Saturday, April 11: I haven’t participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge in a long time, but today I’m feeling inspired by the theme of “afloat.” I recently spent several weeks in Myanmar’s Inle Lake and in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen, both of which I found to be wonderfully photogenic. Here are a few glimpses of what I saw. 🙂
In twenty-fourteen, I: Got waylaid in Denver after snow and de-icing delays on a flight from Washington to Burbank, California. Shared Sunset Rolls and Fire Dragon Rolls, Sapporo and warm saké, with my little sister Stephanie, and then met The Invisible Woman in LA. On foggy Venice Beach, wandered past muscle men, tattoo parlors, surfboards and funnel cakes, and contemplated the medical marijuana advertised for sale. Caught glimpses of adorable houses, with secret patios and lazy cats, on a stroll through the Venice Walk-Streets. Went window shopping on Abbott Kinney Boulevard. Drove six hours to San Francisco from LA through a parched California landscape to meet my friend Jayne. Laughed at the antics of harbor seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and met Monarch butterflies that looked like clusters of densely packed brown leaves at the Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Monterey. Drove 17-Mile-Drive at Pebble Beach. Sampled some wine on the Silverado Trail. Saw the iconic cloud-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from the deck of the Sausalito Ferry. Laughed at the antics of sea lions at Pier 39. On the way back to LA, vicariously lived the high life at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Dropped by Old Mission Santa Barbara, walked through fan palms and California chaparral at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, and ate fish tacos on Stearns Wharf. Visited the garden at Mission Buenaventura in Ventura. Met Rosie of wandering rose and listened to the reverberations of classic rock at Bob’s Big Boy‘s classic car show. Was inspired by a Poets & Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, where I embarrassed myself in front of Chinese writer Da Chen (My Last Empress) when he asked me the for the title of my book and a business card (I had neither). Had cocktails at the Brig and ate dinner out of a food truck on Abbott Kinney. Took a hike with Rosie around Corral Canyon in Malibu and ate more fish tacos at Malibu Seafood. Left behind sunny California to head back to icy Virginia (nomad, interrupted).
Click on any of the pictures below for a full-sized slide show.
Saw tundra swans and parchment-like leaves dangling like wind-chimes on American beeches at Mason Neck State Park. Was inspired by National Geographic’s 2013 Travelers of the Year. Saw seagulls walking on water at ice-encased Annapolis Harbor. Learned 20 things about Storytelling Photography from National Geographic photographers Ami Vitale and Melissa Farlow. Chased freight trains and photos along the CSX Main Line at Henryton, Maryland. Suffered through snowstorm after snowstorm in Northern Virginia, and then searched for spring at Green Spring Gardens. Heard the thundering roar of Great Falls while strolling with Alex, Bailey and Mike along the Patowmack Canal. Took a photowalk through the hardscrabble part of Baltimore. Found the gravesite of the patentee of the Ouija Board at Green Mount Cemetery. Walked Richmond’s Monument Avenue 10k in the rain with my daughter Sarah. Drifted with cherry blossoms on the Tidal Basin in D.C. Said “ahoy, matey!” to pirates at the Privateer Festival in Baltimore. crisscrossed flowing streams & waterfalls at White Oak Canyon. Stayed overnight at a sleep clinic to test for sleep apnea. Wandered through flowering trees at the Virginia Arboretum. Was charmed by wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks. Finally found spring, after a long and grueling winter, at Meadowlark Gardens. Celebrated Sarah’s 30th birthday in Richmond by sipping wine with the whole family amidst Chihuly’s Red Reeds at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, topped off by a feast at Bacchus. Cloistered myself at the Franciscan Monastery. Sampled wine and cheese with the family at Doukenie Winery. Won prizes in photography competitions through Vienna Photographic Society and had my Hot air balloons over Cappadocia photo featured by National Geographic on Instagram. Finished the third draft of my novel, Scattering Dreams of Stars, but never got around to sending out query letters. Applied for 40 jobs stateside and didn’t get anything. Applied for jobs in China and got an offer from Sino-Canadian International College of Guangxi University in Nanning. Went on safari with sculptures of metal animals in the “American Metal” exhibit at the Corcoran in its last days. Was awed by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Opened my heart to water lilies at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Worked on joining hearts with Mike at Eastern Market in D.C. Saw “Words & Letters” made into art at the Athenaeum. Felt general malaise at a Civil War Encampment at Sully Plantation. (nomad, interrupted).
Searched in vain for a happy 4th of July, as both my mother-in-law and my father were admitted to the hospital; my father’s problem was corrected without complications, but my 88-year-old mother-in-law’s health went into decline and she went into hospice care in early July. Went with Alex on a road trip to New Hampshire, where we stayed in a cottage on Lake Winnipesaukee, seeking a reprieve from Shirley’s illness and our sadness. Drove the Kancamagus Highway through New Hampshire’s White Mountains, topped by a hike at the Flume Gorge. Stopped to buy a bird nest ornament in a garden shop in charming Woodstock, Vermont, where I was mistaken for Alex’s girlfriend (ha!). Admired painted “meeses” and mountain lions in Bennington, and scrambled over rocks at Kaaterskill Falls in New York. Returned home to watch helplessly as my mother-in-law continued to decline; she passed away on July 17. Went in search of light-crazed sunflowers in memory of Shirley, who loved gardening. Visited the George Washington Masonic National Memorial as we waited for Shirley’s memorial service, which was on Thursday, July 25. Took our 12 1/2-year-old border collie, Bailey, to the vet when he got sick the day after Shirley’s memorial service; he died the next day, sadly, at the human age of 88. Searched for summer, and solace, at Solomons, Maryland, where empty boats conversed in a language of their own, groaning, clanking, lamenting and whining. Hiked at Calvert Cliffs State Park where a kid told me: “My dad says your name is Stranger.” Dropped off my passport at the Chinese embassy to get my work visa, and while in D.C., stopped in unannounced at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral for a brief tour in darkness. Came full circle and revisited summer at Meadowlark Gardens, as I did when I first arrived back in Virginia from Oman (nomad, interrupted).
Sampled rum & grapefruit juice with Mike at Mango’s upon our arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Was coated like a sugar cookie by a maelstrom of sand at Ocean Park. Savored every bite of mofongo — mashed plantains — at Raices in Old San Juan. Had a close encounter with the Baño Nazi on Paseo de la Princessa. Took a self-guided walking tour through colorful Old San Juan, admiring views of Bahia de San Juan along the periphery of El Morro. Came face-to-face with an iguana at Castillo de San Cristobal and together we enjoyed views of the Atlantic. Climbed into a cloud forest on the Mt. Britton Trail at El Yunque rain forest. Ate fabulous Caribbean Benedicts at El Convento. Sought shelter from the rain at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Visited the “ghost town” of Aguirre in the south of the island. Was disappointed at Hacienda Buena Vista to see only the historical buildings and not any actual coffee plants. Got roared at by painted lions at Ponce and took pictures of the historic firehouse and famous landmark, Parque de Bombas. Looked in vain for 007 (“Bond, James Bond”) and Jodi Foster at the Arecibo Observatory, the setting for Goldeneye & Contact. Enjoyed a day at the Ocean Park Beach and gorgeous sunset at El Morro before returning home to Washington. Continued to work with Mike on our reconciliation after our seven-year separation and felt good enough about it to go abroad again. Spent the next two weeks getting ready to move to China. Left the U.S. on August 30 (notes from north america).
Arrived in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on September 1 and was installed in a gritty apartment with a view over a lotus pond. Spent the first couple of weeks in Nanning getting a phone, internet, a medical exam, and the visa. Took a walk with another new teacher, Caleb, on Qing Xiu Shan in dreadful heat & humidity, where we saw koi in Sky Pond and a 1350-year-old Cycas King in the Cycad Garden. Climbed to the top of Longing Tower where we saw views of Nanning and the Yongjiang River. Encountered communication problems when haggling in a Chinese market. Experienced the fringes of Typhoon Kalmaegi as it brushed past Nanning. Spent a frustrating day trying to figure out how to buy train tickets to Guilin. Finally acquired a bicycle after much rigmarole and rode to Nanning Zoo, where I watched Chinese visitors feeding junk food to the animals. Began fall semester on September 22. Encountered students with funny English names: Maleah, Kitty, Yuki, Albert, Hebe, Lancy, Shally, Amber, Azura, Nyako, Spring, and best of all: Yoyo, Echo, Coco, Smoothies and Evita. Heard tell of other teachers’ students: Biscuit, Yogurt and Potato. Was flummoxed when trying to find simple household products such as shampoo, conditioner and floor cleaner at Nan Bai Supermarket. Learned how to say Xièxiè (thank you), Ní hǎo (hello), and Wǒ yào yīgè daizi (I want one bag).
Overcame numerous communication problems and made it to Yangshuo for the National Holiday. Took a motorized bamboo raft with hundreds of other Chinese tourists down the Li River to Xingping, the scene of the picture on China’s 20 yuan bill. Strolled around Yangshuo and Green Lotus Hill, where I was surrounded by magical karst formations. Met Audrey, the niece of an elementary school classmate of mine, at Demo Tiki Bar and then ate Thai food together, accompanied by lots of wine, at Rock-n-Grill. Bicycled with Audrey through the Yangshuo countryside, where we took an almost-skinny-dip in the Yulong River. Ate a late lunch at a Passion Fruit Leisure Farm. Went on a motorbike tour through kumquat orchards to Xianggang Hill, where we saw karst formations with names like Nine Horse Fresco Hill, Lad Worships Goddess, and Grandpa Watching Apple. Traipsed through the Seven Star Tea Plantation. Took my own private bamboo boat ride down the Yulong River. Returned to Nanning, where I began teaching an English Interest Course on Storytelling Photography. Got hooked on Mad Men and watched all the seasons. Walked through artistic trellises at the Guangxi Medicinal Plant Garden. Encountered crazy communication problems on a trip to see Detian Waterfall on the Sino-Vietnamese border. Straddled the border of China and Vietnam in a bamboo boat and was sprayed by the Ban Gioc-Detian Waterfall on my 59th birthday. Received a cake for my birthday from the Student Union; I happily shared it with some of my colleagues, cherry tomato toppings and all.
Went to a student-teacher Halloween party on a sweltering night where everyone was sweating in their costumes. Visited the Guangxi Museum of Nationalities, where I saw excellent exhibits on Guangxi’s twelve indigenous ethnic groups. Ventured to Nanning People’s Park where hordes of Chinese people were dancing, singing, and playing traditional instruments. Watched all 8 episodes of True Detective and began to watch Breaking Bad. Took a trip to Ping’An, where a Zhuang guide led me on a hike to see Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and a Yao long-haired woman. Posed in traditional costume at Seven Stars with Moon. Took a 5-hour hike alone to the Longji Rice Terraces, where I got lost numerous times. Spent an afternoon of disillusionment at Elephant Hill Park in Guilin. Treated myself to a whole body massage, a foot massage and pedicure in Guilin to try to alleviate my four days of sickness while traveling.
Encountered a styrofoam lady on the way to Wal-Mart. Watched a Chinese love story with English subtitles, Fleet of Time, that shed some light on the lives of my college students. Watched all 10 episodes of Fargo. Survived another challenging Chinese bus ride to Yangmei Ancient Village. Spent Christmas day alone wandering downtown Nanning, sipping a Toffee Nut Latte at Starbucks, watching The Taking of Tiger Mountain at Wanda Cinema, and finally Skyping with my family in Virginia. Went to a Christmas party arranged by my students, where I attempted to make proper dumplings, played and won a REAL game of Chinese checkers, and sang karaoke. Went to a free acrobatics show in Nanning.
Happy New Year! May all your dreams come true in twenty-fifteen. 🙂
Tuesday, October 14: Before I came to work at the university in China, I was asked to prepare an English Interest Course (EIC), which I would teach to about 20 students for 6 one-hour sessions. I was told the course should be something about Western culture, or anything that you would teach in an English Corner.
Taking the assignment seriously, I went to great lengths to prepare a course called “Road Trips American Style.” I found several movies from which I would show excerpts: Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Thelma & Louise. I also found a lot of great literature about road trips. I planned to use excerpts from some of these: an essay by Ann Patchett about a trip in a Winnebago, “My Road to Hell was Paved;” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig; American Nomads by Richard Grant, Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon; and Travels with Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck. I also prepared a Power Point presentation about different modes of travel, using photos of everything from bicycles to Airstreams to Volkswagen buses. I planned to prepare more presentations on types of hotels, sights to see, types of roads. The final goal was to have students research and present their own one week road trip, deciding on which vehicle to use, what roads to take, what sights to see, what hotels to stay in and what restaurants to eat in.
Way too ambitious!!
So much for my great plans. When I got here, I was told that the EIC courses are meant to be fun and light. Some of the courses taught are yoga, sports, photography, etc. My course would have involved too much reading and preparation, too much work. The literature excerpts would have been too difficult and too time-consuming. Thus I had to rethink my course.
In Oman, I had prepared a course for an English Corner about places to visit in America. In Oman, the English Corner was voluntary, and thus no one ever showed up. Here, the students are required to attend one of these courses for a course credit. Their attendance and participation are mandatory.
Adjusting my expectations, on a whim, I decided to teach a course on Storytelling Photography. For my first class, I presented great photos that tell a story, using examples from Steve McCurry and other photographers whose blogs I follow. Then I told the story of my life, including my family and home in Virginia, and my travels to 16 countries over the last 5 years. In total I had over 140 slides. The poor students were probably ready to tear their hair out!
I told the students that for the next three sessions, we would visit places on campus and take photos which they can use for a 5-minute 10-slide presentation telling a story about some aspect of their lives. They can use any of the photos we take on our outings, or they can use photos they take on their own time.
Our first outing today is to the market on the campus. We meet first at the Experimental Building where I take attendance, since attendance is mandatory. Then we walk to the market together. Who knows if some of the students sneak off; I can’t keep track of them all. On the way there, one of my students tells me he would have enjoyed just spending the whole semester seeing pictures of all the places I’ve traveled. So I guess my slide show didn’t bore them after all. At least this student enjoyed it. 🙂
On the way to the market, a rat runs out in front of us, and one of my students stomps on and kills it, picks it up by the tail and disposes of it. I’m a little shocked by this but not too much, as I find rats disgusting. I’ve heard of some apartments on campus where rats have been a problem. If I found one in my apartment, I would really freak out. I already killed a 3″ cockroach on my kitchen counter one night in the middle of the night. Now I’m always wary when I get up for a drink of water.
It’s really great having my students with me on this trip to the market. I came here before by myself, and I’m sure the market vendors were wondering why I was walking around snapping pictures of them. At this time of day (3:00-3:40), the market is quite slow and not even all the vendors are open. I ask my students to explain to the vendors what we’re doing, and actually most of them seem quite happy, I think even flattered, that we’re there to take their pictures.
It’s great to have my students, who are in the second year of their studies, along because they can explain what things are. They tell me these men are playing Chinese checkers. The game is quite rousing, with a lot of yelling and slamming of game pieces on the board. I have seen men sitting around playing this game everywhere I’ve been in China.
The market is a rough and tumble place where business is of primary concern. These are hard-working people who take pride in their merchandise and aren’t afraid of the nitty-gritty.
I ask my students what this vendor is doing with his torch. I stupidly say, “Is he cooking the meat?” One of my students tells me, “No, he’s burning off the fur.”
I’ve always wondered what these fruits are, and they tell me, after looking it up on their Chinese-English dictionary app, that they are jujube.
I’m told these are persimmons.
Some of my students make this vendor happy by buying some of her fruit.
I’m sure the vendors enjoy this slow time of day when they can socialize and play cards. I don’t know what game they’re playing.
In Oman, I used a drying rack in my apartment to dry my laundry. Here, we have either a balcony or, in my case, an outdoor laundry room with a high pole on which we hang our laundry on hangers. These poles are used to reach up high to hang up the hangers.
Someone just washed their tomatoes.
We find this colorful cardboard lantern and some of my students point out the various motifs such as dragons.
Another of my students pulls me over to a garden shop to show me what he calls a fly-catcher. I look up Venus flytrap and it doesn’t look like this, so I’m not sure what it is exactly.
Some of the children’s umbrellas are sparkly and goofy.
And I believe this is some kind of rubber ducky vehicle.
This man is fanning the flies off of his meat.
And these are a couple of my students who picked up some produce while here.
One of my female students is wearing some very interesting shoes.
I stop to study this notice board outside of the market, but I can’t understand a word.
And here’s someone who’s ready for the market, either a vendor or a buyer.
At 3:40 our class is over and I tell the students they’re dismissed. Next week we plan to go to the sports field. I’m not sure where the third place will be. Stay tuned to find out. 🙂