Roadblock

I have been streaming Amazing Race Canada for this season after watching the first three with my daughter in Kingston and now it seems some of their challenges are seeping into my psyche – which is why I titled this roadblock. Sometimes you never know what might stall your advancement until you nearly smash into it. Stopping shy of a roadblock can actually provide a moment to assess direction or reflect on choices.  I see my roadblock as a a little of both. 

I leapt into a temporary job less than a week ago, a very simple retail position that I would mainly be working on cash plus some floor shifts. What I was not ready for was the severe pain in my knees after each shift. In addition, considering I strongly beleive honesty is important when writing my blog, I really did not like the job. Even less so when I realized that minimum wage is even lower than the dreadful amount I thought I was earning. However, I was willing to persevere as the earnings were to help support any veterinary costs that might need covering for my cat while I was away. I had calculated I would take home about $1700.00 before I leave on Sep 17. That is not an amount to sneeze at, and – as I am always saying to my daughters – anything is better than zero. Which meant I was ready to just plow through each shift, bite my tongue when necessary, and tick off each completed night. Most of my shifts were slated for midnight. Which brings me to my knees. 

The pillow self inflates – an early birthday present from my daughter. Might have come in handy for midnight shifts.

I had an unrelated appointment with my doctor, booked before I even applied for the job, and asked if there was time to discuss how my knees have been after he made a cursory mention of a June letter from my physiatrist. The uptake was that if I keep punishing my knees from standing for eight hour shifts with no chance to sit – even breaks were iffy, as well as there being a preference staff take only the paid 15 minutes – the likelihood of causing injury was quite high. Therefore, my GP wrote a letter for me stating that starting immediately I would no longer be able to work. This was only a minor financial roadblock. (I would go on about some of the lack of basic employer/employee standards if I had not left; although if I had stayed I guess I could have been perpetuating things)


So, less money for Mozzy. Which is fine because that roadblock seems to be being cleared away. As previously mentioned, I have been wringing my paws regarding his health. A second dose of the chemo was administered at the vet’s – it generally takes 2-3 technicians to do anything with him – and this time he kept it down! It was also suggested I give him the equivalent of kitty McDonald’s if he will eat it. Anything to entice him to ingest his other medicine I mix in his food. As of the following evening he is EATING!!! His weight was down to 2.80 kg, perhaps when he goes back for his third chemo dose it will have gone up. Paws crossed. I am happy I can spend more time to coax him back towards health before I leave. Even if it is temporary at least I am here instead of working to pay for him. Mozzy will always be my priority and I can adjust my budget accordingly. The four shifts I worked will go far enough to see Mozzy through his remaining doses. Sometimes roadblocks seem ridiculously placed, others do not. Discovering I should not be working reset my priorities on a straight path.

Ten day triangle

That path lead me to start looking at my itinerary again. I had been stuck in a rut for a couple of weeks. I will still do my first ten days loop of Shanghai, Suzhou. Nanning and Huangshan. I am glad I am only doing those as Huangshan can be gruelling if attempting to walk up the mountain all at once. Having my knees give me a severe jolt is a reminder I have always intended on going to fewer places so as to further enjoy where I do stop. I will still do the motorcycle tour; I asked my doctor about that, we both agreed that if I am paying then I have some control – if I need a break we will take a break. I also plan to add another week for Vietnam rather than rush to Hanoi to hop on a train. I will see and experience more. The tour is from Ho Chih Min to Hoi An – about midway. There will still be so much more to see.
First half of my tour – riding pillion on a motorcycle!

I am looking forward to mapping out the rest of my trip in Vietnam and the second section of China I am planning. All I needed was to get around that roadblock.

Pre-trip Preparations: What about the cat? (And trivial stuff like health & rent)

Mozzy 

Insisting I cannot leave him – he threw my clothes on the floor and made a nest.

Smitten with my cat is a mild descriptor for how important he is to me. I have lived with cats, either my own or, by extension family cats, for about 40 years. With just a little effort I could probably name all of them. Which brings me to heading out for a no working 60 day trip. Leaving my cat behind for any length of time is becoming more and more difficult. He is over 15 y/o, born in a hole-in-the-wall shop on the University Road stretch of Nanning, China. These days I leave him at home with my daughter. (In the past he has stayed with extended family) I am grateful she does not currently have my wanderlust. What is most important is to give carte blanche decision making even if it means you, the traveller, might come home to a paw print and a box of ashes and an emptier bank account. The only other choice would be to stay home. Reality sucks, less so if prepared.
He does the best royally pissed off face. In royal comfort.

Am I cruel to leave Mozzy behind? Not if he will receive the same gold standard care and love I lavish on him. Am I sure he will indeed receive said lavishness – absolutely. About the only concern I have is that our vet is a 30 minute drive from home. They know how to handle him, they have his records, they are prepared. My daughter does not drive. Mozzy needs Cartrophen injections every other week for a leg injury from a few years ago. He also has some other issues we have been trying to get a handle on – before I leave. It would help if he would eat his bribe or salmon. Which brings me full circle, it is difficult to leave any loved, elder family behind – even a cat.

This photo always goes with me on my phone

Health
Other than the fact I will be 60 y/o when I begin this trip, which brings its own delightful issues, I do have some health concerns. I would rather ignore them; however, to appease family (maybe some friends if they know – oops, some of them read this) I will take whatever precautions necessary. Main priority, I have non-insulin dependant Type ll Diabetes. Battling the needle is ongoing. Much to the chagrin of my GP and various doctors I refuse to have injections. Keeping my numbers down is part of that battle. One saving grace is that they tend to be lower, not quite where they should be, when I am travelling for the simple reason I am so much more active and not tied down to commitments. As I write this I find my numbers are already creeping up, barely a week after coming home from my trip to Ontario. Back to taking control of the battle.
Then there is travel insurance. I strongly recommend getting some form, even if only basic coverage. Cost will depend on the area being travelled to, age, activities, and medical conditions that must be reported. I was happy when World Nomads raised their pre-screening age from 60 to 65. I do have to look into my status with controlled diabetes. As for activities, the only dangerous one I will do is riding pillion on a motorcycle, which I think is fine. It is important to have coverage starting from home to returning home rather than just once you hit the ground.
My knees are another major worry. I really do not want to collapse in mid-stride. Exercises to strengthen my quads, chair yoga, various unguents, OTCs for swollen joints and pain, and now one brace are helping a bit. I should have two braces. Which is possible if I purchase at the local Walmart at 1/15 the price of just one, not even good for both knees, where I go to see the various doctors about the pain. Walking is fine with a brace, stairs are not. So I am practicing. Gritting my teeth in frustration and at times pain. I just work through it.

Rent/Utilities/Bills

I know I am fortunate to be sharing with my daughter. Not only is she my in house kitty second, we share all the expenses. However, like anyone with a mortgage, rent still has to be paid. We came up with an arrangement that has so far worked for both of us. I pay less rent when I am away; that savings goes towards to accommodation. Although it is not enough to pay for too many days I believe that any amount I can funnel into my overall budget is a bonus. Working out a rough budget prior to leaving is important and knowing I have the funds to cover roughly two weeks of hostels – depending on where I am – is comforting.

Somehow we have managed to deal with bills only when I return from a trip. Yes, a major hit to the bank account, but not when I might need the funds while travelling. We also have everything fixed to equal payments so I tend to have the figure sitting quietly in the back of my brain rather than resting heavily on my mind. All I have to take care of is making sure my phone is paid for. Also car insurance if I do not take it off the road for the time I am away. (Always check this is acceptable if you have a parking spot – you will most likely have to pay a low coverage regardless where the vehicle is parked. I recommend it.)
Packing: Like a June/December romance – it will work
My 40 days in Eastern Canada the tail end of June and most of July was fairly simple to plan for. Shorts, sleeveless tops and sandals. It also helped me decide what I should not take to China and Vietnam. Until I remembered I will be travelling in various regions, varying degrees and seasons. That complicates packing. Summewear sounded sensible for Vietnam until I considered mosquitoes and a ten day motorcycle tour. Long sleeved tops and pants are practically de rigueur for clothing – fashion be damned.
I will hit Shanghai mid-Sep and I already know the temperatures can range from well over 20 c to chillier low teens. Without central heating in the buildings it can also feel dampish when the numbers dip. Without AC to battle the heat – miserable. My itinerary so far is broken into three sections for China. Ten days in a tight circle to get me back to the Pudong (Shanghai) Airport for my flight to Vietnam. Once my motorcycle tour is done I plan to visit the southwest interior of China, where it can be suffocatingly hot or have an autumn chill. As I head north, so far always north, it will only become colder. By the time I reach Shanxi province I may be encountering 5 c and below in November. Yikes! I do know I can wrap my winter coat around my backpack – it is just such a nuisance when the first full month will be warm. Ah, decisions, decisions. 

Pushing My Buttons: or why my BP goes up

First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.

Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport. 

National Day crowds I am hoping to avoid – one of Shanghai’s three train stations

I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it. 
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
Not my ticket, but look at all that information!

So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: getting from there to there 

With 40 days and 40 nights to go before I step on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver for my flight to Shanghai it was time to work on how I will post my blog. Everyday is time consuming for me, boring for readers if I am just adding padding. Reading the travel blogs of others, usuaally about 3 decades younger than me, I think I have come up with a plan to make the process more enjoyable for me and interesting for readers. 

Post on the same days each week; keep it consistent. It is easier to follow a writing schedule this way. 

Seriously consider at least one day of less writing and more photos.

Work on the money/places/information – perhaps do not imbed it in the text. (I also add bits of nonsense at the end not really thinking if anyone actually reads it).

After about a week or so of several hours nearly daily I finally hashed out my itinerary for roughly the first 25 days of my trip to China and Vietnam. I struggled with how to fit in what I want to see and do within the time constraints of avoiding the National Day holiday. My first itinerary was just too difficult to really enjoy anything, it had me rushing off for the far reaches of Gansu and Northern Shanxi provinces, in Northwest China, before flying to Saigon. Just not practical, even if taking in only one of the provinces. The cost of airfare alone to Saigon was prohibitive.

I finally decided to break my trip into four sections. I will do a much smaller loop for the first ten days, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Huangshan, Shanghai. Although I have been to Suzhou and Nanjing there are still places I want to visit. In Suzhou my main goal will be the New Suzhou Museum, known for its simplicity of design. I saw a documentary about the architect, I.M. Pei, and how much this particular project meant to him.

In Nanjing I hope to visit the city wall there, maybe rent a bike and ride on it, we only drove past it when there years ago. One can do so much solo, with children, or even other adults, so much has to be considered. There are so many layers of history in that city to be studied and one visit found me wanting to know more.

Huangshan, Anhui will be a stepping stone to the Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) National Park, where I will spend one night somewhere in the the park – not sure if at the base or partially up a mountain, and, I hope, the ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun. I am fully aware these might be more along the line of rebuilt villages to bring in the tourists, domestic and foreign, so I can only hope there may be some authenticity.

To ensure I make it to the airport in Shanghai to leave on Sep 28th for Saigon I was meticulous when choosing trains for each stretch of this leg of my trip. The only piece of information I have been waiting for is will I make it to the train station from Hongcun to Huangshan. Lots of time still. What I had not considered was that cancelling my first tentative itinerary, to Gansu, would mean my new itinerary would also be wiped out! I am hoping all my effort can be easily rectified and I will once again have my requested trains put in the queue again. I immediately fired off an email to have this done. A similar situation occurred last year – I do wish people would read things! So, waiting with my fingers ready to send my payment for seats and berths.
Thank goodness I do not have to plan my time Vietnam beyond the first three nights in Saigon. I will ask my daughter what I can do there other than have my phone stolen. (That is her story – not mine)

Day of Reckoning 

Two days of blurred memories plus two more in relative non-action ended my 40 day trip to Ontario and Manitoba. There was a time when going anywhere had seemed unlikely with a sick kitty and so many changes to my itinerary. So, I did not make it to Churchill, New York or Newfoundland this summer; instead I had a great time getting to know Kingston without freezing, and visiting the one museum in WinnipegI had been wanting to see. I even put in a two night train trip.

Which is where I will start this last Canada 2017 entry. The day I was to leave started with a question mark. Just how late would my train from Toronto be? I departed Kingston without an answer. All I knew was that the smoke and fires in BC had caused a delay of at least three hours. It ended up being close to six. I had arrived at Union Station early enough to know I would most likely have a comfortable wait before the original departure time. That ended up being an excruciating time standing in line for three hours – after sitting for the first few I finally moved to where a line was beginning. I did not want to be at the end of a shifting line. A line that seemed to be in the wrong place. It was. Fortunately, I kept an eye on signs and eventually asked if all the relatively young passengers waiting were Canada 150 ticket holders. They were. Those of us who paid higher fares shifted over to a new line. I was 7th in line.


Back to the excruciating part. I choose to not sit on floors because it is difficult for me to easily jump up if necessary. This time I also had increasing swelling and pain caused by three very nasty mosquito bites from the previous night of sitting on the dock of the bay for dinner. Closer inspection showed another three bites on my foot with one not looking great. I did finally cave in and sat at a nearby seat where I could see my bags. Not that I was worried, by this time we were all looking out for each other. On more than one occasion it was suggested I really should take a rest. By 10:00pm the lines had become two writhing lines of humanity. The Canada 150 youth in one much longer line, and the rest of us. (Canada 150 was a one month $150.00 pass available to 1867 youth only for the month of July – crashed the system when offered, sold out in minutes) Via fed us sandwiches, cookies and bottles of water. Hurray Via! I was only still standing with that sustenance and sheer willpower by this time. 


Much of the actual trip was blurred with pain and probably an infection at the bite sites. I later found out that staph infections are common when bites are bad. I did have the Rx cream with an antibiotic in it that I carefully applied. When the commissary was open I also bagged ice. My leg looked so bad I ended up have two seats to myself the whole trip to Winnipeg. Also the corner seat in the small lounge area most of the time where I could rest my leg. I dozed a lot. First time I have not been very interested in the landscape slipping by. Of course, leaving Toronto at 2:00am did mean everyone was ready for sleep.
18 days later these three bites are still visible

This is the only note I wrote. Passed lovely Malachi – better known as Lake of the Woods, northern ON. Soon after the trees were scrubbier and many in stages of bareness or grey. Looked marshy out there and hot at 8:30am. Blue sky. Despite the AC it was time to leave the dome car as the sun beat down. 

The photos behind the fence were at a stop somewhere along the line, the paintings had seen better days. A sad tale of many rail stops now barely noticed.


We arrived in Winnipeg only three hours late, picked up time somewhere. I have never given Winnipeg a positive review. This time I can. I hopped on a bus, backtracked when I got off too late, found my hostel at the university and dumped my bags in the office – check in would not be until 4:00 (despite an email saying 3:00). I decided to head to the Forks for lunch and coffee. An email to my 90+ year old aunt ensured I would see her and my cousin the following day.  Still in pain I was checked in and in bed by 8:00. The next day my only plan was to visit the museum.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Opened in 2014, (to the best of my recollection it had been delayed) mere months after I had been in Winnipeg on a cross Canada trip, the admission was $18.00 for a full day with the option to leave and return is desired. I had to wait about an hour – they did not open until 10:00. That gave me the opportunity to take photos without people wandering into my view and makecsome observations. The entrance, especially once leaving when I discovered locked doors, made me think of a birth canal. The red sandstone, high wall that leads to the lower entrance was curved and seemed like a place of temporary comfort (versus what a birth canal is really like) before being expelled onto the walkway or into the museum itself. I doubt that was the intention. Inside did not make me imagine a womb.


There are eight levels. I opted to start at the Tower of Hope. They are not kidding when they say you “may not be comfortable…on the indoor viewing platform. Even the glass elevator ride was rather heart pumping. The 100 metre (23 storeys) tower and view was worth the slight vertigo I had. I quickly headed for the stairs. Each level widens slightly.


As I walked down to each level it became clear that I could not effectively describe each gallery without finding fault with who we, people of all walks, are. However, I did see promise for the future, not in the galleries, but in the people working and visiting.  As I watched one short clip in the Our Canada, My Story my eyes were drawn to a lower scrim hanging from a screen of information where I was sure I could see dancing feet. Peeping between the TV screen and the divider I saw a lone security guard moving with the fluidity of a dancer – he was practicing the Argentinian Tango. I was asked. He explained that dance is so much a part of his life he is sometimes unaware he does this. I forget where he was from, perhaps he did not say – his accent told me English is probably not his first language. Nor French. The juxtaposition was so perfect it had to be happenstance.

The architecture is impressive. The museum is a stunning building, despite it appearing to be the helmet worn by the little alien from Bugs Bunny. Inside is beautiful. Visitors generally start on the ground floor with the intentional focus of “a journey from darkness to light.” Only once was I ‘chastised’ for beginning at the top. I am sure the person meant well by telling there is so much more to see on the first three floors. I however think it is just as important to look back from the light to recall the darkness. Otherwise it can become too easy to be bogged down in what cannot be changed. That is the only problem I had, there were biases, there were many representations of dreadful lack of human rights, but there did not appear to be enough balance of that changing. Therefore, I focussed on the light – as seen in photos of the ramps I took.


I took a two hour break to visit with my aunt and cousin at the nearby Forks, I hope I am still as active at 92! Then admired some artists working on a piece slated for a parking lot of all things. It was time to repack for an early morning taxi. This was the end of my Canada 150. Ahead of me China and Vietnam were waiting.

10,000 , 11,000, 17,000, 6000 steps over the four days going home.
Day of reckoning – crunching the numbers.

Steps: 400,000 = 305km = 7.5km avg per day. I can live with that.

I took an extra $400..00 to cover Winnipeg expenses and beyond. I did not take careful records for about the last five days. The UWin Hostel was $160.00; I bought lunch at the Taj – a reasonably priced place downtown I like to visit whenever in Kingston, 40.00; food for the train trip (and a loaf of focaccia for my Daughter) maybe $20.00; a final Crave coffee because I wanted plastic cutlery, 2.50. Of course all of these numbers were figured out while on the train so I then had time to worry! All I needed was money for two days of meals, the sky train, bus and ferry and then fare for a bus home. I decided there was not much I could do until the station and so long as I had $100 left after the hostel I would be fine. Quick calculation indicates I spent on average $50.00 based on $2000 for expenses. I also had a direct flight to Victoria so only a bus ride home where my daughter met me at the stop to help carry things.