A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Kwpres

Great Scott! It's the Great Wall!

And we enjoyed the Chinese enjoying their acrobats!

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We had another nice breakfast at the Jianguo Garden hotel, and the girls are getting more comfortable with finding things that they like. Laurie had the omelet chef make her a cheese omelet and Hayley hit the bread table hard this morning. Daddy and Uncle Keith are enjoying the Chinese coffee...it's strong but smooth. Geez, I sound like an idiot commercial. Speaking of commercials, I'll have to do a few post-trip blogs just on some of the advertisements here. It's always interesting to see cultural tastes through the lens of popular culture. Since I know from experience that companies do a lot of testing before they run ads, it tells one a lot about the culture of a people. It's fascinating.

Jack picked us up at 9:00 which also means that we were in Beijing rush hour. It took a bit longer than we had planned, but we finally got to the area of the wall that we were going to visit. There are two main pieces of the Great Wall of China that tourists go to. The Badaling section is the one most of us are familiar with and most used by Chinese who are being tourists. It's the one we saw the famous pictures of Nixon on, and most presidents who have visited China have pictures of them there.large_richard-nixon-greatwall.jpg (an aside, they are proud of pictures of Bill Clinton down amongst the terra cotta warriors and point that picture out to us in Xi'an. Bruce and I figured they felt it was safe to run Clinton through there because the statues were all males.)Clinton.jpg

We were arriving at the Jiankow section north of Beijing. I looked up at the stairs ascending to the various watchtowers. I was convinced I was nuts. The other day, leaving the Forbidden City, I had badly twisted my knee, and was wearing a knee brace today so that I could protect it and enjoy our activities. Today, looking at a description of this part of the wall, travelers are warned not to attempt this portion of the wall unless you are in good shape and a good hiker. I'm neither, although my shape is, so I've been told, pleasingly round, soft, and happy! :)

Bruce encouraged me to just take my time. We were in no rush. I was determined to make it up since I had come halfway around the world and was unlikely to make it back. I mean, it's the freaking Great Wall of China! If Nixon can do it, I can do it! (Let me make this perfectly clear...)

So, that's what I did...bit by bit, step by step, I worked my way up the stairs. It's a daunting sight and a real challenge. I'm a religious man, and it had everything to do with my success in climbing up to the second highest watchtower. We all stopped there and just enjoyed the sights. We were much higher than the section of the wall on the opposite side of the highway. It was fun to be on the Great Wall...looking down on the Great Wall.large_IMG_0941.jpg

Coming down was no less challenging. You have to make sure of your footing, or else it's a long hard bumpy way down. I was touched by the kindness of the Chinese people. At one point, a young 20 something girl helped down the last few steps of one section (I guess the knee brace spoke to my challenge) and another young man handed me a wet nap because I was totally drenched in sweat all over. I made sure to give my Chinese thank you to all, and felt a great sense of joy and accomplishment when I finally descended the last few steps. Cross another one off the bucket list!large_90_IMG_0944.jpglarge_IMG_0834.jpg

We were way behind schedule but Jack was real cool. How did we get so behind? Before the wall, we went by another "factory". It was fun iMessaging with my wife, who was tracking my iPhone and could see where we were. "why are you stopped?" "factory" "oh. what kind now" came the laconic response. "Jade" was my single word reply. I waited for her response: "ooooooh." Hehe. Yes, all my girls will be getting something from this stop, as did the girls. So, Jack was not upset that we were "behind our timetable."large_IMG_0937.jpg

After the wall, we went to where most of the groups go for lunch after the wall. And for good reason. The food was good, plentiful, "accessible to western tastes (not too spicy), and reasonably priced. But there's a reason it's so popular: another factory! This one is the cloisonne factory. One more gift off my list, and then we were off again. A side note: It was necessary to stop in the rest room after lunch. It was a function that normally requires sitting down. But the upstairs rest room only had the infamous "squatty potties." I thought, "I bet there are western style potties with paper downstairs in the cloisonne sales area. I was right and the day was saved.

Our last stop for the day was a Chinese acrobatic show. They are smart. They are tailored for western taste, but the locals love it too. It's not too long (an hour) and in a small theater so that every seat is "good." large_IMG_0851.jpg On display were showmanship, strength, beauty, skills, and a bit of flair. The Chinese know how to put on a show and the finale with 8 motorcycles with colored lights on them speeding around the inside of a steel mesh ball was a real crowd-pleaser.large_IMG_0844.jpg

We came home exhausted but happy. The lunch has been so satisfying, and so late, that dinner was foregone (but Haagen-Dasz in the lobby after swimming sufficed for the girls) and we began to pre-pack for Saturday's early morning departure. Just one more jam-packed day and we head for home! We are loving our trip but we look forward to our return to the USA!

Till then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:36 Archived in China Comments (0)

Tian'anmen, Forbidden City, and The Temple of Heaven

Ancient Beijing welcomes the Prestons

I suppose if you had asked me a few years ago, one of the most intruiging places I would want to visit in China would be Tian'anmen Square. As a teacher of US History, that's probably an honest one. But I have always been one who got great insights from "walking the ground" at famous places. Whether it's Ford's Theatre, Gettysburg, or the Conciergerie in Paris, walking the ground of historic places is important.large_IMG_0744.jpg

Jack picked us up at 9:00 and we were whisked on a short 15 minute trip to the center of the city. Beijing is constructed like a bi-section of a tree stump. There are concentric rings around the city. Residents know what kind of businesses, housing, offices, etc. reside in each ring. The farthest ring right now is the sixth. Our guide, and enterprising and ambitious young man, lives outside the sixth ring. It takes him over an hour each day to commute, using public transportation, to get to "work." (Today, that means meeting us inside the first ring) The ancient city buildings are inside the first ring. But Tian'anmen is more than that.large_IMG_0885.jpg

I realized the importance of different events in recent history when I looked all around and saw what was just outside of Tian'anmen: The Great Hall of the People,large_IMG_0748.jpg where the party representatives meet once a year and future planning for the PRC is discussed and planned, and the Mausoleum that holds the remains of Chairman Mao Zedong.large_842F909B2219AC68171698BA86292252.jpg large_IMG_0749.jpgAlso, there is a memorial that is constantly staffed by Army guards and young party members/students. The memorial honors those who died fighting the Japanese in WWII, but ALSO those who died after the war to defeat the Kuomingtang under Chiang Kai-Shek to secure the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. large_843BF66C2219AC681771C49E408EDC3B.jpg This is the PRC's holy ground, and while it's an awesome place to be and experience, you can understand why the government would see any disturbance of this area as unacceptable.

Large flat screen TV displays show patriotic clips and encourage the people to "come together and move forward" for the country. Other high government offices are in the area. It's the PRC's version of the Washington Mall, but less personal than ours with the exception of the Mausoleum of the Chairman. Lines are always long there, and people are willing to tolerate that in order to quickly file by the Leader's well-preserved remains. We decided that was not on our list for the girls' to experience.

We took one of the underground pedestrian passageways to get to the Forbidden City, complete with the picture of Chairman Mao. large_IMG_0887.jpg His picture is replaced once a year, on October 1st - China's National Day, and we headed into the first of many courtyards to get inside the palaces of the emperors of China. The crowds were part Fourth of July, part Disneyland, part Empire State Building.large_IMG_0891.jpg I think the Chinese are understandably proud of their heritage as one of the world's great civilization, and are trying to see how that can more seamlessly connect them to the present and future.

As we passed through courtyard after courtyard,large_IMG_0889.jpg Jack filled us in on the peccadilloes of the emperor system, particularly under the Manchus at the end, and how the Forbidden City was set up to accommodate some of those "necessary" quirks and protocol. large_IMG_0897.jpg Much of this territory is familiar to those who have watched Bertolucci's famous film, "The Last Emperor." large_IMG_0898.jpgPu Yi is seen as a tragic figure by today's Chinese, not as an "enemy of the people." Interesting, considering his time of collaboration with the Japanese in Manchukuo during WWII.large_IMG_0903.jpglarge_IMG_0904.jpglarge_IMG_0905.jpg

We were regaled with information that helped explain a lot of the seemingly random figures and architecture: none of it is random, it all has a purpose. The purpose might be to protect the emperor, keep his rank above all else, allow his to visit concubines and skip the empress, and other important matter of state. ;)large_IMG_0892.jpglarge_IMG_0893.jpg

The number nine is considered important, and many step combinations, figures carved, items on the grounds, have nine or multiples thereof in them. I have become recently aware that the Chinese remain curiously superstitious about many things. Many of our drivers have little ornaments, "gods", or other "spiritual" boost to them during their day. Religion may be underground, but their belief in something other than the material world remains undiminished.

Our driver in Hefei had a god who brings good fortune (money) to the worshipper. We proved it wrong. large_IMG_0300.jpg

When leaving the Forbidden City, we went to a local restaurant, and finally found Chinese food that EVERYONE liked, even the girls. And it was very reasonable. Again, Chinese eat socially. Several dishes are ordered, and you pound away at it ,putting some of many of the dishes on your plate. You dont really play, "and what would YOU like for dinner." large_IMG_0911.jpg Again, Jack scores!

Right after dinner, we went to another "factory." These are the government owned businesses that sell different things that they feel certain tourists will want to see how it is done, then take a pick from the product to get something to take home. This one was not going to be in our range as it was a pearl factory. While fascinating and full of beautiful items, we are not J. R. Ewing and family. Thanks, but no thanks.

We completed our day by heading to the Temple of Heaven. This had originally been the Temple of Earth and Heaven. The Chinese are into "balance" with things. Ying and Yang, earth and fire, heaven and earth, etc. etc. For years, it had been the Temple of Earth and Heaven. One emperor thought that was out of balance and he built a temple of earth in another area of the city. This temple then became just the "Temple of Heaven". It would come into play when praying for rain for crops, counter storms, drought, etc. It also is quite beautiful as all the tiles went from a mix of yellow (a color of "power") to blue (a color of heaven). They rebuilt the temple in record time and for the last several hundreds years, this is what it is.

Today, it was, as it evidently often is, jammed on the steps leading to the main structure, loaded with mostly older folks playing cards! It was fascinating to see the different games, and kinds of "characters" that were here. It was noisy, vibrant, and hilarious. It was fun to see this side of the Chinese people. large_IMG_0803.jpglarge_IMG_0804.jpglarge_IMG_0805.jpg

Nines abounded in the temple, and the girls were impressed with the inlay of dragons around the tiles and the deep blue of the tiles surrounding that legendary animal. large_IMG_0808.jpg Later, we went to an outside building where sacrifices were done. Jack told us he would never stand in the area where this was done. I leaned as much from his unwillingness to stand where sacrifices were done as anything. As a young person, Jack claims to have not tie to religion, and yet his generation has rejected all open religion in China. Much to ponder considering some of my back posts on this subject.

We all were feeling the impact of so much walking and climbing that day that Jack wrapped things up around 5:00 and we headed back to the hotel. We made our way to the shopping center again and had a meal at Pizza Hut. We passed on the rice and seafood dishes and had two medium pizzas. large_IMG_0935.jpgBruce had a black cow that was underwhelming, but my peach iced tea was wonderful and had real fresh peach slices in the bottom. Nothing artificial there!large_IMG_0934.jpg

We headed downstairs after dinner and picked up a hard-case piece of luggage to bring back the "extras" we had been acquiring and headed back to get in our nightly swim, and hit the sack.

Tomorrow would be another big day - The Great Wall of China!

Cheers,

Keith

PS...I want to play a little game with you, the reader. How many of these "no-nos" can you identify?
large_IMG_0802.jpg

Posted by Kwpres 09:17 Comments (2)

Enter Beijing

And some much needed rest.

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Our train arrived at 9:55, two hours late, and it was certain to be another mob scene complete with trying to get our several pieces of luggage off and across barriers, and the crowd. Jack met us coming off the train (I think two white-haired Caucasian men and two little Chinese girls are easy to spot in a crowd here) and we headed through the mob to our van. This time, I was determined to get some pictures cataloging the kind of conditions that I described back in Xi'an.large_IMG_0866.jpglarge_IMG_0867.jpg

While it was not nearly as chaotic as the former Imperial City, I did get a few shots showing how it's part refugee-part lining up for tickets to the U2 concert. Jack got us to our van, got our stuff loaded in, and then took one look at us and made a quick command decision. He decided we needed naps, some down time, and a light day to recover from the "soft sleeper." You can tell Jack has been doing this for six years. Good call, Jack.

We had missed breakfast so we got settled in, took some time to nap, and then headed downstairs for a quick lunch. The lunch of the main lobby was fine, and we kind of scouted the place out because that is where our breakfast buffet was going to be. We then went back up to our rooms and did some more "relaxing" until dinner time and then decided to head out and see what was within walking distance from the Jianguo Garden Hotel.large_IMG_0875.jpg

I like the way downtown Beijing has underground walking passageways under many of the streets. large_IMG_0878.jpg This allowed us to skip many of the life-threatening experiences of crossing the streets in Beijing. In China, there is no such thing as "pedestrians have the right-of-way." Pedestrians feel like targets in a shooting gallery. Many would say this is wrong, but with the number of people in the cities, if you had to yield to pedestrians, traffic would never move. Thus, you learn to watch the Chinese cross the street; if they go, haul buns after them, otherwise, you will end up on someone's windshield or handlebars.

A few blocks from our hotel was a major indoor shopping area. Some of the same US chains we have been seeing for a while were there. We did the Marcel Marceau ordering system at McDonalds. The staff is used to dealing with foreigners; They have a laminated menu that you point to, grunt, and hold up a number of fingers. It generally gets you close to what you intended to order.

We actually liked the meal. You begin to realize how much you miss beef when your other choices are things like duck's tongue and frog. Not frog legs, the actual frog. McDonalds has it's usual menu items plus some specialties. I really wanted to try the bubble tea, but thirsty and took a Coke instead.

We are used to being stared at a lot when in public, I just am curious as to what they are most astonished at: two little Chinese girls that speak english, or two white-haired men that they worry are the gay parents of the two little girls. Jack came right out and asked Bruce, at one point, "What is your relationship to Keith?" "He's my brother." "Oh!" Bruce said he sensed relief in Jack's response. Interesting.

We did some minor shopping (batteries, water/drinks) and decided we might come back another night. The smart move was to head back to the hotel, hit the swimming pool with the kids, and crash. Tomorrow would be a big day: Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven.

Till then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:54 Archived in China Tagged trains hotel Comments (0)

The Pride of Xi'an

The Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terra Cotta Warriors

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Harry met us in mid-morning for our drive over to the Wild Goose Pagoda. With a name like that, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The pagoda, and surrounding buildings, is now a popular place for Chinese to go visit. IMG_0662.jpg We realized that we picked our trip during the most popular time for Chinese families to take their summer vacations, and now that many have some money, they are doing it!IMG_0673.jpg

So, again, there were large crowds as we learned about the history of the pagoda, when different additions were made, the marvelous nature of the structures, and what purpose each one had. IMG_0674.jpg I got so busy taking pictures that I missed much of the information, so Bruce got much more of that story. I do know that this is the only monastery open to the public that still has monks there.

And this was, in the theme I have been noting for days now, my favorite monk: large_IMG_0677.jpg

At last, we headed out of town to see the wonder of the world: the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xi'an. We were not disappointed.large_IMG_0796.jpg Emperors generally used to bury their imperial guards, concubines, and other close household supporters with them when they passed. But the time the Emperor Qin was nearing his end, there was more of a population need than there obviously is now in China. To him, it made more sense to bury the likenesses of his bodyguards. large_IMG_0700.jpgThat is one reason why this event is considered so outstanding. Each soldier is an actual portrait of someone. So, it wasn't just some sort of assembly line of warriors, it was a series of portrait sculptures. large_IMG_0798.jpg

The whole complex was first discovered in the early 1970s when a farmer was digging deeper to refresh a well he had to water his field. He ran up against shards of hard clay and a head sculpture. He called the "authorities" and antiquity archaelogists around the world came to Xi'an. Since then, other kinds of sculptures, and different kinds of warriors and officials have been unearthed. It's been going on almost 40 years and they are still finding new discoveries. He was there signing books telling his tale.large_IMG_0833.jpg It's kinda cool to get one from him, which we did! There are three main areas, and while the largest one is the most familiar, and most explored, the newer sites are being more carefully revealed.

The original statues were also painted, but the air hitting the statues, together with sunlight, causes the paint to fall off. Now, the newer worksites are being shielded from sunlight and protected under roofing that allows the climate to be more controlled. It was an amazing thing to see and experience and one I will remember all my life.large_IMG_0799.jpg

The Chinese really let their new capitalism show from time to time. You pay a small fee to have a little "Disneyworld" type tram take you from the parking area (complete with hawkers and tourist traps) out to the site. large_IMG_0694.jpg But you have to walk back through a gauntlet of hawkers, shops, restaurants, etc. large_IMG_0847.jpg The American chains are well-represented: KFC, McDonalds, etc. We decided to have a bit of lunch and had a Subway 6 inch.IMG_0685.jpg It's not quite like in the US, but probably as close are we were going to get.

A bit about "Chinese" food. What we Americans call "Chinese" food, is not real Chinese food. We knew that coming out. If you have a culture where starvation is a constant concern, you end up eating...pretty much whatever your cast-iron stomach will take. Many things we skip right away (chicken feet, pig intestines, genitalia, etc.) But even the normal things can have regional differences that you need to be aware of. Spice levels should always be considered to be many times higher than you might see at home. Preparation is another key concern. There are certain foods that we usually avoid because of the water it would be "washed" in (lettuce, most vegetable) unless they are cooked well in the preparation of the food. This is why we often end up eating American food, because we know that our preparation will "kill" any little hitchhiking critters that could make our time a little less pleasant.

We left Xi'an truly appreciating the history and majesty of this former imperial city. It was one of the most satisfying stops on our tour and we were excited at the idea of finally getting to the capital, Beijing. However, mindful of the nature of Chinese overnight train accommodations, we were a bit cautious as to how our 13 hour train ride to Beijing would go.

Coming in to the Xi'an train station did not calm our concerns. Thousands of people were everywhere. I thought of a scene in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun where the young boy (a youthful Christian Bale) is separated from his parents by a mass exodus of refugees. That's how the train station felt. People were everywhere on the ground, many lying on newspaper, waiting for a train. Being ticketed on a "soft sleeper" (a misnomer as far as I'm concerned!) we had a seat in a waiting room. large_IMG_0852.jpg It's still chaos!

At 6:30, we said goodbye to Harry, got on the train, and settled into a cabin much like the Guilin to Nanning berths we had, but with a little nicer touches. Like an electrical socket in the berth! Yay! Um...but they don't work. Hey, wait...the "TV" works (lots of ads for stuff). It's funny what the Chinese will "make sure that it works" when you look at certain things. Everything is very calculated, I assure you.

After a few hours, the kids began to doze off, as did Bruce. Me? I couldn't get sleep in that sort of situation, but that was ok. I texted with my wife across 1200 miles of China and she could track me by my iPhone across Google Earth. She was telling me what kind of terrain we were passing (it was dark, there was little I could be sure of). As it got near 4:00 am, I did finally doze off...but I got this slightly blurry little shot of an almost full moon over the mountains at night.large_IMG_0859.jpg

The final leg of our little tour is ahead...

More later,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 16:01 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains night trains sculptures Comments (0)

I'm not picking on China...

But there are some curious things going on in Mao's creation...the New China (or more accurately, Deng Xiaoping's China.

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This may be mostly pictures. While I'm not sure they speak louder than words, the combination causes the observer to ask some serious questions.

I am of the age to remember reading about and seeing the China of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. We even began to be impressed by the Chinese goods that started coming into the country, and began speculating on how ever larger doses of modern capitalism would affect the People's Republic of China. In the 21st century, we are witnessing a China we could not have imagined just a few short years ago.

First, there is the wealth. It's not just foreigners who are buying designer goods, going to 5 star hotels, and dropping tons of cash into the service sectors of the economy. Frankly, most Chinese would much rather cater to other Chinese; not because of racism, but because when Chinese go on vacation, they almost compete for the titles of "who dropped the most cash on this trip."

Let's look at some of the signs of rampant Chinese modern consumerism: (for those playing at home, the exchange rate is @ 6 Yuan or RMB (Stands for Remimbi, or "people's money")

Sheraton Guilin: we saw few foreigners; almost all guests were Chinese.IMG_0205.jpg
In Nanning: IMG_0628.jpg
Note this ad on the toll booth from Hefei to Huainan: 1A0826362219AC681748658AB9B900F7.jpg
What evil capitalist organization is that hiding in Hefei? large_IMG_0363.jpg
Not only is the text on this one kinda fun, I like the "product placement." It's a local liquor.IMG_0410.jpg
A classic. We see a lot of signs that look like no one dared proofread it so that the author would lose face if his mistake was identified. IMG_0423.jpg

They have a few mobile phone stores in Hefei alone...like hereIMG_0358.jpg and hereIMG_0366.jpg and here 1A4595D02219AC6817765423E97A6C78.jpg. There were dozens. These three were in three blocks. Wow.

Cultural fun: right out of a Charlie Chan movie: large_198A9FF82219AC68177F62077C7C7F16.jpg
Of course...just what I would expect in Yangshuo County: IMG_0502.jpg
Hey, get him out of the road. Do you want to get run over? IMG_0370.jpg
Wow, still carrying on great traditions? I hear the Tang Dynasty's lawyer is sending a cease and desist letter.IMG_0653.jpg
Many guestomers prefer the peanut meat more well done large_IMG_0661.jpg
One of our favorite warning signs. IMG_0464.jpg
If you thought our old Warner Brothers cartoons were violent, you ain't seen nuthin' Read the title up on top of the box. It says it all. large_IMG_0697.jpg
Hmmm....good idea. They look pretty hungry in there. IMG_0525.jpg
Why would holding a stick be the proper persuasion article in this warning sign...? IMG_0525.jpg
And if you thought teasing and frolicking were bad, there is also a problem with 1B4275C52219AC681710F0DCAB132167.jpg
More reliable than Wal-mart, is .... IMG_0729.jpg
Get the Chairman that new bag. IMG_0740.jpg
I told you that short sleeve shirt makes you look ridiculous IMG_0746.jpg
Has anyone ever seen this MG plate before? 1BBA85AA2219AC68179A4444136CCB8B.jpg
They are everywhere...IMG_0640.jpg
I don't know if you can tell, but the Windows program crashed on this billboard for all to see...IMG_0747.jpg

Guess who they like in China: The like him in Guilin --->IMG_0593.jpg
They like him in Nanning ---> IMG_0625.jpg
In Hefei ---> IMG_0679.jpg

I seriously love this picture. large_IMG_0561.jpgSee you all tomorrow,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:25 Archived in China Comments (0)

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