Jan and Stephen's trip to China
November 1 to November 20, 2003
Beijing, Chongqing, Dazu, a four-night Three Gorges Yangtze River Cruise, Fengdu, Three Gorges Dam, Yichang City, Wuhan, Shanghai, Suzhou, Tongli, Guilin, Xian and Hong Kong
Click on Camera to see Pictures
|Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2003||Beijing||We had our first day of sightseeing here in Beijing and it was quite a day, with visits to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, which were just two blocks from our hotel. The Forbidden City was the center of power for more than 500 years, with 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, ending in 1911. We also went to the Temple of Heaven, which is contemporary to the Forbidden City and was built as a site for imperial sacrifices during the winter and summer solstices. We also visited the beautiful Summer Palace grounds which was built and rebuilt in the last 200 years, with a huge lake (man-made of course) as a retreat from the steamy Beijing summers.|
|Nov 3||Beijing, Great Wall||Today we hiked the Great Wall. It was truly a unique experience. The Chinese seem to relish big projects and the Great Walls, which were built in many different places over 2000 years, were immense and costly projects in both money and lives. We'll see two other big projects later, the huge Three Gorges Dam, and the Grand Canal.|
|Nov 4||Free day, Beijing||Today we had a day off from the tour, so we took the Beijing Subway (written info and announcements in Chinese and English) to the Zoo and took a look at the totally charming Pandas. We also had a short pedi-cab ride (a bicycle with seats for two and a driver), and had a turn being the small one in the street being missed by cars and busses by inches. What an experience when a verbal fight erupted between our pedi-cab driver, a cab driver, and two other bicyclists over some found money on the street. We just sat there knowing it would end eventually. In the US we would have probably ducked before the guns came out.|
|Nov 5||Hutong & Lama Temple||These pictures are of a Beijing Hutong, or the Old Town as we would call it. Small one story houses - no apartment buildings. These were built right behind the Forbidden City and used to house the emperor's officials - some are as old as 400 years. We then went to the Lama Temple (largest wood Buddha ever carved) and after this tour we flew to Chungqing ( pronounced Chungching, or Chungking depending on which Chinese person you talk to . . .known in the US as Chungking...like the noodles), a big bustling energetic city with building going on everywhere, rather pretty and hilly like San Francisco.|
|Nov 6||Dazu||We drove for three hours through the countryside to Dazu to see the Buddhist rock carvings and cave sculptures - 700 years old and quite a fantastic sight - another World Heritage site like the Lama temple in Beijing and the Forbidden City. This is another aspect of Buddhist art that was "imported" from India. This was truly a beautiful site and because it is out of the way does not have many Western visitors. This site was saved from the ravages of the "cultural revolution" and the Red Guards by its inaccessibility and the fact that the stern local farmers would not let their children join the Red Guards. Both of us were swept away by the beautiful carvings, the devotion to the making of this incredible site and the overall atmosphere around the carvings and caves.|
|Nov 7||Yangtze River, Fengdu, & Three Gorges||The Yangtze River, which was just wonderful throughout despite the rain during part of our excursions away from the boat into the lesser three gorges and the old (and completely rebuilt, Disneylandish) temple at the top of a mountain at Fengdu.|
|Nov 8||Lesser Gorges||Our final day on the Yangtze River Cruise. We disembarked from our boat and took a smaller tour boat through the Three Gorges area. This is sort of the Grand Canyon of China, but not quite as high. Regardless, the scenery was beautiful. One can begin to understand why the Chinese landscape paintings were done as they are with misty mountains rising up above rivers. Suddenly you are looking at the source of some of the paintings and they go from being a quaint abstract to a solid reality - it's what they really look like - just the houses are "modern" now, but there are the mountain peaks, rocks, trails, all of that.|
|Nov 9||Three Gorges Dam and Locks||During the night we went through the lock system (5 locks) at the 3 Gorges Dam. This allowed us to get down to the water level beyond the dam. The 3 Gorges dam is the largest in the world and when completed in 2009 will provide China with 1/3rd of its electricity needs through hydro electric power (which is pretty amazing considering China is the second biggest user of electricity after the U.S.). It should also tame the Yangtze river which floods about once every 10 years with a huge amount of destruction and loss of lives in the hundreds of thousands. This is a controversial engineering project not without criticism (silt, earthquake). We visited the dam on a very wet, cold, rainy day which made it hard to see, and we couldn't walk on top of the dam. But we did get to see the scope of this project.|
|Nov 10 & 11||Shanghai||
We drove through the countryside from Yichang City to Wuhan where we got
our flight for Shanghai. The country we drove through was a major
agricultural area and fascinating for it's thousands of small farm
holdings each with water buffalo being used to pull a plow or harrow.
Well, after the peace of the countryside, here we are in the cosmopolitan, busy, hi-rise city with extraordinary architecture where the lighting on the buildings at night is just like nothing we've seen anywhere. Shanghai is still more used to westerners than anyplace we've been including Beijing. We attract no notice here - westerners are a common sight. First we went to the Bund, which is a word for "embankment" - which is a beautiful walkway with the Yangtze River on one side, protecting the 1920's buildings on the other side. Afterwards we went to the old city, the Hongkou district which was the Jewish Ghetto for displaced persons during WWII. We saw the streets where the people lived, a plaque showing the center of the Jewish District, and the Synagogue. In the middle of this huge 16 million person metropolis is the Yu Garden, a 400 year old private garden which has all the classic elements of a Chinese garden; rocks, water, plants and buildings. It was absolutely lovely and we really enjoyed our time there. After the garden we went to the Shanghai Museum, which has a famous oriental collection. It was like the great museums of LA, NYC, London and Paris. At night we attended an acrobatic show, which was better than all the plate spinning acts that were on the old Ed Sullivan show, including four motorcycles doing loops in a large metal globe.
|Suzhou & Tongli||Today we took a train (50 minutes) to Suzhou & Tongli, which are cities crossed by and surrounded by canals. They have beautiful (World Heritage site) gardens which were perfectly wonderful. We also had a boat ride on the Grand Canal, which extends some 1300 km north-south between Beijing and Shanghai, and was ordered built a couple of thousand years ago. They don't do small projects in China probably because of a bunch of megalomaniac emperors who made a lot of people miserable getting these things built/dug/created. We also went up some of the smaller canals to see the houses built on the water.|
|Nov 13||Guilin||To Guilin for a boat ride on the Li river and unforgettable scenery, limestone karst hills and mountains described correctly as having a dreamy, hypnotic quality. This area was under the sea a mere 200 million years ago and the erosion as the land raised and the sea receded produced this stunning scenery.|
|Nov 14 -16||Xian||
We now go to Xian, which used to be Chang An (remember Chang An Road in Beijing?) which was the ancient capital of both the Qin and Tang dynasties (Tang dynasty, considered a "golden age" ended 907) where we saw the terra cotta warriors, which were ordered and made for the tomb of the first unifier of China (he spent 12 years beating neighboring provinces into submission) and declared himself emperor of the Qin Dynasty. He'd started building his massive tomb complex some years previously, (this was around 221 BC) and it was finished a year after his death in 206 BC. The folks were so enamored of their glorious leader that they immediately burned down as much of his tomb as they could get to. What one is left with is the marvelous craftsmanship of the terra cotta army that he had had built to serve him in the afterlife. That's what we saw and they were wonderful.
In Xian we also visited the rebuilt massive city walls, and the Great Goose Pagoda where the Tang dynasty monk Xuan Zang (600-664), one of the famous travelers of the silk road, lived and translated Buddhist scriptures he had brought back from India. The pagoda was originally built to house the scriptures and was a part of the imperial palace complex.
|Nov 16 - 19||Hong Kong||We had a very busy week. Each day has been crowded with sightseeing and eating, eating and sightseeing, airports in between. The hotel breakfast buffets are amazing. Beautiful scenery, spectacular sights, and we have landed in Hong Kong very tired. Our last 1/2 day sightseeing trip is over and we now have 2 1/2 days on our own to walk, relax, whatever. Eating is always popular! Our last picture today will show you the view from our room at night. We spent some of our children's inheritance and upgraded our room to a really lovely room with a huge picture window view of Hong Kong harbor. We have two armchairs facing the window with a comfortable stool to put our feet on, and a table to put our take-out dinner on. It's so busy and interesting to watch, day and night, that it's hard to tear ourselves away.|
|Nov 20||Hong Kong to San Francisco||
We have been in
China for 21 days and will have taken 2 transpacific flights (11+
hours), 5 flights internally in China (on Air China and China Eastern Air
- all Boeing 727's or Airbus which were anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours), a
short inter-city train trip, and more bus and car rides than we can count.
We have taken the subways in Beijing and Hong Kong, numerous ferries, a 3
day boat ride down the Yangtze River and have seen cities from as far
north as Beijing and as far south as Hong Kong.
Stephen: I left China with ambivalent feelings, wondering whether the cultures could ever relate, and what that means for the future of a major trading partner. China is an impressive country with a 5000 year old history. China is a country in change. Buildings going up everywhere. China is free enterprise gone wild. Sometimes I thought the whole purpose of Chinese society was to go shopping or at least persuade us to shop. China buys US T-Bills allowing us to continue to mount an unholy deficit. But how this relationship proceeds is beyond me. I hope that the US State Dept. is funding lots of Americans planning to be China scholars, because we sure are going to need them.
Jan: The best of China was the friendliness of the ordinary people and the really extraordinary natural and man-made sights we saw & tried to show you on this web site. Our hotels have also been of highest standards, both in accommodation, service and food. The worst was getting hauled by our guides into the Pearl, Lacquer Furniture, Jade, Jewelry, Art and Friendship Stores, the museum stores (everywhere but Shanghai) attempting to sell us fake antiquities, and running the gauntlet of the aggressive peddlers -- "dollar people" at every stop. The mothers using their children to beg were a national disgrace.
This was but a small part though. We had our picture taken with a Chinese family in Tiananmen Square, and had a great time in a Beijing restaurant where our total word in common was "beer", and we pointed at dishes others had ordered to get our food - a "thumbs up" and a smile to the chef and staff as we enjoyed the dumplings and hot pot was greeted with laughter and good humor by everyone. Stephen watched a group of Chinese posing for a picture on the Li River boat and said "cheese" and broke everyone up. Later they insisted (by gesture) he be included in one of their photos. So we saw wonderful things, many of the dream-come-true kind - for me this was the Great Wall, the misty hills of Guilin, and the Terra Cotta Warriors - and had a little share of fun with some Chinese people. Lovely!