Off to Beijing

No, not me. My husband is on an Uzbek Air flight that will stop in Tashkent and by tomorrow morning, his time, he will be in Beijing, leading his people through the wonders of China.

And you know, after 41 years…

I’ve grown accustomed to his face (the part of it that’s not covered by beard)
He almost makes the day begin (he brings me coffee every morning)
I’ve grown accustomed to the tune, he whistles night and noon (around this time of the year it’s often the nusach for the yamim noraim*)
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I do miss him.

So I came home and started organizing the house- washing the laundry, culling closets for clothing we no longer need, putting things in places where I can find them, and getting rid of things we no longer need. While ironing, I even made a discovery: for the close to 200 sheqels (a little under $50) I pay for cable each month, I get no television channel that is worth watching at 2:30 in the afternoon.
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So instead, I am thinking of what this trip will be like for him and feeling really happy that he is with a great group of people and he will be doing what he loves the most: teaching people something they want to learn.

8 things about me

I was tagged by triLcat but the problem is that I am only a lurker on others’ blogs. So, if any people actually read this blog, you can consider yourself tagged and leave me a comment and I will point people to you in my next posting.

“Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.”

1. I, like my daughters, love art supplies- pens with different points and colors of ink, really fine papers, paints and pastels. I like knitting, crocheting, making afghans, and embroidering and although I have no real talent, I do have patience and perseverance.
2. I love music. Even more than I wish I had artistic talent, I wish I had musical talent. Instead, I enjoy it by listening.
3. I have become totally intoxicated with China. I love the people, the art, the music, the architecture. I love visiting there and I am as excited about going on my next trip as I have been about all of the previous ones. Okay, more excited.
4. I need quiet time every day and if I don’t get it, I stay up in the night when everyone else is sleeping.
5. I never expected getting older (NOT growing old!!!) would have so many benefits and feel so good.
6. I never expected life to have so many wonderful surprises. When I married and my husband said he wanted to retire to Israel, I didn’t ever dream that we would have a home with a lemon tree and a pomegranate tree and an olive tree and a Clementine tree and grapevine. I never believed I would be living in paradise!
7. When I was raising my children, it never entered my mind that they would grow up, marry, and have children of their own. They and their spouses and children are the best people I know. When they visit, they fill our house with happiness.
8. I am living my mother’s dream. She seemed to want her daughters to grow up, marry nice men who would be friendly and kind to her, and she wanted us to live within walking distance so that we would be able to have lunch together or visit back and forth at will. I never even allowed myself that fantasy and yet that is exactly what happened!

Home from China once again…

It was upon our return to Beijing at the end of this most recent trip that I realized that Beijing felt a lot like home. Our extremely adorable and highly competent contact in Beijing, Doudou, makes our stay there pleasant and enjoyable. Dodo is now pregnant and as beautiful as she always was, now she is also radiant. I wish I could be there to share in her happiness when she gives birth.

But the good news is that I did get home in time to be here when our youngest daughter gives birth. Their baby is due in just a couple of weeks and I am certain that I am even more excited about this than she is!

Coming home was wonderful! We are overwhelmed with the kindness and devotion of those who really put themselves out for us, especially our daughters and sons-in-law who have helped us in so many ways. Imagine coming home to a house where the mail is neatly stacked, the bed is made, the plants have been watered… Seeing our granddaughters, Abigail and Nomi was such a thrill. What amazing little girls they are. It’s good to be home.

Hello from Lhasa

A little bit more about our Shai Bar Ilan tour….

Our trip has taken us to Yunnan Province– to the cities of Kunming, MiLe (where we stayed at a most magnificent resort spa, each building of which is surrounded by water), YuanYang (where we saw the rice terraces and visited a village of Hani people), JianShui (where we visited the Zhu Family Residence and the famous Confucian Temple), Dali (where we walked through the beautiful old town), Lijiang (where we visited the famous Mu Residence, the park surrounding the Black Dragon Pool, and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge), Weixi, Deqin (where we rode on mules up to see the glacier adjacent to Mount MeiLi), Shangri-La (where we took a jeep tour of the nearby village and entered one of the villagers’ homes in the Valley haNafa and on Saturday evening went to the main square to watch the folk dancing). There was so much more that defies description. Imagine a city that has one major road running through it. Imagine that if you leave the city in one direction, you have a 1.5 hour ride along the sides of mountains on a winding two lane road to the nearest place (in this case the approach to Mei-Le Mountain) and if you leave the city in the other direction, it is an 8 hour ride along similar winding roads with hairpin turns on the sides of mountains to the nearest sign of civilization. Imagine the most magnificent scenery that you could possibly see and understand that for the entire 8 hours, we didn’t want to keep our eyes open because of the hairpin turns on the sides of the mountain, but at the same time, didn’t want to miss one second of the scenery. We met, during the trip Chinese people who resided in the cities and in the small towns we stopped at. We learned about the cultures of several Chinese ethnic minorities. We saw their colorful dress, heard their beautiful music, and watched them dance together.

After traveling through beautiful Yunnan Province, we left by plane for Lhasa, Tibet, which is a very interesting and beautiful city. We have visited many sites that are holy to Buddhists and have learned about Buddhist customs and beliefs. We have seen the pilgrims walking through the streets, three steps at a time and then prostrating themselves only to rise and walk three more steps and prostrate themselves again. Some have traveled this way for as long as a year by foot to come to their holy places. We have visited the magnificent Potala Palace set on a hill in the center of the city. The city resides in a flat valley surrounded on all sides with mountains. The scenery here is magnificent. When we arrived, the mountains surrounding the city were snow-capped, but after the two days of warm sunny weather that we were privileged to experience, all of the snow is melted.

We still have two more days before we return home, but there aren’t enough words to describe the experience. We learned, we climbed, we met wonderful people, we sang, we spent pleasant hours together and we have made memories that will last a lifetime.

Hello from Lijiang

I am in Lijiang China collecting more memories and pictures (of course). It’s a place that has to be seen! We’re having lots of wonderful adventures.

I have temporarily disabled my comments because I am getting hundreds of spam comments every day. Hopefully, I’ll solve that problem when I get back. Meanwhile, if you want to write to me, you can reach me at my gmail address which is the same user name as this blog. I will try to check in every three or four days.

A little bit of this…

This isn’t the first blog entry I’ve written this week. It’s not even the second. Where are the others? That’s what I’d like to know. If someone ever invents a butterfly-net-like device that catches words before they are hurled out into cyberspace oblivion, I would like to be first on the list of buyers.

I am sitting on the cusp of two trips. Having just returned from China at the beginning of the month, I will be leaving for China in two days. This time we will be visiting new places and so my digital camera and video camera are both charged up and waiting. Once again, packing will be a challenge because we are taking supplies for the group.

This has been a good week for our family. My older daughter organized a family hike on a trail not too far from here. Except for Daniel who was playing baseball and for Leah who is great with child and for Yaakov who decided to stay home with his wife (Leah), the whole family was there. It was great to see all of the beautiful little (and big) faces. There are, thank G-d, so many of them! The little cousins don’t really see enough of each other, but for the couple of hours we were all walking and talking and having our picnic lunches, we all were able to enjoy each others’ company.

It has not been as good a week for our country. The Arabs in Gaza (I dislike when people try to blame it on one group when all of them agree that we need to be destroyed) continue to shoot rockets at Sderot. Now for people who don’t know, here’s a piece of information: Sderot is within the “green line.” Sderot has been absorbing attacks for years. In the last year there have been damages to property, serious injuries, and deaths as a result of these rockets. Yet no one seems to know or care. We have a city that is under attack. Adults and children are traumatized by the constant threat of death and nobody cares. How long would that go on in the US? If the Mexicans or Canadians were attacking with rockets a US city several times a day causing death and destruction, how long would it take for the US to respond with enough force to stop it? Wouldn’t Americans be out on the streets demanding government action? Wouldn’t most Americans say that whatever it takes to stop this unprovoked attack must be done? So why is it OK for our innocent people to remain under fire? Why is it that the only response we get from the world is to watch out that we not hurt any of their civilians? Excuse me. They TARGET our civilians. They target schools and shops and restaurants and gas stations and HOMES. And people are worried that we might harm innocent people if we try and put a stop to it? If innocent people on their side are harmed as a result of their attacking us, who is responsible? If I want my children to be safe, I do not go out and blithely attack my neighbor.

And one more thing… My hero for the week is Prof. Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas. He is a Nobel Laureate and you can read about him here.

Jung Chang

Sometimes there are events that happen in one’s life that are unexpected and delightful. Yesterday, I experienced one.

Several months ago, my son Ben lent me a book called “Wild Swans,” an account of a Chinese family that spans the years from the 1920s through the 1970s and their experiences through the Japanese occupation, the Chinese civil war, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” the famine, and the “Cultural Revolution.” The book was so powerful and fascinating that I read it slowly, absorbing every word, and only a week or two ago, began to reread it. So imagine my delight in finding out that the author, Jung Chang, and her husband, Jon Halliday, who have recently published “Mao: The Unknown Story,” were going to be in Tel Aviv at an all day seminar talking about their new book.

The room in which the seminar was to take place was so overpacked that the entire seminar had to be moved to a much larger auditorium. The vice-president of the university quipped that the current students’ strike at least had one positive aspect: there was a vacant auditorium that could be used.

The participants were not disappointed. To say that the day was fascinating would be an egregious understatement. Jung Chang is a woman with such strength and grace and inner beauty. I loved the candor of her presentation. I loved that she introduced her relationship with Israel in terms of a certificate she received from a reader that indicated that the reader had planted trees here in memory of Jung Chang’s family members and that she, Jung Chang, was touched by the gesture and has the framed certificate hanging in her home.

She spoke openly about her feelings as a child and as a young woman and the process she went through in coming to terms with what was happening in China and why it was happening. It was gripping and poignant.

There is a special feeling that I have when I am in the presence of a person who has that kind of courage and strength and openness. In her case, she has openly challenged the Chinese narrative of the Mao years. In the other case, Natan Sharansky defied the Russians and prevailed. To be in the presence of such strength and courage is to feel a power that is almost superhuman.

I was delighted to exchange some words with Jung Chang and was really happy that a friend was present to take a picture of Aaron and me with her and her husband, Jon Halliday.

Jon Halliday & Jung Chang with Rona & Aaron Michelson

Jon Halliday & Jung Chang with Rona & Aaron Michelson

Back from China again!

Last night we returned from a trip with two wonderful groups of Israelis (one English-speaking, one Hebrew speaking) who traveled together. The people were delightful and China was, as always, a magical place. On the last night of the trip, I read them a poorly rhymed, poorly metered piece of doggerel with which I summarized the trip. Some asked for a copy, so here it is:

Shai Bar Ilan Trip to China, April 16 – May 1, 2007

We took off from Israel on a bright sunny morning,
Full of anticipation but up since the dawning.

At last in China we finally arrived,
Excited and happy and already sleep-deprived.

In Beijing saw Cixi’s Summer Palace,
A home more impressive than J.R.’s in Dallas.

The acrobatics show was thrilling
And we sat there all willing
And fervently hopin’
Our eyes would stay open!

And then in the blink of an eye,
There we all were in Shanghai,
From the Jin Mao we looked down
On the skyscrapered town
On the Bund we started to BUY!

(For the first time we heard the holler
“2 for, 3 for, 4 for ONE DOLLAR!”)

We ate at Chabad with the Jews,
On the Huangpu we took a night cruise,
And saw the bright lights
And all of the sights
And later were grateful to take off our shoes.

In the morning we went to the park
And the monument they put up to mark
The Jews who they saved
And the hardships they braved
Because life there was not such a lark.

At YuYuan Market things were hopping
And we occupied ourselves there by shopping.

The City Museum of Shanghai was one of our priorities,
And there we enjoyed costumes of ethnic minorities.

Our bus to Suzhou without much reconnoitering
Came to a factory where women were embroidering.

That evening all of us were entranced
As at Mater of the Nets people sang, played, and danced.

At the Silk Factory we felt only praise
For the jackets and scarves and duvets.

In the Lion Grove Garden we took stock,
Of each building, tree, pond, and rock.

On shabbat in Hangzhou we took a break
And enjoyed all the sights at West Lake.

The Song Dynasty show in the vernacular
Was nothing short of spectacular.

With waterfalls, lasers, acrobatics, and fire
And more action than your heart could desire.

From the pharmacy to the Dragon Well Tea,
We found cures for what ails you and me.

In Guilin we didn’t lie dormant
But went to the river to watch fishing by cormorant.

We enjoyed the vastness of the Reed Flute Cave,
And at the Pearl Factory temptation tried to brave.

We saw the Li River’s karst peaks.
We’ll be talking about them for weeks.

We walked through the village of FuLi
And saw what life there was like truly.

Yang Shuo we felt was a “winner”
As we sat down to a flag-festooned dinner.

And here’s the thing we felt best,
Tho’ we were at the end of the East, our hearts were in the West!

The show on the river provided us sights,
Waves of red, torches, and shimmering lights.

In Kunming the city of spring,
At the temple, Buddhist women did sing.

At the museum we saw an ancient pillar
And cases that looked good for a megill-er.

To see another example of karst,
We drove through hills and valleys to see the Stone Forest.

After seeing the Stone Forest re-gi-on,
We took a flight to Lijiang.

The mountains’ beauty and the fresh air
Made it a delight to be there.

Then we took a walk through the old city
That we couldn’t stay longer was such a pity
At Tiger Leaping Gorge,
I saw my old friend George,
(Not really, but the rhyme fit this ditty.)

We visited the small village of Axi
Which is home to people of the Naxi.

We returned that night to Kunming,
Rested, then for Xian took wing.

There Qin’s army awaited,
As a world class attraction it’s rated.

We’ll tell our friend, our son, and our dotta-
“What a lotta terracotta!”

For those of us who like jade,
Twas fun to see how the figures are made.

In Xian we saw the mosque they use
Modeled after the shul of the Jews.

The music, dancing, and acrobatics impressed us so
When we went to the Tang Dynasty Show.

With our adrenaline still raging,
We boarded a plane for Beijing.

The Temple of Heaven was simply Divine,
The pearl factory had jewelry quite fine.

At the show we saw about Kung Fu,
They did martial arts, acrobatics and sung too!

Before breakfast we wives saw our boys pray
Afterwards to the factory for Cloisonné.

Like Humpty Dumpty, climbed the Great Wall,
Then Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City & THAT’S ALL!!!

Frenzied Shopping

Frenzy.

We are busily assembling all of the items we need to take to China for us and for our group. The process is tiring, but very exciting. It reminds me of that old show I used to love on TV when I was a kid. It was called “supermarket sweep,” and it was a competition to see who could amass the most costly shopping basket full of goods when given 2 minutes free to load up in a supermarket. I remember enjoying watching the people tripping over their own feet to move as fast as possible and grab as many things off the aisles as they could with the ever-ticking clock ready to rob them of their last treasure.

Well, here we are doing a similar kind of running around, but we are not able to find all of the items we need at only one store. In fact, we can’t even find all of the like items in one store. It seems that after-Pesach stocks are limited until weeks of factory production and as a result, we must go from store to store buying the same item at different prices and hoping that ultimately we will find enough.

We are preparing not just to have the essentials, but to “spoil” our group with all sorts of things (that I cannot, for reasons of utmost importance, reveal), so we have bag filled with a variety of items spread down the length of our entry hall, piled on one another. Still having the remains of the boxes of Pesach wines and grape juices, and added to the suitcases at the ready, the place looks like a veritable “going out of business” sale.

But it will all be worth it as we greet a bunch of happy people on Monday morning and set off for a beautiful, magical, wonderful adventure.

China on my mind

Years ago I lived in Georgia– Fort Benning, to be exact– Sigerfoos Road, to be more exact. It was a very beautiful place with tall, lush trees and green green grass. The summers were hot and moist. Thunderstorms were frequent and heavy with the roads populated by puddles the size of swimming pools. One Friday night on the way home from the chapel, I got so wet, I was afraid I would be arrested for indecent exposure.

But all that rain made Georgia beautiful, green, full of flowers and trees. But despite that, it didn’t really “keep Georgia on my mind.” When we moved away, it became a very lovely memory.

What was on my mind then, on my mind from the time I was about 12, was Israel and my longing to live here. At 12, it was only a vague dream. It was like wanting to go to the moon long before there were moon landings. The possibility was remote, unattainable.

When I married and my husband’s plans were to retire in Israel, it still seemed remote. When you are 20, twenty years in the future might as well be eternity. But Israel “was always on my mind.”

Wel, the dream came true and I have been living here for the last 11 years and every day I am grateful to be here. We may not get the rain we got in Georgia, but the land is green and fruitful and blossoming. What’s more, here, even rain is a blessing. I am where I need to be. I am content.

However, there is another place that has a special place in my heart. We have traveled a bit in the last few years and enjoyed every trip, but for me, China is the most magnificent place to visit. It probably has to do with the beauty of the countryside, the temples and gardens, the karst mountains and rock formations, the picuresque rice fields, the little villages on the water, and the haunting music and dance. I think that what captivates me the most is the Chinese people. They are friendly, happy people. They are warm and helpful, whether they are service personnel or whether they are people on the street. They smile and seem to enjoy life. They are beautiful. I suppose, in a way, I have fallen in love.