May 21, 2019

I’m back, Friends–and finally blogging again!

I'm smiling now. But gosh, what a hard time I've been through!

I’m smiling now. But gosh, what a hard time I’ve been through!  I was so, so sick.

Dear Friends near and far,

I know, I know. It has been three months since I have written to you—since early May! A long time!

Have some of you been thinking I may have gone off to Heaven? No, no! Or to that other famous place that starts with H! No! No! ( I hope you don’t think I deserve that.)

The fact is, I have been overwhelmed by recent developments. But now, finally, I am seeing blue sky again. So, very happily, I am getting back to doing this writing and blogging for you that I enjoy so much and hope to keep going till I hit 100. Even longer, I hope.

Here’s what has happened to me.

Last fall, as usual, I traipsed off in my one-person Ford camper and spent two months gallivanting through warm and sunny Southern California.

Then, over Christmas and New Year’s, I enjoyed the usual three-week visit with my daughter Monique and her hubby David in beautiful and always snow-free Morro Bay, California. This has been my delightful routine for 20 years.

Then, after much planning and worrying whether I was up to it at 85, I flew off to China for a month. It would be my fourth look-see in that amazing country.

First, two weeks in the beautiful and huge city of Quangzhou to visit my friend Camil.

He was a not-long retired Québec photojournalist. I had met him up there in Québec. Shared a room with him in a hostel. Told me he was planning a long trip alone around the world. Told him I had done that and recommended that he fly westerly, not easterly. And that way he would feel much less wear and tear on his body. That’s the way I had gone around the world.

To my gratification, he took my advice. (Don’t you feel bad when someone rejects your well-intentioned advice?)

Well, he planned to take seven years for his great circumnavigation. His first major stop was China. A few months there and on he’d go. But he fell in love with China. He put in a year and a half there, and was so elated—by the people, the history, the architecture, the culture, the incredible changes transforming the country–that he decided to stay put. He wanted to soak up as much of this great stuff as possible.

Now remember, please, he was a photojournalist–a terrific photojournalist. Of course he had his camera with him—a mini camera that he knew how to wield without attracting attention.

Well, he visited cities and towns and villages and kept his camera clicking at people and things from morning till night. He had discovered Guangzhou, was so entranced that he made it his base.

He told me he now had, already, thousands of pictures! And was planning to publish a book of the best of these, and, very soon, put on a major exhibit of the best of the best, so to speak, at the Four Seasons Hotel, the finest in the city, he told me.

His photos there would be big—some of them 5 x 6 feet. Printed on fabric, mind you!

The Four Seasons was welcoming him with open arms. They agreed on the date the exhibit would open and how long it would stay up. He was so excited. And I understood.

Also excited about his book, of course. He was writing it in his native French. Including lots of photos, in vibrant color, on very fine paper, with good captions. He planned to publish it back home in Québec. His byline had made him well known, and he felt his book would do well.

And he wanted me to translate his French into English. Why? He felt that an English edition would be key to his success. It would be for sale throughout Canada, where most people speak English, of course. And also in the U.S., which is such a huge market.

Very important: that English edition would become the basis for a Chinese (Mandarin) edition for China. He explained it would be easier for a translator to work from English to Mandarin than French to Mandarin.

So what he was undertaking was a tremendous project. Enormous!

I assured him I’d help 100 percent. That’s when he invited me to visit him over there. How nice.

As I said, that would be my fourth time over. I thought I’d never go again. But that invitation gave me pause. I’d be going alone. A huge trip. Thousands of miles. Was it really sensible for me to do that? I’m not the kid I used to be.

Of course I quickly contacted my friend Wu Bin in Shanghai. We’ve been close friends more than 15 years. What would he think of this?

Wu and I had met in Africa, of all places–in Nairobi, Kenya. Wu, who was young enough to be my grandson, was a tourist there. That itself astounded me. A young Chinese fellow from Shanghai traveling all by himself. Gosh!

Wu was a high-tech engineer and had brought along some very high-tech Chinese cameras. And he was peddling them around to camera shops, which had never seen such fancy cameras, and that was how he was paying for his grand adventure. How amazing!

Well, we have been friends all these years, with emails going back and forth. It’s because of him I have made all those visits there. It was he who got my Around the World book published in China. He who invited me to Shanghai for its kickoff there and talked me into that. Again, amazing!

Then I returned with milady Annabelle for his wedding. Again, amazing! Then I returned with my sister Lucie at the start of the adventure that led to my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days–Oops 83!” Again, amazing!

Now Wu didn’t answer my anxious query with a snap decision. He took several days. He, too, wondered about my sanity in even thinking of this trip. Finally he told me. “John, come! Come! I will help you with everything. Your flight plans to Guangzhou. Everything. But you must come and spend time with me, in Shanghai, too!”

Should I? Shouldn’t I? Finally, after much tossing and turning, I said yes to him, and to Camil.

But my role for Camil’s big dream greatly magnified. For one thing, he also asked me to write a preface to his book. I said okay, and I sent him a draft of that. He said he liked it.

Then he emailed me his captions in French, and I translated them and sent them back, often expanding them to make them more meaningful. He was delighted.

He was staying at a very nice hostel right by the great river in Guangzhou and he reserved a wonderful room for me. It had a picture window and a big sunny balcony that looked out on the busy river right across a big avenue. Never had I had such a superb set-up in a hostel. All for $40 a night. What a bargain. And the staff was so pleasant.

We had a nice reunion and he went all out to make me feel comfortable and show me around. What an enormous and attractive and impressive city! Sixteen million people and growing!

And of course we buckled down to work.

But it is rare that big plans always go as planned–don’t you agree? Poor Camil ran into problems. The Four Seasons was imposing tough conditions. Other headaches, too. To this day I keep waiting to hear of a break-through. He’s a gutsy and hard-driving guy and I’m cheering for him.

Well, my two weeks in Guangzhou were terrific. So surprising in so many good ways! I found it such an eye-opening experience. Amazing how China is being so dramatically and so quickly transformed, and for the better. I don’t have words good enough to describe this. And I was a witness! How fortunate I was. So glad I had flown over.

From there, I went on to even bigger and more impressive Shanghai. Thirty million people and growing! A downtown skyline that keeps you saying Wow! Wow! I spent two weeks enjoying the city.

And of course Wu helped me. He is still very much a working man but he fitted me in as much as he could. He arranged for friends to take me around at other times. They all treated me so well, even a couple I had never met before.

Again I stayed at a hostel. Why hostels? Because they attract adventurous folks from other countries, who can always manage at least a little English. They like meeting strangers, and so do I. And by nature they are helpful to others.

And of course, hostels are much cheaper–and I would be the last to object to that. (I highly recommend that you try a hostel or two.)

This hostel was more crowded than the Guangzhou hostel and I wound up with a much less impressive room (but still a room, not a bed in a dorm). And the place was constantly full but it attracted fewer foreign older tourists than I expected, but still it was a good choice.

I spent quality time with Wu. As always, we talked, talked, talked. He took me to his parents for a very fine evening with a sumptuous dinner—entirely vegetarian to please me, of course. (I am sure they couldn’t understand why in the would a person wouldn’t eat animals, but they never let on.)

Wu had helped me pick out a huge gift basket full of exotic fruits, and this was a big hit.

His dad was a retired high school teacher, was proud of the many books in shelf after shelf in the apartment, and in A-plus physical condition, and smiled a lot.

His mom, a sweet and cheerful lady, doted on Wu—he was an only child, of course—and doted on me, too.

Conversation was impossible. I couldn’t even say Hello in Mandarin and they couldn’t in English, but we smiled and nodded a lot and that went a long way.

I had done the same thing with them on my previous visit. I saw instantly that their third-floor walk-up apartment now vastly improved—a new bathroom, a new kitchen with even a new dishwasher, a big TV set in the living room, on and on.

I mentioned this to Wu. “Yes,” he said. “Last year at work I earned a big bonus, which made all this possible.” How nice.

By the way, I don’t think he has reached 40 yet. What a pleasure to see how successful he has become. He works in sales for his company. Has risen fast! He travels a lot in China and abroad. Trip after trip. Has been to more than a dozen countries, at least half of them in Europe. And right now was planning a sales trip to South Korea.

Finally our nice evening with his parents came to a close. Again his parents and I parted with much smiling and embracing and heartfelt wordswhich we couldn’t understand… and yet we did, of course.

So yes, thanks to Wu, again two wonderful, fantastic weeks in his fabulous Shanghai.

Oh! In both Guangzhou and Shanghai I got to visit the public libraries. What huge, impressive places. In both I got to see copies of my Around the World book. Yes, in Mandarin. Guangzhou had 13 copies. Unbelievable.

Why so many, I asked. “For our library and our branch libraries. We Chinese are like you Americans. We are interested in traveling in other countries!”

In the enormous, gleaming Shanghai Public Library, 33 copies. Unbelievable! Wow!

All that said, I must report two medical emergencies that struck me in China.

The first–a swallowing problem–scared me but it turned out to be minor. The second–far more serious–was an astonishing crop of tiny red spots that appeared all over my face and arms. But no itching, thank God! I spotted this shaving one morning.

This happened in Guangzhou. A front-desk clerk at the hostel directed me to a nearby Chinese Government hospital where I was given fine attention–despite the huge language problem for them and me!

A dermatologist there told me I had “Caterpillar Dermatitis”–from the larvae of caterpillars on trees, he said.

I was given two types of pills and a bottle of pink lotion and was told what to do. Three days should do it, he told me, and he was right. I was delighted to see the spots disappear.

That hospital visit, by the way, cost me a huge $50 yuan–about $10! And that included my bagful of medications that he prescribed. How much would that emergency care would have cost here in the U.S., do you think? Thousands, l’ll bet.

Then I flew home, well, to California. A long trip like that across the huge Pacific isn’t easy, believe me. I got back totally exhausted. Yet very glad to have made the trip.

But one more thing about China. The progress I have seen there is amazing. I know I am repeating myself, but it’s worth it. We Americans know China is doing better … is getting big and mighty … but we have no idea how staggering this growth is.

Here’s what I say to my friends:

“The last century, The Twentieth Century, was our century–the American century! That’s when we began the biggest and the mightiest in the world! Second to none!

“But this century–and we still have 86 years to go in it–is going to be China’s century! I have no doubts about it. I could see it happening with my very own eyes. In my mere 15 years of traveling to China. I wish you could see it for yourselves, too!”

And I give them an important bit of advice: “Buy a Chinese mutual fund of common stocks! You won’t be sorry.”

Well, back in California, I made a huge decision. It was the result of a powwow with my three children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark. What they told me boiled down to the following:

“Dad, we know you love Deep River. You have good friends there. You enjoy being part of the community. It’s beautiful there. But you are about to start your 86th year. And you have nobody there from the family. That’s not good!”

And that, my friends, is what has led me to make the decision to move to Morro Bay. And as I’ve said, I have bought a place there. It’s a remarkably nice mobile home in a remarkably nice mobile home park for people 55 and older. With very high standards.

It’s right on the edge of downtown Morro Bay and within walking distance of everything important to me–the supermarkets, the banks, all the other stores, the senior center, the public library, the interesting waterfront, and the full range of stores and services. And it’s less than two miles from Monique and David’s home.

Know what? I even managed to move in and live in my new mobile home for 10 days. In that way I got to test it out. How fortunate I was to acquire it. And I still feel that way.

Oh, while there in the mobile home park I got to see an old man like me buzzing around on an adult tricycle. Gosh!

When I was seven or eight, my mom and dad bought me a trike. I loved it. Rode it every day. In time I moved up to a bicycle. Loved it just as much. Know what? I rode a bike, actively, regularly, right up to the age of 70. Honest—it’s a true story. Gave it up only after a bad spill. Old age is making one big decision after another, as you can see.

Well, In Morro Bay I bought an adult trike for myself. Have ridden it around town a lot. Wonderful on a flat, a breeze downhill, but uphill, Wow! I took it to a bike mechanic and had him replace its front sprocket with a more advantageous one going up grades. It was a big improvement. But I believe I’ll have that sprocket replaced with an even more effective one when I get back there. I don’t need a heart attack!

All that done in Morro Bay, and very satisfied with my new set-up, I said au revoir to Monique and David. They were so, so good and so helpful to me in a thousand ways!

The bottom line: I flew home to Connecticut positive I would be happy in Morro Bay. Also positive that I would sorely miss dear Deep River.

I got home to Piano Works charged up to tackle the 1001 things I had to do, from ridding myself of 95 percent of all my earthly possessions (no room in my mobile home) to selling my real estate and tackling a to-do list a mile long. I got started the very next morning at 6 a.m.

Then the incredible happened. I became ill. Incredibly ill. Exhausted all the time. Losing weight. I would get up after sleeping ten, twelve, one night even fourteen hours, and wanting to go right back to bed. I forced myself to get up, would work for an hour or two (I had so, so much to do), and fall back into bed for another hour.

What the devil was wrong with me?

In all this I felt zero pain. But I felt something definitely wrong in my chest. ???

Again Lady Luck saved me. Already I had a very fine primary care doctor. And through him I got a very fine specialist.

In short, I had four CAT scans, all in a single session. Three turned out clear. The chest scan showed a problem. What could it be? Possibly something very serious, I was told. Possibly some something much less so. So, lots of suspense.

Very soon I underwent a bronchoscopy. Familiar with that? In the hospital a doctor pushes a tube up a nostril and down toward your lungs. On a computer screen he gets to see what the problem might be if any, big or small.

All that took place while I was heavily sedated. Which was exactly the way I wanted it to be. (When it ended and I woke up, I thought it hadn’t started!) He sent a report to my doctor.

That, along with his own questioning and analysis, led him to certain conclusions.

He ruled out most common cancers though I might have an exotic one. He ruled out tuberculosis. He ruled out an infection. He worried about what happened to me in China–the Caterpillar Dermatitis–but did not have enough data abut that to go on.

Finally he figured out my problem: PMR, which is short for poly myalgia rheumatica. He explained that to me–Poli stands for many or much, Myalgia stands for aches and pains, and Rheumatica stands for muscles and tendons (or so I think). And again, to repeat, I felt no pains.

I asked him, “Doctor, is that a 90 percent diagnosis?”

He looked me in the eye and said, “No. It’s a 95 percent diagnosis!” And he put me on Prednisone, a corticosteroid that is used for a thousand ailments, I have found out, but which can have bad side effects. I know this from past experience.

Well, that Prednisone has been miraculous. It seems to have turned my situation around. My exhaustion is gone! I am sleeping normal hours—sometimes only four of five! I feel energized! And I am getting work done! In fact, I no longer feel ill!

Miraculous, too, in that I feel none of the side effects that I feared–except for a sharper appetite, which has me worried.

And finally I am busy at the two big challenges that were supposed to be my only challenges. One, getting rid of so much stuff. Two, selling my condo. I am selling it myself, without a real estate agent. It’s a lot of work, but I expected it to be–I have had experience in this also.

I have a lot to tell you about all this huge challenge, and I’ll do it in my next post. Enough for today!

Already I have written more than I intended. As always, I’ve gotten carried away. Thanks for your patience.

It feels so good to be feeling like my old self again. And so quickly. Now if only I could do something about my old age!

Where, oh where, is that famous Fountain of Youth? I’d pay a lot to sip from it!

As always, all the best to you.

~ John




  1. Hi John,
    PMR is a common ailment in my family – my mother at 86, her sister at 82 and her first cousin at 84 years all had PMR. I’m waiting. Prednisone for all three was a miracle drug and, as you found, life returned to normal.
    Hope to see you before you depart for Morro Bay. Sounds like a great choice.

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