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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)

Xia Jian Guilin, Ni Hao Nanning

A cozy train ride takes us to Nanning

sunny 95 °F
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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)

Hong Kong: Economic powerhouse in transition

How now red cow?

sunny 94 °F
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We awakened before the crack of dawn on Thursday to head early to Incheon International Airport for our trip to Hong Kong. Since we had an 8:10 departure time, and wanted to allow at least an hour to travel to the airport, and two hours before departure for check-in, that meant a 4 am wake-up.

The girls have been great, but it's also been challenging for youngsters who have never experienced jet lag. And a 12 hour jet lag is the "mother of all jet lags." (90's Saddam Hussein reference) The Seoul bus transfer system is well oiled and our departure from the PJ Hotel to Incheon was as smooth as it can be when trying to help two sleepy children to negotiate the streets of Seoul at 5 am! IMG_0373.jpg

As we have found in many cities on our trip so far, they local and national governments want to encourage tourism, and in Seoul, the bus system to and from the airport is very nice, efficient, and prompt. We boarded the bus from the same drop-off point that had led us to Hotel PJ, and made it to the airport in plenty of time. This allowed us the opportunity for a nice little snack of muffins and juiceIMG_0374.jpg before getting on our second, and unfortunately last, trip on Korean Airlines. I swear, I'd fly with them to Cleveland, if I had to go there! So we say goodbye to KAL...and...

...hello Hong Kong! The airport is on a different island from the main peninsula of Kowloon where most of Hong Kong's famous skyscrapers are located. It used to be only accessible by ferry, but there is now a fabulous express train/bus combination that gets you to the main hotels for us foreigners! We waited in the entryway for the train while Hayley scouted out how we would arrive at our final destination: The Kowloon Hotel.IMG_0380.jpg

The train has only a few stops before you disembark at a busy station where gloved attendants direct you to a fleet of buses. You put your luggage below, put your carry-ons in a holding area on the bus and are whisked downtown like the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom through the busy streets of Kowloon to a series of stops at the hotels most frequented by tourists. Hong Kong is constantly being rebuilt as older structures are torn down and water, sewage, and transit infrastructure is updated. Bruce found much of it unfamiliar from his visit just 8 years ago.

After getting settled in our two "cozy" rooms, it was off to see the town! We were right across the street from one of the finer hotels in Kowloon: The PeninsularIMG_0181.jpg. I know that because their internet was free; ours was not. So I just let Bruce blog last night and saved this blog for the free internet here in Guilin. More about Guilin in my nightime blog in a few hours.

Our main goal of the day was to get to Victoria's Peak for the storied nighttime view of Hong Kong. That quest would allow us to take in many of the sights in sound in the pursuit of that holy grail of tourism. Alas, it was more pursuit than we had bargained for! We started with a ride on the famous Star Ferry line. We would take it to the other side of the peninsula, closer to the Victoria Peak, take in inclined trolley tram to the top, have dinner, and then take in the sight as the city lights up! It started well enough on the ferry.IMG_0184.jpg It's a nice slow ride past the newer areas of Hong Kong where today's jet set live in penthouse apartments on the newest complexes. IMG_0188.jpg Hong Kong has been trying to manage it's future without losing grip on it's past. It's past is not merely British colonialism, but one of the most important ports of the world. It's also a major player in the asian economic story, and the Hong Kong trading floor's Hang Seng index is watched by as many investors as those who live and die by the Dow Jones or S & P averages. It's now playing a part in China's economic story on the international scene. How that will play out over time will be a fascinating story.

After the ferry ride, we took to walking the streets of Hong Kong to complete our journey to the Peak Tram. Much of Hong Kong's walkways are above the streets, winding through and around office complexes replete with restaurants and night clubs. We also noticed that almost all construction is NOT done with steel scaffolding. The scaffolding is still in bambooIMG_0192.jpg It was confusing, and we got lost several times. It was hot, muggy, and jet lag was an issue. I even turned on my cel data roaming to have Google maps get us out of the mess. Finally, we relented and had a taxi drive us to the tram stop. It was only five bucks. Hmmm...file that away somewhere in my noggin...

The tram is a real mob scene.IMG_0195.jpg You may wait a few hours in the tropical sun before you get loaded onto the tram. But the wait is worth it for the experience of going up the hill...and what you see up top.large_IMG_0384.jpg

It had been such a physically demanding day that we were finding energy a challengeIMG_0200.jpg
and no one really had much of an appetite...except for a taxi ride home and a nice waiting bed. Fortunately, sunset was upon us and we did stick it out enough to get that desired stunning shot of Hong Kong at night from Victoria's Peak.IMG_0388.jpglarge_IMG_0390.jpg

Now, it was time for four groggy traveler's to do another hour long wait to get on the tram going down. None of the taxi drivers wanted to take us to the hotel (too short a drive, but we were again, confused as to directions). I pulled out my iPhone (saved again!) turned on my cel data roaming, and started walking to the hotel. Hayley said, "let's take the subway" and we were able to get on the proper train going the proper direction, popped out of the underground, and complete the final few block to our hotel, and more importantly, our BEDS. We all crashed and looked forward to tomorrow, breakfast, and entering the People's Republic of China!

Tonight...entering the PRC and spending a good part of the day at Hong Kong International Airport!

See you soon from Yangsuo Province and the Moondance Boutique Resort!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 14:46 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged me buildings skylines people children trains Comments (0)

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