A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jonaway

Final Thoughts

36 °C

Well, it is our last day in China so I thought I would send one last post.

Yesterday we did the "slow, long march" to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was slow because of the tens of thousands of the people and long because the Forbidden City is about two kilometres in length.

First, let me tell you about the people, this is the Mecca for Chinese. Even though Mao Tse Tung had many, many shortcomings he is still revered in China. People line up for two to four hours to see his body which is raised from a freezer every morning and lowered back down in the evening. Our guide estimated that there was about 20,000 people there in line yesterday. On May Day that number jumps to about 40,000. Tienanmen Square can hold one million people at a time.
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Words can't describe the hordes of people. Our most exciting moment today is when a pickpocketer was discovered and three others exacted their own punishment while waiting for the police. There was hits, slaps and the occasional kick to the groin. I think that guy picked the wrong pocket......no pictures as this is very frowned upon. Also security for the locals is very strong as people have been known to set themselves on fire in protest and what better place than Tiananmen Square to do that.

We were treated to some very frank and honest commentary from our guide, Iowa, as he was one of the students who protested in the square in 1989. He was 18 and in high school at the time. He was also very open about Mao and the Cultural Revolution. Very insightful which is one of the reasons we travel, right?
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The Forbidden City was not what I expected. First, I didn't realized how large it was. But then if you have 3.000 concubines you need some room. That is why emperors didn't live too long either! 13 emperors have lived in the Forbidden City, the latest in the early 1900s. We are excited to come home to rewatch The Last Emperor which is, according to Iowa, very accurate and filmed on site.

The city goes on and on, with many temples and buildings. The area is devoid of trees until you reach the Imperial Garden which was stunningly beautiful and serene, even though there were thousands of people. I forgot to mention that we were treated with the bluest of skies this morning, something we haven't seen the entire trip.
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After that we had a quick stop to see the Pandas as we missed that in Chongqing because of the weather. It was midday and hot so they were a little sluggish. Wait till you see the pictures. My only excitement was seeing the information on the Calgary Olympic panda visit in 1988. I will be happy to see them at the Calgary Zoo in 2016.
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Our last excursion was our own trip to the Silk Market in the afternoon for some last minute shopping. This is a 7 level mall that offers everything and boy can these guys sell. Everyone has the same line, do you want to buy........I think the Bay could take a few tips on how to serve the customer. Bartering is easy because if you don't like the price go to the next shop as they have the same stuff. Another crazy, hair raising taxi trip and we are back at the hotel.

For our final night we experienced the Beijing Opera. It was interesting to say the least. The actors apply their makeup on the stage in advance of the show. There was three acts, the first a martial arts/mime presentation. Great costumes and action. The second and third were this weird operetta presentations where all the parts are played by men. There are English subtitles on the side of the stage. Odd, interesting and totally locally authentic would be the best description!
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Our trip is almost over. Our luggage has grown with all our treasures purchased over the past two weeks. We have made some new friends, some who want to visit Calgary and Banff. It has been a once in a lifetime, bucket list type of trip. The history and culture are very strong. The capitalistic spirit is alive and well in China. Yes, they need to work of their environmental and population issues. The people are China's biggest asset. We loved smiling, talking and taking pictures of the children and adults. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. With the exception of one highway accident everything went like clockwork. Thank you China, xie, xie. We will take home fond memories!

Posted by jonaway 10:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

Yes, the Great Wall is pretty darn great!

Beijing - Day 2

28 °C

We headed out early this morning for out trek to the Great Wall. Now in a city of 20 million you have to get up early to miss the traffic! After a full and complete breakfast we headed north out of the city. The best news today is that it is cool and cloudy, meaning it is about 25 degrees! It almost feels like home as we drive toward one of the many parts of the Wall. We see it in the distance yet it still takes about 30 minutes for us to drive to the bus parking lot.
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Looks like we weren't the earliest bus to arrive. There are probably 50 Chinese tourist busses here already and thousands of people already making their way up both sides of the Badaling portion of the Wall. While standing in line we have our pictures taken repeatedly by local Chinese tourist.

Most Chinese have not seen us "big noses" so we are almost as much of an attraction as the Wall. This site gets about 50,000 people per day climbing the wall in high season, Yes, 50,000 and us!

After the obligatory group photo we are off to climb the south section. It is busy, steep, uneven and unbelievably exciting to be on the Wall. Marty leaves me in his dust to clamber up to the highest watch tower. It is nice to see him sweating when he returns from the top of the mountain. I am sure climbing mountains every week has made it easier for him. I took a more leisurely trip as high as I felt comfortable. The sites are just the same only higher from the top.....that is what the rest of us tell each other!
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You can't believe what some of the locals wear to climb the wall....check it out. Yes, those are acrylic heels and peek a boo toes!
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Of all the wonders I have seen this ranks right up there with the Pyramids and Machu Pichu. I still wonder in awe of these ancient civilizations that did so much with so little.

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Viking Cruise Lines provides education/shopping opportunity and today was no exception. Before lunch we heard all about jade and how it is carved, how to tell good from bad, etc. Our shopping was delayed until after we ate. Could it be that people spend more money when they have full stomachs? Must be!

Our next stop was for a serene walk through the Ming Tombs area where most of the Ming Emperors are buried. A quick rub of the nose and tail of the giant tortoise and we are off again.

We hit a huge traffic snarl due to an accident on the way back to the city. What should have took an hour took almost 2 1/2 hours. Van vs. bus in the accident. I don't think anyone faired well.

We drove by the Olympic site, saw the Bird's Nest, the Water Cube and the other sites for the Olympics. About 40,000 people pay 8.00 per person to enter the area each day in high season. Crazy!

Tonight's highlight was a Peking Duck Dinner. The duck was only one course in an evening of great food and more new friends.
Well, I must close as my eyes are weary, my feet too! Another full (and last day) tomorrow. Off to see the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the pandas and the Peking Opera.

Posted by jonaway 10:05 Comments (0)

Beijing - Day 1

34 °C

This trip provides a FULL itinerary which leaves little time to catch your breath. Tonight I am trying to catch up on what has happened the past two days.

We flew out of Xi'an on Sunday. Now you have to know this is not as simple as our 10 minute drive to the airport. It takes an hour to drive to the airport and then another two hours to check in so that was pretty much our morning. Our 1:40 minute flight was full but still very high standards. I was most impressed with all three internal China flights, especially Hainan Airlines and the brand new 737-800 airplane.

Our first stop in Beijing was to visit the hutongs of Beijing. Now these are the oldest residences of Beijing and are now protected by the government. In spite of being protected by the Chinese government it seems that the Beijing City Council does not have to abide by the rules of protection and will and are taking down hutongs to make way for things like subways and development. It would be like the Banff Town council telling the Federal government of Canada that they were building a 4000 room resort just off of Banff Avenue!
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We were treated to a demonstration of Chinese Hacky Sack. Yes, this was a detour on the Amazing Race last year! We got into our ancient rickshaws for a tour through the neighborhood. Most of the hutong buildings are mearly one room houses, very small with communal bathrooms down the street. However, one hutong is very large with the multi generational family living together, still using the communal bathroom. We stopped at this hutong for a cup of tea. The patriarch of the family gave us a full explanation and he was very willing to answere multiple questions. Very interesting.

Off for an early supper, more Chinese food. I think some of our group is tiring of the similar menu twice a day. Not us, not yet! The food has all been incredibly tasty. We arrived at our hotel for the last of our trip, the Regent Beijing. This 6 star hotels the fanciest we have stayed at. There is even an Aston Martin dealership in the lobby (think James Bond). To say it is wonderful is an understatement. The bed and the silk duvet helped us get a great night sleep.
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Of course, we had to venture out to the Night Food Market. Now the market is a very short walk from out hotel. We are in the high rent district for sure, passing the "Peninsula" and the Waldorf Astoria along the way. Just down the street is two blocks of food vendors selling everything from fruit on a stick, to bowls of noodles, to a wide array of bugs, spiders, mealworms, live scorpions (they cook they before you eat them), starfish, sea urchins and so much more. None of us were adventurous enough to dig in but it was fun to walk around. We also walked down the pedestrian mall (think Times Square mini). In a country of 1.4 billion people we haven't really seen crowds until tonight. They were all out on the mall at 9PM Sunday night.
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Did I mention how good the bed felt at 9:30 PM?

Posted by jonaway 10:04 Archived in China Comments (0)

Warriors and the Amazing Race

36 °C

Wow! Just wow! What a day in Xian.

First, your Chinese lesson - Xi'an is one of the most ancient Chinese cities, steeped in history. Xi is west and an is peace so Xi'an is called the Western Peaceful city. Bei is north as in Beijing, Nan is south as in Nanjing and Dong is east as in Pudong (the name of the Shanghai Airport). Now you know!

Our day started with an hour long drive to the Terra Cotta Warrior Museum. In 1974 a simple farmer was digging a well and he unearth a piece of a terra cotta warrior. These warriors were made to protect the Qin Emperor in the afterlife some 2200 years ago. What they discovered in the coming years was an archeological dig with worldwide significance. They believe they have only uncovered less than half of the 6000 warriors buried underground.

Each warrior is unique and ranges from the lowest ranking soldier to the generals. Unfortunately, all the pieces are broken. Only one kneeling archer with recovered in one piece. So it is like the most gigantic puzzle to put these all back together. The scope of this project is overwhelming and hard to describe. We visited the three buildings, saw all the sites and bought the book about the site, and had it duly signed by the farmer who discovered the site.
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In his late 70's now he works at the Museum signing the books. I hope he is getting paid by the book because in China no one owns the land so he did not profit in any way from his monumental discovery.

Upon my arrival home I found that there is some discussion as to whether the person signing our books is the original farmer. Perhaps not.....

Our next adventure came upon our return to the hotel. No, we didn't go for a rest. We ventured into the city, destination Muslim Street. The first challenge was to get there. Yes, we had an Amazing Race experience hiring a tuktuk (small open air taxi/scooter) to take us there. Driving, walking and generally getting around is crazy. Walk signs mean absolutely nothing. I happened to have my video on as we careened towards Muslim Street.

Did I mention how beautiful our hotel lobby is?
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What an authentic area of Xi'an. Food vendors, people making noodles, walnuts being opened, and counterfeit goods to be sold were all a part of the experience. Marty got a steal of a deal buying not one, but three Mont Blanc fountain pens for 30.00. We passed on the pedicure where the fish in the foot bath nibble the dead skin off your toes!

The other fun part of being Caucasian is how the people stare and take pictures. The little kids are especially wondrous of us and have no problem staring for minutes on end. It is fun to say hi to them in Chinese. They are soooooo cute.

We finished our evening at the outstanding Tang Dynasty Dinner show. We were treated to a traditional concert, colourful costumes, unique Chinese instruments and a bit of a history lesson.
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Xi'an is a walled city so on our way back we got great views of the walls which are all lit up at night, including the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower which were used to alert the gatekeepers it was time to open the gate in the morning (bell) and close it at night (drum).

We are sad to leave our luxurious room here at the Hilton. The service and food were not as good at the Ritz Carlton. Next stop the Regent Hotel in Beijing.

Posted by jonaway 10:01 Archived in China Comments (0)

Chinese Gastromony!

The food has been top notch with a wide variety of international foods. We were on our own the first night. Being exhausted and not wanting to venture to far we found a burger joint of all things and sat outside (the locals were in the air conditioned inside) where we had 2 for 1 Heineken and Tasmanian beef burgers. Go figure!

The Ritz Carlton provided a five star breakfast with everything from congee (think Cream of Wheat), to dim sum, to fried noodles and smoked mackerel. Of course there was also the traditional eggs and bacon.

We have dined at casual Chinese restaurant and had Mongolian barbeque where you pick your meat, vegetables and sauces and they cook it on a big grilled. I passed on the goat but everything else was yummy. All of this is washed down with very large bottles (600 ml.) of Tsingtao beer. Think Coors Lite.....need I say more.

The cruise ship food has been tasty and plentiful. I have particularly loved the home made yogurt, green tea flavoured is good but mango is my favorite. The jars they are made in and served in are so cute. I may have to do some research on making my own yogurt when I get home.
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Posted by jonaway 10:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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