Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Hillbilly Family Comes Together

I was sound asleep when the call came in. I had a knot in my stomach as I picked up the phone. I knew if someone was calling at this hour, it couldn’t possibly be good news. My instincts were confirmed as my father informed me my grandmother, my mom’s mother, was in the hospital and the prognosis wasn’t good. Within the hour, he called again to say she had passed away.

After the initial shock and sorrow, the phone trail started, with each member of the family calling another. After the initial calls were made, we now had to figure out the logistics of getting everyone back home, back to Kentucky. Where would we stay, how would we get there, who would drive with whom, and who would be flying in? It has been a long time, years even, since I’ve been back. Friday was a flurry of activity; coordinating flights, reserving rental cars and rearranging schedules for the next several days.

Sitting in my living room after all the travel arrangements were made, it suddenly hit me. My grandmother was gone. With no more “things to do”, the shell started to crack. I began to cry and feel the sorrow and pain of losing someone I loved so dearly. How and why was she taken from us? We are all so spread out and I’m the only one in Los Angeles. At times like this, you need your family and I couldn’t wait to be with them. I needed their hugs.

We arrive back in Kentucky. Its hugs, kisses and tears all around. My mom steps out of the car at my uncle’s house and I watch them embrace, holding on to one another so tight. My tears start again as I feel the depth of their sorrow over losing their mother. They just don’t seem to want to let go of one another. As the day progresses, more family arrives and everyone is excited to be together again.

The first 36 hours are spent reconnecting, eating, sharing stories, laughing, eating, sorting through old pictures, and eating some more. We have so much fun going through old pictures of all of us and my grandmother. Could that really be us? Did we really look that young at one time? Were we ever that skinny? After dinner one night we all gather around to play some games. We wind up playing this crazy game called Mad Gab. For those of you who don’t know the game, I suggest playing it sometime; it can be a lot of fun. It’s the perfect game for a loud, hillbilly family. I realize as we play this game, that my grandmother’s outrageousness and her sense of humor have been passed down to her children and even some of her grandchildren. My uncles are like two big kids and their love of life is infectious. I realize how much I admire them. We holler and make such a ruckus the neighbors two doors down can probably hear us. We laugh so hard our sides hurt and for just a moment, we forget the reality of what has brought us all together.

The next morning we wake up, still giddy from the evening of games before. The storytelling and laughs continue. Even though we’re piled several deep in a house, we are truly enjoying our time together. Then suddenly later in the afternoon, about two hours before the viewing is scheduled to begin, the house becomes still and everyone is quiet. The reality of it all starts to settle in. We start thinking about what lies ahead and know it’s going to be difficult for all of us.

We walk from my uncle’s house to the funeral home for the viewing. The minute we walk in the funeral home, the tears begin to flow. It is now truly time to say goodbye to someone we loved so dearly. We just aren’t ready to let her go. We spend the next five hours crying, hugging, greeting friends and relatives and offering one another support. We are all pleased, but not the least bit surprised, to see how many people my grandmother has touched. There is a constant flow of friends coming in to say goodbye to my grandmother and offer the family support. It is a much quieter evening when we arrive back home.

The next morning the subdued mood continues. We now have the funeral to face. We arrive at the funeral home and the tears start flowing again. The pictures we have spent the last few days going through are playing up on the screen, each one a reflection of my grandmother’s personality. We sing some hymns, my uncle Gordon does the opening prayer and then my cousin Ben gets up. The first thing he says when he gets to the podium is “horse feathers” and we all begin to laugh. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite expressions and with this one word he instantly makes us all feel at ease. Ben continues, by sharing some stories of my grandmother. One is about a Christmas just a few years ago when she claimed she could still put her feet up behind her head and then proceeded to show everyone. I missed this particular Christmas at home, so I was not present for this feat, but I could picture it just like I was there. That was just my grandmother, always saying and doing outrageous things. She enjoyed being the center of attention and always kept us entertained. Ben continued with a few more stories that made us laugh and remember what a remarkable woman she was. He talked about how he did not have a single bad memory of my grandmother, not a single one, and I think all of us grandchildren feel that way. He stopped all our tears and made us all laugh along the way.

I’d like to say a special thanks to my cousin Ben for honoring my grandmother in such a meaningful way. He truly has a way with words and got to the essence of who my grandmother was. I know my grandmother would be pleased with how he handled everything and I know she is very proud of him.

Now that we had said goodbye to our grandmother, it was time to say goodbye to each other. There are more hugs and tears as we say goodbye, along with promises to see each other again soon. Hopefully we will not wait until the next funeral to get together again. But that’s the thing about family, even though you may live far apart and go months, sometimes even years, without seeing or speaking to each other, the love and connection doesn’t stop. Family is always close by ready to offer love and support whenever you may need it.

Have any of you seen the movie Death at a Funeral? For those of you that haven’t, it’s a film about all the crazy things that can go wrong when a family comes together for a funeral. It made me laugh out loud. I know it may seem odd to mention a movie like this considering the circumstances, but it really made me stop and think about the funerals I’ve been to, which unfortunately has been many. Now my family has never experienced any of the outrageous things that happen in the film, but we have had some fun times together over the years when we’ve come together to honor those we’ve lost. It makes you realize how fun and crazy family can be. A funeral doesn’t have to be such a sad and somber event. My grandmother would not have wanted that. While many tears were shed, there was also a lot of love and laughter. It is just how my grandmother would have wanted it to be.

I’d like to say thanks to my Uncle David and Aunt Paula for opening their home to us. I was worried about living in such close quarters with this crazy bunch, but I wouldn’t trade this time for anything. I really enjoyed my time with them. As we say in Kentucky, “they’re good people.” I’d also like to say a special note of thanks to the members of each of my uncles’ churches who came from all over to offer their support. There isn’t a more kind and generous bunch. A special thanks to the members of my Uncle David’s church, the Paintsville Church of Christ, for everything they did to support us, to honor my grandmother and for all the amazing meals they cooked for us. They made sure we did not go hungry while we were there. I forgot how delicious real home cooking can be. I won’t forget again.

This hillbilly now heads back to Los Angeles with a full stomach, an open heart and the hope to see everyone again real soon.

While this was a sad occasion to get together, it was truly a special trip for this traveling hillbilly. It is a trip I needed to take. I learned a lot about myself and saw how truly good and kind-hearted people can be. I realized how blessed I am to have such a great family. I am surrounded by so much love. We may be hillbillies, and we may be a crazy and rowdy bunch, but my family is fun, genuine, warm and good to their core. I have an amazing family.

I dedicate this posting to Myrtle, an incredible woman, whose strength and compassion inspired us all. She was a true survivor. She faced breast cancer with grace, dignity and her enduring sense of humor. Like many of the obstacles she faced, she survived the breast cancer, and came out a stronger person for it. Unfortunately she was taken from us unexpectedly and too early. But we know in our hearts she is in a better place and we will see her again one day. Until then, we take comfort in knowing that God now has one more angel looking out for us.

Goodbye Grandmother, I love you with all my heart.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Hillbilly Can Go Home...

For the first time in almost 10 years, my whole family was together. We all got together to celebrate a milestone birthday for my dad. The dude’s getting old, but still handsome and ornery as ever!

It’s amazing how we could let it go that long without all getting together, but somehow it happened. We’re all spread out across the country and have our own crazy lives. While some of us have seen each other over the years, the last time we all got together was for a family member’s funeral, not exactly the happiest of occasions. But this time, we had something to celebrate!

My sisters and I met up in the Albuquerque airport and started our journey home. We headed off to Ruidoso, New Mexico. Now we aren’t originally from Ruidoso. My folks have only lived there for a couple of years, but I have to say it sure feels like home.

I fell in love with this town in one brief weekend. The moment I arrived in Ruidoso, I was impressed by the generosity, sincerity and good nature of the people in this small resort town. For those of you who are not familiar with the town, it’s a quaint, little town up in the mountains about 3 hours southeast of Albuquerque, NM and 2 ½ hours northeast of El Paso, TX. It offers great skiing in the winter, horse races in the summer and caring, trusting people all year round. It truly is a magical place. It moves at a slower pace and I find myself completely relaxed the instant I arrive.

My dad was expecting me, but he had no idea my sisters were coming in as well. We spent two days reminiscing, eating (there’s nothing better than a home-cooked meal) and generally having a good time. We laughed, we cried and we laughed some more. My sisters and I suddenly resorted backed to the klutziness of our childhood. We were like the Three Stooges in the kitchen; overturning the dog’s water bowl, burning the dinner rolls, spilling wine. I think we even broke a thing or two, but we were quickly forgiven.

After two days of bonding, it was time to say goodbye. We all have our own lives that we had to get back to. You know it’s weird, but no matter how old you are, it’s always hard to leave home. As we said our goodbyes, we promised to get together again soon and not wait another ten years! I truly hope we all hold true to our promise.

After living in the craziness of Los Angeles, a relaxing weekend up in the mountains was exactly what this traveling hillbilly needed. I’ve been on many amazing adventures, but sometimes the best trips are those spent close to home, spending quality time with family and friends. I left Ruidoso with many great memories, a small hole in my heart for what I had to leave behind and great anticipation for the next reunion. All in all it was a great trip.

I dedicate this posting to my mom and dad, who I love and miss dearly. Behave yourselves until we get together again.

The Traveling Hillbilly Goes "Home"

For the first time in almost 10 years, my whole family was together. We all got together to celebrate a milestone birthday for my dad. The dude’s getting old, but still handsome and ornery as ever!

It’s amazing how we could let it go that long without all getting together, but somehow it happened. We’re all spread out across the country and have our own crazy lives. While some of us have seen each other over the years, the last time we all got together was for a family member’s funeral, not exactly the happiest of occasions. But this time, we had something to celebrate!

My sisters and I met up in the Albuquerque airport and started our journey home. We headed off to Ruidoso, New Mexico. Now we aren’t originally from Ruidoso. My folks have only lived there for a couple of years, but I have to say it sure feels like home.

I fell in love with this town in one brief weekend. The moment I arrived in Ruidoso, I was impressed by the generosity, sincerity and good nature of the people in this small resort town. For those of you who are not familiar with the town, it’s a quaint, little town up in the mountains about 3 hours southeast of Albuquerque, NM and 2 ½ hours northeast of El Paso, TX. It offers great skiing in the winter, horse races in the summer and caring, trusting people all year round. It truly is a magical place. It moves at a slower pace and I find myself completely relaxed the instant I arrive.

My dad was expecting me, but he had no idea my sisters were coming in as well. We spent two days reminiscing, eating (there’s nothing better than a home-cooked meal) and generally having a good time. We laughed, we cried and we laughed some more. My sisters and I suddenly resorted backed to the klutziness of our childhood. We were like the Three Stooges in the kitchen; overturning the dog’s water bowl, burning the dinner rolls, spilling wine. I think we even broke a thing or two, but we were quickly forgiven.

After two days of bonding, it was time to say goodbye. We all have our own lives that we had to get back to. You know it’s weird, but no matter how old you are, it’s always hard to leave home. As we said our goodbyes, we promised to get together again soon and not wait another ten years! I truly hope we all hold true to our promise.

After living in the craziness of Los Angeles, a relaxing weekend up in the mountains was exactly what this traveling hillbilly needed. I’ve been on many amazing adventures, but sometimes the best trips are those spent close to home, spending quality time with family and friends. I left Ruidoso with many great memories, a small hole in my heart for what I had to leave behind and great anticipation for the next reunion. All in all it was a great trip.

I dedicate this posting to my mom and dad, who I love and miss dearly. Behave yourselves until we get together again.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Hillbilly Returns Home

After two weeks in China it was time to head home. The long flight gave this hillbilly a lot of time to reflect back on this latest adventure. I went on this trip hoping to see and experience something completely different than my travels before. I got that in spades.

I remember the very first time I traveled abroad. I was completely surprised by how modern and cosmopolitan everything was. I mean they actually had ATM machines in Paris! I had no idea I would be able to take money out of my account in the United States in a totally foreign country. I was completely shocked. It’s funny now that I look back on it, but it really did surprise me at the time. So I expected Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to be big cities with all the modern conveniences we have here in the states. For the most part they did. The banks are even open on Sunday.

However China was not exactly what I expected. It is a communist country, but it has a very capitalistic twist. Similar to the US, there are the “haves” and “have nots.” As you wander the streets, you may see a Jaguar, Mercedes or Ferrari dealership, plus there’s an abundance of upscale hotels, bars and restaurants. But once you get out of the main tourist areas and walk the streets, you see how a lot of the Chinese people really live. It’s not that pretty.

I expected to feel completely lost in a totally foreign culture, but the politeness and warmth of the Chinese people was so welcoming it made me feel at home. The sheer beauty of Beijing and Shanghai were a complete surprise. The amount of American food options was staggering. You expect to see McDonalds and Starbucks everywhere. But in addition to those staples, we saw KFC, Pizza Hut, 7-Eleven, TGI Fridays, Outback Steakhouse and a few others. It’s funny to me that these places do so well there considering how much “healthier” the Chinese eat. They eat a lot of rice, seafood, drink tea all day and are always on the go! They are in constant motion. The other thing that surprised me was the quality of service we received everywhere we went. We could walk into a store or restaurant and there were always at least 4-5 people available to help us. We never once had to try and find someone to help us. We would walk into our hotel and be warmly greeted by at least 3 or 4 people by the time we got to the elevator. The other thing that surprised me was how clean the cities were. These are cities with millions of people, but they are as clean as Disneyland. If any of you have ever been to Disney, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You’ve noticed all the people constantly cleaning, picking up and sweeping the streets. It’s the same way in China. No matter where we were, there was always someone cleaning nearby. They even had flower boxes along the freeway ramps on Beijing!


My Favorite City
Well that’s tough to answer. I think it all depends on what you’re looking for. Beijing was by far the China I expected to see. It’s steeped in history. Between The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, The Heavenly Temple, The Forbidden City, it has a lot of amazing things to see. However Shanghai, is a fun and very modern city. While there aren’t as many “must dos” the city still has a lot to offer. There are some great neighborhoods to stroll, cool bars, great restaurants and of course, Pudong. As I mentioned before, Hong Kong is great if you have a lot of shopping to do. Since it was under British rule until 1997, there is still a lot of British influence there. It is still very Chinese in a lot of ways but is considered a separate region. They have their own way of doing things and they even have their own currency. It’s funny but people from mainland China are even considered visitors in Hong Kong.

The one thing all the cities had in common was the bright flashing lights on all the buildings. Here are these stunning skyscrapers, amazing feats of architecture and most of them have bright flashing lights at night. It almost makes them a little tacky, not quite Vegas tacky, but it is still a little odd. Can you imagine a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons with bright blue lights running down and across the hotel every night? One guy we met in Shanghai told us it’s actually a law. All buildings over a certain height have to have some sort of lighting. Considering how tall some of these buildings are, this would make sense as a warning signal for airplanes. But it’s not just the really tall buildings that have them. Maybe it’s an ego thing, a way for the owners to make their buildings stand out. I’m not really sure, but it is one of the things that stood out to me in each of the cities we visited. In Hong Kong, they even have a “symphony of lights” every night. Several of the buildings participate. They have flashing lights and laser beams going off, all well choreographed and set to music. It makes for great free entertainment.

The Language Barrier & Other Issues
Whenever I travel, I like to try and learn some basic words/phrases in the host language, but Chinese is very tough to learn. The accents are very strong, almost harsh. After two weeks I’m sad to say, I only managed to master Hello and Thank You!

Beijing was the biggest challenge. Even at major tourist venues very little English was spoken, but we were still able to buy tickets and get where we needed to. Shanghai was a little better since a lot of business is conducted there and English is the global language for business. However, outside of the hotels, very few of the folks you encounter speak English. Do not expect taxi drivers, waiters/waitresses to speak English. A lot of the restaurants don’t have English menus. Obviously English is widely spoken in Hong Kong. Make sure you have someone at the hotel write the hotel address in Chinese for you. In case you get lost, at least you’ll have something to show to the taxi driver or pedestrians to find your way home. A lot of the hotels already have cards made up with key phrases and major destinations for the city in English and Chinese. These came in very handy during our trip.

But the language barrier should not hold anyone back from visiting this fabulous country.
The people there are more than willing to help you learn Chinese and often want to practice their English on you. Despite my lack of Chinese though, we were able to get by. It truly is amazing how easily two people who speak completely different languages can communicate with each other when both are willing to try and understand the other.


The one thing that did bother me at first was the “male-dominated” culture. No matter where we went, Bruce was greeted first, served first and often times they even looked to him when taking my order at a restaurant. Even when I would give my credit card to pay for a drink or meal, they would still bring the bill back to him to sign. At first I was bothered by this, but then I took a moment to think about it. They were not doing this in anyway to slight me, it’s just their culture. I had to remind myself I was a guest in their country and I needed to respect their ways. The plus side of this was how polite, or “old-fashioned” as we would say, the men were. They were true gentlemen. They always opened the door for me or let me out of the elevator first. I know this will probably upset a lot of women out there, but I actually liked that. There’s nothing wrong with good old-fashion courtesy.

My Favorite Memories
Walking along The Great Wall outside of Beijing
Visiting the Summer Palace in Beijing
Having drinks on the rooftop of M on the Bund in Shanghai
Partying in Xia Tiandi in Shanghai
Listening to a Chinese band play Madonna music at Rendezvous in Shanghai
“Celebrity sighting” at the Sky Dome Bar in the Radisson Hotel (met the owner of all the Radisson hotels, a very nice and elegant woman)
The underground tram ride to Pudong
Drinks on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt in Pudong
The entire stay at Le Royal Meridien in Shanghai (a special thanks to Richard L. the Royal Club Manager)
The hot stone massage in Shanghai
The very steep tram ride to The Peak in Hong Kong
Partying at a variety of bars/clubs in Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong
Asparagus and mushroom soup, and the many other great vegetarian dishes
The efficiency of the Chinese
Variety of live music everywhere – Jazz, Spanish, Top 40, Soul
The beautiful gardens and landscaping throughout China

All in all this was a truly great and memorable trip. The beauty of the country, the warmth and generosity of the Chinese people, will remain with me for years to come. I would highly recommend a visit to this great country.

So to answer the question on my first post. Yes, it appears you can pull off a last minute trip to China! What did we ever do without the internet? I hope you enjoyed my journey through China. I certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. I'll be posting some quick tips, recommendations for traveling to China on the website soon.

Any recommendations on where this hillbilly should go next? I'm always open to suggestions.

Friday, April 27, 2007

3 Days Wet Days in Hong Kong

Unfortunately for us the weather forecast was correct and we had a very wet time in Hong Kong. It rained everyday while we were there, but we still got out and about to see the city.

As I said before, Hong Kong is like New York, but it’s like New York dropped in the middle of one of the Hawaiian Islands. It’s made up of several islands and is surrounded by huge mountains. However, they have built up into the mountains. It’s like the city has three different levels. So once again, we found ourselves walking up a lot of stairs. Unlike Beijing and Shanghai, it is not as green and spread out. It is much more compact and crowded.

The efficiency of the Chinese never ceased to amaze me during this trip and Hong Kong was no exception. They have built a whole network of walkways above the streets that connects the malls, office buildings and neighborhoods. It allows you to easily navigate around the city, while avoiding the craziness on the streets below. It was like a whole different world exists above the city.

We went to The Peak, “the pride of Hong Kong.” It offers a 360 degree view of the city. Despite the cloudy weather, it was still a magnificent view, especially at night. Due to the weather, unfortunately we did not get to see The Big Buddha, one of Hong Kong’s must sees. But we did make it over to Kowloon Island to walk along Nathan Road, the golden mile for shopping and have tea at the Peninsula. We partied in Lan Kwai Fong and got to listen to some great live music, including a Chinese Jazz band. I think I’ve heard more live music during my time in China than I have in the past 10+ years.

Despite the rain, Hong Kong was a good time but not as amazing as Beijing and Shanghai. It’s just a big city and a great place to go if you want to shop. There’s no sales tax, so it’s a great place to buy high end items. I’m glad I went, but I don’t know if I’d go back again anytime soon. It would be a great place to travel for business though.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Getting Wet in Hong Kong

We had checked the weather for Hong Kong before leaving Shanghai, knowing it would be considerably warmer. We are bummed to see that rain or chance of rain was in the forecast everyday while we’re here. It looked like Monday was the only day we might have without rain.

One of the suggestions our Hong Kong/Canadian friends made was to go to "the peak." It allows for some awesome views of the city. That is on the agenda for today (Monday) but as predicted we've woken up to rain. The forecast for the next couple of days is still rain and now even thunderstorms! Since it doesn’t look like we’ll have a good day clear day here, we’ve decide to go to the peak anyway. Hopefully the rain will make for some great black and white pictures. I just need to find some black and white film.

It looks like we are going to be warm and wet in Hong Kong!

First Impressions of Hong Kong

First impression - Hong Kong is similar to New York. It's crowded with people and tall buildings. It's a little claustrophobic, but it's still a hip, cosmopolitan city. It is considerably more expensive than Beijing and Shanghai. Given the long history of British influence, English is more more common here and they even drive from the right side of the car and on the opposite sides of the road. My gut was still telling me I wouldn't really care for this city. I do like New York, but I prefer a city with some warmth and friendliness. This is just tons of people, moving fast and not a lot of greenery. Shanghai and Beijing were both big cites as well, but they were spread out and had lots of parks. They were so well planned, they didn't feel claustrophobic at all.

We happened upon a little area called Lan Kwai Fong. It's a well known area, of cobble stone streets lined with cool bars and restaurants. As we were walking along we noticed a little place called the Keg. The Keg was a very small open air bar but it was full of folks. As we came in we noticed everyone was watching a hockey game (via sling box).

Given that it was such a small place, everyone started introducing themselves and talking. Turns out everyone in the bar was pretty much from Canada and was there to watch Vancouver play Dallas (Dallas won). We wound up talking to guys from Canada who are now living in Hong Kong.

After living in Los Angeles for so long, where people just can't take the time to be friendly, I'm always amazed by how easy it is to meet people when traveling. Our Canadian friends, RM & CH were just so friendly and great to talk to. After living here for over a year, they were more than willing to take some time out from watching the game to give us some great "must dos" while in Hong Kong. That is one of the things I love most about traveling. All it takes is sitting next to someone at a bar, restaurant or tourist attraction and hearing English spoken. The next thing you know you are having great and entertaining conversations with perfect strangers.
Thanks to RM & CH for making a great first impression for Hong Kong.

Made it to Hong Kong!

We've just arrived in Hong Kong. I'm so happy to see my blog is back in English! I was not able to access the domain directly while in Beijing or Shanghai so I had to go directly to the blog address and then everything was in Chinese. Luckily, I could remember where most of the buttons were so I was still able to publish my posts. But it's nice to be able to navigate in English again.

We're staying at Le Meridien Cyberpot which was recently awarded "Best New Hotel in Asia." I don't think I'm going to like this hotel as much as the ones in Beijing and Shanghai. While we have a great ocean view, we are staying up in the hills, about 10-15 minutes away from the main city center. We have to take a shuttle if we want to go anywhere. Plus it's a very tech-oriented hotel. Ya'll know how I feel about technology. It's got that techy, cold feel to it. I looked into booking another hotel, but at this late a date, the options are limited unless we want to spend and arm and leg!

I miss my butler!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Black Martini...

Have you ever had a black martini? Well I can now say I have! I've never even heard of black vodka, but apparently it does exist. So of course does the black martini! hhhmmmmm.

A black martini just sounded too intriguing to pass up, so I broke one of my cardinal rules when traveling. I ordered a martini. In most places a martini is the very traditional martini made with gin, not vodka. The few times I've tried a martini when traveling, I have not enjoyed it. After getting served one with black olives (possibly black olive juice and way too much vermouth) once in Budapest, I decided to stay away from martinis when traveling.

Well last night after much searching, we finally stumbled upon a little area called Xin Tiandi (New Heaven & Earth). According to Frommer's, it is Shanghai's“trendiest lifestyle destination.” It is a small area of trendy restaurants, bars and shops, primarily lodged in traditional Shanghainese stone housing. It was a very cool, and apparently, very popular area. We walked into an awesome restaurant/bar called T8. The d├ęcor was totally hip, all dark wood and glass. It looked like the kind of place you could order a martini. After Bruce raved about how good his was, I decided to go for it. Just as I was getting ready to order my traditional Kettle One martini, I noticed the black martini on the menu. So I went for it. I figure I love black Sambuca, so black vodka should be good, right? It can't be as bad as black olive martini in Budapest. And I was right. As the waitress had warned, it was a little strong, but I'm glad I tried it. I might just have to rethink my martini ban, well except when traveling in Europe. I'll have to keep an eye out for black vodka when I get back to the states. Who knows, the black martini might just be the signature drink at my next party. So you might just be trying one soon!

Pudong – From farmland in 1990 to major city representing China's future

Today we went to Pudong which is just across the river from Shanghai. It's a huge city that has sprouted up in less than a decade! It is tuly amazing how this huge city has just sprung up and is now host to major companies, skyscrapers and the 3rd tallest building in the world (they are in the process of building the tallest building in the world, unless Hong Kong finishes their building first).

As for the 3rd tallest building in the world, it's 88 stories high. The first 50 floors of the building are office space and then the Grand Hyatt occupies floors 51-88. Thanks to MJ's recommendation, we went to the bar on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt to have a drink. We had to take three elevators to get there. It was actually kind of freaky to be that high up. Unfortunately the smog is really bad here today, so the view was not as stunning as I'm sure it can be. But it was still worth the trip.

Just getting there and back was a lot of fun. It was like a ride at Disneyland. We took a “tram” that runs under the river to get there. The tram is basically these pod like cars that travel through a dark tunnel with a sort of light show playing as you move through. It was kind of like the old space mountain ride at Disney, but it moved at a much slower pace. All in all a fun day.

Now we're off to dinner at a hot restaurant along the Bund. Again, thanks to MJ for posting some recommendations.

Look out Hong Kong, here we come!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thanks for your posts!

Thank you all so much for your posts. I really enjoying reading them. Please keep them coming. Thanks to MJ for the restaurant recos in Beijing, and CH for the "power bar" reco.

Today I had a hot stone massage at the spa in the hotel. It's the most beautiful spa I've ever been to. After a week off walking 5+ hours a day, it felt nice to finally relax.

Shanghai is very different than Beijing. I'll write more later, but wanted to do a quick post to say hello.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

One night in Shanghai

We have arrived in Shanghai. When we checked into our hotel, we were told, oh you're on the club level, let me take you to the check in for that. We were shown to the 44th floor, where there is a check in for "club level" guests. After checking in, our butler, yes butler, showed us to the room. He informed us there is a free breakfast buffet every morning and a happy hour every evening in the club lounge. You just got to love the benefits of American Express! Membership truly does have its privileges. This hillbilly is already starting to love this city.

I have a feeling Shanghai will be a very different experience than Beijing. I'll do another post soon recapping the final events in Beijing, but need to sign off now for some much needed rest and to enjoy the happy hour in the club.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I Don't Eat Chicken Feet!

Okay we had our first lunch today. We've been so busy sightseeing the last few days, we have never had a real lunch. It would suddenly be 4pm and we'd realize we had not eaten. We'd wind up just grabbing chips from a snack stand at whatever tourist site we were at. So today we decided we were not going to skip lunch. We were tired of fasting. We found a little place just outside the Lama Temple. We ordered two dishes, sweet & sour pork and braised chicken. The sweet & sour pork came out first and it was delicious. We were about half way through that when the chicken dish came out sizzling on a very hot skillet. It looked fabulous! However once the smoked had cleared and we got a good look at the chicken, we had second thoughts. Suddenly it didn't look so delicious. It basically looked like they'd chopped up a chicken and tossed it in the skillet. Not only was the skin still on it, but there were lots of bones and there were actually chicken feet in the dish. Yes, three/four clawed chicken feet right in the middle of our dish. Luckily it was grilled with some celery. We are usually pretty adventurous travelers, but neither of us had the courage to try a chicken foot today. We ate the celery all around the chicken and polished off the sweet & sour pork, along with some rice. We both left with full stomachs and no desire to order chicken for dinner later.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Sad Morning

We have just awoken to the news of the mass shootings at Virginia Tech. How horrifying. This post is in honor of all the students and staff who died or were injured during this tragic event. We may never have the answers to make sense of this. May those who are suffering find some peace in the upcoming months.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

More Beijing

So we had our first official Chinese dinner. I did not expect it to be like the Chinese food we’re used to but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was actually a little nervous. A lot of restaurants do not have English menus so I was afraid I’d wind up with a fish head on my plate. Luckily we found a restaurant that did have an English menu. There is this whole little strip of restaurants and bars along a lake. It was a quaint little area about 15 minutes from our hotel. After noticing that all but two dishes on the menu were some sort of seafood, I opted for the Beef and Hangzhou pepper and a side of asparagus. Now I wasn’t sure what Hangzhou pepper was, but it sure sounded better than my other option, feathered chicken.

The beef was good. The asparagus was okay, a little bland. By the way, Hangzhou pepper is like a green hot, hot, hot pepper. I took one small bite of one and my mouth was on fire. No more Hangzhou pepper for me!

After dinner we wandered into a little bar for a cocktail. It turns out they had a live band playing. Here we are in Beijing China at, The Buffalo Club bar, having a cocktail and listening to a live band playing Spanish music. All in all, a fun and entertaining evening.


We awoke the next morning and headed off to see the Summer Palace. I would not have thought that we would see anything more impressive than the Forbidden City, but we did. The Summer Palace is over 700 acres of islands, lakes, gardens and temples. We originally planned to do the Summer Palace in the morning and then the Temple of Heaven later in the afternoon. But we wound up spending the whole day walking the grounds at the Summer Palace. Every corner we turned revealed another jaw dropping sight. It was truly magnificent. I took a ton of pictures and I hope some of them can capture the beauty of this enchanting place.

After walking for almost 8 hours, we were ready to take a break. Here’s were we made our first official travel mistake. We grabbed the first taxi we saw and hopped in, thrilled to finally be sitting. Unfortunately, we had hopped into an “independent” taxi. When we arrived at our hotel, he tried to charge us more than double what the trip to the Summer Palace had cost us! We told him NO, too much and we paid him less than what he was asking but still considerably more than what we paid the trip out there. He was angry, we were angry, but he took the money, drove away and we learned a valuable lesson.

Next we are off to the Great Wall. I’m so excited to see it. I just hope these old legs can actually make it up some of the steps. After two days of solid walking, the knees are creaking!

Day 1 in Beijing

Tiananmen Square & Forbidden City

I’m happy to report I actually slept pretty well last night. I awoke refreshed and ready to take on the day. Woo hoo, our first full day in Beijing! After 25 hours of travel time, we aren’t quite ready to tackle the Great Wall. We decide to do Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

One of the first things that strikes me as we walk through the city, is how beautifully landscaped it is. The city looks so well thought out, almost like an architect’s model. There are so many trees and gardens along the way, the walk itself is beautiful. The second thing that strikes me about the city is the dichotomy of old and new. Here you are walking along a street lined with modern office buildings on either side and suddenly you come across an ancient building. It’s odd to see such a stark difference in architecture, but it somehow works here.

We get to Tiananmen Square and I am speechless. I have to take a moment. I can remember vividly the events that took place here and the students that died deserve a moment of silence, of rememberance.

After the square, we head across the street to start our long trek through the Forbidden City. What can I say? I can’t even begin to describe this amazing city. Words just can’t describe how remarkable it is. What an amazing feat! I’m even more bummed knowing that my pictures will never capture its beauty and grandeur.

After hours walking through the Forbidden City, we decide to head to Jing Shan Park in an attempt to capture the massiveness of the Forbidden City from overhead. As we walk along, rather slowly I have to admit, we get approached several times by “rickshaw” drivers. We finally decide, why not? Just another Beijing experience. At first I didn’t want to do it because I felt bad for this poor soul trying to pull two of us on the back of his “bicycle.” But boy did it feel good to sit down! After 5+ hours of walking, my legs needed the break! Plus he took us through some back alleys that we otherwise would not have seen. All in all, it was a great first day in the city.

Time for a little rest before heading out for dinner and cocktails. After the miles and miles we walked today, a cocktail or two is well deserved!

I've arrived!

After 25 hours of traveling, we have arrived in Beijing! It seems like we’ve been traveling for days. We arrive exhausted, thirsty but truly excited to be here.

Due to strong headwinds, our flight from LA arrived in Hong Kong late and we missed our connecting flight to Beijing. We get off the plane, ready to deal with trying to figure out to catch another flight. But Cathay Pacific had already taken care of everything. They were waiting for us as we got off the plane. They told us we had missed our flight, but they had already booked us on another flight. They escorted over to another airline, got us set up with our boarding passes and gave us some coupons for “refreshments” while we waited for the next flight. The service was amazing!

Off to nap now. More to come.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Are Those Last Minute Deals for Real?

So last week was the end of a 6 month freelance gig and I had decided to take a couple weeks off. It got me thinking. Are those last minute travel deals I get emails about every week for real? Can you really book a trip to Europe for $500? I decided to find out. I’d take advantage of one of the last minute packages. Where would it lead me? Maybe London for a few days. Cost Rica perhaps?

My friend Bruce and I couldn’t wait for the email alerts to start rolling in. Turns out there was one flaw in the plan--this little thing called Spring Break! The usual emails didn’t arrive. But it was too late, we had caught the bug. We were ready to travel. We hopped online and started the search. We searched and we searched and we searched. The world was our oyster. We crossed London off the list pretty quickly. We crossed most of Europe of the list. There just were no deals. We were close to choosing Costa Rica when Bruce threw out China as an option. China? Can you imagine a hillbilly in China? I’ve always wanted to go, but could we really get a last minute deal to China? I mean Asia is not even one of the options on the last minute deals links on most websites. We both started searching. On Easter Sunday we found our deal. We had found a great airfare. We could leave on Thursday! We mapped out our flights (4 one-way legs), got the credit cards out, input all our info and hit “confirm purchase.” Instead of a confirmation, we got kicked back to the home page. We tried again and got the same result. We finally got a hold of someone at the website to help us. Alas, he couldn’t get the purchase to go through either. Something was apparently wrong with one of the airlines websites.

To make a long story short, well at least shorter, we finally got the airfare booked Monday around 2pm. We rushed down to the Chinese Consulate; yes you need a visa to visit China, before it closed at 3pm. We got there at like 2:45, picked a number #385 (they were on #316) and wondered if we’d even get called. Had we just booked airfare for a trip we wouldn’t be able to take due to lack of a visa?! They closed the doors promptly at 3pm, but continued to help everyone that already had a number.

After what seemed like hours, it was finally our turn. We got to the window, turned in our passports and visa paperwork and politely asked if there was anyway we could get them tomorrow? We were handed a receipt and told, “You can pick them up anytime after 9am tomorrow.” We did have to pay $20 to expedite the visa, but that certainly seemed reasonable to us. We were getting close to actually making this trip happen.

We picked up our passports, with visas this morning. We had our plane tickets. We just needed to make some tweaks to the hotel reservations. We’re off to the airport tomorrow night. Have we actually pulled off a last minute trip to Asia?

Stay tuned…

Monday, April 2, 2007

Congratulations Florida Gators!

I know this is a travel blog, but this hillbilly has to do a quick shout out to the Florida Gators. Go Gators, National Champions in football and basketball. You make a hillbilly proud.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Hillbilly in Vegas

Two of my best girlfriends and I decided we needed a girls weekend. Our first thought was a nice relaxing spa getaway. A couple of days at a beautiful spa, what better way to rejuvenate and reconnect with one another? However, one of us, who shall remain nameless, had something very different in mind. She had the urge for a much wilder weekend. She wanted to party! After much discussion, our chosen destination-Las Vegas! We decided Vegas had it all, good food, great spas, and of course great clubs. All the things girls need for creating one memorable weekend.

It all started Saturday morning. A late morning flight to Vegas would get us there just in time for a nice lunch before our afternoon massage appointments. We had decided to stay at the Wynn. Now for a hillbilly from Kentucky, the Wynn is a magical place. Who could imagine a hotel with several restaurants, a ton of shops, a casino, nightclubs, and a spa? How could all this be housed in one building? Let me tell you, this is no Motel 6!

The crazy thing is, there’s a whole strip of hotels just like this, although personally I don’t think as nice as this one.

Anyway, after staring in awe for several minutes, we checked in. After a quick bite to eat, we were off to the spa. Wow, another amazing site! Now this hillbilly has been to spas before, but none quite as big as this. It wasn’t anything crazy, but it was still quite beautiful. The massage was great. I have to admit, I even nodded off a little during it. After our treatments, we hung out for a bit, chit-chatting in the steam room, before heading back to the room for a quick nap.

We awaken, refreshed and ready for a fantastic night out. Three girls getting ready in one room, takes me back to my younger days. It was just like getting ready for the prom! We chatted, we giggled, we discussed clothing, shoe & accessory options. We all wanted to make sure each looked their best.

Off to Tao for one fabulous dinner. Everything we ate was divine. Getting into the club after was a bit of hassle and not quite worth it. The club scene in Vegas is just crazy. I think all the clubs want to create the illusion that they’re the hottest club in town by making you wait in line, even though once you get inside, there’s not a whole lot going on. Of course, it’s still early Vegas time. After a couple of hours at Tao, we decide to head somewhere else. We head off to Drae’s, some after hours club one of my girlfriends knew about. Now, it’s not the hippest place in town, but it’s playing some great music and there are some fun people there. We start to dance, and we dance and we dance. After what seems like a couple of hours, my feet really start to hurt. I tell one of my friends my feet hurt and I think I’m ready to leave. She’s ready to go as well. So the two of us head out (our other friend had left shortly before) to go back to the hotel. We walk outside and I’m completely shocked to see it’s light outside. How can that be? It seemed as if we’d only been dancing for a couple of hours, but it’s like 6:30 in the morning. I have to admit, I read the celebrity gossip magazines and am always wondering who goes out and parties until 4 and 5 in the morning. Suddenly I’m one of them. Me, who normally falls asleep on my couch by 10pm, is suddenly partying like a rock star! I’m so surprised at myself and my friends as well. Woo, hoo, look at us! Dancing until dawn in Vegas.

Luckily we only had a day of lounging by the pool planned for Sunday. After a nice peaceful day, we had a long relaxing dinner and then did it all over again. Although, I called it a night early. I head back to the room at 5:30am.

Boy, this is the life. What could be better than a fabulously fun long weekend, catching up with two of your best girlfriends? We had one amazing weekend, spending time together, sharing intimate stories with one another and strengthening the bond between us. It is a weekend I cherish and will always remember.

So, where are we off to next year girls?