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Enter Beijing

And some much needed rest.

overcast 88 °F
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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)

Entering the great imperial walled city of Xi'an

where we will ride the wall on a bicycle, climb the Bell Tower, see the Terra Cotta Warriors, and ride the night train from hell into Beijing.

sunny 92 °F
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We rose early to have our breakfast in the buffet at the Overlook Hotel, said goodbye to Jack Torrance and the rest of the staff, and headed out the door to get to the airport for our 9:50. Oops...scratch that. The kids weren't ready, so the roar of empty stomachs was a reminder that bedtime exists for a reason and that we missed our pre-paid Donner Party memorial buffet at the Tony Dorsett Hotel and Youth Hostel because they kept arguing over who left wet towels on the floor the most. I kid...but only about the argument the kids were having. I don't remember what it was except that it resulted in no breakfast, some whining, and a side order of sulking.

We searched around the airport for some kind of breakfast material to silence the growling (noodles doesn't sound like breakfast to us) and were greeted by Brad Pitt's ugly mug (the sweaty unshaven Brad Pitt period - The Jolie Dynasty)large_IMG_0743.jpg
We did find what we call breakfast all over the civilized world: legalized uppers and overpriced muffins. large_IMG_0745.jpg Feeling like a foursome of Yanks again, we headed into Chinese security, where a forgotten bottle of water or pen knife earns you a trip to re-education camp with Pu Yi. We somehow came through unscathed, though I did get the number of the fresh guy with the blue gloves, and headed off to our gate.

Our flight was short (1 hr, 15 mins...I still like the part where the attendants welcome everyone aboard by bowing in unison) and we arrived in Xi'an to a beautiful day. Our guide, Harry, was the most gregarious of the male guides we have had.

Harry took great pride in his Xi’an. He had a historian’s attitude about the proud imperial past and he took tremendous joy in hitting all the high points, accurate dates and names, and the reasons why Xi’an was so important. IMG_0603.jpgThis was an important prelude to our visit there because of the nature of most of the sights: The massive city wall, the bell tower, the Wild Goose Pagoda, and the world famous thousands of Terra Cotta warriors.

Our first stop was the city wall. Most people have heard of the Great Wall of China. The fanciful images of stopping massive hordes of Mongol warriors with a wall that can be seen from space has always been a fanciful image for foreigners. Xi’an’s inhabitants love to brag about the great city wall of Xi’an.large_159C7BB52219AC68176338BEDA3CFA77.jpg It was built by earlier emperors to keep out hordes from ALL sides, not just the west. So the wall goes completely around the ancient city. It’s 14 kilometers in circumference and mostly 60-70 meters thick.large_15A851292219AC68174FE6CA999F4E68.jpg One of the fun ways to experience the wall is by riding a bicycle around the top. So, being game, we rented 3 bikes: singles for the girls, and a tandem for daddy and Uncle Keith. large_15B477632219AC68174BE5EF6C530990.jpg Poor Bruce; my seat was too low to even get my feet onto the pedals, so he gamely pedaled me around one length of the wall (to the north gate) and back to our starting point. We stopped at the corner large_IMG_0621.jpgand got a couple of good panorama shots. large_IMG_0767.jpg Riding back, I got off a little early; I didn’t want to tax Bruce too hard, though he claimed to be “ok.” We sofa warriors must pace ourselves!

The kids had a great time and Hayley made our day as she rode by us by saying, “Thanks for taking us to China, Dad!”IMG_0768.jpg Looks like she gets to survive at least one more day. After having a good time up on the wall, we took another drive across town to near the city center to the Bell Tower. large_IMG_0630.jpgThis was one of the ways you would be alerted to arriving attackers. It had to be higher than the wall so you could see into the distance. Today, it’s surrounded by a roundabout road and has four main boulevards with every high-end store you can imagine on those streets. China continues to amaze.large_IMG_0773.jpg

All of these high structures required a lot of climbing and walking in 97 degree weather. So, we decided to head back to the hotel and call it a day. It seems clear to Bruce and me that these official guides, who are connected to the government, get financial incentives if their charges spend money. We had spent almost nothing, and while he didn’t say anything or act in any way untowards, it was clear that Harry (and the driver especially) were disappointed.

The hotel is the best we have been in so far. I must say, these Chinese hotels are weird about their bathrooms. Everything was glass in there. The toilet was in an almost glass booth with a glass door. The shower was glassed in. There were essentially no walls around the whole bathroom complex; sliding doors can be closed around the area, but…well, it’s just kind of strange. Very nice and beautiful with marble floors, and beautiful sliding hardwood veneer full room length sliders…but a strange set-up to us. Not at all geared for privacy.

We went downstairs for dinner and had a fairly nice meal. I had a good homemade small pizza, Laurie a BLT, Hayley some kind of noodles and Bruce had a burger. We both agree, when we get back, we are GRILLING BEEF. Man, do we miss that. We finished it off with a very little bit of ice cream which was priced in a way the we suspect the dessert contained gold dust, and headed off to the swim pool.

The swim pool is amazing, cool (*yay*), refreshing, and incredibly gaudily outfitted. Marble, glass, hot tubs from a roman bath, the whole things must have cost millions just for the pool. Not many people there, but Laurie, Hayley, and Keith had a great time playing our own version of Marco Polo. A good time was had, and Daddy took pictures and loaded things up to his blog.

These posts may get shorter for a while. Sometimes, you need pictures to tell your story and I am finishing this blog on the train, and will try to load this post using my iPhone as a wifi hotspot. I will perhaps try to write today’s post about the Pagoda and the Terra Cotta warriors, but will try to hold off posting until we get in to Beijing so I can use the free hotel wifi to upload the incredible pictures. Meanwhile, till then,

Keith

PS, I will add more pictures for this post tomorrow also. I tried uploading one with the iPhone but it goes in and out too often.

Posted by Kwpres 05:31 Archived in China Tagged buildings skylines people trees hotel Comments (1)

A full day in Chengdu

...even though we turned in "early." Traveling is not so easy on four hours sleep.

sunny 97 °F
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We woke up at 6 and cracked the whip on the girls to make sure that we were downstairs for breakfast at 7 o'clock. Sandy was going to pick us up at 8 because he informed us that the early bird gets to frolic with pandas. The breakfast buffet was truly one of the best we have had so far, but I'm not sure the hotel is very full from the sparse crowd that showed up at that hour. More on that later. The girls didn't need a lot of encouragement to keep things at a quick pace because today was the day THEY had been waiting for: PANDAS!!!large_IMG_0716.jpg

These hybrid western-eastern breakfasts are kind of interesting, but I think we are all beginning to long for our home cooking. For my part, it's probably good. I rarely have had a good appetite, and Bruce has done his best to prevent me from "guilt eating." You know...."there are 1.2 billion starving people in China and I refuse to finish my octopus tart." I guess after watching the buddhist monks pound it down, I felt better. I mean, they looked great. Perhaps they work out...IMG_0715.jpg

We headed upstairs and jumped into the van with Sandy and Mr. Mrmphstchen or whatever and headed off into Chengdu rush hour as the Panda Reserve is 30 mins outside of Chengdu proper. You walk up to the ticket counterIMG_0475.jpg and it's like a green oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle that is the modern Chinese city. large_IMG_0527.jpgGreeted by boulevards of bamboo-sheltered roadway, a three car tram takes you to the first of two main stops on your tour. You can walk on your own if you want to, but our Holy Grail, having the kids able to hold a panda, goes to the first 50 persons to sign up.large_IMG_0486.jpg You arrive at the main panda facility, where families abound and incubators hold the babies, and sign up with the hope of trying to be one of the lucky fifty.

It's at this point that the full import of the "deal" begins to become clear. We knew that this was a pricey activity, but they don't tell you the FULL deal until your are there. You will put on protective clothing (to protect the pandas from "our diseases") on your feet and bodies, go view a lot of the daily panda care, and pose with a one-year old panda for some great pictures. And they really were! The photographers who did the work did a great job, and the Reserve puts together a nice package of photos, some in Lucite, and other items that made this a nice memory. I'm not going to say the price (if you are that determined you can look it up) but what they DON'T tell you is that parents can't go along to photograph the experience unless you pay also. Uh...yea. Some did, but that was pushing it for our group. IMG_0498.jpg

So here we are ,hoping Hayley is smiling and Laurie truly enjoys it as much as anticipated, and we don't know how it's going. It's like waiting for the birth of your child! The girls were the last to come out and the last to get their package, but it was worth the wait. Bruce has the pix up on his blog and it was an awesome experience that I feel certain the kids will enjoy even more as they look back on it. Good times...

While we were waiting our turn for the girls to do the panda thing, we went over to another area of the reserve to see the endangered Red Pandas. No, these aren't ones that Chairman Mao converted in the Cultural Revolution, they have kind of a red fox color to them but are actually more closely related to raccoons than they are to bears. large_IMG_0507.jpg That was a fun time as well because they move like a lumbering beast. large_821F56BB2219AC6817B464B215FE2C47.jpg Their communication is often by touching or bumping and we got to see them also happily munching on bamboo. It's best to walk carefully around their habitat as they are like a librarian at an old school.IMG_0539.jpg

Once we left our panda experience, we headed over the the tourist trap for some reminders of our good times, and a dinner at the restaurant by the gift center. It was nicely tailored to our western tastes (thank you Sandy!) and reasonably priced. That is starting to change in China. The bargains that abounded just 8-10 years ago, have since disappeared...or so we have been told.

We next went to WuHou Memorial Temple. While many warriors and wise men who fought for the emperors during what was called "the Time of the Three Kingdoms" it's most particularly built to honor Zhuge Liang. large_B5820C732219AC68173219707429841D.jpgHe was a wise man and a warrior who served the emperors of the time most honorably. Wisdom and kindness to the poor is considered by the Chinese to be at least as valuable as wealth, success, and victory in battles. We are unsure when his temple was erected but others over time were put there as well. The 17th century saw the huge 400,000 sq. ft. grounds and walls completed to protect this area. The grounds contain huge gardens of varied types of bonsai and other ornamental greenery. large_IMG_0568.jpgToday it is a convenient and healthy green area inside bustling Chengdu, and the massive crowds there speaks to that large_IMG_0563.jpgsomething intangible in the stories of men who were unselfed and sacrificed for something greater than themselves. The Chinese seem as fascinated with the grounds are we were, since their concentration...waslarge_IMG_0549.jpg...solarge_IMG_0550.jpg....uhIMG_0551.jpg...nevermind.

Next, we quickly went to Du Fu Cottage(but not too quickly)IMG_0577.jpg. It was named for Lord Du, who later was given a honorable title which made him Lord Du Fu. large_IMG_0581.jpgHe is kind of a combination Da Vinci and Shakespeare. He is most known for his wisdom and his poetry. Waterfalls, small ponds, small creeks, all find their way through the grounds. The Chinese value these essential elements of beauty and tranquility. large_IMG_0578.jpgMost of these places also contain likeness statues of other people who were either contemporaries of the main revered person, or others who were known for some of the same characteristics. After a while, admittedly, you lose track of who is who. I'm sure Jefferson, Washington, Madison, etc. begin to make an Asian's eyes glaze over. large_IMG_0575.jpg The Chinese have a culture of a certain type of civilization going back thousands of years when my ancestors were throwing sod at each other. But that's not what it's really all about.

This trip is helping me to think through what is our "ancestry". Who are my "parents?" What is my "heritage?" We look back at Judeo-Christian heritage, as it were, because of the lessons we learn from the examples of people who wrestled with the same issues we do today. Nothing is new under the sun. The Chinese I talk to think that the "new China" is bringing new opportunities into their lives. I just hope that they don't lose the best of what they have learned over time. That means a sense of spirituality, unselfishness, and giving for a higher purpose. That means connecting with God. It will be interesting to see how this plays out when boomtimes scale back (it may be beginning now. There are a lot of silent cranes on those big buildings.)

We finally decided we had done enough for one day. It was long but rewarding. We went back to the hotel, where our Dorsett Grand experience took yet another bizarre turn. We came down around 8, after a nap, for a dinner at the same restaurant that we have breakfast in. There were wonderful choices if you took the buffet, but it was a little pricey for us. We decided to order a la carte, and you would have thought we informed them we wanted to drag a maggot-infested carcass in the door. American culture has often define the Chinese as "inscrutable." Perhaps in the past. We find the Chinese of the "new China" extremely "scrutable." Shortly, we saw why: we were the only ones there. And would remain so until we left 90 minutes later.large_IMG_0742.jpg

The comedy of errors began with a "kids burger" that Laurie ordered. It was a small bun with two slices of bacon, a fried egg, and a piece of lettuce. Okkkkkkkaaaaayyyy. When we made clear to us that we expected beef, we were informed that they were sorry that we didn't understand the difference of what a burger was in Chinese culture. We were not born yesterday and were ready to make a more serious stink when we were informed that they would fix her something else. She got a simple sandwich and was happy. Now, we began to worry about the pizzas we ordered. Ten minutes went by...20...30...40...Bruce went up and wondered if perhaps the chef didn't know how to fix what we had ordered off the menu. We thought of this problem because we saw the chef come out, ask to see the menu, and walk away as if someone had just sneeze on the salad bar. Bruce was told, it was not a problem, and it was clear that when we left that night, and the chef walked by us as we left, that we were glad that the decapitation machines from WuHou Park were not available to the staff at the Dorsett Not-So Grand.

The smell of fear (for their continued employment) was in the air. You would think we got great service, since we were the only ones. Wrong, you would be...hmmmm . (read in Yoda voice) Bruce and I discussed how, other than the wild party from the night before, that we saw few people in the hotel. This seems like a candidate for "pruning" in the next Chinese recession. I intend to keep an eye out for the future of the "Dorsett Grand"

We hit the sack, confused, but tired and looked forward to the next morning's flight to Xi'an and the day at the City Wall, Bell Tower, and the sights of this ancient imperial Chinese capital!

See you then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 08:24 Archived in China Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes skylines people children trees animals hotel Comments (0)

Chengdu: It feels like the Chicago of China

And that bring up a lot of ideas and criteria

sunny 97 °F
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At this point, I think it's proper to give a tip of the hat to Larry and Qin Herzberg. Their "China Survival Guide" was full of "heads up" issues that the new traveler to China should be aware of. I know they have been criticized for being a little cynical, but it's important to realize when you come here that China is a large, populous country with some growing pains that the newbie China traveler should be aware of. I am grateful for their book. It's not perfect, but it's been very helpful in the areas of things to make sure to do, as well as caveats that will save you some pretty significant hassles.

Last night, we experienced chapter 8 - domestic air travel. Hefei's airport is brand new, like so much of China, and I mean it is NEW: opened on May 31st. But I think there are other bugs being worked out. Also, there is a typhoon (pacific hurricane) down by Hong Kong, so a lot of flights that were to connect in Hefei were running late. Our flight originated from Seoul, South Korea, but for some reason got delayed too. (air traffic congestion can mean a lot of things.) In the end, we left at 7:50, not 6:30 and landed at 10:45 not 9:20. The way our trip has gone, we didn't find this a reason for big concern, but the Chengdu portion of our trip has been a little squirrely from the beginning. We were originally put into a hotel that we didn't think was getting very good reviews from Trip Advisor, so we asked to be moved to one near the New Century Global Center. The center has been touted throughout the media over the last few months as one of the biggest buildings in the world. We thought, "Hey, we can't go all the way to Chengdu China and not go see that! It advertises an indoor beach with a flat screen sunset! How cool is that?'

The hotel we wanted never quite showed up on final versions of our itinerary, and Faye informed us on our last day in Hefei that the hotel was "full" and that we were being put in a new hotel, the Dorsett Grand Hotel. Little did we know that our adventure was just beginning! I quickly looked it up and saw that it had many of the things we deem important: good breakfast, swimming pool, connecting rooms, and it was new and in the downtown area. Ok, we thought, we're flexible. Let's get excited about our new "digs!"

Faye got us to the airport early (as we requested. It's good to give the kids downtime and not feel like everything has to be Mach 3 with your hair on fire) and saved our bacon (as our guides have over and over). It seems that the tickets, which require your passport number on them, had Laurie's old passport number. Bruce had replaced it over the summer, because you need to have a passport that won't expire within 6 months after you have completed international travel. Bruce gave the new number to our agency, we know because it had been right on all the other tickets, but it was wrong on the Hefei to Chengdu flight. Good thing we got there early.

Faye went through the necessary channels, and while we don't know exactly what she did, our twenty-something dynamo handled this sticky situation calmly and adroitly. As we said goodbye to her for our full security groping, the girls and Faye exchanged hugs and a fond farewell. WE spent about 3 1/2 hours waiting for our tardy flight but got off the ground for our 3 hour flight southwest to Chengdu. The food was an indentifiable beef product and rice with what I guessed was carrots, and a bun, a something, and another something (which no one ate) Laurie scooped up all our rolls, (except she was too late with Bruce. He already downed it) and before we knew it, we were in Chengdu! It was only 12 hours to panda time!

Getting off the plane reminded me of the old days of flying in to Midway when Southwest first started flying to Chicago. large_IMG_0703.jpg You get off on the old style portable stairways, get hit in the face by yellow dust, carbon monoxide, 100 degree heat and 100 % humidity. Oh boy, this will be even better tomorrow when the sun comes up! If I sound a little silly, it's because I know what's coming next. We piled onto a bus, kind of like the one in Hong Kong to go to Guilin, and off we went to the terminal. It was a living breathing (barely) Dial commercial. We quickly got our bags in another beautiful huge new airport, and met Sandy (the second) and Mr. Something Mumbled, our driver, and took off for downtown.

Downtown Chengdu at night looks like part VegasIMG_0708.jpg, part ClevelandIMG_0710.jpg, part Gotham City (Dark Knight) IMG_0707.jpgand part Blade Runner. As we were talking, a $260,000 Porsche went blazing by us. We caught him at the lights. He was @ 28, and in a dirty t-shirt. No Alfred driving Bruce Wayne in that car. It was clear that Sandy was very proud of Chengdu, and for good economic reasons. It has 15 million people (most in the city, about 6 in the suburbs) and we passed every imaginable car dealership on the way it. It was not your Chairman's China anymore. This was boomtown. even the welding continues at night! IMG_0711.jpg The air was so dense, it was hard to see much of the skyline in spite of plentiful neon and LED signs. The city's main business is Foxconn: the guys who build iPads, iPhones, etc, are in the outskirts employing over 100,000 Chinese. It's not by any means the only game in town, but it's an important one with many tentacles.

Once we arrived at the hotel, the real fun began. We didn't have adjoining rooms; the hotel doesn't have them. So the girls were going to be some ways down the hall from us. Oh well, it's only a coupla nights. The big bed was kind of small and the girls do NOT like sharing the bed (Hayley sleepwalks and is quite "active") But the biggest issue was the noisy next door neighbors to the girls' room. There were two pretty plain but well dressed guys, and six, yes six, drop dead knockout girls, and they were all...uh....quite noisy, inebriated, and raring for partying. What the heck is going on? We then go into the room...have you ever been in a hotel room where the wall from the bathroom to the bedroom part of the room is a solid clear pane of glass? Uh...what? Now, there is a shade you can drop...but then...why would you keep it up?

Bruce and I are not stupid and quickly put two and two together. It was a paid party going on next door to our girls. Nope, not gonna happen. We zipped downstairs and informed all that we needed to be moved. Sandy came through and help persuade them to give us room next to each other on another floor. We then realized we would need more cash for the panda experience the next day. One needs to give a healthy "donation" in order for the girls to feed, and be photographed, with a live panda, and we weren't planning on coming back to China again. So, darn it, we're gonna do it! China is pretty much a cash economy and, as I said earlier, they are kinda picky about the condition of US currency that they accept for exchange. Looks like we had better get to an ATM!

We left the girls in the safety of their room to get ready for bed and Sandy came to guide us to one and we quickly felt like we were not where we wanted to spend much time outside. IMG_0714.jpg The "ladies of the night" hand out business cards with their pictures on them. We saw them scattered all over the street. Over and over, Bruce's card was getting rejected after his first withdrawal. Hmmm...sounds like Bank of America is refusing to work in China. Beastids! I took some out and "exchanged" some cash for Bruce (thank you Commerce Bank) and we headed back. While we were in this little room where the ATMs were, the speaker overhead was playing some gibberish at an ear-splitting volume that sounded like Ferengi or something. We deduced that they probably do that so you get out of there pronto after contracting your business. It keeps the riff-raff out.

It looks like we were finally wrapping our day up when we put the girls to bed and headed back to our room in order to get ready for bed. Bruce checked his online banking and saw that BoA had shut down his checking account for suspicious activity. Hmmm. He had let them know that he was going to China before he left (as I had with Commerce) BoA fail. Their website suggests you call toll-free (can't in China) or collect (try finding a Chinese operator who understands that English phrase. We didn't) Oh well, we should be good till tomorrow. But just to get things going in the right direction, we once again put my iPhone with the Chinese SIM card to work and called BoA. "All our account specialists are busy at the moment but your call is important to us..." If we were so important, you'd hire more people so we didn't have to wait at $1.30 a minute.
We decided we'd give it 5 mins, then hang up. Right near the end, a gal picked up. We quickly told her we needed her to call us back and work out this problem of getting his account shut down while he was in China. We gave her my Chinese phone number, she said she'd "try" to call us back (Yoda, where are you when we need you!? "Do or do not...there is no try.") and we hung up. Finally, at 2 am, we gave up and went to bed.

I'm going to end this story here, even though it really doesn't end here. But we need to get a little dinner in the girls and so much happened last night that I wanted to get it down before I forgot any of the wonderful details. Seriously, our trip has gone so well that for the few times when it hasn't (weather, being lost, wrong turns, whatever) Bruce and I keep saying, "it will make a great story." And they all have...

More in the next post,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:25 Archived in China Tagged buildings skylines people parties sky night planes hotel Comments (0)

Captain's Log: Stardate 16-8-2013 Supplimental

How about a Q and A session?

sunny 97 °F
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Ok, no pics on this one. We are waiting for our flight to Chengdu and it's late "due to air traffic congestion."

So, let's have a little fun on the "small game." A phony Q & A session. If I don't finish this before we board (currently set for 90 mins from now) I'll finish tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm thinking we are getting in to our hotel on a late night timetable. Ugh. I'm pretty sure it's a long drive to the Panda Center, and that is just the morning schedule. We hit Dufu Cottage in the afternoon. Bruce and I have been having fun with his name for days. Can't wait to be laughing hysterically for no reason once we get there.

Ok...the Q & A

Q: What is the strangest things you have witnessed in China so far?

A: Probably some of the English language T-Shirts that make no sense. It's largely a fashion statement for the Chinese. Now, they don't get a total pass. Most of the younger people start learning English early, like we teach French and Spanish to our elementary and middle schoolers. That's how Faye, our most recent guide, learned hers. But there are some real howlers. We've put a few in our pictures, we'll try to get some more up.

Q: What has surprised you the most?

A: There haven't been a ton of surprises. I like to do my research and I did a lot this summer before we headed over. I guess what is interesting is some of the things I read about that have become readily evident. The dust, the construction, the masses of people, the jostling, the cigarette smoking (unbelievably bad) the poverty, the staring at us (two old westerners with two little Chinese girls who speak english, not Chinese), the people who walk up and ask questions. I get quizzed by people when I'm at the bathroom, I think so they can practice their english. When I tell them I'm American, they don't act surprised. It's probably similar to the way we can't help staring at Amish in Lancaster County; we expect to see them, but we still can't help staring in surprise. "Gee, they really exist?"

The biggest surprise for me is the incredibly evident Chinese wealth as evidenced by automobiles, luxury stores (full of Chinese, not westerners), large groups vacationing at 5 star resorts, and on. Bruce and I agree: Mao may be on the money, but he would be cheesed to see what has happened to his socialist revolution.

Q: What do you like the most over there?

A: The people have been largely outstanding. Our guides are little short of amazing. I know this is what they do for a living, but they know they will never see us again, yet they keep in touch. We have continued to exchange emails with every one of them. Example: When we left Nanning, the driver threw away a bag that he thought had trash in it. It actually held a tile from the site where Laurie's original SWI had been. She had picked up a piece as a memento. Bruce just got off the phone with Hannah: she had obtained another tile and will be sending it to our hotel in Beijing. Seriously. I can't tell you some of the other amazing things she did. Sandy got us front row seats to the cultural show. We wouldn't have known the difference, but he worked hard to do it. Faye just saved our bacon when there was a discrepancy in Laurie's passport. Evidently, the ticket had her old passport number on it; Bruce had to get her a new one this summer because the passport must be more than 6 months from expiring when you travel. This young lady in her early 20s cut through some pretty tough red tape and got the situation resolved in around 15 mins.

Q: What do you like least?

A: Hard to say. Some of it is simply comfort issues, and I know that, as an American, I am spoiled. They consider air conditioning at 80 degrees to be ok; we don't. We drink a lot more fluids, especially because we sweat so much when it's hot, and we miss ice-cold drinks with ice. Some roads are super smooth and nice, others are like tank traps at Normandy. Dust, heat, noise, yelling, chattering, excited gesturing, massive crowds and pushing, and a resistance to lining up. All of these can grate on your nerves if you let them. Being pre-warned made it easier for me, but didn't make me like it any more. I also have strong opinions of a national/cultural need to do things for higher reasons. I see an important place for religion there. I think it is something some are seeking, but for many, it's simply about getting ahead, keeping your forward momentum, and advancing. Most of those we meet are interested in coming to visit America. We would love have them come visit. I think it would be more of a cultural shock for them than China has been for us. That's due to availability of information. Many Chinese are learning to get around the "Great Firewall of China "(government blocking of websites like US Google - they use Hong Kong, and Facebook) But most aren't interested in wasting their time with that when there are so many approved portals they can go through. In 20 years, what will the government do when all that is for naught? Interesting question.

Q: What would you hope people would take away from your experiences from this blog?

A: Ah, I'll save that for the end...many places still to go.

Q: What is modern air travel like in China?

A: Pretty good. Most of the facilities are new, security is not nearly as draconian as it is in the US, and luggage comes out quickly. I could tell on our flight from Nanning to Hefei that a number of them were flying on a plane for the first time. They were posing, taking pictures, and having to be told the flight rules. I love the way each member of the flight crew is introduced over the PA and they bow as each name is announced. It's kinda fun. The attendents work hard because they need the job and want to keep it. For the most part, you see that around China with service personnel except the stores. You can tell the store salespeople are bored; and not on commission! Probably because they see us Americans. We spend all our money just getting there and are cheap, or don't buy much in the stores. Whereas the Chinese figure they are on "vacation" and drop a bundle on gifts, souvenirs, and parties when on vacation. At least, this is what Sandy told us, and I'll bet he's right!

Q: Do you tip in China?

A: In theory, no. But westerners have ruined things there also, and it's starting to get expected. The Chinese culture would say that you shouldn't get extra money just for being proper in performing your tasks. But the consumer culture is booming in China and tipping is catching on. In a few years, in the major cities, it will probably be like most cities in the world.

Q: What do the Chinese do for fun?

A: From what we saw, smoke, drink, eat, talk loudly, and stare (just kidding on that last one). We see a lot of ads for liquor (not beer), fashions, but mostly by the government (police, admonishments to behave better (I don't know what else to call it) and government construction.) The models are starting to look western in revealing outfits and made up to a T western-style. Looking around the airport here, many of them read a lot (books, newspapers, etc) but, and here is another big surprise of the trip, EVERYONE, AND I DO MEAN EVERYONE, OWNS A CEL PHONE. The telephone is a relatively new reality for many Chinese. We had wired phone technology for a century; China has not. Cel technology has allowed them to connect hundreds of millions of people simply by putting up massive numbers of cel towers, not miles of pole and wires. People are motorbiking with one hand and yelling on their cel. They walk and text and expect others to get out of their way (from what I have witnessed, amazingly, they do.) Numerous signs tell people on the highway not to text and drive (they do anyway) I have seen people in what looks like abject squalor texting on a smartphone. It's truly amazing. There are few iPhones, unlike the USA here. The smartphones are largely Android, with those huge Samsung Note IIs being most popular. There are other manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, and others. But you can walk for a long time around any public areas and see swarms of people in groups, or individually, swiping, texting, or, more often, yelling (not talking quietly) It's quite a massive experience.

Q: Anything you forgot?

A: Sure, and perhaps I'll do another of these sometimes. Some I hold back on. We have had weird blockage of some sites we use from time to time. I don't know if that is intentional or accidental, but it does make one a little paranoid. Some things I hold back because it sounds petty. Like the spitting phenomenon. Chinese spit...a LOT. It's ok, because it's usually presaged by a loud HOOOOWWWWWAAAACCCCCCK..then a pause, then PTOOOOH. So you do have time to not get in the firing line. I attribute it, as outlined in one of my guide books, to the smoking, but also the poor air quality. Bruce and I are ready to leave Hefei. It's nice, but it reminded us of Anaheim in the 1970s...or worse. Hopefully there is a clearer air in the hilly regions of Chengdu.

Well, I hope this has been fun. Allegedly, our plane leaves in 30 mins...but I'm preparing to be disappointed. :) It's all good. The Chinese take it in stride...and I think I should too.

Zai Jian

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:48 Archived in China Tagged me buildings people parties night hotel research prep Comments (1)

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