Tuesday, July 29, 2008

News from Germany

Hallo! So it's finally time to hear about Germany. I'm sad to say that at the moment I am packing to leave Berlin, but I don't want to be State-side before I even have one post in about German adventures. Here are some highlights (though stories and accompanying pictures will follow in a few days):
July 4th: We left Hong Kong at 11:30 pm and landed in Berlin at 10 am the next day. We'd been awake all day in Hong Kong, got on our overnight flight, and had to spend the whole day awake in Berlin. Flying to and from Asia is killer, but we adjusted okay after a few days. (Well, I was kind of a wimp, but Chad was good.) That day, we went to Brandenburg gate, and to our surprise they were having a party to celebrate the relocation of the American embassy. It is now right beside the Brandenburg Gate, where it was before the Cold War.

July 5th: We went to the Pergamon Museum to see their exhibit on Babylon - fabulous. Although they had a "Truth" section and a "Myth" section. The "Myth" section was very Berlin-like. I think it was basically a way to compare myths of Babylon to artsy-like movements today. Ie: It was a myth that Babylon was full of whores and orgies, so they took the opportunity to show porn clips. Sigh, I don't know. The "Truth" stuff, with your more typical archaeological finds was way cool, though. They re-created the massive temple with some tiles they'd found and some they'd made to match.

July 6th - 10th: In the mornings, Chad would go to class, I would read or fiddle with pictures, we'd go somewhere nearby for lunch, the afternoons would be more class and more reading, then we'd do something in the evening. This was our typical routine. One evening, we went to a beer garden in the middle of the city's largest park. We sat on a dock and watched people rent canoes. July 7th was also our one-year anniversary. Chad found a restaurant in West Berlin that has fantastic weinerschnitzel and his new favorite beer, King Ludwig's.

July 11th - 14th: Friday evening, we rented a Smart Car drove down to a small town North of Munich and stayed in a castle. It was so cool! We spent the next two days in Nuremberg and Leipzig. Chad's class started Monday evening.

July 15th - 17th: More classes, reading, and picture-fiddling. We went to some more museums, art, history, and such. Berlin has so many fabulous museums. We've been here a month, and there are still some I'd planned to see but haven't.

July 18th - 20th: We stayed in Berlin this weekend to see some of the local sights. We took a tour of the Third Reich sights in Berlin (see two posts previous for details) on Friday. That night, we celebrated the birthday of one of the guys in the program at a local Irish pub. They love Irish pubs. Italy loved Irish pubs too, must be a world-wide phenomenon, or at least Europe-wide. Saturday we took a tour of Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp just outside Berlin. I have detailed notes of that excursion. It was fascinating, creepy, and gruesome melted together. I'll post notes and pictures of the tour later. On Sunday we went to the Alte Nationalgalerie, an enormous art gallery. An entire floor was just German painters.

July 21st: I went with the law program group to the Ministry of Justice to hear how the law works in Germany. It's quite different, in some unexpected ways. Ie: For some cases, they have "lay judges," who are not trained in the law but are professionals of the field in question who serve on the bench with other "lay judges" and "professional judges." So, if the area in question is business-related, a businessman will sit on a judges bench and have all the power and responsibility that a professional judge does.

July 22nd - 24th: Normal classes and reading and such. The evenings of these weeks, though, were fairly eventful. On the 22nd, we went to a soccer game, Berlin vs. Liverpool. Since the World Cup is over, it was a "friendly game." The game ended 0-0, but it was still fun to watch. Apparently, when the games are competitively/un-friendly, the Germans can get quite riotous. Behind our apartment is the Natural History Museum, one of the largest in the world, so we spent the afternoon of the 23rd there and saw the largest dinosaur skeleton in the world. A brontosaurus, btw. On July 24th, we went to see Barack Obama speak at the Victory Column in Berlin. It was packed, an estimated 200,000, and we were maybe 60 feet away. It was pretty darn cool to be there, but I was slightly disappointed in his speech, and I wasn't the only one. He was fine, just not the hugely charismatic speaker the US press has hyped him up to be. Or maybe he was jet-lagged, who knows. I'll post more about this later, including pictures.

July 25th - 28th: We rented something better than a Smart Car because we wanted to break 100 mph. We got up to about 120 in this car as we headed down by Frankfurt. We spent a night in Mainz (saw the Gutenberg museum, toured a zext/champagne winery, and Chad had the best meal of his life and a liter stein of dark beer), a night in Worms (saw where Luther started the Protestant Reformation, not much else to see there), and a night near a small town where the Grimm brothers grew up (saw their childhood home and roamed the nearby woods). Very fun weekend, and we loved Mainz, definitely going back there someday.

July 29th: We're headed to Hamburg. Our train leaves in an hour. We'll hopefully meet up with Louisa, Curtis' girlfriend and long-time family friend. She's from Germany, and it's been a few years since Chad's seen her, so it should be good fun. Hopefully all trains run on-time because...

July 30th: We leave Hamburg at 9am, get back just before 11 am, and my international flight leaves Berlin at 3pm. I'm a little worried because 52,000 of Lufthansa's employees are striking right now. The biggest strike is in Frankfurt, and I connect in Frankfurt and fly Lufthansa all the way back to Boston. Assuming all trains and planes go well, I will present some research I've done in the sociology of religion in Boston on Thursday. Yikes, very busy, and I have to prep this talk. Well, the time in Germany has been fantastic, and we're already planning how to get back here. More posts and photos soon to come.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Final China Post

(There are two new posts. This one finishes China adventures. The one before this has a virtual Third Reich tour of Berlin.)

(And for accomapnying pictures of the China posts, see my China slideshow here: )

Day 5:
After breakfast at the hotel, we loaded into our giant van and met our guide, Peter, who would be taking us to the Ming Tombs, a jade factory, and the Great Wall. During the 1 ½ hour drive, Peter gave us a quick rundown of China’s history. He probably skipped a lot, but it was more information than I could retain. We went through the list of emperors and bunch of Chinese inventions. Peter insists that the Chinese invented pretty much everything. Except 0. Marco Polo brought a group of Europeans over to China during the 12th century, and that’s when the Chinese started using 0 and other geometry. Everything else, though, is Chinese. He was a history teacher for much of his life, so he’s read a decent amount and was a great tour guide. He took us through the Ming Tombs, the burial place for all emperors from the Ming Dynasty. There were a series of archways leading to a main temple building. At the top is a large column, with the name of the emperor buried, but it does not mark the location of the tomb itself. The entrance to every emperor’s tomb was hidden. The only people who knew the location were the construction workers, and most of those were killed. For one emperor’s tomb, 30,000 workers were killed. Current researchers have found the tombs of many emperors, but some are still hidden. And even if found, they don’t always want to open them, since once exposed to oxygen, many ancient artifacts crumble. So, we didn’t see inside any tombs, but the archways and temples around them are worth the trip. There are dozens of dynastic tombs in the foothills of the mountains near Beijing.

Next up was the jade factory, where they gave us a short tour of the various types of jade. Hard jade is typically used for jewelry, but soft jade is needed to do some of the amazingly intricate sculptures. Jade naturally comes in green, white, black, red, pink, yellow, and pretty much every shade in between. Some of the most valuable pieces were one piece of jade that had several colors and was sculpted to use those colors aesthetically. For instance, they had some white and dark green jade pieces that were sculpted so that white Chinese monks and the moon stood out in the foreground, but dark green mountains and trees hovered in the background. Very cool. Then they gave us plenty of time to buy things from their massive store. Chad and I got a fabulous dark green boat.

And last on the list for the day was the Great Wall. Peter filled us in on more fascinating things that I can’t remember anymore on the way to the wall. Traffic was fairly heavy because it was the last day deliver trucks and 18 wheelers could be in Beijing before the August Olympics. (Bear in mind this was July 1.) So every single company, store, and shop was having its last delivery made, and we were in the middle of it all. Luckily, we got through alright, and made our way to the wall. This thing is absolutely huge. And it’s built on the top of a mountain range. So imaging hiking up to the top of a mountain and then putting a brick down on the highest point. That’s where you’d build the wall. At first, the wall was only 3 meters high, but as the dynasties added to and added to, most of the wall reached 8 meters. Bear in mind that construction began in the 6th century BC… BC! It’s not one continuous wall because it branches off a couple times like streams alongside a river. Including all its veins, the wall is 6,700 km (4,160 miles) long in total. I had two main questions: 1) Aren’t the freaking mountains enough protection? Those things were steep! 2) If it took such a long time to building, was it really a necessity? If you had pressing enemies, wouldn’t they have barge in somewhere between the 6th and 4th century BC? And if you didn’t have pressing enemies, why even bother? These may never be answered. Anyway, the wall is phenomenally impressive. We went to a section that has been restored so that the walkway from one guard tower to another is smooth, but I was surprised at what a steep incline the walkway reaches sometimes. Occasionally we were walking at a 30 degree incline, and once it got steeper, there were dozens and dozens of steps all the way up to the next guard tower. We did make it up to the hero’s point, though, so I guess that means we’re pretty great people.

We did a little bargain shopping the town by the Great Wall, and then we were so tuckered out that we just went back to the hotel for dinner.

Day 6:
Since the van worked out so well the day before, we just asked the driver if he could take us around Beijing the next day, and he agreed. So the next morning we had him drop us off at the Hutongs, which are alleyways filled with houses and shops. In that same area is a ceramics factory/shop, where we got a brief tour and, of course, were given plenty of time to shop. Chad and I actually found a beautiful painting there, which we will have to post of picture of when we get back to Nashville. After shopping, we wandered around the alleyways of the Hutong. Literally, there’s a tiny doorway into a long, winding alley that has entrances on either side, and that’s someone’s front door to their home. We did see a couple leather couches, but many of the homes were more like shanties than anything else. When you’ve spent so many days in the heights of Chinese architecture and history, the Hutongs are a glaring reminder of people’s less-than-imperial daily lives in China.

And with these images fresh in our minds, we set off to the lively city of Hong Kong.

Day 7:
Since Whitney and Patti would be leaving that afternoon, we decided to stay around the hotel for the morning, and if there ever was a hotel to just hang out at, the InterConinental would be it. After a ridiculously huge breakfast buffet with everything down to organic honey dripping off the honeycomb onto your bread, we walked around the harbor. The hotel sits right on Victoria Harbor, facing the shore of Hong Kong Island. The previous night we’d seen the lights of hundreds of buildings, but these weren’t normal lights. Giant walls of neon changed color, flashed, and moved right/left/up/down/diagonal/in a circle or just, you know, displayed the moving letters of the company name. Multiply that by like 30 buildings on the edge of the harbor. It’s one crazy light show at night. So now we were out during the day, and we could finally see just how tall those buildings were. Many of them looked between 80 and 100 stories tall, and they just stretched on forever down both sides of the habor. Miles of 80 to 100 story buildings. We headed up to the hotel pool for a better view. The InterContinental has a three-tier hot tub that looks like it pours into the harbor. We got some silly pictures out there, if you haven’t seen the Picasa slideshow already. (See post below.)

And when it came for 1/3 of our group to leave, the remaining 4 went down the street to yet another luxurious hotel way out of mine and Chad’s price range. Chad had asked a friend from Hong Kong (who is now Vandy Law student) for the name of a good tailor, so me, Chad, Rod, and Curtis roamed the streets of Hong Kong to find him. They got measured for suits/slacks/shirts. It really is amazing. You walk into a tailor store, which is the size of our living room in Nashville, they quickly find out what material your looking for in a suit (warm, cool, in the middle), you pick out a fabric color, they measure you 40 diferent ways up down and all around, then they tell you to come back the next day. You come back like 18 ours later, you try on your half-made suit, they not some adjustments, and they tell you to come back in a few hours. You come back like 6 or 7 hours later, you try on the suit, it fits great, and they bag it up for you. They say if you ever want another suit, just email them, they have your measurements, and they can ship it right to you. AND it’s cheaper than buying a suit at Men’s Warehouse. I know! Crazy. So that’s exactly what Chad did, and now he has a snazzy hand-tailored suit from Hong Kong. Pretty cool. We celebrated with high tea at the Peninsula Hotel (since Hong Kong still has remnants of the British influence). For dinner and desert, Chad and I met the friend from Hong Kong who had recommended the tailor – Veronica. We ate at a Japanese restaurant, where she ordered beef tongue and chicken skin and other actually quite delicious things for us. Then we met one of her college friends (they both went to college in the States) for a very American-esque dessert. In fact, many things in Hong Kong felt somewhat familiar. For one thing, most people spoke very good English.

Day 8:
Curtis and Rod left the next morning, leaving Chad and I by ourselves in Hong Kong. We decided to find a tailor for me. Their tailor only did women’s suits, and their pattern book was from a number of years ago, so we decided to wander around some of the main shopping areas. After a few stop ins at random tailors, we found one that had been in business for three generations. What really caught our eye was that no one was standing outside, handing out pamphlets. We’ve decided this is the key to finding a tailor in Hong Kong. If they’re handing our pamphlets, do not go. If they’re waiting patiently in the shop, do go. This guy was very helpful, did dresses all the time, and was very willing to let me go through catalogues of patterns and clothes. Having clothes made to your specification could definitely be a terribly addicting habit. We asked him to make a traditional Chinese dress, with a few tweaks here and there, and he said to come back in 5 hours, he’d be ready for the first fitting. So we walked around a bit, had some delicious Japanese noodle bowls for lunch, and came back for another fitting. The tailor said he’d have it done the next day. Amazing!

Day 9:
On the recommendation of Veronica and her friend, we went to the Flower, Bird, and Fish streets, and they sell exactly what they say. The Flower street is really five or six streets, some running East-West others North-South, with indoor stalls/stores selling orchids, bamboo, palm trees, and a dozen other exotic plants. The Bird street is much smaller and has outdoor stalls selling exotic birds that squawk when you walk by them. The Fish street is not very exciting because it’s a bunch of fish tanks, although some have really Huge goldfish or little topical fish. Still, you’d never see anything like the Flower, Bird, and Fish streets in US, at least not in the parts of the US where we’ve lived. We spent the rest of the day really just wandering the city because our flight didn’t leave until 11:30 pm.

Hong Kong is an amazing place. I don’t know that I could live there because it’s so crowded, but it’s fun in a way too. For one, there are double-decker pedestrian sidewalks. The typical ground-level sidewalks are packed with people moving every which direction all the time, so downtown Hong Kong has a layer of sidewalks that are on the equivalent of the second story, and there are pedestrian bridges that connect blocks of second story sidewalks. For two, there are masseuses and tailors everywhere. Tailors we’ve talked about, but the masseuses should not be overlooked. Chad and I just randomly stopped into a masseuse and had a fabulous massage for half the price in the US. Plus they gave us ear candles, which are little rolled up pieces of paper they stick in your ear and light on fire. Some how the heat pulls the wax out of your ear, and believe me, there’s way more wax in there than you would Ever imagine. It’s scary, but you can hear so well afterward! They can do a belly button candle too, but there are just some things I NEVER want to imagine, let alone know about. Ick. For three, there subway systems are fantastic. They connect everywhere, the maps on the inside show the whole system and have little lighted dots to show you where you are, and the connecting trains are time perfectly. For four, they have the best Japanese bowls of noodles everywhere. Except maybe in Japan. I should try real Japanese ones first. For five, the US Dollar is really strong there, so like everything’s half off. Chad and I made it in plenty of time for our 11:30 pm flight to London, then on to Berlin. And in the upcoming segments, I will finally fill you in on the highlights of our time in Berlin.

Third Reich Tour of Berlin

I'm interrupting the China posts to bring you the Third Reich Tour. Chad and I took this tour over the weekend, and I immediately came home to type up the notes. Then I thought that my faithful blog readers should share in the educational experience. Then I thought pictures would be nice too. Then I thought I'd just make a powerpoint presentation, which I ended up doing through Google tools, so please excuse the terrible formatting.

If you want to re-live my tour of the rise and fall of Nazism in Berlin, click here:

Friday, July 18, 2008

[Before moving on, I forgot to mention that after lunch on Day 3, we went to the Kunming airport to catch our evening flight to Beijing. The Kunming airport literally felt like a bizarre bazaar. There were enormous stands selling flowers, fresh fruit, packaged candies, bags of nuts, dried eel, everything. Masses of people dragging rolling luggage were squeezing through fruit stands. So strange. And once we made it through the vendor maze onto the plane, we had a daredevil pilot who thought it would be fun to fly through a thunderstorm cloud with lightning flashing outside the windows for a full hour. Okay, I don’t think they were really doing it for fun, but they didn’t provide much reason for me to give them the benefit of the doubt. The most the crew could say in English was, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing a little bit of turbulence,” followed by a whole bunch of Chinese. You hear that every 10 minutes for an hour and you start to really wish you had a Mandarin dictionary so you could at least point to the words, “Are we going to crash?” We didn’t crash, but it was a little tense. Well, I was a little tense. Apparently Chad can sleep just fine with his head bobbing up and done like it’s on a pogo stick.]

Day 4:
We had checked into our Marriot hotel the night before, so on the morning of day 4, we converged in the breakfast lounge to decide what we would like to see. After some lengthy talks with the very nice concierge - (Really everyone at every single restaurant, hotel, check-in counter, etc was incredibly nice. They just keep smiling and bopping their head and asking if you need anything else, all the time.) - we set the plan to do the Forbidden City and one of several sight-seeing options, depending on how much time we had left, and end with dinner at a traditional restaurant on a lake. For the next day, we set up a tour guide with a van to take us to the Ming Tombs, a jade factory, and the Great Wall. The concierge gave us several cards with our destination written in Chinese on one side and the way back to our hotel. We got two taxis, showed the drivers the cards, and off we went to the Forbidden City. We met back up in a large square in front of the city and again felt like we were the star attraction in the place. Six Americans and 300 Asian tourists, all with cameras. We didn’t have a chance. Every time we took more than a single step toward the ticket area, another group asked us to have our pictures taken with them. At first, we thought it was great fun. We’ll be all over facebook and myspace! But after 10 photo ops, we were a little tired of smiling and giving thumbs up and doing the funny peace sign that they all do in pictures. We eventually made it inside, and with the audio guide headphones on, we must have looked less approachable. We wandered and listened to the audio guide and took pictures. We split off a few times, and wandered back into each other.

The Forbidden City is a fully contained complex of imperial palaces that was in use by emperors from 1420 until 1911. We couldn’t go inside any of the palaces, but the exteriors were phenomenal. The large palace buildings were at least 60 or 70 feet high, with the traditional two-tiered triangular clay tile roofs, and every single eve had detailed images painted to depict imperial myths, animals from Chinese legends, various geometrical designs, and such. These tiny frescoes were underneath edges of the roofs and continued several feet onto the wall itself and wrapped all the way around every building. There must have been miles of these eve frescoes. There were maybe 8 large palaces, set in a North-South line down the center of the city. Each palace had a walled plaza and an entrance into the next palace and walled plaza. On the sides, although we didn’t see much of the sides, there were smaller palaces and many what I would call normal-sized buildings, all of the same roof and eve style as the palaces. There were a total of 9,999 rooms. (9 is a lucky number.) The entire city was for the use of the emperor, his concubines, his children, staff (all of whom were women or eunuchs), and a few officials (also usually eunuchs) only. Some walkways were only for the emperor, and everyone else had to use a side walkway or back entrance. Even in 1911! The last emperor of China abdicated his throne in 1912, and China became the new Republic of China, but the emperor remained in his Inner Court until he was thrown out in 1924. I don’t blame him, it seemed like a nice place to live.

We left the Forbidden City, and wandered through Tiananmen Square and saw the changing of the guards. I bet there were at least 50 guards/soldiers in that one square. There weren’t any reminders of the student massacre from 1989, though. As an interesting side note, I tried to do some research on the Tianamen Square massacre at our Beijing hotel and the top 5 Google hits were broken links. The link names and the descriptions were just like what we would pull up in the States, but every link that had some description of the massacre was surprisingly not functioning. Mysterious…. Equally mysterious was our inability to access Wikipedia, and we tried several searches in different languages. Anyway, we ate lunch at a Chinese fast food restaurant just off the side of the square, and it was quite delicious. I had beef with sauce, bean sprouts, white rice, and egg drop soup, all very familiar tastes. We then set off to find the Olympic Stadium. We decided to try out the subway. By the way, if you are in Beijing for the Olympics, do not use the maps that are posted on the walls and in the subway cars – those are all incomplete. The only complete maps we found were actually printed on the back of the metro tickets. We got to the subway stop but couldn’t find the stadium, so we hailed some cabs, tried to explain to two very confused cab drivers where we wanted to go, and finally they said, “Birds nest!” Apparently, that’s what the stadium is called. Once there, we marched right into a hotel next to the stadium - through armed guards and metal detectors – pretending that we’re guests, so that we can go up the elevator to get pictures from an overlooking window. After a full day, we excitedly head back to our hotel for a quick change before going to the restaurant. Our taxi drivers didn’t know exactly where the restaurant was, so it took a while for everyone to get there, but we did, and we had another fabulous meal with a full lazy susan. We even tried camel hump, although it tasted pretty fatty and watery to me. All of the pork, beef, and chicken dishes were very good, though. Another successful day in China.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A few photos

For (many) more photos go here: http://picasaweb.google.com/MorganGMac/ChinaPhotobookSummer2008?authkey=h1uBQgYwnWk

View of Kunming from our hotel window

Chad, Curtis, and Morgan exploring downtown Kunming

A typical sight in Kunming

Whitney's solo performance of the Brooke concerto with the Kunming Orchestra
(Dr. Lui is conducting)

And celebrating afterward

Traditional Chinese lunch with Dr. Lui, Mrs. Chang, and Ina

Our very funny baggage helper at the Kunming airport

China - Kunming

Day 2:
We arrived in Kunming around 2:00, 6 hours before Whitney’s solo violin performance with the Kunming orchestra– the reason for the MacDonalds’ visit to China. The husband of Whitney and Chad’s former violin teacher was invited to conduct the Kunming orchestra, he used the opportunity to invite Whitney to play a concerto, and the rest of us used both of them as an excuse to vacation in China. We said hi to Whitney and Patti at the hotel – the only five-start hotel in the province – and set off to explore the city. We’d spent 36 hours either on a plane, in a terminal, or in a hotel, and we were eager to start the trip. Curtis, Chad, and I had asked the hotel receptionist to write our downtown destination in Chinese characters on a business card, which made the taxi driver happy, and we were dropped off in a pedestrian shopping area. The main attraction was a long brick street with a median of trees and window-shopping on both sides, but you would have thought we were the sight to see. Everyone around us was swiveling their heads and practically walking backwards to stare at us. We didn’t know it then, but we’d need to get used to that reaction. Chad and Curtis went straight to the blind masseuses, who had set up a whole line of folding chairs down one side of the road. Just pick your blind masseuse and sit down for a bone-crushing rub. Well, half of them were blind, and it was the blind ones that made the spot famous as a good place for a massage. I opted out on the excuse of wussy shoulder muscles, but Chad and Curtis loved all twenty minutes of it. Then we walked around a bit, and the wide street turned into a wide alleyway, and the merchandise changed from handbags and clothes to dried eel and strangely-shaped produce. We weren’t tempted to buy anything.

We came to a street and turned a couple of times until we smelled spicy, delicious things and decided to get some dinner before the concert. There was a man with a cart selling some kind of meat on a stick, three for 10 yuan (about $1.50). Well, heck, sounds like an authentic Chinese experience. And on both sides were I guess what you could call cafes with outdoor only seating, and the customers all looked healthy enough. We asked for only a little spicy, so the guy spread on about 8 layers of a cayenne/chili/super spicy pepper sauce while the sticks of meat roasted over a propane flame. It only took one bite of those spicy mystery meat sticks to get us sucking in air and looking for a drink. We were definitely getting stares. The owner of the restaurant next door (well, five feet to the right at a separate fold up table) was more than happy to sell us coke bottles. We had walked a few yards down the street before we figured out the Chinese yelling behind us was actually yelling at us. The coke bottles were glass, and they definitely wanted them back when we’d finished, so we sat down at a picnic table on the sidewalk. When the meat sticks didn’t fill us up, we went down to another “next door” restaurant (another propane-cook top area with tables) and order some bowls of meat with kung-pao-like sauce and rice. Feeling like we’d gotten a fill of a real Kunming experience, we caught a cab back to our five-star hotel to get ready for Whitney’s concert.

The taxi rides in this town took probably about as long as walking would since every major street had a metal median dividing the two directions of traffic, the kind of curved metal fences we see during road construction. These little blockades meant the cars had to drive half a mile farther than they needed to until they reached a light that allowed U-turns. We made it to the concert hall on time, and we knew we were in the right spot when we saw a 4-story poster, with a 10ft x 10ft picture of the night’s soloist, hanging on the front of the building. Whitney played her Brooke concerto during the first half, and she sounded absolutely fantastic. She looked every bit the confident, adept soloist in her black A-line dress with dramatic white satin flares falling down the back, and audience called her back for several rounds of bows when she’d finished. Truth be told, they might have wanted to see Whitney’s glowing blonde hair one more time as much as show their appreciation for her violin performance (although both were beautiful). Incidentally, since we sat next to Mrs. Chang (Whitney and Chad’s old violin teacher and wife of the conductor), we showed her pictures of the things we’d ordered that afternoon, and she informed us it had been a very bad idea to eat food from street vendors. Even she never did that. Well, we never did get sick – but we never ordered from street vendors again either. The MacDonald family went back to the hotel lounge for champagne and finally got a chance to relax, relay adventures from the past week (since Whitney and Patti had been there for 6 nights or so), and congratulate Whitney on her fabulous performance.

Day 3:
Mrs. Cheng and Dr. Lui (it’s traditional for the wife to keep her last name, so yes, this is the teacher and conductor married couple) and their 15-year-old daughter, Ina, took us to a traditional Chinese restaurant for lunch. We had a private room with a sitting area for enjoying green tea before lunch and a huge circular table for a Chinese feast. The seating arrangement is quite important for a Chinese meal, and Dr. Lui put Whitney at the place of honor, farthest from and facing the door. For over an hour, waiters brought huge plates of food to put on the lazy susan, and we spun the food around while picking pieces off plates with our chopsticks. It’s a wonder we don’t use lazy susans more often in the States – they are so efficient! Our chopstick skills were a little slippery at first, but we improved as we went along. There were platters of round corn puffs, pumpkin slices, whole spicy shrimp, chicken pieces, sautéed broccoli, roasted crispy duck, green vegetables of some sort, and several more plates I can’t identify. Most of them were absolutely delicious. One plate I tried only once turned out to be a stew of eel and frog, but all the others were mostly recognizable or only a little odd to our American tongues. With stomachs full, we said our goodbyes and went to pack for our next city of adventure: Beijing.