Wednesday, November 19, 2014

China Part 2

This is a continuation of my story about our trip to China last April.  It was a good trip; a bit expensive but we really wanted the hand-holding.  The ship portion was just like any other cruise except it was on a river.  Food was interesting; a combination of Chinese, North American and European.  For example there would be Chinese noodle dishes to which the diner could add various meats and vegies.  For the Europeans, the breakfast bar would have sliced meats, cheeses and various rolls.  For the rest of us, about 95% from Canada and the US, we could get eggs over easy, bacon & all that stuff.  The ship had a large buffet bar with two cooks doing immediate things.  The buffet was surrounded by tables for the diners.  You would help yourself or have them cook something.  It was used for all meals.  Wine and beer were served at lunch and dinner.

To touch on a slightly sensitive subject; did you ever hear of an "Asian Toilet"?  On the ship and in the hotels we  had western toilets; nicer than most here.  Men get urinals.  Handicaped stalls are mostly western toilets as well.  However, most other public places have the Asian variety.  Please note, there is no seat and there  are no hand holds or rails to help one rise.

We got off the boat at Chongquin.  It was a long walk to the bus then we got on a plane for Xian.  It was in Chongquin that I first started noticing the polution.  There was good reason for that; the river is pretty wild and the city is really crowded.  The flight was fine as were all the flights within China.  Xian was just as smoggy though as Chongquin and now my wife started feeling ill as well.  I was coughing a lot so my wife went to the hotel desk to try and get assistance to get some cough medicine.  The young woman at the desk actually took her across the street to buy the stuff.  Amazing service!

We were off by 08:30 to see the Terra Cotta Army.  It is amazing place.  There are three sites where discoveries have been made.  The first was uncovered rather quickly; they are moving more slowly with the other two since premature contact with the air damaged the figures.  It's still just blows your mind.  There are thousands of figures; all different!  Apparently the craftsmen who made them would use each other as a model then make minor changes.  There are foot soldiers, generals, horses - an entire army.  The scale of the place is mind-boggling.  Mostly all you can do is walk around and take pictures so we were ready to leave by lunch.

This is a good time to talk about the meals off the ship.  We typically went to a lazy-susan place for lunch.  Our tour, all seven buses worth, would troop in.  Often there would be several hundred kids there already and even with all them it wouldn't be crowded.  We would seat ourselves at circular tables for eight with a lazy-susan in the center.  Servers would bring four or five appetizers; then they would bring a few entres.  By the time you got food it was kind of cool.  Again beer and wine would be served; large bottles for the whole table to share.  

We had the afternoon off then went to see a Tang dynasty show.  Dinner in Xian was a fixed menu:  shrimp, fish, a packet of steak with vegies; served at the show.  That was nice for a change.  It was just music and dancing; lots of dancing!  Got to the hotel, put our bags out in the hall and went to sleep. 

By the next morning my wife was more ill than I.  Happily the cough medicine worked for her too.  We were taken to the airport and given a box lunch!  LOL  Weird stuff but it worked.  Again the flight, China Eastern Airways, was fine.  This time we were staying at the Regent Biejing Hotel; we got there at 15:00 and were out for a tour of the old district by 15:30.  Part of the tour was via bus; there was a 10 minute rickshaw ride then we got to visit a private home.  This part of town 500-600 years old.  This house is built in two pieces:  a living room and bedroom on one side of a courtyard the kitchen on the other side.  The owners clearly are paid for showing their home but it was still interesting.  These homes don't have bathrooms; there is a public bath down the street.  They are still valued for their history.

Later we went to a place that sells tea; and they take it VERY seriously!  There were little kits of tea and a teapot that were on sale for $100US.  Granted we were in Tourist Central; we managed to not buy it!  LOL  Dinner was the most local place we've seen with actual Chinese people in the place.

Saturday morning breakfast was at 06:00 and we were on the bus at 07:00 headed for the Great Wall.  Traffic is lousy in Beijing and Saturday is especially bad because anyone with a car can drive.  During the week there are rules about only certain license plates can drive on certain days; the weekends are free game.  I took these photo of the corner just outside our hotel; there are lights and lines on the roads; it's just that no one pays any attention!

It took a while to get to the Wall but once there; I guess it was worth the hassle.  Building that thing was certainly an amazing feat and the Chinese people know it; there were visitors all over the place.  Mostly they were civilian but the Chinese Army was around to help out the police should they be needed.  The people from our tour were definitely in the minority.  There was one couple where she was blonde and about 6'2" (1.88 M); quite a few Chinese asked for photo-op with her!

One thing that surprised me was how steep the wall is.  Walking around was anything but easy.  We were is a place where there were no steps which made it either easier or more difficult; I'm not sure which.  There was a handrail but because of the steepness of the wall it was only about 18 inches (.5 M) above the ground.  There were plenty of people enjoying the day. 

We returned to the hotel for a bit of a rest before our "Peking Duck" dinner.  It was frankly disappointing.  Maybe I'd just heard about a 'real' dinner but this was just another lazy susan production with duck.  It was an add-on to the tour and next time we'd skip it.

Sunday is the tour of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  This was quite interesting.  First getting into Tiananmen Square.  We foreigners were lead by our Chinese guide through a door and there we were.  The Chinese people had to stand in line and be searched!  Really?  Well, whatever works for them.  The Square is really huge; you might think so from the tank photos from back in the day.  It is.  Had a huge multi-story tv screen showing I don't know what. 

 Mao's tomb is there.  He didn't want it but when you are dead....  There were tons of people visiting.

Below is a photo of some building on the side of the square.  

This is the same building across the square:  did I say it was big?

There were plenty of cops and police around but they weren't hassling anyone, just standing around.  We had several people from our bus who didn't walk too well and they were falling behind.  We ended up in a line maybe a couple hundred feet long.  Then we got bunched up again when we got to the Forbidden City entrance.

Here there were no gates but there were three pedestrian bridges you had to cross.  Each bridge was being watched by two guys in Army uniforms.  There were also six or eight guys just standing in line on the side of the bridge behind the uniformed men.  In addition there were six or eight more guys just hanging around on the other side of the bridge.  Apparently you want plenty of security but don't want it to look to military.

The Forbidden City was packed.  The buildings in front were all nice and restored; the ones farther back were looking pretty tired.  There really wasn't a lot to see; just the buildings.  We were out and back on the bus by lunch time.  It was still a day when we walked over five miles (8 km)  We had the afternoon off then went to another dinner.  After dinner we attended the Peking Opera at 18:30.  It is kind of a 'people's opera' that wasn't terribly serious but lots of singing and dancing.  We saw scenes from three different operas.  One was a young woman asking a boatman to help her go up the river.  That was pretty funny with the two dodging up and down pretending to be on the river.  They also had tv screens on the walls offering a small translation of what they were singing.  The last was a big battle scene with swords, dancing and all that fun.  We liked it.

Monday was pretty much devoted to leaving China.  Luggage was collected at 09:00 then we hung around the hotel until noon.  The plane left at 16:00 making for a very long day!  We were flying Air Canada and boy is that lousy!  Getting seats together was a major problem.  The cabin attendants were working hard and did everything they could but when you can't get to sit with your spouse for a 10 hour flight; it stinks!  We made it to Vancouver about 15:00 local time; it was already a long day!  However there was one thing that was really cool.  The US Customs office is in the Vancouver airport; you check through without going out of the secure area and hop on the plane as though it is a purely US flight.  The flight to LA was pretty quiet.  We had a room at the Hilton; not nearly as nice as the ones we've had in China but I guess we have to come back to earth sometime! 

You know there are things I've forgotten.  I'll see if I can get some random ideas together for another post.  We'll see!  Thanks for stopping by.

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