Author Archive

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The Qipao

June 23, 2018

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

four Chinese qipao dresses on display

We recently went to a display of qipao dresses which had been owned by the Soong sisters or members of their extended family. If you are not familiar with the Soong family, it’s time for a little Wikipedia reading. These three sisters all married powerful men and were influential in Chinese politics themselves. Ai-ling married the finance minister H.H. Kung, Ching-ling married Sun Yat-sen, and Mei-ling married Chiang Kai-shek. At least two of those names should be familiar.

Green beaded qipao dress

dark blue, loose fitting qipao dress

black, unadorned, long sleeve, long skirt, qipao dress

two loose fitting, embroidered qipao dresses

black and white photo of two of the Soong sisters

Several of these dresses were on loan from the Shanghai Pavillion of Treasured Qipaos of Bygone Era. We will have to do some detective work to find out where this is. To see more pictures – click here.

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Medical Travails part 2

June 9, 2018

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

bouquet of pink rosesSo, in continuation of the last post, I have had yet another hospital experience. For many years, I have had difficulty walking. I have had fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and fallen arches for 11 years, but something else was afoot because my ability to walk was gradually declining.

In 2016, I went to a clinic near work to see if I could get some help with this. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a poor choice. The doctor was initially excited about the condition, but after MRI exams and a consultation with a spine surgeon ruled out surgery, the doctor’s interest waned. The next step was a consultation with a neurologist. Now, consultation is a rather grand word for what actually happened. The clinic (they call themselves a hospital, but … uh, no) has a small staff and any specialists are pulled in from the larger Chinese hospitals (genuine hospitals). These specialists do not speak much, if any, English. This meant having an interpreter – the nurse who speaks a micron more English than the specialist. Communication is the biggest obstacle in getting any care for really serious conditions.

After this brief consultation, the neurologist recommended an electromyogram examination. This could not be done at the clinic, so they scheduled it to be done at one of the main hospitals over a month later. This exam was quite an experience in itself. I was met by one of the clinic nurses so that she could guide me to the right place and communicate with the staff. The building was old, crowded, and not well designed for it’s purpose. The narrow halls were crowded with Chinese people waiting to be treated or tested. The exam room was crowded and lacked privacy. The exam consisted of having my leg shocked to test the conduction of my nerves. Being electrically shocked was just as much fun as it sounds. Then they told me they were going to insert an electrode into my muscles. I don’t think anyone was wearing rubber gloves. All in all, I did not get a good impression of one of the biggest and well respected hospitals.

We had summer travel, so it was fall before I went back to the clinic to see what was next. More than once I had to schedule an appointment with the doctor to prod him to move us on to the next step. Ridiculous. When DaddyBird would accompany me, the doctor would look only at him and tell him what was going on as if I wasn’t in the room. I could tell you the nationality of this doctor (not Chinese) and that would explain it, but that would be spreading stereotypes. (Some times stereotypes are earned.) Ridiculous sexism.

Another consultation with the neurologist resulted in a recommendation for a full neurological work up in the Chinese hospital previously mentioned. The clinic doctor was to schedule this. Time went on … I saw the doctor in passing while at a physical therapy session and reminded him. “Oh, yes, next week…” Next week came and went, so I texted him a reminder. Again, no appointment. So, after a month of him not doing anything about it, I gave up on him. By this time, I had breast cancer concerns anyway, so I had to prioritize.

So, fast forward through the breast cancer experience, this spring I decided I needed to get back to my mobility issues. This time I chose to go to the international medical care center that had done DaddyBird’s angioplasty procedures. They had done good work with little hassle. So, after an initial consultation with a neurologist, he recommended I be admitted to the hospital for 5 days to have thorough testing done.

It was a tight squeeze at this time of year because one of my library assistants was leaving for good and I still hadn’t hired a replacement. The end of the school year is approaching, so we are in the midst of getting textbooks back. A busy time.

So, into the hospital I went and the tests began. Another electromyogram, this time done much more professionally and thoroughly. They tested both legs, both arms, and my head. So fun having electrode pins stuck into one’s scalp. They checked my heart, my arteries, my abdomen, my head, my back, etc. On one morning they took 12 vials of blood for testing. All told over the course of 11 days, I think they took 20 vials.

I mustn’t leave out the most crazy test. They didn’t tell me what it was for. I knew I was in trouble when I was wheeled in and saw the machine. It was a chair, not unlike an astronaut’s chair with lots of straps, and it was mounted on a big wheel. They were going to take me for a spin. The technician strapped me in, but not very tightly. My head was secured and black out goggles applied. She told me to keep my eyes open. Then she said that I would be moved quickly, but not too fast. Don’t worry. That is what happened. Unfortunately, she had strapped me in so loosely, that I was banged around in the chair. Not fun for someone with fibromyalgia. I passed the test, whatever it is, but I won’t be joining NASA any time soon.

By day three they confirmed that I had peripheral neuropathy, but cause or specific type was still unidentified. A team of doctors were working on my case, so there was much discussion and different opinions.

Day four was the spinal tap. That is a scary thing to have done, but the painful parts were the local anesthetic shots and the pain after the shots wore off. Also, there was the challenge of getting into a fetal position and holding still. We are just poking into your spinal cord, relax, don’t move.

The tests from that were all normal. That was good news as things like multiple sclerosis would have shown up. Glad not to have that.

By the start of the second week, they decided it was probably Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy OR Vaculitic Neuropathy. The treatment is same for both conditions, so it is a bit moot as to which label we put on it. A 5 day course of IV corticosteroid treatment began. More blood tests, another MRI, and daily exams.

Finally released after 11 days, I will continue to take medications for another month. Will go back for a checkup three weeks from now before summer travel. The symptoms came on over the long term and reversal will take some time. Also, because I have had this condition for so many years undiagnosed and untreated, some of my nerves may have died and there is no coming back from that, so recovery of mobility may be limited. I will take what I can get.

A few cultural notes on being in a Chinese medical facility – English communication is always the big obstacle. Each doctor and nurse has a different level of proficiency. The young female doctor had the best English and was quick with a translation app to make sure medical terms were clear. That was helpful. The rest of my information came from the internet – checking medication side effects, condition symptoms, treatment options, etc.

In China, there is little yielding or waiting for others. For example, people who want to get onto an elevator will wait right in front of the doors and when they open immediately try to push their way in without considering that someone might want to get out and make room for them to get in. The same applied to exam rooms. As soon as the MRI room door opened, my helper had me up and walking in without waiting for the previous patient and helper to exit the room. There was not enough room for four people to pass.

As an inpatient of the international medical care department, I had the uncomfortable experience of being wheeled through a waiting room where about 80 women were waiting for ultrasound tests. I was in and out in about 5-10 minutes. This happens frequently. Foreigners are moved to the front of the line.

Having been through all of this, my recommendation for anyone with a serious illness or a mysterious condition, skip the local “hospital” and go straight to an international care facility connected with a large, well respected hospital. I hope this will be our last experience with major illness. I’ve probably just jinxed us.

 

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Medical Travails part 1

June 9, 2018

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

bouquet of white and purple roses

You may have noticed a paucity of posts over the last year, or so. There is a reason for that. We have both been involved in medical concerns.

We had a rough spring and summer, then in August,  DaddyBird complained of having a sore throat that wouldn’t go away. Then he noticed that when he was physically active the pain would spread down to his chest. Uh oh, angina. He saw a doctor who referred him to a cardiologist who referred him to a hospital for an angiogram. November and early December involved two angioplasty procedures to clear his blocked arteries.

My part in the medical drama of 2017 actually started in October 2016 when I went in for a routine check-up and a lump was identified in my right breast. Several years ago when we were still in the USA, I found my first breast lump. I freaked and assumed the worst because I have a significant family history of cancer. It took a while to get a doctor appointment, and then due to the joys of HMO medical care, it took another two weeks before I could have a diagnostic mammogram. That lump turned out to be a liquid filled cyst, nothing to worry about, although the delay of medical care gave me plenty of time to think the worst.

This time, the OB/GYN looked at a same day mammogram and said we need an MRI. So I did the MRI. After the MRI, she referred me to the surgeon. I looked at the written reports of both the mammogram and the MRI. They were both vague. “It might be something or nothing.” (That’s not a direct quote.) When I got to the appointment with the surgeon, he had no idea why I was there. The OB/GYN had not communicated anything. #*%($)#*%*! He scrambled around and finally found the written report for one of the tests and said “It’s probably nothing. Come back in 6 months.” I went away quite displeased. The clinic sent me an automated survey asking about my visit. I let them have it with both barrels. I named both doctors and explained how they had dropped the ball and I was not pleased. (I haven’t received one of these survey requests since. Probably threw their customer satisfaction statistics off.)

So … six months later, I go back to this surgeon. He is much more attentive and prepared this time. He gives me three options – Wait and see, Biopsy, and Lumpectomy. I cannot think why I would want to keep this lump and have to be periodically checking on it to see if it has turned against me. So, lumpectomy it is. Let’s just get rid of it. So, May of 2017 the first lump is removed, easy peasy. The procedure is so minimal that I am back at work the next day. The pathology report came quickly and the surgeon said “nothing to worry about.”

Yes, you read right. I said “first lump.” By the end of August I had a second. This time it hurt. Constant pain. Back to the surgeon. They do an ultrasound. I had seen the first lump and the second on the ultrasound screen and they look very different. The first was like a walnut, the second looks like an ominous black cloud. The lump is close to the suture for the first lumpectomy. The surgeon says “not to worry, what has probably happened is that the space where the lump was has filled with liquid, come back in one month.” He gives me ibuprofen for the pain, completely ineffective for pain relief.

So … back in one month, now the surgeon has changed his tune. He consulted with someone who actually understood the ultrasound and it is not fluid. Now he says that the first surgery may have triggered other tissue to grow into a lump.  Once again, my options are – Wait and see, Biopsy, and Lumpectomy. This time I opted for biopsy, thinking it could be done quickly. HA! At this clinic it could only be done once a week on Saturdays, so it was scheduled for 2 weeks hence. Then I got a call postponing it for another week. 3 weeks. After 2 weeks I was laying in bed with my boob hurting so bad that I couldn’t sleep and knowing that it was getting bigger. It seemed clear to me that the surgeon was guessing. I decided a second opinion was needed.

Right before the first lumpectomy, the insurance company had recommended a different clinic with surgeons who specialize in breast health. I had brushed off that suggestion because I didn’t want to delay. I wanted that lump out and it seemed straightforward. Now that things are more complex, I attempted to make an appointment at that clinic. The person who answered the phone spoke only Chinese. So, I tried the website “make an appointment” form, which did not work. So, I contacted the insurance case nurse who had suggested the clinic in the first place by email and asked her to help me make an appointment. She did. (Our insurance company is freaking fantastic.)

In late October, I switched doctors and went in for a biopsy. Since it was supposed to be a simple collection of a bit of tissue, I was awake for this procedure. Once she opened it up, she just took the whole thing out. I don’t recommend vivisection. Not fun.

At the beginning of September the second lump was 2.5 cm. By the end of October when it was removed it was 5 cm. Doubled in size.

It was supposed to take 5-7 working days for the pathology report, but it actually took 3 weeks. A very long difficult 3 weeks. I went back to the original clinic and got copies of all the reports. Now that I had the original pathology report I could see that it said “borderline” not “benign.” The second pathology report finally came and this time it was “malignant.” The report took 3 weeks, but by 2 weeks I already had a third lump.

A third lump.

Turns out I have a rare type of breast cancer. The good news is that it rarely spreads beyond the breast. The bad news is that it tends to reoccur, as I can attest after a third lump.

I found this out only by research on the internet. The main obstacle all along has been language barrier. If one speaks NO Chinese (to my shame) and  the doctor speaks only enough English to get by, it can be impossible to have the kind of in depth conversations that are necessary with major illness.

So, next step, another surgical procedure to collect tissue that had been around the second lump for on-the-spot testing. If it was malignant, the surgery would turn into a mastectomy. If not, I would get to keep my mangled breast. It was a big week for us as DaddyBird was to be in another hospital for his second angioplasty. He got me settled into my hospital and was there when I came out of surgery, but then was off to his own hospital experience. Different hospitals, so we communicated via chat and video call. We were both released on Friday.

The results of the third surgery – removal of the third lump and the test of the neighboring tissue was not malignant. Two boobs enter, two boobs leave.

With exactly one week between release from the hospital (for both DaddyBird and I ) and our flight to Prague for Christmas with BabyBird, we tried to leave the stress behind and enjoy the holiday.

In late January, I had a post surgery ultrasound in search of lump number four.

Surprisingly and happily, there is no lump number four. So far, so good.

So, now you know why I have posted so little of our adventures over 2017.

Medical adventures continue …

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None Can Recommend – Joys of Banking

May 6, 2018

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Banking is one of the guaranteed areas of culture shock when you live abroad.

Let’s talk banking in the U.A.E.

What was strange:

1. The bank required a letter from one’s employer certifying employment and listing the salary figure.

2. There was no such thing as a joint account.

3. One could and was actually encouraged to write post-dated checks.

4. We had a credit card with the bank and they drove us crazy with constant calls to verify our transactions. If they didn’t reach us to confirm the transaction, they suspended the account, but only after letting the transaction go through. They did this over $.99 iTunes transactions.

5.Even better was when we were using our debit card in a store and the store received a “not authorized” response, so that we had to pay in cash or do without, yet the bank showed the transaction as authorized and withheld that amount from our account until the transaction expired 8 weeks later, or longer.

6. There was a limit on how much we could withdraw per day, no matter how high our balance was.

In America:

1. The bank doesn’t need to know where you work and does not ask how much you make. If they do ask, they take your word for it. You can open an account with a government issued ID and proof of mailing address (and money, of course).

2. Joint accounts are common and easy to establish.

3. Post-dated checks are illegal.

4. I never had to speak on the phone to my credit card company. They never suspended my account, either.

5. Rarely are debit transactions falsely rejected.

6. You can purchase whatever your balance allows. ATMs have withdrawal limits.

The checks DaddyBird received always led to interesting and inconsistent bank transactions. Since we did not have a joint account, depositing a check written to his name was a challenge. The first one, we took to the bank it was drawn on and were able to cash it. The next time we tried that, they refused. A few times we were able to deposit checks into my account, but I had to go with him to do this. The corker was the time that the check was made out in just his first name. Our bank wouldn’t let us deposit it because the account was in my name only and they suggested that we go to the bank it was drawn on. We did and they cashed it, even though it just said “Paul” and they didn’t even ask for ID.

Frequently, people posted a message on Twitter saying they wanted to change banks and asking for a recommendation. I have never seen a response actually recommending a bank. Most responses are “don’t go with XYZ, they are terrible.”

Some of these frustrations may come from the lack of protection for the bank against fraud.  I have no expertise in finance law, but judging from the amount of bank paranoia over every transaction, here is no FDIC or similar protections there. They spent a great deal of time and effort straining at gnats. I was constantly getting calls from the bank or having to call the bank. I have never talked to a single institution that much before or since.

The result was very bad customer service and the impression that the money belongs to the bank, not the customer.

Let’s talk banking in China.

1. The bank sent employees to my place of employment to set up the account. It was a bit of fiasco with lots of paperwork, repeatedly signing my name, and entering my pass code multiple times. I had to provide my passport, expert card, and a copy of my employment contract.

2. Again, there is no such thing as a joint account.

3. There are no checks.

4. My debit card works at stores and ATMs without a problem. The account has never been blocked or suspended. We don’t have a credit card.

5. ATMs have limits, but I haven’t encountered a daily debit transaction limit.

6. Transferring money out of the country or changing to another currency is a huge pain in the butt.

I recently had two of these pain in the butt experiences. I needed to pay the registration amount for a professional conference by bank transfer. I went to the bank, thinking I had all the paperwork I needed. The employees did not speak much English, but we managed to communicate what type of transaction was needed. A man at a kiosk near the entrance took my paperwork and typed up the form that was needed. He typed the information into the computer and printed it out on a triplicate form. Apparently, his computer and software do not connect to the software used elsewhere in the bank. So, then I took the typed up triplicate form to the teller who shuffled a lot of papers, making me sign 4-5 of them.
THEN my passport wasn’t correct. I had a new passport, as the one I entered the country and set up the bank account with had expired. She needed to see the old one, which I had not brought with me. Never mind that the new one has a notation printed in it indicating the number of the old passport. So, I had to take all my paperwork, go away, and come back the next day.

One day 2, I started over with the guy at the kiosk showing him my triplicate form from the day before. Once I got to the teller, she started with the paper shuffling again, more signatures, and my old passport does the trick. I leave the bank thinking that it is all finally done. Ha! Later that evening, I get a call from the bank. They need the mailing address of the recipient. The SNAIL MAIL address. I asked if she could take it over the phone. No. I had to come back a third time. The necessary mailing address was on the invoice that I had presented to them, but the kiosk guy had not typed it into the triplicate form.

SO, day 3, back to the bank again. I get the kiosk guy to type the form up again and insist that he include the mailing address. (Remember he is typing this up on a computer, but the information is not stored or communicated to the teller, except via the printed triplicate form.) Also, I do not speak Chinese and the bank teller does not understand much English, so I can’t say “remember me? I was here yesterday and you need the mailing address.” So, I hope that she will recognize the transaction and get that I am just there to fill in the missing info. Otherwise, I may be paying this thing twice. Luckily, I see that she has figured it out and pulled out the original triplicate form. I sign a bunch of papers, yet again. Transaction finally finished. Only required leaving work early three days in a row to walk to the bank and jump through the hoops.

Before our Christmas trip to Prague, we had a similar experience. Daddybird wanted to have enough euros with us in case we had any problem checking into the hotel like we did in India. Unfortunately we waited until the week we were leaving to do this bank transaction.

Daddybird went to the bank to attempt to change yuan into euros. He was told he would need a copy of his employment contract and passport, unless he wanted just 500 euros. So, he got the 500 euros.

I went with him the next day (day 2) with my passport and employment contract to do a larger amount. The clerk shuffles my paperwork around and then finally says he needs my tax form (proving that I have paid China taxes on said money. I pay China taxes on every yuan I get before I get it.) SO, I ask why he didn’t tell my husband that the day before? No answer.

Day 3, back to the bank with contract, passport, and tax form (which I had trouble finding). We go through all the paper shuffling and paper signing routine. Then the clerk explains that we now have 2000 euros in our bank account, but he cannot give us the cash. We can come back tomorrow to get the cash. I manage not to have a stroke or explode. However, we CANNOT come back the next day because we are getting on a plane in about 8 hours. The clerk explains that there is a regulation against making the currency exchange and receiving the cash from the same bank on the same day. Wouldn’t want to deprive China of MY money, ya know. The only solution he can offer is that we go to another branch of the same bank and see if we can withdraw the cash. Which we do, but only after I give the clerk a piece of my mind about good customer service and that not telling us everything we needed to know up front the first time and requiring us to come in 3+ times to get our own money was not good customer service.

Lesson learned. I now know to take all possible documentation with me, even things I might not need.

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Chuansha

October 8, 2017

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

Chinese watercolor painting of a tree and two horses

During Golden Week (China National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival), we mostly stayed home and rested. Our big outing was to go to Chuansha overnight and spend a day exploring.

Chuansha was an older, walled city that has been swallowed up by modern Shanghai.

Chinese watercolor of two boys playing

We visited a museum that is the former residence of Huang Yanpei. There was very little signage in English. There are extensive exhibits including information about Huang Yanpei and other prominent people who have lived there over the years. The highlight for me was the artworks.

rubbing of a horse drawing a carriage

After the museum we walked down the adjacent old city street to have lunch.

cobbled street

After lunch we walked along the city moat to a park where remnant city wall is preserved.

15 foot high grey brick wall with crenellations

Next was Heming Tower and Chuansha Park.

five story high square Chinese tower

The park has two parts, an amusement park for children and a park styled after the ancient gardens. The garden was lovely, but very noisy. The boomboxes and karaoke machines make for an assault on the senses.

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To see all the pictures, click here.

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City Blocks

October 2, 2017

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

long city street

During a video conversation with my in-laws, DaddyBird described my walk home from work as “a few city blocks.” I had to disagree. I have no idea what the measurement of a “city block” is.

Above is the first of these “city blocks.” The flat roof near the top of the trees is the gym building of my campus.

IMG_4914

Next I have to cross this pedestrian bridge.

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Looking back from the pedestrian bridge.

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Then I have to walk down a pedestrianized street. I counted 26 restaurants down one side of the length of this “city block.”

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Then I have to turn and walk down this street to the next intersection – the green light.

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Where I turn again. At least I am now on the street that we live on, but still a long way to go.

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It was pouring rain this night. My umbrella was soaked through as were my clothes and shoes.

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You can see the waterfall from this drain pipe.

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Finally, I get to the bridge over the foul smelling waterway.

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There is our building. Not there, yet, because the entrance to the compound is what I call a city block away from the bridge and once in the compound, I have to walk back to the building.

According to Google maps, it is just over one mile. In the pouring rain and stopping to take pictures, it took me an hour to walk home.

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Mulberry Street

June 18, 2017

Posted by Kanga. Please do not reblog.

picture of Dr Seuss book

Unless you had a deprived childhood, you probably remember And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss. We have been in Shanghai China for nearly 3 years now (coming up this August) and we feel as if we live on Mulberry Street. We may all have our own interpretation of what that book is about, but for me it is about imagination and about keeping your eyes open to the world around you. The amazing, wondrous world around you.

homeless man drawing the Mona Lisa in chalk on the sidewalk

Whether it is the homeless man drawing the Mona Lisa in chalk on the sidewalk.

old building with ramshackle pigeon coops on the roof and laundry hanging from the second story

Or laundry day and roof top pigeon coops

coin operated kiddy ride

Or horrifyingly ugly kiddie rides

a large red truck blocking a very wide crosswalk

Or bad driving (thank you truck for blocking the entire crosswalk and making pedestrians walk around you)

package of fruit candy labeled

Or truth in labelling

an elderly man in an electric wheelchair traveling down the street

Or determination to get where one is going

a woman with a vintage bicycle

Or a good old fashioned bicycle

wooden 3d puzzle of an uzi pistol

Or unusual toys (notice this wooden 3D puzzle of an uzi pistol is for 6 years and up – use responsibly)

three wheeled cycle loaded with recyclables

Or the ubiquitous recycling carts

a toilet placed outside a building for disposal

Or a random toilet

old Chinese building and random objects

Or the beauty of the old and random

two baskets of eggs and a weighing scale on the sidewalk

Or eggs being sold on the sidewalk

restaurant in an alleyway

Or the tiny (fantastic) restaurant in an alleyway

woman wearing a coat with

Or advice emblazoned on the back of a stranger

woman wearing a shirt that shows Donald Duck's butt and says

Some of which should not be followed

cars, bus, three wheeled cart, and chaos

More chaotic traffic

large truck filled with about two stories worth of plastic bottles

More recycling

a shop window with a sign for waxing showing a sasquatch

Amusing (or insulting) signs

Suitcases

The Friday suitcase brigade (They will be going straight from work to the train station. Also, it is easier to roll one’s suitcase in the street than on the sidewalk.)

traffic blocked by a large green truck

Again with the bad traffic

street washers filling up the tanks on their three wheeled bicycle street washing machines

Street washers filling up their tanks from a hydrant

tank with large goldfish and black and white skates

Food or pets?

a three wheeled cart full of recycled wood

More recycling

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And the colors of a summer rain shower.

I have more pictures, but I don’t want to task your patience. You get the idea. Every day is an adventure if you live on Mulberry Street.