Monday, August 23, 2010

Xiamen, China

 Our original destination for this trip was Fuzhou, China, but due to recent flooding there, the public health officials had their hands full, so the city was changed to Xiamen.
As it turned out, I think this was a much better city to visit. Xiamen is a tourist town on the coast with the cleanest air we have ever experienced within China. One can not help noticing on this map taken from a Chinese web site, that Taiwan is considered a province of China and not a separate country.

It is one of the major seaports since ancient times and boasts a wide gulf with deep water without freezing and silting. The name Xiamen means “a gate of China”.

We were there at the end of June and already the weather was hot during the day and warm at night. As a point of reference, the city is just a midge north of the tropic of cancer and is further south than any part of the continental United States. And it just occurs to me that the extremes of climate within China are much more severe than in the U.S.

We stay at the Wyndham Hotel, one of the finest in the city located facing the channel directly across from Gulangyu Island. Later we take a boat across the channel and visit there. It takes less time than the Star Ferry in Hong Kong to go between from a main land to an island. It is one of the high priority things to visit. 
 This a photo of the Wyndham Hotel lobby from the cocktail lounge area of the ground floor.

We were fed extremely well by our hosts which is normal, but the food here was much better than average. The banquet during the evening of the closing day of the conference was in a place right on the water, and I took this photo before I went in.

One of the days we are driven up the coast and can see Taiwan in the distance. The Beaches here are very nice, but not used much in the sense that they would be my Americans. I suspect most Chinese don’t know how to swim and Chinese people do anything to keep from getting darker. That and the fact they are more modest, does not conjure up an image of people laying on the beach in bikinis or even something more modest. They seem happy to walk along the water’s edge with their shoes off.
This is Taiwan in the background and me in the foreground.

One day we talk a boat ride very close to the shores of Taiwan. The day is hot, the boat is crowded, there are unruly children, and the loud speaker on the boat is way, way too loud. I took both hearing aids out and still it was an assault to my system. The Chinese language is brusque and the opposite of melodic and without periods of rest, I find it is just loud noise. Very tiring. I can see why loud noise is part of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. 
Here is a photo of a modern Chinese woman on the boat texting her friends.

The last tour of note was to Gulangyu Island. It got its present name from the huge reef surrounding it. When the tide comes in, the waves pound the reef and it sounds like the beating of a drum. The island came to be named 'Gulang'. Gu in Chinese means 'drum', and Lang, 'waves'.

During the later Ming Dynasty, the troops of national hero Zheng Chenggong were stationed here. After the Opium War in 1842, 13 countries including Great Britain, France and Japan established consulates, churches, and hospitals, turning the island into a common concession. In 1942, Japan occupied the island until the end of the War of Resistance against Japan.
Gulangyu Island has about 20,000 permanent residents, and only electric-powered vehicles are permitted on the island, so the environment is free from the noise and pollution cars. Many homes and gardens resemble classical European style architecture and it is also known as Piano Island.

Gulangyu's Piano Museum, opened in 2000, is comprised of two exhibition halls. The collection includes 30 pianos by renowned piano makers from Britain, France, the United States, Austria and Australia. The instruments are all over 100 years old. A large selection of miniature and custom pianos are also on display.

Before I realized that I was not supposed to take photos, I took a couple

We arrived home July 3rd and were glad to be able to enjoy Independence Day in this great country of ours. Nothing makes me appreciate our homeland more than being away from it and coming back home.

I Don't Have a Bucket List Yet--I'm Too Young

 Eight years ago, Jeff, one of my skiing friends, asked a group of his friends and acquaintances if they wanted to go ski diving with him. My first reaction was to say yes, but then I had a major conflict with the day chosen and had to cancel. I don’t even remember what the conflict was, but it had to be a major reason for I wanted the thrill and experience.

So this spring I saw Jeff at a ski club event, and asked told him I hoped he would try to organize another group. So he did and this time it would have taken a death in the family to keep me away.

My desire really had nothing to do with a bucket list. I am not that old. My inspiration came from a woman I knew when I lived in Indiana. She told me she always wanted to parachute and after her husband died it seemed like one of the first things she did. She jumped tandem and told me all about it.
Then a few years later, my son Bil, jumped solo which required that he maneuver to the landing gear struts and jump from there. As much as I like to live on the edge sometimes, I will take pride that my son has surpassed me in still another way because I would just as soon not have to deal with how to get out of the plane.

Jeff and I leave from Montrose Harbor Yacht Club area just before 8 AM Saturday morning and drive for about 90 minutes to Sky Dive Chicago just across the Fox River near the town of Ottawa. We are joined by 7 others and once we all arrive, we stand in line to pay and receive about 8 pages of instructions and legal documents that require you to literally give up all legal recourse should anything, yes anything, happen that would cause injury or death.

Then we are led the training round, to watch our first set of instructions that would be repeated several times before our actual plunge out airplane at 13,000 feet. But before that, a video is started and we see a young man with a long grey beard tell us what the 8 pages of legal documents say in no uncertain terms. It you are injured or die, it is because you came here and willingly jumped out of a plane so don’t expect anything for us. It was a bit of sobering reality that nobody wanted to hear.

I mean, I got up early, traveled here, we are having great weather, and I am in a group where it would be slightly embarrassing to opt out at this point. What’s more I did a bungee jump where I had to jump by myself. The consequences from a mishap here are no worse and I am jumping with someone that also wants to live that really knows what they are doing.

When we pulled into the parking lot I was surprised by the number of people who came and also by the size of the place. Its one big hanger with lots of offices, bathrooms, instruction rooms, food service and eating area. It’s a miniature city. Also near by are trailers and camp grounds. Most of the instructors live a sizeable distance away and travel here for the weekends and stay in their trailers. There make about 7 jumps a day and some of them have been during it for a long, long time.

So, I actually felt safe.

I was advised that spending another $119 to have someone jump out with us a shoot a video, with some still pictures, would be worth the price. So I opted for this as did several others in our group. In fact our group was delayed for quite a while because there were a limited amount of video people and most of our group were having videos made so it took some maneuvering to get the personnel together. Here is our gang ready to board.
Finally when the time comes, we cram into the airplane equipped with a sliding door on the side. We sit nestled between each other’s legs and watch the altimeter as we approach our goal of 13,000 feet. During the ride we are given one final review of our task.

Here is my instructor Charles and I harnessed together next in line to jump.

My photographer Jenn, is a beautiful young 20 something year old woman. She goes ahead of us and hangs out on the side of the plane to capture the moment of no return.

I told myself I wouldn’t look down but I did anyway. My next task is to put both thumbs into the sides of my harness, then lean back as we go out.

 That’s the altimeter strapped to my wrist.

I think these shots are amazing. We are falling face up but not for long as Charles turns us face down and my job is to find the horizon, check my altimeter, then find the photographer.
Missions accomplished. Now we free fall for about 55 seconds.
It’s almost time to wave to indicate we are about to pull the chord.
I had trouble finding the orange knob to pull the chord so Charles is ready to pull. And just as he does, a second later I pull also.
This is the best part, the parachute opens.
Jenn continues down without us and shoots our landing.
As we approach the ground we stick out feet out in front of us and pull down hard on the toggles and sit gently down.
Wow! Good grief! That was awesome!

My legs are a little shaky as I walk to the hanger, but it soon passes.

This is Jeff and I after the jump.

That evening I woke up about 2:30 AM and as I was tried to go back to sleep my brain played the entire jump experience for me again from the time I got into the plane until this picture. It was another pleasant experience.

I plan to do it once more and next time I won’t have to mug for the photographer on the way down and think I will be able to better enjoy the free fall.