Sunday, October 28, 2012

Are we ready yet?

Argh, no. I still have to go to the store, where they'll probably be all out of milk and bottled water and toilet paper and batteries and cereal and... ugh, and I still have to get to the pharmacy Real Soon Now and...

Why visit us now, Hurricane Sandy? I don't remember sending out an invitation. Gah! Oh well. Looks like I'm going to be among the thousands without power this week as NaNo starts. At least I have a full bag of charcoal for the grill. And we hope other places in the area will have backup generators so we can just drive off and buy food somewhere, dark traffic lights and fallen trees be damned!

I've been writing the notes for my NaNo in my notebook (the kind made out of paper) with a pen (the kind that uses physical ink). With luck, I'll be able to read my own handwriting. The plan is to write the NaNo by hand if necessary, then type it into the computer later.

There, THAT plan was easy enough.

Now, what about the plan for the novel itself?

Well...

I'm working on it. It's getting away from what I had originally envisioned, but it always does. The more details I figure out, the more I realize that "no no no, THIS is what actually happens", which means that the only way I know what the ending is is to get there by writing my way through the story. I think I have enough now to get me through the first week or so of November. I even have a name for one of the characters (that leaves another dozen or so to go). Hooray for Google translate!

So, yay, I'm looking forward to starting! And hiding in the house away from the scary scary evil trees outside. There's so many. Lush, aggressive vegetation as they once said in that old Doctor Who episode. Or that other one:

DOCTOR: Well, perhaps if we could define the exact nature of the threat posed by the trees.

HINDLE: I've told you. Seeds, spores and things. Everywhere. Getting hold, rooting, thrusting, branching, blocking out the light.

...

DOCTOR: Why do you think the plants are hostile?

HINDLE: Because they are.

Mwah ha ha ha! I'm with poor crazy Hindle here. After years of trees falling around me and crushing cars, houses, and people, I've developed a phobia...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Never mind the plot, just get me through the setup

Yeek, ten more days until November. I still don't have a title for my NaNo novel, nor names for the characters, nor names for the places, nor the main plot worked out. Also, I just realized I forgot to do "research" for this story, by which I mean shopping for books for my overflowing shelves! Darn. Well, the ones I already acquired in previous years will have to do. (Plus Google, of course.)

So what do I have so far? Three characters stolen from previous stories, a fantasy version of the world stolen from an old RPG campaign I ran, also used in the previous NaNo stories, a handful of new characters made up for this year's story, an old TV show I'm ripping off ("Sapphire and Steel"), a new TV show I'm ripping off ("活佛济公/Legend of Crazy Monk"), and a stronger version of "ICA=ICC" ("In character actions = In character consequences" as used in online RPGs) which is supported by the way the gods/magic work in this story.

In theory, all I have to do is set up the right initial conditions, and then everything will run by itself to the inevitable yet surprising conclusion.

*keeps a straight face for about five seconds*

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

No, actually, I do need to have some kind of plan. It takes me a long time to think up "well, what would be the most fitting consequence for that, then?" It's easier in a game, when I don't have to figure out what every side is thinking and planning (if I'm lucky, I only have to deal with one character at a time!) If I write in too much of a hurry, the barriers between different characters break down and everyone suddenly knows everything and thinks the same thing. Not the same as ME having a mental breakdown, but still bad for the story.

So I need to make some notes on what each character is doing (in each life) and what they're trying to achieve. Some of them are working for others: I need to keep track of their motivation, secrets, knowledge, current set of memories, and what lies they're telling. There's always the "why me" questions to be answered, too. I'm not having any Chosen Ones, except in the sense of "you're the next name on the list/next in seniority, it's your turn now!"

Never mind writing pointless blog posts about it. Time to go jot down a few more ideas!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

50000 words? Meh...

It's only going to get me through the first 3-4 episodes max (I tend to think of my stories as 45-60 minute episodes in the TV show I'm running in my head), while the "arc" will take at least 6-8 episodes. After this many years of writing 50K chunks, this is pretty obvious. Not sure what I should do about it. The last two years, I tried writing parts 1 and 2 of the novel. What happened was that a) there's a chapter missing in the middle between the two parts, b) I started up new plot threads and forgot some of the ones I had from the previous year, and c) I still didn't get to the proper end even after over 100K words. Bah, humbug!

On the other hand, 50K is near the maximum I can reasonably write in one month. (I could probably do 60-70K if I really pushed it, but it wouldn't be much fun.) Maybe it would be better for me personally if NaNo was redefined to be two months long. October and November would be nice. Maybe next year I'll do AugNoWriMo as part 1 and November as part 2. Too late this year. I'll go for November and January instead.

Or I could try consuming caffeine and/or alcohol to increase my word count? Hmm. Probably not. I'm a terrible NaNo-er. I only ever drink water and watered down orange juice at home. If I'm feeling adventurous I'll drink grapefruit juice or tea. While eating out, I may even get a lemonade! Oooo! Or soda, if I'm really thirsty and desperate. (This is why I'm not ever going to attempt to write one of those classical alcoholic wuxia characters as my point of view character.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blaming the pregnant woman? Oh, please...

Another one from the Big Bag O' Sexist Cliches.

I didn't want to do "Romantic Stalker Man", so now I have "Clingy Wife"? This is what happens when one tries to think up plots while walking the dog. So, in the last mortal life, the woman (I need a name for her) finds out from a fortune teller (actually one of the disciples of the evil naga) that her husband is about to be called into service by the goddess/die. The wife is pregnant... So, who can blame her if she thinks this would be a bad time to lose her husband? Doesn't their child deserve a father? But she can't talk to him about it, as she feels she can't force him to choose between personal and divine duties. She's going to save him by... making a deal with the naga (who must be imprisoned at this point)!? No, that's not going to end badly at all!

So what was his bad idea? Back in their previous lives, he was late for an important appointment, and on his way there, he saw the woman fighting a demon, but he ignored it and rushed on, even though she clearly needed help. "I'm a gardener, what do I know about demon slaying? Not my problem." Ok, not a sexist cliche this time. Just based on those classic psychology experiments.

So, he owes her a life. Presumably this will be repaid in the third lifetime they're together. It's likely this kind of sacrifice is the only thing that can drag her out of the clutches of the evil evilness of evil. Meanwhile, if they fight, remember that each attack will be returned eventually to the attacker. One stab in the back deserves another. One sacrifice deserves another. If she forgets him, he will forget her. She forgets him because she's lost to the demon. He forgets her because he died and lost his memories.

Oh dear, how many times are we going around this cycle?

And where does the other mission come into it? Plus the subplots with the dog and rat fairies? I'll worry about that later.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NaNo2012 Pre-season brainstorming?

Aka what else can I do when someone throws up in their bed at 4 am and decides to sleep in mine? What with the temperature checking and emergency laundering and lack of space, I had a hard time falling asleep again. So there's two hours there of "I should figure out a plot for the novel".

Plot? Characters? I do want to have them in hand before I start. I'm one of those people who needs a Plan. It doesn't matter if I deviate from the Plan, the important thing for me is to have it.

My plan this year: totally rip off the "Legend of Crazy Monk" (2010-2012 so far) TV series, but set it in my personal fantasy version of China (and the rest of the world) that previously contained my vampire and elf "Sapphire and Steel" rip-offs. Also in the plan: kill off or retire those two characters! They've been replaced! Ha! The Queen Mother of the West has a new favorite earthly minion!

Ok, so who are the characters this year? I don't have names yet, but after some thought, I've decided they are the Phoenix Immortal (a divine gardener who does something bad, gets punished for three mortal lifetimes, then is called back into service), the Crazy Nun (no, just kidding, that's silly. But she probably was a nun at one point), the Naga (once a disciple of Manjusri, now turned evil), and the Dog Fairy (the character based on my dog.) Plus the Dead Son, the Walking Facechanging Puppet-that-is-not-the-TARDIS, the Stereotypical Village Elder Couple, and the Rat Fairy (bickering love interest for the Dog Fairy). The Rat Fairy is probably a member of the Beggar Clan, and knows the Dog Beating Stick technique, ha ha!

So what about the plot? Apparently there has to be this big doomed romance thing going on between the Phoenix and the Nun. He fails her, she fails him, and now they can both fail simultaneously before getting some kind of conclusion. It's karma? The villain is involved with them as a consequence of their failures.

Gender issues. Hmm. The Chinese phoenix ended up being female (all the dragon-phoenix pairings!) but apparently that started during the Yuan dynasty. My story starts in the late Song, and ends in the early Ming (which I probably have to rename to the "Sun Moon Dynasty" just to be annoying). The Phoenix in the story started male, went through 3 mortal lifetimes with one as a female, and later became un-sexed and asexual as a price paid to enter divine service. The Phoenix dresses as a male, but seems female to males and male to females. So I'm not sure just how "his" romance thing is going to work out.

Racist? Erp. This is the problem with fantasy worlds when you declare that one place (the cool one where you're setting the story) has dragons as emperors, but that those barbarians out there had a Goblin Khan, and the other land that mysteriously resembled ancient Persia sank into the sea or was overrun by demons, and that one over there is inhabited by were-creatures, when a look at a map will reveal their obvious real-life counterparts. I think of the controversy when one author decided to just delete Native Americans from a fantasy world and shudder. What to do, what to do... What do HUMANS represent in the fantasy world? Why use non-humans at all? Why is the "main" country inhabited by humans, while everyone else is "exotic"? Meh. Let's just say observer bias. Plus there are pockets of humanity out there, and let's pretend I rolled some dice to decide where they live.

Time for lunch...

Monday, October 15, 2012

China? Did I go there? Memory like a sieve...

Let's see if my younger daughter remembers anything:

"The five star hotels are really nice. They have really nice food."

"We went to lots of museums."

"The tours were boring. The wall of China was really annoying to walk on. They had horrible foods on the airplanes. The trains were ok. The subway was too crowded! The end."

Hmm. Maybe not. Oh well. China is China. 2012 is 2012. It was pretty much what you'd expect for a modern, hideously over-populated place. Actually, it was relatively clean. Decent plumbing. I mean, the cities/towns could have totally reeked of sewage, but they didn't. The streets could have been covered with litter, but they weren't. Toddlers poop on the ground instead of wearing diapers, but parents are vigilant about cleaning up. Considering all the disgusting poopy diapers we've had to deal with, going diaper-less is probably more eco-friendly and saves on diaper rash. People may be poor and have to make a living doing things people in richer countries wouldn't bother with, but it seems conditions have improved (compared to the times when millions of people were starving). The rich are richer, but aren't they always?

Emei Shan

"Oooo! There's a computer in this room! Don't tell [brother] or [sister]!"

We spent some time wandering up and down the main street. There was a bus depot for the buses going up and down the mountain. Didn't speak English there. Picked a restaurant at random. For once I didn't order too much food (come on, it's a vacation, I like to feel we have lots of food, and besides, I can never predict from the menu which dishes people will like to eat.) There was that obstacle-course game show on the TV there. These things are weirdly hypnotic. Is that guy going to go for the evil tipping chairs on the top, or try to rush past the punchy-ram things at the bottom? Punchy-ram things it is! SPLASH! D'oh! NEXT!

Got up really early the next day and had to wake up the hostel management to open the front door and check me out. Then we had to go pound on the door at the neighboring hostel to release the spouse, who had been wandering around haplessly in the dark lobby, not knowing which was the correct office door to knock on. Once out on the street, drivers aggressively pitched their services to us all the way until I put down the cash for the bus tickets.

We took the bus halfway up, to the Wanniansi stop, where there's a cable-car to be taken up to where the temple is. Whee! Another cable car ride. I think those were tea bushes we could see on the ground. Emei Shan has its own famous variety of tea. (Which I fail to appreciate, not being much of a tea connoisseur. Guess I should have gone on the "tea" shopping trip!) Then we saw the seemingly endless flights of stone steps, and the moaning commenced in earnest. We slowly made our way up, stalked by an old man selling bamboo sticks (we ended up buying some), a woman sweeping the path, and a porter who kept eyeing the moaning kid. He probably hoped we would give up and hire him to just carry our son up the mountain.

...Ok, so not that many Chinese tourists bother to walk up all these steps, either! But it was clear we weren't going to make it very far, no matter how many bribes we offered. So we stopped off at one of the little rest areas, had a snack, and then headed back down. (We didn't even get far enough to see any monkeys! D'oh!) Saw some mules carrying bricks (apparently some construction going on at the temple). The mules mostly walk by themselves without constantly moaning! We glanced at the temple, but it was crowded and the kids didn't want to go in. That was that for historic holy Emei Shan for us...

We picked up our luggage and then stood around on the sidewalk until someone with a van stopped and offered us a ride. The driver already had a passenger, but there was plenty of room and he took us right to the train station.

...hours earlier than I had planned. Not a great place, the train station. Hot (un-air-conditioned) and with yucky toilets. (Squat toilets, no doors, filthy floor.) Not the worst toilets I've encountered in China, but probably the worst on this trip. So we wandered around a bit. Bought some paper fans, snacks. I should have bought some instant noodles (the ones in the bowl that you just add hot water to) but stubbornly resisted, thinking "I eat the damn things all the time back home, I don't want to do that when I'm on vacation!" Just about every other passenger had the instant noodle bowls, though. Did they know something I didn't? Heh. Cheap and convenient beats expensive, slow, and mediocre train food any day.

...nice train. Yes, it was air conditioned! "Hard sleeper": 6 in each compartment, not bad. Don't ever let your kids steal your blanket! They have fold-down seats along the walls on the opposite side from the beds, with little fold-down tables. Passengers seem to take turns sitting there and looking out the window. One time it was some kids from Hong Kong with Justin Bieber Uno cards. Heh.

A lot of tunnels! The route goes through a mountainous area, along a river valley. Very scenic, in spots. We stopped for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. (Due to severe thunderstorms further down the track, apparently.) Arrived in Kunming in the morning.

Kunming

Crowds, crowds, crowds and traffic! Besieged by touts wanting to sell tours to Dali, Lijiang, etc. the minute we stepped out of the train station. We just followed the main mass of people in search of the taxi area. In the end, we went off with a woman who promised us a minivan. I think we could have walked to the hotel just as fast (as we did in Chengdu) but we were being lazy (plus we had more luggage than we had back when we arrived in Chengdu).

Another big shiny hotel in the middle of a pedestrian shopping district. This one was trying way too hard to reach five-star status! The staff were aggressively helpful (though they didn't seem to speak English), grabbing our luggage from the car and escorting us to our rooms (conveniently located next to each other), then coming by with an amenities cart every day and thrusting slippers, newspapers, candies, kiddie toothbrushes, etc. at us. A pity they couldn't spend more effort on the more basic stuff, such as making sure the toilets worked! We had to have someone come up and clear it twice. I guess they thought it easier to just use a plunger on it every day rather than to really de-clog it.

Spent some time wandering around (more navigation using KFCs as our landmarks!). The provincial museum was cool (and free!). Ye Olde Towne shopping alleys. One selling pets...one scary place. So many birds, baby turtles, and little furries (rabbits, rodents). Tubs of live bugs (pet food?) lying around, one in the middle of the street. Plants, souvenirs, "antiques".

More random TV shows:

Another game show... this one with people as tic-tac-toe pieces, chased around by bulls!?

Something like "Antiques Road Show" with Chinese stuff...? Whoa... did someone carve a stunningly realistic fried chicken leg and hamburger out of jade? What what what...as a diet aid/gift for a friend!? Did I hear that correctly? I guess it makes a change from jade cabbages, jade grapes, and jade bracelets.

Crazy monk... Journey to the West... Matilda... Pleasant Goat... Harry Potter... random anime...

The next day we went to the Shi Lin ("Stone Forest"). Wow! Stunning place! I don't think I've ever seen anything like it anywhere else I've ever been. Big limestone rocks just sticking up out of the ground in striking formations. Pools of water/lakes hidden in the rocks. They have paths and stairs that go all around the main tourist area. "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different" came to our minds immediately. (Shows the age of me and the spouse!) Yes, it's really really crowded in spots, but we went early, and we accidentally went around the place backwards, so for most of our visit, we practically had it to ourselves. (In many places, we were the only people in sight.) Eventually, we did get lost and I had to ask random tour guides for the way out. (The cryptic little maps they had there only confused us, besides being in Chinese.) I think we missed out on a trolley ride, but we had a good time anyway. The weather was favorable, being a cool, drizzly day that made the gray rocks seem mysterious and impressive.

We had lunch at a restaurant in the "minority ethnic group area" (where apparently the people who used to live in the Shi Lin scenic district were relocated by the government. I suppose that's one of the things governments do to create national parks... it's happened in the U.S., too.) It was one of those "point to what you want and we'll cook it for you" places. This included a bin of...some kind of insects!? which I did not point at. Ha. I did really like their fried goat cheese squares, though!

Truffula trees! I swear, on the road from Kunming to the stone forest, there were these skinny trees with single tufty balls of leaves on the top. They looked exactly like the trees from "The Lorax", except for the coloring. No, we didn't see any bar-ba-loots.

We didn't stay in Yunnan very long. I originally wanted to visit Dali, but we didn't have enough time, so we just headed back to Beijing the next day. We didn't do much the second time around. Just wandered around another bit of the city (historical hutong sections! Alleys!) while my older daughter shopped for more anime figurines and manga. Also visited the big bookstore in the Wangfujing shopping area again. I love that bookstore! Awesome bookstore! So many floors! So many books! So many DVDs! I wish we had that bookstore near my house! Did I mention, I liked the bookstore? OMG, I want that bookstore! I should have spent the rest of our cash there. Instead, we ended up at the airport with a few hundred RMB left, and spent it hastily on overpriced souvenirs. Ah well. At least they were cute. (I like the little panda screen my older daughter got.)

...and then on the plane back to North America. So yeah. I think all this travel and vacationing is wasted on us...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Onwards and westwards... Chengdu!

I suppose I should finish writing up this stuff before I forget completely. I have a terrible memory. I was looking at my NaNos from previous years. I had a hard time even finding where I left all the files. I forgot the titles, the character names, the plots, etc. I guess that's why I fantasize about immortal characters with perfect memories.

Anyway, the next city we went to after Xi'an was Chengdu. Apparently Chengdu is not as popular with Western tourists. I don't remember anymore why I decided to go there. Something to do with "I don't wanna go to Shanghai, I went there last time and it wasn't much fun" and "Hmm, I don't think I've been to Chengdu before, have I?". So there we were. This time, I decided we would all try out the regular bus from the airport. Turned out not to be much fun what with the crowding (but since we got on early, we had seats) and our luggage and not being familiar with the route or having a decent map. (I had a couple of print-outs from Google maps and my "Western China" guidebook.) The subway system in Chengdu is still being constructed. I think just one line was open, and it didn't go anywhere we wanted. So we were dropped off in front of some random hotel, then had to walk the rest of the way. We must have been getting used to the traffic in China, as we managed to cross the roads we needed to cross with a minumum of terror.

It turned out our hotel was in the middle of a giant mall of shopping malls! There's this big pedestrian shopping area in the city center (with 2 KFCs within sight of our hotel). We walked all around the building before finding the entrance. The kids were very impressed with the shopping area. And they liked the hotel, as it had good free wireless internet. The staff didn't speak as much English as they did in the Beijing or Xi'an places. (I think all our transactions ended up in Chinese, whereas in Beijing they wanted to show off their English.) There weren't any English language tours on offer, either. Still, the concierge was very helpful (and they had a rack of cute little cards on each of the local tourist attractions) in arranging a van and driver for us for the next four days (and to take us to our next hotel, which was convenient, as I had been wondering what we'd do with our luggage that day while between hotels.) He suggested some local restaurants, but we were all too tired to attempt them, so we ended up eating at the KFC. The KFC had a picture menu, so all we had to do was point and indicate numbers. (I'm not up on all the fast food names/drink names in Chinese... it's not like I ever order fried chicken in Mandarin when I'm in the U.S.) The pieces you get in China are the "good" pieces, too, ha ha, meaning the wing pieces and such. So even though it's the same brand, they do adapt to local preferences. The McDonalds seem to be popular as ice cream dispensers.

Damn, that was a nice hotel. I liked it best out of all the ones we stayed at. The only annoyance was having our rooms on 2 separate floors. Nice deluxe bathroom: I think that's the biggest thing that cheap places lack. And it was way nicer and cleaner than the bathrooms in our house! At least that was one thing no one complained about. The breakfast buffet was good, too. I liked the option where they cook up a bowl of noodles (rice, wheat, etc., plus your choice of veggies, meat, and condiments) for you. China is a great place if you like to eat Asian style noodles (I do). It was cheap and easy to find a noodle shop in all the cities we visited.

Day 1

ATMs! I love the conveniences of modern technology. It turned out to be easy to get cash from machines in China from my bank account in the U.S. (as long as I first notified the U.S. bank that I would be traveling in China.) A good thing, as everyone wanted to be paid in cash. And the city was not nearly as crowded at 6 am when I went to look for a bank. Ha ha! I stopped by at a convenience store and bought Pocky for the kids, so that cheered at least two of them up.

Dujiangyan: It's weird that an ancient irrigation system should be such a tourist attraction, but it is. And it was lovely! (Including a park just inside the gates and a couple of temples.) More attractive than most of the places we visited in Beijing, to be honest. Some parts were being repaired (damaged by the earthquake a few years back), but most of it was open. The kids liked the swaying rope bridges. And the toy crossbow we got as a souvenir. Love the crossbow. They were still playing with it last weekend, which is more staying power than most "I want it now!" toys.

Mount Qingcheng: Famous Taoist mountain. Mucho moaning when the kids realized how much walking and climbing up/down steps was involved, so we didn't get to see as much of it as I would have liked. On the way there, our driver used his tour guide powers (he proved to be pretty good as a tour guide, rattling off as much tour info as our English speaking guides had back in Beijing) to take us to a Taoist restaurant. Well, Taoists are famous for the whole healthy-living/immortality-aspirations thing, so the food was interesting. Chicken soup...Taoist style! (Including head and feet, of course). Endangered fish! I didn't order that one. The driver just pointed them out in the big buckets. (In China, it's usual to keep fish alive in lieu of refrigeration). Small critters... I'm not sure what species they were. Apparently the restaurant had a special license to serve them. I ordered another, less endangered, fish instead! Veggies... the vegetables are all laid out and you can point out which ones you want to the staff, and they'll cook it for you. We ended up with too much food, as usual. And it wasn't to everyone's taste. Still, I thought it was cool.

Qingcheng Shan was hot and crowded. Basically, we walked, then took a boat across a little lake (it turned out to be just as fast to walk around it), then a cable car up the mountain, looked at some temples, then walked back down. All those steps. There were people there offering to carry you for a fee, but we weren't that desperate.

Day 2

Giant Panda Research Breeding Base: We went to see the pandas. Whoa. It's like the size of the National Zoo, but just for giant pandas and red pandas. That was more pandas than I've ever seen in my life! And red pandas! My older daughter loves them. They really are as cute as they look in pictures. We got to see them up close. There was one dozing in a tree branch right over the walkway. More rides on trolleys! Helpful when my son got especially sad and tired and "ugh"ed every five seconds.

Lunch at a tourist trap. (Silk). I think the driver took us here after seeing that the kids didn't like the Chinese food on the previous day. So this time we had the usual meh-inducing food that we had on the previous tours. Then we walked through the silk museum and shop. Those double-sided silk embroidery pieces were amazing: they have different pictures on each side of the same piece of fabric! Amazing or not, we still didn't buy much. (We're such cheapskates... plus I wasted all the money on fancy-schmancy hotels and restaurants.)

Du Fu Thatched Cottage and Wuhou Memorial Temple: A memorial to a famous Chinese poet, then the famous "Three Kingdoms" historical/cultural memorial. You can guess how well that went down. Yeah. I think all the kids got out of it was extra bribes of ice cream and candy. I knew I should have made them watch the "Three Kingdoms" movies first... hmm... Actually, the sites and buildings were very attractive and well-maintained. Some really beautiful gardens. And good gift shops. Maybe I should have bought more souvenirs when I had the chance, but I don't really need more stuff (where would I keep it all?).

Day 3

Shopping! We wandered around the shopping area. Finally found a supermarket! Apparently they hide them in the basements of department stores. Fruit! Sewing kit! (I had to fix my younger daughter's straw hat, which broke about two hours after she bought it.) We tried eating at the famous Chengdu dumpling/small foods place. It took me a long time to figure out how to get the food. Apparently you make an order, then stalk the tables until someone leaves (it's super crowded!) and then give your order to the kitchen, and they'll bring it to your table. Hmm. The dumplings were indeed excellent. Then we went to one of the chain bakeries. I love the round-puffy-things-on-a-stick. I can't remember what they're called. I wish I'd eaten more of them while I had the chance. I like the Chinese bakeries: the stuff isn't as sweet as the stuff in American bakeries, so it's far more to my taste.

At night we went to see a Sichuan variety show. It seems to be what they show all the tourists there. Very short bits of opera, tumbling, puppets, and face-changing. Nothing too amazing, but a decent sampler. It would have been nice to see a full show of something, but three kids=no way to get all three to sit quietly for that length of time for something in a foreign language.

Day 4

Off to see the giant Buddha! Ok. Yeah. It's big. We went on a boat, stopped in front of it, stared. Realized that we'd left the camera in the car. D'oh. My daughter took some pictures with her iPod, I think. Lunch at Leshan at a local restaurant. Not bad. Then the driver used his tour guide powers to suck us into another local attraction: the semi-petrified wood museum!? Hmm. Well, they said it was "ebony", but the displays were talking about the semi-petrified stuff they were digging up. The museum had a person to give us a guided tour (unfortunately, in Chinese, so that left me to do bad translations). Some cool carvings (but the cultural context was mostly lost. Like showing a giant carving with all the best scenes and characters from "Star Wars" to people who had never heard of "Star Wars" before.) Then after that, we reached the strip of hotels/restaurants at the foot of Emei Shan. There was some mix-up with our reservation, but they found us another room at the hostel next door, so that was all right.

Next: Emei Shan! Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. Stalked by porters! Didn't see the monkeys! Too many steps! Vendors with weird fruits! Mules carrying bricks! Turned around and went back down! A long wait at the un-airconditioned train station. "Hard" beds on the sleeper train to Kunming. Nice train, filthy toilets. (And why didn't we buy some bowls of instant noodles? Ah well.)