Thursday, May 26, 2011


 I have two feet - ONE planted firmly in the USA and the OTHER in Nanjing, China.  That's about to change as Flight #181 from Detroit to Shanghai departs tomorrow from Gate A34, midafternoon with BOTH of my feet in row "J."  It's a 14-hour flight. After a 3.5 hour car ride I'll be on our doorstep.  I expect a squealing miniature schnauzer greeting and a hug from the Big Guy!  "Carol and Gordon's Most Excellent Adventure" will resume.  I've looked up the driving directions and  it would take me 37 days and 11 hours to drive there.  Best part of that?  It would route me through Honolulu.  Don't tempt me google maps! By sea or by air - I'm coming home to China!
Thanks for Reading,


Sunday, May 22, 2011

WC and Me

         On our first trip to China in February we found ourselves with an entire day to fill.  There were no scheduled realtor appointments or any need to show up at a government-run clinic to prove we weren’t diseased folk trying to infiltrate the Jiangsu Province.  Free as birds.   It happened to be a Sunday, which in China is “just another day to make money.” (In other words EVERYTHING is open with extended hours, seven days a week.)   Between the guidebooks and the internet we knew there had to be something of significance just a walk from our hotel.  Strapping on our best walking shoes and strolling down the ‘sunny side of the street’ we headed east on Hanzhong Lu and in thirty minutes arrived at an historic spot, The Presidential Palace. 
          Having once been the capital of China, there are a number of historic pagodas that  pop up out of nowhere in Nanjing. This was one of them.
         We toured ourselves in and out of buildings, through rock gardens and large rooms.  There were barely any display cases with interesting artifacts.  Dr. Sun Yat Sen had lived there once with his young wife and some things had been recovered from that time period; his eyeglasses, a writing pen, lots of photos, but this was little more than a ‘walk-through’ experience. I was underwhelmed, having been through ALOT of world-class historical museums in my day.   In addition, the Chinese feel electricity is a very expensive luxury.  Displays were poorly lit and steps uneven and treacherous.  A theme throughout China seems to be, “watch where you plant your feet, silly!”  There are often inclines, steps up or down and uneven terrain for no particular reason.  Why everyone isn’t hobbling with canes or sprained ankles is frankly, a miracle!
         After an hour and a half of sightseeing I decided a trip to the WC (Water Closet) would probably make sense before trekking back. With my right hand I unpocketed the necessary tissue.  My USA Mandarin instructor warned me that 9 out of 10 times there is no toilet tissue available in the stalls.  I gave up my backpack to the Big Guy and went in.  Oh look! There were sinks and private stalls… great!  I opened a stall and had my first look at a Chinese toilet.   This is a porcelain  feature,  like a toilet seat that is flush (no pun intended) to the floor.  (see photo)   I walked in and did the necessary squat, facing the door that wouldn’t latch.  Thigh muscles and sure footing was the key here.  All was going well until the door opened.  Looking at me was a young, Pretty Chinese woman. She smiled apologetically.   Oh well, could have been worse, I thought to myself.  Yes, the tissue was necessary, and naturally being the mother of an Eagle Scout  the slogan “Be Prepared,” echoed through my head.   Up and out I went to the sinks.  Pretty Chinese woman smiled at me again and brushed by me to the stall. I was so happy to wash my hands after the experience, even if there were no paper towels.   I reported my success to the Big Guy about using my first Chinese toilet as he returned my backpack.  I was pretty pleased with myself, gloating, he hadn't done this yet.  I also had an empty bladder, so good news all around.  This will be remembered as  our first sightseeing adventure in Nanjing without an interpreter.  Good Job!

Back in the USA my Mandarin instructor, Eva, asked me all about our first trip.  She asked if I experienced a Chinese toilet while there.  "Yes," I said proudly and then told my story.  She put her hand to her mouth rocked back into the sofa in my office and “LOL!”  (laughed out loud.)
This is not the response I was hoping for after my superior adventure, that’s for sure. 

           “What’s so Funny?  I thought you would be proud of me,” I said. 

              She laughed even louder.

              Harrrumph….I thought.

 “Oh, but you were facing the WRONG way!” exclaimed giggling Eva. 

 No wonder the pretty Chinese woman smiled….or was it a smirk?  

Yet, another lesson learned, in Nanjing!

Thanks for Reading,


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Top Drawer

Top Drawer

Everyone has a top drawer of a dresser, nightstand or desk where items collect.  Some things are used a lot, a small pair of scissors to clip off the new tags on clothing or a pack of sticky notes for example.  Add an emery board emblazoned with a political candidate’s name and slogan- “Let Mike make a Difference!”or a black velvet jewelry pouch for travel. Handy and practical.   But also in that top drawer one may store some things that are just too good to toss, but don’t have much usefulness anymore.   In my top drawer I recently found a once significant tac pin from a past sales meeting, a random “Elmo” key fob,  a macaroni necklace & a matchbook from a now extinct favorite restaurant. Much less practical but nostalgically significant and not disposable quite yet. 

 So I was not surprised when opening my Mother’s top dresser drawer to find all sorts of things.  As a little girl I wasn’t ever allowed in that top drawer.  It was deemed, “none of my business” and anything in that space was off limits and after all didn’t belong to me.

Decades later I was about to embark on opening that top dresser drawer at my Mom’s home.  She had left this house five years ago and would most likely never return again for she resided in an Alzheimer’s assisted living facility. This day I was on a hunt for the practical, some costume jewelry to take to my Mother.  At homes like these things get misplaced and “rearranged” so it had to be something I was willing to never see again…(or see in a month or two bedecking some other dear resident as they walked within four safe walls.)

Cautiously, stealthily, I sat on Mom’s bed and paused in front of the limed-oak dresser.  Purchased by my newlywed parents in the early 50’s, it would be considered “retro” or “vintage” to the trained eye and “way out of date” by anyone else.  It matched a chest of drawers and a carved headboard.  The knobs appealed to me. They were substantial and not ornate in the slightest. They were the size and shape of an old fashioned Shredded Wheat biscuit, say about 6”wide x 3”high. (That description is surely lost on the frosted mini-wheat generation of today.) 

I sat like a safe-cracker in front of the anticipated loot then let out an audible sigh and glided the drawer open gently, without a sound. It felt wrong to be ‘snooping,’ but I was on a personal mission for HER, so I let the guilt subside and got on with the task.

In her top dresser drawer, along with scads of costume jewelry and little change purses I found a yellowed & worn 3x5 card.

 In my Mother’s lacy left-handed cursive writing it said:

Say this Every Morning

I believe this is going to be a wonderful day.  I believe I can successfully handle all problems that will arise today.  I feel good physically, mentally, emotionally.  It is wonderful to be alive.  I am grateful for all that I have had, for all that I now have and for all that I shall have.  Things aren’t going to fall apart.  God is here and He is with me and He will see me through.  I thank God for every good thing.   Love, Jacqi  / From the Power of Positive Thinking~ Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.

 My mother knew the magic of positive thinking and she knew that carefully chosen words counteract negativity.  Be damned cynicism and hopelessness! Hit the road anxiety. And if that weren’t enough, she had her God on her side! 

She would make herself notes as reminders and this one must have been a particular favorite judging by its tattered-ness and placement in her Top Drawer. Certainly you can guess where the worn 3x5 card will reside; in my dresser, the top drawer, of course. And for the next 3 years that will be a top drawer in China.

 So now, after Mom’s passing on Mother’s Day 2011, my dear daughter & I sort through costume jewelry, tac pins, a passport and driver’s license, earthly items that only have meaning & worth on this plane.  The forbidden Top Drawer has revealed more than earthly items that is certain.  It’s revealed a portion of my mother’s philosophy and how she wanted to live her 83 years, 7 months and 23 days. Her legacy of the power of positive thinking has helped me through some uphill climbs in my life. And her passing away will be a new challenge. Today I walked away slowly from her memorial service knowing that “things aren't going to fall apart.”  I waved and blew a kiss through the air like we have always done and began a new journey being grateful and steeped in the knowledge and comfort that I will always be, “Jacqi’s Daughter.”

I love you, Mom, Always Have…..Always Will….......Carol

Jacquelyn Eleanor Mikulec-Sept. 15,1927 – May 8,2011

Thanks for reading,


Monday, May 2, 2011

A Little Off the Top

A Little Off the Top
Yes, we are a few weeks into our adventure in our new home.  “Embracing the New Normal in Nanjing” has become our mantra.  How are we doing?  
We basically look the same but a few pounds lighter from the lack of comfort foods we were used to in the States.  I’d start a list of what those are but it would just make me cranky knowing it will be months and months before any of it will pass my lips.  Speaking of how we look, the next challenge has been the personal grooming ritual of ‘the haircut.’ 
I say ritual because Gordon has had a haircut every 3 weeks for the past, mmmmm, thirty years from the SAME hair stylist.  You may want to read that sentence again.  Yep, same stylist, thirty years.   He has followed Frieda from place to place.  Like your hairdresser, Frieda knows a lot of history about her clients.  She “knows” the family from Gordon’s perspective and storytelling.  She’s “lived” through new babies, new homes, new puppies, new jobs, weddings, car restorations and other not so happy occasions. “Snip-Snip-Snip.”
He was the first to venture into the land of Chinese haircuts.   It was a Sunday and we were without a car or driver that day so he set out walking about a mile to a corner grocery/mall that had a salon.  Our friend Pete had been there the week before with good results and not too much angst so with that as a reference he ventured on his way. 
I often refer to Gordon as the “Big Guy” in this blog, with good reason.  He is 6’4” tall on a large frame.   He darkened the door of the salon and, as is the case a lot lately, commanded grand attention.  The game of Nanjing Charades began as he mimicked a pair of scissors with his right hand. “Snip-Snip-Snip.”  The message got through; this Big Guy wants a haircut!  Ushered to the shampoo bowl by a young man with a hot pink stripe in his hair he tried NOT to tremble.  A snap of an apron and a familiar sound of Velcro around his neck and he was ready for anything.  The shampooing included two full washes, an eye-closing scalp and neck massage, some conditioner and off to the next station.
Gordon made a gesture with his index finger and thumb to indicate “just a little” to the stylist.  The young man smiled and “Snip-Snip-Snip” the first haircut from someone other than dear Frieda was underway.  It was quite the show as he was the only white person in the salon….probably since Pete had been there the Sunday before!  More snipping and snipping and then out came an electric razor to make things even.   Gordon realized that "just a little" shown by his fingers was interpreted as "I want it short" by the stylist.  He had no way to tell him it was short enough!  The snipping and buzzing finally subsided and it was back to the shampoo bowl for another delightful dousing to rinse off any spare clippings.  (I love this idea!)  
Time for the tab/bill.  30 rmb or $4.50/USD.  No tipping allowed!
The Big Guy walked home and sat down for an “after” photo shoot.




 He had two remarks:
“I won’t be going back for a haircut until I learn some phrases in Mandarin, that’s for sure!”
“I haven’t had my hair cut this short since I was fourteen and stupid!"
Everyone noticed the Big Guy’s haircut on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday… and well, for the next two weeks.   No need to rush back after three weeks, like the good old days with dear Frieda!  "Snip-Snip-Snip."

Thanks for Reading!