Saturday, September 17, 2016

Monkey Mountain

It's not actually called Monkey Mountain, but Qian Ling Shan (pronounced tchee'en ling shahn). Qian is the old name for the province this mountain is in, 'ling' means 'spirit of' and 'shan' is 'mountain'. So, I suppose the most accurate meaning of this mount's name is: Spirit of Guizhou province.

There could be a really good pun in there because that mountain is where monkeys cavort freely, and humans are guests.

I was excited about this outing. I wanted to see macaques up close and personal. This was my chance!

And it was my chance to assert my independence from this family who assumed I could not so much as find a bus stop on my own. The night before, while making arrangements for this jaunt, I suggested meeting at the park – me from my hotel and them from their home, rather than my going all the way to Alan's house by taxi, and then going to the park together. Or, Alan coming to get me (by taxi) and escorting me to the park. Either way would have been circuitous and expensive. Fortunately, the family saw it my way and dubiously trusted me to secure my breakfast and find my way to the attraction on my own.

The only problem came when I followed Alan's instructions: take bus 72, ride 2 stops. The park should be on the directly in front. Eager to prove my worth, I rode that bus for 2 stops...

right past the park. I got off at the second stop and walked back, texting Alan  that I was on my way.

Unbeknownst to me at that time, Alan's parents had taken leave from work to accompany us to the mountain. They are the epitome of kindness and gentility. Even though that very spirit can be overwhelming at times, I was glad for another chance to enjoy them. However, their concern that I was lost or worse put a damper on the outing. Alan told me via text message that he would come find me, at their suggestion. Fortunately, they were reassured by the pictures I was sending as I progressed toward them and Alan was relieved he wouldn't have to hunt for me on this exceedingly muggy day.

The only other wrinkle came when I noticed Alan's mom carrying a bag of snacks and Jared carrying a bag of full of bottled water, one for each of us. 'How silly!' I thought. 'My empty backpack will serve to unburden them so that they can better enjoy walking around the park.' Just before buying our tickets to the chairlift that would take us up the mountain, I unslung my pack and offered to take their burdens. Gratefully, they piled their packages in.

And then, they took my pack, averring that it would be too heavy for me to carry.

I tried and failed to keep my cool. After routinely being subjected to such 'concern' the whole time I have been in China and growing more frustrated every time I encounter it, I lost my temper. Alan's mother is older than me but nobody sought to relieve her of her bag of goodies. Jared is also a foreigner, but everyone seemed fine with him carrying 6 bottles of water. What is so special about me that I cannot carry my own backpack, loaded or not?

A slow count to 10, several times, and I was again balanced and agreeable come time to board the gondola that would take us to the top of the mountain. I rode up with Alan's nephew – Olivia's son. My backpack rode up with Alan and Jared in the next gondola. Alan's parents rode in front of us.

At the top there is a lovely temple and a viewing platform where one can get a panoramic look at the city below. Here you can see the pavillion extending down the mountain, looking like a dragon's back and the city, hazy in the background.

No monkeys yet.

Midway down the mountain is Hongfu temple, built in 1672. We contented ourselves with looking down on it; touring that facility would have cost extra.

Down, down, down the mountain we walked. Alan and Jared took turns offering their shoulders because a new and bothersome fear sees me tumbling down any time I walk down a slope; probably because I was down-sloping when I broke my leg year before last. And, my vertigo chose that most inconvenient day to manifest. As long as we had stairs to walk down, I was leaning on them – but asking them to descend at a normal pace.

I have GOT to whip this phobia!

After the temple, no more stairs or narrow pathways whose sides open up to nothing. The ground sloped gently and the way was wide and paved. I was OK with that. It seems to be paths/stairs with no guard rails that get to me.

Now we come to the monkeys!

There was one cool customer, perched on a trash crate, presumably so that he can have first dibs on whatever is tossed in. I dubbed him Case.

these frisky monkeys thought that man was a climbing post!

This thieving monkey latched on to a woman's purse, digging for snacks.

As Alan walked by, my pack on his back and his water bottle in the pocket designed for it, this monkey snatched that bottle out and helped himself!  


Monkeys bite the bottom of the bottles they 'steal' and 'shotgun' the drink.

Indeed, outside of the aggravations heaped on, the shame of having lost my temper and a brief rain shower, it was a wonderful outing.  

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Last Mad Dash

In light of the latest travel regulations for foreigners (see last entry), I vowed I would curtail my travels so as to not incur any more expensive hotel charges. However, I had promised Alan, a dear young man I befriended via ChinaDaily's blog page, that I would visit his home town this summer. Never make a promise you can't keep being my motto – well, one of them, I made arrangements for a 3-day stay in Guiyang (pronounced g'way yahng), even though I didn't particularly feel like traveling or visiting, after hearing those outrageous disclosures of Sam's.

You might be interested to know: I am a contributing writer to ChinaDaily's op-ed and blog page. If you are interested, here is the link:

Alan offered to put me up at his sister's house. I could have avoided paying for a hotel by staying there, but it was of paramount importance to me to find a room. You see, I'd done that before: accepted an invitation to someone's home, only to be taken prisoner, even if the cage was gilded and my keeper most solicitous and well-meaning. (see Country Chicken entry, posted August, 2013). Also, it is difficult to endure the scrutiny of a people who have never seen a foreigner, up close and personal. Everything, down to bathroom habits, gets observed and discussed.  

NOTE: that's when I called around, and found that foreigners can only stay at 4- and 5-star hotels, as reported in the Touchdown in Beijing entry.

I was able to find lodging in one of the 2 hostels that city boasts. I 'let' Sam help me arrange everything including train tickets, seeing as he was going to report in anyway. After all, he has a virtual wallet and can pay for everything online.

Can you tell I am very angry about that?

Alan was dismayed that I would not stay at his sister's house and attempted to cancel my room reservation. Only disclosing that Gary had paid for the room with his business credit card and would be able to write my trip off on his taxes kept Alan from ensuring I would have no choice but to occupy a room at his sister's.

Ok, so the bit with Gary paying for everything was a lie (but the part about him writing my travel off as a tax deduction is true. This is not necessarily dishonest because I have traveled for Gary's business in the past and, apparently it is acceptable to help somebody's business). I feel justified in telling this lie because otherwise, I would be under fire and uncomfortable.

It seems China and her people have put me on the defensive. How sad!

In spite of the overall disappointment in my staying elsewhere, everyone was happy to meet me, and all of the standard questions and preconceived notions about foreigners applied. That first evening, only immediate family came to the luscious dinner prepared by Alan's sister, the lovely Olivia, and I was treated to an argument between Alan's parents because Mom had not heard her phone when Dad called. It was funny and touching all at the same time, to watch them go at it. Obvious concern on Dad's part, irritation on Mom's because Dad always calls, and woven through their harsh sounding words, evidence of the deep love they share.

I say 'harsh sounding words' because Alan's parents speak only their local dialect. Whenever they engaged me, Alan or his sister had to translate. I got what I did of their disagreement from body language.

The next day, the whole family would turn out for a barbecue at a nearby park. Although the distance was not great it took forever to get there because the road was either too narrow and potholed to be careened down, or it was under construction and we constantly had to stop for heavy equipment or oncoming traffic. I worried that the food Olivia's husband had prepared – a lot of it meat, would spoil in the heat or get coated by the dust flying around the open-windowed van.

Olivia and her husband raised the family from poverty single-handedly. She ended her schooling after compulsory requirements were met, when she was fourteen years old. She then left her village to make her fortune in the big city. For several years she sent most of her money home from whatever work she could find: cleaning hotel rooms, clerking in shops, selling vegetables at the farmer's market.

That's where she met her husband. He had a fledgling business, supplying one hotel restaurant with fresh fruits and veggies. They soon fell in love and married, and now service 4 major hotels. They both get up around 2AM to get the best picks from the farmer's market where Olivia used to work in order to fulfill by 6 AM the orders the hotels call in the evening before.

This is a woman of valor. In telling this story, Alan confided that, prior to Olivia's hard work, they lived in a one-room dirt hut, deep in the country. He acknowledges that he would not even be attending college were it not for his sister. She deserves the pedestal Alan puts her on. I am honored to know her.

And the family enjoys the wealth and status this couple provides. Olivia's husband, a cheerful, rotund man, amateur chef, purveyor of this bounty, returned home from his deliveries with several kilos of meat and fish, which he marinated prior to leaving the house. In typical Chinese fashion, a shopping bag serves as both a mixing bowl and transport container, without the benefit of a cooler. Thus my concern for the meat getting contaminated before we had a chance to eat.

My fears proved unfounded. The amateur chef cooked while the rest of us cavorted. The first few portions went, of course, to the foreigners: Jared – Alan's friend, and I. Once assured we were enjoying our meal, the rest of the family tucked in. A few even enjoyed my contributions: potato salad, corn bread and peanut butter cookies, carefully conveyed from my home in a cooler.

The park boasted many wonders: a dam, a playground for kids and even a temple, high atop the mountain. Another, less pleasing wonder was the garbage being strewn about. In fact, a group that was leaving the picnic area as we arrived actually left all of the garbage from their meal on the ground and on the tables they occupied!  

As is my habit, especially when out in nature, I started picking up litter. Not from that now forlorn looking area, but from the paths we were walking and around our site. Immediately, the bag I was collecting garbage in was taken from me: “there are people whose job it is to clean up. You don't have to do it!”

How can China expect her youth to learn respect for the environment if the adults treat it that way?

We had 5 children in our group. I thought this would be a great teaching opportunity. I took Alan aside and explained why I was picking up garbage. He agreed with me, vowing to explain my actions to his clan, and offering to help me clean up.

I don't know if he actually did reveal my mindset because he spoke in his family's native dialect. I do know that, come the end of our time at the park, I was ushered away from the picnic area with reassurances that everyone else will do the clean up. As we left that area, Alan's hand firmly on my back – presumably to keep me from turning around, I noticed the pigsty area from the first group had yet to be cleaned up. And, when the rest of our group appeared at the parking lot mere minutes after we got there, I couldn't help but doubt that our area had been policed at all.

“When in Rome...” and all that is not a valid excuse for tolerating environmental abuse. But there was nothing I could do about it, except savor the bitter taste the experience left me with.

That, and look forward to Monkey Mountain, tomorrow's planned excursion. 

The 7-Year Itch

Thus began my disenchantment with China: not being able to get a hotel room (see previous entry).

No, that's not true. I've been suffering minor irritations for a while. The staring. The touching. The taking my picture without asking. The shouting HELLO! inches from my face. The questions: “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “How much money do you earn?” “Where is your husband?” - as though it would be inconceivable for a woman to travel to China without one, or that a woman would dare to live without a man by her side.

The people wishing to practice their English with me, no matter where I am (on a bus, in a restaurant) or what I am doing (reading, shopping). People at the supermarket, looking into my shopping cart, as though I were buying something exotic that they would be denied. Vague distrust, as though I might suddenly burst into flames, or attack. Other random impositions on myself and my time.

My practically useless bank account, when the rest of China is progressing to a cashless society by loading their virtual wallets via online banking, something that I've longed to participate in but couldn't. Nor could I reserve accommodations when traveling, or shop online... not that I have ever done much online shopping. Try as I might, I couldn't, and couldn't get Sam to help me fix my bank account so that I could progress, along with the  Chinese.

I am fed up with it all. The joy of discovering China is almost not worth all of the aggravation. And now, discovering China has been made much more difficult now that I have to lodge like a rich person instead of the vagabond that I am. 

The irony doesn't escape me that this is my seventh year in China.

Seven-Year itch: a psychological term that suggests that happiness declines after around year seven of a marriage. The term has been expanded to cover any relationship or even a job, or where you live. Is this why I was contemplating moving on while flying back from Germany? 

Gary met me at the train station, coming back from Beijing. Such a happy homecoming! And such a great friend to welcome me! Would I have that anywhere else, save for my loved ones in the states? Coming down the train station escalator, eyes moist and grinning widely at Gary's wild waving, I banished all thought of leaving China. Of leaving Gary, my friend who would battle traffic at nine-thirty at night to drive me home, even though he has to get up early the next day. Of leaving Sam, Penny and Erica. Precious little Erica, who has become my ersatz granddaughter.

That misty 'forget about leaving China' feeling persisted for exactly 2 weeks.

I couldn't wait to catch up with Sam! Germany is his favorite country. He studied German for his Master's degree. Finally, first-hand, he could receive an accounting of what that country and its food is like: I prepared a traditional German meal, using what ingredients I could find at Metro and home made bread. In return, he dished out 4 courses of outrage:

·         A new rule states that foreign teachers must validate their college degree by presenting at the Chinese embassy in their home country with a notarized copy of their transcript. The cost of this venture runs in the hundreds of dollars, and it does not get reimbursed either by the Chinese government – the sole beneficiary of this mandate, or by the institution that hires you.
·         The 'five-year' rule: foreigners who have been in China for five years must take a 6-month sabbatical and reapply for a visa. I have feared this rule since I learned about it my first year here, but the school took care to see me approved for another visa, even beyond the 5-year limit. Sam stated that there would be a distinct possibility that, when next he submits my passport for visa renewal, it would get rejected because I've been here too long. Or because I haven't had my diploma validated. Or both.
·         The school's leaders fearing I am too old, and that my bones will spontaneously break. Apparently my broken bone from last year created a climate of fear on this campus and, even though I never missed a class or an extracurricular activity, the general concensus seems to be that I would soon be too lame to even hobble to class.
    Since last year, there has been talk of replacing me because of my uncertain but most likely weak skeleton. However, no other foreign teacher can be found because of the new diploma validation rule. Thus I continue to be the only foreign teacher in this school. In spite of a heavier course load than even Chinese teachers, who are younger than me, the attitude prevails that I might (literally) fall apart at any moment.
·         Sam's obligation to report my every move to the school leaders. Unbeknownst to me until now, Sam has the duty to report in when/where I travel (to), when I arrive at my destination and when I return to campus.

No doubt that last extends to disclosing any health conditions I might need a doctor for, seeing as Sam must accompany me to the doctor, per my contract. He has my medical insurance card, and even if I should ask for the card so I can go to the doctor by myself, my need for a doctor would surely be reported. IF I were permitted to go to the doctor by myself.

It's not Sam's fault, and I am not angry at him for it. He has his duty, just as we all do. Unfortunately, I feel his duty is a violation of my privacy. What I was sharing with him as a friend – where I travel and how I feel physically, he was compelled to report to the ever-scrutinizing school leaders.

The sad thing is: for the love of being here, I would have endured all the petty annoyances of being a foreigner in China, and I might have even reconciled myself to limiting my travel to destinations that have hotels permitted to welcome me. However, I find the intrusions on my personal life and the regulations foreigners must comply with in order to live and work in China offensive and demeaning.

Is it coincidence that I had just returned from Germany,  and was actively contemplating moving there when I learned all this?


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Touchdown in Beijing

It was not the best flight I've ever had. The plane arrived in Berlin an hour late. After we boarded, we were further delayed by a maintenance issue that kept us on the tarmac for nearly 2 hours. No entertainment system usage,  or food or beverage service during that time, and no restroom usage. We were a planeload of unhappy, restless passengers.

Oh, well. At least it was easy to get to the airport in Berlin, and getting through security was a breeze. And, I had scored an aisle seat! How lucky!

Lucky because, for some reason, my leg chose that time to act up. Have you ever heard of Restless Leg Syndrome? It is a condition that causes your leg(s) to twitch, painfully and uncontrollably. Episodes can last for hours. I am only mildly afflicted and, usually I can abate the spasms by drinking water and walking around, neither of which I could do on this grounded airplane. Even after we took off and regular service started, my leg kept twitching. Thanks to aisle seating, I could get up and walk around...

when the flight wasn't turbulent. Mostly, the seatbelt sign stayed on. Then, I just twitched (and moaned). 

The memory of pounding on my leg (to make it stop twitching), sleeplessness, terrible food and stingy drinks faded as soon as we touched down in Beijing, at 10:40 AM. I'm more than halfway home! I can now commit all that I've experienced to paper and share it with you!

As soon as I navigate the Beijing subway again and find a hotel to stay at. I did not yet have a train ticket back to Wuhan and, by the time I made it across Beijing, it would be too late to board a train that would get me to Wuhan at a decent hour. Besides, with no sleep during the flight, I wasn't in any shape to wrangle passage on a bullet train and travel another 5 hours.

I had a hotel in mind, right close to Bejing Xi train station. I'd lodged there before; the rooms are comfortable and the price is accommodating. All I had to do was get there.

When I did, they turned me away, pointing to a hand-written sign: “We are not accepting foreign guests”. The hotel next door also refused me.

Color me astounded! A hotel, turning certain guests away? I'd only ever heard of that in America, when segregation was in force, and in South Africa, during Apartheid. And why now? There'd never been a problem with my getting a room in either of those establishments before!

FLASHBACK: on my way out of Beijing, all of those hotels around Dong Zhi Men that turned me away, and the rental of a super expensive room because nothing else could be found (See On To Germany entry). Would the same thing happen now? Would I be forced into accommodations much costlier than necessary?

The second hotel desk clerk pointed me to a concern that would accept foreigners. 333 Yuan per night for a windowless room. On the brink of exhaustion, I handed over my cash card, silently cursing the fact that that amount was about 180 Yuan more than I had paid at the first hotel I had tried.

I won't tell you about getting ripped off at the restaurant but I will divulge that buying a train ticket the next morning, after breakfast (where again, I was ripped off) was a snap. I would be in Wuhan that evening! 

It was time to reach out to all my friends who had been frantically messaging me, to tell them I was on my way home.

Sharing with Alan the tale of getting turned away at hotels, he messaged back that his foreigner friend had gotten turned away from several houses too, in Hangzhou. Idly, we speculated that it was because of the G20 summit. But that didn't make any sense...

Two weeks later, I was planning another trip. Wary of being turned away, I called several hotel chains I would normally frequent in my travels, asking if I could lodge there. “No”, “No Foreigners”, “No way”.

“Where can foreigners stay?” I asked the 7 Days Inn clerk, the 4th hotel I contacted.
“4- and 5-star hotels only.” she replied.

Three different cities, all the same result: foreigners getting turned away from all budget hotels.    

In my opinion, this new 'rule' is a mistake on China's part. Many people come here to explore the country; being forced to pay way more than necessary for accommodations is a great way to discourage traveling. For all of those 'foreigners' who wish to discover and enjoy the true flavor of China, in small towns and out-of-the-way places; for backpackers and budget travelers, that option is now off the table.

I suppose I should be grateful that foreigners are not required to stay in terrible hotels.

I simply can't see the reasoning behind forcing foreign guests to pay more than any other traveler. What is the purpose of this new rule?  

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Trip Notes: Germany

As I prepare to leave clean air and cool weather, I reflect on what makes Germany so unique and desirable a place to live, compared to other countries. Not just China, but for refugees from all over.


seems to run like a well-oiled machine. From large societal concerns like transportation to smaller, local customs, there seems to be no discord – unlike the cacophony of getting anywhere in China. Seldom did I hear any horns honking for their right of way in Germany, nor did I see any traffic jams. The bus lanes were reserved exclusively for the buses, even if that meant that all the cars had to line up in one lane.

The German bus system should be the envy of the world! Each bus stop, no matter how far out from city center, had an itinerary posted that indicates which bus you can connect with at any given stop along its route!

Besides that helpful tool, there are LED indicators at the bus stops, showing when the next bus is due. Riding double-decker buses in Berlin, I spied WIFI antennae on single-deck bus roofs that broadcast the vehicle's position, so that the readouts are always current.

As I understand it, China is moving in this direction but, so far, the LED readouts are not necessarily accurate, and smaller towns are deprived of this technology altogether.

Paying for transit could not be easier. As a guest, I had the option of buying one of several tickets: a single ride or a 4-ride ticket (good for 4 trips, obviously), a day pass for any one or all zones. Residents can buy a Monthly fare card, either for the lines they always ride, or a comprehensive card, good for all of the buses in one zone. Month Cards have a set price, adjusted for students, elderly and handicapped, and can be reloaded every month. You can ride any bus included in your Month card as often as you want. To prevent someone stealing and using your bus card, it has your picture on it.

China's elementary 'pay-per-ride' system is not bad, either. Especially if you have a fare card. And, if your city operates as Wuhan's mass transit does, if you change buses within 90 minutes of paying a fare, your second bus ride is free – even if it is a return trip. However, visitors have no options beyond paying a per-ride fare and smaller towns do not offer a bus card option, that I know of.


I mentioned in a previous post how Sam commented about Germany remembering her history. He hit the nail on the head, and there's really not much more to say about it, other than as compared to China. During China's rebirth some sixty years ago, a lot of ancient architecture and religious compounds weredestroyed. Only belatedly did China reflect on the historic significance of the Beijing Hutongs, for example. Now, amidst new construction and ever taller buildings and more roads and subway systems, China is scrambling to reprise her heritage sites. Temples and landmarks are being rebuilt across the country.

Not so in Germany. Centuries-old buildings are still standing and still in use, in spite of 2 World Wars and other ravages. Significant edifices, such as the Reichstag in Berlin, have been converted into museums. Furthermore, many of these solid structures are being modified to include modern conveniences such as solar energy and wireless networks – to wit, the church I took a break in, that offered free WIFI.


 as I understand the education system in China, students test at around 10 years old to determine aptitude and are educated according to that test result: trade school, middle and professional. Each division offers a more difficult curriculum. However, the great leveler in China is the GaoKao: a pass/fail indicator of whether the student is permitted to attend college and, if so, which college s/he can matriculate at. Every student takes the same exam, regardless of which 'path' s/he was educated on.

Germany follows the same system: a test around age 10 which determines the educational path the student will take, with curriculum dedicated to either trade, mid-level employment or professional.

The Gymnasium, the only 12-year school, prepares students to enter college. The mid-level schools whose curriculum ends at 10th grade, cater to the majority: those who might go into a trade or management. Students in the trade school divisions can test up for the mid-level school and 'middle school' students can test up to Gymnasium level.

Only Gymnasium students take an exam called the Abitur, equal to the GaoKao, to determine their college entrance qualifications. Upon achieving satisfactory marks, students can enroll in any number of universities, according to their interest/aptitude.


 Germany still operates on Church schedule. Thus, you had better get your weekend shopping done by Saturday at noon, lest you be without bread for Sunday breakfast. Nothing is open on Sunday (stores, bakeries and so on. Restaurants do brisk trade, even on Sunday). Even though society is mostly turning away from religion, the banks, post offices and stores still uphold the centuries-old timetable of closing for the Sabbath.

Any wonder why I felt the culture shock, after having been in China for so long, where banks and post offices are open 7 days per week?


Germany has the world's oldest national social health insurance system. Depending on your level of income (or if you are a refugee), you can subscribe to AOK, the general health insurance coverage; KKH, insurance for management personnel and doctors, or you can opt for private health insurance. AOK is funded in part by equal employee/employer contributions, KKH is more of an 80/20 employer/employee pay-in, and private health insurance is paid for solely by the person holding the policy.

Germany being a socialist country, patient needs are parsed out sparingly, but still sufficiently to treat/ cure the patient. A person with private health insurance does not receive better care than a tradesman, for example, but they receive more benefits such as a private room or an at-home nurse, should their situation call for it.

I do not know enough about China's healthcare and insurance systems beyond what I experienced to make a comparison with Germany. I can attest to having to pay for per-service fees (lab, X-ray and such, for each of my doctor's visits, with the promise of reimbursement from the insurance company. How much my employer's health coverage defrayed the cost, I have no idea.


There were 1 terrorist attack and 1 shooting during the 2 weeks I was in Germany. Thankfully I was nowhere near either of them, but they gave me pause.

In spite of the flood of refugees, the drug underworld and hightened terror threats, Germany's security is surprisingly lax. At train stations, on metros... nowhere did I have to go through any security checkpoints. All of the platforms are open. Anyone can walk into the train station and occupy the platform, and even board a train, whether s/he has a ticket or not. In fact, I saw quite a few people buy tickets from the conductor on the train. Not that I think like a terrorist, but I think it would be incrediblyeasy to board a train without having to buy a ticket, and blow it up, mid-journey.

 Heavens forbid, that ever happens!

As someone who cannot conceive of the need to blow a train full of people up, I prefer the German system. It harkens back to an older day, when travel was adventurous and exciting, and upstanding citizens were the norm. The stations are full of little restaurants and snack bars and shops; one can idle the time away till the train takes off without having to submit oneself and luggage to scrutiny.

 That contrasts sharply with the mad stampede to get onboard a train in China, but I have to give props to China for being so very security conscious. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to even think of blowing up a train, after showing one's ID to get a ticket, and then showing that ticket and ID to gain access to the station, and then again to board the train, and then again once on the train, and then again to leave the train station upon arrival. And I haven't mentioned having one's bags X-rayed and going through a body scanner yet! (Well, now I have).

  That is a lot of redundancy but it works well to deter anyone from contemplating any destruction.

   Security at the airport, flying out of Germany, was also minimal. I was able to keep my lighter and a small pocket knife I always carry on my travels in my hand luggage instead of my checked bag. There was a body scanner, but no subsequent patdown, as in Chinese and American airports.

In spite of the lax security and seeming terror just around the corner, I felt very safe in Germany. Maybe because I was snugly in my hotel room by nightfall, or perhaps it was the police presence. It seems that, on all levels, Germany has an organized society, with well-established boundaries and theseterror cells are outliers of the norm. in fact, just minutes after the shooting at the shopping mall, I overheard one young man say to his friends: “Hmm, there's been a shooting at Olympia.” and that was the end of the subject. Perhaps it is that very German attitude of normality that causes such a 'normal' feeling.  

You might think that I prefer one country over the other but the fact is, every country has its strong points and its flaws. A 2-week stay in Germany does not give me any more authority to determine its value any than 6 years in China can teach me everything about this beautiful land and her people.
Leaving Germany, I ask myself the question I always ask, after leaving any city/country: could I live there?

The answer: YES!  

The Food!

I don't think I need to write long narratives about the food in Germany, just an explanation of the pictures... right?

For my 3-day stay in Frankfurt, I opted to shop for typical components of a traditional German 'abendbrot' ('evening bread', AKA dinner): bread, meat, cheese, a buttery spread, some fruit and a sweet for dessert. It was the first time I had ever eaten lemon flavored chocolate. If possible, it won't be the last time: it was delicious!

It is quite common to snack while out. A favorite throughout the country is a Doner Kebap: roasted meat with lettuce and tomato on a bun. The best one I have ever eaten, including during my stay as a youth, was in Frankfurt. Unfortunately I did not think to take a picture of it; I wised up to picture taking later in my trip. Here is a variation of the traditional sandwich, a Doner bowl: French fries on the bottom; roasted, shaved meat on top and all of it drowning in a savory sauce.

Another popular snack is sausage and bread with mustard. This is not a tear-inducing mustard like wasabi but a gentle, spicy sauce that brings out the flavor of the grilled meat.

German cuisine is mostly either boiled or grilled, thus easier on the stomach than fried. Perhaps that is why my stomach found this food much more agreeable.

The perrenial favorite of fast food: the currywurst (a sausage covered in curry catsup) with fries. (that might contradict my previous statement of German food being boiled or grilled. However, one doesn't eat 'curry mit pommes' every meal, or even every day, so my previous statement is true).


Germans prefer dipping their fries in mayonnaise rather than catsup, thus you have the option of both on your plate when you order this original Berlin favorite.

Wheat and sweets form a large part of the German diet. In their most delectable form, they present as pastries. A common pastime is to have coffee and cake, a habit I partook of with gusto!


Glazed fruit tarts with cream filling

Honey-almond cake and a coconut macaroon

Chocolate mousse cake

NOTE: I only ate so many coffee/cakes in order to present them to you (giggle!)
In fact, I did my best to have coffee and cake every afternoon but, sadly, I failed in this mission. Here, you are witness to my few successes.

An overwhelming favorite is Italian ice cream, what is also known as gelato. This treat is catching on in China. You should try some!

Before leaving China, I had set goals for myself. Eating goals, that is. Foods that I'd not eaten in so very long, like a wienerschnitzel. Oddly enough, ethnic restaurants abound: Greek, Italian, Turkish and Mediterranean, but it was surprisingly difficult to find an authentic German restaurant. The first one I stumbled across, during my day-long bike ride around Berlin, offered up this traditional dish:

Grilled sausage on a bed of sauerkraut, with boiled potatoes and salad. Bread is a common complement to any German meal, and selzer water is ubiquitous.

NOTE: Germans are not famous for eating huge chunks of meat. Their intake generally consists of sausages of various types. However, there are exceptions...

I've been in Germany for 2 weeks and have yet to have a wienerschnitzel: a piece of veal or pork pounded flat and breaded, and then grilled (or fried) and served with potatoes and red cabbage. I had to do an internet search to find this dish, visiting an out-of-the-way kneipe (a neighborhood bar and restaurant) for the pleasure.

Actually, a wienerschnitzel comes with mushroom gravy. This picture is of a plain schnitzel. It was good, but I should have gone with the proprietor's suggestion: fleischroulade (a meat roll: rice and cabbage wrapped up in a thin beef strip, and covered in sauce).

Although I had ordered a seltzer water with my lunch, out of either habit or tradition, the waitress brought me a beer. I was a bit uncomfortable downing a beer just hours before flying back to China but, as it turns out, she was right: it went perfectly with the meal. My last meal on German soil.

Guten Appetit! (Eat well!)