10/19/09

 

 

LETTERS FROM CHINA:  Sep/Oct 2009

Day 1:Departure Day Two: Beijing Day 3: The Great Wall Day 4: Forbidden City
Day 5: Xiían Day 6 Xiían to Guilin Day 7 Li River Day 8 ChongQing
Days 9-12 The Yangtze River Day 12 On to Shanghai Day 14 Hong Kong Hong Kong Part 2
China Story part one

Day One Departure from Portland, Oregon: Itís a Long Way We got to the Portland airport about 7:00 p.m. and realized that we were about to undertake a series of flights that would take about 24 hours. After a short hop to San Francisco, we went through additional security to board the Cathay Pacific aircraft that would take us to Hong Kong, about 13 Ĺ hours away. We waited for about an hour while a faulty fuel gauge was checked, getting in the air about 2:30 a.m. just in time for dinner. The flight crew was mostly Asian and very efficient; the pilot was Australian.

The lights dimmed and we attempted to get some sleep. At one point Cup Ďo Noodles was served with chop sticks (amazingly easy to eat that way) and about 5 a.m. China time, breakfast was served. We landed sometime after six. It was pouring down rain in Hong Kong as they were experiencing the remnants of a typhoon, but we never left the airport. There werenít too many in the terminal and as we approached, they put on facemasks. At one point we passed the sensors screening out anyone with an elevated body temperature. We all passed. (Rod had to take off his hat so they could get an accurate reading.) 

We didnít have much time before we boarded our Dragonair flight for Beijing. It was a large Airbus, but not more than 1/3 full for the 2 Ĺ hour flight. We had breakfast/lunch on the way. Unlike here, airlines in China still serve food. We arrived in BeijingĎs new terminal and passed through customs without much difficulty as soon as our bags arrived on a later plane. Our tour guide was there to meet us and take us to our hotel in the area called the Manhattan of Beijing. It is a Hilton with a dťcor that seems more European than American to me. We had several hours to walk around the neighborhood. We went to a grocery to buy water since we were told by our guide that we shouldnít use the water in the hotel even for brushing our teeth. We also found a bank to get some local currency. Larger places will take dollars, but for smaller businesses or tipping itís nice to have local money. They use Yuan and 1 Yuan equals about 15 cents.

We were surprised by all the help we see in every business. In the grocery, which was small, there were a dozen or so employees in the aisles mostly talking with one another. The hotel has even more in the lobby, and restaurants have plenty of servers. Our guide met us in the evening before we had completely collapsed to take us out to experience some local cuisine. She said that they like chefs from Schechwan (sp) because they were such good cooks, but that they had to tone down the spices for this area. In northern Chine, wheat is the staple while in the South, itís rice. We were seated at large round tables with lazy susans in the middle. They then proceeded to bring out numerous dishes. Too full, we fell into bed by about 8 p.m. We are to be ready to go by 8 a.m., and weíre sure weíll be up and ready.

Day Two: Beijing    (Back to the top)

Hello again. It was easy to get up early today despite all the travel of the day(s) before. We fell asleep early, for me at least, and were ready to go before 6. Breakfast was in the hotel: a buffet with every kind of food imaginable. We could choose from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, European, you name it. Prices are high here and I was glad I had already paid for the $30 mealóeach. We had been told to meet our tour guide in the lobby at 8 sharp. She would wait 7 minutes, but then we would be off. There are 20 in our group, the 8 of us, 2 from Maryland and the rest from Saskatchewan and Toronto, who were all there ready to go. It turns out that we are an especially compatible group which makes it all easy. We have a larger bus with two doors so getting on and off is fast.

    

Our tour guide is ďJessica,Ē not a name her mother chose, but one she picked for herself to make it easier for Western foreigners like us. Her Chinese name is ChenJiang Ping, I believe. She is 30, married to a man who has a compatible sign her mother approved of, whom she met over the internet. She has one child, the maximum number allowed by the government, a little girl 16 mos. She has someone to look after her in addition to her mother. Jessica was born in the first year of the one child per couple policy and although it was a disappointment to her parents, she approves of the policy. Only children have their advantages. She went to university and majored in the hospitality business.

Jessica had a very difficult first day since Oct. 1, as you may have seen, is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese Republic. It is also the time of a big holiday every year in China. There is heightened security and many closures due to the celebration. Places and streets are not all closed at the same time and she has been on the cell phone often to hear the latest announcements. Traffic congestion is not normal either. It turns out that we have had advantages as well. Many people stayed home so they could watch the ceremonies on TV easing crowding at places of interest.

Today, as yesterday, the smog is unbelievable. You will notice in pictures, Iím sure, unless we are able to filter it out. It is a bit bothersome to the respiratory tract, but mostly to the views. We can well understand the concern during the Olympics and heard about the precautions taken like cars being driven on odd and even days according to license numbers.

Our first stop was the Summer Palace where the emperor and empress went to enjoy the vast gardens and lake. It is about a mile square and we walked through a good bit of it and took a boat across the lake to get to our bus on the other side. There is a Ĺ mile walkway along the lake that has a colonnade with a roof made of wood and elaborately painted with typical Chinese naturescapes. It was painted over during the Cultural Revolution, but has been restored. We saw the palace where the Dragon Lady lived, a long story involving her conniving to have the emperor put under house arrest. It is the story told in the movie ďThe Last Emperor,Ē which we all want to go back and see again.

After lunch at a restaurant, we did a drive-by past Tian An Men Square and the Forbidden City on a boulevard not normally used by buses. It was to be closed shortly, and we thought our driver brave against all that security. We will return to the area later, but the square may continue to be closed. Our destination was the backstreets of Beijing, a hutong, with narrow winding streets for a peddycab ride. We were driven to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Woo, who open their very modest home to visitors. A retired couple, they were picked by the government some time back to host foreign visitors. One of them was Henry Kissinger. We sat in their living room and they told about their family. They had owned the home for many years until after the revolution when the government took it over and insisted that they have other families move in. About 20 years ago, they were able to get it back. They have a courtyard and their two sons, wives and a granddaughter live there. We bid them adieu and it was back to the bus in the same peddycabs. (An odd spelling, but thatís what the guide book says.) Rod, Rick and I gave a good tip considering how big we are compared to the average Chinese.

After a visit to the Temple of Heaven, we were taken to a restaurant for a Beijing (Peking) Duck dinner. The duck takes awhile to cook and we almost ate too much of what was served first to eat much of the honored guest when it arrived, complete with a chef to carve it for us. There is a complicated process of eating it with sugar, cucumber, onion, garlic, a sauce, and won ton to wrap it in demonstrated by one of the waitresses. Back to the hotel and to bed. A very busy day, wouldnít you agree?

 

Day 3: The Great Wall and all     (Back to the top)

Today began in a grand fashion. After the largest flyover of planes seeding the clouds, there was a big rainstorm at night and the day dawned bright and sunny. Itís October 1, the 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China. Nearly everyone stayed home so that they could watch all the festivities on t.v. , so much the better for us. We were off for the Great Wall, or at least a small part of it about an hourís drive from Beijing. Before arriving we could see the mountains with the wall snaking up one side and the other. There is a big visitorís center to handle the crowds of Chinese who all hope someday in their lives to visit. Mao said that one couldnít understand the struggle without visiting the wall. We had two choices, the right or the left to begin our ascent. We were told that the one way was easier, but more crowded. We chose the route less traveled and were rewarded by not having to wait for others. Lest that sound like bravado, they both seemed to go to about the same height.

The weather was about as perfect as it could get: 70, bright sunshine, and a breeze. The views are truly awesome and even though weíve all seen hundreds of pictures, none of them do it justice. (And, no, itís not the only man-made object that can be seen from space. It canít.) It took us about 1 Ĺ hrs. to climb as far as we wanted to go, but only Ĺ hr. to return to the base station where we enjoyed a buffet lunch.

On our drive back to the city, we stopped at the Ming Tombs. The mausoleum area is in a large park-like setting with burial mounds and ceremonial buildings. We have learned more about the various dynasties than one could ever hope to, but Iím afraid my retention isnít what it used to be. Although I think there was some de-emphasis of historic and cultural things during Maoís time. It wouldnít appear so now.

After a stop at the jade carvers: beautiful to see, but not something any of us needed, we drove by the Olympic village and saw the Birdís Nest among other buildings. Unfortunately, it is not possible for the bus to stop so we could get out. We were able to see the athleteís housing, and other venues for the games. The apartments were made so that walls could be knocked out between two athleteís rooms and an apartment created. I think they were sold before the games began. Most people in China live in apartments and prefer to buy them.

We had a little time left so we stopped at Mr. Tís for a traditional tea ceremony and a sampling of different types. Rick and I got out as quickly as we could so that we could run across the street, taking our lives in our own hands as pedestrians always do, and got some McCafe. There are plenty of Starbucks in China for the younger set, but it is never served with the meals we have other than breakfast. Iím suffering from caffeine depravation!

It is immediately obvious that the Chinese are much fitter than Americans. There traditional diet has been a rice porridge for breakfast, a large lunch consisting mostly of vegetables and meat sparingly and a small supper. Now there is fast food on every corner: KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut. Theyíre all here and are very popular. Within a generation, I think the Chinese will be suffering more of the medical problems we face because of a high fat and sugar diet. We have not seen any diet soft drinks, probably because no one here has thought they needed them.

We had another very busy day. Elaine wears a pedometer and we are averaging 10,000. We all thought we should be able to count double climbing the wall!

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Day 4: Forbidden City; Tiananmen Square     (Back to the top)

Greeted by another beautiful day for sightseeing, we boarded the bus for transport to the Forbidden City. Yesterday, everybody stayed home, but not today. It is part of the 8-day October holiday and everyone is out and about. The Forbidden City was the home of the Emperor until the dynasty was overthrown by Sun Yat Sen in 1911, so named since commoners were not allowed inside the walls. It is 300 or so acres comprising a complex of buildings both residential and official, adjacent to Tianahmen Square and the plan was that we go from one end to the other and come out at the square IF it was open.

 

We spent a couple of hours walking through the area with our guide helping us to understand what was the significance of the different sections: the inner court, the outer court, and so forth. We were told that the part facing the street was repainted and gilded before the Olympics,since that was what would be seen from the street. Every entry-way has a threshold about a foot high to step over. Evil spirits canít get over it. We only later learned that men are to use their left leg first, and women, their right. Elaine & I decided we probably had been doing it opposite, so maybe we cancelled out the bad luck.

We left by the south gate intending to go into Tiananmen Square Jessica found out by cell phone that the corresponding gate was locked. It was too far to walk to the other side so we walked down a long street to meet our bus driver who would take us there. Unfortunately, everyone else in China was there also, so traffic was jammed. That street became closed and we had to walk the other direction to finally meet up.

The square was resplendent in bright red and gold columns, huge baskets of flowers and a 75-100 ft. t.v. screen showing pictures of the celebrations of the day before. There had been a huge parade on the boulevard next to the square and each province had a float. They were lined up around the edges of the square. It was a mad house, but at some point our guide got us in position under the smiling Mao for a group picture, which we could get later with a book about Beijing landmarks.

We left and after a late lunch for the airport to fly to Xiían (she ahn)about 1 Ĺ hrs. to the southwest. It does keep one hopping to keep up with the different airport security procedures. We learned that we could take no liquid in our carry-ons and out checked bags had to be locked. Fortunately, I had read about that and had taken locks, but our guide had some just in case. If they saw something in your checked bag, you had to go over and unlock it. I was one and all they wanted to see was aerosol cans. We could keep our shoes on. The luggage limit is very liberal for overseas flights, but when you are flying within the country, they are much stricter. Our guide thought we could help each other out if we needed to, but it didnít seem to be necessary.

Even though our flight was short we were served a hot meal and could watch a movie about the glorious heroes of the Second World War. Chinese donít carry on much and board quickly. It was all us ďbig nosesĒ as westerners are called, who bogged things down. We had to hurry so we could eat again at about 9 p.m. We all groaned and begged for it to be something light. No such luck. We picked at it and felt guilty about all the starving children in America. Thatís what Jessica grew up with and was surprised to find out later that it wasnít true, at least to as great an extent as in China. We were exhausted and fell into bed so we could be up and with it on yet another tour.    (Back to the top)

Day 5: The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xiían     (Back to the top)

Xiían or Xian is two words that mean West Peace. It is a fertile area in the center of China which was the home of the early dynasties, the Qin dynasty of over 2,000 years ago which unified China. There is abundant agriculture and the area is noted for its pomegranates, persimmons, apples and pears. The pomegranates are ripe and on the trees each one was enclosed with plastic bags. They are huge here and whitish in color. They eat them seeds and all, leading they think to the birth of a boy. We saw numerous roadside stands to attract the hordes of vacationers.

In the mid-70ís there was a severe draught, causing farmers to dig wells for water. Several of them ended up unearthing pieces of the 8th wonder of the ancient world, the terra cotta warriors. The farmers were terrified by what portended bad luck. Thatís not the way it turned out. Xiían is an industrial city of 6 million and before this find, there wasnít much reason for tourists to visit. What the farmers found was 6 thousand life-sized warriors which had largely been broken up due to wars and fires that caused the roofs to fall in. Since that time 3 huge pits have been opened and buildings constructed over the top of them.

 

The most remarkable thing about these figures is that they are all life-sized many nearly 6 feet tall with personalized faces that donít look much different from the people who live here 2000 years later. The other two pits are smaller and represent different aspects of life at that time. Yet another building houses a Ĺ sized bronze chariot with 4 horses. It is possible that somewhere in the area are buried more bronze warriors. Much of the area is yet to be excavated including the emperorís tomb. There is concern that disturbing it would lead to its disintegration. The terra cotta warriors were originally in full color, and whatever color was there when the excavations occurred has faded. It is about a Ĺ mile walk into the museum from the parking lot and then there is a lot of walking around the area so we had no trouble getting our 10,000 steps in yet again.

  

On the way back, we stopped at a museum of folk and fine Chinese art. We had a great guide and I especially enjoyed the very colorful folk paints of the farmer painters. I know lots of farmers, and most of them never had much time for hobbies such as that, so I asked how that came about. She said that during the Cultural Revolution the artists and scholars were ordered to leave the cities and go to the countryside to learn how real work was done, to get them closer to the people. While they were there, they shared their talents and locals took up the hobby. Now days they have become very famous and earn money. Many of our group bought watercolors to bring home and frame.

 

It was back to the hotel to get ready to go out for dinner theatre. We went to a large concert hall set up with tables holding hundreds. After we ate, there was an elaborate production much like it would have been in the Tong Dynasty. There were beautiful costumes, sets, singing and traditional instruments. To make it a little more palatable to western ears, and we were mostly western, the music was more tonal than it would have been in earlier times. It lasted about an hour. Iím not sure we appreciated it as we should since we were pretty tired by this time.

Several of us have been suffering from the dreaded ďdĒ condition no matter how careful we try to be. We were told on the first day not to drink the water in the hotels, not even to use it to brush your teeth. We are always provided bottled water and can buy more cheaply. We can drink soft drinks, beer, coffee, tea and occasionally wine, but the choices and amounts are limited for American tastes. I have not seen an ice cube, and thatís probably a good thing. Our guides and tour company work hard to choose restaurants that meet certain standards to keep the food safe. This is true most anywhere in the world, itís just that weíre not used to the same germs. Fortunately we were warned to bring proper medications to nip anything in the bud.

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Day 6 Xiían to Guilin     (Back to the top)

Another flight, but before we left for the airport, we went to the Xiían city wall, one of the only ones left largely intact in China. Originally it was made of dirt dug out to make the moat. Over the years, brick was added and eventually it was faced with stone. We entered through a museum showing some archeological digging showing the original wall. Then up a couple of flights of stairs, we found ourselves on top of the wall which is about 50 feet wide and paved. One could ride bicycles, walk or jog around the entire city, about 6 miles.

Just inside the wall near where we were, was an open air market selling produce and a variety of items. Most had been brought by some sort of three-wheeled conveyance, some motorized and some not. They have small beds like a pickup. There were beautiful fruits and vegetables. One lady was rolling out dough, putting in a filling, folding it in half and cooking it on a makeshift grill. We had a great vantage point to observe all the comings and goings. Our guide said she shopped for fresh food to cook everyday and it was much better. As we were about to leave (9:30), the market folded up and everyone left.

Then itís off to the airport for about a 1 Ĺ hr. flight to the small city (so it was described, but has 600,000 people) of Guilin (Gwee Linn). It is in the sub-tropical South China at a fairly low elevation surrounded by limestone mountains that have been eroded away to leave pinnacles and cones. They are a very beautiful green with limestone showing through.

We are now in rice country and there are rice paddies everywhere on every scrap of land. The plots are small and much of the work is done by hand. For harvest, the rice is cut with a sickle and then fed into a machine to separate the grain. Also, there are citrus crops, huge grapefruit and other crops such as you would find in Southern California.

From the airport, we drove to the Reed Flute Cave. If was discovered in the 1950ís and has been made very accessible with paved paths and steps. The lighting is very imaginative, highlighting the various formations. Mid-way there is a large room which can hold several hundred people. A sound and light program plays frequently with lasers bouncing from place to place. A reflecting pool shows what looks like the Manhattan skyline and in the reflection, a sky slope.

From there, we were taken to our hotel, truly the most unique of our trip: the Lijuan Waterfall Hotel. We had a few minutes to settle into our room before it was off to dinner. As with most lunches and dinners, it was at 2 round tables of about 10 each with a glass lazy-susan in the middle. In front of us is a small plate, a bowl for soup with a china spoon and chop sticks. Forks are always available. To drink we have the choice of Sprite, Coke, beer or water. They may be chilled. We are usually told that one glass is complimentary. Then the dishes start coming out. I think Chinese would always use their chop sticks to take food from the serving plates, but they usually bring forks or large spoons for us. What they call fried rice is usually white with a few vegetables like carrots and peas mixed in. We have almost never seen soya sauce. The dishes will include pork, beef, chicken, fish, various kinds of mushrooms, baby bok choy, spinach, egg plant and sprouts. There will be some kind of soup and weíll know we are nearing the end when the watermelon is served. I think our guides have done a good job of selecting dishes they think westerners would most enjoy. As we travel more south the food gets hotter.

After dinner we just had time to go outside to see the once a day water spectacular. Fountains start up and then water begins to come pouring off the roof engulfing the entire side of the 12 story building in a waterfall. Our room faces this side of the building and if we were inside, we would see water pouring past the window. It lasts about 10 minutes with music playing and crowds watching. We were told that once some Swedes were visiting and the regular time of the show didnít coincide with their schedule, so could they have it go off at another time. Yes they could for 5000 yuan ($750). No problem and everyone was treated to another waterfall.    (Back to the top)

Day 7 Li River    (Back to the top)

One of the most picturesque areas of China is the Li River, a destination for many Chinese and foreigners. A typical tour is to drive about an hour from Guilin and board a boat for a 4 hour cruise up through the Dragonís Teeth, the unusual limestone rock formations. We boarded and joined a steady stream of boats. It was perfect weather to go up top and view the spectacular scenery. We could watch the fishermen in their small boats, many that looked like about 6 large bamboo stalks lashed together. Some had chairs for tourists that one could hire.

Mountain climbing and hiking are popular and we could see encampments both organized and unorganized along the way. Occasionally we would see the fisherman come up and tie onto a large boat and sell some kind of fish or shellfish. Others would be bringing souvenirs and hold them up to our windows, but they werenít allowed to board.

On the back of each of the boats we could see the cooks with big woks preparing meals for all their passengers. Our guides had chosen one of the few boats that met their standards, and they had hired their own cook and waitress to serve our western dinner: a seafood salad, steak, potatoes and ďbackedĒ cheese cake for dessert. Behind us the Chinese were having a more traditional dinner and loudly playing cards. We chuckled about how we had heard that the Chinese were getting used to the loud Americans. You havenít heard loud untilÖ.. We were invited to buy extra drinks, including some kind of hard drink that had snakes floating around it and some deep fried foods like small crabs and scorpions. We all declined.

The river looked very clean and not too deep. One could see the rocks on the bottom and people were swimming. There were cattle and lots of water buffalo belonging to farmers along the way. Most of the time, we couldnít see the farms behind the dykes or trees. There were lots of birds and just before our cruise ended, we saw cormorants trained to fish. Their necks are constricted so that they donít swallow the fish so it can be retrieved by the fisherman. They will go underwater for a minute or so and come up with a good-sized fish.

After we disembarked at a small town upriver, we boarded the bus for a 1 Ĺ hour bus ride back to the hotel through an agricultural area that was fun to see, lots of rice and many vegetable and fruits. I would have liked to have toured a farm (s), but that wasnít on our itinerary. After a stop at the South China Pearl Factory for those interested, we were back in the hotel. We walked through a very interesting shopping are and bought some coffee before going to our room to get ready to go out for dinner. Some got foot massages, but by then bed was mighty inviting.    (Back to the top)

Day 8 ChongQing (Chong Ching)     (Back to the top)

We were up at the crack of dawn to get our suitcases out for a 1 hour flight to the largest city in China, ChongQing, 30,000,000. If I understood correctly, Shanghai is the largest city proper, but ChongQing is a province/city. Very major cities are directly under the authority of the central government, the rest are administered by the province. ChongQing was the wartime capital of China more familiar to us as Chung King.

ChongQing is a very hilly city and porters are everywhere to carry stuff up the hills. The streets, if they exist, are too small for delivery vans, so men carry everything: new furniture, a refrigerator, you name it. Rod noticed that the people had large calves from walking up so many steps all the time.

Our first destination was the zoo to see the pandas. They obliged and came out to munch on their principal diet of bamboo. We elected not to spend much time there since a zoo is a zoo and were taken to a new city square housing the Yangtze Museum, a beautiful four story building with an open domed interior of marble that looks like carved ivory. There were some interesting exhibits, but not enough English descriptions to satisfy us. There was an excellent display of artifacts unearthed in the building of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest construction project in the world.

We walked across the square down a side street and were taken to a large public market. It had every food item imaginable, very fresh looking and people buying their daily provisions. Our guide had mentioned that she wouldnít tell us what she had for lunch for a couple hours. I assumed she thought we would find it revolting. Later she said it was frog. We said we liked frogís legs and in the market we saw them. When someone wanted one, the man grabbed a live one from under a net and dispatched it into small pieces with a cleaver and bagged it up for the buyer. The next table was cleaning an eel. Someone else whacked a large fish. Later in the trip we were served a large fish that was turned inside out, cut part way through into French fry-sized pieces still attached, breaded and fried. It was very good. The people didnít seem to mind us taking pictures and probably knew we werenít going to buy anything.

Our guides had been promising a regional specialty for dinner and we were taken out for ďhot potĒ. In the center of a square table for eight were two large metal bowls, one inside the other, on a gas burner. It was broth, one very spicy, the other not. All around were small dishes of items to put in the hot pot to cook. It was a communal effort, and we just needed to wait long enough to be sure the item was cooked. One uses chop sticks or a large slotted spoon to retrieve the cooked food. We were told that we should stick our chop sticks into the boiling broth to sterilize them if they were used to put in raw meat. There was thinly sliced beef, pork meat balls, black fungi, seaweed, tofu, chicken, noodles of several varieties, etc. The hot wasnít overpowering and gave a nice flavoring. We had small bowls and put in sesame oil, soya sauce & vinegar to dip the cooked food into. Our guides had to table hop to keep us all going. The hot pot originated in Mongolia and in some ways it reminded me of the Mongolian Grill.

We were then taken to the port to begin a 4 day cruise down the Yangtze. After we got settled in our cabins, we went upstairs in the balmy air to look at the spectacular lighted cityscape. In the 1980ís there were no bridges across the Yangtze and now there are 31 of every type. The one nearest the boat was similar to the Fremont Bridge in Portland, only larger and beautifully lighted. The sky scrapers, all only a few years old, were brightly lit. Across the river was the opera house and there was a huge tv projection on its side probably 50 x 100 ft. Some call this city the Hong Kong of the mainland. We sailed at 10 p.m. and were glad to fall into our narrow twin beds, but easing in was wiser, as we might have broken bones on the hard surface. (Not to complain.)

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Days 9-12 The Yangtze River  (no computer for 4 days.)     (Back to the top)

Cheerful music through the loudspeaker announcing breakfast woke up any lay-a-beds. We are assigned tables for our meals and breakfast and lunch are buffet. The first evening meal was the Captainís dinner with introductions and a toast at each table. The English were all dressed up, of course; we managed long pants and a shirt. Our two tables were toasted first, and we managed a major /faux pas/ by not standing up. Our guide was late, and when we told her, she said she was glad she wasnít there because it might have reflected badly on her. She was kidding, I think.

 

After dinner we went to the ballroom to see a show put on by the crew. They were cute in their colorful costumes. One man sang a spirited rendition of ďEdelweissĒ with scenes from the /Sound of Music/ playing behind him. After a flamenco number and a precision drill of all the staff, we left.

The girls have been enjoying the craft demonstrations given by artists. I can only tell of them second-hand, but even I am impressed by the skill and beauty. One man comes from a family that takes quartz, cuts and polishes pieces and drills out the center to make a bottle. Then he takes a brush and paints a picture on the inside. They are very beautiful and colorfulóreasonable for all the hours of work. Of course we get a special discount.

Another craft is silk embroidery. They will take a strand of silk thread and separate it into 30 strands. The delicate stitchery makes pictures that can be viewed from each side. One large one on display has tigers on one side and when flipped, shows leopards.

The second day we are going through the first and second of the 3 gorges, something like the Columbia River gorge. The new dam is largely completed and we can only imagine what it must have been like. Now it has only about 30 feet more to go before it is completely filled. The walls are sheer cliffs, but wherever it flattens out a little, there are farms terraced. We passed two farms, and the guide said that the farmers would only get into town once or twice a year. There would only be trails to get in or out. Iím sure it gets windy, but probably not too cold since we are at low latitude.

 

As Iím writing this, Iím sitting by the balcony door looking at the cliffs that remind me of Multnomah Falls. The only falls we have seen here is on the side of the hotel. The weather is cool and somewhat foggy which hampers the picture taking. The river started out very muddy, but has become more green. We see many ferries often hydrofoils and various watercraft. It is a busy river.

This afternoon we were treated to a sampan ride up the Shennongxi stream, a tributary of the Yangtze. For the first hour we were on a ferry to get to the boatmen. The boats each held 16 people and there were 5 boat trackers, 2 captains and 3 rowers. We were rowed for 2 miles upstream, then the last few hundred yards 2 men jumped off and demonstrated pulling us by a bamboo rope on a foot path. Before the tourists came, the boatmen would have been nude, since the stream was shallow and they pulled the boats up the free-flowing stream by walking on the rocks. Their cotton clothes got wet and chaffed their skin. Not to offend or titillate the tourists, they now wear clothes and since the Three Gorges Dam, the water in the stream is 450 ft. deep or so instead of 1 to 3 ft. before. The scenery was very beautiful and we saw people fishing, some terraced farms and sheer rock walls. At one place there is a ďhanging coffinĒ placed by ancient people. Apparently the idea was that to bring more blessings to your family, you should place the coffin of your father high up the cliff. No one knows how they got them there. At one point we saw a new suspension foot bridge built after the dam. To go around might take 5 hours to get to the village. The ethnic minority living in this area, of whom our guide and the boatmen belonged, is healthy and strong from lots of exercise.

Yesterday morning we stopped at a shrine called the City of Ghosts. There were about 1000 steps up the hillside, but we could take cable cars like a ski lift up part of the way. At the top were numerous temples of various gods, but particularly representing Hell. The King of Hell is a just God who will determine whether one should be punished or not, so you should bow before him. On the sides were small statues representing what happens to the wayward. The bigamist is being sawn in half lengthways, one for each wife, for instance. Our guide had us laugh loudly as we passed under a particular arch; another time we needed to stand in a concrete enclosure on one foot with hands together. Since there were so many people, Rick represented our group. Another place, there was a heavy iron object that needed to be lifted atop and balanced on a stand. Many tried, but only the expert knew how to twirl it around and use the momentum to get it atop.

Our last day shipboard, we made an early morning stop to see the Three Gorges Dam project. Last night beginning about 10:30 we went through the 5 locks to get to the lower river. It is the largest set of locks in the world with gates for traffic in both directions. I went to bed as they were maneuvering the last of 4 boats in place to shut the gates. The construction has been going for 17 years and all that is left is a ship elevator, designed for smaller boats. Everything else, the locks, generators, etc. was completed ahead of schedule, but the elevator is taking more time for engineering.

Our whole time on the Yangtze (called Jiang by the Chinese) has been quite foggy all during the three days. While we were at the dam, the guide pulled out a picture that was about 12 feet long that was aerial photos of the river from ChongQing to Yichang, about 300 miles in length. It took 10 years to get the picture taken because it is foggy over 300 days a year. We questioned whether it was some degree smog, but didnít have an answer.

The Chinese seem to be very proud of the dam and feel it is progress. It was first proposed by Dr. Sun Yat Sen over 100 years ago mainly for flood control ameliorating the ravages of period floods. We are also sympathetic to the plight of the million plus people who have been displaced by the project. Our guide says that compensation was available with help for re-location and jobs. It is hard if your family has lived on the land for generations.

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Day 12 On to Shanghai     (Back to the top)

After visiting the dam and having a final lunch on the boat, it was time to leave for the airport. We docked at Yichang. We had our carry-ons to tote up the 100 steps from the river; our luggage was taken by porters with a pole and ropes at a run. One way they would be carrying 2 large water jugs, and on the way back, they had about 4 suitcases. It was amazing to watching them balance their load going down and up the stairs with ease. For our convenience, we gave our guide money at the beginning to tip all the baggage handlers, so we didnít have to give it any thought as we progressed throughout the trip.

Yichang is a very small regional airport and the flight was about 1 hour to the old airport in Shanghai. We had the most unusual box to snack on: a package of tiny dried plums about the size of a filbert which were thrown after one taste, candied walnuts, a dry roll, a small cupcake, and cough drops. Even at that, it beat anything we would get on an airline at home. It was ok, since we knew we would be stopping for dinner on the way to the hotel, a Schezwan chain which was very good. It was Levonneís birthday, in Asia, at least, and Jessica had ordered a cake. We sang in English and Chinese.

Our hotel, the Garden Hotel, is Japanese complete with a Toto Washlet in the bathroom. I believe lots of Japanese were staying there since there was a lot of bowing in the elevator and elsewhere. Jessica said that Chinese donít kowtow anymore and her friend was a guide to a Japanese group and her back hurt from all that bowing. The breakfast was Chinese, Japanese and Western.

It is amazing what Shanghai has accomplished in the last 20 years. There are tall buildings everywhere including the tallest in China at 101 stories. Shanghai is a relative new city, which earlier in the 19th century was divided up with zones for the English, French, American and German interests. The housing that remains from that era has a European flavor.

We left the hotel early to go to the Yu Garden, a traditional Chinese garden built for a private aristocratic family about 400 years ago. It was built in the traditional style by a painter using rock, water, and plants. At various places there is an opening that frames some of the landscape making it look like a painting. The pathways zigzag so that one sees a difference view at each step. Although in the middle of the city, it was calm and peaceful. Just outside was an interesting shopping area where the ladies found some costume jewelry and cut paper designs for framing. Several of the gentlemen found the Starbucks. The owner seemed quite pleased when we said it was just exactly like one we would find in America. I donít know how well they do since Chinese donít seem to drink much coffee and itís only offered at breakfast.

Our next stop was the Shanghai museum. We especially enjoyed the exhibits of pottery, porcelain, paining and jade. We had about an hour and a half to stroll around at our own pace. When we met up with our guide we were taken to lunch at a silk factory. Although the food was good, it seemed to be mostly set up for the tourists. We got to see how silk is retrieved from the cocoons and either spun, or pulled out to make batting for comforters similar to down-filled. We had never seen those before and they were tempting; about the same price as down. Out Toronto friends brought several, but in general our group arenít big spenders at the shopping areas.

In the afternoon, we traveled to the other side of the river near a huge radio tower. We could look across and see the Bund which was the area of European-style buildings from the last century: large banks, etc. After a short stop at the Nanjing (Nanking) Road shopping area with pedestrian streets, it was back to the hotel to get ready for the Farewell Dinner and an acrobatic performance. The latter was in a theatre just across the street from our hotel and was a great 1 Ĺ hour demonstration of athletic, dramatic and comedic skills. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. We have been down to 16 in Shanghai since 4 of our Toronto friends left the group to travel home in time for Canada Thanksgiving and work. Our tour is flexible and different participants have deviated at times from the itinerary.

Today, Sunday, we are at the airport getting ready for a flight to Hong Kong. We have bid adieu to everyone in our group, except Rod & Pat, Rick & Levonne and Elaine & I. We have said goodbye to our wonderful tour guide, Jessica and our in the International Terminal of the New Shanghai Airport. We were taken to the Maglev Station (magnetic elevated) this morning to ride the maglev train. It is about 20 miles away and it took 7 minutes at speeds exceeding 440 km/hr, 300 mph. This is one of the nicest airports weíve seen anywhere, well laid out and comfortable for our several hour wait. I think it was built on reclaimed land in the Yangtze Delta.

Day 14 Hong Kong     (Back to the top)

Yesterday afternoon, we landed in Hong Kong and a guide was at the gate to meet us, holding up his sign and happy to see that we had got through customs without a hitch. He had a big bus and a driver to take us to Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong, to the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel, not to be confused with the other two Marco Polo hotels in this long block not far from the water. We were glad to be settled so we could go out and look for something to eat. We found a little cafť in the enormous shopping center just adjacent to where weíre staying. Our group is down to 6 now: the Bullards, Ganos and us.

Hong Kong is a little difficult to fathom at first. Hong Kong proper is an island of many and is the main part of the city. Kowloon is across the harbor, a seven minute ferry ride (free for seniors) and is part of the mainland. It borders the new territories, and may be encompassed by them. All around are skyscrapers for both business and apartments. Most everyone here would live in an apartment, all 7 million of them. Lantau Island is where the new airport is and has a lot of mountains, beaches and scenic beauty, where residents could go to get away.

We decided to book an all-day tour to Lantau Island and needed to be ready to go at 8:20 from the hotel lobby. It is run by Grayline and collected about 20 others from various hotels. Our first stop was the ferry terminal where we took a hydro-jet boat to the further end of the island. Joining us for the boat ride was about 100 10-11 year olds from the International School who were off for a 3 day camping trip. We understood that they are taught, French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Most of them were foreigners of the big nose variety. They stayed on the first level and we could go upstairs where it was more peaceful. It was about a 20 minute ride. More and more commute now because the ride used to be an hour and a quarter by regular ferry.

At the terminal, we boarded another bus for a nice drive on hilly windy roads to an ancient fishing village, which survives mostly on tourists. One of the oldest Buddhist temples is in this town. We saw lots of dried fish along the walk and our guide could point out things like fish bladders, scallops, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea horses, all dried. This was one place the salespersons didnít come running out to try to sell us something. They knew it was a lost cause. All the streets are small and crooked, and the people mostly walk, bicycle or push carts. At one point we crossed a river about 25 ft wide which until recently didnít have a bridge. They used a ferry and the family on one side used a rope to pull it back and forth.

Our next stop was to visit a beach for a few minutes. We could go down the steps and dip out toe in the South China Sea. It was kind of rough and no one was swimming today. Shortly they will close the beaches for the season, and take in the shark nets. The water was warm. Hong Kong is in the south of China and is a sub-tropical country. Summer is the rainy season, and they get a fair amount of rain.

A little further on, we reached the Po Lin Monastery, a Buddhist institution founded about a hundred years ago by monks from China. In 1993 was build the Tan Tien statue of Buddha. We were driven up to it and could go inside to view art and relics, including a tiny piece of the Buddha, about like a grain of rice. We saw the hundreds of steps most visitors must climb.

Our lunch was in the restaurant which only serves vegan meals. Someone had warned us about the soup, but we found it very delicious with tofu, corn, and mushroom in a thickened brothókind of an eggless, egg flower soup. We found it all very tasty and decided we didnít miss the often unidentifiable meat in Chinese cooking. There were small rolls of bread that were supposed to be dipped in sweetened soy milk. We enjoyed getting acquainted with 3 Australian women, grandmother, mother and daughter who had flown from Sydney for a 5 day shopping tripó9 hours(!). some dedicated shoppers, they.

From the monastery, we could walk to a 5.7 km. aerial tram to get back down to sea level. We were all a little nervous at first, especially since it stopped and we started going backward. We were assured by a loudspeaker that it was normal and necessary to adjust the cables. As you get over the crest of the mountain, you have a spectacular view of the airport before descending to the lower terminal. A bus was waiting to take us back to our hotel. We enjoyed this trip very much. It was helpful to have a guide who could tell us about Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was a British crown colony until 1997 when an agreement was implemented to turn it over to the Chinese. Part of the deal was that for 50 years, the Chinese would let Hong Kong continue to manage its affairs in much the same manner as it had. Many people had British passports and now can apply for Chinese so many have dual citizenship. The guide seemed to think everything was working out fine. For us, it was like entering another country and they use Hong Kong dollars rather than the Chinese Yuan.

Tonight we had dinner at the Dan Ryanís Chicago Grill. It said the portions were American-sized and they werenít kidding. After dinner we just had time to walk to the other side of the ferry terminal to see a spectacular sound and light show. We stood on a platform overlooking the harbor across to Hong Kong Island and as the music played, lights on the buildings danced to the music. It lasted for about 10 minutes and was spectacular. We were wearing coats tonight, but that was only inside where the air conditioning is turned up. We take them off when we go outside.

Tomorrow we plan our last full day of sightseeing on the island of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Part 2     (Back to the top)

I neglected to mention yesterday that the bronze Buddha we saw yesterday is the largest seated bronze Buddha in the world. It is impressive and placed in an advantageous setting.

Our last full day in Asia began with a ferry ride across the bay to Hong Kong from Kowloon. It is a commuter passenger ferry and takes only a few minutes. If we had been more assertive I think we could have ridden free as honored citizens, but as it was, it only cost about 25 cents. We had stopped at a tourist office just outside, and the girl on duty sketched out a route for us to take. We were impressed because she could write so rapidly upside down.

From the ferry, we walked a couple blocks to the bus terminal. We found that we needed exact change so we went to the bank where they painstakingly counted out various coins and bills. The Hong Kong dollar is worth about 13 cents and I do believe they have the ugliest coins I have ever seen. We found our bus and began a hair-raising drive in a double-decker bus to Stanley on the other side of the island. We went through the Aberdeen Tunnel and wound over hill and dale missing the concrete walls by inches. The other side was a sheer cliff. The market was very interesting with hundreds of small shops for browsing and buying. About noon, we decided we had had enough and took the bus back to downtown. This driver was a little saner, and I think I actually took a short nap.

Our destination was the famous set of escalators that go for blocks and blocks up the hill. In the morning until 10:20, they move downward. After that, they reverse. We went up part way to see what it was like, then veered off to find the terminal for the Tram to the Peak. Since 1888, there has been a tram pulled by cables to take 120 people at a time up the steep hill from near sea level to over 1200 feet. Often it feels like about a 45 degree angle, but I think it was only 17, as one goes past the high rise apartments. At the top is a new visitors center with an outdoor viewing platform containing many restaurants and shops. It is possible to drive up to Victoria Peak from the backside.

It was a mostly sunny day, and we had spectacular views from a vista as high as the highest new buildings. We could see our hotel in Kowloon. All this for about $3 per person for honored citizens. After a few hours, we took the cars back down and found a bus to the ferry to get back to our hotel. The Bullardís had spent the day in Kowloon and were waiting for us to join them for dinner.

We are back in our rooms resting up for the long journey home tomorrow. I has been a truly amazing journey full of variety and fascinating experiences. This is the second trip we have taken with Goway Travel, and we are always impressed with their service. This was our first fully guided trip, and a lot was packed into each day. I felt that our guides wanted to make sure we didnít miss a thing. There were times when I wanted to slow down, but then we would have had to miss something, and I donít know what I would have left out. China has a lot of energy and is catching up at an amazing rate. Our guides were optimistic and seemed to be happy with their lives. We hope to return to Asia some day, but maybe to other countries and cities. There is so much to see and so little time. By now, Iím sure youíre heaving a sigh of relief that we are finally getting home and you wonít have this to bombard you every day or so.

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This site was last updated 10/19/09