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April 5, 2006
There I was, there I was, there I wasÖ.in China.  This morning I leave the girls in the hotel room, and head out into the heat and haze.  I know there is something that I came out for, but I canít remember what it was and walking seems like a better idea anyway.  Hotel life, no matter how nice the hotel, is confining and thought needs room to breathe in the open airÖor lack there of.  Itís about 8am and the entire island has come alive.  I think I may find some of Gracieís fish people, the atmosphere seems right for it, but the first thing I see in the central park (a courtyard that stretches the entire length of a street) is about 50 elderly women doing some sort of strange dance.  Music plays poorly through an early 1980ís boom box, but the women donít seem to notice the lack of ďdigitalĒ clarity.  They hold clickers in their hands that look like the streamers on Gracieís bike, and they leap back in forth in unison like synchronized swimmers clicking those little things each time their feet hit the ground.  On the edge of the courtyard one elderly lone man stands in place imitating their movements but he doesnít seem invited.  On the next courtyard over this is contrasted by a military troupe practicing martial arts moves.  Each holds a rifle as they practice close quarter battle, as one soldier hits the mat they laid on the ground the sound echoes throughout the entire street.  I round the corner back to the river and there is no less than hundreds of people, all sizes and ages, doing Tai-Chi.  One lone group at the edge is doing ballroom dancing with a portable cassette player laid next to a megaphone to amplify the noise.  Then teacher is about 75, but his movements donít show it.  Then I find them, the fish people.  There is a set of stairs going down to the considerably polluted river, but 10-12 people are on the edge and in the water splashing about like it was the hotel pool.  Some are getting exercise by swimming out into the river dodging freight boats.  If these arenít fish people then I donít know what is!

Later that day we all board a bus and head into town.  First stop is a temple built for folk art in the late 19th century.  The place is incredible and we canít imagine how long it must have taken to build.  Every inch of it is strewn with incredibly detailed carvings of everything imaginable.  There are courtyards and gardens with pools & statues, and intricate art spans the walls of the interior rooms.  Itís one of those places that you canít really describe, but can only see.  Zoe seems less than impressed, and is in energy conservation mode as the heat is now impressive at 10:30 am.  We take about 100 pictures, but fail to capture the grandeur of the place, and I miss cues at the gift shop where apparently Katherine was telling me she wanted a pair of chopsticks and I didnít get the hint.  The shopkeeper, who tracked our every move closer than a shadow, seems disappointed.

The next stop is a walking market, that is less like a market and more like an outlet mall gone out of control.  There are so many shops that it makes Soho seem like the corner deli.  More people and energy than Time Square, you just want to stand there and soak it all in.  I try but the group moves on without me and I have to run to catch up.  Then to my incredible disappointment we go into a department store, and I hear Gracie say, ďOh brotherÖnot shopping!Ē  The place is like any other western dept store and I wonder why I traveled 12,000 miles to end up in JC Penny.  It doesnít seem right, especially since right outside the door is one of the coolest places to people watch Iíve ever seen.  But weíre stuck, and for what seems like days I sulk and wait for the shopping to end.  Then after navigating beggars and bicycles itís back to the bus who manages to pull a u-turn in what seems like impossible traffic and chaos.

Back at the hotel itís more shopping, trying to find gifts for those on our lists, as well as something for ourselves.  After another hour of bargaining and ďstrollingĒ Iíve had enough and am able to steer us back to the hotel.  Then itís time to hit the pool.  Zoeís first swim goes well.  We see a few smiles and are sure that given time she will become the fish that Gracie is, but sheíll probably need some lessons from big sister first.  I forgot my suite and the heat is beating down heavier than lead and I resist the temptation to order an umbrella drink.  At night itís back to Lucyís for our third dinner there in a row.  In places like this the world you know becomes a safety blanket that you cling to, and if it ainít broke there is no need to fix it.  We look at another restaurant first but find that they donít have chicken congee which is a must for Zoe so we pass.  Zoe once again canít eat the congee fast enough, and literally yells if you stop shoveling it in for more than half a second.  The entire table laughs at this, but youíre not sure if it isnít more out of fear for what she might do if the spoon stops.  Later that night I head out for another walk and run into a beggar with a monkey on a string.  He literally has the monkey doing flips and jumps for me, and I am impressed.

The night went long.  Zoe was up after only a few hours of sleep and really cried.  Couldnít tell if she had a nightmare.  She wouldnít take food and her diaper was fine.  Katherine walked her around the hotel and she finally stopped when she ran into another member of our group.  Zoe saw the other baby and this seemed to relax her.  You donít go from being surrounded by 90 other babies to none without missing them from time to time.  Not sure what tomorrow brings, but at this point weíre all ready to come home.  The prospects of time in Hong Kong, which seemed so cool, now seem more like time when we could be home.