One week to go

One week to go before I leave.
Still haven’t figured out what to pack clothes wise. Will be dealing with two different climates, which for me is always hard to plan for. The common advice is wear layers, how many and what? Am never sure what layers mean.

Managed to buy a new suitcase that is much lighter than my others, it has 4 wheels and spins. Much too big I think at 26” but am sure that I’ll manage to fill it up. If not before than during the trip. Have to be careful with the weight though, domestic flights only permit 44lbs.

I have never quite understood the people that go for an infinite time, with a little carry on. Whenever packing and luggage comes up in travel forums they are invariably those, who are the most virtuous of all, they make us who take a check in suitcase seem like nincompoops. To be honest I probably could use a smaller bag.

My good knee has been bothering me for a very long time then about 6 weeks ago I was in agony. The doctor gave me Naproxen which seemed to take care of whatever was ailing me. 2 weeks ago the pain started again and I was referred to an orthopedist. To make a long story shorter, I have a torn meniscus.

When I got the news I started to cry, I thought the trip was off. Fortunately the tears didn’t last, when the doctors came back into the room I was calm and the news were good. Yes, I can travel, they will inject cortisone a couple of days before I leave and give me a prescription for pain. Am self medicating right now, ibuprofen, knee brace, bed rest and ice.

The best part of the visit, I got a recommendation to a Cambodian restaurant in my neighborhood.

All is well with the world.

Of course now my concern is Seoul. One of the meeting arrangers sent one of those pre-arrival letters informing us that many of the meals, are going to be at very low tables sitting on the floor. At the best of times that is not my favorite position for eating. I don't like eating on the floor, ground, or reclining. I would have done very poorly in Roman times. Give me a regular chair to sit on, and I am a happy camper. So the worry, which is silly, since there is nothing I can do about it here and now, is how I can stretch my leg out, and feel comfortable?

Otherwise the pre travel karma continues. The other night I went to a jazz performance, and this magnificent woman in dread locks wearing a hat from Mali admired my Obama pin. Naturally we started talking, it turns out she will be in Shanghai when I am there.

There is a restaurant in Beijing that I wanted to try, it is the kind of place where you should really be more than one, and lo and behold I have two dining companions the night I arrive. We connected through Fodor’s Asian forum.

Am working on my Chinese art appreciation,
Metropolitan Museum has a magnificent temporary show of Chinese art
“Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui” (1632–1717), which I had read about in The New York Sun, which has a great Arts section.

A friend and I went the other day; I knew nothing about this kind of art except that the article made it sound awesome. It was very impressive and educational as well. We happened to stand next to a Chinese man who it turns out is an art dealer specializing in ancient art. We got a lovely lesson and walked out completely sated. It was the kind of exhibit that lifts your spirits.

A similar painting to the ones we saw:
“ Along the river during the Ching-Ming Festival”
This painting was originally painted during the Northern Song Dynasty, 1085-1145. It was repainted again during the Qing Dynasty. It measures 528cm. in width and 24.8cm. in height. It is considered as one of the Great Treasures of China and was exhibited in the Hong Kong Museum of Art last year. (Control the speed of picture with your mouse)

SEA Itineray 2008

Su Oct 5 9.10 am Delta #5270 JFK –arr Toronto 11.07 am dep Korean Air # 74 11.50 pm
Tu Oct 7 arr Seoul 2.30 am
Tu Oct 7 Seoul
We Oct 8 Seoul Mingle
Th Oct 9 DMZ Panmunjom
Fr Oct 10 Seoul
Sa Oct 11 Seoul
Su Oct 12 Kyongju
Mo Oct 13 Golgusa Temple for Temple stay
Tu Oct 14 return to Kyongju
We Oct 15 Andong and Sorak Mountains
Th Oct 16 Sorak National Park and hot springs
Fr Oct 17Dep Seoul 11.50 am #879 Korean Air
Fr Oct 17 Arrive Beijing 12.40 pm
Sa Oct 18 Beijing
Su Oct 19 Beijing
Mo Oct 20 Beijing
Tu Oct 21 Beijing
We Oct 22 night train to Pingyao 2519 Beijing West Railway Station/ Pingyao 19:43 - 0656+
Th Oct 23 arrive Pingyao 6.56
Fr Oct 24 Tiyuan - Shanghai 14.55 Hainan air
Sa Oct 25 Shanghai
Su Oct 26 Shanghai leave for Jiashang bus to Xitang
Mo Oct 27 Xitang and Wuzhu leave for Suzhou
Tu Oct 28 Suzhou boat to Hangzhou
Wed Oct 29 Hangzhou
Th Oct 30 Hangzhou
Fr Oct 31 Hangzhou fly to Xian HU7862 11.20 am arr 1.30 pm
Sa Nov 1 Xian to Guilin dep. 18.25 arr 8 pm
Ca 1225 Transfer to Yangshou
Su Nov.2 Yangshou
Mo Nov 3 Yangshou
Tu Nov.4 Yangshou
We Nov 5 Guilin to Kunming CZ3247 3.50 pm arr 4.55
Th Nov 6 Kunming
KMG 19:10
DLU 19:45 737 520($77)
All fares
Fr Nov 7 Dali
Sat Nov 8 bus to Lijiang
Su Nov 9 Lijiang
Mo Nov 10 Lijiang
Tu Nov 11 Lijiang
We Nov 12, 7pm Cz3452 to Kunming arr 7.50 pm
Th Nov 13, 8.15 am to Guangzhou Cz3420
Th Nov 13, 9.20 pm CZ 371 Guangzhou to Hanoi arr 10.05 pm
Th Nov 13 Hanoi
Fr Nov 14 arr Hanoi
Sa Nov 15 Hanoi
Su Nov 16 Hanoi
Mo Nov 17 Hanoi
Tu Nov 18 Hanoi dep 12.40 Arr Hue 13.50 VN245
WeNov 19 Hue
Th Nov 20 Hue-Hoi An
Fr Nov 21 Hoi-An
Sa Nov 22 Hoi An
Su Nov 23 Hoi An
Mo Nov 24 Hoi An –Ho Chi Min
Tu Nov 25 Ho Chi Min
We Nov 26 Ho Chi Min
Th Nov 27 Ho Chi Min – Phu Quoc
Th Nov 27 Phu Quoc
Fr Nov 28 Phu Quoc
Sa Nov 29 Phu Quoc – Ho Chi Min
Sa Nov 29 Ho Chi Min - Siem Reap
Su Nov 30 Siem Reap
Mo Dec 1 Siem Reap
Tu Dec 2 Siem Reap
We Dec 3 Dec 2 Siem Reap – Korean air #11 arr NYC 10.35 am Th Dec 4
A two months trip to Asia? This is how it all began, like most things in life it was totally accidental. It really started on a Saturday night in June at Carnegie Hall. I had been invited to a concert given by a friend to celebrate her 60th birthday. The invitation was for 2 people and my glamorous friend came along. During the reception she made a beeline to a table where two single men were chatting. Within a few minutes we were part of the conversation. One of the men and I started talking and he told me that he had toured Korea, I told him that I was “thinking” of going to China. The kind of thinking, “that one of these days I will actually get my act together and go, but don't know when”.

Monday I receive a newsletter from an international Swedish organization that I belong to called SWEA, is having their regional meeting in Seoul in October. It took all of 3 minutes and my “thinking” became reality. The rather high registration fee for Seoul was remitted by the bank. Since there was basically no refund in case I changed my mind, I was committed.

Now I am sitting here and planning this trip, and trying to figure out where to go and what I want to see. This is going to be one long trip. As I go through travelogues and other people’s experiences creep up, places get added on. Before I know it I am up to two months of travel.

Anxieties, are my children alright with this? Will not be here for Thanksgiving, is that OK? What on earth am I thinking of, the children think I am crazy in a sane kind of a way.

Most people look at me in disbelief “You are going by yourself? No tour?
Then you had a travel agent plan it for you” When I say “yes I am going by myself, and no travel agent has been involved” they look at me again and say “You are so brave, I could never do that” They mean plan a trip like this and travel alone, am never quite sure which one is the ruling factor in these kinds of comments.

The thing is, I’m not particularly brave, but I am not ruled by fear. My curiosity of what is around the corner and the unknown can be a wonderful experience and sometimes it is a drag and quite boring. The planning takes time but is not difficult. I had a very good teacher my friend Sue who I went to India with. She is a travel planner par excellence.

I go through many of the travel forums, ask a lot of questions, and am informed by the “expert” that the places I had thought of going to were Disneyfied, well past their prime and really not worthwhile going to. If I wanted to see the real rural and authentic China I should take a couple of buses, one of these that lasted at least 8 hours. To then arrive in a village that had no guest accommodations and most likely nobody spoke English.

I agonize; spend an entire weekend, from morning to night looking at options.
I don’t want to be classified as a “TOURIST”. Fortunately at some point, while I am having these delusions that I am still 20 and physically fit, I realize I am a tourist.It is OK to be a tourist. There is nothing wrong with going to places that others have visited. I don’t need to be one of the first to visit a village, though I would like to. What I need to recognize are my comfort levels and not try to live up to a total stranger’s perception of how I should be traveling, very liberating thoughts. I also wonder, what kind of a middle aged woman in not the best of physical shapes decides to go to SEA on her own for 2 months. Then I realize that it is me, and who cares about anyone else.

Did I mention that I had signed up for a course in Mandarin as this trip was being planned? Well the course, which was a beginner course, took place without me.
Let me explain, I was present in person but could not remember any words.
The teacher decided to ignore me after 3 weeks; I was so far behind in vocabulary and grammar. It was easier for her to pretend I didn’t exist.
However my pronunciation was excellent according to her.

I speak with varying degree of success 6 different European languages. So how difficult could it be to learn something new? Sometimes I wonder what I was thinking, of course my daughter knew better and said take a tourist course in Mandarin, and in this case it was not Mother knows best. So here I am planning this trip with a very expensive knowledge of 4 words and not having any real clue to what I am going to see and do.

After way too many hours at the computer I have a final itinerary and actually a few reservations at hotels, or as in my case more like hostels. Since I usually spend a minimal amount of time in the room, I have selected places based on other’s recommendations. They sound nice, and if they are not the price is reasonable enough that I can walk away.

Have this final itinerary and I get an e-mail from someone on one of the forums.
She has been to Korea and China, lives in NYC and lets talk. We meet at her husband's studio, he is a photgrapher and talk. I see the pictures and am awestruck.
They went to a small town called Pingyao in China, I want to go there.
My itinerary now includes an overnight train and stay in Pingyao. (Don't know how to include links in this blog.)

The planning is a lot of fun, I had my entire time in Vietnam planned and as I am at the computer it has changed. Have now decided to take an overnight boat from Saigon to Cambodia, this way I get to go through the Mekong Delta and to Phnom Penh. Instead of flying to Phu Quoc in Vietnam, which sounds like a lovely island, undergoing tourist development, am thinking of doing my beaching in Cambodia. I was also going to go to Sapa in northern Vietnam, but since I don't hike or trek decided against it. This way I have a few more days to play with.

As you can see om my itinerary I did change my plans and will have more time in Cambodia.