Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Travels With Petey

We're back. And in case you're interested in what the BCs were up to during our little catnap from blogging, here's our story (and we're stickin' to it) . . .

For some time now, our buddy Petey has been wanting to visit his ancestral homeland in China. And since we were planning to take a break from blogging anyway, he asked us if we'd like to accompany him on a trip halfway around the world. Our answer? "You bet!"

So we all filled out our Chinese visa applications, kept our fingers crossed that the Chinese authorities would not be concerned that Petey might cause some panda-monium in their country, and breathed a big sigh of relief when our visas came through. We set off in mid-May on a tour of China that would start in Beijing and take us on a 4,000-mile loop through the country, ending up two weeks later in Shanghai. It all began with a 14-hour, nonstop flight from Dulles to Beijing that took us over the North Pole; we think we even saw Santa waving up at us. (Or perhaps that was the effects of the Ambien altitude.) In any event, we all arrived safely in China, and late in the afternoon checked into our hotel several blocks from Tiananmen Square.

Our first evening in Beijing, we walked over to the Square to watch the daily flag lowering ceremony at sunset. It was a very impressive event. A platoon of soldiers marched over from the Forbidden City, and the flag was lowered and meticulously folded. Even more impressive, the moment the ceremony ended, the soldiers from the People's Liberation Army immediately ushered the thousands of onlookers out of the Square, and locked it down for the night. Welcome to China.

A few days later we returned to the Square in the daytime, and then headed across the street to the gates of the Forbidden City. Is there a more iconic symbol of Beijing than this? It was a pretty amazing sight for a couple of baby boomers. Chairman Mao is revered in China, and we're told that young people are taught very little about the Cultural Revolution from Chinese history books. According to our guide, international news networks like CNN and BBC are not allowed to be broadcast in people's homes, and the nightly news on Chinese TV consists only of "happy news."

Inside the gates, the Forbidden City looks like this.

As impressive as those sites were, our visits to the Great Wall were a dream come true. Petey and the BCs first climbed the Great Wall at Mutianyu, a couple of hours outside Beijing. It was a spectacular day!

And then a few days later, we climbed another section of the Wall, at Badaling. Here, the Wall was so steep in places you literally had to pull yourself up using the handrail. But the views -- and the experience -- were definitely worth the effort!

Another stop on the Beijing part of our itinerary: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests inside the Temple of Heaven Park, where only the Emperor could worship. The wood building was constructed without a single nail.

Each morning, scores of retirees gather throughout the Temple of Heaven Park. They can be found singing, dancing, practicing Tai Chi, stretching, playing chess, doing calisthenics. So very unlike any park in America. It was a very happy place; we joined in a line dance, and we could easily have spent the day there. Beijing is a fascinating city, with lots of green space and water.

Though Petey's a vegetarian, the BCs are not. So while Petey ordered room service, we enjoyed Peking Duck . . . in Peking Beijing. Delicious!

As much as the BCs aren't fans of flying, we still managed to get ourselves on a flight from Beijing to Xi'an in order to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Petey was pretty amazed by the 2,000 excavated figures in Pit 1 (as were we, of course).

Archeologists believe there are 5,000 or more Warriors still buried. (Xi'an itself, unfortunately, is a depressing and terribly polluted city where, even on a "sunny" day, you cannot see the sky, just a thick grayish haze.)

From Xi'an, we flew Sichuan Airlines (really) to Chongqing, where we boarded a riverboat for a five-night cruise down the Yangtze, the world's third longest river. (Bonus points if you can name the two longer rivers without using a search engine.)

Along the way we visited old pagodas . . .

. . . and met young children at a local elementary school.

Our river cruise took us through the five step locks of the Three Gorges Dam, in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain (our only rain-day of the entire trip, fortunately). It was awesome!

We sailed through the spectacular Three Gorges of the Yangtze, shrouded in classic "China mist."

Life along the river was fascinating; so much to see . . . gorges, towns, cities, commercial shipping, dams, people fishing, people doing laundry.

The river is a very vital part of life in this area of China.

Meals on board were served family style at large tables. Here's Petey with some of his new friends, enjoying boiled milk and beancurd.

Petey didn't get to see Tai Shan on this visit, but he did visit a Chinese panda nursery.

Our trip ended in Shanghai, along the beautiful Huangpu River. Shanghai is a city of modern skyscrapers, so very different than all the other cities we visited in China.

On more than one occasion, our guide described his country as "complicated." After our brief, but exhausting, introduction to his homeland, we'd have to agree. A handful of pictures can't even begin to tell the story of everything we saw and learned about this complicated super-power and its friendly -- but complicated -- people. What an extraordinary experience! We couldn't be happier that Petey invited us along!

Photo Credits: DC BasketCases

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blogging Is Hard Work

Even the BCs occasionally need to take a break from the constant demands of keeping our loyal readers up-to-date on all things Terps and Mystics.

This is one of those times.

But as the saying goes, "We'll be back!" Exactly when . . . remains to be seen. Not too soon, but not too long either.

Catch you later!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Maryland Banquet 2011 . . . Au Revoir!

This year's Maryland Women's Basketball banquet had all the usual trappings that make the event so much fun: fan-friendly players having a good time . . . and looking fabulous! A few short skirts (naturally), but nobody this year, in the BCs' opinion, who even came close to knocking Marissa Coleman off the list of all-time shortest skirt in Maryland history.

And of course, it wouldn't be the annual banquet without a silent auction to raise money for the women's program. Lots of neat stuff to bid on. This year's offerings included not one, but two road trips with the team to big ACC games . . . which means that four lucky (and generous) fans will get to travel with the team this coming season.

Since the 2010-11 team had no seniors, we thought that this year, we'd be spared those sad goodbyes to departing players. But as Coach B worked though her introduction of the players, we soon learned that one player would not be returning to Maryland next season . . . Diandra T.

As our readers know, Diandra (or "Frenchie" as her teammates call her) tore her ACL in the 2nd round game of the NCAA Tourney in March. That injury, coupled with increasing homesickness for her family back in the Paris suburbs, helped Diandra reach the decision that it was time for her to return home and (when recovered from her injury) begin her pro career in Europe (as well as complete her studies at a university closer to home).

Diandra apparently had some trepidation before the banquet about how the Maryland fans would react to her decision. Any concerns were put to rest by the standing ovation she recieved after Coach B's announcement, by the scrapbook she was presented with by Rebounders Susan and Terri, and by all the personal good wishes showered on Diandra by the fans present. Diandra may have been in College Park only two years, but she will be part of the Maryland basketball family forever. Bonne chance, Diandra!

In other (happier) news: Coach B also informed us that both Alyssa Thomas and Lynetta Kizer have been invited to participate in the USA Basketball selection programs. In doing so, they will follow in the footsteps of Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman, who also played with USA Basketball during their Maryland careers.

Of course, no banquet would be complete without awards. There were plenty handed out . . . for all sorts of special accomplishments and contributions. But for us, the one that really stood out was the presentation of the 2010-11 team's Most Valuable Player award . . . to super frosh Alyssa Thomas. While it's amazing (in a general sense) that a freshman could win the MVP, it didn't seem to surprise anybody in the banquet hall. We all knew she had earned that very special honor.

Alyssa also got to take home a rather impressive-looking ACC Rookie of the Year trophy, too.

* * * * * *

So while we will definitely miss Diandra, at least with (almost**) everyone else returning -- and Whitney Bays and incoming frosh PG Brene Mosely suiting up for the Terps -- we have a lot to look forward to in the season ahead.

Another great banquet; another great year of Terps basketball officially over. But it's not the end of WBB fun for the year . . . uhh, uhh. There's still the Mini-Golf FUNdraiser (sponsored by the Rebounders, but open to all) on the 14th of this month. If you miss out on this, you better have a good excuse!

Go Terps!

Photo Credits: DC BasketCases

**While there was no official announcement, reserve PG Dara Taylor's absence from the banquet was noted. Apparently, she has decided to transfer to Penn State for her remaining two years of eligibility.