Ironies in the Fire

Got an email today from a friend who talked us into an archaeology trip to Israel some 9 or 10 years ago. She has been trying to persuade us to go back for a repeat of the incredibly hard work we did on the earlier trip. We usually put her off by reminding her how dangerous the area is, rather than admit we are too lazy.

Today she reminded us that a lady that went to Israel with her group in 2000 AD and returned without a scratch was struck by lightning in Billings MT and died as a consequence a couple of days ago. My correspondent wondered which was the more dangerous place, Billings or Bethsaida? I couldn’t answer because I didn’t know the likelihood of being struck by lightning in Israel. The probability of being struck by a rocket or other explosive device is probably about the same in Billings and Israel.

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SummerTime and the Living is Easy

Summertime is dandelions,

admiring Clydesdales on parade,

eating bratwurst and drinking beer,

admiring back yards and hollyhocks,

celebrating with friends, and checking out cemeteries,

baptising grandchildren, watching baseball,

playing the trombone, exploring SummerFair,

buying watermelons,

drinking lemonade with iced tea, growling at squirrels,

drinking wine,

street-walking on Montana Ave,

family reunions,

watching the Middle East boil over on the television,

and remembering,

To Beijing and Back: A Modest Proposal


A few months ago, when it became clear that my participation in the Fall 06 Semester at Sea program was really revolving around the time in China (I went so far as to figure out ways to fly from Japan to China and then on to Saigon, skipping all the ship time in between, just to have more time in China!); and when the Summer 07 SAS came out as being up and down the west coast of Mexico, Central and South America; and after I weighed the probability of the ship not being able to go through the Suez Canal because of Muslim terrorism; I started making plans to spend a month just in China alone, and to move the longer trip to the following summer: so therefore I am resolved that the next big thing is an Elderhostel sponsored trip from Beijing to Shanghai with lots of other Chinese places in between, and that I will first of all outline the trip and give some idea of what it is that I am after, then later when I return I will tell you what actually happened.

“For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under MAO Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people.After 1978, his successor DENG Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls remain tight.”

The paragraph above and the flag and map all come from the CIA FactBook on China. It seemed a fairly diplomatic way to introduce the country in case anyone has been comatose for say 60 years, and even comes close to the truth in places, though many would argue that the decline of China started well before the “19th and early 20th centuries.” The map of course makes it clear why in this part of the world when China acts most people become attentive.

A recent book, “Jesus in Beijing,” suggested that at least some Chinese, including maybe some of those in high places, attribute the West’s moving ahead of every other part of the world to Christianity. The same book makes some surprising assertions about the numbers of Christians in China and their rate of increase. I hope to touch on this matter with everyone I meet.

I managed to wangle a free Business Class seat to Hong Kong: and will be departing the USA on 1 September, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and on to Seoul and finally Hong Kong. From there I catch an overnight train to Beijing, arriving on 4 September, a couple of days ahead of the main group.

The daily schedule includes some early morning Tai Ji (probably another way of spelling Tai Chi) along with everybody else in China; and some practice in Chinese conversation, and regular lectures and talks and field trips. By the way, these pictures are from an earlier trip to Hong Kong.

I leave for Seattle on the evening of 30 Aug, spend a day with kids and grandkids and making any last-minute purchases, and then leaving for China on 1 Sep. In order to get the free seat I had to put up with a flight from SEA to LAX, then to Seoul (my guess is Incheon Airport), and on to Hong Kong. Stay overnight, and pick up train ticket for Beijing (soft sleeper), leaving HKG 3 Sep and arriving in Beijing 4 Sep. The other members should be arriving about 6 Sep. We will join up at the Park Plaza Hotel in Beijing.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing for the 2 days that I have free in Beijing, but I hope to do some hutong searching (if there are any left!). The regular part of the trip includes the required trip to Tian’anmen Square, the Great Wall and Summer Palace, and of course a Peking Duck Dinner; as well as a day exploring the Forbidden City.

On day 4 (which I think corresponds to 9 September) we go by train to Zhengzhou, and then on to Luoyang by bus, traveling most of the day it would seem.

On day 7 (12 September) we take a shorter train ride to Xi’an for the museums and Terra Cotta Warriors site. I am hoping to visit the Forest of Steles Museum, which includes the stone tablet made in 781 AD to celebrate the arrival in 635 AD of some Syrian Christians (and found by accident a couple hundred years ago when some farmers were digging a well near Xi’an). This area was the “center of Chinese civilization, and Xi’an a magnificent window through which to view it,” according to my Lonely Planet GuideBook.

On day 10 (15 September) we fly to Chongqing, where we get to meet with some Chinese families according to our notes, check out the General Stilwell Museum (I guess they still remember the Greatest Generation of WWII fame) and get ready for a Yangtze River Cruise on Day 11-13. Here we get to visit river towns (the ones still above water); see the Three Gorges dam site, and hear about traditional Chinese medicine.

On day 15 (20 September) we arrive in Wuhan (though the cruise ends in Yichang) and then the next day we take the train to Changsha and then Shaoshan to get our fix of Mao memorabilia (He was 70% right and 30% wrong according to the latest politically correct usage!).

On day 17 (22 September) we coach to Xiangtan for what I’m not sure as I don’t find it in Lonely Planet, so it must be pretty far out in the boondocks.

And on day 18 we have a long day on the train to Kaili, which is the place to visit the Miao people (one of the minority peoples of eastern Guizhou province (still out in the boondocks, I am fairly sure).

On day 22 (27 September) we fly to Shanghai for a “Bund waterfront promenade,” and some acrobatics in the evening, a visit to Suzhou the following day, and check out some more Shanghai sights on day 24 (29 September).

The following day (30 September) we all finish up at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport. I will take an extra day to check out a nearby Marian shrine at Sheshan, about 35 km from Shanghai, then fly back to Hong Kong, on to Seoul, then to Tokyo, where I will be forced to submit to at least one and maybe two baseball games during the last week of the regular season, and finally to arrive in Seattle on 4 October. when I will be, I am hoping, either sadder or happier, and perhaps wiser, or maybe not, than when I departed. And furthermore, at the behest of She Who Must Be Obeyed, I expect that Carol will be glad to see me, or maybe not.

And furthermore I hope to fill out the above skeletal outline with more text and pictures on my return. OK? See Chinese Odyssey September 06 a few months ahead. Actually, you need to switch over to my other blog: web.mac.com/kmueller40 OK?

4th of July Hysham Montana

Our friends and neighbors, the Almonds, invited us to spend a day in the small Montana village they grew up in and around. Hysham is about an hour east of Billings, surrounded by farms and ranches worked and owned by many of the same families that first settled them in the latter part of the 19th century. We checked out the cemetery, watched the 4th of July parade, had some lunch at Lion’s Park, admired the many hollyhocks, were entertained by Barbara Fairchild and her partner/husband in the evening, and watched the fireworks on the way home. A good day with good friends in a pleasant and hard-working part of the world, who took a day off to celebrate their Independence.