Friday, 16 September - Beijing, China

Check out our Nelson Vacation on the way to China.

 The flight was less-bothersome than I had anticipated. Air Canada certainly took care of us. Clearing the Beijing Airport was fairly easy though long, and we had our first Chinese bathroom lesson - toilet paper is outside the stalls so you have to take it in with you. Otherwise - OH, OH! Our national escort, Michelle, met us after we cleared all the customs and immigration hurdles and led us to a bus for the long, long ride to the Beijing International Hotel.

It's a lovely hotel with comfortable rooms, near the train station, After about 45 minutes to freshen up, we were back on the bus for the trip to a restaurant for dinner. Everyone was almost too tired to eat and the food was strange, but we enjoyed it - Larry and I managed the whole thing with chopsticks, and those flat [ china ] soup spoons. That'll keep our consumption down.

 Photos 16 Sep Beijing


Saturday, 17 September - Beijing

This was the day of "Cathy Wilkes Long March" [ Mao ] established communist China with a long many-year march across China on with his followers on foot ] - we walked and walked! We also have one member of the group - Betsy - already on the disabled list. Breakfast at the hotel was great. Semi-western.

 Then into the bus and off to Tian'anmen Square. The first real lesson of the day was how great are the distances in Beijing. We took some time getting close to the Square, then had a long walk including an underpass to get to the Square itself.

Betsy tripped and fell badly in the underpass, hitting her head and injuring her hip. After some time, she bravely decided to continue, with a person supporting her on each side. By an hour or so later though, it was clear she couldn't continue, so our escort brought her back to the hotel [ we have 2 escorts, a national one, Michelle, and a local Beijing one, Vyvian,...the later took care of us then ].

Betsy has now been to hospital and back, and will have xrays on Monday. They suspect a broken hip. Meanwhile, we had been swarmed by street vendors and most of us bought hats, postcards, souvenir books, silk purses, kites, etc. -- at wildly divergent prices! It's clear that bargaining is very much in order. Never pay more than half the original asking price. One hat vendor actually lifted Dave Wilkes' baseball cap! Tian'anmen Square really is as huge as it seemed when we watched events unfold years ago. Mao's mausoleum attracts many domestic tourists, but we skipped that long lineup and just enjoyed the sun and warmth outside.

Preparations for Beijing 2008 Olympics are underway, with the countdown clock visible from the Square.

Preparation for China's National Day on Oct 1st are also going on - bleachers block a lot of the Square. From there we continued to 


the Forbidden City, which is just across the street. By then a couple more people had decided it was too much walking and had headed back to the taxi area, with plans to meet us afterward. The trek under the street and through a maze of turns lost us one more person. When we couldn't find her in the designated 20 minutes, we continued on. Cathy said "she's very resourceful, don't worry", but we all did. When we reached the exit, there she was, calmly waiting for us! Phew! We all have little cards in our name tag holders that give taxi instructions in Mandarin to our hotel, so we're not really able to become totally lost.

Photos 17 Sep Beijing


Sunday, 18 September - Beijing

What a great day! We attended a church service at a church with an untranslatable name, where we were made so very welcome! When we arrived we were given headphones for simultaneous translation of the service, English hymn books and Bibles. Then we were introduced and sang "Go now in peace" and I presented a Tansley Peace candle to the minister.  After the service we chatted with several bilingual parishioners. Last week Condelesa Rice attended a service there. It was very moving to be singing hymns in two languages, but in harmony. Just lovely. We all felt great afterwards.

Photos 18 Sep Beijing

We ate lunch in our room - Cup-A-Soup and peanut butter on crackers [ with D & M-E ]. Then in the afternoon we took a rickshaw tour through the Hutong area - what fun that was! [the Hutong is the 600 year old house area where people live in courtyard-connected bungalows]. Although at one point neither Larry nor I could stand the driver's struggle to get up a hill, so we jumped out and pushed. I hope he didn't loose face over that! We rode around a little lake and through tiny streets, then visited in a couple of the tiny houses.

The residents love their communal way of life, though the younger people prefer new condos. Now we're relaxing before heading out to try and find a "hot-pot" restaurant.

(...later) We found the place and what fun we had! I'd never choose "Hot-Pot" as what I'd want for food, but the process was a riot. There were 10 of us, so we got a private room.

We didn't know how much to order, so just went blindly. The uncooked food comes beatifully displayed on plates, and large cauldrons of boiling water are on the table [the core of the cauldron is a chimney stack of burning charcoal]

The waitress finally took over the cooking process and then soon the fishing out and serving. At the end, Lizzie said "We're from CANADA - CA-NA-DA - Oh Canada, our home ... We all joined in to the tremendous amusement of the giggling waitress. Would you recognize the Chinese national anthem if you heard it? On the way back to the hotel we passed a street musician and wildly encouraged his rendition of Blowin' in the Wind - bizarre lyrics and all.


Monday, 19 September - Great Wall & Mings Tomb

 We headed out early for another big day. First stop a cloisonné factory where we watched the process for creating these works of art with copper, wire and enamel paints, and of course did some shopping.

By combining our purchases with the McNaughts we earned a free gift.

Then on to the Great Wall, which of course swarms with tourists and persistent vendors. [ the Mongolian's have finally breached the Great Wall and set up shop selling every variety of Wall memorabilia ]. We chose to go the steeper but less-crowed route. I stopped at the first watchtower with several others while the rest of our group went on to the second watchtower.

Amazing how the wall meanders all over the hills in that area. As we drove back we kept spotting parts of it.

After lunch we visited the Ming Tombs.

 In the evening we enjoyed a Peking Duck dinner. They carved the ducks in front of us and put tiny slices on a plate. We then took a thin crepe-like item and wrapped duck, onion, cucumber and sauce in it ( like a soft taco ) - very good and fingers are easier that chopsticks!

I'm still laughing over the demo of "how to eat a Peking Duck" - our guide was instructing Sal, starting with "pick up the pancake"; not understanding her accent, Sal looked around saying " Panky - where do I find a pankey?" Michelle repeated the instruction, and Sal exclaimed " But what's a pankey?" There was a great deal of hilarity over dinner once again. What must their servers think of weird Canadian tourists?

Tonight is packing night, since we head to Xian tomorrow. Let's hope our luggage is not overweight!

Photos 19 Sep Beijing Great Wall


Tuesday, 20 September - to Xi'an

  We're a tired bunch tonight! We left the hotel [in Beijing] quite early after gathering together all our stuff and worrying about weight allowances and so on as we were to tour Beijing in the morning and fly to Xi'an in the afternoon - 2 hr flight.

First stop was the Summer Palace,  which is really a huge park with a fascinating history of intrigue and treachery. 


One feature is the Marble Boat which the Empress, Cixi, built with the money that should have paid for the Chinese navy.   [

 Hence their poor war record for many years.

We took a boat across the lake and walked back along a 3/4 km. covered boardwalk with amazing paintings all over the pillars and ceilings.

 From there we headed toward the airport, stopping for another great meal [ and saying goodbye to Vyvian, our Beijing guide ]. We're all becoming so adept with chopsticks that the weight loss thing isn't likely to happen. The flight to Xi'an involved the usual airport hassles and luggage dragging but was uneventful.

Once in Xi'an, we met our local guide, Lily, and went to a Western buffet for dinner, a 1-hour drive - french fries! Spaghetti! Dessert! [ normally our only dessert is slices of watermelon ]. Then on to the hotel to rest up for the next round tomorrow. Traffic is heavy and noisy, so we hope it calms down soon or sleep will be impossible. We left Betsy [ injured the first day ] behind in Beijing. Her test results will be in tomorrow and her son arrives Thursday to take her home. What shame that she had no pleasure out of this trip. 

Off to see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors

[Larry: I spent more than an hour sorting out the strange Chinese instruction on setting up the internet connection. The instructions were not only in Chinese but they were wrong (basically I had to set up a static ip address and use the dns servers for Cogeco in Burlington). Anyway it is on, it's fast and it seems to be free. So we may get farther in China on highspeed internet than I thought....later. I spoke too soon; the connection does everything but upload. I will have to upload by email ]

 Photos 20 Sep (Terra Cotta Warriors)


Wednesday, 21 September - Xi'an

   Lots of walking again today. We visited the Terra Cotta Warriors site, stopping on the way at a factory that makes reproduction warriors. They also sell locally-made lacquer- ware and that was very tempting, along with the beautiful silk rugs. At the site we were all amazed to see these thousands of figures in three excavated areas, all under protective roofs.  We learned a lot about the Qin dynasty and so on. As well as the warriors, there are two bronze chariots, about 1/2 life size, which were unearthed near the tomb of the emperor. 

We drove back to the hotel for a break, and we and the McNaughts headed out to explore the neighbourhood. Very interesting tiny stores, more like stalls, along all the streets.  Then we went off to a dinner theatre, with a truly spectacular show, based on Han dynasty music and dance. One guy did a duck imitation that had everyone roaring. Then some of us [ not me ] went for massage or reflexology sessions. I had foot reflexology and it was great. Now everyone is resting up for tomorrow. The massage experience was very different from anything any of us had had before. Sometimes quite painful and for Jane and Gray, very ticklish. There were lots of squeals and giggles. We were 2 to a booth in big recliners for the reflexology. First we soaked our feet in an herbal brew, then they were vigourously massaged, pulled, slapped and shaken, working up to our knees. Then we rolled on our stomachs and they did back shoulders and neck. There we sat in front of the masseuse and she did more work on our backs, ending by suspending us on her knees for 30 seconds or so. That was a bit painful, but felt like it was releasing tension. The people who had the full-body massage said the masseuses really did walk on their backs. It was very refreshing 70 minutes.

Photos 21 Sep


Thursday, 22 September: Xi'an - Chongqing

  Phew! They really keep us moving - of course it's the only way to see everything we want to.  First on today's program was visit to a jade factory where we had a short lesson in the qualities of jade and saw people working on carvings, then had lots of time to shop.  Some people got terrific stuff but our money stayed in our wallets.  From there we went on to the Shaanxi History Museum which has relics and treasure from several dynasties that had an important presence in this province.  Really interesting, and gives a very good sense of how far ahead Chinese culture was a millennium ago. 

Next was the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and Temple, where Larry and several others made it to the top of the pagoda [ not as high as the CN Tower but maybe half ] while many of us lounged in a garden pavilion.  It's a Buddhist shrine, so there were candles, incense and statues, but the peace and stillness of the gardens were most welcome after our hectic touring.  

We moved along to another part of the same complex, making our way through construction debris and had a tour and lesson about the fashions and art of the Han dynasty and  a demonstration of calligraphy, followed of course by a shopping op.  Again, we bought none of the beautiful paintings available however but McNaughts did. 

 We ended our day with a visit to the ancient wall.   

It is high and wide and continuous around the central part of the city.  We walked little way, and enjoyed the view of all the construction underway.  



They're restoring many old buildings along the wall. It was explained to us that in China when your buy an apartment it's just a shell - no doors, windows, maybe no interior walls, no plumbing fixtures.  So people had obviously moved into one of these apartments before any of that was done.  My goodness!!   


The McNaughts and several others went cycling and did the whole circuit ( about 9 miles).  They said it was a rough ride.  Of course that wasn't the end of one day. 

We said goodbye to our local guide, Lily, at the airport and flew to Chongqing (pronouced Chong Ching) , getting into our hotel around 11:15 and receiving our luggage about midnight.  A tired bunch!!  Today's good news is that Betsy has no broken bones, but some serious soft tissue injuries.  By now her son should be with her to return her home.

Photos 22 Sep 
Xi'an - Chongqing


Friday, September 23: Chongqing and Dazu

  It was a long trek in the rain, but well worthwhile.  We drove two hours or a bit more to Dazu to see the stone wall carvings. 

Chongqing is in a very hilly area and apparently it rains about 110 days a year.  It's damp, misty and foggy ( or smoggy ) most of the time.  With a population in the large "regional municipality" greater than Canada's, it's pretty dense and busy.  The outskirts are agricultural and we saw rice paddies, fields of lotus and corn, and artificial ponds where fish are raised.  People working in the fields have large flat straw hats and simple tools.  We saw a man ploughing a field on foot (barefoot) with his pant legs rolled up walking behind a water buffalo.  Every yard has chickens, ducks, geese, and dogs.  The wealthy farmers have 2-storey houses and the poorer ones single-storey.  Their fields are terraced.  There are orange groves, pear , pomegranate and apple orchards and vineyards. We were stared at by residents, kids waved and so on -- especially when we stopped to photograph one farm area.      

At Dazu  

We took trams to the entrance to a grotto, then gradually descended to the bottom, admiring 1000-year old Buddhist carvings on the walls of the valley and in little caves.  Originally they were coloured and covered with gold, but much of that has worn away.  The last few are unfinished because either a war or an argument broke out and the sculptors fled for their lives.               

Also the foundation there was a bit shaky.  It was wet and slippery and there were few handholds but everyone in our group made it through ok.  Several people have "touristitis" today, and a few others are just recovering. Thank goodness for Imodium!  The trip to and from Dazu includes a couple of long tunnels.  Since traffic is very chaotic in China, those were a bit of a relief because for 2 to 4 minutes at a time most vehicles stayed more or less in their own lanes.  

As usual we saw a great deal of constructions and lots of buildings being torn down.  Thousands of unoccupied apartments in new-looking high-rises.  We hear much about the 'one family 1 child' rules and we see evidence of both dismaying poverty and tremendous economic growth.  People seem to be happy with their life style even though we can't imagine living as they do.  We also learned today that we're in the general area of a Panda bear reserve.  We'd have loved to go there, but it's a 12-hour drive, so out the question.  Tonight many of us have skipped the group dinner in favour of the hotel bar fare.  It's western and we're ready for that.  Every lunch and dinner seems similar, (though much better than North American Chinese food) so it was an easy choice to make.

Bar food and drink made us quite the lively group in the bar with much chatter and laughter.  The live music started, so we were up dancing before our food even arrived, and carried on 'til we wore out the band [ and me ].  We were joined in our frolic by some Aussies, and even some locals.  What a riot, and what a good way to spend an evening!!

Photos 23 Sep Chongqing  Dazu


Saturday, 24 September: Chongqing to the Yangtzie

   This was the day we actually toured Chongqing.  We began by wandering and old (restored) market area near the harbour, called Ciqikou Old Street.  It had stalls for everything and throngs of people.  I tried to buy a cheap fake jade bangle, but none was large enough for my hand.  Lots of people found bargains though.  Next was the very interesting General Stillwell Museum, which honours American airman who supported China in the 1940s against the Japanese.  There was an art gallery attached to that, so more shopping ensued. 

After lunch we drove to the Erling Park.  I should mention that our lunch was in a large restaurant where a wedding banquet was taking place.  [We took lots of pics of the wedding bride etc.  

Their customs are strange.  They have a wedding lunch then play cards and games all afternoon waiting for the wedding dinner.  Not sure if dancing occurs after dinner or not.  It was inside a huge shopping complex with modern, expensive shops, so we got to do some high-end window shopping.  


At Erling Park [ on the other side of the river/city ], we enjoyed the views from high above the city,


Then we toured Three Gorges Museum.  At the gift shop there I finally found a jade pendant that I liked and could afford.  Then onto 


a Tea House where we sampled several teas and were taught how to make and enjoy them.  Luckily there was a gift shop because some of us were feeling a bit of withdrawal [ Ha!!!!!].

The bus then took us to the square in front of the People's Grand Hall, which we admired briefly before bolting to a nearby grocery/department store to stock up for the cruise.  We got bottles of water, crackers, beer and chocolate.  Then to dinner at the New York Hotel - [ they love US stuff here and also putting English on all their signs.  It is considered fashionable according to our guide. ] very posh, but the fancy chopsticks didn't seem as well balanced so we were all a bit klutzy.  Afterward, the walk back to the bus was amazing - the city was all neon - lit and full of people.  There were girls doing fan dancing in a public open area and lots of others doing their thing.

Photos 24 Sep  Chongqing to the Yangtzie


Sunday, 25 September - On the Yangtze River

 [Larry:  So here we are on the Yangtze River, sitting in our room.  There is a definite roll going on but so far I'm OK.  We will see.  It is dark and about 9 min past midnight our time on Sunday and about the same after noon on Sat your time ( but you will catch up ).  I have been delving into the setup here.  It's Wifi, but you have to use their computer.  So this will mean no pictures  for now, and no direct update of the website. I will have to examine that. ]

A quick trip to the harbour, and then we gathered up all our stuff and hauled it down some steep wet concrete stairs ( without hand rails ) to the long gangway across a couple of barges to

the MV Emperor, our cruise ship.   

We were greeted by a loud and enthusiastic percussion band [ and decorated dragon, Chinese style ], then met our cruise guide, Gracie, and found our state rooms.  We quickly discovered our balconies and explored the ship, watching from the sundeck as we pulled out of the harbour and started downstream. 

Nice boat  so we'll be comfortable. [ our room is like a hotel room with bath, closet, desk (where I am now) and a nice private balcony outside hanging over the river.  We seem to be making at least 20 knots as the wind is considerable.] [ let me tell you that running a laptop in MS Windows Chinese version is no piece of cake.]

[Larry:  It is about 5am here Monday morning on the cruise ship Emperor tied up on the Yangtze River somewhere.  Easier sleeping tied up but we had enough alcohol last night to ensure good sleep anyway. ]          

Cruising down-river we can see the shoreline markings where the water will rise to in about 4 years.   

 Whole cities are being moved to higher ground and we can see that in process.  In one place a new bridge is being built to replace one that will not tolerate the higher water.  The river is full of garbage  -  it is interesting to note that shoes must be reliably buoyant because they are the most common identifiable objects  in the water.  It's damp and chilly, so we're all breaking out our warmer clothes.  We just hope it doesn't actuallly rain on any of our excursions.

The visit to the White Emperor City was very interesting, but there was so much racket from several Chinese guides simultaneous use of electronic megaphones that we could hardly hear our guide.  

We'll have to read up on those details later.  For now it's up a long slope from the river, so some of us went up by ski lift and some walked.  Larry and I chose the ski lift since even the steps at the bottom were frightening.  Lots of vendors, as usual.  Once the water rises it will be an island and a new bridge will attach it to the mainland.  We took a very rickety ferry to the landing and then back to the cruise ship  -- an experience in itself.  As soon as we got back we headed for the observation deck on the front of the ship to enjoy the passage through
the first gorge - the Qutang Gorge.  It was raining and very windy, but just amazing.      

[Larry:  it was certainly necessary to tie on your hat and put glasses in pocket to safely see it all but the weather didn't really take much away from the experience ]


We warmed up afterwards with a hall party - everyone got out their stocks of booze and goodies and we ate and drank, planning to skip dinner;  

 however, we were informed it was the Captain's formal welcome dinner and we MUST attend.  So attend we did!  The serving ladies were dolled up in traditional princess's outfits and

after dinner we took turns trying on the elaborate head-dress.   

The the hall party resumed until it was time to go to the variety show in the night club, put on by the crew.  


What a great show!  We had stage-side seats, so really enjoyed the singing and dancing - and the games!  



Dennis competed with 2 men from Hong Kong and Korea to see who could lay the most eggs - he was a close second - and Larry captured it on video.   

Then Naomi and M-E played musical chairs against a couple of Asian guys, with the twist of having to get a named object from the audience, and getting back to the stage. They were the last two in it and M-E won with one of my socks. ( don't tell her I'd been wearing them 2 days ).

Photos 25 Sep On the Yangtze River


Monday, 26 September: To Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze

A very early breakfast to get out by 7:30 for the Lesser Three Gorges excursion. Once again, some challenging walks along piers, across gang-planks and through hordes of vendors. 

The first hour or so was on a good-sized excursion boat with a transparent roof. We spent much of the trip on the forward deck from where we could see the caves, interesting vegetation and a few white goats. The scenery is just amazing and we also saw a "hanging coffin" -- actually in a cave high on the mountain.  Since the water is already up at least 16 meters from original level, many villages have disappeared and some sites are closer to the water.  sharp turns in a "z' shape.  

The last part of the trip was in a smaller sampan because it is narrower and shallower.  Now they can use motors, but before the water started to rise the boats were pulled upstream by naked men. Farmers walk from their farms every day to drive the sampans and also to stage little tableaux along the riverside, singing and so on for the benefit of tourists. Our drivers and guides sang to us, so we sang back -- Land of the Silver  Birch, My Paddle and so on.  As soon as we got back to the cruise ship we headed for the front observation deck for the trip through the Wu Gorge. We now know not to take hats -- those gorges are windy!

We chose to eat in our room and use up some of the food we've been carrying -- actually welcomed a break from Chinese cuisine, lovely though it has been. Our guide, Michelle, phoned to see if we'd like something sent to our room. She takes such great care of us!  In the late afternoon we gathered once again on the forward  observation deck for the Xiling Gorge passage -- again a windy experience.

In the past, this was the most treacherous of the gorges but now, with deeper wider channels it's OK. That brought us to the 




Three Gorges Dam, so we went ashore and visited it. It's really a marvel of engineering! Sadly, the gift shop failed to produce the hats we were commissioned to acquire for Robin & Candy. We'll keep watching. Dinner was very late and followed by picture-taking, a brief entertainment by the crew, and packing for the last leg of our journey.

 Photos 26 Sep Yangtze R  Three Gorges Dam 

Continue To Shanghai and home 27 Sep to 01 Oct

Friday, 16 September - Beijing, China

Check out our Nelson Vacation on the way to China.   The flight was less-bothersome than I had anticipated. Air Canada certainly took care o...