riding the rails – day 3: coming into east glacier, a retrospect


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Bang, bang, bang, bang. Bang, bang, bang, bang. The clanging banging rousted me from the rocking sleep of the train. The train was stopped somewhere out west. Opening the curtain of thew window I saw the shadow of our train on the tracks. I looked down and saw an engineer banging away at something between the cars. Then in the blink of an eye the last car was rolling away from the rest of the train. Moments later we were rolling forward without the last car. I got up and went out into the corridor, walked back to the back window of our car and watched the train roll away from the last car of the train – we were the last car now.
This has the makings of a good mystery. The germ of the idea has been planted – we’ll see if it ever gets written.

Good mornin’, good mornin’!
And it’s a wake up call somewhere in North Dakota. Breakfast is being served in the dining car. Woohoo! A new day, new sites to see out the window. The plains, the rolling hills, the abandoned homesteads, the piles of old cars, old trucks, old water heaters. The dosie-do of getting ready in the morning began. A shower in the tiny toilet/shower room – good heat! Cramped quarters. I love my family but the intimacy of the quarters did push the limits. Thank goodness for a place to stretch your legs and eat a hearty breakfast. AEB, ever the trooper, was cranky and ornery as usual about waking up and getting ready – whew! We’d learned our lessons about waiting at the door to be seated and were seated with a new fellow traveller.

Again, Amtrak provided Trails and Rails (this link talks about the Knife River Indian Villages of North Dakota) in the observation car. There was a table of women talking about what we were passing by and a bunch of artifacts about the First Nation Peoples that lived there in days gone by and the few that stay on in the reservation areas. AEB got to handle a bison horn turned into a scoop, touch buckskin that would have been turned into clothing, and feel the fur of the bison. She also saw the kernels of corn, which she told the women more about than they had told her – that’s my farmer girl! She’s learned it all from her Grammy who grew up on a farm in western Oklahoma.
We would make stops along the way, some were short and some were “smoking” stops. I thought it would be a good idea to stretch our legs and get off and run around since we wouldn’t be getting into Glacier until about 6 p.m. so the wiggles would be building up if we didn’t. My favorite stop? Well, that would be unfair to the other stops, but Haver, MT was memorable if only for the story behind the name and the beautiful stained glass at the stop. See the picture for the story behind the name.

I could regale all with tales of miles and miles of repeat, sticker books, fairy queen games and dvd watching until East Glacier, but I won’t. I’ll cut to the chase and get us to Glacier faster than we did. The excitement of arriving was building as we collected all our things and waited for the call to get out and step onto the station platform. Pictures never can fully capture the grander, the sheer scale of these amazing glacial formations – they can’t. There isn’t a man-made device that’s up to the challenge. You can “oooh” and “aaah” over pictures and imagine that you’re there, but when you finally ARE there – you realize how inadequate your imagination really is in comparison to the “hands” that created these. Getting off and working our way over to the East Glacier Lodge
our girl got to enjoy the great expanse of lawn. To run free is a wonderful thing! There are few places left where a parent can feel truly comfortable about their child/ren running free and wild. The realities of today’s world keep a healthy fear up front keeping small ones (hopefully) safe from harm. So to be in a place where that is possible was so so so so W-o-n-derful!

The lodge is huge! The timbers brought in from Washington and Oregon to build the place are as massive as any you’ll see in the great forests still under protection around the world. It’s everything you imagine it’s supposed to be from its pictures, but it’s been re-done in places and, as far as I can tell, not to any true advantage to the guest. We had a room with a balcony – lovely. We had a room with a double bed and a twin bed – fine. The room was basic – fine. We weren’t planning on spending all our time in the room so we didn’t need it to be a suit at the Ritz. The bathroom was basic, but the shower was even smaller than the one on the train – really?!? I’m an average built woman, but for those of a larger build, and there were some staying at the lodge, I wondered how they would manage to get clean if the fit was so snug. Supper was nice, especially since we didn’t have to worry about jolting about on the tracks and having to save the coffee from flying off the table. But there was the sensation of continual movement coming off the train – we had to get our land legs readjusted.

It was good to be settled for a few days. It was good to know that the next day would have us meeting up with Heath for a new day’s adventure. It would be good to have the opportunity to have a student teacher relationship move into friendship. That’s not an easy transition for some to make. Even parents and children have a hard time of allowing their relationship to shift and grow over time into adult child and parent friendship. I’m so fortunate that my mum and I have been able to do that.
Exhaustion won out over excitement for us all. Day three was done.


riding the rails – day 2 in retrospect


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Day two – in retrospect…landing in Chicago in the morning and having a few hours to “kill” while there we decided to take in the Field Museum. AEB was in need of an adventure off the train to stretch her legs and give her the sense of freedom that the train cannot provide. It’s important to figure out how one can give a short person those moments even in an environment that doesn’t seem to be able to do so. Without tearing up the sleeper, without hanging from the ceiling and without making everyone else on the train completely nuts.
Chicago, Chicago… (our girl’s a Sinatra fan so we had to!)
A few hours to make use of before heading out again on the rails so we went out and about to show Amelia the Field Museum. She got to see Sue, the T-Rex, check out the Elephants, meet the man eating lions (which, by the way, we did not tell her that’s what they were) and were “shrunk down” to bug size to explore under the earth, had a lovely lunch at the bake shop and then back into time to pick up our luggage and grab a red cap and board the Empire Builder to Portland, but with a stop off for us at Glacier National Park.

Our girl has been a really great traveling companion so far, but the late nights at her dad’s are starting to catch up with her now and she’s starting to get impatient about just being some place for awhile. Dealing with the tired tyrant isn’t easy, but understanding where the behavior is coming from helps – a lot!

welcome aboard the empire builder

Now it’s time to hop onto the Empire Builder and head from Chicago to our stop off at East Glacier Park, Montana. We each have stops that we’re wanting to do more than any other, though the entire trip is awesome and awe – some! This bit is my bit because I’m going to get to see a former student. Back in another lifetime ago, so it seems, I taught English and Drama at a school in Tennessee. I had some great students, not so great students, students I would like to have given personality adjustments, etc. But that’s adolescents. That’s the mix of the lot either in public or private education. So, I’m most looking forward to catching up, in person, with a student now living in Whitefish, MT. I know that as a high school teacher I’m more likely to catch up with former students than an elementary school teacher, but it still feels wonderful when a former student “friends” me on facebook – though sometimes I feel like I’m collecting baseball cards when “friend-ing” so many folk. But back to the rails…
We have decided that we’d like some guidance as to what is expected of travelers, sleeper car or otherwise, before heading off. I don’t mind following rules, but I’d like to know what they are before I break them rather than being chastised for breaking one.

For example, the dining car. There is definitely a protocol for entering and being seated. On the Empire Builder there was no explanation for showing up and being seated. We were told when to show up by signing up for dinner, but not what to do once there so we got fussed at for going too far into the car to be seated. There was no sign, no little printout of instructions, just a fussing fellow yelling at us to go back, wait to be seated, etc. Fine. But I don’t like being yelled at like a naughty child when I don’t know what the protcol/rules of engagement are in the first place. The dining car is mostly set up as “community dining”, meaning that if you are a lone traveler you will be placed with folk you don’t know. The tables seat up to 4 people so the crew wants to fill up the seats as they can. I think this is nice since you get to meet interesting folk along the way. There are others that do not and if you’re not prepared to sit next to a complete stranger it can be a shock to the system. We are up for the adventure, but it was clear that a few were rather put out by having to share a table. So, if you go – be prepared to share a table.

The observation car was packed, not a chair or a table to be had. Disappointed six year old, oh well. We were lucky to find a table going from D.C. to Chicago and our room did have a nice large window to look out from, but the observation car is rather lovely with curved windows up on the ceiling and walls of windows. Sigh.
But it was time, after supper, to head back to the sleeper and fall into bed knowing that in the morning we’d be somewhere North Dakota and that much nearer to Glacier National Park, MT. but still a ways to go…


riding the rails – day one in retrospect


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This is really retrospect as it’s been four years since we took this trip on the rails of Amtrak. Our girl was six years old and just as full of the adventurous spirit as she is today. Start ’em young! Then not only will they continue to want to include world travel in their futures, but the world won’t feel as small or scary.


We started our train trip on Friday. There was no wifi on the sleeper train and I have no internet on my mobile and don’t really want it. So, here’s me catching up with the blog from the start to the near end. Each day, from here until I’m done, I’ll add what I’ve reflected, experiences, etc. as I logged it on the computer. It was nice not being connected. It was nice not being accessible to everyone at any time. But now I can fill you in and share the trip of riding the rails…Aaaaallllll Aaaboard!
DSCN1152.JPGWe’re on the Capitol Limited heading from D.C. to Chicago. So far, so good. Actually, so far so great. The folk couldn’t be nicer and the accommodations, though by hotel standards, are cramped but clean and rather nice. Large widow to look out of, tiny sink to do one’s ablutions in, a toilet/shower space, a pullout tray with checker board, upper bunk currently folded up, and the bank seating up so we can sit. Eventually the attendant, Cliff, came by to welcome and acclimate us to our cabin and the train. Very nice man.
Before supper there was an announcement that they had Trails and Rails fellows that would be talking about the history of the C&O Canal. They would be getting off at Cumberland and mum went to go hear what they had to say while AEBand I stayed behind. AEB watched a movie and I fell asleep. There’s something about the rock of the train and the exhaustion of gearing up for actually getting off that wiped me out. Mom came back in time for supper and had lots to say about what she learned. Interesting history of the C&O, which I knew a bit from AEB’s father who has a great love of the American Civil War history so he knows a lot about the history of the places were the battles were fought, especially in and around the area he lives. I’d recommend him as a tour guide any day because he does a great job talking about the events that doesn’t feel like it’s either above one’s head nor dumbing things down. We pulled into Harpers Ferry just before supper – one incredibly beautiful place. Great hiking in Maryland Heights and a view of the Potomac and the Susquehanna coming together. There’s a rock known as Jeffercon’s Rock where supposedly he stood and declared that this was surely the most beautiful places on God’s green earth. I think he’s not far off.

Our dinner reservation was for 6:00 p.m. and Mike was our gracious waiter. Quite civilized! Red carnations on the tables, table cloth on the table. I had lovely herb roasted chicken, our girl had pizza and Mum had pork roast. It was a very pleasant meal. After supper we went to the observation car where the roof is glassed in and the walls are pretty much glass so you get these wonderful views of the land you’re riding past. Eventually it was late enough to turn in and the awkward routine of getting ready for bed began. These cabins are tight as they are, but lower the seats and the upper bunk and suddenly you are tripping over yourself and everyone else in the room. You either come up with a dance to move to, or you keep stepping on each other’s toes. AEB finally got herself settled in the top bunk, but didn’t want to sleep by herself. Mum climbed up to join her and suddenly AEB thought that perhaps she would move down to the lower bunk where there would be more room.  And then – light’s out.

In the morning we woke, showered in the tiniest shower room and then went to breakfast – YUM! Lots of lovely choices and really good coffee. Then we pulled into Chicago to start the next part of our adventures.

go west young girl…go west!


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As I mentioned yesterday, the National Parks of the USA is celebrating 100 years of existence. I also mentioned that I’d start another trip down memory lane along the trail of national parks visited. The first big trip that “the girls” took in the US was a train trip across the USA back in 2012. The trip took place in June, but the preparations were on-going since booking of the trip in early March. Well, at least our girl had been prepping since then. She was SO ready to go on this adventure…

**** (these are my version of the transitions in TV and Film from present day into the past or the dream sequence!)

June 2012:

DSCN1102On Sunday afternoon I took AEB to the local REI to get her a new pair of hiking shoes. We came away with new shoes, a weatherproof map of Glacier National Park and a membership to the co-op. On the way home, AEB poured over the map looking at the elevations, asking about the rings, the shadings, the rivers, lakes and about my former student, Heath, who we’ll hopefully get to  meet up with and who works at Whitefish Mountain Resort. AEB decided that she would take the map with us so that if we got to go hiking with Heath, and in case we got lost, then at the critical moment she would be able to get the map out of her backpack and save the day with map and compass! Nice planning ahead. When we got the map home we opened it up on the floor and marked with little margin post-its where we would be staying, where we wanted to explore. We also opened up the U.S. map and marked with DSCN1106the post-its where we would be stopping along the way.
Our girl is out of school, but there is still a bit of time before we get to head out on this adventure. So, the two of them are spending this time before leaving having what they call, “Grammy School”. Each morning they have a schedule for the day. They even have fellow imaginary students, some good and some rather naughty. Apparently this time it’s a boarding school, too. The curriculum is geared around getting ready for this trip and caring for the garden and doing other jobs around the house. I rather resent having to head off to work rather than getting to participate! But hearing about the days doings is fun in its own way. I do miss so much by having to go off to work and not stay at home. This is one of the major drawbacks of being a single parent. Yesterday they made a covered wagon and are looking at the route that Lewis & Clark took that runs through the territory we will be traversing while on our trip. They are also going out and doing sketches of nature in preparation. They are looking at maps and using a pocket compass I got for our girl. There’s lots of looking and pouring over valleys and hills and wondering out-loud. They are looking at websites about Glacier National Park (GNP) and seeing what to possibly expect and what we might go and see and do. They are doing lots of interesting things that I will eventually get to be part of, but for now I will be slightly jealous and hear all about it when I get home from work each day.

The National Parks of the USA


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This month the Nation Parks Service of the USA celebrates 100 years. So, I thought the next trip down memory lane ought to be about the first big trip “the girls” took in 2012. To set this all up here’s a little bit more about the National Parks…

Huzzah! WooHoo!

The National Park Service was created by an act signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916. However, it was Yellowstone National Park established by an Act signed by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, that created the nation’s first national park. – from the National Park Service website.

There are parks all across the USA that are in the care of Park Rangers. There are 18 in the sate of Maryland where I spend most of my time. There are Civil War sites, ocean front parks, national heritage sites, and trails of historical significance and just incredibly scenic. I haven’t even been to half of them! But I have been to a few that get forgotten when discovering some of the other sites in and near Maryland’s boarder states.

I love the Park Service. I know there are those out there that find them an arch nemesis when wanting to snow-mobile in the parks where they are trying so hard to cut down on noise pollution. And there are those that think there shouldn’t be areas and lands owned by the government and protected for future generations. I don’t happen to agree. I think it it is vital that there be places that are open to the public and that are bits of land untouched where humanity can go and get away from itself. I dare say I won’t make it to most in my lifetime, but I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the ones I have been to over the years. And I look forward to exploring more and sharing about our adventures here with you who read this thing.

So, on with the adventures in the parks….



memory lane: China 2013 – home


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Talking about returning home, especially when you’ve been away with your kid(s) is just as important as the adventure you’ve all had together. AEB will reminisce from time-to-time about her school days in China. They aren’t as often as they were when we first came back, or the first year back into her regular schooling days. But we still talk about them. She’ll see something when we’re out and about, or she’ll be culling her book collection and see one of her textbooks from China, and we’ll talk and remember…


We’re back and our China Adventure is over. Well, the China part is complete, but I dare say the adventure aspect of things will continue on for years to come. The flight was, as one always hopes, uneventful and long. And now jet lag has set in as we feel 12 hours ahead of everything but the sun tells us otherwise. Our cats are alive and the orange tabby may already be wishing us on other adventures sooner than later! Our girl woke up at 6 this morning. I could have slept at least another hour, but her tummy told her otherwise. Her friend from across the street noticed that AEB was back and yelled out to her. Oh what joy! To be seen and recognised and welcomed. What a feeling. It’s what we all want in coming home – a sense that we are celebrated upon our return. Then it was another friend a little further down who noticed. She was invited to stay and play which gave me time to nap, I mean unpack. Okay, I admit it. I fell asleep for about an hour or maybe two. Then it was time for a break. AEB’s jet-lag was setting in and she was starting to get surly and short tempered so she came back and we had a nice quiet afternoon between bouts of temper. Jet lag isn’t easy and being over tired make you less able to self monitor. We managed to get through the evening. As I was washing up the dishes our girl went into the living room and when I came out she was knocked out, sound asleep. I carried her up to bed.
And so we begin reentry into the rhythm of the familiar and the figuring out of how to assimilate the experiences had into who we are and grow into being. That won’t necessarily be a conscious thing, but it will happen. And, as always, I’ll be there to help her and she with me as we talk over, remember and shift through our time in China with life back at the New Old House.

memory lane: China 2013 a day of lasts


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It’s been fun revisiting and remembering as I’ve gone over my thoughts from our time in China. I’ve enjoyed re-reading my entries and posting them to be enjoyed by others. Thanks for going down this particular memory lane with me! There will be other jaunts down memory lane that take me back to other past adventures. I look forward to sharing those, too. But for now, here’s the next to last China entry for your reading pleasure…


IMG_2339Today is the last full day in China. It is a day of lasts. Last time walking to school. Last time dropping a girl off at Nanjing Gulou No.1 Primary School for a day of absorption and cultural immersion. We both have itchy feet to get home. Home where there’s an Alistair waiting to be loved on, a Butterfly to be patted (both are cats by-the-by). Home to our own comfy beds and all the other things we call our “very own”. It’s important to feel home, to need home, to want home, however one chooses to define “home”. You can make home wherever you are, we’ve done a pretty decent job of it here in China. But there is something about what’s been left behind. I asked her about living in another country and how she would feel about it and she said that so long as she had her Alistair and her Butterfly and her New Old House she could do it. Hmm. I wonder if we’d have to detach the house, or if merely having most of the furnishings would suffice?
It is a day of lasts for me as well. It is, also, a day of packing, sorting through, being anxious about leaving and being filled with so many conflicting feelings. Will I ever come back? Do I feel like I need to, or want to come back? Making sure the on-board bags have all the things to keep a girl interested and entertained and not necessarily “plugged in” to the iPod or the movie screen. Taking pictures of all the art and projects that have been made, but can’t be taken home, so we can remember them or remake them in the future. Thoughts of what to tell mum to bring with her that we haven’t had time to get as bring homes. She has an extra week of lectures and “good-byes”. Do I have enough RMB for the exit fee? Can AEB take her play dough on board or will I have to pack it? Did I remember the…. The list goes on and my mind swirls. I love to travel, but for some reason I have a hard time with the day before take-off, especially if it’s me and the girl on our own and there’s not an extra set of hands to help. It’s the over zealous perfectionist that I can’t quite seem to squelch and let go. Letting go is important. I know this, I own this, I just can’t quite seem to do this.
And now it’s down to bits and bobs left to pack and so I must wait for AEB to get home IMG_2377from school to pack her rucksack for on board use and pack up the last of the dirty clothes that don’t have time to wash and dry. So, here I sit, one last time, in my new favourite nook, Librairie Avant-garde to grab hold of one last cappuccino, along with last thoughts and first thoughts before saying, “bye for now” as mum likes to say. You never know when you might be back so it’s never a permanent feeling “good-bye”. I’m seriously going to have a find a nook in my corner of the world when I get home.
When you’ve come back to a place you’ve been before it’s easy to try and compare it to the last time – I think it’s unavoidable. I’ve done that in past posts on this adventure. I’ve thought about the lovely times I had when I was here as a teacher and enjoying and hating the time here away from so much that was unfamiliar. I’ve switched gears and tried to allow this time to be the time that is supposed to be and not the time I want it to be or planned for it to be – which has been tougher at times than I’ve meant for it to be. Right now our girl talks only of home and how much she can’t wait to be somewhere that she can understand the language and where she can be understood. She talks of being glad she’s leaving and never wanting to come back. I am trying to honour those feelings and allow her to express her joy of going home and her joy of being in the familiar and the comfortable. I am trying hard not to squash her feelings. I am trying hard to help her feel understood. I am trying hard not to be grouch and tell her I’m sorry to hear her talk like that, because for all the hardships I know she’s enjoyed the friends that she has made. I know that she has enjoyed seeing the things we’ve seen. And I know that she will, eventually, talk kindly and fondly of China when she’s back in the familiar and home.
We’re now back home from a last day at school. I went over to pick up AEB and as we packed her bag the children wIMG_2409ere telling her “bye” and then her teacher came and then mum came and we went to thank and say “good bye” to the principal and then to deliver AEB’s thank you notes to all her teachers. She was so ready to go and not really wanting to say “bye” to everyone, but she did it anyway because it was, after all, the right thing to do.
Now it’s time for a last dinner and a last run around with friends on the playground before a last bath and a last sleep. Did I mention I get as nervous as a cat before travelling? If there really were butterflies in my stomach I’d swallow and olive and let them play footie! AEB’s friends were not out this evening – bummer! I don’t actually blame them it was registering 33 degrees with a heat index of 38, what’s a degree or two in the metric system? When the humidity is at 85% quite a lot! Whew. We’ll hope that mum can find the two little girls that our girl played with them the most and give them the gifts she had for them and our contact information in hopes of developing lasting friendships, but if not there are always pictures and memories. And so now bath is over and it’s about time for tucking in and falling asleep. I hope I can get some sleep. I will get up early to “shove” the last bits into the last open case before we head off to Shanghai and the airport. How did six plus weeks go by so quickly?!?

memory lane: China 2013, episode 11.5


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because some episodes need two parts…

img_2048Sunday found me having lunch with 10 of my former students. Wow! What a great treat that was for me. Finally, after all this time we were able to find a student that is now on faculty here at Nanjing Normal. This class of folk get together about twice a year and they were supposed to get together two months ago, but there were too many conflicts. Call it fate, coincidence, whatever, I am just so pleased that I was able to reconnect and see these people again. They all look about the same, but they are all married now with children (ages 5 months – 8 years). They are all teachers either in universities or secondary/middle schools. They seem to be happy and doing what they trained to do. It was lovely to see them, but I also knew that though is was great to have some time with them, they really wanted to catch up with each other and visit amongst themselves. It’s a good teacher that knows when her students have outgrown her and need to move on. It’s time for me to move on and let them enjoy each other and remember me kindly.

After this is was time to take AEB to see the animals that line the sacred path to the ming tomb. She thought she also wanted to see the tombs, but when she saw the map and all the walking she’d have to do she opted for seeing the animals first and then seeing how she felt about the tombs at the end. It was an almost unbearably hot day. Fortunately, the tombs are in the lower part of the Purple mountains so it was a bit cooler than in the centre of the city. We saw one animal that is considered the unicorn, but much different than the western mythological unicorn. It has a horn, but it points to the back. These fellows had their horns knocked off who knows how many years ago. But it’s always interesting to compare ideas of creatures and even the creatures themselves.

Then it was off to the tailor’s and fabric shop to have our girl measured for her qipao. She stood still and was measured and found her material. I decided to have a jacket made in a blue with sliver/grey cherry blossoms. I won’t be around for a final fitting so hopefully he will actually pay attention to the measurements and try not to make it too form fitting. If he does I’ll either have to start wearing a corset or loose a significant amount of weight or have breast reduction surgery! However, he does seem to have experience with western female frames, so hopefully he will pay attention to the curves while creating the jacket. I say all this having had a beautiful jacket and trousers made, but the tailor just could not get around the fact that I did not have a Chinese lady’s frame, but a western female frame with hips, a rear end and breasts! Hopefully, at some point, they will fit AEB nicely and someone will get use out of the lovely outfit.

But now it’s time to turn thoughts to getting ready for packing and getting all the bring homes into the cases and hoping they all add up to less than our monetary allowance for US customs and the weight is such that we won’t have to pay more than having the extra baggage. So much to get done and organised. And there’s AEB enjoying what she can of the last two days of school. When I walked her to school this morning she stopped me at the school gate and told me good bye for the day and walked to her classroom on her own. I just smiled and watched her go off. What a girl. What a girl.


memory lane: China 2013, episode 11


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img_1792Dragon Festival is over and school is back in session. AEB is not terribly thrilled and yet she does like her classmates. I have come to Librairie Avant-Garde to sit, try the cappuccino and reflect on what’s to come in the next few days before leaving this place that means so much and yet I am so ready to leave.

I’ve had my rant and now it’s time to enjoy what time is left and think about packing, what to leave behind, to what bring back and what’s left for bring homes that I have not thought about. At least mum has a week beyond ours so if I think of something that I MUST have, she can pack it up and bring it with her.

Friday brings us to the top of Purple mountain, at least to the mausoleum of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Who is still very important to the people of China. Mum and I wonder what China would be like if the powers that be had followed more of the ideas of Dr. Sun versus turning and following Chairman Mao and his cronies. It’s hard to know. Of course there is no mention of Dr. Sun’s having been a christian and that many of his guiding principles came from those of Jesus and his faith. This, of course, is not mentioned at all on any of the numerous plaques that tell about the good doctor and his work for China. As mum has done her lecturing she sees that there is a trend in wanting to teach morality and even tap into spirituality, but in an entirely secular way, which can be done but there will always be a gap left to be filled. So we climbed up to visit this memorial to him. 392 steps representing the 392 million people living in China a the time of his death. When mum and I first climbed all those steps it was 1995 and the place was less built up and not as “touristy” as it is now. It was a good workout. Whew! It was nice at the top looking down and out over Nanjing. When we got down the mountain we found a place to eat. It’s apparently a chain, but the atmosphere is of a particular era of the past, maybe close to the days of Dr. Sun. The staff were all in period style dress, the food was of that period and Nanjing food and served in old style pots and plates. It was very tasty and quite fun. Yes, a bit touristy, but sometimes you need to indulge in such things. 🙂

Saturday, we were picked up by Lilly and Jang Guo to head, one last time, to Fu Zi Miao for the procurement of AEB’s jade and to see some of the other sites there. Ever since we have talked of coming to China she has had her little heart set on finding a circle of jade to be put on a red cord as a necklace. I’m pretty certain that if she were not to find it her trip here would be considered a complete disaster. However, we were able to find her jade and she didn’t care much about anything else.

When we first entered the gate she was treated to candied apples on a skewer. Then we wandered down the markets to peer into the shops that had jade. Mum’s a tough bargainer and combined with Jang Guo I’m not sure the shopkeepers had much of a chance to gain a huge profit over us. I don’t mind their needing to make a living, or even make a bit of a profit, but they see the ivory toned skin and think mega-bucks. We living comfortably, but we’re all here based on frequent flyer miles and bonus points and mum making deals and bargains – I told you she was good! After finding the jade we went into the testing centre, which I can say was a real let down from the last time I had been through it. I’m not sure why the changes, perhaps there was a fire, or someone thought it would be better, or some high minded foreigner made some snarky comment about the way it had been set up. I don’t know, but now it hardly has anything and it’s not nearly as entertaining, or quite frankly, informative. You used to be able to wander through sections of the old testing area where the men were packed in tightly in a small room for at least a week. Food was delivered to the tiny room, but not before it was checked for cheats and aids. The men ate, studied and tested all in the same small space. They were not permitted to leave even for bathroom use. A chamber pot was passed along. But these things are not shown any longer. My favourite was the section that had a young man trying to get away from a snake that had decided to join him and the other was trying to put out a fire. These are gone. I’m glad I have pictures at home to remind me of what is now lost.

We enter now into our last two days of being here. I don’t know if I’ll manage a post before going. It may all come down to reflections state-side. There’s lots of reflect on. So much change, so much loss and yet so much new and good. We’ll see what the next days have for us…