Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Trip to Linz, Austria, for RTLWS 2007

5:36 pm Austria time, November 1, 2007, Linz Austria
Ok, I got up at 4:30 am Guadalajara time yesterday to finish packing and get to the airport for a 7:40 am flight. On arriving to the airport, I soon found out that the plane would arrive at least 1 hour late. Well, it ended up being two hours late, with the confusion about where the pilot should taxi. The pilot came on the PA announcing that he had received "conflicting information" from different persons in the control tower, and that we could NOT push back until it was resolved. I had never heard a pilot so directly badmouth the ground crew or control tower. Well, that ended up being over a 1/2 hour extra in and of itself. I bet it would have been a five minute delay if they had not been trying to blame each other. So, we were on our way to Atlanta about 20 till 10, about 2 hours late. I though, hey, no problem, my layover is 4.5 hours.

In Atlanta, we taxied for what seemed like forever, stopping for some long period waiting to cross runways, etc. They did not have a normal gate for us, and for the first time in the US, we were greeted by a scissor bus, the kind that can raise up to the plane. So, that just means extra time. Another first, at least some airlines at some airports are now checking luggage through when the origin and destination are both international, BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH CUSTOMS WITH CARRY ONS EVEN THOUGH YOU WILL NOT ENTER THE US. And of course I still had to go through immigration. It seemS our bumbling "homeland" security department only wants to help the foreign airlines be more competitive against our "homeland" airlines. After getting through immigration and customs, then we were greeted by the longest line I have ever seen to get through security. With originally a four hour layover, I only made it to the gate 10 minutes before boarding, just enough time to grab a burger.

At the airport in Atlanta there were troops everywhere. Looking at their face I figured out that they were probably going to Iraq. I talked to one, and sure enough, they were headed for Iraq. He said that yes, they were going to Iraq, and he wished he could hide and not get on the plane. I really did not know what to say, but I thanked him for his service and said that I wished it could be different, that he did not have to go to Iraq. But, all of those guys with the long faces, dressed up in uniform, getting ready to serve their country, was very touching, though sad.

On the plane, I was surrounded by missionaries going to some country north of Afghanistan that I do not remember. They were actually VERY nice people, and I hope that they can help out a bit. It was interesting, they did not know what Linux was, but they were aware of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) program, and had tried to get some, but they will be a shortage for some time after production starts. You will only be able to get one by buying two and donating one, or buying 100,000. We plan to buy four, to get two for Ricardo and Adelina. Well, the missionaries did not seem too worried about being decapitated, but I am not sure if I would like to go where they were going.

By the way, the Airbus A340-600 has bathrooms downstairs, but not the A340-300 that I flew in this time.

This time I went through passport control, but not customs in Frankfurt. Since my flight Germany to Austria is like a national flight (Schengen Agreement), I had to exit the international area to get on that flight. I arrived in Austria only a little late. At the airport, I figured out that I could take a bus to the central train station, then the tram to the end of the line where the University is. From the end of the line (right across from the University), I had the trusty map I printed from Google Maps, and it was very simple to find the hotel. One of the old trams is show below:

The Hotel is run by the University and has some dormitories and some hotel rooms. The rooms were actually quite large and there was a bed, 2 desks, and a couch. The bathroom was a manufactured bathroom kind of like a molded tub kit, but it was the WHOLE BATHROOM made out of about 5 pieces, the roof, the floor, and three wall pieces. Very small, but actually quite cute and functional - and bright orange. Oh, and the best part, free wired Internet!! The room is in a circular wing and is wedge shaped, about 15 feet at the window, down to about 5 feet at the door.

Peter (one of the organizers) called me at about 7:00 pm, and we jumped on the tram to go see the downtown and get a bite to eat. The downtown is beautiful, with lots of shops and restaurants. I had a lot of fun talking to Peter about the culture in Europe. Peter is originally from Austria, has a French wife, and they now live in England. He said that Austria (and even France) is very title oriented, and it is not just what you know, but what your title is. Even if they know your abilities, they can not pay you more than your title allows. England he said, is very much less title oriented, and you can get jobs based on your abilities. Well, even in England or the US, your title gets you in the door.

Last night I ran into Siro from Kenya and some of the Chinese that I met in China last year. Siro can speak perfect English, Spanish, Swahili, and Abagusii (his native language). Ricardo remembers him from China and he talked to him some in Spanish, and Siro let him use his computer at times. Siro is actually now in China working with the real-time Linux group in Lanzhou.

Thomas Gleixner, another of the China attendees, is also here. I found out that he has a couple of the OLPCs (One Laptop Per Child) and has been contributing to the project, making sure the tick-less timer he wrote for the mainline kernel also works for the OLPC. The OLPC needs it so save energy. Thomas is shown in fine form below, at his best discussing Linux over beer:

The next day (Thursday), I met some of the people in the dining room that were at the conference in China last year, and I then went with them to the University. I helped to carry things in and set up, and in general get ready for the start of the conference the next day. In the afternoon, I took a hike up above the University with Peter. It was absolutely beautiful with the leaves turning color, and there is a very old train right-of-way that was for horse drawn trains.

One of the common quick food places in Austria is pizza and typically also with Gyro type meat on one side of the oven for sandwiches. The pizzas are all precooked, and then they heat them up in an extra hot oven when you order. No matter where you go, it seems like the pizzas are about the same size and it costs 2.20 euros for a 1/4 pizza. Of course lots of stand-up frankfurter / bratwurst stands with great sauerkraut and bread. You can even buy beer and stand and drink it on the street. They have McDonald's, but NO Burger Kings.

Thursday night - about as exciting as it gets. I thought I would be nice and go to the airport to meet Alex and Oscar. The tram was running, but, on arriving to the central station, I found out that this being a holiday in Austria (All Saints Day), the bus to the airport was not running. The nice woman at the information desk, being very helpful, told me no problem, I was lucky, the train was coming in 10 minutes, and there was a free shuttle from one of the stations to the airport. I went to the train ticket office and purchased a ticket, telling him that I wanted to go to the airport station and then use the free shuttle. At the station, I would find a "free" phone to call the airport. I boarded the train on platform 9, and soon we were under way. The conductor came by soon and punched my ticket, but could not speak any English. As luck would have it, the group of girls sitting across from me spoke English, and looked at my ticket, and confirmed I was on the right train, and would get off in about 10 minutes. When I heard the station announced, I confirmed with the group of girls, that this was correct, and then got up to get off. I opened the door and looked out, but the station looked strangely very dark and silent. Looking up, I saw the name of the station, and it matched my ticket so I decided to get off. Getting off the train there were almost no lights, and no phones in site, just a small warming room, and some stairs at the end. I was not very comfortable, and was standing there with one hand on the door handle wondering if I should get back on. Just then, the train started moving, and I did not have much choice. Below you can see the lonely station:

Looking around, I realized I was in the middle of nowhere, and this was likely a commuter station, with a parking lot outside, but no cars. There was nothing that looked like a "free" phone, only one public phone on the other side in a "superman" booth. I walked down the stairs, crossed under, and came back on the side with the phone. I looked for a free number for calling the airport, but nothing. I continued looking around the station and found an electronic ticket machine in the warming booth, with schedules on the wall. I went back to the phone booth, and looked again, but it did not have any slots for money, and the card slot did not accept my credit cards. I walked down and outside, and could not see any houses in sight. So, I decided this was not working out and I would just buy a ticket and take the next train back, letting Alex and Oscar fend for themselves, as there was no way for me to get to the airport on time now. Only problem, according to the schedule, almost NO trains stopped at this little station, and it was over an hour until the next train stopped. It was also quite cold and I was not well dressed. Well, I purchased the ticket for 1.60 euros, not wanting to argue with a conductor that might not speak English, that it was not my fault and I should not have to pay. So, I walked briskly back and forth the distance of the platform to keep warm, not wanting to leave in case a train came early. There were a number of trains that came by, some freight, some passenger, and some combos, but NONE stopped. The trains came so fast, there was virtually no way to flag them down, and they probably would ignore me anyway. After over an hour, a train came by about the scheduled time, but did NOT stop. I waited another 15 minutes, thinking the train was late, but nothing. Maybe with the holiday, the schedule was cut short or something. I finally decided I needed to cut to the chase and figure out a way to get out of there. I did not want to spend the night walking back and forth and I did not like the idea of walking, not knowing which way to go and whether I would find a house. I decided the best option was to call the free emergency number for the police, explain my plight, and ask them to send a taxi. A nice gentle man answered the phone, but could only speak broken English, but understood the station I was at and that I wanted a taxi. He was insisting on sending a police car, saying he had to make sure where I was. I would think they would have caller ID and know exactly where I was. Well, he told me to wait in the station. A little over a half hour later, two nice policemen arrived, but apparently did not understand why they had been called, and were asking me questions in broken English. I showed them my ticket with the station number, pointing at the station name, and said I thought it was the wrong station for the airport. Finally, I just said "TAXI", and they looked at each other and said "aaahhh, taxi". They went back to the police car, and used the radio, I assume asking for a taxi, then waved and left. Well, about a half an hour later, a taxi shows up. The driver knew how to speak English, and also how to charge foreigners. It was 47 euros back to the central station. Taking the tram back to the hotel, I found Alex and Oscar just finishing to check in.

Friday and Saturday were the main days for the conference, and I will spare you the technical details of real-time Linux. The most exciting part was Thomas Gleixner (the kernel developer adding real-time capabilities to the mainline kernel) tearing into the real-time Linux distribution companies. He is upset that they do to much back-porting of new drivers and other things to old kernels instead of just updating to a new kernel and helping test the new kernel. His point is that the creating and doing the back-ports is a lot more complicated than updating to newer kernels, and the patches for the back-ports are actually quite a bit bigger than the diffs for the newer kernels. He would like to see them help the community test the newer kernels, and he says it would be cheaper for them anyway. Well, Thomas was never one to shy away from a good argument. And, that is of course the way of Linux, nothing hidden, all of the fights in public. Kind of like our government as compared to communists where all the fighting is behind closed doors.

We went out on the town both Friday and Saturday night with the group. I got to talk to some Serbs that actually DROVE from Serbia to attend. They told me that the main reason they came was to listen to my talks about light rail control and safety critical systems with open source, though I think they were being nice to me. They want me to come to Serbia, and I just might be able to do that. They have money at the University of Guadalajara for doing research with other professors, minimum 6 week stays. Well, I will start trying to figure out if I am eligible for next summer. You just never know where life will lead you!!!!

Oh, on Saturday night, we went to a MEXICAN restaurant with the Serbs. It was VERY different from Mexican restaurants in either the US or Mexico. I got a chicken Burrito and it was a huge flour tortilla with strips of chicken, green beans, peas, carrots, in a funny tomato sauce. The tortilla was just folded in half, NOT wrapped like in the US. And, they guy across from me ordered fajitas, for which they used the same meat, vegetables, and sauce as the burrito!! The sauce they put on the table seemed to be ketchup based with a hint of Tabasco sauce thrown in. Well, I do NOT think I will ever bother trying Mexican food in Austria again!!!

Another thing, the Real-Time Linux Workshop will be in Colotlán, Mexico next year, and the two Mexicans that I know (Oscar and Alex) came to present what we were planning. Alex gave an extremely good presentation in English. It sometimes surprises me to see how well some Mexicans can speak English when I have have always talked to them in Spanish. I think for Oscar and Alex, it was much easier communicating with Europeans in English than with Americans which tend to use a lot of slang, and run a lot of words together.

Sunday, there were no events for the RTLWS, but there were for the joint conference which was the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum, so there were a lot less people. The lunch was absolutely delicious, with slices of pork roast in gravy, a huge dumpling, sauerkraut with caraway seeds, broth with vegetables, and fresh bread.

After the meal, we took the Chinese and the Mexicans up on the hill where the old train right of way was. Another VERY beautiful day. I then went into town with Alex and Oscar.

Monday, I think that the jet lag and general lack of sleep finally kicked in for Alex and Oscar, and they came out for breakfast, then spent the morning sleeping, while I worked in my room and answered email. I also did not get as much sleep as I did in China, where I always had Ricardo as an excuse to not stay out late. Oscar and Alex had return tickets from Vienna, so they decided to check out of the hotel, and go to Vienna in the afternoon. So, I went into town with them and they wanted to see at least a couple of more things downtown before leaving. I left them at Mozart's house, so I could go see the Church on the hill that I had been noticing since I arrived.

I took Line 3 of the tram to the end, then walked across the street to the station for the train that goes up the hill to the Church. It was not a cog train as I had thought, even though the tracks were quite steep. It was a very old electric, single car train that went very SLLLOOOOOWWW up the hill (buh bump, buh bump, buh bump . . . . ). Below you can see a picture of me standing next to the train, followed by a short video:


The views were quite spectacular. At the top, things were mostly closed since it was off season, and a weekday. For me, this was best, since there were no crowds, and the views were just as beautiful. I found a fancy restaurant open and got the best cup of coffee in the world along with an absolutely delicious fruit/nut bread.

I had a round trip ticket to get back, but on talking to the waiter, I decided to just walk back down. I was glad that I chose to do so, as the views are much better walking and the exercise and cool air were very refreshing. I stopped and sat with an elderly Austrian gentleman that said hello to me and was sitting on a bench beside the trail. We sat and talked for about half an hour. At first, he was searching for words and could not talk so well, but he slowly warmed up, and by the time I left, he was talking almost like a native. Ok, well, not quite that good. He explained that it had been two years since he spoke very much English, and that he was very rusty, and it took him a while to get back into the swing. I told him it was so beautiful here that they should have to pay extra for the privilege!! He told me that he would not want to live anywhere else.

Well, we are over the Atlantic ocean, somewhere below Rikyvik, and another window just popped up warning me of a low battery, saying I only have 10 minutes. The guy next to me is from Denmark, and is going to a convenience store conferefnce in the US. He helps manage gas stations and convenience stores in Denmark. The convenience store - 7-11. He said, that like in Mexico, 7-11 is exploding in Europe. Well, we have 4 or 5 hours to go. The guy from Denmark noticed that the trip Frankfurt to Atlanta is 10 and a half hours, but the trip Atlanta to Frankfurt is 8 and a half hours. He was asking me if I knew why, but I can only speculate it is favorable jet streams for the Atlanta to Frankfurt leg. I will have to check!! Somebody just smoked in the restroom, and they were making sure we knew it was against federal law. It must be really addicting for someone to risk getting arrested to smoke on an airplane!!

Ok, I am now down to 5 minutes and had better get this thing turned off before I lose power!!

I am here at the Atlanta airport now, and a new feature is that they have a Delta recharge station where you can recharge laptops and cell phones, and of course a place to sit and work. I am going to work on cleaning up and clarifying the text so I can post it when I get back to Guadalajara. I will also cut down a couple of the pictures for putting on my blog.

I am now on the plane from Atlanta to Guadalajara. It is an old Douglas MD-88. A very smooth plane, showing the years, but the great thing is that they have two wide exit rows that are just like first class for those of us with a thin arse. Like the fine old 727, I am sure we won't see this one in service much longer, though it has served us well!

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

My Trip to Bulgaria

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007, 4:45 pm Guadalajara 11:45 Pm Sofia
Somewhere over Arkansas
Ok it is a nice Plane A340/600 Airbus, cup holders, bathrooms downstairs, but funny seats. This Should be about a 10 hour flight to Frankfurt, definatly not as exiting a flight over the North Pole to China. Also the Germans are pretty wierd with the coffee. For the first two rounds with the drink cart NO COFFEE!! Then a round with Wine, later water and Coke, then FINALLY coffee!! But a tiny little cup and NO return trip!! Well the coffee Wasn't that important but it was funny!! We are now over Canada north of New York. We will arrive in Frankfurt in about 6.5 hours.

Here in Frankfurt and so far nobody has asked for a Passport. You Would think that the first thing would be imigration!

Thursday, September 26, 2007, Sofia Bulgaria.

On the passport thing. I guess at Frankfurt, in the airport, you are in an international area when you get off an airplane, and only have to show your passport and go through customs if you want to LEAVE the airport. I guess that makes sense since Germany is so small and there are very few national flights. That way, they do not have to mess around with customs and immigration if you only have a layover in Frankfurt. You would think that the US would get a clue and have an international area at the airports where you did not have to go through customs or immigration. I do know that US airlines lose a lot of business because Mexicans do not want to go through the hassles of a US visa that would be required to take a US airline to Europe. So, the business goes to European airlines that fly out of Mexico City to Europe. I actually took Continental to Houston, then Lufthansa on to Frankfurt and on to Sofia.

Well, I just checked into the hotel as shown above. Bulgaria is very beautiful, but, my arrival was less than optimal. First, Continental completely screwed up my baggage, sending it to Newark, New Jersey, instead of transferring it to Lufthansa. They said my bags will be sent to Milan, and then on to Bulgaria, arriving at the absolute earliest tomorrow night. So, I spent hours in the airport, first waiting and looking for my bags which never arrived, then waiting in a long line to report them missing. After finishing with the very long process of reporting my luggage missing, I walked through the "nothing to declare line" and was immediately out of he airport with no hassles. I then took a taxi (15 Euros) to the hotel where there was a woman at the hotel desk very upset, talking to the gentleman at the hotel desk in Bulgarian. Now, after arriving to my room, I understand why she was upset: there is NO water and the toilet can not be flushed. Well, I think I will go to the conference site and see if I can check in and pay the registration fee.

The elevator in the hotel is also very interesting! There are no double doors, only a single door that swings out like a regular door into a room. When you first see the door, you wonder what it is, and the clue that it is an elevator is the call button on the side. You can see the elevator arriving when you see the light of the elevator coming through the small window with frosted glass in the door. Then it feels rather strange to open a swinging door and step into the elevator. When the elevator gets going, you can literally see the floors going by. If you had kids, you would have to hold them to make sure they did not get their fingers between the wall and the moving elevator car. When you get to your floor, you have to open the door yourself, and do it quickly. As I found out, if you do not open it withing a few seconds, and somebody else pushed the button for service, it will take off again. Well, I imagine it is relatively safe, just different that we are used to. (Update: My friend Lionel from Belgium, told me that these are common for residential elevators in Europe. He said part of the fun was poking your fingers where they should not be, triggering the safety mechanisms, to start and stop the elevator). Watch the video below:

I am now back in the hotel room after walking to the University, and there is now water. I was able to register for the conference and pay the conference fee. I got some very good pizza in an underground walkway under a major intersection. Even though Bulgaria is now a member of the EU, the smaller restaurants and shops do not yet accept euros, so I had to change euros to the local currency. At the bank, I could not just go to the teller and get euros changed. I had to first go to another desk where I had to show identification, tell them my birth date, etc, and she filled out a long form that I had to sign and take to the teller. Well, at least I did not have to tell them anything about my sex life to get money exchanged, and I walked out with what I hope was the rough equivalent of 50 euros.

I was invited to the "State Agency for Information Technology and Communications" for cocktails at 6 pm. It was a very elegant old building with everything very well done. I was very surprised to see Mark Harris from Intel from who was also at the conference on innovation in Berkeley California that I went to (100% paid for by Intel), earlier in the year.

Well, I have now finished my presentations for the two papers I will present, and will now go to bed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007, Sofia, Bulgaria

I am at the conference now and there is a terrible presentation about how digital TV will help reduce the digital divide in Bulgaria, so I might just as well write a bit. I got a very good nights rest last night. The room was cold, but they had extra blankets and I was very comfortable. I actually prefer to sleep in a cold room. A hot shower in the morning felt very good. I walked down the street, and found a hole-in-the-wall place selling sandwiches with pictures of various sandwiches on the glass outside. The guy inside selling sandwiches could not speak English and could not see which sandwich I was pointing at, but, the guy behind me told him which sandwich I was pointing at, and he seemed to understand the word "coffee" as I pointed at the espresso machine. Soon I was enjoying a delicious hot pork sandwich and fresh espresso coffee standing at a table on the sidewalk. The cool morning air made the breakfast much more enjoyable. As I passed through the underground walkway on the way to the University, I grabbed a croissant and another hot cup of coffee in a cute little shop. The coffee here is almost exactly like it was in Austria, very strong but delicious, always from an espresso machine.

Ok, at the conference we first had the opening with some apparently important people talking in Bulgarian with a translation presented on a screen in front. Towards the end, the presentations were still in Bulgarian, but with no translation. Well, the good thing is that all of the presentations are in English. First was a presentation about Information and Communication Technologies and how it makes companies more productive, next was a presentation about wireless mesh networks and algorithms for routing and channel assignment, and finally, a presentation on the history of the Internet, and future challenges. All VERY good presentations.

After this, we had a very nice lunch in "Alma Mater" Restaurant inside of the University, meat balls, chicken with peppers and onions, rice, potatoes, carrots with broccoli and cauliflower, etc. Though, since there were no smoking controls, I ate very quickly and got out.

I am now in a workshop on how to address the digital divide in the Balkans. We have had presentations from Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, . The very interesting guy from Albanaia said that they developed a program to put computers with Linux and OpenOffice in all of the schools, but Microsoft got wind of it, came in and offered Windows and a stripped down MS Office for only $1 per computer for all the schools, but only under the condition that they paid the license for all of the computers running Windows and MS Office in the government. The technical people were ready to use OpenOffice in Government too, but, Microsoft spent a huge amount of money lobbying the politicians and so the technical people were all overruled and have to live with Windows and Office, even though in the end it costs the country a whole lot of money that would be much better used in other places. Just like the drug dealer giving you just enough to get you addicted before starting to charge.

After the workshop, I came back to the Hotel, and still no sign of my luggage. I went walking around on some of the narrow streets around the hotel. Bulgaria may be a developing country, but, the capitol is decidedly European. Lots of coffee shops that are perfectly done right down to the last detail. I ran into a Gyro and fries shop, and could NOT resist one even though tonight was the conference dinner. It was one of the best Gyro sandwiches I had ever had! And, instead of fries on the side, they just put them in the sandwich! Lots of VERY LOW calorie sour cream as well! I stopped by the hotel for a few minutes, then took the hike to the University for the conference dinner. The dinner was not as good as the lunch, and, since it was a dinner, lots started lighting up even before I finished eating. So, I ducked out really quick, and here I am in the hotel room writing in my journal . . . . . .

Friday, September 28, 2007, Sofia, Bulgaria

I had breakfast again at the place where you eat on the street. If I had more time I would spend more time looking around, but, they do have a variety of sandwiches to try. We had a number of good presentations of articles, then lunch in the same place at "Alma Mater" Restaurant. More presentations in the afternoon, and I went home early to check for my luggage, and, FINALLY, almost 48 hours late I have my stuff. Being Friday night, they had a special researchers night, with dancing and other events all the way upstairs, two guys with wooden swords doing a fencing exhibition on the main floor, and cocktails and snacks at a different restaurant in the basement. I tried out some Bulgarian beer, which was very good. Petko told me it was from a brewery started by a Check guy who came to Bulgaria in the 1980s. There was an 11 year old kid that came and sang for us that was surprisingly good. Then there was a DJ and they turned up the music, and it seemed like all the smokers lit up at once, so it was time to go back to the hotel and get some sleep.

Saturday, September 29, 2007, Sofia, Bulgaria

Again, I had breakfast at the same place, trying a different sandwich. I WILL look around for breakfast tomorrow!! We had a couple of very good key-notes in the morning, but almost nobody came since most people stayed very late at researchers night. The first speaker told us about when he was in Columbia for a conference and was the first speaker in the morning. It seems like the local team had one a very important soccer game the night before, and everybody was out all night celebrating, and thus there was only ONE person other than the organizers that came. Well, we had at least 20, but it seemed very sparse considering the large auditorium. Lunch again at the Alma Mater, more presentations in the afternoon, and I presented my second paper, and then there was the closing ceremony, and the conference was over. It did go very fast.

So, I went back to the hotel and had a short nap, and headed out on the town. There was one large building on the map that looked important, that seemed fairly straight forward to get to (only two turns), so I struck out to find it. I have to say that the street names are of little use, since they are written in the equivalent sound using the English alphabet on the tourist map, and in the Bulgarian alphabet on the street signs. On the way I saw a number of very cute shops, a fruit stand, coffee shops, restaurants, large apartment buildings, etc. I arrived at the large building which looked like some sort of a convention center, and there was a free outdoor concert in front. There was a large crowd, and as I got close I realized there was just one female singer performing, but with the background music (guitars, drums, etc.) apparently from a CD. Well, no big shakes, so I headed back towards the hotel, and spied what looked like a residential area, so I decided to give it a look. On entering, I found an Italian restaurant with a wood burning oven for the pizza, so decided to give it a try. The waitress spoke a few words in English, and the menu was also in English, so I got along just fine and ordered a salami pizza and Bulgarian beer. The Pizza was thin crust, also came with red bell pepper and tomatoes and was quite delicious, being cooked to perfection. The beer hit the spot as well. I made my way back to the hotel, and, after a VERY long walk, here I am at the keyboard exercising my fingers. I think I will take a warm shower and retire for the night seeing as it is after 10:00 pm. Tomorrow I will walk around some more and look for some souvenirs.

Sunday, September 30, 2007, Sofia, Bulgaria

It has been a long, exciting day, and I have been walking forever! I did in fact eat at a different place this morning. It was a small place selling sandwiches and other things. The women running it did not speak any English, and it was not quite as simple as pointing at what you wanted like some of the other places, but, there was a guy right behind me that could speak English, and soon I had a toasted sandwich with salami, cheese, mustard, ketchup, and sour cream. The mustard was quite good, a little bit spicy. I had some mineral water with my breakfast since I was rather thirsty, then walked down the street to a coffee shop and had a sweet pastry and some coffee. Then I walked back to the hotel and asked where I could buy T-Shirts with BULGARIAN, NOT ENGLISH. You see, I think the kids want things written in English, and so it is very hard to find it in Bulgarian. He directed me to an area where the surface electric train runs through, and there were quite a lot of shops, but all very fancy clothes and almost all with English writing. I stopped into a little Bar to have another cup of coffee, and there was a guy that spoke very good English that had been in the US for 6 years, teaching fencing among other things. He told me of a place that sold Bulgarian made clothes with Bulgarian lettering. I walked up the street, and the one I think he was talking about was closed. There was a nice Bulgarian woman that was handing out advertisements to people that happened to speak English. I talked to her for a while, and she showed me on the map two other walking streets where I should find clothes. Walking to one of the other streets, I noticed Dunkin Donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonalds. I guess no part of the world is left untouched by American fast food!! There was a very nice young man looking for money for charity, though I am not sure he really was affiliated with a charity other than for himself. Anyway, I gave him some coins from my pocket, and continued talking with him, asking about T-Shirts. He assured me that he knew exactly where some shops were that had T-Shirts in the underground by the subway station close to the Sheritan hotel. Well, I wanted to try out the subway and get some pictures, so it sounded perfect! Arriving in the underground, where he told me the T-Shirts were seemed to be completely closed and under construction. Well, not to be deterred, I went back up crossing the street, figuring I might be able to go back down and reach it from the other side. Bingo! I hit pay dirt, here was a small set of shops, all of them with T-Shirts. There was one that had a very good selection, and a nice gentleman that spoke English. Unlike other shops, he was very ready to take US dollars and Euros, so I kept enough Leva to eat lunch and dinner, and pay for the Taxi ride to the airport, then I gave him the rest of the leva, then my Euros, then paid the balance in Dollars. He even gave me the full exchange rate for the Euros which were frozen at 2 Leva to the Euro. The best I got before was at an exchange place that gave me 1.98 Leva per Euro. The bank gave me even less and I had to fill out a long piece of paper.

Ok, now the more exciting part of the day. I crossed the street again to take the metro. The woman at the desk did not speak English, but, a young man was approaching with his monthly pass, and I asked if he could help me buy a ticket. I paid 0.70 Leva for a one way ticket. Down in the train station below, it was quite beautiful and I took lots of pictures. It turns out that the young man was a student in Government Administration, and we had quite a good time talking, and he even rode all the way to the last station with me so we could talk. They had a very innovative system of lights above each door that lit up to show you exactly at which station you are at. At the final station I got out and went up to take some pictures after saying goodbye to the student and thanking him for everything. Outside, there was a line of little shops and restaurants. I found one with some Pizza and Beer, and was able to sit outside and enjoy the sunny day. There was a man that looked a little drunk that wanted to talk to me, but could not speak a word of English. So, I just listened to him, and then realized he was actually quite drunk. So, I talked to him in English, and he talked to me in Bulgarian. I figured it did not really matter that we could not understand each other, it was fun talking anyway.


Well, then he wanted some money, so, I gave him a 2 Leva bill, thinking I should be nice to him. I took some pictures of the restaurant and the women working there, and the cutest little girl that was apparently the daughter of one of the women. Then, the drunk guy that was still hanging around wanted another 2 Leva, but the women chased him off. Ok, now for the good part . . . .

I went back into the subway system and bought a return ticket, and as the train had not arrived yet, I took a couple of pictures inside the station. I noticed that there was no electrical wire above the train, but, like the Bart in San Francisco, they had what is called a third rail where a pickup sticks out of the side of the train. For this type of system, you can not have any street crossings since the third rail sticks up, and it is also not pretty when little kids stick anything metal in them! Ok, so, I thought I should take a few good pictures of the rail to show the guys at the light rail system in Guadalajara, so I got down low and got some good pictures. Well, I think that was what got me in trouble. Only terrorists take pictures like these, looking for the best place to put a bomb. About a half a minute later, a not so happy looking policeman appeared. He did not really speak any English but he did know a couple of words like "Passport". I showed him my passport, and he motioned for me to come with him. At the end of the station, there were some stairs, and he motioned for me to stay, and he went up with my passport. I was left there for about 20 minutes, and he finally came down to get me. He then took me upstairs to a large room where they had video monitors and one little desk with two chairs, and a calender with an almost naked woman. It was kind of a funny place, this big room with almost nothing in it, only 4 video screens, the little desk, the chairs, a phone, and of course the oddly out of place calender, and a little window overlooking the station. Well, he got out 2 plain white very thin pieces of dirty paper and a piece of carbon paper, and very carefully put a paper clip on each corner to hold them together. He then started very carefully and meticulously writing what I assume was some sort of report. After a very long wait, two other policemen arrived, and they started what was a rather lively conversation with the third policeman, every once in a while pointing at me. If I were to guess, the two that arrived were not exactly convinced that I was a terrorist. Anyway, one of them finally signed the report, taking the carbon and leaving the original. They were actually very nice to me and led me downstairs, where there was a police car. There was a lot of stuff in the back seat, and they had to clear a place for me to sit. We took a ride down back streets and finally arrived at a police station. At the police station, I was lead up to the third floor, and in the hallway, there was a desk and two chairs where they motioned me to sit. I sat for a while, and a very nice young policeman arrived that could speak English. Well, he could not speak so well, but he could understand very well and he told me he needed to practice more. He told me that he watched lots of English movies and tried to learn English on his own. Another man appeared and asked for my passport again, and I gave it to him and he went back down the hall. Continuing to talk to the other policeman, I asked him if he wanted to see the pictures I had taken, and pulled out my laptop. I found out that he likes computers, and that they had just recently gotten Internet at the police station. I told him I had read about Police departments on a budget using Google Earth. He noticed that I was running Linux, and told me that he uses Firefox, and wants to learn Linux, but did not know how to install it. I told him it was quite easy and that he should go to Well, they did not have wireless in the Police Station, so I started showing him pictures. I showed him pictures of China (he liked Ricardo in a ball), Austria, Mexico, and Finally Bulgaria. It was a very long wait, but I was having a lot of fun talking to the young policeman, so I really did not mind. As we were looking at pictures of the conference, a group of policemen arrived with one that looked like he was probably the highest rank at the station judging by his uniform. He spent a long time asking the young man about me and why I was in Bulgaria, and since I had just spent a lot of time talking to him, he did all of the talking without translating. Just about that time, one of them in back noticed that one of the women in the picture on my laptop was a Bulgarian senator, and they started asking me about it and why I was wih her. Well, I had talked quite a bit to the woman, but she never told me she was a senator, I only knew she was one of the conference organizers. Anyway, the high ranking guy wanted to see the pictures in my camera. So, I went back through the pictures, and they had me delete the ones of the train station. When I got to the ones of the drunk guy, I told them about how he was drunk and sat with me and he talked Bulgarian, and I talked English, and that I gave him two Leva, and I had them laughing. We finally got back to the pictures of the first station, and I deleted those too, but, they let me keep the ones of me and the student in the station that I had asked another passenger to take. Anyway, the high ranking guy put my passport down on the table and shook my hand smiling broadly and walked away. They led me downstairs and outside, and the young policeman asked me how I was going to get back. I told him I would walk and I could figure out how to get to the train station, or I would just take a taxi. He insisted that I take a ride, and called down the same two guys that brought me. They took me back to the metro, but a different station, and I was free!!

The guy on the right is the only policeman that could speak English.

I bought another ticket, and entered, but this time, I ran into another student that was an International Marketing major and was just finishing his undergraduate degree, and was admitted to a school in Munich for a masters. We had a good talk while waiting for the train, and he was also going to the last station in the city center, so we continued talking on the train, and also after getting out. We talked about how Bulgaria is now free and joining the European Union, and the economy should be getting much better. I talked to him about the "brain drain" problem, and he said yes, that all of the best and the brightest had left Bulgaria and it was a very big problem. I told him that I went to a Iowa State University where a Bulgarian professor invented the digital computer (how many of you gringos know that the digital computer was invented by a Bulgarian while working at Iowa State University????). So, I told him that he should stay in Bulgaria and be part of the new economy, and he promised that he would come back after finishing his masters in Germany.

Back outside, I got the map out, and figured a route back to the hotel, a couple kilometers away. It was kind of hard to use the map, I had to go by landmarks and angles of the streets, etc, since the English names on the map did not match the Bulgarian alphabet street signs. At least where the subway station was, I had the Sheridan Hotel marked, and there was a large curve in the road to help me get oriented.

Well, the police station experience was actually very interesting, but, I don't think I would try it again!!!!

While I was writing, it clouded up and started raining, with some pretty good thunder and I was glad that I brought an umbrella. I ended up at one of the Arab Gyro type places and got to talking to the cooks, and was surprised to find that two were from Iraq, 1 from Syria, and the other just a plain old Bulgarian. I think the Gyro type meat is considered middle eastern, or Greek, but they have been serving it for many, many years in Bulgaria. The two from Iraq came here to escape the war, and have only been here for a short time. The one from Syria had a Bulgarian wife, and had been here for some time. Well, the way that they fixed my food was absolutely delicious. It was rapped up in a large thick pita, and the beef was perfectly spiced, cilantro I think, tomatoes, and of course the LOW calorie sour cream to top it off. I had to apologize to the Iraqis for our part in their pain. It is all very complicated and hard to know where all of the blame should go, but I am certain that part of it rests with us Americans. At the very least, we did not do Iraq right. Well, I really do wish that I could go to Iraq, but I don't think that will be possible in my lifetime. I will have to settle for speaking with Iraqis outside of Iraq. For the US, I think the Iraq experience will be like being a parent. It takes a lot of effort, it costs a fortune, it can be dangerous, you have mixed results, and in the end, your kids will never appreciate all you did for them, well, at least not until years later. I can only hope that Iraq will appreciate what happened 20 years from now. It makes me think back to my Iraqi friend from Iowa state, about 20 years ago. He was part of our late night group that studied together for exams and did homework together for Electrical Engineering courses. He was such a nice guy, and one of the best in the group. And, it makes me feel sad when I think about him, wondering what ever happened to him and his family, and knowing that his country is in turmoil. Back then, the country was in turmoil because of the war with Iran. Really, people are the same all over the world, and the Iraqis are just like us, just very different unfortunate circumstances.

Well, my time in Bulgaria is coming to a close, and I am sad to leave. I now want to come back and go to the mountains and to the Black Sea to know the rest of Bulgaria away from the capitol city. I have heard from many that it is quite beautiful. In any case, I need to pack everything up and get some rest before 3:00 am when I have to get up.

A vacation in Bulgaria is strongly recommended. Actually all of Eastern Europe is opening up and getting a lot more accessible.

Ok, I am here at the airport, and it is 4:40 am and I am sitting at a bar drinking my last cup of Bulgarian coffee and typing this message! I set some records! I was the FIRST to check in, I was the FIRST to go through security, the FIRST to go through passport control, and the FIRST to get to the gate. Really, I have never been the first at ANYTHING at any airport ever before, really, NEVER. I got up at 3:00 am sharp in order to be at the airport at least 2 hours early. I had time to shower, put the last things in my bag, and check that I did not leave anything, getting downstairs at 3:25 am, and the taxi was just pulling up 5 minutes early. I left the key at the desk and jumped in the taxi. The city was deserted, and we made very good time, getting to the airport at about 3:50 am. Well, I can tell you at 3:50 am in Sofia Bulgaria, there is almost NOBODY at the airport. There were a few that I could tell had slept overnight, and some sitting up that might have arrived in the morning. This is a completely new terminal that has only been open a little over 6 months. They have a system where the check-in counters are not assigned, and you have to check the board to see what counter number to go to. So, I walked around for a bit, looking for some coffee, but the only place that was just opening would only take Leva, and I wanted to save my Leva for souvenirs. I walked back over to the check-in counter, and the first woman from Lufthansa was arriving, and before the first class passengers could get up and get in front of me, I was checking in!!! Well, I then went over and camped out in front of the security area, hoping to set some more records, and, well, here I am right next to the gate typing and drinking coffee as others arrive. We should start boarding in about half an hour now.

Oh, at the Frankfurt Airport, they had what had to be a VERY expensive large MECHANICAL flight schedule board. Those darn Germans showing off their mechanical abilities!! Well, it really was quite impressive, and I decided I should make a movie of it changing. Well, given my experience in Bulgaria, and seeing an information booth nearby, I decided to ask about pictures. The kind gentleman informed me I could take all the pictures I like, but to try to not take any of security areas. So, I now have a movie of the sign changing.

Somewhere south of Reykjavik. If you fly Lufthansa, you get the best food coming FROM Germany. I had a delicious Bavarian style sausage dinner with sauerkraut! Still the same thing only serving coffee well AFTER the meal, but, this time I made a special request for another cup. Also, do I really look that German? Going over and back, they kept wanting to talk to me in German. I just have to say "nur ein bistchen Deuch". Well, I think if I spent enough time around Germans, my high school German would start coming back to me.

The 2nd meal was also delicious. It was roast beef in gravy with cooked cabbage and oblong dumplings. The Lufthansa food is much better original German for the return trip. They had to pay Gringos to make the food that we picked up in Houston for the way over.

And, here at the Houston Airport, I am hearing over, and over, and over, and over . . . . "SECURITY MEASURES HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO ASSURE AIR TRAVEL SAFETY . . . . . DO NOT BE PERSUADED BY STRANGERS OR ANYBODY YOU DO NOT KNOW WELL TO TAKE THINGS ABOARD THE AIRPLANE . . . . . ANY INAPPROPRIATE REMARKS OR JOKING WITH SECURITY PERSONAL COULD RESULT IN YOUR ARREST . . . . THE NATIONAL SECURITY LEVEL AS DETERMINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SAFETY IS NOW ORANGE . . . . . YOUR COOPERATION IS GREATLY APPRECIATED. Well, I doubt those messages help improve safety, but they sure are irritating. We did not hear that sheeeet in Germany, and I bet the Frankfurt airport is safer than here in Houston.

I am now in my office in Guadalajara. My plane touched down at about 8:30 pm last night, and I was back at the house at 10:00 pm. The four hour layover in Houston with a constant barrage of loud security messages was very long and tiring. I heard that the international layovers are now much longer in the US because they instituted a minimum or 2.5 hours, and then it ends up 3 to 5 hours. I wish they would figure out how to cut out the immigration and customs for those just passing through. That alone would save over an hour and allow for tighter connections and happier customs using US Airlines. The US airlines could use all the help they can get to be more competitive. Now people are avoiding the US when possible. They also need to figure out how to make us aware of security in a way that is not so irritating. The Frankfurt Airport was much more enjoyable, and an international layover of only 2 hours. The Germans did make us go back through security though, which is reasonable.

My Trip to China with Ricardo

7 October 6:15 pm, Guadalajara time.

Our flight into Ohare arrived after midnight, and our direct flight out to Beijing left about noon the next day. After getting out our luggage and passing through customs, immigration, etc, at Ohare, it was about 1:30 am. We called a number of hotels, but all of the cheap priced ones were either full or had no shuttle running. It would have been a minimum of 120 dollars with taxi, and we decided it was just not worth it. We found a place down below in the international terminal that had three seats in a row without armrests, kind of under some stairs with not much light that we settled on to sleep. Actually, Ricardo was very excited to be sleeping in the airport, this was a new experience for him. The only problem was, that any time one person needed to go to the bathroom, we both had to go and take all of our luggage, since I could not leave Ricardo alone, or leave the luggage unattended. There was a loud announcement every 5 minutes or so: "THE NATIONAL SECURITY CODE HAS BEEN RAISED TO LEVEL ORANGE, YOU MUST NOT LEAVE ANY LUGGAGE UNATTENDED, ANY LUGGAGE LEFT UNATTENDED BY THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT". There were also other messages that would be mixed in every once in a while. The only place open was a coffee and ice cream place that also had Chicago style hot dogs that had been on the warmer for ever with buns that were dry in some places and soggy in others, but hey, what can you expect for a ONLY 8 dollars. The special barbecue potato chips were like no others, and the bottled orange juice had a flavor you could get nowhere else. Well, Ricardo slept like a log and got a good nights sleep. We got up about 7:00 am and washed our hair and faces in the bathroom, then took the elevated train around to one of the national terminals from the international terminal. Since our flight (a 747) arrived from Washington DC, it actually left from a National terminal.

After we left Chicago, I realized that we had gone straight north, and we were above Hudson Bay and approaching the Queen Elizabeth Islands. When we were in Chicago, our only curiosity was whether we would be going by the Atlantic or the Pacific, we had not thought of flying over the north pole. The good thing is that there is probably nobody below us that could shoot down the plane. Actually, I imagine the population would be pretty close to zero.

I was sleeping and I heard a little bit of a ruckus. What had happened is that the clouds had lifted and we could not see the ice below as we were flying inside the arctic circle not far from the north pole. We had to go to the other side of the plane to get a good view and pictures because on our side, the sun was shining right at us from over the horizon. Actually, right now the sun is setting, but it should be coming right back up as we fly over the north pole since we will be arriving in Beijing 2:30 pm local time about 7 hours from right now. Actually, I am not sure the sun will go down, though it is right on the horizon right now. If that is true, we will have left Chicago at 12 noon, and flown to Beijing, arriving the next day at 2:30 pm local time, with the sun never setting. (NOTE: Beijing is 13 hours ahead of Guadalajara time CST).

(NOTE: The sun never went down on the plane ride. The sun was on the horizon for a long time, but never set. It went down to the Horizon, then came back up)

We met a guy from a company in Boston that makes robots and actually sold one to CINVESTAV (a national research center in Guadalajara) (Bayro)
He has a son that is 8 and a daughter that is 4. We were able to change seats and sit right next to them. Ricardo has been playing with Quint ever since we met them waiting for the flight at Ohare about 7 hours ago. They started out throwing paper airplanes at each other while waiting for the plane to leave, only slightly irritating people when they got hit in the face with a paper airplane. Right now they are watching a movie, and earlier watched X-Men, and have been running up and down the aisles. Ricardo has also been spending some time on his journal of the trip.


Monday October 9th 7:30 am Beijing time, Beijing China

The student that met us at the airport was was really nice. We took a shuttle buss from the airport (fairly far out of town) as far as we could, then got on the subway for a bit, and finally walked to the hotel. The hotel says "Ministry of Education", and we are supposed to get a discount. We gave a deposit of 800 RMB. We will have to pay for two days since the train will not leave until 7:00 pm tomorrow. The room is very neat and had two single beds, wood floor, comfortable chairs, etc. The student left for an hour to let us take a shower and rest a bit, then came back with his wife to take us to eat and then to Tienanmen Square. The restaurant was very simple but very good. They had private rooms upstairs, and he asked for a private room so it would be easier for us to communicate. He has very good written English, but spoken is a challenge. We got soup and 4 other plates. They were: lamb on a bone I think with a very spicy sauce, slices of catfish with a sweet and sour sauce, something to sweet and sour chicken, but much less sweet, and much better than anything I have ever had in the US, and finally chicken tossed together with black leafy mushrooms, egg, zucini, and other things. Ricardo was having a lot of fun learning to use the chopsticks, and refused help eating. They brought him a fork, but he refused to use it and insisted on the chopsticks. They showed him that to pick up rice, you just hold the Chopsticks parallel, and poke them into the rice, and not moving them just lift them up and throw whatever sticks into your mouth. Ricardo's favorite was the sweet and sour pork, and mine was the chicken with mushrooms and zucini.

We took a taxi to Tienanmen square. There, they had many large temporary displays put up for the national holidays. There were police EVERYWHERE, and all kinds of people. Seems like everybody had a cell phone with a built in camera taking pictures. They were selling kites that were a long string with many mini kites tied on. There were many people running up to us to sell things in broken English: "Yeeoo buy kite", "Yeeoo buy pos cod", etc.

Ok, we had a good nights sleep and are going to take a shower and then try to find some breakfast.


Monday October 9th 10:00 am Beijing time, Beijing China
Sunday October 8th, 9:00 pm Guadalajara time.

We went out and walked around, and did not find anything that looked good before we started getting hungry, so we wimped out and ate at McDonalds. Actually, McDonalds has a rather different menu here than in the US. They have a lot of oriental style burgers, and I took a picture of one of the posters. One thing very interesting is that they do not have pedestrian bridges to get across the streets, they have pedestrian tunnels, each one guarded by a cute uniformed Chinese guy standing very respectfully at attention. We are in amongst many tall buildings and there are bicycle parking areas everywhere. There are also many different kinds of small utility covered motorcycle carts. We are also noticing many police, many dressed in black suits with walky-talkies, some with red arm banks. There are also building and parking guards almost everywhere. The building are not much different than in the US, but they typically try to put in a little Chinese flair, such as little Chinese style roofs on top, etc.

Ricardo has been writing in his journal, picking up the various articles in the room, and writing the English and Chinese names for things like the Coke and Sprite cans, soap, etc. Right now he is playing with the chopsticks and practicing picking up things. Ricardo is asking me to go outside again, so we will get going soon.


Monday October 9th 2:30 pm Beijing time, Beijing China

We went out walking around to see Beijing. We walked down the avenue that goes towards Tienanmen Square, occasionally ducking out on a side street to see what was happening. Really, we could be in Mexico city except that the people look a little different and the food is a little different. On the way back, we took a side street a little ways, and saw a cool looking little restaurant where two guys were making noodles in the window. They were shaving them off of a block of dough into big pots. We stood at the door for a little while and were thinking about going in, and a guy stepped up from behind and said "good afternoon". It turns out he was the manager for a hotel close by and was coming to eat. For the Gringos, he goes by the name William Zhoa. He came in and ate with us and helped us order. He had Kung Pau Chicken, I had spicy breaded deep fat fried chicken with chili peppers, and Ricardo had sauteed chicken with cucumbers, and we shared noodle soup with vegetables. They again brought a fork for Ricardo to use, but he refused and insisted on using chopsticks. He even ate the soup like the Chinese, using the chopsticks to eat the noodles and stuff, and picking up the bowl to slurp the liquid. Well, we had fun talking, and he invited us to go to a restaurant when we come back to Beijing. We will see if we can take him up on it. On the way back to the hotel, we took a picture of some guys playing checkers in the park and bought some souvenirs. We also took a picture of a guy playing music for tips in an underground walkway. I got a video, and a couple of stills, one with Ricardo. Ricardo is really enjoying the experience here!

Monday October 9th 7:30 pm Beijing time, Leaving Beijing on the train.

The train started moving about 5 minutes ago. We had a very exciting time getting to the train. The student arrived on time to take us to the train, and all seemed well. It all started when we got to the Hotel desk. When we got to the desk, they had already checked the room and announced that two towels were missing. When we took our last shower, we did not have towels since when they cleaned the room, they took the dirty towels, but did not leave clean ones. I offered to pay for the towels, but the student went upstairs looking, and of course they were not there, as I knew. There was a lot of conversation that I did not understand, but they finally came to an agreement, and they gave me change from the 800 RMB that I left as a deposit and also to pay for the room. Now it is 6:25 and our train leaves at 7:24. Right now I don't know if I paid for the towels or not. Ok, this was only the start. It turns out that we were in rush hour, and there was some kind of an accident, and the streets were completely jammed up. It was taking about 5 minutes a block, and the student and the driver were talking to each other in very loud voices, I think the student was telling him he should find another way, and he was insisting there was no other way. Well, if we had known, we could have walked 5 or 10 blocks and then found a taxi, and we would have been much better off. Anyway, after what seemed like forever, we finally got to a highway where the traffic was at least moving. After we got close to the train station, we hit traffic again, and the student told the driver to just let us out and it was off to the races. We went running as fast as we could along narrow sidewalks with lots of people, running up stairs, across walkways, through buildings, where I would never have known to go. Eventually we got to something that looked like a train station and we went inside and went through security. The student did not have the best eyes, and me neither, but Ricardo was able to see a sign in the distance that had our train number: T69. We went through the door, down a long corridor, down stairs, took a few turns, and finally we were at our train, which was quite long. We ran down to our car, where a very pleasant woman was waiting to punch our ticket. We were 10 minutes early!!! As we got onto the train, another woman greeted us and showed us to our bunks. She exchanged our tickets for two credit card like cards with our bed numbers. We are numbers 14, 15, middle bunks, so we can sit and talk while we are relaxing in our beds. And, speaking of relaxing, Ricardo is already sleeping. As I write, I have seen police like looking guys walk by a number of times, and also people walking by selling food and drinks. Most people brought their own food in plastic bags and it is sitting on tables. In the aisles there are little fold down chairs and little tables, and in our car, they are all taken. People are talking on their cell phones, one guy has a radio, and there are some kids playing. Really, we can't complain for the price. This is about a 20 hour train, arriving in Lanzhou at 3:30 pm tomorrow afternoon. The price one way was ONLY 377 RMB each, and we save paying one nights hotel, so almost free! Well, the room in Lanzhou I heard is only about 150 RMB per night, or a little over 15 bucks. Really, the only thing expensive about this vacation was the plain tickets. Everything else is VERY reasonable. Even the taxis are very cheap. It was just 62 RMB for the ride to the train station. And, talking taxis, they all have meters and print a receipt when you arrive at your destination. Actually, everything here is well organized and well thought out, well maintained, and clean. We are impressed. Ok, I had better turn off the computer and look for some food. In the middle of the night I doubt there will be service.

6:30 am China time somewhere between Beijing and Lanzhou

I got Ricardo up to go to the bathroom, and now he is wide awake, counting tunnels and bridges, getting down to look at the other side, getting back up. He is also hungry, so we will probably buy some hot food the first time the come down serving food. Ok, well, last night after we got going it was dark and we could not see much. There were people going up and down the aisles selling fruit, drinks, and hot food. We bought a be metal platter of food that had a big compartment of rices, and then smaller compartments of other dishes. One had cauliflower cooked in a sauce that Ricardo really liked, one was chicken with what looked and tasted like green pepper, but was spicy. The other had egg and spices and the same peppers. Ricardo tried the two spicy ones, but settled on cauliflower and rices. Here, there were no forks, only chopsticks, and Ricardo did a really good job. He is getting better every day and is having lots of fun with the chopsticks. The most exciting thing in the night was Ricardo playing around and trying to look farther out the Window, and falling out of his bed, and knocking something from the table into the face of the woman below. They were actually quite nice about it and said a lot of things we did not understand, and were concerned that Ricardo might have hurt himself. He did not hurt himself at all by chance. Let's see, other descriptions, the toilets on the train are Turkish style so you have to squat for certain duties. Doing so on a moving swaying train is NOT the easiest. Outside of the toilets is an open room with two sinks for washing up. Really the beds, the aisles and everything are very clean and well maintained. We are very happy with our choice to take the train to Lanzhou. We are seeing things that we could see no other way and saving a ton of money. The food and drinks are very. Bottles of orange drink are only 3.50 RMB. The meal (enough for two) was only 15 RMB. We are curious to see what they will have for breakfast! Well, Ricardo is now running up and down the aisle looking out the Windows and coming back every once in a while to ask me what time it is. We are now going through a very long tunnel and it is all of a sudden pitch black in the train. Wow, what a long tunnel, and now we are going into another little one. Outside, the scenery has changed and it is now mountainous and green and rocky with some spectacular views now and then. Well, my batter is getting low so I think I will shut off the computer now and get down so I will be ready to buy breakfast when they come buy. I am starting to smell food.

Tuesday October 10th, 8:15 pm Lanzhou time, Lanzhou China

Ok we are in our room after having a wonderful meal with a group of people that included people from Austria, New York, Check Republic, Mexico (us), and or course China. I left off last when we were in the train smelling food for breakfast. We bought the food that came on a stainless steel tray for 15 RMB. It included a simple salad, huge dumpling, beans with cucumbers, a hard boiled egg, some kind of cabbage dish, and another spicy one with peppers and other things. Well, it did not have rice and we did not like it as well as the other we had the day before. Later, we bought a big bowl of noodle soup that you need to add water to. It had three packets on the inside, one with vegetables, one with dry seasoning, and another with a bullion paste. Then you have to go to the end of the car and they have a huge tank of steaming hot water just for making tea and soup. Ricardo really liked the noodle soup! Closer to Lanzhou, we ran into more mountains and what seemed like a million tunnels. Some of the tunnels were quite long, and we timed them, some over 30 seconds, which at 120 km/h would be over a km long. A really nice student who said we would call here "Cathy", came and asked us if she could talk to us because she wanted to practice English. We had a wonderful time talking to her. She helped us learn a little Chinese and wrote English words, followed by Chinese words in Ricardo's journal. After Cathy went back to her bed, they were coming around with lunch, and we bought one. This one has rice with it and was just as good as the first one. It had beef on the bone with sauteed squash, and other good stuff. Later, Ricardo was still hungry, so we bought another noodle soup thing. Well, we finally pulled into Lanzhou at 3:45 pm and the Chinese professor who I was communicating and a woman some how knew the number of our car, and were running along the platform smiling with a huge Penguin (the Linux mascot), and a sign that said Dr. Don Carr. It made us feel good to have such a nice welcome. They took us to our hotel on the campus which is absolutely beautiful with a third floor room that is shaded by tall trees, looking our over the campus. There is an electic pot for heating water, tea cups, and tea bags! My mother would love this. Really, the best room in the world for $15 bucks per night. There is also a restaurant next door, which we ate at later. They let us check in and get a little rest, then came back and took us to the "Information Sciences" building where we met a guy that was originally American, working in Austria, but cooperating with the Lanzhou University and giving summer school classes here. He told me about the things they are doing in Austria and all of the problems with safety regulations for trains there making things more complicated and less safe. He was rather jelous that in Mexico we could just go about building the best control system. Well, later we gathered together and went to eat with a very diverse group of people. There was the biggest lazy Susan in the world in the middle of the table, and they kept bringing different dishes that we could try. My favorite was a spicy tofu with vegetables.


Thursday 12 Oct, 8:30 pm Lanzhou China.

Ok, I last left you the night before the power went out. We were informed that power would be out for the whole University on Wednesday, from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, and I was planning on working on my presentation for my first article on Wednesday. So, I decided to work on it Tuesday night, and then get up early on Wednesday and work before the power went out. I got up at 5:00 am and started working, and the power actually went out 20 minutes early at 6:40 am. I continued working until my battery was almost dead, and then got Ricardo up to shower and eat breakfast. Well, we were going to take a shower, but no electricity, no hot water, so it did not take us long to decide we were NOT going to take a shower given the temperature of the room and outside. So, after combing our hair and brushing our teeth, we went down to the restaurant next door, which was open despite the lace of electricity. I think the woman did not speak English, and did not really know what to do, and just held up two fingers and we nodded yes, and a few minutes later, she started bringing some food. We were served some strips of pork, boiled eggs, dumplings, and some rice porridge. Not bad all in all! As we were about to leave, a handsome young student, came over to our table and said: "I know you, you are the professor from Mexico". He was with some other students, and told us he could take us to the information building where all the other people were. We joined up with many of the same people we had met the day before. At the information building, we went downstairs to see the rooms where the conference would be, and they were hanging the "8th Real-Time Linux Workshop" banners. Eventually, they started organizing a trip, and we went downtown to see the town. We first went to an area in the middle of the town that is very historic and filled with all kinds of little shops. I bought a number of things for gifts: 50 replica antique coins, 18 carved stone figures (dragons, lions, etc), and a couple of ink paintings of horses on tissue paper. After everybody was done shopping, we went to a restaurant not far away, where I think the only thing they sold was beef noodle soup. So, we all had HUGE bowls of beef noodle soup (traditional for Lanzhou). They served it will all kinds of garnishes in the center of the table on a lazy suzan. There was cabbage, spice string potatoes, peppers that tasted like green peppers, but spicy, and, well, I can't remember all the things. It was absolutely delicious!!! After lunch, we slowly made our way to the yellow river, which divides Lanzhou into two parts. We walked along the river and finally came to an old bridge across the river that had been converted into a walking bridge. It was the old kind with a steel framework above, and they told us it was designed by the Germans and was the FIRST bridge across the yellow river, as I recall, built in the early 1900s. Across the bridge on the hill, there we could see the "White Pagoda", which I had seen on the Internet when looking for pictures from Lanzhou. Ricardo really wanted to hike up to it, and I told him it was up to the group, so he ran around convincing everybody we should hike up, and our tour guides agreed. There was about a 60 cent entry fee to the park which included all kinds of old buildings and things as we walked up the hill. It really was quite the hike up the hill, but is was sooooooo beautiful that nobody minded. At the top, there was the White Pagoda, and all kinds of beautiful buildings. One of the guides took Ricardo to the bathroom, and when he came back, he started tugging on me and said "come here daddy, you have to see something". Well, there was a little pond, and they had these great big plastic bubbles you could get into. There was a long zipper that they unzipped to let you in, then they pumped it up and sealed it, and tossed you into the water. All for 10 RMB (a little over a buck). If you were good, you could stand up and walk, if you were not so good, well, it was kind of hilarious. Ricardo, two Austrian students, and one of the Chinese students that were our guides, all had a go at it. Ricardo taking two turns. They would try to run for a while and fall flat on their bellies, or fall fall over backwards. Being as there was a limited amount of oxygen in them, they could only let you go for about 5 minutes at a time. But, it was so exhausting that 5 minutes was really enough, well, except for Ricardo. After finishing with the big bubbles, we drank a lot of water, and started back down the hill. After crossing back across the old bridge, we hopped a bus back to the University.

Back at the University, the lights were still out, and Ricardo and I headed back to our room to take a nap. After a little of a nap, I was awoken by a boy that was hungry.This boy was too tired to walk off campus and just wanted to eat at the restaurant below, but when we went down, it was closed. So, we headed off campus, and Ricardo got his second wind and did not have a problem. We went straight out the main gate, and walked two blocks, walking past a number of Restaurants, and then walked back to the one that looked the best. They had a number of tables, and you just had to sit with somebody else, since it was absolutely packed. They did NOT speak English and NO English menus, but, as luck would have it, at the table where they seated us, the woman right across from us spoke English, and helped us order. Ricardo again had beef noodle soup, and I had noodles with pork sauce. The best food in the world. One the way back, we saw a grocery store, and decided we needed a few things, and decided we also wanted to experience a Chinese grocery store. This store was quite the store. From the front, it just was two entrances behind the all of the individual shops and did not appear very big. Once inside, it was much bigger than expected, then we saw a special escalator at about half the grade of normal and no steps, so you could take carts up and down. We jumped on, and the second floor was even bigger than the first, and then we noticed yet another escalator, and a THIRD floor, just as big as the second. And, as we were checking prices, everything seemed MUCH cheaper than in the US or Mexico. We bought dried noodle soup, nescafe, orange and grape flavored water (not very sweet), Chinese style cookies, and maybe some things I am forgetting.

It was about 7:30, and as we headed back to the University, it was completely dark. As we walked onto campus, we remembered that there was no electricity. The campus was pitch black, and we could just barely see the hands in front of our faces. Well, we could see the outlines of the buildings, and we decided to take the long way and stick to what was easiest to see. As we walked, our eyes adjusted, and we could see more, and, after a few mistakes, we made it back to the hotel. We felt our way up the stairs, and down the hallway to our room, but Ricardo did NOT want to stay there in the darkness, we went back down to the lobby where they had candles. There was a large group of students talking loudly, and a couple of them yelled hello. We went and sat on the floor on one end, and started to talking to a couple of black students, one a man from Sierra Leone, and the other a woman from an Island somewhere (can't remember). They were both in Chine to learn Chinese, and the woman was planning on spending 5 years in China!!!! Well, at about 8:45, with the lights still not on, I talked Ricardo into going up to sleep since he was starting to fade out, though absolutely fascinated talking to these people from all over the world. As soon as Ricardo's head hit the pillow, he was asleep! I was awoken at a little after 10:00 pm when the lights came on in our room, and I could hear cheering and clapping throughout the building. I plugged in my computer to charge since it was completely drained, turned off the lights and went back to bed. I got up early the next morning to put the final touches on my presentation, and then got Ricardo up so we could go eat.

For whatever reason, the restaurant below was closed, and so we again headed off campus to eat. We settled on a place that had a little room with tables in a building, where they were frying bread, and cooking on the sidewalk. The had round bread cooked with green spices, and oblong shaped bread without spice, both absolutely delicious. We also had hard boiled eggs and rice porridge. Of course, everything ordered with our fingers, NO English here. Ricardo thought it was absolutely delicious. On the way back, I wanted to try a place where they were frying bread on the sidewalk with eggs, and had all kinds of fillings. The woman was serving one after the other as fast as she could, not one wasted motion, always using two hands. She didn't have any way (or time) to take money, so people just threw money in a large metal basket attached to her cart. After finally getting the woman's attention (I don't know how to say "HEY" in Chinese), I pointed at one of them and raised one finger in the air. It worked quite well, and in no time, I was served. I added spicy cooked cabbage, spiced shredded potatoes, and a couple of spoons of the best hot sauce in the world. This was exquisite. Well, it was nearing 9:00 am and time to get to the University for the opening ceremonies.

At the opening ceremonies, the organizers (both from Austria) welcomed us and thanked the Chinese for all of the hard work preparing. The former president of the University gave a speech in Chinese, with a translator translating even though he could speak halfway decent in English (we had talked to him the day before). This was followed by 4 sting quartet (3 violins and a cello) that played 4 songs for us. We then broke up for the individual conference tracks, and I suddenly realized that my second presentation had been moved up a day, and I had to give it today. I had been planning on preparing that presentation after supper, and also getting up early the next day. After presenting my first work: "A Linux Based System to Monitor Train Speed and Doors for the Light Rail System in Guadalajara, Mexico", I skipped a couple of sessions and used break time and lunch time to prepare my second presentation: "An extensible object-oriented instrument controller for Linux". Well, I will spare you all the details of all the various presentations. Oh, the lunch was great. Served on stainless steel trays like on the train, we got a big scoop of rice, a cup of soup, and three other choices from a selection of about 8.

After the last track was over, I heard that the wireless worked in the main auditorium, so went in to try it out since I had so far not been able to connect and let everybody know that I had not died and there were no mid-air collisions. I was able to connect, but continual dropped packets. I pinged Yahoo and had about 20% packet loss. Well, I was able to get a few messages out with great difficulty. I brought my wireless router, and am going to go early tomorrow and find a place I can hook it up so everybody can get decent connections (hopefully).

As I was finishing up sending email, a student came and said there was a group going to the restaurant on campus next to our hotel to eat. I quickly packed up the computer, and headed out with them. We again had a wonderful selection of dishes to try, and had a good talk with the three Austrian students, a German student that arrived late and we had not talked to yet, and some of our wonderful Chinese hosts.

Well, after coming back to the room, I put Ricardo to write in his journal, and have been helping him off an on, and he wrote quite a bit before falling asleep. I will have to get him to work on his description of today and put in more details tomorrow. I am now writing this journal entry, and it about 9:45 pm, and I have had a long day. I think I will retire.


Saturday October 14th, 6:30 am.

Ricardo is still sleeping and I will wake him up soon to take a shower.

Yesterday, after getting up, we went to the same place as the day before for breakfast on Ricardo's request. Maybe today we will try something different. After eating, we went straight to the conference and arrived early, this time with my wireless router in hand. There were many interesting presentations throughout the day. Probably the most interesting were two Indian men that worked for the largest producer of polyester threads. They had converted one factory completely to Linux, striping out all Windows computers that were used for the final user interface, and Unix computers communicating with PLCs and doing much of the control workload. They have been running for over a year now and have had zero down time due to Linux or the software running on top of it. The only downtime has been related to other factors such as sensors and cables. The Unix computers were very reliable, but very expensive. The Windows computers were very cheap, but very unreliable and they had to schedule periodic reboots. The Linux computers are very cheap AND very reliable, and run 24x7. It was very interesting that two non-academic types came all the way from India to tell us their story.

I was able to talk to a very interesting guy from the Czech Republic (Pavel Pisa, who does open source control programming, and actually wrote the industrial CAN buss drivers that are used by the company that made the little Linux single board computers I have bought. He does other work on publish/subscribe real-time data networks that I might try to integrate with some of my work!

One of the Chinese guys called the network people and finally hooked up my router and we now have reliable, but a little slow Internet for all of the attendees.

The lunch served at the conference was again delicious, served on the stainless steel lunch trays with compartments for various options, including one big one for the rice.

Ricardo spend most of his time watching movies, playing games, and sending email to his friends. Everybody was amazed how good he was, and how quiet he was. After the last sessions, we all hung around talking, waiting to leave for dinner at 6:45. Ricardo and I wanted to get rid of some of our stuff and get another coat for him, so we went running all the way across campus to our hotel room, returning a little late, but with everyone still there. What we did not realize is that the dinner was to be at the restaurant right by our hotel, so, we again walked back across campus to the same place!! They had a fancier meal this time, with first a round of cold dishes, followed by the hot dishes and lots of "Yellow River" beer. They even brought one plate with a large whole fish on it with sauce and garnishes. Actually Ricardo and I preferred the non-fancy meal.

Ricardo was sitting next to the father of a guy that came from Spain to present. The father was very happy to talk to Ricardo since he could speak almost no English. Later, Ricardo was so tired that he fell asleep in his chair, sitting straight up with his head tipped against the back-rest. I picked him up and laid him across four chairs, using my coat for a pillow, but he was not too comfortable, so we came back to the room and went to bed early.


Tuesday 17 October, 9:30 am, Lanzhou China.

We are sitting in a graduate student office waiting for another student to come that will take us downtown.

The last day of the conference was Saturday, and afterwords, we had a special "China Night". A group of us made arrangements to meet the next morning at 8:30 for a trip to the mountains. The past president of the University gave a speech, this time in English. They also awarded prices, and, in the area of real-time applications for Linux, I was 3rd place! A woman which I think is a dean of the college, brought her daughter to talk to Ricardo. We were surprised that she could speak such good English, and Ricardo had a lot of fun talking to her. We found out that things are quite different here in China. At 13, she goes on the bus by herself to school and has 60 in her class. She can really speak quite good English, I think partly because it is her favorite class, and she really wants to learn it. After the others went to a bar, we stayed and Ricardo played with the Chinese girl. Until about 10:00 pm when here mother finished what she was doing upstairs and came back down.

The next day, we met at the font gate of the University at 8:30 am. We walked about 5 blocks to where we could catch a bus that would take us directly to the start of our hike in the mountains. The bus ride was quite interesting. We continued through town, all the time looking for more passengers. They had a driver, a woman responsible for the money, and another man to help search for riders. The man would stand at the open door and yell at people that looked like they might want a bus. Some places, they would stop the bus and the man and woman would both jump off looking for riders. Just when we thought no more would fit on the bus, they would stop and pick up more. Well, after an interesting journey, we arrived at our destination. We were informed that we could hike either the west peak or the east peak, but that the east peak was higher. Everybody wanted to hike the highest peak, so, we headed up the road to the trail head. There was a small fee for each person to enter the park, and a large beautiful entry. As we started up it was very beautiful with fall colors and unbelievable landscape. The first part was not very steep, but, as we went along, it became steeper and steeper. There were little shops every so often selling water, fruit flavored drinks, and tea. As we got higher it became extremely steep, with metal stairs in some places and hand railings. We were sweating and breathing very heavily even though it was quite cool. At the highest point, there was a beautiful Chinese style little tower with seating above. We were going to sit above, but all of the places in the sun were taken, and as we stopped hiking, and with the sweat, in became cool very quickly. We settled for a place below in the sun, and they brought tea and sunflower seeds. We sat talking enjoying the sun, the view, and relaxing for about an hour. To go back, there was a different route. We followed a ridge for a bit, but then we started some extremely steep sections again with metal stairs in places and railings. After waling level for a bit, we came upon a section that was very steep, going perfectly straight for as far as the eye could see down through the trees. If you think going up is hard, this was nothing, as we were using the muscles we do not normally use. I can tell you that after two days, the muscles on the back of my legs still hurt. Even Ricardo is still complaining a bit. Well, despite it all, we had a good time coming down, and the views were breathtaking. After we got out of the main gate, we spent some time looking at all of the little shops, and then looked for a taxi. There were little min-van taxis that seated 7, and with the driver there were 9, but we were able to fit in, with Ricardo on my lap, and one of the students sitting on the floor. The students bargained for quite some time, and we ended up at 17 RMB for a 10 km or so ride into the nearest town, where the taxi driver dropped us at beef noodle soup restaurant. We had some of the best beef noodle soup and Chinese beer in the world, then slowly walked down to a circle, looking around. In this down, all of the taxis besides the mini-vans had three wheels with 4 doors. Really quite odd looking but functional. I was going to pay for a ride around the circle, but we started looking for a bus before we had a chance. We got about the same kind of bus to go back, with the same crew, a man driving, a woman handling the money, and another man standing in the doorway yelling looking for riders. After getting back, we split up the money, and for the 5 of us paying for the students as well, it came out to 67 RMB each, which included the bus up and back for eight, the taxi ride into town, and the park entrance (the students paid for the lunch). We tried to give the students the money left over from 100 RMB each, but the refused.

Tuesday 17 October, 7:15 am, Lanzhou China.

Ricardo is still sleeping, and we will get on the train today at 12:45 pm.

After arriving in Lanzhou the day before from the mountains, the five of us foreigners agreed to meet at 7:00 pm for dinner. After walking around for about an hour, we settled on a restaurant on a side street that looked nice. Again, with no English, we had a little difficulty ordering, but, I had a paper with "beer" written in Chinese, and also "Kung-Pou Chicken", and another guy pointed at a dish of one of the other customers made with green beans. We ended up with two dishes of "Kung-Pou Chicken", the green bean dish, 3 large bottles of beers, 2 Pepsi, rice, and Chinese style tortillas, all for 67 RMB, which is quite unbelievable. That is only a little over 7 bucks! And, as always, they refused to take a tip, even chasing us down the street to give us our money!

The next day (Monday Ocbober 16), we got up and ate breakfast at out usual place, and then went to the graduate student office to check email, etc. At 10:00 one student took us to the train station to buy our tickets for the trip back. It was raining (for the first time on our trip), so the student borrowed an umbrella. We walked to the train station in a light rain, and upon arriving, we found out that you can buy tickets only one days in advance at the train station. The student called some people, and found out we could buy the tickets at a booking agency, but with a small extra fee. We ended taking a taxi to the booking agency (only 7 RMB), and there were rows of windows that looked just like the train station, but here we could buy the tickets more than 1 day in advance!!


Wednesday, October 18th, 3:19 pm China time, on the train somewhere between Lanzhou and Beijing.

Ok, here we are on the train. You would not believe it, but they have 220VAC outlets, and so I can use my computer as much as I want. We heard this is a new train, that only went into service about a month ago. It is very smooth, and we are cruising about 115 kmh or so. Well, I will continue our story, and then get back to the train.

Ok, after booking the tickets, then going back because a boy left his journal he is writing for the class where we bought the tickets, we came back to the graduate student office. It was about time for lunch, and another graduate student agreed to go with us to lunch. We went to a cute place about two blocks from the entrance to the University. We ordered Kung Pou Chicken since we did not know what else to get, and the student got a soup with red chili peppers floating. It had duck meat, and chunks of stomach from a cow, similar to the meat you get in menudo. I liked the flavor, but not the meat since I don't like menudo. Well, at lunch time, they give scratch off coupons where you can win things. We gave two tickets to Ricardo, and he won 2 RMB, and a bottle of beer. The student won another bottle of beer, and I got a "thank-you". Well, after a very enjoyable meal with beer, Pepsi for Ricardo, tea, and rice, we headed back to the graduate student office and checked email, read news, burned CDs, talked to students, etc, until it was time for supper. Since we were still tired from the hike on the mountain, we decided to just eat at the restaurant next to our hotel and go to bed.

The next day, we had a student to take us to the "Five Springs Park" on the side of the mountain on the other side of the city. There are five springs that, as legend goes, a famous general created by stabbing his sword into the ground. They also had a zoo that we visited on the way up, with a number of native China species. After the zoo, we made a circle going up visiting springs and various building, etc. At the top in a building, there were figures of famous Chinese behind glass, then we headed down stairs that were attached to the cliff, and switched back and forth to the bottom. At the bottom, we saw the last spring, and walked out of the park. The student told us there was a famous restaurant a few blocks away, so, we walked on down to it and had a wonderful meal with tea, beer, rice, chicken with vegetables, shredded potatoes, Pepsi for a boy, etc. We still wanted to buy some souvenirs, so we talked the student into taking us to where we bought souvenirs before, and bought some more carved stone figures, two metal Chinese horses, and various ink paintings with Chinese writing. We stopped at a bank to buy 20 fresh new RMBs with sequential serial numbers to give to Ricardo's classmates for a gift.

After this, I had promised Ricardo, that we would go back to the White Pagoda mountain if possible and take the cable car up, and I convinced the student that we could manage by ourselves if he would just write "Lanzhou University" on a piece of paper to give to a taxi driver. He left on the bus, and we hiked over to the Yellow River, and down past the German designed bridge to where the cable car leaves. The cable car goes across the river, and then high on the mountain about even with the White Pagoda, but a good hike away. Actually, I was glad we took the cable car, since the hike around the mountain was extremely beautiful. Ricardo was thinking we were lost when we finally came around a corner and could see the White Pagoda, and of course the bubbles. So, we paid 10 RMB so Ricardo could do the bubble thing again. You know they put you in about a 1.5 meter plastic bubble, blow it up with a pump, and throw you in the water to play. Never seen it in the US or Mexico. After that, we were being lazy and walking around, and noticed something we had not seen before. There was a cable ride across a valley to under where we were dropped off with the cable car. They strap you into special harnesses and hang you from a frame with two little high speed rollers. There are 4 cables, so two people can go across side-by-side. Ricardo was on the light side, so they gave him our backpack, and also strapped on a set of weights. With me they figured I did not need any weights! They sent off Ricardo first, and he leaned out and held me as long as possible, to limit my speed, but I still passed Ricardo about half way across. The guy on the other end, pulled the cables together or was doing something to slow me down, but I still crashed into the huge foam pad at the end. Ricardo stopped short of the foam pad, not near as much fun! It was really quite exciting, about half way across, you are very high above the ground, and your clothes ripple in the wind. To say the least, Ricardo thought this was REALLY cool. Ok, but now we are all the way around the mountain and have to walk back again! Luckily, there was a lower trail, so we did not have to hike back up. We walked around, and then down where we had come up a few days earlier. We were reminded that we had walked down another mountain a few days ago, as we could "feel" those muscles you use going down hill. Actually, our legs still hurt a little.

At the bottom, we walked across the German designed bridge, and hopped a taxi to the University. Quite a long ride, but still only 9.80 RMB (a little over a buck). Ricardo wanted to go the Restaurant where we ate lunch with the student the day before, so we hiked over and had a great meal with rice, tea, beer, Pepsi for a boy, etc. The woman, who I think was the manager or owner, went and got her daughter and a friend and made them come and talk English with us. We had fun talking to them and telling them about Mexico, and asking them about their school, etc. We then walked back to the graduate student office, and checked email, and burned a CD of the recent pics and also a group that the students gave me that they had taken at the conference. We went back to the hotel, picked up the laundry they had done, and promptly went to bed.

The next morning, we got up a little late, and then had to pack everything before we could go. After packing and taking some last pictures of the room and around, we checked out and paid the bill, only 1,170 RMB (say 130-140 dollars) for eight nights, and walked with our rolling luggage to the graduate students office and left it there so we could go to breakfast. Ricardo wanted to eat where the woman make bread with eggs. It was delicious as usual. Since we were late, she was just finishing up and did not have any vegetables left, but still had lots of the wonderful hot sauce. We headed over to the supermarket to buy some things for the train, and also food souvenirs for people. We then headed back to the graduate student office to check email, etc, and wait for the student that said he would take us to the airport.

At about 11:00 am, the student told us it was time to leave, but his wife had used the car, so he had arranged for a person from the military to pick us up. He is actually a captain in the army, and going to school to get his masters in computer science. He is actually quite well off compared to the other students because he has his military salary. He of course has to continue serving after he gets his degree. Well, so we were taken to the train station in a large 4WD camouflage green Mitsubishi built in China. Normally, he would have to have permission to have contact with foreigners, but since he is at the University, he has a blanket permission to have contact with foreigners related to the University. He did tell us to not take pictures of the car, or the other soldier. You are not supposed to take pictures of military people or vehicles when you are in China. Ok, well, so we got to the station, and they took us to get one more bowl of traditional beef noodle soup before leaving. He then took us to the VIP lounge to wait for the train. We had a good talk while waiting, and they eventually called our train, and we went out and up the stairs to the platform, and the train arrived shortly. After saying good-byes, we got on

On the train, we quickly realized that there was a 9 year old boy in the same group of bunks as ours. Actually, a very nice group of people in the bunks in our group. There was one guy that spoke more or less in English, and we could communicate. The boy can say "how are you", "I am fine", "how old are you", "I am nine years old", etc. Right now, Ricardo and the boy are sitting and eating beef noodle soup together. Earlier, they went two cars up where his uncles were playing cards, and Ricardo stayed with them for a couple of hours even though none of them could speak English. Really quite amazing for a 10 year old boy.


Thursday, October 19th, 2:30 pm China time. Somewhere over Japan.

Ok, the continuing story of the train. The kids (Ricardo and Jing Bo) finally came back from playing cards with the Uncles. Since there was a power outlet, I let them play games on the computer. Ricardo taught Jing Bo how to play SuperTux and TuxRacer, two very popular Linux games. After meeting all of the cool Linux Geeks in Lanzhou, Ricardo doesn't want to use Windows anymore. It was amazing how fast Jing Bo picked learned SuperTux and Tux Racer. He even learned really fast where the games menu was and would open up other games and try to play them. It was funny to watch him frown and curl his eyebrows as he tried to figure them out, no matter that everything was in English, he was determined. I got a number of good pictures of them playing. Well, about 8 pm, we decided it was time for them to go to sleep and turn off the computer. When we stopped at the station, one of the guys in the same group of beds jumped off of the train and bought 2 large bottles of beer, a whole cooked, marinated, Chinese style chicken in metal packing with a second vacuum packed metal packing on the inside, and some sliced spicy vacuum packed tofu slices. He kept calling another guy to come down, but the other guy wanted to sleep, so I sat with him and drank beer and ate chicken and tofu. We had talked earlier through a translator (Jing Wu Jing), but now could only enjoy each others company without talking. Well, finally, I also turned in, and soon after they turned the lights down.

I woke up and walked around a little bit at 6:30, then got Ricardo up at 7:00, so he could start to get ready, and go to the bathroom before they locked the bathrooms. I will leave it to you to guess why they locked the bathrooms at the stations. Jing Bo got up a little time later and he played cards with Ricardo. We taught him one word he will never forget: "tickle". Well, soon we were rolling into Beijing and had to say goodbyes. We let the others get off first since we had three suitcases. Since we were the absolute last ones off, we were standing on the platform by ourselves ,making sure we had all of our bags. We saw one worker and pointed both directions shrugging our shoulders, and he pointed to our left. We walked to our left, and soon found some stairs leading to an underground passageway, and headed in the direction of the majority, and finally ended up in the station. On arriving we looked for a bathroom where we could clean up, etc. In China, all bathrooms, like in Mexico, are typically labeled with "WC". As we were walking along, there were lots of guys holding up keys and saying "taxi". We were warned to only take the official taxis, so, we walked looking for taxi signs, and finally, Ricardo tugged on my arm, pointing to a line of official looking taxis. We got a woman taxi driver that was really nice. She was a lot more courteous than the men taxi drivers and drove calmly but at a good pace, taking around an hour to get to the airport. Believe it or not, it was only 124 RMB (by the meter), plus 10 RMB for a toll. The meter had a printer, and she even printed a receipt, also handing us the toll receipt.

At the airport, Ricardo quickly spied the "International Departures" sign, and we started walking. We started looking for the United desk, but could not find anything. We finally asked a business man that looked like he had a clue, and he told us we had to go through "reverse customs", where you have to declare what you are leaving with, and nationals have to declare things such as laptops if they want to bring them back in after visiting another country. We answered "NO" to all of the questions, and went through the "Nothing to Declare" line. After getting to the international departures area, we quickly found the United desk, and got in line after re-shuffling our luggage as to have nothing that would cause problems for carry-ons. After a very rapid and courteous check-in, we then had to fill out a reverse-immigration form declaring we were leaving China. The line was quite long, but we finally arrived at the desk, and a courteous Chinese gentleman stamped our passports, forms, and boarding passes, and we proceeded to security. A woman saw our US passports, and directed us to the US departures line, where special security procedures are in place. We quickly drank some of our remaining water, and placed our water containers in the baskets with all of the others (NO liquids, not even water). After going through the x-ray, a woman motioned us over and asked to look in our suitcase, where she dug through, removing and tossing our toothpaste and shampoo, even though I thought I had heard small personal sized items of such were permitted, and we had made it through US security with these same items. Well, you do NOT argue. Even though we had arrived at the airport 2 1/2 hours early, by the time we got through all of this, it was only about a half hour to boarding. Since Ricardo was hungry, we decided to eat at a place right across from our gate. Ricardo had a not very good hot-dog, but good hot chocolate. I had a not very good beef and cheese sandwich, but very good espresso style coffee! It came to 94 RMB, the most by far we had paid for any meal in China, but still cheaper (and better) than the soggy hotdogs in Chicago. Well, by the time we headed for our gate, they announced that boarding would start in 7 minutes, and we searched for a bathroom, and on returning, immediately got in line to board, passing through one last "US required" security check, since we had mixed with other passengers not headed to the US. On the plane, Ricardo had Chinese style chicken with fried rice, and I had stroganoff style beef with noodles. And, now we are back to the present where Ricardo is watching the second movie, and I am writing my journal. Between the movies, they showed our path on the screen and we were over Japan. I am not sure if we will be chasing the sun and it will be light for the whole trip, or if we will be going against the sun and it will get dark-light in quick succession as we go against the sun. Well, in any case, we left China on October 19th at 12:05 pm, and will arrive the same day (baring any mid-air collisions or missiles), three hours earlier, at about 9:00 am in the morning in San
Francisco. Ricardo found this quite amusing!! I told him that my watch would actually run backwards slowly as we headed for San Francisco, or, run really fast, and then all of a sudden jump backwards 24 hours as we crossed the international dateline. Well, since it is 3:30 pm now in China, and its getting dark, I think we are going against the sun and will have a short day, then a short night before arriving in San Francisco in the morning. Well, I am getting low battery warnings and had better shutdown. Stay tuned, back in few hours when I can plug in my laptop! Bye for now.


Friday October 20th, 10:00 am local time, Guadalajara Mexico.

Ok, I am in my office and will pick up with the story while it is still fresh in my mind.

My laptop display was very dim when I booted in San Francisco, and I could not work. I am now using it with an external display. Well, it is a couple of years old and had some very hard use, and I have a new one that I bought in Colorado and will now have to move all of my files over.

Our trip to China was Guadalajara-Chicago-Beijing (over the arctic circle). Our return trip was Beijing-San Francisco-Mexico City-Guadalajara. The return route, we flew over Japan, between Alaska an Hawaii, I think over the Aleutian Islands, then ducking south to San Francisco, not near as spectacular as our trip over. I think we caught a good jet stream and arrived over half an hour early. We only had about 5 hours of darkness before the sun came up, so we were definitely going against the sun. As predicted, my watch ran really fast, then jumped back 24 hours as we crossed the international date line west of Alaska (REALLY!!). Ricardo and I got some good sleep before we landed in San Francisco. In San Francisco, we went through immigration and customs, and got to our gate an hour early, time to grab some burritos nearby, wash our hair (with hand soap since our shampoo was confiscated), faces, etc, and change shirts and socks. At that time, it had been over 36 hours since we checked out of our hotel in Lanzhou China. We had a nice flight to Mexico City, arriving a little late, with only a one and a half hour layover to start with. In Mexico, they don't have the international arrivals set up so you can pick up your luggage, go through customs, and immediately re-check, they just tag the baggage for international transfers, and then they have customs people roaming the national hallways looking for the international tags when you arrive at the final destination. It was a little complicated to get through immigration with Ricardo, since he has dual citizenship, but travels with a US passport. We have his birth certificate (with Mexican mother) officially registered in Mexico to prove he is Mexican. He could just come in as a Gringo tourist, but that is technically illegal to do. Well, we made it through, and actually got to the gate about 40 minutes early. It was a good thing we did not also have to go through customs in Mexico City. We arrived in Guadalajara right on time at 8:00 pm, and a little girl came running taking a flying leap, almost knocking me over. We went to Ana's mom & dad's house for some fresh rolls with ham, cream, jalapenos, etc, and to show the things we bought, etc. Well, here I am back at work. I had better get to work! This ends the China Journal, hope you enjoyed!