Friday, May 9, 2008

Ruili, Methadone, and Stepping into Myanmar-Oct'07

Yunnan Province

This map is useful because it shows the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Laos, and China) and show the origin of three major rivers, the Salween, MeKong, and the Yangtze. Thailand and Vietnam also can be considered part of the triangle. An expanded map would show how close Thailand is also.

We have been in Kunming before and visited tourist attractions around the city. Judith’s student, Dr. Wei, was born here and he is going to set up and study how the spread of AIDS/HIV is influence by drug injection users along the boarder of Myanmar. So we visit the boarder town of Ruili (Ree LEE) which can not be seen on the map above, but it is next to the “R” in Myanmar. We get there by flying into Luxi and riding 3 hours by van to Ruili. Afterward Ruili, we go back to Luxi to fly back to Kunming so we can fly to Lijiang. From Lijiang, we ride 4 hours to Dali and from Dali, we fly back to Kunming, to Beijing, to Chicago.

Myanmar (also called Burma by the U.K. who named it, and the U.S.who officially refuse to acknowledge the new name) is the world's second largest producer of opium, after Afghanistan. Most of the tribes people who are growing opium are living under the poverty line. The opium is processed into heroin along the border and makes its way into Thailand for international distribution. The border near Ruili is like many borders. There are official entry points and you can just walk or drive across the boarder. Because the price of a fix is cheaper in Myanmar rural people just walk across the border to get their injection.

Side note-Most Chinese go by their last name which is printed first on their business cards. So when I gave one of my left over Hong Kong business company’s card early in our trips to China, I became Mr. David, so rather than try to explain, I decided being called Mr. David was okay by me. For instance, Hu Jintao is president of China. He is called President Hu. Hu is his family name. So when I talk about Wei, I am talking about Judith’s student and I don’t have a clue what his other name is. He is Wei. Having joined us in Kunming along with another of Judith’s student, Professor Chevie Williamson, a black female, we became kind of a weird foursome during the rest of our travels. Chevie especially draws looks from the people as they probably have never seen an Afro-american woman. They usually fixate on her hair. A lot of children got wide-eyed and stared as we walked by.

When we arrive in Ruili, we check in and have dinner with the mayor and a couple of her staff, with some members of the local CDC. The major is quite energetic and wants us to come back and hold a workshop there. Not likely until transportation is better, which it will be in the future.

Our first thing the first morning in Ruili is to visit a methadone clinic. They have about a 125 people that come in regularly to receive their methadone juice and the incidents of AIDS among the people in treatment is very low compared to the rest of the drug injection users (DIU’s). So one would have to conclude that methadone treatment helps people kick the heroine habit and stop some of the risk associated with dirty needles and sexual contact with others. Another thing we learned is that the families of people in treatment are almost always supportive.

Wei is the white shirt in front, Chevie is between Judith and I, the two next to Judith in the back row and the woman in the yellow shirt in front are in methadone treatment. The young woman next to Judith is from a rich family. The rest are some of more important people running the clinic. The three “patients” sat with us and told us their stories. So I thought this would just be a visit to the clinic, but the CDC people put us in a van and drove us all over to visit people and relatives in methadone treatment, some of whom have AIDS and are on anti-retrovirus medication. It took all day.

This photo was taken at a family's home in a small village. The man in the middle has AIDS. His wife (far right) and son do not. The other Chinese in the picture are CDC people.

However, their daughter below also has AIDS. Both are on anti-retroviruses. He and his wife were quite forthcoming about their lives.
But finally we are finished touring and only have the obligatory dinner to finish up. Lots of drinking and toasting as usual. However, these people were quite friendly and are doing much good for their people. I celebrate them.

The next day we are on our own and we have hired guides and transportation for the next 7 days. We travel to two official border sites and take pictures. We are told that what you see looking into Myanmar are mostly fake facades.
Here is our group looking into Myanmar. There are a lot of new shops on the Chinese side and a lot of them have signs in both the Chinese and Myanmar script. This is the most commercial border crossing.
Here is another boarder crossing and monument at the boarder bridge commemorating the joint cooperation between the United States and China during WWII. General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell saw to the road construction through Burma that helped supply the Chinese army. While I was reading the side of the monument, this Chinese boarder guard came up to me and asked in very good English, "Can I help you, sir." I immediately became a little cautious, thinking I might have unintentionally done some wrong. He asked me to wait there and then ran off quickly and came back with a camera. He wanted to have his picture taken with me. Maybe he thought I was a movie star, huh?
Notice that I have one foot inside Myanmar standing on a bridge separating the two countries.
However, later, we drove close to someone’s back yard got out to find a border marker marking the line between the two countries and found out we drove into Myanmar. None of this would be especially noteworthy except Myanmar was closed to foreigners at this time. But the border here is like the border between the U.S. and Canada where you can just walk in. Indeed, that is what all the rural people do living along the border. And if you had a Chinese passport at the official check-ins there was no problem either. We saw one man walk up to the border and hand over a huge bundle to another man on the other side with the border guards unconcerned.
When we got out of the van we thought we were in China but we had drove into Myanmar.

Standing in Myanmar.
Then our guide took us to a rain forest up a mountain next to the river. The road along the river was built my Stillwell and his men. This is a Buddhist temple in the forest.
Koi are quite popular in China and they can usually be found in any pond in any park. I think this is an interesting picture.
One can see the rain forest effect.

At the end of the walk up the mountain, is this waterfall.
Next, the four of us travel to Li-Jiang.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Floating Down the Yellow River on a Sheep Skin Raft-Oct.'07

The famous Yellow River in China is on the banks of Lanzhou (Lan-zjo), one of our main destinations for this trip to China. Lanzhou is a large industrial, 2000 year old city with plenty of pollution, and is the capital of Gansu Province. It once was called the Golden City due to discovering of gold close by. It has a population of about 3 million spread along a mountain valley formed by the Yellow River. Hence, some of the pollution problems are due to geography.

For centuries, Gansu and neighboring Qinghai Provinces were regarded as frontier provinces on the outer limits of ancient China and the vast desert regions to the northwest. Geographically, there is the Hexi corridor to the west, running about 750 miles between two mountain ranges dotted along with occasional oases. This became part of the Silk Road trade route between China and India and western Asia. The Great Wall also passed through here. The importance of the Silk Road can not be over emphasized regarding the spread of commerce, culture, and religion between Eastern and Western Asia and eventually into parts of Europe.

It is along the Silk Road that Buddhism spread from northern India where Buddha lived in the 6th century B.C. During the 1st century, it became very popular in China during a time of unrest and Confucianism’s support of authority became unpopular with the populace. It was eventually adopted by China’s rulers.

Lanzhou was a major stop along the Silk Road. There is a heavy Muslim influence and it can be seen in some of Lanzhou’s architecture and the amount of mutton and beef served at meals rather than chicken and pork.

As always our China trips begin with a workshop jointly sponsored by the China CDC, University of Nebraska, and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC).
One of the attractions is the White Pagoda Hill Park, named for a 13th century pagoda that sat on the top of the highest hill on the other side of the Yellow River. There is a gondola lift we took to the top of the hill and walked down visiting various historical sites along the way.

Chinese doing Tai Chi along side the chair lift. The Yellow river is in the background.
Over the middle of the Yellow River riding in a chair lift.
When Genghis Khan was taking over parts of China, a religious leader from Tibet was sent to meet with him, but the lama died from disease when he got to Lanzhou. In 1228, the Yuan Dynasty ordered that a pagoda be built in his honor. The 7 story, White Pagoda stands 17 meters high and there are figures of Buddha and brick carved heads of dragons with an iron hell in each dragon’s month.

This photo was taken at the base of the White Pagoda. Professor Charlie Wood from the University of Nebraska is in the center with his wife Kathy to the right and Professor Susan Levy (no relation to Judith) from UIC. Charlie was been a tremendous help in making the China workshops run smoothly as he helps translate. Both he and Kathy grew up around Shanghai and hope to retire there.
While walking down the mountain, I took this picture of the first iron bridge built over the Yellow River in 1910. We eventually would cross it. Notice the smog.
One of the tourist attractions on the Lanzhou side of the river is a ride down the river on a raft kept afloat by nine good sized sheep skins filled with air and attached to a bamboo lattice with pads to sit on. Rafts like these were used in ancient time to navigate the river. Judith and I got on one and down the river we floated, staying away from the strong current. This was not a big adventure thing, but our host was pleased that we were good sports and I am always out to prove Americans are fearless and athletic. I was proud that Judith went along.

This statue is called Mother Yellow River and sits along the river side park. Professor Xu stands in front.
As we have traveled extensively in China, there are ways that indicate how much a local has advanced (by my western standards). One is the availability of Diet Coke or other diet drinks, American fast food restaurants or other restaurants serving something besides Chinese food, sit down toilet stools, the smoothness of toilet paper, CNN on TV, soft mattresses in hotel rooms, freedom from smokers, street cleanliness, lack of Internet censorship, and the availability of ATM’s. Lanzhou doesn’t fare too well in any of these items. On the other hand the food is excellent, there are KFC’s, and the people are very warm and friendly. Older children sometimes start a conversation in the street to practice their English which is being taught everywhere in China. BTW, Chicago’s Major Daly has traveled to China a few times and has been impressed sufficiently to set up a program in Chicago’s public schools to make Chinese language classes available to any child that wants to learn Chinese.

We visited the excellent Gansu Provincial Museum. We saw ancient pottery, dinosaur bones, fossils, and bronze artifacts, including a famous 2000 year old bronze statue, “Flying Horse”. Likenesses of this statue are being used all over China to symbolize tourism.

The horse, which appears to be flying, has one hoof resting on a swallow. The piece is actually a portrayal of a highly prized breed of horse that had been introduced into China about 100 BC. At the time of the Han dynasty, Buddhism had not yet been introduced, and tomb artifacts were considered important to the afterlife of the deceased.
And a mammoth skeleton is here that was discovered in 1973 along the Yellow River banks. Huge!!!!


After completion of Judith’s AIDS/HIV prevention workshop, we fly to Dunhuang at the western end Quinghai Province to see the caves where pilgrim Buddhist monks stopped along their way to India. The Maogo caves are full of Buddhist frescoes, scriptures, and carvings which celebrate the spread of Buddhism and date from the 4th to the 11th centuries.

Among the Americans is of man of Chinese descent, who grew up with Buddhist parents and during our visit to the caves, he told me much about the history and beliefs of Buddhists. Although there are now many different types of Buddhism, Buddhism is divided into two main divisions; Mahayana (the large boat) and Hinayana (the small boat). He was raised in the small boat Buddhism, which believes that Buddha did not become a god and in fact he did everything possible while he was alive to dissuade his followers to promote such notions. The small boat Buddhists believe you can row your own boat by the process of enlightenment of oneself. The large boat Buddhists believe that Buddha ascended to heaven (without having to endure the process of being crucified) and they pray to Buddha much the same as Christians do. Anyway this is the simplified version between the two.

Dunhuang is also along part of the Silk Road. This was an area where many races lived together. Chinese (in the ethnic sense), Mongols, Uighurs, Tibetans, Hsia, and others resided here. The town is an oasis town and one does not have to go far to be in sand dunes and isolation.

Our hosts took us just outside of town where tourists can ride in a camel caravan up the big sand dunes where you are taken most of the way up and climb up ladders to reach the top and slide down on sand sleds. If the climb up is too difficult men come down and help push. The orange things are booties which can be slipped over shoes to keep sand and camel dung out.
Notice that neither of us have the orange booties on. I still find a few grains of sand when I put these shoes on.
This is where the camels rested while people climbed to the top of the dune. Dunhaung and the oasis can be seen with the mountains as far background.
This is a small oasis which has a crescent-shaped pond. The Chinese promote this oasis very much and it is worth the walk out to see it. The dots on the dune behind are people sliding down on sleds. Not to worry, the winds blow the sand back up.
The Crescent-Moon pool with algae on top. The pool never dries up.
The Maogo caves (also called the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas) were discovered by accident in the early 1900’s. According to Tang Dynasty records, a monk had witnessed on site a vision of thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays. Thus inspired, he started the caves construction work that spanned ten dynasties.

We had to check our cameras before entering the caves and guides led us to various caves and illumination was only the guide’s flash light. This precaution is done to protect the paint from oxidizing. If one wants to see some of the art, Google “Maogo caves Dunhuang” and some of the art can be seen.
The main Buddha, 113 feet high, originally was outside and in order to protect it, a building was constructed. Apparently size is important.

Our final tourist stop in Dunhuang is the Yangguan Pass(also called the Pearl Gate Pass), where remains of the Great Han Wall can still be seen. The questions is; when is a wall a wall? Or how do you build a wall in the Taklamakan desert?

It is not really a wall wall. Moats formed the main fortification and beacon towers were built where natural barriers were lacking. The Han Wall was built a little before 200 B.C. and most of the moats and beacon towers are gone. Beacon towers were built by making a frame and filling it will fine gravel and water and tamping it solid, layer after layer with willow reeds serving as reinforcing rods, and left to dry in the arid air. The beacon towers were constructed along the Wall at an interval of 15 to 30 miles. Columns of smoke were used to warn defenders of an attack. One smoke column meant an outpost was being threatened by a force of fewer than 500 troops and two columns meant an attacking force of fewer than 3,000. The Han found the beacon system relayed messages faster than a rider on a horse. Due to the dry climate the remains of these towers and even the firewood used to light the smoke can be seen.

The Han Wall qualifies as part of the Great Wall of China; it just doesn’t conjure up the images of the stone wall in the Eastern part of China. The Han Wall was an important gateway and defensive position along the Silk Road. There is a good museum at Yangguan Pass and most of the exhibits are in English. The main attraction are the vistas.

One of the beacon towers can be seen in the background.
Nearby is this overlook.
Looking to the west. The dark area to the left is an oasis.
Looking to the north-west. Look! You can have your picture taken on a horse.
I’m ready to attack. Someone wake up the horse!
Getting here from Dunhuang was a 45 mile ride. We went in October when it wasn’t oven hot. From the desert, we fly to Kunming, in Yunnan Province along the Southwest frontier.

Why Are You Relevant?

I listened to the entire Rev. Wright interview with Bill Moyers that was aired just before the Rev. spouted off again. During the interview, Wright said some things that helped me understand why he said what he said from the sound bite that we all have seen and heard. Not that I agreed with him, but it helped me understand. And I thought the concerns that Moyers raised should have helped Wright understand how upset people were with what he said. But apparently he didn't grasp the issue that what he said was not only politically incorrect, but also indefensible as facts. Once he again stepped into the spot light, he showed not a glimmer of restraint and his performance in front of a crowd, showed that he is simply a fool. And a divisive and racist fool.

How could he not understand the damage he was doing to not only himself, but to Obama?

No wonder people try to make sense out of his motives, saying or thinking that he did it deliberately to take Obama down. And taking Obama down was necessary to either show he was more powerful or that Obama message of reconciliation and change were threatening. If these things might be true, I would give the Rev. a pass on that he did it with deliberation, but I would not dismiss that unconscious fears drove him.

The thing about AIDS is absurd. But the thing that really got me was "God Dam America".
Aren't we all, including Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Americans. If he was not including himself when he said "America", then where is he? This smacks as arrogance. Its like standing on a pedestal delivering God's messages like a true demagogue. This so often happens when religion and power are mixed together.

What upsets me the most is that the Reverend Should Be Irrelevant. This election year, all the Democratic candidates apparently decided that they had to convince the voters that Jesus was not a Republican. So they put their religion on display (pandering) instead of convincing us that we should dismiss its importance as a framework of morality. And, gentle readers, this is an really, really good example of the chickens coming home to roost.

If you want to run for president its best to choose a religion and a pastor that are bland. The kind that doesn't require special underwear or require handing out pamphlets at airports. The kind that doesn't take the bible literally and believe in the talking snake. The kind that doesn't blame natural disasters upon sinners. The kind that doesn't judge a nation as a whole.
What makes America great is that it eventually tries to correct its mistakes. And I have faith that the voters will do that this fall.

Oh how I wish for a candidate that didn't have to profess devotion to a religion. But it won't happen. The best I can hope for is someone who does not make decisions based on the idea that America is specially blessed by a god or that a god guides them to make the right decisions.

I hope Obama has learned to keep God out of it and the men who claim to speak for him.

Once Obama actually has the nomination (and there is no way he won't get it now) the Democratic party will be able to highlight the crazy old white men kooks that support McCain, like Hagee, Falwell, Robertson, Parsley, should the Republicans try to play the Wright card. The game is far from over.

I hope it doesn't come to this, but knowing the Republican tactics I would be prepared. They will use fear politics as they have in the past. But I think Obama's ability to inspire us to a better future will win.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I went half way round the world to see a man fishing with a jelly bottle.-May "07

We traveled to a tropical island in the South China Sea and saw a man catch fish using a jelly bottle.

The fish were not big, but before long, he caught enough fish to feed a family. The bottle was tied to the end of a regular fishing pole. He put a couple of tea spoons of wheat floor into the bottle and put it into about 2 feet of tidal sea water from a dock and when the fish swam into the bottle to feed, he pulled the bottle up and dumped them into a bucket of water. The fish were about 3-4 inches long and would provide a couple of bites to eat.

When you are guests of Chinese, it sometimes is a burden. They pick you up early morning, drive and drive and arrive somewhere to look at something interesting, stop for lunch, drive and drive some more, arrive at another somewhere to see something else, drive some more and stop for dinner, then drive someone to the airport, then drive you back to your hotel. You come back about 9 o’clock exhausted, stop at the hotel lobby to have a cocktail, anything but more Chinese tea, and try to unwind but being unable to talk much because there are a couple of young Chinese women entertaining in the echo chamber of the lobby, singing over-amplified Barry Manilow songs. And after four days of Chinese food, you start having visions of gooey cheeseburgers, KFC drumsticks, pepperoni pizza slices, and scoops of Ben & Jerry’s dancing in your head. We actually had a plate of sand worms mixed in noodles AND it was one of more acceptable foods served at one of our meals.

Our butts are sore from the thinly padded seats riding in the rear of an 11 passenger van, riding over secondary roads. And we have missed out on lying on the beach of an excellent hotel doing nothing but soaking and Mai-Tai-ing. Down time it’s called.

The tropical island is Hainan, one hour west of Hong Kong via South China Air. Our host met us at the capital city of Haikou, at the Meilan airport and we are checked in at the Sheridan. We thought at the time, what a great place for some relaxation.

Photo from the garden.
The deserted ocean beach.
From our balcony.
When we arrive anywhere, we never know where we will be staying and we have been put up in some not so nice hotels (We call them Stalin Hotels because they were build during the time that China and the Soviet Union were comrades. They were built mostly for government officials who were able to travel around their countries. During this time, there were no foreign tourists. The accommodations in these places are very minimal, say 2 stars.) We have noted however, that lately the hotels have been 4-5 stars.

As usual, when Judith speaks at an AIDS/HIV prevention workshop, I show up the first day so I can be there when she is introduced and take some pictures. The official host of these workshops we attend in China is the CDC (Center of Disease Control) and they have offices in all the major cities. There are a few national leaders who come to these workshops and we all know each other very well by now. There are always local officials who stage the events and are in charge of our care and feeding.

We always have pictures taken of everyone attending the workshop before the workshop begins, with the national CDC people and foreign guests sitting in the front row center. They always insist that I be in the photo also. Then, introductions are made of people on the dais and other people going to speak later. I was surprised this time that I was also introduced as husband to Judith. The CDC people know me well by now.
Judith is 2nd from the end talking to her translator. Next to her is Charlie Wood from the University of Nebraska. He is a virologist.
This is a picture of the audience and is typical.

Here is a blurb about Hainan Island from a web site.

Haikou Travel Guide

Haikou, known also as the 'Coconut City', is the capital of Hainan Province, China's second largest island. The city is the provincial administrative center of Hainan as well being the focus of the local economy, culture and transportation. Haikou stands at the northern end of Hainan Island, on the west bank of the Nandu River estuary. This river is the longest on the island and the city's name appropriately means 'Mouth of the Sea'.
We were in hopes of traveling to Sanya but, didn’t make it. Sanya is more of a resort town. Instead here are some of the places we visited.

Shishan Volcanic ClusterThis tourist center features remains of a volcano. It was about 95 degrees and humid. We must have climbed a hundred steps up and by the end of the visit we were dripping wet. Judith’s jacket came off quickly.
The Jingang Monkey Farm

Here laboratory monkeys are raised. This is quite a profitable enterprise for China. The monkeys are shipped all over the world and are used by scientist to study diseases
Qizhishan, Yalong bay national resort

This place is host each year to the Asian Economic Conference. All Asian countries are represented. Bill Gates was there attending just a couple of days before our arrival. Besides the huge convention hall, there is a 5 star hotel and world class golf course here.
The Chinese men tourists seem to be quite proud of their matching outfits. There were several like this in various colors,
I love these signs. These are rules for getting on a boat to travel around the bay.
We get off the boat and debark unto this sand bar where we see this man with an alligator. I don't know whether you have your picture taken or get to hold the alligator if you pay the man.Finally we go to the birth place of one of the Song sisters, Soong Ming Ling the one who married Dr. Sun Yak-sen. The other married General Chaing Ki Seck. We saw many pictures of Dr. Sun many of them taken in the US.

Below is our friend Professor Xu from the CDC in Beijing and our translator/local host H Bin.
All the CDC officials and foreign guests always have at least one formal dinner. This is how the table looks before the foods starts to come.
There are always some pretty young women standing at the doors to greet you and to say good-by.
Hong Kong

We stayed overnight going to Hainan in Hong Kong and two nights going back.

We stayed near the airport when we arrived on Lantau Island. About 1985 I lived on Lantau Island for 4 months, taking a hover craft to Hong Kong Island and from there I took the Star Ferry to Kowloon, then either walked or took a bus to the South Seas Towers where I worked. We worked Saturdays also until 1 PM.

A boat was the only way to get to Lantau and the small Hong Kong airport then was one of the most difficult to land at in world. Now the new airport is state of the art and the infra-structure of bridges, tunnels, and roads connecting Lantau to Hong Kong Islands is, in my opinion, one of the modern miracles of engineering and financing.

On the return we stayed at the Grand Hyatt on Hong Kong had a view overlooking the harbor. We took the Star Ferry to Kowloon where we visited sections I was familiar with then. I lot of changes have been made with tall buildings being built in Kowloon equally some on the Hong Kong side. I used to be able to look out on the harbor from my desk, but that would be impossible now.
The Grand Hyatt is just in front of the Phillips building, overlooking the convention center.
Cute kid.