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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)

Xia Jian Guilin, Ni Hao Nanning

A cozy train ride takes us to Nanning

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We knew that there was a lot of excitement that had been generated over the last few days and the girls needed some rest. They both slept through most of the outdoor show, which was a shame, and so we let Sandy know that we would start our last day's sightseeing in Guilin after lunch.

This was a wise move because they both slept till 9:30. We finally got downstairs for our "breakfast" at around 11,large_IMG_0548.jpg and just took time getting repacked for our night train to Nanning. We took the opportunity to have our breakfast by the side of the river that passes Moondance Boutique Resort. IMG_0555.jpgWe want to thank Roland and his staff. I promised to put a nice review on Trip Advisor in the future. It was an extraordinary experience.IMG_0552.jpg

Sandy took us on a long car ride to the other touristy area of Guilin: Reed Flute Cave, Elephant Trunk Park, and Fubu Hill. The Reed Flute Cave reminded me of my first date with my sweet wife. We went to Meramec Caverns (Hey, it was January 2nd, nothing much was open, and it was warm for a January excursion. Neither of us had been, but we had both seen the billboards!) We left that experience almost convulsed with unintended laughter because of the schmaltzy light show. The Chinese have taste. Every main area is lit with muted colorful lights in a way to literally illuminate the formation before you. Think of it like the Chinese version of watching clouds go by and using your imagination as to what it portrays. IMG_0567.jpg It was delightful and awe-inspiring. It was also nice and cool. The days are usually in the mid to upper 90s and the humidity is near 100%. It's clear that we will need to be on our toes to stay well hydrated. Tap water is not potable for foreigners (who don't have a built up immunity to little critters in the water supply) so we are going to have to keep after our guides to help us find cold bottled water as we progress.

After the cave, we were asked if we would like to see how silk is made from cocoons or how pearls are recovered. We were prepared for this. In Korea, they asked us if we wanted to view a cloisonne factory. We took a pass. In China, our guides are often compensated by the government and tourism is a critical part of the economy now. We like Sandy a lot and we want to keep him in good stead with his "employer, so we said yes to the silk business. It was a soft-sell/hard sell (if you know what I mean)IMG_0247.jpg but we took a pass on most of the "suggestions" and let the girls pick out a couple of scarfs to meet our obligations. IMG_0249.jpg I looked at shirts, but the kind of silk shirts I like were not there. They were much more...uh...sheer.

Next up was a visit to the Elephant Trunk Park,IMG_0252.jpg so named because of a big elephant-shaped rock formation that looks like the elephant is drinking in the water. The heat wave and accompanying dry weather of late has led to a lower level for the river, and the locals joke that the elephant has drunk much of the water!IMG_0257.jpg Hey, that wasn't us, that's some of those locals! We get revenge by staying on the bridge. Don't believe me?808776802219AC6817090899CE726197.jpg The park was nice, but also full of hawkers who saw the foreigners come their way. One learns to be nice but firm unless you see something you want. I think I will be doing a lot of my souvenir hunting at the panda reserve in Chengdu.

Finally, we went by a statue of General Fubu of the Tan Dynasty.IMG_0264.jpg He looks like Chou Yung Fat should be portraying him by the looks of his statue. Meanwhile, Keith Too Fat was seen accompanied by Hayley Tu Hungry and Laurie So Happy. IMG_0573.jpg The hill in his name has 290 steps up to the top. After realizing what is within my current state of conditioning from the Infiltration Tunnel, I took my leave of the group at the mid-point pavilion and got lucky with this incredible panorama shot of the city you see here. It was worth the trip.large_IMG_0574.jpg

We then had dinner at a little restaurant that had "less adventuresome" food, called the Left Banke. No, there was no French cuisine, but we did get spaghetti bolognese, grilled ham and cheese, and open faced grilled cheese with bacon. It was necessary because it was a quick turn-around in order to get to the stage show with local talent in ethnic minority costumes. IMG_0584.jpg Acrobats,IMG_0587.jpg dance, even a pretend Yao wedding (the groom was recruited from the audience and all had fun with the joke). Again, we didn't understand much of it, though some songs had wonderful large screen projected background complete with english translations,IMG_0591.jpg but we didn't need that. We had front row seats (we paid the premium price) and a great time.

Finally, we decided that we were out of gas and asked to be taken to the train station early. Sandy was surprised but complied, and he stayed with us and even came on the train to help us find our "cozy" little cabin. large_IMG_0600.jpg The girls slept well, IMG_0598.jpgBruce got some shut eye, and I failed to get comfortable, but nonetheless was comforted and rested by the wonderful experience of our time in Guilin.

Ok, Nanning, the bar has been set high!

Tomorrow, a day in Nanning, the Social Welfare Institute, and a nighttime dinner with Laurie's foster dad, family, and friends.

Xai Jian,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 16:30 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains beaches bridges art skylines people night trains Comments (1)

Some downtime...and entering the People's Republic of China

We enter the PRC through to beautiful karst mountain countryside of Guilin

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When we fell into bed Thursday night, after our excursion through Hong Kong, we decided to give the kids (and let's be honest, ourselves too!) some downtime in the morning. Our flight to Guilin was not until 4:10, and we had seen more of Hong Kong in 24 hours then we had ever planned to! So we let the kids sleep as late as they wanted, and figured we'd get the hotel breakfast and start introducing our group to some local dishes. We ended up with the four of us just enjoying some blogging, reading, and writing/drawing in the cozy little room Bruce and the girls were in.IMG_0397.jpg It was only a twin bed, so Bruce got forced into the "crack" of the pushed together beds, and the whole group was a little light on sleep. We would have to catch up later as events were in going to follow in quick fashion as we entered the PRC.

Most hotel breakfasts in tourist-land China consist of buffet style offerings with a mix of Asian and western choices. The four of us really dug into the breakfast because our exhaustive efforts on Victoria's Peak had also caused us to pass up on dinner. Now, we were going to make up for it. I went for a varied selections of both cuisines, especially the dim sum,IMG_0393.jpg90_IMG_0394.jpg

The kids loaded up on fruit, rice, waffles, bacon, juice, and this wonderful feast recharged our batteries for the day of travel ahead of us. We made the decision, based on our observation of Hong Kong's unpredictable traffic situation, to head out to the airport several hours early and simply hang out there for a while until our flight. We had not been able to acquire seat assignments, and hoped that a personal appearance at the Hong Kong Airlines ticket counter would resolve all of our questions.

We did the reverse of our process from the day before (bus, train, airport) like old pros, and found ourselves all checked-in and ready for flying into China's Mainland...four hours before our flight. One little detail remained to be resolved - the gate for our departure. This will come into play later on...

No one was hungry after our wonderful feast, but we were constantly up for cool refreshing drinks since arriving in Asia. Lo and behold what do we see? IMG_0405.jpgSTARBUCKS!! After a few refreshing Frappachinos (Does St. Louis have Red Bean and Green Tea Frappachinos?) We looked for things to do during our wait. The girls always have game booklets (Thank you Aunt Gloria), Laurie has a book to read, IMG_0403.jpgHayley has her iPadIMG_0404.jpg, and Bruce and Keith made good use of the free WiFi (Thank you Steve Jobs for FaceTime!) Eventually, we would need some lunch, and while it sounds blasphemous to be eating McDonald's on a trip to an area of the world with some of the world's great chefs, in the airport, it's better to get food that the kids are familiar with.

A short while after our fries, burgers, and chicken fingers (they don't like the term nuggets. I think it may refer to body parts unmentionable), we decided to go through security and go wait at the gate. Uh...wait a minute...no gate chosen yet. No problem. Let's just get past security and wait for the gate assignment. 2:30...3:00...3:15...uh...folks, the plane is supposed to leave at 4:10. And there is no "Hong Kong Airlines" desk to get answers from past security. And there is a "language problem."

Eventually, we find out that the plane hasn't arrived yet, and we do get a gate...at 3:45. So, we will be leaving late, which is fine, just so we know where to wait! Hayley picked up the iPad under the watchful eye of one of the locals in her age group. IMG_0406.jpg

When the time comes to get on board, you board a bus with, what fells like, half of China.large_IMG_0408.jpg

Then, we hauled our "carry-ons" up a rolling set of stairs, like we used to all the time at airports, to get on Hong Kong Express #8121. Some juice, a cookie (I guess their version of honey-roasted peanuts) and a few government films about how friendly all the government workers will be that will smilingly goes through the immigration procedures with you, we landed in Guilin!

We were met after customs by our guide, Sandy, and our driver Mr. Yang,IMG_0413.jpg and headed into the scenic landscapes that surround Guilin.IMG_0421.jpg It was a fascinating mixture of past and presentIMG_0414.jpg in one of the smaller major cities in southern China (only @700,000 in the city proper). The wonderful scenes make people-watching a real fulfilling experience!

We got into our Sheraton rooms latelarge_IMG_0429.jpg, because of our adventures in the Hong Kong Airport, ordered some pizza (the Chinese taught the Italians how...and still are masters!) and finished up for a big day Saturday on the Li River Cruise!

Posted by Kwpres 16:32 Archived in China Tagged landscapes mountains buildings people trees planes hotel Comments (0)

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