Friday, March 28, 2008

Malawi-The Warm Heart of Africa

April 2004

From Argentina (see prior post) we were able to fly from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo and then secure exit row seats on Lufthansa on our flight to Joburg. The time change was 5 hours. We had 3 hours to transfer from Joburg to our flight to Lilongwe, Malawi and we just made the gate in time. We were in passport hell in Joburg due to long lines of foreigners and undermanned, slow passport officials. We had to reclaim our luggage because the agent in Buenos Aires thought Lilongwe was a city in South Africa and had to clear customs.When I was in grade school, Malawi was called Nyasaland and the countries surrounding it were Mozambique, Northern Rhodesia (now called Zambia) and Tanganyika (now called Tanzania). Lake Malawi (3rd largest in Africa and ninth largest in the world) composes much of the country. Tropically warmed Lake Malawi is reported to contain more species of fish than lake in the world.

In 1858 (about the time my great grandparents were born and just prior to the Civil War), Dr. David Livingston, a Scottish Missionary was given the task to try to open up trade routes to the African interior by the British Government. After several attempts to reach Lake Malawi, he finally succeeded through the Shire River, a tributary of the Zambezi. Livingston was a humanitarian intent on making Europeans understand Africans as fellow humans. He fought to end the slave trade and had some success. He also was the first European to discover the "smoke that roars", which he named Victoria Falls. At some point Livingston kind of disappeared and no one knew where he was or if he was alive. African explorer Henry Stanley was hired by the New York Herald to try and find Livingston. When he found him, he uttered the now famous line, "Dr. Livingston, I presume". This happened in Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika, November 10, 1871. See the top left corner of the map.

I learned much about the slave trade in Africa in my research of Malawi's history. Somewhere between the 14th and 16th centuries, two main tribes moved into Malawi: the Tumbuka from the Congo moved into the northern region, while the Chewa from Zambia moved into the southern region. They have remained in these areas to this day. The Yao invaded southern Malawi in the 19th century, capturing weaker tribes for slave trade. It is believed that they were armed with firearms from Arab traders in the area. The slave trade became a very big business in Malawi during this period. A heavy Arab influence in the area contributed to this. Of course, slave trading had existed throughout Africa for many centuries, but this era saw a new level of trade on an international scale. Malawi towns like Nkhotakota and Karonga served as major slave trade centers. The first exported slaves were sent to Asia by the Arabs.

The Arab influence is still evidenced in Malawi by the fact that about 15% of the population is Muslim, mostly Yaos. It is the Yaos who also practice male circumcision as all Muslims do. The Chewas are Christians and don't circumcise.

Judith has been to Malawi 5 times before, but this is my first visit. She was anxious for me to see the country as was I. When we landed at the small airport at Lilongwe, we were met by a driver in a van that Judith's research project helped obtain. The van is used for the staff to collect HIV/AIDS prevention program data. Very few people own cars in Malawi and the vehicles seen are mostly white vans purchased by foreign charities. They all have their logos printed on the door. Some say the influence of foreign charities on the country is not good in the long run because it develops dependency instead of self reliance.

About the only place for westerners to stay in Lilongwe is the Capital Hotel. It has a higher rate for foreigners than locals but I don't image it comes into play very often. The value received for the price does not measure up compared to other hotels in the world but really there are no options. We have a suite of two small rooms which is convenient because if one of us can't sleep, the other can go to the other room to read or watch satellite TV (when it works) without disturbing the other, which happened. Judith actually uses the room to meet with research staff members during working hours.

Lilongwe, as with any city in Malawi of size, is a combination of modern buildings mostly belonging to western companies and those housing government offices. We met up with Chrissie and Alec Kaponda the next day and they arrived in a white van. Alec drove us to the Livingstonia Hotel on the shores of Lake Malawi, where we spent two days. Chrissie was one of two women PhD's in the country and is the principal investigator for two research studies and is Malawi's co-ordinator for the Fogarty grant that Judith heads. The other countries covered by the Fogarty are China, Indonesia, and Chile. The two women worked on their HIV/AIDS intervention programs while Alec and I took it easy. Alec is an architect has has helped design many buildings. I really liked him and he was an excellent driver throughout our travels.

This is a photo of Lake Malawi at dawn.
Chrissie and Judith working on a patio on the water's edge. To learn more about their joint program visit
After leaving the Livingstonia Hotel, we drove to Monkey Bay and saw some indications of tourism being developed. Below are Judith, Alec, and Chrissie.
It was windy that day and people were at the lake washing clothes.
We started out to Blantyre, the largest city in Malawi and named after Livingston's birthplace in Scotland. Along the way we stopped at the Mua Mission.

The attraction of Mua is not just the buildings but its Kungoni Art Craft Centre and its Chamare Museum. Fr. Claude Boucher, a Canadian White Father, founded them during his studies of the traditions and mythologies of the local people to better explain to them the teachings of Christianity. During his work he recognized the richness of Malawian oral tradition and the danger it was in of been completely erased by western influence. He has dedicated his life to recoding and preserving a rich culture that till recently had been passed down only orally.

Below are women seen at the the Mission.
The Chamare Museum, is composed of three round buildings representing traditional huts. In the first room there is an exhibition explaining the history of missionaries in Africa, this is accompanied by symbols of the local mythology. In the second room you can see part of the vast collection of masks from the Guru Wan Kulu society. No photos were allowed as this would contravene Society rules. Along the walls of this room a photographic exhibition shows the major passages of Chewa life starting with birth and going though initiations, marriage ending with death and burial practices, a very important aspect of Malawian life. The Chewa is the dominant tribe of Malawi. Understanding the meaning of these passages through life will help understand the working of the Malawian mind. In the third room an exhibition of sculptors and photos explain the passage of life of the other two main tribal groups of the country, the Ngoni and the Yao.
On the outside of the buildings a series of panels each portraying an event in Malawian history starting with the creation of the world, according to Chewa folklore, to the foundation of Mua Mission.
We then drive on to Blantyre and checked in to the Protea Hotel Ryalls which is a 4 star hotel, very nice. The next day we drive around Malawi University and I take a photo of this fine building, St. Michael's church.
On our journey back to Lilongwe, we stop and have lunch at the Kuchawe Inn at Zomba situated near the top of a small mountain, 900 meters high (3000 ft.) overlooking the Zomba plateau. This is probably the finest hotel in Malawi.

Some Observations

There is a small, growing middle class in Malawi's cities, but everywhere else it is strictly tribal habitats. Amongst the poor, they are better off if they have a corrugated metal roof and brick walls. The bricks are not fired in a kiln but consist of red clay dried in the sun, so they don't last forever. The poorest have a bamboo frame and dried grass for the walls and roof. Open markets are everywhere and there is always a main market around where anything, I mean anything of value is sold. Stuff Americans throw away with no thought of recycling are used for a variety of things. Malawians peel worn tires and sell the strips. I don't know how they are used, but many are seen hanging along the roadside. Although I didn't see it, Judith saw the ever popular "mouse on a stick" sold along the road, but I think the government is trying to discourage it. Bad image to project to foreigners I suppose.

There are plantations of tea and coffee as well as tobacco and corn (maize) is grown in any little space that can be found. When there was a draught two years ago (now 2002) the maize crop was hard hit and many people starved to death.

Malawi has a new President. I think all African leaders start out as reformers, only to stay in office too long and begin to take away people's civil rights, stifle the press, and line their pockets with obscene wealth. The first Malawi President, Dr. Hastings Banda elected in 1958, served for 30 years without any organized political opposition (he saw to that) making sure women were arrested if they wore pants, among other injustices. The next guy, Bakili Muluzi, did have some opposition and ruled for 10 years under a parliamentary system and still is a member of parliament where he is trying to organize an effort to impeach the newly elected Prime Minister Bing wa Mutharika.

I read in the Chicago Tribune that he arrested two journalists for printing a story that he was afraid of ghosts and would not live in the executive mansion because he thought it was haunted. So I asked about it. According to Malawi sources, the story is completely false and placed blame on the journalist. They didn't seem to grasp that freedom of the press means you don't throw journalists in jail just because they write something untrue.

Everywhere in the world there are condom politics. During our travels the pope died. For all the good the pope may have accomplished, unfortunately, he saw condoms as a way to prevent life rather that a way to save lives, helping to cause millions of people to die. The local paper, the The Sunday Times, had a big headline asking,, "Is HIV Penalty from God". Another article quotes the South Africa Religious Leaders Formum that it disagrees with the need to use condoms to fight AIDS.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trulilio, in charge of family affairs at the Vatican said LAST YEAR (now 2002) that the HIV was 450 times smaller than spermatozoa and can easily past through the net that is formed by the condom. His remarks were later condemned by the World Health Organization, saying that correct condom use reduced the risk of HIV infection by 90 percent.

I find it appallingly ironic to find some religious leaders helping to spread ignorance and cause people to die.

On our way out of Malawi, we pay our $30, in US dollars, airport tax and fly to Joburg, then on to Cape Town. Malawi truly is the warm heart of Africa. The people was friendly and warm hearted.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lhasa, Tibet, China

Since Tibet has been in the news recently, perhaps this would be a good time to post my travelogue on Tibet I wrote in October 2005.

To get to Lhasa by airplane, which until recently was the only practical way, one must go through Chengdu, get off the plane and re-board 30 minutes later. The photo below was taken flying west looking South towards the Himalayas.
We started taking our Diamox (altitude adjustment medicine) two days before and kept taking it for another 2 days. Lhasa has an altitude of 3650 meters (11,975 ft.) and I immediately felt it getting off the plane. I took it real easy the rest of the day. We stayed at the Lhasa Hotel which is rated 4 stars. Each day after our tours, we ate then came to our room and either read or watched CNN before falling asleep about (9:30, two hours earlier than our normal bedtime). The air is extremely dry and soon became the most difficult climate change to deal with. I would drink about one quart of water through each night.

Tourist wise the first thing to knock off when arriving in Lhasa, is the Potala.

To get to the top, you start by going up a steep inclined cobble stone driveway to the left. Then you climb various stairways, going through several rooms showing one particular Dali-lama or/and one of his wives or another. Pictures were not allowed inside (scared you know). Lots of gems, gold plating etc. on the very stylistic artwork which seems to fit all my pre-conceived images. Most rooms had big pools of yak butter burning and while I didn’t find the smell offensive (some do) the atmosphere was heavy. All the rooms were dingy and dirty due to the yak butter precipitation. Meanwhile a steady stream of “pilgrims” marched through clutching a hand full of one Yuan bills and depositing them along the way. (One Yuan=$.08) Many would touch objects and chant what I assumed was a small prayer along the way. Their dress was very, very colorful and the women’s hair was always braided with liberal use of various types of combs and other female hair mysteries. We spent about 2 ½-3 hours inside with occasional forays into the bright sun. After a while it got a little claustrophobic and I was glad to start the trek down.

Judith and I are not really good group tourists. We were with a guide and guides the world around have to know a lot of history in order to become guides and they start rattling off this and that fact about the contents of the this and that room. We just are not that interested. We won’t remember anyway mostly because its way too much information to process and generally don’t care about the details. But there are always people in a group that listen to the guide and even start asking questions. We, and especially myself, usually are a couple of rooms ahead of main group so we stop and wait for them to catch up. We could have knocked the Potala off in 2 hours easy. We both like to see and watch and if it looks like something we have already seen, move on. I felt the greatest impact watching the “pilgrims”. I also experienced the vast wealth and millions of man-hours that have been invested in the Potala.
The Tibetans seemed very comfortable having their pictures taken and they stared at us with what seems to be as much curiosity about us and we had towards them. The Tibetans have this very obvious natural red coloring in the cheeks, even the small children.

Early in the morning, we visited the Dreprung Monastery perched half way up the mountain, overlooking Lhasa and the valley. We saw plenty of monks, some talking on their cell phones. There were more pilgrims here also.
Below is the top of the Jokhang Chapel as seen from the upper floor of the tourist section. It houses the most sacred Buddha in all Tibet. It was built around 640 A.D.

Some History

The Qing dynasty was toppled in 1911 and by the end of 1912 the Manchu forces were escorted out of Tibet. In 1913 the 13th Dali-Lama returned to Tibet from India where he had taken refuge when the British invaded Tibet in 1905. Tibet was an independent nation (although this is deeply disputed by China and some evidence to that can be supplied) until the Chinese, one year after the communist take-over of China, evaded Tibet in 1950. In response the Tibetan government enthroned the 14th Dali-Lama, a 15 year old. In the next nine years various small uprising came and were stuffed out. In 1959 a major uprising took place during the New Year’s celebration. Later, it became clear the Chinese government was about to kidnap the Dali-Lama and in March the Dali-Lama fled to India disguised as a solder. In 1966 the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution began and the Red Guard began to systematically destroy the four “olds”, i.e. old thinking, old culture, old habits, and old customs. Even Buddha was accused of being a “reactionary”. Tibet was especially hard hit. Thousands of monasteries, icons, and lives were destroyed. Oddly, the Chinese protected the Potala. Chinese actions in Tibet in the past have been just short of genocide. Today China is different although still being the “heavy-handed big brother”.

Today in Lhasa, the Chinese have spent more money on the infra-structure than any other province and as we were there, the railroad linking Tibet with the rest of China was announced completed ahead of schedule. We saw the railroad and I must say, speaking as an engineer, it is a marvel. The airport and roads leading to it are new also. Chinese in Tibet can have two children rather than one and taxes are low. Decent housing and shops are being built rapidly, replacing shacks.

Enterprise is thriving and the overall standard of living has been raised significantly. Tibet on its own would be a third world country. As near as I can tell, the Tibet culture has long been focused on the Buddhist religion with a significant portion of the population in monasteries being supported by the rest of the population, which is poor. As a person who has little good to say about any religion, I don’t think it’s such a loss for the Tibetans to lose some of their culture. Instead they have economic opportunities to build better lives for themselves, their offspring, and enjoy a better, more balanced life.

I realize this is not politically correct to say, but if you really look into past history Dali Lamas sometimes acted like despots and lived like kings while the rest of the country lived in a feudal state. The Dali Lamas were religious rulers that ran the country. This is not a good thing.

You can find people prostrating themselves all day long. They start out with hands in a prayer position, then touch their forehead, throat, and heart, fall to their knees (knee pads required) then stretch their bodies out full length. They have small board on the palms of their hands and they slide their palms out and the boards allow sliding to occur. Then they slide back, raise to their feet and start again beginning where their head advanced. This is called the act of Kora. It is also a way to get the endorphins going until people are in a trance-like condition.
This goes on especially in front of the Jokhang Chapel and watch out for the small children who like to put their hands in your coat pockets while you are taking pictures or listening to the guide.

We took one day to travel to what the Chinese call the highest salt water lake in the world, the Nam-tso. The elevation is just under 16,000 feet and to get there you must go over a pass of about 18,000 feet. The small bus we traveled on had to stop twice to allow the engine to cool. The wind was to the back of the bus as we traveled upward which did not help engine cooling. Once there we had lunch outside on the rocks and then walked about a 1 ½ miles around a small peninsula. A couple of our group did not feel well enough to complete the circle, leaving me as the lone male to carry on. The vistas there and along the way were awesome. This is really big sky country.

Tibets pile up rocks to honor their ancestors
Yaks are center to the nomadic tribe’s existence. Yaks supply water proof cloth, rope, butter, milk, and the dung is dried and used as fuel. Yaks are very valuable and many of the nomadic tribes have enough yaks to be considered rich. The black dots in the photo below are yaks.
On the way back from the lake, we visited a nomadic woman’s tent home. I did notice there was a solar powered generator in the tent which supplied enough energy to power up a light bulb. This woman and her husband, who was off tending to the yaks, had many yaks and were well off. She was young and very pretty.
More pilgrims below at the Dreprung Monastery.
Tibet was a tremendous experience, but tough physically. BTW, just before we came there was a big earthquake in India and it was felt here slightly.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chinese Power over Media-Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet showing Barkhor Square. Photo taken October 2005, from Jokhang Chapel, containing the most revered Buddha in all Tibet.

As a frequent visit to China, I try to stay up to date about the events occuring there. Read this, then re-read it again applying it to what is happening in America.

I found this on

The following is a translation of a short post from journalist and Xiamen PX activist Lian Yue's blog:

Information Theory of Tîbet

1। Any power which tries to withhold information should be regarded as a bad power.

2। Any power that keeps people from getting information should be regarded as a bad power.

3. Any information released by a power that has monopoly over releasing information should be regarded as a lie.

4. A power that tries to distort and withhold information should be responsible for the consequences.

5. A power that keeps people from getting information does not have the credibility to tell people what is true and what is false.

6. Information being suppressed is the only cause of the worsening situation and deepening disagreement, because each side can say whatever they want and none of it is provable.

7. Extreme nationalism is passionate and irrational. It is nourished by the suppression of information. Tibetan supremacist, Han supremacist, anti-Japanese sentiment and anti-Taiwan sentiment run rampant in an environment where information is suppressed.

8. Mainland China is a place where [people with] extreme feelings are the biggest supporters of power, and these people and feelings prevent power from reforming itself.

9. Only freedom of information expression can dissolve extreme sentiments. Trying to withhold dangerous information is the most dangerous way to act.

Therefore, one important way to solve the problem is to give the media freedom to interview in Tibet.

The question I have is whether the Chinese government has learned how to suppress bad news by learning from the Bush Administration?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Buenos Aires, Argentina-April '04

We are in route to Malawi, Africa and we must go through Johannesburg (Joburg), which can be reached in direct flights from Frankfort, GER or Sao Paulo, BRA. We find out that for about $100 more, we can fly direct to Buenos Aires instead of Sao Paulo, staying two days going and one day returning then make the jump from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo to Joburg to Lilongwe. Visas are not required nor are immunity shots into Buenos Aires, whereas a vista is required to leave the Sao Paulo airport into Brazil and you must have a Yellow Fever shot to re-enter Brazil.

We are leaving just before Good Friday and all business class upgrades were not available into Frankfort. So, all in all, Buenos Aires was a logical choice, and for good measure, Argentina is still recovering from an economic crisis and the prices are very reasonable.

The time difference between Chicago and Buenos Aires is 3 hours. Yes, it's that far further East. We board Chicago late evening and sleep in the comfort of Business Class and wake up in the morning a 11AM, race through customs and arrive at our hotel by 1PM in the heart of Buenos Aires. Total time was 12 hours.

We stay at the Alvear Palace Hotel, built in 1928. It is expensive, old world elegant, and is rated the 2nd best in South America and 18th best in the world. Our room is nothing special in terms of size, but a dozen fresh roses and a plate of fruit await us. I must say the shower was fantastic. Also included were Hermes toiletries and Egyptian cotton sheets. Any world leader or rock star visiting Argentina would likely stay here. The hotel is located in the La Rocoleta district which is very upscale, with European style architecture and streets lined with boutiques and designer shops. It's kind of a Rodeo Drive and not a place for middle class shopping. The Alvear Palace is within walking distance of one of the most impressive cemeteries in the world, the La Recoleta Cemetery. It is our first shop.

On the way we encounter a huge outdoor art market complete with entertainment and after strolling around to see the art, most of which have a tango theme, we visit one of the city's most popular churches, the Basilica del Pilar, built in 1732. It features six German built Baroque-style altars. The city's elite get married here. Below is a photo of mostly young people enjoying a live concert. The cemetery seems like a city of the dead. Mausoleums line the streets and alleys and a complete who's who of Argentina are buried here including the famous (infamous depending on your politics in Argentina) Evita. I highly recommend that you rent the DVD "Evita" to begin to understand what Evita meant to the rich and to the poor, which were vastly different things.

The entrance to the La Recoleta cemetery.
The temperature is a very pleasant 76 or so degrees and we have lunch on a sidewalk cafe. In the evening we walk 4 blocks to a hidden little French restaurant, recommended by the hotel concierge. The food and service were very good, but we found the atmosphere a little deary.
Saturday we went on a 3 hour tour of the city in a mini-van with an English speaking guide and 2 people from Minneapolis, 2 from South Carolina, 2 from London and a Canadian. Out first stop was Plaza de Mayo (May Square) dating to 1580. The square has been the stage for many of the country's important events including the uprising against Spanish rule on May 25, 1810. It is here that the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the May Square) have marched silently for more than two decades, every Thursday at 3:30 to demand justice for the disappearance of the young people during the military reign from 1976 to 1983.
Just off the square is the Casa Rosa (Pink House), named for its external color and it houses the executive branch of government. There is also another important Cathedral on the square, the Cathedral Metropolitana that houses the remains of Jose de San Martin, who I am sure you remember from your South American history studies. No?
Next we visited the San Telmo district a short distance away. It is considered the home of the tango and many tango establishments still exist there, frequented by both tourists and locals alike. The tango grew from the common folk and was disapproved by the elite until the tango became popular in Paris. "Well, if the snooty French like it, maybe we should take another look", said the elite, and it caught on BIG.

That night we went to one of the tango entertainment restaurants, although not in San Telmo. We saw some fantastic dancing. During one of the segments, the women dancers came into the audience and grabbed some males from the audience including me. As an Arthur Murray dance instructor in 1957, I was considered to have some good tango skills then. But try as I may, I could only remember about 10 steps and my really good stuff has been lost in time somewhere along the way. But, compared to any other selectee, I was good. I was. My partner said,"Muy bien, gracias senor" as she parted and a second dancer came over immediately and asked me to dance. I must admit that I had thoughts of again getting involved in tango when I got home. Chicago has many tango classes going on all the time. I can really get pumped up when I get into an atmosphere where good dancers are around and wanting to dance. And it wouldn't take me long to return to my former glory. Sigh!

But I digress. We went to the Boca District which is a highly colorful area, literally. This is the home of the boca football (soccer) team, the finest in Argentina (that is what they said), but more importantly, it is an area where lower/middle class people live. Italian emigrant sailors lived in the area near the docks and in the early days, they painted their houses with whatever paint was left over from painting the ships. The tradition of brightly colored houses continues today. Anyone visting Buenos Aires should consider a visit to this area. It's a must!
Judith and I doing the tango in Boca. Color her callipygeous. (Look it up)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Different Kind of President's Day

Monday morning is a early tennis day for me. I get up at 5:30, suck down some juice and supplements and a couple of medical tablets (I can't possibly call them meds as I not that old) and a banana, get dressed and leave my 6 in order to get to the tennis facility by 6:30. Monday it was snowing lightly as I left. Since it was President's Day, I knew Wilmot Mt. would probably have crowd so I took my ski gear and uniform with me.

I don't like to drive when it is snowing so I made a decision not to drive up to Wilmot if it was still snowing when I got out of tennis at 8. When tennis was over, I looked outside and it had stopped snowing and actually showed signs of clearing skies. So I decided to drive up.

The drive on the interstate was uneventful and I got off to take the back county roads along the Illinois/Wisconsin boarder avoiding driving through a couple of small towns using a state highway. As soon as I got on the first county road heading east-west, I found the road to be less than good, but clear where the tire tracks of previous cars had been. I drove on a U.S highway north next, then turned to drive west again on a county road. Sunday the temperature had warmed enough to melt some of the ice and snow, but it had turned cold that night leaving patches of ice.

I was driving behind a slow moving truck. I eased over into the passing lane where there was a long straight away for safe passing. Suddenly my car was spinning out of control (well behind the truck) and headed for the ditch on my right. I knew I was going to crash into the ditch. The ditch was deep enough for the nose on the car to just catch the bank of the opposite side of the ditch, causing the car to flip over unto its top and slide about 20 yards from the road.

I was upside down in the car. The car was still running. I turned off the ignition. The drivers side window was gone. I unfastened my seat belt and crawled out with some difficulty just as help arrived. I was perfectly all right and had only a small scratch near my right ear.

The EMT's were there promptly and checked me out and I signed a release. The sheriff's cop sent for a tow truck and I got in the truck when it arrived and we drove to the tow lot in Kenosha, WI. with my car behind. It was plain to see that the car was "totaled".

I called Judith and she came and got me. I gathered all my personnel stuff out of the car and as soon as we got home, I called the our insurance company, Hartford insurance.

After discussing the events, I realize that I had not taken my license plates off. So I drove Judith's car back up the next morning to secure them, which I did. On the way back, I stopped at this huge car dealership just off the interstate to see about getting a new car. They were a CarMax outfit. After looking at some new cars, Chevrolet mostly, the salesman accessed his computer to see about used cars.

My car was a 2002 Camero, the last year they made them, although now they are going to start making them again starting this year. We found a 2002 Camero on the computer at in Louisville KY. with only 17K miles on it. It is almost exactly the same as my car. On the way home, I decided that I would pay the transfer fee of $149 to have it shipped up to Kenosha so I can check it out. The computer had all kinds of photos of it and everything looks OK.

I will buy this car if it is as good as it looks. Hartford Insurance has been a wonderful through all this so far and with my settlement check, I should be able to get my new used Camero at a cost of only $5K. This car will have 30,000 fewer miles on it so its not too bad a trade off.

This experience was frightening, although not at the time it occurred. Later, while alone, the tape of the accident kept playing over and over in my head and I realized that in just a 2 or 3 seconds my life could have been over or seriously altered my injuries.

So I am thankful to still be here and I want friends and family to know how much I love them. And for sure I am going to make better driving decisions in the future.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Our First Trip to China Oct '03-Part III


The capital of Hubei Province, with a population of over 7 million, is the largest city in Central China, which is comprised of three towns, Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang, divided by the Yangtze and Han River. Since we are a day early for the conference we check in to a 5 star hotel, before we were to be escorted to the conference hotel the next day. There was no source of news while on the boat. We caught up on our email and I found out who won the World Series. We also got HBO and CNN on TV and caught up on world events. We found a Hong Kong newspaper where we learned of the death of Madam Chaing Kai Shek, something not a major news worthy event in China. I myself was not fully aware of the history of this woman until I read a complete history of her in the newspaper. She was a mover and shaker. Her sister was married to Sun Yak Sen, the Chinese leader before Chaing Kai Shek.

The Huhan conference is more directed at treatment rather than prevention. Most of the HIV cases around here are apparently related to selling of blood. Judith’s talk is about the high risk women experience as related to drugs and sex so I am thinking it should open some naive eyes here. However, it may not because I think there normal response would be that it won’t happen here.

Again we are staying at a government 3 star hotel, but it is nicer than the one in Jilin City. It has CNN on TV and the beds are OK. We were able to get to a couple of neat tourist places. We are anxious to leave because the heavy pollution is starting to make our throats sore.

A few words on Chinese traffic and driving habits should also be noted. It is the worst, by far, I have ever experienced anywhere in the world. True, the cars, vans, and buses are shared with bicycles and a few motorcycles, but the roads have a lane at the side of the road for bicycles and occasional carts. There are painted lines on the roads, but one wonders why. They won’t even serve as guide lines. The drivers try to make 3 lanes out of 2, they cut cars off, and they don’t wait for a clear spot to turn left. Instead they just push there vehicle into oncoming traffic and make them stop or serve to avoid them. Pedestrians are to blame also as they sometimes walk in traffic lanes directly toward traffic and mostly just cross the street or highway when ever they want to without looking first. Drivers are expected to avoid them in the same way bicycles avoid them. As a result divers as always honking their hones to warn other they are coming, they are passing, or to get the hell out of the way. Complete chaos reins and the traffic deaths are very high. It got so I could not watch ahead. America and most of northern Europe have the best traffic systems in the world, the most efficient and least stressful.

One thing we liked in Wuhan was the Yellow Crane Tower. It is an imposing pagoda close to the Yangzi River. Situated at the top of Sheshan (Snake Hill), in Wuchang, the tower was originally built at a place called Yellow Crane Rock projecting over the water, hence the name. Over the centuries the tower was destroyed by fire many times, but its popularity with Wuhan residents ensured that it was always rebuilt. The current tower was completed in 1985 and its design was copied from a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) picture. The tower has 5 stories and rises to 51 meters (168ft). Covered with yellow glazed tiles and supported with 72 huge pillars, it has 60 upturned eaves layer upon layer. It is an authentic reproduction of both the exterior and interior design, with the exception of the addition of air-conditioning and an elevator.

Idyllic scenes are visible near the base of the tower, once you climb up the hill.

From the top of the tower, you can see a huge bell which is rung for good luck. And the smog is very visible also.

You can click on this picture to expand it as you can with most pictures on this and other posts.

The sign on the left says "Organism Rubbish" The sign on the right says "Poison and Evil Rubbish".

The pollution in Wuhan is terrible. We are glad to leave.

Beijing Again

We stayed at the Peninsula Palace which is within walking distance of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. This must be the best hotel in China. Plenty of English channels on TV, 110 Volt outlets, free in-room high speed internet access. We went through the Forbidden City and went shopping close to the Beijing Hotel. There are about 3 blocks of shops here where you can buy almost anything at prices that are about 1/3 less than in the U.S. This probably because China has kept their exchange rate artificially low in order to increase exports. However, next time we will bring an empty suitcase to fill with shopping items acquired.

Pollution was not bad the first day here, but on the day we left, it was very bad. We were very glad to get on the plane for the 12 hour flight home. We arrived at our 6 star dwelling, tired and relieved to be home.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Our First Trip to China Oct '03-Part II


Whenever you see Chinese written in English, remember that “a” has a short “a” sound when pronounced in China, so Shanghai is pronounced Shahg hi. Anyway Shanghai is not a typical Chinese town and is the most European in its architecture. Its main commercial and governmental areas are within walking distance of the ocean bay. Many 5 and 4 star hotels and other tall buildings grace the skyline. Our flight was delayed and by the time we reached the Westin, we were satisfied to eat then relax in the room. The next day we walked to some ancient gardens, ate at McDonald’s, and then walked the Bund, which is what they call the boardwalk along the Yangtze just before it empties into the ocean.

The Chinese translate most signs and instructions into English and sometimes the results are comical because of the misspellings of or improper use of English. We found out in one hotel that “If you want the waiter to clean your room as soon as possible, please chang up the brand of “Please clean up the room”. We figure out that meant if you wanted your room cleaned by the maid, hang up the door handle tag that says “ Please clean up the room”. In the taxi on the way to the airport was list of passenger rules was posted among which was “Drunkards or psychos must have a guardian accompany them”. Probably not a bad rule.


This former key city in WWII was called Chungking then, it has about 5 million population and lots of pollution, mostly because it is surrounded by mountains. We got off the plane and were fortunate to find someone who spoke English and could write in Chinese the location of our river boat. This city is not attractive except at night when they light up the buildings in profile and the banks of the Yangtze. We got on the boat and they offered us an upgrade to a suite for an extra $600 and we took it after looking at the cramped quarters we would have not enjoyed. Never have I used “shoebox” to describe a room before but it fits fine here. Our suite has two rooms AND a king sized bed instead of the bunk beds we would have had.
The someone who could speak English was a Nepalese guide that an American couple had traveling with them. They were on the plane and we met at the luggage claim. They were going to the same boat fortunately.
Three Gorges River Trip

The Yangtze (known to the Chinese as the ‘Chang Jiang’ or ‘long river’) had already risen 60 meters from the Three Gorges Dam and will rise another 30 meters when it is completed. The scope of this project exceeds by far any dam project in world history. Whole villages and parts of large towns and cities are being relocated and during our land excursions, we saw the old buildings nearly uninhabited and the new buildings up on the hill/mountain sides. The first day was very foggy and overcast so there was not much to see. This view was mostly what we saw all day.

The second day is when we went through the 3 gorges and by the time we completed the first gorge, the skies cleared up and we enjoyed the rest of the day on the deck of the boat, with the narrator pointing out from time to time that if you used your imagination, the could see the outline of Buddha or an elephant, etc.

The fishermen along the river have carved into the rock to make narrow trails to the river. They supplement the trail with planks supported by ropes.

With the exception of the captain, the entire crews were young Chinese men and women, who did their daytime duties and then provided the entertainment at night. They were all eager, bright eyed, full of energy, and constantly smiling and polite. All spoke good to excellent English. They were the crew, the musicians, and the entertainers during the 3 night trip. We will always remember that they assembled just before the boat left and played "Turkey in the Straw".

The three land excursions included a sand pan trip where we were paddled upstream and when the stream got shallow, pulled up from the banks. The men chanted and sang as we were pulled along. This was a demonstration and how boats made there way up the Yangtze before the water rose in some sections of the river.

At the end of the last full day, we went through a series of locks that dropped us 30 meters. We arrived in Wuhan about noon of the next day. We then got on a tour bus and traveled back up to the dam which was still under construction. At the main building there, there was a model of the dam and shops and the stone mural where visitors had their pictures taken. When I took this picture of this old man, I could not help but wonder what he had lived through.

Half the dam is completed and the completed part is shown here.

The other half of the dam was still under construction and is shown here.

Back to Wuhan for another AIDS workshop.