vvChina 2007
vThree Stars Accompanying The Moon


Following is an email from David Walton, who now lives in China, and my e-mail to David, which explains how Joe and I came to be traveling in China. Thanks to David Dilworth for making the connection.


Xichang, 0846, Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Dear Honey,
How nice to hear a name from the past.
My past, future, and present all seem to mix easily as if time were boundless.  I have been researching Alexandria shortly after Augustus began his reign, and it is as exciting as though I were there now.
I live in Xichang, which is on the rail line from Chengdu to Kunming, down in the southwest corner of Sichuan Province.  It is a ten-hour train ride, fifty-minute flight from Chengdu.  I will be there from the 26th to the 31st of August.  Then I will be here until the last week in September, when I hope to go to Thailand and India.
Are you vagabonding this trip, or with a group?  We are not on many tourist trails, yet.  They broke ground for a new Kempinsky Hotel two weeks ago, so soon I will have a source for croissant and brioche to go with my café latte. 
My best to Tasha.  Hope we can meet.
Always my best,


Dear David,

I am here in China for three months, traveling with the man I live with and a Chinese friend who we met when he was at school in the SF Bay Area. He came walking into our yard one rainy evening,  asking if please, could he put his tent up, one night only, he would be no problem etc.  He was carrying a large backpack, and had thought he could camp at Pt Lobos, but could not, and we were the next driveway.

So we said, of course he could put up his tent, but he might prefer the guesthouse.  So he stayed and worked with Joe down in Bixby Canyon and we all had a fine time and then he took off on down the road. He then spent the next year and a half hitchhiking across the States and from Key West up to Boston.

Haixiang called us and said he wanted to end his trip at our house, where he felt it had really begun.  We did not know he had started out twice, one time had gotten sick and the other time gotten discouraged...his friends told him he was crazy to make such a trip.  But we told him it would be a great adventure and to carry on...which he did.  Along the way he wrote a blog and posted it on the Internet in China, along with his excellent photographs.  Right away he was a hit in China and publishers contacted him wanting to publish his story of walking across America and his experiences with the American people he met.

Haixiang came back to our house and we had a large party and sent him on his way home....before he left he said "Oh, why don't you two come to China for a visit?"  Little did he know what he was getting himself into....Joe's father had just died so we had a little money, and now, here we are, traveling with Haixiang for three months......and it is good for him, as it saves him from the dreaded prospect of having to get a "real job".....as he has to host us two old Americans as we travel, as well as deal with publishers about his book.

We just spent a wonderful week in Chengdu.  One of the members of Haixiang’s extended family has one of the top five restaurants in Chengdu, so we have been eating far too well.  Danmei went to medical school before going into the restaurant business, and runs a traditional Chinese Medicinal Restaurant; all dishes are identified as to their health giving properties.

We passed through your city on our way to Lhasa.  We will be returning to Chengdu to meet up with Haixiang's parents and to make several side trips, though I confess I am not clear as to where exactly we will be traveling.

If you will be in Chengdu from Aug 26 to 31 we may be able to meet up then if we are back from Lhasa.  Otherwise, I will see what we can do about visiting your city during those first three weeks of Sept.  We have no schedule and can go where we please when we please.  Needless to say, we are having a fine time and are daily blown away by the China of 2007.

So happy to hear you say that your past, future and present all seem to mix easily as if time were boundless....which of course it is, its just hard sometimes to remember.  And wonderful to hear you are hard at work on a good project.....but you always have been, and have always gone about your work with great enthusiasm....

I hope our paths will cross here in the near future.  Would love to hear your story of how you came to be here doing this work, and I can in exchange catch you up on life at home in Carmel. I will be back in touch shortly after consulting with Haixiang as to timing.

Much love to you, Honey Williams


AUGUST 29, 2007

We returned from Lhasa perhaps earlier than we would have, because we had the opportunity to meet up with David Walton (of Sancho Panza, The Palace, and Beau Thai) who would be in Chengdu for a few days to meet up with American friends before going with them back to his home town, four or five hours from Chengdu by train.

We met up at Danmei’s restaurant.  We had promised Danmei that David was a man who knew the restaurant business in the United States.  David loved her restaurant….”It is so very nice to see something done right”, he said. His advice for Danmei?  “The restaurant business is 75% theatre and 25% good food, and Danmei does an excellent job with both categories.  Any restaurant Danmei opened in America would do very well, and the reason is Danmei herself”

We began our lunch drinking tea in the pagoda above the waterfall in the central garden of the restaurant.  We hoped the rain the night before would cool the air enough to eat outside, but already it was way too hot, so we retired to one of the private dining rooms upstairs where we were served a seemingly endless array of Chinese delicacies.   Most restaurants have these private dining rooms that are very popular with the Chinese people who like to do their socializing by the group.

David is as vital and as filled with good energy as I remembered him to be. He is still wearing his “beau-thai” at age 80, actually the ties come from the inherited collections of (I believe) Frank Work and Milton Mayer).  He said that he had gotten up to 230 pounds, and a year ago decided to do something about it and has taken off 50 pounds.

David told one memorable story…..of seeing a man his age who was  walking on crutches, the man looked at David and said “For God’ s sake man, use the banister”.  Since that day Joe and I have been far more careful to pay attention to use the banister, rather than trip and fall and spend the rest of our life on crutches.

We will go and visit him in his hometown in the near future.  David has been in China for seven years, teaching English and still not speaking any Chinese.  He loves China and plans to be here for the duration.



The day after our return to Chengdu we set out for the establishment we call Sin River to have another fabulous Chinese massage, a sauna etc.  At some point the manager came into the ladies bathhouse area and said that I was to go with her to the fifth floor to join Joe and Haixiang.  We went upstairs and I walked into a large room with a central pool, a lounging area with tables and chairs, and several small pools.  Joe and Haixiang were lying in the water in the large pool and giggling, their bodies covered by grooming fish that were eating each and every bit of dead skin right off their bodies.  After being fitted into a really terrible swimsuit I joined them in this incredible experience, and lay in the water as the tiny fish (and some not so tiny) nibbled me all over.  None of us had brought a camera, so we will one day go back to Sin River for a “fish massage” and take photographs of this unbelievable sight.

I don’t know how to describe the sensation of being nibbled by little fishes…..at first it tickles and is weird, until you relax into it and let the fish go to work.



Sitting now at the airport, have been waiting for hours to get onto a plane.  There were mechanical problems with our original plane, and off and on for two hours there was a remarkable shouting (that escalated into pushing and slapping in the face with airline tickets) match that went on between frantic travelers and the passive ticket agent.  Much racing around with demands….people in China are not sheep.  Evidence certainly that things have loosened up here in China.  I don’t really know what became of all those people.  We sorted out our situation and retired to the “soft seat lounge” to await out plane, now leaving at 1PM, as opposed to our original flight time of 8:30AM.

Pooped out in my writing…. The above was the beginning of several short side trips out of Chengdu, by now far from my mind as we move through China.  We visited many National Parks which were all terribly scenic and filled with the touring Chinese people.  I will try at some point to return and describe these side trips.



One park, the name of which escapes me just now, is the home of the Dawn Redwood.  Very wonderful to see them growing in profusion.  They do not get nearly as large as our Redwood, but they are lovely.  The park felt like the Sierra, with steep granite mountains sides plunging into the canyons. All of this and other even more remote areas were clear-cut during the Cultural Revolution to power the making of steel.




This breeding “zoo” is just outside of Chengdu, and since we are not going to have time to go to the Panda Preserve (next trip) we drove out to see the baby pandas.  Of course, very cute.  Two tiny babies in incubators, and three babies asleep in a playpen, each about a foot long, all snoozing.

Outside in one large enclosure three teenage pandas clambered about, then exhausted, would just flop down, limbs extended wherever.  After a little rest, one would move over and nudge another to come on and get up.  Their enclosure was filled with very cool climbing structures, swings, and even plastic children’s rocking horses.  These rocking horses looked to be well used, although we were not treated to that sight.

One old panda lay on his back eating bamboo, clipping off one bunch of leaves and then another, until he had a good fistful, which he would then begin to work on, bite after bite with much chewing in between.



As we pulled up to the Panda Breeding Base we saw police dressed in black holding big guns. This was the very first time we had seen any armed presence of military or police.  Turns out they were there guarding the Nigerian Women’s Soccer Team who were in town for a big international match.



The police on the street have no guns, and the traffic cops are few and far between (although more in evidence this week, which turns out to be “Traffic Safety Week”……there is a large temporary work force of men and women in orange  jackets with whistles and flags who try to have some impact on the masses of people surging across the street, sometimes with the green walk light,  sometimes not.  Five days into traffic safety week they seem fairly beaten down…..no one pays them much heed).

Anyway, we see next to no presence of “the law”.   Some governmental buildings have guards posted at their gates with skinny 17 or 18-year-old boys dressed as soldiers standing at attention like statues.  The American Consulate in Chendgu is the only fortified building we have seen.  When a car arrived to enter the compound we saw that the U.S. had a very cool device that looked under the car to make sure it was not a wired bomb.  You would think the Chengdu Consulate was an important target of something by the way it is guarded.  Big concrete blocks, little windows where you can speak your business after waiting in a long line.  We were incensed that we were not allowed to walk right into OUR consulate, and made rather a fuss about it.

So we see no military trucks driving down the road, nothing.  Also in Tibet we saw no armed presence.  Somehow we were expecting things here to feel much more like a “police state”.  Wrong again, we Americans are filled with so many incorrect notions of life in China.  The Chinese man and woman on the street seem to live a life with far more freedoms than we in America.



Everywhere you go there are disposable toothbrushes packaged with tiny tubes of toothpaste.  At some point in time the government just decided to deal with dental health and as a first step made available toothbrushes and toothpaste. You see people brushing their teeth on the street, behind the building, in bathrooms everywhere.  The toothbrushes and paste aren’t half bad, and just may turn up in Christmas stockings!

Joe went to dental clinic on a Saturday (I confess we were accompanied by our friend the Major General who is a dentist herself, she used to take care of Deng Xiaoping’s teeth)) and he was whisked right in for an x-ray, an injection of Novocain, an extraction of a piece of shrimp lodged in his tooth/gum, and a cleaning of the area…for this service he paid 8 dollars.



I was in a store and came out to where Joe was waiting.  “Look”, he said, “this man just came up and sold me this ear cleaning tool”.  Suddenly the man was back with a stool in his had and a headlamp on his forehead.  He had not been selling Joe the tool; he had been selling him an ear cleaning.  He sat down on the stool and went to work, pulling all sorts of stuff from Joe’s ear using a whole array of implements.  I could hardly look.  But it ended well, with Joe being able to hear clear-as-a-bell when his ear cleaning was finished.

We have since seen many ear cleaners working the streets, looking for clients. Haixiang said he had never had the nerve to give them a try.   Joe has thrown himself into China a hundred and ten percent.  By now, as well as having his personal ear cleaner, he knows many many people on the street in Chengdu, and is greeted by many as he walks by.



There seems to be a large disparity between men and women in this country.  The women are beautiful, with willowy bodies and graceful movement.  The men all appear to be one half generation off of the farm, generally stoop shouldered and not anywhere near as attractive as the women.  Rarely do you see a man who makes you do a double take, only very occasionally do you pass a man who looks to be very “cool”, with a real a sense of style.  But really beautiful women you pass on every block of the street.

We have still not seen a truly obese Chinese person.  There is a tendency for some of the Han people to get a little thick in the trunk in middle age, but even this is rare.  I did see a TV show about a woman who opened a store to sell clothing to large sized women, but the women shown in the show were not obese as we see obese on our streets.

(I am writing this in Beijing, where for the first time in 6 weeks we see many traveling Americans and Europeans, and by gosh, a whole lot of them are fat, some even obese.  It is jarring, somewhat puzzling, and rather disgusting to see after 6 weeks of seeing no fat people.



On one hand it is quite refreshing that life here is so lacking in high style, as one is perfectly comfortably and not out of place walking into a five star hotel wearing jeans and tennis shoes.  On the other hand, it is rather depressing that there seems to be so little of an innate sense of style.  Rarely do you see someone swinging down the street who has that certain something about them…..and when you do, there’s no telling who it might be, a woman in her 70’ies, or perhaps a young woman in her early teens.

By and large, the clothing worn here is a mess.  Very popular to wear clothing with raunchy words in English often spelled out in rhinestones or sequins, (sequins are very big here). Clearly there is little comprehension of the wording on the clothing, as most make little or no sense.  At least the women have such nice bodies that the silly tee shirts look just that,  a little silly.  Again I suppose it has to do with the fast changes in society, but the clothing you see everywhere is really just pretty ugly.  Most everyone is dressed in western-style clothing; Hello Kitty, Betty Boop and Disney characters are ever present along with puffy sleeves, appliqué, and many ruffles and straps going nowhere except crossing over other straps.

The men’s clothing is mostly dark colors, and so unremarkable that it is even hard to think what to say…..dark and boring I guess.  Young men often are sporting tee shirts with color and western logos or sayings.  You don’t see Chinese characters decorating clothing.  The men  wear quite sensible shoes, unlike the women, who put their lives in jeopardy with their choice of footwear.  Half of the women wear reasonable comfortable flats or  tennis shoe like footwear.  The other half make your feet hurt just to look at them.  High-healed shoes are worn when driving bikes or motorbikes;  knee high white boots with spike heals and covered with dangling strips of leather teeter down the street.  Women with slip-on backless high heals make a terrible noise as they drag their feet down the street.  Nonetheless, it is an improvement over the bound feet of yesterday.  Chinese women will have to give up wearing uncomfortable and unsafe shoes if they are going to keep pace with the fast changing times.

I saw a maybe 12-year-old girl at the airport yesterday with a tee shirt that showed her midrib, and it made me realize that this style fashion has yet to hit it big in China…Tattoos are few and far between, I have seen very few, an occasional butterfly.  Body piercing also is uncommon.  Here in the big city of Beijing we have seen a few pierced faces, several of them have been traveling Europeans.

Chinese clothing has all but been abandoned. Old folks in the park doing their exercises in the morning wear traditional clothing, but rarely do you see someone on the street in “Chinese style clothing”.  When I see a woman in a Chinese dress I am often taken by how wonderful she looks.  Too bad that this style of dress has gone so out of fashion.  Older women often wear loose fitting outfits that could have come from yesteryear, and the occasional man passes by wearing a Mao hat or what we call tai-chi shoes.  Joe has taken to wearing these Chinese shoes and has sent home all his other shoes.

Hairstyles also are being influenced by western notions.  Beauty salons are being opened up on nearly every other block.  Permanent waves are very popular, and Chinese hair just does not do well with a perm.  Ah, that grass is always greener on the other side of the road.  After perms, coloring one's hair in the most fashionable hair statement women are making.  Of course the black of Chinese hair can only go to a henna red or to that brassy orange that resulted from using hydrogen peroxide on our hair in the 6th grade.....not very attractive to say the least.

We saw one woman with thick black hair down to her knees, but most women today are choosing hairstyles with shoulder length hair held away from their faces with some sort of hair clip.  Bangs are popular; some with a straight across the front cut, others with the hair worn to the side.  Women carry compacts with mirrors which they often use to check their hair or re-apply their lipstick.



Mr. and Mrs. Haixiang were in Chengdu because it was the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chengdu Medical School, Mrs. Haixiang’s  alma mater as well as where she taught for years.  One night we had dinner with maybe 30 of the doctors who had been in medical school together over 44 years ago, all in town for the anniversary- reunion festivities. Many of them had not seen each other during these years.  They had a fabulous week together, and we were with them on one of their last dinners together, dinner naturally held at Danmei's restaurant. (The number of meals that we have paid for while traveling in China we can count on our fingers, as the Chinese are serious about being hosts and will rarely let us pay for anything).

Here was this room full of doctors who had been young adults when China experienced years of natural disaster which resulted in famine in much of the country.  Then came the years of the difficult time of the Great Leap Forward, followed by the Cultural Revolution.  Very tough years in which to be coming of age.  Being a doctor during the Cultural Revolution could only be a precarious position.  And here was a room full of “survivors”; men and women who had been through these years of struggle and had come through in one piece.  They were a dignified group, inexpressibly happy to be together.

All of the faces of the doctors in the room told a hundred stories.  Someone could make a fascinating book by interviewing all of these doctors and writing their stories.  There is so little literature available about what went on between the early 1960’ies and the late 1970’ies.  People seem to just not want to talk about “it”.  It seems to be impolite to ask “what were your experiences during  the Cultural Revolution?”  It is still too sensitive a subject.  So many people were so deeply wounded….such a mess was made by so many.  And people’s feeling about that time period are very complicated.  For many people there was inspiration and experiences which previously would have been out of reach.  For other, their worlds were torn apart.

To be in China in  2007, with everything booming and blooming and with such hope in people’s heart, and to know that all of this has been built in the last 30 years boggles the mind.  And to know that all of today’s prosperity was built upon the wreckage that lay throughout China at the end of the Cultural Revolution, well, it is a miracle.

Hopefully at a later date I will go back and properly finish up this section, but time now to move on, as I am falling ever further behind.  There is just so much we see every day and so much we want to write about.  This traveling with a laptop is a new experience, some good, some not so good.


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