A Journal, with Pictures

Happenings

Beijing

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We embarked to China on May 5th, 2017 for a three week tour of China. The trip was organized by our friend Tony Huffman who employed Imperial Tours of China that turned out to be a great experience. We had a China host, Lotus Qi, who accompanied us for the entire three weeks and in each city a guide and in some cases special guides for a particular area. We stayed at great hotels, and had a private car and driver  in each location. I do not comment in each city about the food, but we ate at the best restaurants, mostly Chinese, but also international cuisine. We laughed at “another light Chinese lunch”, because every meal was a feast, orchestrated by our Chinese Foodie, Lotus. We had the best Pizza we ever had in China (Truffle Pizza) and the best French Toast. We ate our way through China. We also witnessed what has been called the “Chinese Economic Miracle”, which has produced an infrastructure now world class and the largest middle class in the world. I will save my comments of what I have learned about the Chinese system of Governing and the “Economic Miracle” for a separate blog that I will post later and just focus on the sights of China for now.

We arrived in Beijing and were met by Lotus and taken to the Peninsula Hotel. As we were descending into the area the first thing that struck us was the huge  number of high rise apartment buildings and how modern the Airport and other infrastructure was. Beijing is a city of twenty two million covering about one hundred square miles. We had a good flight, but having done this many many times, I concluded I’m getting old, won’t go work out right way. Our first day was spent touring Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and doing a tour of the Hutong district of Beijing.

Across the street from Tian’anmen Square is the Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Emperors of China. This complex served as the home and seat of power for 24 emperors, their courts and harems from 1420 to 1924.

 

Of course we had a lunch of Peking Duck, which was great, but I said I would not obsess about the food but it was special having Peking Duck in Peking. We then did a tour of the Hutong, means alley ways, which was an exclusive neighborhood before the revolution.

On our second day in China, which was a Sunday, we visited The Temple of Heaven. This structure was build in 1420, using no nails, and was where the Emperor would visit twice a year for three days to meditate on the affairs of God and man. On the way to the Temple we visited an exercise park paid for by the Welfare Lottery, that’s right, no entitlements in China. We also witnessed mothers in the park soliciting wives for their sons, since the one child policy has produced a thirty million man surplus. Another example of unintended consequences when governments meddle in the peoples business.

 

After the Temple of Heaven we visited Beijing’s Art District that was created from a Cold War arms factory. This area was very lively and an impressive use of Factory 798.

On our last day in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace and then traveled out to the Great Wall. The Summer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress Dowager Cixi and consists of 3000 buildings, gardens and ponds, around the man made Kunning Lake.

The Great Wall was built to protect China from predatory nomads, and is an impressive structure with questionable effectiveness. This again demonstrates that a government project is hard to stop once started. We saw the wall and were surprised to learn that a private luncheon was catered for us, on top of the wall.

 

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Xi’an

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Xi’an is a modern city  of eight million people including a million students attending fifty universities. It is an agriculture center with both the Yellow and Yangtze  rivers flowing through the area. It is most know for the Terracotta Warriors, the 8,000 man army that Emperor Qin had built to serve him in the after life. The Qin dynasty (259 BC) was pivotal, as he was credited with unifying China into a single nation.  The Tomb and Warriors were discovered in 1976 and now have become a major tourist attraction in China. Xi’an was the place where the Silk Road began and today there remains a significant Muslim population. In addition to the Terracotta Warriors there is Shaanxi History Museum, that features the Tang Dynasty murals. The city itself is interesting in that the four mile wall around the historic central city remains intact.

We had another cultural experience in Xi’an, learning to make dumplings. We love Chinese dumpling, and now know that the Chinese should make the dumplings, but they are yummy. We also toured one of the few City Walls to survive the cultural revolution.

We toured the Muslim market and Mosque, a historic carryover from the trade silk road trade route that terminated in Xi’an.

The Mosque is in the Market area and when we visited there was a Muslim funeral service in progress.

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Tibet

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We visited Lhasa in Tibet, which is at twelve thousand feet. Our hotel was the Shangri La in Old Lhasa. New Lhasa has been built by the Chinese since their occupation. As with the rest of China, they have rebuilt the infrastructure around old Tibet and in this case moved in a lot of Chinese. What Tibet is all about is Buddhism with  ninety percent of the population practicing the faith, and they practice it hard.  We mainly visited monasteries, the Dali Lama’s Palaces, with some time spent in the market. Our guide was intent on converting us to Buddhism, but I flunked catechism so there was no hope. Our first visit was to was to the Jokhang Monastery then the Barkhor Sera Monastery and finally the debating gardens, where the monks debate philosophy daily. They seem to enjoy it. For me Tibet was mostly about the interesting images of the pilgrims and monks.

Our lunch on the first day was served on the mountainside overlooking New Lhasa.

Our second day was spent touring the Summer and Winter Palace of the Dali Lama (Currently exiled in India), so it’s for pilgrims and tourist. The Portala Palace (Winter Palace) sits on a hill over looking Old Lhasa, the summer palace is in Old Lhasa. The Buddhist scriptures are are too voluminous to read, so the faithful spin prayer wheels to absorb the meaning. The Temples and Palace are lit by Yak butter candles and there are contributions of money at virtually every stop made by the pilgrims. The summer palace grounds are used for family picnics and we were amused to see one family carrying a case of Budweiser beer of course made in China. The Chinese including the Tibetans are addicted to smart phones and we noted even the monks were head down communicating. The Chinese equivalent to Twitter or Facebook is called Wechat and has nine hundred million users.

 

On our last day in Tibet we visited the Ganden Monastery which was my penalty for flunking the first two day of Buddhism. It is at fourteen thousand four hundred feet above sea level and involved lots of hiking including a hike on a pilgrims trail (What am I doing this for?). On our way back we past through New Lhasa (very modern) and then in old Lhasa visited a typical Tibetan market area.

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Chengdu

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Chengdu is a modern city although it has been inhabited for over 4000 years. It is the capital of Sichuan Province and is an area of agricultural abundance and wealth inhabited by 14.4 million. Chengdu is famous for the Giant Panda Institute, which we visited while staying at the  beautiful Temple House Hotel. Our first stop was at a Tauist (also known as Dauism) Temple on the way to the hotel. Dauism is a indigenous religion to China and we were treated to an explanation by one of the Monks, who took us into his living quarters, equipped with computer and TV as well as liqueur cabinet. Seemed like a sensible religion to us.

The second day we visited the famous Giant Panda Institute. As our guide said if they weren’t cute they would be long ago extinct. They eat non-nutritious bamboo which means they eat seventeen hours a day. They are not so good at reproduction, one of the problems being very bad eye sight.

 

 

Another is being fertile two to three days a year.  The  Panda Institute has kept them from extinction with 1800 world wide and 400 in captivity. To feed the Panda’s the Chines grow, cut and truck bamboo from the highlands every day. Each Panda consumes 40 to 80 pounds per day. They are cute.

While in Chengdu we visited the Sanxingdu Museum which exhibits the relics from a Bronze age civilization discovered near the city. Sanxingdu means three mounds, where in 1929 farmers discovered artifacts, and was rediscovered in 1986 which led to the excavation.  This advanced culture existed around 12 Century BC and the exhibit displays some remarkable pieces.

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Guilin

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Guilin is famous for the beautiful limestone formations that create the topography around the Banyan Tree Resort where we stay during our visit. We are actually outside of Guilin in the country near the village of Yangshou. During our stay we visit a village and learn about Tofu making from a delightful Chinese woman, visiting homes and seeing how the rural people of China live. Grand parents take care of working children’s children, so we got to meet a real China doll. We saw fields being plowed with water buffalo and cottage industry of mat making. The homes were new, constructed by the owners, the people we met were very friendly and welcoming. Despite China’s economic miracle 800 to 900 of the 1.35 billion Chinese still are peasants.

We then enjoyed the incredible scenery surrounding the Li River by rafting on a bamboo raft.

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Hangzhou

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

Hangzhou was the capital of China during the Song dynasty which was a time of explosive innovation in the sciences and arts. It retains this special feeling with the city surrounding beautiful West Lake, where our hotel, the Four Seasons, was located. We start our first day learning about taichi, from a master, we then take a private gondola ride on the lake, while being serenaded by Guzheng (ancient Chines instrument)  player in another boat.

We toured a tea plantation and learned about tea growing and making. We toured the gardens of a wealthy Chines industrialist now a public tourist destination. We visited a Buddhist temple and saw a limestone rock face decorated with more than 3000 Buddhist effigies.

The Chinese have become the largest group of tourist on earth, both with China and abroad. In China they have shared bikes, millions of  bikes that you pay a initial fee ($15), then with your smart phone you locate the nearest bike, scan the code on the bike and use the bike and check out by smart phone and pay a small fee for use leaving the bike for the next user.

Finally, we were treated to a private lesson on the “Five Disciplines”, tea, incense, flower arrangement, music and calligraphy, those things a Hangzhou gentlemen were expected to excel in.

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Shanghai

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We arrive in Shanghai by high speed train to a ultra modern terminal and drive into the city to the Peninsula Hotel, is right on the Bund part of the historic British concession granted after the second Opium war (1860). Shanghai is a amazing city of 25 million stretching for 75 miles and was and is a very important port city. We are treated to a traveling lecture tour of the historic colonial buildings, starting with the British concession then the tree lined streets of the former French Concession. As we have seen throughout China, the infrastructure is modern with free ways and ring roads, high rises, including the second tallest building in the world (125 stories), and of course high rise apartment houses and an ultramodern international airport. We tour the historic area with a unique enclosed structure of gated entrances, to alleys lined with small court yards called the Lane district. This was the early gated community providing security for the residents of each neighborhood.  We also see where the first organizing meeting for the communist took place in 1921 and examples of how it pays to be in “the party”.

One of the reminders of the history leading to the communist victory is a monument on the Bund in the spot where a sign read “no dogs or Chinese allowed” (in the British Concession). and then the huge monument to those lost in the “Long March”.

We attend a Acrobatic Show one evening, which was mind blowing, the Urban Planning Museum which displays the 25 year plan for the city, the Shanghai Museum which covers a range of subjects from costumes from the over 50 “minority” groups, to historical painting, ceramics and bronze as well as imperial furniture. We also toured a renovated high end shopping district that connects the Yu Gardens one of the best examples of traditional Chinese garden design.

Shanghai was a great last stop, blending examples of the great history with the explosive modernization of China. We arrived by Bullet Train, had great tours, High Tea at the Peninsula Hotel, saw the sites day and night including the fabulous Pudong Skyline and bustling Huangpu River right from our hotel room, and of course one last incredible Chinese dinner with our new adopted grand daughter, Lotus Qi,  who made our three weeks in China effortless and a wonderful experience.

 

 

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February Florida Visit

by on Feb.05, 2017, under Happenings

Joyce and I made a February swing to visit family and friends to Florida. We stopped in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday to see Jennifer, Mike and Alexandra for an afternoon and evening. Life continues at warp speed there with Alexandra growing up fast. We then flew to Sarasota on Thursday to visit some of our former NCR colleagues and friends. Elton and Gordy White hosted us for lunch and we stayed in the beautiful apartment overlooking the bay. We were joined for cocktails, by Chuck and Carol Exley, Joe and Nora Stephan, Rex and Pat Fleet. We had a great time catching up and everyone is ageing gracefully and most of all haven’t lost their sense of humor. We then had a great dinner at the Field Club, continuing the frivolity.

On Friday we flew to Naples to visit Rich and Linda Miller. They are doing fine as full time Florida residence and we again enjoyed catching up. Rich and Linda treated us royally, at their great club Grey Oaks. We then flew back to Hilton Head on Saturday, a quick but very enjoyable trip, reminding us of how lucky we have been to have met and works with such great people.

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South America 2016 — first stop Mendoza, Argentina

by on Feb.10, 2016, under Happenings

This is a bucket list trip that Joyce and I have been thinking about for several years. Its been 35 years since I have been to Argentina and Brazil. Joyce as not been to two of my favorite countries in Latin America so this is it. Tony Huffman our friend organizes a incredible trip for us, we don’t have to lift a finger, just a glass, a fork, a camera and a pen to write the check. We leave Thursday January 21 from Savannah through Atlanta to Santiago, Chile then on to Mendoza, Argentina. Our first stop is the Cavas Wine Lodge, a vineyard and first class hotel. We are met by our host/guide Agostina Astegiano and our driver for the one hour drive to our lodge. Then we are checked in to our Casita which is in the Vineyard itself. We have lunch and then relax before the cooking class that we have signed up for. Leo the resort chef turns out to be delightful and we have great fun cooking empanadas  and a Argentine vegetable/chicken dish over an open fire. Its fun and of course we taste wine then enjoy our dinner, before crashing. Our casita is great, the view of the Andes is stunning and we get a full nights sleep.

Time for the cooking class, we are tired but its so much fun we forget about it and it means an early by Argentine standards dinner.

The next day after breakfast its off to do some wine touring. Our objective is to learn about Argentine wines particularly their varietal Malbec. We are in the Lujan de Cuyo Valley region and start by visiting a winery (Bodega) started by an American with an Argentine partner, the Paul Hobbs winery. We then visit  and do tasting at the Bodega Casarena.

After the winery visits we finish the tasting with lunch at Osadia de Crear at the the Dominio Del Plata Winery. The wines are impressive and the lunch is over the top both in terms of the quality of the wine and food.

We have dinner at the lodge, which is of course is very good, with Chef Leo preparing something special for us.

Saturday after breakfast we are out again to explore the Mendoza wine country. We start with, what turns out to be our favorite winery Bodega Benegas, which is owned by one of Argentina’s oldest wine families. In fact we like one of their wines so well we arrange to have a case shipped to the US. These bottles will not be cheap, so only our best friends will ever get a wiff of this ambrosia. The winery itself is interesting in that the founding father kept old wine making tools as well as a collection of Goucho ponchos and decorated the winery with his collection. The wine was superb particularly their FBL 2010 Blend.

We visit Bodega Malipal and finish with another great lunch at Vistalbas. Malipal is a modern winery and if closed your eyes you would be in Napa Valley. It turns out that Agostina our guide is not only a wonderful person she is a wine maker herself as is her husband to be. She is a delight to be with and a fountain of knowledge about Argentine wines. We then have a tasting lunch Bodega Vistalba.

Its time to relax and enjoy Cavas Wine Lodge, who’s owner is an artist so its not a surprise to find a very arty cow in the vineyard. The grapes are getting ripe and we can image that being their during the crush would be incredible. We enjoy one last great meal at the Lodge and then in the morning we are off to Bariloche.

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Bariloche

by on Feb.10, 2016, under Happenings

 

On Sunday January 24 we leave Mendoza, fly to Buenos Aires and on to Bariloche airport arriving late afternoon. We are met by Alex Outerial our guide for the next few days and driven through the town of Bariloche and past lake Nahuel Huapi to our home for the next couple of day, Hotel Llao Llao. Our suite is spectacular looking out at Lake Moreno and Mount Tranador. We learn our hotel is considered the nicest in Argentina, built in 1939 and recently completely renovated and expanded. We dine at a quaint Italian restaurant, Il Gabbiano on the big lake, and the meal and wine are excellent.

The next morning after a great breakfast at the hotel we are off on a hiking adventure. It turns out the Alex is a world class trekker and mountain guide, as well as very knowledgeable about Patagonia. We drive around the mountain behind our hotel to a lodge on another lake. Our objective is to hike up the mountain to a waterfall with a view of the lake and lodge. It is a moderately steep trail but we handle it and are rewarded with great scenery.

After our trek we have a great lunch at the lodge overlooking the lake. We return to our hotel and relax before a dinner at a restaurant called Butterfly on Lake Nahuel Haupi. We have a great view and the seven course tasting menu with wine pairing fits right in with our new style. The next day we leave for a boat excursion on the lake. We will cruise from the western in and can see the Chilean border in the distance and end up on Victoria Island. The whole area including Bariloche is in Nahuel Haupi National Park, once a private land holding of Perito Moreno an early explorer of the area. He donated 26 square miles in 1906 to create the park. He was responsible for importing exotic species of trees from all over the world to Victoria Island. After our cruise we hike around a bay and are surprised to find giant sequoias from our home state of California as well as many other interesting species.

We set out on our trek, which is a very easy walk around the island, that includes structures that no longer are used as well as a school for area children that’s not in session. We see an amazing array of different trees and woods with beautiful views from the island.

 

We end our hike in a small bay that has an abandoned tour boat on the beach where our boat has docked and it turns out that our first mate in fact is a accomplished chef and has set up a gourmet picnic lunch on the beach. This is a very memorable lunch of course with wine and multiple courses and to top it off out of the woods comes a young musician who was below deck during our cruise playing first a local flute then a local guitar to serenade us. An incredible experience, one we will not forget.

 

After lunch we cruise back across the lake and return to our hotel. That evening we invite Alex to join us for dinner at a restaurant named Cassis. This is a tasting menu of native Patagonian cuisine influenced by the German, Austrian and Italians who immigrated to the region. Another great dinner, with fine Argentine wine and we enjoy the company of our new friend Alex. Tomorrow morning we are off to Buenos Aires so this will be our farewell dinner. Bariloche and Patagonia will go down as one of the highlights of our trip, however it turns out there were no low-lights.

 

 

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