Shanghai, China

If you have never been to Shanghai, get ready for some amazing surprises! Shanghai is a big, modern city with an estimated population of about 20 million.

It is a city with striking contrasts.

The Pearl of the Orient Tower as seen from the YuYuan Garden

It is a city with an intricate road system, sometimes comprising 5 levels of road!

and famous shopping areas like Nanjing Road

It is the home of the YuYuan Garden which dates back 400 years and has all of the elements of a traditional Chinese garden- plants, rocks, buildings, and water.

The Jin Mao Tower used to be the tallest building in Shanghai. Although it is a skyscraper, it contains some elements of Chinese design. You an read more about it here. From its observation deck, one can have a bird’s eye view of the city on a clear day. These school children are attempting that…

The current tallest building in Shanghai is the Shanghai World Financial Center.

The Shanghai World Financial Center building is very impressive and seems to change shapes as one drives around Shanghai and sees if from different angles. You can learn more about it here.

China is still growing and under construction is the Shanghai Tower that when finished will have 128 stories.

Here is a poster that depicts the skyline when the new tower is built.

From left to right: Jin Mao, World Financial Center, Shanghai Tower

Next time: Jewish Shanghai, remnants of Jewish history in China

Tea Garden, Yad Natan, Israel

Live in Israel? Want a get-away that relaxes without having to take out a mortgage? I may have found the place for you.

We purchased a night at the Tea Garden in Yad Natan (located on route 35 between Kiryat Gat and Ashqelon) and were very pleased with what we got.

The ride was pleasant and when we arrived, our cabin was waiting. We entered the reception area and saw immediately that there was a Chinese theme. Of course, I love all things that remind me of my trips to China, so I immediately felt at home. We were told to go and deposit our belongings in the cabin and to come back sans jewelry for our massages.

We entered this room

The camera lies a bit since there was very little light in the room and everything was very quiet. There were two massage tables in the room. We got ready for the massage, and then the masseuses came in. Since we had never done this before, we had only our experience of a Cambodian massage to compare it to. This was quite different. They used warm oil to massage us, a very pleasant sensation, and although I am the kind of person who usually doesn’t like other people touching me, I became totally relaxed and really enjoyed the experience. After a couple of minutes, they switched on some very relaxing music as well.

Once finished with the massage, we were given silk Chinese robes and slippers to wear back to our cabin.

This is my husband in the living room of the cabin, wearing the Chinese silk robe. Since we had left home late because of waiting for a repairman all day, I thought that instead of looking for restaurant once we were at the Tea Garden, I would bring some of the food we had left over from shabbat, namely some roast beef, sandwich makings and some fruit, so I grabbed some food and put it into a cooler. When we got to the cabin, we ate dinner.

Waiting for us after dinner was another treat, a jacuzzi in the bedroom with rose petals and candles and wine.

After a long soak in the jacuzzi and a glass of the sweet bubbly wine, I was as relaxed as I have ever been in my life. Even thinking about it now gives me a relaxed, calm feeling. Of course they had balloons there too, maybe in celebration of our anniversary. In the living room was a wide screen TV that received YES satellite programs as well as an efficiency kitchen with fridge, microwave, and hot pot. There were tea bags, instant and Turkish coffee, sugar, sweeteners, and coffee lightener. Already prepared for us was a pot of tea warming over a candle and some lemonade. There were some cookies as well.

In the morning, they served us breakfast on our porch- omelettes, salad, cheeses, and bread. We had coffee from our room. It was quiet and relaxing.

Although the place was not luxurious, and the decor was pleasant, though not elegant, we had a wonderful time and plan to return. It is charming and a wonderful place to just get away.

You can reach them at 0773312633

Note: We were paying guests and were not asked to write this.

Ah, Vietnam

I love traveling. One of my favorite places is Vietnam. I know that I have written in detail about one of our tours, but there is so much more to say. One of the things that makes traveling particularly pleasurable is the learning aspect. Different cultures really are different. The culture of Vietnam is very special. It has all of the modesty and beauty of the Orient combined with French influence. Vietnam has lived through difficult times, but the people are amazingly resilient. And, there are surprises around every corner.

For example, in the lobby of our hotel we saw a lovely arrangement of flowers. It was only as I looked a little more carefully that I saw that among the flowers there were cabbages!

Centerpiece in lobby at Rex Hotel, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Leaving the hotel that morning, we came upon the following scene.

Some people thought that we were seeing a parade. There were people in white uniforms who were playing music and there was what looked like a float at the front.

But people were fascinated when we told them that what we were seeing was a funeral. A dignified funeral in Vietnam consists of a parade with music, mourners often wearing cheesecloth over their clothes or faces walking along the route, and an intricately decorated hearse.

We were on our way to the Mekong delta. On the way we stopped at a rest stop. There we encountered another surprise- a beautiful garden.

This garden was not adjacent to the rest stop. It was the rest stop. There were outdoor pavilions where people can eat and a beautiful, elegant shop with reasonable prices as well as clean bathrooms (Western style.)

The garden with a pavilion in the background

Our visit to the Mekong Delta was very lovely. We ended the visit with a delightful boat ride back to our bus.

This is the life!

Where do *you* go?

Many years ago, in faraway lands (the US and Germany), I taught childbirth preparation classes. They consisted of anatomy and physiology and the basics of the birth process and becoming new parents. Most of the time was spent on giving my students techniques for reducing the pain of labor. I was eclectic in my approach and took techniques from several different theories as well as devising some of my own.

One aspect of pain reduction is relaxation and I copied from a book, perhaps Husband Coached Childbirth, an exercise that I read to the couples (yes, I had the husbands relaxing too) while they relaxed on the mats on the floor. It contained images that would help a person focus on another place and experience to distract them from some of the tension in their body.

I am long past the childbirth stage. I have, however, used many of the techniques over the years for uncomfortable medical and dental procedures. Sometimes, I use the images to simply reduce tension. Sometimes I use them just to make me happy.

So here are just some of the places I go– in no particular order:

1. A Chinese garden. Once of my favorites is the “Good Luck” Garden in Hangzhou, China. Not only is it lush and green and with some of the trees decorated with red ribbons, but it contains lovely sculptures and has beautiful Chinese music playing in the background. It’s a first class stress-reliever.

Good Luck Garden

Good Luck Garden

Liu Hai and the Golden Toad

Looking through a doorway

2. Bamboo raft ride on the Martha Brae in Jamaica. Sorry, this was in the days before digital photography! You’ll have to picture nearly still water with trees of all sorts on both banks of the river forming almost a canopy over us and lush vegetation everywhere. Except for the sounds of the birds, and the gentle poling of the gentleman taking us on this ride, there was silence. A fine mist contributed to making the experience magical.

3. Halong Bay in Vietnam. It is beautiful– breathtaking, actually.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

4. The Rice Terraces at YuanYang, China. They are majestic. There’s something very clean and pure about the fresh stalks of rice, planted in rows, sculptured into the landscape.

Rice Terraces

Rice Terraces

5. Austria, just south of Salzburg. It’s just beautiful. I love the snow-capped mountains and this really isn’t a painting. It’s a picture I took myself in the month of May.

So tell me, where do you go??

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 12


Yes, folks, we are back for our next adventure, but first let’s carry on with this one and then I will tell you about the next one.

We drove through the Hai Van Pass, a very impressive ride when the weather is clear. Unfortunately, the weather was rainy and foggy, so all we saw was the condensation on our windows and the fog in front of the bus which made us gasp from time to time.

By the time we got to Hue, it was already time for me to go to the restaurant to supervise dinner. My husband went on with the group to the Perfume River and the Thien Mu Pagoda, both of them very lovely.

The kitchen staff was wonderful, anxious to please. Of course, having no common language offered a bit of a challenge, but how could I become frustrated when they took me to the special room they had set up for us with Israeli flags on the tables?

So, I watched carefully and as usual, checked every item that was used in the preparation of the food. One man sat for over an hour sculpting carrots and this was the result:

Artistry in food

Artistry in food

When served at the table, it looked like this:

Pineapple, carrot, and garlic creation

Pineapple, carrot, and garlic creation

The next morning, the light rain continued and we took a walk through the wet and slippery, but very beautiful Forbidden City in Hue, dated from 1804. The city is reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty Forbidden City in Beijing, China, but the architecture is more delicate and understated. Here is one of the gates:

A gate in the Forbidden City, Hue

A gate in the Forbidden City, Hue

We walked through gardens and saw beautiful buildings.

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

The Forbidden City, Hue

And then before we knew it, we were on our way to the big, bustling city of Saigon, officially known as Ho Chi Minh City.

Next stop: The Mekong Delta as you never imagined it.


Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 7

To see the previous page, go here

Which is, in fact, appropriate, since the seventh part corresponds to our first shabbat away.

The kabbalat shabbat service that began our shabbat together was really very beautiful. All of our travelers were dressed in their nice clothing and the women ranged from lovely to elegant. The table was set with tablecloths and napkins and the tea candles were lit. We all were one family as we said the traditional prayers and sat in a leisurely manner to eat our meal. Having moved so far and so fast, all of us welcomed the sabbath rest.

In the morning, we gathered for services. We had noticed that another Israeli group was staying at our hotel. We had seen these people in Hanoi and would see them again when we got to Cambodia. We hoped that some of the men might join us for services as we had only 7 men. Well, two men did show up, not at the same time, and both of them had the same response when I asked them if they would like me to being them a siddur (prayerbook) “I just came in for a few minutes to feel the shabbat atmosphere.” After services, we had kiddush and ate breakfast. After breakfast, it was time to change clothes and go for our shabbat walk up Ham Rong Mountain.

I would love to post photos of Ham Rong Mountain, but I have only climbed it on shabbat when I am unable to take pictures. The mountain begins its slope in the center of town up a steep flight of steps. We passed by stores and stalls selling herbs and plants that are used medicinally. We passed stalls where they were selling a type of liquor that had coiled snakes at the bottom of the bottle and sometimes scorpion-type creatures. None of us was tempted to buy.

As we ascended the mountain, a nature preserve, we were treated to the most magnificent experience. There was a slight drizzle that covered all of the bushes and trees and grasses with silvery droplets. The rocks and plants and paths and fountains and the areas that were planted with flowers were nothing short of exquisite. There was a freshness to the air and the fragrance of the plants and trees was intoxicating. As we walked, we heard the sound of music and as we approached a house on stilts, our local guide asked if we wanted to go in. We said, “Of course.” We didn’t realize that what was inside was a folklore show with music and dancing. The last number involved the men holding long thick bamboo poles parallel to the floor just above floor level and moving them back and forth as the women dancers avoided stepping on them. Then, both the men and women took up the dance. Finally, they invited us to participate and one of our brave travelers actually went and danced with the troupe! (He was great!!)

After the hike, we had a short time to rest before we got together again for mincha (the afternoon service), dinner (salad, the cholent that had been cooking since Friday afternoon and some delicious fruit salad!) and finally maariv (the evening service) and havdalah (the service that ends shabbat.)

What a wonderful, beautiful shabbat– and what a pleasure to finally have nothing go wrong for a change!

Next time we answer these important questions: Where can one buy a water buffalo, what do you do if you’re in traditional dress and want to ride on a motor scooter, and most important– what is that little girl doing to my husband’s beard?

For more of the adventure go here

Rona & Aaron’s Excellent Adventure, Part 3

For what happened before, look here

Although I was of college age when the Vietnam War was taking place and people were demonstrating, some of them obsessing about every day’s battles, I was oblivious. I remained oblivious even when I got married and moved to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my husband was serving as a chaplain in the US Army. Sure, I knew that we had guys being shipped out to ‘Nam, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the news, being somewhat self-absorbed. So, all I knew of Hanoi was that it was where the bad guys were and there was a woman who they called, “Hanoi Hannah” broadcasting nasty, morale-breaking things to our guys

Well, the Hanoi that I have come to know and, yes, love over the last couple of years is a bustling, busy city filled with interesting sights and sounds. During our day there we went to visit the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh. It is a tasteful building into which people enter after passing through full security and leaving their cameras checked. People file in a single line, taking off their hats, walking silently into the building , ascending the stairs to the left, turning right and then right again and filing past Ho Chi Minh who is lit dimly and appears to still be alive. We walked the length of the coffin, then turning left, across the front and then turning left once again along the other side, filing out of the room, making two rights, and then going down the stairs. Something about the silence and the dim lighting with the soldiers standing at attention made the experience feel very dignified. Although he was a formidable foe, in the way he is revered in his own country, there is a sense of honor. Always depicted in photos and statuary as being with the children, he is seen as “Uncle Ho” who loved the children.

Ho Chi Minh's Tomb

Ho Chi Minh's Tomb

His tastes were simple. When he gained power, he was entitled to use the magnificent palatial edifice erected by the French when they were the colonial power. Instead, he lived in three sparse rooms for a period of several years until those around him explained to him that it was not an honor to the country for their leader to be so humbly housed. Then they built him a house on stilts, characteristic of Vietnamese architecture in the countryside. It also was quite humble, with just two rooms upstairs– an office and a bedroom– and eating and reception space exposed to the elements beneath it. It was fashioned of fine wood and is very attractive, but not at all the type of home one would expect for the head of a large country. Vietnam is now, by some estimates, a country of 87 million people!

On the grounds of the complex that housed his two homes and the palace, there was a pond where carp were raised. He would clap his hands and the carp would come to the surface to eat. There were also trees that bore fruit and the people of Hanoi were permitted to come and pick fruit.

Adjacent to Ho Chi Minh’s home is the One Pillar Pagoda, an interesting structure with a similarly interesting story. Around the entire area are beautifully landscaped gardens.

After leaving the Ho Chi Minh complex, we went to the Temple of Literature. It was there in the early 11th Century that Vietnam’s first university was founded. You can read more about it here. As our group walked through the front gate, Mrs. Mai, the woman who heads up our operations in Vietnam and Cambodia arrived to talk to me.

Entrance Gate, Temple of Literature

Entrance Gate, Temple of Literature

The group proceeded with the local guide and my husband. I stayed behind to talk to Mrs. Mai and to try and work out our plans. She had to have me sign permission for her people to pick up the luggage when it arrived from Hong Kong. It was due to arrive on the same flight as we had arrived on the day before. That meant that it would likely not be ready for pick up until at least 5 p.m. and with traffic, getting it in time for our people to be able to repack — getting out their winter clothing and putting it in their small luggage– in anticipation of our weekend train trip up north was problematic. I also was worried by the fact that she told me they only had paperwork on 11 of the 14 suitcases because I had not given them my baggage stickers until after they had done the paperwork– so although they had stickers for 14 suitcases, they only had paperwork for 11! I told her that it was really important to get specifically those bags because we had packed a substantial amount of food in them including our challot for shabbat and other essential food supplies that we needed to take with us up north. She said, “If there is food in your suitcase you will not get it.” I said, “I won’t get the food?” She said, “You won’t get the suitcase; they will just not send anything.”

She left with the papers. I left with the worry. But would they find the food? If so, would they send the suitcase? and also, why was it that on that Thursday, everywhere we went we saw brides? The answers to these questions (well, to a couple of them) and some pictures of the brides in the next exciting episode.

To continue, go here

Kunming, China

While most people can name a couple of cities they know in China– usually Beijing, Shanghai, Nanking, and Harbin, China has hundreds of large cities that most people in the West have never heard of. One such city is Kunming. With a population of approximately 6.2 million, it is a substantial city with a great deal of industry and some major significance. It is the capital of Yunnan Province and is the gateway to come of the most picturesque places in China. It has a population of about 20% ethnic minorities. China has 55 ethnic minority groups. Some of them have a large number of smaller groups within them, some of which feel that they have been miscategorized. In all, these groups make for a fascinating and colorful experience as they have their own dress, customs, languages, religions, and histories as well as a claim on specific areas of land.

Kunming is called the “Spring City” or the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its wonderful mild weather. Foreign students flock here to study Chinese language and traditional Chinese medicine.

Here is a view of part of the city center.

Gate, City Center, Kunming, China

Gate, City Center, Kunming, China

Although most Chinese people are not devoutly religious, they do have beliefs in higher powers and many think of themselves as Buddhist or Taoist. Many also have adopted the Confucian philosophy. Many Chinese see no contradiction among these three and are adherents to all three. Here is a very beautiful Buddhist Temple. It differs from most because one actually enters and then descends toward the main complex. The picture was taken looking back toward the entrance gate.

Gate,  Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

Gate, Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

The temple was built late in the 8th century, but, of course, preserved through the years. Here is some detail of one of the buildings as it was being refurbished recently. It is made of wood with lacquered paint to decorate it. All of the painting is hand done.

Detail of building in Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

Detail of building in Yuantong Temple, Kunming, China

What could be more relaxing after a day of looking at all of this beauty than sitting with a cup of tea. We were treated to both the tea and an explanation of the significance of this particular type, Puer tea, which is formed into large wheels of tea (about the size of a frisbee) and sold to parents when their daughter is a baby and preserved until she is betrothed as a gift for her husband. Puer tea can heal just about everything and we were told that if we were to have a steady diet of it, our skin would look as young as that of this lovely lady who served us tea in her ethnic dress.

Tea tasting, Kunming, China

Tea tasting, Kunming, China


Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou, China

A visit to a Chinese garden is an experience everyone should have. Chinese gardens are exciting and lush, while at the same time relaxing and inspiring. They are full of contradictions and full of surprises and mostly, full of beauty.

All traditional Chinese gardens share four elements: buildings, stones, water, and plants. Chinese gardens are a microcosm. The stones, collected for their sizes and shapes, sometimes put in creeks for a period of a year or two or three to refine their shapes, represent mountains. The ponds represent the seas. Unlike the gardens we see in Europe that consist chiefly of plants, these gardens combine the textures of plants and stone and wood and marble and stucco. Unlike the gardens of Europe that feature lots of flowers in brilliant colors, Chinese gardens are shades of green, colored by the leaves of their trees. Unlike European gardens which are manicured and symmetrical, Chinese gardens are wild looking and full of variety.

Today I will show you some pictures of the Lion Grove Garden in Suzhhou, China. Suzhou is known as a garden city or “Venice of the East.” Indeed, Marco Polo reputedly so named it. The city has canals like Venice and being poled through the canals of Suzhou is a uniquely beautiful experience. Suzhou is home to many magnificent gardens. The Lion Grove Garden is only one example. It once belonged to the grandparents of the noted architect, I. M. Pei. A visit there is something that can refresh and renew you for years.

A place of tranquility

A place of tranquility

A walkway in the garden

A walkway in the garden

Always new views

Always new views

Looking across the pond

Looking across the pond

A surprise view from a hole in a rock

A surprise view from a hole in a rock

A tranquil view of the pond and the walkway across it

A tranquil view of the pond and the walkway across it

Come join me in China for a tour of some magnificent gardens!

What you might not know about China

1. Most people think that because China is a populous country wherever you go there are hundreds of people. In fact, the streets of China are no more crowded than the streets of Jerusalem or Washington or London. In addition, the Chinese people love gardens and so there are vast gardens in the center of cities throughout China including Beijing and Shanghai. They are enjoyed by local residents as well as visitors and always feature a pond or larger body of water.

2. Many people think of China as a harsh place. In fact, the Chinese are friendly, welcoming people. They love visitors from overseas and they enjoy using whatever English they have to make conversation. They are warm and kind people.

3. People worry about anti-Semitism when they travel. They won’t find it in China. Chinese people think of Jews as the other great ancient civilization and they admire Jewish scholarship, ingenuity, and ambition. In fact, Chinese parents are very much like Jewish parents in that they value their children and they value educating their children and will sacrifice everything to give their children an excellent education.

4. People think of Chinese music as discordant. It is not so. Chinese music is many different things. It is Beijing Opera, but it is also the haunting flute melodies that one sometimes hears when walking through gardens. There is no place in my memory that rivals the gentle flute music in the Good Luck Garden in Hangzhou. Walking there was a truly spiritual experience.

The Good Luck Garden

The Good Luck Garden

Also, there are wonderful innovative Chinese artists like this one.

In short, China is better than you can imagine. It is the perfect place to travel. Come along with me!

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