Beijing Blues Girl


I have traveled to Europe, South America and Asia, as well as within North America. Here are some of the places that stand out for me.


BogotaWhen I was in high school, I participated in "Operation Amigo"--an exchange program between high school students in Florida and Colombia. I traveled with a group of students from Leon High School in Tallahassee. Our visit was before kidnapping became common in Colombia. We visited Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Popayán. The latter is one of Tallahassee's sister cities and is a beautiful small town in the Valle de Cauca. In Bogotá, I stayed with a well-off family and in Cali I stayed with a working class family. Both families were warm and welcoming. During the day, our group took tours to various scenic sites, including an emerald mine; a plantation formerly owned by a famous author; museums; markets; a paper factory; and a distillery. I also went with my classmates to a nightclub. Although I was only 15, I could legally drink in Colombia. I had some of the famous licorice-flavored local liquor--aquardiente. My trip to Colombia whetted my interest in international travel.


Earl's CourtMy next big trip was to London, as part of FSU's six-month London program. Most of our group--about 70-80 students--stayed at the Monarch Hotel, on Cromwell Road near Earl's Court. While in London, I particularly enjoyed seeing plays in the West End and movies at the National Film Theatre. I also visited London's main tourist attractions and traveled through Scotland and parts of England. On break from school, I went to Scandinavia and several countries in Western Europe. I particularly enjoyed traveling by train north of the Arctic Circle to Fauske, Norway. I also especially liked Paris and Florence.

Behind the Iron Curtain

In 1977, I again traveled to Europe--going behind the Iron Curtain for the first time in my life to Czechoslovakia. I was fascinated by how different it was from the capitalist West. Some parts of Prague looked so dilapidated that it seemed as if World War II had just ended a few years before. I enjoyed visiting a communist country, but found Prague to be rather grim, especially in the winter.


I went to Bali, Indonesia as part of a longer Asia trip in 1979. The high point of my Bali visit was attending the cremation of a local matriarch in a small village. While waiting for the cremation, villagers chewed betel nut--the mood-altering nut of the betel palm. Later, the body of the woman--wrapped in white cloth--was put atop a colorfully decorated cremation tower. Two small boys climbed atop the tower, sitting near the body. Several men then shouldered the tower, like a palanquin. Running, they carried the swaying tower to a field. A crowd of hundreds ran alongside. At an empty field, the pallbearers set down the tower, the kids alighted, and the men quickly torched the tower. The villagers then returned home.


The Great Wall

In 1979, I took a trip with a commercial tour group that transformed my life--to China. I knew little about China before I went there and saw it with rose-colored glasses. I was thrilled by how China seemed to be untouched by the consumerism I felt was rampant in the West.Tiananmen I was also thrilled to see that China--even though it was a communist country--didn't seem to be as grim as Czechoslovakia. While in China, I visited Guangzhou, Shenyang, Harbin and Beijing. After my visit to China, I began to study Chinese. Later, I returned to China to study Chinese and work. Ultimately, I lived in China for a total of 11 years during the period from 1982-2000.


While living in Beijing from 1992-2000, I traveled to Japan with my children to visit a friend from graduate school. In Japan, we visited Tokyo and Iwate prefecture, in Northern Honshu. I had studied about a year of Japanese (as well as Chinese), so I was able to decipher quite a bit of written Japanese. I was struck by how many Japanese words sounded like pidgin English, e.g., "haan-ba-ga-stei-kee" for "hamburger steak" or "ayee-su-ku-ree-mu" for "ice cream."

North Korea

My children and I in PyongyangPyongyang Sports FestivalMy children and I went to North Korea for about a week in 1995. We traveled to Pyongyang by train from Beijing. From the Chinese border to the North Korean capital, we saw only one motorized vehicle and almost no working tractors. From the train, we could see peasants marching to the field shouldering implements. They looked like pictures from Cultural Revolution posters. North Korea's terrain resembled a moonscape, with almost no trees. We went to North Korea as part of a tour group organized by some Brits to attend the Pyongyang International Sports and Cultural Festival for Peace. The festival was apparently North Korea's attempt at ping-pong diplomacy. It was a two-day wrestling program, featuring Japanese and WWF wrestlers, with Muhammad Ali in the audience. The main event was a match between Ric Flair and a Japanese wrestler who had studied under a North Korean wrestling great. It was effectively a proxy match between the U.S. and North Korea to see who could whomp whom. Needless to say, the U.S. lost. But with the release of hundreds of doves into the Pyongyang sky at the festival's end, the North's final message was supposedly one of conciliation.