My husband, Steve, and I have always wanted to visit China. For several reasons, we decided that 2001 was the year to go. The project to dam the Yangtze River will start to show results soon and the water level will begin to rise in 2003. Although the water won't reach its final height until 2009, we only had a couple more years to see the entire beauty of this area.
China is in a time of great change. Foreign investment is increasing as the country becomes more industrialized. We want to see as much of traditional China as possible, before it is gone forever.
For those of you who know us or have read our logs before, you know we are not typical travelers. I have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and Insulin-Dependent Diabetes. I use a wheelchair, which Steve has good heartedly pushed on terrain that is definitely not accessible. While hiking is clearly out of the question, we generally get along just fine and rarely miss sites that our fellow tourists see. It does however take a little more forethought and planning. This year I have a new challenge. I recently changed from injecting insulin to using an insulin pump. I've always paid a lot of attention to what I'm eating. However the pump requires that I closely estimate the grams of carbohydrate I consume. Before each meal, I need this information to decide the amount of insulin to take. Taking too much or too little can make me very ill. Chinese food presents a great challenge because there are so many sauces and other ingredients with which I'm unfamiliar. For us, enjoying the native food when we travel is an important part of our vacation. We often eat Chinese food at home and we look forward to having authentic cuisine during our trip.
__by plane __ by bus __by ship, boat, turbo jet __by train
Many people ask how we select our tours. We choose the region we wish to travel to, purchase a Lonely Planet travel guide and read it. We list the major cities and attractions, and then rate them from 1 to 10, mostly based on Lonely Planet's description. We search for tours and match their itineraries and attractions to our list. We add up the ratings for each tour, select two or three of the top tours and research them in depth. Two years ago, we took our first small group tour. We were so pleased with how much closer to authentic life we were able to get, that we have decided we will always seek a small group tour. This year, we limited our consideration of tours to those with a maximum size of 20. For our trip to China, after all this analysis, we chose Pacific Delight Tours' Yangtze River Odyssey Regal China Cruises Tour B.
We're picked up at the early time of 7:15 AM and arrive at JFK airport at 9:15 AM. There's almost no wait when we reach the terminal and very few people are at the gate. We are a little dismayed because they did not call early boarding. Usually airlines call passengers who use wheelchairs to board early because this allows us the extra time and space, which we need to reach our seats. It also is helpful to passengers without disabilities because they can board without being asked to slow down or move out of the way for those of us who need more time or space. The attendant at the gate takes our boarding pass to get us a gate check for my wheelchair. This also concerns us because on a previous trip we lost our boarding passes this way. However, she's back in just a short time and we board with everyone else. Since the flight is not too full, no one rushes us, so boarding proceeds smoothly. The first leg of our trip is a 12 hour flight to Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan. It is long but the flight attendants are nice and the food is good.
I use some of the time during the flight to review Chinese history. Until the last century, Chinese history was that of dynasties. Many of the cities that we will be visiting were the capitals of at least one dynasty. Some historians claim that Chinese history goes back 5,000 years. However, the earliest stories appear to be myths or legends. Since so much of what we will see is tied to history, this is a good point at which to include a summary. As we reach historic destinations, I will write more about the history of the area.
|2200 - 1557 BC||Xia||sheea||First dynasty historians believe existed.||Probably near Xi'an|
|1554 - 1045 BC||Shang||shä[ng]||An agricultural society that worshiped their ancestors. High priest caste practiced divination using oracle bones. Known for extraordinarily detailed Bronze vessels.||Probably near Xi'an|
|1045 - 221 BC||Zhou||joa||Divided into two periods, Western and Eastern.||Hao (near Xi'an)|
|1045 - 770 BC||Western Zhou||Chinese political concepts established.|
|770 - 221 BC||Eastern Zhou||Crucible of Chinese Culture. Confucius books become the cornerstones of the education system for more than 2,000 years.|
|221 - 207 BC||Qin||cheen||China united by first Emperor Qin, infamous for his ruthlessness. Original Great Wall built. Developed long lasting administrative institutions.||Xiányáng (near Xi'an)|
|206 BC - 220 AD||Han||han||Model for later dynasties. Expansion brought military conflict and commercial gain.||Xiányáng|
|221 - 265||Three Kingdoms||China is divided into three large kingdoms. Wei is north of Yangzi River. Wu is southeast and Shu is southwest.|
|265 - 316||Western Tsin||Much fighting. Power falls to Xiongnu Horsemen.|
|317 - 420||Eastern Tsin||Non-Han tribes fight for power.|
|420 - 589||Southern and Northern||Setup efficient administration system. Disbanded Buddhist temples confiscating much wealth.||Beijing|
|589 - 618||Sui||sü I||China reunited under one government. Administrative reform modeled on Han institutions. Restored strategic sections of Great Wall. Grand Canal built.||Chang'an/Xi'an|
|618 - 907||Tang||ta[ng]||Golden age of poetry and art. Chinese control of Silk Road re-established. Buddhism flourished.||Chang'an/Xi'an|
|907 - 960||Five Dynasties||Wars between contenders for the Mandate of Heaven, the belief that heaven gives wise and virtuous leaders a mandate to rule and removes the evil and corrupt.||Beijing (Liao Dynasty)|
|960 - 1270||Song||so[ng]||Divided into two periods, Northern and Southern.|
|960 - 1127||Northern Song||Great age of painting. Strong centralized government, renewal of Confucian learning, restoration of examination system that fosters a civilian dominated bureaucracy.||Kaifeng|
|1127 - 1270||Southern Song||Juchen Jin dynasty takes control of the North. Development of an urban culture. Commercial revolution facilitates growth of urban centers through influx of goods from around the country. Marco Polo arrives in China.||Hangzhou|
|1271 - 1368||Yuan||yu-'än||Mongols conquers China. Militarization of administrative organizations. Society split into four hierarchical categories. Trade flourished facilitated by expansion of Canal and road systems.||Winter: Dadu/Beijing & Summer: Shangdu|
|1368 - 1644||Ming||mi[ng]||China becomes a strong maritime nation. First European ships come to China. Construction of magnificent buildings, which still exist today.||Beijing & Nanjing|
|1644 - 1911||Qing||chi[ng]||Manchu rule. Reign of early Qing Emperors was time of great prosperity. Intellectually conservative and isolationism made China oblivious to technological and scientific advances in the rest of the world. Opium War. China's colonies lost to European powers. Boxer Rebellion against Chinese Christians and foreigners. Foreign troops defeated Boxers.||Beijing|
|1911 - 1912||Chinese Revolution: Sun Yat-sen, considered to be the father of modern China, elected and serves as President of United Provisional Republic of China.|
|1912||Republicans ask Yuan Shikai, head of the Imperial Army, for assistance in gaining the Emperor's abdication. Afterwards Yuan forces Sun Yat-sen's resignation.|
|1913||Yuan dissolves provisional government and amends constitution to make himself president for life. Sun Yat-sen's second revolution in southern provinces fails.|
|1915||Yuan declares imperial restoration, and makes himself Emperor of a new Dynasty.|
|1916||Warlord period: Yuan dies. Contenders for powers fight, beginning Civil War.|
|1917||WWI: China joins Allies.|
|1920 - 1926||Civil War between warlords continues. Strikes. Kuomintang emerges as dominant political force. Kuomintang trains National Revolutionary Army (NRA).|
|1921||Communist Party founded in Shanghai, with support from Soviet Communist party.|
|1922||Communist Party joins with Kuomintang.|
|1925||Sun Yat-sen dies. Kuomintang power struggle begins between Communists and supporters of Chiang Kaishek who want a capitalist government led by the wealthy and supported by the military.|
|1926||Northern Expedition: Led by Chiang, NRA attempts to end communist influence. As NRA advances on Shanghai, workers called to strike and take control of key installations. Reign of terror against Communists begins.|
|1928||Kuomintang: Northern Expedition of Kumingtang reaches Beijing and establishes government. Other half of China remains under local warlord's control. Many social problems.|
|1930 - 1935||Extermination Campaign: Kuomintang led by Chiang. War against Communist forces escalates. Communist strategy is guerilla warfare. In each attack, Kuomintang is defeated and Communists expand their territory.|
|1931||Japanese Invade Manchuria: Setup puppet state with the last Qing Emperor as leader, whose life is portrayed in the movie "The Last Emperor".|
|1933||Some Communists change strategy to open battles and suffer heavy losses.|
|1934||The Long March: Communists retreat to Shaanxi. On their way, confiscate property of officials, landlords and tax collectors. Redistribute land to peasants. Arm locals and assign soldiers to organize guerilla troops to harass enemy. Mao Zedong established as supreme leader.|
|1937||Japanese Invasion: Japanese launch all-out invasion, which captures most of Eastern China.|
|1939||Kuomintang retreats to Chongqing.|
|1941||Americans join Kuomintang in fight against Japanese.|
|1948 - 1949||Three battles between Communists and Kuomintang. Communists capture all major southern cities.|
|1949||On October 1, Mao proclaims the formation of the Peoples Republic of China. Kuomintang flees to Formosa (Taiwan) where they continue to maintain the myth that they control the government.|
|1950's||Government Institutes: Land reform, recognizes role of women and curbs inflation thereby facilitating economic restoration. Industrial production restored to pre-war level. Land re-distribution. People organized by work units. Re-education of suspect intellectuals. Strict ideological control of writers, artists and filmmakers, based on Mao's writings.|
|1953 - 1958||Five year plan: Yields good industrial production but inadequate agricultural output.|
|1957||Hundred Flowers: Relaxation of restrictions on control of writers, artists and film-makers resulted in many complaints on all facets of communism. Anti-rightist campaign launched. 300,000 intellectuals labeled as rightists, removed from their jobs and incarcerated or sent to labor camps for thought reform.|
|1958||The Great Leap Forward: Program to create massive agricultural communes includes many people from urban and rural areas who participate in water control and irrigation projects. Development of small, local industry. Profit goes into agricultural development. Attempt to abolish money and all private property. Blast furnishes built in backyards to increase steel production. With no incentive to work in fields, grain production falls.|
|1959 - 1960||Widespread famine kills between 30 and 60 million. Mao resigns as head of government but remains Chairman of Communist party.|
|1966 - 1970||Cultural Revolution: Attempt to quickly create new socialist structures by purging the arts, and anyone viewed as an opponent to Mao. Red Guard established. Many universities and schools closed. Anyone with a slightly suspect background, including those with a family member living abroad, is sent to re-education. Most publications stopped. Temples, monasteries and Chinese artifacts are destroyed or closed. All organizations for any purpose other than communism are disbanded and many of their members killed. Result was the purge of all who could be a threat to Mao.|
|1972||U.S. President Nixon visits China resulting in improved relations between USA and Peoples Republic of China.|
|March 1976||First Tiananmen Incident.|
|Sept. 1976||Mao's death: Mao's supported successor, Hua Goufeng becomes China's premier and chairman of the Communist Party. The Gang of Four, a hard-line group of Communists, including Mao's wife, announces opposition to Hua. Hua has the Gang of Four accused of orchestrating the Cultural Revolution and arrested. When the arrest is announced there are celebrations throughout China. The trial is not held until 1980.|
|1980's||Deng Xiaoping becomes Premier. Hu Yaobang becomes Communist Party chairman. Final power passes to the collective leadership of the six-member Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Economic restructuring begins. Special Economic Zones established on the coast adjacent to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. Over 15 years, China averages annual economic growth of 9 percent. The Communist Party continues to control all public life.|
|1987||Hong Kong returns to China.|
|1999||Macau returns to China.|
We have crossed the international dateline and arrive at Narita airport in Tokyo. As usual, we disembark last. Our layover is not too long, only three hours. We are happy that an attendant wheels me down the runway to our next flight. Steve and I board early.
The flight goes quickly. I eat a little but mostly sleep. We are glad to reach our final destination of Beijing. After disembarking, an attendant takes us right through passport control and customs. We find our guide, Linda, and she directs us to meet two other members of our tour who are waiting by baggage. We introduce ourselves to Jean and Paul and we learn that they live in California near San Jose but are originally from New Hampshire. It's not too long before two other couples arrive. One is Carolyn and Chalmers who are also from California, not too far from where Jean and Paul live. The third couple we meet tonight is Beth and Art who are from New York City.
Our luggage arrives and we go to the bus with Linda. Linda tells us that there is one more couple in our tour group. They arrived earlier today and we will meet them tomorrow.
Steve and I are happy to reach our hotel. We're tired from the trip and go right to sleep.
Breakfast is good. I am delighted to find some Chinese dumplings. We eat with two women from Japan who are also touring China. It is interesting to meet tourists from other countries. After breakfast, we meet our tour group in the Lobby. This morning our entire tour group has gathered. We meet the fifth couple, Yona and Dan. They live in Miami, FL but are originally from Israel. It seems we have a nice mix of people in our group and we look forward to enjoying our China tour with them. Today we begin our Beijing experience.
Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China, so currently it is considered the center of the Chinese universe, as it has been for the last several hundred years. This city is China's Showcase.
|History of Beijing|
To appreciate Beijing, I find it useful to start with its history. During the periods that the city was the national capital, its history overlaps with the history of China.
The earliest record of settlement in Beijing is from approximately 1000 BC. It developed as a frontier trading town for Mongols, Koreans, and tribes from Shandong and central China.
The latter part of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, from 453 to 221 BC, is known as the Warring States Period. By this time, Beijing had grown and became the capital of the Yan Kingdom. During the Liao Dynasty, which was part of the period of the Five Dynasties (907 AD to 959 AD), Beijing was called Yanjing which means capital of Yan. I find it interesting that today Yanjing is the name of Beijing's most popular beer.
In 1206, Genghis Khan united Mongrel tribes into the "Blue Mongols". In 1211, he targeted China, but it took him two years to penetrate the Great Wall. In 1215, in true Genghis fashion, he captured Yanjing, setting fire to the city and slaughtering every one in sight. Yanjing was renamed Dadu, meaning "Great Capital". It was also known as Khanbaliq, which means "the Khan's town". The city was re-built and from 1280 to 1300 Dadu was part of the Silk Road.
However, rulers in other parts of China resisted Genghis Khan. In addition, there were problems in the Mongol camp and other Mongols were waging campaigns in Russia. All of this meant that Genghis Khan's conquest of the rest of China was delayed. In 1279, the grandson of Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, won control of Southern China. So began the Yuan Dynasty, also known as the Mongol Reign. The empire that they controlled was the largest empire that had ever existed in the world. The Mongols established two capitals, the winter capital of Dadu (Beijing) and the summer capital of Shangdu. The latter was in Inner Mongolia, to the north. The Yuan Dynasty is known for its administrative changes, which included militarization of administrative offices. Society was split into four hierarchical classes, 1) Mongols, 2) Mongol Central Asians allies, 3) Northern Chinese and 4) Southern Chinese. The Mongols ruled harshly. However economically they interfered less than many of the preceding dynasties. As work on China's canal system and roads continued, trade became easier and the commercial revolution continued. International trade also increased. Heavy taxes were levied on all except those exempt because they were Mongolian descendents.
By the middle of the 14th century, the country was in another state of rebellion. In 1368, a mercenary, Zhu Yanhang, led an uprising that over took Beijing and began the Ming Dynasty. The establishment of the Ming Dynasty restored Chinese rule. Zhu Yanhang changed his name to Hongwu. He moved the capital back to Nanjing. Hongwu became a strong leader, doing much to rebuild China. However he ordered paranoid purges of his administration, in which 10,000 scholars and their families were killed.
The third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Yongle, moved the seat of Imperial power back to the old Yuan capital. The city was renamed Beijing which meant Northern Peace. It was during this time that many of the historical highlights were built, including the Forbidden City and Tian Tán (the Temple of Heaven). Yongle ruled his court more humanely and was effective in protecting the Great Wall against the Mongols. China became a strong maritime nation. Zheng He, an eunuch General, led seven expeditions to Southeast Asia, Persia, Arabia and eastern Africa.
The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644. Official corruption, excessive eunuch power, intellectual conservatism and aiding Korea in its defense against Japan brought China to bankruptcy. Government neglect of a famine in Shaanxi led to a massive peasant rebellion.
The Manchus, from the north, launched an invasion. At first they were held back by the Great Wall. However, a Ming general viewed an alliance with the Manchus as China's hope for defeating the present rebellion. He allowed the Manchus passage over the Great Wall. In June 1644, after defeating the peasant forces, the Manchus entered Beijing and began the Qing Dynasty. It took four decades before they cleared Ming loyalists from South China and brought the country to peace. The "triads" are descendants of the secret societies which resisted the Manchus. I find it interesting that "Triads" evolved into today's modern secret societies believed to run criminal activity.
The Qing Dynasty ruled China from 1644 to 1911. The early Qing period (1663 to 1796) experienced great prosperity. Beijing was expanded and renovated. Summer palaces, pagodas and temples were constructed. Emperors expanded the empire by capturing Mongolia and Tibet. There was reduced taxation, widespread flood control, and increased use of irrigation. All of this benefited the peasants. Three very competent Emperors led this early part of the Qing Dynasty, resulting in concentration of power at the highest level.
During the last 120 years of Qing Dynasty, Beijing and therefore China experienced power struggles, invaders and chaos. With succeeding Qing Dynasty Emperors, the level of corruption regressed to the level of the Ming Dynasty. Isolationism and intellectual conservatism prevailed. As an inward looking nation, the technological and scientific revolutions of Europe went unrecognized. When Europeans came to China, this last Dynasty could not match western weaponry.
In 1516, Portuguese ships brought the first Europeans to China. It wasn't until 1760 that the British, Dutch and Spanish gained secure access to Chinese markets. A guild, known as the Cohong, presided over all trade. It was located in Guangzhou, which is close to the southern coast of China and was able to keep foreigners out of the political center of Beijing. Trade flourished, in China's favor. British purchased larger quantities of tea, silk and porcelain than Chinese purchased of wood and spices. In 1773, the British East Indian Company, acting for King George III, sent a protected envoy bearing gifts to the Emperor. With the goal of avoiding the restrictions of the Cohong, the envoy requested greater trade for Britain and a diplomatic residence in Beijing.
The Emperor refused Britain's request, stating that if the foreign envoy remained in the capital the harmony of the Chinese Celestial Empire would be upset. This venture cost the British East Indian Company heavily. However, it wasn't a total loss because the company discovered opium, an item that would improve its position. Chinese addiction to opium grew at a phenomenal pace, as did British sales and profits. In 1773, 1000 chests were purchased. By 1832, sales had increased to 23,570 chests, even though the Imperial Palace had declared a war on drugs. A chest held approximately 150 pounds of opium.
In March 1839, Lin Zexiu was sent to stop the illegal opium trade. Eventually he confiscated approximately 20,000 chests of opium in British possession. This act and some other incidents prompted the British government to take military action against China. In 1840, a naval force assembled in Macau. They moved north, close to Beijing. So began the Opium War.
The British easily defeated the Chinese. The Qing court negotiated a treaty with the British forces. However neither side recognized it. The British soon attacked Chinese forces nearby Guangzhou. A subsequent treaty leased Hong Kong to the British, awarded Britain 6,000,000 yuan and established full resumption of trade. The Qing Emperor refused to recognize this treaty. In 1841, British forces moved up the coast again, capturing the province of Fujian and part of Zhejiang. By spring 1842, Britain had sent a great number of reinforcements. Once again British troops were on the move, this time they progressed up the Yangtze River. By the time they reached Nanjing, the morale of the Emperor's troops had dissipated. The Chinese signed a humiliating treaty.
In 1860, during the second Opium war, Anglo-French troops marched in and burned the Old Summer Palace to the ground. Following this Opium War, many events occurred that proved China was unequipped to deal with the demands of the Western powers. Rebellions within China weakened the Qing Emperors. The activities of Missionaries had enhanced hatred of "foreign devils" and increased rebellion. China's population was growing and there was a scarcity of arable land. The strength and caliber of China's Emperors continued to decline. From 1856 until his death, there was increasing influence on the Emperor from his favorite concubine, Cixi. From 1875 to 1908, as the Dowager Empress she exerted a great deal of political influence. She viewed any attempt to reform the ancient institutions of the empire as a threat.
All over Asia, the West was gaining power. From 1883 to 1885, a war between China and France rewarded the western power control of Vietnam. Later France also gained control of Laos and Cambodia. The British invaded Burma. In 1895, Japan captured Korea and made the Chinese turnover Taiwan to them. By 1898, the remainder of China appeared close to total Western control. The United States made a proposal for an "open door" policy. This policy proposed making China open to trade with any foreign power.
Rebellions to overthrow the Qing Dynasty began. The Taiping were a group of fanatics who led the first major rebellion. However it was unsuccessful because the Qing forces received support from Westerners. Foreign powers preferred to deal with the corrupt Qing Imperial leadership more than a powerful, united China governed by the Taipings.
The second group to lead a major rebellion was the Righteous Harmonious Fists, also known as the Boxers. Originating in Shandong in 1898, this group came from secret societies trained in the martial arts. They were strongly against foreigners and saw the 20th century as a New Age in which they would be indestructible by foreign bullets. The Boxers traveled in poorly organized groups and attacked Chinese Christians and foreign missionaries. In 1900, the Empress Dowager tried to use their anti-foreign bias to declare war on foreign powers. The combined forces of the United States, Britain, France, Japan and Russia easily defeated the Boxers. The Empress fled from Beijing while the victorious forces demanded their troops be stationed in Beijing to protect their embassies.
By this time the Empress Dowager realized China's need for reform. Civil service examinations based on 2,000 year old Confucius doctrine were ceased. However, no other reform was taken seriously, so very little real change occurred. Secret societies, with the goal of overpowering the Qing Dynasty, became common. Even Chinese who had left their homeland to get away from its archaic traditions, set up overseas organizations. In 1908, the Empress Dowager passed away and Emperor Puyi, at the age of two, ascended to the throne. Hollywood documented his life in the movie "The Last Emperor".
The Railway Protection Movement and the Wuchang Uprising of 1911 contributed to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. The public was angry that new railroads were being financed and built by foreigners. Chinese investors were not allowed to participate in such ventures. As local leaders opposed such foreign investment, violence spread and adopted an anti-Qing focus. The worst violence occurred far from Beijing, where a bomb was set off accidentally. However, it drew the authority's attention to the revolutionaries. This led the revolutionary group to the infamous Double Tenth, a strike against national forces made on October 10, 1911. The rebels were quickly victorious. Large-scale Railway Protection uprisings occurred throughout China. Two months later representatives from China's 17 provinces met in Nanjing and established the Provisional Republican Government, ending China's long history of dynasties.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang, also known as the KMT or Nationalist Party, became the dominant political force. The leaders of the Provisional Republican Government were unable to force the Emperor's abdication. They requested that the head of the Imperial Army, Yuan Shikai, negotiate the abdication promising him the presidency if he succeeded. He obtained the abdication and placed himself at the head of the Republican movement. Yuan dissolved the Provisional Republican Government and amended the Constitution making himself president for the remainder of his life. In 1915, this met with regional opposition, so he declared Imperial restoration and made himself China's Emperor. He sent his forces to recapture the South. During this time Yuan died. For the next three decades, no single power was strong enough to hold the country together.
In 1919, Beijing again became the focal point of Chinese history, when Beijing University evolved into a hotbed of intellectual dissent, protesting the traditional Chinese lifestyle. The University drew scholars from all over China. The Communist Manifesto was translated into Chinese and widely discussed. The May Fourth Movement of 1919 is a landmark of contemporary Chinese history. The Allies in Versailles decided to pass Germany's holdings in Shandong to the Japanese. On this day, students publicly protested, showing nationalist outrage and demanding modernization. Throughout China there were massive strikes to support the students. Authorities gained control of the disturbances and imprisoned the leaders.
In 1926, a group of Kuomintang who favored a capitalist government formed in southeastern China and began the Northern Expedition. Its goals were to end the influence of communism and obtain the power of the remaining warlords. In 1928, the Northern Expedition reached Beijing and established a national government. Chiang Kaishek was both military and political leader. However, he controlled only half of the country. Local warlords ruled the other half. Although China was riddled with many social problems, Chiang's focus was on keeping the Communists in check.
The Communists were divided into two groups. One group wanted to concentrate on large urban centers and the other wanted to focus on the countryside. After defeats in the cities, favor shifted towards Mao Zedong and Zhu De who headed the group which wanted to be rural based. Some Communists led uprisings were successful. However the Communist armies were still small and had little resources. Guerrilla warfare became their style. Their strategy was to stay mobile and use their forces for short attacks. By 1930, Communist forces numbered approximately 40,000. Posing a serious threat to Chiang Kaishek and the Kuomintang, Chiang launched extermination campaigns against the Communists. With each campaign, the Communists were victorious and continued to expand their territory.
The fifth extermination campaign started in October 1933. The Communists changed their strategy. Members of the party who were undermining the authority of Mao and Zhu began meeting Chiang's forces in open pitched battles. This was disastrous and they suffered heavy losses. By October 1934, the Communists were forced into a small area in Jiangxi and retreated to China's Northern Mountains. The "Long March" was the movement of several Communist armies in the South to meet the troops assembling in the Northern Mountains. The most famous portion began in October 1934, covered 8,000 miles of some of the world's worst terrain, and took a year to complete. During the march, Communists confiscated property of officials, landlords and tax collectors. They redistributing land to peasants and armed them with weapons won from the Kuomintang. As they moved towards Beijing, the Communists left soldiers to organize local groups to continue to harass the enemy. Only 20,000 of 90,000 Communists reached their destination. The losses were due to fatigue, sickness, exposure, enemy attacks and desertion. Even with such large tolls, it was obvious that Chinese peasants could fight if provided with leadership and organization. The march also brought together many of the people who would hold top positions once the Communists gained power. Mao established himself as leader when the communist party hierarchy recognized his leadership. From that time forward he held responsibility for strategy.
Meanwhile, in 1931, the Japanese invaded and occupied Manchuria. They set up a puppet state and brought back the last Qing Emperor to serve as its head. In 1937, the Japanese launched a massive invasion. By 1939, they captured most of eastern China. In 1941, the United States, having entered World War II, sent forces to China to improve the Chinese army's combat skills. However Chiang's objective was to save his troops for the upcoming battle with the Communists. By the end of World War II, the fighting between the Communists and Kuomintang had become a Civil War. By 1948, the Communists had enough victories for their forces to equal the Kuomintang. By October, the Communists controlled all major cities in southern China. Three monumental battles were fought in 1948 and 1949. The Kuomintang lost hundreds of thousands of its troops when they defected to join the Communists.
In Beijing on October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the foundation of the People's Republic of China. Chiang Kaishek fled to Taiwan, with the country's reserves of gold, his remaining Air Force and Navy and many national works of art. Approximately two million refugees and soldiers went with him. President Truman ordered a protective United States blockade. The United States recognized Chiang Kaishek as the leader of China.
In its early days, the People's Republic of China was in bad shape. It was bankrupt and the economy was in chaos with high inflation and a legacy of mismanagement left by the Kuomintang. There were only 19,200 kilometers of railroad and 76,800 kilometers of passable roads. Both were in bad condition. Irrigation systems were inoperable. The number of livestock was low. Industrial production and agricultural output was about half of what it had been before the war with Japan.
In the 1950s, the Communists began land reform programs, slowed inflation and allowed women to assume a more modern role. Using the Soviet model, China adopted a five-year plan and was able to increase production in most areas. The Communist Party imposed social control by organizing people according to their work units. The party divided China into 21 provinces, with three autonomous regions and two municipalities, Beijing and Shanghai.
While economic development was favorable, large social problems still existed. Many Kuomintang intellectuals had stayed in China. Some Chinese returned from overseas to assist with their country's liberation. Both groups were required to participate in extensive re-education programs in universities dedicated to that purpose. Re-education consisted of intensive study including self-criticism and hard labor. Each had to write an "autobiography" before graduating. Writers, artists and filmmakers who were not sent to re-education had to work by strict ideological controls based on Mao's writings.
While the first five-year plan was successful in the industrial sector, agriculture did not do as well. Mao believed that this could be corrected by creating massive agricultural communes and bringing together large numbers of people from the country and cities into projects designed to control water and irrigation. The party attempted to abolish money and private property. Everyone had to build backyard furnaces to increase steel production. Since there was a great lack of iron ore, peasants melted down tools, pots, pans and doorknobs to make their quota. For centuries, there had been a shortage of wood for cooking and construction. Now furniture, doors and wooden buildings were used to feed the fires.
Soon it became obvious that steel produced this way was worthless. With so many people working in steel production, not enough people were left to achieve adequate agricultural yields. In 1959, there was a long stretch of bad weather and the Soviet Union withdrew its aid in 1960. Disaster struck but the government hid the facts and did not seek foreign assistance. China suffered a great famine. Between 30,000,000 and 60,000,000 people starved to death. Mao resigned his position as Head of State, but remained Chairman of the Communist Party.
During the late 1960's, the Red Guard formed as students were issued red armbands and took to the streets. Mao reviewed large parades of the Red Guard who chanted and waved copies of the "Little Red Book", a famous compilation of Mao's teachings. The Red Guard rampaged throughout the country.
During 1966 to 1970, the Cultural Revolution engulfed China. It was an attempt to create a new socialist structure in a very brief time by a process of Revolution. The Cultural Revolution began with a play that criticized Mao. Mao responded with a purge of the arts. All of his opponents were also purged. At Beijing University, wall posters were hung attacking the administration. Intellectuals, writers and artists were killed or sent to re-education. Science and art publications were halted. Religious institutions were destroyed. By the end of January 1967, the Peoples Liberation Army was ordered to break up all "counter revolutionary organizations", defined as any group with interests contrary to theirs. It's estimated that thousands of Chinese were killed.
The Cultural Revolution was a disaster, making victims out of large numbers of Chinese. Although most authorities hold the "Gang of Four" responsible, many scholars hold that Mao was behind this policy. The Gang of Four consisted of Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, and three leaders of her constituency. From Mao's perspective, one of the few benefits was that the Peoples Liberation Army achieved deeper penetration within government organizations.
During the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, some political stability returned. Zhou Enlai became the strongest influence in the day-to-day government. Zhou and his constituents led the country as moderates. They worked towards restoring international trade and contacts. In 1972, President Richard Nixon visited Beijing, improving relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China. Zhou passed away in 1976.
Mao's chosen protege, Hua Guofeng, became acting Premier. As a Maoist, he was not moderate. China was back in the hands of the radical leftists. Zhou's death and public anger at the radical government, led to the Tiananmen Square Incident in March of 1976. It is tradition that during the Qing Ming Festival, Chinese honor the dead. Crowds gathered in Tiananmen Square to place wreaths to honor Zhou, recite poems, give speeches and display posters. The contents of the poems, speeches and posters criticized the radicals as much as they eulogized Zhou. An emergency session of the Politburo, the policy making body of the Communist party, was called. With Mao's approval, the group gathered in Tiananmen Square was labeled counter revolutionary. On April 15, the police attempted to remove the wreaths from the Square. The crowd fought the police and burned their vehicles. During the night, militia of 30,000 moved into the Square, beating and arresting several hundred protesters. Blame was placed on Deng, a moderate who still held several government posts. He was relieved of his post, fled from Beijing and disappeared.
In 1974, Mao was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, a disorder that leads to paralysis and death. During the last few years of his life he was not ambulatory, received food through a feeding tube and his speech could not be understood. He died on Sept. 8th, 1976. At about the same time the Gang of Four announced their opposition to Mao's successor, Hua Guofeng. With backing from the Politburo, Hua Guofeng had the Gang of Four arrested. Since so much of China held great animosity toward the Gang of Four, there was celebration throughout the country. Their trial was not held until 1980. During the trial, Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, uttered her famous line, "[I] was Chairman Mao's dog -- whoever he told me to bite, I bit ". Jiang Qing was sentenced to the death. She lived under house arrest until 1991, when she hung herself.
Between 1977 and 1981, China's political power passed to the six member standing committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The country had many problems and greatly needed modernization. The committee began reforms with the goal of economic reconstruction. The "Responsibility System" allowed households and factories in rural China to sell their quota surpluses in an open market. Special Economic Zones were created along the coast. Annual growth rates reached nine percent and this rate continued for 15 years, a great accomplishment. However, there has been little political change. The Communist Party continues to control all public life, the Army, the government, the courts and industry. Official corruption is widespread.
In the late 1980s, inflation reached 30 percent. Widespread social unrest resulted in a call for a return to the "good old days under Mao". On April 22, 1989, the country's leaders met in the Hall of the People to mourn the death of one of their moderate leaders, Hu Yaobang. Outside of the building, 150,000 students and activists held their service. It became a massive pro-democracy protest. Throughout April, crowds continue to gather in Tiananmen Square. By the middle of May, the number of protesters grew to almost one million. Workers and even police joined in. In approximately 20 other cities, protests began. Approximately 3,000 students began a hunger strike for democracy in Tiananmen Square. The railway supported this by providing students with free fare to Beijing. The "Goddess of Democracy", a statue similar to America's Statue of Liberty, was constructed by students of Beijing's Art Institute. Many speeches called for free press and an end to corruption and nepotism. News of this uprising was broadcast throughout the world. The famous picture of one student on a street in Beijing, stopping a tank by standing in front of it was taken during this time. On May 20, 1989, martial law was declared. On June 4th, a division of the Army attacked the crowd in Tiananmen Square. The number of deaths is likely to never be known. Estimates indicate hundreds died and casualties were in the thousands. The political climate of the country returned to repression.
On the bus, Linda gives us a brief overview of a few topics. The first is money. Steve had already figured out the exchange rate conversion formula: divide by 10, then multiply by 1.2 and round up. China is safe but each of us should look out for pickpockets, especially at tourist sites. Tiananmen Square Gate means heavenly. Beijing is considered the center of the country, politically speaking.
The Communists changed Beijing significantly to achieve their own image. They removed commemorative arches and destroyed blocks of buildings to widen major roadways. To achieve better traffic patterns, the outer walls were removed between 1950 and 1952. Soviet experts and technicians encouraged monuments of Communist style. In the 1980s and 1990s, capitalist reforms attracted foreign money. New high rises, highways and shopping malls were constructed. Evidence of all of this can be seen at our first stop, Tiananmen Square. As one of Mao's most famous creations, it is the place of a great deal of recent history, including the Tiananmen Square Incident and the Tiananmen Massacre (discussed above). It is huge! During the Cultural Revolution, Mao would review troops of up to one million people here. On his death, one million people crowded into the Square to mourn him. Today it is an enormous recreational area.
On one side is the long Great Hall of the People, Rénmín Dàhuìtáng. This is China's Congress building. Linda tells us that the legislative body meets only once every four years. Mao Zedong's mausoleum, Mao Zhuxí Jìniàntáng, is on an adjoining side. A long line of people is waiting outside to view Mao's body. On one side of the building there is a statue of a line of Chinese workers. We comment that the statue is of typical communist style. If our time was not so short, Steve says he would like to see the mausoleum.
In the center of the Square there is a statue called Rénmín Yingxióng Jìniànbei or, in English, Monument to the People's Heroes. There are chains surrounding it to prevent people from climbing up its stairs. I think, "Isn't this an oxymoron?" At the top of the stairs, military guards stand in front of the bottom of the statue. The statue is quite high, perhaps 10 stories. The Chinese Revolutionary History Museum occupies another side of the Square. We missed the daily flag raising ceremony which is performed at sunrise (oh, well). There are many, many people here today but the Square is not crowded. Hawkers, calling out "Postcards, $1", approach us.
Steve decides to purchase a "Little Red book" for our Chachka. It is our tradition to purchase a Chachka in each country we visit. A Chachka has three characteristics. It must be small enough to carry, it must be something one is likely to find in the home of a native and the price must be reasonable. In the early 1960's, a collection of Mao's sayings were compiled into a book, known as the "Little Red book". At first, all members of the Peoples Liberation Army studied the book. Later it became part of the general education system.
Tiananmen: the Gate of Heavenly Peace
At the head of the Square is Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, entrance to the Imperial City. Tiananmen was built in the 15th century and restored in the 17th century. The gate consists of an imposing, wide building on top of which sits a smaller building with two-tiered roof. This functioned as the stand from which proclamations were delivered to the masses that assembled in front of the gate. Standing in front of this structure, I can visualize such events.
The gate has five doors or arches. Mao's portrait still hangs over the middle arch. On October 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the People's Republic from Tiananmen. We see Chinese characters on either side of Mao's picture. To the left, is the slogan "Long Live the People's Republic of China". To the right, it says "Long Live the Unity of the Peoples of the World". During Imperial times, only the Emperor was allowed to enter through the center door.
Linda asks our group if we would like a group picture taken in front of Tiananmen. We all agree that we would, so she arranges this. The pictures will be developed and delivered to our hotel. She will collect our money and distribute the photographs tonight. Later I read in our guidebook that this is the required backdrop for pictures that Chinese people take of themselves. I am amazed at the number of tourists, mostly oriental, in front of the gate.
(Note: I'll use this International Access symbol whenever I'm writing some information that may be of particular interest to others who have disabilities.) One enters the gate by climbing many stairs. To one side of the Square, I see an access symbol. It marks a ramped entrance to a pedestrian subway and the Forbidden City. Linda thoughtfully takes our group to the entrance with the access symbol.
The Forbidden City is really two cities, with one City inside the next. Each becomes more impressive as one moves towards the center. The first city is called the Outer Court or Imperial City. Used for ceremonial purposes, its size is 720 meters by 960 meters. The Inner Court, which is the actual Forbidden City, was the Emperor's living quarters and contains twelve Palaces, six on the east side and six on the west. There are a total of 9,999 rooms because nine is a lucky number. Linda remarks that in the old days the Chinese were very superstitious. We walk through several buildings and are impressed.
The Forbidden City
At the entrance of each building, there are a good number of stairs, which I climb with Steve's help. The first building has approximately one and a half flights of stairs, divided into three parts. The members of our group are very helpful. While Steve is assisting me, our new friends carry my wheelchair up the stairs. Once we are through each building, we exit by going down more stairs. I get back in my chair and Steve pushes me through another large court to the next building. There are several buildings, which I can be pushed around. At these, Steve goes up into the building and determines whether it is interesting enough for me to do the stairs. It is quite hot and we try to conserve our energy wherever possible. Based on Steve's recommendation, I don't go into a few of the buildings. While waiting for the group to look at the buildings, I have an opportunity to observe the other tourists. There are many groups, mostly oriental. Many of the oriental groups wear a specific hat. I guess that this is so they can easily identify their guide and each other.
The Forbidden City, Zijìn Chéng, was the residence of 24 Emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was off-limits to the general public for 500 years. The Emperors didn't leave this complex except for emergencies and to go to the Summer Palace. Between 1406 and 1420, Emperor Yongle designed the basic layout. He commanded up to one million laborers to build this palatial city. As the Emperors became engulfed in the self-contained city, they allocated increasing amounts of power to their court eunuchs. One of the Emperors spent all of his time doing carpentry. He was delighted when an earthquake struck because it gave them a chance to renovate the city. Usually an earthquake was considered an ominous sign for the Emperor.
The palace was often going up in fire because so much of it was made of wood. Lantern festivals and firework displays did not include enough safeguards to prevent the destruction. A moat around the palace was used to put out the fires because the fire brigade was considered too lowly for such a task. In 1664, the Manchus stormed the palace and burned it to the ground. In addition to the buildings, valuable books, paintings and scrolls were lost. In the 20th century, there were two major lootings of the palace. Japanese forces committed the first. The second was done by the Kuomintang who removed thousands of Chinese artifacts so they could take them to Taiwan. Several years ago we were lucky enough to see these treasures in Taipei's National Palace Museum. Had the Kuomintang not been successful in removing these treasures, the Communists probably would have destroyed them during the Cultural Revolution.
We reach the entrance to the Forbidden City, the inner city. It is breathtaking! There are five marble bridges, which make up the Meridian Gate. The Meridian Gate was considered to be in the center of the world. Each signifies one of the five major teachings of Confucius, benevolence, rites, righteousness, intelligence and fidelity. During the Ming Dynasty, drums were sounded and bells rung to announce the coming and leaving of the Emperor. We visit three Houses of Harmony before we get to the Emperor's living quarters. The living quarters are made up of bedrooms and living rooms. When one Emperor dies, the next Emperor, usually his son, chooses a new bedroom. This is because the new Emperor doesn't want to live in a room where there was a recent death. We visit the living quarters of the Empress. They are around a courtyard. The Empress lived on one side and the concubines occupied another.
I am beginning to realize that China is the land of stairs. However what I am seeing and experiencing is worth the struggle. So far, what we are seeing is massive and beautiful. I find it no wonder that so many people are visiting. The Ceremonial Hall is ornately decorated. There are many halls, even one where the Imperial clothes were delivered each year. The architecture is Ming style, big roofs of tile, glazed wooden buildings, red and yellow. In China, these colors are the colors of the royal family. Red signifies good luck and yellow stands for royalty. Sea animals are on the roof because it was believed that they would bring water to protect the wooden buildings from fire.
We walk through the Imperial Garden in which we see trees, bushes and large rocks. On the way out of the Forbidden City, we stop at our first souvenir shop. I'm sure it will be the first of many. There is a young woman painting small round shapes which are inside of a larger object. She uses a very fine brush. Her works are quite expensive but we are so impressed with their beauty and her skill that we buy several to give it as gifts to family and friends at home. We leave the Forbidden City complex by the North Gate.
Opposite the North Gate of the Forbidden City, is Coal Hill Park, so named because people used to get coal from the hill. Linda tells us that at 6 AM every morning people, especially older Chinese, come to the Park to exercise. They do tai chi, which is a martial art that Steve and I have learned. Lonely Planet says that it is the most popular martial art in the world. It is supposed to be good for flexibility, circulation, leg strength and balance. It can be used for development of qi (energy) or fighting. I can't quite imagine the latter, although I read that this is a different form than what I learned. The Yang style, which is the one I do, has slow movements to promote relaxation and relieve stress.
We pass a group of old houses, one-story of brick, built in four directions around a courtyard. In the past, one family lived in the older houses. However, it is more common now that there are two to three families per house. Many old houses in Beijing are being torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. The older generation doesn't want to move because they're very close to their neighbors. Most young people want to move to apartment houses with more rooms and modern conveniences, like toilets. Linda says that she lives in such an apartment house and doesn't know her neighbors.
Different parts of China have different types of foods and speak different dialects. The official language is Mandarin. Even when people speak Mandarin, the dialects can be so different that many Chinese from one part of the country can't understand their fellow citizens from a distant part of China.
China's population is a staggering 1.3 billion, which is 1/5 of the world's population. The population of Beijing is approximately 12,600,000. Half live in the city and the other half in the outskirts. Smog gives the sky a gray and hazy appearance. Linda tells us that in Beijing, residents plant a lot of trees to keep dust out of the city. Trees decrease dustiness and make the city pretty. Spring is very dry and dusty. March 12th is a day when everyone in the city is encouraged to plant one tree. We see white flakes flying in the air. These are from the Mylar tree.
We see many bicycles parked along the sidewalk. Linda explains that this is an entrance to the subway. The people of Beijing ride their bicycles to the subway and then take the subway to their destination. The subway goes around the city where the city wall used to stand. Office hours are 8:30 AM to noon followed by one hour lunch, then 1 PM to 5 PM. We also see many people on the streets riding bicycles. Some have boxes piled high on the back. I think this must be a common delivery method.
We stop for lunch. The meal begins with cold pickled salads, eggs and sliced meat. We have hot pork and green beans, pork and green peppers, chicken and squash, bok choy, cauliflower, sweet and sour chicken and rice. For dessert we're served cake and sliced apple. Everything is served family style on a lazy susan. We also have beer, tea and soup. I enjoy lunch but eat light, skipping the apple. When we travel to countries where the water is not safe to drink, as it is in China, we avoid eating foods that must be washed, such as fruit. I find the restaurant to be comfortable and am quite happy to see that the rest room is Western-style. This is the first time that our group eats together. We're surprised that Linda does not eat with us. She says that the staff doesn't get food as nice as we do.
Back on the bus, Linda tells us that the quality of life is much better today than 10 to 15 years ago. Today Chinese have a good amount of food and clothing. People even buy their own cars. Most businesses are still owned and run by the government. However there are some joint ventures. The most common are hotels. The government doesn't assign ones apartment anymore. In Beijing, the cost of an apartment is approximately $700 for 9 square feet which equals approximately one square meter. Banks loan money to enable Chinese to purchase an apartment. Outside the city most apartments are between 150 to 300 square meters. In the city, they range from 70 to 80 square meters. The highest government officials live on the west side of the Forbidden City. Traditional Chinese philosophy says it is best to live as close to nature as possible. This is the reason the older homes are one-story. The residents can get their air from the earth.
We are riding on what's called a ring road. The Communists built ring roads around the city. At first three were built. Now there are four and number five is under construction. Buses and subways cover the entire city at very reasonable prices.
In Beijing, as in much of China, most people are Han. China has 55 minorities. We pass Minority Park in which each minority donates something they consider beautiful. English is taught in high school. The classes teach basic words and grammar. If one wants to learn a foreign language for his or her career, he or she goes to the Foreign Language Institute for College Education. The universities are in the west part of the city. Beijing has 10 top universities. There is one street of computer stores. Many people have computers, which allow them to work in their homes.
This afternoon, we visit the Summer Palace located outside the central city. The complex is three times larger than the Forbidden City. Soon I understand the reason that this site became the Summer Palace. Most of the area is a lake and there is a nice cool breeze as we walk around the property. The Summer Palace is 800 years old, built during the Qing Dynasty. At first it was a royal garden. In the 18th century, it was enlarged and improved by Emperor Qianlong. For awhile afterwards it was abandoned. In 1860, it burned down. Empress Dowager started rebuilding it in 1888. The money she used was intended for construction of a modern Navy, so she built a marble boat which we see sitting immobile at the edge of the lake. I read that it contains several large mirrors and the Empress enjoyed dining in it. It is quite large and notorious, as an example of the Empress' foolish extravagance.
In 1900, foreign troops damaged the Summer Palace when they attempted to torch it. The Palace was restored a few years later. In 1949, the Palace was again in disrepair and major renovation was undertaken. The complex is divided into four sections: court reception, residence, temples and strolling areas. For most of our visit we are in the latter. From here, we see Longevity Hill or Wànshòu Shãn, in Chinese. This artificial hill was an Emperor's gift to his mother on her 60th birthday. On Longevity Hill, we see Páiyún Diàn (Cloud Dispelling Hall) and Huìhái Sì (Sea of Wisdom Temple), a pagoda and a temple. During most of our visit we walk along the Chángiáng (Long Corridor) a roofed, sidewalk like path. It runs for more than 700 meters and is decorated with mythical scenes. Every few feet along the inside of the roof, a painted divider about a foot in height hangs down. Many paintings are scenes of China and we find them beautiful.
Every once in awhile, Linda leads the rest of our group off this pathway but directs Steve and me to continue on this level course. We wonder what we are missing, but members of our group tell us that we didn't miss much. Steve and I joke, asking each other where can we apply for the job of royalty. This is surely a pleasant, relaxing place.
Kunmíng Hú or Kunming Lake occupies three-quarters of the grounds. Most of the Long Corridor is along side of the lake. There is an island in the middle of the lake shaped like a turtle. In Chinese culture the turtle is symbolic of longevity. Linda remarks that her culture is very concerned with symbols.
After our nice leisurely walk, we reach the dock where we will board a dragon shaped boat to sail back to the parking lot. There is a line of people waiting. Linda tells our group to relax while she waits on line. The second boat is almost full but a Palace staff member motions for us to get on.
It is not very easy to board the ferry so Steve helps me. The difficulty of boarding this boat does not compare to getting on some of the modes of transportation we've taken in the past. I get one of the last few remaining seats. Steve had to go back to get my wheelchair so there was no room for him in the covered part of the ferry. He had to stay up on the deck and I feel bad for him. However, later he tells me that he's sure he was much cooler up there and he enjoyed the view. I don't doubt that, since despite the breeze, I feel very warm. Nevertheless, I enjoy the 10-minute boat ride on this beautiful lake.
On the ride back to the hotel, we pass through parts of Beijing where there are attractive, old buildings. Many of the newer buildings have flashy names. One sign identifies the company as Manhattan. Linda says that there are 50 McDonald's in the city. She tells us that Beijing hospital, circa 1910, is the best hospital in the city. Throughout the city, we see signs that say "Olympics 2008: Beijing". The city is really campaigning to be chosen to host the games.
Our day was quite busy. We only have time for a quick nap before dinner. At dinner, we celebrate Jean and Paul's tenth anniversary. This is a second marriage for both, their first spouses are deceased. Dinner is a mixture of Chinese food. We have an appetizer which Steve and I have always wanted to try, jellyfish. It tastes like clear noodles and we enjoy it. We buy a bottle of wine for the table as a thank you to everyone for helping us today and in hope that they will continue to help and be patient with our pace, in this land of stairs. There is a mixture of hot dishes. I find some to be quite spicy. For dessert we have a red bean dish and fruit. I enjoy the red bean dish, which has a consistency similar to soup.
I start today with a breakfast of dumplings. To me, this is a wonderful way to start the day. Steve enjoys his breakfast of international foods. Even though breakfast is in a small dining room with less of a selection, we are pleasantly satisfied. As we start out on the bus, Linda teaches us a few Chinese words. Hello is Ni hau. Sou means good morning. Bu is no and xièxie, pronounced sia se, means thank you. In Chinese, X is pronounced as the S in ship. Chinese has 35,000 characters, which were developed from original drawings. Over the last 1000 years the drawings have been refined. A square is the symbol for mouth. The square with a cross through it is field. In 1929, the symbols were simplified again. However, Taiwan and Hong Kong continue to use the old characters. The older style is beginning to appear again, as more Chinese return to do business in their ancestral homeland.
The roads are busy because it's a holiday. May is the nicest month in Beijing. We pass the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is a huge building. Chinese New Year follows the lunar calendar. 2001 is the year of the Snake. People who don't like snakes refer to it as the year of the Little Dragon. The New Year is celebrated for ten days in a manner similar to the way we celebrate Christmas. Only young people celebrate Christmas.
We pass a wedding procession. The first through third car are decorated with flowers and streamers. The remaining cars in the procession carry the family members. They are decorated with red balloons. In Chinese tradition, today's date, the 12th, is considered good to visit a barber and for weddings. It is believed not to be good for flying. Since people are doing well, they spend a large amount on weddings. Weddings are not performed in churches. Cars take family and friends to a meal and party. Before hand, the couple goes to a special office to obtain their marriage license. The divorce rate of Linda's parents' generation, those born in 1920s and 1930s, is almost zero. It was considered losing face for couples to divorce. Currently the divorce rate is getting high especially in Beijing and Shanghai. However, it is still lower than in the United States.
We pass the Lama Temple. It is very colorful with beautiful gardens. Called the Yoenghé Gong, it is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple in China, outside of Tibet. It's only too bad that we do have time to stop and see it.
As we ride to today's destination, Linda talks about China's recent history. In the 1950s and 1960s, Mao encouraged people to have many babies. He believed that this would make China a great nation. Someone warned him that the population would grow too large. Mao ignored the warning and sent the man to jail. In 1978, the government recognized the problem and introduced a new policy. Each family could have only one baby. An entire generation knows nothing about having brothers and sisters. Eventually they will bear sole responsibility for their parents' care. Since then another problem has been recognized. The current generation of Chinese, as only children, has become very spoiled. Parents and grandparents give them everything. Parents want their children to achieve. Becoming musicians, movie stars and doctors are examples of what the Chinese consider achievement. Someone in our group asks about couples wanting male babies instead of female. Linda says that this is not true in cities. However, in the countryside this happens because the male will carry on the family's name. Females do not take their husband's name, but children take their father's name.
Linda tells us that Mao rewrote the history books. He began by reading history books and making notes about what he thought and how he would have handled the situations. Later his notes were written into history books and taught in school. Mao named his army 8341. Chinese armies are always named in numbers. When he was a young man, he went to the mountains and had his fortune told. The fortuneteller told him, you'll live until you are eighty-three and be in power for 41 years. This turned out to be almost true. Linda says that in 1976, Mao at the age of 83 and two other important leaders died. During the same year, there was a big earthquake.
In the old days, one lived in either the city or the country for one's entire life. This is no longer true. A lot of people are moving to the city. Buildings are replacing farmland. Farming is still done by hand. On weekends, urban citizens visit the farmland because they want to get out of the city. There are many high-rise apartments and billboards in the suburbs.
Today we travel outside of Beijing. Our first stop is the Industrial Arts Factory where they craft items of Cloisonne Ware. Cloisonne Ware is made of copper inlaid with wire and finished with enamel. This craft was very popular as far back as the reign of Emperor Chingtai during the Ming Dynasty. The production of Cloisonne Ware is quite involved. We see each step and I find this stop interesting. First, the shape of a design is hammered into a base, then outlined in copper and soldered. Next the inside of the shapes are colored with natural dyes found in the earth. The colors are mixtures of red, black, white, light blue, dark blue, green, yellow, light gray, green and brown. Each item receives three coats of dye or enamel. Finally they are fired in a kiln, polished and gilded. The finished product is beautiful.
On our way into one of the workrooms, I pass a woman who says "Mary, Hello!" I look up and say hello. Her face is somewhat familiar but I can't quite place her. I must have had a puzzled look on my face because she says to me, "Gail", with her Australian accent. As I look at her name tag, Steve comes in and says "hello, Gail". It clicks, Gail was our tour guide several years ago when we visited Fiji, New Zealand and Australia! We chat for a few minutes. Gail is leading an Australian tour through China. She has to go and, true to her take-charge style, she tells us not to get separated from our tour. She says that since both her group and ours are visiting the Great Wall this afternoon, perhaps we will meet again. We say goodbye and Steve and I agree that with all the tourists, seeing her at the Great Wall is very unlikely. This is a first and quite a surprise. We've never run into someone who we know from one part of the world, in another part. It'll be a fun story to share with the people who we're still in touch with from our Down Under tour.
I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that our visit to the Industrial Arts Factory concludes with a stop at the gift shop. I enjoy looking around and find a pair of earrings that I like, so I buy them. They are quite reasonable at four dollars. Steve and I think that most of the other items are quite expensive.
We have a bit of a ride before reaching our next destination. The scenery is interesting. In 1992, China hosted Asian Day. Many stadiums were built for this event. We pass one which was built for bicycle racing. Soccer is currently played here. China's national sport is ping-pong.
The further out of the city we go, the less built-up the area is. We see people working along the highway. They are digging up and repairing sidewalk. There are many bicycles pulling carts filled with packages. We pass fields of peach and apple trees.
Our next stop is the Ming Tombs. The Ming Dynasty had 16 Emperors from 1368 to 1544. They chose the area for their tombs by sending experts all over the country to look for the best site. They picked this one because it had the best functor, which means the best spiritual energy. Our first stop is called the Spirit Way. We enter through the Great Palace Gate, a building on top of which sits a two-tiered Oriental roof. In earlier days, officials were required to dismount here. There is the typical threshold at both the entrance and the exit. This threshold is thick enough and high enough so that it is like a stair for me. (We will encounter these types of thresholds throughout China.) Their height was determined by the importance of the building. As the social importance of the owner or imperial significance of the building increased, so did the height of the threshold. Ugh!
Once inside the gate, there is a pathway on which 12 pairs of zodiac figures and several human statues guard the Ming Tombs. In each pair of beings, one is standing and one is kneeling. The standing members are on duty. It is said that the statues on duty change every night. Since they've been on duty for 500 years, I guess the kneeling member really needs his rest. In total, there are 36 beasts and officials. Each statue is life size. Green lawns and weeping willow trees surround the pathway. As we walk down the path, we see children climbing the animals and tourists posing for pictures. After our stroll, we board our bus and ride to the Ming Tomb.
Again, there are long pathways and many stairs, which take us up into each building. After we exit, we must go downstairs to the pathway which take says to the next building where we repeat this up and down routine. Luckily, there are often paths around the buildings. The first building is the entrance to the complex. Next is a Ceremonial Hall, which contains artifacts and the tomb. Steve goes in. When he comes out he says that the artifacts are interesting but given the number of stairs, I made a wise choice to stay outside. He did not see the actual tomb but just a monument on top of where the tomb lays. He thought a big statue of the Emperor was especially interesting and the crown on display was beautiful.
We walk to the tower going through a few gates. Most of the walk was flat. As usual, Steve climbs up the tower and takes a few photos. I enjoy sitting outside the buildings watching people go by. It seems to me that there are a large number of boys in military uniforms. I think this must be a class trip, not a group of guards.
As I was sitting in my wheelchair, I notice many people looking at me. As we've seen in many other Third World countries, the Chinese don't see many people in wheelchairs. However, their look is different from what I've experienced in other countries. It is a more respectful, yet direct, look. When I smile at them or greet them, they return my smile and/or greeting. Later, when I tell Steve my impressions of respect, we conclude that this is because the only people whom most Chinese see in wheelchairs are the elderly. In China, the older generation is highly respected. I find this very interesting and somewhat flattering. Many places we go, Steve comments that I'm a celebrity.
As we're going back to the bus, Steve helps me over the gate step. There are two young teenage girls on the other side. As Steve lets go of my arm and goes back to get the chair, the girls each take one of my arms. I tell them that I am fine but either they don't understand or don't believe me, or perhaps they just want to help. They walk me to my wheelchair and hold on to me as I sit. For the most part, we're finding the Chinese people to be quite helpful.
Today's lunch is at a Friendship Store. These are stores setup for tourists. Lunch is good and quite plentiful. It is the same type of meal that we've been having, cold food first then hot. The dishes are of pork, fish, chicken and beef. Towards the end of the meal we are served soup and rice. We are surprised that rice is not a staple, like it is in Chinese restaurants back home. Dessert is watermelon. The exit is through the Friendship Store. The store contains many goods, all more expensive than what we've seen on the streets. We stop to buy a gift but decide it's too expensive. Yesterday we purchased the same item from a street vendor for one-third the price. We'll wait until we see it on the street again.
After lunch, we ride towards what is probably China's most famous attraction, the Great Wall. As we get into the mountains, we begin to see parts of this masterpiece along the road. Linda gives us its history. The Chinese have two names for the Great Wall, Chángchéng and the 10,000 Li Wall. It stretches from Shanhai Guan on the east coast to the Gobi Desert's Jiayù Guan. The construction of the original Wall began in 221 BC and was completed in 207 BC during the Qin Dynasty. Separate walls constructed by independent kingdoms to keep out roaming nomads were joined. Under General Meng Tian, hundreds of thousands of laborers, including many political prisoners, worked hard for ten years. Compressed earth was used to build the core of the original Wall. Legend says that the bodies of deceased workers also became part of the Wall. However, Steve comments that this is unlikely because decaying bodies would have weakened the Wall.
This Wall was not a good defense. "The strength of the Wall depends on the courage of those who defend it." Legend has it that this was Genghis Kahn's explanation. Often Sentries were bribed. The Wall mainly functioned as an elevated highway to transport men and equipment over mountainous terrain. The tower system used smoke signals made from burning wolf dung to send news of enemy movement to the capital. At the west end, Jiayù Guan was an important part of the Silk Road. It acted as a sort of customs post. Unwanted Chinese were thrown out through the gates to the terrifying wild west.
During the Ming Dynasty, the Wall was rebuilt with 60 million cubic meters of brick and stones slabs. The project lasted over 100 years and cost an incredible amount of human effort and resources. Afterwards, the Wall was almost forgotten and sections returned to dust. The tourist industry rescued the remainder. We see the section called Badáling, which is at an elevation of 1,000 meters. I read that to get to the top of the Wall, one must climb many stairs. I knew this would be difficult but I was determined to reach the Wall. Someone at work had told me it would be possible to pay someone to carry me to the top of the Wall. A year earlier, he paid $60 for his mother to be carried. When I ask Linda about finding someone to carry me, she said that this was not necessary. There is a gondola lift, not far from where the bus will drop our group. Several other members of our group also want to ride the lift. When the bus arrives at Pacific Delight's designated drop off point, Linda quietly tells Steve and me to stay on the bus. She instructs everyone else to get off. Three other couples protest. Linda replies that they must climb the Wall, the lift is not included. They reply that this doesn't matter, they are willing to pay. After much convincing, Linda allows them to stay on the bus. Paul and Jean, who happen to be the most advanced in years of our group, are the only ones game enough to attempt the climb.
As we're dropped off at the entrance to the lift, I see a sign that says, "People with leg disabilities ride free". The attendants make sure we know this. As we approach the ticket booth, one points to me and says she rides free. Steve replies "yes, but I need a ticket." The attendant escorts us in the gate and asks if I can walk. We say a little and he leads us to the staircase. As Steve helps me up the stairs, the attendant takes my wheelchair. It is a little tricky getting on the gondola. With Steve's help, I board the moving car. I am thankful that the cars are not moving too fast.
The Great Wall goes on Forever.....
The ride up is breathtaking. Getting off is not quite as tricky. There is a bit of an inside walk before we reach the open area that leads to the Great Wall. This walkway is divided into two lanes with those on the other side in line for the gondola ride down the mountain. All of them watch us as Steve pushes me in the wheelchair. I smile at them and they smile back.
I sit and enjoy the splendor. It is magnificent! It goes on forever, rolling over the mountains. I am amazed. Nothing I have seen or read even comes close to describing this view. Even though the day is foggy, it seems that I can see forever and the Wall stretches on and on. When Steve and the others from our group return, we wonder if this haze is constant.
The Great Wall
The lift ride down is again spectacular. The drop is quite steep but I find it to be a nice ride. Getting down from lift platform is another story. There are many stairs in four groups. Steve helps me down one set of stairs. Then he goes back to get the wheelchair. He takes it down all of the steps. There are many older people sitting on the sides of the steps, one to a step. They try to help me onto the ramp but the ramp is so steep and bumpy it would be harder to use than the stairs. A young woman offers to help me but the stairs are very uneven so I decide to wait for Steve. She moves on when I say no thank you. Steve starts to help me. Within a few seconds, an older woman is taking my other arm. I attempt to tell her that we are okay but she insists on helping. By the time we get to the bottom of the stairs, all of the women who had been sitting on the side of the stairs are now following us to make sure that I don't need anymore help.
We stop to buy postcards. Later Beth tells us that the women following us were watching to make sure that the man who sold us the postcards didn't try to cheat us. On the ride back, we pass homes in the hills. The homeowners are trying to plant trees in the mountains to decrease the amount of dust. Most of the homes look poor but Linda tells us that they all have TVs.
Linda tells us about tomorrow night's activity, a Beijing Opera. It is a Chinese tradition but no longer popular with young people. It's mostly performed for tour groups. There's only one Opera House for locals in Beijing. Chinese Opera is hard to understand. For young people, night entertainment consists mostly of movies, bars, disco or spending a night at home. Few people have cable TV because of the expense. Installation of cable also has to be approved by the government. As we get closer to the city, we see many cranes and much construction.
Tonight we have a Peking duck dinner. We enjoy it but there's only one duck for 10 people. The restaurant also serves us duck fried rice. We have fish, shrimp and vegetables. Linda eats with us and we ask her if the food we're having is typical. She says yes, except that when she cooks she doesn't make much fried food. She does cook a variety of dishes for a single meal. We've been having approximately eight dishes for each main course including two fried dishes. Most meals have some appetizer and dessert is usually fruit.
This morning's breakfast is back in the main dining room. The variety is much better and we enjoy it. I have Dim Sum and watermelon. On the way to our first destination we pass a Catholic Church. Linda says that most Chinese, especially the younger ones, have no religion. The only place that religion is common is in Llasa where Buddhism is practiced. Older Chinese people are often religious. Religion was practically wiped out by the Communists because people are only free to practice religion in private.
We pass an area where people are playing games. Ping pong and Chinese Chess are commonly played in public places. Two people play while 200 watch. Mah Jong and cards are also very popular. Gambling is illegal but sometimes people play poker in their homes. Chinese chess is played with squares. Pictures of the chess figures are painted on each square.
This morning's excursion is one that I have really been looking forward to. We take a pedicab tour of a traditional Chinese neighborhood. We visit the hutongs. Hutong is an ancient city alley or lane. Many of them were built during the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Emperors, in an attempt to establish supreme power for themselves, planned the city and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette system of the Zhou Dynasty. City center was the Forbidden City. Two types of hutongs surround the Forbidden City. The first type commonly called the regular hutong was to the east and west of the palace, orderly arranged alongside the streets. Most of the residents were imperial kinsmen and aristocrats. The other type was more simple and crude. These were located farther from the palace to the north and south. Merchants and other common people lived in these hutongs.
The buildings are mostly quadrangles; four houses enclose an inner court, one on each side. They vary in size and design according to the social status of the resident. The large residences of high-ranking officials and wealthy merchants were built with beautifully carved and painted roof beams and pillars. These homes had front and back yards. The common person's hutong had a simple quadrangle with a small gate and low houses. Today, hutongs are passageways formed by many closely arranged quadrangles of different size. The quadrangles face south for better lighting, so a lot of hutongs run east west. Between the large hutongs there are narrow hutongs that go north and south, setting up more convenient passageways. The network of hutongs made the city of Beijing like a magnificent quadrangle surrounded by a high wall. Besides being quite logical, this layout was chosen based on the ancient Chinese art of geomancy or feng shui, which means "wind and water". This art is the practice of constructing buildings in proper alignment to the natural forces to take advantage of the energy called "qi", which flows through everything. Correct placement of buildings attracts positive qi and good luck. However, when an infrastructure is built in the wrong place, the opposite will occur and the owner invites disaster. Feng shui is still practiced today.
We are lucky to be able to see such a complex. The March 2000 issue of National Geographic reports
Such compounds are increasingly rare. The city government is moving perhaps 2.5 million of Beijing's 11 million residents out to the suburbs to relieve crowding. One preservationist told me [the author] that only 25 of the capital's original 2,600 hutong will be saved, leaving less than one percent of the old homes intact.
The relocation program is making room for new tourism centers, expensive apartment compounds, and department stores where Beijing's new wealth and foreign investment dollars are getting spent.
By the end of the Qing Dynasty, China's economy was backwards. Trade was considered inferior. Beijing was considered a city for the pleasure of Emperors and aristocrats. For common people, life was mostly confined to the hutongs. The quadrangle reflected the way of life and social culture of the time. As outside influences came to China, the arrangement of the hutong was affected. Many new hutongs with regular houses were built outside the city and many old hutongs lost their former arrangements. The social status of residents also changed. Hutongs were no longer full of life. During the change of government in the 20th-century, the conditions of the hutongs became worse. Quadrangles owned by one family became compounds occupied by many households. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the conditions of hutongs were improved. During the ten-year Cultural Revolution, students took many historical and cultural relics out of these areas and destroyed them. The government controlled the destruction but it was mostly young people who performed this heinous deed. Houses were pulled down and replaced by modern buildings. Many residents moved to the new housing. Even during this time, in the urban district of Beijing, homes along hutongs occupied one-third of the district.
Steve and I board our pedicab. There is one rather large step to mount before I am able to sit in the cushioned seat above which hangs a canopy. A pedicab is a bicycle which pulls this covered seat that is mounted on wheels. It is a comfortable ride through the old neighborhood. We ride through narrow streets, seeing almost no motor vehicles. There are many people with children. The outside walls of the houses come right up to the curb, creating a walled effect. I try to take pictures but our ride is very bumpy so I have no idea if any will come out. Along the way, Steve points out a few people in wheelchairs. All of them are senior citizens.
First we stop at the Drum Tower, Gu Lóu. Built in 1420, when time was kept with a water clock, the tower contains several drums that were beaten to mark the hours of the day and in the evening to announce the closing of the city gate. Steve chooses to climb the tower and I sit in the pedicab and watch the people walk by. Most smile and nod their heads at me. I am quite comfortable sitting in the pedicab, there is nice breeze.
My Personal Pedicab Tour of the Hutong
After a short time, Steve returns to ask my opinion about purchasing a Mah Jong game board for his mother. She has played Mah Jong for years and we both think that she does not own a board. We agree that this is a good gift for her. Linda has our driver move me to the outside of the Tower Wall. I see many shops, most of which sell fruit and vegetables. There are a lot of people on the street today, shopping, selling goods and riding bicycles. The pedicab manager suggests to our driver that he take me around the local area while the others visit the Tower so I can see some of the shops. I enjoy this.
When everyone returns, our pedicab takes us past the Bell Tower, the Zhong Lóu. It is a short ride, down an alley to the North. The original Tower was built at the same time as the Drum Tower but was burned down. The Tower that stands today was built in the 18th-century. The bell was rung in the morning to announce the opening of the City Gate.
Our hutong guide is Nasa. He tells us that today we will visit a home in Beijing's North hutong. He lives in the East area where his family has lived for 118 years. Nasa had an ancestor who was very accomplished in martial arts. The Emperor of his ancestor's time awarded him with this house in the Eastern hutong.
The main alleys and streets run straight north and south. The side alleys curb around. Buildings are white brick. Inside they're decorated in black or gray never colors. I guess this is due to some Chinese tradition that says colors are bad luck. There are 37 McDonnells in the hutong area. Some homes have private bathrooms but others share bathrooms. Some hutong homes have air-conditioning and color televisions.
Next our group visits a family that lives in a hutong home. The house is surprisingly cool and comfortable. There are nine rooms shared by seven people from three generations of the same family. It is built around a courtyard. For approximately a half-hour, Mr. Wo, the patriarch speaks with us about his life, his home and his family. I find his story quite interesting. He was a famous archeologist who studied the Ming Tombs. He retired at age 60, which is the required retirement age for men in China. Men receive 100 percent of their salary as pension. Women retire at age 50 with 85 percent pension and full benefits. Farmers receive no pension. His wife retired at age 50; however she now has a job at a hotel. She continues to receive her full pension.
Mr. Wo introduces us to his granddaughter named Wi, which means wisdom. In the home, they also live with their two sons, their sons' wives and two cats. Pet dogs are no longer allowed in the hutong. If one owns a pet dog he must pay a 5,000 yuan tax on the animal. Mr. Wo and his family have lived in this house within the hutong for 48 years. He now owns it. Eighty to ninety percent of the people, who live in hutong houses, rent them. During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Wo was assigned as a farmer because he was considered an artist and artists were considered a danger to the government. His assignment lasted for 2 1/2 years. In 1983, the government gave him his house back. His brother lived in the house before him. Then Mr. Wo and his family moved in. At one point, this hutong structure housed two unrelated families. The Wo family sued and the second family was forced to move out. Forty years ago, this house cost 3,180 yuan. Today it would cost 3 million yuan, which is approximately $300,000. If Mr. Wo sold it today, he would have to pay 46 percent tax. Inheritance tax is currently 50 percent. This house has a thick roof which makes it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It is heated with the coal stove. The government pays 70 percent of the cost for people in hutong homes to convert to electric heat.
We take some pictures of the inside of the house, and go out to his courtyard. Parts of the courtyard are picturesque but other parts are obviously a storage area, where wood, straw, flowerpots and other items are kept. We see some birds in cages, probably family pets.
Not too far from the hutong area is our next stop, Gongwáng Fu, Prince Gong's Palace. Prince Gong was the son of a Qing Emperor. Emperors had many concubines. The Emperor's first son, regardless of whether he was born of a wife or a concubine, became the next Emperor. Emperors built palaces for all of their children. Prince Gong was a favorite son so his Palace was especially grand. It has nine courtyards, high walls and elaborate gardens. As we walk through the Palace grounds we admire one of the gardens.
We go to a Tea Ceremony where we are served oolong and jasmine tea. Traditionally, a clay teapot is used because it holds the flavor. Our hostess pours a little tea on the outside of the cup, and then she pours tea into our cups. However, we don't drink the tea the first time it is poured into the cups. This time it's for cleaning. We see two types of cups. One is short and round, the other is tall and thin. The tall cup is for smelling. In Chinese tradition, we hold the cup with three fingers and drink the tea in three sips. Each of the three sips has a significance, happiness, good luck, and long life. Our hostess fills the tall cup then turns it over into the short cup. She shows us a teacup which has a black dragon painted on it. When she fills it, the dragon turns red. Next she shows us a mug with Chinese characters. When she fills this mug, the characters turn into Beijing sites, a Temple, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, a panda and Buddha.
We have lunch at a restaurant on the Palace grounds. There are lots of stairs to get from the teahouse to the restaurant. However, Nasa shows us a relatively flat path with only one staircase at the entrance. By the time I reach the top of the stairs, four people are helping me. The meal is good with a few Szechwan dishes.
This afternoon we visit Tian Tán Gongyuán also known as the Temple of Heaven. It was built during the Ming Dynasty, after the completion of the Forbidden City. The Emperor visited Tian Tan twice a year, to perform solemn rights which worshiped the gods so they'd bless his empire with good weather and good crops. The Emperor also sought divine clearance and atonement for the sins of his subjects. Our Lonely Planet Guidebook says that this is "the most perfect example of Ming architecture" and "has come to symbolize Beijing."
Tian Tán Gongyuán has four gates, one at each of the four compass points. There are walls on the north and east sides. Each of the several Temples has a round roof and a square base. This comes from the ancient Chinese belief that Heaven is round and earth is square. The northern end of the complex is semicircular while the south is square.
We enter by the Southgate and pass through other gates. Most gates have steps up to a platform, a short platform and steps down into the next courtyard. One enters a few gates by stepping over a large threshold, which makes these gates even more difficult for Steve and me. The Yuánqui (in English, the Round Alter) is the first structure other than a gate at which we arrive. It was first built in 1530, and then rebuilt in 1740. At five meters high, it is composed of white marble arranged in three tiers. As many things in this country, its composition is designed around the Imperial number 9. Nine is significant because odd numbers were considered heavenly and nine is the largest one digit odd number. The uppermost tier, symbolizing Heaven, has nine rings of stone that are each made up of multiples of nine stones. The ninth ring has 81 stones. The number of stairs and balustrades are in multiples of nine. Huíyinbì, or in English the Echo Wall, is north of the alter at the entrance to the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Supposedly a whisper travels clearly from one end of the Echo Wall to a friend at the other end. Today it's too crowded for us to prove this for ourselves.
We find it helpful that in a few places Linda directs us around buildings and gates. In the next courtyard, we see the Imperial Vault of Heaven and several other smaller Temples. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is octagonal. It was built at the same time as the Round Alter but its structure is similar to the older Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The Imperial Vault of Heaven stored tablets of the Emperor's ancestors. The tablets were used in the winter solstice ceremony.
Tian Tán: Temple of Heaven
Finally, we reach the main feature of the complex, the Qinián Diàn, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It is beautiful! Besides the Great Wall, it is probably the most pictured attraction of Beijing. It sits on top of a three-tiered marble terrace. The wooden pillars, which support the ceiling, contain no nails or cement. Since the building is 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, this is quite an accomplishment. It was originally built in 1420, but burned down in 1889. This caused heads to roll as one member of the Imperial Court blamed another. It was rebuilt the following year.
I stay on a platform of the final gate because there is a nice breeze here. However, at first I do not sit right in front of the two foot wall which overlooks the court yard. People constantly move in front of me and block my view. Several times, I ask different groups to move. Only one responds to my request. Finally I have a chance so I move my wheelchair up against the wall. While we're at Tian Tán, we see many Buddhist monks among the crowds. They are touring and often pause for a picture with other groups of tourists.
Steve returns and we go down the stairs to meet our group. Leaving the complex is quite a bit easier since there are not so many stairs. It is a hot afternoon and we aren't sorry when we get back on the air-conditioned bus.
On the ride back to the hotel, the city streets are full with pedestrians and cyclists. Back at the hotel we take a short rest and dress for our evening dinner and show. As we're getting ready to leave our room, Steve tells me that some of the money that he had hidden in our suitcase has been taken. He thought that he accidentally left the suitcase unlocked this morning. We leave to meet our group early, stopping at the main desk of the Palace Hotel to report the theft. Since the wait to speak with a hotel official looks like it might be long, Steve sends me on to meet our group. Only Jean and Paul have arrived at the meeting place. They ask me where Steve is and I tell them what happened.
Linda goes to join Steve. When they return, they tell me that when we return tonight we need to meet with the head of security and give our statement. When Yona and Dan arrive, Yona has a similar story. Last night, she found and reported that a purse and necklace had been stolen. On returning to their room, she found the purse. She continued to look for the necklace, even called home to make sure she hadn't left it there. When she returned to retract the report about her stolen purse, the hotel official said that she must be mistaken about the necklace. After hearing our story, she decides to re-file the report. It's odd that something like this should happen in two rooms of the same tour group.
Our dinner is at The National Museum of Chinese History. We have Imperial Royal Cuisine in Huaiyong style, dishes that were served to Emperors. We start with cold dishes of bamboo shoots in the flowers, Nanjing salty duck, cucumber in garlic sauce, sour & hot pickles, chicken in egg roll and two flavored vegetables. Next comes the hot dishes of corn soup with egg drop, shrimp balls, chicken, beef in black pepper, roasted eel, pearl fish with green vegetables, fried green vegetables and celery with lily. Afterwards we have vegetable and noodle soups and fried rice. Dessert is cookies and fruit. This is the best meal yet! There is a lot of variety and each dish has a wonderful taste of its own.
Tonight we will see the Beijing Opera. On the way to the Opera House we pass a narrow park with a sidewalk running through the middle. People are sitting on benches. I see one person getting a massage. Linda tells us that early in the morning people gather to do tai chi. Apparently this is common in most parks in China.
Beijing Opera is a traditional art form. However, it only dates back to 1790, when a provincial troop performed it for Emperor Qianlong for his 80th birthday. It is a mixture of singing, dancing, speaking, mime, acrobatics and dancing. There are four types of roles. The Sheng are the leading male actors who play scholars, officials and warriors. The Dan are female roles which are often played by men. The Jing have painted faces. They play warriors, heroes, statesman, adventurers and demons. The Chou are clowns. The language is often archaic Chinese and music seems screeching, especially to Western ears.
We see a two act Chinese opera. Act One is a story of an Innkeeper and a Warrior. The acrobatic dance is very entertaining and the acrobats are quite good. This act is mostly pantomime. Some words are spoken or sung and there is a board on which the English is displayed.
Act Two is an adaptation of fairy tale. It begins with a long song. Then there is a dialogue between the singer and a character, who appears to be a monk. It's disappointing because none of the words are displayed in English on the board and it's hard to follow what's going on. Sixteen dancers perform an entertaining dance. Next a lady comes out and says she must go to the sea to find her husband who went away with a monk. The focus of the scene changes to the husband who has become a monk. He sends an Army, portrayed by dancers, out to kill a "demon". There is a lot of acrobatic dancing and it is fantastic. The costumes are quite colorful and beautiful. The final scene is done with batons, which symbolize swords. The wife's sister fends off the Army using her hands and legs. I find the dancing, costumes and acrobatics entertaining. However the story is hard to follow.
We drive back to the hotel. The Boulevard on which we ride has lights strung across it. Linda tells us that it is decorated for May Day. We pass Tiananmen Square which is also all lit up. When we return to our hotel, Steve and I file a report with hotel security. The manager and security officer speak with us. At first they give us a hard time. Then they apologize and ask if they can come to our room and take a look at where we had our money. I state that I doubt Steve forgot to lock the suitcase and I believe that the robber picked the lock. Beth, a member of our tour group, said that the type of lock we have is not very hard to pick. I agree, thinking that all one would need is time and patience. We take them up to our room and show them our suitcase. We point out the compartment where the money was and how it was buried in this compartment. They suggest that perhaps we spent the money and forgot. Steve states that this is not possible since we are at the beginning of our trip and we keep careful track of how much money we brought with us and each time we exchange money. The hotel officials state that they will fully investigate the day staff tomorrow. However, there is not much hope of finding the money, since the shift has already left for the day.
When the officials leave, we are quite exasperated and annoyed at how we were treated. Approximately an hour later we receive a call from the hotel. We're told that our balance, of approximately $25, is forgiven.
Today we leave Beijing and fly to Xi'an. As soon as we get up, Steve leaves the hotel to look for an ATM machine. At one of the banks where he stops, a guard waves him away. Dan tells us that he found an ATM machine at the airport when he arrived in Beijing. We're hopeful that it'll work for us. At 9:30 AM, on the ride to the airport we see a lot of traffic on the roads. We pass a group on a sidewalk doing tai chi.
We pass two good size, nice looking buildings, the Museums of Agriculture and Military. Linda tells us that in 1959, China celebrated the 10th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. They built 10 buildings, most of which are museums. Last night two members of our tour group walked past a large hospital. People were camping out in front of it. They ask why. Linda explains that Beijing has the best doctors and hospitals. Chinese travel from all over the country. When they arrive, they get on line to see the best doctors. Someone asks about medical insurance. Linda states that if you've worked for the government, the government pays approximately 80 percent. For the older generation, the government pays 100 percent. Recently the amount has decreased. Currently it has gone as low as 60 percent.
Steve points out a Lucent billboard. We see more Lucent signs in the airport. Steve goes to an ATM machine; however his card still won't work. When he returns and reports this, Chalmers offers to lend us $200. We thank him, but we still have enough money and hopefully we will soon find an ATM machine that works for us.
When we go through security, the airport officials conduct a thorough search of me, but they're very nice about it. They check all of my pockets. Once at the gate, we are not special boarded. The flight is nice. We are served drinks, a noodle dish for main course, a muffin and a sandwich. We watch videos for most of the flight, a comedy of candid camera style, a music video, a fashion show and a video on Australia.
When we arrive at the airport, we have lunch in a restaurant called the Silk Road Restaurant. It's a good meal with hot candied apples as the highlight. Our local guide tells us that they're the best in the area. Her name is Li and our driver is Jim. Li tells us that our hotel, the Hyatt, is the only five-star hotel inside the city wall. During the first part of our drive into the city, we pass fields. Two crops grow each year, wheat, harvested in early June, is the winter crop and in the summer corn, rice and cotton are grown. We see the workers as they start to plant the cotton crop.
Every village has a primary school. Several villages share a secondary school. We are riding through an area called Sleeping Town. We see burial grounds and some caves where people live. We pass a powerplant. Its water coolers make it look like a nuclear plant but it uses coal. We pass the tomb of the first Han Emperor. Xi'an is in the Shaanxi Province, famous for the terra-cotta soldiers. In North Shaanxi, most people live in mountain caves. Xi'an, at least for its residents, is considered the center of China. It is the largest city of the Northwest with a population of 6 million people. The northern suburbs are agricultural. Their main crop is vegetables. There are 54 universities in the city, which is the third largest number in any city in China. The City Wall is the best preserved City Wall in the world today. The Palace of 500 years ago was five times bigger than the Forbidden City. We see new houses that look like condominiums. Their price is $500 per square meter.
|History of Xian|
Xi'an was the capital city during most of China's Dynasties so much of Chinese history occurred in the Xi'an area. The Xia Dynasty is believed to be the first dynasty of China, existing until approximately 1500 BC. When the Xia Dynasty became corrupt, the Shang overthrew it.
The Shang Dynasty began their reign during the 16th century BC. This dynasty held power from 1554 to 1045 BC. During this period, the society was agricultural. Toward the end of the dynasty, those in power became corrupt and were overthrown by the Zhou. The Zhou was a nomadic tribe that came under the rule of the Shang and eventually overthrew them.
The Zhou Dynasty began in 1045 BC and lasted until 221 BC. They established their capital near today's Xi'an. As their predecessors, the Zhou practiced ancestor worship and divination. The "mandate of heaven" is a political concept established during the Zhou period. It holds that heaven gives wise and virtuous leaders a mandate to rule and removes authority to rule from those who are evil and corrupt. Later it was expanded by Taoist theory, which states that heaven expresses its disapproval of bad rulers by causing natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and plagues of locusts. A similar political concept credited to this dynasty is the "right to rebellion". This says that heaven expresses its displeasure with corrupt rulers through rebellion and withdrawal of support by its subjects. Such a belief was key in Chinese history when one dynasty overthrew another. Zhou Dynasty rule is divided into two periods, Western Zhou from 1027 to 771 BC and Eastern Zhou from 770 to 221 BC.
Eastern Zhou rule is further divided into two periods, Spring and Autumn from 770 to 481 BC and Warring States from 453 to 221 BC. The names actually refer to two historical books written during this era. These works became cornerstones of the classical education system and remained so until 1911. The Spring and Autumn Annals are credited to Confucius, the scholar who wandered across the land searching for a leader who would adopt his philosophy and use his teachings to create a perfect state.
Between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC, China was divided into five states, which were often at war with each other. In the 5th and 4th centuries BC, before becoming a dynastic power, the power of the Qin state increased. In 246 BC, at the age of 13, Qin Shi Huang Di rose to the throne of the Qin state. He conquered Szechwan and continued with the remaining kingdoms. By 221 BC, he conquered the last of his enemies and united China into one empire. Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di was the first to unite China into one empire. He chose Xiányáng, near today's Xi'an for his capital. He is remembered for his tyranny and cruelty. His tyrannical practices included purges and forced labor for his massive construction projects. His imperial edict demanded that books, which did not conform to the standards, be burned.
Qin Shi Huang Di ruled from 221 to 207 BC. During this time the Qin Dynasty developed administrative institutions that remained intact in China for 2,000 years. Weights, measures, currency and the writing system were standardized. Territories were divided into provincial areas and their administration was awarded to centrally appointed scholars.
The second Qin Emperor was inept and overthrown by the Han in 207 BC. From 206 BC to 220 AD, the Han Dynasty ruled China. This Dynasty was less cruel but upheld many of the institutions of the Qin Dynasty. The boundaries of China were extended deep into Central Asia. The Han Dynasty is divided into the Western Han and the Eastern Han periods. During the Western Han period, there was much consolidation. The military extended China's borders.
As China expanded during the Western Han period, Chinese encountered "barbarians" who lived outside its borders. These contacts brought both military conflict and commercial gain. The nomadic tribes of Central Asia were believed to be the greatest threat. Military expeditions were sent out to overpower them. At first these expeditions were successful and China gained access to Central Asia, opening routes that carried the country's goods as far as Rome. Thus the famous Silk Road was born. Diplomatic liaisons were made with Central Asian tribes. A great Chinese explorer, Zhang Qian, traveled to northern India. When he returned, he provided authorities with information on trade and alliance possibilities. In addition, Chinese influence expanded into areas that later became Vietnam and Korea.
For 14 years, 9 to 23 AD, between the Western and Eastern Han, the Xin took power. The Eastern Han period was stable for only a short span of time. Afterward it weakened and power decentralized. This led to the abdication of the last Han Emperor in 220. Between 220 and 580, China experienced much conflict and some of its most terrible wars as almost 400 years of turmoil ensued. Kingdoms and fiefdoms fought to gain power. China became three large kingdoms. Despite the turmoil, some positive changes occurred during this time. Buddhism reached China and spread. The arts flourished.
The next dynasty established itself in 581 AD, when a General from one of the battling kingdoms seized power and established the Sui Dynasty. In 582, the capital city of Chang'an was built. Centuries later the city was re-named Xi'an. By 589 AD, the country was reunited under a single government. This Dynasty only lasted until 618 but it is credited with many accomplishments. The General who established this Dynasty became known as the "Cultivated Emperor". He began administrative reforms modeled after much of the earlier Han institutions. In addition, he strengthened civil service at the expense of aristocratic privilege and undertook land reform. Decline started when the Cultivated Emperor's son, Yangdi became Emperor. His efforts enormously burdened the national coffers and encouraged revolution. Yangdi put together large public works to restore strategically important sections of the Great Wall. He also established the Grand Canal, which facilitated economic cohesion of the country but required a lot of manpower. Three times he ordered unsuccessful excursions into Korea. Yangdi was assassinated by one of his high officials.
During the same time, another Sui official, Li Yuan, led his troops back to the capital. For 10 years, Li Yuan's troops fought rivals, but when victorious, he began what most Chinese consider to be their most glorious period in history. Li Yuan established the Tang Dynasty, which was in power from 618 to 907. Its administration took the form of a pyramid with the Emperor at the top, followed by 2 ministries. One ministry set policy and the other was the department of State Affairs. Next, nine courts and six boards dealt with specific administrative areas. To discourage development of regional power bases, the empire was divided into 300 prefectures and 1,500 counties. This breakdown remains today.
From 626 to 649, Li Yuan's son ruled as the second Emperor. Military conquests were successful and China re-established control of the Silk Road. The Tang developed communications systems between the capital and the rest of the country, using mostly canals to link the Grand Canal and other strategically important locations. Roads ran out from the capital along which Inns were built so that officials, travelers, merchants and pilgrims had a place to stay on their way to the capital. All of this enabled the capital to collect taxes and enforce its power.
The city became a center for international trade in which sizable foreign communities were established. Major cities throughout China became home to foreign communities, mostly from Central Asia. With these communities came new religions, food, music and artistic traditions. Later contact extended to Persia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. Eventually, China grew in size to include Korea, most of East Asia and northern Japan. It did not include Tibet during the Tang Dynasty. Foreign religions built temples and mosques. Some of the most notable were Muslims, the Zoroastrians of Persia and the Nestorian Christian sect of Syria.
Buddhism also expanded with approximately 557 Buddhists immigrating to China. Chinese pilgrims traveled to India and brought back Buddhist scriptures. Translation ensued and Buddhist texts were widely available. With many works being translated from Sanskrit, multiple schools arose. The Chan School, more commonly known by its Japanese name Zen, replaced complicated scriptural study by promoting discipline and meditation. The Pure Land School, which would become the most important form of Chinese Buddhism, focused on attaining the "Western Paradise".
The capital city's outer wall formed a rectangle, 10 kilometers east west by slightly more than 8 kilometers north south. The walls, with 11 gates, were constructed from pounded earth and finished with an outer layer of sun dried brick.
Chang'an was ten times as big as Xi'an is today, very symmetrical, and laid out like a grid with wide avenues. Inside the outer walls, was another walled city that enclosed the Imperial court and government buildings. The Tang capital had a population of over one million and was considered one of the greatest cities in the world. Chang'an had three palaces. The first Emperor built a palace for his son. When the son became Emperor, he moved into the palace that had been built for him. All Emperors but the seventh lived in Chang'an. The seventh Emperor built his own palace east of the city.
The Chinese consider the height of the Tang Dynasty to be the reign of Minghuang or the "Radiant Emperor". Li tells us that the singing and dancing created during this time was very good. Children still learn it in school today. The "Radiant Emperor" became preoccupied with the arts, Tantric Buddhism, Taoism, a consort and anything else that found a way to his heart. His administrators were left to over see government business. Scholars and artists throughout the country were attracted to the Radiant Emperor's court. For a while his court became home to Du Fu and Li Bai, two renowned poets, and other writers. Art, dance, music, and religious diversity proliferated. By the eighth century, the city's population numbered two million.
At the end of the Tang dynasty, a northeastern general named An Lushun built-up a large base of power in his region. In 755, he moved on the rest of China. For almost ten years fighting ensued. The capital was overrun resulting in massive dislocation of people and millions of deaths. Tang forces won back control but this was the start of the Tang decline. Their power gradually weakened during the eighth and ninth centuries. In the Northwest, Tibetan warriors conquered Tang troops and in the South, the Nanzhao Kingdom threatened Szechwan. Widespread discontent occurred when heavy taxes were levied and a series of calamities occurred. Huang Zhao, the leader of bandit groups, ransacked the capital.
The Tang Dynasty ended in 907. Between 907 and 959, China once again experienced wars between those vying for the mandate of heaven. This time is often referred to as The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. At the end of this period, Chang'an assumed the role of regional center and China's capital was moved to Beijing
Xi'an takes an important role at the end of dynasty history. In the early 1900s, the Empress Dowager fled to Xi'an when victorious foreign forces demanded their troops be stationed in Beijing to protect their embassies. In late 1936 in Xi'an, the Communists convinced Chiang Kaishek's generals to take him hostage.
As we approach the city, the traffic outside of the Wall is crazy. I've never seen anything like this in any of our travels. Words can hardly describe what we're seeing. There is no right-of-way, whoever gets there first goes. Steve and I are riding in the front seat and it is quite scary.
North Gate of Xi'an City Wall
As we near the Gate, we see construction just outside the City Wall. The area that was formerly a moat will become part of the road to make the bicycle lane wider. I am happy when we reach the Gate. It is quite picturesque with an archway and a pagoda like structure on top of it. Li tells us that this was the inner wall built during the Tang Dynasty. We see some of the 98 watchtowers on the Wall, which are separated by the distance that a crossbow could fire. We enter the walled city by the North gate.
Li tells us that the city has two pagodas that were built to store Buddhist scrolls brought back from India during the Tang Dynasty. The pagodas were named Little Goose Pagoda and Big Goose Pagoda. The Little Goose Pagoda has quite a bit of deterioration but is still interesting. There are several old buildings around it.
The Little Goose Pagoda is on the grounds of Jiànfú Sì. Jiànfú Sì was built in 684 AD to hold prayers to bless Emperor Gao Zong in his afterlife. The pagoda, originally a delicate building of 15 progressively smaller tiers, was constructed between 707 and 709 AD. In the middle of the 16th century, the top of the pagoda fell off when an earthquake struck the city, leaving the lower 43-meter high building intact.
Steve decides to climb the Little Goose Pagoda, which comes as no surprise to me. It is quite tall and gets increasingly narrow toward the top. Steve tells an interesting story about the climb.
"The pagoda stairs are differently sized. Those steps on the bottom floors are much higher than the steps on the top floors. As I got up to successive floors, each floor had fewer stairs to get to the next floor. As I reached the top, the stairs became worn and narrower so that I essentially had to walk on tiptoe to get up to next level. At the very top there were no stairs, only an opening. So I pulled myself up onto the roof. At the top there was the most magnificent view! I took pictures all around but the most interesting was to the North, where I could see the City Wall. Modern buildings surrounded it on either side. The Wall must've been much more impressive in the time of the Emperors. Today one has to look for it, but it is still a magnificent structure."
As Steve climbs the pagoda, I sit outside in front of an old brick building with an ornate roof and catch up on my log. It is nice sitting here; the weather is cooler and more comfortable than in Beijing. I find the grounds peaceful. A few small sparrowlike birds hop around at my side until a tour group comes through. I look up and an older man is staring at me. I say hello and he answers me with a smile. Then I say "Ni hau".
Li suggests a change in our itinerary. We have a busy day tomorrow so tonight we will have dinner and see the show at the Tang Dynasty Theater Restaurant performed by The Tang Dynasty Song and Dance Troupe. This is a show of Chang'an Music and Dance which was created over 1000 years ago in the capital of the Tang Dynasty. Our program states
The performance has been recreated in accordance with various historical record and ancient arts inherited from the very prosperous Tang Dynasty. These arts have been considered China's master cultural arts from that time forward...
We arrive early and sit at a nice table. We are told that we will be having an Imperial meal. I find the meal to be okay but it seemed more touristy than what we had last night. We enjoy one new item, Chinese rice wine. It's lighter than sake, Japanese rice wine, and it's milky-cloudy, which gives it an interesting texture.
Just as the show is about to start, two tall men come and sit in front of us. The one who sits in front of Steve and me hardly sits still. At one point I say something to him but he ignores me. I heard him speak English to the man accompanying him, so it's not the case of his being unable to understand me. He is just rude! The show appears to be entertaining but I certainly don't enjoy it because of this rude man.
At least, I can hear the beautiful music. The performance has four sections. The first is an instrumental entitled Hua Qing Palace. Originally performed at royal banquets in the Palace, it's played on Chinese musical instruments, which are no longer in use. It's begins tonight's show to convey the atmosphere of wealth and tranquility which the royalty of the Tang Dynasty enjoyed.
The second segment features four diverse dances. It begins with the White Ramie Cloth Costume Dance. This dance demonstrates the flowing quality of ramie cloth which was invented in China approximately 1500 years ago. Next the Da Nuo is a sorcerer's dance for replacing epidemics and ghosts with well-being. During the Tang Dynasty, the dance was done with the dancers masked. It was performed in the courts and among noble people on New Year's Eve.
The third dance is the Rainbow Costume Dance. Legend has it that this is about Emperor Tang Xuan Zang. He traveled to the Palace of the Moon and saw celestial women clothed in feathers and rosy clouds, dancing in the sky. When the Emperor awoke, his favorite concubine choreographed and performed this dance. In China, there are four women who are considered to be the most beautiful throughout history. This concubine is one of them.
Tang Dynasty Show
The last dance is the Warriors Triumphal Dance. Before Emperor Li Shimin was the Emperor of the Tang, he was the Prince of Qin. Using his artistic talent in music and dance and his military ambition, he composed Warriors Triumphal Dance of Qin. It expresses his vision of the powerful and forceful spirits of his troops. During the Tang Dynasty the "of Qin" was dropped from the name.
The third segment is instrumental. A group of instrument masters play unique and complex instruments. Our program states that these melodies are elegant and captivating. I actually start to relax during some of this segment. In the first performance, a string duet called Jiang Jun Ling is played on hand plucked string instruments. This piece celebrates the many victories of one of the greatest generals in Chinese history. Our program says that the next number is played by Mr. Gao Ming, winner of national and provincial awards and internationally recognized as the premier performer of the Pai Xiao, a 3,000-year-old instrument. He performs Spring Orioles Song. During one Tang Emperor's accession to the throne, a flock of Orioles flew overhead. The Emperor was so impressed with this good luck sign that he ordered his court musician to compose music for the Pai Xiao to imitate the sound of the Orioles.
The final section is a clog dance called The Ta Ge. This style of dance celebrates the Mid Autumn Moon Festival which took place in a beautiful area near the Emperor's Palace at the foot of Li Shan Mountain. As the people were joyfully dancing, the Tang Emperor appears and joins the celebration. This was a great honor for the people of these ancient days. In the performance, the Emperor parades with his noble men through the Festival grounds to give his blessing to the people of the kingdom. The number is so elaborately done that I can see the magnificent dragon headdress which the dancers hold over their heads.
Later I speak to Li about the man who spoiled the performance for us. She said that we were supposed to have all of the seats at our table. We should have told her when the man sat down. I replied that we looked for her but since she was not sitting with us, we were unable to find her. Our ruined night could have been prevented had our guides been with us. In my mind, this is strike two against Pacific Delight and the manner in which our tour is being run.
This morning we head out of the city. There's not too much traffic on the streets. I guess we missed rush-hour. We pass a park where we see people doing tai chi in organized groups. After hearing so much about this, it's nice to actually see it. Our first stop is the Shaanxi History Museum. According to our Lonely Planet guide book, this is rated as one of the best museums in China. The grounds are beautiful and the inside is nice. We see the traditional Chinese Lions at the entrance. In explaining this symbol, we learn that it came from Afghanistan during the Tang Dynasty. Li tells us that there are seven sections to the museum but only five are opened.
As we enter the building, I see many stairs. We learn that there is an elevator but it is broken. The museum staff says they have no idea when it will be fixed. It has been broken for at least a year. At least the first section we visit is on the floor that we entered.
The first display shows life in this area during its earliest periods. The first evidence of human habitation dates back 6,000 years to the Neolithic era. There is a picture of people who lived in caves for many generations. We see an exhibit on the Paleolithic Langtian age and New Stone Age settlements at Lintang and Banpo. The settlements existed between 7,000 and 5,000 years ago. A model village from this time period contains many yerts, dwelling made of poles covered with cloth, somewhat like the American Indian teepee. The plains appear large and provided an excellent area for primitive Chinese tribes. The people were nomadic. The use of yert dwellings made it easy for shelter to be transported. The Jiangstal tribe built their village at a river bend then dug a moat around the village for protection. From there they could farm and hunt. Throughout history, this river has been important to people who lived in this area. The exhibit also shows that during the Tang Dynasty, Emperors were buried on its shores close to the mountains of the Yellow River.
There is an exhibit on pottery from 5,000 to approximately 7,000 years ago. The artwork on the pottery is the predecessor to written language. Some of these pieces date back to the Xia Dynasty, believed to have been the first Chinese Dynasty, ruling from 2202 to 1700 BC.
The Shang overthrew the Xia Dynasty and began their reign during the Bronze Age. They are known for bronze artifacts, which are covered with very detailed linear designs. We see samples of their beautiful bronze artifacts. The frog is prominent in the artwork and symbolizes good luck. There are chime bells, unearthed in 1960, which are 3,000 years old. Played as percussion instruments, they have ancient writing on them.
The Western Zhou period began when the Zhou overthrew the Shang. We see Western Zhou porcelain and jade artwork, which were used in their rituals. Most exhibits have a good description, which includes translation in English. The inscription on the stone and pots are much more archaic but some are readable. In approximately 1000 BC, bronze casings were crafted to fit over wood structures.
Next we go upstairs. Linda helps me upstairs while Steve carries my wheelchair. First we see a pottery display. The main feature on this flour is a display of terra-cotta soldier replicas. Qin Shi Huang Di, first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, made these soldiers such a phenomenon.
The tomb of the first Emperor of the Qin Dynasty took 38 years to build. He had approximately 8,000 life size soldiers guarding his grave. We see that a General from approximately the same time had 3,011 terra-cotta soldiers in military formation. The latter were smaller, at approximately 18 inches high. We see infantrymen and cavalry. I find an oil lamp on display to be quite interesting. It appears to be bronze and has nine candles. The lamp also used oil, brought up from the bottom of the lamp by a string. When the bottom is filled with water, the lamp can direct light. The heated water also acts as a humidifier.
The next displays are from the Tang Dynasty. One case has silver objects, a 100 percent gold bowl and silver items with gold designs. These were created between 684 and 755 AD. From the reign of the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, we see gold and bronze coins. Another display has artifacts, which illustrate the belief of this time that heaven was round and earth was square. There are gold hairpins made during this Dynasty. I ask Steve if he'll buy one for me when we get to the gift shop. For some reason, he doesn't agree!
There is another display on burial objects. These are quite detailed and ornate. I am amazed. There is an agate cup. It is made of seven pieces. One drinks from a spout of gold. Some of these types of cups have also been found in Russia but we're told that the ones from China are more ornate. During the Ming Dynasty, terra-cotta soldiers were still used as burial objects. However their size has much decreased. We see a guard of approximately 10 inches. While size decreased, the number of guards increased.
Our next stop is a jade workshop. Jade is prominent in Chinese culture because it is believed to bring good luck. We watch several crafts people working on jade. We are supposed to see an area where the terra-cotta soldiers are being restored and we're told that we can take pictures of this work. We're disappointed that it is closed today. However, Steve sneaks upstairs and takes a few pictures while I am in the gift shop with most of our tour group.
In the gift shop, I think that I might want to buy a pair of jade earrings for myself. I show some interest. Soon a sales lady approaches me. She gives me a price which is way beyond what I want to spend. When I tell her, she says that I will get a 30 percent discount given to groups and she can probably get it even further reduced. She speaks with the manager. However, the price she comes back with is still too high. I walk away but she follows me and won't leave me alone. This gets very annoying. As annoyed as I am, I see some pendants in the costume jewelry section that would make nice gifts. I bargain and when I get her to agree to 50 percent lower than what she first gave me, I purchase them.
When we return to our bus, a beggar is outside of it. He has no feet. He is the first beggar we've noticed and our impulse is to give him some money. However, we're told that this is not a good thing to do because it will attract other beggars. We decide to give him some money in exchange for allowing us to take his picture. Unfortunately, this brings more beggars to our bus. Luckily, everyone is on the bus and we are ready to leave.
On our way to today's highlight, the site of the terra-cotta soldiers, Li gives us information on this phenomenal achievement. In March of 1974, six farmers were digging a well when they uncovered the first of the terra-cotta soldiers. They did not receive any money for their find but one has written a book and made a movie. The others have opened gift shops. In 1976, two other small pits close to the first were discovered. As of today, there are seven pits nearby the tomb of the first Qin emperor. The first three pits are approximately one mile from the tomb, and contain 8,000 terra-cotta soldiers. The fourth pit is empty. The theory is that this pit was started before the emperor died but, obviously, never completed.
When the soldiers were found, archeologists detected at least nine colors that had been used to paint the statues. The colors disappeared almost as soon they were exposed to the air. The paint was made from plants and after being in the ground for centuries, it was very difficult to maintain these colors once they hit the air. In 1999, in partnership with a Munich, Germany organization, a team of archeologists and chemists were successful in excavating six terra-cotta soldiers while maintaining their colors. The face of one was painted green. Theorists propose that this could have been intended to frighten an enemy or may have just been the artist's whim. In my opinion, it's hard to imagine that an artist of this time would be allowed to exhibit such a whim.
Li is somewhat unclear about what has been found in the remaining pits. However, while I'm working on this journal, National Geographic published an article (October 2001) about discoveries made in the area, starting in 1998. One pit contained court figures and entertainers who were probably baixiyong. Baixiyong were court entertainers who performed many skills including acrobatics, singing, dancing, feats of strain and sleight of hand. Concerning one of the figures, the article says
"the few known facts about the figure are little more than clues: It is the earliest example ever found in China of life-size statuary that shows the human form, apart from the face, in realistic detail, and it is part of a startling collection of new discoveries recently unearthed... In a burial complex previously best known for its regimented terra-cotta army, the potbellied statue is remarkably out of step -- a mostly unclothed, nonmilitary figure whose head has been destroyed"
The article also describes some of the other figures found.
"Many of the newly unearthed figures are in motion. One appears to be in the act of lifting, another might be spinning something on his finger, and the potbellied statue may be using the object in his hand to grip a pole upon which an Acrobat could perform. These figures suggest a lighter side of court life under Qin Shi Huang Di, but, most important, they represent a major artistic breakthrough in a culture whose traditional art never emphasized the anatomy of the human body"
In the pit with the entertainers, a bronze cauldron weighing 467 pounds was found. It is the largest ever found from the Qin era. The pit is approximately 960 square yards. Officials have allowed only nine percent of it to be excavated.
Vault 1: Battle Formation
Another pit contains ceremonial armor of carved limestone pieces and thousands of limestone plates charred by fire. When an additional pit was opened, it contained 12 life size statues. These wear hats, long robes and have hands crossed at the waist. They may represent officials within the Qin government.
Archeologists expect to find more pits containing similar archeological treasures between the emperor's tomb and these pits but they are still searching for them. According to National Geographic, the pits which have been found occupy "only a fraction of the largely unexcavated tomb complex, which extends over 22 miles".
After much anticipation, we arrive at the site of the terra-cotta soldiers. As we approach the entrance, there are many local people trying to sell us samples of their handiwork. Most look at us and say "one dollar, one dollar". We have become good at looking the other way and continuing to walk. Once we enter the site which encompasses the first three vaults, we are impressed with the mountains surrounding the complex and the architecture within. Each of the vaults is covered with a structure that resembles an airplane hangar. First, we go to see a movie about the terra-cotta soldiers. It is interesting, presented in a theater in the round in which one watches as the show rotates around the top of the walls. We certainly detect some propaganda. We are told that this is the eighth world wonder, and one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century.
In 210, the emperor died unexpectedly while on an inspection tour. He was buried in his tomb. The tomb including the seven pits is the largest tomb in the world. 720,000 people were involved in its construction. The clay was brought to the construction site, molds were made using the actual army as models, the figures were fired and arranged underground. In the year after the emperor's death, there was an uprising. A rebel force broke into the pits, lit its supports on fire causing the roof to cave into the pits. After the movie, we exit through the gift shop where Li gives us time to browse (surprise!).
One enters the first vault via a small room in which there are perhaps a dozen terra-cotta soldiers. We are told that picture taking is not allowed inside of the vaults so we decide to pay the phenomenal fee and take a few pictures here.
Vault 1: Over 6,000 Terra Cotta Soldiers and Horses
We enter the first vault and I am awe struck! It is huge, measuring approximately 210 yards by 60 yards. More than 6000 terra-cotta soldiers and horses are in a rectangular battle formation facing east. It is on two levels. Most of the soldiers close to where we enter are not yet excavated. As we near the front of the building, we see restored soldiers. They are life size statues, each with unique, detailed features. Not only does each soldier have unique features but also there are different, distinct types. The Generals are the largest and most mature. Three types of military men, Infantry, Calvary and Archers are easily recognizable.
On the vault's side, stand three rows of 210 Crossbow and Longbow Bearers. Behind them the main force of Infantrymen stand upright, holding their hands as if ready to fight with a sword or other weapon. Later we learn that many figures held weapons from this period including spears and daggers. To date, more than 10,000 have been found and sorted. These include bronze swords worn by generals and senior officers. Treatments made the swords resist rust and corrosion. Even though they were buried for more than 2000 years, they were still sharp. Unfortunately, the swords are now in storage and we don't get to see them.
Thirty-five horse-drawn chariots are with the infantrymen. The chariots were made of wood and have disintegrated. Cavalrymen stand with their horses. They wear tight sleeved outer robes, short coats of chain mail and windproof caps. Archers are in kneeling position, positioned in strict accordance with an ancient book on the art of war. Throughout this building, we see many people taking photographs even though nearby officials are watching. I decide to join them. At first I don't use my flash because I am concerned that I will be caught. However, when I'm convinced that the officials don't care, I do whatever I think it will take to get a good picture. At the front of the building, there are stairs, which lead to a platform that overlooks this army brigade so the onlooker can see the formation head-on.
We move onto the second vault. On our way into the second pit, a small boy approaches us with a box of four terra-cotta soldiers and one horse. He shows us the box and says five dollars. We say okay and he motions us to the side of the entrance lobby. We think he's not supposed to be there and does not want to be in the spotlight. We give him five dollars but he only hands us one figure. We say we want the box. He replies $25. We say no give us back our money. He continues to try to sell us the box for $25. Steve instructs him to either give us the box or our money back. Steve tells the boy that if he does not do either we will take him to the police. He decreases the price of the entire box to $10. We repeat the dialog. When he still refuses Steve takes the boy by the arm and starts walking towards the police. Finally, the boy gives us the box.
We go into another vault area and walk around. Only a few soldiers have been excavated. The vault contains approximately 1000 soldiers, 1/6 of the number in vault one. As we're leaving, the boy sees us. We are surprised that he approaches us and asks for $10, $5 more than what we paid. He follows us for while, asking us for the money. Finally we tell him to go away or we'll bring him to the police. That does the trick and we're happy that it's the last time we see him.
Vault three is the final vault which contains soldiers. It is the smallest vault and its setup appears to be that of army headquarters. It contains 68 soldiers, four horses and a war chariot. Although the smallest, it is the deepest with only one entrance.
In the next building, we see two tin bronze royal chariots with horses that are half-life size. These were unearthed in 1980, 20 meters west of the Emperor's tomb. They have intricate detail and we find them quite impressive. We finish visiting the exhibit before the rest of our group so we decide to leave the complex and walk around. Immediately, hawkers approach us offering their goods at varying prices. I buy 12 postcards for $2. Other vendors try to sell us books and soldiers larger than the ones we painstakingly bought. They ask for $1 for each soldier. Steve stops to look at an embroidered, handmade mobile. He bargains getting its seller down from 50 yuan to 30 yuan (approximately $3). I think this is a gift for our new nephew, Michael. When he says it's for a friend, we decide to get another for Michael. From a different vendor, we get a larger one for the same price.
|Information on Physical Accessibility of Terra-Cotta Warrior Complex|
Pit 1: Although a United Nations World Heritage Site, it was built before access for people who are disabled was encouraged. The enclosure of pit one has stairs. I entered from the side and encountered one step. At the front of the building, there is approximately a half flight of stairs, which leads to a platform that has a head-on view of the army brigade. Guards offer us assistance to go up these stairs. One can enter or exit from the platform; however, the platform is crowded with visitors. The side walkways are wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate.
Chariot Building: In typical Chinese style, one must climb up a good number of stairs then go downstairs before reaching the display. We found a ramped entrance, which was marked with the international access symbol. When we arrived at this entrance, it was locked so Steve had to find someone to let us in.
Friendship Restaurant: It's on the second floor. There is an escalator but no elevator.
Other Buildings: All of the other buildings that we visited have good access.
Before we head back to the city, our bus takes us past the Emperor's tomb. There's not much to see. It's basically a 200-foot high mound of dirt. This is a shame, since I have read that in its time it was a grand mausoleum. Officials won't allow the tomb to be opened until excavators can prove that preservation methods can preserve whatever is found.
By 5:30 PM, we're heading back to Xi'an, in rush-hour. We see much activity on the streets. Before we get close to the city, there are mopeds and many bicycles pulling carts. The road is very dusty yet we see laundry hanging close to the roadside. In the park that we saw people doing tai chi this morning, there are people playing board games. As we get closer to the city, there are increasing numbers of motorized vehicles which move with no discernible pattern. At one point vehicles in a lane go in one direction. By the next block, a vehicle driving in the opposite direction enters the lane and the direction of that lane is changed.
Back inside the City Wall, the corridor road has a fence between the sidewalk and the bicycle lane. There aren't any dividers between lanes, the rule is whoever enters the lane first determines in which direction the lane will go. Steve declares that these drivers are worse than in Italy. Until this trip, he said that Italy is the world's worst place to drive. We pass large hospitals in which Chinese medicine is practiced. Li says Chinese people want both Chinese and modern medicine.
Our group has requested that we visit the Great Mosque. Our bus drops us off by the Muslim district and we walk through the Muslim market, which contains private shops and restaurants. It is small. The people are friendly and not quite as pushy as those we saw at the terra-cotta soldier complex. They still invite us to "look, look". Most Muslims in Xi'an live between the Drum Tower and the Mosque.
The Mosque was built in 742 AD during the Han Dynasty. It was restored and enlarged during the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties and is now the largest in Asia. Steve and I have seen many mosques, however none like this one. This Mosque is very Chinese in appearance; the minaret looks like a pagoda. Even though this Mosque is very different, we find it quite beautiful and peaceful. The buildings are gorgeous and the grounds are picturesque. The complex is in the shape of a rectangle. We walk through four courtyards and gates before reaching the inner sanctum. We see a few Muslim men.
In Chinese style, the center gates have quite a few stairs but there are side gates with fewer stairs. At least these stairs are in small groups and not too difficult to negotiate. One or two gates even have a ramp. Whenever we meet someone, he or she offers assistance.
In the first Courtyard, we see an old wooden Archway standing opposite a huge green wall decorated with clay brick carvings. The roof is Chinese style with upturned eaves and glazed roof tiles. The archway was built at the beginning of the 17th-century. Houses stand on both sides of the Archway. In the middle of the second Courtyard, there are three connected stone memorial gateways supported by four pillars. On top of the main gate, there is a tile inscribed in Chinese calligraphy which says "The Court of Heaven". Writings regarded as some of the best works of art in China are located in this Courtyard. Although we cannot read them, it's somewhat exciting to see them. In the third Courtyard, the Imperial Hall is the oldest building in the Mosque. There is a piece of stone with an Arabic encryption, which records the development of Islam in Shaanxi Province. In the middle of this Courtyard, The Introspection Tower serves as a minaret. It's the tallest building in the Mosque and it's used to call Muslims to pray. It has two stories, three layers of eaves and an octagonal roof. On the southern side is the Official Reception Hall. The Lecture Hall is on the northern side. It houses a hand written copy of the q'oran, made during the Ming Dynasty, and a map of Mecca during the Qing Dynasty. Next to this building there's a bathhouse in which Muslims wash before they pray.
Next is The Phoenix Pavilion. Under its eaves, there is a board with dragon carvings and an encryption of "One God" made during the Ming Dynasty by a high-ranking official. There are houses on both sides of the Pavilion. One served to receive officials and generals who came to give edicts from the Emperors. When we reach the inner sanctum, we are reminded that as non-Muslims, we cannot enter. A Muslim man, the caretaker, is sitting just behind the barrier blocking the inner sanctum. We can barely see in but our pamphlet tells us that around the inside, all the pages of the q'oran are carved in 600 pieces of huge wooden boards, 30 are in Chinese and the rest in Arabic. I wish we could see more.
Steve wanders up to the caretaker and says that the inscription in the doorway is from the q'oran. Steve tries to tell him that we have seen an original q'oran. He doesn't understand English so Li translates. He proudly tells Steve that he has made the pilgrimage to Mecca. On our way out, we comment that for Chinese, it must be a real feat to get to Mecca.
We walk back through the market. The shopkeepers are starting to close up their shops. However, as we pass, once again they encourage us to "look, look". At one shop, we see a toddler running out into the walkway. His father is on the other side and when he sees his boy he hurries over to him. Part of our group is watching the boy and waving. He waves back and says "bye, bye". I comment that he hasn't been taught to trade yet. In another year or two, he'll be chanting "come, look, buy". This path gives us a sense of really being there and experiencing authentic life.
Then we do something I've been dreading. We walk in single file, along the side of the street where there is no sidewalk. We walk through a tunnel where the fumes are very strong. I'm concerned because of the crazy driving we've seen. our group is walking in the middle of local people so it's authentic and I find it exciting. To cross the street, traffic basically stops. We walk between stopped taxis. I don't think we'll fit with the wheelchair but Steve manages it nicely. Since we have to move fast, I'm very relieved that I don't have to get out of the wheelchair.
Our group is scheduled to have a hotel buffet dinner tonight. We are all tired of eating in hotels. One couple has suggested that we find a restaurant with good local food. Linda says that this is not part of our itinerary. However, after a bit of persuasion Li suggests a restaurant which specializes in Dim Sum. It is located within a department store complex not far from the Mosque. To get there, we have to go up a flight of stairs and down another half flight. Once we arrive, we see the Dim Sum beautifully displayed on a table by the entrance. There are baskets of dumplings made in the most different, interesting shapes that I have ever seen, at least for dumplings. There are turtles, pumpkins, crabs and many other shapes. They are brightly colored green, fuchsia, orange and whatever color is natural to the shape.
After viewing the display, we take an elevator up two floors and are led to a private room set for 10. We ask the restaurant staff to add two more place settings. Li and Linda are supposed to join us. As we're about to sit down, they say that they can't because the restaurant makes the exact number of dumplings for each party. When the reservation was made, it was for 10 not 12. The group protests and offers several solutions. We suggest that if the restaurant can't make two more of each, we'll take turns giving up one dumpling. Finally they say that they aren't allowed. We make one more attempt to change their minds. Linda has been discouraging us since we requested changing our dinner plan, citing the expense as a reason. We offer to treat them and they still don't change their minds. They leave, saying that they will be back for us later.
We enjoy our Dim Sum but the baskets of dumplings come so fast that it's hard to appreciate the different flavors. Only one dumpling actually stands out in my mind, it is a light brown walnut dumpling. At home we often go to Dim Sum, but we've never had anything like this. The others are visually appealing and good but not special. They all blend together, except for the final dish. The waitress comes in and sets up soup, lighting a flame underneath the bowl. She closes the room light and we watch the flame roar. She recites an entertaining poem about the meanings of the number of dumplings we will scoop out of the bowl. One is good luck, two is good health, three is for longevity, four predicts you'll be rich and zero you'll come to try again. I don't remember the number of dumplings that I got, but it was more than four. Dessert is fruit which includes white melon. Steve and I first ate, and grew to love, white melon on a prior trip to Central Asia. However, we learned the hard way that white melon can have disastrous consequences (diarrhea). I have three pieces and say my prayers for no ill effects. The melon was good but not nearly as good as what we had in Central Asia.
On our ride back to the hotel, traffic is not so bad. Stores and markets are still opened at 8:30 PM. Li tells us that stores close at 9 PM and markets at 10 PM. Back in our room, we pack since tomorrow we leave Xi'an.
It is raining as we prepare to leave Xi'an. We make a quick stop at the South Gate of the City Wall. Xi'an is one of only a few cities in China where one can still see the old City Wall. I read in Lonely Planet, that this wall was built during the reign of Hong Wu, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, on the foundation wall of the Tang Forbidden City. Forming a rectangular circumference of approximately 14 miles in length, each side of the wall has a gateway. Over each gateway stand three towers. At each corner there is a watchtower. Defensive towers were built all along the wall. The wall is 12 meters high, 12 to 14 meters wide at the top and 15 to 18 meters wide at the base. When the Japanese bombed the city, air raid shelters were hollowed out of the wall. Local people dug caves to store grain during the Cultural Revolution. Most sections of the walls have been restored.
I stay on the bus while Steve climbs to the top of the wall. Chalmers also stays on the bus. We have a nice chat about books and our cats. We comment at our amazement that in China there is no code for pedestrians. Just like the automobiles, they push to get wherever they want to go. They don't care who they have to push out of their way. The parking lot in which we're sitting looks like it could be exciting if the weather was good. Chinese lamps hang on strings overhead.
It seems to me that our group returns fairly quickly. Steve says the wall was nice. He went upstairs and saw the buildings at the top of the stairs, some of which included gift shops. Others are rooms with more stairs that lead almost to the top of the wall where one can go out and see the inner wall. To see the outer wall, he walked back down, then over a Crossway. From there he got a good shot of the outer wall. If the weather was good, the picture probably would be spectacular. He says that I probably could have climbed to both levels, but questions whether it would be worth the time and effort. .Traffic out of the city is not too bad. We see a few drivers make bold moves. One actually turns over a sidewalk divider.
At the Xi'an airport, Steve puts my bags on the security belt and a guard has Li take me around. On the other side of the gate, a woman quickly searches me with a wand. Steve beeps as he's coming through the metal detector so they wand scan him. We are directed toward a special station at passport control. The sign says
THE PATH OF LOVE
For the aged, for the sick,
for the disabled, for those in
At least, that's a nice way to phrase it.
When we arrive at the gate, we ask about gate checking the chair. The officials wave us into an aisle which leads to the runway gate. A man cuts ahead of us as we are about to enter the gate. The attendant tells him to let us go first so the man moves out of our way. At the start of the runway, an attendant takes my wheelchair from Steve. She wheels me down backwards. As Steve begins to help me out of the wheelchair, a stewardess takes my arm and pushes it too high. It hurts. She hands me off to a stewardess in the plane who holds my arm the same way. Steve gently removes her hold. Once on the plane, she directs me into the bulkhead seat. Steve is not with me but I know we're supposed to be in row two or three so I attempt to tell her. She calls another stewardess and I explain that the bulkhead seat is not good for me because I need to stow my carryon that contains my medication where I can keep an eye on it and easily reach it. In the bulkhead seats this is not possible. Finally, I say it hurts so she puts me in row two. Other passengers begin boarding. When Steve arrives with our tickets we realize that we're supposed to be in row three so as soon as we can get someone to let us into line, we move. It turns out the first 15 rows are empty. We wonder why since the plane is full.
Before take off, the stewardess hands out packaged wipes. On the package we notice the phrase "short the distance together people". We wonder what it means. Does it refer to the wipe, meaning if you're close to others, be clean, or does it refer to travel. When we arrive at the Chongqing airport, there are stairs at the runway, then stairs to board the bus which will take us into the airport. Four people lift me in my wheelchair onto the bus.
Chongqing's population is more than 14 million. Our local guide tells us that the old streets are very narrow. In Chongqing, people walk, use the subway, or ride buses but not bicycles. There are no bicycles because the city is too hilly. The city is famous for the start or end of the Yangtze cruise, depending on whether one is sailing upstream or downstream. That is why we have come to Chongqing, to board our ship for the Yangtze River cruise. Chongqing's art is renowned, especially its paintings and sculptures. We pass a large sculpture. We enter the city from the North and see lots of new apartments and terraced mountains. The terraces form fields, which contain crops. The landscape is beautiful, green and mountainous.
We have a nice lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Yangtze River. The food is almost all Szechwan, which is a common style of food in this area. This seems like a good point to explain the diversity in Chinese food (taken from Lonely Planet: China). The four schools are Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern. The differences come from geographical, climate, historical and cultural variations.
Szechwan food is part of the Western school. Most prominent in this style is the use of red chili, which was brought to China by Spanish traders. It dries out the body through perspiration which helps one adjust to the high humidity. Red chili is supplemented with Szechwan peppercorn, garlic, ginger and onions. The spicy seasonings have medicinal and nutritional value but are most commonly known for stimulating the pallet. Fresh ingredients are available but not in the quantity or diversity found elsewhere. Pork, poultry, legumes and soybeans are common sources of protein. Meat is usually marinated, pickled or otherwise processed before cooking. Most often food is cooked using the methods of stir or deep frying. Mushroom and other fungi, bamboo shoots and wild condiments are common.
Eastern food comes from many sources, including freshwater rivers, fertile soil and the coastline. The Southern Song capital of Hangzhou on the banks of the West Lake is the birthplace of the restaurant industry. Because so many ingredients and condiments are available, Eastern food has a wide variety of cuisine. Common cooking methods include stir frying and stewing. Vegetarian cuisine is a highlight of this area. Seasonings are light so the flavors of fresh ingredients can come through.
Although most people think of rice when Chinese food is mentioned, in the Northern school wheat or millet is more common. Steamed dumplings and spring rolls come from here. Freshwater fish and chicken are the common animal protein. Cabbage is often used. Mongolian barbecue and Mongolian hot pot come from Mongol fields. The main methods of cooking in this style are steaming, baking and deep-frying. The latter became common because fuel was scarce. After the peanut arrived in the North, peanut oil became readily available and today it's used for cooking. This food is very filling, so it's well suited to cold climate.
Southern food, also known as Cantonese, is the most well known Chinese food in the Western world, since most Chinese immigrants have their roots in this region. Rice is a staple because the region has a humid climate and heavy rainfall. This region has the greatest variety of ingredients in China. Stir frying is the most popular method of cooking, followed by steaming. Dim Sum originated here. Appearance, texture and freshness are very important. Choices are exotic and include dogs, cats, raccoons, monkeys, lizards and even rats. Seasoning is light.
|History of Chongqing|
Chongqing was a capital city three times. In ancient times, it was the capital of the state of Ba. During the Yuan Dynasty, it was the capital of the state of Da Xia when a peasant army overtook the existing government. During the Japanese war, Chongqing was the temporary capital of China, under Chiang Kaishek. Today Chongqing is the largest industrial and commercial city in southwest China as well as the economic center of the upper Yangtze River. It was declared a national historical cultural famous city in 1986.
Until 1996, it was believed that Chongqing's history began one million years ago. In 1996, remains of hominids from 2 million years ago were found along the Yangtze River. In 1190, when Emperor Zhao Dun of the Song Dynasty ascended to the throne, he gave Chongqing its name. Previously he had been Prince of this city called Guangzhou. To celebrate these two events, he changed the name from Guangzhou to Chongqing. The name Chongqing means double jubilation or repeated good luck.
In 1890, Chongqing was opened as a treaty port. However, this was of little significance because few foreigners ever came up the river this far and those who did had little impact on this isolated outpost. In 1928, an industrialization program started. However, it wasn't until after the Kumingtang retreated here and set up their capital that Chongqing became a major center. By 1939, the Japanese had captured most of eastern China and the Kuomintang was forced to retreat to Chongqing. Refugees from all over China came, swelling the population to more than two million. The city became over populated, overstrained and contained many houses which had been shattered by bombs.
In the shadows of Kumingtang military leaders, representatives of the Chinese Communist Party acted as liaisons between Chongqing and communist headquarters in the Shaanxi province. Efforts were made to bring the sides together into a unified front against the Japanese. They failed largely because of mutual distrust and Chiang Kaishek's obsession with wiping out the communists, even if it cost turning over Chinese territory to an invading army.
During the 1990s, Chongqing lobbied for special status. In 1997, it was awarded special municipality status. The 30 million residents of the three county area separated from Sichuan and became a special municipality directly under the control of the central government. This status is akin to that of Beijing and Shanghai.
After lunch, we ride to the Chongqing zoo. I am looking forward to this stop, with a bit of trepidation. We will see pandas. However, our guidebook has warned us that zoos are poorly kept. On the way to the zoo, our guide continues to talk about Chongqing. During World War II, the Japanese did not occupy the city. It was too foggy to bomb and since it was surrounded by hills, it was not a good target. Now the major industry is motorcycles. They are mostly exported. Most people work for companies or in factories. There is still a lot of farming. Summers are hot; winters are warm with a good amount of rain. We ride through the area where oranges, bananas and bamboo grow. Housing costs 1500 yuan, which is approximately $150, for one square meter. The city is 800 years old. We observe that traffic is more orderly. There are five bridges and many tunnels through the mountains. I notice so many apartments!
Pandas Eat Bamboo Most of the Day
The zoo has three pandas that are 7 to 12 years old. The life expectancy of a panda is 30 years. When we arrive at the zoo, we ride to the panda area passing cages with birds. We only stop at the panda exhibit.
To reach the visitor viewing area, I have to climb about 40 stairs.
I am relieved that the area in which the pandas are kept appears to be well maintained. We see only two pandas. They're enclosed in a large grassy area with hills in which to roam and there's lots of bamboo. Some parts of the area are shaded with trees while others are sunny. We're told that most of the day pandas eat bamboo. We enjoy watching them and take many pictures. One panda is especially photogenic. He (or she) just sits there eating bamboo. I move to where I can see the other panda. When I get there, he's relieving himself. Afterward, he walks back to an alcove and climbs the barrier between the panda area and whatever is on the other side. He finally lays down by the side of the alcove.
We Enjoy the Pandas
In general, I find that the zoo's grounds are pleasant. This is not a new zoo; it's approximately 50 years old. On our way out we stop at an art gallery/gift shop. Our guide tells us Chinese art is either detailed or not. There are three popular subjects, landscape, people and flowers. The gallery is upstairs and I'm tired so I stay on the bus. I ask Steve to purchase a postcard of pandas. When he returns he tells me that they had postcards but none with pandas.
We ride up to Liangjiang Pavilion in Liangjiang Park, a pavilion on a mountain, which has a nice lookout over Chongqing where the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers meet. To reach the lookout, one must walk over an uneven path then climb approximately 50 stairs. It looks like I'll be able to see the view from someplace on my present level so I decide not to go with our group. As Steve and the others climb many stairs to reach a platform with a view, I walk towards the place where I imagine I can see the view. When I reach it, I can't see anything so I look around and see a platform which is only a short distance away. The scene is impressive! We've been hearing that the river is low and I certainly see that.
I go back to the parking lot to wait for the rest of my group to return. I see a woman sitting on a chair with a peacock on either side of her and flowers hanging over the chair. I wonder what she's doing. A short while later, three visitors approach her. One visitor sits in the chair, another gives the chair's owner some money and the third visitor photographs the visitor sitting in the chair. What a different way to make money!
There is a small museum on the side of parking lot. Some of our group are going to walk through it. At first I don't go because my legs are getting tired. In a few minutes Steve comes back and tells me that there is a very interesting display on the Three Gorges and the Yangtze River Dam project. Steve has been really interested in the dam project so I decide to join him. The entire wall of the museum has a painting of the "Thousands Miles Three Gorges" Yangtze River, painted by Liu Zuo-Zong. He painted it using his 20-year experience of wandering through the Gorges and surrounding areas. There is also a diagram showing how the Gorges will change when the dam is complete. We've heard so much about the dam and its effect on the Gorges, but this diagram proves that a picture is worth a thousand words. The painting's length is 100 meters and it's two meters in height. I find it beautifully captures the scenery along the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Yichang.
We have a change in our itinerary. Because the river is so low, our cruise ship can't come up the river and dock in Chongqing; we must drive three hours to Fengdu. Before we leave the city, our bus picks up three people, two tourists and a staff member from the cruise. For the first two hours we ride on a highway and pass beautiful farmland and rolling hills. We leave the highway and drive up a high hill to get gas. I need to use a ladies room. At the last stop when most of our group used the facilities, my legs were hurting and I didn't think I could walk down and back up the steep hill. If I had only known that the bus was driving down to pick us up, I could have gone comfortably. I'm annoyed that we weren't told because I spent almost two hours being very uncomfortable. (For me this is strike three against Pacific Delight.)
When we arrive at the place where the bus will fill up with gas, the restrooms are Asian style, with a tiled ditch up a 7-inch step. A woman goes in and hoses down the floor before I enter. Now I am very concerned about it being slippery so Steve helps me in and out. Luckily, from other trips to Asia, I am well acquainted with how to use this eastern type of toilet.
Back on the bus, we're now on local roads. The bus attempts to continue down the mountain but the roads are blocked so we turn around and go down the way we came up. There is an active night market and we see a lot of food for sale. This part of the ride is pretty interesting. After the market we can't see much because it is dark. The ride is very bumpy and my leg is sore. I manage to get some sleep.
We arrive at the ship only to find a very steep, rough ramp leading to the dock. I get in my wheelchair and Steve starts to take me down backwards. Steve is uncomfortable because he can't see what's behind him. He asks for a warning if there's anything that might cause a problem. Two men take the front end of the wheelchair. They raise and pull it back. This is a technique, when done correctly, helps keep the wheelchair from rolling down the ramp too quickly. Steve is now able to turn around and see what's in front of him. However, the men assisting with the front of my wheelchair hold it too high. Steve instructs them to lower it and Linda translates. They lower it for a minute but quickly raise it again. Finally he yells, "I'm going to lose her, if you keep raising the front of the chair". Between the tone of Steve's voice and Linda's translation, they finally get the message.
I am relieved when we get to the bottom. I imagine that Steve is even more so. At the bottom, pontoons raise planks
above the water, between the dock and ship. Steve and the ship staff help me over them. Once aboard the ship, we have to climb up two flights of stairs to reach our floor. First Steve takes our baggage up and scouts for the best route to get to our accommodations. He comes back for me. The stairs are about six inches each and there's a good railing. Two flights is a challenge but doable.
|Access: Yangtze River Cruise Ship|
From Land to Ship: Either over 40 stairs and/or a poor quality ramp of packed dirt and stone.
Onboard: Four floors and no elevator. Before booking our tour, we researched whether any Yangtze River cruise ship had an elevator. None did. Stairs are approximately 6 inches and there is a sturdy railing.
Our Suite: Large and easy for me to move around, however it would not be easy for someone who could not get out of a wheelchair to move around. The furniture was far too low for me to sit on without assistance. Getting in and out of the bathroom, with its large step, was a nightmare, which could have been corrected had the ship staff understood my need. As we've seen during much of our trip, a superficial effort to understand was made. However, when a request is out of the ordinary, it seems to be beyond feasibility.
We have a small suite and it's nice. However, there's a large step into the bathroom. I'm quite pleased that dinner will be served in the dining room on our floor. We enjoy the meal. At dinner, we mention the large bathroom step to Linda and ask her to request something that we can use as an intermediary step. We've done this in other places and it's worked quite well. When we arrive back in our room, someone has brought the intermediary step. Whoever decided what to bring didn't have a clue about my need. He or she provided us with two soft pillows. When I attempt to use them, I sink right back down to the floor. We decide that for tonight, Steve will help me in and out of the bathroom. I hope we can get this rectified tomorrow.
Today is our first day aboard the ship for our cruise down the Yangtze River. In Chinese, the name of this river is Cháng Jiang. At 6,300 kilometers it is the third largest river in the world, surpassed only by the Amazon and the Nile. It begins in the Southwest near the Tibetan border, in the Tanggulashan Mountains. The River flows eastward to the sea north of Shanghai. Its watershed is almost 2 million square kilometers, 20 percent of China's landmass, and it supports a population of 400 million people. The descent from its mouth down 6,000-meter high mountains contains dramatic scenery and dangerous rushing waters. The Middle River is the middle third and the Lower River is the portion below Wuhan. Both parts are popular areas for boat tours and have been very important in China's development. When Marco Polo traveled in the Lower River region during the 13th century, he was surprised at the volume of navigation and trading in that area. For centuries, junks, sampans and other vessels have transported commodities such as rice, salt, silk, tea and oil. Before boats had engines, large boats going upstream often needed hundreds of trackers working along the riverbanks to pull the boats upstream. Trackers are still used today by small sampans. Hard work is not the greatest disadvantage of the river. Periodic flooding ruins its banks and homes along the banks, killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese.
We are excited to be starting our famous Three Gorges River Cruise. This morning we skip breakfast, so we can sleep late. We go to the ship's safety overview. Next we attend a lecture about the Yangtze River. It is quite informative but presented too fast. Five million years ago, Tibet and South China were on the ocean floor. The rest of China was rainforest. As the land changed over millions of years, the North became drier and the South got wetter. It is believed that the first humans in China lived near Xi'an. In approximately 600 AD, people began to move from the Yellow River area to the Yangtze River banks because the climate was better and they wanted to avoid attacks from barbarians. Mountains divide China into north and south. As the Yangtze River flows through various areas, it is called by different names.
Our speaker talks about four reasons for the dam project. First, is flood control. Second, the dam will improve navigation. The Three Gorges formerly had many rapids. The first dam reduced the rapids but the river can still be dangerous. Third, the dam will improve irrigation since the Yellow River is drying up. Finally, electricity will replace coal, thereby decreasing the level of pollution. We have seen that there's so much pollution. The World Bank refused to give China a loan for the project due to environmental concerns. They cited silt backup behind the dam and flooding low-lying areas as negative factors. Endangered species will be killed. The weight of the water behind the dam could provoke earthquakes since this is already an unstable area. Finally, they were opposed to the relocation of 1.3 million people. China is providing these people with compensation, depending on where they move. The greatest compensation will go to those who move to the least populated areas in China. Many of these areas are not populated because it is quite difficult to live there. The loss of archeological sites was an additional concern. The Chinese government is moving as many as possible.
After the completion of the dam, the cruise lines still intend to continue in the Three Gorges area. Water level will rise 175 meters. The height of the Gorges will still be impressive. The width of the river will increase from 150 meters to 500 meters.
Next we attend a lecture on traditional Chinese medicine given by Dr. George Zhang. He is a graduate of the Hubei College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He also has a doctorate of medicine (M.D.). We see a demonstration of tai chi. I find it very graceful and beautiful. Traditional Chinese medicine has a history of 4,000 years. Chinese medicine is based on Chinese philosophy. There are two key differences between Chinese and Western medicine. First, Chinese medicine targets the entire body. The philosophy of Zheng Ti Guan Nian states that the body is viewed as an integrated whole, so treatment is holistic. Taking one's pulse and examining the tongue are diagnosis methods. Second, Chinese medicine emphasizes prevention whereas most of Western medicine treats symptoms.
All parts of the body have a connection to the head and feet. Organs are also connected, by meridians, to the different parts of the body. Dr. Zhang takes the audience through the China sensation "Chun", for which there is no English translation. Dr. Zhang shows us six acupressure points. Each point is associated with headaches from different causes. Pressure to that point will relieve the headache.
1. Taiyang Point relieves common headaches and eyestrain. We find it on our temples; we close our eyes, press the point with our thumbs and move our thumbs in a very small circle for three minutes. It feels relaxing.
2. Zuanzhu Point also relieves eyestrain. Location is the inner end of the eyebrows.
3. Baihui Point improves blood circulation in the head. Location is the midpoint of the lines connecting the bilateral ear apex.
4. Fengchi Point helps with colds and sinus problems. Location is on both sides of the two muscles where the back of the neck meets the base of the skull.
5. Neiguan Point relieves headaches caused by heart problems and motion sickness. Find this point by placing two fingers above the wrist between the two tendons.
6. Yongquan Point decreases senility and headaches. Location is the depression on the anterior of the sole of the feet.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners use four basic healing techniques: herbal therapy, Qi Gong exercise/meditation, acupuncture & moxibustion, and acupressure. Herbal medicine uses medicinal substances from plants, minerals and animals to balance the mind/body/spirit and reverse diseases. Herbalists are trained to supervise the administration of Chinese herbs. Most Chinese herbs should not be taken without the supervision of a trained herbalist.
Qi Gong is the Chinese art of exercise/meditation. It uses dynamic movements and still postures with mental and spiritual concentration. Its goal is to influence the flow of Qi. Our handout states that it is a powerful preventative therapy and can help remedy disharmony in the organ systems and the body's channels.
Dr. Zhang demonstrates acupuncture, using a volunteer from the audience. He inserts a needle under her knee. Herbs and acupuncture are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Classic acupuncture is the art of inserting fine, sterile, metal filiform needles into certain points along the channels and their tributaries, to control the flow of Qi. Today, practitioners also use electro-stimulation of the needles, lasers and ultrasound to stimulate the points. Acupuncture is well-known for its effectiveness as a pain killer. Its ability to alter the flow of Qi, so that the body can heal itself when attacked by pathogens that trigger disharmony, is even more powerful. Moxibustion is the burning of the herb moxa, also known as Chinese mugwort, over channel points and certain other areas of the body. It is used to warm, tone and stimulate as well as to facilitate the smooth flow of the Essential Substances. The latter helps to prevent disease and preserve health. Performing moxa regularly on specific acupuncture points promotes strength and longevity. There is an old Chinese saying, "Never take a long journey with a person who does not have a moxa scar on (the acupoint called) stomach 36."
Acupuncture can have a disadvantage of pain which is caused by the needles. In recent years, researchers have studied ways to use the benefits of acupuncture without the associated pain. They found that acupressure can be as effective as acupuncture. This practice features finger pressure on points connected to the internal organs. Next Dr. Zhang gives a demonstration on acupressure. Earlier, as I was skimming the handouts for this lecture, I saw that he would need a volunteer for this. I decided that I wanted to be the volunteer. Since my legs have been bothering me, I'm hoping that it will help relieve my discomfort. I have had some experience with acupressure in the form of Shiatu. As soon as he requests a volunteer, I raise my hand as do others in the audience. Steve keeps motioning at me, to attract Dr. Zhang's attention. We are sitting with a member of our tour group, Jean. She whispers to me, "do you really want to do this?" I say "yes!" All of a sudden Jean yells, "she wants to do it! She wants to do it!" I think Jean gave the Doctor no other choice than to pick me. Steve helps me up and I sit in the Doctor's chair. With his hands, he works on my back moving up to my neck while saying "relax, move with me." It feels very good. Then he works on my arms but I find this a bit rough.
At the end of his presentation, a staff member from the ship announces that,
Dr. Zhang is an acupuncture/acupressure specialist and acupoint researcher who can help you strengthen your health with ease and comfort. If you're having problems with sleep, fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, swollen or sore legs, back or knee pain, we encourage you to make an appointment with Dr. Zhang. You'll be amazed at the positive effects of acupressure and the lasting comfort it has.
As we are leaving, many people ask me how the acupressure felt. I reply that it felt good; I had been sore before he started and the treatment relieved some of my pain.
Lunch is good, with quite a nice variety on the buffet table. Afterwards we walk around the deck a bit. The ship is still in Fengdu. We are waiting for passengers who were supposed to board last night or early this morning. Fengdu was supposed to be our destination today. This afternoon we will go on an excursion into the town. However, we do not stay at one dock. We move among the several docks in Fengdu. Often when we dock, there are several ships and/or boats between our ship and the dock, so passengers have to walk across two or three ships to get to the dock. This is how the Fengdu docks manage to accommodate the many boats and ships which need its docking facilities.
In the early afternoon, we attend the Captain's reception. We sit with our tour group but we arrive a little late and the Captain has already visited our group. We do not get to meet him. As our reception is ending, the next group is pouring in. A group of German people has decided that they want our seats. One German woman comes up behind me and pushes me away from my chair. I'm quite ruffled and I yell, "Excuse me!" at her but I receive no answer.
We go down to the deck with the exit when it's almost time for today's excursion. Even though passengers have been asked not to congregate on this deck, it is filling up with people. We have come so the ship staff will see me in my wheelchair and realize, depending on where and how we are docked, that we may require extra help to disembark. I am surprised at the number of people who have congregated by the door. Steve pushes me in my chair right up to the door. We listen to announcements telling people to move away. I continue to be amazed that so many people ignore the ship's instructions. A staff member tells us to stay where we are.
The dock is a long ramp with gaps every so often. Two ship hands take the front of the wheelchair. There are 40 steps to reach the place where we will meet our bus. One of the staff takes the back of my chair from Steve. Then three ship hands carry me up. It is a rainy afternoon. It's nice that we are on a small bus designated only for our group.
Fengdu: On a Gray Day
Our guide's name is John. He tells us that Fengdu has two former names, Wanxian and Wanzhu. By the end of 2003, the water will be up to its first high level of 3,470 meters. Fengdu has three tiers. By 2009, when the dam project is complete, the lowest tier and part of the second tier will be flooded. The only entire tier which will survive is the top tier. The government has moved many businesses to the top tier. Many people come to the town for recreation. There is a pond to conserve water and legend has it that in the pond there is a goddess with a wine glass. Fengdu hospitality calls for giving food and liquor until the guest is drunk. In 1997, Wanzhu was enlarged from a small town to a large one and given its new game of Fengdu. Industries include batteries, construction material and more "light". More "light" refers to the increased energy that the Three Gorges Dam Project will generate. Within Fengdu, there are three resettlement areas, two on the north bank and one on the South Bank.
Our first stop is an acrobatic show in which the children of Fengdu perform. In the first act, the girls do acrobatics while, in each hand, they twirl three disks that are suspended at the end of a long wire. I am impressed. Next a boy comes out with a candle in a dish which he holds on his head. He does many different types of moves. It's incredible! The third performance is a magician. I've seen more impressive magicians. Next, girls perform with glasses of water. They do many maneuvers while balancing the glasses. I enjoy this one. My favorite is the boy with the candle on his head. I enjoy the show. It's a nice activity especially for such a rainy day.
Next we go to a museum of Coffins. It is about death, the next life and burial rights. John tells us that there are many stairs in the museum so I stay on the bus. When we arrive back at the ship, we're at a different dock again. We have to go down a very bumpy road. Steve and four ship hands carry me down stairs in the wheelchair. We go over three platoons. Finally, we get to the ship by crossing a barge.
At dinner we sit with a friendly man and his group from California. I met him while waiting to disembark for the excursion. He has traveled a lot. Someone at our table asks him about his trip to Cuba. We learn that he's a Baptist minister who tours other countries and speaks to church groups. He says that the Cuban people had so little that he left his suit, shoes and pocket money for the people he visited. The government was running a food giveaway at the same time as his church meeting. Most of the people were so hungry for some religion that they came to the church.
After dinner Steve and I go for a drink. When we return to our room, the next day's agenda hasn't arrived yet. We are anxious to receive this agenda because tomorrow is the day that we sail through Three Gorges. A while later it's slipped under our door. We see that we will enter the first gorge at 6 AM! Steve sets our alarm for 5 AM, so we have plenty of time to get up and out on the deck before arriving at the entrance to Qutang Gorge, the first gorge.
At 5:45 AM, we wake up to the ship's announcement that we are nearing the entrance to Qutang Gorge. Our alarm did not go off. We throw on our clothes and get out to the deck. However there are no good places left to stand. We manage to find a spot starboard near the bow. Quite a few people block the good view but at least we can see.
Today we sail through the Three Gorges. We reach Qutang Gorge shortly after dawn. There is a small city at its entrance. At eight kilometers, the Qutang Gorge is the smallest of the Three Gorges. This Gorge has the steepest walls. It is impressive but much like fjords that we've seen elsewhere. The water flows most rapidly here. In several places we see water markers which show the two levels to which the water will rise. The lower marker is at 135 meters, the level which will be reached in 2003. The final level of 175 meters is estimated to be achieved in 2009. We pass sampans, barges and other types of boats. Even though it's foggy and there's no sun, it's beautiful. We see an occasional house or person. High on the north bank, at Fengxiang Xia (in English, Bellows Gorge) there are a series of crevices where an ancient tribe placed the coffins of their dead in mountain caves. Nine coffins were discovered here, some contained bronze swords, armor and other artifacts. They have been dated back to the Warring States Period (453 - 221 BC). This Gorge is a strategic passage between Szechwan and Hubei provinces. Its mouth is known as Kuimen Gateway, meaning magnificence on the earth.
We have a quick breakfast and go back to our room to get more film. We get up on deck nice and early so we're able to get a good place. Art joins us, standing in front of me. The deck is beginning to get full. The woman, who pushed me yesterday, pushes in, ahead of Art. When he makes a comment to us, I suggest that he "Push her back. She thought nothing of pushing me away from my seat yesterday." He hesitates but then challenges her. She says something back to him so Steve and I start in about how she pushed me yesterday. First, she says that she certainly did not. We say a few sharp words to her and finally I call her "bitch!" She then begins to take us seriously and wants to know more about the incident. I am surprised when she finally apologizes.
We enter Wu Gorge. It is approximately 40 kilometers long. Some cliffs rise over 900 meters. The Gorge's 12 mountain peaks are its best-known features. We see waterfalls and caves. I spot a sampan with a dome-like roof over its middle. The man aboard is fishing from its bow. There is a lone man sitting in solitude among the rocks on the side of a cliff. We see sheep in a grassy area on another cliff. We also see several villages. I am amazed and very impressed with this Gorge.
When it's time for the day's excursion, we disembark from our ship by walking over a narrow gangplank. Steve and the crew get me over. It's not too hard with their help. We walk through another ship and board a ferry boat which will take us to what will become the highlight of our trip. Once we reach our destination we are let out onto a bank of dirt and sand. It's quite difficult walking especially where the bank is hilly or not packed down. By the time I reach the sampans, I am quite happy to let Steve and several trackers carry me on to one of them. Following Steve's instructions, two trackers take my legs. Others approach and one tries to take my arm. Between Steve and Linda, he understands no. So he takes the back of my thighs. Finally I am settled on the seat, just behind the front sampan operator. Our seats have backs which fold up. With my boat cushion I am pretty comfortable.
We are to take a sampan ride up Shennong Stream. Sam means three and pan means plank, we are riding in a boat made of three planks. Previously, we were told about our mode of transportation but seeing it is amazing. On the ferry, a local guide explained that the trackers pull the boat from one side only, depending on the current. From the description, I expected this pulling to be occasional. However the trackers pull all the way upstream, from time to time changing the side from which they pull as the bank widens or becomes narrower.
Only sampans can go up this stream. The stream is too shallow for motored boats. The current is extremely swift. There is a man in the front and one in the back of the sampan. With long poles, they steer and help propel the boat. The man in the back has the most control since he works the rudder, which steers the sampan. However, four men called trackers do most of the work. These men wear a sling-like cloth across the front of their chests. A rope is tried to each end. The two ends of the rope are tied to one long rope which is attached to this sampan. The trackers pull us upstream, working very hard.
The scenery is breathtaking! The water is green and very clear. On either side of the stream are high fjords. Along the edges of the stream, there are occasional dry areas. For two hours we travel up this beautiful stream. After awhile, the cool clouds and mist turn into bright sunshine and it becomes uncomfortably hot. Unfortunately, because it had been cold and wet, no one brought sun screen.
Sampan Ride Up Shennong Stream
Along the way, we see caves high in the cliffs. It's hard to imagine how people reach them. Some were used as homes, today they're used for storage. Our local guide points out that some hold coffins. The higher up one is buried, the more important the person was. Approximately halfway upstream, the front sampan operator and trackers hand us well-worn stones from the stream bottom. Steve and I each keep one and pass the others back.
Our local guide tells us that at the end of our journey upstream, the trackers will be given a 20 minute break before heading back. We agree that they deserve this. However, when we reach the "resting point" at the end of this beautiful journey through untouched nature, we see a market. I guess we shouldn't be surprised. All the other passengers in my sampan get out of the boat.
However, the ground is all rocks and I would have a very difficult time walking on them. I stay in the sampan. Before I know it, several trackers get in the boat and one places a bracelet around my wrist. He asks for 50 yuan. At first I don't want it, but when I protest, they don't take no for an answer. Actually, it's a kind of cute bracelet, with little turtles. I'm not sure whether the turtles are made of wood or stone. When I attempt to ask, the men don't understand me. When I realize that one of the men is one of our trackers, I decide that, especially because he worked so hard, I want to purchase the bracelet. I bargain a bit and he agrees to 30 yuan. I open my wallet but I only have 20 yuan. I have a few dollars, so I offer them three dollars. They seem to prefer yuan so I offer one dollar and 20 yuan. They attempt to get 20 yuan and three dollars. I proceed to give them back their bracelet. They settle for 20 yuan and one dollar.
A short while later they return with another bracelet. I refuse it and this time I don't give in. The front operator from our sampan is in my face with colored oval stones. I say no so he pulls a stone from the water and tries to sell it to me. Since he and our trackers had been giving us stones, I laugh at him as he is now try to sell me similar stones. I keep refusing and finally he leaves. Other men come and someone even tries to sell me another bracelet. Soon, almost all members of our group have tired of shopping. I watch them talking, trying to avoid the hawkers. I am relieved when it is time to go back downstream. Everyone boards the sampan including two trackers. One tracker asks me how much I paid for my bracelet. When I say 30 yuan, he lets me know that I could have gotten it for 10 yuan.
The other two trackers push us off from the shore and jump into the sampan. Although it took two hours to get upstream, it only takes 40 minutes to return downstream. As we ride downstream, we pass native people coming upstream in sampans. I am glad to see that this was not just a tourist display. I realize this is a hard way of life and I'm a bit amazed that none of the sampans cart more than one or two boxes.
Back on the bank, I have a very hard time getting to the ferry. I think I am dehydrated and sunburned. We had not taken water or sun screen because when we left it was so misty and overcast. We had only taken our jackets. Although they protected us from the sun, they became too hot to wear. As soon as we board the ferry, we purchase water. I feel better after drinking it. On our return trip, Steve and I talk about what a phenomenal experience we had! By far, it's the highlight of our trip.
I skip lunch and to go to bed since I'm feeling poorly. I sleep the whole afternoon. I'm still quite sore. The ship sails through the West Xiling Gorge. At 80 kilometers, this is the longest of the three gorges. It begins at Fragrant Stream and ends at Yichang. Xiling Gorge is actually two gorges. Today we sail through the West Xiling Gorge. I read that its channel is full of shoals, whirlpools and submerged reefs which make the water run in different directions. It can be dangerous. I sleep through the whole thing. When Steve returns, he tells me that given everything we've seen it wasn't special. Steve watches a video about the dam and goes to a presentation. Finally I get up at 4 PM and write some postcards. We go to happy hour before dinner. Tonight's dinner is just like what we've been having, so it's nothing special.
Tonight we go to bingo. We're disappointed that there are no winners from our group. The prizes are items from the gift shop. Each winner must sing a song, dance or tell a joke. The first winner is the woman who's been volunteering to perform at every chance she gets. She mimes to a recorded song. The other winners mostly lead sing-a-longs. I find these are fun. One woman reads a poem that she wrote about her trip to China. It is quite entertaining except that every time she's not sure how to pronounce a word, she stops and asks her guide if she's pronouncing it correctly. He always says yes.
Today we visit the Yangtze Three Gorges Dam Project. Steve has really been looking forward to seeing this engineering wonder. Our local guide is Maria. She graduated last year and moved down to the Dam site with her father who is an engineer working on the Dam. She gives us a lot of information about the Dam. Construction began in 1997. The Dam site was chosen because of the granite, which makes it very hard. The Dam's highest point, Jar Tanzi Iing, will be 262.48 meters. In Chinese, Jar means High Point. There are 28,000 workers building the Dam. The turbines are made by another country. Four countries have contracts. Chinese are working with the contractors for technology transfer.
We ride over a suspension bridge built in 1966. As we pass the rock yard for the Dam, Maria tells us that the yard is 100,000 square meters and is the largest rock yard in China. The yard in which the rock is crushed presses rocks into four sizes. Conveyor belts bring the crushed granite to the Dam site.
Under Construction: Three Gorges Dam
Next she speaks about the locks. There will be 113 meters between the two water levels. The elevator will take 30 minutes, and a maximum of 3,000 tons. To go through all the locks will require three hours. They will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and operators will work eight-hour shifts.
Before we reach our first stop, Maria gives us some general information about China. March 12 is National Plant Trees Day, when all students and workers plant trees. Chinese have a traditional greeting in which they say to each other upon meeting. "Have you eaten?" There are two reasons for this greeting. First Chinese food is world-famous. Second food is prized since it was scarce. There is a new Chinese greeting, "Have you surfed the Internet today?"
It is interesting to see the construction and the actual site after hearing so much about it. First we visit a park which displays models of the finished dam and a monument of the rock which was tested to see if this site was a good one for the dam. Next we ride to an area from which we can see the actual construction. The locks are large, the construction is massive. Steve is impressed and, I must admit, I am also (although not quite as much).
According to the Three Gorges Project, a booklet we purchased at the construction site published by the China Yangtze Three Gorges Project Development Corporation, the Three Gorges Dam is a multi-purpose, hydro-development project. It's expected to produce benefits of flood control, power generation and navigation improvement. It will have 22.15 billion cubic meters of flood control storage capacity. It is expected to replace 40 to 50 million tons of raw coal combustion per year. From my perspective, this should help with the pollution problem. It is expected to yield an annual increase of one-way navigation from the present 10 million tons to 50 million tons and decrease navigation cost by 35 to 37 percent. It's also expected to promote fishery development, tourism, and recreational activities and improve water quality. The government says that regional seismic activities are small in intensity and of low frequency. The area belongs to an area having a ranking of VI of seismic intensity, as classified by the state authority department. This ranking is less than what the Dam's main structures can withstand.
The project is made up of the dam, two powerhouses and the navigation facility. Scientific analysis and tests of hydraulic, sedimentation, structure and material were conducted before determining the project layout. The spillway section lies in the center of the river channel along the river's original main course. The intake and non-overflow sections are on both sides of the spillway. Powerhouses are placed on the banks of the intake section. Navigation structures are located on the left bank. The length of the dam will be 2,309.47 meters with a crest elevation of 185 meters and maximum height of the water at 181 meters. The spillway will be 483 meters long with 23 bottom outlets and 22 surface sluice gates. Two powerhouses will be located at the toe of the dam. The left powerhouse will have a total length of 643.7 meters, which will contain 14 sets of hydro turbine generator units. The one on the right will be 584.2 meters in length with 12 hydro turbine generator units. There will be 15 transmission lines of two types, alternating current (AC) lines to central China and Chongqing and direct current (DC) lines to East China.
The Finished Dam
Fifteen sites were considered for the Dam. San Dou Ping was chosen because of the availability of crystalline rock for its foundation. The land formation of relatively flat hills on both sides of the river and a small islet is favorable for phased construction and the river diversion scheme. Faults and fissures into bedrock are less developed and most are very well cemented. The permeability of the rock mass is slight. While many people are concerned about the residents, cities and artifacts that will be displaced, the entire cost of the Dam will be less than the damage done by the last major flood. The most recent flood in 1991 killed more than 2,000 people.
Back on the ship, I buy a silk blouse at the gift shop. At least, I think it's silk, because that's what I tell the salesperson I'm looking for. Later when I checked the tag I find that it's only polyester.
Yangtze Watch Tower
Next we sail through the east portion of the Xiling Gorge. At the end, there is a picturesque pagoda, which guards the Three Gorges. This point has been an extremely strategic place throughout the history of China. Control of the Gorge exit was very important because it's so narrow. Whoever controlled the exit controlled the Gorge area. This Gorge is nice but I decide that my favorite is the Wu Gorge, the second Gorge.
Residents of the Gorges are mostly fishermen and farmers who farm on terraces. During World War II, the caves throughout the Gorges were used as bomb shelters. There are more than 174 Caves.
The reason that the river is so brown goes back to the 1960s when many trees were cut down, causing erosion. July to September is main season for Yangtze River cruising and the water is much clearer. Winters are dry so the water gets a lot of silt.
For lunch today, Linda arranges for us to have a dish that the cruise staff eats. It's a soup and we are warned that it's very hot (spicy). Even though I have a low tolerance for spicy, I can't pass this up. I let Steve taste it first. He says it's beyond my tolerance since it's just about beyond his. However, I take a small taste, just to have the experience. Steve is right, it is extremely hot!
During lunch we enter the Gezhou Dam ship lock. Ours is the first ship to enter. The operators wait to close the lock until it's full. By the time the lock closes, there are eight vessels inside, two ships and six boats. The boats are secured to other boats. When the gates open, the water level is lower by approximately 50 meters. The lock is part of the Gezhouba Hydro-junctions project. This project also includes a large dam, a hydroelectric station, two other locks, a 27 hole sluice gate and a 12 hole scouring sluice. We have seen ship locks before but have never ridden through one. We find the experience quite interesting.
We go to a demonstration and presentation on Chinese kites. Chinese kites originated during the Warring States Period. They were first used for military purposes. The story we're told sounds more like a legend. Each kite symbolizes something. The eagle means man has good temperament. There's a colorful kite with a long tail symbolizing the Emperor. The butterfly symbolizes love between a couple whose parents forbid them to be together. The bat means good fortune and longevity. There is a dragon/dinosaur. I don't understand what we're told this symbolizes. It's Chinese custom to hang kites, especially in the spring. Each April, people intentionally cut the string. It's believed that this will make all their problems will go away. Kites are especially popular in festivals and competitions.
There are four steps to make a kite. First, one makes the frame with bamboo, wood or plastic. Second, fill the frame with paper or plastic. Third, paint the kite. Finally, fly the kite. Nylon is used for the string because it's much stronger than regular string. Wings are soft or hard. Hard wings are shaped with a firm material. The eagle and the butterfly are the easiest to fly. We have decided to purchase several kites to give as gifts when we get home. We go to the gift store and purchase four.
We have dinner before seeing the Farewell Show. The ship's dance troupe performs a selection of numbers. The last one is a series of dances from China's 56 ethnic groups. I like this number the best. The other numbers are good but not professional. The ship recruited volunteers from the passengers. I give the volunteers credit for trying. Some are good but others are awful. Someone recites a poem. Another tells some jokes. There is an entertaining poem about an outhouse and George Washington. I wish I could remember it.
Steve and I skip breakfast so we can finish packing. As we wait to reach our destination, we relax and read in our cabin. We pass mostly farmland. As we
We Disembark in Wuhan
Today we reach Wuhan, the city in which we will disembark from our Yangtze River Cruise. Wuhan has a population of 8.3 million and is the provincial capital of Hubei.
|History of Wuhan|
The three independent cities of Wuchang, Hànkou and Hànyáng were combined into Wuhan. During the Han Dynasty, Hànkou was established and became a regional capital under the Wu Kingdom. Once it was a walled city but now the walls are gone.
Hànkou was a village that became an important military stronghold during the Song Dynasty. By the Ming Dynasty, it had become one of China's four major commercial cities. The treaty of Nanjing allowed it to participate in foreign trade. Five foreign concession areas were established: British, German, Russian, French and Japanese. When the Beijing Wuhan railway was completed in 1904, Hànkou's expansion continued. Reconstruction began in 1895 after the Sino-Japanese war.
Hànyáng dates back to approximately 600 AD. It was the smallest municipality. During the later half of the 19th-century, heavy industry started here. In 1891, the municipality became home to the first modern iron and steel plant in China. During the early 1900s, a number of riverside factories developed. Depression in the 1930s and the Japanese invasion destroyed Hànyáng's heavy industry. Since the Communists came into power, light industry has been Hànyáng's main economic activity.
Much history occurred in Wuhan during the 20th Century. During the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Wuhan troops were sent to nearby Szechwan to bring the situation under control. Instead, the worst violence of the fall of the Qing Dynasty occurred. During the early days of the Republic, Sun Yatsen had set up an Alliance Society in Tokyo. The Society coordinated a group of revolutionaries in Wuhan. The revolutionaries planned an uprising to support alienated Chinese troops. A bomb was accidentally set off in Wuhan, drawing the authorities' attention. This forced the revolutionary group into the Double Tenth, a strike against national forces made on October 10, 1911. They were quickly victorious. Large-scale Railway Protection uprisings occurred throughout China. Two months later, representatives from China's 17 provinces met in Nanjing and established the Provisional Republican Government, ending China's long history of dynasties.
In the 1926 Northern Expedition, Chiang Kaishek tried to end the growing Communist influence and overturn the remaining warlords. His forces took Wuhan and Nánchang. The next target was to be Shanghai. I'll save the rest of the story for when we're in Shanghai.
Today Wuhan is used as a port on the Yangtze River. It's received a great deal of foreign and local investment. We see old buildings being torn down and replaced by new buildings. Small red taxis, which were designed especially for China, are quite common here. The city was a favorite of Mao Zedong. He taught here and swam across the Yangtze River 18 times. There are two bridges across the River. The first was built between 1955 and 1957. The city's main industries are diamonds, iron and ship works. Parts of Wuhan have been in three provinces. Our local guide tells us that twice Wuhan has been the capital of China. It's known as the furnace because it's very hot in the summer with much humidity.
We visit the Wuhan Provincial Museum, which our local guide says is one of six premier museums in China. Built in 1957, it was the first museum constructed by the People's Republic of China. Lonely Planet says that the building in which it's currently housed was built later and opened in 1999. I find the museum interesting.
The first floor concentrates on the tomb of Yi Zenghouyi, governor of the area during part of the Zhou Dynasty. In 1976, soldiers accidentally found this tomb. It wasn't opened until 1978. The tomb dates back to 433 BC. The excavators found 22 coffins, which the tomb builders had attempted to make watertight by filling each with lacquer. However, before the coffins were discovered, the tomb had been flooded. When the coffins were opened, water had to be pumped out. The coffins were ruined but enough of their contents remained to determine that when he died, Yi Zenghouyi was between 42 and 45 years old and 162 centimeters tall. The tomb contained 21 coffins for girls who were possibly poisoned before being put into their coffins. Most likely the girls were the Yi's wife, concubines, attendants and musicians.
More than 23,000 relics were uncovered. The excavators found evidence of a culture other than Han. The Han culture worshipped the dragon. However, here the phoenix was found as a worship object. The artifacts that we see are in good condition. Some are very ornate. We see much brassware and some turquoise. Spoons were found in the tomb but there were no chop sticks.
Our local guide tells us that during the Shang Dynasty (1554 -1045 BC), Wuhan was considered the center of China. At that time the crane was a sign of longevity and carvings of them were found in the tomb. Items made in bronze were obviously the valued commodity.
Wuhan Concert: Bronze Bells
After seeing the displays, we are treated to a concert on a set of replicated bronze bells. The music is quite nice and delightful. Most numbers are Chinese. However, the final number is Auld Lang Sin. Although we are not familiar with the sound of this instrument, the selection is very recognizable. Some of the bells found in the tomb are among the largest instruments ever found. Each makes two tones, one by tapping the top of the bell curve and the other from hitting the body of the bell. The music played on the bells is a seven note C scale.
Our group goes upstairs to see a display of weapons. Either there was no elevator or it wasn't working. However, the subject doesn't interest me too much so I sit in the lobby and watch those entering the Museum. Two class trips arrive. The first is a small group of approximately 16 children and the next is a huge group of about 70.
Next we visit Mao Zedong's villa. He built it in 1958 and enjoyed coming here for one week to six months at a time. The villa consists of three buildings. First, we see the building that contains the living quarters for Mao and his wife. Next, we visit the building in which Mao conducted government activities. As we arrive at this building, our local guide tells us that Mao was a great poet. One of his poems is hanging at the entrance. The final building is the recreation hall. We walk down a long a ramp between the second and third buildings. Steve asks if Mao was in a wheelchair at the end of his life, since he had Lou Gehrig's disease. Our local guide says he was but the ramp was built before that. We find it hard to believe that the ramp was built before Mao was in a wheelchair, since we have seen so many stairs and so few ramps in China. We believe it is part of the Chinese culture, to deny how sick he was at the end of his life.
We did not bring my wheelchair for this site. By the end of the visit, I am tired. There is a small room off the exit hallway that contains chairs. There are also several caretakers at a desk in front of this room. I have a hard time explaining to them that I want to go into the room and sit down for a few minutes. Finally they allow me to go into the room and sit down. The entire complex was large but not as ostentatious as we expected. The villa borders on a lake, which is quite picturesque.
When we go outside, we do something very touristy. In most places we visit, I would never consider doing something like this. I sit in a chair, which was in front of a picture of Mao Zedong sitting in this chair. Steve puts his arm around me and one of our fellow tour mates takes our picture.
Back on the bus, our local guide tells us about the opinion of Mao which most Chinese hold. At first, he was like a god to them. Today he is seen as a person. His greatest achievement was unifying China after the Civil War and bringing literacy to the common people of China. When Mao was alive, most visitors and citizens of Wuhan did not realize that the villa existed. It was adjacent to a park but there was enough wooded area between the park and the villa so the people didn't notice the latter.
Our guide tells us that medical colleges and colleges for teaching are free. Colleges for agriculture have a low-cost. Higher education for software development and business are popular today. Companies will often share in the cost of education for software developers.
At 4 PM we drive through the city. The traffic is crazy but not as bad as we've seen in other cities. Wuhan is not as congested. Once outside of the city, we see rice paddies and a lake where water buffalo are raised. Water buffalo supply power for working the fields and meat. Their bones are used for making combs and similar items. Farmers rent the land which is owned by the State. As long as they pay the rent, there's no tax. The farmers keep everything they raise.
Our guide tells us his favorite author is Mark Twain, which happens to be the same as that of yesterday's guide. Today's guide grew up fishing on a river, so he says that he had a childhood similar to Mark Twain. I don't remember if yesterday's guide told us why Mark Twain was her favorite author. Since we were on the Yangtze River, I think it's easy to see a correlation.
We arrive at the airport and we find an elevator. Finding the elevator is easy since it is well marked. However, we are unable to call the elevator, because it requires someone with a key. Finally the appropriate person comes and escorts us to the gate area. The elevator lets us out by the boarding area but not the gate where we are supposed to wait. Once we reach our gate, we have quite a bit of a wait. I attempt to use the restroom. Each of the stalls is up a step. Finally I find a stall equipped for people who have a disability. There is no step; however there also aren't any grabbars. Although it's difficult, I manage.
We fly to Shanghai and meet our local guide, Tong. Shanghai has a population of 16 million. It is one of the five largest cities in the world. In the last 10 years, it has grown by 4 million. Sixty-six percent of the population moved to Shanghai because they see it as a place of good opportunity. The city is one of four municipalities directly under the central government of China. We see many tall buildings that were built during the last 20 years. The Yangtze River divides China into north and south and reaches the sea at Shanghai. This makes the city a leading port of China. Even from the airport we see many tall, modern buildings. Our hotel is on the west side of the city. We're told it's the third highest building in the world.
Once we arrive at the hotel, our group decides to meet for dinner in the main dining room shortly after going to our rooms. The meal is an elaborate buffet and we enjoy it. This hotel is incredible! It begins on the 56th floor of a building which is 88 floors high. Our room is probably the most elaborate room in which we have ever stayed. It has an entrance hall, a large comfortable bedroom, and an area furnished as an office with a desk and chairs, which has enough space to hold a small meeting. However, we find the most spectacular feature is the bathroom. There is a separate toilet room. While we previously stayed in hotels which have such rooms, this one is by far the largest. Outside of the toilet room there is a beautiful sink, whirlpool bathtub and a separate shower which has a seat. We are in room 5906 of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Jin Mao Tower. Its only disappointing feature is that the view is not too interesting. I think we can live with it.
We meet in the lobby of our building. Since the first 52 floors of the building are a bank, Steve decides that this is a good place to look for an ATM machine that will accept his card. He is successful! It's amazing to us that up until now the ATM machines we've found in the major cities we've visited would not process our card.
Today we begin our tour of Shanghai. We've been looking forward to seeing Shanghai. The city has much history especially with the western world. In a way, the 21st Century is no different. Of all the Chinese cities we've seen so far, Shanghai is the city which is most aggressively embracing capitalism and the development that goes with it.
|History of Shanghai|
The name Shanghai means "by the sea". As gateway to the Yangtze River, it made the ideal trading post. In 1842, it was not much more than a small town. Its economy was mainly fishing and weaving. After the first Opium War, the British opened their first Chinese concession in Shanghai. In 1847, the French did the same. In 1863, the International Settlement was established. In 1895, the Japanese joined the settlement. Shanghai was divided into autonomous settlements, which were not subject to Chinese law.
By 1853, the Port of Shanghai surpassed all other Chinese ports. Between the mid 1800's and 1900 the population grew at an incredible rate, from 50,000 to one million. During the 1930s, foreign residents numbered 60,000. Shanghai was the busiest port in Asia, with more motor vehicles than all of the rest of China and the largest buildings in Asia. This became China's first full Special Economic Zone. Trade consisted of opium, silk and tea. The world's great houses of finance built grand palaces in Shanghai. The city became a place of exploitation and vice with many opium dens, gambling houses and brothels. These were managed by gangs and guarded by the American, French and Italian Marines, British Tommy's and Japanese bluejackets. The city was the largest single foreign investment in the world. Foreign ships and submarines patrolled the Yangtze River and coast of China.
In the early 20th-century, as the era of dynasties came to an end, forces which wanted a new type of government established a base in southern China and trained the Nationalist Revolutionary Army. Their plan was to challenge the northern warlords. During the early 1920s, representatives from the Soviet Communist International (also known as the Cominturn), began to meet with Chinese Marxists. The Cominturn was an international group with the purpose of creating a world revolution. In 1921, these meetings became the catalysts for several Chinese Marxists groups to join together and form the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. From 1922, the Cominturn encouraged the CCP to form an alliance with the Kuomintang to protect China from Japanese expansion. For a short time the two groups united. However, in 1925 after Sun Yatsen's death, a power struggle in the Kuomintang emerged. One side consisted of those who supported the Communists. The other side, headed by Chiang Kaishek, wanted a capitalist state run by the wealthy and a military dictatorship.
In the 1926 Northern Expedition, as Chiang Kaishek's forces were getting near to the city, the workers of Shanghai were called to strike and takeover key installations. With the Communists visible, Chiang Kaishek commanded a siege of terror against the Communists and their sympathizers. With aid from Shanghai's underworld leaders and financed by Shanghai's bankers and foreigners, Chiang Kaishek armed gangsters, disguising them as Kuomintang. They launched a surprise attack on the workers militia, killing approximately 5,000 Shanghai Communists. Other Chinese cities followed with massacres of Communists and other anti-Chiang groups.
In 1927, following victory against the Communists, the Kuomintang cooperated with foreign police, Shanghai gangs and owners of Chinese and foreign factory to suppress labor unrest. The British ran the settlement police who arrested Chinese labor leaders and turned them over to the Kuomintang. Chinese labor leaders were imprisoned or executed. Shanghai gangs were called in to settle disputes inside the settlement.
While the Chinese supported the structure of Shanghai by working as beasts of burden in the ports and factories, they were also the weak link. The poor of Shanghai were exploited as they worked in terrible conditions, hurt by hunger and poverty, sold into slavery and excluded from the good life and parks built by foreigners. They were ripe for Communism. Although the first Chinese Communist Party formed in Shanghai in 1921, the city was not liberated until 1949. The Communists replaced the slums, rehabilitated hundreds of thousands of opium addicts and did away with child and slave laborers. However, with this Shanghai went to sleep. In 1990, when the Chinese government gave money to its municipalities, Shanghai began its new life and set its goal to become a major financial center by developing its economic strength. Its leadership and phenomenally growing economy have put Shanghai far ahead of other mainland China cities.
Tong tells us some of the details of Shanghai's growth. During the 1980s, the city unsuccessfully attempted to persuade people to move to its west side. After 1990, the city was partitioned into four parts. Today the city proper has grown to 700 square kilometers, twice the size of what it was in 1990. It prides itself on being mainland China's leader in finance and high technology. The government built convenience into its subways, tunnels and bridges that connect the other three areas to Pudong. Pudong has historically has been the center of the city. At first, there were tolls from the outer city area to Pudong. The citizens complained about the tolls, stating that the four areas were one city. In 2000, the tolls were removed. Today, Puxi, which is the west part of the city, is the preferred area in which to live. According to Tong, it's considered to be the suburbs. There are two beltways, an inner and an outer. We see that both are very trafficy. In 1980, Shanghai had few cars. Today there are many automobiles. However, bicycles and buses remain the main mode of transportation around the city. Bicycles are not allowed on the tunnel roads. The government tries to discourage private ownership of cars.
As we ride along the streets of Shanghai we see a good number of trees. These are to provide shade for bicycle riders. Many parked bicycles are not locked because there has been a crack down on bicycle stealers. When caught, the thieves go to jail. As we ride down the east side of Shanghai, we notice that the buildings are obviously older.
Our first stop is the Jade Buddha Temple, so named because it has two white jade statues of Buddha, which are larger than life size. The Chinese Constitution grants freedom of religion. Religion can be practiced in one's home or church but not in the street. There are three main religions, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Although Buddhism came to China in the third century due to an interest of a Han Emperor, it flourished in China during the Tang Dynasty, which is the same time period that it came to most of the rest of Asia. Tong tells us that it is the most common religion in China, followed by Islam. Christianity is third, however in Shanghai Christianity is the second most popular religion. There are 30 Christian churches in the city.
Buddhists are not required to go to Temple on any specific day. Tong tells us that Christians are required to go to church on Sunday. However, we know that this is true only for Catholics. Other Christian religions encourage church attendance on Sundays but do not require it.
The Jade Temple, Yùfó Sì, was built between 1811 and 1819. Tong tells us that it is a medium-size Buddhist temple. Originally, it was built around a two meter high Jade Buddha. Legend has it that a monk from Putuoshan traveled to Myanmar by way of Tibet. On his return trip he brought back the Buddha. After choosing its present site to be the statue's new home, the monk went off in search of funds to build a Temple for it. This Buddha, which has many inlaid jewels, supposedly weighs a thousand kilograms.
After we enter the gate of the Temple complex, we walk through a good-sized courtyard. The courtyard has many people in it. Some are tourists and others are worshipers. It has a feel of authenticity. We enter the first Temple building which contains statues of four kings. On one side of the entrance, we see statues of the gods of North and West. Next we see the Laughing Buddha. The Laughing Buddha will become the official Buddha in 1,500 years. The official Buddha changes every 4,000 years. We walk around the inner parameter of this Temple building. As we near the door, we see statues of the gods of South and East.
Next we go to the Temple of Meditation. This is where the main Buddha is worshiped. There are three Buddhas, future, present or main, and past. I notice that the statues of Buddha in this complex have long ears. Tong tells us that this signifies long life. In the Temple of Meditation, we also see a statue of the Goddess of Mercy.
We proceed to the building with the original Jade Buddha. While Tong takes our tour group upstairs to see the life size sitting Buddha, Linda takes me to where they will return. I have already done enough stairs for this time of the morning. I see the reclining Buddha, which is lying on a mahogany couch. It is made of white Jade with jewels on its head. It is beautiful! Visitors are not allowed to take pictures from inside but I take a few from the doorway and hope something will come out.
When our group returns, they view the reclining Buddha. Some of the women go into the gift shop. Steve and I wander around the courtyard and take a few pictures. Without being obvious, we try to get some shots of monks and other Buddhists.
Steve and I have been to many Buddhist Temples in our travels. This temple is very different, especially from those that we saw in Japan. There is incense burning which gives the Buddhist Temple a Taoist atmosphere. We are allowed to wear shoes within the Temple buildings, and I am quite glad since it is difficult for me to walk without them. There are many different images, somewhat like the many statues of saints in a Catholic Church. Throughout the Temple complex, we see a lot of people, both tourists and worshipers.
Our next stop is a rug factory. We see the weavers working at their art. Each is copying a painting as she weaves on her loom. First the rug weaver draws the design onto the canvas. Next, the colors are chosen. The weaving is done and the threads are knotted. The final step is to cut the ends of the threads. The factory makes two types of rugs, Chinese silk and Persian. We are shown some finished rugs. It's obvious that the man who shows us these rugs is a salesperson. He attempts to talk the members of our group into buying his merchandise. On the way out, Steve sees a replica of a painting that hangs in the home of each family of the paternal side of my family. The carpet copy of Raphael's Madonna in the Chair is intricate, yet the faces are not quite accurate. Still, I take a picture.
As we ride through the city, Tong points out that the old buildings of Shanghai have flat roofs. The new buildings have slanted roofs and they look nicer. Slanted roofs help prevent problems during the rainy season. For lunch, we go to a Mongolian barbecue. Neither Steve nor I are impressed with the meal. It appears that the cook is trying to barbecue too many meals at the same time so he ends up mixing them together.
Next we tour Shanghai's "The Bund", in Chinese it's called Wàitan. The Bund is an Anglo-Indian term for embankment of a muddy waterfront. The name was chosen because mud has challenged Shanghai throughout the city's history. This problem first came to light in 1920. Between then and 1965, the city sank by several meters. Waters was pumped back into the ground but the threat remains. The concrete pontoons makeup the foundations of high-rise buildings. The Bund is symbolic of Shanghai. Chinese from other parts of the country pose for photographs in front of oil-based Bund landscape paintings. This is the area of Shanghai which was the English/American trading section.
In 1848, Shanghai was divided into three sections, (1) English/American, (2) French and (3) Chinese. To Europeans, the Bund was Shanghai's Wall Street where fortunes were made and lost. In 1848, famous traders Jardine Matheson & Company made the first foreign purchase of Shanghai land and offered it for sale to other foreigners. They quickly set up shop, selling opium and tea. The Company grew into one of the "great hongs" or business firms. Today this company owns approximately half of Hong Kong. At the Bund's northwestern end, the British Public Gardens reportedly posted a sign that said "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed". Actually, the restrictions on Chinese and dogs existed but were listed in separate clauses of a document on restrictions of undesirables.
Many of the buildings are continental in appearance and have survived several revolutions. They are of neoclassical 1930s downtown New York style and a few have monumental antiquity. Tong tells us that one can tell a modern office building because they have windows that open. What will become the largest shopping mall in Asia is being constructed here.
Our bus drops us off on a side street. Tong takes our group across the street by way of an underground. However, there are many stairs to access the underground so Tong suggests we remain on the side on which we started. She does not know of any ramped access to the underpass. We agree but are somewhat disappointed. We enjoy walking several blocks and take many photographs of the buildings, people and some interesting statues.
Finally, we see an international access symbol that marks a ramped underpass. As we are walking up and down the ramps to get to the other side of the street, many bicycles and mopeds pass us. We cross to the riverside and walk along a raised boardwalk. We are impressed; it is beautiful. There is quite a view of the part of Shanghai where our hotel is located, which is the modern section called Pudong Xingu, and is the International Commerce Area. It's easy to spot our hotel, at 88 floors. As we head back toward our bus, we meet several people from our tour. We don't hesitate to tell Tong about the ramped underpass. We're a bit amazed and very disappointed that we had to discover it for ourselves, especially since it was so close to the one our group used. (On my scorecard, this is another strike against Pacific Delight).
Children's Palace Performance
This afternoon we are scheduled to go to The Children's Palace, a school for those gifted in art or music. Steve and I have been looking forward to this because during our trip through Central Asia we visited a school and it was a very special experience. While we know that this won't be the same, we're hopeful that the visit will help us feel close to the culture, as it did in Central Asia.
As we enter the school, we see that it is surrounded by apartment buildings. We are informed that the school is not in session today, however some first graders and kindergartners are practicing for a show which will be performed on Children's Day. We tour the school. In the music room, three first grade girls play their instruments for us. Each announces her number in Chinese before she begins. They are quite good. One instrument looks like a thin, small piano. All the instruments are traditional Chinese and so are the selections performed. One of the teachers tells us that these children practice every day at home. Next we go to the auditorium and see the kindergarten students practice a dance number. They are cute but still have a way to go to get their show polished. Finally, we are led to the gift shop. I purchase some earrings.
As we leave the school, Tong points out apartment buildings. They are in old houses and Tong tells us that the families who live in them share the kitchen and bathroom. Our bus takes us into the French section where we see much renovation. Unfortunately that means lots of scaffolding. The former French concession, or Faguó Zujiè, is a shopper's paradise. Huaihai Lu is Main Street. Huge department stores have been built. Cafes and boutiques are abundant and there are some antique shops. We have read that some of the best old architecture, including old art deco apartment complexes, neoclassical mansions and villas with quaint balconies and doorways can be found on the side streets. It's disappointing that we do not get to see much of this part of the French section.
We have a while before dinner, which will be in Nanjing Donglu, the Central District. After a brief bus tour, we are given some time to walk around the nearby area. This section contains famous hotels and has long been China's golden area. In the late 1900s, Shanghai began a massive renovation project to restore some of its former glory. We walk past the People's Park. It has some interesting floral displays. It is rush-hour and we watch many pedestrians stroll on the sidewalks and many commuters riding bicycles on the streets. It is an enjoyable hour. We do not go into many stores because they look upscale and we want to experience common life. At one point, I want to find a rest room. I enter a small mall which has a McDonald's. All of the writing is in Chinese and I have no luck. Next we see a Kentucky Fried Chicken so I decide to continue my search for rest room. Once again, I am unsuccessful.
Dinner is in a high-end hotel and is quite good. The Shanghai food we're served is a mixture of dishes which includes dumplings. I always find a meal satisfying when it includes dumplings. For desert, we are served ice cream, which most of us agree is probably Haagen Dazs. Since this is an upper-class hotel, I take the chance and enjoy it, praying I won't pay for eating a dairy product in this Third World country.
Shanghai Acrobat Show
After dinner, we go to the Shanghai Acrobatic Show performed by the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. The performance is amazing. We see a variety of acts, most of which are similar to the ones we saw the Fengdu children perform. There is a lot of juggling, a couple of comical figures, and a lion act using a large colorful slinky. Several acts include amazing flips and some magic. My favorite is a phenomenal act in which the performers climb one on top of the other and balance chairs to their side. At its full height, this tower of six acrobats with their seven chairs extends from the stage floor to the very high ceiling. We thoroughly enjoy the show.
We return to our hotel tired, but we agree that we must take some photographs of the inside of this awesome building. It is probably the most luxurious hotel that we will ever stay in. The atrium goes from floor 57 to floor 85. It looks like a vertical tunnel and we spend quite some time trying to get the perfect shot. Then we go up to the top floor to find a window from which we can take photographs of the outside view. As we're walking around, a guard asks us to leave. Steve tells him that we are guests in the hotel and the guard apologizes. Since we've been unsuccessful in finding a window on this floor, we ask him if there is a place from which we can get the picture we're seeking. He says that there is a lounge and bar but one must be willing to purchase food or drinks to go up to it. We say that we are, and he leads us to an elevator which is somewhat hidden.
We arrive in the lounge and order a drink. However, we are disappointed because it is foggy outside. We wait quite awhile before our drink arrives. Steve orders a Bird of Paradise, which is a coconut drink served in a hollowed out melon. I have a sparkling drink with cognac, hoping that the cognac will settle my stomach if I have any trouble with anything I ate tonight. By now, I am especially concerned about the ice cream. A magician is going from one table to the next. When he arrives at ours, Steve attempts to tell him that we are not interested in seeing his tricks. He pretends not to understand and proceeds with his act. We find him quite entertaining and Steve becomes very interested in his performance. As he leaves, we tip him.
Back in our room, we pack with sadness. We wish we could stay in this wonderful hotel a bit longer. At 5 AM, it hits and I experience the dreaded diarrhea. After taking Imodium, I return to bed. A neighbor has his TV on very loud so I have difficulty returning to sleep. Finally, I fall back to sleep only to awaken with another run to the bathroom at 7 AM. As I take another Imodium, I pray that I'll be okay by the time we have to leave the hotel.
On our way to today's first destination, we pass through the city center, which contains the People's Square, town hall and
Shanghai Bird Market
From the Bird and Pet Market, we walk to our next destination. This part of the city is quite beautiful with many tall buildings and nice landscaping. Some of the newer buildings have very interesting shapes.
Our second stop is one that we have really been looking forward to, the Shanghai Museum. The museum was built in 1994 at the cost of 570 million yuan. Our Lonely Planet guidebook says that it "can be seen as a completely new approach to Chinese museum design". It reflects many of the changes occurring in the country. There are no airy corridors and, dry exhibits, yawning security guards and stale air. The exterior shape resembles an ancient Chinese ding vessel and it displays some of the most impressive collections of art in China. Our guidebook recommends that visitors spend at least one half-day here.
Unfortunately, we only have an hour and a half so we pick the exhibits that most interest us. We start on the fourth floor, which is the uppermost floor. We visit the Chinese Minority Nationalities' Art Gallery. This contains traditional pieces from many of the minorities. We have often been told that China is proud of its many minorities. However this exhibit does not prove it. We see dresses, carvings and other artifacts. While the pieces are nicely displayed, there is nothing about the cultures from which they come. The items are grouped by type not by minority. At one place there is a piece labeled a Muslim bookstand. We know from our travels in Central Asia that it is actually a bookstand for the Muslim q'oran, the religion's holy book. Next we visit the Ancient Chinese Jade Gallery. There are many displays of old jade works.
Furniture Exhibit Thrown
On the third floor, we visit the Chinese Painting Gallery. We see paintings from the Zhou Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty. All are traditional style and we do not see much change through time. On the second floor, we visit the Ancient Chinese Ceramics Gallery. Once again, everything displayed is very similar. In the Zande Lou Ceramics Gallery the works are wonderfully intricate and beautiful. Several years ago we visited Taiwan. When the Kumingtang fled mainland China, they took many Chinese artifacts. They are now displayed in the National Museum in Taipei. We were so impressed with what we saw there and we were hoping to find that type of work here. This exhibit comes closest. The last exhibit we visit is the Ancient Chinese Bronze Gallery on the first floor. We find much of this exhibit to be similar to what we saw in the Wuhan Museum.
Steve and I leave the museum quite dissatisfied. We cannot agree with Lonely Planet's recommendation. We may have enjoyed seeing this museum more if we didn't have to rush through it. We are also disappointed that there is nothing about recent history. On our way into the museum, we picked up a free audio guide. Information about many displays is supposed to be included on the audio guide, however, throughout the exhibits we found it difficult to use. We didn't find the audio guide to be much help and do not recommend it.
Regarding access for people who are physically challenged, the museum has an elevator but it's kept locked. To use it, between every floor we had to find a guard and get him or her to let us on. We lost quite a bit of time because of this protocol.
Lunch is at a hotel overlooking the river. We enjoy it but it's not much different from what we've been having for most of our meals. On our ride to our next destination, the Shanghai train station, we see our final view of the city. I still find it very impressive. We pass old apartments which are very close to new apartment buildings. Tong tells us that these old apartments have no kitchen or bathrooms.
When we arrive at the train station, we learn that there is no working elevator. By now, this is no surprise. We go with Tong to the soft seat waiting area. The Chinese train system is different from anything I've ever experienced. Seats are categorized by whether they are hard or soft. A traveler waits for his/her train to be called in the waiting area that is designated for his/her type of seats.
Tong leaves us to inquire about whether there is wheelchair access to the platform. From where we're sitting, it appears that there are many stairs to reach the platform. She returns with a staff member who leads us out of the soft seat waiting area. We go down one ramp and up another to reach the designated track. At the beginning of the down the ramp, we see a sign which says no bicycles and five other modes of transportation including wheelchairs. The sign appears to be old. Linda is with us and when she asks our escort about the sign, he has no explanation. Our train ride is quite comfortable with roomy seats. We pass small cities, farms and countryside. We have an interesting conversation with a couple from Taiwan. Before our trip, we read that for people from Taiwan, China is very difficult to visit. When we ask them about this, they confirm it. However, they say that because the man is a representative for his employer and his employer is investing to set up a place of business in China, they were given permission to come to China.
When arrive in Wuxi, our local guide, LeLe meets us. Steve and I are about to start downstairs. A porter tells LeLe that he will help take us to the station by a route without stairs. It will cost 10 yuan. We are happy to pay it. The porter pushes me but it's obvious that he has not pushed a wheelchair before. Steve assists him over the tracks and up curbs.
LeLe provides some information about the city of Wuxi. Wuxi has a population of 1,500,000 and covers an area of 4,003 kilometers. We see a lot of new building. The son of a Zhou Dynasty Emperor founded the city. The name means peaceful city. I find LeLe is quite difficult to understand.
Our one stop for the afternoon is the Huishan Clay Figure Research Institute, a workshop where they make clay figurines. We see two stages to make clay figurines. In the first stage, the parts of the figurine are shaped and put together to build the figurine. Second, the figurine is painted. The work room is somewhat interesting but, as usual, we don't get much time to observe. Surprise, next we are led to the gift shop where the figurines are nice but expensive. Steve shows some interest in purchasing one. He attempts to negotiate a price and is told that there is no bargaining. So we walk out.
Nothing else is planned for the afternoon so we go to our hotel. We get our keys and go to our rooms. However, none of the keys which the hotel staff gave our group work. The men in our group decide to return to check-in and have the keys reprogrammed. While they correct the situation, we five women have a nice chat. We decide that we should find a restaurant outside of the hotel to have dinner tonight. We're all growing tired of touristy food and the similarity of meals.
Looking forward to our night out, Steve and I take a nap. When we meet the others for dinner, we learn that several people in our group spent their free time exploring the part of the city close to our hotel. They could not find any restaurant which looked decent for dinner. Discontented, we all go to the hotel dining room. Most of us are annoyed to find that so many of the buffet dishes are Western. So ends a rather disappointing half-day in Wuxi.
When we meet our group this morning, we learn that several people feel like they're getting ill. We feel bad for them. Since our group is so close, it is likely that we all will catch whatever is going around. So far, I have felt like my allergies are bad. With all the dust and pollution in the air, I don't find this surprising. Another member of our group reports that her allergies are also acting up.
This morning we tour Wuxi. There is a lot of new building close to the old neighborhoods. Neighborhoods consist of groceries, laundries and restaurants. We pass a park where people come to do tai chi and shadowboxing in the early morning. Some parks/gardens charge monthly fees. Within the city, there is building financed by a large joint venture. The joint venture includes a Chinese enterprise and businesses from the United States, Japan and Singapore. LeLe tells us that close to such joint ventures, one finds farmer food markets and schools.
Our bus drops us off at a bridge that crosses the canal. There are many steps to reach the bridge but I find the climb to be rewarding since at the top there is a picturesque view. The homes along the canal are approximately 100 years old. Most families have lived in them for generations. The canal was built in 480 BC. In 1970, the government widened it, so it could accommodate more traffic.
Main Room of Hutong Home
First we visit a family who lives in a hutong home. This one is not as large or modern as the one we visited in Beijing. Even though the man and woman of the house are there, they do not speak to us. It's obvious they know very little English, only hello and goodbye. The man is quite helpful to me and friendly to everyone.
LeLe tells us the family's story. The family purchased this home approximately 30 years ago. Today the family consists of the patriarch, the matriarch, two sons, a daughter and three grandchildren. The oldest man worked in a factory and his wife worked in a silk factory until she was 50. They don't pay for the house but they pay for electricity and water. The hutong home has only three rooms, two bedrooms and a main room which serves as living room, dining room and kitchen in bad weather. In good weather the cooking is done outside. The house has only one sink and it's in the main room. There is no bathroom or toilet. During the day, the residents use a neighborhood bathroom. At night, they use a chamber pot, also called a honey bucket, which is dumped out the next day.
All homes in this neighborhood have washing machines and televisions. Telephones are becoming popular, about 50 percent of the homes have them. The home we're visiting has a fan, an electric heater and bars on the windows for security. Eventually the government will take some action to make the area safer. In the main room, we notice a Buddhist altar, a map of the world, a map of China and a large picture of Mao and other former Chinese leaders. In the past, government laws required pictures like the latter one to be hung in all Chinese homes. Each morning, the patriarch brings his youngest grandson to the park. Every day the man and woman shop at the market. In afternoon, the man plays Mah Jong.
We walk down a narrow pathway to the local market. It is a small local market but I get a sense of real community. Although we've seen many markets, I enjoy this one. The people seem friendlier and less pushy. There is a woman working on a sewing machine. Her young daughter is standing next to her. I try to wave and say hello to the young girl, but she seems scared. Her mother waves back at me and says something to the girl. Soon the girl smiles and waves.
Next we go to a silk spinning factory. Steve and I find it interesting to see how seven cocoons are strung on to one spindle and spun to become one thread. The factory is not open for business today. Only a single worker is running one station, for our tour.
The wife of the first Zhou emperor first discovered silk. There are three types of silk. Mulberry is the superior type. Mulberry bushes yield silkworms approximately five times a year, once each season but twice in the fall. At the end of its lifecycle, the entire bush is cut down to the roots.
Silkworms eat four times a day. They grow to the size of a finger, storing the substance that will make silk inside their bodies. It takes approximately one week for each worm to spin a cocoon. As it does so, the worm shrinks to a smaller size. Once gathered, the cocoons are boiled in hot water to kill the worm and remove the gummy substance. After the cocoons are removed from the boiling liquid, there's a thick fluid leftover. This fluid makes a good fertilizer.
Seven cocoons are placed in a pan with water and threaded on to one spindle. As the machine runs, it pulls the seven strings into one thread. The spindles of thread are loaded onto larger wheels where they are dried. Next it's graded based on quality. A small quilt is made of approximately 2,000 kilometers of silk thread.
Next we go to the gift shop (surprise!). I find it to be an interesting shop, and not high-pressure. There are some very pretty items, however everything I like is too large or not my style.
We ride to the center of Wuxi to reach the restaurant for today's lunch. As we pass the center of town, we see a woman holding a volleyball. LeLe tells us that volleyball is quite popular in China. Our lunch is at the Wuxi Grand Hotel, which is a joint venture with a Japanese business. Spare ribs are a specialty of the restaurant. We find them quite tasty. We also have a few other interesting dishes including eggs with small strips of fish and a very tasty green bean dish.
This afternoon we will travel to Suzhou by way of the Grand Canal, as the Emperors did. LeLe tells us that at 1,800 kilometers, the Grand Canal is longest canal in the world. It's also the world's oldest canal. When completed, the canal went from Beijing to Hangzhou. Approximately half of it remains navigable today. Parts are still used today. The government claims that, since liberation, dredging has made 1,100 kilometers navigable. However in some parts, the depth is only three meters and the width is less than nine meters.
Construction of the Grand Canal spanned many centuries. In 495 BC, the first section of 85 kilometers was completed. During the Sui Dynasty, between 605 AD and 609 AD, the huge task of linking the Yellow River and the Yangtze River was completed. This required the labor of massive conscripted forces. Construction stopped until the Yuan Dynasty. From 1271 to 1368, the Grand Canal was again expanded. The government capitalized on the growing wealth of the Yangtze River basin and used the Canal to ship supplies from south to north. Silk and rice were brought to Beijing. The government could better control the South, because access was easier. Five rivers running east west were accessed from the Grand Canal.
Traffic on the Grand Canal
Silt buildups have blocked sections of the Grand Canal for centuries. Currently, approximately one-third of the Canal near Beijing and one-third of the Canal in its center are not operational. Only the southern one-third is still used. This section includes Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou and Zhejiang.
I like boat rides and am looking forward to this one. However, I am amazed at what we see, especially the amount of traffic on the Canal. The section that we're on is especially busy with industrial traffic. We travel from Wuxi to Suzhou, seeing many types of vessels. Perhaps the most surprising are caravans of 12 barges pulled by one or more tug boats. We see many old homes and new apartments. We pass through an area filled with factories where we see a lot of pollution pouring into the air.
There are small waterways off the Grand Canal, mostly on the starboard side. They look quite picturesque. We see men and women tending plants along the banks.
Family Boat is Their Home
We also see young couples on boats, which carry cargo. Sometimes they have a small child with them. This is their home and, by Chinese standards, the couples earn a good living doing this work. When the child reaches school age, he or she is sent to live with the grandparents so the couple can continue to work on the Canal.
As we get off the boat in Suzhou, it's no surprise that many children and adults attempt to sell us souvenirs. We send most of them away but a few have some interesting items. Steve purchases a flute.
It won't be hard for us to remember our local guide's name, Sue (in Suzhou). She gives us an introduction to the city. There are not so many automobiles in Suzhou. Most people prefer to ride bicycles and mopeds. The population is one million. The area of the city is being expanded. When the expansion is complete, the population will be 2.5 million. The city has been called the Venice of the East. In some places, the canal network is being filled in and new apartment buildings will be built. This change is called "Demolition of the Honey Bucket". Today, some people wash in the canals. This makes the canals quite smelly especially in the summer.
|History of Suzhou|
Suzhou is known for its gardens, beautiful combinations of nature, architecture, poetry and painting designed to ease, move or assist the mind. Its history goes back approximately 2, 500 years making Suzhou one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze River basin. During the Sui Dynasty, Suzhou had a strategic location on a major trading route. This facilitated the city's growth and enabled its residents to earn fortunes.
When the Grand Canal was completed, Suzhou flourished as a shipping center and a place to store grain. Merchants and artisans flocked to Suzhou. By the 12th century, the town reached its present size. Its rectangular city wall, enclosed by a moat, had six gates. The north and south sides each had one gate and the east and west sides had two gates each. Six canals ran north south and 14 canals ran east west, through the city. A legend about Suzhou tells tales of beautiful women with golden voices who say in proverb, "in heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou". In 1276, when Marco Polo arrived, he added "great and noble" to the Suzhou part of this saying. However, according to Marco Polo's finer epithets, he thought more highly of Hangzhou. We will get to make this comparison in a few more days. I'll let you know if I agree with my ancestor (according to my family's legend).
By the 14th century, Suzhou was China's leading silk producer. Aristocrats, pleasure seekers, famous scholars, actors and painters came to the city. They built villas and garden retreats for themselves. In the 16th century, at Suzhou's developmental height, large and small gardens numbered over 100. As far back as the 15 century, the workers of the silk sweatshops protested low wages and injustices of the contract hire system by holding violent strikes. In 1860, Taiping troops captured the town without violence. In 1896, Suzhou was opened to foreign trade. Japanese and international concessions were established. During World War II, the Japanese occupied the city. Afterwards, the Kumingtang took control. During the Cultural Revolution, Suzhou came through the worst ravages with little damage. Today it is a medieval mixture of woodblock guilds, embroidery societies, whitewashed housing, cobble stone streets, tree-lined avenues and canals.
Our hotel, the Sheraton Suzhou Hotel & Towers is beautiful; however I find it extremely difficult to get around. It's very spreadout and our room is far from anyplace that I want to go. Since the restaurant is so far from our room, I decide to skip dinner tonight. To reach the restaurant, one must leave our room on the second floor, take an elevator to the third floor, crossover to the pagoda wing and take an elevator to the first floor. On each floor the distance to walk is quite far. When visitors enter or leave the hotel, a similar route must be taken. Most of the members of our group are dissatisfied with the location of their rooms. We are supposed to be on an upscale tour but our rooms have no view.
Tonight we attend a show at the Garden of the Master of Fishing Net. This is the oldest and smallest garden of the city. It was designed in the 12th century, and then abandoned. In the 18th-century, it was restored as part of the residence of a retired official. Legend has it that he announced that he had enough of bureaucracy and wanted to be a fisherman. The eastern part of the Garden is the residential area, which originally had living quarters, guest reception and rooms for sedan chair servants. Sedan chairs were covered chairs in which the wealthy were transported. Servants carried these chairs, transporting their master and family members outside the confines of the master's estate. The central part is the main garden. The western part is an inner garden where a courtyard contains the Spring Rear Cottage, which was the master's study.
There are eight performances tonight and each performance is in a different building. First we see a 2,000 year old opera story about beggars. Second, we see an opera from the Ming Dynasty. Sue explains the background of the story. A butcher drank too much because he received a lot of money. He tells his stepdaughter that he sold her so she runs away, leaving the door opened behind her. A robber sees the open door. He steels the butcher's money and kills him. The stepdaughter is caught and accused of the theft and murder. A wise official doesn't believe the accusation. It's customary for people go to the Buddhist temple for atonement. The official poses as a fortuneteller in the temple. This is where the opera begins. We're surprised that the performance consists of speaking not singing. The wise official posing as a fortuneteller convinces the stepdaughter's captors of her innocence and she is released.
In the third performance, we see a storyteller. She recites a poem from the Tang dynasty. These types of stories were usually told while drinking tea. At a crucial point, the storyteller stops telling the tale, so the guest will come back the next day. Next we see a dance from the Tang dynasty. It is pretty and I enjoy this performance. In the fifth performance, two women sing and dance for the audience. Sixth, several musicians play vertical and horizontal flutes. Next, two musical pieces are performed on traditional instruments. The final performance is in the gift shop. Several traditional instruments are played. One instrument is called the pipa and another is the Ming harp. Although we're in the gift shop, we're relieved to see that there is no hard sell. The proprietors actually give us a souvenir.
I find the evening to be quite enjoyable. The air is cool and this is a nice change from the heat of most days. However, it was somewhat challenging to get around the Garden and in and out of the different buildings where the performances were held. After the first act, I realized that the time we'd be in each building was not worth the struggle to get my wheelchair and me over the large thresholds. When there was a clear line of vision from the doorway to the stage, I sat in the doorway and watched from there. Sue was helpful in telling us for which shows it was appropriate to sit in the doorway and showing us level pathways between the buildings where they existed. When we took a path different from our group, Linda accompanied us.
Suzhou is famous for its gardens. The key elements of these gardens are moss, sand, rock and water. Like Japanese gardens, flowers are few and there are no fountains. Although designed with precision, the intention was that they give an illusion of being natural. Master craftsmen laid out the gardens. From the Taiping rebellion in the 1860's through the Japanese occupation, the Gardens suffered a setback. It was not until the 1950s that restoration was undertaken only to be abandoned again during the Cultural Revolution. In 1979, the Suzhou Garden Society was organized to promote the rehabilitation of Suzhou's gardens. Since then several of the gardens have been renovated and are opened to the public and tourists.
Our first destination today is the Lingering Garden, one of the largest in Suzhou. Built during the Ming Dynasty, it escaped destruction during the Taiping rebellion. The central part of this garden is 400 years old and kept as it was designed. Other portions have been revised since their original creation. It is called the Lingering Garden because its builder wanted to linger in it while alive and after his death. According to Chinese tradition, a family only lingers for three generations. The first generation works hard, earns money and builds the garden. The second generation inherits a lot of money so its members don't work. They squander a good portion of the money. The third generation inherits enough money to live on but they spend the rest of it. They sell the garden to get more, so after the third generation, the family no longer enjoys the garden.
During Communist times, students tried to destroy the Lingering Garden. The curator and other students, who admired the garden, closed and locked the doors in time to preserve it. There was an attempt to sell the furniture for two dollars a piece but nobody would buy it. No one wanted to take the risk of getting caught with the furniture. It was something that belonged to a single-family. Eventually a few people who knew the value of the furniture purchased it and hid it away. Other gardens in Suzhou were totally destroyed.
We see the public garden, then the garden that the owner created for his personal use. Finally we see the bonsai garden. It is pretty but there are a lot of people here today so I think we're missing the peaceful atmosphere that the garden is supposed to have. Since CITS is most likely leading many of the other groups of people, it seems to me that the guides could have done a better job of coordinating the tours, so the atmosphere would be more peaceful.
We do not go with our group through the Garden area because there are a number of stairs. Instead, we are shown a shortcut through the reception building. Sue tells us that the family who lived here consisted of two spouses and two children. In addition, there were concubines who had many more children. Children were only allowed to say "yes" to their parents.
Back on the bus, Sue talks about herself and her family. She is the youngest of four daughters. The oldest was in the Red Guard. She was recruited into the Red Guard while she was in Beijing. Her parents tried to talk to her out of joining. When she came home, she told her parents that she was going to the countryside because Mao said so. Within two months, she realized that she did not like this lifestyle. Within five years of her Red Guard duty, she developed a heart problem.
By the time Sue entered high school, it was easier to get accepted into college. She took the test and did well. At the time, only five percent of the students who took the test were admitted to higher education. Once admitted, students spend their days and nights studying. They weren't allowed to have a social life. Sue met her husband, who is four years older, while she was in college. He took good care of her, like an older brother would. They fell in love but had to keep their relationship secret. Several years later, when Sue was 23, on a day off, they went to the countryside and returned holding hands. A teacher caught them. Sue and her husband tried to persuade the teacher to keep their secret but he refused.
When the teacher reported what he saw, the couple was told they had to be punished because they had set a bad example. Sue's husband said that only he should be punished because he's older. The administration said no, both of you made the mistake. Their names were posted on a blackboard for all to see and their secret was out. Sue was very embarrassed. She didn't leave her dormitory room for a week. Afterward, she thought, this is ridiculous because they had not been bad. Since their secret was out, the couple did things together, no longer in hiding.
After graduation, the couple was punished again. They were sent to jobs in different cities, which were a five-hour train ride apart. Sue was placed in Nanjing and her husband in Suzhou. Her husband met the mayor's wife and told her this story. The mayor's wife wrote a letter to authorities and signed her husband's name. Sue was reassigned to Suzhou, where she's been ever since. Institutions of higher education no longer have such strict rules. Students can date and choose the city to which they're assigned.
Suzhou Silk Research Institute
Our next stop is the Embroidery Research Institute where craft women embroider with silk. Suzhou has a long history of embroidery known for its elegance, fine characteristics and excellent craftsmanship. The Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute creates fine articles of embroidery and hand woven silk tapestry. Many are used as exhibits and official presentations by the Chinese government. The Institute has won prizes in international fairs including the Gold Cup Prize for national quality. It combines research with production and marketing. Its customers include retail businesses and, of course, tourists like us. It fills orders for import and export.
We're told that this Institution makes the finest silk embroidery in China. The first step is to weave the outline of the main pattern. According to what we see, the pattern is copied from a painting. Next the artist traces the details of the pattern onto the fabric. The main color is embroidered, and then other shades are added. We enter one room and are amazed at a very vivid autumn tree on which the leaves have turned a bright orange. This piece of work will take two years to complete.
Our group goes for a quick visit/photo stop at the Pan Men City Gate. This is a gate at the outer mote, the stretch of city wall which contains Suzhou's only remaining original gate. Since this is a quick trip and we've seen quite a few gates, I wait on the bus. On his return, Steve reports that I wouldn't have enjoyed the gate because there are many stairs. He says it is like the bridge over the canal that we saw yesterday in Wuxi, except there are many more stairs.
Our next stop is the North Temple Pagoda, the tallest pagoda south of the Yangtze River. It has nine stories. The pagoda has been burnt and rebuilt. Made of wood, it was originally built in the 17th-century as a residence. Legend has it that for every floor one ascends, he loses 10 years of his age. Once again, I stay on the bus because it's a 15-minute walk to reach the pagoda and pagodas are all steps. When Steve returns, I ask him how old he is. He says 13. (Oh great, now I'm married to a teenager!) He says that he enjoyed the pagoda but due to the time, he could not climb to the top. He thinks that the view from the fourth floor is pretty good. The pagoda is very tall and well maintained.
This afternoon, we are scheduled to take a train to Hangzhou. When we reach the train station, Sue arranges for a porter to take me over the tracks so we don't have to go up and down the many stairs at the train station. Two porters come. After crossing the tracks, they run away with me, leaving Linda, Steve and our luggage behind. When we reach the correct track, the train is there. The porters clear the crowd away and lift me in my wheelchair into the car and take me to my seat. They say, "okay, okay, okay". When I reply, "okay", they leave. Other passengers want to get by me, but because of how the porters just left me, I can't quite get out of the wheelchair. I am still holding quite a few items on my lap. I move to a more open area close to our seats and work my way to standing. I'm relieved when Steve arrives and helps me into a seat and stows the wheelchair.
The train ride to Hangzhou is four hours long. During the train ride, I ask Steve what he thought of Suzhou. He says that it was one of the less spectacular places on our itinerary. There was nothing memorable about what we did today although he enjoyed last night's performance.
When we arrive in Hangzhou, our local guide, Mr. Lu, meets us and sends us to the parking area by the route with the least stairs. This route requires that we go down one flight of stairs and up the parking ramp. We meet our group at the top of the escalator. While waiting for our bus to arrive, many beggars approach us asking for money. One is a woman who does not have the use of her legs. She gets around on a board with small wheels. Seeing her makes me realize just how lucky I am to live in the United States. "There by the grace of God..."
One of the city's main attractions is West Lake. In China, all 36 lakes west of their city centers are called West Lake. This is the most famous West Lake. In Chinese, it's called Xi Hù. According to legend, there are four beautiful ladies of China and West Lake is named after one of them. West Lake is the symbol of Hangzhou. It was originally a lagoon that adjoined the Qiántáng River. In the eighth century, Hangzhou's governor dredged the lagoon. Later, the lake was cut off from the river when a dike was built between the lake and the river.
Our hotel, the Shangri-La Hotel, is a disappointment. According to the literature provided by Pacific Delight, we are supposed to have a nice view. However, our entire group is assigned to rooms on the first floor. We don't have even a decent view. Our room is comfortable.
Today we tour Hangzhou. Mr. Lu tells us that Hangzhou is one of the five smallest cities of China. It has an industrial economy. Its major products are electronics and construction materials. Most of Hangzhou's residents live in the east part of the city. It's a bit disappointing that most of what we'll see is in the west.
|History of Hangzhou|
Hangzhou historical records go back to the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC). Hangzhou prospered after 610 AD, when the Grand Canal reached the city. However, its most famous period was when it was the capital. In 959, Zhao Kuangyin, the leader of the palace corps for one of the Five Dynasties (the Later Zhou), won power from a seven-year old head of state. By 976, he conquered the other kingdoms that had been preventing a reunification of China; so began the Song Dynasty.
The Song Dynasty lasted until 1279 and is divided into the Northern Song (960 to 1126) and Southern Song (1127 to 1279). At the end of the Northern Song period, the invading Juchen (predecessors of the Manchus) seized control of the north, forcing the Song court to flee south. They finally settled in Hangzhou and made it their capital. The Song court came with the military, civil officials and merchants. The city's population grew from 500,000 to 1,750,000. Trade flourished with the large population and geographical proximity to the ocean, river and sea. Shipbuilding and other naval industries grew.
The Song Dynasty is most memorable for its strong centralized government, renewed Confucius learning, a commercial revolution and restoration of the examination system that facilitated a civilian dominated bureaucracy. Dramatically increased agricultural production led to economic progress. Land reclamation, new strains of rice and improved agricultural techniques and tools also contributed to economic gains. Simultaneously the transportation infrastructure was improved, there was a rise of the merchant class and paper money was introduced. Markets could now be farther away. Urban centers grew as goods from around the country became more easily available. The 13th century brought Marco Polo to China, where he found prosperous cities grander than those he had experienced in Europe. Marco Polo loved Hangzhou.
When the Mongols invaded China, they established their court in Beijing. Hangzhou retained its position as a prosperous commercial city. In 1861, during the Taiping rebellion, the Taipings captured the city. Two years later, Imperial armies recaptured Hangzhou. Both campaigns reduced the city almost entirely to ashes and killed over half a million residents by disease, starvation and military violence. This ended Hangzhou's significance as a commercial and trading city. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guard destroyed most of the few monuments that had survived into the 20th-century.
First we visit the Ling Yin Temple, parts of which were constructed in 326 AD by an Indian monk. Wars and other catastrophes have destroyed and rebuilt it at least 16 times. The buildings we see today are restorations of the Qing Dynasty structures. During the "Five Dynasties", 907 AD to 1308 AD, approximately 3,000 monks lived in the Temple complex. The Temple was supposed to be destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Zhou Enlai, a moderate leader of the communist party, is credited with saving the complex. There was a confrontation between those who wanted to save the Temple and the Red Guard who wanted to destroy it. The debate went to Zhou, who ordered the Red Guard to spare the Temple and sculptures in the grotto opposite the Temple. For those who wanted to save the Temple, it was a wise move to consult Zhou because in 1953 he gave the final approval to carve the huge Buddha inside the Temple. However, this did not save the Temple monks. They were sent to work in the fields. In the early 1970s, several of elderly and disabled monks were permitted to come back and live the rest of their lives in a small building on the hillside behind the Temple. In Chinese its name, Lingyin Sì, translates to Temple of Inspired Seclusion or Temple of the Soul's Retreat.
We begin our tour in part of "The Peak Flew from Afar", grottoes and caves with more than 470 stone Buddhas. These Buddhas were carved during the Five Dynasties and Song Dynasty. We see a 1,000-year old laughing Buddha in a Grotto. The laughing Buddha represents the belief that when one becomes Buddhist, one will learn how to get rid of all one's problems. China is the only country in which the laughing Buddha is predominate. There are many grottoes behind this initial Grotto.
Laughing Buddha Sits in Grotto
Although I could not get down into the Grotto, this is still an awesome site. The Temple complex is spread over a large area and we walk around the grounds. I find it to be much like the Shanghai Temple complex, except that it's bigger in scale. As usual, there are many people here. Most of the visitors are Asian. Since we have seen other Buddhist temples, I do not go inside many of the buildings. When Steve returns, he says it's impressive but there are many stairs.
The Hall of the Four Heavenly Guardians is at the front of the Temple. Inside of it is a statue of the laughing Buddha who is believed to "endure everything unendurable in the world and laugh at every laughable person in the world". Behind this Hall is the Great Hall in which is a beautiful 20 meter statue of Siddhartha Gautama, based on a statue from the Tang Dynasty. Siddhartha Gautama is the present Buddha. Behind the statue is a montage of 150 small figures showing the journey of 53 children on their way to Buddhahood, a monk who secretly ate meat and the "mad monk". Behind the main Temple there are two more temples. One contains the 12 zodiac signs and a Buddha. There's also a Temple with 500 Ahas from India. Ahas are holy beings. In hierarchical order, they are next to the Buddha and one step away from salvation. Each of the Ahas has unique features.
Instead of going into the temples, I stay outside and talk with Linda. While I'm sitting with her, two men who I've never seen before take my picture. Later, they take my picture with Steve, twice. Mr. Lu tells us that in China they need examples of marriage.
Next we ride out to an area in which Dragon Well Tea is grown. Dragon Well Tea is well known for its fragrance and light taste. It's good for health especially for diabetes, heart and blood pressure problems and for getting rid of fat. Gee, just what we need! It's thought to decrease the rate of cancer by 40 percent, especially cancer of the digestive system, the stomach, intestine and throat. Mr. Lu compares Dragon Well Tea to ginseng which must be grown in certain places to have medicinal properties. For ginseng, these locations are elsewhere in China and Korea. Many other places claim to grow Dragon Well Tea but their claim is false.
Dragon Well Tea was originally planted 1,000 years ago. The Empress would travel to Hangzhou to drink the tea. She also had it shipped to her. There are three types of tea in the world. Black tea is fermented and dried. Oolong tea is half fermented and dried. Green tea is just dried in an oven. Dragon Well is a green tea. It's harvested from April through October, the earlier the better. Dragon Well Tea requires 80,000 kg of tea leaves to make one kg of tea. It's picked by hand and requires eight hours to process. Today before 9 AM, 100 women worked in the fields, picking the tea leafs. It's best to pick them before the sun is strong. As we ride into the tea village, we see fields and fields of tea bushes. Many of the fields are on hills.
In a room with a long table, we see an interesting demonstration of the traditional way to serve the Dragon Well Tea. Each member of our tour has one cup in front of him or her. Our demonstrator puts a pinch of tea leaves in the cup. If the server welcomes the visitor, she pours a small amount of steaming (not boiling), water into the cup. If a lot of water is poured into the cup, one is not welcome. The visitor swirls the cup and smells it. While the water is steaming, it's beneficial to hold the cup up to ones eyes for a few minutes. Afterwards, the tea drinker should close his or her eyes. The hostess fills the cup, gracefully moving the kettle of water up and down three times, as she's pouring. This movement also means that the visitor is welcome. The visitor tastes the tea. If he or she likes it, the visitor uses two fingers to tap the table three times, saying "Xièxie ni ", which means thank you. The demonstration is enjoyable and each couple in our group purchases at least one container of tea. Dan buys at least 10. In hindsight, unless the tea is left to steep for a long time, it is almost too mild for my taste, but we'll enjoy doing the demonstration for our guests.
The best time to drink this tea is after meals because it helps with digestion. Boiling water should not be used to make the tea because it burns the throat and this can cause throat cancer. The tea leaves can be used several times. They can also be eaten, which helps digestion. If one stores a can of tea in the refrigerator, it will last for three years. If not refrigerated, it will last for about 18 months. The best Dragon Well Tea leafs have a lighter color and smells stronger than lesser grades.
Back on the bus, Mr. Lu talks more about Hangzhou. Hangzhou has the reputation of being China's greenest city. Trees cannot be cut down without a government permit. Every Hangzhou resident can have six trees. In comparison, in Shanghai, there are six people for every one tree. Bamboo is the fastest-growing tree, reaching its full height within 45 days. Afterwards it grows thicker. It's preferred for scaffolding because it collapses slower than other material, giving anyone on it, time to get off. Metal collapses fast so there's no time to get off. There are 30 types of bamboo.
Someone asks about how Buddhist temples obtain financial support. Mr. Lu tells us that in China, Buddhist support comes from donations and the shops on a temple's property. If a Buddhist establishment can't support itself, the government will support it. The government supports Buddhism because it teaches the people not to kill or rob others. According to Mr. Lu, Buddhism came to China from India in the second century. In the fifth century, it was brought to Japan. (These centuries don't quite match what I've read else where, but what's a hundred years more or less?) Many Japanese Buddhists come to China. When the Japanese were bombing China, they did not bomb temples. Hangzhou has many temples, more than most Chinese cities.
For lunch today, we have a private room in a local restaurant. Mr. Lu suggests that we try a local specialty called tea shrimp. He tells us that we must pay for it. The group agrees to try it. I like it but most of the people in our group say that it doesn't have enough taste.
This afternoon we are scheduled to go on a cruise of the West Lake. Mr. Lu talks about the lake. Rock Carp are the most common fish. There are four islands, only Solitary Hill is natural. The lake has two causeways, Báidi and Sudi, which are named after poets who were also mayors. Peach trees are planted on the causeways.
We arrive at the dock early. As we get off our bus, many hawkers and beggars approach us. Most of the beggars are disabled. It appears that most have problems with their arms. We are one of the first groups to board the boat. However, we are not early enough for me to go upstairs to the upper deck, where it's more likely to be cooler. I am quite disappointed. We go into an enclosed room in the front of the boat. Linda is with us and I take this opportunity to ask her a question which has been gnawing at me since last night. I ask if children who are handicapped have a chance to go to school. She replies that it depends on their family. If the family supports the child, the child will have a chance. This is more likely to happen in the city than in the country. It is not uncommon, in the country for a family to leave a child who is handicapped outside, to die.
After awhile, a large group of Korean tourists board the boat. Many go up onto the small deck and stand in front of the room in which we're sitting. They block our view. Some of the adults in this group sit in the room with us. They attempt to wave away those who are on the deck in front of the windows. At first, those on the deck move away, but soon they come back. Another boat is tied to our boat on the portside, so we lose another sizeable portion of our view. The engine of one of the boats is not working at full capacity so one boat provides engine power to both. This also slows our ride across the lake. We are proudly told that these boats were built for Nixon's visit. Steve comments, "oh great, these boats are old."
Steve goes outside in search of a cooler place. After awhile he returns and I go with him to the back of the boat and eventually, I find a seat. This time, I'm sitting with a group of Japanese tourists. One of them speaks a little English. I try to remember some Japanese, which I learned when we visited Japan quite a few years ago. I'm not too successful but we manage to communicate a little bit. The engine on our boat has some trouble. A repairman comes on to our boat to fix it. Unfortunately, the seat in which I'm sitting is blocking access to the engine. Someone asks me to move, but I am unable to without help. When I say that I need help to move, one of my neighbors assists me.
We have been on many more interesting cruises. This time, we are packed on to an overcrowded boat. During our cruise, I see many different types of boats on the lake. I wonder why we are not on one of the other types of smaller boats. It gets foggy on certain parts of the lake. Two times, I see flying fish. Steve and I agree that this activity was far less than enjoyable. Steve liked it less than I, saying it was horrible. Up until now, Pacific Delight has done a nice job of providing comfortable excursions. This is certainly a letdown.
When we get off the boat, we walk through the park on one side of the lake. The first thing we see is a large plastic Santa Claus with his arms extended. There are many bunnies in his arms. Our guide tells us that next week is Children's Day, so the park is decorated for this national holiday. We are amazed that most of the decorations which we see are very familiar western figures. We see Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland and the Three Little Pigs.
The two main attractions of this park are supposed to be the Goldfish or Red Carp Pond and the Peony Garden. We stand at the Red Carp Pond, also called Flower Harbor, trying to see the carp. Eventually we see a few but the experience is far less impressive than the koi ponds that we saw in Japan. We go to the section called the Peony Garden; however this is not this season for peonies. I find it most unimpressive. The design of the garden is supposed to be modeled after the four forces of a garden: rock, flower, water and buildings. Since there are not many flowers at this time of year, it's difficult to determine if the design is effective.
Peacock in Park on West Lake Bank
For me, the highlight of the Park is the peacocks. Within a fenced area, there is one peacock with his tail spread and many other peacocks walking around. What most impresses me, are several totally white peacocks. I have never before seen this type. They may be albinos, but their eyes are not pink. They are beautiful.
Our day ends early because most of us are exhausted, probably from the heat. Steve and I return to our room and take a nap.
Our dinner tonight is another hotel buffet, probably Continental food with a few Chinese dishes. Steve and I decide to eat outside. We find a restaurant nearby, recommended by our guidebook Lonely Planet, Shanwàishan Càiguan. The biggest challenge in getting there will be crossing the busy street in front of our hotel. We do okay. As we have seen in so many cities elsewhere in China, cars and bicycles stop right before they hit us. As we walk down the sidewalk, shopkeepers say "hello, hello, look". We keep going.
We reach the restaurant and stop to look inside. A woman who works there approaches us. She does not speak English but goes to get a man who does. Steve says, "We're considering eating here". The man who speaks English doesn't seem to understand this, but he understands other things that we say and we understand him. There are people inside, which is a good sign and we decide to go in. There's a menu on our table but it's in Chinese. Two waitresses are with us. We start to show them Lonely Planet's recommendations but they start to ask us if we want tea shrimp, a specialty of the area. We say no because we had that for lunch. They ask us about other selections. We decide on fish, vegetables, fried noodles and soup. They pour us tea and ask what we'd like to drink. Steve orders a sprite and I order a beer. They ask whether I want local or European, I choose local. It turns out to be a quart bottle. Steve's sprite is normal size.
We believe we ordered one fish and noodles as our main course, a side dish of vegetables and two bowls of soup. We get two somewhat large fish, a large plate of noodles and another large dish of vegetables. Each could be a main course. The soup comes in a large tureen. All are delicious. I especially like the vegetables and soup. Steve likes the noodles and fish. We finish all of the noodles, most of the fish and vegetables but only about a third of the soup. I want to taste a desert. Steve goes to the counter and picks out one that looks like what I described to him. It's good but we're both so full that we eat only half.
Though the meal is wonderful, we suspect we've been cheated. We've been served so much food, that the bill will probably be outrageously inflated. The bill comes and we're amazed that it's only approximately $10. Even though tips are not expected in China, we attempt to leave 10 yuan (approximately one dollar) as the tip. As we are getting ready to go, our waitress points to the money sitting on the table. We tell her that it's her tip. She smiles. As we reach the door, she hands it back to us. We wonder if tipping is really that foreign to them or do they feel guilty that they oversold us the food. Later I read that when tipping, the tip is given before the service as a way to obtain better service.
When we get back to the hotel, Steve goes to the restaurant to tell the rest of our group about our dinner. I go into the gift shop to buy stamps. I look for the concierge at his desk to ask about a box to use for shipping some things home. He gets one but it is very beat up. When we say it's not in good enough condition, he makes several suggestions including that we go to the Business Office. Since we're leaving tomorrow, and the Business Office is closed now, we won't have time. Tonight, as we pack, we make an extra effort to go through everything, throwing out anything we don't need and consolidating wherever possible. It's a challenge.
This morning our group doesn't meet until 10:30 a.m. Steve and I had planned to walk around the lake before then. However we're both feeling a little under the whether, Steve with a stomach ache and sore throat and me with a cold or allergies. We decide to relax and not push it.
Hangzhou Bonsai Garden
We begin today's touring with some of Hangzhou's gardens starting with the Bonsai Garden. Mr. Lu tells us that bonsai is a Chinese technique. The Japanese took it from China. It's also known as flower nursery. One needs patience for fertilizing, watering and pruning. A suitable pot, as determined by the specific plant, must be chosen. Types of plants are most often evergreen saplings. If old plants are chosen, they must be small. These come from the mountains where plants are not fertilized so they don't grow very big. Many bonsai are 300 to 400 years old. There are different schools, Szechwan, Shanghai, South and North. I find the garden nice but different from what I expected. Parts are decorated and glitzy, obviously for tourists. Most of the trees are larger than what I know as bonsai. I particularly like a potted tree which has pink leaves. I find the last section we visit beautiful and peaceful. Finally we have visited a site in Hangzhou which is not crowded. Being away from large groups of tourist crowds is most welcome.
Lunch is in the Sun Yatsen hotel. We eat some interesting dishes including fried pineapple.
Our next stop is the Pet Accessory Market. It is interesting but much like the ones we have already seen. We walk down a few of the many aisles. We see large tubs of hermit crabs, plants, flowers and bowls of young carp. The hermit crabs are very colorful, as are the carp. The carp are only the size of large goldfish.
Our next stop is a site to which Steve and I have been looking forward, a Traditional Chinese Medicine Pharmacy. According to a Hangzhou brochure from our hotel, this is the Huqingyutang Medicine Museum and is the only one of its kind in China, established in 1874 by Master Hu Xueyan. The architecture is 100 years old, well preserved and displays the cultural heritage of China.
Traditional Chinese Pharmacy
First, we walk through the portion set up as a museum. The father of Chinese medicine is Li Shizhen. Internal medicine deals with herbs and breathing. Zhang Qin and Ban Chao introduced traditional Chinese medicine to other Asian countries. There are displays on leading doctors, the pharmacy founder, tools for medicine preparation and books.
The museum is a disappointment since much of it is about its founder. Modern medicine processing often takes place in a factory. We have been looking forward to learning about different types of natural medicines, for what and why they are used. At the end, we see a small part of the museum which shows this. We learn that snake wine, also known as Yang Xue Yu Feng Jiu, is used for rheumatism. We see displays of plants and animals, which have a minimum amount of information about their use. However, by this time we are too hot to spend much time here. The building has no air-conditioning and many stairs. At the end of the tour, we go downstairs to the working pharmacy. It is a large room and there are many people sitting. Some are waiting for their turn to get their medicine. Others are just passing their time in this large, cool room.
Outside, a short distance from the pharmacy, there is an old neighborhood street that is being refurbished. While it looks like it will be an attractive shopping area with a pedestrian walkway, based on our experience of visiting the hutongs, we're saddened by the change. I wonder how many families were forced to move, to make way for this soon to be commercial area.
On our ride to the airport, Mr. Lu reads us some information on the Chinese horoscope. He never got to anything about the monkey, which is my sign. He tells us about the four beautiful Chinese ladies. Each one had a defect so she invented something to make the best of it. One had ears that were too small so she put metal on her ear lobes and invented earrings. Another had feet that were too big and she created long skirts. A third had 80 flowers so she invented perfume. (The reason having many flowers would be considered a defect escapes me.) Finally, one was too heavy. She hung bells on herself and made beautiful music.
As we leave the city, I see the traffic is just as crazy as we've seen in other cities, but perhaps the roads are a little less dense with traffic. I notice that there are no horns. On the road to the airport, I see many new houses and apartment buildings. The apartment buildings are almost pretty. Most are three or four stories and painted with different colors that I like.
When we arrive at the airport, we have to wait for our luggage. There is no group check-in, as we have had at the other airports. For a while we go to the coffee shop. Then we get in line to check in. A group of Asians tourists tries to cut in front of us. We are happy to see that our mostly quiet tour manager, Linda, stops them. The lines for check in are by flight so they tag our bags before they check us in. Check-in is slow but finally we get through it. A member of security personnel wheels me around the metal detectors and searches me with the wand. It beeps several times. The first beep is at my knees, so I begin to tell this security guard that I have knee replacements. As soon as I say knee, she says okay. At the next beep, I show her my insulin pump. Again she says okay and I'm done.
We reach the gate as others are lining up to board. We go to the front of the line and ask if we can cut in. We tell the woman taking the boarding passes that we want to gate check the wheelchair. She says okay. At the airplane door, Steve unloads me and my wheelchair and we board. We tell the stewardess and steward that we need to get the wheelchair on the plane. They say it must go in the hull. We tell them that is fine. Steve and I are in two different rows. A man sitting in a row before ours has his foot in the aisle while people are boarding and I almost trip over it. After I sit down, a woman is walking down the aisle with her elbows sticking out. As she passes me, she hits me in the temple and doesn't even notice. I guess it's just not my day. I also think that lack of consideration of others is a result of China's being over crowded. It takes so much effort to care for oneself that consideration of strangers has sadly gone by the wayside.
When we arrive in Guilin, our local guide Ho meets us. He tells us that Guilin airport is one of China's largest airports. The Zhuàng are the largest minority in the area. They worship water buffalo and the phoenix. Most live in the mountains. The area is renowned for its limestone hills. Population is a half-million. The water is crystal clean because the river has a stone bottom and the people take care of the river. There are caves in every hill. The hills are green with vegetation due to the abundance of rain that falls. Spectacular rocks can be found in the area.
Tourism is the most important industry followed by medicinal herbs. The city of Guilin is undergoing reconstruction. During World War II, 95 percent of the buildings were destroyed. They were rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. These buildings are too small for today's needs so they're being replaced. Tall buildings are not allowed because they would block the scenic view.
We're staying at the Sheraton Guilin Hotel which is quite nice. Dinner is in the Chinese restaurant and it's wonderful. We have a mixture of Szechwan and Cantonese food. The combinations are different than those we've had previously. I really enjoy the Guilin noodles and fish without bones.
Some of our group decides to go out to the night market, which is just across the street from our hotel. We decide to go to bed. Our colds are making us feel quite bad and we want to enjoy tomorrow. Based on our first few hours here, we are optimistic that Guilin will show us a different part of China.
In comparison to the other cities we've visited, Guilin's history is brief. The city was founded during the Qin Dynasty. It grew into a transportation center with the construction of the Ling Qú Canal, which runs between the Zhu and Cháng river systems. From the Ming Dynasty until 1914, it was the capital of the Guangxi province. During the 1930s through World War II, Guilin was a Communist stronghold. Its population grew from 100,000 to more than one million. People came to the city seeking refuge from the Kuomintang.
Today we cruise the Li River. As we leave the city of Guilin, Ho tells us that there are only eight traffic lights in Guilin. It's a small city. The hills formed millions of years ago from limestone deposits. With all of the rain, the earth was washed away leaving the hills. He mentions that there are similar formations in part of former Yugoslavia, which is now Slovenia. There they are called karsts. We visited Slovenia about ten years ago (a few weeks before the Yugoslavian tanks rolled in) and remember seeing the karsts.
We pass the morning market on the way out of the city. We see a limestone hill with streams originating in its caves. A town official used the water as a tribute to the Emperor. We see a lot of traffic but Ho tells us that this is less than usual.
Once in the countryside, we pass people gathering algae. Ho says that they bring it to fish ponds. Fish are raised in ponds for several months. Then they're moved to the Li River for one additional month before they are harvested. This gives them a good taste. Further along the road, people are harvesting lotus flowers. We also see pigs and water buffalo along the roadside. The countryside is beautiful.
Limestone Hills along Li River
When we arrive at the dock, in the town of Daxu, the only access to the boats is down a steep flight of stairs. Our boat has two floors and we find it quite comfortable. I stay downstairs. Steve goes upstairs several times, mostly to take pictures.
Our destination at the end of the cruise is Yangshou, several hours down the Li River. Along the way, we see many beautiful sights, mostly of limestone hills. Many of the limestone hills look like large solitary fingers pointing up to the sky. Others appear more like hills.
We are given a brochure with a map and points of interest describing different forms in the hills. At first we try to follow along but pretty quickly we loose our place and give up. What we see is quite different from what the brochure describes.
Water Buffalo Along Li River
There is one place called Five Fingers Hill. This is the only one which we recognize. As enjoyable as the cruise is, it's too bad someone isn't announcing the major sights as we pass them. We receive a sense of native life on the river as we pass homes and water buffalo.
Lunch is nothing special. As we're eating lunch, a member of the boat staff offers us snake wine. Our server shows us three types of wine and we ask what the difference is. He tells us that there are three types of snakes and each one makes a different wine. However, two types are only for show. Only one type is sold to passengers.
We decide to try it, since this is a Chinese medicine for arthritis and during our bus ride to the cruise, Ho challenged us with this little ditty,
Koreans drink it,
French taste it,
Americans photograph it.
Paul says that since Steve is trying it, he will also have a cup. Steve says that he doesn't like the snake wine because it is too strong. I think it's okay but not great. To me it takes like sake (Japanese rice wine) but stronger.
We were told that the last hour would be boring. There aren't beautiful limestone hills but there's still a lot of green and I find it pretty, certainly not boring.
When we dock in Yangshuo, we have some time to wander around the town. It's a market day. Although we've been to so many markets, this one is smaller and feels more authentic. We enjoy our walk. The shopkeepers seem more interested in making us feel comfortable than pushing their goods on us. At one point a woman sitting in a chair sees Steve pushing me in my wheelchair. We stop behind someone because there's not enough room to get around him. Before we know it, she reaches up, taps the person who we are stopped behind and motions for him to move along so we can get through. This is quite different than what we've experienced in any other market so far. Usually, if someone is blocking us, onlookers will just stare as if they have no clue.
Yangshou Market Entertainer
As we walk through the market, we see stand after stand of similar goods. Many shopkeepers say "Hello, hello". We reply "Ni hau" and smile at them. There is a local woman, who looks as if she is blind. She's playing a traditional stringed instrument. She belongs to one of the many Chinese minorities that we have heard about. We put some money in her pot, take her picture and enjoy the music she plays.
During the ride back to our hotel, Ho gives us some more information. Concerning farms, since the 1980s, land is given to the farmers for 15 years. Then the land is reassigned, but usually to the same family. Farmers can do anything they want with the land except, build on it.
Next he demonstrates a three-part eye exercise, saying all school students learn this. First, using our thumbs, we find the acupressure point on our temples just behind the temple bone. We circle around it in one direction and then circle the other way. Second, with the index finger, we go to the same point and rub around the brow and below the eye just above the cheekbone. Finally, we put our index and middle fingers next to our noses. The index finger starts on the brow bone, closest to the side of the face. We remove our middle fingers, circle one-way for 15 seconds, and then the other way for 15 seconds. This exercise works best when done for at least one minute. We try it and it feels relaxing.
On the bus ride back, Ho offers us an optional excursion. Everyone in our group wants to do it. My cold has gotten pretty bad and my voice is quite hoarse. I sleep for most of the ride back. Luckily we get back early and can take a nap before tonight's excursion.
Steve has read about cormorant fishing. As we're getting ready for tonight's excursion, he explains what we'll see. A cormorant is a wild bird that can be trained. On command from the its master, the cormorant birds dive into the river to catch a fish. Each cormorant has its neck tied so it can't swallow its catch.
Cormorant Fishing Raft
Tonight's excursion turns out to be a treat. We go across the street from our hotel and board the boat from which we'll watch the cormorant fishing. The boat takes us out to the middle of the Li River. Two cormorant fishermen each stand on a flat raft of four boards that look like poles tied together. Each raft has a light mounted in the front. The rafts are cormorant fishing boats. Each boat has approximately six cormorant birds on it. To me, cormorants look like ducks.
At first, each fisherman puts several birds in the water. Within a minute, at least one bird comes up with a fish in its mouth and jumps onto the raft. Its master commands the cormorant to release the fish into a basket. Some of the birds automatically go to the basket and drop the fish in. Others have to be held and the fish pulled out of their mouths. Occasionally the master rewards the cormorants with a food treat small enough for the bird to swallow.
Several times, the master walks up and down the raft showing us the bird with a fish in its mouth. Cormorant fishing is done at pitch dark. I find it remarkable how well trained the cormorants are. After about half an hour of motoring up stream, a member of our group points back to the shore. We are all amazed that the boat is still across from our hotel. It has been motoring upstream, just to keep us in place.
Cormorant & Master
As we return to the dock, we see many buses parked along the road. These buses brought other tourists to see cormorant fishing. We were lucky; we only had to share our excursion with one other small group. We had no problem getting a good viewing place at the boat rail. The cormorant fishing tour boat goes out several times each night.
After our excursion, Ho tells us that cormorant fishing is no longer done for commercial gain in China. It's just demonstrated to show one of the oldest methods of fishing to those who are interested. Before coming on this trip, Steve had read a National Geographic article on Japan. The article stated that cormorant fishing is still done for the Japanese Emperor.
Dinner is quite disappointing. It's an American meal. The food is good, however in the information that Pacific Delight sent us before our tour, we were told that lunches and dinners would be Chinese. In addition, the location of the restaurant has no level access.
This morning we have a free morning. We get up somewhat late and go to breakfast. We look for a way to get into the restaurant without stairs. We even ask some of the hotel cleaning staff, thinking that they don't carry their heavy carts upstairs. No one was able to direct us. Breakfast was quite good with three types of dumplings.
As Steve and I prepare to leave the hotel, we meet Jean and Paul at the front desk. We decide to walk into the city with them. As we leave the hotel, two men on bicycles greet us. We have been warned to be careful of men on bicycles who will tell us that they want to practice English. Later, given the chance, these men will give us a sob story about being from a poor village. Then they will try to convince us to let them show us some place of interest. They are just trying to rip us off. We ignore these men.
Steve and I stroll down the streets of Guilin with Jean and Paul. We see Elephant Hill, a limestone hill, which sits in the middle of the city along the Li River. We have seen it from the bus many times, but now we can see so much more detail.
It is very picturesque. Even with all of the limestone hills we saw during the last two days, I still find it very interesting how they just rise up out of the ground.
There are a good number people bicycling through the city today. Some are pulling carts. Many people stare at me in my wheelchair, especially children. Some react positively to my smile and others just ignore my greeting. I notice that those who react positively are mostly young adults and seniors.
There are a lot of people cleaning the sidewalks. The city has undergone some renovation recently. Where refurbishing has been completed, the city is quite attractive. Along the Li River, it is much like a park. There is a pretty waterfall as we approach the busy part of town. We see a man riding a bicycle pulling a cart through the river. We wonder what the purpose of this is.
When we reach the next bridge, Jean and Paul turn back. Steve and I continue on our walk. The area we're reaching is a shopping area. We turn down a side street and see a young woman looking at us. We say "Ni hau" and she responds "how are you". There are not many tourists around and it feels nice to be actually experiencing life in this small city.
Monday in Guilin
We see many people performing their daily tasks using handheld tools or bicycle pulled carts. There are also quite a few workers carrying a pole on their shoulders from which two baskets are hung. When we reach an area which looks like construction, we decide to turn around. Once again we pass the woman with whom we earlier exchanged greetings. When we say "how are you" she says the same back to us. Steve and I notice that the skin of most people in Guilin is darker than that of the people we saw farther north.
On our way back into the hotel, we decide to stop and see the hotel garden which we heard is beautiful. It's nice but definitely designed for tourists.
Lunch today is at another hotel. I enjoy it, there's a nice variety of dumplings (no, I'm not getting tired of dumplings). Today is Yona's 50th birthday. The group presents her with a gift. She is quite thrilled and very appreciative. At the end of the meal, Ho comes to our table. He tells Steve and me that he has developed a web site and asks us a few technical questions about the web sites that we have developed. We exchange business cards.
This afternoon our group visits Fúbo Hill. Steve climbs the Hill while I wait in an attractive park like area with Linda. When Steve returns, he tells me that he counted 722 steps. He's in a sweat. He says that the climb was worth it since from the top there was a spectacular view of Guilin, the Li River and a valley beyond. Off in the distance, he saw many limestone karsts. The hill, Fúbo Jiangjun, is named after a temple built for a Han dynasty general.
As we drive to our next destination, Ho tells us that although the population of Guilin is a half-million, there are 7.5 million bicycles. Even the mayor rides a bicycle. In the summer, the workday is from 8 AM to noon, at noon there is a three-hour lunch and work resumes from 3 PM to 6 PM. Since Guilin is in a tropical area, people have a rest in the middle of the day. When it's not summer, lunch is 2 1/2 hours long.
Our next stop is Reed Flute Cave or, in Chinese, Lúdí Yán. This part of China is one of only three locations in the world, which has limestone karst caves. When we visited such a cave in Slovenia (a former province of Yugoslavia), the cave had a tram to take visitors into it. I am hoping for something similar in Guilin. I'm disappointed but not brave enough to attempt to walk the stairs and paths which are likely to be quite slippery. The cave was originally open to the public during the Tang Dynasty, 1,000 years ago. When people became rich, they buried coins in the cave. In 1958, a villager told the government that it would take four years to make the cave ready for sightseeing. The villager was correct and the cave was again opened to the public in 1962.
When our group returns, they report that the Reed Flute Cave was fantastic. Steve says that it's amazing. Multicolored lighting illuminates fantastic stalactites and stalagmites. One Grotto, the Crystal Palace of the Dragon Queen, can hold 1,000 people. During the war, the cave served as an air raid shelter and many more were crammed into it. A highlight in the cave is a slab of white rock hanging from a ledge with a large stalactite resembling a person standing opposite the stalactite. There's a story that says a visiting scholar wanted to write a poem about the cave's beauty. After a long while he had completed only two lines. While lamenting his inability to find the right words, he turned to stone.
The cave is named Reed Flute because its outside hill is covered with reeds, which can be used to make flutes. Millions of years ago, Guilin was a sea. When the earth's crust rose, so did the bottom of the sea and this area became dry land. As water flowed over broken rock, the water eroded the underground and the cave was formed. The water contained calcium carbonate. It trickled down the surrounding stone and calcium build-ups formed. Over years, sedimentation and crystallization created stalagmites and stalactites of various shapes.
As impressed as Steve was with the cave, he tells me that I made the correct decision about not attempting to see this site. It would have been extremely difficult for both of us if I had gone. Walkways were narrow and there were dimly lit stairs.
On the ride to Guilin airport, we pass a large rice field where people and water buffalo are working. The scenery is green and beautiful. Once at the airport, we have to wait until the flight is posted for check-in. We wait in the domestic lounge even though our flight is considered international.
Our next destination is Hong Kong. Several people in our group change yuan to Hong Kong dollars. The exchange rate is about the same as when we arrived in China. Finally, we move to the international area. Art and Paul stand on line for the whole group. We are required to check in our own bags. Paul returns, then so does Art. Another CITS guide will handle our luggage. Linda gets our boarding passes. We go through immigration. There is a line for "diplomats and persons who need help". We get on that line and move through quickly. The next station is security. Steve unloads our belongings onto the x-ray machine and a guard takes us through. We make a pit stop. As I reach the ladies room, so does a group of Asian women. One woman almost pushes me down to get to a stall. I say "excuse me" and she says something back to me in her language. I can only hope it was an apology.
While we wait, Steve asks Linda to see if she can get us permission for early boarding. She tells the airport staff that I need extra time to board and they approve our request. As it gets close to boarding time, we move to the gate entrance. A guard waves us back. Other people are attempting to get to the gate entrance and he turns them away. A man motions us to approach and go through the gate. Once at the ramp, he takes my wheelchair from Steve and wheels me down the ramp. We board and about five minutes later the other passengers begin boarding. It is much more comfortable for us, and I would expect for others, when I am allowed to board early.
Our flight is 55 minutes. The new Hong Kong airport is on Lantau Island, which is the only part of Hong Kong where there's any land left on which to build. The airport is the only structure there. Our local guide, Lily, gives us an overview on Hong Kong. One should bargain in the market. This will save the shopper 5 to 10 percent. Prices are fixed in department stores. In small stores, it's fine to try for a lower price. Hong Kong's population is 6,800,000. The area is 422 square miles. We cross over an expansion bridge, which at three miles, is the largest bridge of this type in the world. It's a road for cars and a railroad. Currently, the monthly rent for apartments is approximately $300 per square foot, for a total of about $2000 for one apartment. Most buildings have approximately 36 floors. The maximum allowed is 55 floors. Old buildings are being replaced.
|History of Hong Kong|
European trade with China began more than 400 years ago. As trade grew during the 18th-century, European demand for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain increased. The trade balance became unfavorable for Europeans so, backed by the British government, Europeans turned to running opium into China. Opium greatly affected the Chinese economy and created many addicts. The Chinese government was agitated and attempted to expel the foreigners. The British sent in gunboats and with only two vessels destroyed China's fleet of 29 ships. This was the start of the first Opium War. It ended in 1841 when the British signed the first Treaty of Nanjing for Hong Kong Island. In 1860, the second Opium War occurred. At its end, Kowloon Peninsula was ceded to the British. In 1898, Great Britain acquired the New Territories. The New Territories received their name because they were new to Great Britain.
Although the Island of Hong Kong and Kowloon were to be British colonies forever, the New Territories were leased to the British for 99 years. In 1984, Great Britain agreed to return the entire colony at the end of its New Territories lease, deciding that it was only fair to give all of Hong Kong back to China. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China.
Upon its return, Hong Kong was supposed to be allowed autonomy and become a Special Administrative Region or SAR. Few citizens of Hong Kong believed mainland China's reassurance that nothing would change. Many began looking for an escape, especially following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Money was also moved overseas. Following Hong Kong's return, the Chinese government disbanded the democratically elected Legislative Council, and substituted their own legislative body, the new Provisional Legislative Council. Our local guide, Lily, tells us that even with this, Hong Kong has not changed much.
At first, 150 people per day from mainland China were allowed to come to Hong Kong. In January 1999, the first incident to test Hong Kong's autonomy occurred. Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal ruled that mainland Chinese applying for residency be granted legal status if at least one of their parents was a Hong Kong resident. The new Provisional Legislative Council disagreed and requested Beijing's support to disallow the ruling. Beijing supported their legislative body.
Our hotel is the Peninsula Hotel. It is one of the best on Kowloon and we are quite pleased with our accommodations.
Today is our first day touring Hong Kong. On our way to Hong Kong Island, Lily gives us some information on what we might want to do in our free time. We have one and a half days of time to ourselves. The Regency is a good place for the Harbor view. The ferry to Hong Kong Island leaves every 15 minutes, just across from our hotel. She suggests that we take it at least twice, once each during the day and at night. There is an arts and crafts store by the ferry. Tsimshatsui East is the area where our hotel is located. Hong Kong Polytechnic University is an award-winning building. Some British names have been changed but not all. Road names have not been changed.
Lily tells us about Hong Kong and its return to China. Old buildings have no elevator and are built on high land. Beijing was able to take the railroad station from Britain. There is a wait to move from mainland China to Hong Kong but one can obtain a visa for a vacation. Once in Hong Kong, Chinese citizens must carry ID cards to prove that they are here legally. As we ride through the city, we see that drivers must be aggressive. Incase we had any question, Lily confirms this.
In the middle of the city, a cemetery plot costs $25,000. After seven years the bodies are dug up and burned. Middle-class apartments sell for $1,000 a square foot. Three years ago, the price was $2,000 a square foot but the global recession has hit Hong Kong hard. Medical costs are very low because much is paid by the government from money collected through income tax. The tallest building in Hong Kong has 78 floors. Buildings with sharp edges are no good for chi, the Chinese life force. Most people prefer to live high on a mountain or close to the ocean. Chinese were not allowed to move to mountain peaks before 1928.
First, we drive up Victoria Peak. Steve has been here before and I have seen his best pictures of Victoria Peak. I am disappointed. We go up too early in the day so fog still covers Hong Kong Island and our view is very gray. I find parts of the visitor complex on Victoria Peak quite attractive. I enjoy a man made fountain. Lily tells us that we can get here by ferry, then take a shuttle bus and get a tram at the bank. The last ferry returns to Kowloon at 11:30 PM. Victoria Peak is supposed to be the most fashionable place to live on Hong Kong Island and has been since the British came to Hong Kong. The British built summer houses here to escape the heat and humidity, since it's usually about five degrees cooler.
As we ride to our next destination, Lily gives us more information. There are no chickens in Hong Kong now. They were killed because of the flu. There is a 105% import tax on cars. The Government sells vehicle license numbers. Buyers want a number that will bring them good luck. Good numbers are 8, which means peace, and 9, which means longevity. The numbers 4 and 7 are unlucky because they relate to death. For seven years one is buried and there are seven courses in a funeral meal. Coins have a flower which means future. Any coins with the Queen on them are collectibles. Lily has a Chinese Hong Kong passport and a British passport.
The year of the dragon is considered the luckiest so most babies are born in it. Today Hong Kong's birthrate is .8%. Ninety-eight percent of Hong Kong's population is Chinese. Official languages are English and Cantonese. Mandarin is also taught. One says good with thumbs up and "ho". Thank you is "um goi" and good morning is "jo son". Students under 15 must go to school and 62% wear glasses.
Aberdeen Fishing Village
Our next stop is the Aberdeen Fishing Village. Steve and I were quite surprised to see this on our agenda. When he visited Hong Kong in 1990, he was told that the Aberdeen Fishing Village was going to be closed and reclaimed, sadly ending another mode of life. We are glad to see that this did not happen. According to the Lonely Planet guide on Hong Kong published in January 2001, there are still several thousand people who live and work on the junks. We board a small boat and cruise through the Harbor.
Steve remarks that is it much smaller than he remembers. He remembers more houseboats and fewer yachts. My memory of his pictures agrees with his statements. It looks like the people who fish don't always live on their boats. While we see some boats that have signs that they are homes, many boats look more recreational. Still, I find this an interesting experience. Later we learn that larger boats are docked permanently; people use smaller boats for fishing. They go out fishing for 10 to 15 days. When they return, they stay in the harbor for 60 days. Our boat captain gives Jean a chance to try steering the boat. Jean is hesitant but she does fine. Lily tells us that most people in Aberdeen have washing machines, cell phones and other modern conveniences on board their boats.
There are eight harbor areas with approximately 3,000 people who fish. There used to be 50,000 people. The next generation is educated and most do not want to fish. In the past, people who lived in the fishing boats were not allowed on land.
We pass public housing for low-income people. Forty years ago there was a fire in this housing. In one month, it was rebuilt but without bathrooms. Later bathrooms were added. To get into public housing, one must have lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years and meet income limits. The maximum income limit for a family of three people is $2,000 per month. Rent is $200 per month. Private housing is at least four times as much. Once they're in public housing, some residents make well over the income limit and keep their apartments. They are able to do this by telling the officials that they are looking for a place to move. Unemployment is approximately 4%. The maximum tax is 15%, paid by only a small number of people. There's no welfare, if one doesn't work the government won't support you. Inflation is 1.2%. Coffee and golf are not popular with Hong Kong residents because they cost too much. The Japanese come to Hong Kong to play on the golf courses.
About 50% of Hong Kong people are Taoist/Buddhist. Many believe that there are two ways to find out if they will get a fortune. One is to shake a stick and get a number. If the number is good, he or she is destined to earn a fortune. The second way is to go to a fortuneteller and show the fortuneteller his/her hand. If one is male, the fortuneteller will look at the first line on one's palm. This is a life line. If one is female, the fortuneteller looks at the second line on the right hand. This is the business line.
Our next stop is Stanley Market. The market is busy and the streets surrounding it are more interesting than what is inside. The inside stalls seem to be selling more touristy junk than goods that residents would use in their everyday lives. Perhaps I feel this way because we've been to so many markets and I'm getting tired of them. Steve and I only walk the main aisles because the others are either too narrow or up steep hills. Lily tells us that if we want something of good quality, it's better to buy around our hotel than in the market.
As we're walking around the market, we meet Carolyn and Chalmers. They tell us that if we walk outside, beyond the end of the covered area, there is a pleasant scene. We do so and see a father and his young son fishing on a jetty. When we return to our hotel, we decide to go to one of the stores nearby. We need cough medicine. Lily suggests Watson's department store, which is about two blocks from our hotel. We walk down Nathan Street because Steve wants to see the hotel in which he stayed 11 years ago. When we see it, he says it still looks as sleazy as it did then.
There are several steps to get into Watson's but then there is an elevator. The salespeople are very helpful and they understand English. This afternoon we have time to ourselves. Steve and I walk around the streets a bit. Although Steve says that the signs overhanging the streets are much more modernized, I enjoy seeing them and take quite a few pictures.
Tonight's dinner is on our own but our group decides to go out together. For cocktails, we go across the street from our hotel to the Regency Hotel which has a lounge overlooking the Harbor and Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong Island At Sunset
We have dinner at the cultural center next to the Regency. It's a little tricky finding a route without stairs. The path with stairs was so long that we leave our group as they start down the stairs and we catch up with them as they reach the bottom.
Once in the restaurant, we are given one menu for 10 people. Eventually, a staff member brings more. As a group we order a variety of foods including fish, eggplant, fried rice, peking duck, fried shrimp, and shark fin soup with crab. It is all very good. I suggest a desert which sounds good and its picture looks interesting, pinecone cakes. It's a green tasteless pastry shaped like a pinecone with a bean paste inside. No one likes it, including me. We also order the second desert suggested by another member of our group, glutinous rice with coconut juice. I like this one. It's nice to go out to dinner with our tour group, independent of Pacific Delight's choices.
Today is our first free day since we began the tour almost three weeks ago. Unfortunately, the weather is rainy so it curtails our activities. We make the best of the rainy weather and sleep in. Our Lonely Planet guidebook recommends Dim Sum as something that can't be missed in Hong Kong. We use the book to locate a nearby restaurant. When we get outside it's not raining too hard. As we walk down the road which we thought would get us there, we run into construction. We find another route. Soon the rain is coming down hard.
We reach our destination, the shopping arcade mall, Harbor City 700 which houses the Eastern Palace Chu Chow Restaurant. There is a sign which reads "Assistance for Disabled, ring bell" in front of a staircase. Steve rings the bell and a voice answers. Steve explains that he's with someone in a wheelchair and would like to get into the shopping arcade. The person answers please wait a few minutes for help.
In a very short time a guard comes and, by an outside route, walks us to the other side of the Mall, then down a loading pier. Finally we get to an elevator. It's good to be inside and out of the rain. The guard takes us up one floor, and then departs. We walk towards the Eastern Palace and find a directory. We continue for a while, and then Steve goes to scout to make sure were going in the right direction. The guard who brought us up to this floor passes me. I ask him about the restaurant and he directs me. We go up four stairs and another guard takes us to another elevator.
We're seated right away. After we make our choices from the menu, we signal that we would like to place our order. Mostly everyone in the restaurant is speaking Chinese. Several waiters and waitresses say okay but it's quite some time before anyone comes to take our order. We're just about to walk out when a waitress arrives. We have sticky rice in lotus leaves, shrimp dumplings, pork and scallion dumplings. The waitress tells us that one will take 20 minutes to prepare. The others come in approximately 10 minutes. The food is excellent even though we're disappointed that we order from a menu instead of from carts or trays as is typical of Dim Sum. It's a very busy restaurant. It seems like we wait forever to get our check. When we receive it, it's unclear whether the amount at the bottom of the check is tax or a service charge. The check is also in Chinese. The service was so bad that we don't leave a tip. We only hope that we weren't automatically charged one.
On our way out of the shopping arcade, we pass a shop of Chinese figurines and vases. I have been looking for a specific type of figurine for most of the trip. It looks like this shop may have these "mud figures", so I go in and ask if they have any figurines doing tai chi. The salesperson pulls out two men figurines. I ask if she has any women. She tells me that the women figurines have just been discontinued but she has two left. I choose one. Steve comes in and tells me that he prefers the one I didn't choose. After reconsidering, I decide to get the one that Steve likes. The prices of merchandise in this store are very reasonable, approximately half of what I saw yesterday in Stanley market.
Next we go to the Space Museum. It is pouring rain and we arrive soaked. We start on the ground floor where there is one exhibition hall, the Hall of Space Science. Many exhibits are interactive, geared for children. Steve tries a few that are not crowded and I watch him. We're somewhat disappointed that we find little of interest for people our age. Since the weather is so bad today, there are a lot of children at the museum.
Construction of the museum started in 1977. Commissioned in October 1980, it was the first local planetarium and it increased the popularity of astronomy and space science. It has an east and west wing. The east wing contains an egg-shaped dome which has come to be a famous landmark in Hong Kong. Under the dome is the Space Theater, the Hall of Space Science, rooms for workshops and offices. The west wing contains the Hall of Astronomy, a Lecture Hall, the Gift Shop and more offices. The Space Theater has the first Omnimax film projector in the Eastern Hemisphere. The museum also claims that it was the first planetarium in the world to have a fully automated control system, which is in the Space Theater.
We're about halfway through the exhibits when it's time for the planetarium Omnimax show. A guard escorts us to an elevator. A theater staff member shows us to our seats. This is the first time I've seen a working person with any type of physical impairment. He has a minor but noticeable limp. Once we reach our seats, we put on the headphones and choose the station with the English translation.
The show, Solar Max, is awesome and it lasts 40 minutes. This subject is man's quest for knowledge about the mysterious power of the sun, from ancient times to the present. The photography was incredible. We see a direct image of the sun through the eye of a large format film camera. The Solar and Heliospheric Observer captured the images. Some shots are from the x-ray eyes of the TRACE satellite while others were filmed by the projecting images on the floor of the solar telescope observatory at Kitt Peak in Arizona. The movie examines man's changing perception of the sun through history. We see how the successive views of Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler each changed the world's perception of the sun.
After the wonderful show, we return to our hotel room. I use the hotel supplied hairdryer, to attempt to dry my rain soaked sneakers. This morning we washed the clothes that we plan to wear tomorrow. It's so humid that they aren't drying. We're a bit concerned since we're at the end of our trip and very low on clean clothes. We use the hairdryer on our wet clothes.
Tonight at 7 PM, our tour group meets for our farewell dinner. It's time to say goodbye to our wonderful group, one of the best with which we've ever traveled. We will miss them, but we're glad that we're staying on an extra two days. Linda eats with us tonight. As a group, we discuss what we liked best. Most of us say Beijing and Shanghai. We wish Dan a happy birthday. Chalmers buys the wine for tonight's dinner and gives the toast. He begins by toasting Paul and Jean, saying that they are two Republicans who lasted with eight Democrats. He also mentions that our group was so congenial. Linda says that we were her best group. It is a happy, yet sad good bye. Happy because we are all parting as friends and hopefully we'll visit each other, but sad because our time together is ending.
Before our trip, Candy, a friend of ours who grew up in Taiwan, sent us a list of foods that she likes and suggested we sample if we got the chance. Most of the list is written in Chinese. Unfortunately, throughout the trip, we have not had much choice in selecting our foods. However, Linda has assured us that we have had a good sampling of Chinese food. I show her our list and ask her to tell me which of the selections we've had. Of the 31 listed, we've tasted 13. Here's how the list breaks down.
|Food Type||On List||We Tasted||Translation, When Known|
1. Preserved duck eggs
2. Cooked rice with consistency like grits
2. Sautéed Chinese eggplant
3. Bamboo shoots with stir fried pork or beef
|Specialty:||3||2||1. May/June holiday specialty|
In addition, we did not get to sample one seafood suggestion, two desert items, three types of liquor and a fruit suggestion. As for the latter, we may have had the chance to sample it but unless we can peal a fruit ourselves, we avoid fruit in countries where we have been advised to avoid water.
Carolyn has offered us her leftover Robitussin cough medicine so after dinner we go to their room to get it. She invites us to sit with them so we do for a few minutes. Carolyn and I could talk for a few hours but Steve and Chalmers get us to stop after what they claim is a reasonable amount of time. Carolyn's daughter lives approximately 40 minutes from us. For the last several years, she's worked in the visiting nurses association in Monmouth County, where I use to live. Isn't it a small world?
We have breakfast at the hotel and enjoy it very much. We see Art and Beth again and say another round of goodbye. They live in New York City, which is not that far from where we live. We hope to see them again. Steve makes a quick trip to Watson's department store to pick up a few items.
Before our trip, we arranged an excursion to visit Macau. A Grayline guide, Jimmy, meets us in our hotel lobby. We're the only people scheduled for this afternoon, so we'll have a private tour. When Jimmy drops us off at the boat terminal, he tells us several times that when we return, we are to go through the departure gate and take the elevators which are to the right of the escalators. Then we should get off on the ground floor and walk towards the 7-11 convenience store. Our return turbojet is at 9 PM, not earlier. He gives us many instructions and repeats each one several times. He's nice but overly concerned that we don't understand what he's trying to tell us. He explains that check-in is on floor 3, and then we have to go to immigration on floor 2. Next we have to take the escalator to floor 1 and get on the turbojet at gate 5. He points us to check-in and leaves. He has given us a paper with his name and phone number in case we have trouble at any time.
We go to check-in and the officials ask us to wait. An official accompanies us to immigration, then to the elevator and down one floor. Then he asks us to wait. We wait until last to board. The turbojet is really rocking so Steve and I plan our approach. When it's our turn to board, the crew takes over and I'm carried on to the turbojet like an Empress in her carriage. The steward offers us drinks for sale. I have a San Miguel beer since it's a bit of a family history and I tell Steve the story. The first plane trip that I ever took without an adult accompanying me was to California with my sister, Ann. I was in high school. Our Aunt Jean had just retired from the Navy and we were going to stay with her. My father decided to send her a bottle of San Miguel beer. My Mother took us to the airport and requested that she be allowed to take us down to the gate. At that time, carry on bags were searched by hand. When security began to search our bags, my Mother greatly embarrassed us by explaining everything slightly unusual in our carry on bags. When they got to the beer, she explained how her sister had just retired from the Navy after 20 years, that she had been stationed in the Philippines during her career and that "my husband, the girls' father, is sending this beer to my sister."
We're not on the newest type of turbojet but it still travels at an incredible speed. Turbojet is the Chinese term for what we call a hydrofoil. We pass many of Hong Kong's smaller islands. It's a pretty ride which lasts approximately an hour.
|History of Macau|
In 1516, Portuguese aboard ships were the first Europeans to reach China. They set up a trade mission in Macau. To reward the Portuguese for getting rid of pirates, China ceded Macau to Portugal. Macau became a principal meeting place for trade with China. During the 19th-century, European and American traders could only operate in Guangzhou, during the defined trading season. In the low season they went to Macau. During the opium wars, the Portuguese did not take sides. This left Macau as poor and unexciting, when compared to Hong Kong.
Until its return to China in 1999, Macau was the oldest European settlement in Asia. Macau was returned to China on December 20, 1999. The People's Republic of China National People's Congress established a mini-constitution. It sets forth the systems that will exist within Macau. Like Hong Kong, Macau was given Special Administrative Region status and will govern itself for 50 years. Portuguese will continue to be one of the official languages. Implementation of Chinese policies is also set forth. A Chinese politician was named as chief executive. Today Macau is most famous for its casino gambling.
We meet our local tour guide, Florence, and proceed to a small bus, which will be our mode of transportation while on Macau. Florence gives us some information about Macau. She says it is 21 square kilometers, although Lonely Planet states that it's only 16 square kilometers. Macau has a population of 500,000. Taipa Island is a new residential development with four-bedroom condominiums. The average monthly salary is $450. There are no taxes because the revenue from casinos pays for services provided by the government. One man, Stanley Ho, owns all 11 casinos. He's 78 years old and has four wives whose age's range from 48 to 72. Having more than one wife is illegal, except for Stanley Ho. Seventy percent of the Macau population is Buddhist or Taoist.
As we drive to our first stop, Florence points out the statue of Goddess Maria. The statue represents the friendship between the Portuguese and Macau people. Our first stop is Our Lady of Penha Church, a church that is no longer used, located on the second highest point of Macau. We can see most of Macau from here. It is a very nice view. The church is cement and quite Portuguese in appearance. It is open but Florence says that the inside is nothing special, so we decide not to go in.
On the way back down the mountain, Florence points out the former Governor's mansion. The new Governor refuses to live here because, according to Chinese tradition, its color of hot pink is unlucky.
Ah Ma Taoist Temple
Next we visit the Ah Ma Taoist Temple. The name Macau means the city of God. The name comes from Ah Ma-Gau which is the Bay of Ah Ma. The Temple was built during the Ming Dynasty. Legend has it that Ah Ma, who was the goddess of seafarers, showed herself as a beautiful young woman. She saved a ship sailing to Guangzhou, from disaster merely by being present on the ship. The rich owners of the other ships in the fleet had refused her passage, so those ships were destroyed in the storm. Boat people of Macau make a pilgrimage here each year in April or May.
The original Temple was small. A second Temple was built and its size was larger. Finally a third structure was constructed as a monastery. Later it was converted to the present Temple.
I enjoy our visit to the Temple very much. The building is very colorful, both inside and out. There are bright yellow coils of incense hanging over one of the altars. Outside there is a furnace where offerings are burned. Part of each offering is a petition or prayer written on paper or paper made into the shape of what is desired. For example, if a couple wants a new home they would fold paper into a house and throw it into the furnace. Gold and silver papers represent money. Paper cars are another common offering. We see the typical Chinese lions at the entrance. There's a ball in the female's mouth. Visitors turn it three times and make a wish. There are also three beggars at the entrance but they do not bother us.
We go across the street to see the Maritime Museum. The elevator is broken so I stay on the first floor and visit the boats and fishing methods exhibit. Steve goes to the other floors but when he returns he tells me that what's there is not worth the climb. We visit the Harbor area and see the outside of old buildings where fishermen live.
As we ride along a road which faces mainland China, Florence tells us that before Macau was returned to China, Chinese would swim to Macau to escape from China. We pass a barbed wire fence. This is the former border between mainland China and Macau.
Today it's easy to get a visa. Approximately 1,200 Chinese migrate to Macau each month. Macau has more men than women so it's common for men to go to China to find a wife. It's inexpensive for Chinese to obtain a visitor's visa to come to Macau. However when they cross the border, officials collect a large deposit which is refundable when one returns.
We stop at a jewelry store and Florence encourages us to look around. We do but just for a few minutes. When we get back on the minibus, Florence shows us a package of Maucau souvenirs. She tells us that our bus driver sells these. He does not make much money so he needs to supplement his income. Steve says that we're not interested. I ask if there's an open package so I can see if I'm interested in what's inside. She opens the package and as I look through the postcards and other items, I think that it might be nice to have. Later Steve says that if I really want it, I should bargain for it. I get the price down a little and purchase it.
St. Paul's Cathedral Facade
We visit one of Macau's most famous sites, the facade of St. Paul's Cathedral. Designed by an Italian Jesuit priest, it was built from 1602 to 1637 by Japanese refugees who fled persecution of Christians in Nagasaki. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt three times. In 1853, it burned down during a catastrophic typhoon. The Cathedral has been destroyed so many times that the last time, it was decided not to rebuild it. Only the facade remains but it is quite an attraction. Steve remarks that it reminds him of the library at Ephesus in Turkey. We both find it very impressive.
From the Cathedral, we walk through some very narrow streets towards the Town Square. The buildings are old. We see local people, mostly teenagers. To me, this short walk has a feeling of authenticity.
As we walk, Florence tells us about the educational system in Macau. A child goes to kindergarten from age 2 1/2 to 5. There are two educational systems. One system teaches Portuguese and the other teaches Chinese and English. From ages 16 through 17, a student goes to secondary school. If he or she plans to go to the University, the student attends this level of school for an additional year. Macau has one University where students earn Bachelor of Art degrees in art or law. Classes are taught in English.
When we arrive at the Town Square, I am amazed at what I see. The ground is paved with white and gray bricks, which form a pattern of wavy lines. It is quite different from anything we've ever seen and it seems garish to me. However, as I spend time in the square I find that I like it. The square is beautiful. In this area, Portuguese architecture is very pronounced. It's interesting to see the mix of Portuguese architecture with east and west colors and Chinese characters. As we leave the square, we walk through a commercial area. Most people are in business dress. We see many new buildings.
As we ride to our next destination, Florence tells us that Chinese consider the monkey to be a symbol of intelligence. Children sometimes eat monkey brains, thinking this will enhance their intelligence. In the winter, some Chinese people eat dog because they believe this will keep their bodies warm.
Florence tells us that there are more than 80,000 vehicles on Macau including mopeds. Before 1970, there were only 5,000 vehicles. Macau's main source of revenue is tourism. Casinos are the major attraction. Stanley Ho is worth $1 billion. Unemployment is 7.6%. Many of Macau's factories moved to China because labor is cheaper on the mainland. Many Macau women do their household grocery shopping in China because prices are lower.
Next we're scheduled to visit a casino. Since our home is only a short way from Atlantic City, which is a city with many casinos, we aren't interested in spending a lot of time in the casinos of Macau. As we enter, we go through security, which is very tight. We walk through metal detectors and put our bags through scanning machines. It seems even tighter than at most airports. This casino is somewhat level; however every so often there are a few steps. We see several prostitutes. In Macau this is a legal profession.
We play a slot machine, starting with $50 Hong Kong. On his first try, Steve wins $15. We play until we've lost the $50 and Steve's $15. It didn't take too long. I never really cared for slot machines. I prefer five card draw. At one point, I look around to see if they have this type of machine. I don't see any until we are on our way out. For a short while, we watch a Chinese game called Dai Siu, which translates, in English, to High Low. The players bet on whether three dice will roll high (more than 13) or Low.
Dinner is next at a Portuguese restaurant on Taipa Island. Florence brings us into the restaurant and stays until we are seated. We are disappointed that she is not going to dine with us. We enjoy her company. We are served a lot of food. It is an open-air restaurant, so there is no air-conditioning. At first, we enjoy the fresh air but by the end of the meal I'm too warm. The meal is enjoyable but the sangria and desert are most memorable.
After dinner, we return to the turbojet terminal and Florence leaves us at check-in. An official escorts us through immigration and to the turbojet. This time we're first to board and Steve rolls me, in the wheelchair, onto the turbojet with minimal help from the staff.
We discuss our day and impressions of Macau. In comparison to the other places we visited during our trip, Macau is quite uncrowded. The people have many western features. We have enjoyed the day and are very glad that we came.
Today is the final day of our vacation. Since we're still trying to get over our colds, we sleep in. However, we get up in time to enjoy the hotel breakfast. Steve has a headache and wants to wait to go out until he feels better. We leave our hotel room at 1 PM and walk to the harbor, across the street from our hotel, to take a few photographs. Throughout our trip, the sky has been gray. We agree that this will be a good illustration of the pollution level.
We decide to take a walking tour of Hong Kong Island, since this was Steve's favorite part of his trip to Hong Kong 10 years ago. We go to the ferry terminal. Although it's on the lower level, access is quite good until we get to the gangplank, which has raised strips of medal about every six inches. Someone helps by pulling the front of the chair. The ramp up to the gangplank also had these raised strips. Steve uses a 3-foot wide path without the strips, on the sides of the ramp. The ride to Hong Kong Island is about 10 minutes
Once off of the ferry, we look for a route which will take us to the place our walking tour starts. Most people cross the street using an overpass but we don't find a way to get to the overpass that doesn't have at least one flight of stairs. After a while, we locate a road without too much traffic and cross it. The streets of Hong Kong Island are busy with business. I find it interesting to experience walking around on our own.
Typical Hong Kong Island Street
Our walking tour, called Converging Cultures: Central & Western District, starts at the Western Market. We walk in its general direction, checking street signs and passing many small stores. The streets are not very crowded. Finally we arrive at the market. It is a red brick building of English Edwardian architecture blended with functionalism. Its three stories seem dwarfed by the high-rise buildings that surround it. Built in 1906, it was converted to small shops and restaurants in 1991.
Since there is no elevator, I walk around the first floor, where there are a lot of small stores selling souvenirs. Steve explores the other two floors. The second floor is women's clothes and the third is a restaurant. He's not too impressed.
We head out towards the second stop, Des Voeux Road West. Originally this road was called Harborside Avenue, when it was next to the harbor. In 1904, it received its present name, that of Hong Kong's British governor from 1887 to 1891. Harbor reclamation moved the street inland. In 1904, old-style mass transit vehicles used this road. Trams began to run, linking the north shore of Hong Kong Island from east to west. This system is still in use today. Stop three of our walking tour is a group of streets called Nam Pak Hong. Our brochure describes it as a typical "Chinatown" neighborhood of market streets and warehouses with exotic aromas and a vast range of imported foods from China and southeastern Asia.
Within 15 minutes, we realize that we've reached a very steep hill. Steve pushes up, hard. At the top, we check the street sign and see that we're at stop 4. We missed stops 2 and 3. Steve checks our walking tour pamphlet to see what they were. We would like to have seen them but to do so, we'd have to go down the hill and back up so we decide to skip them. The road sign for Procession Street is the site where a British Royal Navy Captain came ashore in January 1841, put up the Union Jack and claimed Hong Kong Island for his country. This also used to be a shoreline. The island was mostly barren and few of Hong Kong's population of 5,500 lived in this area.
Stop 5 is called Hollywood Road. It's a road going east west with a lot of little shops and it slopes upward for a way. Steve sees a luggage shop. Since we have been looking for an extra suitcase lock, he goes into the shop. Unfortunately he does not find one. The road somewhat reminds me of our first day in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where every half block there were several steps. I'm grateful that on Hollywood Road, it's not quite as steep and there aren't as many steps.
We look up and down the side streets. Our brochure suggests wandering some of them to see traditional Hong Kong culture. We decide against it because on both sides of the road there are many steps and the hills are much too steep for me. I suggest that Steve leave me and take a look but he declines. I am disappointed because the side streets seem more interesting than the repetitious antique and curio shops of Hollywood Road. We pass the entrance to a road which is labeled Sun Yat-sen Trail. We'd like to take it but there are too many stairs.
Man Mo Taoist Temple
We easily find stop 6, the Man Mo Taoist Temple. From the outside, it looks quite interesting and I am delighted that we are able to find an entrance with only one step. There is a cute cat sitting outside the entrance. We remark to each other that we are at the point in our trip where we're looking forward to getting home and seeing our three cats. It's not as vibrant as the Taoist Temple we saw in Macau. It's also different from most other Taoist temples that we've seen. There is not much outside nor are their many worshipers inside. As we enter we smell incense burning from the large yellow hanging coils in the ceiling.
As we leave the temple, we see a class trip. I estimate that the children are about 10 years old. They don't seem to be curious about me in the wheelchair. I welcome their lack of attention.
We are happy when finally Hollywood Road starts to slope downward. We look for a road that goes toward the harbor, but at a gentle angle. We see a road on the map that looks like it will take us where we want to go. However, when we reach it, it appears too steep and trafficy. Steve is concerned about losing his grip on my wheelchair. His hands are quite wet from sweating, which makes it difficult to hold onto the wheelchair. With this type of slope, he pulls back on the wheelchair more than pushing it. Finally, we find a road with decent slope. I think "Daddy must be looking out for us" because the name of the road is Lynnhurst Terrace. My father grew up in Lynnhurst, NJ. This road also takes us to stop 7, the Hillside link of the 800-meter escalator, which goes from the vehicular ferry pier to the central-mid levels, enroute to Victoria Peak. Our brochure says that this is the world's longest covered outdoor people mover, which is made up of escalators and moving walkways. It goes downhill from 6 AM to 10 AM, and uphill from 10:20 AM to midnight. In this area, we also see many restaurants offering different types of western food.
Since we heard about the very long Hong Kong Island escalator, Steve has been teasing me about trying to take me up the escalator in my wheelchair. We've never before taken the wheelchair on an escalator. I am relieved that we're at the end of our walking tour and he's more interested in reaching the ferry before rush hour. Just to be on the safe side, I remind him that what goes up must come down.
Without even trying to get there, we end up at stop 8, Central Lanes, a market of narrow alleys. Our brochure says that the alleys are packed with stalls and shops selling cheap, casual clothes, leather goods and knick-knacks. We're not really interested in any of this. We've seen so many shops, that it won't bother us to skip a few.
Our next challenge is to find a route across busy Connaugt Road Central. Above us there is a walkway but once again we don't see any way to get to it without stairs. We find a building with elevators but none of them appear to go up only one level. We ask the guard/receptionist how we can get up to the walkway. She calls a guard who takes us up an elevator which requires a key to get on. Once we're on the elevator, he won't let anyone else on. We go up one floor and walk for a few minutes only to reach a quarter flight of stairs going down. We're impressed to see that there's a chair lift but, of course, it requires a key. Three guards attempt to get it working but none of them are successful. I'm ready to walk down the stairs but Steve has me stay in the wheelchair. He and the guards take me down. We're down on the same level as the ferry terminal and we reach the terminal with ease, retracing the path we took this morning. At one point, Steve says that we're in the old Hong Kong airport. I can see why they built a newer one, which is 10 times bigger.
The ferry is more crowded than the one we took earlier but it's still okay. By the time we're ready to get off, the boat is really bouncing and I'm concerned about disembarking. Steve and a deck hand easily get me off. I have been looking for a few last token items to bring home. We pass a candy/snack shop. When I return from vacation, I like to bring some sample of local food to work, so I purchase a few snacks. Finally, I proclaim that my souvenir gift shopping is done!!
We return back to our room to freshen up. Then we go to our Hotel's High Tea. Since the hotel restaurant is located in an open area within the lobby, we've seen the Tea on several occasions. It's looked very appealing and several people have told us "don't leave without trying it." Today we do so and it's delicious and interesting. We order scones, cheese sandwiches and interesting candy served on a three-tiered dish and, of course, tea. There are many types of tea from which to choose. All of this is served in the Peninsula Hotel's elegant style.
Steve remarks that it looks like rain may come tonight. We planned to take some photographs after dark. We also wanted to explore the upper floors of our hotel, so after tea we decide this is a good time. We look for a good place to take our photos within the hotel. The highest floor that we can reach (without a key) is 26. I am surprised because I have read about a restaurant/bar on the 28th floor. The 26th floor contains guest suites and there are no windows from which to take pictures. We go to the floor on which the pool is located. I had seen a photo which showed a harbor view from the pool. We decide this is a good view and find a roof platform so we can get out beyond the glass.
We stop on floor 7, just to check out one more view. While Steve goes up some stairs and outside, I find myself standing by the spa door. I go in to obtain a list of what they offer so I can compare it to what we've seen in China and to what I'm familiar with at home. I am particularly interested in this subject because I've designed and maintain www.bmslearning.com, a web site for a massage certification school and massage/spa practice located in New Jersey. When Steve returns, he says "why don't you get a massage, since I have to finish postcards?" I am surprised to see that the prices are not too expensive, close to what they are at home, so I check to see if I can get an appointment. There's no opening for a massage but there is an opening for a half-hour of reflexology and I book it. This session starts with the reflexologist, Bernard, washing my feet with some commercial cleanser. Then he starts the reflexology, working on the bottom of my feet then moving on to the top and sides. He does the ankles, calves and shins. At first, I find Bernard works a bit too hard. I ask him to work a little lighter and he does. Afterwards my feet feel wonderful. I ask Steve if he wants to go out dancing. He doesn't. Oh well, no surprise.
When I get back to the room, Steve still has a few more things to do and my feet feel so good that I decide to visit the shops in the Shopping Arcade attached to our hotel lobby and mezzanine. I go in search of a suitcase lock. There are several shops which sell accessories and luggage. I try many of them. One salesperson suggests that I try the shops by the train station. That is farther than I am willing to go so I keep looking in the shops within the arcade. Finally, I find one. It is expensive but all of the shops I've visited were quite upscale. I am just happy to find one. Next I decide to look for a hair clip and I go across the hotel lobby, to the other side of the arcade. I have trouble explaining what hair clip is. I find a salesperson who is wearing one. When she understands what I want, she suggests that I try Watson's, the general, middle-class department store which we had been to a few days ago. Since this is several blocks from the hotel, I give up and return to our room.
Hong Kong Island At Night
When I reach our room, Steve is ready to go on our last photo shoot. He's impressed that I found a lock for our suitcase. It's not raining so we go outside to take our pictures. We start at the Harborside. Hong Kong Island is all lit up and although I've seen it several times before, I still find it breathtakingly beautiful. However, the lights don't seem as bright to me as they were the other night. I take quite a few pictures and hope that they will come out to reflect what I'm seeing. Next we go over to Nathan Road. We see brightly lit signs everywhere. As we return, we notice that our hotel is also lit up and quite impressive. So is the view from our room.
Steve finishes his postcards while I gather and organize items for packing. Steve packs while I change my insulin pump line. Finally, we're done our chores and can enjoy the rest of our vacation time. We planned to go to the restaurant lounge, Felix, on the 28th floor of our hotel. During our stay at the hotel, we have tried to locate an elevator that would take us to the 28th floor. However, we had not been successful. Earlier, while I was in the shopping arcade, I found a ground floor entrance to the restaurant. It's actually a small shop front with an elevator that goes directly to the 28th floor. Since High Tea was such a filling snack, and we have been eating so much during our vacation, we decide to skip dinner and just have a final drink.
When we reach the 28th floor, a hostess greets us. We tell her that we want drinks and she directs us up a half flight of stairs. I look at this flight of circular stairs and realize this won't be an easy climb. I suggest to Steve that we ask if we can be seated elsewhere. He points out that the restaurant is crowded so our chances are slim. Beside, this is our last night and he wants me to make the effort. It isn't an easy climb and once upstairs, it's a disappointment. There are two small rooms with very few chairs and only one long table with chairs. It would have been better to order an appetizer and drinks in the dining room. Oh, well. We find a seat on a cushioned bench which circles the bar. It isn't a sleazy bar but I wonder how many people are here to be picked up. Steve and I discuss what we liked about our trip, what we didn't like and what we'll write in a feedback letter to Pacific Delight. We both agree that it's been a good vacation, but could have been better if we had more free time.
Today we go home. We arise extra early to make sure we have enough time to have breakfast, settle our account and meet our escort who will take us to the airport. Since we've really enjoyed the breakfasts at the Peninsula Hotel and they're included, I don't want to skip it. My favorite new breakfast item is Birchermuesli, a mostly liquid yogurt topped with a flaky white cereal, berries and raisins. I keep telling Steve that I want a recipe for this. Coffee is strong, which we love. I also order a mango, scrambled egg, veal sausage and a blueberry muffin. If I don't have another decent meal until we get home, I'm set.
We settle our account and go to the reception area a little early. Our escort is late but we're not in panic mode yet. We both get a little nervous before flying because getting through security and obtaining a pre-boarding pass is not always easy. Arnold, our escort, is quite helpful. When we arrive at the airport, we head towards Economy Class check-in. Arnold directs us to Business Class. The clerk not only takes our check-in luggage but he tags our carry-ons and tags my wheelchair for gate check-in.
We've been warned that Hong Kong airport is very strict, allowing one carry-on and a purse per person. We each have a carry-on. I have one bag which we're told can be my purse and Steve has his camera bag which will be his purse. We're both wearing a fanny pack. Nothing is large, but I'm still a bit nervous. We have no problem. The clerk directs Steve to take me about 12 feet from her station and wait for an official to escort us through security. We wait approximately 20 minutes and no one comes. Steve goes to report this and the clerk is surprised. She calls for an escort again. In approximately five minutes, a man comes and takes our boarding passes and passports. He requests that we wait a few more minutes. As we're getting anxious he reappears with our documents.
Escorted by the airport official, we follow the route labeled "Staff Only". Even though there is a group of flight staff ahead of us, we go through immigration rather quickly. Next is security, which includes a metal detector. I'm not surprised that I set it off. I'm searched and questioned about my stuffed pockets. Following signs to our designated gate, we go up one elevator, then down another to a tram. Finally we reach the gate, with only 15 minutes before boarding time. Steve asks if I need to use the ladies room. I do and even though it's not for men, our escort follows me. I tell him I'm okay and he turns back. There is a separate restroom for people with disabilities. I am nicely surprised that it's wonderfully set up. Such an accessible set up has been rare on this trip.
When I come out, Steve and the escort meet me and we go to the gate entrance. In a few minutes, we pre-board. The crew has an aisle wheelchair ready but they move away when we tell them that I don't need it. Our seats are fairly roomy but when the woman sitting next to us boards, she tells me that the under-seat storage is hers. I look and see that for four seats, the storage is divided into three spaces. I have Steve's camera bag and she has a large backpack and purse but we share. Soon after she settles in, she becomes very fidgety.
It's announced that there aren't enough sodas and orange juice loaded so it will run out soon. When the drink cart comes, I get a screwdriver before the orange juice runs out. At first, my audio doesn't work but eventually it does. The flight is long and the woman sitting next to me doesn't seem to understand the concept of personal space. She appears to be from India, wearing a garment that looks like a Sari. She often throws part of it onto my arm or my lap. Steve realizes that I'm uncomfortable. When I get up, he offers to take a turn sitting next to her. Afterward, he agrees with my assessment and feelings about our neighbor.
We land one hour early. We're escorted to the domestic terminal where we see a flight to our final destination, JFK airport, listed on the flight board. The escort takes us to this gate and leaves us. It's approximately three hours until our flight so we walk around the terminal. I need a new book to read on the way home, so we stop in a bookstore. I just finished Spring Moon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I look at books of authors who I've read and enjoyed. I see the Joy Luck Club and wonder if I'll tire of Chinese stories. I purchase it anyway.
Steve checks our boarding passes to see what time boarding begins only to realize that we missed our flight by one-hour. He goes to the gate clerk to see if he can get us on the flight for which we thought we were scheduled. He's back in a few minutes and says it was no problem. Boarding is delayed because the maintenance crew is replacing the pilot's seat. It's announced that this is a light flight so we should still be there on time. When we board, the steward says he wants to move us up a few rows. As we're settling into our new seats, he returns and asks if we would like to move to Business Class. We say no problem and start to move. When we arrive at our new row, he comes back one more time and instructs us to move up once again. Now we're in first class! The stewardess assigned to first class tells us that we're very lucky because it's extremely rare that anyone gets bumped up two classes.
Once we're in the air, Steve uses the phone in our seat to call the car service with which we booked our ride home. He reports that we will be a hour late and tells them we had to take a later flight. We thoroughly enjoy our plane ride home, with reclining seats and menus of movies and food. When we land, we learn that our baggage was taken to a holding area so we have to wait for it to be brought out. We are quite surprised to learn that our driver was never told of our call.
When we arrive home, our three cats welcome us.
[As a follow-up to the limousine mishap, I want to include a warning concerning Empire Limousine Service. We were surprised when I received my credit card bill and found that we were heavily charged for the extra hour that the driver waited for us. We attempted to fight this charge. We were told that the company would look into it and call us with the results. We never received at call. We'll never use Empire Limousine Service again.]
First, I want to give credit to Lonely Planet: China. Much of the history which I've included in this journal was taken from this book. Lonely Planet is our favorite series of guidebooks. We rely on it not only while we're traveling but also as we're making our decisions on places we plan to visit.
Overall China is a wonderful and interesting destination. Currently it's going through a period of rapid change. While the economy has become capitalist, politics remain Communist. It will be interesting to see if this dichotomy will persevere. We saw a mixture of traditional architecture, beautiful modern skyscrapers and much in-between these extremes. The Three Gorges Dam Project is a good example of the dichotomy, which epitomizes China. On one hand, it will save millions of lives as it prevents the floods which destroy everything in their paths. It will also generate much-needed energy for a large part of the country. On the other hand, it is displacing people, cities and archeological treasures.
The group we traveled with could not have been better. I enjoyed everyone and look forward to continued friendship. Each person was very helpful to us, which helped to make this trip easier.
I can't say that I am pleased with the trip that Pacific Delight provided. The schedule was too tightly packed and food was generally unexciting. When Steve and I plan to travel, we usually look for a tour with a good amount of free time. While the trip itinerary did not list much free time, the days did not appear to be so packed. Most of what was left off was many of the shopping stops. We had expected that with a small group tour, there would be more flexibility in the schedule. Most of the places we ate were set up for large tour groups. Since there were only 10 of us, so we should have been able to eat in more authentic restaurants.
Our CITS guide, Linda, was a very nice woman; however she lacked enthusiasm, assertiveness and flexibility. These are traits that we've appreciated in a good guide. I wonder if all CITS guides are like this or if this is a result of Chinese communism. Was Linda pushed into a job for which she was not interested and not suited? When I didn't go into some of the buildings that were physically challenging, Linda and I spent a good deal of time together. Often she remarked that she'd like to spend more time at home and find a good spouse. She said that American men were kind and considerate and treated their wives well. All of our guides did not seem to be in a job for which they were ill suited. Some of our local guides had at least some of the qualities, which make good tour guides.
I want to relate an analogy which I believe gives an accurate picture of Chinese tourism for a foreigner. As I am completing this journal, I read a Smithsonian magazine (November 2001) article on Qufu, the birthplace and final home of Confucius. Today the Confucius Temple complex is located in a modern city. Confucius was a great philosopher and moral teacher of China. Since much of his teachings became a core part of China's dynastic government, communism has viewed Confucius as an enemy. Recently, with the relaxation of hard-line communism, Chinese find value in his teachings again.
We wanted to visit Qufu. While planning this trip, we investigated taking a short (day or two) excursion trip to Qufu, at the beginning or end of our tour. We learned that it would require at least three days. This was longer than we were willing to extend our trip. In addition, we wanted a local guide to escort us to travel to this small city in a far corner of eastern China.
Since Pacific Delight didn't offer such an excursion, our Travel Agent requested that Pacific Delight find a company to handle this. Judging from the time they took to respond and response received, our request was extremely difficult for Pacific Delight to fulfill. We were also told that the trip there would be difficult. However, the Smithsonian article states that Qufu is not very difficult to reach. Unfortunately, I think that for foreign visitors to venture outside of the standard tourist destinations is still difficult and frowned upon. However, had I read this article before our trip, I would have assessed it as an excursion well worth the trouble and insisted we go there. I believe that we would have gotten to see a piece of China unspoiled by foreign tourism.
To anyone interested in travel, I recommend a trip to China. I suggest taking such a trip as soon as possible and finding a tour which is not led by CITS tour guides. We have talked to friends who traveled to China soon after it was opened to Westerners. The stories they tell are very different from our experiences. Most of the time that elapsed between our friends' trips and ours was a time of slow change. Unfortunately, recently China's rate of change has reached a rapid pace. I strongly suggest traveling to China while some of the traditional culture, such as the hutongs, still exists. Soon, the only remaining traditional culture will be for the tourist trade. I'm glad we were able to see China before this becomes a reality.