First Day in Shanghai...

After not nearly enough sleep and more than 24 hours of air travel, today is our first full day in Shanghai. Traveling in any foreign county is also an adventure, but so far the travel experience in China has been just a bit nerve-wracking. 

The shuffling and confusion as we navigated the Beijing and Shanghai airports was a little worse than I had expected, mostly because we almost left our luggage behind in Beijing. I thought the bags were going to go straight through to Shanghai from Houston, but Dallas, the eagle-eyed thinker-of-all-details-Mom-misses, thankfully questioned the process, read all of the signs thoroughly, watched the other travelers who were transferring to a second flight,  and kept us from flying on to our final destination with no luggage. 

Getting to the hotel once we arrived in Shanghai was also eventful. Our cab driver had to find two different people for us to give the address to our hotel as his English was spotty, at best. He was not happy about the communication difficulties, clearly, as he turned off the engine to the car and started yelling and waving others over to us.

Yes, I am the typical American traveler who arrogantly believes that no matter where I go in this world, someone will be able to understand me. Dallas tried spelling out the address to him, which of course doesn't help when you do not know the English alphabet. We found success after typing the address into a note on the iphone, and soon our rackety, tiny car was clunking along the highway, windows down so that the musty night air could cool our weary skin.

With no concept of the distance between our hotel and the airport, we watched the taxi's fare calculator quickly move past 40. However, 40 what? I could not tell you if it was U.S. dollars or YEN, nor did I know which of the two had more value. Researching those details had been on the to-do list for the night before travel, but since the muscle relaxer I took for my strained back pretty much knocked me out when I got home from work, I never did get around to that research.

"Shouldn't we be there by now?" Dallas asked as the fare inched closer to 100. But of course, I had no idea. We could be in for an all-night drive for all I knew, and end up who knows where. 

Finally we saw the hotel across the street from where we had stopped at a red light, but the driver would not complete the U-turn to pull into the hotel. Instead, he pulled up next to the median and reached back for his money. When I pointed to the hotel, he nodded as if he saw it, too. But he wasn't bringing us all the way. I couldn't get him to drive the additional 100 yards to  the front door.

Something ain't right, I thought to myself.

Yes, something certainly wasn't right, I realized as soon as I handed him my debit card. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it right back. Cash only. YEN. Of which I had exactly....none. He pointed to the hotel and gestured to my debit card, and somehow Dallas and I figured out he wanted us to to go the hotel and draw out cash to pay him. We got out of the car with our small bags, but he refused to open the trunk to give us our suitcases until we returned with the cash. I tried to argue with him, but Dallas convinced me it was useless, so we traipsed off to the hotel for help.

The young man working at the desk seemed surprised and made an exasperated face towards the driver when we explained the situation. He asked me how much the bill was: 143 YEN. He gave us 150 YEN from the desk and told us to pay the driver, then we could pay him back. 

The driver seemed almost surprised to see us return. He was there leaning against the trunk of the car, kind of staring off into space. I wasn't very happy about all the extra walking, but then, I'm just an ignorant English woman in right to complain. After I paid him, he opened the trunk, retrieved our luggage, and then became quite jovial. He hadn't cracked a smile the entire time we had been with him, but now he was happy and shaking my hand vigorously, repeating things in Chinese that I could only hope were nice things as I shook his hand and nodded. 

Once we made it into the room, at about 9:00 PM, we pretty much collapsed on the beds. I didn't sleep well because my sinuses were going nuts and I couldn't breathe well. I was irritated to learn that not only is Google and gmail banned in China, but also Facebook. The frustration of wanting to vent about the day's events with my friends, but not be able to, kept me awake longer than I had planned to be.

Dallas didn't sleep well because I snored all night. 

Changing into my pajamas, I realize that I had been wearing my favorite travel t-shirt all day. I like to wear it when I travel because I get so many compliments on it. I bought it in Eureka Springs the last time we were there to visit The Passion Play grounds. It says, "All I need is Jesus and Coffee." 

Might not have been the wisest shirt to wear in a communist country that bans most Christian churches and imprisons a LOT of believers on a regular basis. I had visions of me being arrested and thrown into a Chinese jail, and Dallas hiding out in the hotel room until her Dad could fly to China to bring her home. Kind of freaked me out, but then again, also made me feel like a bit of a rebellious, secret missionary. Thinking I will wear it again if it's not too stinky.

I awoke at about 5, waited until 6 when breakfast was served, and then went downstairs to eat. No surprise: I had a horrible migraine. All I could think of was food and caffeine so I could take my migraine medicine.

Now, one of my favorite things....well, okay, my absolute favorite thing about traveling is experiencing different food. The breakfast buffet was an interesting combination of different international food families. There were some staples I recognized as standard English or European fare, including fresh fruit, toast, boiled eggs, and cold cereal.

But there was also much more. One station included Chinese noodles, stir-fry cabbage and vegetables, green salads, and what appeared to be giant, pink, fried pork skins. There was a huge pot of boiled eggs floating in a dark brown broth, as well as corn on the cob and boiled purple potatoes. Three different pots held different colored broths, and there was also fried rice with vegetables and curry. 

Another station included a coffee and latte machine, hot tea, soy milk, cow's milk, and a bread toaster. 

The last station was an interesting mix. There was a large platter of scrambled eggs and fried eggs, served family style, constantly being refreshed by the cooks on the spot. There was also a basket of french fries and a few other fried items that didn't look familiar. Large fluffy waffles (with honey, no syrup) and my favorite: fresh dumplings. 

Dallas and I each had a bowl of dumplings, which essentially ended up being what we would consider wonton soup. As you ordered a bowl, the cook dropped a handful of dumplings into boiling broth. After a few seconds she added a handful of chopped chinese cabbage, then pulled the basket from the broth, drained it, and poured the contents into a bowl. Fresh broth from another pot was then ladled over. 

Best. Ever.

After a hearty breakfast, everything pretty much went to crap from there. We realized that almost NO vendors take credit or debit cards. So, the excitement we experienced when we loaded up our shopping basket with all kinds of goodies did not last long. The ATM machine would not take my debit card, probably because my little Texas bank has no idea I'm in China. Whoops.

Oh, and the credit card I was also planning to use? Would love to make a cash draw on it, but that won't work, either. The credit card company will set up a PIN to allow me to do it, I found out after chatting with them online. However, by the time I receive my PIN in the mail in 7-10 business days, I'll be home. 

I did find out that ONE of my credit cards can be taken to the bank for a cash draw, but since today is Sunday, no luck until tomorrow. 

So day one was a bit of an adventure, though not a great one. One of us is a bit more adventurous than the other and is not as daunted by the little bumps in the road that come with international travel. One of us doesn't care for that type of experience at all. I will leave it up to those who know us best to figure out which one is which. 

Hope to have better tales to tell tomorrow.


I Slept With a Pig, and I Liked It

 I've been thinking about pitching a tent in the back yard  so that I can sleep outside while the weather is nice. I've read of many health benefits associated with sleeping outside, everything from kickstarting a more natural sleep cycle to eliminating anxiety. Since both those issues plague me at times, I'm considering a sleep experiment over the next couple of weeks....and I'm tent shopping.

This afternoon I decided to take advantage of the cool breeze and sunshine and test my theory. I slipped into jammies, grabbed a blanket and pillow, and headed to the backyard. 

Now, some would think that sleeping on the ground would not be comfortable. But for me, it feels natural. I have always loved camping, and I am not a snooty camper. No cots, no RVs, no air mattresses: just me with a sleeping bag and pillow on the hard earth. 

So when I laid down this afternoon and felt the grass crunching beneath me and the slight mounds and hollows of the uneven ground moulding against my weight, it was nothing less than cathartic. It took just a few minutes of listening to the song birds and my eyelids began to get heavy.

But then right as I was about to fall asleep, I felt this cool, wet snout rooting around my fingertips. Hammie had found me. I'm sure she was wondering what I was doing laying down in HER yard. At first, I thought she was just looking for more sunflower seeds. But as I reached out to scratch her nose, she whimpered a bit, then plopped down right next to me and laid her snout across my arm. 

We laid in the grass for about 15 minutes, each of us snoozing off and on. She woke up a couple of times when the neighbor's dog yapped, but then she would look at me with her sleepy gaze and snuggle back down into the grass. Each time she startled, she would scoot closer and closer to me. 

Ah, divine peace. I can't describe the state of relaxation. As much as I did not want to risk ruining the moment, at one point I reached for the phone to take a selfie. Yes, no makeup, and I'm laying at the worst possible angle. But so is Hammie, and she didn't seem to mind.

Yes. I slept with a pig, and I liked it. 


Sharing Our Stories

Sharing Our Stories

It is not our accolades and accomplishments that make us great storytellers. It is in remembering when Grandma Hazel peeled a double-yolk Easter egg, when Dad bought me a pair of Lee jeans and red leg warmers so I would fit in with the other girls in 7th grade, when my younger brother got hit in the back with a firecracker, and when my mother made vegetable beef soup in her black, speckled roasting pan.  It is remembering the day I met my beautiful sister, the day my sophomore English teacher gave me permission to do a project on Madonna, and the day my older brother defended me on the school bus. These are not earth-shattering events, but they are my stories.

A Letter to My Elementary School

A Letter to My Elementary School

I remember being charged a penny every time I said ‘ain’t’  in Mrs. Sheesley’s class, and earning a trip to the mall in Oskaloosa to see Santa with my classmates. I also remember Mrs. Sheesley making the rounds to every student’s home before the year ended, to meet our parents. I can still see her sitting at our kitchen table drinking coffee with my mom.

In Good Company

In Good Company

Whether we write for a living or for ourselves, we often do much of what we do in isolation. The camaraderie with fellow writers is difficult to achieve. As the supervisor of a college writing center, my staff and I are somewhat of our own island. We have fascinating conversations amongst ourselves that no one else on campus would give two shakes of a stick to listen to. And in terms of my personal writing, there are very few people I trust to share it with, so that circle of collaboration is even smaller, tighter, and harder to break through.

Is the Election Over Yet? Please?

Is the Election Over Yet? Please?

This morning, I so, so long for civil debate. I’m tired of hearing about affairs, possible affairs, emails, secretly taped conversations, and radical Black Panther ties. I’m tired of listening to candidates dodge the questions of substance they are given and instead marching out their tv dinner, pre-prepared rants and ravings. I’m tired of devisive, biased news coverage that proves that journalism is no longer a craft, but a vintage, forgotten art form.