Today we are heading back to Guangzhou, just a quick one day trip so that first thing on Monday morning we can pick up Tina's new passport.
Last time we were in Guangzhou, we were surprised to see that the Olympic torch was running right past the hotel we were staying at and we had hoped that we might get a chance to see them run by. We didn't, but we enjoyed seeing the crowd and how excited they were.
We had a second chance to see the torch here in Xiamen, but due to the fact that we didn't understand the Chinese telling us how the torch route was run.
After the devastating earthquake, the torch run was momentarily suspended and now it is continuing but with a lot less of the built up hoopla as a solemn show of solidarity and respect.
It just happens that we would have had a third chance to see the torch last Friday when we were in Shanghai. So for those keeping track, the two times that we travel to another city in China, it also happens to coincide with the time that the Olympic torch is also going through that city...
When we were heading down to the Metro subway, enroute to the train station for our 8元 train ride to Xitang, we started seeing a lot of the "I love China" t-shirts, the small flag and heart stickers on peoples faces, and the telling Olympic flags that everyone waves along the torch route. We got off of the train station and didn't see where the crowds were going, but because Tina had given her Olympic flag to a small child back in Xiamen we purchased a kit with both an Olympic and China flag from a guy on the subway. For 10元 we now had two new Olympic flags, two China flags (now we are up to 5 of these), and about 30 stickers. The stickers are hearts, flags, and the standard Olympic symbol - a lot of fun, and we gave a few of these away to children that were running around the airport last Sunday when we were waiting for our flight back to Xiamen.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Today we are heading back to Guangzhou, just a quick one day trip so that first thing on Monday morning we can pick up Tina's new passport.
Today's blog is a special double blog, that right today you get the last post my parents send us from Shanghai before they left to head back to the comfort of the States, and today of all days we hit yet another milestone.
That's right, this is post number 300 for this blog, which mean that we are just a few short months away from hitting our one year of posting milestone. We glad, and somewhat surprised, that you are all still following along. Thanks.
Ok, on to the actual post, the final from my parents and their quick tour of China. They should be safely back at home now, probably sleeping off the jet lag...
Shanghai is a VERY large and bustling city which is a combination of both the Eastern and the Western cultures. At times you would think you were in a large American city such as Chicago or New York.
However, when you wander away from the high rises, expensive shops and five star hotel, you find yourself in another world; a world Charlie & I would have been afraid to explore if we hadn't spend time first in Xiamen.
When we landed in the afternoon our tour guide took as on a whirlwind tour of the city, showing us the Bund, the Yu Garden and the French Concession. The Bund is blocks of buildings, mostly built in 1920-30, along the river and each one reflects the western commercial power/architecture at that time. The buildings of the Bund are mostly banks and hotels, the other side of the river, the Pudong area, meaning east side of the river, was populated by farmers until about 20 years ago. There were fields of rice and other vegetables until the government relocated the peoples and now we have a very modern city skyline with skyscrapers. It was cloudy and overcast so we knew, once we got to the hotel, that we were not going to go over to the Pudong district to get the view from the Hyatt as Mark & Tina suggested.
However today we took a taxi to the Bund Tunnel and walked to the Hyatt. There was a lot of construction and it took us a while; a one point we realized some workers were taking pictures of us! We laughed and posed with our fingers in the "Victory" sign. We decided not to go to the top, Cloud 9 Bar, because we wouldn't be able to see anything (still overcast), but, and Mark you wouldn't believe this, we went to the Chinese Restaurant at the 87th floor. We felt as if we were in a cloud and Charlie ordered something which he even ate, and we used chopsticks!
Then we took the same tunnel back because we couldn't find anyone to ask where the ferry was, and then walked to the Old Town area and eventually to the Xin Tiandi for dinner. Walking the Old Town area was like being back in Xiamen: the fruit stalls, the fish, the turtles, chickens, grasshoppers, and the teas. Whereas we had not seen many people in PJs, as we got closer to the back alleys that is exactly what they were wearing! The commercial vendor markets can be aggressive but the alley ones seemed surprised to see us. We stopped at a bakery and purchased a danish. . . boy are we brave.
There are lots of cars, bicycles, and scooters, and also the carts filled with most anything. How all these vehicles manage to get along without accidents is amazing. There is horn blowing but no tempers that we can see. I sometimes think they all made of rubber as they weave in and out and never get a scratch.
Ending this e-mail with a funny saying the Chinese have : "Even dogs don't want to play with 7 year old boys. They are too noisy!" (Our tour guide told us this when I said I was teacher of young children.)
Flying home tomorrow. This has been the trip of a lifetime. Thank you Mark and Tina for moving to China and for welcoming us into your home.
Friday, May 30, 2008
After a relaxing weekend in Xitang, we had to purchase tickets back to Shanghai. We arrived at the station, thinking that if the original train we wanted was completely full, we can take the next one. You cannot order a train ticket by phone, it appears that one must go to the station ahead of time, wait in line to purchase the tickets. Ah, the things we take for granted.
Mark and I arrive around 9:00am and the lines were almost to the entrance way. We patiently waited for our turn, and as most things in China, the Chinese are not big on the queue forming ritual. We were the second in line, and at least 5 people cut ahead of us and no thanks to the security guard who also assisted the impatient travelers to wiggle in ahead. We were the next ones up and 2 more people cut through. Now granted by now we should be use to this, but there are times it's rather unnerving, so just remember this when you are visiting Beijing for the Olympics. We finally get our tickets for an early train and hopped on that one. The cost 8RMB equivalent to $1.10 USD. We had the hard seats, which should tell you what the train ride would be like. What's a hard seat?
Well, let's see, they're hard for one. They are basically benches where three people sit beside each other on one side, and two people sit next to each other on the other side facing each other. Air conditioning is non existent and only a few windows can open. They are crammed, dirty and generally it appears the overbooking is the norm. It's the Darwinian theory, only the strongest survive. Oh, and because we were Laowai's everyone stared or tried to strike up a conversation.
As we were waiting we checked our tickets and unlike the train coming where we had designated seats, this one was a free for all. Great, just what we needed, everyone trying to get a seat with all their luggage. This wasn't going to be pretty.
Everyone hovered around the bathrooms, with all their luggage not moving anywhere, though clearly you can see there was some empty spaces in the middle, so Mark and I muscled our way through and found a seat. Better than nothing we thought.
The train itself was disgusting, and dirty. People throwing their garbage on the floors, though the cleaners came through twice during the hour we were on the train. This was the complete opposite of the train we had taken from Shanghai to Hangzhou, where it was immaculate, new and quick. This one reminded us of what you would expect back in the 60's.
That being said, the trains in China are quite social. Everyone talks to each other whether they know each other or not, kids play and run around, while others enjoy a good card game.
After receiving an email from Barb, saying she needs another $165 (CAD) for a train from Frankfurt to Salzburg, I would have to say, I would rather take a train within China. Well at least for nothing else, the cost was much better.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Ah, beautiful quiet picturesque Xitang, this was a nice relaxing way to spend a weekend. No hurries, nobody that we needed to meet up with or talk to, nothing at all other then to just stroll around the ancient town and admire all of its beauty.
It was enjoyable, we'd stroll and take photos and then sit down along the canals edge to enjoy a beer, in the evening we watched the sun fade away while drinking a nice bottle of wine. We will just let you enjoy some of the photos that we took while we were there.....
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Mark and I want to do more travel within China, so we decided that we wanted to visit a "water town" which is basically a historic town/village that has canals. We opted for Xitang, as it was smaller, and quainter than Suzhou. We were not disappointed.
Xitang dates back to 770- 221 BC. It was as strategic back then as it was with throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It is known for it's bridges, lanes and corridors which date back to the Ming dynasty. You get a sense of what it must have been like back in the day by looking at the architecture. People still do their wash in the canals.
We discovered that there is one bus per day from Shanghai to Xitang, which left Shanghai at 08:45 - too early for us, although there are trains to Jiashan. One can then just take a taxi or local bus another 10 minutes to Xitang. The train costs in China are extremely reasonable. For less than a beer, we could travel to Jiashan. It's one hour from Shanghai and opted for the train and then either take the bus or taxi. We decided the taxi would be the quickest as we had someone meeting us and we were delayed already.
We arrived and Mr. Wang greeted us at the bus stop. He was a friend of a friend and offered to help us look for a hotel. We took little tuk tuks into the old quarter, and here we chose our hotel. It was right off a main street, and it was quite adorable. There were just two suites in this inn and for USD 30 per night, how can you beat it.
When we first arrived.
Seriously, need to learn how to take night pictures!
While we ate dinner, we watched the boats slowly meandering by us, people dropping lit candles into the water, and mosquito's biting the heck out of me.
Note to self, bring insect repellent!
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Yesterday afternoon we arrived in Guilan, overcast and muggy. We went directly to the Reed Flute Caverns. We walked up and up and entered the cave. Then we walked down and down and down. They had a lot of different colored fluorescent lights that our guide turned on as we went along. Very neat. At the lowest point, there was a large cavern with water on the far end. The lights made it look like a city in the distance which reflected on the lake. Very nice. It was about 65 in the cave......very cool.
Internet access is limited so we will tell you about today and fill in later on Xi'an.
This morning our guide Susan picked us up at 8:10 am to head to the wharf to load a boat for the River Li cruise. We had talked to someone last night from another tour who said it was beautiful and they were right. The limestone outcroppings which have formed large unusual shaped mountains were covered with forests, bamboo, or terraced for planting. The water buffalo could occasionally be seen; they are used from spring planting so now they "are on holiday" according to Susan. They will be off holiday when it is time to harvest. Some fisherman were washing their nets but most of the fishing is at night. They use the cormorant birds to help them catch the fish at night. The birds are on a leash and when they catch a fish, the fisherman pulls on the leash so that the fish comes out but the bird is fine. They fish this way at night because the insects come out and the fish jump up to catch the bugs. We mostly stayed outside to take pictures rather than stay in and sit at the tables in air conditioned windowed space that you sat at for lunch. We had a buffet lunch on the boat and Charlie had enough to eat. I think he is finally beginning to enjoy, or maybe at least, like this food!
The boat ended 3 1/2 hours later in the small town of Yangshou, which was the barter type tourists booth selling everything.Once we met up with our driver we drove thru the countryside and saw the rice fields one associates with China. People were out working in the fields and again the water buffalo were lounging around. A trip thru a silk factory was interesting and now we are back at the hotel.
I wish we had the capability of downloading pictures as it would make the blog so much more interesting, but at least with the brief stories you can travel along with us.
The forecast for the next two days here is rain; it would not be much fun on the river boar trip if it was raining. Tomorrow we leave for Shanghai. The fear with the rain storms is the additional stress on the country's resources in the quake providence. The dams are over full and there is fear of them breaking. We hope they hold and there will be no additional damage or loss of life.
All for now. . . . . tonight we will attend a cultural theatre event which reflects the different cultures of the Guilin area.
Margaret and Charlie
Monday, May 26, 2008
We are back home in Xiamen after a quick trip to Shanghai and then a great weekend in Xitang. We will tell the stories from that trip shortly. In other news, my parents have left Bejing and are now in Xi'an, where they did fell the strongest aftershock to hit China in a week. Apparently it was just as they were getting back to their hotel, but with their distance from the epicenter everyone there is fine.
Shanghai itself was a quick busy trip, I was working and managed to get to a convention and get out to visit some suppliers. Tina took the day to walk, and tour, and also enjoyed a boat tour of the Hangpu River. It was a little too overcast for her to attempt the views from the Pearl Tower.
Our first night in town we took advantage of the Western comforts that Shanghai offers and wandered over to the expensive Xintiandi area, a great group of little restaurants with outdoor seating where you can relax and just watch the crowds meander by. It was nice to enjoy a fine bottle of wine and a good dinner, but it made us miss the Xiamen wine prices that we had previously thought too high...
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Ah, we are enjoying our day in Xitang and will post all of our Shanghai and Xitang stories for you in the future, for now another post from my parents...
Today we got picked up at 8:30 after another great western breakfast. We headed up to the Great wall again, this time the Badaling Section.
But first we stopped at a Cloissanne Factory.They showed us how they make the vases by soldering two pieces of copper together. Wow, what a concept. Next we watched them glue the fine copper coiled strips to the vase per the design of the master craftsman. They use a special glue made from vegetables. Then they fire the vase to set the glue. Next they showed us how they paint the vases using different colors, which can be picked by the painters. The vases are painted & fired 6 times. They showed us an oven with some vases they were firing at 800 degrees. Then they showed us how they polish the vases, first with flint for the copper, then garnet and finally with charcoal. Finally they use a special super secret process as a final coat. Then voila, you have all this beautiful stuff that you can buy in the gift shop.
Next we went to the Great Wall. Again we took the gondola ride up. This wall section was much steeper and much more crowded. The weather was hazier so it was harder to take good pictures. We only stayed an hour. We enjoyed the other section better but where ever you see if from, it is very impressive.
Ah, then we got to stop for lunch on the way back to Beijing. Oh the restaurant was in the back of the jade place. We got to see them grinding different objects and teaching us about the quality of Jade. Of course we got to go through the show room on the way to lunch. Then Chinese lunch.We told Amy no soup. Sure enough no soup but 6 different dishes. Chicken with peanuts again (not as good), chicken with pineapple (very good), dumplings (did not try), dried beef (very dry), pea pods (good), cucumber slices, rice and water melon.
Next we stopped at the Summer Palace. Very interesting. Lot of walking followed by a boat ride across the lake. More walking. Got back to hotel about 6:00.
Tonight we walked down our street. It turned into a pedestrian only section with a huge number of high end shops. We passed on the Rolex watches etc. We ate hot dogs with smoothies at Dairy Queen in some huge mall. Also went through a small flea market type section. Just about every booth person came out to say Hello, please come in and look. Some even grabbed onto you. We managed to only buy one thing.
Tomorrow we fly to Xian. Did I mention we did a lot of walking today?
Friday, May 23, 2008
Ok, so my folks are doing a great job of e-mailing from their trip and we will just continue to post them for your enjoyment...
First, we need to mention the great food at this hotel. It is a Prime Hotel. Breakfast is included every morning. They have about 12 major dishes plus a dozen fruits and a dozen breaded rolls etc. I had pancakes and watermelon. Margaret had eggs made to order.
There are many foreigners and tour groups. Today our tour guide, Amy picked us up at 9:00.The weather was again warm and sunny. First we went to Tiananmen Square. It was huge. Then we went to the Forbidden City. Very interesting but again huge. Amy did a super job for just the two of us again. She took us through a emperor wedding sections that showed their garments etc. Then just before the garden, some guy pulls her away so we get a private showing of this really old expensive looking furniture. Oh, we could order any of it and they would custom make it and ship it to us. I didn't even ask how much the shipping would be.As we exited out the back of the Forbidden City three more guys came up to Amy and handed her a card. I asked what they were trying to sell us. But, alas they were hitting on her. She is 23 and unmarried. I asked if they were interested in her because of her looks or her job. She laughed, they were all only interested because of her job. She said her mother would kill her if she ever called one back.Next we went to the Xishiku church. It was closed, opens at 2:00. So we went to the Temple of Heaven next. Beautiful gardens and setting. The three tiered temple was the highest building and the emperor would go twice a year and pray for good harvest in the fall and for rain in the spring.
Then we went for lunch, very nice Chinese food. First there was this huge bowl of yucky noodle soup. Oh, the foods come out in the order that they are done. Then the plate of rice, followed by some stringy looking spinach type stuff. Then came a beef dish, which mostly was fried dough squares the shape of ice cubes. And finally a peanut chicken dish that I liked yesterday. I ate the beef, chicken, peanuts and rice.Margaret said she liked all of it, but 90% of the soup, rice, spinach and fried dough remained.Next we went to see the church. Amy asked Margaret to be the tour guide since she had only been to this church once when she was 8 years old. It was a Catholic church. Margaret tried but I think she failed her tour guide test on a Catholic church. We, meaning I, declined to have Amy take us to a dance/opera show.
We got back to the hotel at 3:00.Tonite, we braved the environment and took a taxi @ 13 RMB to a electronic store named Buy Now. I think that all the little booths inside are like a flea market. We needed to buy a faster battery charger. What fun. A Salesman from the very first booth asked what we were looking for. They finally figured out what we were asking for with the help of 3 other people. He shows us one that charged 2 AA batteries in 13 hours. Only 2500. They punch this into a calculator. Then he punched in 750. We think that number was RMB, where 700 RMB is about $100.00. We just said no.We then tried to say we wanted one to charge faster. This took a little doing. I kept drawing a wrist watch on my wrist. Finally, our sales clerk says oh yes and then ran off, "You wait here, I go get." About 5 minutes he comes back with two different four AA battery chargers. Margaret figures out one is just 220, which is what everything here is, and the other is 100-240 and charges in four hours. It comes with 4 new Ni-Cad batteries. Nice. Then we ask how much and he punches in 550. We shake our head. He punches in 450, then asks us to punch in what we want to pay. I punch in 300. He has to get his boss, she just shakes her head but then punches in 350 and signs with her hands bottom price. We bought it.
We then were going to take a cab to Outback. Yea, Margaret thought it was close by. We get in a cab and show him the Chinese name. Sorry, he says. We walked, it was about 6 city blocks. I had ribs. Margaret had steak and sweet potato. We both had Caesar salads. Fantastic. 286 RMB. We then got a taxi. He took the long way back @ 22 RMB, we think, but the city lights were great.
Till Tomorrow, Charlie
P.S. Since this tour ended up being a "private" one, we have no other visitors/foreigners to talk to. We never would have been comfortable with the bargaining or the taxi ride if we had not been to Mark and Tina's first.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
From the lost e-mails, another guest post from my parents (and this time including photos):
First full day in Beijing:
The best fact about life in Beijing: they retire at an early age so the younger people have jobs. Our tour guides parents are 47 & 48 and are retired. I LIKE this rule!!!
Gas is only $1.00 but parking is very expensive since there is so little of it; city was built for bicycles, not cars.
In preparation for the Olympics, the city is beautifying itself with plants. They have planted 2.4 million trees yearly since 2003.
But the best part of the day was the Great Wall at the Mutianyu section. I had to keep pinching myself that I was really here. The hike up to the cable car was somewhat steep but not steep compared to if we had hiked all the way up to the beginning part of the wall here. The driver called our guide at 1 PM to ask where we were-we were taking too long. In conversation later, she said that most people are only there 1 1/2 hours; we were there a total of 3.
We just kept taking pictures, climbing, taking pictures, climbing, taking pictures. . . . but never boring. It was SO beautiful. Words can not describe it. . . . awesome, phenomenal. . . . these words do not do it justice.
We will do the Badaling section on Friday but she agreed with what we had read. . . it is busier with more tourists, and pictures will always have other people in them. Also the vendors are very pushy at Badaling.
We stopped for a late lunch of Chinese and Dad actually ate the most of any of the Chinese meals so far, not counting the one at Temptations. Of course he may have been starving after the climb. He said the chicken with peanuts and a pork dish were very good. She will write down their names for us. We also did another tea ceremony where the different tea benefits were explained. We purchased the tea for longevity; also I enjoyed it the most; Dad only tried the 1st one.
Our guide Amy asked how long we have been married. . . 37 years. . . . wow, thought maybe we were newlyweds. We are different from other couples she has had (you knew that, but she said she meant different in a good way!).
After the lunch we took an optional tour of a ride on a rickshaw through the older neighborhoods behind the Forbidden City. Most have been torn down with the Olympic planning but this section is being preserved as an historic site. We went into a family's courtyard, the life style of the courtyard (old and now) was explained, and we could take pictures of the different rooms. The families who agree to open their homes do receive some monies.
The rickshaw took us through the Hou Hai section where the night life is active with the young people and tourists. We could picture the 2 of you having a beer here, taking pictures, and putting your stories into the blog.
We returned to the hotel, sat at the bar for a soda and beer, relaxed, Charlie had cheesecake, and then we retired to the room. Laundry to do now, then to bed, because we have a very busy day tomorrow.
P.S. The tap water at this first class hotel is not potable
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Ok, we received a quick e-mail from my folks once they got themselves settled in up in Beijing - the following is their next post:
We thought today would be a quiet day with nothing to write about, but as one travels, you learn there are always interesting things to share.
We began the day at a breakfast coffee place in the Ex Pat area of Xiamen.This was so Charlie could get a "western" breakfast. Mark and Tina had prepared him french toast for two mornings but this was a breakfast out where he actually got what he ordered and he enjoyed it.
We all went to the airport together as Mark & Tina were leaving for Shanghai for business on a flight one hour after ours.
There is a three day mourning period for the quake victims. This means only the news on TV, no entertainment type shows, and no entertainment such as concerts, opera, circus performances, etc. The Chinese flag is at half mast and we understand this is the first time this has happened for the citizens. Usually the flag at half mast is only for dignitaries. There is also 3 minutes of silence at 2:30 pm on each of these days. As this was announced on the airplane, the stewardesses stood in the aisles with heads bowed, and everyone respected this moment.
We finally met up with our tour guide, Amy, after some confusion at the Beijing airport. We came thru a domestic gate and she was at the international gate. We had given the tour group the flight info from Xiamen and they had assumed that was a connecting flight from Singapore.
Amy will be with us for this part of the tour (Wednesday thru Friday) and we are the only ones in the group! The ride into the hotel took about an hour and she shared lots of interesting facts:
- Girls are named after colors, flowers, etc and boys are named after strong images such as lion, tiger.
- The family name is the most important and is always given first in an introduction.
- The newly planted trees and flowers along the roadways were done because the Olympic committee told the city, when they were being considered, that everything was too gray.
- There are an average of 850 cars added daily into the city but there are also 9 million bicycles.
- She said you really have to watch out for the bikes as they go whenever and where ever they want. Some areas we passed had a separate curbed off section of the road just for them. The city has also tried building roadways just for buses, but that idea is not working out as planned.
- The Chinese people tend to push their way in and do not understand standing in an orderly line. But at the city's bus stops, there is an attempt to teach them the concept. There is an uniformed man with a flag whose job is to get them into single file for the buses.
These are just some quick first impressions.
Charlie is happy with the hotel choice and the excellent dinner buffet choices. All for today.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Ah, how quickly my parents quick stint in Xiamen really was, as today we placed them onto an airplane headed towards Beijing. At the same time we boarded a plane to Shanghai where I will get some work done and go to a convention and Tina will get to sightsee and shop. Happiness all around...
Once again it was great to have some guests and to show them the little slice of China that we are now calling home. We walked them all around the island, from the small markets to the Botanical Gardens to temples and the University that is beating the Chinese language into Tina's head. It was also nice for us to have a quick reprieve from writing, and to let those readers who aren't my parents get another glimpse into what Xiamen is like at first impression.
So, if we are lucky, as my parents tour Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, and then Shanghai, they may e-mail us a blog to post, otherwise it's back to the standard blog fare that you've come to expect.
And with that, we're off into the Shanghai evening to try and find some nice wine.
Monday, May 19, 2008
For lunch today we tried another favorite restaurant of Mark and Tina's. They were sure Charlie would find something he liked.
Another of the island's streets with a local.
But low tide is a good time to check your nets.
When we got back, we went up to the Pizza Hut on the 24th floor. Charlie ate the most of all. We got back to Mark & Tina's about 7:00. Wait....there is no construction noise. It may be they have stopped for the country's 3 days of mourning the Earthquake victims, starting today. And we leave tomorrow. And Mark & Tina are leaving for Shanghai for business. And Tina could have slept in quiet for 3 days.
Sunday, May 18, 2008