countryside, it cleared enough for us to find seats and be comfortable for the rest of the trip. As in Caffe Veloce, the train was absolutely quiet except for station announcements in Japanese and English over the intercom, the sound of the rails, and an occasional yelping baby.
The train was meticulously clean, spotless windows, seats, siding, and floor. A uniformed young woman pushed a trolley down the aisle stocked with sweets, bags of crisps, sandwich packets, juices, tea, coffee, and water, for sale. The comfy seats had drop-down tray tables, and unlike public transportation in the US where no eating and drinking is allowed (and you know why), people can refresh themselves with food and drink on Japanese trains and not one bit of litter is to be found afterward. The Japanese do not litter. They take their trash with them when they leave the train and dispose of it in an appropriate place or take it home and dispose of it there. (Yep!) Public trashcans are rare, practically non-existent. I saw a sign posted in English on a platform wall, can’t recall the exact wording, but it stated that littering was rude, inconsiderate and morally irresponsible.
More to come!
The weather’s turned cold again, but the sun shines brightly everyday. Severe storms were predicted for this week, but guess they passed elsewhere. It’s 59 degrees today. I was worried about the pending storm because I’m flying off to California on Saturday on my way to Japan, an unexpected trip to a country I’ve always wanted to visit, a distant wish I didn’t think would ever become real (despite my upcoming cruise to China in August–another dream trip). I’ll be traveling with a good friend and we leave next Thursday out of LAX. I’m excited! I’ll get to visit with my California friends, see faces I’ve sorely missed, and then off to exciting Tokyo. Oh yes there are places we plan to see–first, the Cherry Blossom Festival, which will have started in Tokyo by the time we arrive, and then Kyoto, city of temples, Mount Fuji, the Arashiyama bamboo forest, and I hope we can squeeze in a tour of the Tokyo Imperial Palace (a reservation is required), among the many other wanderings we plan to do. And sushi, sushi, sushi! Not to mention shopping! Tokyo’s Ginza is full of great stores, and I plan on dropping some yen! I’ll be taking lots of photos and doing as much journaling as possible so I can write about it here. It’s going to be a fabulous trip!
How much editing on Shadow Walk have I done this week? Not much! Besides preparing for the trip, I had to get my taxes done. So taxes are done and in the mail. Shadow Walk can hang until I return in April, and also I’d like to return to writing A Fall of Diamonds then.
I’m planning to publish Shadow Walk and I’d actually set a release date of May 31, but now I’m thinking not. It needs more editing and revising work and I don’t even have a cover for it yet!
I’m halfway through the first draft of A Fall of Diamonds. It’s been sitting since I took time to write a new ending for Shadow Walk and move along into the edit phase. A second draft is pending, and then it goes to my two beta readers, so you see, a May 31 release date was ridiculous!
Now I’ve got a short story to polish and, if I can settle down my monkey mind, get it submitted today.
A fierce rainstorm occurred Saturday, the first night in Arizona, closing a long run through the desert. A slanting rain battered the front side of the motel, leaving the other two sides dry as the desert we’d just driven through.
The route through New Mexico went quick as a blink, but we paused long enough for me to buy a pair of silver and turquoise earrings at a roadside shop, then Texas, the state with two time zones. Are we out of Texas yet?
To my surprise, Texas turned green as we rolled farther east, leaving behind miles of desert landscape peppered with sagebrush. The countryside became lush and pastoral, woods and fields and ranches tucked back from the long gray tongue of highway, giving me a view of Texas I didn’t know existed.
We reached Houston well before noon on Monday, and rolled onto Beaumont, finally leaving the Lone Star state, after a somewhat anxious run through El Paso. I stopped just before the end of El Paso and filled up–thank goodness because ahead was a long passage where there was nothing but miles and miles of empty land, beautiful beneath a wide blue sky. (By the way, gas prices drop dramatically once you leave California.)
Louisiana at last! (My home state which I have not been to in decades.) Unfortunately we hit Baton Rouge during rush hour and was caught in the confluence of traffic clogging the 110, 10 and 12 eastbound freeways. Realizing our choice was to crawl for possibly 85 miles maybe or get off in Baton Rouge, have dinner and try again on Wednesday morning, we opted to escape the coil.
The next day Wednesday we blew right through Mississippi, barely noting its casinos and fishing trawlers, crossing two state lines and entering Alabama on the wings of a rainstorm, thunder and sheet lightning flashing on the horizon.
We arrived in Andalusia before 9:30 a.m. and was at my new home via back roads (’cause I missed the exit I was supposed to take and picked up the next one which sent us through winding country roads on a pleasant scenic route.)