How the Cookie Crumbles

Life and scribbles on the far side of SIXTY-FIVE


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Rocky Mountaineer: Gobsmacking Spaces

We called it a day after the late dinner around 9:00 pm. Ugh. I don’t like eating this late.

As always, I expected Mary’s suitcase to explode on mere eye contact. I had valuable space in mine; Mary negotiated I help her downsize her bulging case. How could I refuse? Five or ten pounds ended up in my luggage. What are sisters for?

What is it about travelling that I can’t wait to hit the breakfast buffet? I always overeat when on vacation. You’d think I’d be stuffed to the gills and push back. Maybe I was, but I figured might as well enjoy being served as opposed to serving, while the opportunity presented itself.

After breakfast, refreshed and fed, we explored what we could of Lake Louise and the Fairmont. This would be our only chance as our stay was only for one night. The proximity of the magnificent mountains so close to the hotel had me gobsmacked. How else can I explain my experience? I’ve seen pictures over time, but being there was another matter. Imagine a half-frozen lake, snow on the ground, mountains as a backdrop and dressed in jeans and tees, minus a jacket. The date: May 20, 2017. It boggles the mind. The day provided warm sunshine and balmy weather.

I have too many pictures to present here. These few might give you a taste of my giddy experience. First the famous Fairmont:

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Breathtaking surroundings and heavenly backdrop to the Fairmont:

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We enjoyed a last lunch after checking out. Nervous the luggage might be forgotten in the room and miss the bus, we first wandered to the registration desk and were directed to the area for the bus and luggage wicket. I relaxed when I saw our bags had indeed been transferred from our room. The fellow tagging our luggage laughed out loud when he saw me watch him eagle-eyed.

Just a few plagues telling visitors interesting facts:

With time to kill, I grabbed a comfy chair in the lobby and proceeded to finish my book. Can I share a secret? I’d borrowed a book from the cruise ship library but hadn’t finished it. No way can I leave a book without knowing the ending. My plan—a good one, I thought—was to leave it in the Fairmont Hotel lobby with a note to please return to the ship. With so many tours parading back and forth, I felt confident some good soul proceeding to the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise tour would find the book, smile, and do the good deed. I wish I knew about the book’s journey.

An arm’s length from where I finished reading, I noticed a group mill around with garment bags slung over their shoulders. They disappeared and returned dressed in traditional costumes (I assume) for picture taking. I wanted to ask questions but did not wish to intrude. It wasn’t clear whether they were English conversant and I didn’t want to put anyone on the spot. Of course, Mary and I took advantage of this colourful photo opportunity. Curious, I looked around but could not discern a specific photographer for them.

Next on October 19th – Rocky Mountaineer: An Unexpected Bonanza

© 2018 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles

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North to Alaska: Dolly Who? Dolly What?

On we trudged; a sign advertising many varieties of popcorn caught Mary’s attention. Mm. It smelled so good inside that shop. I cannot recall all the flavours on offer, but they were many and not cheap. Seasonings were available to mix anyway a customer chose. I’m glad I didn’t need to make a selection. I love popcorn but too many choices of anything give me a headache.

We next chose an open-type shop, the three-walled kind like in an open bazaar, and lickety-split an attractive, fast-talking sales clerk started his spiel. He snared Mary into buying two 8-ounce vac pacs of smoked salmon at $16.99 each USD by throwing in a free 4-ounce vac in the bargain. I guess she wanted to be caught because she had her mind set on salmon from Alaska. This purchase required special packaging and an officious label since we were in a country not our own and food items require special permission to be transported across the border. Oh, the rules of travel.

I am no good without a plan or a map, but we ambled from the main road for a couple blocks to see what we might find.

An advertisement on the ship’s TV had advertised points of interests and there it was. Sheer luck we’d found it so easily. A young woman in period costume outside the little white house convinced us to check it out for ten bucks each. I love a mystery, don’t you? What would we find for such a bargain ticket?

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Teeny rooms jam-packed with period furniture and paraphernalia was worth the escape out the annoying and persistent gauzy drizzle. A flat screen TV graced a wall in every room, running looped film about Dolly, her life, and possessions. Peeling paint and wallpaper and watermarked ceilings framed the crowded artifacts of the day. Dolly (real name Thelma Copeland, born 1888) had purchased the house in 1919 for $800.00 and paid it off in two weeks. She did not allow married men and told them, “No, you’re married.”

She checked hands for rings and again said, “Nope, you’re married.” How did she know? Removed rings and mud on shoes or boots confirmed they had come down the hill, the back way. Those who carried their shoes (and put them on before knocking) to avoid mud, passed inspection.

Married men’s trail to Creek Street. Wood stairs and railings save tourists from mud on their shoes and from slipping and sliding away.

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, prostitution was not illegal. Booze was but nobody paid attention. Dolly received deliveries at night by lowering a bucket and hid the boat supplies underneath the house beneath the nose of the preacher next door.

Downstairs:

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Upstairs:

A couple with two young children zipped past us up the stairs, barely stopping to blink, and were out the door as if house hunting but not impressed with the recommended property.

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The tour of Dolly’s house ended at the back door on an up-do-date wooden deck and walkway back to Creek Street.

Next on June 15th – North to Alaska: Creek Street Shops and a Tram Experience

© 2018 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles


Shanghai, Part 3 – The Old Bazaar and More

 

Image Courtesy of Sally Cronin

Chinese Saying

Keep your belongings in front of you. What’s in front belongs to you; what’s behind, belongs to someone else.

~ * ~

Whenever we left or entered the bus, our tour guide gave a reminder to check our personal belongings. At first, I felt we were being treated like children but soon realized how easy it is to become engrossed while surrounded by the distractions of China.

Old Shanghai Bazaar

What luck! Once again, we were given time to explore on our own. After the splendor of the financial district (The Bund), some in our group discovered another world a short distance away.  These are the real people we had little occasion to see. I thank RJ for sharing these wonderful pictures.

More day-to-day scenes:

The Ritzier Bazaar 

While a few explored the vibrant open market, others followed Jackie, our tour guide, to a more upscale sector where anything from floral teas to pearls; jade to cameras; clothes to emporiums and brand name, and best-quality knock-offs were secreted. One daring couple opted to check out the underground market. I had no interest in shopping but decided to tag along for the adventure. Led through masses of humanity, avoiding elbows and bodies, we entered an alley, made a turn and afollowed a short path to a nondescript door. Jackie must have knocked to gain entry, but I don’t recall. Before leaving, he expalined our route back to the group’s meeting place. Poof. I blinked and he vanished.

© All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of RJ, a member of English 8.

© All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of RJ, a member of English 8.

We entered, were sized up, and drilled asked what was needed. I experienced a thrill of excitement and a chill of forebody. No one knew where we’d gone.

The room small and windowless, shelves on three walls displayed elegant purses, luggage, watches etc. Like a wolf waiting to pounce, the attendant pushed merchandise on the couple. A second man watched the proceedings. Nothing suited. How about this? Maybe you’d like that… The room shrank and grew smothering. Eyes to the door, my nerves hummed. Escape wasn’t easy. Like it or not, we were in for a hard sell. Special for you, I have … How about a fine watch. Ernesto bought a piece of luggage instead. Avid shoppers, he and his wife already needed another bag for their China purchases. We were free at last. Ernesto, husband of the well-travelled couple I’d shadowed, wasn’t impressed. “Might as well buy a real Rolex for the price they want.”

We hadn’t advanced further than a few paces when a young woman materialized from behind, promising another place, a better deal. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. We kept moving. The whole business became uncomfortable. Seeing us a waste of time, she took the hint, and melted into the crowd.

As everywhere else, knock-offs are illegal in China. If you are caught, off to the police station you go. Your tour group continues as scheduled and you have to find your way back to them on your own dime. Of course, you don’t get to keep your loot either.

Dinner Sunday night  

  • Tomato soup with egg
  • Rice with egg
  • Lightly breaded white fish
  • Mixed vegetables
  • Greens
  • Eggplant in a sauce
  • Beef in sauce
  • Sliced curry potatoes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Watermelon slices

Shanghai Quick Facts:

  • Home of the (open air) Bird’s Nest, capacity 80,000
  • Popular sports: ping pong, table tennis, basketball and soccer
  • World Financial Center, 2nd tallest in the world
  • Houses used to cost $1,000 / square foot; now up to $5,000 / square foot
  • Kindergarten parents pay about $1,000 per month
  • School free grades 1 to 9
  • Live-in maid service pays $1,000 per month
  • Twice-a-week service pays $10. per hour

~ * ~

Next on June 16, Shanghai, Part 4 – Silk Factory and More

 

© 2017 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles

FYI: This is a re-blog of the best parts of my trip in 2014.

~ * ~

I am currently on an unplanned sabbatical. Please bear with me. Hope to return soon. 
Thank you for reading and for your kind and continued support.



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Beijing Part 7: Ming Tombs

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Image Courtesy of Sally Cronin

After the Great Wall, a mid-day meal awaited in a local restaurant.

Lunch:

  • Spring rolls (exactly 8)
  • Fish balls with red and green peppers
  • Fried chicken
  • Eggplant with tomato and green peppers
  • Rice
  • Cauliflower and broccoli
  • Soup
  • Cut up orange wedges for dessert
  • Tea
  • The usual one small (free) glass of beer, pop or water
The Spirit Way, original road and entrance to the tombs. There are 13 tombs of which only one has been excavated (Ding Ling)

The Spirit Way: original road and entrance to the tombs. There are 13 tombs of which one only has been excavated (Ding Ling) 

Ming Tombs: where 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty are buried (1368-1644).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfynyPLm4Q0    (3.04 min)

If you would like a more in-depth version:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1BqspVU2HA  (8:43 min)

Emperor Yongle with money offerings at his feet. This money is collected and used to maintain the building

Emperor Yongle with money offerings at his feet. This money is collected and used to maintain the building and no, no Chinese person would dare steal this money.  

Laundry: 

  • Hung on rope strung the length of apartment balconies
  • Clothes  hung on hangers: socks, T-shirts, sweaters, trousers, shirts, blouses
  • Did not notice any underwear or bedding

 On the way to dinner:

Robert and the driver appeared to converse more than usual. Robert’s cell rang. He talked at length. The call completed, he started another. Both he and the driver seemed tied to their phones for an unusual amount of time. Of course, I didn’t understand a word, yet it occurred to me something might be up. I can pull a rabbit out of any hat, real or imaginary.

Our bus pulled over to the curb and Robert announced he had to leave. The driver would take us to the restaurant, he said. He gave no explanation, but it wasn’t hard to see he was upset. Sue and I looked at each other. We couldn’t see any of the other’s reactions in front or behind us.

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Heavy traffic surrounded us. After Robert hopped off, we drove on for a short distance still in the inside lane. Vehicles crawled bumper to bumper. Another bus slowed next to ours. Sue and I sat on the left of the aisle watching through the window. I squeezed my eyes shut as a bicyclist, with no room to spare, whizzed by between our two buses. I almost had a heart attack.

The other bus moved on. We remained stock-still in the curb lane. Traffic rolled past. I thought the young fellow on the bike might have caused an accident. Traffic shifted moving past, yet our bus waited immobile. Why? By now, the whole group craned necks and raised eyebrows around the seats at each other. We noticed together, a car parked in front of the bus. Another five minutes or so dragged past. What could be happening? A man in a construction vest walked up to the car’s driver window brandishing his arms. I had no idea the car had an occupant. No translation was required. Move now he indicated. Nothing changed. A 20-something Chinese guy in black pants and a white shirt appeared at the side of the bus. The door flew open and he jumped in. The door slammed shut and I don’t recall any words exchanged with the driver. The parked car inched forward. Our bus did as well.

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In minutes, we turned into a driveway and a man, who might have been Security or Police, stepped in front of the bus. He waved his arms and shouted through the windshield and looked as if he wanted to push the bus back. What was going on? Words passed between the man outside and our driver or between the driver and the new passenger who hadn’t taken a seat. Too much going on to follow. The uniform vanished. The bus door opened again and the young man jumped out signaling for us to follow. I felt like a lamb on the way to heaven’s gate or maybe hell’s? All were silent, heads bowed as we passed through an alley and a maze of cars and another lot into a restaurant. I flashed my Travel Tour ID towards an approaching waitress. She led us to Table 6 which displayed our tour group name.

One of our group noticed the young man worked as a waiter there. The picture became clear. This had been an orchestrated event. Before Robert rushed off, either he or the driver had pre-arranged for our escort. The driver had stalled until the black pants and white shirt found us. The driver couldn’t leave the bus to walk us to our destination since there wasn’t room to bring the bus closer. I don’t even know if he spoke English. What teamwork!

By the time dinner finished, and we fidgeted, wondering about our return to the hotel, Robert showed up as if nothing had happened. He looked much better than when he’d dashed off. His voice, I noticed, was still a little odd. At least to me, his reason for the sudden disappearance was suspect.

“I had to see about my next tour,” he said to our obvious curiosity.

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Dinner:

  • Soup with fresh chopped tomatoes
  • Rice
  • Shrimp with egg and green peppers
  • Corn with lima beans and carrots
  • Sweet and sour chicken balls
  • French fries (surprise)
  • Chicken with fungus and green peppers
  • Green leaf vegetable like spinach but not
  • Chopped mushrooms and green peppers
  • Eggplant, light spice

We returned to the hotel around 8:30 p.m. I picked up my laptop from the room and returned to the lobby for free WiFi access. I had trouble and asked the guy at reception for help. He looked at the list available and pointed to one, even though the words weren’t in Chinese. “Maybe, this one?” His choice didn’t work. He shrugged. I went off on my own, but soon became frustrated and worn out. I wanted nothing more than my bed. I gave up on e-mail.

Finally day's end

Finally day’s end. This is how my brain felt as well. 

Next on March 3rd: Beijing Part 8: Pearl Stores and Summer Palace

© 2017 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles

FYI: This is a re-blog of the best parts of my trip in 2014.

 


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#BlogBattle 3 – Prompt: Air

Find the rules at Rachel Ritchie’s blog here.

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Prompt: Air

Words: 970

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Kitten or Mouse

Julie pressed back against the wall of the Fish and Tackle shop as if to melt into the paint and woodgrain. He had found her. No other reason for his appearance in this crack in the world atop the U.S./Canada border. Three years. Why now? Stroking her windpipe, the relentless thumbs and her struggle to break their pressure flashed before her like a bad movie. He breezed past in his signature Mercedes, still the same one, looking neither left nor right, a silver streak in the sun.

Weak-kneed, she gulped lungs full of fishy autumn air. Her paralysis abated; a headache blossomed.

“Are you all right, Miss?” A chubby teen reached out in support of her elbow.

Oblivious to his approach, Julie screamed. Hands clenched to her chin, she nodded but tracked the car’s disappearance over the boy’s shoulder. Up the hill, she slogged on leaden legs to the parking lot. No shopping today. The teen squinted and shook his head.

A miracle, he lived. So, Markus had evaded both jailers and creditors. To save his neck, he’d wanted to sell their real estate business, but she vanished after the choking incident. Not possible without her signature—unless, he had finagled her autograph. Of course, he had, or he’d be dead. Teeth clattering like loose Chicklets, she backed the car in behind the little green house on the dead-end street.

Inside, she locked the doors and snapped the blinds shut. Nerves jangling like unraveled electric wires, she turned on the black and white portable television, the sound turned off. Front door to hallway, to the kitchen, and back she paced. Why was he here?

The landline rattled a rotary grumble. Other than old Widow Schumacher across the road, no one phoned her. She picked up. “Hello, Anna?” Tense, her voice cracked. “Anna… is everything alright? Anna…” Julie slammed the phone into its cradle, a sob choking her. Wait a minute… She peeked between the curtains in the front room. Eyes closed, Anna relaxed on her verandah, face toward the milky fall sun.

Julie massaged her knotted forehead. Could be a wrong number. Right? Marcus showing up is a coincidence? What’s he want? He wouldn’t recognize me after the work I’ve had done. My voice… Shoot—my voice hasn’t changed.

The walls closed in like sentries—bad ones—pushy, determined, smothering. How did he get this number? He doesn’t know my name. Get a grip, Julie. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Br-r-r-ring. Julie jumped back though the whirr originated in the kitchen. She tiptoed to the curtains. The widow’s chin had dropped to her chest.

Neck and shoulders clenched, her tension grew in drowning waves. The black phone droned on like a loud purr, like his voice purring, purring like a cat, watching the mouse sweat and then bam! He always won—later if not sooner.

The first time had been over her signature and a password. He said she’d never leave him. He wouldn’t allow it. The next time she knew he’d finish the job because his mouse had fled. What did he want now? Three years ago she had an escape plan and a nest egg. This time she had no time to plan, but her nest egg safe, grew.

The phone stopped; the silence eerie like a yawning vacuum. Julie stood at the edge staring into the abyss, ready to jump.

Br-r-r-ring.

“Stop.” Julie covered her ears. She found herself peering through the curtains again, the widow gone.

Silence slammed into her like a brick wall. Time to get out of the house. She grabbed her purse.

Br-r-r-ring.

What if it isn’t him? She picked up the receiver.

“Hello, kitten.” His practiced smile burned into her ear. “I like the red hair. Some people have been anxious to pin your disappearance on me—but without proof…” He raised his voice, the smile erased. “I want my briefcase back…”

Julie laid the receiver on the small table, grabbed a scarf, and tiptoed out of her house. The car in neutral, she coasted down the incline to the street. This mouse isn’t your plaything anymore. She high-tailed it with no clear plan in mind, other than crossing the border into Maine. If he knows about the hair, he knows what I look like. How did he find me?

First things first. Lie low in Maine for two or three days.

* * *

She stayed away an extra day. Hair mahogany and lips watermelon pink, she parked a block away from home and strode up the street to Anna’s in sandals instead of heels. Hidden behind bold sunglasses, she scanned her house. It wore a look of abandonment and melancholy. She knocked. No Anna.

Nothing stirred not even the fallen leaves. Across the street, she picked up four daily papers left in her absence and checked the mailbox. Heart on the verge of imploding, Julie tried the back door. The phone rested on the table as before. She hung it up to stop the awful beep. The newspapers dumped in the trash, she retrieved the latest one. Flashes of blue without sound earned a switch-off. How long before he knocks on my door?

Lightheaded, her heart continued the Watusi. Water on the boil for tea, Julie dropped into a kitchen chair and unfolded the paper. A three-car pile-up exiting the Canadian side took the lives of one man and sent three others to hospital. The kettle whistled. She examined the wrecks in full-color. A shiver passed over her. Something familiar… “Shut up!” She slammed off the offensive shriek.

The deceased, a Canadian, remains unidentified until next of kin… Anyone with information…

1983 silver Mercedes Benz 300 SD…

R.I.P. Better you than me.

Free. Free. Free at last. No peering over my shoulder.

By the way, Markus, your briefcase is safe.

The End

Image courtesy of Pixabay

© 2017 Tess and How the Cookie Crumbles


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Bejing at Last (Part 2)

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Image Courtesy of Sally Cronin

At last, we arrived at the hotel and were given an hour to freshen up before the welcoming dinner in the hotel dining room. Would I stay awake that long?


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The hotel is classified 5-Star and this is the lobby. Although splendid and attention-grabbing, it was not spectacular.

Table number 4, awaited, set for eight and covered with a red tablecloth. A yard-wide-diameter glass Lazy Susan (size approximate) adorned the center.

I heard neck vertebrae snap. Sue and I gawked at each other. The waitress attended to the men first. She shook out each cloth napkin and placed one corner beneath the dinner plate—smaller than a bread plate—with the opposite corner on a lap. Picture a square napkin held by one corner with points facing north and south and east and west. This placement also protected the overhang of the tablecloth, I imagine, should anyone dribble while eating. Fallen food could s-l-i-d-e down the napkin and into your lap, but not onto the floor. What do you do with the resulting ‘leftovers’? Mash them into the napkin?

Recreation of place setting

Re-creation of place setting

Did I hear the ruffle of rooster tail feathers? I bet the men in our party hadn’t felt this special since Momma kissed a boo boo. This goes to show how different our east/west worlds still are, and will in all probability never change, or I might be wrong. I giggled into my hand and figured the men might as well enjoy the attention. We females rolled our eyes. It’s possible no one even noticed we did except us.

Once everyone’s serviettes had been organized, the subject of drinks came up. Choices of beverages were water, a soft drink (Coke or ginger ale and never diet) or beer. Once the apportioned amount per table was used up, too bad. The waitress opened two small bottles of water but this wasn’t enough for all the thirsty visitors. Substitutes for soft drinks and/or beer instead of water were unfathomable to staff; no swapping and no flexibility. Our guide, Robert, offered to go to the store to buy more but the hotel staff wouldn’t allow that either. (More on drinks later).

We were called the English Group 8. Another group followed us some time later, a full busload called the French Group from Quebec and area. Busy at our own table, I still overheard a loud voice call: une, deux, trois upon their arrival. Why were these adults being treated like children, I wondered but pushed the thought away.

First dinner in China (menu incomplete due to my befuddled brain)

Robert hung around to describe the platters of food (family style) as they were placed on the Lazy Susan before he left for the subway and an hour’s ride home.

  • Hors d’oeuvres: anchovies sandwiched between thin slices of pork (a guess)
  • Tiny cucumbers, about an inch long, (looked like beginning baby growths) served as a salad
  • Bean salad, French cut
  • Cabbage something (tasty)
  • Corn soup (no corn found, and no corn flavor)
  • Sweet and sour pork (most familiar taste)
  • Cauliflower
  • Fried rice with peas
  • Beef slices
  • Pork, thick slices of boiled bacon (boiled fat, ugh)
  • For dessert: raw pumpkin slices (unflavored, not well-liked) and dates

Dinner over, neither Sue nor I recalled what time we called it a night. I imagine we collapsed into bed soon afterward, thankful for a pillow and a comfy bed.  The unnerving thing is neither of us has any recollection. None. We can’t even embellish a story under threat of pain or suffering.

Take a gander at this, our bathroom with a peekaboo wall. What? Why?

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You’re going to scratch your head and we did as well. After finding this oddity, no-one we asked gave a straight answer. Not even our tour guide. He mumbled something about watching television from the bath. An expensive glass wall to enjoy TV if you ask me. A Venetian blind hangs in place to open or close. Here the bottom half has been turned down for privacy. Check out these links for comments:

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/asia-north-east-asia/topics/hotel-bathrooms-in-china

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/travel/05headsup.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

A few additional facts about China:

  • China has FOUR municipalities: Beijing (the capital), Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin
  • There are 55 nationalities, PLUS the Han People who are the majority at 93%
  • The rest are minorities
  • Mandarin is the main language.
  • Although written the same all over the country, the dialects are different. Everywhere.

~*~

Next On January 27th: Beijing (Part 3): First Tour Day

© 2017 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles

FYI: This is a re-blog of the best parts of my trip in 2014.


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BlogBattle Prompt – Resolved

BlogBattlers are back. Let the games begin in 1000 words.

Read the rules here:  https://blogbattlers.wordpress.com/rules/

Genre: Tall Tales (a tough one)

Prompt: Resolved (words 987)

Resolved

Have I ever told you the story about Grandpa Muckle’s house? No? Annie’s 10-year twin nephews leaned forward where they sat on the floor cross-legged.

After our grandfather died, your father and I helped clear out the house. We were eighteen and twenty. Rick positioned the painter’s ladder beneath the trapdoor to the attic. He had waited a long time to peek inside that forbidden place, but he paused.

“Go on. You don’t expect monsters, do you?” I concentrated on the square in the ceiling, too. Chewing on the end of my ponytail as was my habit, I thought I’d choke on it.”

“Grandpa wouldn’t allow us to explore up there, remember,” Rick said. “I’ve always been curious why.”

“Maybe he never finished it like Dad.”

Your father blew out a breath and gave me the look. Thick Styrofoam clad the removed board.

“Flashlight.” I poked him in the ribs with the one in my hand.  He heaved himself through and sneezed.

“Bless you. What do you see? Anything interesting?” He disappeared into the dark, wordless.

More curious than nervous, I sprang up the ladder after my brother. With a click, the room flooded with light. We gaped like dazed children, pulling dust covers off in a hurry: four white chairs; a matching table; a single bed and dresser; a dollhouse and an ornate trunk. Everything white except for the trunk, which was painted a slick ebony shine. Smooth white-painted walls encased the room. Rick dropped into a chair and I slid into another. The chairs spit us out on the floor, bouncing back into shape toward the trapdoor. They wobbled like rubber, the legs bendy and weak to accommodate our weight and size before pop and shriek.

“What happened” My eyes rattled in my head like in a cartoon.

“What is this?” Eyes glazed with shock, Rick’s voice cracked. “Is this the Twilight Zone? I don’t know what to make of it. Do you?” He surged upright, then paced the black and white tiled floor. Hands deep in his pockets, he slumped against the wall. The wall stood firm.

Attribution: Pixabay

Image Attribution: Pixabay

In one corner, the trunk beckoned. Dust motes danced over top as if in invitation. Childhood dreams of treasure chests and pirate’s treasure awakened again. My brother’s voice faded. The chest waited. I struggled with the lid. No go. Locks require keys. I didn’t see one. “Help me open this.”

Rick lost no time patting down the lacquered box. No luck.

“Seems strange it’s sitting off the floor. Is that a skid under there?” I pointed.

Rick clutched the bare wood. “Help tip this over.” We stooped hip-to-hip and heaved in unison.

The trunk weighed less than it looked. A half-dozen grunts and huffs later, it lay on its side. Rick found something taped to the bottom. Whoever guesses what gets an extra cookie.”

The twins elbowed each other. “The key—the key.”

“You’re both right. Your dad fitted it in but it refused to turn. He tried and tried. Nothing. What to do?”

The boys shared a probing stare, freckles bright. “Oil can.” They high-fived.

“Aren’t you smart? Great answer, but it still didn’t work.”

“Did you see inside the trunk or not?” Trevor’s face reddened.

“Patience. Sometimes patience conquers all.”

His brother breathed deep, the chords in his neck engorged. “What did you find? Something good, I hope.”

I raised a palm. “The key wouldn’t work because someone had bashed the lock. With a screwdriver and hammer, my brother somehow worked his magic. The lid lifted like a charm and guess what?”

“What? What? Pieces of silver?”

“Rubies and diamonds?”

“Something better than that.”

Faces incredulous, the boys squinted. “No way. Nothing’s better than gold or silver.”

“Inside—wait—inside lay a white robot, an R2D2 look-alike—sort of.” The boys scrambled onto their hands and knees.

“No way. Did it work?”

“Did you charge it?

“Hey ho.” Rick called from the hall, “What are you guys doing?”

“Tell us about Grandpa’s attic and the robot in the trunk. Did it work?”

Rick pointed a finger at his sister and pursed his lips. “You didn’t.”

Taupe-penciled brows peaked, she crossed her arms. The boys frowned contemplating their aunt and father.

“Did it work? Come on, Dad.”

A silent deliberation transpired between brother and sister. “Come here boys.” Rick flopped into the center of the sofa. “You know Aunt Annie tells tall tales, Right? Remember the one about fool’s gold in the backyard?

Three sets of eyes scrutinized Annie. “You wouldn’t.” she said.

“What part of the story did I interrupt?”

“The robot, Dad—in the black chest.”

“Of course, him. He had a note taped to his gray metal chest.

I have no experience and no action. I’m worthless. Sorry.

“What happened to it, Dad?”

“You know this is Grandpa Muckle’s house. Your aunt liked it so much, she renovated it and hoped future Muckles will too. You haven’t seen the attic?”

“So, what about the robot and the crazy furniture?” Trevor brayed.

“Your aunt made up the story about the crazy furniture—it’s make believe. The robot—you have to see for yourselves. Let’s get this resolved. Come on.”

Rick pulled down the new-fangled stairs to the attic and led the way. He hit the lights.

“Look at this. There’s furniture, but it’s ratty old patio stuff, a dog carrier, and a sewing machine…Where’s the robot? Trevor, the older twin, scurried from corner to corner and stopped dead. He laughed and laughed. “Come here brother.”

“This stovepipe tinman is no robot. Aunt Annie, when you tell a tale, it’s a tall one.”

“But, no treasure? That sucks.” Trevor backed away. “Where’s the trunk? Did you check for secret compartments?

His father shook his head. “No trunk.”

“The only true thing is this black and white floor. You got me, Auntie. You too, Dad.

Younger brother whooped. “Hey, Trevor, is that a suit of armor?”

The End

©Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles.


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A New Year’s Day

Her cabin close to ours, Bronwyn again drove us back to the cottage. Jean’s husband stayed behind to sweep and reorganize the Community Center in preparation for another group’s function the next day. Tired after the evening’s excitement, I wasted no time dropping into bed. My sister said when she used the facilities (next door to my room), I was already pulling the sail (snoring like a drunken sailor). Hey, who are you calling a sailor?

In the morning, we scheduled showers, the water steaming and plentiful; towels huge, thick and absorbent. A sheer luxury. Jean rustled up French toast for a leisurely breakfast with the Panattoni she had baked at home. Michael paid our room bills and surprised me by arranging a tour of the secret room. I had seen the owner earlier and inquired about a look-see. The arrangement depended on time. Excited, I floated above ground while we waited for our peek behind the locked door.

Located in the center of the house, between our side of the house and the owner’s, the room’s location was deceiving. I had not noticed the brown stairs leading to a second level, nor the balcony outside. Our rooms were on the left side (behind the tree) and the owners lived on the right, the larger portion of the building.

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See the outside stairs to the second level and the veranda

At the scheduled time, Michael knocked at the farthest door across the foyer. The owner’s wife swung it open and invited us inside. Whoa. The place was huge. Though built in 1909, the house had been modernized with up-to-date plumbing, heating, lighting, and interior construction. I hung back ogling everything and taking nothing in. I snapped this framed picture behind glass at the entranceway and rushed to follow our group. I had no opportunity to inquire if it held any significance.

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Wow. I assumed the mystery room stored dusty trunks and ancient discards. The key to the door had gone missing some time ago.

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This is what awaited: a two-storey Christmas tree in the Great Room. Two, self-contained, two-bedroom apartments took up the second level. Family members stayed here when they came to visit with their teenage children and their friends during summer and other holidays. Even at this age, the third generation felt pride in the family home and its history. I had hoped for an invitation to see the upstairs. No offer made, I stifled my greed.

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 I heard someone had taken it either on purpose or by accident. Funny, I observed a key in the lock on the owner’s side mocking me. Lost key? What’s with that story?

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Was I disappointed our anticipated tour ended? Had our request been an intrusion? No and no. The owner enjoyed sharing. In the past, guests who wondered about the room obtained the special reveal if / when time permitted.

The van loaded to the rafters—after much packing and repacking—we set off to Michael’s family home where his mother invited us for an overnight stay. Why did the van have less room on the return trip than the one on our arrival? The leftover wine, stored at his mother’s for the meet and greet and the birthday party, was returning with us to Vancouver.

Michael stopped at the Recycle Center to drop off 23 empty bottles from the two nights of festivities before proceeding to his mom’s place (60 people served). I would have returned them to the liquor store for cash (total of $2.30). No, probably not as they needed room in the van we could not spare.

* * *

Next on December 3rd – The New Year Advances

© 2016 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.

For more related posts, click on Abbreviated Vancouver


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#BlogBattle – Week 62

Prompt:  Photograph

Genre:  Drama

Check out the rules:  https://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

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Image by Pixaby. No  attribution required.

Broken

Shoulders curled, Marlene dropped a wobbly chin. “How has it come to this?” Leaning back into the kitchen counter, her voice dropped to a whisper.

“Shocking and a long time coming, but I’m not surprised—are you? Hey, this is a nice place. ” Alice peeked into the living room.

Marlene’s chin shot up, brown eyes bulging, accusing. “What are you saying? Not surprised.”

“Easy, sweetie. You have to admit Charlie has been mutating for years—even before you thought he might be fooling around.” Alice flicked pensive, Barbie-Doll lashes over her girlfriend’s anaemic complexion. Child-like hands dropped to narrow hips.

“Mutating.” She sniffed. “Good word. In equal parts, I’m tired of thinking about him and can’t stop. If I wasn’t eligible for the government pension… If my son hadn’t found this place and moved me in to help cut expenses… I don’t deserve this.”

“Nobody does, sweetie.” Alice reached for her sturdier friend. “The kids are grown and making their own way. You will too. The worst is over.” The women hugged; neither spoke. Alice pulled back. “Tea? Sit.”

“Remember the first little house we bought. Charlie was so house proud. Tore down and put up walls, painted, cleaned. And then… Marlene’s mouth quivered. “The babies kept coming and a prouder father you’ve never seen until…” Resolute tears drifted to her chin though she swabbed them with a shirtsleeve. “When did he begin to resent them? Us?”

“Hey. Change of subject—what did the discovery process shake out?” Alice grinned and helped herself to a sip of tea, pushing back into the kitchen chair rails.

“He’s ignoring e-mails, letters, and telephone calls. My lawyer says a court order will force him to hand over financials. Don’t know if he’s hired his own yet. Did I tell you Breann found a wad of bills stuffed into a jar in the basement rafters? I should have pocketed all of it.”

“What?” Alice set the mug on the kitchen table with a thwack. “You didn’t? Not like you—what about for decent groceries for you and Breann?”

“I mock-handed him the jar after I lifted all but $100.00 wrapped around strips of newsprint—I’m no saint.” She snorted into a palm. “Thought he’d have a stroke. Reminded him the stove didn’t work, the furnace needed replacing—it hadn’t worked for three winters—the ensuite toilet didn’t work… Thought he’d hit me. Grabbed the jar hard enough to break but didn’t, and slammed out of the house.”

“I’m your best friend. You never said. What an actress. I wondered why we met in spurts, in coffee shops—how did you stay warm?”

“Electric heaters. Expensive, but I wasn’t paying the stupid bills. The kids left one by one before the first winter was half over. Breann was the last.”

“What if he skips town?” Alice paced the narrow kitchen, her short legs stabbed at the floor like chopsticks at an empty plate.

Marlene shook her head. “He’s hanging on to the house, though it’s falling down in pieces.”

The other woman stopped, hands in her hair. “I’m amazed you hung in so long. What made you cave?”

Marlene rose to plug in the kettle again. Back turned, she shook her head, running plump, ringed fingers over the electrical cord. The silence stretched until the kettle’s noisy heating element sputtered. “I died a little after every lie and every calculated promise till I didn’t recognize him anymore, or me. The screaming fights—you don’t want to know.”

“I knew you were having problems—doesn’t every couple—why didn’t you say? Did you talk to anyone?”

“Yeah. The oldest, Cathy, the one with all the kids. Forcing my children out was the worst. I wanted to leave, but where could I go—no money of my own? Remember when Charlie, Jr. came out? I told you, right?”

Alice nodded, fading copper curls bounced around her creased, waif-like face.

“That man went crazy roaring this was no son of his. Tore up the house, broke everything in his path if it wasn’t already broken.”

“But Junior is his splitting image. What did he have in mind? Send the boy back?” Alice cackled and slapped her knee.

“Worse. My fault, he said. Wished my boy had never been born.” Eyes dull, bruised half-moons sagging underneath, Marlene stared into the distance. “Broke young Charlie’s heart.

“Computers saved me. I took classes at the library. Printed out reams of his chats and he still lied to my face. To. My. Face. My kids were gone, nothing in the house worked, only a microwave for frozen dinners. I’d had it. With only the clothes on my back, I took a cab to Cathy’s and her houseful. Where else could I go?”

“I’m starving. Anything to eat? You’re no mouse. What took you so long?” Marlene stuck her head in the fridge. “Not much here. Let’s order pizza.”

Lips compressed, Marlene gathered bleached hair, snapping on the elastic from her wrist. “Avoiding temptation. Sorry.”

“Oh? Expecting young Charlie for supper?” Alice opened cupboards till she found dinner plates.

“Don’t know. We’re free spirits. Wine?” Not waiting for an answer, she sauntered into the living room. Alice found wine glasses and pulled out her cell for pizza delivery.

 

“So, how is it on your own—I mean with Charlie, Junior?” Alice grabbed the wine bottle on her way to the living room.

“Fine. You bet I’m mad, though. This isn’t the life I’d pictured.” She snatched the remote and plopped into a chair. “CNN, okay?”

“Wait. Your couch, right? Coffee table. How’d you get them out?” Alice appraised the room and chortled.

“He changed the locks, but the kids and I broke in while he was at work. Took what I needed.”

Alice smiled wide. “Oh-oh. Trouble’s coming. Does the lawyer know?” She leaned to fill her friend’s offered glass.

“Funny enough, I have his blessing. No one suggested we were splitting up before I left. He locked me out. Simple.”

Alice poured what little was left in the bottle and tossed it off. I have a couple bottles in my overnight bag. “Girls’ night. Wait there.” She grabbed her bag by the front door.

“Use the back bedroom on the left, second door.” She heaved herself out of the chair, followed Alice down the hall, and gave her a tour of the rest of the house. Another bottle relieved of its cork, they settled back in front of the television.

Alice swung round as if struck by lightning. “Shh. Turn it up.”

“What?” Marlene sloshed wine over the back of a hand in her haste. She licked it up and thumbed the volume button until the sound blared too loud. She thumbed it down. “No way.” Mesmerized by the image on the screen, she tore her attention away and centered on her friend. Tears obscured her vision though she made no sound. Mascara streaked her cheeks. Alice set down her glass. Grabbing Marlene’s hand, she unpeeled her fingers from the goblet and set it down, too.

“Where’d they get that photograph? Wait. Cathy took it of her father on our 25th anniversary. I thought she’d burned it.” Marlene wavered and would have sunk to the floor had Alice not pushed her into the sofa. Mouth flapping without words, she turned her attention to the television screen.

The words tumbled out of the excited news reporter as if he had to tell it all in five seconds.

This just in. Police stopped a suspicious driver on old Highway 99 as his car wandered from one ditch to the other.  No additional traffic on the road at the time. Incoherent when apprehended, his blood alcohol level was well below the limit. On checking the car for drugs, a dead body—not yet in rigor mortis—was heaped like rubbish in the trunk of this man’s Mustang.

A close-up of Charlie in his best suit filled the screen, hair fuller by six years and eyes clearer and present.

“Crap. What about our divorce?”

Alice pursed her lips. “And your assets? He’s given you the shaft again, hasn’t he?”

“No way. I want a divorce before his case goes to trial.”

“Call your lawyer. Now.”

The End

I have been challenged by  Gary here, another #BlogBattler, to  capture the wife’s POV following Week 61 found here.

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.


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#BlogBattle Week 55 – Leviathan

It’s that time again. To join the challenge, click below:

http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

Genre: Humor / Fantasy

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Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

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Part 4

“What do you mean, ‘because of magic’?”

“You can’t imagine my shock when you showed up—on Leap Day. It’s a sign.” Maggie paused to pour a drink, but changed her mind hands aflutter. Where was I?”

“What did Zero mean about Nelda?” Lisa massaged Mozart’s ear. Euphoric, he leaned into her caress, eyes pinched shut, weaving on her lap drunk with pleasure, his purr lowering by decibels.

Rubbing her chin, Maggie paced two steps forward and back again. “How did the cat find you? I see the special bond between you—maybe that’s it.”

“Are you avoiding the question? Again?” Lisa stood, the feline deposited on the sofa. “Are you listening?” Hands on hips she stamped a foot.

Palm open to shush her, the woman in black continued. “Wait—the hair on your shirt. He must have followed it. Yes. That’s it.” She tapped a closed fist to her forehead, then hesitated, appearing to listen to something only she heard.

“Sit down, Lisa. I’ll start at the beginning. At first, when the Zika virus arrived families dwindled, I wanted to help Zero and his sister. They were unsure whether to go or stay. Of course, I wanted Zero to stay.” She looked up to underscore her point.

“Oh.” Lisa supressed a yawn.

“I was in a corner. Most of his family gone, and though Nelda decided to hang in, Zero kept dithering. You’ve seen the rare books I collect, some are two and three hundred years old. I came across a book of spells and of course had to try them. The arrival of this book turned me around.

I made mistakes, but they didn’t hurt anyone. Until Nelda.” Fingers entwined, she worked them back and forth, lost in a world of her own. Shaking herself back, she continued. “My life’s been a roller coaster ride—of  Leviathan proportions—since 2016 when Nealy slipped through my fingers. Exactly four years ago.”

“I don’t understand. What? A levia—“

“Sorry, like my dad I make weird associations. It a humungous roller coaster in Canada’s Wonderland. My life exactly, whoosh up one way and down another at breakneck speed. It a wonder I haven’t suffered heart failure since she vanished.” Fingers splayed, she patted her chest.

“I still don’t get it.” Coiled on the couch in sleep, Mozart yawned, and opened an eye at the long-winded explanation. Lisa smiled.

“Nelda understood I wanted her brother to stay and was willing help, even if we had to use magic. The magic excited her. I was merely desperate.

“We needed a black cat. I had Viper, but he refused to cooperate. Nelda held him down though he squirmed. Useless cat. He broke free and flew out the cat door as I finished the spell. When I turned back to her, Nelda was gone. Poof. I’ve tried and tried to get her back without success.”

“What does this have to do with me? Why am I here?” Lisa’s fingers reached for the cat’s ear. He sighed. She cleared her throat. “What about me?”

Viper sailed into the sitting room sliding across the wood floor until the area rug stopped him. Mozart snarled. Viper hissed. One black, one white, they eyed each other, fur raised, ears lowered. Mozart said something and licked a paw. Viper cocked his head. The women held their breath. Nothing happened.

“I have an idea. What time is it? Seven hours till midnight. I’ll get the book. Maybe this is my lucky day after all.”

Lisa shot to her feet. “No. Wait.” Maggie vanished through the curtained doorway. An eruption of heavy books thumping to the floor thudded from the bookstore.

Within minutes, she rushed back, stopped dead by the sight of the cats’ peering up at her. No hissing, nor fighting as if by agreement. Or magic. Glancing from the toms to Lisa biting her lip, Maggie nodded to herself. Hugging a thick, tattered volume to her chest, her eyes glistened. “I don’t know what happened here, but I like it. Viper is super territorial or was. Strange.” She grabbed Lisa’s hand. “Come help me.”

The girl shrank back. “What are you doing?” She flashed a glimpse at her cat, whose ears pointed slightly to the sides and forward. He stared back, unblinking and appeared to approve.

“I was right. There is something about your cat. He’s going to help me get Nelda back.”

“Oh, no you don’t. What about Viper? He’s sitting still. Seems logical to give him another try.” Lisa scooped her white bundle of joy. He nipped her finger. “Ouch. Sorry.”

Maggie flipped pages back and forth. “Come on. Come on. Where is it?” Except for the rustle of fine paper dancing back and forth between the leather covers, no other sound broke the silence. A film of perspiration glistened on her forehead. Mouth dry, she licked her lips. “I’ve tried so many spells, I can’t decide. I thought I’d put the book away for good after this morning’s attempt. I know not to waste time on that one.”

Lisa and Mozart’s eyes met. Hers widened and bulged. “What did you say about this morning? You mean your spell plopped me here?”

“Here it is—I think.” Maggie sat on the floor, book open on the coffee table. Viper, ever watchful, had not moved since Mozart had words with him. Head tilted, he was the picture of a sleek black panther in miniature.

Lisa sank to the farthest reaches of the sofa cushions. She listened to words, most she did not understand except one. “Wait, you said purgurtory. Shouldn’t it be purgatory?”

Maggie blinked. “What?” She began again. Viper stared at a spot on the wall.

Lisa caught the flash of a green dress. The woman looked familiar. A jackhammer clattered in her head.

* * *

Lis-s-aaa. Where are yo-uu?

The End

© 2015 Tess @ How the Cookie Crumbles. All Rights Reserved.