DON'T DRINK THE WATER (and you wouldn't believe the toilets)
10/11/95 LAX to Narita to Beijing
Well, we've made it to Beijing. The flight from LAX, across the International Date Line, has us in Tokyo, actually Narita. We left at 1:30 pm, arrived at 5 pm the next day but the Sun never set.
ANA presents a strong contrast to US airlines, in the air. The seats are fairly comfortable and spaced so that your knees don't hit the seat in front of you. They serve actual meals, full, complete meals. The stewardesses frequently clean the many restrooms. My only complaint is that the cabin was kept much too warm, probably to conserve fuel. The big, red meatballs on the wings are a bit disconcerting to someone raised during WWII.
Since we had two adequate meals on the flight, we weren't hungry when we arrived at the ANA Narita hotel. That is a shame since dinner is included with the room. Speaking of our room, actually roomette, it is quite small, however functional and comfortable.
The Grand Circle Program Director (guide), Lynn Flaherty, was waiting for us with a big sign as we emerged from Customs & Immigration. After the mob assembled, we bussed off to the hotel.
Although our anti-jet lag plan was to stay up until regular bed time we both had fallen asleep watching CNN by 8 pm, so we went to bed. I was fully awake again by 12 pm and stayed that way until 3 or 4 am. Melatonin didn't help.
The included breakfast had both Western and Japanese items. I didn't try any Japanese stuff, but should have. Then we were off to the airport for the 3 to 4 hour flight to Beijing, again on ANA. Our suitcases did not come to the hotel with us. They spent the night at the airport.
Rather than flying the direct path to Beijing from Narita, we flew down the length of Japan, across to Shanghai, then up to Beijing. It is apparently not permitted to overfly Korea.
ANA has a nice feature that allows the passengers to view take-offs and landings from a TV camera in the nose. There is also a moving map display that shows the current location of the aircraft plus statistics on the flight whenever a movie isn't on.
It was quite overcast and hazy as we approached Beijing. As we descended, the view from the nose camera was all grey until we broke out, not aligned with the runway. The pilot made a large correction and then rejected the landing. As we went around in the fog, the camera was turned off. The second attempt was successful.
The crowded airport truly indicated what the rest of the city would be like. It is a mix of old and new, with streets teeming with people, bicycles, cars, trucks, buses. There are many freight bicycles and porters. Few of the cars are private, however the ones that are seem to be luxury cars. So much for a classless society. Most major streets have lanes devoted to bicycles, separated from autos by a curb. Pedestrians are at the bottom of the right-of-way pecking order. Traffic is chaotic with no apparent logic as to whom goes where. Bicyclists appear to look straight ahead and ignore all other traffic. Traffic passes through intersections by Brownian motion.
We were met by our national guide, Shu Ping, when we left Customs and Immigration. She remained with us until the train station in Canton.
My expectations of China were incorrect. The people in the streets, for the most part, are well, even fashionably, dressed. There seems to be a lot of private enterprise about, many small shops, restaurant, etc. I was also surprised by the number of private autos. While riding from the airport to town we passed a number of parks where barbers were practicing their trade.
Tiananmen Square was quite crowded. China's National Day was October 1st. There were many large floral displays plus some temporary water displays in the square for the celebration. These were still present and the people were there to see and photograph them. Oct. 1 was the day that Chairman Mao stood in one of the square gates and proclaimed the creation of the Peoples Republic of China. This was our first experience with the pervasive peddlers. They were selling post cards, kites, and those silly little balls that seem to be everywhere.
HIS tomb is there but we didn't visit it. There is a large sign on one side of the square counting down the time until Hong Kong reverts to China.
Our square visit occurred before we checked into our hotel. It was a short distance away and turned out to be quite luxurious. Although the water is unsafe everywhere in China, each hotel provided either bottled water or carafes of hot and/or cold boiled or distilled water. We avoided all other sources of water and ate no raw food. As a result, we avoided the dread touristas, or whatever they are called in China. All hotels were very nice and had modern, western style bathrooms. We did encounter many Chinese style toilets during our visit. You could usually find them from a considerable distance by following your nose. These feature the infamous hole in the floor.
Our dinner was Chinese, as most meals would be throughout China, with some minor exceptions. We were seated 10 to a table with a lazy susan in the center. We were offered a single glass of beer, water, or soda pop. Usually hot tea arrived sometime during the meal. We would have, in no particular order, steamed rice, one or more vegetables such as bok choy, spinach, cabbage, garlic shoots, bean sprouts, hot-and-sour something, fish either whole or in hunks, occasionally shrimp, sometimes some kind of chicken or meat dish, steamed buns, soup, and signifying the end of the meal, fruit. Most items are cooked in woks withlots of oil.
We made a visit to the zoo to see the pandas. They were visible but sleeping. The zoo is not much to see even with the pandas. One member of our group lost his wallet to a pick-pocket there.
After dinner we went to the Peking Opera. It was set on the site of some prince's house that had a lovely garden, difficult to see and even worse to walk through at night since there was almost no light. Although we arrived late, after it started, it was pleasant until part of our group decided it was time to leave. We all started out and then a large number decided we didn't want to leave so we remained until the end. I don't think that I can do an adequate job of describing the stylized singing, music, and posturing that comprise the opera. It was, however, enjoyable.
Today the fabled Forbidden City and Summer palace. Both were residences of the Emperor. The movie, The Last Emperor, was filmed in the Forbidden City. The Dowager Empress spent most of her time at the Summer Palace. There is a grand canal linking the places since travel at that time was by sedan chair or carriage, both of which were bumpy and uncomfortable.
These are huge places with large temple after large temple. A temple for the emperor to change his costume before praying at another; a temple for him to pick the rice seed to be planted; another for him to bless the rice seed he selected. Residence areas are around the edges. We didn't see much of the insides since most are off-limits. The Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms. Both places were mobbed with people, mostly Chinese although there were several tourist groups. We followed our guide and her little red flag. Lynn also carried a flowered umbrella as a second marker.
An interesting phenomenon has developed. On most tours I have been on, there is a bit of a hassle over who gets to ride in the front seats of the bus. Once anyone sees the chaotic traffic here they choose to sit toward the rear so that they cannot see it anymore.
We stopped at the Holy Way coming back from the Summer Palace. This is a path guarded by stone animals and men that was followed by the emperor to approach the palace. It was uncrowded and beautiful. There are pairs of all kinds of animals guarding the way, one seated and one standing. The seated one is resting; the standing one is on duty. At Sundown they exchange duty.
10/13 The Great Wall
Today is our day at the front! It is also, incidentally our day to go to the Great Wall. But first we saw the Ming Tomb and stopped at a "factory."
This was our first "factory" visit. These "factories" are actually just large shops to sell stuff to tourists with large show rooms and small, token work rooms. The whole itinerary is established by China International Travel Service, CITS. This government organization provided our guide, who turned out to be quite helpful and a pleasure to be around. CITS also selected the hotels, dining locations, factory visits, entertainment, etc, all government owned. Their goal seems total control of your time in China, with no free time to look around on your own.
This factory was a cloisonne factory. Only a country with paupers' wages could afford the hand labor required to make this stuff. All of the shapes are formed of small copper or brass molds that are attached to the surface of the brass object, vases, pots, animals, boxes, etc. Each mold is filled with colored fluid which consists of powered pigment in a vehicle, probably water. After this it is fired in a kiln turning the pigment into a glass-like substance.
The traffic leaving town was horrific. It consisted mostly of trucks and tour busses. There is a plan to add 500,000 to 1,000,000 cars a year to the streets of China. The streets are inadequate for the vehicles they have now. With the success of private enterprise and private ownership of cars, the country will become a vast parking place. Since there are no pollution controls, the existing smog can only become worse.
There was one lucky tour group. Either because of its size or importance it had a police escort. They passed us all with red lights flashing.
The Ming tombs are one of many, many tomb mounds scattered about the country. We joined the throngs of people walking down into the burial chamber. There were three very large boxes which had contained coffins. The largest, of course, held the emperor. The smaller ones held wives and concubines who did not willingly accompany their lord to the grave. It probably would have been interesting without the other thousand people who were passing through.
As expected, the stint in the front seat was unsettling; bikes and cars cutting in front of each other without regard to signals or any apparent rules. Bicyclists ride placidly along, looking straight ahead disregarding the trucks, busses, and cars darting about. The bicycles contend with the other traffic in intersections and make left turns through all the other traffic. They just seem to ignore all else, although Jodie did see a woman stop suddenly, jump to the curb and pull her bike after her to avoid a speeding bus.
There is only one road out of town to the wall. This is also the only road to the coal fields which are used to generate electricity for the town. The coal trucks are excluded from town from 7 am to 8 pm. We encountered an almost solid line of them on our way back to town.
There were all sorts of road-side eating places. People just set up some tables and chairs along the road along with a wok and were in business. The woks are heated over oil-drum stoves. These burn charcoal and have electric forced draft blowers if power is available.
In town, we saw many, many little restaurant, all with similar woks. The places are no larger than 8' x 10'. There are also a multitude of free markets where all manner of stuff is sold, mostly food. The Chinese insist on absolutely fresh vegetables but don't have similar concerns about meat, fish, or snakes.
The roadside is also used to dry corn. Later we saw rice spread at the side of the road to dry. Frequently they were spread on the bicycle lanes next to the main road.
Due to traffic, we arrived at the wall late, 4 pm. Most of the crowds were leaving. Perhaps they weren't as heavy anyway due to the fog and rain. In spite of the weather we hiked the top of the wall to the first watch tower where we bought certificates stating that we had climbed the wall. We had climbed the wall in the rain and got quite wet. It is quite steep in places. Jodie had to back down some of the steps we climbed going to the watch tower.
Even in the fog the wall is impressive. It clings to the ridge lines, up and down across the mountains. The manpower required to build it staggers the imagination. Further vast numbers were required to man it to hold off the hordes. China certainly had, and still has, vast numbers.
China also has vast numbers of peddlers. The area where the bus parked was ringed with vendors' stalls. There are also many established stores, all trying to sell you that peerless souvenir. They missed out on our Yuan (Chinese money) since it was raining.
We wended our way back to town for the "highlight" meal, Peking Duck. The duck was simply added to the usual meal as another course. If you are in to layers of fat, Peking Duck is your dish.
Important items learned today: the high thresholds in most temple doors are to keep out evil spirits since they can travel only in straight lines, they can't go up and over. April 5 is a special day on which you burn money and throw your cap into the street for good luck. Seems remarkably similar to April 15th in this country.
Toured the Temple of Heaven this morning. It was quiet, relatively uncrowded, and quite pretty. It is close to downtown in an old part of town. The emperor came here twice a year to pray. Yesterday's rain has cleared out much of the smog that has plagued us during our visit so far.
Then it was time to experience our first trip on a Chinese airline. Beijing airport was jammed with people, almost all Chinese. This was Saturday so I guess they were all going off to Las Vegas for the weekend. Even though we were flying to another Chinese city, we had to go through passport control. Can't let people travel too freely.
For some unexplained reason our flight was several hours late leaving. Even Shu Ping couldn't find out anything. We just stood around and finally found some seats when some other flight left. Suddenly Shu Ping came running in and said our flight to Xian was leaving and to go through door 6. We got to the airport at 1:30 pm and arrived at Xian at 7 pm. The Chinese government, and the international Olympic aristocrats think China should hold the Olympics. What a joke.
The Great Wall was the first reason I wanted to go to China; the Terra Cotta Warriors were the second. It is a shame that we are doing both so soon to the start of the trip.
The city of Xian has the only remaining city wall in China. (Some of the gates in Tiananmen Square are part of the old Beijing city wall.) Xian has spread way beyond its walls.
CITS really pressures the local guides to take us to the "factories." We went to a jade factory which was really just a big showroom with a very few token workers. It was next to one of the free street markets so we saw some of it when we finished. It was much more interesting than the jade store. We saw toddlers not potty trained walking about in pants with open bottoms. This allows them to eliminate without messing their clothes. Doesn't help the street too much, however.
We encountered several beggars there, most crippled. We encountered the same ones later at another place in the city. They must have a schedule that tells them where the tour groups go.
People seem to work all the time. The street markets are open until midnight. The little cubby-hole shops seem to be always open. Coming back from dinner this evening, Sunday, we saw some workers building a brick wall.
On our way to the warriors we stopped at the Benpoe Neolithic village. It is an excavated site of a settlement. Not much to see other than dirt. If any artifacts were found they are elsewhere.
After our absolutely worst meal of the trip we saw the warriors. The meal was served buffet style and by the time we got there all that was left was a few french fries.
The whole area around the warriors is terribly commercial although the warriors themselves are nicely presented. They look just like the pictures in the National Geographic and are still quite impressive. They were placed there to guard their emperor in his afterlife. Much nicer having a replica of yourself entombed rather than yourself. They look as if they are ready to march off when given the command. Less than a quarter of them have been excavated and restored. There are actually several pits, the largest containing the army along with horses and chariots. A smaller one seems to be the headquarters group.
When we got back to town we saw the Tang Dynasty show. It featured old traditional instruments and dancing. It was quite good. Since this was the pre-dinner show all we got was an included alcoholic drink. Dinner at the hotel was as bad as all the meals have been here.
10/16 Xian to Chongquing (Chungking)
This is another travel day. We left our suitcases and went off to visit a free market, at our insistence and contrary to the wishes of the local guide. She did pick a very nice one, however. There was stall after stall of any kind of fish and eel, all sort of live. There were cages and buckets of live snakes and embryonic snakes. (I observed a man cleaning the embryonic snakes. Since they were quite bloody or slimy they were hard to hold. He put them on a board that had a protruding nail. The nail went through the body just after the head. He then slit the belly and scrapped the bones out.)
There were fresh vegetables and fruit in abundance. We also saw several stalls of fresh seasoning, some stalls featuring only many kinds and styles of chili. There were relatively few places with "fresh" meat however we saw some lovely pork loin. Of course, nothing was refrigerated. One suspects that meat unsold today will be available tomorrow without benefit of overnight cooling. This may have something to do with our reduced consumption of protein.
One especially exciting aspect of this market visit was that it required us to cross the street. This meant dodging cars, trucks, busses, and bicycles.
We also visited a Buddhist temple. Several of the group had massages, neck, foot, leg. One of the devotes broke a chop stick with a 10 Yuan note using "mental concentration." Surprisingly enough there were also souvenirs and prints for sale.
Our last poor meal in Xian was at the Tang Dynasty Theater, the place where we saw the pre-dinner performance last night. The meal was served buffet style. We wandered up and down the street after the meal and before the bus loaded. All of the shops sold electronic parts. Cubby-hole after cubby-hole of discrete components and some ICs. In my limited time looking I saw no microprocessors. There also weren't any PC chassis or mother boards.
This concentration of shops by type seems typical. The 8x10 restaurants all seem to cluster. I have also seen large industrial supplies sold in the 8x10s. They also cluster, shops selling multi-horsepower motors next to ones selling wire rope, huge valves. Bicycle sales and repair shops are sometimes near moped and motor scooter shops.
With the large bicycle population, there are roadside repair "shops." A repairman squats beside the road and lays out his tools on a rag, or on the ground. I saw them doing anything from fixing flat tires to tearing the bicycle completely apart.
We had to make another CITS-pleasing factory visit. This one sold lacquer wear, mostly very large pieces of furniture. Electricity must be in short supply since nothing is adequately illuminated. The token work room was quite dark and the workers were expected to do delicate inlay work and decorative painting. Our hotel rooms have been uniformly under illuminated. That, however, is no different than in any US hotel. Bulbs larger than 40 w seem unavailable to the hotel industry.
Since our flight to Chungking was late in the afternoon we ate at the airport restaurant. Compared to our other meals in Xian it was fairly good.
Another unusual occurrence, we boarded the flight at the scheduled time. Unfortunately the airplane was a Russian TU115. It was like riding in a truck. The seat pitch was terrible, the engine noise excessive, the seats unpadded. It made flying on a McDonald-Douglas plane seem luxurious. The flight was only 1 hour 5 minutes so it was tolerable.
We arrived in Chungking, the final WWII capital of China, after dark and drove 40 min to the Holiday Inn. Since we will check out at 7 am we didn't see our suitcases. Hope they are somewhere near.
No bicycles in Chungking. It is quite hilly. Many of the hill sides still contain caves that were dug as bombshelters during WWII. Many are in current use as shops or residences. It is much more modern than previous cities, probably since it was heavily bombed during the war. There are many interesting things to see here. Wonder why CITS doesn't want us to see them?
10/17 Boarding the Boat-Start of the Yangtze cruise.
We arose early and after breakfast set off for the river in the buses. The boat was tied up at a pier with very poor access, just what the older folk on the trip needed. The busses dropped us off in a neighborhood and we were surrounded by porters who wanted to tote the carry-ons for us, for $1 US. Since most of our party have small suitcases as carry-ons they took advantage of the porters. We started down some worn, rain and mud slickened stairs. These pass through a residential area where people were preparing breakfast and eating. These residences are little more than hovels.
As we approached the bottom it became obvious that our boat was not there. It was at the adjacent wharf, not accessible from our location. Since most of the group was unable to climb back up the powers that be decided to move the boat. We just hung out for about an hour until the other passengers and luggage were loaded and then the boat came to us. We did get to watch a man fish with a net from a sampan while we waited. He caught no fish and eventually lost his net. We also saw a man doing his laundry in the muddy river. After we boarded, it was determined that our luggage was still on the wharf where the boat was, so we moved back. Our official departure finally came at 10 am.
The Yangtze is the third largest river in the World and full of traffic, and mud. The banks are densely populated. Any area that is dirt rather than rock is cultivated. Even the banks of the river are put into production as the water level drops during the summer. I guess the hope is to harvest one crop before the water rises in the winter. In addition to agriculture, there is a lot of industry, both heavy and light. A local industry along the river is the construction of river boats on the bank. This is also a late summer activity. The boats are built below the high water line. Assuming they are completed before the waters rise, they just float off of their supports.
Air and water pollution controls are nonexistent in China. (We have seen Knute's vision for the United States.) It was hazy everywhere we went in China. As we traveled down the river the appearance of a town was heralded by a thickening of the haze because of the smoke from power plants and factories.
We saw "coolies" unloading gravel from a barge next to the wharf where we boarded the boat. They loaded two baskets, hung them from a long pole and put it across their shoulders. Carrying this, they walked a 2x6 plank to the shore to the construction site. As we sailed down the river we saw their compatriots loading barges the same way from a gravel bar along the river.
I think the socially acceptable (politically correct?) term for "coolie" is porter. We passed a coal mine where a group were moving coal from a pile on the shore to a barge, each carrying a load of coal in a peach basket. They resembled a line of ants.
Our cabin on the boat, The Yangtzijiang is elemental and in poor repair. There was a pervasive stench from the bilges whenever we couldn't keep the windows open. Although the boat is advertised as air conditioned it was seldom turned on. On those rare occasions when it was on it blew the stench out. The shower area is half of the bathroom, also containing the sink and a shelf. Whenever you wanted to shower you had to clean off the shelf so your stuff didn't get wet. In spite of the shoddy condition of the boat, it is overfull, with 146 passengers. Its capacity is 140 passengers.
The "highlight" of the day was a stop at the "Ghost City" of Fengdu. We climbed a steep ramp from the ship, through a gauntlet of beggars and peddlers, to a fleet of little busses. We passed through part of an interesting town to the bottom of a chair lift. This took us to a temple populated by all sorts of horrific statues who guard the temple or punish bad people, I'm not sure which. While there we crossed a bridge in three steps, hand-in-hand, assuring us great wealth or something. We also climbed a steep flight of stairs, in one breath, and balanced on one foot on a stone point. These activities also added 20 years to our lives.
10/18 Still on the boat
After passing through a haze-shrouded gorge, we had what I think was the worst experience of the trip. It started off well, with a 90 minute bus ride through the back country. The roads were gravel, rough, and narrow but the views were outstanding. The agricultural use of the land is intensive. Every available spot has been terraced, even 1 m2 areas. There is a new dam being constructed on the Yangtze which will flood all of this area and displace a million people. Where will they go and where will their food come from?
We have seen a lot of women knitting. Most people seem to be wearing hand knit sweaters. I wonder if any of the knitting is for sale to the export market?
At the end of the bus ride we encountered a mob of peddlers and sedan chair porters. Our guide told us we must use the chairs even though the way into the gorge was an easy descent. The cost was $4.50 US plus the mandatory tip. On her last trip one of her group was tripped by one of the peddlers and injured. The porters try all sorts of ways to rip you off. Anyway we eventually reached to bottom and after some hassle got on to the Pea Pod boats.
We drifted down the river through some pretty gorges and very mild rapids. The river waters are reputed to be quite healthy since there are many medicinal herbs that grow on the slopes and the water passes through them getting into the river. We didn't try drinking it.
We found out after the trip that a boat load of Japanese tourists tipped there last year and 10 died.
Each boat has a crew of 5. There is a large sweep oar in the bow and stern that are used to maneuver. The man in the bow seems to be in charge. The other 3 fend us off of rocks with large poles. All smoke continuously. As we traveled down we saw other boats being laboriously man-handled back upstream. Each crew makes a trip every third day. Two days are required to drag the boat back upstream. We did see some boats with motors but they were unable to go upstream in the areas with fast current.
As we were drifting down we rounded a bend and came upon a man standing in the river. He boarded the boat in front of us and sold them post cards. Then our boat caught up and he transferred to ours. After completing his sales he left at a sand bar to await the next boat.
Labor is cheap with such a large population. Other things aren't too important either. On our way back to the big boat on a smaller powered boat we found a body floating in the Yangtze. No one made any effort to do anything about it. We saw it a day later, floating on down the river. It must have been seen by a hundred different boats.
10/19 The river, still
Today dawned rainy and quite foggy. Not good for viewing the two major gorges and the dam site which will flood them all. We opted out of this morning's tour. It was to Another Old Temple (AOT) and included a dragon boat race back. I didn't even know what town we were in. We did, however, enjoy a good local talent show last night presented in a small theater in the barge to which we moored.
Because of the tour we had to get up early to breakfast. As people left on the tour we came back to the room and showered. The bathroom reminds me of our first motor home. The difference is that the sink is in the shower area not the toilet.
We had an American dinner last night. It consisted of a salad (1 tomato slice, 1 piece of greens) which we didn't eat since it was raw, cole slaw - uneaten, egg-batter dipped fish, chicken wing, bread rolls, sliced bread, french fries, coffee.
The breakfasts generally consist of lots of toast with New Zealand butter and strawberry jam, coffee, a small bowl of canned fruit, and eggs in some form. Yesterday they were soft boiled, today scrambled. There are also Japanese and French tour groups on board. The French seem to get the same menu as we do but the Japanese are served a different one.
At noon we passed through lock #1 of Gezhouba Dam. It was just above Yichang. At Yichang we saw a "working" model of the existing dam, although all thought it was supposed to be of the new dam. We also visited a sturgeon hatchery. They are huge fish!
10/20 Finally off of the boat in Wuhan!!!
We now anticipate our last meals on the boat, an additional opportunity to tip, tip, tip, and finally getting off of this tub and into a room that doesn't smell like a sewer.
We docked someplace and went off to the Yue Yang Temple, AOT. Its primary claim to fame seems to be that it bears some graffiti from Chairman Mao. He copied someone else's poem on one wall.
While there, the peace was disrupted by a whole lot of firecrackers. There was a funeral at a nearby house. As the mourners and the coffin left the house, someone lead the group with a very long string of firecrackers. I believe this is to keep evil spirits away. There were also musicians playing gongs, horns, and flutes. The party marched to the street where the casket was placed on a flat-bed truck along with the artificial flower wreaths. The living members of the party boarded a city bus and all went off.
10/21 Wuhan to Shanghai
After a pleasant night at a lovely hotel and a brief tour of town, we flew off to Shanghai on a Boeing 757.
We visited the Hubei Provincial Museum built around the material found in the tomb of Marquis Yee. There were many bronze artifacts, the most interesting were a set of musical instruments, from around 433 BC. There were the traditional small ones, however the most interesting were a set of bells ranging in size from 2 inches in diameter to 24 inches. There were also a set of tuned stones. The stones and bells were suspended from wooden beams and were played with mallets and a large bamboo pole. We saw the actual instruments found the tomb and then heard replicas played.
One of the artifacts recovered illustrates why Chinese writing is vertical. Their first writing surfaces were sections of split bamboo. They started writing down these pieces. All of this material was in good shape since the tomb was completely flooded.
Some of the stop lights in Wuhan provided a count-down display to the time they change.
Wuhan is a pretty, modern city with wide, tree-lined streets. This is courtesy of the Japanese occupation. As they were driven out of the city they burnt it. Shanghai had the same "benefit" from the Japanese.
Traffic is terrible in Shanghai. There is a VW joint venture plant here so mostly all the taxis are VWs. They need to be building more, wider roads rather than cars.
Our first visit this morning was to a Children's Palace. Since this was Sunday it was crowded. We have seen these throughout China but this is the first we have visited. Children attend after school and on weekends for training in traditional music, calligraphy, sports, etc.
I was totally unprepared for what we experienced there. When we entered we were surrounded by children, some parents, and some teachers. We were at the "English Corner," the place where people go to practice their English. It was an absolute delight to talk to these little kids, such bright, polished, smiling faces. With the one child per family policy, the parents concentrate all on that child.
We visited a dance class, a calligraphy class, a class where they were playing a Chinese two-stringed violin, and a chorus. In all we saw beautiful, impish, bright, eager children. Even as we left we encountered kids who wanted to talk. Some were a bit shy and a bit unsure of their abilities.
The rest of the day was a bit anticlimactic. We visited the World's biggest jade Buddha. (All was not lost, however. Jodie found a shop that sold wine. She had her first of the trip.) After lunch we strolled the "Bund," a major street that ran through the foreign concessions. As we strolled we encountered a young Chinese man who asked us if we spoke English. He walked with us the whole way. He works as a translator for a construction company. He really wanted an American souvenir, like a coin or a ball-point pen. Sadly, we had nothing with us to offer him.
10/23 Shanghai to Gulin
As all travel days, this one was a bit of a waste. The advertised visit to a "country commune" was actually to a place surrounded by apartments. The country around Shanghai is rapidly becoming city. The commune now farms land much further out but maintains offices, residences, and a hospital in the same location. We saw a traditional Chinese herb pharmacy. We also visited a "typical" family home, three bedrooms, a separate kitchen across a courtyard, family room, and a bathroom without a toilet. The house had few furnishings.
After lunch at the commune we went to the airport and after a 30 minute delay we flew to Guilin on a 767. We arrived after dark, finally got our suitcases out of the airport, and squeezed onto very cramped, creaky old bus.
10/24 Gulin & Lijiang River Cruise
Back onto the same lousy bus for a 50 minute ride to the start of the cruise. After running the usual gauntlet of peddlers we got on to our cramped, creaky old boat. There were 30 or 40 boats all rafted together. We pulled out from the middle of the bunch and started down river. Shortly after departure we suddenly swerved in to the bank and anchored, victims of an apparent but unexplained failure. Eventually another boat came along and picked us up. It was a much better boat.
The scenery was quite nice and the river much cleaner than the Yangtze. It was not clean enough to eat the food cooked in it on the boat off of dishes washed in it.
We saw a lot of water buffalo along the river. This is their season of leisure since all the crops have been planted. Since the water buffalo are so useful they can't be slaughtered for food, until they get too old to work. There were also lots of peddlers on bamboo rafts that moved from boat to boat, attempting to sell their junk.
There was a partial eclipse of the Sun this day. We lost all hope of seeing it when we saw how cloudy it was. As the time for the eclipse approached, the sky lightened and we had several glimpses of it, including an almost clear view of the maximum coverage.
We had another western dinner this night. The meat was broiled shoe leather. Perhaps it was one of the geriatric water buffalos.
10/25 Gulin to Canton to Hong Kong
We flew off to Guangzhou (Canton) this morning and had a bit of a city tour. Canton is famed for its cooking and our lunch there was one of the best we had on the trip. Jodie found more wine here. She bought two bottles - had to use up the Yuan.
We left Shu Ping there and boarded the 2nd class train for Hong Kong. More standing around and waiting in immigration lines to leave China, to board the train, and to enter Hong Kong. I thought the train ride would be a pleasant change but it wasn't. Immigration was so crowded and slow in Hong Kong that they kept shutting down the escalator to keep people out.
10/26 Hong Kong
Did a city tour for a half day and then shopped. Hong Kong is crowded, bustling, and prosperous. There is much wealth here however much apprehension over the Chinese take-over in 1997. Shopping is not especially good but we did buy some stuff. Jodie got a pearl necklace. Had pizza for dinner - yum, yum.
10/27 Hong Kong
A free day! We did the custom tailored clothing bit, rode the Star Ferry, shopped. We also saw a large number of bridal parties. Must have been an auspicious day to get married. Tonight was the farewell dinner served at the hotel and it was good. Our hotel room is the size of a large closet.
10/28 Hong Kong to Narita
We picked up our new clothes in time to pack in our suitcases and then experienced the worst airport of the entire trip. It took us well over an hour standing in line to check in to the airline. Jodie sat next to a Yokohama Tire plant manager who invited her to visit next time we are in Japan. He will take us to Mt. Fuji.
We got to Narita fairly late but since we were fed on the plane didn't get hungry until about 10 pm. Went down to the coffee shop and used our dinner chits to get excellent hamburgers.
10/29 Narita to LAX!
We had most of the day in Narita so we took the shuttle bus into town. It is a lovely town. We enjoyed walking through it to a big Buddhist Temple. There were a bunch of kids there in traditional costume for some event.
Since our return people ask, "So how did you like China?"
I find that a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I really enjoyed the trip and saw things I have only read about, however, I have absolutely no desire to go back. That is one of the very few place we have been that I don't want to see again.
The people were much different than I expected. China is in much better shape than we have been led to believe. There is more personal freedom than I previously thought, although there is still quite a ways to go. The news media are not free and the people don't have any idea what is happening in the rest of the World, nor what is actually happening in their country. They thought the Un Women’s Conference was a great success and heard nothing of the problems the delegates had with the police and authorities.
I got awfully tired of the food and poor sanitation. Although many people seem to be comfortable, if not prosperous, there is still wide spread poverty. The people in the country have a very difficult time of it. The new dam on the Yangtze will help industry and the city folk but the million displaced country people will have problems.
Perhaps it is just too different for me to be comfortable there.
LAX - Narita 11,092 round trip
Narita - Bejing 1,400
Bejing - Xian 550
Xian - Chongqing 1,000
Chongqing - Wuhan 800 on river
Wuhan - Shanghai 1,130
Shanghai - Gulin 810
Gulin - Canton 225
Canton - Hong Kong 300 on train
Hong Kong - Narita 2,012