12/14 Transit from Shanghai to Fujian

I take the Metro to the domestic Shanghai airport; for me, this place is a nightmare – very few English signs. I am waiting for a flight to Xiamin and then a train to Fujian. They throw away my water bottles at security – I was hoping they would be more lenient on domestic flights – nope.

The plane is late so I miss my train connection. Fortunately, there is another train in half an hour and they change my ticket – no hassles. Again, a man materializes to help me and take care of changing the ticket. I call Maarten and he informs my pickup person re change of time. My contact, Yangyu, does not speak English but is fluid on Google trans. He takes me to my last bnb.

12/14-17. Fujian Tea Culture in Heking village is known for tea production, and used to have a tea processing facility. The local dialect is Hekka.

IT IS WARM HERE! I relax into the warmth. This bnb is very new and I can’t tell who is my host. Yangyu gives me the basic orientation, but lives about a 5 min walk from where I am staying. I don’t know the names of my hosts since they do not have a Laojia manual.

After dinner the first night, I have a lively conversation w/ a resident (relative?) on google trans. She is 37, a mother of 3 that lives across the courtyard. She is very curious about me and sharing – but conversing via google trans is still slow. This house is 382 years old, the walls are 3’ thick and made of wood and dirt. It is rectangular, has 3 stories and each story has 30 rooms. My room is comfortable, although the toilet is down a flight of stairs. The woman who cooks my meals does not do google trans.

The next day, Yangyu (the driver) invites me to explore the neighborhood. His wife is the official contact person here but is currently in Taiwan on a business trip. He tells me that there are 13 houses in this village on the World Heritage list and takes me to all of them – quite a few are round houses that are found only in this area; since they are unique, television and movie crews come here to shoot scenes. He wants to show me the largest round house in a village 3 km away. It’s a gorgeous day so we walk – past tea plantations on terraces, mountain views, streams, paths, etc. This round house is 74 meters in diameter. Quite a few of the rooms in these big houses are locked: the owners are in other places for jobs, come back for family and holidays, and maintain two households.

He takes me to see a friend at the top of the village that makes wine – a SERIOUS operation. The wine in process and aging are in ceramic pots: 15 – 50 gal size: they are lined up along his sidewalk, driveway, and inside a wine cave. He shows me photo copies of his retail bottles and labels – this is high end stuff. The wine is rice based and then he flavors some w/ fruit – we sample some blackberry – delish!

In the afternoon, Yangyu tours me around the village again: houses, shops, and then up a local river to its source. No houses here – fields, and then it’s only woods. I’m surprised that he knows this remote path – he strikes me as an urban person; reckon all folks in these little villages are country folk.

Maarten arranges another outing for me here: a visit to an organic tea operation. It’s way up a mountain. Somehow our communication gets scrambled. The host takes me up to his place on his motorcycle with another friend, but I’ve already had lunch and he has another 3 buddies and his wife there for lunch. After 2 tea ceremonies and lunch, I expect he is going to tour me through his tea plantation; instead, he and his buddies roar off on their motorcycles and his wife takes me to the tea fields. That’s fine – except that she does not do google trans. We take a pleasant walk up the mountain lovely view the tea terraces, surrounding areas, but I don’t get any of my organic questions answered. She begins picking up tiny acorns and I help but get bored and start walking back to the house and then down the mountain back to the village. She wants to serve me more tea, but for now, I am done w/ tea. I never hear from him again.

There’s a rumor that there is going to be another filming here – for a Chinese TV series. Yup, a large film crew shows up and there is filming for the last few days I am here. They have cranes to put lighting up high for their night scenes. Some of the filming takes place at a round house 50’ from my house. I meet twin Chinese young women on the crew who are happy to talk English to me. They are lively and travel a lot in south Asia; one of them operates the drone that takes photos of an action/fight scene, and the other one is filming it. I realize again how much I am missing conversation.

My hosts here: in the beginning, I find Ms host abrasive: she barks at her hubby, neighbors, everyone. I experience her voice as harsh and controlling, but as time goes on, I see her softer side. By the end, she is doting on me – I could be her sibling, except she treats me more like a son. I love her!

Hooch. I am fond of an alcoholic drink of an evening. During trip planning, I ask Eric if alcohol will be available where I am going. Oh yeah he reassures me, the locals will definitely share. It is not my experience – it could be due to the language barrier. Other than the first night, I do not find any alcohol for the next week and none that I like until the last 2 nights here. At dinner, Mr host pulls out a bottle and offers me some. I recognize it immediately as local hooch – it is smooth and tasty. I want to buy some – not for sale. He offers me another sample the next night – a lovely farewell to rural China.

Yangyu takes me back to the railway station for my train trip back to Shenzhen.

Shenzhen 12/18 – 12/21.

I know the station where I arrive – I left from here on my journey to the bnbs. I am no longer freaked out by the train stations or the metro. I can actually buy a ticket and find my way – I’ve come a long way.

The last 2 days at Shenzhen are challenging – I have a cold and am low energy. I go out for a very long walk in search of the south China sea, which on the map appears close to me – but it is not and I get lost on the way. How do I find my way back? I consult a local security guard and present my Vienna Int’l hotel card, he goes Ah ! Wy-anna! (accent on the last syllable). The last part of my trip back to the hotel is again on a motorcycle – someone passing by, stops, gestures, I know the metro stop and he takes me there for a nominal fee. I make several more trips on Metro and find interesting parts of the city, including a path up a mountain and squatters along the path. When I research tours of the area, they all seem to start in Hong Kong and go to Shenzhen (neighboring cities). But I’m in Shenzhen already! And as far as I can tell, there are no metro connections to Hong Kong from here – only highways and Uber – argh!

My bright spot is the street food: I love the small places that are partially on the street and a small indoor seating area. I watch them cook the food, enjoy it w/ various hot sauces, and if need be, converse via google trans – all for US $1.00 a meal – but it’s the ambience that I cherish.

Home – 12/21/18

I take the hotel shuttle to the airport at 5 am. The airport is confusing to me: again, all the signs are in Chinese – I am constantly asking folks for direction; every so often I find someone who gives me accurate advice.

I have a connecting flight at Shanghai airport. I have 1 hr 40 min – should be plenty of time, but it’s not! I can’t find info in English; finally, I am running w/ my backpack to make my connection: hectic and stressful. But I make it! Once on board, I relax. We leave at noon, have 2 meals and arrive at noon on the same day in Chicago (14 hours later – crossing 14 time zones). It’s not easy sitting in the same seat for 14 hours – but for me, it’s easier this direction than it was coming here. I get to watch the full moon from my window seat most of the trip. Wahoo! There is a large selection of movies to watch at my seat.

Chicago: back in the USA! More bureaucracy, waiting in lines, etc. Finally, I get to “Kiss N Fly” to catch a bus to LaGrange where I wait 6 hr for my Amtrak train to Macomb IL. I spend most of the 6 hr in a cafe/bar because it is cold and I am not dressed for this weather – also I’m very tired/sleepy.

The train is pleasant; I sleep a little and then Gigi is there to greet me. I left my car there but she figgered it’s more welcoming if she greets me there and we spend the night in a motel instead of an hour and a half car trip home. Neither of us likes to drive in the dark anymore.

Thanx for reading! Glad to have you along on my trip.