Tuesday, September 25, 2007

 From Beijing to Tianjin, China

Kids outside the Forbidden City

Forbidden City Gate

Canal full of Duck Weed

Late Afternoon down pour

Bicycle Taxi

Hot Pot Lunch

Landlord's House

Wood Block for printing

New Old Village

Hand Mebroidery

Watching China & France wmn's soccer on big TV

We arrived in Beijing, population over 16 million, a day before our tour was to begin.   Our hotel was only a few blocks from the Forbidden City and Tian’an Men Square.  The walk was interesting, passing many high rise buildings, huge shopping malls built inside the older building exteriors, and many fancy hotels.  Within five minutes of leaving our hotel we were “befriended” by young college art students trying to lure us to expensive art shops.  They were like dogs on a bone, very hard to shake.  At the Forbidden City we were approached by independent Chinese tour guides wanting us to hire them.  We settled on Lee Bo and a price up front to be paid at the end of the tour if we were happy.  Within the first few minute we could tell he was going to try to get all that he could finagle out of us, asking us if we wanted ice cream, if we were thirsty or hungry, encouraging us to buy for ourselves so we would buy for him.  We finally relented and purchased diet soda because we were hot and thirsty and, of course, we ended up buying him a beer.  He did a fairly good job of sharing information of which we later found out some was not correct.  After the tour of the Forbidden City he took us to see the demolished houses trying to increase his time and amount of money we would pay.  He worked very hard at getting us to eat lunch because he said he had not eaten breakfast.  Surprise, surprise…..in the end he expected to be paid twice the amount agreed upon up front.  He tailed us forever trying to get the additional amount.  Live and learn! 

The day had been muggy and smoggy, but turned into dumping, and I mean DUMPING, rain around 5 p.m. on the way back to the hotel, the kind of rain that penetrates even a good rain coat.  We ducked into a large, fancy hotel, which is a great place to find a clean toilet, and tried to wait it out.  No luck, it just kept on coming down.  So we braved it to a large mall where we found Starbucks! and a wonderful Chinese bakery.  PERFECT!   By 9 p.m. we hadn’t heard from our tour guide and were beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into.  After checking with the hotel desk and finding that he had checked in, we were relieved. Later we received a call from him….. WHEW……all was well.

With only three of us plus our tour guide, this photography tour is very different from the normal tourist tour.  Karen says we are experiencing the third level of tourism, the people and the country, not necessarily the hot spots.  He was very surprised we chose this for our first tour in China since most people choose tours that focus on first level of attractions.   We’ve visited several sites where there are mostly Chinese and we three are the only Caucasians.  Keren’s relaxed style gives us the freedom we would experience traveling on our own but without the hassles.  Very comfortable.  We are staying in a variety of hotels from a 95 year old hotel to a four star hotel.  Eating a variety of food from small “hole in the wall” shops to five star gourmet dishes.  Karen is good about explaining the food, giving us opportunities to try all sorts of different Chinese dishes and watching out for our safety.  We spend time photographing interesting historical sites as well as walking around town looking for photo opportunities on the street, in parks and in shopping areas, wherever there is activity.  It’s nice to be walking so much.  We are getting the flavor of the country as well as getting our daily exercise.  It’s possible my travel skirt may still fit at the end of the tour, too early to tell yet with 15 days left.

Keren, our tour guide, is Chinese.  He moved to the Seattle area when he was 36, twenty years ago.  He’s led an adventurous life from living in a labor camp to organizing expeditions on Mt. Everest to struggling to make a living in the states to becoming a well respected photographer.  He shares many interesting stories with us along the way.  When only three people signed up for this tour instead of ten, we wondered why he did not cancel the tour.  Since photography is his main source of income he proceeds with the tour no matter how few people sign up because his focus is to take photographs he can sell.  It is fun watching these three photographers seek out shots, delight in getting great shots or “money shots” as Karen calls them, and share techniques.

Russell from Virginia, the other person on the tour, is a 65 year old retiree from AT&T and works construction part time.  He has this shaggy comb-over hanging down below his ears, wears his silk shirts open showing off some chest hair and a large jade piece on a thick gold chain, sees himself as a real ladies man, enjoys  young Chinese girls and LOVES Chinese beer.  You can envision the type.   In the evenings he enjoys going to karaoke bars when he can find them and drinking with the ladies.  In the morning we get a report of how the evening went.  He’s turned out to be interesting, a nice guy and a real hoot, game for just about anything. He’s done lots of traveling around the world so has many stories to tell.  We are enjoying our little group.

We spent one more day in Beijing visiting the Drum Tower, Bell Tower and the Lagou Bridge, also known as the Marco Polo BridgeLagou Bridge is one of the earliest segmented stone arch bridges and has been standing above Yongding River near Beijing for over 800 years.  Then we headed for Tianjin, population 10 million, to spend a couple days exploring the city, visiting a nearby town famous for woodblock carving and printing, and touring the Shi Family mansion, a 130 year old structure once owned by a landlord.  Oh, and let’s not forget the Ancient Culture Street, a recreation of an ancient Chinese street full of JUNK for sale, colorful though, with some good photo ops.  We walked the pedestrian malls and bridges day and night.  A Frap from Starbucks, $4 U.S. of course, on the pedestrian mall was very much welcomed in the heat of the afternoon.   That evening Dan and I headed back to the pedestrian mall to get some night shots.  Many people out and about.  There was a big screen on a building front in the middle of the mall showing Women’s World Cup Soccer, China playing some other team.   The intersection was full of people sitting on chairs brought from home, sitting on scooters, leaning against bicycles and sitting on the street watching and cheering on their team……. quite a site.  We especially enjoyed watching all the activity at a park near our hotel the next morning.  Chinese, young and old, but mainly seniors, exercising,  playing ping pong, groups enjoying hacky sack with a handmade “birdie” similar to one used in badmitton, but made with coins and feathers.   The majority of people in the park were in their 60’s and older.  One young college student approached us and asked us where we were from.  He spoke fairly good English and engaged us in conversation.  One of the girls with him was carrying a great tote bag I was interested in.  When I asked her where I could purchase one she offered to give me hers.  I was blown away, how generous.   I respectfully declined so they gave me the information I needed to find one like it.

We stayed at the 95 year old Grand Imperial Hotel with no elevator so we got in a step class of sorts for a few days.  The hotel was old, but clean.  Breakfast included Tofu Brain, a tasty dish of freshly made steamed tofu topped with mushroom, peanut, garlic and chili sauce.  This quickly became our favorite breakfast dish.    All three nights we stayed in Tianjin we treated ourselves to a 50 minute foot massage for the equivalent of $7 U.S. given by one of three beautiful young girls at the hotel “spa”.  Russell thought he was in Heaven!  So did we, only for a different reason.  Well, maybe just me.

The food has been interesting and extremely good.  Lots of veggies and tofu cooked many different ways, meat including lamb, chicken, pork and beef, and seafood of all types, including different types fish, baby octopus, squid and shrimp.  We have some favorites.  The Shanxi pot comes from the northern part of Shanxi Provence and is called poor people’s gathering food.  When people get together everyone brings something and they combine and cook it in a huge thick cast iron pot.  We are in hot pot Heaven!  The hot pot is similar to what Dan and I make at home, but with much more interesting sauces and “stuff” (mushrooms, greens, tofu, meat) to cook in the broth.  I’ve picked up several tips to make ours more interesting and tasty.  Since Karen lives in the Seattle area he is able to tell me where I can find many of the ingredients.  The first time we ordered hot pot Keren asked us if we would like crab.  I was the only one besides Karen that took the bait. Russell had tried it during a previous tour.  They bring you this lemon size crab, you pull the legs off and crack it with your teeth for this tiny bite of meat.   The best part was watching Karen break the crab body in half, dip it in sauce and put the whole works in his mouth.  I cleaned too many crab this summer to go there so Karen enjoyed two crab bodies that meal.  The stir fry with handmade noodles we purchased from a small shop front where you could watch them making the noodles cost $3 U.S. for four people including beer. Chinese beer is about the only drink that’s cold.  The temps have been in the mid 80’s.  I’ve developed a taste for beer! Every Provence has a different beer.  It costs 60 cents to $1 U.S. for half a litter and is sooooooo much better than the beer in the states. We ate the BEST sesame ball ever for 15 cents U.S.  In the five star restaurant we chose items to order from cases with samples of the food.  Presentation was gorgeous and the taste of everything was scrumptious with many different flavors in each dish.  The décor was quite ornate.  There was a wedding reception going on while we were eating which added more interest to the meal, not to mention the added photo opportunities. 

Next we traveled by train to Shijiazhuang which turned out to be an adventure.  Keren wanted to give us a feel for how the common people travel.  He surely did.  More than enough for now so I’ll save that for the next installment.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Shijiazhuang to Anyang to Huixian, China

Line dancing in the park

Dr. Lee and extended family and us

Shang Dynasty Ruins

Start of the fortune telling

End of the fortune

Foot massage girls(Blue dress kept calling Keren

Street bread lady

Road to Guoliang village

The Master

81 yr old farmer lady

Ancient street

Get out of here,,,gambling is illegal?

Our train trip from Tianjin to Shijiazhuang was WILD & CRAZY.  We were thankful for Keren. I doubt we would have survived the trip on our own.  No signs in English in the train station.  Karen even had a hard time figuring out where we were to wait then line up.  The line was long with many Chinese people (we were the only foreigners) carrying luggage and numerous shopping bags, farmers carrying huge grain sacks full of their belongings and empty five gallon buckets strung together, ALL of which must fit in the racks above the seats or under the seats.  We knew from the get- go it was going to be a fight for luggage space.  Jockeying for space began in line and became a fight for luggage and personal space when we boarded the train.  We followed directly behind Keren hoping not to be lost in the crowd.  Once on the train it became a shuffling act with the luggage.  Thanks to Keren we eventually had our luggage stowed close enough to keep track of.

 We had assigned seats, but were packed like sardines in a can, along with many people standing in the isle.  I’m not sure what their ticket situation was.  Two of us at a time went to the dining car for lunch so the others could watch the luggage.  When someone left their seat, immediately another person took it.  When we returned to our seat we would have to wake up the person and motion them to move.  It was a long, hot five hour trip with little room to move about and a seat that did not recline, making sleeping almost impossible.  At each stop more people boarded the train but few got off so the isle became even more packed.  Smoking was not allowed on the train but of course that does not stop the Chinese farmers. The train stunk like a dirty ashtray. 

 As we drew closer to our destination Keren started prying our luggage out of all the nooks it had been stored in and placed it near the rear of the car by the door.  We could feel the pressure of those waiting to jump into our seats as soon as we were gone or maybe even before.  I was in a seat against the window with Dan in the seat beside me by the isle.  This was the only time since we’ve arrived in China that I’ve been scared.  I was afraid as soon as Dan left his seat many people would try to jump into his seat and I would be trapped on the train and miss the stop.  It was close but we all made it off the train in one piece with all our luggage.  It validated the need to traveling light and I’m glad we were!

The highlight of our evening in Shijiazhuang was a walk through a spacious park where Chinese were enjoying a festive Saturday evening of music, ballroom dancing, drill team or line dancing to drum and symbol bands, card playing, eating on the street and visiting with each other.  We stayed in a 4 star  hotel in a spacious room which was very much welcomed after spending the afternoon on the hot, packed train.  We aren’t really the fancy hotel type, but must admit it was nice to have the space, air conditioning and a toilet that worked, and hot water.  Karen books 3 or 4 star hotels based on location.  It is always a surprise when we arrive at the next hotel.  We never know what we’re getting into. The range is wide here in China.   The older, more rural or 3 star hotels have more charm, usually more traditional Chinese food, and fun young girls that give inexpensive foot massage, but may also have toilets or air conditioning that does not work properly or even a cockroach or two or MORE.  One government owned hotel room we stayed in had a few cockroaches we kept at bay by keeping the bathroom light on all night. Even in the 4 star hotels you can’t always count on hot water, a toilet that works properly, or an inexpensive foot massage, and you can NEVER count on a bed that isn’t as hard as a brick no matter where you stay.  What is gained in convenience is lost in charm.  It’s a crap shoot and always exciting.  We are enjoying the ying and the yang, developing an appreciation for one then the other. It’s been an interesting mix.      

 After leaving Tianjin it was apparent we had arrived in rural China.  Not because we were in small towns or villages but because there were no Starbucks or other foreigners.  We did not see another foreigner for 4 days until reaching Liaochen, population 800,000.    The three of us were a novelty and a curiosity.  I don’t know what attracted their attention to me more; being a foreign woman, my long skirt, my odd walking shoes or my short red hair, possibly the combination. Chinese people dealt with our presence in different ways.  Some starred at us, smiled at us, said Hello to us, followed us, stopped in the road to watch us, surrounded us, approached us to try to communicate with us, laughed at us, laughed with us, wanted to take our photo and wanted their photo to be taken with us.  We felt like celebrities.

On our way to Anyang we stopped to see China’s oldest standing bridge with a history of more than 1400 years.  Dr. Lee, a 50 year old teacher, approached us trying to communicate with us in broken English.  She was visiting the site with her family and some students.  After running into her a few times around the site and engaging in some conversation that consisted of “Hello, Nice to meet you, Where are you from?, How old are you?”, she motioned for us to have our photo taken with her and her family.   A photo vendor took several photos that included both of us with their family then several photos taken with me and the teacher and each one of the girls individually.  Later I saw her again and she gave me one of the photos of us and her family.  It was heartwarming to feel accepted by this Chinese family.

In Anyang we visited the Shang Dynasty Ruins.  This was the site of the capital of the Shang (or Yin) Dynasty around the fourteenth century B.C.  Large-scale excavation has been going on at this site since 1899.  Archaeologists have discovered ruins of imperial palaces of the Shang Dynasty as well as large tombs of royal families of that period.  More than 100,000 pieces of bone and tortoise shell inscribed with the earliest form of Chinese script have been unearthed on the site, providing scholars with valuable historic and linguistic information.  Large numbers of bronze ware, tools and articles for production and daily use have also been unearthed there.  We all found this site remarkable and interesting. 

When we arrived in Huixian, population ½ million, we walked around town.  Russell stopped to have his fortune read by a lady on the street.  People gathered round on the sidewalk and stopped in the road to watch.  Before she was done telling his fortune there must have been 25 people gathered around us starring, watching, smiling and laughing.   At an intersection we found food vendors crowded with customers.  We stood and watched a couple of ladies making flat bread, then browning it on a grill and baking it in a drawer of their primitive oven.  They smiled and encouraged us to try some.  It was so hot coming out of the drawer, you could hardly hold onto the flat round loaf.  It was amazingly simple and good.  We must have spent a half hour at that intersection watching all the activity and enjoying the people as they watched us. 

 At our hotel the four of us had a foot massage.  The massage girls were chattering nonstop with questions for Karen about us.  They giggled throughout the massage and tried to ask us questions in broken English.  Amazingly enough, we ended up getting the best foot massage to date.  When Keren had a foot massage before dinner the next evening, the girls asked if they could take a photo of us.  When we went for our foot massage after dinner we ended up getting an hour and 13 minute massage that was supposed to be a 50 minute massage because the girls were so intrigued with us they just continued working on us.  One girl not involved in the massage process, kept calling someone on her cell phone, talking in Chinese, then would come back and ask questions in broken English. “What is your name?  Where are you from? How old are you?  You are beautiful.  I love you.  Can we take a photo?”   After our massage they brought out a camera, but couldn’t figure out how to use it.  They made several more cell phone calls.  Finally, Dan took the camera and figured out how it worked.  They must have taken 20 photos of us in various groups with the girls.  It was hilarious.  The next day we found that Keren was the person the girls were calling.  He had told them if they had any problems communicating with us to call him.  He must have received 10 calls from them and he was fine with it.  Keeping the client happy!

We also experienced our first “food in room” at that hotel, a private room for individual groups where a dining staff takes care of serving you.  There was a long hall lined with these rooms.  We received very good food and service the first night but not so good the second night because a group of “corrupt government officials” staying in the hotel that night required much attention.

September is the month of the Moon Festival, a harvest festival of sorts.   There are Moon Cakes, small individual cakes with fruit and nut filling encased in dough and baked, for sale in almost every hotel and shop in every town.  We have tried several so far over the course of our trip.  Each is a little different from the next.  Moon day was Sept. 25th, the full moon.  It is a family celebration verses a town celebration.  We were sad to think that after the 25th there would be no more Moon Cake, but we are still finding them in bakeries and hotels, plus Keren has gathered a pretty good stash of them in the van. 

Huixian is an herbal community.  Grain and herbs in large amounts are spread on the concrete to dry then hand shucked by sweeping into the air then winnowing.  At the apothecary we saw entire walls of small drawers full of herbal treatments and bottles of liquid with whole snakes in them, known as snake wine, another herbal cure.  The whole town was full of apothecaries. 

Since getting off the train in Shijiazhuang the smog has gone from bad to worse.  There are days it seems you could cut it with a knife.  This especially affected the photo shooting on the day we took a trip to the village of Guoliang located on a cliff. There was so much smog we did not see the sun the entire day. We drove through the Ladder to the Heaven, an almost vertical corridor chiseled out of the sheer cliff.  It took 6 years to build the road by hand.  Prior to the road, the village had been accessible only on foot.  We spent the day walking around the cliff village taking photos, enjoying the village people and the scenery.  That day there must have been 500 art students spread everywhere around the village with their easels, brushes and paints, painting the many beautiful sites.  They enjoyed practicing their limited English on us.  Most could only say “Hello” but were very friendly.  

Next we traveled to Shandong Province and were on our way to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, to participate in the annual Confucius Festival.  More on that from the road………


Monday, October 08, 2007

Qufu to Weifang to Weihai to Chengshantou to Penglia

Gate Keeper Confucius Festival

Tribal Dress Confucius Festival

Pagent Confucuis Festival

Grinding Corn at community wheel

Silk Kite Making

Farmer at Confucius Festival

Sr Pato Trolling at Confucius Festival

Night Shot

Weihai Fish Market

Dragon Dance Troupe

The Dragon

That Red Umbrella

The Fake God

The temperature had cooled and it was pouring rain the morning we left for Qufu.  The morning began with a big who-ha involving hotel management over how to handle the refund of Keren’s telephone deposit.  Keren, getting nowhere with the staff, ended up walking out.  As we tried to leave, young hotel security stepped in front of the van to stop us.  As if Chinese don’t speak loud enough anyway, the argument increased in intensity as Keren and the three battled it out in flurry of nonstop Chinese. Keren called the police, for his own safety, because he didn’t know who owned the hotel. Eventually, it was worked out to Keren’s satisfaction, but not before the three of us considered what jail would be like in China.

Qufu, population 500,000, felt more like a town than a city, a nice change.  It is the birthplace of China’s greatest philosopher, Confucius.  We had arrived there to participate in the annual Confucius Festival.  We spent most of the afternoon trying to get passes to the celebration ceremony because the government had banned tourists from attending.  This entailed being passed from one government official to the next, from one building to the next.  As we watched Keren work through this process we observed how much privilege the “corrupt government officials” have.  Hotels were being used as offices and as doors opened just enough for an official to squeeze through we saw smoke filled rooms with officials watching TV, drinking and playing cards.  Life is tough.  By the end of the day Keren had assurances that we would be allowed admittance if we were at a specific place by 8:30 a.m.  With that accomplished we toured town, had a crappy dinner at our marginal hotel, and ended the day with a foot massage, which was the BEST part of the day. 

The next morning turned out to be more of the same, being shuffled from one person to the next, trying to get into the ceremony which was to begin at 9 a.m. and was anticipated to be a great photo opportunity.  Finally, at 8:58 Keren prevailed, we dawned our yellow scarves & gold pins and entered the throng of the crowd heading to the ceremony. As we drew closer to the stage the flow came to an abrupt stop…….sardines in a can AGAIN!  If I stood on my tip toes I could see the ceremony which mostly consisted of high government officials and honored guests arriving at a podium.  Dan was shooting photos with his camera over his head in hopes of getting some good shots.  Really, it was much ado about nothing!  Luckily, the ceremony was over within a half hour and the crowd began to clear.  Keren told us there would be a second ceremony.  The crowd dwindled to almost nothing so we found seats and stayed.  As the ceremony began Dan found his way on stage with credentialed photographers.  Turned out to be a wonderful ceremony with people in costume, music and some dancing.  We finished the day with a wonderful hot pot dinner.

 No Starbucks here, we were still in Rural China, but did find one coffee shop that served a good cappuccino. There were a few more foreigners due to the Confucius Festival, but we were still a novelty with people wanting to have their photos taken with us, especially with Dan and Russell.  Men seemed to be the priority there with all the “corrupt government officials” hanging around.  One official we met in our quest for passes was especially friendly.  He was dressed in U.S. Army fatigues with Airborne patches.  We ended up seeing him around town.  He would smile, wave and at one point, requested his photo be taken with Dan and Russell.   

Next we headed to Weifang, an old city, population 1 million, renowned as the “Kite Capital of the World” where we visited an artist community involved in woodblock carving and printing, fine metal inlay into wood, paper cutting and kite making. The kite making was fascinating.  It is done entirely by hand from the painting of the silk to the assembly of the bamboo frames that form the intricate body shapes.  We purchased a small kite for 40 Yuan, $5 U.S.  Keren was surprised I didn’t try to talk them down in price.  I felt bad enough only paying $5 after all the work I had seen go into the kite!

We continued to Weihai on the Shandong Peninsula, a new city, population 1.5 million, where we stayed three nights and used as home base for day trips the next couple days.  Our hotel was fairly nice and convenient for walking the area.   After checking into our hotel we enjoyed noodle soup around the corner as had become our pattern for lunch over the past several days.  It’s amazing how different and wonderful each bowl of soup could be, largely due to the fresh handmade noodles and broth rich in flavor.  That afternoon we took the van to a “fish market” which ended up being a place on the shore where the fishing boats came in and unloaded their catch to sell to locals.  It’s obvious by the small size of the fish, crabs, squid, octopus, rays and eel; they are depleting the sea, causing us to wonder what would eventually become of these fishermen.   

The next day we headed to Chengshantou, the eastern most point of China’s coastline known as China’s Cape of Good Hope.  We spent the day at what could only be described as a large tourist trap (owned by one individual) FULL of Chinese tourists.  It was October 1st, National Day, the beginning of Golden Travel Week, a period of time when most Chinese have 8 days off work and take advantage of traveling.  The Chinese will worship just about anything including this newly created god in the owner’s image.  The only saving grace to the day was a personal encounter with the dance troupe as they were waiting to perform.  They enjoyed trying to communicate with us, having their photo taken and including us in their professional group photo.   

Fearing that the next day would be another tourist trap and wanting a day to myself, I skipped the trip to Penglai, a coastal city along the Bohai Sea famous for the Penglai Pavilion.  It is among the Chinese four famous ancient pavilions.  People come to the pavilion not only for the artistic architecture, but for the spectacle of mirages which are said to occur every few decades.  What a marvelous day all to myself.  I had paid particular attention to the layout of the area surrounding our hotel when we had gone walking the night before.  I spent hours walking through department stores and small shops browsing, taking note of interesting fashion trends.  I even managed to find myself a good cappuccino and time to sit, read and relax in a nice coffee shop.  I found my way to all these places and made it back to the hotel without getting lost.  AMAZING!!  I spent the rest of the afternoon on the computer without interruption.   It was Heaven, especially since it’s a battle for computer time with Dan needing to download and work with his photos.  Apparently my day beat the heck out of Dan’s. The Penglai Pavilion turned out to be an ancient hidden Navel harbor that is being rebuilt into a tourist attraction, with not even a mirage to highlight the day!

We’ve been surprised by what we’ve seen in China.  We came expecting ancient structures and small rural towns.  That just isn’t the case any longer.  Many of the old structures have been replaced because of deterioration, fire, war, the Communists or striped by people to make their own homes.  Many old farming communities are now cities with 1- 2 million people.  They’ve moved the farmers into highrises in the cities.  Eventually, the few farms left will be leased out and farmed by machine. Even today the donkey and the mules have disappeared.  What you see out in the fields is the mechanized water buffalo.

Next we flew to Shanghai. Enough for now.  More from the road……

Love, Linden & Dan

P.S.  Did you catch the “drum and SYMBOL band” in our previous travelogue??  It was a test to see if you had fallen asleep!


 

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shanghai

Yuyuang Gardens

Old and New Shanghai

Temple city during National Travel Week

Temple City

Night Life

The River Traffic

Water Town

Tea Time in Water Town

The Ling Yin Temple workers

The edge of the typhoon

Just dumping down

We arrived in Shanghai, population WAY TOO MANY, around noon on the 3rd.  We are no longer in rural China and are back to hot temperatures, high humidity and more skyscrapers than I have seen in one city in my life.  Beijing is a large city, but doesn’t feel like it.  Shanghai does, with the all the modern high-rises,   millions of people, constant level of noise and smoggy sky.  We are staying in one of those high-rises, a very nice 4 star hotel with the best beds we’ve had so far on the trip. The amenities of a good hotel are very welcomed as both of us have managed to catch a cold. 

The afternoon we arrived in Shanghai we took a taxi to Temple City for lunch at a wonderful Dim Sum restaurant.  Afterwards we went to a beautiful Chinese garden in Temple City then walked around the city which is actually just a big tourist shopping area of sorts with traditional architecture.  I have never been surrounded by so many thousands of people.  Not only is it Golden Travel Week but the World Summer Special Olympics and the Shanghai Grand Prix are events drawing  thousands of people to Shanghai this week. 

 After dark we walked the river walk back to our hotel.  There must have been 100,000 to 200,000 people walking it!   I’m not exaggerating.   It was just a swarm of people moving along the walk.  The crowds were frustrating and irritating, but the city was glowing with multicolored lights on all the skyscrapers, hotels, bridges, and boats on the river, 100 times better than the light show in Las Vegas.  The next morning we took a van to a water town about an hour and a half from Shanghai.  Another mass of people.  EVERYONE EVERYWHERE is in your face trying to sell you something.   It is exhausting.  After dinner the second night we walked down a big tourist shopping street lined with huge modern malls, department stores and restaurants mobbed with people.  By the time we arrived back at our hotel we were both dead on our feet.  It was the last day of our tour so we said good bye to Keren and Russell, didn’t set our alarm, and fell into bed.  We both slept until 10 a.m.  Guess we needed the sleep.

We spent the remainder of the day in search of coffee at Starbucks, a bank to cash Travelers Checks, and a tour bus reservation to Hangzhou.  The next day we spent several hours at the Shanghai Museum which is beautiful, clean and air conditioned.  The atmosphere has a quiet, calming effect and, amazingly enough, the museum was not full of people.  The collections are impressive with calligraphy, jade, painting, bronze work and clothing collections that span hundreds of years.

A couple of weeks prior to leaving on this trip we realized we’d made a mistake on the date of the flight home, resulting in 4 additional days in Shanghai.  We were excited about the prospect of the additional days on our own in a city we thought would be exciting.  We felt fortunate to be able to extend our hotel reservations even with the Grand Prix in town.  We had no idea about the Special Olympics or Golden Travel Week and what a mess it would become. A couple of people suggested we spend the additional days in Hangzhou, a smaller more interesting city a couple hours away.  We tried, but reservations were impossible to get due to all the Chinese people traveling.  Next best option……..a tour bus from one of the big hotels.  Turned out to be the bus tour from HELL.  It took over two hours to get there, to be herded quickly around several tourist areas, served a mediocre lunch, and experience a boat ride around West Lake, all in the pouring rain.  That morning the weather had drastically changed as a result of the typhoon that was hitting China.  To make matters worse, the bus ride home took five hours, ending with the bus breaking down on the outskirts of Shanghai. After being transferred to another vehicle we were dropped off at the hotel where we had begun the tour, a half hour walk from our hotel.  Rain  continued to pour and the wind picked up.  By the time we arrived at our hotel we were drenched.   I must admit, even though the tour was a bust, we enjoyed learning more about tea and realized it is possible Hangzhou, billed the most beautiful city in China, just might be.  We may give it another try at some point in the future. 

The next morning the temperature had dropped 10 degrees, it was still pouring rain and the wind was howling.  We were tempted to spend the day in our hotel room, but we just couldn’t resist going out in it.  We decided to take a taxi back to Temple City to have lunch at the good Dim Sum restaurant then walk side streets back to the hotel, hoping to see more interesting areas of the city.  This trip into the weather we were armed with not only our umbrellas, but also our raincoats.  What a difference a day made.  The city felt totally different after many of the tourists headed home on Sunday and Monday morning.  We were glad we had gone out to see what the city is actually like without all the horrific crowds.   On our way home, in search of a few things, we happened into an old wholesale department store.  The first floor was booths full of sewing related items.  The upper five floors were booths full of purses and luggage, getting increasing expensive the higher the floor.  I didn’t realize there are so many brands of designer purses.  We had never seen anything like it.  One thing we have determined, it’s probably not wise to purchase anything very expensive in China because most of it is counterfeit, no matter how expensive or inexpensive.  It’s such a bunch of junk, there wasn’t even much I was interested in purchasing, and that’s saying a lot!  The afternoon walking the streets back to the hotel in the rain turned out to be interesting and fun, despite getting soaked again.  The rain seemed to cleanse the city, washing away the urine smell, making a refreshing end to a wonderful trip.  We are ready to be home.  I never thought I’d say this, but I’m tired of Chinese food.

We are on the plane headed to Seattle as I finish with a few miscellaneous observations and things we have forgotten to mention in previous travelogues.

·         Almost everyone in China smokes.

·        ALL the bicycle, scooter, motorcycle and car brakes have a shrill squeal that hurts your ears.

·        The drivers in China must feel that constant honking of the horn will resolve any backup in traffic.

·        Chinese food in the U.S is NOT EVEN CLOSE to Chinese food in China.

·        We met a man with a missing leg from the Korean War who now considers us friends.

·        The babies and children in China are darling.  They are well behaved and seem happy and content.  We did not see one fussy baby or kid during the trip.  We feel this must be because they are constantly being held and played with by a family member. They even sleep in someone’s arms. Babies and toddlers wear pants with a slit in the crotch and do not wear diapers or underwear until they are potty trained.  This leaves their little bottoms showing most of the time.  When they start to pee or poop, the person holding them rushes them over to the nearest tree, alley or wherever!  Seems simple enough, plus saves on diapers. 

Some interesting signs we saw:

·         No padding.---Don’t walk on the grass.

·        Pull to short distance, closer to civilization, (above a urinal) -----Don’t pee on the floor.

·        Friendship Advice---Friendly Advice

·        Patron stop, don’t on floor.---Stop, don’t go up.

·        This is an enterprise believable in price.----This is an inexpensive restaurant.