Archive for the ‘China’ Category

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.