Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pasquale Bruno

Pasquale Bruno lived life large and enthusiastically. One of four sons from a humble immigrant family -- my father was one of the others -- he was the only one to leave home and the first to recognize both the joy and the lucrative benefits of his Italian heritage.

From his base in Chicago, where he moved a generation ago to work for Sears, he made himself into a chef, a 27-year restaurant critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, a five-time cookbook author, and a salesman of items like a pizza baking stone and a garlic press.

Ironically, although he was the son to make his heritage profitable, he was also the farthest removed from the actual reality of home: the extended family, St. Patrick's Church, Athens, his childhood. He rarely came back, preferring to look at his childhood through the lens of distance and a touch of nostalgia. On Christmas, as all the rest of us sat around Nana’s table, laden with ravioli, cavatelli, eggplant, sausage and peppers, and meatballs, everything would stop at when the phone rang at 1 p.m.  Nana would rush to the phone and Uncle Pat would wish us a “buon natale.”

That’s about as much as I knew of him when I was a kid, and it wasn't until I was living on my own and embarking on my own adventures in Italian cooking that he became a part of my life, especially after the popularity of email. He may have been of my parents' generation, but he embraced technology and stayed in touch that way.

In fact, it was only when the Washington Post wanted to write about Christmas traditions and I was interviewed about our Italian pasta feast that I began a regular correspondence with him. He emailed after the article appeared the weekend after Thanksgiving in 2007: Debbie: great story. Now I am going to make ravioli for our Christmas dinner here. The story brought back so many good memories. Thanks for doing it. And thanks for mentioning your Uncle Pasquale. Happy Thanksgiving.
Two years later, when he was diagnosed with brain cancer, he did what all good writers do when they’re trying to make sense of things: he wrote a rambling, funny, tough-guy memoir about the experience. This is how it started:  “I will not consent to die this day, that is certain. Shakespeare: ‘Measure for Measure’
Here is how it happened. How I took a wicked punch from the Big C without going down for the count. Not yet anyway. 
I had been out for lunch with a couple of friends that day, December 23, 2009.  I had braised short ribs with a side of mac 'n' cheese and iced tea. The short ribs were flavorful but too fatty. The mac 'n' cheese, on the other hand, was creamy-rich, the campanelle pasta the perfect shape to capture the lushness of the cheeses—four in all.
I took a cab home from the restaurant and settled in on the sofa. I read for a while. Dozed off. My wife came home around 5:30 p.m. We were going out to dinner later on. She sat down on the sofa next to me to discuss our dinner plans. And that’s when I heard the knock on the door.
Unusual, I thought. We weren’t expecting anyone.  I went to the door, opened it and, wouldn’t you know it? There he was. The Big C. The bastard had a twisted smile on his face, a “gotcha” smirk that really ticked me off. I said, “bug off” and slammed the door in his face.
Later, he describes a scene in the hospital with his usual bravado:  The tumor was a little bigger than a golf ball,” the surgeon said. “Titleist or Srixon?" I mumbled.  He laughed.
 I said, “I’m a food guy, Doc. Was it smaller than a peach; larger than a plum?”
“Somewhere in between,” he answered.  
“So the hole I always knew I had in my head just got a little bigger,” I said. 
 Damn, whatever they were pumping into me was making me feel really good; almost as good as I felt the first time I smoked a joint.
 “Your husband has a good sense of humor," the surgeon said. 
 “Don’t encourage him," my wife said.
 How about those apples?   Glioblastoma multiforme. Sounds like something they play around with at the Kennedy Space Center.

Two years after his initial diagnosis, a version of that essay, where he sounds like a combination of Dashiell Hammett and Jimmy Cagney, appeared in the Washington Post with the headline, “Brain cancer at age 77 doesn’t stop writer from going on with a good life.”

After it appeared and his story was picked up by a Chicago television station, he wrote me, Deb, the response has been humbling and amazing.

In his Post essay, Uncle Pat looks at his diagnosis and treatment with spunk and calm: Recently a good friend asked if I had a bucket list. “I never even thought about it,” I answered. Not being smug about it, but I really don’t know how much of a list I could put together.
“Bad luck”?
No. Good luck.
Present cancer excepted, I have had a whole lot of good luck. I have managed to throw together a veritable minestrone of good times.
He goes on to list things like teaching Oprah to toss pizza dough, meeting a young Elvis, cooking with Jacques Pepin. Leave it to Pat Bruno to take a bucket list and turn it on its head so that it becomes a catalogue of joys, triumphs, and quiet moments.
In one of his last emails to me earlier this year, he describes what turned out to be one last round of chemo to keep the cancer cells at bay:   Full day at the hospital on 'feb 16; 7 a.m. MRI, 8 a.m. labs, 8:30 oncologist (he will give me the MRI results), 9:30 chemo infusion (one hour), 11:30 out to lunch, because I will surely be starving.  Probably we will go to Coco Pazzo Cafe, which is a block from the hospital.
love and all that
Uncle Pat

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy China-versary to Us!

It’s hard in some ways to believe but today is our one-year anniversary of arriving in China, our China-versary. (Joanna, for the record, counts both an Asia-versary as well as a China-versary. She’s one of those people who do those sorts of things. You know who you are.)

Just a year ago, we were flying with a terrified cat into Tianjin, where we were welcomed to China by Mr. Dou, the Wall Street Journal driver, and taken to our apartment in Beijing, where I immediately locked the poor cat into the bathroom. Good times.
One of our earlier Wall hikes

It’s been a year of adventure – biking off bridges in Vietnam, hiking the Great Wall more times than we can count, and eating dim sum in Hong Kong, Kobe beef in Japan, goat cheese in Yunnan, and enough Peking duck in Beijing to fill a lake of quacking ducks, just not Donald, Joanna’s temporarily adopted pet.
Gang of Five at the Wall

I’ve met incredible characters – a doe-eyed bull named Optimus Prime, a 93-year-old dynamo named Eleanor who shows me around Beijing, a poet who made me think about postmodernism and surviving the Cultural Revolution in a new way, the sexy leader of an Italian designer clothing company, the skater Apollo Ohno, and my sweet Leah, the baby born here who lifts my spirits every moment I’m around her.
Me, Eleanor, and Karla at Tuesday Trotters

Jen and I visit the Summer Palace.
We’ve celebrated birthdays at Maison Boulard, made deconstructed ravioli for Chinese guests, entertained some of our best friends in the world who were brave enough to take on China, had Thanksgiving, Passover, a Yom Kippur break-fast, and a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras dinner. I belong to a book club, a bowling league, the Beijing International Dragonboat team, the Tuesday Trotters, the Friday Morning Group, and the International Newcomers Network, not to mention the Australia New Zealand Association, membership in which allowed me to dance on the Wall. (And yes, this is starting to sound like my Roll Call farewell email, so I’ll keep in mind that not everyone enjoys the cataloging.)

I’ve flown that long flight home three times already, each time falling in love anew with America as I remember what is wonderful about our country. But I’ve also finally become a Beijing-ren, happy to be here, happy to see where the next adventure might lead.
Visiting 798 in Beijing

Monday, October 29, 2012

Exciting News

Our landlady has agreed to raise our rent!

But not as much as we had worried, so we're staying put in tower 22 for another year. Yesterday we looked at a place in another tower that had clearly been decorated by Elvis' ghost, with bluish lights coming from five-foot-wide chandeliers and so much bling and ornamentation that my head hurt for hours afterwards.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Harmonious Enough

We celebrated Halloween in Seasons Park last night. The kids gathered in the amphitheater for a rowdy 45 minutes of snacks and photos. 

 A couple of expat parents stood with cans of beer, but in general the crowd was happy and clearly not much of a protest, unless you count the little boy who refused to don his incredibly cute homemade helicopter costume, preferring to push a stroller down the sidewalk. He'll be a rickshaw driver instead, his mother said with a shrug. Many of the little ones seemed to find their capes from the same store, like this little one.

I did notice a man in a dark suit walking officiously away toward the end of the gathering, which drew about 200 people, mainly Chinese. I heard that the organizer, decked out in purple balloons to look like a bunch of grapes, was told it had to end at 5:15 promptly. And it did.

We immediately got several rounds of trick or treaters, who yelled "HELLO!" and grabbed handfuls of candy from the bowl I held out even as I said, "yiga! Yiga! Just one!" Their parents stood in the elevator door snapping pictures of the whole scene. I guess it's all rather new to them. We got just one American kid, Super Marco, although there were several rounds of French kids. One kid asked me to put a Snickers bar in his backpack.

We started to panic that we might run out. This was no Burlington Place, where the neighborhood kids skip our block to visit the very elaborate haunted houses on Chesapeake and Brandywine streets. Bob suggested we give out those sesame wafer cookies we like, but I didn't think that would fly.

Smudge, of course, was nowhere to be found. She hates Halloween here as much as she hates it in Washington, as it disturbs her social order and is not harmonious.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beijing-Style Recycling

Spotted in Beijing on a Saturday afternoon: just your average recycling cart.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Where Do I Begin?

I had one of those a-ha moments today when I was pushing my way onto and off subway cars. With apologies to Ali McGraw, living in China means never having to say you're sorry. It's just not done. I think part of the reason is that no one really takes offense if your bag is digging into someone's ribs, or if you bump into another person's elbow as you try to keep your balance.

I've noticed that Americans who visit me tend to walk around murmuring, "sorry, sorry," as they are bumped and shoved through crowds. I don't do that anymore.

And yes, it means that I'll almost certainly run into problems when I'm home again. I remember I once brushed past a guy standing on the escalator into the Metro in D.C. and the guy followed me into the station yelling that I had touched his arm. Here, if you reacted every time you had someone breathing on your neck or leaning on your arm, you wouldn't last long.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Now That's Spooky

Our apartment complex in Beijing is getting ready to celebrate Halloween, and one local mother has organized a party for the kids. They're to meet next Saturday in the amphitheater outside our apartment building to have a healthy snack and see everyone's costumes, and then they're going to go door to door to collect candy.

In China, only those parents who have signed up to distribute candy will get visits from the little goblins.

But what's also different is that the woman organizing the event wrote that the gathering will be short this year because the management "is concerned we will look like a protest in the election year and somebody could call the police."

Now, that's scary.
Happy Halloween!!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It Takes a Village

Technology is a wonderful thing. Just this morning, I got up, went to the gym and ran on the treadmill while watching a junky TV show on my iPad (don’t ask which one…okay, it was “Sister Wives.” I’d like to see you try to drown out the sound of a man hocking into a paper cup.), then called my mother on Skype, and tweeted my way through the second presidential debate while Bob kept me updated on the score of the Yankee game that he was watching on his laptop. Then I got a text on my new iPhone about meeting for lunch, texted another friend to join us, and filed one story and one invoice on my spiffy new laptop. Productive!

But what it took for me to get to this point – and not counting the moment where China kicked us temporarily off the server when I was just about to respond to a Romney comment about a “fake Apple store in China” – required a real village of support staff.  I thought I’d introduce everyone to my honor roll of technology helpers that are keeping me plugged in whether I’m climbing the Great Wall, sitting at my desk in Beijing, or running a 10K in Angkor Wat.

·         Nora. She came with me to the China Unicom store to help me set up my data plan on my new iPhone, offering support when I wasn’t being understood and showing the very patient China Unicom lady my address in Chinese. Later she made some great app suggestions, especially the livestreaming NPR music that I can listen to on insomniac nights.

·         Carlos. He spent three hours on Saturday and one hour on Sunday patiently helping me transfer my iTunes from my ancient, dying laptop to his phone and then over to my new laptop, thus enabling me to update my iPad (IOS 4, can you believe it?), load my VPN on my iPhone, and sync it all. More amazingly, he didn’t get at all snippy when I made stupid comments or suggestions.

·         Ryan, Beijing son #1. Ryan offered tech support enabling me to download apps from my iPad to my iPhone and offered reasons why my VPN still wasn’t allowing me to log on to Facebook or Twitter. He wasn’t technically right in the second instance, but I’m still grateful.

·         Witopia. Their online help, both in email and chat, is cheerful, practical, useful, and works every single time. They make my life in China possible by selling me a VPN system that bypasses the Great Firewall of China and allows me to post inane comments on Twitter, silly photos on Facebook, and these rambling thoughts on my blog.

Someday I may be able to figure out these sorts of technical problems on my own, but for now, I’m grateful for the team.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Remembering Dad

Today is the anniversary of Dad’s death, and he’s been on my mind all day. In fact, I woke up this morning hearing just the faintest sound of his whistling, a sound that left me almost as soon as I registered it in my sleepy consciousness. I think it means that I need to spend more time remembering the happy moments of his life, the times when he was content with all and cheerful.

For a deeply religious man, Dad spent a lot of time shaking his fist at the universe and trying to control the outcomes of things he couldn’t possibly control. When things got tense during a Yankees game, my mother would recall him standing closer and closer to the TV and shouting directions, as if his proximity would somehow carry his voice over the wires to Derek Jeter’s ear. If I got a bee sting on my toe while I was walking in the backyard, I shouldn’t have been wearing sandals, even if it was an 80-degree summer day. If milk was spilled, fingers were pointed.

And yet, when he was cheerful, he made it feel as if nothing could possibly ever go wrong. He was at his most chipper when he was doing something useful around the house or talking to one of the grandkids. And for a deeply religious man, he was at his most cheerful walking OUT of church, on the Sundays when we’d pick up a loaf of Italian bread and the Daily News and go to my grandparents’ house for a feast. That’s when you’d catch him whistling, and that’s a memory that will last me a very long time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Rejected for Ambiguous Reasons

Yesterday I went to get out money from the ATM machine just outside the gates of our apartment complex. But instead of delivering me my usual stack of crisp 100-RMB notes, the machine whirred and rumbled and nothing happened. Then this message appeared:

“Rejected for ambiguous reasons.”

I tried again. Again, “Rejected for ambiguous reasons.”

I moved on to another machine that seemed to be unambiguous, but the first rejection got me thinking about what message China was trying to give me. Here are some of my theories:

1. China hates me and wants me to go home, but can’t say that directly and so decides to use a slow process – drip, drip, drip – of gradually wearing down my resistance until I give up, back my bags, shove my cat into her carrier, and throw myself on the mercy of United Airlines. In this category I place incidents like the rumors flying that our landlady is about to raise our rent to some astronomical amount, the fact that she refuses to fix the dryer element of our washer, and even the fact that the modem mysteriously unplugged itself on Thursday, rendering me useless and shaking in anger like an addict without her fix. It’s also possible that China overheard me shouting profanities into my cellphone, blaming it for my unplugged modem. (“We’ll fix you,” China muttered darkly.)
2.  I’ve been rejected for larger cosmic reasons, having to do with various sins I’ve committed in my life, including but not limited to refusing the PTA presidency when my kids were at Janney Elementary, finding something or someone to blame when the basic rule of “shit happens” tends to apply, and eating the last Ho-Hos of my roommates in college without telling them who stole the Ho-Hos.

3. The ambiguity is cosmic, the rejection is not. In other words, the universe is ambiguous and if we spend our lives trying to figure out the “meaning” of it all, we’ll find ourselves banging our heads against a dusty ATM outside a store selling traditional Chinese medicine and drinking wine at lunch. But if we just embrace the ambiguity, the stars will align, the sun will come out on a day with clear air, and Justin will give me a lovely haircut for 20 RMB. For now, I’ll embrace the ambiguity, at least until the next crisis hits.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Back to China

I'm back in Beijing (more on that in a bit), and the only souvenir I've brought (other than, don't laugh, Japanese cat food for Smudge) is a set of observations about Japan:
1. It's impossible to remain in a bad mood. Too many people are smiling at you all. The. Time.
2. The deer of Nara are charming. I'm still thinking about them. Even as I was fumbling in my purse for a cracker, one tall doe stood before me bowing her head in a graceful sweep and then looking at me with her big brown eyes. Impossible to resist.
3. Tokyo is the most orderly large city I've ever seen. And much greener than I expected, with little pockets of trees, bushes, and flowers squeezed into parks, medians, building terraces and roofs, the side of the road. I suddenly understood why the Japanese love all things Disney. It's the same vision: tidy streets, orderly lines, smiling faces, and nothing disturbing or bad. There are signs that prohibit smoking while walking. There are signs that ask you not to talk on your cell on trains, subway cars, and buses. And people obey. When pedestrians cross the street, cars wait for them to cross. They wait.

None of these observations are new to anyone who has traveled between Japan and China before, but they're still remarkable. Yesterday, on the plane from Tokyo to Shanghai, there was this transformation before my very eyes. Moments before, I seemed to be sitting with a planeload of Japanese tourists, quiet, calm. We even were served sushi and little smoked mackerel fish for lunch.

Then the plane landed in Shanghai. It's true that no one jumped up the minute the wheels touched down. But once the first guy stood up to pull his bag down from the overhead bin, the mood changed and suddenly I was being shoved from behind as I stood in the aisle, people were shouting into their cell phones in Mandarin, and the entire plane seemed somehow transformed from polite Japanese to loud, crass Chinese.

I sat in the Shanghai airport in my own little bubble of culture shock. I moved three times, twice to get away from Chinese who plopped themselves over several rows of seats and proceeded to shout back and forth, and once to get away from a bunch of people eating such a strongly scented dinner it seemed as if the smell would get in my clothes.

And my re-entry to Beijing was also a little rough. I took the train from the airport, which was nice, but was met at the Dongzhimen station by a rowdy and rather aggressive group of taxi drivers who wanted to know where I was going. "Home!" I yelled at them, trudging past them with my suitcase. "No? No?" they said somewhat threateningly.

Down the street, a bunch of guys had just left a karaoke bar, and were drunk, weaving, and peeing into bushes. I just went home to be greeted by a very happy cat. Today, though, my internet suddenly stopped working. While I grumbled and made horrible assertions about China, I learned late in the day, after the very patient Mr. Zhang was badgered to come here, that one plug had been ever so slightly dislodged and disconnected the modem.

Now how I could do email earlier in the day and then suddenly find it disconnected when there was no one in the room is beyond me. Gremlins, I guess. But I really in all honesty have to say I can't blame this on China. My stupidity carries the day.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Zen and the Art of Toilets

The difference between China and Japan might be best illustrated in the stark differences between toilet facilities.

China's facilities are more often than not squatter toilets, simple holes in the ground where one squats and does her business. I can now manage these without feeling I may topple over or pee on myself, although I sometimes have to place a hand on a not-so-clean wall for balance. (For my squeamish readers, there is no cause for concern. This is as graphic as I get, and there will be no photos.) You also need to remember to bring tissues, since toilet paper is often absent. And don't throw the paper in the hole or -- in cases where you might be lucky enough to score a western toilet -- in the toilet. The paper goes in a bin next to the toilet.

There are smells. There are insects.

And then there's Japan. Here I rarely think about whether I should use the loo before I set out because the toilet facilities are abundant and spotless. Over the top, even. For instance, the other day we were visiting the manga museum in Kyoto, a museum celebrating Japan's famous comic books. I needed to use the ladies room. Inside was a high tech toilet with about 12 options for use: cleaning with a thin stream of water, cleaning with a spray, increasing or lowering the temperature of the seat itself. And then a picture of a musical note next to the word "flushing." Music to flush by? I was intrigued and figured that this option wouldn't leave me soaked.

So I pushed the button. Flushing noises ensued, but no actual flushing. Was this to hide the impolite sound of using the toilet? In a place like Japan where a cab driver apologizes for having one of the few cabs where the door doesn't automatically close, it's entirely possible.

So I stood there listening to the flushing noise and looking at my still-unflushed toilet. How to turn off the noise? How to actually flush? I was afraid to push more buttons and briefly considered sneaking out under the camouflage of flushing sounds.

Finally, I located the off button for the noise. And there, on the side of the toilet, was an old-fashioned handle. D'oh! Mission accomplished.

Later, Bob told me he had used the facilities in the same museum and the seat was almost painfully hot. He couldn't figure out how to lower the temperature. Arigato, Japan.

Friday, October 5, 2012


We went to a town called Nara earlier this week. Inside Todai-ji, the largest wooden building in the world (or so they say) is one of the largest Buddhas I've ever seen. And behind that Buddha is a wooden column with a hole in it. Popular legend says that those who can squeeze through the hole will achieve enlightenment.

"I have to try this!" I say. "I'm small!"

"You think you're as small as Japanese schoolchildren?" asks Daniel, ever the skeptic, looking at the long line of excited children waiting to crawl through the hole.

I decide against trying, not because I didn't think I would fit (even the chubby kids were making it with a little tugging) but because I didn't want to wait in a line of screaming kids for an hour.

"Maybe the true enlightenment is realizing you don't need to squeeze through a hole to achieve enlightenment," says Daniel.

Now that's wisdom.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why Can't China Be More Like Japan?

This is not fair to China, since China is much poorer and much less developed than Japan. But it's hard to be in Japan without feeling as if you're in an Asian country that works.

Today is a good example of how smoothly things can go. We're in Kyoto but decided to do a day trip to Nara, a town about a half-hour by train from Kyoto. We take a cab to the train station from a lineup of about 8 cabs sitting patiently in front of our hotel.

We get to the train station, wait in an orderly line, and buy three round trip tickets to Nara, speaking English to the clerk. We get on the train and it efficiently deposits us in charming Nara, where we are given a map in English and spend the day looking at stunning shrines and temples, eating sushi, walking under crystal clear skies, and generally enjoying ourselves. Then we walk back to the train station, visiting clean restrooms on the way, get on the train and end up back in beautiful Kyoto.

It rarely works that way in China.
I mean, China has its charms. There are no strong smells in Japan, unless you count the incense in the temples. There are not as many outrageous outfits, or people staring at us, unless you count the cute little school boy in the yellow cap who clearly needed to interview foreigners for a school project. "Hello, my name is (fill in a long Japanese name here). Where are you from?"

We consider telling him Beijing but know that it would totally mess him up. "America!" I chirp. "And you?"

He squirms. I'm going off script, so I decide I won't ask him if he plans to watch the first presidential debate.

Anyway, he's charming, as are the Chinese people we see in Beijing and everywhere.

But what I mean is that Japan is orderly and spotless. We visited a local coffee shop two days in a row, and now we're considered regulars. All the taxi drivers want to chat us up. It takes me half a day to find a trash bin to throw out trash. There is no trash and there are no bins. Does Japanese trash just magically disappear?

Even the deer in the park at Nara have learned to bow their delicate heads when they want a biscuit. I want to come back in my next life as a sacred deer in Nara's parks, watching the hoards of schoolgirls in sailor dresses and knee socks squeal as they slip a deer wafer in my mouth.

I'm hoping that I won't be too sad when I land in Beijing and taste the metallic air and ride in a hair-raising cab trip home. Meanwhile, I'm appreciating Japan's gracefulness and beauty.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Japan So Far

Bob, Daniel and I have been in Japan for about three days, which I figure is about enough time for me to make sweeping generations about two nations.

There are huge differences between China and Japan. If China is the crude old uncle who spits on the sidewalk and has stains on the front of his shirt, Japan is the delicate geisha who bows constantly and seems genuinely delighted to have you visiting. Here's what I've noticed so far.

1. On the street in China, people don't smile. If you stop them, they're all smiles, but outward appearances seem to indicate they're in the bad mood when they're probably not. This does not count those who walk down the streets in Beijing singing at the top of their lungs. On the street in Japan, people seem to be smiling all the time.

2. Toilets: Let's just say that China has toilet facilities, if you count troughs and holes in the ground. I'll never forget the one tour we did near Pingyao where one of our group said she saw something moving below her. In Japan, the toilets are so high tech it's sometimes hard to figure out the flush button. The seats are warm and clean, and you can do interesting things with water.

3. Lines: In China, if you see a door or a place you want to get to, you just go. There's not really the concept of lines. I got myself in trouble a couple of times back in the States when I just didn't see a line. In Japan, people line up to enter subway cars, they wait politely even when, say, you're buying train tickets and your credit card doesn't work and someone decides to call VISA to see what's up.

4. Greetings: In China, there's the all-purpose "ni hao." In Japan, they say a lot of stuff when you come in, and then there's all this bowing. The bus attendant at the Tokyo airport bowing as our bus left, the hotel bellhop bowing and backing out of our room.

5. Clothing: In China, women love bling and other adornments, so that I have often seen outfits that combine shoes with glitter and high wedges, stockings with sequins, dresses with enough ruffles to satisfy a three-year-old, and fake eye glasses. In Japan, you're likely to see women in kimonos waiting for the subway or buses. The girls wear knee-high socks and short skirts, unless they're in a suit.

6. Cell phones: In China, if you get a call on your phone, you SHOUT into it, no matter where you are, including a crowded subway car. In Japan, you take your phone into the space between cars so as not to disturb others.

7. Cleanliness: Let's just say I haven't seen any spitting here. Or trash outside bins. In fact, we saw people scrubbing benches and streets to make them so clean you could eat off them. In China, babies defecate on the street, dogs defecate on the sidewalk, and people tend to toss their wrappers as they walk along.

8. Taxis: In China, getting a taxi to stop is a triumph. Getting him to go where you're going is a second achievement. Granted, the ride won't cost more than a couple of dollars, but the number of times I've been stranded without a ride are many. In Japan, there are taxis every three feet, spotless cars with lace covering the seats, drivers who won't go until you put on the seatbelt, doors that open and close automatically, and drivers who want to tell you the best sights to see in their fair city. In China, drivers take you on a hair-raising route through city streets, bearing down on the horn as pedestrians scurry out of the way, and making you wonder if you'll make your destination alive. In Japan, taxis wait patiently as pedestrians amble across the street. I have yet to hear a car horn. Of course, the ride costs as much as $35 each time you go, but it's almost relaxing.

So to say that I'm in a bit of culture shock is an understatement. We're off today to see more of what delightful Kyoto has to offer.