My Own Paparazzi by Emily

  • I’ve lived in China long enough to become a bit immune to things like bamboo forests, more skyscrapers than I can count and a dog riding with its owner on an electric scooter.




Then our friend Kathleen visited for six weeks.  I knew that with her arrival, the charm of China would return.  And it did.  She was intrigued by everything:  street sweepers’ homemade brooms,



pink suitcases, cigarette boxes, the subway system being built, ceilings in airports, kumquat tea,


the messy conglomeration of electrical wires twisted together along telephone poles.

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The list was endless.  Truly, everything intrigued her.  

Her amazement was reflected in the number of photos she took:  almost 30,000 pictures, over 700 pictures a day!  With her exuberant, friendly personality, hearts opened everywhere she went.  After photographing card players on the street, she was invited to join, and she did, in a game she was absolutely clueless about.  Another time she happened into a restaurant on opening day and photographed the décor, food and employees.

She strolled in a mostly abandoned apartment complex.  When she bent to look at a bean plant a young girl, who was following her, bent to look as well.  Then the girl had an idea.  She led Kathleen around, showing her different flowers blooming among the broken sidewalk and crumbling garden walls.  At each place, the girl picked a flower.  When Kathleen left, the girl gave her the bouquet.

Kathleen got the idea to take photos of a Chinese couple getting married. and I asked around but couldn’t find any engaged couples who wanted photos taken.  Meanwhile, Kathleen flew to Hong Kong for a few days.


One morning, at a red light, she glanced sideways and there, inches away, was a bride in her white dress.  With her were the groom, a photographer and the assistant.   Quivering with excitement, Kathleen followed and snapped pictures from a distance.  Soon, the entourage invited her to join them.  For hours, the five of them traipsed up and down streets, taking pictures.

Kathleen took pictures of Tim teaching,










Zoe at the West Lake,







and Sumner looking mysterious in his Sherlock Holmes coat.



And for the first time, I tasted life with my own paparazzi.  Of the 30,000 pictures, need I say that I am in more than a few?


Here I am in my classroom.


At times I felt awkward having my photo taken up close on a crowded bus, and at times Tim was irritated that Kathleen lagged so far behind when we were trying to get somewhere fast (which is the only way that Tim knows to walk).  But now, as I scroll through the photos, I re-experience China through Kathleen’s lens, and I feel even closer to my friend.

Furthermore, I feel so valued, validated and known.  So much from our daily life — the people and things we experience — are captured in print.  The photos say that we/they/it/this matters.

The pictures also make me want to buy a good camera and give others the same gift.  I don’t know if I will, though, anytime soon.







Meanwhile, my dear friend, Kathleen, just know that you can be our  — as Tim is now equally touched 🙂 —  paparazzi any day.



Note:  We’re imitating the Chinese with the rabbit ears/peace signs. It’s so common here that I’ve seen two significant public sculptures of people and they are doing the rabbit ears/peace signs too.  🙂


A Walk in the Sky by Emily


Going to the Great Wall of China was definitely on my Bucket List.  Yet I was hesitant to go. I feared that it would be 1) overrun with weeds and all crumbly; 2) overcrowded; 3) overtaken by junky vendor stands; 4) cluttered with debri and garbage; 5) polluted in the air.

But we went and it was NONE of these things.  SX0A5136It was ancient yet intact, and where it was crumbly, it was still walkable.  We were advised to go to a remote place where “few people would be”, but in China, how is few possible? Surely, everyone else would have heard of this remote area and there would be a mob of people.  However, unbelievably, there were moments that we seemed to be the only people on the wall. (One online site said there were 41 million foreigners who visited the wall in 2004.  Another said there are 9 million a year.)

And it wasn’t tainted with commercialism.  It was also clean.  Lastly…. the surrounding mountains, hills and greenery — oh, yes, along with a blue pollution free sky — made it breathtaking and truly a moving experience.             SX0A5075

Here’s some interesting things about the wall:

-It is about 2145 (3469km) long and during its construction, was called “the longest cemetery on earth” because so many people died building it — possibly more than one million people.

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– It has been built, added to and rebuilt over 1850 years by the the Han (206 B.C.-A.D 220), Sui (A.D. 581-618), Jin (115-1234) and, most famously, the Ming dynasty in 1368-1644.  Today what survives are the stone and brick walls from the Ming dynasty.                                                     SX0A5388 (2)

-During the Ming dynasty, nearly one million soldiers defended the Great Wall from “barbarians” and non-Chinese.

SX0A5790 (2)     Experiencing the wall with our dear friend Kathleen

– Before the Ming dynasty, the wall was built with rammed earth, adobe, and stone. About 70% is made from rammed earth and adobe. Bricks were used after the Ming dynasty.  The mortar was made from rice flour.

SX0A5489  The manpower to build the Great Wall came from frontier guards, peasants, unemployed intellectuals, disgraced noblemen, and convicts,  The Chinese invented the wheelbarrow and used it in building the Great Wall.

Contrary to belief, it cannot be seen from the moon without aid.


There are over 10,000 watch towers at intervals along the Great Wall up to 40 feet tall. They were used as lookouts, fortresses and signal stations, where beacons, smoke, or flags were used to send messages.                                        SX0A5259Here are two watchtowers.

To defend the wall, the Chinese used axes, sledge hammers, lances, crossbows, and a Chinese invention: gunpowder.  The last battle fought at the Great Wall was in 1938 during the Sino-Japanese War, which was between China and Japan. Bullet marks can still be seen in the wall.

Walking on the wall was like walking in the sky.  I’d like to walk in the air in heaven, and I’d also like to fly.  Until then, I’ll have the memory of the walk on the Great Wall.  SX0A5295 (2) - Copy - Copy

Celebrating Chinese New Year by Emily

A university student, Renye, graciously invited us to spend the Chinese New Year with her family.  We were there for three days.  Here are some pics of our time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAzoe with lanterns                             A street close to their home offers New Year decorations   

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are walking to the Buddhist temple with the family

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Candles are lit to honor one’s ancestors

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARenya and her father make pork dumplings while a grandmother charms Tim

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARenye is releasing a fresh fish (bought at the market) for good luck — a CNY tradition

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Putting an entrance way table and benches outside after cleaning them — to ward off evil spirits.  They are then put back inside and not moved for 2 weeks.  Another CNY tradition.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Chinese drink hot water to keep the body balanced internally.  These thermoses in the kitchen are full of hot water. This is an everyday practice, not just for the new year.   (photo by Sumner)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Many toasts were made during this meal.  Here Tim is making a toast.  The woman in pink and her husband own a scarf factory, and one of their customers is The Gap.  They have customers in Europe, Japan and S. Africa as well.  The orange papers on the wall are good progress reports from school.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                                              With a grandmother and an aunt

yucky food  Sweet sticky rice dipped in sesame seeds — a real treat.  We are playing the tile game Mahjong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At this meal I counted 27 — WOW! — different dishes (not including sweets) — meats, seafood, vegetables, rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  With our friend Renye, an awesome  hostess and translator, who kept communication going between us and a multitude of relatives.  Another cousin also owns a scarf factory that I was able to tour.  I’m wearing a scarf from that factory.

Happy Chinese New Year.