2nd Day in China

Second Day in China

By: Leo N. Ardo

 

Beijing. After breakfast we trekked over to the subway station about a mile from our hotel. Getting on at the first station was relatively easy, but getting off required some effort as the train filled with people going to work. The second train was packed, but this was China—there was always room on transportation. We pushed and shoved to help those ahead of us get inside the doors. (We had adapted to the requirements of no personal space.) When the next train arrived, those behind us helped squeeze us into the train.

A short walk from the last subway station put us at Tiananmen Square where, on June 4, 1989, a young man in street clothes challenged the military in tanks.

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A couple of interesting facts about the Forbidden City: It is symmetrical, and there are 9,999 each of certain items. The reigning emperor cannot have as many of those items as the previous emperor who enjoyed 10,000 of the same items in “heaven.” The list of 9,999 includes total rooms inside the city walls, doorknobs, lucky brass knobs decorating doors, steps, fence caps, protective carvings on roof corners, dragon carvings, etc. We did not count them, but after a couple hours of photography, it became a challenge to take a picture without some of the 9,999 pieces in the photo.

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Walking through the entry gate took us to an earlier time of emperors, dragons, legends, and privilege. And yet, we were still reminded of our place in time with several thousand people posing or taking pictures in the extremely large courtyard. Photo opportunities were abundant: marching soldiers, statues, architecture, friends, family, and a basketball court. We joked for several minutes if it was original equipment.

 

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A pattern began to develop where my wife and I kept falling further and further behind the rest of our group. We were taking pictures so fast we had to let our shutters cool down (not really, but it adds some fun to the story). Our delays became a concern of our tour guides who provided us with a cell phone.

 

 

At about this same time, two others from the group decided to rest. We would circle back for them later. We were about half way through the Forbidden City—according to the map. For the second time in two days, fast walking through an ancient Chinese shrine became a race against the clock.

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It was a Keystone Kops episode as we fast walked to the next point of interest, took pictures, fell behind—again (maybe we have shorter legs), arrived at the end of Forbidden City, fast walked to last location of our resting friends, discovered they were not there, and briefly considered we were lost. The cell phone rang. “Where are you?” “At the exit?” “We will be there soon.”

A quick bus ride to an open-air market for mid-afternoon snacks: fidgety scorpions, bugs, Chinese tacos, Chinese gyros, meat on a stick, etc. The girls practiced their negotiating skills and bought more souvenirs. The smartest among us purchased a pair of Nikes.

Returning to our hotel—the busses were really crowded. Four stops ago, I was the last of our group to get on the bus. Now, the guides warned us to get off at the next stop. I checked and located the nearest door three feet behind me. A few seconds later, the bus stopped. I pushed, cursed, and wedged my way through forty bus riders, and I was out the door as it closed. I was relieved to be off the bus but surprised by the terrorized look on our guide’s face. My wife and business partner were holding the far door open. “Where is he?” “He’s still on the bus.” “Is he lost?” A few moments pass before it was clear: I was “he.” I ran toward the rest of the group waving my arms.

Before going back to the hotel, we ate at a Korean barbeque and cooked our own food at the table. The restaurant had three forks—lucky us, we needed three forks. Propane bottles, old fiber hoses, open flames, and charcoal—all the makings of a late night news report

It was a great ending to another wonderful day in China. We survived separation in the Forbidden City, scorpions, bus packing protocol, and were blessed with no leaking propane. Plus, we enjoyed a good meal with good friends.

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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                                        Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish his goals.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1,000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in, I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl of my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.

Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Leo

Visit our website www.LeonardoStories.com

Blog: LeonardoStories.wordpress.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories   

 

© 2013 Leo N. Ardo.

All rights reserved. The original material may be copied online for non-commercial use only, but may not be reproduced in print or on a CD-ROM without written permission from Leo N. Ardo. All or partial use must be properly identified as copyrighted by Leo N. Ardo, title of material, copyright date, and LeonardoStories.wordpress.com (blog address).

 

Four Days in San Antonio

Four Days in San Antonio

By: Leo N. Ardo

Days of week calendar block - Wed
Wednesday is a travel day for my second visit to San Antonio.

(The first visit was an overnight stay, then an early morning drive to Austin with ten other victims of poor travel planning.)

This time, my vacation partner is attending a business conference which started Sunday. She meets me in the lobby, then deposits me in the room where the thermostat is showing a chilly 67º. It takes the ninety minutes of her last meeting to warm the room to 73º.

Thunder and lightning fills the thirty minutes before the huge downpour documented in the following photographs. (Photos were taken two minutes apart.)
San Antonio Rain storm series

Our hotel is on the Riverwalk. In the heart of Tex-Mex and great Mexican food, another downpour helps us decide on an Italian restaurant, with a large canopy, next to the hotel.

Days of week calendar  block - ThurThursday morning. The sun is shining, the temperature is the mid-80’s but feels like 110º, thanks to the humidity of 94%. It’s hot in the shade.

DSC_0029The Alamo is our first attraction. In San Antonio, is there another first attraction? The Alamo is well preserved and the historical museum-like presentation is very organized and subtitled in several languages. In two and a half hours, we are able to visit every public building at the mission, while avoiding a ten-minute rain.

A maddening episode of phone calls and Internet inquiries lands us Spurs vs. Heat tickets to game four of the NBA Finals. We leave the hotel ninety minutes before tip-off. The taxi driver is accommodating but extremely quiet during the long ride. We are dropped off in the middle of a parking lot about a half-mile from the AT&T Center arena. We get in line and shuffle forward for six minutes to find that our tickets’ pedigree does not qualify us for this VIP line.

It is another long walk to find the right line. We luckily enter a few doors from the Spurs Fan Shop. The shop is packed and ten cash registers mark the beginning of ten long lines of shoppers. We pay, wade through the sea of shoppers, and discover our seats are across the corridor. While waiting in line for burgers, the national anthem is broadcast on the corridor’s flat screens.

We laugh that ninety minutes after leaving the hotel we are still not in our seats. Time flies when walking across a large parking lot, standing in the wrong line, purchasing souvenirs, and waiting for the food ticket number to be called.

We cheer for the Spurs—partly for self-preservation—part because they are the western division champions. We send self-photos from our cell phones to friends and family. Sad to report the Spurs lost. After the game we find the never-ending line of sad fans waiting for a taxi. We enjoy the slapstick, impromptu, entertainment provided by the police trying to control the pedestrians and cars. It is like watching a new owner (police) training a new puppy (pedestrians): the owner talks, the puppy wants to play, the frustrated owner talks louder, the puppy wants to play, the owner is enunciating every word with emphasis, and the puppy keeps playing.

days of week calendar block - Fri
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The San Fernando Cathedral is a short walk from the hotel. We wander around outside, enjoying the marvelous care of the 286-year-old mission. The gift shop also serves as the mission’s museum.

The opportunity to photograph the interior is lost as a noon mass begins while I try to photograph a yellow flower tossed about by the breeze. The law of big numbers works in my favor—I take enough shots that luckily one of them is in focus.

After a little search, we find out how to take the Riverwalk barges up river to the San Antonio Museum of Art. It’s a pleasant ride that includes a lock system to raise the barge nine feet. On the way up, the lock system is reported to cost $6.2 million. Inflation must be at play on the return trip as the lock system cost is reported at $7.4 million.

The museum is very well done and displays a vast cross section of art: paintings; photographs; Italian, Grecian, artifacts; vases; puzzles; illusion; costumes—just to name a few items. Three hours in the museum is not enough time to enjoy everything.

The late afternoon rain begins as we arrive back at the hotel. For an hour we check e-mail, return calls, and take a short nap before dinner. The rain stops long enough for us to stay dry walking to the restaurant.

Walking back to the hotel after dinner becomes a test of endurance. We exit the restaurant, and it begins to sprinkle. My travel companion has on “the most comfortable pair of sandals I have ever owned.” But, they limit how fast she can walk. The rain gradually increases. After we cross over the river, we continue straight into a section of the Riverwalk that is not familiar to us. Oops! We forget to turn left after the bridge. The detour takes about fifteen minutes—enough time to get thoroughly soaked by some serious rain.

Days of week calendar blokc- SatIt’s hot, it’s humid, it’s Saturday.

We opt-in for breakfast by room service.

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The taxi ride is all too familiar: GPS system cannot find the address, there is a lot of talk in an unrecognizable language with someone on a cell phone, and it is obvious she has no idea of the location of the Concepcion Mission. She may not know where we are going, but we are getting there fast.

Mission Concepcion is wonderful. Photo opportunities are everywhere. It is as old as it looks. Wandering around back we find signage marking the entrance to the church. Whoa! The interior is in pristine condition—it is still a functioning church.

A grotto is on the edge of the property: flowers, statues, birdbaths, and 112,869 mosquitos counted before we started swatting them. Two hundred thirty-four dead mosquitos later, a nice couple offers their lifesaving bug spray.

san antonio bike system
The San Antonio bike rental system has dozens of bike racks, including the four missions inside the state park. The rental process is simple, and we have transportation for the three miles to the next mission, San Jose. Did I mention it was hot and humid?
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At San Jose Mission, we place the bikes in the rack, go into the visitor’s center to cool down, and hear an announcement for a twenty-three minute movie. We look at each other, not a word is said, but we know the other’s thoughts: it’s inside, air-conditioned, and twenty-three minutes.

San Jose Mission is restored to its original configuration but with different [cheaper] materials. The mission is whole: walls, barracks, thick wooden gates, aqueduct, gristmill, church, etc. The restoration is well done and aids the imagination of life nearly three hundred years ago.

A few hours later we are biking to Mission San Juan—it’s hotter and more humid. We are a mile from the San Juan Mission when we are told the road is still washed-out from the rainstorm last week. The alternate route involves riding on busy, narrow streets without a helmet. We ride two miles back to San Jose Mission and call a cab for the hotel.

The time in the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is very enjoyable. We manage to make a day out of two of the four missions, and look forward to visiting the last two missions on our next trip to San Antonio, Texas—hopefully in October or April next time.

Days id week calendar block - SunSunday comes too soon. Time to return home.

First Day in China

First Day in China

By: Leo N. Ardo

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Our host and hostess had the difficult job of herding seven free spirited Americans. We are so grateful for their patience, understanding, preparation, and Chinese language skills—very little signage in China has English subtitles. Provided here is the account of our first day’s adventure in China.

Seven a.m., Beijing, February 2010

Breakfast was a surprise: lots of breads, western style luncheon meats, omelets made to order (while supplies last), variety of juices, and an estimated thirty traditional Chinese dishes.

We put on our winter coats and begin our trip to the Great Wall. It’s three transfers on the subway system to arrive at the tour bus loading area. We exit the subway station and are greeted by a hostess. This is wonderful: an uneventful subway ride thanks to our host and hostess, and the tour bus guide meets us at the top of the subway stairs. We are pushed along by the guide as if we were holding-up the bus. One of the group was having knee problems and she couldn’t walk at the pace established by the guide. This frustrated the guide.

Finally arriving at the bus, our hostess ran to the front of the group, blocked the door and told us, “Do not get on this bus!”

After a lot of Chinese and gesturing, our host informed us, “This is not our bus. We were hi-jacked by the tour guide. Our bus is back at the subway station.”

Returning to the subway station at a more leisurely pace allowed some of us to run ahead and take photographs of two magnificent temples.

We boarded the correct bus and began our tour to the Great Wall—first stop—Ming’s tomb.

Ming was buried in an underground tomb to protect the Emperor’s burial site and possessions from invaders and tomb robbers. The emperor was buried with: gold, vases, food, favorite concubine(s), empress, favorite dog, etc. The tombs were filled with exquisite statues of baby dragons.

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Leaving the tomb area, custom requires everyone to exit through the archway to the world of the living. Men step across with their left foot and women step with their right foot first.

We load the bus, and the tour guide was apparently wrapping up the script on Ming’s Tomb. “Fung Shui” were the only words we understood. The assumption was she described where crops were planted to please the emperor.

Notes about the tour guide: talked very fast, took a noticeable breath about every fifteen minutes, voice inflection never varied, and she was well prepared—she talked all but five minutes of each bus segment. The bus’s intercom needed a little upgrade also, but no matter—we don’t understand Chinese. Our host and hostess stopped interpreting after they received a penetrating glare early in the tour.

Next stop – Jade Factory (read retail store).

Rubbing your hand from the top of a dragon’s head to the tip of his tail is good luck. A large jade dragon greeted us at the factory entrance. Some of us rubbed him twice—can’t hurt! Lunch was part of the tour—wonderful authentic Chinese food. Half the group enjoyed lunch and the other half struggled with chopsticks.

Wonderful craftsmanship, thousands of items, first day of vacation, it’s jade, … you can probably guess the weight of the shopping bags.

While waiting for the driver to return, a small Chinese girl entertained us in the parking lot. She danced, twirled, waived, smiled, and enchanted the crowd gathering around her to watch. The parents were very proud.

[The whole episode lasted about ten minutes. It was wonderful to see a child free to play with no worldly cares. The adults were attentive, and assuming they were like me, envious we could not join her. I hoped this same episode was being replayed in thousands of locations that day.]

Last Stop – Great Wall of China

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“Great” is accurate. There is not another single word that could be used to describe the wall. It took a massive labor force to construct. At the highest point within our walking range, we looked east then looked west, and saw maybe 1% of the wall’s total length.

The gondola ride spared our friend with the bad knee from more misery. She found a bench with an enjoyable view.

Walking the wall was a challenge: sections had severe inclines and no steps, uneven steps, several tall steps in a row, and the great wall wailing person.  Halfway up the hike to the top was a man scrunched on the ground moaning and periodically screaming. Everyone walked single file around him hoping he was not, “contagious.” It appeared that his shtick was to be annoying, and for a small donation he was quiet for a little while, for a larger donation he was quiet longer. [Same behavior parents witness in a young child].

Back at the bench, our comrade nursing a sour knee had attracted the interest of an older Chinese man. She does not speak Chinese, he does not speak English, and yet everyone knew why he was entertaining her.

The location included a wonderful museum, plus we had twenty minutes before the bus left. Five members of our small group decided to see the museum. We must have been entertaining: running from exhibit to exhibit, photographing the information placards [they had English sub-titles], taking a few shots of the exhibit, then running to the next exhibit. We were very efficient—a two-hour museum tour took 15 minutes.

We nap on the return to Beijing. Across the street from the bus stop, was an outdoor shopping mall decorated for the New Year. It was late and we decided to eat. Twenty feet inside the mall two restaurateurs begin their advertising program. One had a megaphone, the other had a loud voice, and both were yelling as we approached. It’s a scene from a comedy movie. The other restaurateur continued to yell at us after we made our choice. We could tell by his tone that we were not being praised.

Three subway transfers put us about a mile from our hotel. A motorized tricycle/taxi was rented to avoid further injury to our friend’s knee. We watched as our hostess joined her in the taxi and rode away. A few seconds later, we have a good laugh at the irony, as the tricycle took a corner on two wheels—did we put her in harm’s way to save her knee?

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Author Pix - number 3 - highHoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                                  Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, … and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of: culling terrorists from the company’s employees, maintaining employment, ensuring that products ship to the armed forces, and eliminating the shipments to the enemy.

Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, or exclude. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.

Leo

Visit our website www.LeonardoStories.com

Blog: LeonardoStories.wordpress.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Four Favorite Fotographs with Amusing Captions

Excerpts from Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man Travel Journals

ImageChina. The tranquility of this beautiful setting in the Emperor’s Garden is quickly forgotten outside the perimeter. Busses around tourist attractions are a test of personal space. We enter a standing-room-only bus with ten people in the aisle. Next stop: two people exit, and twelve enter the bus. Everyone squeezes closer. Another stop: one person exits, and fifteen enter the bus. Everyone presses closer. Third stop: no one exits; fourteen people enter the bus. The people outside the bus are pushing others to create enough space so they can ride the bus. We are compacted. If someone sneezes . . .

The American South, Saint Simons Island. A long, wonderful weekend of celebrations: a Imagebirthday, Kentucky Derby, and Cinco de Mayo. We have a new iPhone with Siri, the talking phone. One of our meals involves the search for fresh shrimp.  We have the market address and Siri, should we get lost. After five exhaustive searches of a four-block area, we ask Siri, “What are we doing here?” She answered, “Frankly, I was beginning to wonder myself!”

ImageCharleston, a peaceful, funky, and graceful city. A city with a singular thought concerning buildings: if it’s old, there are rules. A city that preserves its heritage and beautifully restores the southern homes. Imagination and a few minutes will transport you to a time of  cotton, tobacco, cotillions, and plantations.

Preserved buildings occasionally get hiccups. While we are out, the toilet in our room decides, on its own, to flood our third-floor room and the same rooms on the second and first floors. No problem, the restored hotel has a procedure for this. (They actually have a procedure—wonder why!) We are given another room. But wait—the plumber left with the room key. Three hours later the manager finds a ring of 300+ keys. 188 keys later we enter our old room.

Italy is a great vacation with great friends. There is not enough space here to list all the

Imagewonderful sites and attractions. We enjoyed Italy so much we left it on the bucket list. On a Sunday afternoon, watching local bands march in the town square, a tour guide holding high a tattered orange umbrella walks past us, but she has no tour group. There is an invisible wake as she cuts through the crowd, as if ghosts are following her. Two minutes pass before she retraces her steps to return the spirits of her patrons. The Ghost Guide helped spark a writing career.

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ImageLeo N. Ardo: – I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. I enjoy photography, fly fishing, biking, and embellishing our travel experiences in journals titled Exaggerated Tales of an Ordinary Man.

We call Utah and Wyoming home.

Visit our website www.LeonardoStories.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

Hoping life blesses you with good stories!