Sunday, March 28, 2004


June 15, 1999: My father died in December. His death was painful and unexpected. I was devastated.
Within a week of his death, my sister and her lawyer husband showed up out of nowhere and dragged my family into a bloody and humiliating probate contest.
In February, we held a memorial service for my father, on his birthday. Everyone in the family and the community came to honor him. We did not invite my wicked, conniving sister.
The terrible court battle over my father's relatively small estate ended last week. My sister got most of the money and we got most of the costs -- just because I hadn't married a lawyer!
Now it was time to wrap up this pitiful year of mourning my father and taking the family feud to court by doing something fantastic, wonderful, positive and good. "I want to blow our whole inheritance," I told my 12-year-old daughter Amy as I stood gazing into the refrigerator, trying to plan dinner. "I want to use that money to do something nice for Pop."
"Let's take his ashes to Disneyland!" suggested my daughter, always the realist.
"We can't do that. He's already buried," I reminded her. But that might not be a bad idea. "We have a nice picture of him. Maybe we could take that to Disneyland." Hummm. A trip in his honor sounded good. "But how about we take him somewhere a little more...uh...spiritual than Disneyland?"
I looked at Pop's picture, calculated the size of our inheritance and thought. What would be the most meaningful gesture I could think of? What could we to do offer tribute to a man among men? "Let's take him some place nice," I said.
My son Joe walked into the kitchen. "What's up?"
"We want to take Grandpa to Disneyland!" replied Amy.
Joe raised an eyebrow, something he did very well. He had practiced it daily since fifth grade. He was now a sophomore in college. "Disneyland?"

June 20, 1999: Where could we go? Jerusalem? The Vatican? The Pyramids? Manchu Picchu? Disneyland? What? How much money did I have? What would Pop have wanted? Where could I go that would finally ease my mind after enduring this last year from Hell?
Amy came into the kitchen at that point, carrying the mail. "Anything for me?" I asked.
"No, but here's something for grandpa."
"Really?" I said, grabbing the mail. Pop's mail had been forwarded to our address. There it was. An Overseas Adventure Travel brochure; addressed to my father; advertizing Tibet. I ran to the phone and started dialing the 800 number....

September 7, 1999: In just three days, Joe, Amy and I are actually leaving for Tibet! We are going to take my father's picture to Tibet and lovingly place it on the steps of one of the holiest shrines known to man, the Potala Palace. Lhasa. Tibet. How cool is that!
We've ordered the tickets, watered the plants, arranged for the cat to get fed, got time off from work. Now it was actually time to finish tying all the loose ends together, finish the packing and leave.

September 8, 1999: I went over the packing list again. I'd already gone over it a million times but one more time wouldn't hurt. "Joe!" I yelled. "Got your passport? Don't forget your..." Joe was 19 and very responsible. Of course he wouldn't forget his passport. Amy was another matter. She was 12 years old and a bit young to be dragged off to the roof of the world. I definitely had my doubts about taking her. But she had known and loved her grandfather very much and there was no way we could leave her at home. "Amy!" I yelled up the stairwell. "How many socks did you pack!"
There had been a mix-up in the tickets and Amy and Joe had to fly to Vancouver a day before I did. They were leaving tomorrow. Then I would follow them one day later. "One more day!" I sang out and did a little chicken dance. "Just one more day!" Going on such a big trip was a big deal for me. I'd never done anything like this before. Would I come back a changed person? Would this trip change my life?

September 9, 1999: It was 2:00 pm, actually time to drive the kids to the airport. "Hurry up, Joe. You're going to be late!" That morning I went to work, caught up on everything there, stopped at Thrifty and bought last-minute supplies for the trip, purchased enough lottery tickets to last the entire time I was gone and brought Pedro-the-house-sitter up to speed on how to feed the cat and work the answering machine. I was finally ready to drive Joe and Amy to the airport. But Joe hadn't even put his shoes on yet. And Amy was still in the bathroom fiddling with her hair. "Come on, Amy! We've got to go! Now!" I grabbed bags, baggage, jackets and stuffed animals and pushed all the stuff and the kids out the door.
We raced to the airport. I dragged the kids through check-in, bought them bubble gum, waited at the wrong gate with them for an hour and then left them, hopefully, standing by the right gate. "Bye, Ma," Joe called from the boarding lounge. "See you tomorrow."
It was finally happening, I told myself for the hundredth time, the trip had finally begun.
Did the children arrive successfully in Vancouver? The monm was the last to know but when I finally tacked them down, they were checked into the Executive Inn, Joe had already gone out dancing with a friend of his and Amy was in the hotel room by herself, watching re-runs of bull-riding contests.
I finally got bored of waitng for them to report and called them at 10:00 pm that night. "Hi, Amy. Did you make it okay? How's it going?"
"Wow!" she said. "The bull just threw the guy and then jumped on him!"
"How was your flight?"
"Ooooh. They're dragging him off!"
"Did you have any problems? Did Joe meet up with his friend?"
"That bull just kicked him in the nuts. That's got to hurt."
"Amy! Focus!"
"Yes, Mom. Joe went dancing with his friend. He'll be back. We're fine. See you tomorrow. Bye, Mommy."
"Goodnight, Dear."
So the kids were okay. And I was okay too. Good. I re-assured myself that we would all meet up in Vancouver tomorrow and we would all make our flight to Beijing and nothing would go wrong. I puttered around the house, re-sorted my luggage, read a book and went to bed. But I never slept. I just lay there in the dark and waited and waited and waited for the 4:45 am alarm to go off.

September 10, 1999: Now it was my turn to go. Tenderly, I took my father's framed photograph and packed it away in my newly-purchased flea market luggage. I took one last look at his smiling face. "Come on, Pop!" I said. "We're going to Tibet."
I nervously chit-chatted with the Bayporter guy who drove me to the airport, nervously chit-chatted with the check-in lady, nervously chit-chatted with my fellow passengers on the flight; afraid that somehow something would go wrong even now and that we would never, ever, ever get to Tibet. Then the airplane touched down in Vancouver and the children were there and things were still alright.
"Mom! Joe didn't let me get any ice cream," whined Amy. "I told him you said it was okay".
"It's too late now," I told her as I looked around the boarding lounge to see if I could figure out who might be in our tour group. There were supposed to be 16 of us. I was dying to see who they were. "Look at that guy over there who looks like a cowboy," I said. "They're wearing our tour group name tags on their carry-ons". That's how we met Ron and his wife Laura. They were from Las Vegas. Next to them sat Cliff and Ellen-Marie from Texas. They turned out to be computer professionals.
Across from them sat the LLewellen family: Paul, Shirley, Steve and Glen; from Colorado. Steve and Glen were in their twenties, a little older than Joe, and looked nice. I introduced myself to a middle-aged man from Baltimore, Ken, and a middle-aged couple from Florida, Ed and Sam. John and Donna from Houston would meet us later, in Beijing.
Nobody in the group seemed all that friendly. Little did we know how well we would come to know each other in the next few weeks. We all boarded the plane separately and took our separate seats.

1:15 pm: The attendant aboard the Vancouver-Beijing flight handed me a blanket. I looked out the window. We were already over Alaska. There were some clouds and fjords and curly things way below us. Joe and Amy were in the two seats in front of me. The in-flight movie was about to begin, my ears just popped and I was jet-lagged already.
"What time is it in Beijing," I asked an attendant as he handed me some tomato juice, peanuts and a warm towel.
"It's twelve hours later than now. It's 4:00 am." I re-set my watch. "We will arrive at 3:00 pm," he added. I looked out the window. Hours and hours and hours left to go. "Would you like chicken or beef?"
"White or red wine?" Wow, we got free wine on this flight. I was maybe not a jet-setter. I was maybe still a bit over-awed by free wine.
"Red wine, please". The carrot cake was plastic. The wine was great. I loved being waited on. I listened to the beginning of tape 1 of "Children are from Heaven" on the tape recorder while I ate, but soon got annoyed with the sound quality and turned it off.
We all took homeopathic jet lag prevention pills once every two hours and Joe and I took turns changing seats, walking up and down the aisles and playing Go Fish with Amy. Over half the passengers were Chinese. That meant we had to be on the right plane, right? I finally started to relax and let go of my fears that some how, some way the trip would be merely a mirage that would disappear before our eyes and I would wake up to find myself stuck back home forever with no life; just endless years of working, cooking, shopping and trying to get Amy to do her homework.
I looked out the window again. "Over on your right," the pilot said, "you can see Mt. Mckinley." I looked out the window and there it was, a miracle of whiteness penetrating the sky. At first I thought it was a giant white cloud floating off in a distance, hovering over the brown moraine landscape and billowing high into the air. Then I realized it was actually attached to the world and was, in actuality, Mount McKinley.
I tapped Amy and Joe on the shoulder again. "Look you guys!" We all took pictures.
The plane was filled with literally hundreds of people but there were only two basic types of them: Those who spoke English and those who spoke Chinese. And then two types of movies started playing: Those in English with Chinese subtitles and those in Chinese with English subtitles. Joe, who had just finished taking a course on Hong Kong cinema at U.C. Santa Cruz, told me all about the Chinese film stars in the movie that had just started. "That guy there is a Sky King," he said.
"What's a sky king?"
"That's the name for the top four Chinese male movie stars." Oh. We watched the movie for a while then Amy got bored so we snuck off to a back corner of the plane and played hand-jive games until it was time to take another jet lag pill. Later we were supposed to fly over Siberia. Gee.
Hours and hours passed. I slept. Amy read. Joe drew Chinese warriors in his new sketch pad. I had no idea that China could possibly be so far away. We'd been in the air forever and we still had 2 1/2 hours to go. A steward came down the aisle again and asked, "Beef or chicken?" Chicken. At least they were serving dinner. That would keep us occupied for a while. So we had dinner. Over Siberia. At 1:02 am Pacific Standard time. Amy took a picture of the dinner.
More time passed. "I don't even care about China any more," I wailed. "I just want this trip to end." Both children were being very patient, but I was starting to freak out. We had flown over endless miles of empty ocean, interminable miles of barren Siberian mountainous terrain and now we were flying over endless miles of hilly rangeland.
I was surprised by Siberia: It had looked like Alaska. What had I been expecting? They were at the same latitude. And now, as we flew over northern China, I realized that we could have been flying over the coastal range of northern California and it would have looked like this also. Same latitude? Yep.
30,000 feet below us, a few tiny roads connected tiny, isolated valleys, ranches and towns. I wondered if any of them were communes.
I was startled by the vast amounts of uninhabited land we had flown over in China, Siberia and Alaska. I had assumed that most of the land mass of the planet was inhabited: I had assumed wrong. Most of it was totally devoid of people. Fascinated, I watched out the plane window as the near-empty continent turned below me.
Suddenly the landscape below us changed and thousands and thousands of cultivated fields appeared in thousands, millions of quilt pieces and strips. Now we really were in China. Or at least over it. Soon thereafter, the airplane descended on Beijing.
A man carrying an Overseas Adventure Travel sign met us at the airport after we cleared customs. "Welcome to China," he said. "My name is Mr. Shu". He herded us onto a bus and took us to the Beijing Hotel.
All along the way there, I marveled at what a wonderful city Beijing was. Why? Because there were so many wonderful trees everywhere. It was like driving through Paris, the Boise de Bourgoune of literary fame. The wonderful trees leant Beijing a fairy-tale quality no city I had ever seen possessed. The magic of its green canopies impressed me a lot.
At the hotel we found luxury far beyond what I was used to at home. Our room, with its silk-brocaded chairs and its lacquer-finished furniture, was equal to any U.S. hotel. Amy and I fell immediately asleep, surrounded by opulence we could never have afforded back in real life. Welcome to China indeed. All my reading about China's poverty, oppression and gloom had been far out of date.
At 7:30 pm (their time), Joe pounded on the door, waking us up. "Orientation session downstairs," he called. "Let's go."
"You get two bottled waters a day. Please pack your luggage to be ready every morning. Our exchange rate is eight yuan to one dollar". Our national tour leader's name was Kevin. "Take the important things with you when you go out. At the free market be careful of pickpockets. No pictures inside the museums. There's a 1,000 yuan fine.
"If you get lost, don't move. I will come back for you. Be prepared for a reaction to the high altitude in Tibet. We have oxygen. Also, don't wash your clothes in Tibet. The water stinks." Did I hear that right? "And save out 90 yuan apiece for airport tax each flight. And you will have a fashion show on the boat". A fashion show?
"The next item is about the shopping. You may want to buy a souvenir and I can help you. We'll go to visit local factories for Chinese handicrafts. Xi'an is the start of the Silk Road and we will see a factory and free markets there, and in Chengdu and Lhasa. The antiques are fakes."
That reminded me that I had seen four Tibetan Buddhist monks at the airport when we had just arrived at Beijing. I was very surprised to see them and bowed furtively. They bowed back. I was all pleased until I realized perhaps I could get in trouble for it. I guess I'd been reading too many books about the Red Guard and had gotten paranoid.
"Tomorrow you get a 7:00 am wake-up call. We leave at 8:30. There is an American breakfast buffet.
"Xi'an's old city has a wall and a moat. And the day after tomorrow we go to climb the Great Wall. And in the morning the old people do Tai Chi in Tiananmen Square. And the first thing you have to learn when you come to China is how to bargain".
"Tibetan Buddhism is a big fad in Hollywood, where my daughter works, right now," I told Kevin during the question-and-answer period. He assured me he knew what a `fad' was. "Will I be able to buy her paintings in Lhasa?" I was trying to sound like a tourist with shopping on her mind, not like someone who actually cared about the sad fate of the Tibetan people.
"Yes, of course," Kevin answered disinterestedly. "They sell paintings there. You can buy some."
After Kevin's orientation speech and despite jet lag, Joe and I went walking out on the main boulevard in front of the hotel. It turned out to be Saturday night. There were mobs of young people walking around. "Where are they going," I wondered. We followed them but they didn't seem to be going anywhere. It was like in Mexico. People just seemed to like to walk around. It was a warm night. It was pleasant. It was 8,000 miles away from where I had been that morning. Cool. We joined the crowd and walked also.
We ended up in a small restaurant, off a side street, across from a Russian-style Politburo building next to Tiananmen Square, obviously designed during the height of the Russian-Chinese detente during the 1950s. The building was immensely proportioned and had a red star on top.
We got dinner to go and took it back to the hotel to eat, stopping on the way back to wander around Tiananmen Square in the warm night air. I had to pinch myself to believe that I was actually there, actually in the heart of China. The famous square was almost empty; just a few gawkers here and there. Joe wanted to stay longer. "Let's just go back to the hotel," I said. "We're going to see it tomorrow and I need some sleep."
"Yeah," replied Joe, "I haven't slept in 36 hours." We turned toward the hotel but a wall of on-coming traffic stood between it and us; ten lanes of cars, trucks, buses and bicycles. "We can cross the street here," Joe added, pointing to a wide, well-designed set of steps leading downward. It looked like a subway entrance to me but it wasn't. It was an underground pedestrian crosswalk. It was classy and well-designed, with polished marble steps, floors and walls.
Everything in Beijing seemed classy and well-designed. The whole of downtown Beijing was a city-planner's dream, with wide boulevards, well-thought-out traffic patterns, user-friendly street lighting, trees everywhere, sky-scrapers that were works of art, etc. It was way different from what I'd expected. I loved Beijing.
I also loved its people. They were friendly, smiling, naive. It was like going back in time, like Americans 100 years ago, perhaps on their way to a 4th of July picnic in the park.
When we got back to the hotel, 10:00 pm Beijing time, Amy was still asleep. We spread our broccoli beef and sauted prawns out on a table and ate contentedly. "This food is almost as good as the Chinese food in Berkeley!" I exclaimed. We soon discovered that the Berkeley Chinese food standard was only surpassed occasionally in China. Not that the food in China wasn't excellent; it was; but obviously some of their top chefs had been lured to Berkeley at some point in time and we had become spoiled.
I wrote for a while in my little notebook, writing down my impressions of the day. "This reminds me of your grandfather," I commented to Joe. "Remember when we went back to Princeton to Elizabeth's wedding and he was sick and couldn't go? And I called him all day every day with a running commentary of everything that was going on? `Now we are at the beauty parlor having our hair done' and `now they are cutting the cake' and `now we are visiting the New York Stock Exchange on our way to the Statue of Liberty'. That's what this feels like."
We ate garlic-broccoli-beef and thought about Pop.
Finally Joe went off to his room that he shared with Ken, a widower from Baltimore. I went to bed and laid there forever and couldn't get to sleep. At 2:45 am, Amy was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and I was doomed to go one more day in a row with only two hours sleep while she showered and ate the food we saved for her.
I tried to write some more in my notebook but my befuddled, sleep-deprived brain was starting to fill with paranoid scenarios of KBG guys seizing it and hauling me away. I was still worried about how much one could write or not write; when the Chinese embassy had at first turned down my visa because I had said I was a writer; if we would be censored and sent to jail or not. Just exactly how honest could one be in the New China?
Kevin-the-guide wanted us to write about our experiences in China so that he could publish them in book form. What did that mean? All the books I had read before coming here had been about the Cultural Revolution and they said that the Chinese were not allowed to discuss, could not discuss their true feelings about how their country operated. Hell, I almost caused an international incident when I had applied for my visa and there had been strict rules that we were not supposed to mention going to Tibet on our visas either. Just what exactly did Kevin expect us to write about? I certainly didn't want to get thrown out of China for saying a wrong thing. I didn't want to call attention to myself. I just wanted to tour China. I vowed to keep my mouth shut; absolute silence; I would be the Sphinx.

4:45 am: Amy and I spent the last two hours putting stuff away, organizing stuff and making tea in the hotel-provided electric tea pot. "Do you want to try and get more sleep?" I asked her.
"No, once I wake up, I can't get back to sleep."
"Let's try. I have a book on tape we can listen to."
"I don't want to listen to anything." So we listened to a Recorded Books reading of The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, drank more tea and threw empty gum wrappers at each other. Wrigley's. Winterfresh.
Finally I started to doze off. As I fell asleep I realized that I was starting to put the ordeals of last winter's probate fight with my sister slowly behind me; she was over on the other side of the world. I was even vaguely starting to recover from the death of my father. But I still had the feeling that I was in Mexico.

6:45 am: "I think Luke Skywalker's cute," said Amy as soon as I was awake. "I don't understand why Princess Leia had to be his sister". What? Where was I? Berkeley? No. Amy had been reading Queen of the Empire all the time I slept between 5:00 am and 6:30 am. Now I had 3 1/2 hours sleep. I was ready to go! Right. Breakfast. Tiananmen Square. The Forbidden City. Amy opened the drapes and we looked out onto our balcony overlooking Tiananmen Square.

September 11? September 12?: We lost a day when we crossed the date line. It was 7:30 am Beijing time. Berkeley time was 12 hours earlier, 7:30 in the evening. "What do they have for breakfast, Joe?" I asked as I slipped into my chair in the Western-style hotel dining room.
"Omelettes," announced Amy. "Little fried bread thingies, cake, and bean bunnies." Bean bunnies? I had an omelette and congee (rice porridge); and peach cream pie made with stuff that tasted like styrofoam; pineapple juice and chocolate mousse. All free, part of the tour, at the elegant Beijing Hotel.
"I had all kinds of stuff," said Joe, wiping his mouth with a linen dinner napkin. "Eggs".
"Those nasty wiener things that were supposed to be hot dogs," added Amy.
"No, I spit those out. I had yogurt. It was good. And toast, bacon and potatoes." Joe looked extremely well-fed, a look we all would have often in the days to come.
"You're the jam pirate," Amy told Joe. "You stole my jam!" Then we finished our feast, packed up, got on the tour bus and drove off to T-Square where I got to use my very first squat toilet. I loved it. Amy took a picture of it.
T-Square was not as big as I had been led to believe by pictures of it, but it had its moments. There was a nice monument of all the workers throwing their hearts into the revolutionary struggle.
A young Chinese family, obviously tourists, came up to us and pointed to their camera. "Sure, I'll take your picture," I happily replied. They had two cute little kids with them.
"Boo! No!" they said ("Boo" means no in Mandarin) and indicated they wanted us in their picture. We happily obliged. Joe made a peace sign. Then I took their picture with us with our camera.
The Forbidden City was next on the tour agenda. We walked over to its gates at the edge of the square. Actually, the square was built to allow emperors to watch parades and review troops from the gates of the Forbidden City. Now the gate was decorated with a large Chairman Mao banner. "The gate's height represents the yang of Heaven and the piazza within represents the yin of Earth," instructed Mr. Shu. Or was it the yang of Earth? I forgot. "The effect is one of balance and ceremonial solemnity".
We passed through the Mao gate onto a vast open space, also used to review troops and to intimidate strangers with the emperors' vast powers. I looked out across the broad plaza and imagined it as it might have been one hundred years ago. Visions of squadrons--divisions--battalions of imperial guards filled the square. Palanquins bearing courtesans and princesses flowed before my eyes. Brocades and satins and steel surrounded me. It was the same exact place where me and the tour group now stood. The stones beneath our feet were the same. It was just one hundred years earlier and there were all different people. Those olden days people may have thought and loved and ate and bled just like me, but, boy, did they dress different!
I wondered what the plaza wound look like 100 years from today.
We tramped from gigantic gate to gigantic gate, from vast plaza to vast plaza for the next hour and then Mr. Shu lead us back behind all the larger-than-life edifices, into the Emperors' private courtyards. There we looked at all his stuff, all his wives' stuff and all his courtesans' stuff. I myself was not impressed. "This place is kitch," I stated as I looked at the jade trees and the lacquer furniture and the uncomfortable clothes. "Everything looks they were more concerned with keeping up appearances than with enjoying life or creating art. And the courtyards were small too, as if what the Emperors did with their time off didn't really matter."
"What is kitch?" asked Amy.
"It's way beyond tasteful," I replied, "but not all the way to tacky."
"I can't believe they had all this money," I continued, "and they actually chose to live like this. Look at those rooms. Look at that furniture. This is no place to sit down and relax after a hard day in the Throne Room. Not even close."
The chairs, the beds, everything was formal and uncomfortable. It was like living your life in a painting or a museum or a formal dinner party. Perhaps that's why Chairman Mao said, "A revolution is not a dinner party."
There were 16 tourists in our group, and already all of us had discovered the knack for getting lost. "Where's Joe?" Kevin asked as he counted heads, "and Glyn and Steve?" Both guides spent most of their time trying to keep track of us. Kevin carried a blue flag which he waved upon occasion, to draw our attention. Some of the time he let Amy carry it. Some of the time it was Amy that was getting lost. In fact, so far, Joe, Amy and I were the worst offenders.
Shirley, the lady from Colorado, gave me a firm lecture to that effect. "You have to start paying more attention," she told me that morning. "It's not fair to the rest of us." She was right, I guess. I had just held up the tour bus for 15 minutes.
"I'm sorry," I replied. "I got the times mixed up."
"The guide told us what time to meet. He told us this three different times!"
"I'm sorry. My only excuse is that I've only had 2 hours sleep for three nights in a row". Touring China was not a dinner party either. Later, however, our Ms. Shirley would hold our tour up for hours on end while she leisurely shopped the malls of Hong Kong.
In Beijing, we had two guides. Mr. Shu filled us full of facts and information as the bus drove from place to place. "Education, health insurance, etc. used to be free," he told us, "but now, under reform, people have to pay. Their lives have been improved greatly however and they don't mind. That's why people accept it; even paying income tax. Even ten years ago there was no electricity, no housing, no television. Now there is."
One strange thing I had noticed about Beijing was that there were no old cars. None. Only cars made in the last 10 years.
We drove to a small family-owned restaurant near a neighborhood park; our first gastronomical experience on the tour. It was a wonderful lunch. Everyone raved about it, even me. "This is almost as good as the Chinese food you get in Berkeley," I proclaimed, a high compliment.
"Can I have your wontons?" asked Amy, just as she did in Berkeley. Then all the other nine people at our ten-person table started giving Amy their wontons and she ate them all.
Waiters brought us dishes and then brought us more dishes: Stir-fried vegetables, rice, pickled lotus root, beef-chicken with asparagus, breaded egg plant, sesame bean cakes to die for, stuffed pork dumplings, watermelon for dessert; just to mention the ones I could remember. Then we got packed back on the bus to the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven proved to be just another monstrous salute to the Son of Heaven and his peers. I was now beginning to understand the allure of a peoples' republic to the souls of the Chinese who had spend centuries, millenniums watching all this wealth paraded before their eyes; knowing that none of it was for them.
We wandered around and dutifully gawked. "Look, Amy," I cried, pointing to a heap of silk brocade. "You can get your picture taken in an empress's dress and head gear! Oh, let's do it! Kevin! How much does it cost?"
"It costs 50 yuan for one, 90 yuan for two". Ten yuan roughly equaled a dollar "You could bargain," he added. We settled for 60 yuan for us both if we used our own cameras.
Dressed in satin and brocade, I sat in my empress chair in my empress dress and my empress head gear and looked out over the Temple of Heaven. Suddenly I realized why they went for all that uncomfortable kitchiness 100 years ago. They were sacrificing comfort for power! I was powerful (if not comfortable) sitting there. I was the new Queen of the World! No wonder the Chinese peasants had been jealous.
If you wanted to know what the rest of the Temple of Heaven looked like, buy a post card or go there yourself. I didn't have time to absorb its finer details. We were off to the next stop on the tour.
Our bus "drove to the inch" around the small alleys of a hutong, one of the small neighborhoods hidden in the back streets of Beijing. Most of them were torn down in the last 25 years and replaced with freeways and highrises. As we rounded a corner of one alleyway, a wonderful scene unfolded before us: 30 middle-aged ladies in red T-shirts and yellow sashes were doing a fan dance to taiko drumming. Ah. It was a flower drum song just for us. We got out of the bus to watch.
"Come. Come!" beckoned a dancer. "Join us!" Someone handed me a very large red fan and I became a fan dancer in an alley in a Beijing hutong. It was perfect. Then we toured a small home, over one hundred years old. It consisted of a small courtyard, about the size of Amy's bedroom, that was the core of the home; a small living room-dining room-bedroom; and a kitchen area pushed up against the courtyard's entrance wall. What could have been depressingly tiny had been made magical by the two elderly sisters who had lived there all their lives. They had covered every inch of the courtyard with vines, bushes, plants, flora, verdure, vegetation, greenery and foliage. It was like living in a tiny rain forest, lush and cool. And its wrought iron and adobe brick construction and design reminded me of Mexico.
After the home tour, I wandered among the small shops in the area, looking for a replacement for the crochet hook I lost somewhere in the Vancouver airport. "Crochet hook?" I asked in a yarn store, making a hook with my finger.
"Boo. No". Yeah. Right. Like I'm going to find a crochet hook in a hutong. Or anywhere. I decided to stick to my knitting. After all, I had brought several knitting needles and four pounds of purple yarn.
After the hutong we finally went back to the hotel. I was exhausted. We must have walked ten miles in 90 degree weather. Okay, maybe only 80 degrees. But it felt like 90. "You may have free time now," said Mr. Shu. "Take a nice cold shower, relax. But be back here at quarter to six to go to dinner and the Peking Opera." Amy and I ran upstairs, took turns in the shower, watched the People's Republic version of Sesame Street. Then we went downstairs and looked in the hotel shops until 6:00.
Joe suddenly ran up and grabbed my arm. "Mom! Where've you been! Come on! They're all leaving!"
"But its only 6:00. They said 6:15."
"No, it was quarter to six! Hurry!" My jet-lagged brain had gotten the time transfixed. We sprinted for the bus. It wasn't there!
"There it is!" shouted Joe. The damn tour bus was a block away, stopped before merging into cross-traffic. "Wait! Stop!" Miraculously the bus waited and stopped. We ran like the wind and staggered onto it. Everyone gave us dirty looks. A very subdued Straitwell family took their seats.
Our second Chinese dinner on the tour was at a very fancy restaurant. The decor was elegant: Antique sedan chairs, lacquer furniture, carved wood paneling, beautiful women in chemsoungs. But as for the food, had they served that stuff in Berkeley, the restaurant would have been out of business within a month.
We got back on the bus and headed for the Peking Opera. "Did you know that Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung got their start in the Peking Opera?" asked Joe.
"Yeah. They were trained there."
"No one in Beijing goes to the Peking Opera anymore," Mr. Shu announced over the bus's microphone, "only the tourists." And it was true. Almost everyone in the theatre was American. For a moment we forgot we were even in China, 12 jet-lagged hours away from California.
The opera was wonderful. I kept falling asleep however because the actors' movements were so smooth, stylized and hypnotic; and because I was truly tired. I'd fade and wake with a start; fade and start, fade and start.
"Look at that dude!" cried Amy, poking me enthusiastically. "He's doing back flips so fast you can hardly see him! And that lady...oh look! She's kicking away all the spears everyone is throwing at her!"
I woke with a start and looked. 20 people were onstage, dressed in brilliantly-colored brocade costumes and wearing fancy head gear. They flipped and kicked and pantomimed their way through a war scene. It was lovely. It was beautiful. It was art. It was impossible to do without a lifetime of intense training.
Then we stumbled to our bus, stumbled to our hotel and stumbled off to bed. "I'm sorry," I told Amy just before dropping off, "I'm worn out. Forget about the Great Wall. I'm not going nowhere tomorrow." I had reached my limit. I never wanted to tour ever ever again. I wanted to hang out at the Beijing Hotel, play solitaire and listen to Books-on-Tape. I didn't want to talk to anyone ever again or see another person or walk another foot.

September 13, 1999: I slept seven whole hours last night! I woke up in a bad mood but at least it was a mood: I had stopped being a Zombie. I could do this. Touring was not so bad. I could go to the Great Wall after all.
"Don't do that," I told Amy for the tenth time that morning. She was starting to get on my nerves. "Don't spill water on the rug, don't use up all the batteries, don't leave your shirt on the bathroom floor, don't turn on all the lights, don't lose your breakfast pass, keep your feet off the bed, put your brush in the drawer, don't use up all the hot water!" Hell. This was just like being back in Berkeley. My rotten-mother personality had followed me to the other side of the world. Rats.
My breakfast at the hotel: Couissant, omelette made to order, congee (rice porridge), tomato juice, potatoes, tea. Amy's breakfast at the hotel: Cake, hot chocolate, Cocoa Puffs, cantaloupe, toast with lots of butter and jam, yogurt, sweet rolls, orange juice, grapes and tea with lots of non-dairy creamer. Joe's breakfast at the hotel: Ham, omelette, croissants, sausages, coffee.
During breakfast we sorted out our finances. I had $1,000 in travelers' checks and $420 in cash. Joe had $150. We figured our expenses: $600 was my daughter Elizabeth's money she had given us to buy stuff for her in Tibet; $150 for airport tax, etc.; $250 for tips. That took care of the $1,000. That left $420 to spend between here and home, including the Bayporter ride home from the San Francisco airport. That was okay. Our meals and hotels were already paid for. It averaged out to around $20 a day. I had lived for less than that back in Berkeley.
On the bus by 8:00 am. At the pearl factory by 9:00. We stepped off the bus in front of a one-story, cinder-block building located far out in the industrial edges of Beijing. A pearl factory representative, a young woman dressed in a suit and high heels, took us in hand and guided us inside where rows and rows of young women in matching smocks strung rows and rows of pearls on thread.
We stepped over to a tank containing oysters. "These oysters has been in the water for five years," said the pearl factory lady, reaching into the tank and pulling one out. "We implanted it with membranes and that was five years ago. How many pearls do you think it has now?"
Everybody guessed. One? Two? Five?
"Let's see," she said, and opened up the oyster's shell. "You each may have a pearl," she added as she used a small knife to pry out pearl after living pearl. 20 or 30 pearls plunked down on a metal tray beside her. We each took a pearl, warm from the oyster.
The next stop on the pearl factory tour was the showroom. They had thousands of strands of pearls there, thousands of strands. I never knew so many pearls existed, let alone that they would just be casually lying around, tied casually in bunches.
I offered to buy Amy a small strand of seed pearls for 90 yuan. Amy beamed. I wanted to bargain for them and I understood that bargaining was the Chinese custom and was expected of me but the words just would not come out. Having been raised in the United States, it just seemed the height of rudeness to argue over price. Amy couldn't do it either. "Mr. Shu! Mr. Shu!" I called. "Can you bargain for us? Please?"
"Sure," he answered. "60 yuan?" The girl behind the counter frowned and pulled out her calculator. She tapped in 80 yuan. Mr. Shu turned to me and explained, "Many of the sales people don't speak English all that well so they use calculators as translators." Interesting. Money as the universal language. Mr. Shu looked sadly at the 80 yuan number as if he had been betrayed by a friend. "70 yuan." The girl smiled. We got the pearls for 70 yuan.
Our sales girl took the pearls to another girl who put a clasp on them. They looked so fragile and beautiful on Amy's neck.
Everywhere we went in Beijing and, later, in the rest of China, there were sales girls (and sales boys too) around the age of 16-24. Mr. Shu explained why. "Under Mao, families were encouraged to have lots of children; so there is a baby-boom type of hump of young people in China's population, while there are remarkably fewer old people and babies visible on the streets and in the shops."
Much to my surprise, I liked China. I had heard and read so many negative things about it, but the New China was a pleasant shock. I could even see myself living here. However, I knew perhaps two words of the language. I wish I spoke Chinese.
Then we went to the Emperors' Tomb. What emperor? I can't remember. I liked the tomb way much better than the Forbidden City. Again Mr. Shu inadvertently explained why. "The Forbidden City had burned down several times and the one we visited was rebuilt as recently as the 19th century. This tomb, however, was originally constructed in 1420." That was before Christopher Columbus was born. That was back when the empire was vital, not stagnant. Back then, in the classical period, art and beauty was still more important than showing off one's wealth.
I loved the tomb. It was a simple building, tastefully done; surrounded by simple gardens; out in the quiet countryside. I even bought a pack of post cards there. Then we got back on the bus.
The next stop was a Friendship Store. These stores were invented back in the 1970s and 1980s, in order to sell foreign tourists locally-made goods designed to be sold to Americans or in America and schlock copies of Chinese handicrafts and treasures. No Chinese were allowed inside Friendship Stores. Chinese citizens, at risk of imprisonment, would beg foreigners to buy them consumer goods absolutely not available in this country. Friendship Stores were both envied and hated by the locals. Friendship Stores were notorious. We were about to have lunch in one.
Times had really changed in China. Chinese were now shopping there, but only as a lark. Who but foreign tourists wanted this old stuff any more? Pictures of Chairman Mao? Embroidered handkerchiefs featuring the Forbidden City? No way. The Chinese themselves were too busy shopping at malls featuring the latest products from America, products as good as or better than what we could buy at home.
We ate lunch upstairs. It was not as good as Berkeley.
After lunch, Joe and Amy, unaware of political history, went downstairs to do some serious souvenir buying. Joe bought cats eye bracelets and Chairman Mao hats and Chairman Mao lighters to give his friends. "Can I buy a Chairman Mao cigarette lighter?" begged Amy. Poor Amy. She wanted to buy everything she saw everywhere we went. "Why won't you let me buy it? You never let me buy anything! It's my money!"
"But Amy," I explained futilely, "if you spend your money here, you'll have noting left to spend in Tibet."
"Tibet!" Amy snorted. "There'll be nothing to buy in Tibet! I want a Chairman Mao lighter!" She bought a cats eye bracelet, the kind you can get back home at Thrifty for $1.95 and paid $5.00 for here, and we got back on the bus.

7:30 pm: "Peking Duck is different from other kinds of duck," instructed Mr. Shu. "They force-feed the ducks to make the meat tender. Then they fill the chest cavity with water and roast them so the cavity becomes like a kettle and cooks the duck from the inside too. The duck is very tender."
The dinner -- banquet -- was held in the restaurant at the hotel. All went well. The duck was delicious. Plus we had prawns, Huissan sauce, beef dishes, Sechuan chicken, vegetable dishes and the ubiquitous watermelon that seemed to mark the end of every meal. Plus after the cut-up duck was served, they took the bones back to the kitchen and made us some soup with them.
When the meal was almost over, we heard a deep rumbling, wall-shaking, table-shaking sound coming from just outside the restaurant. Immediately everyone in the restaurant panicked and either ran to the windows or ran in the opposite direction. "What is that sound," I anxiously asked Ellen Marie, the member of our tour who seemed to know everything.
"October 1 is the anniversary of the People's Republic of China's victory over the Guamintang. It's kind of like our Fourth of July. They will having a big celebration on T-Square on the first and tonight they are rehearsing for it. That's the sound of tanks. They're lining up in front of the hotel to practice their formations."
"Wow!" I too ran over to the window to watch. Sure enough, the broad boulevard was lined with hundreds of tanks, stretching as far as the eye could see up and down the street. "Let's go outside and watch!" I was really excited.
Just then several waitresses, looking harassed and scared, came up and forcefully ordered us away from the windows. We were herded out of the restaurant, the hotel doors were firmly locked and guarded and we were sent to our rooms. "What about our duck soup?" I whispered to Ellen Marie.
"Forget about the soup," she answered. "Forget about New China completely. Tonight the generals are in control and trust me when I say that you do not want to mess with them."
"Oh," I gulped, subdued. A little patch of the strong-arm tactics of the 1960s was still alive and well even in the New China. I did not want to be deported! I did as the hotel staff requested.
Later Donna and John told us that when they had first arrived in Beijing, a day before the rest of us showed up, they had been turned away from the hotel. "There is was -- 9:00 pm at night. We had just arrived from the airport, hadn't slept in 24 hours, knew no Chinese and had never been to Beijing. We told our taxi driver to take us to the Beijing Hotel and suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by tanks and machine guns. It was harrowing. And the taxi couldn't get through the army lines. I thought someone might have declared war!" said John.
"They weren't letting anybody in," Donna added. "The driver or somebody finally explained what was happening but we still had to go off and search for another hotel. Welcome to China!"
As we got off the elevator at our floor, Ellen Marie whispered conspiratorially, "Come to our room. We have a balcony overlooking the street." Forgetting about injustice, totalitarianism, chicken soup and even watermelon, everyone in the tour immediately raced to her room to see the tanks.
We shut off the lights in the hotel room and quietly snuck out on the balcony, ducking low and convinced that we would be arrested at any minute. "That one down there is a personnel carrier," pointed out Ellen Marie's husband Cliff, who had served in the National Guard. "There are some howitzers." The parade had stalled right in front of our hotel.
"This is the hurry-up-and-wait stage. It's the same in every army in the world, I see." There were approximately 100 army vehicles lined up under us. We waited and watched. Nothing happened.
We sat and waited for an hour. Nothing happened. The army, the howitzers, the tanks -- they all just sat there. Glen and Paul took out their video cameras and telephoto lenses and started photographing.
"Better not!" cried Ellen Marie. "We don't want to be accused of espionage and carted off to prison." Outside the hotel, everyone had been ordered off the streets. Even the hotel had been closed. It was like a military manoeuver. It was like an invasion. It seemed all too real. Paul and Glen put their cameras away.
Another hour passed. Nothing happened. It was past midnight. Amy and I went off to our room, which faced T-Square and the Forbidden City. "I hear singing," said Amy. We opened the window. The Red Army Chorus was singing the Internationale. They sang it over and over and over and over.
"Hummmm. That explains why the army wasn't moving," I said. "It's gonna be a whole production and they gotta rehearse act one before they can introduce act 2." We learned later that the howitzers didn't parade until 2:00 am.

September 14, 1999: I woke up at 6:30 am and opened the curtains a bit to do some writing. "Shut those curtains!" Amy screamed. I shut the curtains and turned on my bedside light. "Turn off that light!" Amy demanded in her most irritating voice. I went into the bathroom to bathe. "Get out of the bathroom," Amy cried. "I've got to pee!" I sat there soaking in the bathtub and plotting ways to ship her home.
"Amy. If I can arrange it, do you want to fly home today?"
"No," she replied. "I really like it here." After that she was nicer.
Breakfast was omelettes, grapefruit juice, croissants, fried tomatoes and lots of chocolate cake. Then we got on the bus and drove off to visit the Summer Palace.
"The dowager empress, Ci'xi, imposed a tax in order to build a strong navy to repel westerners after the Opium War," Mr. Shu related to us over the bus's P.A. system. "Then she spent all that money building her summer palace. When her adopted son, the emperor, tried to bring reform to China, she had him imprisoned and poisoned."
The summer palace was located several miles south (or was it west?) of downtown Beijing, a 30-minute drive from the hotel. Mr. Shu told us a lot about the evil empress as we drove. "The naval tax wasn't the end of the empress's lavish spending. She continued to drain the country for her personal benefit until the day she died. For example, a single dinner for her would have fed 5,000 people for a day. It was a time when thousands were dying of starvation and people sold their children to stay alive." Ha. Everyone knows that it was their daughters they sold. The empress was an evil, selfish woman and her greedy schemes echoed after her for the next century. She was the major cause and instigator of the revolution, of Sun Yat Sen, Chaing Ki Chek and even the People's Republic of China.
The most ironic part of the empress's life was that she was probably one of those daughters that was sold. The empress had been one of those poor children who had their feet painfully bound when she was only seven years old; her foot bones were broken and crippled beyond endurance and bound in pus-covered rags for year after year, until they "healed" in the new lotus shape. The empress had been compelled by economic necessity to become a concubine. She had been a virtual slave to the emperor's wives and she had used stealth and cunning (and some say poison) to claw her way to the top of the seraglio. She knew what misery was. And yet all that time she had learned no compassion for others, even after enduring her own pain. Did her philosophy become `do unto others as you had done unto you, only much, much worse'? Go figure.
"At the summer palace, the empress had 100,000 workmen carve out a lake for her," continued Mr. Shu, "Then, to honor her pledge to the navy, she built a magnificent boat at the edge of the lake. And to snub her nose at the navy, she made the boat out of marble. It was unsailable. She used it as her garden gazebo." Later we saw the fabled marble boat and even got to take a ride on the lake. It was a very large lake.
We also saw the little courtyard with all the exits blocked up where the evil empress kept the honorable reforming emperor. It was a very sad place. She was a bad person. "She was much worse than Marie Antoinette," I told Amy.
"Who is Marie Antoinette?"
"She was the Queen of France who, when hearing that her people were starving, said `let them eat cake'. Marie Antoinette wasn't aware that her people were in pain. She honestly thought that cake was available. Not Ci'xi. She knew people were starving. She didn't care."
"Eeeeuuu!" said Amy, who had seen a post card of a painting of the empress and had heretofore thought she was pretty.

Noon: Lunch at the Huadu Hotel. It was good food: Pork soup, french fries, Beijing beer, Sechuan chicken, steamed chicken, seaweed in hot sauce, celery tofu, green beans and...watermelon.
As we walked into the restaurant, we passed a chef on display, elaborately making noodles by stretching and tossing and winding the dough. But we didn't get any noodles.
The beer was good. I was getting to quite like Chinese beer.
The conversations around the tables during meals on this trip have been most pleasant. Everyone got along. Ellen Marie, Cliff, Laura, Ron and my family tended to sit together. Ellen Marie makes the best conversation, totally dispelling the adage that, "Conversation is the art of telling people less than they want to know." No matter what she tells us, we like it.

1:00 pm: We're on the way to the airport. We are to drop off Mr. Shu and catch the plane to Xi'an. Goodbye, Beijing.

1:30 pm: We arrived at the airport and it was time to tip the driver. Someone said, "Tip him ten yuan." Oh. Okay. I could do that. That's a little more than one dollar ($1.00 equals eight yuan). Boy, was I wrong. I gave him ten yuan and he almost gave me the evil eye or cursed and spat. He grabbed the banknote and threw it down disgustedly. I felt really, really bad because he had been a great driver.
"How much did you tip the driver," I asked Glen.
"50 yuan." Oh. And there had been three of us too. I should have given him much more. Oh, well. I gave Mr. Shu 200 yuan. Does that show I have a good heart?
The Beijing airport was new, efficient and very hectic. Kevin lead us through its maze like a Hero of the Revolution. And we got on the plane to Xi'an and Ron from Las Vegas did card trick for Amy and we all got served western-style sandwiches. Western-style sandwiches consisted of three slices of white bread with the crust cut off, one piece of indeterminable lunch meat and one piece of cheese. Nothing else. No mayo.
"But Mom, they do," said Amy. "They have mayonnaise. I could see it. I could taste it. But it was still disgusting." She would have preferred pot stickers. Me too.
The plane was huge and held 50 rows, ten seats to a row, plus an additional 50 rows in first class. It was a B-777.
Ron said, "The B-777 is the latest thing out." The trip was easy and smooth.

4:00 pm: Xi'an. Xi'an's architects seemed to have learned their trade in Las Vegas. There were neon lights everywhere. I guess this is the reason China needs the Three Gorges Dam so badly--to keep all that neon turned on.
"Oooooh," said Amy. "Look at those dresses!" Evening gowns and wedding dresses of the latest Paris style were in all the shop windows lining the street on the way to the hotel.
"Xi'an is a walled city," said Kevin. "To your right is the moat. The whole city is surrounded by a moat. I hope you like Xi'an. It is my home town. I was raised here. I am my parents' only child and they love it when I can visit them.
"This was the capital of China for centuries, through eleven dynasties. The Chou dynasty was first; 3,000 years ago." We drove past an old man on a bicycle with a bird cage, with a bird in it, swinging from his handlebars. However, the old man was the exception, not the rule. In big cities, most of the inhabitants you see are in their 20s: Young service workers in fashionable clothes. There are very few poor here and no one who looks homeless.
Our tour bus drove us from the airport to the hotel, the Xi'an Hyatt. We walked into the lobby -- excuse me -- the atrium. Fancy! Even by San Francisco standards. A european-looking concierge approached our group. "Step this way," he said. "Please enjoy your stay in Xi'an." He gestured toward some young men dressed in high-collared suits. "Please let us know if we can be of service." The suited young men brought us tea and gave us warm, scented washcloths to help sooth away the travails of our journey. Then we went to our rooms and they were superb.

7:00 pm: "Tonight we go for Chinese hot pot," Kevin was telling us. "You will like it." And we did. I took pictures of it, it was so good. This started a trend. From that day on, I took a photograph of every meal we ate.
At the table, each of us got a small hot pot, with charcoal embers glowing underneath and water boiling above. There was a lazy-susan in front of us, filled with noodles, vegetables and meats. "Place your food in the hot pot until it cooks," instructed Kevin, "and over there is a spice table. Help yourselves." And we did. It was extremely good. I took another picture. It was even better than Berkeley!
"I've found my photographic niche," I told Joe. "Forget about the ancient treasures. From now on, I'm photographing the food!"

9:00 pm: "Now can we go to the internet bar?" I asked Kevin. For days I'd been plaguing him about whether or not I could e-mail home. He had always replied, "Wait until we get to Xi'an. I know a place there." Internet access in the hotels was terribly expensive, something like 30 yuan a minute. I was anxious to tell everyone back home that we had made it safely to China, but I wasn't that anxious.
"Sure!" said Kevin. Then he made an announcement. "Does anyone else want to go to an internet bar?" Ed and Joe and I and Kevin squashed ourselves into a mini-taxi and zipped off to the internet bar. I don't know what I was expecting; a cocktail lounge, perhaps? Not. The bar was a narrow, cramped cyber-sweatshop, with the latest computer equipment lining the walls and almost every seat taken by the Chinese equivalent of pocket-protector-type nerds that you could just tell were college students spending all their food money on cyber access. I was charmed.
It took a while but we all got computers. The only problem was that the pull-down thingies were all in Chinese. I clicked on an internet symbol, typed in, and punched "enter". The next thing I knew I was at my e-mail site, the exact site I had visited so often back home on the other side of the world. That was weird.

September 15, 1999: Breakfast at the Hyatt was another feast: I had French pastry (napoleons, eclairs, cheese Danish) to die for, congee (rice porridge, very popular for breakfast in China, sort of like Cream of Rice), dim sum, omelettes made to order, tea, American-style pancakes, grapefruit juice, French toast, fried tomatoes (I've developed a liking for fried tomatoes) and bagels. I ate it all. It was delicious.
"Where are we going today?" I asked Kevin.
"We were supposed to go see the terra cotta warriors but they are closed this morning because the president of North Korea is visiting them. We'll go to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the neolithic village instead."
Joe, Amy and I lighted incense and candles at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and Amy bought a chop, a seal with her name hand-carved on the bottom used for signing letters. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda impressed me. It appeared to be a very holy place, with Buddhas and monks and candles and shrines and pilgrims. I kept wanting to cross myself.
After the pagoda, we got back on the bus and drove to the neolithic village. We went through a low-income section of Xi'an and I was almost relieved to see actual poor people, old people, junky old shoes, broken down bicycles, etc. I was beginning to believe the entire country was populated by "Elloi," those fictional people from H.G. Well's book, The Time Machine, who are happy and pretty and well-fed and mindlessly being raised to be eaten by mutant higher-ups on the food chain.
"This reminds me of parts of our country or parts of Mexico or pictures I've seen of Africa," I said, "except that even here, in the slums of China, children are wanted and cherished and taken care of. I wish I could say that for other parts of the world." China's population control program was harsh, but on the other hand every single child was cherished and protected. I myself had seen too many abused, neglected, underfed children even in my own neighborhood to remain unimpressed.
Our next stop was an "arts" factory. We all piled out of the bus. Half of us groaned and said, "Not another pitch for us to spend more money." The other half of us eagerly ran off the bus, reaching in pockets as they went, getting the credit cards ready. "Oh, boy! another chance to spend money!"
The so-called factory sold lacquerware and rugs. When I think of a factory, I think of many-storied industrial sites in Detroit or Pittsburgh. These were small studios, with maybe ten or 15 workers in each room; plus a sales room. The New China was seriously interested in making money. "These rugs are hand-knotted," said the factory rep. "Each one takes two years to make." We watched young women knot rugs for a while.
"And over here," continued the sales rep, "is the lacquer factory. Lacquer is made from the lacquer tree." I never knew that.
In the meantime Amy and Ellen Marie had wandered off and found yet more things to buy. Amy had her heart set on a red brocade chi pau, a traditional chinese dress; the one with a mandarin collar and a slit up the side. It was expensive. Ellen Marie stepped in. "I'll give you $20," she bargained for us. Amy tried it on. She looked stunning.
The sales lady got out her calculator. "$35," she replied in our new universal language, LED.
That sounded good, but Ellen Marie was undaunted. "$20."
"$35," the sales lady replied evenly. Finally I picked one out for Elizabeth, an ivory silk brocade with black frogs and trim. I offered her $50 for the two of them.
"No, no good. We usually charge $90 for one!" the sales lady cried.
I pulled out a $5 bill. She shook her head. Amy burst into tears and ran off. I walked away. Then I went back. "$50 in travelers' checks, $5 US and 10 yuan. The dress is torn."
The sales lady looked doubtful. "The dress has been mended already. See. It is no longer torn." She looked at another sales lady for backup and confirmation.
"Look," I said, holding out my hand. "I'll even throw in three Papermate pens." The other sales lady nodded her head and the deal was made. It all came out to about $28 per dress.

12:00 noon: We drove all over creation and finally arrived at yet another large tourist restaurant: 50 tables-for-ten jammed into a high-ceilinged, football-field-sized room located on the second floor of a gigantic souvenir shop.
After lunch we went to see the terra cotta warriors. "Every single one is different," said Kevin. "Each one is an actual model of an actual soldier. The first statutes were discovered thirty years ago by a peasant farmer. As more and more warriors were unburied, this museum was constructed right over the ground where they were discovered in order to protect them from damage." We then entered a huge hanger-like building labeled "Pit # 1".
Just as we walked into Pit # 1 and I was absorbing the awesome beauty of hundreds and hundreds of exquisite life-sized warriors made of clay, Amy said, "I got to go to the toilet."
"Okay, but don't go outside the entrance turnstile."
"Where's that?"
"It's where we turned our tickets in, this side of all the vendors' booths." There were hundreds of vendors and sellers on the other side of the turnstile. Kevin had warned us that there were pickpockets and thieves out there. "Please don't go out beyond the turnstiles. Stay inside."
"Okay." Amy left for the toilets and I stared in wonder and awe at all those terra cotta soldiers. How long it must have taken to make them! How did they get buried? They were more awesomely wonderful than anything I had ever seen! I wanted one.
Time passed. I moved on to Pit # 2. Joe joined me. "Have you seen Amy?"
"Just look at this; the vastness of it all. Jesus," I exuded. There were acres and acres of clay holding hundreds -- even thousands of warriors. It's going to take 50 years to excavate them all. Look! That guy is using a make-up brush to clear the soil away from the statue. Imagine removing 100 tons of dirt with a make-up brush. Awesome."
We watched the warriors and watched the workers for a while. "I'd better go find Amy and bring her back," I said, little knowing I would spend the next hour running from pit to pit desperately searching and calling her name. I searched everywhere, getting more and more frantic. "Amy! Amy!" Suddenly China seemed a very large place. Amy lost in China seemed like a drop of water lost in an ocean. I was freaked.
One and a half hours later, Amy sauntered up.
"Where gave you been!"
"Oh, I went shopping with Laura outside the gate. What's your problem?"
On the way out of the museum, I realized that I only had ten yuan left to spend so I bargained for a three-inch high warrior replica. "Look, Joe. This is a ten-yuan terra cotta warrior." I was all proud of myself for being a good bargainer.
Then Kevin bought us pomegranates from a roadside stand and took us to a neolithic matriarchal village at Ban Po. A warehouse-like building had been erected over the site, like at the terra cotta warrior museum. It was dull and uninteresting, just some holes in some hardened mud. And we all got bitten by (neolithic?) fleas.
"Xi'an is famous for its dumplings," Kevin told us. "Tonight we go to a dinner-theatre for dumplings and a Las Vegas-type show. They make the dumplings in all different shapes."
He was right. They were shaped like birds, fish, pumpkins, sea shells, etc. It was edible origami. And there were a lot of them. We ate and ate and ate.
Then the show started and, yes, it was very Las Vegas. It was all "The Tang Dynasty meets Elvis". Amy loved it. I took pictures and fell asleep. Then we went back to the hotel.

September 16, 1999: I woke up this morning all mad at my father. "I had a very strange dream, Amy. I dreamed Pop had taken all these pictures of everything he owned and sent them off to my evil sister, secretly arranging for her to inherit all his stuff when he died. And the pictures were used as evidence against us during probate." I was mad at Pop for setting us up. Why hadn't he just said in his will, "I name Jane my executor and I give her all my stuff to distribute as I will instruct her later," instead of being so vague and leaving me vulnerable to be humiliated and bullied? He was always doing that; playing one of us off against the other. It was a relief to get my anger out. He spent money hand over fist on everything else. Why hadn't he just paid a damn lawyer to write his damn will. Fuck. I was pissed. The hotel had a sauna. Maybe that would help cool me off. I earned this damn trip.
"Let's go to the spa," I suggested to Amy. "But bring a plastic bag to put your bathing suit in afterwards. They already took our luggage." Yeah, and my deodorant was in the luggage too. Touring can be hell.
The spa had a small swimming pool with 95 degree water and a jacuzzi that was actually refrigerated. 50 degree water. It worked for me. And there was a shower room too. To be located in a Communist country, the Hyatt Regency Xi'an was mucho bourgeois. High tone place.
Then we went ot the free market. "Yuck. Snakes," said I.
"Can I have a turtle?" said Amy. They had just about everything for sale there.
"I'm going to go check out the CDs," said Joe. He bought a Faye Wang tape and chrome CD case. Amy and I ended up in a department store and she bought a Tweety-Bird watch. It was priced at 36 yuan. I offered the sales lady 30 yuan.
"No, no. 36 yuan. No bargain."
Amy got really mad and started yelling at me. "Just buy the damn watch. Just give her the 36 yuan and buy the damned watch."
"35 yuan?"
"Yes." Big deal. I bargained her down one whole yuan.
"Come on, Amy. I need a new pair of shoes." We went up the escalator and there was Shoe Heaven. Wonderful shoes. All kinds of styles. Really, really cheap. I found a pair of sneakers for only 47 yuan that I really, really liked. But guess what? They didn't have my size. My size-seven feet were too big.
Amy found a pair of four-inch red lacquer platform shoes for only 20 yuan. I said, " Gee, Amy, those are really nice but you can't get them because if you fell and broke your neck it would ruin the tour."
Amy threw a shit fit and stomped off. "It's my money. You have no right to tell me how to spend my money. Give it to me. Right now." She stamped her foot. Great. The one thing I am going to remember most about our trip to China is being assailed and harassed for money night and day -- not by hawkers and vendors but by my own daughter.
We climbed back on the bus and went to a Cantonese restaurant: Egg drop soup, sweet and sour pork, custard thingies, chow mein.
Next came another long bus ride and then the Shaanxi Historical Museum, with all the Tang Dynasty pottery one could possibly want. You got an unfilled craving for Tang pottery? This might be your answer. Actually there wasn't an unlimited amount but the stuff is old and rare and for old and rare stuff, it was a lot.
Amy screamed bad things at me for not buying her a stone lion for 680 yuan. "It's my money!" she cried. The "It's my money, why don't you ever let me spend my money" mantra went on for over an hour. Then we got back on the bus to drive out to the airport to fly to Wahau, wherever that was.

9:30 pm: Airplane food: A box with dried peaches, pickled turnips, a dinner roll, some sponge cake and a moist towelette. Efficient and efficiently served. After listening to Paul Theuroux's nightmare description of air travel in China, I was very favorably impressed: Better than in the US.
We had dinner at an airport restaurant before taking off; Chinese airport food. There was lots of turbulence on the flight. Then another hour on the bus. Getting from place to place in China takes up too much anxiety.
The Jianghau Hotel was in the old French Concession of Wahau. It was an old European hotel, now refurbished. The parquet floors and carved hardwood grand staircase showed no sign of the Cultural Revolution. A string quartet in formal wear played "Hey Jude" in the lobby.

September 17, 1999: Amy was up to her old tricks again. "Get your stuff off my bed. Don't call me `Aim'. My name is Aim-ee. I'm using your earphones and there is nothing you can do about it." The list of complaints against me went on and on.
"I'm going down to breakfast, Amy. I'll see you down there."
"Oh no you don't. I'm coming with you." I started toward the stairs. "Oh no you don't. You're taking the elevator." She grabbed my arm and rudely shoved me toward the elevator. Elder abuse! I broke free and ran for the stairs. Fortunately she let me go. I climbed down the beautiful carved stairs with Amy's voice following after me in full bellow. "We walked five miles yesterday. We don't need the exercise. Get back here!"
Breakfast was the best. I tried to keep with my vow to stop eating wheat but Christ! They were serving cheese-apricot danishes as good as any back home. I ate three and took a picture of one too.

10:30 am: The microphone on the bus broke down and had terrible reverb. We were forced to listen to it for an hour as we drove around Wuhan. "Can you please turn it down?" I asked. The Wuhan tour guide turned it down for about two minutes then he turned it up again. Totally annoying. I was totally annoyed this morning.
We went to the Provincial Museum, which exhibited the tomb artifacts of the Marquis of Yi Yu Bei who died at age 45 and was buried with tons of belongings in 400 BC. They found his tomb in 1978 and all his stuff was perfectly preserved including a set of brass bells weighing lots of tons. "He was buried with the coffins of 21 maidens," said our Wuhan guide. "They were not strangled or poisoned so they must have gone willingly to join their master in his death." Yeah. Sure. I wondered if when the coffin lid was nailed shut, they might have changed their minds.
We toured the museum in lock-step. I saw a laquerware bowl that spoke to me. It was so beautiful that it seemed to have a soul. Then the Wuhan guide said, "Step this way. We will watch a performance." I was impressed. They had created an exact replica of the giant bells. Musicians in costume played them.
Amy also was very impressed. She said, " Oh, Mommy, can I have some bells too?" She has developed a mantra. "Oh Mommie buy me, hum?"
Then we crossed the Yangtze River. It looked like the mighty Mississippi. It was broad and big and a major statement of nature.
It's very disconcerting that I have the same complaints and woes that I had in Berkeley. The same gripes and negativity. Travel hadn't changed me. I had hoped and dreamed that travel would change me. Yet here I was, on a tour bus driving around Wuhan and bitching about the faulty microphone, the faulty daughter, my faulty brain. Would I always be this way? I hoped not -- yet hope did not seem to be helping at all. I stuffed more toilet paper in my ears and read my book Cold Sassy Tree and hoped that perhaps Tibet would change my life.

1:00 pm: Back to the hotel, another half hour on the bus. Lunch: Dim sum, stir-fry garlic cucumbers, sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour soup, beer, fish and water chestnut stir-fry. Watermelon. Beef and turnip soup. More beer.
"I'm going back to our room," said Amy.
"Fine. I'm going to try to e-mail home. I saw a computer at a photocopy shop around the corner."
"There's a business centre in the hotel," said Cliff. "You could try there." I did.
"Do you have e-mail?" I asked.
"How much?"
"Two yuan per minute." Per minute? Forget it. I went around the corner.
"E-mail?" I asked a young computer-nerd type. "Internet here?" He shook his head. I wrote it down. He wrote something in Chinese. I took it back to the hotel. The translations was, "We do not have e-mail." Back to the Business Centre.
"How about one yuan per minute?" I asked the woman behind the desk. She got really upset.
"Two yuan per minute."
"How many minutes would it take?"
"20 minutes." That's 40 yuan.
"Okay." I got to work. There was a message from my daughter Elizabeth. "I'm finishing up with one movie and have been assigned to a movie of the week about mountain men in the old west. We leave for Utah in two weeks." Cool.
I e-mailed back. "Hi. We're in Wuhan, the Yangtze is like the Mississippi, we're just about toured out, will try to e-mail in Hong Kong." It cost me 28 yuan, took 14 minutes. That was okay.
Joe got lost. I couldn't find him anywhere. I went upstairs to my room. There he was, asleep on my bed.

3:00 pm: We went off to the Yellow Crane Tower. This time it was Amy's turn to get lost. "The Yellow Crane Tower," said the Wuhan guide, "is a watchtower overlooking the three branches of the Yangtze River. It is five stories high and built on a hill so that city guards could see an enemy coming from 30 miles away in any direction."
I took pictures, looked at souvenirs and searched for Amy. Then we went to a tea-making demonstration and I found Amy, who had bought a plastic box with little birds in it that sang when she opened the lid. "I wanted a cricket," she said as we raced back to the seller but he had no crickets. And we were late for the bus again.

6:00 pm: Dinner: Bok choy, French fries, Chinese pizza, rice, beer, some kind of soup that had a whole bunch of things in it that blended well together, a sweet and sour fried fish that had been scored to make little flowers all over it. Dim sum, watermelon. I ran out to the bus and dug through my backpack and carry-all bag. No film. I ran back in. "Can somebody please take a picture of this dinner?" This could ruin my photographic-documentation-of-every-banquet record.
"I'll do it," said Donna.

September 18, 1999: "Today we board a boat to sail up the Yangtze River," said Kevin. It was so cool. There was a band playing, piping us aboard. The Victoria III was an old-fashioned river boat and it was marvelous. All full of dining rooms and grand salons and the whole nine yards. Until we were assigned our rooms. Ha. The size of a closet. Amy and me stuffed into the Black Hole of Calcutta. "Guess we're going to spend a lot of time on deck," I said. We did just that. All morning, all afternoon, on the poop deck.

3:00 pm: Back in our room, Amy and I happily washed our clothes out in the sink, doing "load" after "load" of laundry. One "load" equaled one bathroom sink full of misc. garments. "Where are we ever going to hang them," I rhetorically inquired. "How long will it take them to dry." I hung all the unders, socks and bras on the towel rack then put the wet shirts and pants on hangers and hung them there too. Ah, we were having adventure travel all right. The bathroom looked like a Chinese laundry, which it was. But we had no other choice. The shipboard laundry service wanted 36 yuan a shirt! Laundry for $100? I don't think so.
The towel rack broke and everything fell on the floor. Amy took charge. Her finest hour. "I'll fix the towel rack, you go hang stuff on the curtain rod." We giggled and chatted and had lots of fun in our stuffy little river-going cubby hole.
Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, Amy started yelling at me. I can't even remember what she said. Something very minor like, "You left your nightgown on my bed." I was in the bathroom (or what passed as a bathroom) rinsing out socks. I poked my head out the door and there was Amy, sweeping my solitaire cards off the desk, throwing my stuff on the floor, screaming hysterically about what a bad mother I was.
When I saw the carnage left in the wake of Amy's fury, something inside of me, the evil twin -- the brain I had no control over -- took charge. To my shock and horror, right there in Cabin 115 of the Victoria III, I tried to kill my daughter. Jesus.
"You never, ever give me an inch," I swore as I closed in on her. "I try everything to please you, everything to be a good mother," as I hit her as hard as I possibly could, totally out of control. "When are you going to get off my case!"
Amy turned on me, her eyes blazing, trying to fight back. Usually Amy is stronger than me but the force of my insane fury had given me the strength of ten. I slugged her. She still tried to fight back. She grabbed my wrists in an iron grip that normally would have stopped me cold. I shook her off like she was a little kid. My eyes also blazed, burning into her soul. "Just keep out of my way and leave me alone," I screamed, turned on my heel and left the cabin.
Four or five people stood in the hall gaping at me. I steamed past them, humiliated, disgraced, out of control. Their eyes followed me as I ran, crying, down the hall. It was the lowest moment of my entire life. I had come to China to learn and this is what I had learned: That I could sink this low. Somehow I made it up to Joe's room.
I knocked. He came to the door. "Oh, Joe. I just tried to kill Amy."
Joe's roommate Ken looked absolutely shocked and edged out the door as soon as humanly possible. "I don't want to get involved in your family traumas," he said, breaking my heart.
"Oh, Joe. I didn't mean for that to happen," I sobbed. "I never in a million years meant to hit Amy. I just went out of control."
"Is she okay?"
"I don't know. I hit her pretty hard." Outside Joe's open window, the endless and eternal Yangtze flowed. A light rain fell. I moved toward the window. I felt that my life was over. The silt-colored yellow river called me, saying "Life will always be out of your control. You will always be disgraceful. You will always stand just one step away from madness. Come with me. I will give you peace." I stepped closer to the yellow mother river of China, the yellow mother Yangtze. Joe took my arm and broke the spell. More tears welled in my eyes but the moment was over. We talked a bit. I mumbled, "All I've ever wanted in life was to be a good person. Sure, it would be nice to win the lottery or go to Tibet or be beautiful or popular. But the bottom-line thing that I've ever really wanted from life is to be a good person. And I'm not, Joe. I'm not even close."
"Sure you are, Ma. You just got to get over hating yourself. And try being less controlling of Amy."
"Controlling! Me! Amy!" Anger was perking me up. "I let that kid do everything she wants. The reason she fights me isn't because I control her. It's because I won't let her control me! She's the one that wants to run my life and, damn it, I don't let anybody run my life. My father and my mother and my sister ran my damn life for too damn long. No 12-year-old girl is going to run my damn life now!"
"Maybe you had better go down and check on Amy," I told Joe.
"You going to be okay alone?" I nodded yes and we left together. He went down to talk to Amy and I wandered the netherworld ramps and passageways of the Victoria III, avoiding people's gazes as if they could see through me, could see the scarlet letter of "Child Abuser" branded into my flesh. I stood in the rain under the aft bulkhead for several hours before I felt I could show my face again.
Then Amy found me and said, "I'm sorry."
I nodded and said, "I'm sorry too." More sorry than she would ever know. And the laundry was still soaking wet.

September 19, 1999: I woke up this morning and we were further up the Yangtze. It stretched on forever. We had gone to the Captain's reception last night and Amy had looked stunning in her red brocaded Chinese dress. Joe and Glen and Steve, the tour's three young men, wore shirts and ties and looked nice too. "Welcome aboard the Victoria III," said the captain. "I am Captain Fung." Then we ate dinner and danced at the disco. Dancing always makes one feel better.
Kevin was quite worried for us last night because the river authorities were closing the locks today and so we would have to proceed through the first of the three gorges at night, totally missing it. "Please don't worry," he said. "We shall go up to the dam site by bus." Ha. Another bus trip? Forget it.
After breakfast, I went to the front desk and asked, "Would it be possible to get another room? Sharing a room with an American teenager could be quite crowded," I added, knowing that the people working at the main desk, four doors down from our cabin, must have heard the ruckus yesterday.
"You would have to pay more," the assistant purser replied.
"How much more?"
"200 US dollars."
"Oh," I said, disappointed. "I could afford $50." It had been worth a try. I took my cards and Book-on-Tape and journal and went back up to the deck. It was cold but it was private. I watched the river banks slide by and I watched a barge try to fight us for the right of way as it crossed the river. We had a battle of horns and the Victoria III pulled left and the barge speeded up, thus saving face for both ships.
There were many buildings on both sides of the river now. Perhaps the barge was a ferry as I didn't see any bridges in that area.
Even though I forgot to write it down at the time, last night's dinner was easy to remember because they had a printed menu. Appetizers: Pot-stewed beef, salty duck, spiced and dried bean curd, sweet and sour radish, shredded cabbage with ginger. Hot dishes: Diced chicken with peanuts, shredded pork with green pepper, barbecued pork ribs, sauted cowpeas, bean curd in hot sauce, hot and sour soup, steamed dumplings filled with pork, Sechuan dan-dan noodles. Dessert: Flan. But we didn't have flan for dessert. We had birthday cake. The shipboard food was excellent!
We passed more barges and more ferries and lots of smoke stacks and factories. "Do you know what city this is?" I asked the passenger next to me.
"No." We passed two gigantic concrete towers, one on either shore, obviously the beginnings of a new suspension bridge. The river was approximately seven football fields wide at this point. And the water and the sky were still the same color, a steely gray. It was cold and windy on deck but the vista was obviously worth the discomfort.

2 pm: We went off to the construction site after lunch. It's our first view of the massive concrete dam. Enough concrete had been stretched between two 5,000-foot-high mountains to build 20 Hoover dams. Awesome! I was very impressed. Until Kevin set me straight. "That's not the dam you saw," said Kevin. "Those are only the locks." Only the locks! Holy-freaking-cow! But then we went beyond the locks to a tourist viewpoint and I realized that the locks that had appeared to be stretched between the two mountains was only a trick of perspective -- the mountains were far in the background. But the dam site was still awesome.
"Look at those people in the bulldozers," I pointed out to Amy. "In the grand scale of things, they look even smaller than ants." It was like a scene out of a sci-fi penal colony movie. Bulldozed earth stretched below us for as far as the eye could see. "I couldn't have imagined the scale of this project if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. It's like looking at the Grand Canyon." People had been mentioning this dam to me as a big deal and I had been blaise. You seen one dam you seen them all. But this project could probably be seen from the moon.
Then we drove further to the Cave of the Three Travelers. "These three travelers," our guide Kathy informed us, "were Tang poets." Apparently Tang poets were really hot spit. When people talked about them, their voices grew reverent. "They came to visit their brother and stayed in this cave." I looked at the cave. It was dank and open to the elements and smelled of bat guano.
"If I ever had guests and put them in a cave like this, they'd never visit me again."
"Maybe that was why they were put there. The bro was probably tired of drop-in guests," commented someone.
There was an industrial crane stretching out across the gorge in front of the cave. "That's for bungee jumping," said Kevin.
"Man," said Joe. "You gotta do that."
"Sure," said Kevin. "Just you watch me!" He laughed and we followed a local guide off on the next part of the tour, a pagoda with a set-bell performance like the one in Wachen. Then I paid two yuan to go up to the top of the pagoda to see the view of our very first gorge. When I got up there, I saw a plastic showcase with money on top of it. "Is this a wishing well sort of thing?" I asked the man next to me. Fine. I dropped a Jiao (penny) note onto the showcase.
As I put it down, I looked closer into the case. "Ye gods! It's a dead body!" It was the body of someone -- someone who had been dead a long time. He or she however still had all his or her hair. "Om mani padme hum," I murmured and crossed myself. Backing up, I bumped into another money-covered showcase, another dead body. "Kierye Alayeson," I said and went off to check the view. It cost two more yuan to photograph the view so I passed that up.
Here's another sidebar on money: One always has to tip the guides, buy souvenirs and pay money to go to the toilet. One always needs spare change in one's pocket. And I felt really chintzy when I didn't play Lady Bountiful all the time, but we really didn't bring that much money with us. Plus I was tipping for all three of us. Plus there are people in our group who are truly bucks up. Donna and John, for instance, are staying in the "Shangri-la Suites" part of the boat. People in this tour spend in one day our budget for the whole trip. But at least we are here.
Our group got to the exit to the Three Travelers park. "Where's Amy? Where's Joe?" They were, surprise surprise, nowhere to be seen. Kevin and I ran back over the way that we had come; up steps, over bridges, down stairs, through pagodas. I found Joe. "Where's Amy?" Not that I cared any more. After the terra cotta warriors, I vowed never to worry again.
"It's my fault," said Joe. "I told her to stay back at the cave to watch for Kevin to bungee jump." Jesus. We ran back to the cave and found Amy.
"It's about time," she said. "I had to sit here for an hour while all these tourists gaped at me." We ran for the bus and drove back toward the boat.
"Wait! Stop the bus!" cried Ellen Marie. "I need to get one of those plastic satchels!" Brakes squealed, Kevin and Ellen Marie ran out, crossed six lanes of on-rushing traffic, did some serious bargaining, crossed back over the six lanes of on-rushing traffic again and got back on the bus. "I got it for half-price," Ellen Marie beamed. "The zipper was broken."
Dinner on the boat was -- and I quote from the menu -- roast pork slices, spiced and dried beem card, bean sprouts in sauce, multi-flavored chicken, fried shredded beef, cucumber in sesame oil, shredded chicken with vegetables, broccoli with beef, sweet and sour port, fried vegetable with garlic, home-style bean curd, pork slices soup, spaghetti, garlic breads, salads and flan.
The flan tasted just like in Mexico. Ryss didn't come down for dinner. "He's in training for the big ping pong tournament tonight." We had a good group. Ryss won the foreign category hands down. A ship's officer wiped up the Chinese category.
At 11 pm we went through the locks. More Star-Wars-looking stuff. "This looks like a set from Star Wars," I said.
"This looks like a set from Star Wars," said Amy.
"Wow. This looks just like a set from Star Wars," said Glen. It was an experience worth coming to China for:
The gigantic gates, the searchlights illuminating concrete monolithic walls, the grand scale. Our ship looked like a boat in a bathtub and floated like a cork from the lower river level up to the level of the reservoir.
After midnight I retired to our cabin to watch the end of To Live and Farewell My Concubine on our VCR channel.

September 20, 1999, 6 am: "This is your wake-up call. The Wu Gorge is coming up." Whoop-de-do. I trooped up on deck to watch. It was okay. Worth getting waked up at some un-Godly hour for. But. I was stuck on the front deck between the river guide's squeaky microphone and the University of Ohio alumni group. There was one obnoxious drunk in that group that made me want to go around and hug all 16 of our tour members. This particular alum had been drunk and rowdy since we came on board. He had a deep carrying voice, a drunk's bulbous nose and was thoroughly an Ugly American.
"Those orientals come over to our country and they all know how to milk the welfare system," he was holding forth. I pitied his wife. If he had one.
"Just look at these gorges," the guy next to him replied. "The Chinese are making a big mistake. Nuclear power is the way to go. They're perfectly safe and it's no problem to get rid of the waste." Right. I moved to another place on the rail.
After a while I went down to the room. Amy was still asleep. I tiptoed around, went out on the ledge outside our window, watched the gorges, and babysitted the laundry as it continued to dry. "Shut the window, Goddamn it." Amy was awake.
"Wanna come to breakfast with me?"
"Sure." They had donuts. After breakfast, we got ready to take a sampan up the Danning River to the Three Lesser Gorges. I was back to babysitting the laundry on the ledge when the Victoria III docked. That was weird.
"Look, Amy, there's an old cruise ship that has been converted into housing. Look, they got their laundry out too." We closed with the other ship. "Good grief! We are going to bump into them!" Families squatting over their lunches and old men playing cards drifted closer and closer to us. Not only did we bump them but we docked there. I could see right into their tiny rooms -- as small or smaller than ours -- each containing four sets of bunk beds. And the rooms were clean and neat too; certainly not like our cabin.
"Time to disembark," said the loud speaker. We walked through the hallways of the roominghouse/boat on our way to the landing. We saw children playing and people cooking food. "Me hau," I said. Me hau is the universal Chinese greeting.
We got on a sampan and toured the lesser gorges. "I'm bored," said Amy as we got seasick and queasy in the heat. I looked up at the magnificent gorges above me and didn't have the energy to pull out my camera. Jaded tourist syndrome.
"Here, Amy. You can use my Game Boy," said Joe, always the helpful big brother. Finally we stopped at a beach located an hour and a half up the Danning River. I was so glad to touch ground that I bought a cast iron "bronze" Buddha bell off some fisherman type that had emerged from nowhere; out in the middle of nowhere.
"200 yuan."
"Boo!" Not interested.
"Boo." I showed him a 50 yuan note. He took it. We got back on the sampan and, hopefully, started back through the gorges. "No. Wait," I cried. "Turn around! The sampan is going in the wrong direction. The boat is behind us." Obviously the driver didn't speak English and we continued up the damn gorge. By that time I really needed to pee. It was at that point that I found out why the Yellow River was yellow. When I went to use the squat toilet in the back of the sampan, I could see the river flowing by through the hole. I took perverse pleasure in watching my stream of water co-mingle with the water of the Danning, knowing a part of me would flow into the mighty Yangtze and all the way through China.
It was a long trip back to the V3 but I really liked my bell. And it would forever remind me that I had been out in the middle of China's nowhere.
A half-hour later our river guide, Sandra, told me, "Now we will go back. It will take one hour and 20 minutes."
"How long did it take to get up here?"
"We left at 10 am. It is now 1:30. Would you like to buy some post cards?"
"I want post cards," said Amy.
Right now, I'm feeling all bored with touring the three gorges but 20 years from now I will probably have wonderful memories of all this and will be so very glad I went.
When we got back from the mini-gorges, we were all tired. I stood in the lunch buffet line while Amy went to the cabin. "Can you save my place in line," I asked Laura, "while I go get Amy?"
When Amy and I came back, Laura was close to the head of the line. I went up, joined her, then looked back for Amy. She was stomping back to the cabin, her shoulders erect and her head held high in a manner I recognized as Amy in a fury. Oh, God, what's wrong with her now, I thought. I got my food and went back to the room to eat. Amy was huddled on her bed crying.
"What's up," I asked cautiously.
"I went to follow you in line and some lady accused me of cutting."
"Did you tell her that you were only following me?"
"Yes and she said, `Well! Your mother is cutting too.' And she yelled at me."
"Did you tell her that someone was saving our place?"
"Yes, and she still yelled at me." Now it was my turn to be furious. It's one thing if I make Amy cry but it's an entirely different thing altogether if some mean stranger makes Amy cry.
"Who was she? Point her out to me."
"No. It's no big deal. Just let it go."
"Absolutely no. I want to know. I want to explain something to her -- like that you are only twelve years old and all your friends and everything you know are 8,000 miles away and how sweet it is of people to be helpful to a child in need."
"No, Mom. Just let it go."
"Okay, then, just point her out to me and I'll duke her out and take her down. Nobody can go around making my daughter cry and get away with it. Nobody but me." Amy smiled slightly and we went off to lunch.

4:30 pm: We had a late lunch and then it was time for the last gorge. "I think that we've gorged ourselves enough," I punned to John.
A lady sitting next to me on the front deck had arrived so early to get a gorge-watching good seat that she had fallen asleep by the time we entered the gorge, a very short one. I didn't want her to miss it and be sorry so I politely touched her arm and said, "Do you know what time it is?" She gave me the time, looked at the gorge for a few minutes then went back to sleep. Amy came up a few minutes later and asked me what time it was!
Forgetting about what I had just said to the lady, I glanced at my watch. "4:45" I said -- then got embarrassed as I suddenly remembered my ploy.
Later, at dinner, I asked Ellen Marie, "Did you see that stupendous rock in that last gorge?"
"Which rock?" she replied. "We've seen about a thousand of them in the last two days."
I laughed. "Rock 352D."
"Sorry. I missed that one."
"It was the one that was three football fields high, five football fields long, perfectly squared at the corners and perfectly flat. No sign of erosion. It must have fissured apart in an earthquake."

9 pm: "You going to the crew floor show tonight?" Asked Amy.
"No. I think I'll just stay in the cabin and play solitaire and watch the socks dry." I had put the socks out in the sun when we went on our field trip and when we came back, they were gone. The purser, after struggling with the meaning of the word "socks" for a few minutes, tracked them down for me. The crew had hosed off the outside of the ship while we were gone and half my socks were with housekeeping and the other half were floating down the Yangtze. Housekeeping brought my remaining socks back, I washed them and now they would take another three days to day.
"I don't want to go either. Kevin wants me to sing karaoke and I'm shy." Amy sat down for about two minutes and then jumped up and left. I played solitaire for a while and then went up also. It was a great show. The maids and waiters did really cool folk dances and Kevin sang karaoke (called KTV in China) with a waitress. He was really good. Our waiter performed a Chinese wedding dance. He was really good too.

September 21, 1999: Nothing to do today but sit and watch the Yangtze River roll by. Joe was sick last night and actually went to bed early. I brought him breakfast this morning. "How are you doing?"
"They got an acupuncturist on board. Wanna give him a try?"
"Maybe later."
"Okay. Here's some Po Chai pills and some cranberry-dandelion supplements and some echenichia tea. Try them."
"But Po Chai pills are for stomach problems, Ma."
"Hey, it's the only medicine I have. It can't hurt and it might even do some good."
Amy and I went up to the dumpling-making demonstration and stayed for the Chinese brush-painting demonstration. We played Amy's favorite card game, Egyptian Rat Screw, and taught it to Ellen Marie. "Can I have a Shirley Temple, Mom," asked Amy.
"Eat shit and die," I replied. "If you want sugar, go back to eating tooth paste." Just kidding. I didn't say that. Actually, Amy has been really pleasant to be around lately. I was even starting to get worried about her.
"What a pleasant daughter you have," said a lady with the Smart Tours group.
I went back to the cabin, opened the window, stuck out my feet and watched the heartland of China roll slowly by. Heaven. I also watched the socks attempt to dry some more.
At 4:30 pm, the loudspeaker squawked, "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are sailing against the current and will be late arriving at Fengdu, the ghost city. Our excursion and the Captain's Farewell Banquet will both be delayed one half hour. Thank you." I went back to staring at the Yangtze. Buildings, farmers, goats, water buffalo and factories floated by. The hills lining the river banks were fertile and green. Sampans, hydrofoils, barges and cruise ships also appeared and disappeared continually.
"The farewell banquet and the excursion to the ghost city have been delayed another hour," said the loudspeaker. We visited the ship store, played crazy eights, chatted with passengers, check on Joe and settled back to watch the river again. What a lazy day.
"We will be late arriving at Fengdu," said the loudspeaker. "Therefore we have moved the Captain's farewell banquet up an hour. Please be ready in 15 minutes." We ran around, got dressed up and proceeded to the dining room.
"Can you imagine what the chef must have gone through," said Ellen Marie, "to prepare a banquet for 200 in just 15 minutes? His hair must have turned white." But despite all, the food was excellent. Frog legs even. Champagne, Sechuan chicken, rice flour dumplings, sorbet and creme-filled eclairs. Captain Yang stopped at each table and toasted us. Then it was time to go to Fengdu, the ghost city.
"Look, it's almost a full moon," I said as we left the boat and walked up a shaky gang plank, through ground fog and past some crippled beggars. One had horribly deformed hands, another had one leg, another was blind. Several were young children.
"Please, money," they said. Having long ago vowed to give money to anyone who asked me, I gave them yuan and Papermate Write Brothers pens. A man came and chased them off but they had set the stage for Fengdu -- like hungry ghosts. They attacked me then disappeared in the fog.
We boarded buses and drove through the city of Fengdu. "We are driving through the funeral district now," announced the guide. "Those large crepe paper wreaths are to honor the dead. 2,000 years ago, Taoists decided that the gates of hell were here." We shivered. "Even today, ship captains will cross to the other side of the river rather than risk being boarded by hitchhiking ghosts. It used to be considered bad luck to land here at all but Captain Yang is not superstitious. And," he added with a smile, "I will be here to protect you."
The corrugated metal doors of the funeral shops were up and their lights shown out on the streets and their festive wreaths added a carnival atmosphere to the ghost city, reminding me of the old Brazilian movie Black Orpheus, a story of death in Rio de Janero at Mardi Gras.
The carnival atmosphere intensified at the top of the mountain overlooking Fengdu's city and harbor. The lights of the city below also reminded me of Rio. We entered a pleasure garden where couples strolled happily through the balmy night and young men and women danced to soft music.
"Hurry up, hurry up," the guide shouted and suddenly shoved Amy and me into a chairlift that grabbed us and speeded us up the mountainside. The chairlift didn't stop at the top and we were grabbed off our seats and hurled aside as our chair disappeared off into the darkness, almost taking us with it.
"And here is the bridge to Hell," said the guide. "You must cross it in three steps or else be reborn among the damned." We all, luckily, crossed it in three steps.
"That was your first test. You passed it. Your second test is to climb 50 stairs while holding your breath." We passed that test too. "And here is an immortal. He has been covered with gold leaf by people wanting to appease him." The immortal had a black beard and was 20 feet tall.
"And here is the third test. You must balance on this stone ball," the size of a softball, "on your right foot for the count of three." Amy balanced for over a minute. She was Hell-proofed. And a good thing too.
Then we stepped over the Gate of Hell, past more baby-eating hungry ghosts and bug-eyed demons, into the presence of the Lord of the Underworld. He looked like the Immortals' older brother only slightly more pissed off. But he wasn't a demon, much to my surprise. He looked more like an administrator with a terrific wardrobe.
We wandered home in the moonlight and our visit to Hell had been very peaceful. But when we got back to the dock, everything changed. The crippled beggars had multiplied and the fog-shrouded docks now resembled a living hell. Amy started crying. "Why did you bring me here! I can't bear to look. That man has no legs. And look at that poor man's bones showing through." She started hyper-ventilating, sobbing. "Get me out of here!" We ran for the boat.
Later Kevin tried to comfort her. "These are professional beggars," he told her. "They do this for a living."
"Yes," I added. "We have people as physically distressed as that in the United States."
"No we don't. I've never seen anyone like that!"
"Yes you have. But in America you see them in wheelchairs and so we don't think about it as much. Every country has handicapped people. These ones just chose to beg instead of getting disability allowances. 80 years ago, you would have seen starving children dying on the streets here. Honestly, Amy. It's much better now."
Amy still had nightmares that night. "Sorry. So sorry!" she cried out in her sleep.

September 22, 1999: "I'm going to have breakfast in my room so I can spend one last time watching the Yangtze," I told Joe and Amy. We hurried up and packed and left our luggage in the hall. "Were's my magnetic perpetual motion thingie I bought at Fengdu?" Amy wailed. We went out in the hall, squatted over our duffels and riffled them until we found the P.M.T. I said farewell to the Queen Victoria III and got dutifully loaded onto the bus. Serious touring was about to begin again.

10:30 am: "This is the People's Hall. You have 15 minutes," said our guide in Chung Qing, the capitol of China during World War II. Amy begged me to buy a cheesy little cartoon of a tiger for $12. We got back on the bus. Amy begged me to give her a scarf I had bought at the dock after leaving the QV3.
"This is the home of General Joseph Stillwell," said our guide. "You have 20 minutes." Back on the bus.
"This is the Two Rivers Pagoda," said our guide. "It is eight stories high." We dutifully hot-footed it up eight stories to photograph the dynamite view of this historic hillside city. "Time to get back on the bus." Then we went off to eat lunch.
"Chung Qing is famous for hot pot cooking and for hot spices," said our guide as the bus wound down the mountainous streets of the city. "Hot pot cooking was invented by boatmen to be able to cook all their meals in one pot in order to save charcoal. I hope you like Chung Qing. It's name translates as `Mountain City' and was the capitol of China during the War With Japan." The streets were narrow and winding and everywhere there were fantastic views of the harbor. "And the girls here are very beautiful." I liked Chung Qing. I could win the lottery and move here.
I also saw a pregnant woman in Chung Qing, the second one I had seen in all China. She looked very pleased with herself. We drove quickly down through the lanes of Mountain City and were back by the river in no time. We had lunch at a hotel. It was built on a mountainside so steep that we had to enter on the fifth floor.
Like Beijing, Chung Qing has a lot of trees.
Back on the bus. I started to board the bus, looked back and saw Amy surrounded by women trying to sell her fans. I dragged her away. She pouted. I dragged her onto the bus. The women followed, calling to Amy at her window. "50 yuan! 50 yuan!" I shook my head at the women. Amy deepened her pout. "40 yuan!" the ladies cried. "40 yuan!" The hotel police came over to shoo the women off. I held up 10 yuan. "30 yuan!" cried the women.
Then an interesting ballet took place. I held out the yuan. A woman reached for it. The police reached for the woman, the woman handed me the fan, the police grabbed the woman, the woman reached for the yuan again, almost breaking my fingers off, I reached for the fan, Joe pulled me back in the bus and the hotel policeman marched the woman away. End of ballet.
"We will be driving to Chengdu now," said our guide. "It will take four hours and we will go through many tunnels. There are many mountains between here and Chendu." She handed out water bottles yet warned us that we would not be stopping to pee. Amy fanned herself and the bus took off.
Six million people live in Chung Qing.
The drive to Chengdu was long. "Why do they keep honking their horns all the time," I asked our Chengdu guide.
"They honk to warn the other driver that they are going to pass." That shows how few cars and trucks are on the highways in China. If Americans honked every time they got ready to pass, the noise pollution could be heard from Mt. Everest.
We stopped at a gas station midway through the four-hour drive. I eyed the counters in the open-air "convenience store" for any form of chocolate. There was none. None at all. Only cookies, instant noodles, Doublemint and Pepsi. I don't even like chocolate usually but one always wants what one cannot have and, except for the airport shops, there is almost no chocolate sold in China.
"I wish the guide would talk about the farms we are passing and who owned the land. She should do that. Without being asked," said one of our group members.
"I myself am just glad she's quiet." The guide in Wuhan who talked all the time over the bus's faulty sound system had driven me nuts.
Kevin told us a little bit about Tibet. "It was 9 degrees centigrade last week. It's dusty and the Potala Palace smells bad. Bring a scarf or something to protect your nose. And the free market there has very good prices. Just remember `half-price'. Always offer half of the going price."
Ellen Marie wanted a Tibetan rug. Ken had the U.S. prices for the rugs. "A 4 x 6 rug runs about $300 in the U.S." Suddenly I was starting to get excited about Tibet again. For a lot of folks on this tour, Lhasa was nothing more than a glorified shopping trip. For me, it started out to be a holy pilgrimage in honor of my father, but recently I also have been swept up in the commercial quality of the New China. Would I be given a chance to feel awe at the Potala Palace? Or would I merely be swept along on a shopping tour? I would find out tomorrow. At 4:45 am to be exact. That was when our plane was scheduled to leave the Chengdu airport for Tibet. It might not be in the highest good for all sentient beings, however, if I started to go into religious mode. I never did when I was back home. Why should I start now?
"Could I play with your Game Boy again?" Amy asked Joe as we finally approached the outskirts of Chengdu.
We stopped by the side of the freeway. "Why are we stopped?" I asked Sam.
"Someone had to go to the bathroom." Oh. Back on the bus, we passed rice paddies and lotus farms. The mountains of Chung Qing were behind us. Chengdu was obviously in the middle of farmland -- but it wasn't exactly Kansas. There were lots of trees and hedgerows. It was more like England; highly cultivated and inhabited.

7:15 pm: "The people of Chengdu are very relaxed," said Eva. "They like to sit outside in the evenings and drink tea." They were definitely not driving relaxed however. The drivers were crazy here. "People can now buy apartments but it is very expensive and most young people live with their parents." I would have hated that.
"Tomorrow morning we should get up very early. Leave your luggages in the hotel and just take the necessary things to Tibet. Our breakfast will be put in a box and we will eat on the way to the airport."
Kevin took over the mike. "The flight to Lhasa is two hours long, then another two hours to get to the hotel for lunch. Right now we are going to a five-star hotel for dinner." Ooooh. Dinner at a five-star hotel! And me in my Grateful Dead T-shirt.
And now we were stalled in traffic in downtown Chengdu -- right in front of a gigantic KFC.

September 23, 1999, 5:45 am: "We are going to Tibet," said the local guide. "We are going to the high plateau. It will be very cold there. Please take care of yourselves. The altitude is very high." Our bus shot through the early-morning streets of Chengdu on the way to the airport. I had Pop's photo in my backpack. Joe had recovered from his cold, Amy was in a good mood, I had my intestinal inequities under control and now it was all really happening!
We were going to Tibet!

7:15 am: The hotel forgot to give Eva and the bus driver a wake-up call and we were very, very late getting to the airport. "Hurry," said Donna. "Hurry up! We're going to miss the plane!" We sped to the airport, hustled through security, ran for the boarding gate. Would we make it? Would our dreams of Lhasa evaporate there on the runway? Not. We boarded in plenty of time and even sat on the runway for another 20 minutes. The plane was an ultra-modern airbus. I got a window seat.
Shortly after takeoff, I found myself already looking down on the Roof of the World. Great snow-covered craigs stretched below me from horizon to horizon. Boom. Just like that. We were flying over Tibet. Questions flooded my mind. How were people able to live down there? How had the Red Army gotten past all those rows and rows and rows of cordilleras to invade Tibet? How had the world's greatest culture survived, let alone developed, in such a barren land?
Imagine the Sierra Nevada stretching from San Francisco to Kentucky.
Then Southwest China Airlines showed a movie and served breakfast. We'd been in the air one hour and we were still flying over rows and rows of mountains. It was a Harrison Ford movie. By the time the hero got the girl, we'd be in Lhasa.
It turned out that they had majorly edited the movie and we had struggled through two whole hours of anguish in only a half-hour. Now the mountains were higher than ever. Each one looked like Mt. Everest. How did people live up here? Oooops. There's a glacier.
And Southwest China Airlines played "Welcome to the Hotel California" as we landed.

9:30 am: I had spent so much time around Tibetans back in the states that when I got out at the airport, even though it was all Chinese-modern architecture, it felt like I was coming home! Even the squat toilets in the airport felt familiar.
"On the way to Lhasa," our local guide said, "you will see many Tibetan farmers and yaks."
"Oh look," yelled Ellen Marie. "There's our first stupa!" A stupa is a Buddhist shrine.
Our guide presented us all with kataks, ceremonial scarves. "Tashi Deleg," I said, using the Tibetan equivalent of hello. "My Tibetan name is Chang Chup Drolma and this is my daughter Pema Wangmo." I was trying to impress our guide with my New Age chic grasp of his country's customs.
"Do you speak Tibetan?" he replied.
"Well, er," We stopped again to see yaks. Amy went tearing down the hill to visit the yak. I got a picture of it. Then Amy passed out cold.
It's the altitude," said Kevin. "Stand back. We have oxygen." Our guide, Tsering, gave Amy oxygen to inhale.
"That scared me," Amy said.
"Are you all right now?"
"I'm okay."
The sound of the oxygen tank suddenly reminded me of my father. I knew that I could never forget that sound. Tears welled in my eyes for a moment.
"The nomads move up into the mountains with their herds in the summertime," said Tsering. "They live in yak-hair tents and use yak dung for fire. They use yak leather, drink yak milk and eat yak butter, yak yogurt and yak cheese." Good. Our local guide has a sense of humor. Except for Kevin, none of the local guides had a sense of humor.
We passed a school. "The children live in dormitories and go home to visit on weekends because the tribes live too far away to commute." Amy was asleep on my shoulder. I hoped she was okay. "Bon Po was the state religion of Tibet before Buddhism was introduced in the seventh century." Buddhist and Bon Po ceremonies are a lot alike except that the Buddhists' motivation is to liberate sentient beings from the circle of life, death and suffering.
"Farmers and nomads make the pilgrimage to Lhasa from all over Tibet. For some of them, it is only once in a lifetime." I knew the feeling. This was my once-in-a-lifetime trip. We passed cairns and stupas and prayer flags as we followed the wandering Lhasa River toward the capitol. It wasn't like the Yangtze. It wasn't very wide and it didn't flow very fast. Sometimes it just pooled into small lakes.
The air (what there was of it) was fresh and crisp and spring-like. The sun shone warmly down. "Those bare mountains look like Nevada," said Ron, who used to be a cowboy and was not afraid of yaks.
"With the haystacks and the poplars lining the road and the green around the river, I think it looks like Tuscany," I replied. The haystacks were high and round like the ones that Claude Monet used to paint. Whether it looked like northern Italy or Nevada (actually, parts of it looked like both places standing side by side), I liked Tibet.

11:30 am: Suddenly the idyllic Tibetan dreamscape came to an end and we found ourselves driving through Chinese strip malls. Junk architecture everywhere. Chinese signs. "We might as well be in Wuhan," I said. "Or Hong Kong." Everything was so thoroughly Chinese everywhere we looked. And not the best Chinese either -- any more than American strip malls might be representative of Frank Lloyd Wright.

6 pm: When we got to the hotel (formerly the Lhasa Holiday Inn!) we ordered oxygen bags from the front desk. It was hilarious. They were big rubber bags that looked like mini-life-rafts. Each one had a rubber hose coming out of it. You put the hose up your nose and breathed. "This is just like snorting crack," said Amy. We both cracked up. I took a picture. We snorted one whole bag, laughing like crazy.
"What time is it," asked Amy.
"Ten minutes to six. Where's your Tweety watch?"
"In my bag I think."
"It's time to go to dinner. Let's try to be on time for once." We went off to the Crazy Yak restaurant for Tibetan food.

9 pm: Back at the hotel, Joe and Tsering plotted how and where to go disco dancing on the Roof of the World. "Joe's gotta dance his way through Asia," I said. "And saying that you've been to a disco in Lhasa is high cachet."
"Well, Steve and Glen are discoing their way through Asia at their parents' expense," said Glen and Steve's father. "I think it's a stupid idea." I was surprised he said that because he is usually very cheery. I think altitude sickness was getting to him too. Sam was out with a headache and poor Ellen Marie couldn't hold anything down and her husband went out in search of a doctor.
When we were talking about the discotheque, Tsering said something profound. I asked if he planned to go to a Chinese or a Tibetan disco and he answered, "Tibetan. Chinese. It's all the same. They all just jump."
Of course. I had been dividing people into categories again. Tsering had not. He was a step higher on the evolutionary ladder than me, the invading Chinese, all those who make war. What was the saying? "Those who are at war with others need to make peace with themselves." Yet I had read about the horrors the Tibetans had endured since their occupation: Six million dead; countless others starved, tortured, degraded, sterilized, relocated. Yet it was the inner beauty of the Tibetan people that had always made the world love them. And it was still their inner beauty that was their great value.
If the Tibetans themselves didn't hate or resent the Chinese; if they could forgive them, who was I to hold a grudge?
It was also very similar to race relations in the United States -- segregation and prejudice had created intolerable separations that had hurt black people and had hurt white people even more.

September 24, 1999, 6 am: Today is the big day! We take my father's picture to the Potala Palace. Hi, Pop! We're gonna do this! Hold on to your hat! "You're going to love it," I told his photo. "Or hate it. Or whatever. I know that you went to the most peaceful rest and thus it makes no difference to you. But it is an important gesture for me. I want to lay all my ghosts to rest." I wanted to bring all the sorrow -- and all the guilt that I hadn't done enough for my father before he died and all the bitterness toward my sister that I've held for almost a year -- to closure.
"Amy. This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to make a whole plan. I'm going to tell Tsering and get our whole tour involved in my ceremony!"
"What ceremony?"
"The one with your grandpa's picture."
Just then we heard military marching band music in our room. "What's that?" asked Amy.
"Must be the wake-up call." But it wasn't a wake-up call from the hotel. It was some kind of city-wide military wake-up call. Oh well.
"When I go back home and stay with our neighbors, will I be able to see my friends?"
"Sure. You can bike over there on the way to school and then walk to school with them." After Tibet, we would all go to some Chinese city famous for its panda reserve and then tour Hong Kong. After that, Joe would fly home with Amy and she would stay with neighbors while I went on to zone out for a week in Bali. Bali was a tour tack-on for only $400 more.

8 am: At breakfast I did the "Amy Shuffle" and organized my money into envelopes: Tips, airport tax, Elizabeth's presents, etc. There was nothing left hardly for the "Me" envelope but that was okay. I was accumulating merit like crazy and that was worth more than gold. I gave $200 to Kevin and he seemed to be happy with that. I hoped so. "You have been absolutely wonderful, Kevin. I hope this is enough." He looked pleased. "And," I continued, "this includes getting Amy and Joe safely onto the airplane in Hong Kong." Kevin laughed. "If you don't," I warned him, "you will be stuck with them in Xi-an for the rest of your life!"
Then we went to the Potala Palace and it was everything I had ever imagined and far, far more. All those years I had spent hanging out with lamas during the 1970s came back to me and I was filled with awe that I was at the genesis, the well-spring of all they had learned and all they had tried to teach me. I was so excited, I even crossed myself. I could have lived there forever. Worldly goods and desires melted away.
"Ma, this way," said Joe, pulling me out of my trance. The statue of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the beautifully painted and draped thankas, the butter lamps, the pilgrims. Everything I had ever imagined.
In the large mediation hall, we saw the throne of the Dalai Lama. When we had entered, there had been a throng of pilgrims swirling around us. Then suddenly as if by magic the all pilgrims disappeared. Even our tour was gone. Suddenly it was just Joe and me alone in the great hall, in front of the Dalai Lama's throne. "This is the place, Joe." I pulled Pop's picture out of my backpack and placed it before the throne -- along with a cascade of photos of my various friends and relatives from home. There was even a photo of my friend Bob's dog! Then from out of nowhere, a temple guard appeared and offered to take a picture of me and Joe and the throne and Pop's picture too. Joe hugged me and I hugged Joe. "Tashi Deleg, Pop," I whispered and did three grand prostrations in the manner of Tibet. Then to my amazement, the temple guard produced two kataks, ceremonial scarves, and presented them to me and Joe.
Then we suddenly realized that we were lost. Lost in the Potala. A helpful guide finally appeared and showed us the way to find our group again.
"Look at those thankas!" said Ellen Marie. "Look at those bronzes!" She pointed out hundreds of bronzes, rows and rows and rows of them. More religious art was here than even in the Vatican.
"It's a miracle the Red Guard didn't burn the place down," I said.
"Thank God they didn't," she replied.
One of the most wonderful things about the Potala Palace was the nomad pilgrims; bronzed from the sun, in their nomad dress, on their once-in-a-lifetime journey from the steppes and grasslands; totally devout. Wild horsemen, little old ladies, interesting lives.
"This large bronze building you see here is a three-dimensional mandala," said Tsering, pointing to a seven-foot-high, twelve-foot-wide intricately carved representation of the perfect world.
I saw another nomad family. The son was tall and handsome, straight-backed and proud. The mother was older, slim and surprisingly tall as well. Most of the nomads are miniature due to the hard life and the high air. The mother had a young child sitting on her shoulders, a delicate-faced child with rasta hair. "May I take your picture," I asked the mother, pointing to my camera. She shook her head no. I was sorry. I felt so greedy to capture these people's essence, their secrets of dignity and self-respect, what their lives were really like. Then, suddenly, they were gone and I missed them -- I missed their wild and free life compared to my stable, orderly and predictable one.
The Tibetans were truly a handsome people. The Potala Palace was worth every penny of this trip. It, in fact, was priceless. And I still wanted a picture of a nomad.
"Come here," said Tsering. "You can have this man print your name on a card and then give it to a monk. Two yuan each." I gave him our Tibetan names. "I'm Chang Chub Drolma (English translation: Compassionate Control). Amy is Pema Wangmo (Lotus Woman of Power) and Joe is Sonam Gyalso (Ocean of Merit)." We got our names written in gold and then we presented them to a monk who would pray for us.
As we waited in line for the monk, two Tibetan men started screaming at each other, then hitting each other. "Fuck you and the dog you rode in on," seemed to be the gist of the conversation. I was shocked. The fight went on and on. Nobody tried to stop it, not the soldier standing next to them, not the 100 or so tourists standing nearby.
"What are they fighting about," I asked several people. Nobody seemed to know.
"He was trying to cut in line," theorized Amy.
"No, I think they were fighting over a watch. One guy kept pointing at his wrist," said John. Or maybe they were creating a diversion -- to divert the crowd while an accomplice picked tourists' pockets. Our tour moved on. We would never know. How could anyone get into a fist fight in the Potala Palace?
Next we went into the room of the Maitria Buddha, the buddha of the future. I paid my 45 yuan, took my pictures and paid my respects.
"We have just toured the Red Palace, the Dalai Lama's palace. Now we will move into the White Palace, the political palace."
We passed through many more rooms filled with gilded and painted and carved stuff, including the Dalai Lama's bedroom. Then we went down 75 officious-looking steps into a vast courtyard of the Forbidden City type (Well maybe not as big as that. But big.) And when we turned around, a large edifice stood facing the courtyard. "They did lama dancing here," said Tsering. "The young Dalai Lama watched them from his fourth floor bedroom window."
At the beginning of our palace tour, the bus had dropped us off in back, up at the top. Many, many steps later, we were walking down towards the bottom. "The Tibetans have a tradition of painting their homes and temples at the beginning of the Losar, the Tibetan New Year," Tsering was telling us as we clumped down flight after flight of stairs. "Tibetans go up on the roofs and pour the pain down." We looked at the paint. "And look at these windows. See how thick the walls are." They were four or five feet thick.
We walked down even more stairs and were suddenly out of the palace. Arond this time, I had a conversation with a Tibetan who spoke English. "Are there any other lamas besides the Dalai Lama working for peace," he asked me.
"Not so much. Of course the lamas are teaching Americans, carrying on the tradition and accumulating merit for the Tibetans still under the Chinese thumb in Tibet -- and also for the Chinese themselves, so that their hearts will soften and they will become kind. But the ones who are really working for peace between Tibet and China are the Tibetan people in America. They work tirelessly. They hold candlelight vigils in front of the Chinese embassy. They write letters, they raise money, they pray." The Tibetan nodded his head.
"It's funny," I continued. The Tibetans and the lamas don't seem to hang out together. Whenever you see lamas, they are teaching Americans. Whenever you see Tibetans, you rarely see lamas. For them, the Dalai Lama is the one who really matters. They think the world of him."
"I thought it was that way," said the Tibetan.
"I myself am not political," I said. "I just try to accumulate merit for all beings and understand that this act will be enough. Hopefully. But mainly I accumulate merit for the people I hate. Patience and compassion are not my strong suits and I tend to get pissed off a lot." I hoped this Tibetan stranger was following my English slang.
Just then a beggar came up and I gave her five yuan. "See? That's how I accumulate merit. At home, we have lots of homeless people. I try to give money to whoever asks me. It's a cheap and easy way to store up virtue." Then I was swarmed with beggars and didn't have any spare change. Oh well.
I was feeling all simpatico after that talk and went up to Kevin and Tsering. "See, you two are friends. Chinese and Tibetans can be friends. All you need to do is have everyone in the world go do the disco jump together." Yeah. Sure.
Then we were outside on the plaza in front of the Potala, faced with the ultimate photo op. We all took pictures. Then an old woman came up to me, carrying a string of prayer beads. She wanted money. "Tell her I will give her five yuan if she will pray for us." We did, she did, the deal was set. We bumped heads to seal the bargain.
Later I was thinking about all the lamas. I thought about Gonpo Tsedan, a Dzog Chen master who had taught in the San Francisco Bay Area for a while. Finally he went back to Tibet. "I'd rather do good in my home country," he told us, "even if it means my death. They need me more than America does." Later we heard that he was teaching the Chinese and that the Chinese wanted to learn. Several years after that, we learned that he was dead. Rumor had it that he died in a Chinese hospital from lack of care. But I like to think that he died in peace, safe in the knowledge that he had lived every moment of his life to the best intent; with kindness and hope for all; in the land he loved. When I die, I want to be able to say that.
We got back on the bus, went back to the hotel, ate yak burgers and made friends with the colorful Tibetan hawkers outside our hotel. They loved Amy and Amy loved them. She played with their children and bought lots of beads. Then it was time to go back. Back to China, back to home. As we drove to the airport, the sun rose behind us -- a giant red ball floating just over the holy city of Lhasa. "Goodbye Lhasa! Goodbye Tibet!"