Well, are you?

Now that the conventions have (Thanks be to God) come to an end, I was struck by the remarks of a blogger I follow. It helped me do some necessary personal recollection; I pass her post along for your review. Good questions. Thoughtful comments anticipated.

Are You Better Off Than You Were Four Years Ago? http://redcardigan.blogspot.com/2012/09/better-off-now.html


We’re growing little onions. They’ve survived the winter. No so for the peppers.
Amazing, how we are spread “all over the map” when we look at our lives. I mean, I have two laptops, tons of software that lets me do things I couldn’t imagine when I was a kid, and yet we grow onions in a tin pot on the porch. No technology there. None. Dirt. Water. Interesting how daily life covers the spectrum of our existence. The phrase “From the sublime to the ridiculous” comes to mind. I just can’t decide which is which. [Garden]

Our visit to Xi’an (pt2)

Today is Tuesday or Wednesday, I don’t know which. This is day 2 of our holiday to Xi’an. Yesterday morning we arrived at the train station around 8:30. We were met by our guide who will stay with our group of 20 for our visit.

I’m getting ahead of myself. I should tell you about our train trip.

There are four ways to travel by train in China, ranging from quite comfortable to truly torturous. The four classes are soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat and hard seat. As you can imagine, the sleeping classes are best for overnight trips, although many travelers choose to snooze while sitting. So far, we haven’t experienced either hard or soft seats; our train trips all have been overnighters. I’m becoming adept at climbing small ladders to the top bunk. A soft sleeper is what I wanted, but a hard sleeper is what we got. Soft sleeper accommodation is actually a compartment in a car (semi-private, I think) supposed to be very comfortable for travelling. On the other hand, hard sleeper is one step above cattle-car class, but at least the cattle passengers are a courteous lot, for the most part.

The train cars sleep 66 souls each, with two triple bunks per open compartment. Privacy is non-existent. If you need to change clothes, you do it under the comforter, on your bed (or not, as you choose). There are no seats except for two fold-down shelf seats in the aisle across from each compartment…so that’s 22 small seats for 66 people. You sit or lie on your bunk bed. It’s just not convenient or comfortable travel while you’re awake. But, it’s only a one-day trip.

We boarded at 4pm. Supper was dry noodles like everybody knows (and college kids survive on) with hot water supplied by the train, plus a side dish of sesame seed crackers and grapes for dessert. When it was time for sleep, I only hit my head once on the ceiling above my bunk. There isn’t enough room to sit up straight, as I learned. Although the bunk was narrow, there was a strong railing at the side, so I stayed put where I belonged throughout the night. Sleep was fitful; we met the dawn as we rode through the outskirts of Xi’an, passing alongside some small but very steep hills. Very picturesque. (Are these karsts? Dictionary time.)

The train pulled into Xi’an at around 9:00, roughly 17 hours after departing Shanghai. Once the train came to a stop we joined the exodus into the unknown.

Understand, travel with a wheelchair adds a degree of uncertainty to the adventure.

We like adventure. Sometimes adventure brings good surprises.

For example, (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the story in a paragraph or two.) when we visited the Shanghai Expo 2010 (the world’s fair) last year, the Maori warriors at the New Zealand pavilion made us especially welcome. Now, if you’ve seen these guys and gals, you know they are performers at heart. Sometime in history the Maori men discovered the concept of offensive defense and thereby took to meeting any supposed enemy visitors to their land with a show of fierce, if not force. By showing up half-naked, in threatening body postures –with spears and knives in hand– making the most grotesque facial expressions they could imagine, coupled with what looks to me to be strangely inviting smiles (“You want some of this?”) they strategized to frighten away any newcomers. The ceremonial troupe put on a show that was entirely entertaining and every so often a little scary to the folks in the front row of the audience.

Guess where we were.

This particular afternoon at Expo, Marianne didn’t have to work at the Sunshine Pavilion, so we went for a stroll and, as you know now, came upon the New Zealand pavilion. She had seen the place as it was being constructed, but hadn’t been there since it opened. As we approached, we found the outdoor show about to begin so we hustled over and positioned ourselves right up front against the guard rail. Soon, we were part of a crowd. To their credit, most of the other visitors noticed that Marianne was in a wheelchair and allowed her to have a good view of the show. Only occasionally did we have to tap on a shoulder to invite someone to give way. In every case, they did so graciously.

OK, got the picture? A crowd of Chinese five-foot fours gathered around and behind one American five-foot nine guy and a woman in a wheelchair.

We don’t blend in well.

After their tongue-sticking, spear wiggling, eye-popping, grunting, jumping, if-I-was-the-enemy-I’d-give-up-right-then-and-there show, they agreed to pose for pictures with the crowd and, having seen her obvious enjoyment (remember, she’s the one in the front row…in the wheelchair..with the tall white guy) they invited Marianne to come up to the stage for a group picture. (It’s gratifying to see her treated well in cases like this, especially considering the blatant discrimination she received growing up in the PRC during the Cultural Revolution. (Back to the story interruption; the story will resume presently.) The NZ actors invited her to join them in a group picture, but the rather well-built crowd barrier blocked her way. So, being warriors and all, they simply dismantled it–then and there–using pen knives, fingertips and brute strength. As they were tearing apart their own barricades to allow Marianne-on-wheels to approach, they kept answering her protests (not wanting to be a bother) with the phrase, “No worries, Mate!” At last the gates were down and she rolled in to the stage area for several photographs with the nastiest warriors in  town. She was absolutely overjoyed. I think it was a combination of having her picture taken with these handsome men and beautiful women plus the amazing over-the-top personal attention she received from them. It was touching to see her tears of joy. I think I had as much fun watching as she did participating.

Since that time we have adopted the catch phrase, “No worries, Mate!” as our own. It signals our shared confidence in the future under God’s protection, come what may, as well as our happiness at meeting some challenges in our daily lives, often having to do with accessibility. Which brings us back to Xi’an and the train station.

Our visit to Xi’an on National Day 2011

Our visit to Xi’an on National Day 2011
The first part.
October 1 2011. National Day celebration in China is a week-long holiday. Since school was out for the period, we jumped at the chance to travel. Of course, so did a large fraction of the population. Marianne and I decided to take a tour of the area of the terra-cotta warriors near Xi’an. She arranged a tour for us and we were looking forward to a great time. I’m American and never have seen anything close to the majesty of  this archaeological find; Marianne hadn’t seen it either, so we were both looking forward to the trip.
We began our journey Saturday morning in Chong Ming. We walked up to the main road in town and took one of the tricycle taxis over to the long-distance bus terminal for the one hour trip to the Shanghai bus terminal. We arrived in good shape. It’s not a troublesome bus ride; the busses are comfortable, if crowded. From the bus terminal, we walked the short distance to the Metro station, where we were going to transfer to the Number One Metro train. For that to happen, we needed to catch the train on the platform above the street, for Metro runs above and below ground at different parts of town. Shanghai Metro is fairly well accessible, but some places are better designed than others. The Wen Shui Lu (okay, that’s One Shway Loo in phonetic English) Metro terminal has installed small lifts in several places—these are large closet sized elevators. The lift reminds me of an industrial strength (and square) push-up ice cream treat, or, less tastefully, a syringe or worse yet, a tube of caulk. There is no passenger compartment, but only a platform and its control panel which rises and lowers within the walled elevator shaft.
Except when it doesn’t work. When it works, it’s a little scary; when it fails, it’s more than a little scary.
Understand that the lift is reserved for people with mobility problems, so any trouble with the elevator is harder to deal with than you first think it will be. So, when we found ourselves stuck in the lift at Wen Shui Lu, halfway between floors, I thought to myself, what a great way to begin our vacation. Interesting challenge. But we’ve been in these kind of situations before and it was just another time when we put our trust in the Lord and went ahead, doing what we had to do.
That day I taught Marianne to climb a ladder. Metro personnel were on the scene quickly, with the ladder and copious vocal encouragement. She stood up, we passed the wheelchair over our heads to the waiting hands above us. Then it was her turn. As we were arranging to climb out, she says “I cannot do this!” I said “Sure you can.” Of course she could, there was no other choice. With the station crew pulling, and me pushing her up, putting her feet in the right spots on the rungs, she climbed out of the elevator well. All OK. She did just fine. Like she does this stuff every day. Angels come is all descriptions; some look like Metro workers.
A short Metro ride later we were at home in Shanghai.
That night, we saw some live entertainment at the Shanghai Cultural Square. In a production by the Shanghai Grand Theatre Arts Company, we enjoyed two hours of Broadway show tunes in the newly completed venue. It was well done, we thought. Featuring a broad complement of entertainers from the States and around the world, we were impressed with the performance.
The next morning we woke up late, attended Mass at noon and then wandered over to the Shanghai train station to begin our journey to Xi’an and the terra-cotta warriors and archers. (Xi’an is spelled with the apostrophe to show that the word has two syllables pronounced something like “She” and then “ahn”)
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