China trip starts today, Thursday, April 24, 2014. At the Eugene airport. Flying out in 2 hours to San Fran. It is exciting to think about . . . being in a completely new part of the world in 2 days. Betsy and I are pumped for this vacation . . . scratch that . . China Spree calls it an adventure.
Reflections, impressions of our April/May 2014 tour of China with China Spree tour group. Betsy, Anne, myself and 20 other tourists. This is an account of what I thought I heard and saw.
First, it was an incredible trip, a value so good it must have been subsidized. China is an immense country, with 1.3 billion people, and a socialist/capitalistic system that is booming.
1/2 the world is held up by women . . Chairman Mao
When you open the doors, you bring in friends, but also the flys . . . Deng
One country 2 systems, socialism and capitalism . . . Deng
Doesn’t matter if cat is black or white, if it catches mice, it is a good cat . . Deng
Rickshaw (pedicab) ride to local family’s house for lunch.
A walk through the Forbidden City.
Mao pics are common in rural houses, and on all printed money. When will they picture another leader? Maybe never they say. Mao was turned into a diety. Many Chinese are over it, many are not. Mao is given credit for ending Japan’s occupation of China. He also won the civil war, sending Chiang Kai-shek and his followers to Taiwan, and establishing the communist party as China’s ruling body. China had been ruled for over 2000 years prior by emperors.
Mao Zedong, aka Chairman Mao, picture in dining room.
Not good for Mao that 30+ million died in a famine related to his government’s poorly executed Great Leap Forward. And also not good, bazaar in fact, that Mao initiated 10 years of “cultural revolution”, to thwart capitalistic thought, sending intellectuals/business leaders/property owners to work on farms for reeducation by the peasants. When Mao died in 1976, his cultural revolution ended. Deng Xiaoping is considered the brilliant leader of the communist party that opened up China and balanced the needed respect for Mao, as the champion of the communist party, with the pragmatic transition to more capitalism.
Most expensive jade piece, a life sized tiger at $760,000, that I found in jade factory.
Crotchless pants for potty training boys and girls. Seemed like an ingenious idea, until a video of a kid peeing on a street in Hong Kong went viral. HK exists as a special administrative region (SAR) of mainland China. Mainland China took HK back from the British in 1997. China promised not to change anything for 50 years. There are at least 2 SARs, HK, and Macau. Tibet and Taiwan were also referred to as SARs, but I suspect do not agree with the distinction.
Summer palace was for Dragon Lady . . . where she relaxed away from Forbidden City. This is the largest and best preserved garden of the Qing dynasty. We took a dragon boat ride across the lake.
Chinese have used English alphabet since 1956 to write Chinese, pinyin. Chinese keyboard is english ABC keyboard, but after you type a few letters, you get a screen prompt to select from the various Chinese letters it could mean.
Cold beer, bing pi jiu. Chinese beer is very good. Ding ding hao. 2 glasses per meal. Do not drink tap water. Hotels provide bottled water, or boiled water for tea/coffee. Internet says hard metals contaminate the water. Boiling wouldn’t clean that.
Tree planting along the hi-ways and between buildings, happening everywhere around Beijing.
No graffiti on the box cars. Saw graffiti one time on the walls of an overpass. Very few tattoos on people. Warned of pickpockets, but never saw any and always felt safe anywhere we went in China.
Toilets, 4 star if good, 5 star if they have toilet paper, aka happy room. Squat toilets common. Stool toilets common as well. Sometimes labeled for handicapped, and guide says for westerners too. Worst toilet was at a KFC’s. More KFC’s than McDonalds in China, because they have adopted more closely to the culture and food selection. An unclean squat toilet though, is enough to gag the heartiest westerner. Clean squat toilet in Guilen park.
Do not ask about tanks or massacre while in Tiananmen Square. If you go to Tibet, do not ask guide about Dahli Lama. Any question is fine on bus. Use to be communist party inspector rode with all tour buses, but no more. China less democratic than USA. In fact, all officials decided by representatives of the people or appointed by the party, but you have to consider China’s history, over 2000 years of rule by dynasties and emporeres. Lots of plain clothes party inspectors all around. At the jade factory, a lady that looked like Mao’s granddaughter followed me 12 steps behind everywhere I went. Anne thought the same lady followed her. People do not trust each other in China.
Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace. Birds Nest stadium at site of 2008 Olympics.
Drove 2 hours to get to Great Wall tour. Still in Beijing. Probably helps get 20 million population. Took gondola car to top of hill to start our wall walk. Same car as the one Bill Clinton rode in his 98 trip. Great Wall is restored in only a few places. Most of its 3500 mile length is 4 meter height, with rubble, and started with 6 meter height average. Gondola car down was the same one that Michele Obama rode down in the month before our trip.
City in south has 32 million, Chongqing, almost as many as state of California.
Mongolian barbecue dinner. 99 yurts in tent village. Traditional food and dancers.
Xian (she n)
Coco is trainee tour guide. Sheraton, seems as good as the Beijing Mariott 5 star or so. Air quality index here this morning at 191, Beijing was 192, Unhealthy. At 200 would be Very Unhealthy. At 300 and above, Hazardous. Internet says, in the north, people live 5.5 years less because of air and water pollution. About 1 in 10 wore breathing masks around the terra cotta warrior exhibit. About half of our tour group wore breathing masks this day.
City wall in Xian , 600 years old. Longest at 8 miles among China city walls, and best preserved.
Can’t buy land, all owned by government. Buy condo 2 years in advance, but only buy the shell, got to buy separately toilets, electric, air condition, and only own the space for 70 years.
50% of people are farmers. 5 years ago China dropped tax on agricultural products, realizing that for China to be prosperous, the farmers have to be prosperous.
Payments are taken under the table to get kids in to better schools.
Amazing about Americans is how good their teeth are. Oldsters in China have nearly all lost their teeth, poor dental care, but getting better for youngsters.
Dinner and show. Emperor feather dancers.
Qin Shi Huang, emperor number 1 to unite all of China. 259 – 210 BC. Buried 8000, life size, terra cotta warriors with him because he wanted to keep his soldiers alive, instead of the usual burial with the emperor. Alive, they could continue to defend Qin’s dynasty.
Discovered by farmer in 1974. Largest tomb in the world. Took over 30 years to build. Over 700k people worked on building it.
Big wild goose pagoda. Leaning tower. Buddhist temple. First built in 652 AD during Tang dynasty. 200 years ago, 80% of Chinese were Buddhists. Today, most are atheists, and only about 10% are Buddhists. They are not an aggressive people. Seldom fought foreign wars. They wanted their next life to be in nirvana.
Hundred or so 30 story condo buildings, being built, but empty in Xian. Guess the plan is to move in farmers from the country side. Children of farmers cannot earn a living on the small family farms any more.
Coal fired power plant with several large cooling towers sits in the middle of them. Looked like a nuke plant, except for taller smoke stack. Coal has been main cause of pollution. Supposed to be converting to natural gas.
Health care, very expensive. Govt pay 50 – 60%. Have to pay under the table to get good care. Doctors make more than average. Not much more on normal wages, but commissions for drugs they sell and under-table payments adds much to their pay. You have to pay first to get treatment. Even in car wreck, ambulance gets to decide where to take you based on their kick backs from hospitals, and whether or not victim can pay. Govt changing to pay more, but also increasing retirement ages so women at 50, men at 60 will go up so seniors have more income to pay for medical. One child rule in China is plus for reducing population, but is minus for care of aging parents. A nation of only children becoming adults should also prove challenging.
Chengdu . . . “chung do”
4th largest airport, new, and another one to be built. Helen is trainee tour guide. Sofitel, maybe the best hotel so far, and the other two were very good. We get western style, with Asian added, in buffet breakfasts every morning at each of the hotels. Lunch and dinner provided are always Chinese, family style, served around a lazy Susan.
Walk through bamboo park to tea room have jazmin tea. People play mahjong in park. Old women sit at tables with other old women. Old men sit at tables with other old men. Playing mahjong and cards.
Strolled through restored old neighborhood turned boutique shopping mall. Schezuan dinner. Ventured off with other couple to take subway ride to Global Mall, largest building in the world. 4 story mall with 2 5 star hotels, ice skating rink, beach water park, Imax. Capitalism on steroids.
Saw light show on side of tall buildings outside our hotel window at night.
There are no fortune cookies in China.
Cantonese, drive on left, British legal system, can get Facebook, Utube and Google, Hong Kong dollar at 7.5 to US $. In mainland it was Mandarin, drive on right, communism, censorship of news and websites, yuan at 6.2 per US $. Hong Kong 3rd busiest container port, behind Shanghai and Singapore. Jack is our local guide. Ho, ho ho, ho ho ho. Good, very good, very very good.
HK is 7 million in 426 sq miles. One of the most densely populated areas in the world. Average 3-4 person family lives in 500-600 sq feet.
Marco Polo Hotel, rooms a little smaller, but very nice hotel. On Hong Kong harbor close to ferry boat building. On the sidewalk, in front of every hotel, hawkers hand you business cards and ask if you want to buy a tailor made suit. Our guide arranged for several of our group to buy tailor made suits, but not until Shanghai.
Lan Kwai Fong street. Ferry boat ride from Marco Polo Hotel. Famous Hong Kong bar street. 80 restaurants, 40 bars in small area, old buildings, surrounded by high rise financial district. Streets full of party going young people. Tsing Tao beers, a gyro sandwich and back to the hotel.
Took bus to get on tram to top of Victoria Peek for view, but total overcast.
Sam pam boat cruise the harbor 20 minutes. Lunch at landmark Jumbo Palace floating restaurant. Hong Kong saw their last rickshaw man retire, and with a year or so maybe no more sam pans, as little fishing village is being replaced with subway station, mall and condo buildings.
Standley Market shopping, inexpensive cashmere, and an ocean of shops with trinkets. Walk thru to far side with bay view and saw dragon boats lining up to race. Long row boats, a dozen or so paddlers.
Cantonese chinese food more like in USA, because Chinese workers to USA originally came from southeast China. China towns in USA are mostly cantonese chinese.
Our mode of travel by the numbers:
10 plane trips: Eugene to SF, SF to Beijing, Beijing to Xian, Xian to Chengdu, to Hong Kong, to Guilen, to Shanghai, to Beijing, to SF, to Eugene
4 ferry boat rides – Hong Kong
2 jet boat ferry rides – HK to Cheang Cheau island
20+/- short bus rides
4 long bus rides – Beijing to Great Wall 2 hrs 1 way, Shanhai to Suzhou 2 hrs 1 way
6 subway rides – 2 Chengdu, 2 Hong Kong, 2 Shanghai
1 train tram ride – Hong Kong
1 sky tram ride – Great Wall
1 dragon boat ride – summer palace Beijing
1 golf cart ride – Chengdu Panda Bear Breeding Center
1 sampan boat ride – Hong Kong
1 river boat trip – Li River
1 gondola ride – Tongli canals
1 people mover ride – Shanghai tube under river
1 bullet train ride – Shanghai to airport
1 rickshaw ride (pedicab) – Beijing
10+/- miles walking
Cheang Cheau island, quaint fishing village, time of bun festival, McDonalds serves only vegie burgers, must be cost of beef. Not. Was bun festival, coincides with birth of Buddha. Not meat eaten during the days of festival on the island. Saw bun towers in HK Museum of History. Festival included bun snatching competition until 1976 a 60′ bun tower fell over, injuring 100 tourists, as a competitors climbed high to snatch top buns.
Next day in HK McDonalds. quarter pounder for 23 HK dollars, about $3. Just as good as back home.
Flower market, bird market, gold fish market, HK Museum of History. 1600 miles to Beijing, current HK train takes 24 hrs, new tunnel bullet train being constructed will do it in 9 hours, complete in 2 years.
Guilen “gway lean”
Sheraton . . . smallest city on tour at 700k. Mostly farmers. Ethnic minorities, including the Yao Chinese, live here. The majority, Han Chinese, are over 90% of mainland population. Ginger is our local guide.
Night time walk around the markets. It looked like a Nike store, but the swoosh seemed short. Lots of knockoff Nikes and Rolexes for sale.
River boat ride. Li River (lee), third longest in China. Tributary of Po. 10000 large limestone rock formations. 50 mile trip. OD’d on picture taking opportunities. Li River picture is on the back of a 20 yuan. The chairman is on the front, of course.
5 yuan for pics with komerant bird fisherman. Walk through “hello market.” Lots of hawkers selling trinkets, postcards, pictures. You start the bargain at 80% off.
Went to family farm. Old Chinese lady milling soy in to . . . yuk. Hand pumped water. Had coffin in home, so she knew where she was going.
To bridge over Little Li river. Pics of bamboo boat river riders.
Dinner at tea house book store restaurant where Hillary and Chelsea ate in 98, with their place setting immortalized at front of restaurant with pictures and plaque. Each dish was a work of art.
Walk through markets at night included stop at kissing fish foot massage place. I smiled all the way through 20 minutes for 25 yuan. The Chinese were smiling at me too.
Morning walk along Banyon Pond in park. Silver and gold, moon and sun, pagodas. Glass bridge.
Tea research center. Pick tea leaves. White . . . aka silver tip . . , green, oolong, and black tea all come from the same tea leaves. White is best with only bud tips. The more leaves included, the lower quality tea. Tea bag tea is all tea leaf.
Walk in park. Cave in limestone with ancient Buddhist carvings on the walls.
Mei (may) is local guide. 25 million. 4000 high rise buildings, more than New York. At 120k wide 100k long population is most dense of China. 23 tunnels under Pu river. Financial district was farm land prior to 1990. Tallest building in China under construction, finished next year. Will be 128 stories, 630 meters high.
Stay at Marriott Rennaisance hotel.
Toured top of Jin Mao tower, 88 stories. Designed with look of pagoda. Next to taller bottle cap building, and even taller, completed soon, Shanghai tower. Walk on Bund walkway on the riverfront. Hot pot lunch. Vegetables and meat come raw to the table and you cook it yourself in individual metal pots on your table.
Walk through market place within 3 blocks of our hotel and buy terra cotta warrior. Price started at 900 yuan. Down the street after we made our last offer, and were walking away, sales person came running behind us and closed deal at 150 yuan, about $24. With average wage about 6000 yuan, $1000 per month in China, most goods and services are priced less than US, it seemed. 3 to 4 yuan for subway ride, about 50 cents.
Dinner and acrobat show. Performances were similar to Cirque Soleil.
Back at our hotel, roof top drinks at night with 3 other couples. View of city lights.
Drive 2 hrs to Suzhuo (sue joe). On the way, saw construction of Shanghai New International Expo Centre. OMG large. Gardens and silk in Suzhuo. 900 year old garden. Bought silk painting of fish. 4000 years ago Chinese discover silk. 144 silk factories in Suzhuo. Only 14% of Chinese work for state, the other 86% work for private enterprise. At silk factory tour, came out unscathed, but tempted by good prices for silk quilts and department store of silk clothing at tour’s end.
Tongli . . gondola ride in Venice of China. 1200 miles make Grand Canal of China world’s longest. Stroll in garden. Took short video of komerant bird fisherman.
Night walk to Indigo Hotel rooftop bar for drinks. Next morning Betsy not feeling well and slept in. Was it the ice, or just OD on Chinese food? Anne and I walked around next door 4 story indoor market. Anne went on the subway to find art museums/exhibits. I walked to Yu Garden.
Subway to Bund. People mover under river to financial district.
Anne left with the group flying back through New York about an hour before our group left to catch the SF planes.
Morning ride to Shanghai Pudong airport on Maglev bullet train. 8 minute ride at 300km/hr, about 186 mph. WOW.
Betty had to straighten out our tickets at airport. We were supposed to get 2 boarding passes each, to Beijing then San Francisco. We could not have done a trip to China without a chinese speaking guide.
Thank you, Betty.
We say good bye to Betty at the Shanghai airport. It’s 2 hours to Beijing, an hour to catch the next plane, then 10 hours to SF.