Friday 5/14/99 - Departure Day
Our group left from L.A. around midnight. We flew on Korean Air and had the traditional Korean dinner on the plane (Bimbobap). After a 4-hour layover in Seoul, we flew to Beijing.
We checked into the Capital Hotel in Beijing. Bill and I got a great room, fantastic view, modern conveniences, control center by the bed, GREAT shower, big hard bed -- great for sleeping. We put our things away, showered and met the group for our first adventure -- Temple of Heaven.
The emperor worshipped and honored the heavens during annual celebrations at the Temple of Heaven. All women stayed outside of the temple during these celebrations. The Temple of Heaven has beautiful buildings, rounded walls that carried echoes and whispers everywhere. We learned that the number nine is a royal important number. Everywhere there were 9 steps, 9 x 9 = 81 knobs on door, etc.
"HELEN" (named by her English teacher) is our local guide in Beijing. She is adorable - 24 years old, personality plus and has so much information to share with us.
Street vendors everywhere yelling "2 dollars /5 dollars, HELLO, HELLO." Bought a stupid Buddha thing for $5 -- didn't really want it, but was practicing my bargaining powers. Other than the fact I bought something I didn't want, I guess they're pretty good.
Got back to the hotel, napped, up at 6:30 p.m. for group orientation by JP. JP is our American guide for SmarTours. We had dinner at the hotel, compliments of SmarTours. Excellent food. Our group sat together -- great time. What a great group. Went to bed in our fancy hotel room.
Our Gang of 8 from San Diego
Gary, Steve, Bill, Bob
Rita, Daira, Nancy, Mad
Temple of Heaven
Monday, 5/17/99 - First Full Fun Day in Beijing
Had a great buffet breakfast at the hotel and then hopped on the bus. We saw all sorts of people riding bikes and parked bikes at the subway stations. Companies keep bikes at the subway for workers to use.
We drove around Tiananmen Square. Helen pointed out all the buildings. The Hall of the People has a huge portrait of Mao. Tiananmen Square was closed because it is under construction to prepare for 10/1/99, the 50th anniversary of the communist revolution -- that's the party line. More than likely it is closed to avoid any demonstrations to remember the 10th anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre that occurred on June 4, 1989.
After Tiananmen Square we went to the country.
Our 1st stop was the government owned cloisonné factory. The only one open to the public to protect big secrets, I guess. We saw women in rooms carefully gluing bits of brass to form the outline on a copper jar, vase, plate, whatever. Hand sketched patterns on paper tissue lay around for use by novices. Experienced employees need no patterns to go by. It takes approximately 1 day (5 hours) just to glue the brass to the base. In the next room, women were filling in the vase sections with different colors of powdered paint. The vases were then powdered and fired in another room (men's work). The final step was polishing.
Our next stop was the Sacred Road. We saw a statue of a dragon-headed turtle with a 20-foot tablet on his back. The tablet listed the virtues from the previous emperors. The Sacred Road walkway was lined with statues of animals -- some standing watch, others resting. There were grooves of peach trees grown for royal consumption only. Peach trees symbolize longevity, along with everything else in the country! After walking along the Sacred Road, we bought a $2 panda T-shirt from a local vendor.
Ming Tombs was our next stop -- 13 tombs in a valley surrounded by a river and three mountains called Phoenix, Dragon and probably Horse Mountain? (can't remember the 3rd mountain). The entrance to the Ming Tomb, discovered in the 1950's, is a Big Secret. No one can go there.
At the Ming Memorial, there was a huge statue of the 3rd Ming Emperor. The memorial looked like the Lincoln Memorial. However, instead of Abe, there was this Fat Ming guy sitting in a big chair.
Brief History -- After the first Ming Emperor's death, the grandson, became the second Emperor (because the first son had died). This pissed the uncle off, so he declared a war, won and then became 3rd Ming Emperor.
Ming Memorial also had display cases of all the treasures found in the tombs. Emperor's things were in gold while the empress's stuff was silver. We saw fancy crowns and headdresses, long pendants for eunuchs and concubines, lots of jade, incense burners, chopsticks, teapots, etc.
Silver chopsticks were used to test for poison in the food because the silver changed color after touching poison. Before this discovery, eunuchs tested the food. Too bad if they died.
Each Emperor had 5,000 concubines. The empress had approximately 1,000 eunuchs, which didn't do her much good physically. (Somethings are never fair.) The mother of the emperor always chose the emperor's wife (empress). The emperor had 3 days to stay with the empress to see if they were compatible (translated to see if sex was good). If yes, the couple stayed together. If no, the couple only slept together to produce heirs to the throne. Then the emperor used the 5,000 concubines for pleasure. Bottom line in this setup - Mother ruled. There was NO DIVORCE!
Lunch was at a place where tour buses gather. Huge shopping area downstairs -expensive stuff with crappy quality, but lunch was excellent -- dumplings, rice, Kung Pao chicken beer, etc.
After lunch, we visited a Jade Factory -- saw guys carving jade into animals, flowers, etc. The Jade guide had spent too much time in Commie school. She yelled and ordered us around. Most annoying personality. Don't like jade. Didn't buy anything. Rita and Daira bought $100+ bracelets -- looked good on them.
Highlight of Day - THE GREAT WALL -- Made it to the top (with Bill and Bob and Steve). Lots of steep steps. The guard at the top sang songs and then said "Hi-Ho Silver" when we reached the top. Curious statement. A woman hiding out in the top guardhouse sold us black market "Commemorative Certificates" stating that we were "plucky heroes" (Mao's term) to have made it to the top. Bob, Bill, and I negotiated the best price for the certificates - 20 yuan each. Our guide Helen filled in our names in Chinese to make it official. Bobby took lots of photos of us on the wall.
Amazing sites on the Great Wall -- Spry old Chinese folks going up and down the wall -- years of biking and morning exercises in the park paid off. I was the only woman who made it from our group, thanks to my early morning gym sessions.
Back to our hotel. Quick shower and then out for Korean BBQ -- great time! The Gang of 8 was isolated in one room at the restaurant. We didn't know what to do or what to order. The waitress brought out raw meat, prawns, chicken, fatty pork and lowered a hood over the table to catch the smoke. We barbecued the food. Pork caused lots of flames. Finally the waitress cooked our food. Fun night. Went for a walk. Had ice cream and did the wash. In bed at 11.
On the Sacred Road
Tuesday, 5/18/99 - Second Fun Day in Beijing
Had another great breakfast and then boarded the bus at 8:30 for the Forbidden City. Amazing place, straight out of the movie, "Last Emperor". I purchased a little red book outside the Forbidden City.
Some background -- Construction of the Forbidden City begun in 1406 and ended in 1420. It was used by the Ming/Ching dynasties. The last Emperor to occupy the Forbidden City was only three years old when he became emperor. He left in 1911. The Japanese tricked him. He spent some time in a Manchurian prison. He came back to Beijing, became a gardener and died of cancer at age 62.
There are no trees or grass in the Forbidden City proper so enemies couldn't hide in the trees and grass waiting to kill the emperor. There were five marble bridges just inside the front gate. Each bridge represented one of the five virtues - benevolence, graciousness, rites, intelligence and fidelity. Each person crossed the bridge for the virtue they wanted most. Bill and I crossed the bridge of intelligence. I don't think it helped.
We had our group photo taken inside the Forbidden City -- nice souvenir.
We saw so many things -- the palaces and places where concubines and eunuchs stayed; the 308 pots for fire protection and symbols of royalty everywhere - crane, dragon-headed turtles, sets of lions. One lion had a paw on a ball representing the universe (for the emperor to rule the universe) and one had a paw on a baby lion (for the empress to raise the children). We saw the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Everlasting Harmony. By law the emperor had to rise at sunrise, but he would sneak off to another Hall for a little nap before starting his day.
Each year, 300 scholars would come to one of the Halls to take an examination. Those who passed got to marry one of the emperor's daughters and get an entitlement. The exam lasted 3 days. Many died of exhaustion. Those who failed committed suicide because of shame to their families. Talk about pressure!
The Forbidden City and many other royal places have elaborate marble-carved ramps leading into each building. Eight men carried the emperor over these carved ramps. The emperor didn't do much exercise.
The last area, at the back of the Forbidden City, was the garden. Beautiful place, but I didn't get any pictures because I had to go to the bathroom.
A street vendor ripped me off BIG TIME outside the Forbidden City. I bought a musical Mao cigarette lighter. I bargained for 20 yuan, only had 100 yuan bill. The thief got his friend to give me change (70 yuan = $8). But, instead of 8 dollars, I got 80 cents. (The bills were smaller.) Bill was mad at my stupidity and then for getting screwed! We discovered it at lunch when he tried to pay for beer with 40 cents, instead of $4. That damned little lighter cost me $12.00!!! No more street vendors for me!
Lunch was good and typical - a big round lazy Susan in the center of the table with fresh piping-hot dishes appearing every 15 minutes or so. Beer is free with the meal. Water costs extra.
After lunch we went to see the Pandas. There are 8 in the Beijing Zoo. We saw about 6. One was asleep in the tree. Continue to be amazed by all the single-child families. China is probably a nation of spoiled brats. Spoiled, but cute.
After the zoo - we were off to the Summer Palace built by the evil Empress Dowager. She used the Navy budget for her summer home. As justification, she built a marble ship (that won't sail) in the harbor. It was a beautiful, peaceful place and had a big man-made lake. The poor slaves had to take the dirt from the lake and use it to build the mountain (Longevity Mountain). There was a long walkway with 8000 paintings illustrating Chinese literature. A Buddha temple was once at the top of Longevity Mountain until it was destroyed by an invasion. Buddha bodies were demolished.
After the Summer Palace, we returned to Beijing and stopped at the store, Pearl City. I got some real pearl earrings for $22! Madeleine got a $200 pearl to be set in a ring and Rita got a beautiful necklace.
Last stop for the day was our Peking duck dinner. After dinner, went downstairs to the Beijing Opera to see "The Monkey King" and "The Jade Bracelet." Enjoyed the performances. It was a wonderful old opera house. They served us tea and yummy cookies. Back to our hotel and ready for bed at 10.
The Forbidden City
Our Guide in Beijing
The Evil Empress
Wednesday, 5/19/99 - Wuhan
Packed, ate breakfast and took the bus to the airport.
Helen, our guide, asked questions about her presentations. I got most of the answers right. (Keeping a journal helps the old mind.) Bill apologized to Helen for the US Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. He was so sincere and genuine, I wept.
Facts about Darling Helen:
- In August 99, she will attend Georgetown University on a scholarship to get an MBA.
- Helen's Mom is a retired professor of geography. (Helen hates geography.)
- Helen's Dad is the general manager of perfume company.
- Her parents insisted Helen get an MBA and take over the perfume business. Chinese children are very loyal and obedient.
- Helen's grandparents were both doctors. Helen wanted to be a doc, but no dice. She wants to come to California. (Hope she does).
On the flight to Wuhan, a TV / video program played showing American pilots bombing targets -- bad choice of programs.
Arrived in Wuhan -- a 2000-year-old yucky city. Met Lilly, our guide. Had the wildest bus driver ever. The driver honked and drove like a crazy man.
Had our 2nd lunch for the day (1st on airplane). Nice place. Now all restaurants and all menus are starting to look alike!
After lunch, we went to Eastlake (Dong Hu) Park where red lanterns hung from all the trees. The lanterns, left over from a lantern festival, were beautiful and graceful. Mao hung out in the Eastlake area. He swam across the Yangtze.
Discussed the US bombing the Chinese embassy with Lilly. Very uncomfortable conversation. The Chinese believe that it was NO accident, only Clinton's imperialistic way of conquering Eastern Europe. Lilly said the only way to conquer US was through DEVELOPMENT. The Swiss guy (Charles) tried to explain the concept of accidental bombing. Too diplomatic, too condescending, too tedious. He annoyed me.
We saw the statue of the famous patriotic poet (Qu Yuan) who lived in this area. He tried to warn the emperor of an impending enemy attack. The Emperor didn't trust him and ignored the warning. Later, they were conquered by this enemy attack. The poet was so upset, he committed suicide in the Dongting Lake. To commemorate him, each year the Chinese have a Dragon boat festival and go out and throw bags of rice into the water so the fish won't eat the poet's body.
After the park, we went to another pagoda park (Yellow Crane Park) on a hill in town. There were beautiful pagodas. We climbed the 2 tallest pagodas. Pagodas were military watchtowers.
Next we visited a carpet factory in the town. Expensive carpets. The best part was spending some time on the back streets outside the carpet factory. We were fascinated by a guy making puffed rice. The explosion frightened us. All the little kids held their ears. There were lots of life and laughter, and lots of nice pictures (the lighting was perfect).
Then back to the same restaurant where we had lunch. Bill sat at the "hot and spicy" table. I sat with the taste-bud wimps. A local at another table laughed at how I used the chopsticks. Glad I could entertain someone.
After dinner, we boarded the Victoria III cruise ship. We were greeted by a dancing dragon. We got settled into our cabins, then had a welcoming meeting. Nice friendly staff, relaxing place.
Yellow Crane Tower
Pagoda Park - Wuhan
Making Puffed Rice
Explosions on the Street!
Thursday, 5/20/99 - Victoria Cruises Day 1 -- Yeuyang Tower / Dongting Lake
Breakfast on the ship was very good. Coffee outstanding.
Bob Klein, the tall guy from Alaska, saw the first "floater" (dead person in the river). Didn't want to hear the details.
We took a ferry boat to Yueyang Tower on Dongting Lake. The crew held bamboo sticks as handrails to assist us on and off the boat. Very clever these Chinese.
The guide on the boat gave these facts:
- 10 generals, out of 13 generals in all of China, came from this area. The most beautiful women come from this area. There is speckled bamboo plants in the area. Legend has it that two concubines loved their emperor. He went off and died in a war. They went to an island and cried and cried, causing the bamboo to get speckled, then they killed themselves.
- There are many famous poets in the area.
Saw 3 beautiful pagodas. The main pagoda had no foundation and no nails. It was built for emperors to watch while the Navy was training outside on the lake. Two smaller pagodas were on each side of main pagoda. One called Thrice Drunken because the emperor got drunk there 3 times.
The main pagoda honored all sorts of famous poets. China has a reverence for the written word (no real orators). The pagoda had Mao's writing on the walls (bad penmanship -- but nonetheless Mao's).
The guide recited one poem in Chinese. She also told of one poem that said the common soldiers should worry about the general and the general should worry about the common folks. Therefore, when everybody worries about others first, life is beautiful! The guide asked if I was interested in Chinese literature because I knew a lot. I told her I just read the travel guide books the night before.
Bought some silver needle tea, for emperors' use only. While brewing, the tea leaves rise to the surface, then fall three times, just like Dung Xio Ping's political career.
In the Pagoda area, I had my photo taken with a big Mao Dummy. The picture was great. I'm holding hands with Mao, looking longingly into his eyes. (It displays with the title in this Journal.)
We ferried back to the boat. Had a 15-minute Tai Chi lesson from the Doctor, then had lunch. (Most of the group got massages from the Doctor.) Spent the afternoon in the cabin -- napping, reading, and watching the movie "Last Emperor."
Had a wine party in Gary and Rita's room with the gang. It was fun. Then off to the ship's captain's reception.
Next was dinner. Bob and Sandra Klein from Alaska sat with us (nice folks), After dinner, there was a fashion show. The crew modeled historical fashions and then modeled outfits you could buy on the boat (clever marketing). Also part of the program was a fascinating "Changing Faces" dance where a guy's masks kept dropping like magic. Only 20 people in all of China can do this dance. Would love to know how in the heck he did that.
Back to the cabin and read my book, then off to bed. Had a good rest.
Victoria Cruise Ship
On the Yangtze
Dance Using Chinese Masks
Friday, 5/21/99 - Victoria Cruises Day 2 - 3 Gorges
Up, showered, washed our clothes, did the Tai Chi class. Another good breakfast
3 Gorges today - but RAIN RAIN RAIN
Big event -- "Guess-the-time-we-get-through-the-lock-at-Yuching" lottery. The one who guesses the closest to when the front lock gates open is the winner. We didn't win.
We boarded the bus to visit the Three Gorges Dam site at Sandouping Village. Biggest construction site in history.
Our tour guide, Sally, cute like all the other guides, told us all the good things, but none of the controversial issues with the dam. She said the "PRO-ject" will:
- eliminate flooding in the lower Yangtze,
- enable large boats to travel all the way from Shanghai to Chunching,
- generate electrical power for 10% of the entire country,
- And on and on.
The dam site was chosen because of the solid granite bedrock, but requires a dam that is 2,345 meters across and 185 meters high. We saw construction of the huge 5-stage lock for large boats. They are also building an "elevator" for smaller boats (up to 3000 tons). There are 20,000 construction workers at the site, living in temporary housing. They work 5 days a week (M-F). The construction is now in Phase 2, which began in 1993 until 2003, when the diversion channel will be closed. The river will be closed to all traffic from May - August, 2003 after the diversion channel is closed.
Sally said the cost of the project is $7 Billion US, but I've read that it is closer to $30 Billion. At $7 Billion it will take only 2 years to recoup the cost of the entire project from electricity (according to Sally). It sounds like propaganda. Sally did not want to talk about how many people will have to be relocated or the loss of historical treasures.
On the bus back to the Victoria III, Sally asked us to join her in singing "500 miles" and a Bob Dylan song "Blowing in the Wind." Her voice was so sweet, had everyone in tears! She did, just as promised, warm the "cockles of our hearts."
Back at the boat, had South-of-the-River Happy Hour with Margaritas at 50% off - not bad from a Chinese Bartender.
Dinner was like all the other dinners, but there was an addition to the menu -- pasta and Chef Boyardee with canned parmesan cheese. A nicety for the western palate.
Rita left table early for a bout with the toilet. She did manage to write all the ideas down for this skit we're supposed to do tomorrow.
Docked at Wushan for the night.
Bill and His Buddy Bob
3 Gorges Dam Site
Saturday, 5/22/99 - Victoria Cruises Day 3 - Wushan and the 3 Lesser Gorges
Up early to sail through the Wu Gorge. Beautiful. I was on the top deck taking lots of photos. Bill was on the main deck trying to listen to Jacky, the river guide.
Had breakfast and then left for the sampans to take us through the Lesser Gorges. Paraded through vendors. Saw cooked geese and ducks and all sorts of things. Lots of sad, deformed people begging. We climbed onto the sampans. A big red sign overhead read something like:
"50 Years of Achievements in Economic Comic Construction"
Dom, our local guide, was quite the guy. He is engaged to be married in 1 year. Dom's parents picked out a nice, sweet girl -- but he doesn't love her. He's in love with another girl he met at school. The other girl loves him and will wait for him. (Good story -- but sad, if true.)
The 3 Lesser Gorges are called:
- Dragon's Head - 1st Gorge
- Misty Gorge - 2nd Gorge
- Emerald Gorge - 3rd Gorge
Saw lots of fishermen in interesting boats. Also saw farmers. They plant their crops in vertical rows straight up the hills.
Went under a big bridge, fighting upstream currents all the way. A couple of sampans broke down and we just waved at them and said Ne-How!!!
Dom pointed out the square holes in the cliff. These once supported the royal / imperial road before the Red Guards destroyed everything.
Dom also showed us where coffins were found in the caves high in the cliffs.
The entire area was beautiful -- so green and dramatic. The water kept rushing on-board. Lots of wet bodies and good laughs.
Dom said, "We are lucky. We have good weather and don't have to stop where all those tourists are."
We stopped for 20 minutes at an isolated tiny patch of beach. Dom's Quote: "I am Chairman Dom and you can do anything you want on the beach!" We weren't on the alleged beach for more than two minutes when we were invaded by peddlers who waded in to sell us all sorts of junk. The rocks with animals painted on them were the big hit.
On the way home, the boat went with the current. Dom spent the time selling books, videos, stamps, postcards, and then phoned the order in via cell phone so all the merchandise would be waiting. Dom also treated us to the Chinese concept of potato chips - "Potatoes and fresh egg" - looked like rice krispie bars and tasted weird.
Back to the Victoria Cruise Ship. Lunch was hamburgers and french fries -- ate too much.
At 2:30, went through the Qutang Gorge -- so beautiful -- could see the 175 meter markers with old, abandoned farming villages below and new high rise "boxes" (apartments) above.
We flew kites off the deck. I crashed 2 within a minute. I begged the kite master to let someone else fly the damn thing. But the Pixie (that's the group's nickname for me) finally ruled when I saved the fish kite from going to the ocean, oops -- river!!
Dinner at 7:00, then the big show at 8:45. The show was those typical silly skits the passengers put together. The SmarTours contribution was:
- Tight Cheeks Mao meets Mini Mao Victoria Secrets Bathing Suit Fashion Show
- Greater Gorge dines with Lesser Gorge
The best part of our show was the Victoria Secret Bathing Suit fashion wear -- 5 of the older gals taped "Victoria" cruise coasters to their bodies as pasties.
Master Kite Maker
Sunday, 5/23/99 - Victoria Cruises Day 4 - Fengdu
Up early to do Tai Chi with the good doctor. Then had a big breakfast.
10:30 - shore excursion to Fengdu, the City of Ghosts. Leala was our tour guide -- first guide we had with curly hair.
We rode the bus to the Temple's gate. The temple was another 800 steps up the hill. Everyone, except Bill and I, paid 15 yuan to ride the ski lift up. The walk felt good. We went through a series of weird temples on the way. I saw two women eating live crickets with their chopsticks. They had to really crunch their teeth to break those little suckers up.
Leala, our guide, told us about the series of TESTS associated with the temple. We were to pass these tests in order to get to heaven. Some of the tests were:
- Step over a threshold without touching it.
- Dash up 30 steps in a stairway without taking a breath.
- Lift a 400 pound rock up and try to balance it on a pedestal to see if your wife is faithful.
- Balance on a concrete ball on one foot for 3 seconds while looking into the Temple.
- Take 9 steps over the bridge with your honey holding hands for everlasting love.
- Spin around and touch one of the 5 commandments. Mine said I was loyal to my husband (Bill didn't do it...).
The figures in the temples were straight out of Star Wars -- Green Monsters stomping on babies, yellow creatures with eyes all over his body. The intent was to scare the hell out of you (or perhaps, little children).
Saw a sweet little family having dinner right at the altar of a big Buddha. The place looked like something Disney put together, only not as good.
Walked back down the 800 steps and out the gate into the town's market. The market was closing up for lunch. Amazing sights. Saw an alley with about 15 pool tables and people playing. Saw lots of kids being adored by parents and grandparents. Walked back to the bus to take us to the boat.
Had lunch on the boat - same old, same old. Then went to the cabin for rest and reading and watching the amazing sights through the cabin window as we cruised by. Lots of farmland and waterfalls intermingled with coal mines and factories -- strange place with no sign of zoning.
Bill went to hear a lecture by Jacky on Modern China. Jacky is a sweet, serious guy. Jacky said the young Chinese are not interested in joining the Communist party. They just want to make $$$ like the rest of us capitalists!
I stayed back in the cabin to watch "Wedding Banquet" but could only get "Lethal Weapon." Mel Gibson fighting the evil Chinese. Interesting choice of movies.
Tonight was the Captain's Farewell Banquet. Lots of Champagne and toasting. Fun!!
Market in Fendu
Monday, 5/24/99 - Chongquing
Air conditioner blew on me all night and fighting a sore throat (so far I seem to be winning, but just barely).
Had breakfast -- packed up and left the boat. Lots of slippery steps. It was raining in Chongquing (means double happiness). Huge city (33 million). Bob, the tour guide, was really cool. Didn't like THE PROJECT (3 Gorges Damn). Said he'd lose his job after the project is completed. Didn't believe what was written in the newspaper and wanted 2 or 3 kids. He also exchanged dollars for a good rate. Has something going on the side, maybe.
First visited General Stilwell's house (now a museum) in town. Stilwell was a popular U.S. general in Chongquing during WW II. He had something to do with the Burma trail and the Flying Tigers. There were lots of pictures of him, some with Mao. Interesting place.
On the street just outside the General's house we saw people making Suzuki and/or Yamaha motorcycle parts. These Joint Ventures erase old war memories, I suppose.
We drove by the Flying Tiger airstrip, but I couldn't see it because I was on the wrong side of the bus. Bob pointed out all the caves made into the side of an ancient wall used in China for bombing shelters in WW II. The Japanese bombed the crap out of the city for 2 years. Now the caves are stores, mini factories, gas stations, anything that fits.
Next stop, People's Hall. Huge building built in 1951. Was used for Government, but now used for opera, art museum. Bill and I bought a lovely painting for $35.00.
Next we walked down to a market where people were selling snakes, frogs, ducks, chickens. Watched some animals lose their lives.
Then on to 5-star Holiday Inn for a great lunch. After lunch, Bill, Daira and I strolled through some back streets and tried to relate to the folks. Saw a granny lady knitting, dogs, kids, people eating, and a cage of snakes on the street.
Next stop, a silk factory where we saw women employees standing in long rolls. They were boiling the cocoons and then threading the stringed silk. One woman let me try - I was awful at it - didn't know what to do. Bob, the guide, said the women are farmers and do this for extra money during this season. They make 100 yuan a month (or $25 a month). That's good money - because one crop yields about $100. We liked the town. The people were friendly, not accustomed to tourists.
After the silk factory, we went to the airport. Left around 6-ish. Bumpy, scary flight. Landed in Xian around 7:30. Several had their luggage destroyed. Had to wait for the settlement (approximately $1.50 per broken luggage -- not WORTH WAITING FOR!!).
An hour's drive to our fancy hotel. The airport was moved way out in the country because the airport in the city was often closed due to icy conditions in the winter.
Met our new guide, Li, another sweetheart! Told us about her city. She has 9-year old daughter. Her husband is in research (computers). Good job. She has a master's in Liberal Arts -- art and literature. She also hates cats because as a child she had to sleep with her mother's cat. The cat once dragged a half-eaten cold snake into bed with her.
Got to the hotel at approximately 9:30 PM. Went down to the coffee shop for dinner. Waited and waited for the spaghetti. Then, when it finally came, the waiter spilled Bob's dinner all over his fanny pack! Finally in bed at 11:30!
Tuesday, 5/25/99 - Xian (Terracotta Soldiers)
RAIN RAIN!! Up and on the bus at 8:30. First stop Small Goose (or Wild Goose) Pagoda. Bill and I paid 20 yuan to climb to the top. The rest stayed down and shopped. There were the local farmer's colorful paintings, etc. We also rang the bell and made a wish. Li showed us how the farmers kept their beds warm -- routed the chimney under their beds. They also slept on jade blocks.
Next, went to the Terracotta Soldiers' factory. Big department store. Bought 2 lacquer boxes ($20.00). Bill is a good negotiator. Bill also broke a Terracotta Soldier set. Bought a set of soldiers that weren't broken (or so we thought!). Bob and Mad bought a Jade sculpture for $1,300 U.S.
Had lunch at another souvenir shop. Just bring those tourists with American dollars through. Li said this area is famous for noodles (or "noodoes", as she says) and told us she ordered noodles for our lunch. Bill was licking his chops and was so disappointed when we only got one noodle dish. He loves the way Li says "New-DOES!" Big Bob from Alaska got sick -- claimed the restaurant was dirty. Gary is also a sick puppy, but won't stop eating and drinking.
After lunch we went to see the famous Terracotta soldiers. Amazing site. On the way to the site, we were overcome by vendors. Everywhere: "HELLO, HELLO -- ONE DOLLAR." Daira screamed at them to stay away and they did respond.
Inside the Terracotta museum, saw a film-in-the-round about the story of the Terracotta soldiers. At age 13, the 1st Emperor was installed, but didn't rule until 22. He expanded territory (or as history has it, united China), built palaces, the Great Wall, and started construction on his tomb. Anyway, the Emperor died suddenly at age 50. He died in March but was not buried until September (Whew!). His son finished the tomb. The poor son was a weak leader so the peasants finished him off. The peasant uprising destroyed all the palaces and burned and smashed the terracotta soldiers.
Archaeologists are carefully putting the whole thing back together again. The current site has uncovered 7,000 - 8,000 soldiers (life-sized terracotta, each one different, to resemble his actual troops). There were generals, warriors, horses, chariot drivers, chariots made of wood, bronze weapons, armor, etc. There were 4 pits found. The first pit was found by farmers digging a well in 1974. One of the farmers spends his time signing picture books. He refuses to have his picture taken with any flash. He almost went blind from the fame (and flashes from cameras). We weren't allowed to take photos in the pits. Everyone was doing it, but not me. Didn't want to risk getting my film taken away.
In the main pit, all the soldiers were in military formation facing West/East and side guys facing North and South. Another pit is the General's War Headquarters. The point of the immense project was for these soldiers to protect the Emperor in the afterlife. Can't believe the sights.
The surrounding area is covered by big Emperor burial mounds. Also, burial places were found in Black Horse Mountain.
After visiting the pits, Daira and I went outside the gates to see the vendors. They attacked. She bought some $1.00 items. I took a picture of a guy making noodles. He came out and grabbed me by the arm demanding $1.00 for the photo. Daira screamed GO AWAY and he left. Later Daira went over to deliberately take a picture of him. He was angry! Not a pretty sight.
Speaking of anger -- I did see from the bus a bunch of (5) mechanics get up and yell and give the bird to our bus. You can tell they're not in the tourist industry.
Coming back to the hotel after our busy day, Li was answering questions. I made the big mistake of asking about the sentiment of her town concerning the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. She was adamant that it was no accident, but an attack on the Chinese people. Things got ugly then. Somebody said You EAT CATS. Another, what about Tibet? Li held her ground. Finally Angela -- that dear little lady said: "What's the schedule for tomorrow?" Things quickly calmed down and got back on track.
Went back to the hotel to get ready for the evening's banquet and theatre show. Got great seats right at the stage. Food was wonderful -- prawns, steak, rice, warm rice wine, tea, dessert -- went on and on. Then a wonderful show with dancers and music. Heard flute music like I never heard before from this old Queen-type. The women dancers were beautiful. Fine show, fine evening. Gary is sicker than a dog and I'm losing my voice. Coughing spells, but doing okay. Back to the hotel and then packed for tomorrow. Bed at 11.
Nation of Only Children
Dinner Show - Bravo!
Wednesday 5/26/99 -- Xian to Guilin
Sunshine! Had breakfast, then Bill and I strolled through the town. First experience crossing streets. Dangerous business. Saw the old folks exercising in the park by the moat. Saw ladies exercising by swinging swords. Saw people cooking and eating breakfast in the street. Amazing sites. Everyone stared at us. Also saw people ballroom dancing at 7:30 in the morning.
Back with the group, went inside the wall that surrounded the old city of Xian. In a courtyard area there was a large, tacky Buddha statue with many arms. Only tourists and tourist buses were allowed in. More souvenir shops were in and around the wall. Climbed the wall -- more photos of the city. Then Bill and I headed out on our own to a wonderful section of town. Great shops, no pushy vendors, lots of classy art shops, paint brush stores, etc. Took pictures, wonderful sights.
Back on the bus and off to a lacquer factory. Bill was protesting. He had had it with Government factories and showrooms and shopping. He wanted to see the people and life on the streets. So we only stuck our heads into the lacquer workshop area, then headed for the streets.
Saw real life going on -- children saying Hello, grandparents spoiling children, people cooking noodles, people eating noodles. Great sights. (The Pixie (that's me) was almost killed crossing the street -- edged between a bus and 2 taxis.) Mad and Rita were afraid to go down back alleys and markets, so stuck to the main streets. Got back to the lacquer factory at the departure time.
Next off to the airport. Li took us by a statue that marked the beginning of the Silk Road -- goes all the way to Rome -- 2000 years old.
Lunch at the airport -- on the plane and off to Guilin at 1:15.
Met at the airport in Guilin by our next guide, Yuan. He said it had been raining there for three days, but the sun was breaking through.
Drove to the Reed Flute Caves. Beautiful countryside, limestone mountains, lots of rice paddies and water Buffalo. Had to cross a flooded road -- moved luggage to the front, our seats!
The cave was impressive except for the neon lights. Every rock formation had a name. We made up our own names for various formations, like Chairman Mao's last erection.
Afterwards Bobby and I climbed the mountain for some spectacular views. Bill wasn't feeling well. Bought 5 reed flutes from the farmers for 1 yuan.
Next stop, our Japanese Hotel. Like all the rest, first class. A string quartet played classical music in the lobby. We danced to the minuet. Went to the room, did some of our wash and then dashed off with the group for pizza and beer. Nice walk, great beer and pizza not bad.
Afterwards bargained with the street vendors. Got a rice bowl and 2 laughing Buddhas. Bill and I walked back to the hotel. Saw a group gathered. We thought they were protesting the NATO bombing, but they were just dancing and having fun.
Reed Flute Cave - Guilin
Thursday 5/27/99 -- Guilin - Li River
Sunshine! Boat ride in Li River - Big Day and the Best Yet! WEATHER GREAT! Big breakfast, bussed to the boats. We stopped along the way to photograph farmers and their water buffalo.
Got on Boat #21, spent most of the time with the group on the top deck going crazy over the views -- limestone mountains (Karsts), farmers, so much to see.
Didn't eat lunch on the boat. Too many people get sick. Packed our own peanut butter sandwiches.
Got off at an amazing little town. First scene - a man balancing roosters on a pole. (Later learned the roosters were cormorants). Anyway, I snapped a photo of them and was immediately chased down by another guy insisting we pay. Bill said No and walked away. Too many aggressive vendors with HELLO, HELLO. We got past them into the real town. Saw people getting their teeth fixed in store fronts, babies with butts hanging out in their funny little baby attire, people eating noodles, riding bikes and all sorts of other vehicles. Really wonderful stuff.
Looked for a Magnum ice cream bar, bought a cheap local imitation. Were sorry about that because we had to throw it out and search for a real one.
Stopped at a Farmer's House. A band of kids chased us down for photos. Took photos of the house and gardens. Such primitive conditions in such a gorgeous setting. I photographed the farmer sitting under a tree doing some weeding.
On the way back, Yuan offered an optional stop at the 7 Star Park. He showed us 400 year old graffiti carved in the Dragon Cave. Then we climbed the mountain. Bobby had to go to the top, of course, so we followed. Steep climb with the limestone rock and red clay mud. Slippery climb. On the way down, we ran into a group of monkeys. Took photos. The dominant male hissed and lunged at me. I ran behind Yuan and Bill. Yuan said protect your face -- let the monkey scratch your back, not your face. I was scared, but got some good photos of monkeys.
Next we visited a Muslim temple in the park. Saw beautiful Muslim women, children and boys in school. One woman served us tea. We had 3 kinds of tea - one good for smoker's lung, one made the water taste sweet afterwards and one for longevity. They served us in tiny little cups and showed us how to hold the cups. They said big cups are for oxen. Bobby almost kicked over the table scrambling for a photo.
Next we took pictures of the rock where President Clinton gave a speech in July '98. So many Chinese waiting to get their pictures taken there, right in front of the Camel Mountain. The Chinese still admire Clinton, even after the Belgrade embassy bombing.
Shot a photo of a beautiful young mother in a traditional red dress and her little emperor son in a yellow outfit. Finally captured the shot of a baby bending over exposing his little baby butt.
Yuan ordered a rickshaw ride for us back to the hotel. Great experience, A young woman was our driver. Bobby thought she was an old woman. I disagree. Anyway, when she got to a bridge / hill, she had to get off the bike to push us. Bobby went to back of the cart in order to get out and help with the pushing. However, the shifted weight caused us to crash. Everyone was laughing. Got back to the hotel and the driver insisted Bobby pay more.
After dinner, went to the hotel floor show. Beautiful girls in native dress and a terrific magician. He looked like Amy's old boyfriend, Mickey. He put himself into a cylinder and came out the other end walking around.
Packed my wet clothes and then met Yuan to see how the fishermen uses cormorants (geese/duck like things) to catch fish. Just like bird dogs trained to go after birds, these cormorants are trained to go after fish. The fishermen stands on a raft with a pole -- 3 cormorants (with their throats tied with string so they can't swallow) catch fish, bring them back to the fisherman and he squeezes the fish out of their throats and gives them a small reward. It's amazing to watch. He yells orders at them and hits them with his stick. Don't know if I want to eat anymore fish.
Home and packed wet clothes, bags gone at 11:30.
Yuan Info - our best guide with the most information. He was shy, thin, had little eye contact, and had a stutter. He could be a Chinese version of "Woody Allen." His parents are teachers. He has a 10 year old son. He was a banker at the Bank of China, but everyone had to resign because $3 million was missing. Now the former bank president/manager lives in Australia while Yuan is running tours. His plan is to have a store and sell Marlboro Cigarettes.
Facts about China from Yuan:
- 30 executed a year in Guilin alone.
- Have one day court. Pay a lawyer whether you win or lose. Lawyers don't need special education or training.
- Some seasons are better to have a trial.
- Make rapists go to Junior High schools as an example to the students.
- China is experimenting in democratic elections, starting with one local farm area. Jimmy Carter is coming to supervise.
- 80% of China are farmers.
- Only 10% of all Chinese have pensions.
- Workers rent apartments owned by their factory / company, so one has to live and work with the same guys.
- Difficult to change jobs.
- Difficult to move to another city.
- Taxes on everything.
- Costs money to use the roads.
- Only 5% of the population are in the Communist Party.
- To join the Communist Party, have to pay and be sponsored, then, once accepted, have to pay monthly dues. But you can get information others can't get.
- No tax on interest or on stock market investments.
- Stock market was at 6,000 about a year ago, now at 3,000 -- can buy stocks with credit card at the computer. Costs 5%.
- Schools are rigid and teach memorization, (e.g., 5 students have 3 pencils. How many pencils 5 x 3 = (correct) but 3 x 5 is not - subjective)
- Lots of divorce, but can't divorce a military guy until he retires. Other facts may come to me as various synapses start to fire.
Side Note: While driving to the airport, the bus was behind an obnoxious military car. The bus driver was very upset by the tone of his voice. Yuan very quietly said the driver does not think that man has a good driving technique.
Lijiang River Cruise
Village near Li River
Farmer, outside Guilin
Friday 5/28/99 -- Canton - Hong Kong
Sunshine! Long day -- up at 5:15. Bill barely slept. Stuffy room, too much beer and a cold.
Breakfast 6 - 6:30, then flew to Canton, but not supposed to use the word Canton. Named Canton because an American official couldn't pronounce the real name correctly.
Met our guide, Jack, a sweet guy with a British accent. He learned English from a TV classroom. First went to a temple called 6 Banyan Tree Temple because it has 6 Banyan trees (imagine that?). The main attraction at the Buddhist temple was 3 huge Buddhas, one for present, one for past and one for future. The hands of each Buddha were in a different position. Swastikas on the chest of each Buddha meant happiness, not Hitler stuff. Each Buddha was seated on Lotus flowers - which meant "of the earth."
In another temple, saw a lady Buddha - rare because I thought Buddha was male. Saw some monks with shaved heads wearing robes. Also saw people lighting incense.
Jack said Buddhism is from India/Taoism from China, but more Chinese are Buddhist. He thinks it's because Buddha figures (and religion) are much happier -- not like those scary Tao figures. He said religion is up to the people because they have freedom of religion.
Next stop, a family Temple for the Chen family -- built in 188? -- now owned by the Government as a museum. Beautiful place, intricate porcelain roofs showing characters and villages. Two big front doors each had a big general painted on them because the Emperor had a nightmare one night and wanted the generals painted on the front door to protect him.
There were fine, delicate wood carvings on the doors and walls. One carving had banana leaves, big wide leaves representing wealth, abundance and a mother chick and her babies (raising the next generation). The temple is used for the Clans (people with same surnames) to gather and make decisions. It is also used as a school for the kids, to pass the royal examinations. Housed in the temple were local crafts -- paper cutting, pictures made with wheat (amazing), ivory (and now bone) carvings -- one carving smaller than a grain of rice, but had 5 monks carved on it! Also jade carvings.
Jack explained the difference between North and South China's work. North is large, expansive (e.g., Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc.). South is delicate, small, with quality art and architecture.
We saw beautiful mahogany furniture. The design of the Temple was open, making the most use of light. It had "sun lights" in the roof. Granite floors were used for coolness and durability.
One room displayed different styles of furniture. One grouping was for the Opium users. British loved to buy products from Canton (mahogany, silk, and porcelain), but because they bought so many products, the balance of trade was upset. Therefore, the British began introducing opium illegally to the Chinese (from their Burma/India colony). First Opium War resulted in 1820 (40?) and another one later. Chinese were addicted and the silver flowed back to Britain. However, the people in Canton got fed up and started a war to get rid of the British and their opium. But, in the meantime, furniture was designed specifically for the use of opium.
Another area showed petite furniture designed for single women. These women worked in the silk factory or as nannies and made good money. But they didn't have time to date or marry. They wore their hair in a ring and bought cute little furniture for their homes and ended up adopting children.
Next stop -- a massive theater, memorial to Sun Yat-Sen, a George Washington type figure in China. Sun Yat-Sen was born in Canton Province. His father was a poor farmer who had to take a second job as the town timekeeper. (He had to ring the town bell every 3 hours.) The older brother went to Hawaii and found fortune. Sun Yat-Sen and the sister also went to Hawaii. Sun Yat-Sen became a doctor. Because he was patriotic, he returned to China and then became a famous leader in 1850 -- don't know how -- I fell asleep during the talk.
Next the porcelain shop where the workers saw us arriving and then rushed to take their positions painting to impress us. Nobody had any yuan left to buy anything anyway.
Finally went to lunch. It was delicious. We had Double Happiness Beer, soup and rice, sweet and sour chicken, pork, beef and so on. I photographed the event to document the food. We also learned to tap on the table (1 finger if single, 2 if married) to say thank you. Some silly emperor centuries ago poured someone's tea because he was fascinated with the way the tea poured from a long spout. He wasn't supposed to serve anyone -- Silly him - so the folks around him protected this secret by tapping on the table and thus avoiding having to say Thank You to the emperor for serving them.
Back on the bus -- to the Ping Zhou HydroFoil. Went through customs and then loaded on the boat. Almost to Hong Kong, our last adventure.
Arrived in Hong Kong about 7:00, met by Kelly, the new guide. He was precise, professional, really knew his stuff. The Kowloon Shangri La hotel was 5 star + -- amazing place. We were on the 15th floor. Everything automated, even the curtains opened from the master control by the bedside. Greeted by Welcome Tea Guy bringing hot tea and apples to our room.
Met the group at 9 PM and went to dinner at Jimmy's Kitchen, good food, expensive. Bill and I ate light, but still the bill came to $50 (Hong Kong is much more expensive than mainland China). Home late and straight to bed.
Theater / Memorial to Sun Yat-Sen,
China's George Washington
Saturday, 5/29/99 -- Hong Kong - Day 1
Breakfast best ever -- had fresh waffles, yum yum. On the bus at 8:30.
Drove under the tunnel to Hong Kong Island and then around the back side of the island. Stopped at Stanley Market. Bought 2 Ralph Lauren polo shirts for $16.00 each and a $100 Gortex rain jacket for myself.
Next stop, Aberdeen Fishing Village. The gang of 10 (added Bob and Sandy to the original Gang of 8) rented a junk for 30 minutes to take us out the see how the fishermen lived. Saw the Jumbo Restaurant and some of the fishermen -- not a lot left and those remaining will be moved soon.
Next we drove to Victoria Peak to have a view of the city from above. Took lots of pictures. Got back to the hotel around 1:30ish. The rest of the gang took off to the Peninsula Hotel for High Tea. Too expensive for our tastes -- so Bill and I went to the Greenview fast food place in the New World Shopping Center. Excellent noodles with saffron and curry with pork and shrimp for $5.00 each. Lasted us for lunch and dinner.
After lunch went to the Art Museum. Saw some French Impressionist work, not a very good collection but a wonderful building and a very good collection of Chinese art, especially sketches of early Hong Kong.
Rode the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island. Free Day to ride the ferry. (Saved ourselves 20 cents!) Views were spectacular. Walked to Jubilee Street and rode the longest escalator (half mile long) to the top of the hill (Conduit Road). Wonderful sights. Walked back down the steps, stopped at the Bayou Bar and had a Sol beer celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Noticed a couple of American men with young Asian women. Wondered if they were hired dates -- appeared that way. Took the Star Ferry back -- walked along the water.
Kowloon Shangri-La, Hong Kong
Street Corner in Hong Kong
Sunday, 5/30/99 -- Hong Kong - Day 2
Up early (what’s new?). Another wonderful breakfast. Bill and I took the boat to Chang Chau Island. No cars, lots of dogs, very tropical rainforest, high humidity, loud cricket sounds. Hiked through the island to a Pagoda lookout, could see the whole island! Hiked back down along the beach (lifeguards were in rafts out in the water). Then saw the Bangcock Temple with the seafaring gods -- pretty gaudy place with reds and greens. Then walked through the town and returned to Hong Kong on the boat.
Had Dim Sum lunch at the Luk Yu Tea House on Hong Kong Island. It’s a quaint 1920’s place. Excellent. We were the only Americans there. Took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon. Tried to shop on Nathan Street. Things were too expensive and too crowded and too hot. Went to Kowloon Park. Thousands of groups of women sitting on plastic sheets having picnics. Some were wearing plastic gloves -- curious.
Bought some beer at the 7-11, went back to the room and napped.
Had our last night’s dinner with Daira, Steve, Bob and Mad. We went back to the Greenview Fast Food place. Great dinner and cheap, then ice cream to top it off. We all walked along the waterfront to our hotel. Balmy night, full moon, wonderful. Hong Kong has a gorgeous skyline. Packed up and went to bed.
Ferry Boat in Hong Kong
Bill and Nancy
Victoria Peak, overlooking Hong Kong
Monday, 5/31/99 - Good bye to Hong Kong, Good bye to China
Wake up call at 5:15 am.
Room service breakfast at 5:30 -- eggs, hash browns, ham, fruit, rolls, croissants, juice, coffee with fancy serveware (Bill hardly slept, has a sore throat).
On the bus at 6:30. Fun trip, sorry it’s over. On to Seoul, then LA, then home.
Home at last, tired, but happy and filled with wonderful memories of a great trip!
Going On An Airplane . . .