We spent Christmas in Detroit for the third year in a row this year, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as cold as Beijing. Because we were so jetlagged, we spent many of our nights up until 3, 4 and 5 a.m. and many of our days sleeping until 1 or 2 p.m. Our first night we watched five episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, five episodes of Seinfeld, then a Lifetime movie called Human Trafficking and a Dr. Phil special on the same topic. Have you heard about human trafficking? Seriously fucked up. Teenage girls are kidnapped and sold as sex slaves – and not just girls from Brazil and the Philippines, but blond-haired Russian, European and American girls on vacation in other countries. They think that’s what may have happened to Natalie Holloway, who disappeared in Aruba, and countless other girls who’ve disappeared. So next time you’re visiting a porn website, remember that you may be fostering the sex slave trade.
On a brighter note … like every year, we convened at my Dad’s house around 5 p.m. Christmas Day, ate dinner at 6:30 (turkey, ham, potatoes, green beans, etc. buffet style because there are too many people to sit at one table. My favorite dessert was my brother, Pat’s, pumpkin cake roll filled with a cream cheese filling. Yum.) We opened presents after dinner, then took the family photos, first all the kids, then the Gibson family, the Bailey family, the Ward family, then me. The best photo was the one Martin took of the Christmas paparazzi. Then we did what all good Catholics do on Christmas Day – which is also what we also did on Christmas Eve – got drunk and played Texas Hold’em until 1 a.m.
Caitlin and Shannon
2/3 of the Nieces and Nephews
Chuck taking a photo
The Christmas Paparrazi
Meghan Playing Poker
Taking a break
If anyone needs a gift to give someone, I highly suggest the Suggestion Book by my friend Otis Kriegel. It’s a perfect gift and Amazon can deliver in time for Christmas!
I forgot to mention that during our flight home from Beijing, our plane was struck by lightning. We were flying through a storm and we saw a flash and heard a thud against the front right side of the plane. Then five minutes later the captain came on to say everything was working fine but yes, we were struck by lightning. Crazy.
We’re back and I’m SO jetlagged. After leaving China at 2 p.m. we arrived at 9 a.m. the same day. I slept that day from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. then again from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Just in time to get up and go tutor. I think I should take some melatonin tonight.
On our last day in China we visited the Great Wall at Badaling, the most popular (and touristy) place to see the wall. About an hour north of Beijing, we hiked up a section of the wall, then down another section, then back up to the top and took a sliding car back to the parking lot. To imagine the Great Wall, picture a fire road snaking up and down the California hills (few trees, lots of brush). Then picture it paved with cement blocks. Then picture it elevated 20 or 30 feet off the ground, then picture walls on either side rising above the path about three feet. Then picture the steep hilly parts of the path (most of what we did was steep and hilly) made out of steep stone steps. Then picture tourist stands selling T-shirts, ramen, tea eggs (eggs boiled in tea and soy sauce) and I Climbed the Great Wall certificates at the most scenic vistas. Then imagine your calves and thighs aching two days afterward and there you have an idea of what it’s like to hike the Great Wall. Would be amazing to hike a large portion of it (it extends 4000 miles from the mountains on the East Coast to the Gobi Desert in the West) but a lot of the wall has crumbled or been torn down, and I’m not sure how easy it is to hike through those parts. The wall near the tourist points has been restored, so it’s not the original wall. The wall was first built by the Qin (not Qing) Dynasty in I think 200 B.C. Then it was continued by the Ming Dynasty, the last dynasty, from 1600-1900. Since then it was left to rot until it became a popular tourist destination and was restored for that purpose. Genghis Kahn (Mongolian warrior who conquered China in the early 13th century) crossed the Great Wall in 1213 and is reported to have said that the Great Wall was only as strong as its sentries and its sentries could be bribed. I read in my Lonely Planet guide that the wall was more effective as an elevated highway than as a barrier against invaders; however, the parapets have arched doorways only big enough for someone to walk a horse through unless they did some kind of Chinese acrobatics and front flipped over the parapet back onto the horse on the other side. There are also breaks in the Wall, not only due to crumbling but to natural obstacles like boulders. And with the steep steps, I’m not sure how practical it was as an elevated highway. Here are some photos. It was insanely cold and windy, so Martin and his coworker, Guojing, rented communist soldier coats and hats. I wore a long-sleeved T-shirt, two sweaters, a jacket, my down North Face jacket, a scarf and two knit hats. I also wore tights, knee socks and another pair of socks beneath my jeans. And gloves.
Taxi Ride to Badaling
Xin on the Great Wall
Boulder Blocking Great Wall, but not Martin
Martin, Xin and Guojing
Window in the Wall
Martin Standing Guard at Our Destination
Wall Along the Mountains
Last night we went to see a Chinese acrobatic show. If you’d been sitting next to me you would have heard me munching on glazed peanuts, sipping green tea, snapping an occasional photo and saying: “Oh my God. Oh shi-oh my God. Wow. That’s gotta hurt. Oh Lord. Oh my goodness. Oh my God. Oh shi- …” (Gasp, gulp, sigh).
The most impressive acts were a girl who did her entire act upside down holding herself on a pole with one arm (switching arms occasionally the way we switch feet on a hold when rock climbing), two girls who did performances with bowls on their feet (put foot next to ear, set bowl on foot, do crazy things without ever dropping bowl), a girl (they’re all kids, the oldest are teenagers) who balanced a stack of glasses separated by pieces of cardboard or something – one stack on her head, one in her mouth, one in each hand and one on each foot. I thought the stacks were all one piece until the end when she took them apart and poured water from one of the glasses into another to prove they were all separate pieces. INSANE. There was also one little boy who did about 20 backflips in a row across the stage. They were all insanely strong and talented and I was happy to see that they all had big butts and massive thighs and not-so-super-flat stomachs. Here are photos that both Marti and I took. They’re a little blurry and far away because I didn’t have a tripod and I don’t have a great zoom.
Yesterday I went to the emperor’s Summer Palace, which isn’t so much a palace as an estate – a ton of different buildings all scattered about a lake. I only had a couple of hours, so I didn’t learn the names of many of the buildings, but I did have a chance to hike up rocks and hills and walk through trees, to see a big Buddha and the Marble Boat, and takes tons of pictures. The best part, though, was reading about the Dragon Lady in my Lonely Planet guide. Here’s what I remember:
Cixi was the daughter of the captain of the guard at the Forbidden City. She had a boyfriend who was a Manch commander (she was also a Manchu), but at 16 she was chosen to be one of the emperor’s concubines and had to go live in the Forbidden City. Cixi had the fortune to become pregnant with the emperor’s son, which elevated her from third-rate concubine to secondary consort. The emperor often consulted her in state affairs because she was so cunning, and when he died at age 30, she became the empress dowager (whatever that is.) For all practical purposes, she was in charge, and she remained so for 40 years. She hooked her son up with lots of concubines and, as a result, he caught a venereal disease and died. One concubine he got pregnant died one day and it was rumored that it was a forced suicide – to make sure the Dragon Lady would remain in control of the empire. Cixi then chose her three-year-old nephew, who was not in line for the throne, to be the next emperor. When he became a teenager and began to initiate reforms that Cixi didn’t like, she returned to The Forbidden City from the Summer Palace where she had been in retirement and had him locked away, letting him out only for ceremonies. By this time, the Qing (Ching) dynasty (approx 1600-1900) was on its way down. Then Cixi’s ex-boyfriend, who had remained loyal to her, had a grandson by his daughter who was married to the emperor’s brother. Cixi announced that the two-year-old would be the next emperor and that very night, the teenage emperor mysteriously died. And that two-year-old became THE LAST EMPEROR, a movie I have not seen, but will as soon as I get back. The amazing thing is that the Ming dynasty (about 1300-1600) before the Qing dynasty had an empress who was even more powerful than The Dragon Lady. Her name was Wu Hou and she almost succeeded in establishing her own dynasty. I don’t know anything about Wu Hou, but would love to learn more.
Boat on Lake Kunmin
Me and My Shadow
View of Tourists Through Palace Window
View of Tourists Through Another Palace Window
Woman Walking Down Steep Steps Behind Buddhist Tenants Hall
Buddhist Tenants Hall (notice lower Buddhas’ heads are missing – wasn’t me!)
Buddhist Tenants Hall
Gate to Marble Boat