China Off The Beaten Path

A farmer with a cart full of hay making his way to his destination.

When I was in China, the only communists I met were wearing uniforms at the airport. Everyone else was a budding capitalist looking to make a connection or make a deal.

On my last day there, I managed to break away from my guides. I had six hours before my flight. I convinced the driver (with the aid of a a fistful of dollars) to take me the long way, on the backroads, to the airport. I had him stop several times on the drive along unpaved backroads through small villages and towns.

Wild grasses growing on the edge of a cultivated field near Lianyungang.

What I saw there made me feel as if I had travelled back a century in time. Subsistence farmers tending small, roadside plots. Chickens scurrying about. Dogs wagging their tails while offering low growls of warning. A farmer pushing his hay in what looked like a handmade cart along a dirt road. No one with even a word of English in their vocabulary trying to communicate with me, a man of the mountains of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia without a word of Chinese in my own quiver.

Chinese chickens rustling about for spilled grain.

It was a wonderful way to end my journey across China which took me from the teaming metropolis of Hong Kong, to the Blade-Runner cool of Shanghai and then to the industrial city of Lianyungang before a final few days in Beijing.

Hong Kong harbor.

I enjoyed the rural countryside but I loved Hong Kong. The energy of the place grabs you by the scruff of the neck, shakes you hard and then tosses you down side streets where temples huddle next to skyscrapers. It is a truly international city where you can find anything your heart desires. You can disappear in Hong Kong and only be seen if you decide to reveal yourself. I disappeared for a few days and then gathered myself and prepared for the rest of my travels, refreshed and renewed, with the smell of incense lingering behind my eyes.

Karl Appears

In addition to the other insults of 2020, we lost Smooch. He was our little rescue Schnauzer. Boon companion. Sleeping buddy. Brought to us through tragedy, he gave us love and companionship with few requirements.

He died this summer. A lesion on his spine took his legs. He went quickly and with just a few hours of pain and confusion. It broke our hearts.

After a decent interval, we decided to find another dog. Not to replace Smooch, but to fill the hole in our hearts.

Karl appeared. Another rescue. Another Schnauzer. Maybe with a little hound or beagle mixed in. He weighs 36 pounds. Compared to Smooch’s 19 pounds, Karl is a load. Bigger and wider head. Bigger and wider butt. Big feet.

Unlike Smooch, who never wanted to be outside more than five minutes, Karl demands long, rambling walks in East Nashville four to five times a day. Smooch was always Ruby’s dog. He had bonded with Ruby as I filled out the paperwork to adopt him. From that first moment, he stayed by her side day and night. Karl is loving to both of us but he is, most assuredly, my dog.

I’ve always wanted a dog that sat at my feet while I worked or jumped in my lap for ear scratches. Karl is that dog. When I lie down to enjoy a football game, he snuggles between my legs and goes to sleep.

Karl also loves riding in the car. Karl Trips we call them. He bustles over into my lap and when he turns around his big butt blows the horn.

Karl cannot fill the hole in our hearts left by Smooch, but he is carving out his own place in our lives. A source of constant love and companionship. In these dire times, we could ask for nothing more.