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Hubris and Wonder in China, 1986 - #2 - Screaming Through a Hole in the Window

This is the second of three posts on my initial trip to China in 1986 -- light-years from the China I'm about to see in September, 2016...

Part #1: A Trio of Maps and a Challenge
This post, Part #2: "Screaming Through a Hole in the Window"
Part #3: Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

With our money in hand we headed out to make reservations to fly to Beijing. Our driver to the Waste Garden had told us it was very important to get the reservations right away and to be sure to go to the foreigners and diplomats line – both pieces of advice that I would never have taken during European travel. We got lost again looking for the main travel bureau, still operating under our American assumption that important things have big buildings.

The building we ultimately determined to be the main ticketing hub for all of Shanghai was tucked behind a cluster of abandoned buildings. It was a one-level, low-ceilinged building with half-dome roof tiles. When we stepped inside, it was filled, wall-to-wall, with men standing shoulder to shoulder (in matching Mao outfits of course.) There was no way to know which window to go to within the large general area and so I broke my own rule and went to the diplomats and foreigners window in the corner, the only sign in English. I bent low and talked through a hole in a plastic window to the woman to make arrangements – this was how I did all of my business in China, trying to communicate with women who were shouting at me through holes in plastic windows. To get to Beijing we had to rearrange our flight back to the US --back and forth numerous times. Had there been someone to help us translate? Did the driver help us? Doubtful. I was exhausted, riddled with anxiety  Read More 
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Full-Body Swimwear Liberates You from the Tyranny of the Bikini

I write to protest the recent decision by the city of Cannes in Southern France to outlaw full-body swimwear. My reasons involve both health and feminism, though not the feminist line that one is currently reading, but because I maintain that this full-body swimwear is incredibly liberating and long overdue.

I have had four surgeries for Basel cell skin cancer and after my first surgery started to treat sunshine as if it was secondhand smoke – a carcinogen lying in wait for me. I not only upped my SPF, but started wearing full body suits from both Solumbra and Stingray, an Australian company. This was 16 years ago, before the rash guard, when the only full-body covering was a wet-suit. I looked like a professional kayaker or diver in the wrong place. I looked odd, I knew, and when I was on the beach in Italy, I quickly learned the phrase “contro il sole” – against the sun – when the matronly women on the beach gestured and asked.

What I discovered, though, was that walking around with my thighs covered was tremendously liberating -- I moved with ease, bent over, sat in the sand with my legs spread, frolicked as I hadn’t when worried that my suit would ride up, would expose my bum, gap at the breasts. Now there was no gesture or movement that would compromise my privacy. So I was free  Read More 
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Hubris and Wonder in China 1986 - #1 - A Trio of Maps and a Challenge

In 1986 you could do the bootleg thing – meet a guy in a café and slide an envelope of money to him, he slides you two round-trip tickets to China issued under someone else’s name. Granted, there were visas and passports but the swap at the café was just the first of many incidents that broke what was my own convention, defied my understanding of how it was done, and made it a trip that started out with hubris and wound up filled with wonder.

That was my first trip to China and now, in 2016, I am returning, though just for a quick touchdown in Chengdu after flying nonstop in the United Airlines “Dream Machine,” (though since I am traveling coach I am sure it will not be that dreamy.) And my ultimate destination is the occupied zone of Tibet, which ensures another unique view of life in China. These are things I remember from the initial trip 30 years ago, recounted in three blog posts...

This first post: A Trio of Maps and a Challenge
Part #2: Screaming Through a Hole in the Window
Part #3: Bobble Heads and Beijing Lessons

This was the time before Google Maps and Google Translate, even before the Internet and cell phones, when an intrepid traveler had a guidebook and maybe pulled the pages out after she’d been to a place,  Read More