I Love You Backpacking Long Time – Part One Finland to Poland

I started my journey in Finland and early on I observed a few things about the country, such as the pastimes…

I have noticed perhaps two Finnish obsessions – saunas and electronic gambling machines – which seem to be in just about every building…and drinking in public is accepted. There is apparently even a pub tram, perfect for the drunk on the go, I guess

…the cold, and that Finland was really, really expensive. Nothing in particular stands out to me except the cold and high prices. It’s July and I am wearing a coat!

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I began my travels in Finland. This is somewhere in Helsinki. I think. It is July. I am wearing pants and a turtle neck sweater. It looks cold. It was cold. And yet I am smiling.

Despite staying in a hostel – a very nice hostel with a fabulous breakfast and sauna! – eating cheap takeaway, and walking or riding the bus, I was spending over $100 a day. I cut short my expected week there and after four days hopped the ferry to Estonia.

In the Baltics I visited Tallinn and Tartu in Estonia, Sigulda and Riga in Latvia, and Vilnius and Trakai in Lithuania. The weather was beautiful in Estonia and I have a strong memory of walking down a dirt lane from the historic center of Tartu, in dappled sunlight, to the guesthouse where I stayed. I found the place through the tourist information center. It was a regular home where a couple with young kids let out two rooms for travelers.

Transportation though seemed to be another matter.

I had inquired in Tallinn about a train from Tartu to Sigulda, Latvia and had been told there was no train. I looked at the map and saw train tracks, and went back the next day to ask again but was again told, by a different person, there was no train. Once in Tartu I went straight to the tourist info to ask about buses. “Why don’t you take the train?” she asked. “There’s a train?” I asked. Yep. There was a train and on August 1 I took the train to Valga/Valka, the border town between Estonia and Latvia, went through border control, and then boarded my train to Sigulda. No problem.

Sigulda, a beautiful town along a central Latvian river valley, turned out to be where I saw my first opera. I know I walked to the edge of town to the Gauja National Park. I know I visited a cave. But it was the opera, in the ruins of Sigulda Castle, that I remember the most. It was the Marriage of Figaro and it cost only US$4 for a ticket right next to the stage. It was an evening open-air performance and I recall it rained lightly and I did not care.

I know I unexpectedly liked Vilnius despite my disappointment in missing the Genocide of the Lithuanian People Museum located in former KGB headquarters. Yeah, it sounds like an interesting, though not uplifting museum, but it figures prominently as a frustration in my journal. I still have some pictures from Trakai Castle. It was pretty, set on a lake, in sunshine. Yet what I remember most about this trip is the really bad romance novel I found in the hostel. English language materials were somewhat scarce during my trip and I was already desperate to hang on to the books I had brought and read just about any other English book I could get my hands on.

What figures most prominently in my journal though were the cool weather and the differences between my dress and that of the Lithuanians.

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At the Daugava River in Riga, Latvia. Still kind of cold but at least it is not raining.

It is getting cool today although I do not think it is ever really hot. I usually feel a bit chilly. I am surprised by the clothing here – shorts, miniskirts, tank tops. I haven’t felt a single day in the Baltics has justified such clothing, and yet it is what I see many locals wearing. Yesterday as I walked from dinner I felt too cool in my short sleeves and long pants and yet as I shivered I saw people in the park sitting with much less covering doing a good job pretending they were warm. Perhaps they are more warm-blooded than I? I can see several people from my current seat in sleeveless tops – but they are crazy! I am going back to the hostel to get my jacket.

After the Baltics I headed to Poland where I visited the northern port of Gdansk, the castle at Malbork, Nicholas Copernicus’ hometown of Torun, the capital Warsaw, the historic Krakow, and the southern border town of Zakopane. It is in Poland (and later Romania) that I have my most vivid memories and most interesting experiences. They may not be what you are expecting.

One of the oddest predicaments I came to be in involved an overnight bus from Lithuania, the need for toilet facilities, a lack of Polish zloty and too many Lithuanian litas.

I took the overnight bus from Vilnius to Gdansk, Poland. I was wedged beside a rather large man and was thinking the other hostellers’ predictions of no sleep would come true. But at the border I saw that the last four or five rows were empty so I moved to the back where I could stretch out and lie down. I got a fair amount of sleep. The problem was using the bathroom. There wasn’t one on the bus. Oh, there was a little room, but it was apparently just for show and remained locked the entire trip.

We were all able to use the restrooms at the border, but after that it became complicated. At 5 am we stopped at a station and could use the restrooms, but almost all public restrooms in the Baltics and Poland cost money and I had not a zloty on me! Another girl from the bus offered to pay for me, but her coin (probably too large to change?) was not accepted by the surly couple guarding the restrooms.

At the next stop it was the same and again at the Gdansk bus station. So I walked with my pack to the tourist office, but it was not where it was on the map and I never found it. I could not go to the bathroom until I changed money or checked into a hostel/hotel. Many banks and exchange places did not open until 10 am and I arrived in Gdansk at 8:30 am. The ones that were open would not exchange Lithuanian litas. They would exchange Spanish money, Swedish money, Latvian and Estonian money, Hungarian money, Slovakian money – just about everything except litas. Anyway the bathroom wouldn’t wait so I pleaded my case at a nearby hotel and they (thankfully!) agreed.

I never did change those Lithuania litas. An exchange place worker in Gdansk told me in English, as he shrugged, They are paper, they are a memory, they are nothing.

I loved the immense Castle of the Teutonic Order at Malbork, the world’s largest castle in surface area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole reason I visited Gdansk was to put myself in a good position to visit Malbork. Unfortunately I might have got more out of my visit had there been a tour in English. Unfortunately admission includes a tour – in Polish. One is not supposed to be able to see the castle without a tour. I ditched mine for the German one in front of me as I thought I might have a slightly better chance of understanding – nope and kept moving forward, tour by tour, until I happened upon a small English tour. It was privately arranged but they let me join nonetheless. So I at least was able to hear a little of the castle’s history…

This lack of English tours issue continued to be a problem at the UNESCO World Heritage salt mines near Krakow. Yet another site where one could only go through with a tour and the English tours were few and far between.

I did visit both the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps.They were very interesting but extremely emotionally draining. What happened to the people who arrived at the camps was just horrible. I cannot understand how anyone could do this to other human beings. The atrocities are beyond belief and yet they happened. This really hit me hard. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was not a joyful tour. I was surprised to see people there with small children and others having their pictures taken. It is not a holiday destination where one brings the whole family. I finally took a few pictures at Birkenau and then went back to take a picture at the gate at Auschwitz. I did not feel completely comfortable about this, but at the same time felt compelled to record my visit.

Finally, my trip to the border town of Zakopone. My most striking memory is unfortunately the long line at the cable car! It was a two and a half hour wait. If you are a solo backpacker who left behind journal and book in the hostel and no one else in line around you speaks English, two and a half hours can feel an eternity! Yet the view at the top was worth every minute.

By the time I left Poland I had only been on the road three weeks but was beginning to settle into a groove. Much more was still to come!

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I Love You Backpacking Long Time – The Intro

I have got the travel bug.

I mean, I have had the travel bug for a long, long time, but it is starting to itch. Just a tad. Ok, more than a little. A LOT! I want a real, honest-to-goodness, vacation.

It is most likely a combination of waiting nine weeks after our arrival in China to take our first mini vacation and then the six-week waiting game for management to approve summer leave ahead of what was expected to be a historically busy visa season. Then after our wonderful but action-packed two week trip back to the US in May, it has been a waiting game again through the long, hot, busy Shanghai summer. At the same time it is because of this blog – going back to re-read my travel stories and journals – that I am also reflecting on past and future travels.

In July 2000 I finished my three years teaching English in Japan and set off on a solo 11 month backpacking trip. I purchased an around the world ticket from Washington, DC to Finland, from where I would make my way overland to Tunisia, where I picked up the ticket again to travel to Egypt, then India, then Southeast Asia, and finally back to the US.

It is not difficult to look back at that epic trip with something akin to a Pavlovian dog response – I am literally salivating as I think back to when I had some major time to really hit the road.

At the time I was planning the trip, I had thought long and hard how to spend the $10,000 I had saved from teaching in Japan. I had come to the conclusion that banks would loan me money for graduate school but no one was going to loan me money to backpack around the world. I could spend my hard earned savings seeing the world and still be able to go to graduate school. So I deferred my graduate school for a year, bought the round the world ticket for half the savings, and set about buying travel guides and preparing for the rigors of travel by roaming my little Japanese town with weights in my backpack.

I had no Kindle loaded up with reading material. I had no portable music. I certainly had no cell phone. Internet on the road was still fairly new with Internet cafes popping up in more and more places but in some costing quite the pretty penny (in Venice I recall it costing $25 an hour, which was more than I averaged in total spending per day for everything. I mean lodging, food, sightseeing, and toilet charges. One could not forget to budget for the public toilet).

That is not to say that my trip sans e-books and iPods and smart phones was any better than anyone else’s backpacking trip. Lord knows that those who hit the road 10 or 20 or more years before me had done with less than I had. Fewer guidebooks, fewer made-just-for-the-backpacker-bags, fewer hostels, fewer goodies from home in unexpected places. I read a post online the other day where someone outright dismissed the write-up of a young man just returned from his seven month backpacking journey. Geez, people, everyone deserves to travel the way they want and their journey is no less valid than yours. If they want to do it on an eight day, five country bus tour, then so be it. Just be glad that someone is out there seeing the world, stepping out of their comfort zone (and yes, a crazy guided bus tour with 20 other couples CAN be out of one’s comfort zone) and experiencing another country and culture.

[Stepping off soap box now]

Instead of an e-reader I lugged around five actual books in my pack and when possible I traded it for another book after I finished. It was in this way that I got a hold of my first Harry Potter book, from a British girl in a hostel in the Czech Republic. I also took the one and only English book from the hostel in Vilnius (a ridiculous romance novel that made a Harlequin seem like Shakespeare. However, the loss of a book, such as when I left behind a half finished book in my Tunis hotel, was felt keenly. (I still wonder how that book ended). I also carried around four blank journals, which I slowly filled over the course of my trip.

So I read and I wrote in my journal. I wrote a lot of postcards (do people still do that anymore?). I rode a lot of trains and buses and I looked out of a lot of train and bus windows at the scenery. I took a lot of lovely naps on long trips. I met a lot of people and saw some incredible places. I got sick. I got angry. I got tired. But mostly I was amazed. When I started I had no idea how long I would go. I thought perhaps five, maybe six months. I planned only in general. Itineraries changed. Destinations changed. I never made a hotel reservation. Sure, I still had limitations, but I was also quite incredibly free.
From my few emails along the way (saved by my aunt) and my journals, I have attempted to re-trace and share some of my journey. It has been fun and enlightening, and sometimes even cringe-worthy, to go through my journal entries. I find it odd what topics found their way into the journals and other things I still remember but neglected to write about.

My family and friends do not really know the story of this journey, only bits and pieces. It was an incredible journey that I would never ever give back. It shaped me. I learned my weaknesses and my strengths. It taught me what I could do on my own and further fueled my zest for travel.

I am not sure I will ever have another trip like this. First of all, it is a pain in the rear to explain to every security clearance investigator about this “gap” in my work and education timeline. The first investigator just could not grasp the concept at all. When I tried to explain that I did not recall the places where I stayed as I just turned up and found a place and moved on a day or two or three later. He told me he was going to write I was “in the woods” for five months in Europe, which I explained did not think would be helpful in my bid for a government job.

Second, I will also not again be my twenty-something self, with graduate school and an unknown career ahead of me. I will not be the person I was before I had my daughter. I do not want to be. Yet I am grateful now to be revisiting this part of me. I have absolutely never regretted spending my savings on this trip and borrowing for graduate school. I am fairly sure I would have been told it was a bad idea. Good thing I never asked anyone.

Shanghai, September 2002, Part Four

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

I enjoyed re-reading about my adventure to Zhouzhang. I had forgotten how I had met the young woman I went with. Unfortunately, the following year I did not get back to China. SARS hit the headlines, causing panic and insecurity in mainland China, Singapore, and several other countries, almost like Ebola today.  I am hoping to visit Zhouzhang, or a water town like it, when my mom is with us in Shanghai.  

Yesterday I returned to YuYuan Bazaar, this time actually entering the gardens. They are very lovely and peaceful. I wrote in my journal and read a little in my book while in the gardens sitting by a carp pond. I heard a tour guide telling some tourists that a small pavilion situated on top of a man-made hill used to have a view of the whole city and the river. Now it has views of high rises. Sometimes progress isn’t so great. It is too bad that view could not have been preserved. I also did a little shopping at the bazaar, bought a few nice things. Then I went to dinner. While there a young Chinese woman was brave enough to talk to me. She first came to sit at the table beside me. I could see her looking at me and trying to make up her mind whether to talk to me or not. She finally gathered her courage, took a deep breath, then asked if she could sit with me. I told her okay. Then she asked me what book I was reading. So we talked awhile (though not an easy feat as her English is not so good, and neither is my Chinese) and she asked if she could come with me to the Bund. I said sure. Then we proceeded to get very lost walking around. We stumbled upon an outdoor modeling show, wore out our feet, and gave in to take a taxi. We sat down at the Bund to talk. She is also new in Shanghai, having just come from Zhejiang Province to study at Fudan University, which is one of China’s best universities. She is a very sweet girl who to me looks like Gong Li, the famous Chinese actress (of Farewell My Concubine, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, and To Live fame). So we made a plan today to go to Zhouzhuang, a water town outside of Shanghai municipality region.

I met Can Can this morning. We tried to catch a cab out to the bus station, but unfortunately neither of us knew WHICH bus station. It turned out there are about five. So we just asked the taxi driver who took us to a station near the stadium. It was a long taxi ride and we arrived after 10:30, when I had heard the bus departed, but it turned out to be the wrong station anyway (guess there are probably several stadiums in Shanghai too!) So Can Can suggested we try to find out how much a taxi to Zhouzhuang would cost, but none of the taxis would tell us and just tried to drive away when we asked them. So we decided that maybe if we found the right bus station we could catch the noon bus. So we jumped in another taxi and endured horrible traffic and several close calls to arrive at a bus station at the train station. There we were told once again we were at the WRONG station. Can Can asked the guy how much a taxi would be to Zhouzhuang, and he said it would be 400 kuai round trip. It seemed a lot, but then again it was just about $45. And time was of the essence, so we took him up on it.

Zhouzhuang is really cool! It is a beautiful little town and a UNESCO world heritage site. Rather like a Chinese Venice. It has canals choked with slim boats and tourists, and lots of old buildings. Apparently about 60 % of the villagers still live in the houses that line the canals. There are graceful weeping willows lining the canal, and small high arching bridges crossing the canal at intervals. The houses are whitewashed with dark wood paneling and Chinese red lanterns. The restaurants along the canal have wood deck-type chairs to sit in and enjoy the view. The boat steerers are mostly women, who wear traditional blue cotton clothes, some also wear straw cone shaped hats, and they sing traditional Chinese songs as they pole along the canal. It almost seemed too perfect, as though it were created for tourists, but it wasn’t. It is not as famous a place as Suzhou or Hangzhou, and does not get as many visitors. But that is part of its charm. Iit seems an oasis in China, Chinese and yet can transport one to a more traditional time. Not that the town is not chock full of souvenir shops and old women following you with trinkets and postcards. It is. Last year apparently Jiang Zemin visited and had tea there. I guess that makes it a legitimate tourist attraction.

Our taxi driver followed us around the whole time. Apparently if two women from out of town hire a taxi driver for a long trip, it is like renting a dad. When I ordered a coke at lunch and it was very dirty on top and was flat right after I opened it, he argued with the proprietors to take it off the bill, and eventually they did! When we had told enough people we didn’t want their postcards and they didn’t go away, he shooed them away. He stayed just in front or just behind us, sort of like a chaperone. We even took him on our canal boat trip with us! I thought he would just wait in the car. Maybe he was afraid we would dump him and take the bus back to Shanghai and stiff him the fare. More probable than the friendly father figure, but I would like to think the former rather than latter, that he was watching out for us.

Traffic was slow on the way back and we were pretty tired. It was a good trip though and I am very happy I made the trip. See I was thinking I would come back next year, because I am planning on traveling a few weeks in China next summer, and will probably come in from Shanghai again, see Hangzhou and Nanjing, and swing over to Anhui to see my friend Jill who has just started teaching at a University there. So I think I could pass through Zhouzhuang again next year.

Shanghai, September 2002, Part Three

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

This is one of my favorite excerpts. I actually love the idea of people dressing identically, particularly in pajamas while out in public. In fact, I sort of plan to have C and I dress in pajamas, perhaps identical ones, and have a public outing at least once in Shanghai. I remember well the chair/clothes incident. I cannot say my Chinese has much improved. I hope the cruise has as it is again on my “must-do” list. I also remember Suzhou fondly and look forward to taking my mom there as I think she will love the gardens and C will love the carp. I should plan on finding the Garden for Lingering In first.

Here in China it is just adventure, adventure, adventure. Though I may have been a bit premature in saying how much I loved it. Yesterday some things started to get on my nerves, or at least I noticed things that would get on my nerves eventually. Or maybe I would love/hate them? They are part of what makes this China. There are a few silly things, like the amazing number of people who like to walk around together dressed identically! It is not just children, but couples, friends, old, young. This also goes for the propensity for women to wear panty hose that only goes to their ankles or below the knee when their skirts are above the knee. What really bothers me are the spitting, the smoking, the street arguments, the maniac taxi drivers, and the complete disrespect for the environment. Honestly crossing the streets is like taking your life into your hands each time. It doesn’t matter if you are at a crosswalk and the little walking man is green, taxis and scooters will run you over! I have had many close calls already. When I am in the offending taxi I just want to sink into the back seat so no one thinks I am some foreigner bent on taking out Chinese in the streets! And the arguments, ugh, you see a good one just about every day. Yesterday I saw some women with children screaming at each other at the top of their lungs while the kids cried. I couldn’t understand what it was about, but it seemed serious. Then again last night I was involved in my own little argument…..

I decided to take a night cruise on the Huangpu River. This is interesting for about the first 10 minutes, and then it just isn’t. The guide book says that the night tour is best unless one has a fascination for loading cranes. Well, in the evening you get to see the loading cranes in silhouette against the night, beautifully backlit, simply breathtaking! So I bought my ticket and boarded the boat 20 minutes before its departure, and it was packed. Not a spare chair to be found. Well, that’s not true. I saw some spare chairs around some specially set aside tables, and they had Sprite and watermelon!! I really wanted some watermelon, but I knew it wasn’t mine, but I did take a chair. No one was sitting in it, and I had a ticket just like everyone else. Of course as soon as I started to drag the chair away some guy comes after me, “Xiaojie, Xiaojie” (Miss, Miss) but I ignore him. Then he comes up to me and tells me to give the chair back (in Chinese). I try first for the dumb foreigner tack, I ask him why? In English. I have a ticket, why don’t I have a chair? He just points to the chair and grabs the back of it. I won’t give it up. The people next to me are on my side telling the guy to leave me alone and let me have the chair. Ha, success! The guy next to me asks me how long I have lived in China because my Chinese is good. I tell him “Bu gang dang” (No it’s not, don’t flatter me) the right thing to say. Of course I know my Chinese needs lots of work. But he tells me I argue very well. 🙂 Well, I don’t know about that. Maybe they didn’t notice because when I wanted to say “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have a chair (yizi)?” I ACTUALLY said “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have any clothes (yifu)?” Ha, ha, ha. Good thing I mumbled that last syllable because I wasn’t sure I was remembering the right word. I was just so flustered and speaking quickly. However, the chair guy came back when some more people showed up looking for those chairs. I saw him coming and held onto my chair tightly. He asked me to give it to him, and I just said “Bu, Bu, Bu!” (no, no, no!). My new best friends sided with me again right away, especially as the guy had tried to steal some of their chairs too. So I got to have a chair with a great view of the shadowy dock cranes.

Today, I took a trip out to Suzhou, about an hour from Shanghai by train. Suzhou used to be the premier spot in China for silk. Suzhou became very famous during the Ming dynasty. And there was some saying about heaven in the sky, but on earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou. So it was considered a pretty nice place to live back then, and many rich people built beautiful gardens there. The gardens are the THING to see in Suzhou, along with a few pagodas. So I rented a bicycle (also a relic of the Ming dynasty) and headed off to see these amazing spaces of tranquility. Now the thing in China is that nice places like this, or well even plain old rocks that people want to put a sign on, have to have super spectacular names. So today I was to visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lion’s Grove Garden, the Master of the Nets Garden, and finally the Garden for Lingering In.

I headed first to the Humble Admit guy’s garden. And judging from the size and care put into it, I doubt he was really humble. It was a really nice garden and I wondered what it would be like to have it as one’s very own private garden. I spent nearly an hour there and was surprised by how quickly the time flew by.

I headed then to the Lion’s garden and found it smaller, more intimate. There was a little sun breaking through the clouds (or was it pollution?) and it was warmer there.
Then there was a harrowing ride around the town to get to the next garden, the Master of the Nets. There I was distracted by the sounds of a nearby school and school children repeating a silly dialogue about one’s mother and a missing bag in English. I had an insane idea to find the school and break into the class and give the kids a real English lesson, but after going around to the front of the school I lost my courage and just biked to the next sightseeing spot, a pagoda and one of the city’s original city gates, all in kind of a complex. This was a pretty cool spot. The pagoda was really magnificent. But the best part was a huge pond with many carp in it. I saw some people near the pond and fish thrashing around. All sizes and shapes and colors (okay, not blue or purple- but all kinds of golds and oranges and reds) jumping on top of each other to get the food, so much that some were on top of the water and then began to thrash about trying to get back into the water.
By this time it was almost 5 pm and I was getting tired and wasn’t sure I wanted to see a garden that would cause me to linger in it. Then again as I bought a ticket that included this garden, I set off to find it. For being the largest garden in the whole town it sure is hard to find and no one seems to know where it is. After searching for 20 minutes or so, after another life endangering 20 minute bike ride across town, I gave up and decided the only place I wanted to linger in was the train back to Shanghai.

I also wanted to share a few more humorous things from today, such as the names of various places inside the gardens. For example, The Listening to the Sound of the Rain Pavilion, the Hall of Drifting Fragrance, the Pavilion in the Lotus Breeze, the Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio, the Chamber for Reclining on the Cloud, and the Pavilion for Asking the Plum (ask it what??). Then there were those that were translated but I still couldn’t figure out what they were: The Cymbidium Goeingii Hall, the Prunus Mume Pavilion, and (my favorite) the Malus Spectabilis Court. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
There was also a list of Points of Attention posted at each garden:

1. Travelers must buy tickets before they enter the garden. They should be civilized and polite and conscientiously observe the social morality and public order.
2. No firearms, bullets, explosives or other dangerous articles are allowed to be brought into the garden.
3. Protect the world cultural heritage. Cutting, climbing, or damaging the construction and facilities is strictly forbidden. Flowers and trees should not be injured and no trespassing on the lawns is permitted. No entrance into the fence, climbing on banisters or picture shooting is allowed.
4. Defend public hygiene conscientiously. No spitting, urinating or dispersing of peels or rinds or skins of fruit and scraps of paper. Smoking is not allowed in the garden except in places where it is otherwise stipulated. (I then watched a group of six men enter and light up immediately!!)
5. Travelers are forbidden to sell articles and to conduct any business or charging activities in the garden. (But I suppose locals could?)

These are great!  Ah, China.

Shanghai, September 2002, Part Two

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.

As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

I find this excerpt interesting for a few reasons. One, these days in my Chinese reading class we have had several texts with criticisms of Mao Zedong, though his face remains on the Chinese bills. Second, my visit to the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe – at the very least I would like to take C to see one of their performances. Finally, I really can hardly wait to go to the hair salon and have one of those fantastic head and shoulder massages. As a single, without child person, I took those WAY too much for granted.

I think the Mongolian women are working here and have essentially moved into the Pujiang hotel. I thought it a bit strange that they went out dancing every single night. Yesterday I thought what a boring holiday that would be, not seeing any of the sights, and surely Ulaan Bator has a few discos to keep them satisfied. But now I am quite sure they are working here, probably at a night club, so there is little hope of them leaving me in peace any time soon. I didn’t get much sleep the night before last because they were chatting away as usual, and then one girl came back at 3:30 am and clomped around the room awhile. The other girls came back at 5 am and thought it a good time to have a heart to heart conversation, in loud voices. I sat up and asked them if they wanted to talk could they do it outside, and again “sorry, sorry” and then they launched right back into their dialogue. Probably they are rather drunk and don’t realize they are talking so loudly?

By yesterday evening, around 7 pm, I was so very, very tired, and didn’t think I was going to make it through the acrobatic performance from 7:30-9, and I had a pounding headache. But I bought some medicine and went to the performance. It was incredible!!! Simply breathtaking. I was literally on the edge of my seat, with my mouth hanging open, and making audible gasps as they continued to do amazing stunts of strength, flexibility and grace. I would highly recommend seeing this performance. I couldn’t help but wonder though about the lives of these acrobatics. How is that they got into this line of work? I think in the movie “Farewell my Concubine” we see at the beginning the children sold to the acrobatic schools by parents who can’t afford to keep them or to pay for debts, and the excruciating training the children go through to be so flexible and strong. I don’t know if that is the case anymore, or if like in the recent book I read “A Son of the Circus” by John Irving, which is set in India, that the children are often street children and are “better off” in the circus than on the street. Hmmmm……. I don’t think there are very strict labor laws like in Japan. Although in Japan there are many pop groups made up of children, they cannot perform live after 8 pm in the evening until they are over 16. In this performance I saw there was a little girl, maybe 7 or 9 years old who performed the last stunt after 9, and what a stunt it was! She balanced on one hand on top of a pedestal for approximately ten minutes, sometimes changing hands with a little hop, and stretching her legs in all sorts of contortions. It was so beautiful. She appeared happy as she made her bow, and as I was in the fourth row, so I could see all the performers clearly. But is she really happy? You could already see the muscles in her little arms and legs. She is so powerful, but so tiny and fragile at the same time. A truly amazing performance though.

I wonder about the still lingering admiration of Mao Zedong in this country. Is this man really adored? Is he venerated still after all the harm he did to the country? It seems so because his face now adorns the money here. When I was here in 1994, and even in 1996 and 1998, there was no Mao face staring at me from the currency, though it seems beginning in 1999 his face is on all the bank notes, replacing the faces of Chinese minorities. Maybe they no longer feel they have to placate the minorities for poor treatment by putting them on the money? I went to the Shanghai museum yesterday and there was even an exhibit for China’s minorities, and really well done. But to put Mao’s face on the money? Why not Deng’s face instead? I don’t see the little red Mao mirror pictures which I used to see hanging in taxis in Beijing when I was here in 1994. That doesn’t mean that they don’t hang somewhere now, but why have them when everyone carries Mao’s face with them in their wallets? Is this part of capitalism with Chinese characteristics? Every time you use money you are reminded of the revolution, of Mao? Interesting.

Yesterday I saw another spectacle on the street. As I was about to cross a street, a commotion arose to the right of me. I didn’t see what initially happened, but saw a policeman grabbing at a man, trying to hold him in a vice. The man was resisting and asking him what was the matter. Of course, this immediately caught the attention of every Chinese person in the vicinity and a circle was quickly formed around the pair. I was waiting for the light to change and cannot deny my own curiosity as to what was happening. I was more intrigued about this crowd though, and almost thought to take a picture, but could imagine the policeman then turning on me, so I refrained. The policeman kept trying to grab the guy by the hands, by the neck and so on, and the guy kept trying to get out of these attacks, but he didn’t seem to be prepared to run, just wanted the policeman to let go of him. He accidentally pushed the policeman who then fell to the ground. I let out a gasp at this, because I expected the guy was really going to be in trouble now for having pushed the policeman. But the guy then starts preaching to the crowd, pointing at the policeman and stating his case. I assume he was telling the crowd how he was wrongly attacked by the policeman. This was getting interesting, and the crowd was getting larger. I gave up trying to understand and crossed the street.

Yesterday I also had my hair done. I just went in to have my hair washed because I wanted the head massage, but decided to go ahead and have a little cut. The massage was exquisite. Wow, wow, wow!!! There was a head, neck, shoulder, and upper back massage included in this. I had my hair washed, dried, and cut. All of this for the amazing price of 29 kuai, or less than US$4!!! But what was more interesting perhaps was my hairdresser told me my hair was beautiful, I was beautiful, and would I like to go out dancing that night?! He gave me his name card and told me to call him after 9 pm!! I didn’t call him though. Too tired. But it really made me wonder. I have been in Shanghai three days and I had several people stop to talk to me, and tell me I am beautiful. One guy with his two female friends told me they just had to stop and talk to me because I looked exotic. I have been in Singapore two months and haven’t had anything remotely similar happen. But all this adoration could go to my head! Overall Shanghai seems like an interesting place to live. Sure it doesn’t have quite the cultural component of Beijing, but it is appealing in its own right.

Shanghai September 2002, Part One

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.

As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

After the overnight flight on which I got only 2 or 3 hours of sleep, I was barely conscious of my arrival in Shanghai. As a friend told me, Hong Qiao airport is more like a bus terminal than an airport, quite unlike the beautiful new Pudong Airport on the other side of the city. At 6:30 in the morning there just wasn’t much happening at the Hong. I caught a cab to the city, because of course the cab drivers all claimed that there wasn’t a bus to the city, even when a bus drove by right in front of me!! At least I talked them down from the ridiculous price of 380 kuai to the city, because the guide book said it was 50 kuai. But I couldn’t get less than 100. And it wasn’t even a real taxi, it was a nice van. They, the nice van guys, told me the taxis were just for short distances. Hmmm, I think I will be going back to the airport another way. Though, to tell the truth, $12 is not a horrible price to pay from an airport to the city in any country.

The day before my departure I had checked online for information a hotel which was to have dorms. Their website indicated all the types of rooms were available for Saturday. I figured since I was checking less than 24 hours before my arrival, I could safely expect them to remain available after I arrived. Still when I checked in and asked for the dorm I was told they were full. I mentioned I had checked the computer the day before, and miraculously one bed became available!! I just love that, milk the foreigners for all they are worth.

At 7:30 in the morning my room was devoid of people. I thought it odd that in a 6 bed dorm everyone was up and about so early. But maybe they are like me when I travel: early to bed and early to rise? I stayed up to get some water at the little mini store which opened at 8, and then I took a nap until 11. That felt good. Once I got up it was still cloudy but I thought I should at least go for a walk. The hotel I stay at is quite close to the Bund, the riverfront symbol of Shanghai. I somehow thought the Bund would be a bit nicer than it was, so much hype about it I suppose, but it is a rather cool place to go for a walk, because so many people are about. On one side of the Bund, the same side of the river is a main road, and many colonial buildings from the early 20th century. Grand, imposing structures that have a proud, weary, worn feel to them. On the other side, next to the busy brown waterway, is the modern New Pudong area, with a huge pink needle like skyscraper, a building with two glass globes flanking it, and several more shiny new tall buildings. So the Bund seems to flank both the “old” and the new in Shanghai, kind of a walkway between them? Really cool. Today I took a picture of a set of quadruplets dressed identically and wearing funny masks. They were maybe 3 years old and so cute. I am a bit surprised by people’s reaction to me, they still stare. I thought since this is Shanghai and many foreigners live here, that there wouldn’t be much staring, but I am a celebrity again!! I even noticed a few people taking pictures of me when I walked by. But I thought it was kind of funny when I stopped to check in my bag and then was on my way again, and a group of young women became frantic because they hadn’t gotten their camera out in time. Just the day before, an old man and a little Chinese girl had stopped in front of a huge Soviet-style statue and it was such a perfect picture, I was fumbling about for MY camera, but wasn’t quick enough!! I was stopped by several people today to chat and for them to introduce themselves and practice English. One guy asks if he could accompany me all day and show me around. I politely told him that I prefer to sightsee on my own. And thankfully he accepted that. I have had others in Tunisia, Italy, and Paris who would not believe me when I said that, and I was followed for hours….. But not here, not yet.

When I stopped to talk to the first guy who introduced himself to me, and then three children hung around to try and listen in and demand I speak Chinese (which I tried!), of course a few people would stop and watch the spectacle. And when I stopped to take a picture of the four identically dressed boys (all in pink!) with the funny Groucho Marx glasses on, we became a circus act in ourselves. The parents beaming that a foreigner wanted to take pictures of their children, the children unable to all have their glasses and stand still at one time, and myself trying to take the picture. A regular three ring circus it was. I managed to extricate myself from the circus and still the crowd was forming, because it seems in China when a small group of people begins to form, others cannot help but go and see what is happening too, so even after there is little to see, the crowd continues to grow.

Yesterday, I took a walk down Nanjing Lu, the main shopping drag of Shanghai. I stopped in and got a bad manicure and pedicure, but the most incredible foot massage ever! I think the pedicure was so bad, because normally they only give it to men. So my toe nails were at a rather longish length and I just wanted them cut nicely and some polish on them. They are sooooo short now, men’s length! And the polish, ugh! It was somewhat amusing to watch the man trying to put polish on my toe nails (especially as they were so short!). A woman working there saw how it was putting the polish on and told him to move and let her do it because he was doing a bad job. But she didn’t do all that great either. But the experience was worth it. The nails will grow back.

The hotel I am staying at is the Pujiang Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Shanghai, and what used to be one of the most posh It used to be called the Astor Hotel and then Richard’s Hotel, and the likes of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Einstein, and other celebrities stayed here. Now it is the location of some of the cheapest accommodation in the city. It still has the high ceilings and imposing rooms, but all are a bit worn for wear. It has a neglected feel and seems dark and tired, but it is also kind of cool. I wonder if Einstein stayed in my room? Though I have a feeling that it was the billiards room, because the light on the ceiling has that look about it. It has what used to be a fireplace, as well as a small alcove that can be closed off, which to me speaks of a small smoking room or gambling room off the billiards area. But I could be wrong, but it doesn’t matter, I’ll just think of it has the former billiards room anyway.

Ah, but what craziness my room is! Yesterday when I arrived at 7:30 in the morning, no one is there. Then at 7:30 pm when I returned, the others are sleeping. I was annoyed because I wanted to take a shower, but a pair of pants was floating in the bathtub. But I think, well, they ARE early to sleep, early to rise people. I am just going to go and do a little email, and then I will go to sleep early. But after email, I watched the Fellowship of the Ring in the bar, and went back to the room at half past ten, which had then become a flurry of activity! All the rest of the room members are women from Mongolia, and hard partiers from the look of it! They were all getting ready to go out, putting on make-up, in all states of undress/dress, and yakking up a storm!! They were talking so loud. The television was blaring. One girl in her bed chattering away on the phone, and almost as soon as she would hang up, someone would call again. I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep right away, so I started to write in my journal. After half an hour though, my eyes were getting too heavy. I put my stuff away, and lay down, but the yakking did not stop! They even turned to me and told me sorry, they would be off soon, and then returned to talking to each other at the top of their lungs. Mongolian to me sounds like a cross between Korean and Russian, which isn’t all that surprising, but of course I did not understand a thing. But I didn’t care; I just wanted them to talk quietly. Half an hour later they will still going strong and I was about to scream. I asked them if they were going out, and they said in two minutes, sorry, and off they went again using up oxygen as though it were in short supply. About 20 minutes later they finally left. Though one girl arrived back at 5:30 in the morning and stomped about in her high heels as loud as she could, back and forth, back and forth across the room.  I cannot help but hope these women check out tomorrow.

Today I took the psychedelic Bund tourist tunnel under the Huangpu River to the New Pudong area and checked out a mostly empty mall and the Shanghai aquarium. The aquarium was really, really good. In my opinion it is much better than the one in Singapore, which really surprised me. Especially as the Shanghai one mentions conservation, while the Singapore does not. Yeah, China!

Two Weeks Backpacking in Portugal, June 2002

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
In June 2002 (between my first year of graduate school in Monterey, California and the start of my one year of study in Singapore) I backpacked through Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra for a total of six weeks. Two of those weeks were in Portugal. I entered the coastal south of the country by bus from Seville, Spain and departed from the midsection by truck to Caceras, Spain. I visited Tavira, Lisbon, Sintra, Obidos, Nazare, Porto, Viana do Castelo, Coimbra, Evora, Portalegre, and Marvao.

It was a fantastic two weeks, I think in a large part because I traveled about one week of it with CH, a woman from New York I met in a hostel in Lisbon. I remember us heading to a small bar/restaurant in Lisbon to listen to Fado music. In Obidos we stuffed our faces with plums we stole from someone’s tree. In Porto we took a wine tour and watched the US beat Portugal in a World Cup match shown live in a local theater. In Viana do Castelo we strolled through the old town and skipped rocks on the beach. And the most memorable part of Coimbra was our drain-less shower in the hostel! CH and I are still friends to this day.

I also particularly remember Portugal because I hitchhiked there. Twice! I still have a hard time believing I really did that, but I did. I have only done so maybe 5 times in my life (twice in Japan and another time in Taiwan).

Day One
I entered Portugal from Seville to stop first at Tavira on the south coast. I am sure I stopped here for historical reasons and chose to avoid the more touristy/more popular town of Faro on some kind of principal. Unfortunately I did not like Tavira. Perhaps I was too tired from the bus ride and the already two weeks backpacking in Spain? The only thing I wrote about Tavira was “Great if you like absolute Boredom! OK, I am not good at relaxing. I was so bored I paid 2 euros to ride toy train about town. And the town was so small they even took us to some run down parts which you wouldn´t think would be on any tourist toy train trip.” Ouch.

Day Two
I took the train to Lisbon. Part of track was broken, so at one point the whole train load had to get off and take buses to the next part of the track. Then we changed later to a boat to take us into Lisbon. Lisbon is nice but I was tired. It was an easy day.

It does not sound easy when a train has to unload and then take buses to the next part of the track and then load back onto the train and then change to a boat, does it? However, in my travels I have found I am often amused and delighted by such things as train delays. In my day to day life this would drive me nuts, but I am willing to accept and embrace it when traveling. I remember when I took a bus from Sydney to Canberra in 2000 and the bus broke down. I recall it being fun.

Day Three
Lisbon. I visited the Aquarium. I had to since I attend graduate school in Monterey where there is a popular aquarium. I also visited the Monastery at Belem-beautiful. I took a tram up the windy streets to Sao Jorge castle, but disembarked early because of an overzealous American hater. I only asked him if this was the way to the castle and I got a monologue ‘I don´t know. I have been going nowhere for 20 years. My wife and I love Portugal, come here every year (and yet he does not know where the castle is?). We just were in Paris, but are stopping here for a week. Best place, Lisbon. Up ahead on the left is a church where they had the body of the king of Romania for years because no one else wanted him. [I interject with a “wasn´t he executed?] What? No! They never execute anyone here, not even the bulls…..Where are you from? America? They don´t much like Americans here, and I agree. That crazy president…’ As he simply continued on and on I got off the next stop I could. That night I went to see Fado, a traditional Portuguese song and music, with two girls from the hostel. Really nice Fado, really bad waiter.

Day Four
I visited Sintra, the former summer residence for the monarchs of Portugal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These days I absolutely love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites – I thought I was at the time I visited Sintra as well. Yet the only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing I wrote about the town was that it is “Beautiful, but COLD.” It must have been quite cold. I do have a pretty strong dislike for the cold and apparently it can blot out memory of all else. Perhaps I need to visit Portugal again?

Day Five
Obidos and Nazare. I took a bus to Obidos, a really nice town, with two women from the hostel – Sun Hua from Korea and CH from New York. We left our bags at a grocery store and explored until the bus to Nazare arrived. As we walked around the town we found a plum tree. CH marched up and plucked a plum and ate it. So soon we were all robbing the tree of its fruit and stuffing it into our bags and mouths, though mine all went into my mouth. We walked atop the town walls and met a nice American couple and did the obligatory photo exchange. Then we happened upon a guy below the wall behind a house doing the same as my man in Seville. The guy was busy exciting his equipment in full view of the wall, and it brought more excitement to him that we came upon him. I couldn´t believe this, two guys in less than a week. I am sure this happens frequently enough, but I don´t usually happen upon them! We took off as quickly as the thin walls with a 10 foot drop would let us hurry, though later we thought we should have heckled him or something.

We then caught the bus to Nazare, known for its traditional dress of seven petticoats, and for the most aggressive housing ladies in Portugal. I was a bit disappointed that only one lady, with big hair, gold teeth, and lots of gold jewelry, met our bus. She was aggressive, but after all only one. We got down to the main street and then we were swamped with offers of places to say about every few feet. It was difficult to walk the 10 minutes to the tourist office, because we had to stop every few feet to find out about some place to stay. I was very keen to take the funicular car up the hillside for the great view, but of course it was broken! So we walked up. Nice view though. Cute little town, and the older women really do wear the traditional clothing.

Day Six
Porto. It was raining, a bit of a disappointment. Porto is supposed to be really nice, but at first it was hard to tell in the rain. And it was a bit COLD. What in the world, it was JUNE! We found a nice place to stay though, the woman there was so super. Smiles all the time. Really sweet. She more than made up for the rain. So we rested. I was still traveling with Sun-Ha and CH. In the evening Sun-Ha fell asleep really early, but CH and I took advantage of a lull in the rain to take a bit of a stroll about town. The big bridge over the river was beautiful at night.

Day Seven
Porto. We caught the Portugal-USA World Cup game for free at a theater, where a wide screen television was set up. We got all kinds of stuff, whistles and some plastic things to beat together, as well as a game schedule. It was quite fun, but as you can imagine since the US won, the mood was a bit somber as the crowd filed out. We tried to get on tv, and they did come over to us, but then proceeded to ignore CH and I in order to interview Sun-Ha. What! South Korea wasn´t even playing! Then we headed over to a Port wine cellar for a free tour and free samples. None of us were wine drinkers but we each had a taste. It was fun, and the weather was very fine! We walked back over the top of the bridge (all the wine cellars are on the other side of the river because the temperature and soil are better or something). I want to go back someday in September when the grapes are harvested so I can take part as some wine houses we still do the wine processing the traditional way-with feet! I want to do that! We also visited some sights in Porto, including a tower and the old Stock exchange. A very good day.

Day Eight
Viana do Castelo. It rained for much of the morning and early afternoon. I was thoroughly disappointed that once again the funicular which was to take me to a top of a hill for a beautiful view was out of service. What is it about the funiculars in Portugal? CH and I had an adventure trying to find the supermarket, but we took a wrong turn and it seemed everyone had been sent to avoid us. We saw an old man who looked as though his path was going to intersect ours so we slowed down to time it right. CH went up to ask him and he ignored her! She said ‘Pardon’ about three times before he seemed to notice we were there. CH and I took a stroll around the old town, which seemed deserted, and skipped stones by the beach.

Day Nine
Coimbra. I had not intended to visit Coimbra, but I wanted to head south to the city of Evora next and the trip by bus was going to take me 8 HOURS from Viana. I just couldn´t face it. So I decided to rest a day in Coimbra before venturing on to Evora. Coimbra is home to Portugal´s oldest university. Of course it was cold and raining when we were there. We still went up to the University and checked things out. But even with umbrellas the special sideways rain soon has us soaked and we took refuge in the Geography building, or it could have been the Science building. Anyway, we joined the ugly, unfriendly dog already hiding out there, and hung out and sang songs and watched the antics of the dog and his little dog friend until the rain subsided. The most memorable thing about Coimbra was the dog.

Day Ten
Evora. Evora is supposed to be Portugal´s premier town, a UNESCO world heritage site. For me a backpacker now on my own again, and really needing to pee, it was a nuisance. After hopping off the bus, I inspected the bus station toilets, which were horrible. Squatters and each with a little surprise pile in the middle of the toilet. I thought I would just walk into town and find a place to stay and go there. Yet it took me one and a half hours to locate the tourist office and a place to stay. The youth hostel was booked up, and so were all the other cheapies. Luckily there was a public toilet I could use and I didn´t have to wait the whole 90 minutes and the place I found. I paid 22 Euros for it, the most so far! And it was bare. No sink, no toilet, just a bed and a night stand. Though it did have a tv with CNN, so it was okay. The shower was a trickle, and there was this annoying ritual to get into my room. The room I was staying in was in another building from the reception. So I had to go to the other building first to have them let me into my building every time. I asked why we couldn´t have a key to other building and just received a withering glance from the 14 year old boy running reception. So I often went to the public toilets instead of back to my room for emergencies while strolling about. And there were no grocery stores. I had to eat in restaurants! The shame of it! 🙂 I have just been eating cheaper recently. The one grocery store had about three little aisles, with old vegetables, candy, a few blocks of cheese, and a whole aisle for detergents and stuff. Not exactly a place to stock up on food. There was the Roman era Temple of Diana; that was nice. The center of town was nice too. I followed the aqueduct out to an old poorly cared for fort, and that was it. So I decided one day was enough in Evora.

Day Eleven
Portalegre. I caught the bus from Evora here. I was going to continue on to Castelo da Vide, but since I had to wait several hours for the connecting bus I gave up and decided to stay. Besides Portalegre looked appealing as we drove up on the bus. (It had finally stopped raining when I was in Evora). And they had a REAL supermarket. So, I stayed the night there. I walked around the nice center of town and found it more pleasing than Evora.

Day Twelve
Castelo da Vide. I was the only person on the bus from Portalegre to Castelo da Vide. A whole 20 minute trip that I waited overnight to do and paid 4.80 Euros. Robbery! I paid 11.70 Euros for the four hour bus trip from Coimbra to Evora, and I paid only 1.10 Euros for the 50 minute train ride from Lisbon to Sintra! In C. da Vide I put my bag down in the tourist office, picked up my tourist map and had a look about town. It is a very nice town. Again, I enjoyed it more than Evora. I left my bag at 12:30 and was to pick it up at 2 pm when the tourist office opened again, but I caught the last 30 minutes of the Portugal-Poland game in a smoky cafe, where I was the only woman. I got a few looks, but I didn´t care. It was a great last 30 minutes.

Then I had to decide what to do next. I wanted to go to Marvao, a town about 12 kilometers from C. da Vide, but it being a holiday there were no buses, only taxis. Sso I decided to try hitchhiking. I had a black marker and I printed in big letters MARVAO on a piece of paper, then I headed down the road. I figured even if I was unable to get a lift, it would only take me FOUR HOURS. Surely I could not be so wimpy as to be unable to walk for 4 hours with my pack on, could I? Off I went. I sang songs to myself and amused myself with thoughts as I walked. When I heard a car approaching from behind, I would hold my sign up over my head. I managed to sing the whole of 100 bottles of beer on the wall! It was warm, there was shade and the walk was not all that unpleasant. After one hour of walking I got a ride! Three siblings, two brothers and a sister, picked me up. They live in Lisbon but have a house in Marvao, which is a small hamlet of only 187 souls perched high on a hill, with almost everyone still living within the old medieval walls. As we drove up, I thought I would have never made it up that hill… The siblings not only gave me a lift but also invited me to dinner and to stay the night. So I stayed with them. I took a stroll around the town, which is applying for UNESCO status, and again, I liked it more than Evora.

Day Thirteen
Return to Spain. Now Marvao being near the border as it is, of course has no public transportation to Spain. There was only one train leaving from another town 9 kilometers away, departing at 1 am. Very convenient. Since I thought the border was only 5 kilometers away, I was resolved, with my success from the day before, to walk across the border and get a bus there, or to get a ride all the way to Caceras in Spain, just 100 kilometers away. I made a new sign CACERAS-ESPANA and started to walk. But at 10 am it was already hot and there was no shade. I quickly doubted this was a good idea. Still, I kept going. But lucky me because a Spanish truck driver stopped for me just 20 minutes into my walk. As he was heading to Valencia he agreed to take me the whole way. We conversed about the EU, the possibility of a Mexico-US alliance like the EU, jobs, the differences between cows, and the like in Spanish. It took a bit longer to get to Caceras because the truck was old and he had to pull over and check the tires and other parts a couple of times. Yet he did take me all the way to the center of Caceras, shook my hand, and then was off. But now back in civilization where buses roam, I will be back to buses.