Colonoscopy Science Project

August 10, 2018

I went in this week and got my dreaded colonoscopy. Good Girl! My last one was ten years ago, lucky for me, no polyps, and my recall was ten years. Whew! That ten years sure flew by. I remember thinking two years ago, that I still had two years until my next colonoscopy, as if every day I was dodging a bullet.

They really aren’t that bad, except when you think about it. The fasting the day before, the dreaded prep, the procedure – you know, that scope going up your butt. The potentially bad news delivered on the spot in your still-sedated state … Huh, what did you say, doc?? You found WHAT??

So I scheduled mine several weeks back, and got the prep – “Suprep” which translates into ‘a super amount of chemical liquid you gulp down on an empty stomach to turn your intestines into a washing machine.’ I shoved the package in the buffet. Why think about it until the time comes?

The time came this past Wednesday – ‘colonoscopy day’. First thing Tuesday morning, fasting day, my husband, David, made sure I woke up to a ‘Do not touch! sign on the coffee pot. Okay, fine. I pull the stack of printed material out of the buffet and fish out the ‘prep’ page. The instructions contain several ‘you musts’ – as in, “you must follow the clear liquid diet the day before your procedure.” Okay so read up what they mean by ‘clear liquids’

Yellow highlighter to emphasize the ‘musts’

Hmmm. I see we have apple juice. And some chicken broth. Yum! Okay, apple juice for breakfast. Then another glass of apple juice, because I’m hungry. Lemon herbal tea for lunch. etc etc. Massive headache by 2pm. Too much sugar? Coffee withdrawal? I switch to chicken broth. Head is pounding at this point so I take two Advil. By evening I’m reading the instructions that came with the Suprep kit. Oh, no NSAID drugs, it says somewhere in fine print. “Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs” such as Advil. Oh well. The Advil did knock the headache a bit.

7PM – time for the prep! Okay will spare you of too many details here. Mix one bottle of 6 oz chemical with water to fill up 16 oz container, gulp it down (sipping is a slow regurgitant torture), followed by gulping two more 16 oz containers of water – 1 1/2 quarts total. There. Doesn’t that feel great. Way to assuage your hunger! Relax now while you feel your stomach gurgle the concoction cup by cup into your small intestine, wishy-wishy-wash-wash, entering your colon now, cup by cup, loosen up your bowels, baby… until your colon goes into spin mode, don’t delay! Sprint to the toilet!

You start your first intestinal washing machine routine at 7PM because the cycle isn’t complete till after 10. Yippee! Set your alarm before bed – you don’t want to miss the 5:30 am start on your second prep cycle tomorrow morning.

Of course, you don’t sleep well, for fear of oversleeping way past 5:30 am. I had this horrendous dream that I had arrived for my colonoscopy at the wrong facility, and was hiding under a blanket on the gurney all prepped for a procedure no one knew a thing about. The nurses would find me and kick me out(!), and I couldn’t remember – did I forget to do that second prep?? What the hell time of day is it? I need to bail! Whew. I wake up, check the clock and see that it’s 4am. Okay… back to sleep…

5:30 AM my i-Phone alarm blares off on my bedside. Quick! Jump up and turn it off! (so as not to disturb David). Hey, why is the alarm still blaring away? What the heck? David reaches up to turn his i-Phone off. “I set my iPhone alarm too, as a backup.” What a thoughtful husband. But at 5:30 am it’s a bit unnerving when you turn off your alarm only to still hear it ringing on the other side of your bed.

Okay, I’m a pro now. Second dose, same as the first. I have downed the whole 48 ounces in one half hour! – by 6am. Easy peasy this time since the stuff should wash right through me. Uh-oh. It’s coming up! Just stand up by the toilet now and breathe … and … oh no, here it comes! A projectile of vomit shoots out of my throat like a rocket on a trajectory that crashes into the toilet. Wow! Wasn’t expecting that. Huh. Oh well. Expelling the prep from both ends will surely speed up this process!

By 7am I’m trying to nap on the couch. Just jump up about every six minutes to run and squirt in the toilet. Like clockwork. If I were more of an engineering type I’d graph the data – you know, say, of time elapsed vs. amount expelled (a true scientist would catch each squirt ejected from your butt into a cup for accurate measure and comparison, but it felt like about 2/3 cup each time.) You could literally divide the total amount of prep ingested by the amount expelled at each sitting, over six minute time intervals, and closely predict when your bowels would be empty. Or, just trust the directions: You must finish the morning dose of Suprep 3 hours prior to your check-in time. Hurling up a third of the prep at the get-go turned out to be an act of genius, though, enabling me to cop a restful little nap before jetting off to the surgical center by 9:30 am.

Now if you think my blog is verbose, try sitting alongside me lying on a gurney in a sterile medical facility calming my nerves for a medical procedure. I constantly chatter – like, at the nurse: “I’m not about to be awake for this! I’ll take the sedation!” Which means the nurse has to poke a vein, right? Dammit! “I don’t want you poking around for a vein only to shove in the needle, jab it around several times once its in there, trying to hit the vein, then declare, “Oh, it’s a roller!” which has happened to me more times than I can count. The veins in both my arms are rollers! I need the most professional phlebotomist on the premises to attach the IV … trust me, I don’t know how many nurses I’ve been through who can’t even locate a vein in my arm!…”

At this point the nurse has attached the IV to the back of my right hand. Donned in my backless gown and booties, covered by a cotton blanket, I’m prepped and ready to go. I then wait several minutes in this tiny prep room for the new nurse “Brian’ – he finally shows up and wheels me across the hall to a room which houses the ‘colonoscope’ surrounded by a wall of machines, for my colonoscopy. Another nurse greets me. “Hi, I’m Charlene” (or something) Then I start in on Charlene about the prep and how it expelled so regularly I could have made a ‘flow’ chart, had anyone thought to do that? I bet you had an engineer or physicist or someone who came in here with a graph or chart like that, that would be just like them! And what about this procedure, did that nasty prep strip the bacteria right off the lining of my intestines? What’s it called, mucosa? Should I get on probiotics right away to whip my mucosa back in shape?…The doc comes in, I’m chattering at him too, and he makes some comment about the ‘reliable valve’ at the end of the small intestine…

But mostly I wanted to pay attention to the moment they sent the sedatives through the IV (Fentanyl – 50 mpg, Propofol- 120 mg, and Versed – 2mg). I anticipated the rush and count-down into dreamland, you know, that half-sedated place where your muscles completely relax and your mind takes you to a land of dragonflies, shooting stars and fairies where you can reach out and touch the moon, uh … it’s possible, right?

But no. I’m chattering away about engineers and their flow charts and probiotics, and the next thing, I’m being awakened by a strange nurse in a curtained cubicle in a large room with a view of the check-out desk. “You’re done” the lady says. “We’ve called your husband to pick you up and as soon as you are dressed you can go home.” She hands me some papers and tells me something about how the test went well, my intestines were fine. (Yay! check that one off!) I don’t recall seeing the doctor. I do recall stumbling out and riding home with David.

But no worry. Everything is explained in the report. The terminal ileum was reached, the cecal sling folds were seen, the appendiceal orifice and the ileo-ceal valve were identified.

And now my gut is filled with air from the procedure. No big deal. We’ll drive downtown and take a walk to work it out. I could see myself releasing air out of my butt with every step! But no, the science project expands here to include the nature of hot air and how it rises, even when it’s in your intestines. So instead of seeping out my butt as I walked, the air rose inside, ballooning out in my duodenum, and my stomach, judging from my area of pain, but in any case, I was certainly not burping up any clouds of air. At this point, buckling over with pain getting back to the car with David, I would guess that maybe the mass of air got sealed in by the … esophageal sphincter at the top of my stomach? (Could maybe save this question for the gastro doc at my next colonoscopy?)

So, yeah. A word of advice for those of you getting your colonoscopy. Get a ride home and go to bed. On your side, with your butt in the air. And let the air in your intestines rip! I would say, based on my experience, it takes about five minutes for a healthy fart to build. Their release is pretty consistent. You could chart the data for a another flow chart.

Either that, or just take a nice long nap and visit a land with stardust, lillypads, and butterflies, where you can climb over rainbows.

Oh, one more thing. Did I mention that David has his colonoscopy next week? His prep kit is up on the desk in his office. Here, I took a photo:

You must fill to the line at the top!

Not to worry. We got it covered. Colonoscopies are becoming routine around here.

Horse Chestnuts, Dandelions and Garden Pests

July 31, 2018

I’ve taken gobs of photos this past spring and summer. It seems summer flies and it’s suddenly gone. Here it is now the first of August and leaves are already turning gold and falling. From the heat? Maybe. But the plants already know, summer is nearly over.

I’ve missed spring in years past. I notice the buds, next thing, the trees are out, all bushy and full, their blossoms long gone. How had I missed it? So I try to pay close attention to the blossoming of spring.

It begins with the dandelions – bees’ first feast!

Nice for the bees, not a great look for your front yard

I love to see fields of dandelions, however, by the end of April it’s a declared war, humans vs. dandelions, daily raging battles, humans extracting dandelions from suburban lawns – a war that can overcome the average adult strapping male.

Dandelions are clever imposters, posing as a fill-in for a gorgeous bouquet

So vibrant!

Ha! You think you can get away with this?

Yeah, like we don’t recognize a clump of dandelions

Oh, you think we don’t recognize that you’re not tulips? We’re totally on to you. Your gig is up!.

By early May tulips and daffodils command the show

Rudy finishes his inspection – May 5

Crab and May Trees flower and alight with buzzing bees

Then the lilacs bloom! – and fade so quickly. Don’t miss it! Fill your kitchen with their marvelous fragrance.

Bury your nose in their velvety moist blossoms!

My absolute favorite tree of all blooms in late May. I watch for it. There’s a big ol’ ancient one in town beside the Broadway Bridge on the Snake River.

“Oh Megan, pose in front of it!”

“Okay, mom, if I must.” June 2, 2018

The 6-inch blossoms stand stately on their limbs like lavishly decorated Christmas trees.

There’s a red variety too. I took a photo of one in Tautphaus Park:

I’d love to plant one of these trees in our back yard. Oh wow! Here’s a plaque by the big tree Megan is standing under identifying what it is:

‘Horsechesnut’
Shouldn’t that be two words?

Horse chestnut??? Hmmm. Well, okay.

By the first of June the flowers were all planted in our pots and flowerbeds – marigolds and zinnias, impatiens, petunias, red and blue salvia. Tomatoes and green peppers. Let the battle begin! You know, against slugs, fungus, heat, insects, weeds, crowding, drought, poor soil, under-fertilizing, over-fertilizing, over-watering, not enough dead-heading. And one more pest – our next-door neighbor’s dog, Einstein. Here – I’ve captured this ‘pest’ problem in this video:

Einstein is an escape artist. It’s simply impossible for his owners to keep him in their fenced back yard. They have given up. You will see in the video the ladder we propped up against the fence beside the arborvitae three summers ago to keep Einstein from jumping directly from his back yard into our garden. But, no matter. He simply jumps their fence and once he’s escaped his yard, we obviously can’t keep him out of ours.

This helps explain why I’ve been remiss all summer in writing my blog. I’ve been crazy busy. “Gardening” among other things. Figuring out why some stuff grows okay and a lot of it doesn’t. I’m not posting any closeup photos of our flowers. There’s just too much explaining to do. I keep learning, though.

This year I learned from the local nursery how important it is to apply their special brand of fertilizer on the flowers and vegetables – at least once a week!, to achieve, say, the desired effect for your next dinner party of showing off your happy bushy flower pots. Except if, on your petunia leaves, you start to notice what looks like a serious case of spider mites or maybe lace bugs, and you run a sick leaf down to your local greenhouse for their expert diagnosis, you might learn that applying liquid fertilizer to plants at the beginning of a 90-degree day will likely burn the leaves as if they’re infested with tiny bugs. On the other hand, with the application of liquid fertilizer on a 90-degree day, you could also maybe burn any existing pests off the leaves? I know. It’s hard to tell about these things, other than to admit your giftedness to kill plants.

Alas, by late summer the plants know to stop growing. So you can relax. I practice relaxing at home on the couch by example of our dog, Rudy.

Rudy demonstrates the proper way to flop

I’ll have you know, we think we’ve made some progress in discouraging Einstein’s over-the-fence leaps directly into our garden with the installation of a wind vane whirly thing we bought at my brother Eric’s shop.

Wind vane

With the persistent Idaho winds, it stands out as one very happy thing in our garden, downright exuberant in a high wind:

Oh, and all those blooming trees are now bearing fruit! We happened upon my favorite spring blooming tree this past week. You know, the “horse chestnut.” Sure enough, it has chestnuts all right.

Can’t wait to walk here barefoot when they ripen and drop off

Chestnuts coated in prickly spikes (Huh. that sentence rings like a new verse for ‘White Christmas.’) I picked a developing horse chestnut to show you, but it was too prickly to put in my pocket. David held it long enough for me to take a photo.

Horse Chestnut

Yeah, well maybe we should plant a horse chestnut tree in that corner by the fence as an added deterrent to Einstein. David did some research – found a link (click here) that tells all about the Horse Chestnut tree or ‘Aesculus indica.’It is in flower from June to July, and the seeds ripen in October. It’s common along the Himalayan Lowlands and its leaves are used as cattle fodder in parts of Northern India. “It is used in traditional Indian medicine, for the treatment of some skin diseases, rheumatism, as an astringent, acrid and narcotic, and in the relief of headaches.” Huh. I believe, with all this stress of gardening, it’s just what the doctor ordered.

Except all those horse chestnuts dropping to the ground in October would turn that area of our back yard into a snow-covered no-mans’ land with those horse chestnuts to greet us at next year’s spring thaw…

And I’d likely exhaust myself trying to keep the dumb tree alive, anyway. Maybe just turn our whole back yard over to dandelions.

Hong Kong – Part 2

June 2, 2018

China trip – Part 8

Saturday, April 21 – Only two days till we fly back home to Idaho. I wake up with a dull headache, and a queasy stomach. That nasty whatever-it-was thing I came down with yesterday seems to be more than a 24-hour bug. No worries. Victor has already visited an apothecary and delivered me some Chinese medicine to cure my ills. I sucked down a dose of it last night and again this morning. Po Chai pills in bottle form could certainly relieve whatever ails me

PO CHAI PILLS

Made in Hong Kong – good “for relieving fever, diarrhea, intoxication, vomiting, over-eating, and gastrointestinal diseases.” (Tourist’s panacea!) You pull the top off the vial and down the whole batch of peppercorn-like balls, hopefully in one gulp. I gulped down four of the eight vials getting myself back online, and brought the remaining doses home with me, you know, for any future vomiting, over-eating, hangovers or gastrointestinal ills …

So, what to see of Hong Kong in two days? Whatever plans we make, I’m in!

Hong Kong is split in two by Victoria Harbor; the modern city springs up along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island and the southern tip of Kowloon (the peninsula extending from the Chinese mainland). On Hong Kong Island the central city goes only a few kilometers south into the island before mountains rise up.

We are staying near the shore at the Shangri-la Hotel in Kowloon. Today we’ll take the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong Island. Then take the tram to the top of Victoria Peak and enjoy the fabulous views of Hong Kong on both sides of the harbor.

8:30 am Saturday we’ve just stepped out of our hotel and are walking to the ferry

Hong Kong Island in the distance

We merge with a huge crowd, board the ferry, and almost before I realize it, we’re cruising across Victoria Bay. We meet another ferry surging toward the dock from the opposite direction…

Star Ferry / Hong Kong Island

The Star Ferry has been running across the harbor since 1888. It’s only about a 10-minute ride.

We arrive on Hong Kong Island and walk to the Peak Tram. There’s a long line waiting for the tram, the wait is almost an hour, feels similar, we concur, to waiting in line for a ride at Disney World. But what else are we going to do? You people-watch in line and try to guess the language and/or country of origin of the people around you.

It’s 10:45am and we can finally see the front of the line! We should board the tram shortly …

Peak Tram

We’re on top now. We let everyone else off the tram first. (My brother Eric took this photo – I pulled it off his FB page)

We walk back down Victoria Peak on a paved path. Here’s a couple of photos from on top.

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak. Kowloon side of Hong Kong is across the Bay

Hong Kong Island

But a video is better!

In contrast to mainland China, where we saw maybe 2 dogs, dogs seem to be popular pets in Hong Kong. Especially poodles.

Poodles!

Five poodles in the photo!

More poodles!

All impeccably groomed. We also see several golden retrievers. And a bulldog:

All these pets are likely sharing a very small apartment space with their owners.

We spend the next hour exploring the island of Hong Kong on foot.

Buy your raw meat here!

Intestines for dinner – Yum!

Rare delicacies! Google delicious recipes for preparing entrails. Stewed pork intestine … ?

There’s a whole block of Hong Kong where you can purchase dried fish, displayed on shelves in open bins. (It doesn’t spoil sitting out in the heat all day?) I recognize the shrimp!

Suddenly we’re boarding a double-decker bus (follow Victor!).

Eric and David

I don’t dare check out the upper deck for fear of missing our stop.

A pencil-thin young man dressed like a rock star in skin-tight pants and broad patterned glittery shirt, boards the bus with a suitcase. He’s here to go shopping!

We’re back near the ferry dock now

Hong Kong island

Headed back across Victoria Bay

We spend the rest of our time here exploring Kowloon. The streets and sidewalks are jammed with people in the evening. Restaurants abound and eating out is very inexpensive.

Saturday, April 21 – 9:30 pm

Sunday, April 22, is our last day. Tomorrow we fly home to Idaho. Victor shows us around Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. He takes us past the apartment he lived in with his family when he was in High School back in the early 60’s.

Victor’s apartment in early 60’s

After High School Victor’s father insisted he go to college in America. Victor went to the University of Florida for his undergraduate degree, and then to MIT where he got his PhD. MIT is where he met my sister, Stephanie. They both made their careers at MIT and have lived in Boston ever since.

We walked through Kowloon Park in Hong Kong. Went up these steps to enter the park …

Difficult canvas for a mural!

We pass a group doing Fan Kung Fu or Kung Fu Fan! I take a video

It would be hard enough learning how to control the fan, much less learning the Kung Fu! Check out this short video on youtube of a Kung Fu Fan Master!

Alas. All good things must come to and end. I have to put a wrap on this!

For our final dinner, Sunday night, Victor takes us down to the docks for a fresh seafood dinner. By ‘fresh’ I mean we literally picked out our seafood swimming in water tanks, one seafood vendor after the other, lined the dock. We picked out large and small shrimp, a whole fish, scallops, abalone – they cooked them up – and moments later, we were served!

Have you ever seen a shrimp 8 inches long?

The largest shrimp you’ll ever see

We ordered one and then another half pound of smaller shrimp.

Shrimp

And scallops …

Fresh scallops!

Abalone:

Abalone

Pick out your fish!

We sit out on a patio on the water and the dishes come out, one by one:

Boiled shrimp!

Scallops!

Abalone

We are just finishing up!

… I do believe, the most delicious fresh seafood dinner available on earth!

I capture one last photo of the bay as we leave the restaurant.

Sunday, April 22, 7pm

The sun has set on our trip to China.

The next morning, Monday, April 23, we travel home. By 10 am we’re at the Hong Kong airport.

Hong Kong airport

11-hour flight to Seattle

At some point I take a selfie. I don’t sleep well on planes!

From Seattle David, Eric and I fly on to Salt Lake City, and then Idaho Falls. Steph and Victor catch a direct flight to Boston. I take one last photo in the Seattle airport before we part ways

Eric, Victor, David, Steph

‘Xiexie’, Victor and Steph. Thank you for the trip of a lifetime!

Hong Kong!

May 26, 2018

China trip – Part 7

Friday, April 20 – Alas, we’re en route to our last stop on our 2-week trip to China – Hong Kong, where we plan to spend our last three nights.

Destination cities – from Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong

Friday, 8:30 am – We’re out front of our motel in Guilin, loading up to head to the Guilin train station – in a torrential rain.

Shangri-La Hotel – Guilin

When our driver, Terry, pulls up at the train station to let us off, we’re ankle-deep in water getting our luggage out. I’m stressing about my i-Phone getting ruined in the outer pocket of my getting-saturated nylon purse (why didn’t I think of wearing my purse under my raincoat?) as we orient ourselves out and around the train station to find the correct entrance. Whew! We’re inside now. The place is mobbed! Where do we go? Oh, up this escalator. A fine young Chinese fellow who speaks very good English overhears our conversation and points me in the right direction. (Overall, we found the Chinese people to be very warm, helpful and friendly toward us.)

There’s the gate to our train! Get in line, stay together! I take a photo:

Guilin Train Station

But you can’t really capture this crowd in a photo. So I take a video:

Today we travel 360 miles east-southeast by train from Guilin to Shenzhen – and then from Shenzhen we take metro trains, from Shenzhen to the border crossing at Hong Kong, and then down the Hong Kong peninsula to the southern tip.

We’ve boarded the train to Shenzhen now. I take a couple of photos of the scenery passing by us at about 130 mph.

Rice paddies

One of my few rural photos!

The train ride from Guilin to Shenzhen is about 3 hours. Settle in for relaxation and reading! I’m sitting between David and Eric. We’ve packed along some munchies and drinks, bottled water, beer, peanuts – but I’m just not hungry. Can’t seem to concentrate on my reading, either. I set my kindle aside. My stomach is queasy. Hmmmm. Surely I won’t get sick … Could it be motion sickness? David pours servings of beer in paper cups for himself, Eric, Steph and Victor. The empty cups get returned back to him, he stacks them on his seat tray and excuses himself to the bathroom. Suddenly my stomach hurls its contents. One hurl at a time, as they say. Boy were those cups convenient! I very calmly pick up the first empty cup, fill it to the brim with my first hurl. Then the second cup. Then the third, and fourth. Oh no! Wait, thank God there’s extra room in my half-empty water bottle! Eric, meanwhile, leaps into the isle, finds the stewardess, and returns with two large plastic garbage bags and several small barf bags. Got it covered! What the hell? We dump the cups of puke in a trash bag and I head to the bathroom. David stocks up on paper barf bags for future use …

We get off the train in Shenzhen. First leg of the trip done! LEG? Yes, we still have to get from Shenzhen to the border crossing into the Hong Kong Peninsula, go through customs to enter Hong Kong, then take the metro 12 more stops down the edge of the peninsula to the lower tip of Kowloon.

Here’s a couple of maps from travelchinaguide.com – The first photo shows the Hong Kong peninsula. Shenzhen, in mainland China, is in red letters – Hong Kong is the lighter green area:

Hong Kong

The second map is the Hong Kong Metro. After we get through customs we catch the blue line at the top of the peninsula – travel south along the edge of the New Territories, through Kowloon to Hung Hom, the station furthest south (at yellow highlighted area) – 12 stops (I know, I counted them down!)

We get off near the yellow highlighted area

Yeah, so long story short – I actually took a picture when we got off the train from Shenzhen – right before we went through customs.

Welcome to Hong Kong!

We just kept going as a group and I would signal them – we’d pull out of the crowd, I’d barf in a nifty paper bag from David’s stock …

Good thing David had about a dozen of these

dump it in the trash, pull out a fresh bag, get it ready for the next hurl …

Hello barf bag, my new friend …

and we’d proceed on. My stomach timed it just right so I got through customs without a hitch, barfed before we arrived at the agents’ station and barfed on the other side.

Oh, but wait a minute. Did I digress? You wanted to hear about Hong Kong! My bad …

After we get off the metro, Victor snags us a 5-person taxi to take us the few blocks to our motel – Shangri-la Hotel Kowloon (of course! We have grown to love this hotel chain). So we are staying on the southern tip of the Hong Kong peninsula, right across Victoria Bay from Hong Kong Island. I go straight to bed that Friday evening, while Steph and Vic, David and Eric go out and explore the city. No worries. Eric takes photos. Great photos. (I’ve pulled them off his Facebook page. He said I could use them, plus, he beat me to this story by 3-4 weeks.)

So, dear reader, it’s Friday night, April 20th and you’re in Hong Kong! Just because I’m sick doesn’t mean you can’t go out on the town with Eric and David and Steph and Victor!

You run into Spider Man

Any ladies in distress? I’ll hang upside down for you

And this floating guy. An Angel?

Levitating human statue? Top this Las Vegas!

And, uh, this guy.

My next boyfriend

Who, I think, must be either a God or made of wax because what human could really have arms like that?

Eric also captures some nice evening photos of Victoria Bay

and the skyline just after dusk on Hong Kong island:

Hong Kong Island

Yeah, so tomorrow we catch the Star Ferry – from the southern tip of the Kowloon peninsula across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong Island. Take a tram to the top of Victoria Peak and hike back down! Here. I’ll give you a sneak preview…

Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor

I’ll be on that ferry tomorrow. Just hope I don’t get seasick!

Guilin – Day 2

May 21, 2018

China trip – Part 6.

It’s Thursday, April 19, 10 days into our 2-week trip to China. We are on our third stop, Guilin, a popular tourist destination because of its renown karst topography.

Destination cities – from Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong

Guilin is about 1000 miles southwest of Beijing. We are staying three nights at the Shangri-la Hotel in the center of the city.

The city itself is not very charming. Fodor’s travel book explains that Guilin was heavily bombed during the Second Sino-Japanese War (from 1937 -1945) and rebuilt in the utilitarian style popular in the 1950’s.

Original settlements on the Li River banks go back as far as 314 BC. The city was established in 111 BC during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.

A dozen small ethnic groups call Guilin home and so a variety of living conditions and lifestyles prevail throughout the region. There are about 8 different Guilin languages – Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Zhuang and Mienic languages, to name some of them.

Yesterday we took a river cruise down the Li River along the karst peaks (per my previous blog) – today is our last full day here. Here I took a photo of the view of the city from our motel window.

Guilin

On the corner square right below our hotel window a large group of mostly women are working out to upbeat music.

We venture out on foot to explore the city. On the opposite corner square from the dance/exercise group, another boom box is belting out tunes and couples are gathering to dance. I turn to take a photo, and this happy couple strikes a pose.

(By evening the square is packed full with dancing couples.)

Back to our morning walk … A few blocks from our hotel we enter an open market, where the locals shop for groceries –

Abundant fresh produce:

Fresh meat

How long does it stay fresh?

Yum! Pig’s feet! And what’s that next to the feet?

No idea what to do with these items

Ugh! A pigs face? Uh, so, Halloween mask or something? Waste not, want not. Pig snout stew? Do instructions in English come with these purchases?

Get your fresh chicken here!

Throw it on the barbie

Throats slit, feathers plucked, they’re ready to go!

You want a closer look, do you? No????

Yep, their throats are slit, alright

Chicken feet are a delicacy, of course! Not sure about chicken heads. Don’t really want to make eye contact with the thing, be forced into a conversation with it, before I cut its head off.

On the other hand, if you really want fresh chicken or duck, just buy a live one out of this caged selection:

Live chickens on the left, ducks on the right

Eric thought of buying all the ducks and then setting them free on the river. I could purchase bread to feed them! But then they’d all just be caught again … Yum! Peking Duck is calling us for dinner …

Well, it certainly does make you think about what you’re eating, that another animal is giving up their life to provide you nourishment, and you basically have to tell them so, make amends to the animal face-to-face when you buy it. Fair enough …

A lot of families come through on their motor bikes to shop.

Not sure how they would carry their groceries. Add a live duck to the mix?

It was quite amazing to see parents with their children riding through town traffic on these small bikes – no big deal, no helmets, no need to hold on …. no worry apparently, about safety.

No problem, this toddler is perfectly secure…

No room for a car seat?

Yes, there’s a toddler in there …

Hey, it works! We saw families riding on electric scooters in every large city we visited. Didn’t see or or hear of an accident – thank goodness. Not that they don’t happen! Can’t imagine. I wonder what the accident statistics are or how much news coverage these accidents receive. In any case, there doesn’t seem to be much worry or government safety regulations concerning travel on electric scooters. The Guilin city streets are designed with separate parallel lanes for cars and motor scooters. But of course, these lanes merge into intersections … Here, I took a video of the intersection right below our hotel – gives you an idea of how one might worry about the safety of an entire family on an electric motor scooter …

Oh, and by the way, cars and scooters do not yield to pedestrians. The rule seems to be: The biggest moving mass on the road gets the right-of-way. Note to pedestrians: Get out of the way of anything that can run you over!!

In the afternoon our driver Terry delivered us to a popular site in the center of Guilin, The Prince City Solitary Beauty Park. Inside are the decaying remains of an ancient Ming Dynasty palace built in 1393. Sun Yat-sen lived here for a few months in the winter of 1921. We walked around the park and then climbed up the main attraction in the park, the Peak of Solitary Beauty. This is a 492-foot high karst peak, with carved stones leading to the top. It’s an intense workout for your legs getting to the top, but totally worth it for the great views of Guilin. Here we are climbing the steps to the top of the Peak of Solitary Beauty:

And views of Guilin from on top:

Guilin

Climbing back down now …

It was difficult to capture a photo of the peak from the ground. This is my best effort:

Peak of Solitary Beauty

For dinner, our concierge, Ray, had made us reservations at a fabulous restaurant – Chunji Roasted Goose Restaurant (yes, roasted goose is their specialty). Terry, our driver, delivered us there and back again (Do I feel special? Pinch myself!). It was top-notch in all respects, round tables with cloth tablecloths, elegant lighting and decor, prompt, polite service … Here, I’ll share my photos of the evening. First, the restaurant:

Our server:

Chinese local beer was great!

Some of our dishes (Victor always makes fantastic choices!):

Too pretty to eat!

And one last photo of the busy chefs in the massive kitchen!

Well, okay. It’s Friday morning now, April 20. Today we travel by several trains to the last destination on our trip – Hong Kong! We have met Terry, our driver, out in front of the Shangri-la Hotel and are ready to hit the road to the train station in Guilin. Oh, except Eric can’t find his raincoat.

Yeah, we are in for several new adventures today, for starters, we wake up to a torrential rain. (An omen?) While Eric digs in his suitcase looking for his raincoat I take a video.

Are you ready? Pile into the van with us and Terry. We’re on a new adventure!

Guilin! Li River Cruise

May 14, 2018

China Trip – Part 5

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 – We have checked out of our motel in Hangzhou, and are on our way to the airport to catch our flight to Guilin, a city about 800 miles south-southeast of Hangzhou. When you’re hanging out at West Lake in Hangzhou, it’s hard to imagine that you’re nestled in a city of 9.4 million people. I captured a couple of photos during our 45-minute drive to the airport, the first one of an older apartment building in the center of town

and the second photo of a typical newer high-rise apartment complex

But since you really can’t capture the layout of the dense urban sprawl in a photo – here – I took a video on our drive to the airport in Hangzhou –

New high-rise apartment complexes are springing up everywhere in China, however, property development in China is vastly out growing the number of people who can purchase them. According to this article, the Chinese government is launching building development across China to promote economic development. Property development has become big business! According to this article, “The 2011 estimates by property analysts state that there are some 89 million empty properties and apartments in China and that housing development in China is massively oversupplied and overvalued, and is a bubble waiting to burst with serious consequences in the future.” Well, that was a prediction in 2011. In 2018 the property development industry appears to be alive and booming as strong as ever. Still a bubble waiting to burst?

I wanted to mention this in my blog; it was amazing to see the huge new apartment complexes springing up around every large city we passed on the train.

We have arrived at the airport in Hangzhou. Wow! It, too, looks brand new.

Airport in Hangzhou

Oops! I’d better quit taking photos. I’m lagging behind David, Victor, Steph and Eric! (Well, not Eric – he’s taking photos too.)

A photo from the air now, as we approach Guilin:

By the way, Guilin is our third stop on our two-week (north to south) trip to China – the city furthest inland and our final destination on mainland China –

Destination cities – from Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong

Guilin is situated in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, a region of limestone karst hills and mountains, rising almost vertically from the earth.

Karst Peaks near Guilin

These peaks were formed 200 million years ago when the area was under sea. Limestone was created from fossilized prehistoric sea-floor sediments. The sea bottom was pushed upward by geological forces and the sea receded. The exposed alkaline limestone was then eroded by the natural acidity of rain water collected in streams. Peaks developed from the land left after erosion by the streams. Cave systems have also developed in the limestone – a spelunker’s dream!

But we aren’t spelunkers. We are ordinary American tourists looking to book a relaxing cruise down the Li river right smack dab in the middle of these peaks. We check into the Shangri-La hotel in Guilin (having been thrilled with the Shangri-La in Hangzhou!). Victor immediately meets with the concierge ‘Ray’ who lines us up with a driver for the duration of our stay, ‘Terry.’ (This must be their given English names for when they serve English-speaking tourists?)

The concierge, Ray, and our driver, Terry.

We developed an affectionate bond with Ray and Terry, who treated us like we were the center of the Universe, responsive to our every need, during our stay at the Shangri-La Hotel in Guilin.

Ray and Terry

Somehow, too, our first evening there, Eric got snagged into participating in a dance in the lobby, much to our amusement. I caught the tail end of it in a video, with David, Victor and Steph watching in the background (the FAR background, I might add, so as to avoid Eric’s fate…)

These two hotties are the ones who snagged him.

(Okay, even Eric admits, it was totally worth it.)

So it’s Wednesday, April 18th, Ray has secured tickets for us to take the 4-hour Li-jiang River Cruise down the Li River along the Karst peaks. We meet Terry, our driver, at 8:15 am and he drives us 45 minutes to the Zhejiang Pier. Here – I took a photo of a picture in our brochure that shows you where the cruise originates on the Li River in the north to where it docks four hours later at the city of Yangshuo – a distance of about 80km or 50 miles:

Li-jiang River Cruise route

Okay, so Terry has dropped us off and we are in line (with hordes of people!) with our passports and tickets. Just move with the crush of the crowd. Our boat is number 12, which is, uh …

Which boat is ours?

Luckily Ray had also arranged a guide to help steer us along, a poised, well-dressed young lady who spoke excellent English, who greeted us in line and accompanied us onto our boat, which happens to be at the end of this dock.

It’s a tremendous relief to know we have found our boat, as, you can see, these boats are set at docks extending widely to the right

Boats to the right!


and to the left …

Boats to the left!

Ah… Relax now. We have a table to sit at inside our boat on the bottom level. With free hot tea service!

David, Jody, Victor, Steph

But the place to be is on the top deck…

Eric

There’s definitely a few other foreigners on this boat

Look at the boats behind us!

David and Eric

Vic and Steph

Jody and David

Several times during our trip a Chinese person would ask to pose for a photo or two with us, to which we happily concurred. This was one such lady, who wanted a photo with David and Eric.

Fun!

At some point our guide found us on the top deck – “Hey!” She informed us. “Did you know that we are passing the very spot that is pictured on the Chinese 20 Yuan bill? It’s coming right up!” Huh?

Here is a photo of the 20 Yuan bill:

And here is the photo I captured at the spot!

Scene on the Chinese
20 Yuan bill

And our photo memory of the moment:

David, Jody, Steph, Eric

(Don’t know where Victor was)

Pretty good, huh! I have at least 50 more photos … No? You don’t want to see them all? Okay, here’s just a couple more:

Up ahead is the famous rock face called the ‘Nine Horses Hill’

Nine Horses Hill

Left to the viewer to interpret how to find the nine horses in its face:

We are below again now – getting ready to dock, and totally entertained by this precocious little toddler sitting with his family across the isle from us. I’m trying to get his attention for a photo but he simply will not look at me!

His grandmother steps in to assist – just turn his head!

Oh well. That’s fine. A few minutes later he has settled down with his family. He’s so cute!

As I said, precocious. Definition: (of a child) “having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.” Is that a candy cigarette or a real cigarette? Hmmm. Hard to tell. I remember decades ago, when I was a kid, how much I loved candy cigarettes, posing with them, pretending to smoke, crunching them down slowly as I ‘smoked’ them. They have long since disappeared from store candy shelves. One interesting statistic we learned from one of our travel books is that 63% of Chinese men smoke cigarettes.

We have docked and are getting off the boat now in Yangshuo.

Docked!

We file through a huge market, but we just want to escape the crowds.

This woman in front of us reminds me never to buy a souvenir hat or T-shirt with Chinese characters on it.

Buy this t-shirt with English on the back!

Instructions to Victor from the driver are for us to walk to Kentucky Fried Chicken where he will meet us. Okay, that should be recognizable enough!

The city of Yangshuo has a population of about 300,000 people. Nestled amongst karst peaks!

Here is a video I took on our walk through a city shopping street:

Suddenly, across the street, an out-of-place Kentucky Fried Chicken sign comes into view – attached atop a building that doesn’t look even remotely similar to a Kentucky Fried Chicken! (Thank you, Victor, for orienting us here. I’ve no idea how we got here…)

Is it really a Kentucky Fried Chicken?

The next moment we walk right into our driver, Terry. I suspect maybe we stood out in the crowd more than he did.

Terry leads us along a main road to his vehicle. The traffic is crazy! A lane for cars and a lane for motorized scooters and rickshaws tearing along at the same speed and no one is wearing a helmet!

I took a couple of photos on the 50-mile drive back to Guilin.

Terry and Ray had arranged a tour for us on the way home – of an organic tea plantation. It was hot now in the late afternoon and we were glad they didn’t put us to work!

Hey, we’re just tourists!

As I said, it’s an organic tea farm. Workers suddenly appeared in the rows setting out sticky tar paper to catch insects!

Setting out sticky paper (yellow) to catch bugs

We learned the whole process of harvesting and preparing the tea leaves.

And enjoyed several different samples of hot fresh organic teas.

Whew! Exciting day, huh? Well, we have one more full day in Guilin before we head to Hong Kong. Are you ready? I have at least a hundred photos to prove it!

Hangzhou! – West Lake

May 10, 2018

China trip – Part 4

Hangzhou is the second stop on our two week trip to China.

Destination cities – from Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong

We arrive in Hangzhou on Saturday April 14, from Beijing, an 800-mile/ 4-hour journey by bullet train. Hangzhou is also about 170 km (105 miles) from Shanghai – a 45-minute commute by bullet train, so you could plan an extension tour to Hangzhou from Shanghai.

Why visit Hangzhou? It’s history is traced back over 2200 years to the Qin Dynasty. One of China’s 7 ancient capitals, it was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty in the 12th Century. Marco Polo visited Hangzhou in the 13th Century, describing it as the ‘City of Heaven – the finest and most splendid city in the World.’

The population of Hangzhou today is about 9.4 million. A huge lake in the center of the city – West Lake – is considered to be one of the most beautiful sights in China. We stayed at the Shangri-la on the north end of the lake and spent the next two days exploring the area on foot. There is a paved walkway around the perimeter of the lake and also two causeways that cross the lake. Here is a graphic of the lake I took out of the Fodor’s travel book – Shangri-la Hotel is the red splotch!

West Lake in Hangzhou

We walked about 10 miles on Sunday, April 15, south across the Sudi Causeway and back around the west side of the lake on the Xishan Lu Causeway back to our hotel, then hiked up a hill behind our hotel. In other words, if you like to walk, Hangzhou is your Paradise.

Sunday, April 15 – We’ve headed out of the front doors of the hotel:

Shangri-la Hotel- Hangzhou

On the Sudi Causeway now – crossing the lake:

David and Steph

Sudi Causeway

Temples, pagodas, pavilions and gardens surround the Lake.

Tomb of Yue Fei

Enjoyed these hilltop views of the lake and city of Hangzhou:

On Monday, our second full day, we walked through Solitary Hill Island, then across the causeway to the northeast corner of the lake. We had decided to visit the Chinese Medicine Museum and the China Silk Museum, located a few blocks into the city beyond the southeast end of the lake. Except we were too late to line up a driver. No problem! We’ll just hop on one of those extended golf carts we see ferrying people around – ride it around the south side of the lake and walk!

Oh! Except every one that goes by is already full of passengers … Well, we’ll just keep walking till one comes by (every 5 minutes or so) with open seats!

Victor, David, Steph, Eric- we’re walking, just keep walking to the far end of the lake!

Full golf carts keep passing us by …

Huh. We finally arrive at a major junction where people get off- we all hop on and ride the cart across the causeway and along the south end of the lake. I snap a couple of photos along the way …

We hop off at the southeast end of the lake and walk a few blocks into the city, to the Museum of Chinese Medicine. Apartment buildings line the streets –

Of course you’re going to line-dry your delicates!

The walk to the museum turned out to be far more interesting than the museum. We walked through a busy street market

Laughing Buddha in the middle of the market

A pair of stone lions frame the entrances to buildings, a common ornament in Chinese traditional architecture. They indicate safety and luck – ward off evil spirits. The male stone lion stands at the left hand and the female at the the right hand:

You would often see young women walking together arm in arm or holding hands, even grown women. Heartwarming!

Girl power!

We’re at the Museum of Chinese Medicine now – here is a statue of SunSimiao –

SunSimiao – Medicine King (AD. 581-682)

the Chinese Medicine King, a famous pharmacologist of the Tang Dynasty – 581-682 AD – 1400 years ago!

From this museum we proceed to the China National Silk museum. Catch a bus!

Eric

Here’s a photo of the China National Silk Museum.

China National Silk Museum

We learned a lot about silk worms and how silk is made and the history of the silk industry in China … But now, we’ve got to get ourselves back to the hotel!! Back on the bus!

David, Victor, Steph

We walked a few blocks from the bus stop to get back to the lake – on the south end of the lake now – we must catch another golf cart back over the causeway to the north side or we’ll be walking 5 miles! We walk a while with many full carts passing us by …

Others are in line too!

– until suddenly two carts arrive and we snag seats on the first one! Hop on the back rear-facing seat with me and enjoy the ride (and relief that we are spared the walk!)

Trying to figure out where we got on – where we are going – where to get off! Over the course of both days we covered nearly the entire perimeter of the lake.

Here’s a few more photos (and the Temple Eric is talking about):

To wrap up our second day, here’s another video I took toward the end of our ride along the west boundary of West Lake back toward our motel

And one more photo:

And that pretty much puts a wrap on Monday, our second full day in Hangzhou.

It is now Tuesday morning, April 17. We have spent the last 3 nights in Hangzhou and today we travel to our next destination, Guilin. We leave for the airport in about an hour – time for one last stroll along West Lake, back down the Sudi causeway, absorb a few minutes more of one of the most beautiful sites in China.

Here you see the view of our hotel overlooking the lake, the Shangri-la.

Shangri-la in Hangzhou

Great place for a selfie!

Okay, time to head to the airport. We have booked a plane to our next destination: Guilin! – Further inland, about 370 miles south-southwest. Ready for a new adventure?

Bullet Train from Beijing to Hangzhou

May 5, 2018

Well, dear reader, I feel a bit remiss in my previous blog at having posted such gloomy photos of the Great Wall – we did go on a rainy day, but why not experience the Great Wall in bright sunshine! The views at the Mutianyu section of the wall are magnificent – why have a rainy experience when you can have a sunny one! Click on this link if you’d like a Great Wall brighter day experience. You’re welcome. Ha.

So now it’s Saturday, April 14 – we say ‘good-bye’ to Beijing and catch the bullet train to Hangzhou – a city 760 miles south-southeast, near Shanghai.

Victor arranges a driver to take us to the train station. You all have your tickets? Yes! Good – we’ve arrived at the station.

Beijing South Railway Station

Now what? Just a bit hesitant to enter the crowds. Where’s the bathroom? We can’t lose each other!

“I need coffee” Eric says.

Look at your ticket and find our gate

Train ticket to Hangzhou

Yeah, right. Help, Victor!

Sooooo – which train is ours?

Just stay attached to Steph and Victor – get in this line!

Don’t want to lose Eric. Whew! He’s behind us…

Down to the trains now … Which one is ours??

Follow Victor!

Yay! We’ve boarded the bullet train. Business class! (Thank you, Victor.) Now we can relax!

Kick back for the next 4 hours!

I snap a few photos of the landscape flying past us at 180 mph.

So does, Eric. “My photos are better, Eric.” (Which they usually aren’t.)

We pass a lot of coal plants!

It’s incredible to see China’s investment in ‘infrastructure’ – tearing down the old, building the new.

Out with the old!

In with the new!

Here is a one-minute video I took to give you an idea of the landscape. High rise apartment cities rise up out of the landscape like mushroom colonies.

Do you notice how quiet the ride is? Riding the bullet train is a pleasurable experience.

Oh goody! We’re being served lunch!

Yum!

Oh, looks healthy. Some sort of fish, and pork, with a garnish, and rice …

Lunch!

A sad, out of sorts fish, staring right up at me that I get to have a conversation with.

He has a bone to pick with me? Oh, lots of bones – little tiny bones. Now I do like fish, but do I have to see the whole fish, head and all, stare the animal in the face while I’m eating it? I’m just not used to this kind of thing. Fillet the meat off the body, please, cloak it in breading, come on! I don’t want to see the whole animal I’m actually eating. Especially the head!

We’ve arrived in Hangzhou now. Yay!

Hangzhou train station

How old is this station? It looks brand new.

Wonder what that mural says?

A driver has met us – how nice! Thank you, Victor!

Follow the driver!

It’s at least an hour drive to our hotel, the Shangri-La,

Shangri-La Hotel in Hangzhou

which sits right on the main attraction in Hangzhou: West Lake. Here, I’ll give you a glimpse of it:

West Lake in Hangzhou

Basically the most beautiful lake you could ever imagine. We’ll be exploring this area over the next couple of days. You want to come along?

Beijing, China: The Great Wall

May 3, 2018

Part 2 of our recent China trip:

Our party of 5 Americans, Victor and Steph, Eric, David and I, arrived in Beijing on Wednesday Jan 11, for a 2-week visit to China. We are on our own, following our own itinerary, with Victor as our guide. Yesterday, January 12, we visited the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing. We are only staying 3 nights in Beijing, so today, our last full day, come rain or shine, we are visiting the Great Wall.

The Great Wall is the longest man-made structure ever built – a system of many walls built over 2000 years, from the 5th century BC to the 17th century AD. (Check out this wiki-link site on the Great Wall.) Especially famous is the wall built in 220-206 BC by Qin She Huang, the first emperor of China, to defend against invading barbarians. Stones from the mountains were used over mountain ranges, rammed earth was used for construction in the plains. It has been estimated by some authors that hundreds of thousands, possibly up to a million, workers died building the Qin wall. Little of that wall remains today.

Over the dynasties the Great Wall was eroded, built, rebuilt and extended many times. The latest construction took place in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the length was then over 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles). This is the wall often referred to when we talk about the Great Wall.

The Wall in its entirety spans 13,000 miles across northern China, snaking over deserts, hills and plains.

To conclude this history lesson (ha!) click on this short, fun, Youtube video on the Great Wall. And no, you can’t see the Great Wall from the moon!

Despite impressive battlements, the wall ultimately proved ineffective; it was breached in the 13th century by the Mongols and then in the 17th century by the Manchu.

Much of the existing wall that was built during the Ming Dynasty has crumbled and is still unrestored, but the sections of the Great Wall around Beijing have been frequently renovated and are regularly visited by tourists today.

Here’s a photo showing you the path of the Great Wall.

There are several sites you can visit on the Great Wall that are within an 1-2 hour drive from Beijing. The Badaling Great Wall is the most visited and famous stretch of the Wall, the first section to be opened to the public in the People’s Republic of China. It’s the destination for tour buses and is typically swarming with tourists, about an easy hour-drive from Beijing. No! We want something more remote!

So, on Friday January 13, Victor lines up a driver for the day to take us to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, about 80 km or a 1 1/2 hour drive from Beijing. It happens to be raining today, unfortunately, but for us to see the Great Wall it’s now or never. The Mutianyu section is a bit more remote than Badaling, and we’ve heard, a lot less crowded. There is also a strenuous hike involved – it takes about an hour to hike up to the wall from the parking lot.

We have arrived now, and started our ascent to the wall:

Starting up!

The signs are written in Chinese and English!

Half way up there is a small concession stand. Probably does a fantastic business on a hot day…

The concession stand – not to be confused with Eric and his pink umbrella

You can also ride a cable car up, and/or take the toboggan down:

Take the toboggan down!

The wall looms above us now!

We’re on top of the wall now! Good news is, we practically have the whole Wall to ourselves. Bad news, too much fog to enjoy the magnificent views…

We peeked into this building – barracks, where you could see the humble bunking accommodations. The officer’s bed had an area underneath it where you could light a fire to keep the bed warm!

Barracks!

From the watchtowers, guards could survey the surrounding land.

Victor, Steph and David

This section of the Great Wall is connected with Juyongguan Pass in the west and Gubeikou Gateway in the east:

Built mainly with granite, the wall here is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Some of the steps are a little skewed:

Heading back down now …

Down, and down, and down …

David, Steph, Eric, Victor

Walking toward the parking area now. The rain sure put a damper on the crowds!

Any hungry customers out there?

I snapped a couple of photos on the drive back to our hotel in Beijing.

Rush hour gridlock getting home

Well, there certainly was a lot in Beijing we didn’t see. The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, The National Museum of China, the Beijing Zoo, to name a few. So many restaurants and shopping, although we did eat dinner at a superb restaurant a couple of blocks from our hotel, where we enjoyed a fine serving of Peking Duck:

The Da Dong Restaurant

There was also a huge underground shopping mall underneath our hotel, the Grand Hyatt Beijing. Here, we just got off the elevator:

Underground mall underneath our hotel

We enjoyed dinner at a nice restaurant in the underground mall, as well, where Eric began to get a pretty good grip on eating with chopsticks:

Way to go, Eric

Time to call it a day. Get a good night’s sleep!

Tomorrow we travel 760 miles on the bullet train to Hangzhou!

2018 Trip to China – Beijing!

April 29, 2018

David and I just returned from a 2-week trip to China. How could I not blog about it? We flew from Idaho Falls to Seattle to Beijing, leaving Monday, April 9, returning this past Monday, April 23. We traveled with my sister Stephanie and husband Victor, and my brother Eric. We didn’t go as part of a tour, we planned our trip itinerary with Victor, who is Chinese. Victor was born in mainland China but his family moved to Taiwan when he was a young child (fleeing the mainland during the 1949 revolution when Mao Zedong came to power). Victor grew up in Taiwan, and then Hong Kong for 3 years before immigrating to the United States to attend college when he was 18 years old. He has lived in America ever since, becoming a US citizen.

What to see of China in two weeks? Beijing, of course. From there …. how about we hop on a bullet train to Hangzhou? Then a flight to Guilin. From Guilin, over to Hong Kong by bullet train and subway. Three nights in each city! Here is a map of China from the Fodor’s China travel book:

Map of Mainland China

And a map of the eastern half of China, to show you the destination cities on our itinerary – starting in Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou (near Shanghai), then Guilin, then Hong Kong, a total distance of nearly 2000 miles.

Eastern half of China – Destination cities – from Beijing in the north, traveling south to Hangzhou, Guilin, and Hong Kong

You want to come along? (!!) I’ve taken hundreds of photos (?? – maybe. I stopped counting) Don’t really know how these blogs will shake out – just thought I’d start at the beginning of our trip and see where the photos take us! Are you ready? Fasten your seatbelt!

Monday, Jan 9 – 3pm: Fly from Idaho Falls, to Salt Lake City, to Seattle, Washington.

4:23 pm – We have landed in Salt Lake. Navigating through the terminal now to our next gate – to board our flight to Seattle:

SLC terminal – which way do we go?

I have never seen the airport this busy!

5:18 pm – flying over the Great Salt Lake:

Great Salt Lake

At 6:47 we fly past Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the Cascades and in the state of Washington. It is located 54 miles (87 km) south-southeast of Seattle:

Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountains

6:55 pm – Descending for a landing in Seattle:

Seattle!

We (David, Eric and I and Steph and Victor) spend the night in a motel near the airport in Seattle. Steph and Vic arrive in Seattle close to midnight from Boston. Get a good night’s sleep! We all fly to Beijing tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 10: Our flight from Seattle to Bejing leaves about 4pm. Arrives in Bejing on Wednesday, 6:25 pm. 26 hours later! Okay, but it’s 15 hours later in Bejing so… the flight is only about 11 hours. We arrive at the Seattle airport in plenty of time. With carry-on bags only! (We decided we never wanted to be separated from our bags, especially on the flights in China…) Hey, grab a newspaper before we board!:

Colorful, anyway.

You suppose I could learn to read Chinese during our 11-hour flight? (Never mind. Victor has informed me that the newspaper is actually Korean…) Mostly we passengers ate, read a bit, and then tried to sleep. I was cranky at the end of the flight from all the times I looked over at everyone around me, seemingly snoozing away, as I lay there bright-eyed, counting sheep. It’s best to lay there and at least pretend you’re sleeping, because you just might drift off, but you have to at least avert your mind from thinking about how many hours of the flight you still have ahead of you…

Wednesday April 11- 6:30pm: Alas, we’ve landed in Beijing! Victor has a driver waiting for us at the airport, (Yay!) who finds us immediately and delivers us to our motel near the city center, the Grand Hyatt Beijing. Very nice. Hard to capture in a photo – here’s my attempt:

Grand Hyatt, Beijing

The best thing about the Grand Hyatt is its location – it lies within walking distance of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. They also serve a wonderful breakfast buffet, so large, in fact, that on our first morning Steph, Victor, David and I pass on it and order breakfast a la carte. And then proceed to watch Eric eat the breakfast buffet. “Think you have enough to eat, Eric?”

You even found a banana?

I recognized a lot of the food on his plate. But what were those white blobs with with black polka dots?

‘Dragon fruit’ says Eric. Okay, so the next two mornings we all spring for the breakfast buffet.

Thursday, April 12 – 10am – After Eric’s huge breakfast, we head out on foot toward the Forbidden City. Bejing is surprisingly clean, modern, new, and safe.

Building in Beijing city center

Although, you should carry your passport with you where ever you go, particularly if you need to purchase tickets – admittance to a landmark or museum or transportation… We had to show our passports to get into the Forbidden City. I took a lot of photos of the Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, but honestly, they all look similar. The Forbidden City was constructed from 1406-1420 (600 years ago!) by 100,000 skilled artisans and up to a million laborers as the palace of the Ming Emperors of China. The complex consists of 980 buildings over 180 acres, the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The complex served as the Imperial Palace for 500 years, home to 23 Ming and Qing Emperors, until the dynastic system crumbled in 1911. (See the Oscar-winning movie “The Last Emperor” for the story of the last Emperor of China – with fantastic footage of the Forbidden City and the history of the last Emperor’s overthrow in 1911 and the rise of the New Republic of China till the Last Emperor’s death in 1967.)

Fodor’s China travel book has a great photo of the Forbidden City. (Okay, so I took a photo of their photo, thank you, Fodors) It gives you an idea what a huge complex it is:

The Forbidden City – picture from Fodor’s

Another travel book (which I had cut apart) has a nice photo of the layout of Forbidden City – which I’m including, just so you can understand how large it is. See all the entrances and exits? Our plan was to enter the complex from the back and come out the front that overlooks Tiananmen Square.

Admittedly, photo is a bit tacky

We are entering now…

Steph and Vic lead the way

Since 2012 the Forbidden City has seen an average of 15 million visitors annually.

Pairs of lions guard the entrances of halls.

The public was not allowed to enter any of the buildings. Mostly we moved with the crowds, had to wait in the hoards just to get a peek inside the palaces.

At some point we exited, with the movement of the crowd, thinking we’d be facing Tiananmen Square.

But, hey! Where were we? We had come out one of the side exits, but darned if we knew which one. Hey there’s a moat! Does that help orient us?

Luckily Victor speaks Chinese and could ask a guard where we were and how to get to Tiananmen Square. Oh! So it’s a long walk … Dang! Suddenly, out of nowhere two drivers pull up beside us. Now I don’t know what you call the rigs they were driving. David, Eric and I piled into the back of one and Steph and Vic in the other. We soared off into the traffic, back onto the sidewalk then swerved back into the street, weaving in and out of traffic, down alleyways, alongside buses; the ride was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, luckily we were going too fast to process it. I captured photos along the way … Mostly of Eric, because he was facing us in the rig.

Down the alley!

Watch out for that bus!!

Our driver was whizzing faster than Steph and Vic’s and at some point we lost them. Imagine our relief when they finally pulled up behind us!

Whew! We’re all still alive!

Sure enough, we were dropped off a block from Tiananmen Square. We are walking to it now and I just happened to capture this video.

We are so exhausted by the time we get to Tiananmen Square we look at it from across the street and pose for photos. In this photo of us you see the main front entrance to the Forbidden City in the background, the entrance we thought we were coming out of.

Eric, Steph, Victor, David, Jody

As I said, we were across the street from Tiananmen Square. Hard to believe this is the best photo I have of Tiananmen Square:

Worst photo ever of Tiananmen Square

– there was so much traffic it looked too exhausting at this point to actually cross the street to get on the square. So this is the closest we, dear reader, will get to it.

I took a couple more photos of Beijing on our walk back to the hotel.

There. I bet at this point, you’re a little exhausted too! Our first full day in Beijing. Yeah, well, get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow we visit the Great Wall.