Friday, December 15, 2017

Like a Horse and Carriage

My boyfriend and I broke up not long after I came home from Beijing. Technically, we agreed to take a break. In my mind, that's basically saying that it's over. If I want to be with someone, I don't want them dating other women. And when men want a break, that generally means they want to sleep around. I have no interest in men who want to be teenagers.

As breakups/breaks go, I took it pretty well. When I came home from Beijing, I had plenty of other things to worry about. Dating was not at the top of my list. Not coincidentally, that was one of the reasons we took a break.

Sometimes relationships end and those involved decide to be friends. Some people can make that work from time to time. Some people never can. I always had a feeling that we could be friends, or at least remain in contact. Our break and/or breakup was amazingly civil. But we did absolutely none of the things that friends do together and made no effort to keep in touch. That might have been because I was preoccupied with other things.

Then he proposed.

He does not want me to share personal information online, which is one of the things I always liked about him. He finds Facebook as destructive as I do. So right now, in this very moment, I'm typing up what I want to say, but I don't know if I will post it. I suppose I could make it as impersonal as possible, but how little can I say when talking about why I turned down a marriage proposal? I could tell him that only people I actually know ever read this blog, but he would tell me how that makes it worse.

I said no for a few reasons. We dated for just under a year. That is entirely too soon for me. We never lived together, and the thought never crossed my mind. I moved in with my last boyfriend entirely too soon, but at least we were together for 8 years and never even came close to marriage. I like to take my time.

I also considered that he asked for all the wrong reasons. I was in a bit of a fender bender not too long ago. He worried that I went to first base with Death and might have come close to going all the way. That's the kind of thing that scares people. I understand that completely. It was not a walk in the park for me either. I'm grateful to have people in my life who worry about me. When I was missing, from their point of view, they worked hard to find me. My best friends flew to a foreign country to bring me home. That takes more effort than clicking the thumbs up button. That is real world friendship. I'm not alone, which is wonderful, but not reason enough to get married.

There is also the issue of cognitive deficits. When your brain gets cut open, there is always the very real risk that you might make some really bad decisions. Your judgment and reason can go a little fuzzy. It is not the best time to make major life choices. Call me crazy, but I only want to get married once. I know everyone thinks their first marriage will last even though the odds are not great, but getting hitched while your marbles are still a little loose can't possibly improve those odds.

I never met his family. That's a big deal to me. You learn a lot about a person from their family. His is 8,000 miles away, so it's no mystery why we never met, but they talk to each other all the time. They live in Cape Town, so that would have been a great trip. It looks like a beautiful city. The closer the family is, the more you marry them as well as the man. I can't marry total strangers.

We also took a break when I came home. That kind of bothers me. If he can't handle me when my brain is cut open, I've got mystery fluids oozing out of creative places, and I'm babbling incoherently in broken Chinese and Shakespearean English … I'd swear I had a point to make at the beginning of that sentence. I don't blame him for freaking out when I looked my worst, but when you marry someone, you have to assume that their body is going to go downhill sooner or later. I can forgive friends who abandoned me when they were afraid of how to react, but a husband has to be there for you no matter what.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/14/17

I made a few minor changes to chapters 6 and 7. I'm a little worried that I'm not changing all that much from the last draft. I have changed some dialogue, so that's something, but you are supposed to rewrite a lot of each draft. That's what all the self-appointed experts say, at least.

And it makes sense. The first draft is never going to be as good as the final draft. That is just common sense. If your first draft is good enough to be a final draft, then you are a literary savant. It is far more likely that you only think it's good enough. Ask any publisher how many delusional writers are out there. I'm no publisher or editor, but people have given me a few books to read that were obviously first drafts. If I could tell right away, you know the professionals with years of experience can tell. I suppose that helps them decide which submissions to dump in the trash.

Since I'm barely changing anything, I can only assume that I'm missing something. Maybe I need to take a step back and think it over.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/13/17

I rewrote the big Gettysburg scene. Not because of any historical accuracy issues. I think I'm covered. At least as much as I need to be in a story that is not even remotely about the Civil War. It's what the characters do that I have rewritten. The first drafts made the point that I wanted to make, but now it sounds more amusing to me.

I had a small group of people that I never named in chapter 5. They were only in one scene and I knew I was never going to bring them back, so I never bothered to name them.

Now I have given them all names. Since they are mostly women, and we are never going to see them again, I have given them all names that are euphemisms for vagina in each character's respective culture.

Is that sexist of me? I don't think so. Would it be sexist if a man did it? I don't think I would notice. I would just assume the male author was unfamiliar with Chinese and picked the Chinese name because he liked the way it sounded rather than what it meant. Unless he was Chinese himself. Then I would wonder why he called her that.

The other names are European, so I'm sure more people will see it. If not, that's ok, too. They are not important characters.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/12/17

I typed the word “snigger”. Apparently, I have never done that before. At least not on this version of Word.

“I'd never do that,” he sniggered.

Makes sense to me. Spell check wanted me to change “snigger” to a much worse word with a very different meaning.

I generally ignore any and all spell check programs. That might be dangerous. No one types every wrod properly every time. But typos should reveal themselves during the editing stage. And if I mix up homophones, spell check will never notice. “He new he wanted to where his Christmas Satan hat too make his skin Les pail.” None of those words are spelled incorrectly. There is not a single squiggly red line.

So Microsoft developed their own grammar check. It is terrible. Just for fun, I ran a grammar check. It wants me to change “Is this a miniseries?” to “Is these a miniseries?” I don't want to change that. Some differences are a matter of opinion, but this is just wrong. It also wants me to change “Is this a different battle?” to “Is these a different battle?” Come on. That's just illiterate. Maybe you can argue that since “miniseries” ends in S, grammar check thinks it is plural. But even so, it thinks “is these a” is correct. Is these a? Be these a? No blue lines.

Most of the spelling “errors” are proper nouns that Microsoft has never heard about. I had to add “Angeles” to the dictionary because it kept underlining Los Angeles. I would never expect them to know every city in the world, but is Los Angeles an obscure little village?

Sometimes, the spelling suggestions are just crazy. It wants me to change “campout” to “cam pout”. Compound words can be a matter of opinion, but then why not suggest “camp out”?

One of the flight attendants quietly approached Alicia during the pre-flight safety video.
The top spelling corrections are “per-flight”, “ore-flight” and “pee-flight”. Pee-flight? What kind of book does Microsoft think I'm writing? And what is an ore-flight? This is not a book about miners.

“Are you trying to sniff out if I'm a lesbo?”
Lesbo is slang, so I can understand it not being in the dictionary, but the options are “boules”, “bootless” and “boneless”. Who accidentally types “lesbo” when trying to type “boules”? That's some serious, and seriously Freudian, dyslexia. But “boneless” is appropriate.

“She doesn't do walk-ons.”
The top corrections are “walk-nos”, “walk-ins” and “walk-obs”. I've never even heard of walk-nos or walk-obs.

When Tyler lotioned Cheryl's back in turn, Cheryl felt goose bumps running up her neck.
Spell check suggests “motioned” or “lotion ed”. I can see people typing “lotion” when they meant “motion”, but “lotion ed”? “When Tyler lotion ed Cheryl's back in turn, Cheryl felt goose bumps running up her neck”? That's wrong in any universe.

They saw DVDs of the Maddie O'Laine movies, but that was like watching someone else.
The corrections are “DVD” and “DVD s”. I realize that people don't seem to understand apostrophes anymore and will type “DVD's” when they want it to be plural, even though that is possessive, but spell check is supposed to know more than some teenager on Facebook. “They saw DVD...” and “They saw DVD s...” are as wrong as wrong can be.

Her first date was with a young sommelier, played by a struggling actor and graduate student at USC.
The top corrections are “isomerism”, “somewhere” and “slimmer”. Sommelier is a French word, so maybe it should be changed to freedom server, but isomerism is the arrangement of atoms. I can assure you that her date was most certainly not with a young isomerism.

They all went to Gracias Madre, a popular Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood.
“Cadre”, “Madge” and “Padre”. Gracias Cadre might be a good name for a restaurant, but it definitely changes things. The interesting part is that padre is in the dictionary, but not madre. Maybe Microsoft thinks madres should stay in the kitchen, but not have any acknowledgment in their efforts.

Cheryl nursed her niçoise salad and sat silently during most of the conversation.
“noise”, “nisei”, “Nisei”. Spell check knows Nisei but not niçoise. So it hates the French but not the Japanese. I guess that's a step in the right direction. But what is a Nisei salad? Maybe I don't want to know. Now, maybe “Cheryl nursed her noisy salad and sat silently during most of the conversation” works, but that is not what I want to say.

She was Anita Lickalott, a young coed at BJU.
“Allotropic”, “Littoral”, “Glottal”. I can see it not knowing Lickalott. Obviously, that's a joke name. Allotropy is another chemistry term, but this book is not about anthropomorphic chemistry characters. Anita Glottal fits, although that would be far more esoteric than I intended. Anita Littoral has nothing to do with it, unless the implication is that she is always wet. But again, Lickalott is better. The scene in question is not supposed to be subtle.

If you ever write an educational cartoon about chemistry, feel free to use Anita Allotropic.

It might be a few generations before computers are ready to replace a human proofreader.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/11/17

Sometimes, during early drafts, I will put placeholder dialogue where I know I will go back and fix it later. Later is now. I'm going through all the dialogue and fixing whatever needs fixing. It is not just placeholders. Sometimes a character says something that makes sense in the first draft, but after some changes, it simply does not work anymore.

Editing is almost like time travel. What you change over here can impact what happens over there. When you make the door in chapter 10 red instead of blue, you have to go back and make sure it is always red. Maybe someone casually mentions the blue door in chapter 3.

I read a book two or three years ago where one of the characters was named Emma half the time and Anna the other half. It was definitely the same character. The author obviously changed it at some point but forgot to change each mention of the name. I don't know how their editor never noticed. Maybe they relied on Microsoft spell check.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Great Wall of China
29. Side Effects

According to everyone, I will recover somewhere between 6 months and 2 years. Most of the bigger milestones happen in the first 6 months. That is when they decide if you are going to come back all the way or if you better get used to something that will never be the same again. Generally speaking, at the 2 year point, that is the way it is going to be.

Except seizures. I never had any, and they took me off the anticonvulsants pretty quickly, but – this is the fun part – they could pop up at any time in the next 4 years. So you know all those jobs you can't have if you are susceptible to seizures? Those are all off the table. I will not be a truck driver, crane operator or military explosive ordnance disposal specialist any time soon. My dream of juggling chainsaws on a tightrope over a ring of fire at the Olympics are no more.

Some of the side effects that may or may not pop up in the next 6 months to 2 years include headaches, seizures, dizziness, depression, anxiety, irritability, emotional instability, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, hormonal disturbances, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, electrolyte abnormality, loss of motor control, loss of range of movement, formation of aneurysms and meningitis.

I am also at risk for changes in personality – disinhibition, apathy, impulsiveness, hypersexuality, loss of initiative, rage without provocation, inappropriate humor, poor social interaction, excessive swearing, lack of empathy, compulsive gambling, drug use; cognitive deficits – distractibility, impaired conversational skills, reduced processing speed, disrupted insight/judgment/train of thought; executive function deficits – problem solving, planning, multitasking, abstract reasoning. Further down the road, I am at greater risk for diabetes, stroke, epilepsy, brain tumors, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

So there's always something to look forward to.

I have already had plenty of headaches. Fortunately, they are not nearly as bad as I expected. During surgery, they cut nerves. As they grow back, it feels like tiny knives. It comes and goes, and a little ibuprofen goes a long way. Sometimes just holding it makes a big difference. Nurse Xihua in Beijing gave me a great tip for dizziness. Whenever I get up from lying down, I turn sideways and lift my head up slowly. This is supposed to be better than rising like Dracula. I'm also supposed to avoid roller coasters for a while, but we don't have any of those outside of Ocean Park, which I'm boycotting anyway.

Dr Chen said I had a pretty good attitude. Maybe he was being sarcastic, but sarcasm is rare in China. I remember doing a lot of bitching and moaning in the hospital, but he seemed to think I was optimistic. I was always highly motivated to recover. I want to go back to work. The longer I wait, the harder that will be. Dancing is like playing a sport. The less time on the sidelines, the better. You want to get back into the game as soon as possible.

If the lack of empathy, disrupted judgment, rage without provocation and problem solving deficits ever kick in, I can always go into politics. As far as apathy and excessive swearing, fuck it. I don't give a shit about that.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pearl Harbor

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

“The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

“It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

“The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

“Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

“As commander in chief of the army and navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

“I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

“I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

--President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 12/8/1941



John Lennon

1940-1980


You can shine your shoes and wear a suit
You can comb your hair and look quite cute
You can hide your face behind a smile
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

You can wear a mask and paint your face
You can call yourself the human race
You can wear a collar and a tie
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

Well now, you know that your cat has nine lives, babe
Nine lives to itself
But you only got one
And a dog's life ain't fun
Mamma, take a look outside

You can go to church and sing a hymn
You can judge me by the color of my skin
You can live a lie until you die
One thing you can't hide
Is when you're crippled inside

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/7/17

I'm a little concerned about the structure of the book. Most of the chapters take place in multiple locations. Rather than set up each new scene with an expositional "one day later" or something that spells out to readers that it is a new scene, I simply move from one to another. With different characters in a different location, it should be obvious that it is a new scene, but obvious is not what it used to be. Online, what used to be called obvious is now considered subtle. Subtle is now mass confusion.

My instinct is that anyone who reads books will easily understand. I'm hardly the first person in the history of the world to do this. But what kind of books are people reading these days? If you are used to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, my books are never going to tax your brain. But a lot of people read a lot of crap. Modern authors dumb down far more than they should. It is not their fault. Modern publishers insist that everything has to be dumbed down because they don't have much confidence in their readers. Maybe they see books like Fifty Shades of Grey on the bestseller list and realize that Austen and Dickens had a very different audience.

It is all serials about vampires and zombies now, or books designed solely for a movie adaptation. If the great American novel is written today, it probably won't even be published. It won't test well with teenagers.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/6/17

During the first draft, I toyed with the idea of using movies about Los Angeles as chapter titles – like Sunset Boulevard, Chinatown, that sort of thing. The city is almost a character in this story, and it is more or less about life in Los Angeles. Movie titles made sense. The only problem is that most movies about Los Angeles have nothing to do with this story. A lot of them are noir private detective movies, and something like Boyz n the Hood would never work.

Before the second draft, I decided to title each chapter with wherever most of the action takes place – “West Hollywood”, “Santa Monica”. There is still a “Sunset Boulevard”, but it refers to the street, not the movie. Sunset Boulevard, the movie, is mentioned, but in the “Santa Monica Boulevard” chapter. That might sound confusing, but it makes sense in context.

Chapters do not have to have titles, but I have always used them. I will do something sooner or later without titles, but I don't think this is the book.

These are the movies I was going to use:

Chapter 1 – Slums of Beverly Hills
Chapter 2 – Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Chapter 3 – Rebel Without a Cause
Chapter 4 – The Player
Chapter 5 – Mulholland Drive
Chapter 6 – Real Women Have Curves
Chapter 7 – Short Cuts
Chapter 8 – Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Chapter 9 – The Day of the Locust
Chapter 10 – To Live and Die in LA
Chapter 11 – Double Indemnity
Chapter 12 – The Big Sleep
Chapter 13 – LA Confidential
Chapter 14 – Less Than Zero
Chapter 15 – Valley Girl
Chapter 16 – Sunset Boulevard
Chapter 17 – Barton Fink
Chapter 18 – LA Story
Chapter 19 – Boogie Nights
Chapter 20 – In a Lonely Place
Chapter 21 – The Long Goodbye

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Great Wall of China
28. Doctor's Orders

Both of the main doctors in both parts of China agreed on the long list of things I was supposed to do and not supposed to do.

Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day when tired. Naps are highly encouraged.

This is pretty easy to follow. Everyone assumed there would be some sleep disturbance and irregular patterns, and I would probably need some kind of medication at night, but falling asleep was never really a problem. I had some funky dreams, but dreams mean you are sleeping. Lack of sleep is the enemy. Naps were never really my thing, but the more I pushed myself physically, the more I started to appreciate a quick siesta in the afternoon. I have become a fan of flooding my room with music, getting lost in rock and roll and drifting away.

Short walks around the block are good. Increase distance and duration as tolerated.

Other than having my head cut open, lying in bed all day was the worst part of the hospital experience for me. I like to get up and move around. I want to go for a run every day. I need to exercise. I am at the height of my professional powers. Stopping now is career suicide. In the hospital, dancing was out of the question. They let me take short walks as soon as I knew where I was and what was going on. At home, I took longer walks, but energy was never on my side. Lately, Lily and I have been partial to walks around the Kowloon MTR station or King's Park if I'm feeling adventurous.

Walking is such a simple thing that most of us take for granted, but when I got back from Beijing it was a lot harder than I wanted it to be. There was nothing wrong with my legs. I simply got far too tired far too quickly. Lily was a blessing every step of the way. She was my personal trainer, nurse and cheerleader. I could have walked alone, but there were too many risks in the beginning. I never had any seizures, but she protected me from the dangers of a big city and my own inability to concentrate. She also encouraged me to rest often. I probably would have pushed myself too hard. When you want to get back to normal immediately, it helps to have someone around to keep you from hurting yourself.

No alcohol or spicy food until approved.

This was always going to be easy to follow. I have never been a big drinker. I might have a drink or two at parties or a glass of wine on the rare occasion I'm at a fancy restaurant, but I never keep any alcohol in the house.

I love spicy food, and I live in a place where it is easy to find, but without a sense of smell, nothing tastes the same anymore. My appetite is gone, but I can't tell if that is because nothing has flavor or because I am not exercising as much. I used to eat like a horse because I was physically active. Now, I'm slow and plodding. I force myself to eat, not out of hunger, but because it is time to eat.

No sexual activity for at least 6 weeks.

This is funny and/or ironic given that one of the risk factors is hypersexuality. It goes in the same category as being given a million drugs and being warned not to become an addict.

This one was also easy to follow since I no longer have a boyfriend. No one had to wait around for me because there was no one to wait around. When you get exhausted just walking around the block, feel like you might vomit when you lie down flat and your boot camp haircut shows off a horror movie scar, feeling sexy is not a priority.

No driving or flying for 4 weeks.

I don't own a car. Hong Kong is not a good place to drive anyway. I like to drive, but I usually only get to when I'm out of town. I did, however, fly a week after surgery. That was mostly unavoidable. I suppose I could have stayed in Beijing for a month or taken a combination of trains and buses to Hong Kong, but that was never going to happen.

No strenuous activities – jogging, bicycling, aerobic exercise – for 4 months.

This is one of the hardest of the doctor's orders to follow. I like strenuous activity. Sitting on the sofa and watching TV all day is to me what jogging is to Chris Christie. Ever since I was knee high to kneehighs, I have needed to move. The best news I ever got was when the doctors said I should walk around a little rather than stay in bed all day. If the opposite were true, I would have gone insane.

We have a small gym in our building. I have used it off and on in the few years we have lived here. Given a choice, I would much rather go outdoors to run, bike or swim. Per doctor's orders and my own lack of stamina, walking was really the only thing I could do outdoors. The gym finally made itself useful. Lily made sure all the machines were at lower settings and kept an eye on the clock. In my opinion, anything less than 2 hours is pointless. She preferred the other side of 30 minutes. She had to kick me out every day, and we always argued about it, but the most important thing is that she went with me every day. I could never find a better trainer.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Hailey's Novel Diary – 12/4/17

You might think that a car accident in a foreign country and emergency brain surgery would slow me down when it came to writing this book. You would be absolutely right. I went from writing almost every day to forgetting that there was anything to write. I had a pretty good plan and schedule for the second draft, but everything flew out the window. Turning on a laptop was not a priority in Beijing, even if I had one handy. Reading would have been too difficult at that point, and anyone who has ever written a book can tell you that you read far more than you write.

After I got home, I eventually started thinking about the book. The more I thought about the fictional characters, the less I thought about how physically limited I was. Spending time in a hospital really slowed me down, but since I can't go back to work for a while, my calendar was suddenly wide open.

Sitting in front of a computer for more than a few minutes was difficult at first, but there are ways around that. There is no law that says everything must be written while seated. And, here's the shocking part, plenty of books have been written over the years without any computers at all. Shakespeare had to dip a quill in ink. Imagine how long it took to write Hamlet that way. With more modern writing implements, I worked through the next few drafts quickly.

When I started back in March, I wanted to detail every step of the writing process. People are always asking me how I write books. This was supposed to give a little insight. After Beijing, writing the book and blog posts about it would have been too draining. Editing and rewriting was more important than describing how I was doing it. A full documentary of every step from first draft to publication is no longer an option. That ship was scuttled. But I think I might go through whatever is left. Maybe it is pointless to detail the first and final drafts while skipping everything in between, but shit happens. When plans don't work out, you adapt.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, which makes you wonder why I moved to Hong Kong. This is not a pumpkin pie kind of place. My roommates are Canadian, so their Thanksgiving is in October, but we always do it in November, as it should be.

Thanksgiving – proper American Thanksgiving – is about family and food. My roommates are my family, so they are always invited, whether we like it or not. I have not seen my biological family in years. They would say that is my fault. I say it is their fault. I'm in regular contact with a few people in Minnesota and they know about the recent bump on my head. So I can assume that my family knows as well. None of them have made any attempt to contact me. I would be genuinely surprised if they did.

Hong Kong has plenty of food. Maybe not traditional Thanksgiving food, but if you plan enough in advance, it can almost come close. This year, I can't taste anything. I can't tell the difference between a Birchwood caramel apple streusel pie and Chinese 湯圓. I could have had Thanksgiving dinner at McDonald's for all I knew. But we did not. We are not masochists. A quiet dinner at home was much better.

My boyfriend and I decided to take a break. Our second date was on Thanksgiving last year, so I suppose the timing was not too bad. Our problems have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, however. It was more selfishness than anything else – on both of our parts, but I'm going to go ahead and blame him.

And Thanksgiving was the day after my birthday this year. I've had better birthdays.

With no family, no boyfriend and flavorless food, I suppose I could sink deep into depression, but I have a lot to be thankful for. Not the least of which is that I live in a country where no one would point out that you are not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. Paul said it's getting better all the time. John said it couldn't get much worse. I agree with Paul. It could always be worse. In my case, it could be a million times worse. John was clearly a pessimist.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Halloween 2017

I was in Tel Aviv last Halloween. I was expecting just another day, but the people of Tel Aviv take any excuse to party. It was not a trick or treat, jack-o-lantern Halloween, but it was plenty festive.

This year, I was in Hong Kong. Lily and I have made a point of celebrating every Halloween that we are both in town. We have thrown parties at our apartment, at friends' apartments or simply shown up to something somewhere else. Hosting and/or finding some action on Halloween is pretty easy in Hong Kong. There is nothing the least bit traditionally Chinese about it, but Hong Kongers get into it far more than I would have expected before I came here. The biggest struggle for me is figuring out what to do for a costume.

Halloween coincided with our annual visit to Kevin's boss's house at Clear Water Bay. We all love staying at that house, and it is a great place to throw a Halloween party, but I had to pass this year. The isolated location is usually a draw, but when you can't drive and can only walk short distances, it is inconvenient. At home, the nearest 7-11 is downstairs. At Clear Water Bay, it is a few miles away. My favorite part about the house is the swimming pool and hot tub. All of my doctors forbade using both for a few months. Being at that house and not being able to swim would be torture.

Unlike previous Halloweens, I had very short hair, like I was in basic training, and a large visible scar. That is almost begging to be used in some Halloween fashion. Any other type of party and I would have declined immediately. I got tired too easily and being surrounded by people was harder than relaxing at home. There was also the issue of a large visible scar on my head. Everyone I know personally knows the full story, but in a party setting, there are always people I barely know or have never met. I understand the curiosity, and I don't mind talking about it, but the same Q&A over and over again all night is taxing.

Hats are the obvious solution, some might say. Have they ever been to Hong Kong? It is not the coldest place in the world. The temperatures will dip slightly in the next few months, but it will be entirely too humid until January. Go to Hong Kong in summer, put on a hat and then sit in a crowded room full of reveling people. My main rule every Halloween is to find a costume that does not steam me like a dumpling.

A Halloween costume could solve the 20 questions dilemma, and I thought about partaking. We came up with a few ideas, but ultimately I was not up for it. Thanksgiving would prove to be easier. I could do dinner with the family.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Great Wall of China
27. The Third Hospital

The next day, I went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. This was easier than Beijing Tiantan for a few reasons. I was in my town rather than a foreign city, I walked in fully conscious, and I was going to walk out the same day.

Lily came with me. Kevin has a real job and had to get back to work. Lily works nights, teaching Chinese children how to pass English tests. Her days are open for doctor's appointments and timing medications. I was happy to have her. At this point, walking was still a chore and I got tired too quickly. I walked to later appointments, but we took a taxi the first time. The driver thought we didn't know where we were going and tried to convince us that it was close enough to walk.

At the hospital, one nurse checked my vitals, took blood and did all of the usual routine. Another nurse asked me a lot of questions and I waited for the doctor. In Hong Kong, they always get to you right away, but then you have to wait around. Dr Li asked me most of the same questions the nurse had already asked and then sent me off for an MRI. At first, I was surprised that my records were not sent from one hospital to another, but I eventually realized that Hong Kong hospitals have little faith in Mainland hospitals. They prefer to do everything themselves rather than rely on what they think is probably faulty information.

After Dr Li looked at my MRI, he showed it to me. That was a new experience. Most doctors tell you what they want you to know. This one was actually giving me the same information that he had. I was also surprised by the technology. I was expecting to look at an x-ray on a lightboard. Instead, I looked at my MRI on a computer. That let the doctor zoom in, change colors and do things you are never going to do with an x-ray.

Dr Li explained everything that happened to me and for me, and filled in the gaps that Dr Chen either never mentioned or that I never remembered. The plastic plates in my head were small, but clear as day. I was expecting one large cover, like a Bond villain with a steel plate in his head, but they were four tiny pentagons around the bone flap. I could always feel the bone flap and plates. There is nothing visible without the MRI, but you can feel a slight change in topography if you touch my head. Touching the plates while looking at the MRI is an unreal experience. It never really felt like the plates were actually in my head until I saw the images.

That they were made of plastic rather than titanium did not bother Dr Li at all. There are several benefits, but I think the one I appreciate the most is that I can use air conditioning. Apparently, titanium plates can get painful when chilled. I could not live in Hong Kong without air conditioning. Blow dryers are also supposed to be painful since they heat the plates, but I will have short hair for a long time. It's amazing how quickly it dries. Some people with titanium also complain about clicking noises or pinching when they open and close their jaws, but that is more about the bone healing than the plates.

Dr Li had low expectations from the Mainland China hospital, but when he heard that Dr Chen did the surgery, he told me that I had the best possible doctor. They knew each other professionally, and Dr Li confirmed that Beijing Tiantan Hospital was the leading neurosurgical center in China. Not including Hong Kong, of course.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Great Wall of China
26. Going Home

Beijing to Hong Kong is only a four hour flight, but after eight days in an uncomfortable hospital bed, I was not looking forward to cramming into a tiny economy seat. Air China was nice enough to upgrade us to business class.

Amy and I flew into Beijing on Hong Kong Airlines, but we never made the return flight. Hong Kong Airlines had no interest in returning our money for the missed flight or even giving us a reduced rate, so Lily booked a flight with Air China. Not only did they give her last minute tickets at a deep discount, but they provided the best customer service I have ever seen from an airline in China. The wheelchair and obvious head wound probably helped. Bumping us to business class was icing on the cake.

Kevin suggested getting another wheelchair at Hong Kong Airport. Arriving in Hong Kong is quick and easy when you have a Hong Kong ID, but the airport is pretty big and the arrival gate could be far from passport control. A flight attendant reminded us that the airport has little electric golf carts that people can ride for HK$50. Anyone who has been to Hong Kong Airport has seen these things racing around, but none of us had ever used them. Terminal 1 is the third largest airport terminal in the world, right behind Beijing Capitol. Walking from one end to the other can take a while, but the golf carts can do it in a few minutes.

The first thing I did when we got home was take a nap. Our flight landed at 10pm, so I knew my nap was going to last all night, especially when I lay down on the most comfortable bed in the history of the world. I was still supposed to sleep with my head elevated, but that is why Gustave Pillot de Chambre invented the pillow. That was the best unsedated night's sleep I had in over a week.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Great Wall of China
25. Escape From Beijing

At Beijing Capital Airport, Lily wanted to get me a wheelchair. I could walk. In fact, Dr Chen prescribed a little walking every day until I was up to speed. But Lily and Kevin reasoned that we would get through all of the airport bureaucracy faster with a wheelchair.

And they were right. Borrowing an airport wheelchair was easy. The attendants were genuinely concerned when they saw the bandage on my head. Lily brought a tuque to Beijing for me to wear, but I was still getting used to it and taking it off regardless of how much it might have shocked the people around me. We all assumed that Lily or Kevin would push me around in the wheelchair, but the airport provided a skinny young man in a uniform. Maybe he was only there to make sure we did not steal it.

Getting through a Chinese airport is not especially difficult, but if you have their staff taking you, everything moves much faster. It was like being a celebrity. We never waited in any lines, everyone stared at us and more than a few people took pictures. I am bound to be on someone's Facebook page by now.

The only thing I had to worry about was the metal detector. Small plates were holding my skull in one piece. Being in a wheelchair and accompanied by staff would never make any difference at an American airport. The TSA will search a little old lady's colostomy bag. Beijing has a more efficient system, and they are not nearly as lazy when it comes to security. What I did not know at the time was that the plates in my head were made from organic thermoplastic polymers. There is nothing in my head that should ever set off any metal detectors. The true test will be the next time I fly to Tel Aviv. Their machines can detect a single titanium screw in your body, but their agents use common sense.

The downside to tearing through the airport at record speed is having entirely too much time before the flight boards. Beijing, like every other airport, is a shopping mall with planes parked outside. But I could not have been less interested in t-shirts and snow globes.

Waiting for the flight gave me time to think about a few things I never considered in the hospital. What happened to all of our things at the hotel? We left in the morning to go to the Great Wall and never came back. Did the hotel throw our clothes away? It was not a major issue. Buying a new toothbrush is pretty easy. But I was curious.

Did anyone ever tell the car rental company what happened to their car? We were only supposed to have it for three days. Obviously, we never returned it. We had insurance. You cannot rent a car without insurance. But who told them they were never getting that car back?

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Great Wall of China
24. Discharge

Dr Chen came to see me for the last time and we asked each other a lot of questions. Lily and Kevin asked their own questions, which the doctor happily answered. When your brain is broken, it helps to have someone else around who might remember everything. And in China, doctors prefer to talk about patients with the family rather than with the patient. Families have a greater say in treatment options than the patient. Lily and Kevin were the only family of mine Dr Chen was ever going to meet.

When I thanked him for the last time, he pointed out that I could give the hospital a positive Yelp review. I thought he was joking, but it turns out there is a Yelp-like website where people can rate the treatment and service of the hospital. I think that is simply crazy.

When I was discharged, they gave me a long list of instructions and several bags of medications. Then we were taken to the billing department. In China, you pay before they treat you, except in emergencies where you pay before you leave. Technically, no one ever receives a bill since everything is supposed to be paid in full before you walk out the door.

Had this all happened in the United States, I would have left the hospital and waited for a bill that I could never hope to pay even if I live to 100. Since it happened in China, Lily paid the balance not covered by insurance.

I'm not interested in getting into the cons and cons of the American healthcare system, but my Hong Kong insurance covered almost everything. Everything that happened in the emergency room, surgery, devices put in me, machines I was hooked onto, bandages, gauze, staples, sutures, needles, drugs taken, flavorless food, doctors, nurses and random unidentifiable people were all covered by insurance. The only thing I (Lily) paid was about $400 for a room and $20 for the bags of medications I took home.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Great Wall of China
23. The Visit

On my eighth day in the hospital, I was taken off the anticonvulsants. I had no seizures and the doctors were relatively assured that I would not. There is still the possibility, and it is something I will have to keep an eye on for the next few years, but most of the worst things tend to happen right away.

When Nurse Xihua came in to take the staples out of my head, I was relieved. Just the idea of having my head stapled bothered me. Maybe it was a better choice than sutures, but it still sounds weird to me. They also put glue in my head as a sealant, but that dissolved on its own. The staple procedure was simple, and no more painful than combing out tangled hair – something I will not have to deal with for a while. When all the staples were out, she put tape over the incision and put on a lighter dressing than everything I had before. Needing your head bandaged is never a good thing, but when the material gets progressively smaller, that is always good news.

After another MRI, Lily and Kevin were allowed to see me. They flew in that morning and waited in the hospital until all of the graphic procedures were finished. When we saw each other, we all smiled – in noticeably different ways. I was as happy to see them as I possibly could be. Lily was happy to see me, of course, but I did not look my best. My newest dressing was small enough to reveal how bald I was. This was not elegant bald like Patrick Stewart or Samuel Jackson. This was Darth Vader bald. There was also some swelling and I had been medicated for the past week, so she has seen my better days.

More surprising to me was Kevin's reaction. He has been Lily's boyfriend since the beginning of time and we have all been roommates since our last apartment. If she is my sister, he is like a brother to me. Living with a couple would never work if we were not all friends.

When I looked at Kevin, he was crying. They were happy tears, but I think that was the third time in all the years we have known each other that I have ever seen him cry. He is not one of those hyper ego, macho Stanley Kowalski types. I have never seen him talk down to Lily or try to control her. She would never put up with it. He is secure enough in his masculinity to act like a decent human being. But he is definitely not a crier.

It probably did not help that when I saw them, I started speaking Chinese. It was not that I thought they or I were Chinese. I knew full well that they are Canadian and I am from south of the border. I simply did not recognize that I was speaking Chinese until Lily pointed it out. Kevin's Chinese is excellent. He could have easily held a conversation. But Lily is learning Chinese by osmosis, which does not work at all.

That should have been the strangest part of being in the hospital, but knowing that I was awake and alert for the first few days without remembering any of it freaks me out to this day. I had entire conversations with doctors and nurses. I took cognitive tests. I drank ice chips and demanded water. I vomited buckets. I complained when they removed the Foley catheter. But I don't remember any of it.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Great Wall of China
22. That Which We Call a Rose

The nurses fed me every day in the hospital. Sometimes more than once. None of it was any good. I don't remember a registered nurse ever delivering food in an American hospital, but in Beijing, the nurses always brought me my food. I never expected great food from a hospital, but I was truly surprised when I realized why the food was so bland.

Most of the meals were rice and vegetables, in different combinations and permutations. Sometimes the 菜心 was steamed. Sometimes the 白菜 was boiled. The rice was always the standard nuomi white, sitting in a rice cooker all day sticky rice. Every meal was served in small plastic bowls with plastic chopsticks and/or plastic spoons. All of the plastic reminded me of cheap shopping mall food, but it was obviously the more appropriate choice in a hospital setting.

When I was given pumpkin soup one day, I opened the bowl in anticipation. Chinese pumpkins taste nothing like American pumpkins, but pumpkin soup is a great treat when you are sick of cabbage and rice. I was extremely disappointed to find that the soup had no aroma and was as bland as everything else.

For dinner that same night, they gave me dumplings and the usual rice and vegetables. Dumplings cannot be bland. That would be like sweet lemon. A decent dumpling should have scallions, shallots or garlic – unless made for Buddhists. When I opened the plastic bowl, I was ready for a big whiff of sweet and sour, soy or sesame. Instead, I got a breath of air. Somehow, the hospital managed to suck all the flavor out of a dumpling.

Looking back, it amazes me that it took so long to realize that I had no sense of smell. When you are blind or deaf, you probably notice that right away. When it eventually registered that I could not smell anything, I tried to smell everything. When I told Nurse Xihua that I could not smell anything, she calmly took the tiger balm out of her pocket and opened it under my nose. That was a much better test than anything Dr Chen did later. If you can't smell tiger balm, something is wrong.

Dr Chen explained that since the hematoma was in the regions of the brain that control personality, movement, cognitive functions and sensory information, losing my sense of smell was a known side effect. Anosmia, they call it. Dysfunction of the olfactory system is not particularly uncommon after a sudden acceleration head trauma. He was not concerned about my vision, which is controlled by the occipital lobe. He meant to reassure me, but after hearing that I damaged the part of my brain that deals with personality, movement, and cognitive functions, I was far less worried that I could not smell anything.

None of the hospital food tasted like much of anything because the senses of smell and taste are so closely connected. Losing your sense of smell does not kill your sense of taste, but it takes the flavor out of everything. Taste without smell is like trying to see in the dark. You still have your sense of sight, but it is not nearly as strong as it is with light.

Dr Chen could not tell me whether it was temporary or permanent. As with most things related to the brain, no one really knows. It could gradually come back over a period of time, come and go in waves or I could wake up one day with a fully functional nose. Any of the above could happen tomorrow, next month, next year or never. As with everything else, I was told to wait and see.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Great Wall of China
21. The Aftermath

When Amy was released from her hospital, she went home. I knew about her broken arm. I saw it sticking out of her. But Lily told me that she also broke the other arm and a leg. Getting back to Hong Kong with a broken leg and two broken arms was difficult enough. Trying to find me and then somehow making her way to my hospital before the grueling trip home would have been unrealistic. She correctly assumed that back home, our friends could do far more to find me than she ever could on her own.

Amy's Hong Kong doctor expected her to fully recover, but she had casts on her leg and arms. She had to use a wheelchair for 2 months, which is extremely difficult in a city like Hong Kong, made worse by the fact that she could not push it herself. Even when crutches would have ordinarily been an option, she had to use the wheelchair because of her left arm. She had to rely on others to do more for her than I want to think about. Fortunately, her family is in Hong Kong. Chinese drivers don't give a shit about anyone else while they are driving, but Chinese families take care of each other, no matter what.

Amy's first cast was removed in mid-October, about 5 weeks after the accident. Her right arm took the least of the damage and once the cast was off, it was as good as new. The cast on her leg came off in early November. Her leg was weak, but she could finally walk again. On paper, Hong Kong is wheelchair accessible, but public transportation is almost impossible without assistance. Shopping malls and major tourist sights have ramps and elevators, but the streets and sidewalks are death traps if you need a wheelchair. Some streets can only be crossed by tunnel, and the steps going in and out are precarious even for the most able bodied. Some sidewalks have wheelchair ramps on the curb, but people will park in front of them.

Amy's left arm cast was removed 9 weeks after they put it on. It was not as good as new, but she can move it and her doctor expects to see improvement over the next few weeks.

Lily also told me about the other people in the accident. The scooter driver was killed, but I already knew that. I was looking into his eyes when I ran over him. I will never forget that. The truck driver had a minor fracture in his hand. I know what a pain that can be. I broke some tiny bones in my right hand a few years ago. It is not at all life threatening, but only using one hand for a few weeks is terribly inconvenient. We have two for a reason.

The truck driver would have been released from the hospital on the day of the accident, but he was arrested. Technically, the scooter driver caused the accident by running the red light. He set everything in motion. But the truck driver made it a million times worse. Also, the scooter driver was dead, so the police needed someone else to blame. They probably thought about blaming me since I hit the scooter, but the truck caused every inch of damage. And arresting a hospitalized foreigner might require more paperwork.

I have no idea what happened to the truck driver after the police got involved. If he was charged with manslaughter, he may have already been executed. Chinese jurisprudence is neither slow nor cautious. Since he is/was a truck driver, we can assume that he is not rich enough to get out of it. I would love to speak with him, if he is still alive, but no one will give me any information.


Red zone?
Crosswalk?
Wheelchair ramp?
Big sign that clearly reads "NO PARKING"?
No problem.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Great Wall of China
20. Lily's Adventure in Wonderland

During my sixth day in the hospital, I got a phone call from Lily, my roommate, best friend and sister from another set of parents. It is no exaggeration to say that when you are in a hospital in China following brain surgery, it's nice to hear a familiar voice. It took her six days to call me because she had her own hedge maze to run through.

From Lily's point of view, two of her friends went to Beijing for the weekend. Amy came home with several broken bones and the news that I was taken to a different hospital with a head injury. That was the starting point.

Calling me was not an option. My phone was lost in the accident. I would have been unavailable at that point anyway. Calling Amy's hospital was difficult. Voluntarily delivering information is not a Chinese trait. It took more than a few phone calls from several people just to get the name of my hospital. Then it took several phone calls from more than a few people just to acknowledge that I was there, alive and in more or less one piece.

The funny part is, this was not a privacy issue. Chinese hospitals are not the least concerned with privacy. News reporters and cameras routinely walk into emergency and recovery rooms when celebrities are hospitalized. In one of the Hannibal Lecter movies, Edward Norton's character despises Philip Seymour Hoffman's character who bribed his way into a hospital and took graphic photographs of him. That was supposed to show how dishonorable Philip Seymour Hoffman's character was. In China, that sort of thing happens all the time. Ironically, they always blur out the graphic parts when they print the photographs.

When Lily finally found me, she was told that I could not come to the phone. That did nothing to reassure her. Now that she knew where I was, she booked a flight to Beijing, but she had to wait for a visa. In the meantime, she kept calling until someone eventually told her that I could speak to her.

Hearing her voice was the best thing I could imagine. All of my doctors spoke English, some with more creative pronunciation than others, and I can do reasonably well in Chinese, albeit with my own foreign cadence, but Lily's Canadian accent took me out of the Twilight Zone. The doctors, nurses, hospital and Beijing were all alien to me. Lily was the sound of home.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Great Wall of China
19. Hailey's Curious Labyrinth

I vividly remember the dream I had that night. I was in a maze, like a hedge maze, but it was under water. In order to get up to the surface to breathe, I had to find the end of the maze. In the real world, I have made my way through a few hedge mazes, some more difficult than others, but none of them required holding my breath. Even simple mazes, like Alice's Curious Labyrinth at Disneyland Paris, would be fatal without oxygen.

I woke up the next day fully aware of where I was and what was happening around me. A doctor I did not recognize looked at all of the machines and asked me some basic questions to make sure I did not lose my mind overnight.

For breakfast, I was given a small bowl of 黃粥, a type of rice porridge. No one ever said hospital food was five star cuisine, but this tasted like a bowl of styrofoam. Generally, when I am in a strange place and facing strange food, I will smell it first before tasting. Your nose knows when food is bad, whether it is something you eat every day or something you have never seen before in your life. This porridge had no smell whatsoever, which matched perfectly with the taste.

Following an MRI, the EVD was removed. That was an unusual experience that I cannot wholeheartedly recommend. Having a tube pulled out of your brain is one of those experiences you probably remember for a long time. Unless you forget. If you need a tube in your brain in the first place, forgetting things is always an option. The external ventricular drain is a catheter inserted into the skull to drain CSF and monitor ICP. I was unconscious when they put it in, but fully awake when they ripped it out. A nurse performed the procedure, with a doctor supervising. That did not make me feel better. Was it her first day on the job? Had she recently killed a patient while performing this very procedure? Could I get the doctor to do it for a small bribe?

The nurse removed the dressing on my head, sterilized and medicated the area, gently removed the sutures around the catheter and then yanked the thing out of me. I knew there was a tube in my head, but when I saw how long it was, I kind of freaked out a little. An hour or more – or less – later, Nurse Xihua came in to clean and redress the wound. Right after that, I was taken in for another MRI.

“Will I be radioactive?” I asked someone on the way to the MRI.

“Yes, of course,” they answered.

One of us might have misunderstood.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Great Wall of China
18. The TBI

Dr Chen's story was less innocuous than mine. I presented at the first hospital with little or no indication of trauma. The medical team became suspicious when I started responding to questions with inapplicable answers. The lucid interval was followed by intermittent loss of consciousness. A low GCS score led them to the first CT scan. That revealed the cerebral laceration and subdural hematoma. I was transferred to Beijing Tiantan Hospital, the leading neurosurgical center in China, when the first hospital determined that they could not adequately treat my intracranial trauma. I was unresponsive on arrival and admitted into surgery where the neurosurgical team performed a craniotomy to relieve intracranial pressure.

Much of what Dr Chen said was gibberish to me, but I noticed that he bragged about his hospital. That is very common in China. No matter what city they live in, it is always a leader in some field or has the best of something in the world. No one ever lives in some dirtwater town somewhere. And it is hard to contest their boasts. Is Beijing Tiantan Hospital the leading neurosurgical center in China? How would I know?

But then it started to sink in. Neurosurgery is brain surgery. The word craniotomy meant nothing to me, but -otomy is surgical cutting. Cranium is the skull. My second greatest fear in the entire world is having brain surgery. If the first hospital told me they wanted to cut into my skull, I would have refused treatment. I don't want brain surgery anywhere in the world. And I really don't want brain surgery in China. When I touched my wrapped head, Dr Chen kept talking. The fabric was too close to my scalp. My hair was not twisted underneath. It was gone.

When I asked Dr Chen what a craniotomy was, he explained it in clinical detail. My head was shaved and I was intubated endotracheally. Under general anesthesia, an incision in the scalp was made and a pattern of small burr holes were cut into the skull. The bone was cut progressively between adjacent burr holes and the bone flap was separated from the surrounding skull. An incision in the dura exposed the hematoma, which was irrigated and excised. Following successful relief of intracranial pressure, the dura was closed with polyglycolic sutures and the bone flap restored with polyether ketone plates. The scalp was stapled closed and dressed. An external ventricular drain was inserted to continuously monitor ICP and drain cerebrospinal fluid. An arterial catheter was used to monitor blood pressure.

I was monitored in the ICU and given corticosteroids to control swelling, prophylactic anticonvulsants to prevent seizures, and antibiotics to prevent infection. Sequential compression devices were wrapped around my legs and medicine was administered to prevent blood clot formation. Blood was routinely drawn to determine sodium and potassium concentrations and red blood cell levels. Brain activity was monitored with continuous EEG and follow up MRIs. When extubated, oxygen saturation levels were monitored by pulse oximetry. Neurological checks were performed over the next 72 hours.

In addition to everything north of the border, they also did a pregnancy test, which seemed strange to me. None of my injuries were anywhere near that neighborhood. Not that it mattered. I'm officially and not surprisingly not pregnant. I found out much later that some of the drugs they gave me could have been fatal to any pregnancy. The Chinese government might not want anyone to have babies, but the Chinese doctors routinely check to make sure everything is safe just in case.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Great Wall of China
17. The Doctors

The next time I woke up, I knew where I was right away. I knew I was in a hospital, at least. I still had no idea where the hospital was or its name. It only took a second of consciousness for the next headache to arrive. But instead of fire, it was a dull throbbing headache. I could live with that.

A doctor came in with a clipboard and a long list of questions. The questions started out easy enough. I knew my name and how old I was. Fortunately, he never asked me what day it was. There were flash cards with shapes and colors. Those were easy. I always had good grades in geometry class, but there was no trapezium on the cards. I don't know those in Chinese.

When Dr Huang asked me questions with both English and Chinese in the same sentence, I pointed out how that was kind of a clever trick to see if I noticed the difference, but asked him how he would know if I knew any Chinese. If I knew nothing in Chinese, that would only confuse me and tell him nothing. He stopped smiling and told me that the first time we did this test, I used Chinese almost as much as English. I then pointed out what was already obvious to him. I had no recollection of ever taking this test before.

When an older doctor came in, Dr Huang asked me why I was in the hospital. I described the accident as I remembered it and how I was brought into the hospital by ambulance along with Amy. When I asked them about Amy, they had no idea who I was talking about, which only made me fear the worst, but said they would look into it.

According to my story, I only had a few minor cuts from the accident. They were disinfected in the ER. Dr Chen asked me if I thought minor lacerations and abrasions would lead me to sleeping in a hospital bed with a towel on my head. It sounded kind of unlikely when he said it out loud. All of my limbs were intact and mobile. Nothing seemed to be broken. The only thing out of the ordinary was how I kept waking up without ever falling asleep and the steady drum beat in my head. Plus, my hair was wrapped up in a towel.


Edit: I just realized this is #17, posted on the 17th, 2017. That is purely coincidental. 17 has no particular meaning in Chinese, but Noah's flood started and ended on the 17th.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Great Wall of China
16. Moments Come and Go Like Water

When I was back in bed after the MRI that I thought was a CT scan, I reached up to fix my hair. It felt tight, as if it got twisted around. Instead of hair, I felt a towel. As soon as I touched the towel, I got my first headache. It was like someone put dynamite in my brain and then waited. It took awhile, but when it went off, it went off with a bang. I immediately expressed my desire to be rid of the explosion in English, Chinese, French, broken Italian and really bad Spanish. I would have tried smoke signals if I thought that might work. The doctor asked me, in English, if I had a headache.

“It feels like a steamroller ran over my brain,” I answered. It did not occur to me until later that I both heard and understood what he said. If the only way to understand people required the headaches, I would have willingly gone back to the trombones.

There were more conversations and people moving around my bed, but I could not focus on anything. My head was on fire. Nothing else anywhere in the universe mattered. When they finally gave me enough drugs to numb my head, I floated away. People were still talking and moving, but I still didn't care. Floating was so much better, flying straight across the great divide. I could almost picture the rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies. That reminded me of the Ghostbusters climax, for some reason.

“See you on the other side, Ray.”

An indeterminate amount of time later, Nurse Xihua gave me breathing lessons. It might have happened much earlier, right after I was extubated. That would make more sense. It might have never happened at all. The point of the breathing exercises was that it improved circulation with more oxygen and blood supply to my lungs, opened air passages, and lowered the risk of pneumonia or other infections. She might have told me that right away, or I learned about it later.

Nurse Xihua had me inhale deeply through my nose and exhale slowly through my mouth. After doing that 5 times, there was another deep breath, but then I held it for a second before exhaling in 3 short bursts. On the third burst, cough out any mucus, phlegm or whatever gooey debris might be swimming around in there. She told me to repeat this several times a day. I only remember doing it once.

The side effect of a medical procedure meant to stave off infection was that I was essentially meditating. When you focus on breathing in and breathing out, you stay in the moment. It is harder to think about all the petty things in life when you are concentrating on something as essential, and usually autonomic, as breathing. For me, it was a nice little Buddhist moment surrounded by modern technology in an antiseptic environment.

I could hear Samuel Jackson. “Om mani padme hum, motherfucker.”

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Great Wall of China
15. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies

Robot parade, robot parade
Robots obey what the children say


Car accidents can definitely paralyze people. Maybe that is why I never jumped out of the bed and tore out the tubes. There were electronic blankets wrapped around my legs that were plugged into a machine. That frightened me more than any of the tubes that pierced my skin. When you wake up in a hospital with a strange machine on your legs, assuming that something catastrophic has happened is effortless. I'm a dancer. Losing the use of my legs is not an option. Take out my spleen or a kidney, burn my appendix in effigy, but leave my legs alone.

While the doctor talked about whatever he was talking about, I shook my feet, perhaps too enthusiastically, but happy that I could move. The blankets were a mystery, but my legs were moving. The doctor looked concerned, but I was overjoyed that my legs worked. He insisted on whispering, so I ignored him and tested out all of my limbs. I could wiggle my toes like nobody's business.

I was satisfied that I could move on my own, but the doctor had a few people slide me from the bed onto a gurney. I assumed they were taking me to the room for people who were not paralyzed. I didn't care. As long as my legs still worked.

Watching the ceiling lights come and go during the gurney ride, I could hear a bouncy chromatic D minor melody in my head. I wanted to jump off the gurney and turn straight from a pas de bourrée couru in sixth position to a tendu devant in plié. I could just imagine one of the nurses playing a celesta.

I recognized the CT scanner. Maybe it was not the exact same machine that I saw earlier, but it was a similar type of space donut. After the scan, they brought me back to the bed and plugged me back into the machines. I have never seen any of the Matrix movies, but if they have a CT scene, it probably looked like that.

Machine or mannequin
With parts made in Japan
My heart is human
My blood is boiling
My brain IBM
Domo arigato, Dr Roboto

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Great Wall of China
14. The Second Hospital

When a nurse came into the room, she looked at me, looked at the machines around me, and started talking like an adult in a Peanuts cartoon. That was peculiar. It was only then that I noticed the tubes piercing my body. There were tubes everywhere, even in places I would normally insist on months of dating first. I recognized the IV in my arm and pulse oximeter on my finger, and could guess where the Foley catheter was going, but everything else was foreign to me. My first instinct was to jump up, pull all of the invaders out of me and run away. Something told me that I should probably sit still and wait to see what happened next.

Instead of the unfashionable Uniqlo clothes I brought to Beijing, I was wearing cheap white pajamas. You wear cheap robes with wide open backs in hospitals. These were pajamas. Not something you want to wear in public, but a full covering nonetheless. I briefly wondered who took off my clothes and dressed me like a kung fu padawan, but then I remembered that 99.99% of nurses in China are women. The nurse who did the sponge bath saw everything anyway.

A doctor came in and looked at me and the machines. When he spoke, I could tell that he was actually talking, but it was like he was whispering. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I immediately realized that I was in a car accident. I remembered everything, or at least everything I was going to remember; hitting the scooter, running over the scooter driver, getting hit by the truck, the car rolling over, Amy screaming.

“Where's Amy?” I asked the doctor in English. I knew in that moment that he was Chinese and that I was in a Chinese hospital, but it never occurred to me to speak to him in Chinese.

He whispered something back, but I could not tell what he was saying, or even what language he was speaking. Why was he whispering? Was I deaf? Do car accidents make people go deaf? But I could hear myself and I heard the nurse. She sounded like a muted trombone, but I heard her. I could hear some of the machines around me. Then I heard other people walking and random noises across the room or out in the hall. Obviously, I was not deaf.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Great Wall of China
13. And When the Sky Was Opened

I remember waking up in an unfamiliar room. It was either nighttime or all the lights were off. No one else was in the room, but I could tell I was in a hospital. In a hotel, I would have been lying on my side or curled up. Here, I was lying down while halfway sitting up, with my legs stretched out flat. There was a hospital curtain next to my bed and the kind of machines you do not normally see in a hotel room.

A second later, I woke up in a bright room with people rushing around. It was all noise and general chaos. Everyone was talking at the same time in what sounded like a dozen different languages. I would swear that at least one person was speaking Klingon.

The first time I realized that a nurse was giving me a sponge bath, I thought I was dreaming. We call it a sponge bath, but there were no sponges involved. It was also not nearly as exciting for me as it would be for men watching with the remote in one hand. It bothered me that the nurse never washed my hair, but I thought I was dreaming, so I never said anything. I don't want to consider myself vain, but I like to think I have nice hair. I use a Chinese shampoo that gives Asian women that silky shine. Where I come from, my hair color is nothing special, but here, women often dye and fail to match it.

The first time I woke up with any certainty that I was actually awake, I had no idea where I was. It was like the first morning on vacation when you wake up in a hotel unsure exactly where you are for a second. Only this lasted longer. I had no concept of where I was, what time of day it was, how I got there or what I was doing. I could see everything around me, but nothing made any sense. It was like an important system file was missing from my hard drive. When I realized I was lying upright in a bed, it still did not make any sense. It was obviously not my bed or a hotel bed. It did not even feel like a bed.

Eventually, I decided that I was in a hospital. I could not imagine why I would be in a hospital, and hospitals have a distinct iodoform smell. This one did not. But everything around me looked like a hospital. There is a Nicolas Cage movie where he wakes up in what looks like a hospital room, but it's actually a rooftop freight container. He should have been able to smell the difference. But he was part of an elaborate con. I was relatively certain that I was not. The time of day, or even what day it was, felt unimportant under the circumstances. Something put me in a hospital.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Great Wall of China
12. Wild Peonies Couldn't Drag Me Away

Back in the ER, the doctor asked me about Jeanne Moreau, who had died a few weeks earlier. We discussed her movies and how important she was to the world of acting before ER Doctor asked me if I had ever ridden in a hot air balloon. I knew that I had, but could not remember the last time. It has been too many years. The Great Wall of China would probably be a great location for a float in the sky. The view alone must be amazing.

We stepped into the balloon's basket just before it rose up above the hospital. A nurse stood on the roof of the hospital, chopping chives and throwing them into the basket. When we got higher, there was a young Chinese boy on the lawn dressed like Huckleberry Finn and shooting spit wads from a straw up at the balloon. ER Doctor screamed at him to stop, but I was not worried about it. I did not think a spit wad could hurt a hot air balloon.

I was wrong. When the balloon burst, we fell to the ground. We were maybe 50 feet high, at most, and we fell quickly, but it took forever before we hit the ground. We were moving comically fast, Keystone Cops fast, but the ground was in no hurry to make impact. While falling, ER Doctor looked around the balloon for anything that could stop us. I just watched the scenery. The last time I flew over the St Croix River, it was so beautiful. I closed my eyes and pictured it.

We hit the ground hard, but I felt no pain. When I sat up, I was in a dentist's chair, facing a wall with one of those Hang In There, Kitty posters. The cat was looking at me. It was only a poster, but I felt like it was speaking to me personally. That tenacious little kitten wanted me to know that everything was going to be ok.

I could not see the dentist, but I could hear him preparing the drill. I don't have any particular fear of dentistry, but they should really change the sound of that drill. He pushed the chair back, and all I could see were bright lights in my face. I could hear the drill, but I could not see it or the dentist. All I could see was bright dentist office light flooding the room.

“Step into the light,” a male voice whispered before faintly laughing.

“That's not even funny,” a female voice said as clear as a drum.

Walking in a large field of pink peonies, I could see the Emerald City in the distance. I did not feel at all compelled to walk toward it. I knew the wizard was just another lying politician, but there was nothing else in any direction. It was all flowers as far as the eye could see. I had to decide if I wanted to make my way to the city or just relax right there in the field. After I took my shoes off, I started walking.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Great Wall of China
11. The First Hospital

I don't remember getting into the ambulance or most of the ride. I sat next to the nurse and watched Amy for a minute before we pulled into a hospital emergency room. In the ER, they wheeled Amy into an examination area and one of the nurses asked me if I was ok. I had a few little cuts here and there, and my hands and arms looked like I tried to tunnel out of a prison, but no bones were sticking out of me. The doctors rightfully concentrated on Amy. I had a headache, but nothing to write home about. Amy was crying in pain. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Amy stopped crying when they gave her some drugs. It was like shaking something that rattles in front of a crying baby. She went immediately silent. It was kind of spooky. I was standing nearby and could see everything. Had I not been able to see that she was awake and moving around, it would have been scary.

While several people worked on Amy, a nurse had me sit on an exam table and rubbed antiseptic all over my little cuts. I thought it was unnecessary, and as an American, worried too much about what they would charge me for a dollar's worth of over the counter ointment.

For reasons no one explained, the nurse had one of the doctors talk to me. The nurse spoke in Chinese, so I talked to her in Chinese. The doctor immediately spoke English, so I talked to him in English. My initial assumption was that the nurse wanted someone to speak to me in my native language, but the doctor just asked me a bunch of basic questions I could have easily answered in Chinese. 你叫什麼名字? 覺得怎麼樣? 你痛嗎? 呼吸困難嗎? 今天星期幾?

I thought my answers were pretty good, especially since I was speaking English. That's a language I like to think I know pretty well. But the doctor wanted to get a CT scan of my head. I objected, but they were unimpressed. On the one hand, I wanted them to leave me alone and concentrate on Amy, even though she had plenty of doctors and nurses with her. On the other hand, there is something authoritative about a doctor in a lab coat with his name stitched on the front. He was too old to be a resident and sounded too experienced to dismiss.

They had me lie down on a stretcher, even though I had no problems walking at all, and rolled me into the radiation room. The scanning process was not the least bit claustrophobic. Most of my body was outside of the giant space donut. It was a painless and simple procedure, but the machine looked exceptionally expensive. I could see American hospitals charging a thousand dollars for a quick ride. I wondered what this hospital would charge and then laughed that a completely unnecessary test was going to cost more than the cast on Amy's arm. None of the people around me laughed, but I thought it was funny.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Great Wall of China
10. The Ambulance

The paramedics were far less impressed with the scene in front of them. They must see traffic collisions every day. Paramedics in China are not the same as paramedics in the United States. They are not even called paramedics. They usually have a doctor and sometimes a nurse in the ambulance, but in general, they have little to no training in emergency medicine. The doctors are fresh out of medical school, putting in their time until they can move on to a residency somewhere. The ambulance is transportation and basic first aid. In an emergency, you want an American ambulance any day, even though it is outrageously expensive. In China, they can't perform any medical procedures, but the ride is free.

After they strapped Amy onto a gurney, I told one of them that there was a scooter driver somewhere in the intersection. He looked at the traffic and said, “不是你的問題.” – That's not your problem. I could not tell if he meant that some other ambulance was going to go that way or if he thought it was none of his business either.

Someone else asked me what hospital I wanted to go to. Ambulances in China are not required to take you to the nearest appropriate facility. They take you to your favorite place. I have no favorite hospital in Beijing, or any city, but I knew that Chinese hospitals often concentrate on one subject more than others. I did not want them to take Amy to a place that specialized in gynecology. There are a million medical terms that I don't know in Chinese, so I used a phrase you never want to use when shopping. 钱不是问题. – Money is no object, basically.

Both Amy and I have health insurance in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is in China, but not everything translates. The government in Beijing controls the government in Hong Kong, but Hong Kong issues its own passports, visas and money. The passports and visas are different from Mainland China, but “中華人民共和國” is stamped right at the top. What I would learn later is that some hospitals in Beijing honor Hong Kong insurance while others do not. Fortunately, the closest hospital to the accident accepted Hong Kong insurance. Even more fortunately, it was an internationally accredited hospital with doctors who studied in various European countries. Amy had a few broken bones. A Chinese doctor who only studied in China could have patched her up. The international aspect would end up doing me a world of good.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Great Wall of China
9. The First Responders

I was still thinking about what to do with Amy when I crawled out of what used to be the windshield and looked around. We were at the opposite end of the intersection, on one of the relatively smaller streets. I could see the back of a big rig cargo truck parked around the corner. I do not remember ever seeing that truck before, but something told me it might have been involved. It was upright and appeared undamaged, but I could not see the front from where I was standing. The scooter driver was nowhere. I could not even see his scooter. Traffic resumed through the intersection. I want to assume that people were driving around him rather than over him, but I could only see cars moving in every direction.

Even closer to us, there were no bystanders. People slowed down to have a look or take a picture with their phone, but not a single person stopped to help. I'm sorry to say that I did not expect anyone to offer any assistance. That is simply not the Chinese way. Americans look down on most of the world as lower life forms, but in an accident or disaster, we rush toward the people in distress, not away from them. Amy and I are probably on a few Facebook pages. “Look at this terrible accident. I watched and then just walked away like an asshole. Here's what I had for lunch.”

Based on our position and the lower traffic volume on the smaller street, I left Amy in the car. For some reason, I turned on the car's hazard lights. That would make sense in some countries, but in China, people mostly use their hazard lights when double parked. As far as the car being an obstruction, that should have been obvious. It was lying on its side. But obvious is relative. A few years ago, I saw a car honking at the car in front of it to move out of the way. The engine of the car in front was on fire.

When a police car eventually approached, I waved to get his attention. That might sound stupid. A broken and battered car was resting on its side. Any police should notice that right away. But just like every car and pedestrian that passed the accident, you never know if the police might think it is none of their business and keep moving. When the officer got out of his car, the look on his face was pure astonishment. I don't know if it was his first day on the job, but he was clearly out of his league. When I told him that Amy was injured, he looked into the car and stared at her. His mouth was open the entire time, but I don't remember him ever saying a word.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Great Wall of China
8. The Collision

With no police in sight, the scooter driver and I were left to settle the matter on our own. Blocking traffic was not really an issue since this intersection was large enough for everyone to go around us. The scooter was directly in front of the car, so we were only blocking one lane. I was going to get out of the car to make sure the scooter driver was ok, and check out the damage on the front of the rental car. We had compulsory insurance, but I wanted to know if I would have to explain a dent or a scratch to the rental company.

I never saw the truck coming. He hit us at an angle, like he was trying to do a PIT maneuver. The first thing I noticed was my car running over the scooter driver. I grabbed onto the steering wheel, mostly as a reflex, I suppose. I was not in control of anything. Some of the details over the next few days are pretty fuzzy, but I think I will always remember the look on the scooter driver's face just before I killed him.

From my point of view, a bulldozer rammed into us at a million miles per hour. Rather than slow motion, everything happened in quick jump cuts. I somehow transported to the back seat as the Earth quickly rotated around us. The ground folded up and over the car as the sky made its way under us. This happened several times. When the ground finally stopped spinning, the car was resting on its right side. Amy was still strapped into her seat, but in a twisted position, like a child trying to sleep uncomfortably. And she was obviously in a great deal of pain. She and the seat were still in the car, but she was lying on the pavement and a deflated airbag. Her window was gone, as was every other window in the car. There were a few chunks of laminated glass here and there, but the windows were mostly somewhere else.

I was resting on the ground and back door panel. I wanted to get to Amy, but checked to see if everything was in place first. All of my limbs were intact and nothing seemed to be broken or even sprained. There was a little blood on my left shoulder, but when I checked, the skin was not even broken. The blood seemed to come from over my shirt, not under. The impact obviously knocked me from one end of the car to the other, but it looked like I was in good shape. The interior of the car was more narrow than before, but there was enough space to crawl over to Amy.

When I got to her, I wanted to pull her out of the car. Her left arm was visibly broken and it looked like someone sprayed her with blood from a squirt gun. Obviously, pulling an injured person out of a car is a bad idea. I had no way of knowing what condition her neck or spine were in. But I knew that if someone else hit us, it could only make everything worse. I like to think I am a decisive person. Maybe I'm not, but I think I am. In this moment, I did not have the faintest idea what to do.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Great Wall of China
7. The Scooter

I was not driving too fast during the accident. In fact, we were stationary. Before we even left Beijing, we came up to one of those large Chinese intersections with 16 lanes moving in 6 different directions. We had a green light, but I have enough experience with Chinese driving to know how irrelevant light color is. I slowed down, as I always do at intersections, and hit a scooter that was racing out from one of the cross streets.

As soon as I saw the scooter, I slammed on the brakes. I pressed the brake and clutch so hard into the floor, I'm surprised nothing broke. Scooters running red lights are nothing special in China. It's like a fight at a hockey game. It happens all the time. You know it's going to happen. Don't go if you're not ready for it. That is why I slow down at intersections.

Had I been Chinese, I would have killed the scooter driver instantly. Since I was going slower than usual, I had enough time to slow down just enough to knock him off his scooter. He was upset, but uninjured. It's kind of funny how Chinese scooter drivers break as many laws as possible while driving and then get mad at anyone who follows the rules. While he was yelling at me for hitting him because he ran a red light, I unbuckled my seat belt to get out of the car.

When you have a collision in China, you are supposed to keep your car where it is. That might block traffic, but the police, if they ever get involved, want to see everything in whatever position it landed. If everyone moved to the side of the road to let traffic pass, the police would never know how much people are lying to them. Even with cameras in almost every car, lying is still the default reaction. If two cars are on the side of the road and he says she did it and she says he did it, the police would never know who to blame. If the cars are in their original positions, it is easier to make an assumption about what happened. Safety is never the primary concern. Assigning blame is what matters most. Chinese traffic laws are not designed to avoid collisions. They are about how much you pay the other person if it is your fault.

Had the police arrived at this point, the scooter driver would have insisted that he was driving slowly and legally and that I barrelled out of nowhere and broadsided him. He most likely would have said disparaging things about female drivers in Chinese, assuming that I would not understand or be able to speak to the police officer myself. Then I would have told the police what really happened and tried not to smile smugly while showing him the camera. Victory would be mine. The scooter driver would have paid a small fine and that would have been the end of it.

Unfortunately, the police did not arrive at this point. There are surveillance cameras everywhere in China, but not much of a police presence on the roads. That is one reason traffic laws are mostly ignored. No one will ever pull you over to issue a ticket.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Great Wall of China
6. The Rental Car

On a busy Thursday morning in the middle of September, Amy and I woke up early, had an uneventful breakfast and headed off to the Great Wall of China. We were both looking forward to hiking on the wall all day, but I was also looking forward to driving the rental car. I don't get a lot of opportunity to drive in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong is not the kind of city where you want to drive. Neither is Beijing, but as soon as we got out of the city, it was going to be wide open roads and countryside for most of the drive.

We rented a 2017 Peugeot 3008. We originally booked a basic compact, but when we got there, our only options were the Peugeot and some older Czech cars. Not having the car you reserved seems to be the international mandate of rental companies. Call me prejudiced, but I'll take a Peugeot over a Czech car any day.

The car was a little too futuristic for me, with a smart phone dashboard display with touchscreen menus, sub-menus and tiny icons that I did not like. I'm driving a car, not looking at videos of cats. The less time you spend looking at the dashboard, the better. The good part about all this new technology was that it had cameras all over the place. You can parallel park into the tightest of spaces without hitting anything. That is especially useful when trying to park in a place like China. Where I come from, parking spaces are larger than the cars. China does things differently.

Front and rear cameras are standard in China because traffic laws are enforced rarely and followed even less. In the past, every collision was everyone else's fault. Insurance companies had to believe the police, who believed whichever party had the better job or paid the higher bribe. With today's cameras, it is harder to lie about hitting someone. People still lie, but if the police ever see the footage, they can figure it out.

Our rental car was a 6 speed manual transmission, and I was looking forward to getting it up to sixth gear. The night before, there was too much traffic from the airport to the hotel to ever get fast enough. I like to drive fast, but only when it is safe to do so and there are not a billion other cars in front of me. I'm not a speed junkie who recklessly does anything to go fast. I'm a speed fan who takes the opportunity when practical.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Great Wall of China
5. The Wall

The Great Wall of China is actually a lot of different walls that stretch out thousands of miles. You get to different walls from different cities. Beijing is probably the most popular starting point because it is the easiest, and also since Beijing is a destination on its own.

The easiest entrance from Beijing is Badaling. Buses and taxis from Beijing go there every day, and it only takes an hour. It is also the most crowded. The only reason we rented a car was so we could get to a less crowded, more scenic section.

Mutianyu is supposed to be far more authentic than Badaling and far less crowded. Fewer people go there because it is harder to get to by bus and far more expensive by taxi. In China, taxi drivers are generally honest, but when it comes to the biggest tourist attractions with the most foreigners that are out in the middle of nowhere, getting ripped off is not rare.

With our own car, we could drive to whichever entrance we wanted. We would also not have to worry about missing the last bus back to Beijing. Some of the buses stop running surprisingly early. With a car, we could set our own schedule, go where we wanted and not deal with scams. That was the plan, at least.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Great Wall of China
4. The Hotel

We stayed at the Hotel Cote Cour, a romantic boutique hotel on what was supposed to be a tiny, isolated hutong. Maybe I have adapted to China too much, but it seemed like one large hutong to me. Amy chose a romantic boutique hotel because she was planning on taking a romantic trip with her boyfriend. I could not help her there, but we both appreciated the distinct decorations in our room and throughout the hotel. It did not look anything like every chain business hotel. Boutique hotels are always better for me, but sometimes it is easier to stay at a business hotel when you go to a new city. The rooftop garden was especially beautiful. I'm sure we would have spent more time there.

Not only was the hotel romantic and quiet, but it was surprisingly close to all the action. It was about a mile from the Forbidden City/Palace Museum and Tiananmen Square and maybe two miles to the Temple of Heaven. Even if it was too humid and/or polluted to walk, the hotel was close to the purple subway line, which goes straight to the Temple of Heaven and connects to the rings that go around the city. The point of our trip was the Great Wall, but after visiting that, we were supposed to have a full day to explore Beijing as much as we could before our flight home. That never happened.