Monday, January 31, 2011


Wednesday, March 28, 2007 LHASA, TIBET

The dancers last night were great except that I’d had beer with my dinner and between that and the medication I was taking.... I was really feeling under the weather. But the dinner was special in that we had a choice of a Yak Burger or Veggie Burger with French fries. We had the Yak Burger and it was really good. Dessert was candied bananas.

After another sleepless night; everyone is having problems because of the dryness of the air along with the altitude. Our sinuses are giving all of us problems. At 6 am I sure didn’t feel like hiking up 400 ft this morning. But, after two cups of coffee and bread, the Motrin and Sinus medication kicked in and I was good to go.

We left at 9:30 am by bus for the short drive to the Potala Palace and our scheduled visit. They require reservations for large groups to control the number of people. Wednesday is an especially popular day as the current Dalai Lama was born on a Wednesday. In Tibet it is against the law to have a photograph of the current Dalai Lama since 1989; but he is still much revered as he is still considered the spiritual leader even though he has been in exile in India since 1959.

All but three of our group of sixteen made the climb together; weather was cold but the sun was very bright and not a cloud in the sky. Yesterday was cloudy so we were glad that our appointment was today. We were allowed to take photos outside as we climbed but once inside the cameras had to be put away. Our guide Tassi was very knowledgeable and explained everything as we walked through. Got to see where the Dalai Lama lived when the Potala Palace was his home from the time he was designated as a small boy until he left in 1959. Also saw many tombs of previous Dalai Lamas and enough Buddhas to fill a lifetime. Tassi is especially good as his brother has been a monk since he was a small child and is now a Lama. He’s allowed to come home once a year to visit his family and it is considered a great honor for the family to claim a Lama as a member of their family.

After completing the tour of the Potala Palace we drove to a restaurant near our hotel where we each ordered our own lunch and dessert. Walked to the hotel afterwards for a rest before heading out again on the bus.

Our first stop was at a private home located in the city. Four generations live in this home and make their living from sewing. Much better than the farmer’s house that we visited unannounced yesterday; but standards are still very low. Interestingly, they had a photo of the Dalai Lama in the Buddha Room; it is allowed because he is seated next to Chairman Mao in the photo. The host family had prepared several Tibetan foods: Hot Yak Tea, Tibetan Beer and a selection of about ten different things, many of them from Yak butter that we all shared.

From there we drove in the bus to a private orphanage called the De Ji Orphanage that is supported by the Grand Circle Foundation. There are eighty-two orphans living in very poor conditions: two children to a bed and eight plus beds to a room. No heat. There were about two dozen younger children there during our visit. They sang us several songs and then each took our hand and some of us had one on each hand while they showed us their home. All of the children are being taught three languages including English. My charge took me to the classroom and using the one piece of chalk that was about a quarter of an inch wrote the alphabet for me. Makes one really think about how fortunate our children are in America. We asked about adoptions and Tibet does not allow foreigners to adopt Tibetan children. And, in this particular orphanage the children are being raised as a unit by the founder and her family and there are no plans to offer them for adoption. Many of the children had runny noses but they did carefully wash their hands as we arrived.

We’re back at the hotel now. Dinner will be at 6 pm and then at 8:15 tomorrow morning we head for the airport and back into Central China and our three day boat trip down the Yangtze.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Tuesday, March 27, 2007 LHASA, TIBET

Slept pretty good; still have a slight headache from the altitude but am able to be up and about and even climbed the five flights to the roof to see the views after breakfast. Two of our group are spending the morning in bed because of problems with the altitude.

After breakfast we walked to the Jokhang Temple for a visit among the Tibetan people who were prostrating themselves in front of the temple and others who were spinning their prayer wheels, chanting as they used their beads to keep track of their mantras. The smell of yak butter permeates the air and the floor is sticky with it; they all carry thermos full of the hot butter to add to the tubs with candles burning in them as an offering to the Buddha; and there is Buddha after Buddha. Also they put money everywhere; there was even a large tub full of money for them to change their large bills on their own. Tasssi said that no one steals because if you steal from the Temple you will have to pay ten thousand for every one that you take in your next life. These offerings are what support the monks and the temples.

We were not allowed to photograph anything inside. It was very interesting in that after the hour’s worth of prayer in the morning the monks fold their robes in this Temple and place them on the bench so that they looked like miniature monks in prayer. This is not necessarily the same in every Temple.

The Barhor Bazaar surrounds the Temple and is full of vendors selling everything imaginable. Some are bargains and some are rip offs. The guides took us to a Tibetan Carpet and Tang Ka Factory shop where most of us made our purchases with some degree of safety. Jim negotiated from $48. down to $25. and was happy with his prayer wheel memento for Tibet. While we were there we walked to the roof and had another great view of the Potala Palace and an added discovery; they heat water by sitting a kettle above a aluminum foil reflector for solar power. Seems to work well as the kettle was steaming. We had lunch at a nearby local restaurant; some traditional Tibetan food and others that we just enjoyed such as a vegetable pizza.

After lunch Jim cruised the Bazaar again and found his Cowrie shell that was the first form on any kind of money in ancient China. Back to the hotel for a rest and tried the hotel Internet. Not the fastest but sent a quick email to the family to let them know we’re okay; we were all surprised to find that we had access to one.

Our Optional Tour this afternoon was a bus trip about twenty minutes out of town to the Sera Temple where we visited another Temple, saw prayer scripture being prepared (they put them inside of their prayer wheels), witnessed the monks debating with each other and saw a beautiful sand mandala that had been created by the monks. Tassi pointed out that all of the doors and windows are framed by a foot wide black border to keep the evil spirits out. He also told us that if a small child is having bad dreams the grandparents, not the parents, take the child to visit the Lama who painted a black dot on their nose to keep the evil spirits out of their dreams.

The second part of our tour was to a farmer’s village. We strolled through and our guide chose a door to knock on and asked if we could come inside. They were very gracious and allowed us to take photos and she even offered some bread for us to eat. They wanted to know if we were the same people that he had brought with him last year as it’d been a year since he’d been to this village with a tour group. They select different villages and homes for each group. The yak dung was stacked outside the front door just like cords of wood as they burn it for cooking and heat. I don’t think any of us would have agreed to stay overnight in this house. But, they did have two television sets in the house!

Back to the hotel to a dinner at 6 pm (we asked Jo if we could have dinner earlier than the 7 pm scheduled time and she arranged it for us with the hotel). Then at 8 pm we enjoyed a hour of entertainment by Tibetan dancers.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


March 26, 2007 TIBET

No one slept very well in anticipation of that 5 am wake up call….most were up and ready long before the calls arrived. We arrived in the dining room at 5:30 expecting to be the first and over half of the group was already there. The hotel had graciously agreed to set up a continental breakfast for us to eat before our scheduled departure at 6:30 am.

We loaded our carryon bags on the bus for the trip to the airport. Sabrina gave her goodbye speech and sang us a farewell song: Edelweiss. She could win on American Idol we all agreed. Our large luggage is being held at the hotel in Chengdu until we return from Tibet. At that time we’ll have a five hour bus trip to the Yangtze River before we can get into our large suitcases again.

Our flight left right on time from Chengdu Airport; so far all of the airports that we’ve been to in China have been very modern and very impressive. We had a two hour flight over the Himalayas Mountains; no views of Mount Everest but many snow covered peaks to keep us peering out the window….yes our first window seat on this trip.

We arrived in Tibet, high in the Himalaya Mountains, and immediately put on sunglasses and a hat; the sun is extremely bright; the sky is blue and weather is cold enough for jackets. Our Lhasa City Guide is named Tassi (also known as Curley Tassi) and our driver is Lahda. Tassi speaks very good English and is easy to understand. He taught us our first Tibetan word: tassi delek; the Tibetan greeting. He then presented each of us with a white scarf that we may either keep as a memento or leave as an offering at the temple when we visit.

The bus trip from the airport to Lhasa took about an hour thanks to a new mile and half long tunnel under the mountains; it took two hours to go around the mountain before the new tunnel. The highway that was built at the same time is in wonderful condition and it was a smooth trip. We stopped midway to take photos of the domestic yaks that were grazing in the fields. Tassi continued to give us a Tibetan education on various customs:

1) Marriage: It is very common for all of the brothers in a family to share one wife to keep the land in the family out in the countryside. The oldest brother is the father and the younger ones the uncles. Other families have one father and multiple wives. And becoming more common is the monogamist practice of a single husband and wife.

2) Divorce is happening among the younger ones but not very common yet.

3) Burial is by earth if you are a criminal as you will not be reincarnated if you are placed in the ground.

4) The belief is that the spirit doesn’t take anything with it to the afterlife, and in order to be reincarnated they have their burials the following ways:

Water: prayers by the Lama and after three days the body is taken to the river cut up and fed to the fish.

Sky: prayers by the Lama and after three days the body is taken to the mountains cut up and fed to the vultures.

5) Since the train system was built in Tibet; more and more Hun Chinese are coming to live in Tibet. It takes about forty-eight hours from Chengdu to Lhasa.

6) The economy is rapidly changing and modernizing in Tibet since 1959 when the Dalai Lama left Tibet and the Chinese government took over full control of the country. Young people today are receiving a formal education and speak three languages: Chinese, Tibetan and English, but at the cost of the lost their traditions as they become homogenized.

When we stopped to see the Yaks we were still all walking pretty well. By the time we reach the hotel in Lhasa; Dhood Gu Hotel, at about 12:30 pm, we were all very wobbly and walked like we’d been on a ship at sea for at least a week. We were not allowed to carry our hand luggage to our rooms on the second floor. No elevators in our hotel so we were all happy that we were not on the third or fourth floor. So far other than weak knees and headaches we’re all doing pretty well. A few are taking altitude medicine but most of us are working through the acclimation process with drinking lots of water and taking Motrin. We ate lunch right after arriving and have been advised not to drink any alcoholic beverages and to move very slowly. Had Yak meat for lunch and it was very tasty. No chopsticks in view. The hotel staff is extremely attentive and very helpful. After lunch we went to our rooms to rest. A few hardy souls went walking in the nearby streets; but I took their advice and took a nap! Jim washed out some laundry and then climbed to the fourth floor and took some wonderful photos of the Potala Palace.

Our hotel is located in the center of the old city and we can walk to nearly everything…once we get our sea legs! The altitude in Lhasa is 12,000 feet; on the third day we will all walk up to the top of the Potala Palace, another 400 feet. Hopefully we will all be acclimated by that time. The population of Tibet is two million and growing rapidly even with the limit of two children per family in the city and three in the country. The traditional Tibet is disappearing as China provides funds for improving the economic lives of the Tibetan people. Many of the Tibetan nomad population have migrated to the cities and wander the streets as beggars, sad, but a part of life here in China’s newest frontier. Another big change is the reduced number of monks. Even the largest monasteries are limited to six hundred monks. Parents do not like to give their only son to the Monastery and the influence brought in by the television and Internet has caused many to leave as they get older. Up until 2005 parents sent their sons to the Monastery at the age of 7 or 8; new laws mandate that the sons cannot enter until the age of 17.

At 6:15 we all gathered in the conference room and had an hour long lecture by a Tibetan college profession regarding the political issues, customs and beliefs of the Tibetan culture...the basis for my previous information. She looks to be about thirty and was educated in Chengdu. She teaches British and American Literature in College.

By 7:30 we’d set down to dinner and then toddled back to our rooms for the night. Tomorrow we will have a walking tour to the Jokhang Temple and local Barkhor Bazaar.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Sunday, March 25, 2007 CHENGDU

A sleep-in morning the bus didn't leave until 9 am. We drove about forty minutes to reach the Panda Sanctuary. There we spent about three hours strolling around the complex watching baby, teenager and adult pandas frolicking in their natural settings. Two of our group paid the $100.00 fee for the privilege of actually holding a baby panda. Four of us paid $8.00, me included, to hold a red panda long enough for photos. They are much smaller in size and look more like a raccoon than the traditional panda bears.

[This world heritage site was extensively damaged in the massive earthquake in China on June 6th, 2008.]

A great experience and definitely lots of photo opportunities for everyone; the weather cooperated again and although rain was predicted; it was only overcast and we could go in short sleeved shirts. Some of us learned more than we needed to know from the film that was shown as part of the tour about procreation and the birth process. But, they seem to know what they are doing as they’ve doubled the panda population over the last several years. There are now nearly two thousand pandas worldwide.

Lunch was at another Chinese restaurant where we were the only tourists; still on the lazy susan but a different selection each time that we have a meal. So nice to just sit down and eat what they put in front of us. About half of us are using chopsticks regularly; we won’t say who is not using them very often.

On the way back to the hotel we saw a WAL-MART SUPER STORE. Everyone snapped a photo! I worked on journals and photos and Jim joined about half the group for a tour of the local flower markets this afternoon. Tonight we are having a western style dinner…no lazy susan…and we each selected our meal from a choice of four menus before leaving the bus after lunch. I chose pork chops and most importantly: ice cream for dessert!

We are up at 5 am tomorrow for an early flight to Tibet. After three days there we’ll have another three days on a boat on the Yangtze River before we see the internet again.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Saturday, March 24, 2007 IXAN/CHENGDU

I ended up working on my photos on my computer in the dark (I turned off the overhead light) until 11 pm after getting my scarf out of the bag to keep my shoulders warm in the cold room. We woke up about 6:30 am and went down to breakfast with our hotel mates, Betty and Howard, for a very traditional Chinese breakfast about 7:30 am. Our host was up early and well prepared for us. The main course was congee, slurping with noisy sound effects required when you eat/drink this soup-like breakfast favorite of the Chinese. We also had tea, hard boiled eggs that I managed to take out of the bowl and eat without dropping it with my chopsticks. There were cooked vegetables, tortilla like shells with minced onions, and more. Again….we were stuffed to the gills by the time we finished.

We were all ready for our morning walk thru the old village that is over six hundred years old. It is surrounded by the fields and is slowly being allowed to disintegrate as the villagers are moved into the new homes where we spent the night. The fields are planted with winter wheat and watermelon. We saw two cows and lots of vegetable gardens. So, I guess we really did stay at the farmhouse. There are five of these villages that surround the town that we visited yesterday afternoon and also share the elementary school that we visited.

Then we walked to the Artist Exhibit where we met Cao Quantang, a local artist that specializes in “Farmer’s Art”. He has exhibited nationally and also in foreign countries. He held an exhibit in Los Angeles several years ago. He painted a small picture as we watched and then most of us purchased one of his paintings to take home with us. Farmer paintings generally portray life in China and promote the political issues and beliefs. It was started in 1950’s by peasants who were building a new reservoir and painted the pictures to record the progress on the work with paint made from leaves, bark, roots, soot and other natural ingredients on empty cement bags. The government became aware of the paintings and sent the artists to school where they received a formal education in painting techniques and an art form was born in China.

We said our goodbyes to our host family, picked up our hand luggage and boarded our bus by 11 am for our hour long trip to the Xian airport for our flight to Chengdu this afternoon. Ate our lunch at the airport restaurant; our table ate all of the food on the table for the first time ever… either they were better at judging the amount of food to serve us or we were really hungry.

The airplane left on time and the flight was an uneventful one hour. Our new city tour guide is named Sabrina and the bus driver is named Jack and they met us at the airport. It took about half an hour to drive to our hotel located in the center of the city. It gave Sabrina an opportunity to tell us about her city named Chengdu in the province of Sichuan with about four million in the city proper and eighty-seven million in the province which is about the size of California. This area is surrounded by mountains and is the gateway to Tibet; because of the mountains and the heavy humidity (we’re in the south now) there is smog pollution nearly every day. On a day when you can actually see the sun, Sabrina said that many stop working to enjoy the rays of sunshine on their faces. She said that this is not a lazy city but life is more important than money to most of the population. As we’ve found all over China the men, especially the older ones, love to gamble on either mahjong or checkers. One sees groups everywhere gathered on low stools or squatting around a low table playing their games. One game of checkers was being played with bottle caps and pieces of wood. Nothing here seems to be wasted. Yards are littered with old things that may be recyclable for future use.

Checked into our new hotel and signed on; every room has broadband access but we’re the only one with a computer so we’re sharing with our tour mates but not too many have taken us up on the offer. We have also helped some by putting their digital photos on a CD to clear up the memory cards; so the computer has been put to many uses.

We took the tour bus to the main drag in town for another great Chinese dinner with the lazy susan. Very good food in a non-touristy restaurant; there was a wedding reception in the next room. Walked the street and some found green tea chocolate that we all tasted and some purchased; very good! This city is know for four things: spicy food, spicy girls, teahouses and the panda bears. We experience three of the four tonight.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Friday, March 23, 2007 Xian (Home Visit)

Up about 5 am we had plenty of time before breakfast at 6:30 to work on the computer and complete our packing for today. We leave this afternoon to spend an evening and overnight with a farmer's family in the countryside. We will be two couples to a home; the owners will not speak English. We will each have our own rooms but share the bathroom; the rooms do not have any heat so we’ve packed our warm jammies for the night; plus extra toilet paper from the hotel and our ever present bottles of water. The tour company keeps us well supplied and so far we’ve only purchased two bottles for ourselves back in Shanghai. The hotel provides each of us with a new bottle each day and the tour company also gives us a bottle each day. We packed our large suitcases that will be taken to the airport today for our flight to Chengdu tomorrow afternoon.

On the bus by 8 am with only our carryon luggage, we headed for a lacquer furniture factory. We learned how it is made; watched some of the craftsmen doing the inlaid shell and also glued jade designs. They showed us a unique way to polish good wood furniture. Make a dough from cake flour and vegetable oil. Rub that on the wood for a period of time and then using extra cake flour clean the excess oil off and polish the wood at the same time. We’ve all decided to give it a try when we reach home. Again, the cost of the furniture for sale was pricey but one couple did purchase a thirty-six inch folding screen to be shipped to their home. They had them write their name on the screen with chalk so that they could be assured they were receiving the one that they chose when it arrives at their home in the USA.

Boarded the bus for a short drive to the old City Walls around Xian. It has been restored to its original condition and makes a wonderful place to ride bicycles or walk. If one goes completely around it is a total of nine miles. We walked the wall for about half an hour and stopped to watch them filming a movie at one of the towers that are spaced “arrow’s length” apart all around the wall. The wall itself is probably at least about thirty feet across.

Back on the bus we discovered that along the streets where they sell the materials needed to finish the inside of a home (pipes, toilets, doors, etc) there were many “day laborers” attempting to get work; mostly farmers who come to the city to earn extra money. Of the 1.3 billion people in China, nearly 70% of them are farmers and there is not enough land for all of them. So, those that don’t have enough land to split with family members send the extra family members to the city to earn money. On the front of each of the bicycles they had placed a sign showing what type of work they are qualified to do.

Our last stop of the morning was at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We spent about forty-five minutes walking around with a group stop at the main temple for burning incense and saying prayers together for good weather and a safe trip. We decided not to climb the tower as the smog is so bad in China that one can’t really see very far. Back at the hotel we had an hour before lunch to finish packing our things for tonight. Lunch was at the hotel restaurant: jup…Chinese lunch with the lazy susan!

Our bus trip took about half an hour to the suburbs. Our homes are located in a village located in the center of farmlands and is called Huxian. But, the homes we are staying in are not farmhouses in the American sense. More like two story homes in an association with no yards, but free-standing buildings. They are about 2000 square feet, very clean but simply decorated.

Before we met our host family we spent about an hour at a local primary school named the Guang Ming Primary School. It is support by the Grand Circle Foundation. We visited several classes, saw a film about the school and then had some fun playing with the students on playground. We played ping pong with them and basketball. Many of us brought boxes of pencils and crayons to give to the teachers for their students as recommended by the tour company.

From there we drove to the center of a commercial area with shops and a park where we walked around the newly built park that was full of mostly retired and young people. We were constantly surrounded by people who were curious to talk with us and the children loved to have their photos taken and then see the results on our digital camera screens. They don’t see very many Caucasians out here in the countryside so we were definitely a novelty for them.

Our host families are great. We used written phrase sheets, sign language and their limited English to communicate and get acquainted over tea. Our host family has twenty year old twin sons that are at boarding school. These are well to do middle class families that we are staying with. There are seventy families who have qualified to be a host family and each one has several visitors a month. They are paid to invite us into their home and they also enjoy practicing their English with their visitors. Like all beds in China they are what Americans would consider sleeping on a board…extremely firm! There was a heater in our room but we decided not to attempt to use it.

We saw their bed made of tile with a built in stove underneath for warmth. We have beds with an electric blanket under the bottom sheet and they are nice and warm. We even have a television in our room with limited Chinese stations. After having tea with the hostess and sharing photos of children we went down into the kitchen to help with the making of the noodles for our dinner. Rolled the dough and then sliced it very thin. Our dinner was excellent: pancakes, eggs, vegetables, fried bread, nuts and beer or coke to drink plus tea. Our host had something special for us to try: they ferment a liquor that is primarily made from ginsing root. Very strong and you only drink about one ounce each time. But it was great with a beer chaser! It was only offered to the men but I got them to give me several shots also.

By the way…our kitchen was on the rear of the house and also used for the garage for their motorcycles. Questionable sanitary conditions but no one got sick!

After dinner we all walked to the neighborhood park for an evening of playing on the exercise equipment with the children and dancing with the children and adults. They performed several group dances with us and kept all of us busy on the dance floor with them. It was a fun hour and good exercise after the large meal. We were all amazed by their dance performance for us when we realized they were doing the electric slide line dance that we do in the USA. It’s now almost 10 pm. Jim is sound asleep and my bed is warm but the room is cold and it’s time to close another day in China. Our one light, a single fluorescent tube in the ceiling, is too bright to burn much later.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Thursday, March 22, 2007 Xian

Out the door by 8 am we were off to our first stop at the Jin Jian Jade Shop. There we had a short lesson in what makes jade valuable, had an opportunity to watch several skilled artists creating sculptures using diamond drills to create works of art. We learned that jade has several characteristics: hardness (diamonds are 10 and jade is 5); translucent; color…the lighter green is the best as it deepens in color as it ages and the tone when you tap it….much like a crystal water glass.

The shopping was fun but expensive and only a few made some purchases. A very small Buddha was about $60.00.

Then on to the main attraction of the day: the Terra-Cotta Army. Discovered in 1974 by four farmers who were digging a well; this has been declared a national treasure. They had always known where the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s Tomb was because there is a man-made hill. But until this discovery, the whereabouts of the Terra-Cotta Army was unknown. One of the farmers is employed by the government and he signed our books at the museum as we purchased them. We also purchased a small knelling statute as a memento of our visit. There are three buildings housing the exhibits. The most recent was built in 2001. They are still discovering and recovering artifacts. The area is under major construction of shopping centers for the hundreds of vendors that crowd you on the walk into the museum. The government knows that this is a money machine and just as popular with the Chinese and foreign tourist as the Great Wall.

The actual army is unbelievable in that they have managed to put so many of them back together. The first and largest building is about the size of three football fields. Truly worth the time to visit China just to see these soldiers and horses.

[Two of the reasons that we made this tour in 2007 is that Bowers Museum, where Jim is a docent, was exhibiting "Treasurers from Shanghai" (from the Shanghai Museum that we visited) during 2006-2007. Secondly, the Terra-Cotta Warriors were scheduled to open on exhibit in May of 2008 at his Museum. This gave him personal experiences to share with the visitors as they toured with him through the exhibits. His autographed book and personal photos were enjoyed by those that had an opportunity to tour with him.]

After the Army we drove to a local hotel called Flourishing International Hotel for a Chinese lunch that included two types of noodles and also candied potatoes. It was nearly 3 o’clock before we finished lunch and headed back toward Xian.

We stopped along the way at the Chinese Medical Market where the pharmacists and others people purchase their ingredients for Chinese medicine. A warehouse with large bags full of " things" that could be scooped out and purchased by weight; but again we decided to stick with western medicine. The "things" were dried bugs, plants, fish, organs from animals, etc. Some were tempted by the large bags of saffron but no one purchased anything.

After a brief rest we walked to the hotel theatre for a marvelous Tang Dynasty Show that lasted about an hour. Young male and female dancers were dressed in very beautiful traditional costumes and performed traditional dances. There were also several musical solos; very unexpected and delightful. We then walked back to the hotel for a Dumpling Dinner in the hotel restaurant. Stuffed and sated we toddled off to bed for an end to another perfect day in China.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Tuesday, March 21, 2007 XIAN

The train arrived in Xian about 8 am. Everyone was a bit tired from the sleepless night but in good spirits. We hiked out of the train station to the bus and got our first glimpse of Jo’s home city. We're further south and the weather is much warmer than it was in Beijing. She will be our local guide in this city as well as our tour leader. She kept telling us not to expect this hotel to be as grand as our Beijing Hotel but we've found it to be a lovely older hotel built around a garden complete with ponds and two beautiful peacocks that strut around the patio keeping us all entertained. It was appropriately name the Xian Garden Hotel.

Our rooms were ready early and the luggage arrived while we were at breakfast. My lock was missing off of my suitcase but nothing had been taken from inside. The luggage strap that I’d also secured with plastic ties must have discouraged them. But, we’d removed nearly everything except clothes so there really wasn't much for them to take of value. Everyone felt better after a shower and change of clothes.

We all met on the patio for a Tai Chi demonstration and then we practiced some moves ourselves. Not as easy as it looked we soon discovered. We then walked from the hotel to the park where the dancing water display will be held each evening. Discovered lots of toddlers and suddenly realized that their little buns were hanging out the bottom of their clothes. Instead of diapers they leave the bottom open. Looked cold but nearly all of them were dressed in this manner. Their clothes were very warm looking otherwise.

The cameras were very busy trying to capture their faces and backsides!

Also got a view of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda that leans to one side because like Pisa in Italy; they've been using too much of the stored water. Now the policy has changed to protect the ground water and hopefully the damage has been stopped. We’ll have an opportunity on Friday to see more of this Pagoda.

Met the bus and continued over to the Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi is the name of the province that Xian is located in) for a guided tour on the history of China. Xian was the capital of China for many years and it has an extensive history that goes back to prehistoric times.

We then drove to a Muslim Shopping Alley located within the old city walls and walked through enjoying the sights and smells (except for one spot where they were emptying “honey pots” into a large tanker truck) and some even ventured to taste the shishkobs that were being cooked on the street. The variety of food was very different; some we could distinguish but others remained a mystery. We walked into a Chinese Pharmacy and had a brief discovery on how they fill a prescription with Chinese herbs. Many different herbs are weighed and put on a large sheet of paper. Those are taken home and boiled for several hours into a broth, then strained before you drink the broth. Each prescription is for three to seven packets and you drink one per day. Some of the ingredients are really wild; for example dried: birth placenta, dog or horse sexual organs, turtles, lizards, as well as every imaginable root, herb and spice. We all decided to stick to western medicine.

We saw the Bell Tower that rang each morning to tell the people that the gates were open and then the Drum Tower that beat to show that the gates were closed in the evening. The government requirement is that no buildings within the old city be taller than the bell towers; exceptions are made if the builder is willing to pay a fine for taller buildings.

Our dinner this evening was very different. We had Mongolian Hot Pot dinner at the City Hotel restaurant. Each of us had a small pot in front of us and we dipped our food into the pot and let is cook before we ate it. A challenge to discover what took longer to cook. Then we mixed our own sauce from a master table for dipping the pieces into before eating them. Lots of fun and no one burned themselves on the hot pots.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed using the internet from our room and Chris came down to read her emails also. Some walked over to see the Dancing Water Fountain at 8:30 and about 8 pm there was a very loud display of fire crackers; a nightly thing we learned. The internet was broadband and not free but only about 30 Yang a day. Much less than using the hotel business office computers that charge by the hour.

Sunday, January 23, 2011



Jim is out to see the Cathedral. He’s taking a cab over with several others. We've carefully packed our large suitcases for transport this morning. Absolutely no valuables and empty outside pockets; a secure lock (not TSA as they have keys for those). We’re going to go by overnight train to Xian, they have purchased two tickets for each of us so that we don’t have to share our compartment with strangers. But the bathroom is another story. They have prepared us for the fact that it is not uncommon for the suitcases to be searched for valuables. The big suitcases are being taken early this morning on a separate train and we won’t see them until tomorrow at the new hotel. We are carrying all of our valuable things in our carry on bags. Should be an interesting night.

Packed and on the bus by 12:30 pm we drove across town to visit the Hutong Village located on the edge of a lake called “the ocean” so named by the Mongolians when they first saw it because they’d never seen the ocean and thought they’d arrived at one when they saw the large lake.

The Hutong Village has been rebuilt in the old style; they call them the flat houses because they are all single story with flatter roofs than the taller homes. They are rather drab in appearance because the walls are all gray but the red doors add color. Some paid extra and rode in a rickshaw but most of us walked as we explored the area. We stopped at a private home for lunch. The husband was an artist and had beautiful paintings of flowers on the walls. His long white beard added a touch of character to his face.

The wife gave us a lesson in how to make a dumpling (wonton). Then the brave ones had an opportunity to make one; fortunately for all, those were not used in the wonton soup that we had with our lunch later. Yes, we had another wonderful Chinese lunch with the lazy susan before bidding our host family goodbye and continuing our tour through the Hutong Village. Several of the tour members including Jim used their chopsticks for the first time….forks were not available. As we neared the shopping center the number of vendors increased dramatically. One became attached to Jim and was determined to sell him some paint brushes. He continued to tag along and negotiate for the next hour as we strolled through the village. No, he would never quite meet Jim’s price. Thank goodness, as we didn’t need to take home paint brushes!

Today is a special day for the Chinese: if they get their hair cut today it will help them make more money in the coming year….yes…our Maggie was almost late because she had a hair appointment. Jo was too busy taking care of us so had to miss her opportunity.

Dogs: don’t see too many of them for the simple reason that after you purchase and license the dog you also have to pay an annual fee for the first year of $600.00; and for the second and third year $200.00 each year. They have an I.D. that is the same as the humans; similar to our driver’s licenses. And it is more expensive to have a large dog so they are very unusual.

At the end of the Hutong Village we toured the Winter Palace; much smaller than the Summer Palace but very beautiful. Then we toured a Temple and saw many different Buddha’s; each with their own special meaning. Didn't have to take our shoes off but we were not allowed to take photos inside. In the garden of the Temple there was a huge ceramic wall that depicted dragons on both sides.

Dinner tonight was near the train station and we had a fish dish (head and all) for the first time and caramelized apples as one of the plates. Soup signaled the end of the dinner plus a plate of fresh fruit. Arrived at the train station and had to walk through crowds to reach the platforms. Jo had warned us about the fact that many people sleep in the train station on the floor when they are traveling to save money; and also that the odors can get rather bad because they tend to bath rather infrequently. But we survived and made it to our train car without mishap. We had a whole car to ourselves at the front of the train; this made for a nice trip as we didn't have people walking through our car to get to the dining car that was located behind us. Only Jo had to share her compartment; she had three young men with her. The beds were very firm but clean sheets, T.V. with Chinese films and music made the evening fun. Jo brought along some “holy water” that we all enjoyed as a night cap before calling it a day. The holy water consisted of two bottles; one of rice spirits and a bottle of wine. The wine we've had so far doesn’t quite measure up to Two Buck Chuck (an inexpensive California Wine that has become named because it cost $2.00 and is made by Charles Shaw Winery and sold at Trader Joe's Stores). We had one western toilet and at the other end of the car a squat toilet. Everyone was warned to bring their bottled water and toilet paper.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


March 19, 2007 BEIJING ...visiting the Peking Opera School and Summer Palace

Some notes of possible interest:

The envelopes do not have glue on them…you have to add that to seal the envelope….no lickem’ and stickems’!

Our local guide grew up in an 80 sq ft apartment with her parents; they all three slept in the same bed. She still lives with her parents but has her own bedroom now which is 100 sq ft…the standard of living is increasing rapidly.She has purchased a condo for herself with her boyfriend; but they have a tenant. When you purchase a new home (condo) it is only four bare walls and bare floors. The water is piped in the wall to the unit but no inside piping or appliances. Each person does their own after they buy. The way to spot residential buildings as opposed to an office building: each unit has an air conditioning unit attached to the wall outside the building. There is no central system for the residential buildings.

There are more bikes on the streets of Beijing than Shanghai. Cars have the right of way…you take your life in your hands when you cross the street.Driving laws…only suggestions unless a policeman is present!

Food is always cut into small pieces and served family style on the lazy susan table. What do we eat…mostly vegetables, beef and pork, very little seafood or fish. No bread with the meals and dessert is always fresh fruit sliced very thinly. Soup is served near the end of very meal: generally very thin soup. And of course: as much tea as you can drink!

The guides say that Chinese people eat everything:

That flies except the airplanes

That has four legs except the table

That swims in the water except for submarines

Toilets: Mostly “squat” type; we do find a western toilet occasionally. Toilet paper is very rare; everyone carries their own supply.

Disneyland: Everyone knows about the one in Hong Kong but they are also building a new Disneyland Theme Park in Shanghai we are told; out by the airport.


Our morning began early again as we were up and out of the hotel by 8 am.Rained during the night and we had a light mist most of the day. Again, very cold!

Our first stop was at a Silk Carpet Factory. We learned about the process from the cocoon to the dying of the yarn and then watched the young girls weaving the carpets. They are all farm girls who come to the city to work for the factory for about six years and then return to the farm. They are paid about $90 month plus room and board. Very tedious work and the results are beautiful. Several of our group purchased rugs. The more knots on the rug the more expensive it was. A small throw rug was several thousand dollars.

Back on the bus we headed across town for another hour to reach theOpera School where we visited classrooms to see how the children are trained to perform in The Peking Opera. They are auditioned at the age of ten for their voice and ability to mimic the instructor. Once chosen they spend six years training and about ninety percent of them become performers for the Opera Company Tours. They are trained in dancing, music, singing and acrobatics. Basic educational classes are also provided for their education here at the boarding school.

On to a nice Chinese lunch at a local restaurant and then some elected to go back to the hotel by cab and the rest of us drove to the Summer Palace located about ten miles away from the Forbidden City. The Empress Dowager liked to spend six months a year at this location. She had a telephone between the Summer Palace and the Forbidden City and also electricity; both did not exist elsewhere in China at that time. It is very large complex built around a manmade lake. The dirt removed from the lake was used to build a mountain. For luck one wants a lake in front of their home and a mountain behind their home.

Several of the buildings are under renovation for the upcoming Olympics. By the way…Beijing is only one of four cities being used for the 2008 Olympics. There will be venues in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Xian (I’m not positive on that fourth one). So if you plan to see several different events it may include airplane trips around the country.

The Summer Palace was very beautiful but even colder than the rest of the city because of the lake. You would have thought we were in Sibera the way we were dressed and then we were still freezing when we arrive back at the bus after an hour plus of walking through the palace grounds along the edge of the lake under the recently renovated corridor. The mist continued to fall all afternoon; just enough to make us damp but not enough for umbrellas.

Traffic jams made the ten mile trip to the hotel last for an hour. Arrived back just in time to freshen up before leaving for another Chinese Dinner….and I wonder why I’m gaining weight…before walking from the restaurant to Madam Mao’s Theatre to enjoy an abbreviated Chinese Opera. It lasted for about an hour; the regular ones last a minimum of four hours. It helped to have seen the children practicing in their classrooms this morning. Arrived home by 9 pm and hit the pillow early. My thighs were sore all day from the Great Wall walking yesterday. Literally had to be helped up and down the steps on the bus each time; and I wasn’t the only one suffering from problems created by our hike on steep and uneven stone steps the day before. But worth every ounce of pain!

Friday, January 21, 2011


March 18, 2007 BEIJING....Walking the Wall

Up before 6 we were at breakfast by 6:30 and out the door by 8 am. Dressed warmly as we’re headed for the mountains today and it’s overcast again. I have five layers of clothes to attempt to stay warm.

Our first stop was at the BinBin Cloisonne Factory where we saw how they create the vases and other works of art. Then we had an opportunity to “paint” a dish. Now we know how hard they are to do and at that point we visited the factory showrooms. Nearly everyone purchased at least one item. We found a very tiny duck that will be perfect for our Beijing memento.

Back on the bus for another hour of driving to the Great Wall of China. Our first stop was at a section that is located away from the area that most tourists go to called the Badaling Wild Wall. We transferred to small vans, and then we drove about a mile over a very rough dirt road; and then we had to hike up a rocky path to the actual wall and it was COLD…also it was SNOWING. But we hung in there and walked a section of the wall on wooden steps as the wall itself is original and has not been repaired other than building wooden steps over the top to walk on without breaking our necks! Jim and several of the other hardier ones continued on and walked for about an hour before returning to the group for our short ride back to our bus. The bus then drove us over to the Tourist Area for the wall that is shown in all of the photos of famous people known as the Badaling Great Wall. The hardiest of all of our group, Christa and Birgitte, walked all the way down to the bus in the parking lot.

Before walking that section we fortified ourselves with a Chinese lunch at the local restaurant. This wall was much easier to walk as the stones have been repaired. The weather was still cold but the snow had stopped and it was a bit warmer by the time we’d finished lunch. Dropped my new camera while walking this section of the wall; stopped to take off my glove and lost my grip. The battery compartment came open but nothing broke; just gave me a scare and a journal entry. Even in this weather the wall was very crowded and we were all glad that we had the morning experience to enjoy the "real wall" with no crowds.

On the two hour drive back to the hotel (and no we’d never left the city limits of Beijing) we passed by one of the new stadiums (named the bird nest because of the unusual style) that will be completed by July of this year for the 2008 Olympic Games next year.

We were on our own for dinner tonight so Jim and I walked down to the shopping area to enjoy a local restaurant that featured Won Ton Soup. We each had a bowl with a beer. Seems like we’re always having a small glass of beer with our meals; our choices of drinks are limited to Sprite, Coke, bottled water or beer. Of course we always have tea with every meal. Then we walked to the street vendors section that offer exotic foods every evening…lots of people eating but many doing what we were doing: taking photos of the unusual foods offered…bugs, snakes, seafood urchins, etc. Fun to look at but not to eat!

Jim walked me over to St. Joseph’s Cathedral; a beautiful Catholic Church right in the center of town. Jim plans to take a cab out to the big Cathedral before leaving on Tuesday. He actually stopped in this morning for five minutes of mass…he said it was very crowded…on his morning constitutional after breakfast.

Interesting side note: there are no vintage cars in China. When they are fifteen years old you are required to turn them in and they are destroyed. Also they now observe Arbor Day and encourage all people to plant a new tree every year. The hope is that it will help to solve some of the pollution problems. It is very expensive to own a car in China. The cost of the gas is not too high, only about $2.00 a gallon; but the income is so much less than in the USA it seems very high to the Chinese people. Maggie said that boys can either afford a girlfriend or a car but seldom both.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


March 17, 2007 BEIJING

Woke early and headed for breakfast; we are enjoying large western style breakfasts every day before we start the daily tours; not a chopstick in sight! We then met with our Tour Director Jo (who will be with us for the next three weeks until we leave Hong Kong) in the conference room for our orientation, language and money tips and general briefing. The first statement was about the importance of being on time, and even five minutes early, when leaving for tours. Jim was one of two that were about fifteen minutes late for this meeting. I’d gone down early and arrived on time for the meeting.

Our hotel is walking distance to our first stop today: The Forbidden City. But, that gate is closed and we have to go to a special gate to enter; so we’re on the bus and enjoying our first day of sunshine in China!

The Forbidden City was very interesting. Both Jo and our City Guide Maggie will be with us during our stay in Beijing. Maggie was actually born in Beijing and is very knowledgeable about the city and younger than Jo by a few years. We walked through courtyard after courtyard and looked inside many of the buildings. The guides were great about imparting historical information as we wandered through the vast royal complex of buildings surrounded by huge courtyards. Our bus met us at the end of our tour of the main section containing the buildings. This area was surrounded by a wide moat for security but not the gardens that continued on for blocks.

From there we headed to Tiananmen Square. At 100 acres it is the largest public square in the world. I never found the numbered squares (supposedly used to line up the troups for military parades) but we did walk most of the area. Chairman Mao’s tomb is being remodeled for the upcoming 2008 Olympics and we only had an opportunity to view it from the outside. The square was full of strolling people, some flying kites that you could purchase from the vendors. We also took time to have a group photo taken in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (the official viewing stand for parades). The Chinese people were very friendly and loved to pose with us for photos. Many enjoyed practicing their English by speaking with us. We’re known as the “big noses” to the Chinese.

After an hour we boarded our bus and drove past the “countdown clock” for the 2008 Olympics. It reminded me of the one that we saw in 1999 on the Eiffel Tower in Paris that was counting down to the Millennium Celebration for 2000.

Stopped at a local Chinese restaurant near our hotel for lunch before going back to the hotel where we had a couple of hours to rest and use our free internet before boarding the bus for another ride back to the Forbidden City gate and a Chinese Restaurant located next to the gate for dinner. Seems like all we do is eat! There we enjoyed another Chinese dinner of multiple dishes highlighted by Peking Duck. The chef carved the duck into thin slivers of meat at the table and then it was dipped in sauce along with slivers of cucumbers and spring onions and then rolled in a paper thin shell (much like a taco shell). As with all of our Chinese meals we enjoyed or at least some of us enjoyed using our chopsticks! Back to the hotel and another end to an informative and fun day of exploration. Most of us had forgotten that today was St. Patrick’s Day…some worn green but most of us forgot!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011



Our last day in Shanghai: This morning was an open morning; Jim elected to explore the city and I worked on my photos and journals. Enjoyed using the broadband access in the hotel (nominal fee of 40 Yuan) and sent my first journal. I’d set up a web based free photo site before leaving home but probably due to the problems with my new computer and the Vista Windows System…it’s not working! [What a change in four more Vista and wireless wifi makes blogging in real time so easy! And, as you see...I've mastered the Picasa web albums.]

Packed for the plane trip to Beijing and left the hotel by bus at 11:30 am; raining again as we headed towards our Mongolian BBQ Restaurant for an early lunch. The restaurant was much like those in the USA except very, very large! I’m getting pretty good with the chopsticks and hardly use the fork at all. Jim refuses to attempt the chopsticks and has been sticking with the fork that they provide at all the tables.

After lunch we drove back into the city center, past the IKEA Store that is very popular with the young Chinese people for decorating their apartments according to Hanna; for an afternoon at the Shanghai Museum. A relatively new museum that has four floors of displays: Bronze, Ceramics, Jade, Money, Clothing and Furniture. By 5 pm we were back on our bus and headed towards the domestic airport for our evening flight to Beijing. Arrived in plenty of time, checked in with the help of our guide Hanna and they only selected one suitcase belonging to Barney and Kristen to open and question items.

Our flight was an hour late in leaving and lasted nearly two hours. They did feed us dinner and when we arrived our City Guide for Beijing, Maggie, was waiting at the exit. One unfortunate incident: Barney’s suitcase caught on the luggage conveyor belt and ripped apart. They did give him a new suitcase to replace it right there at the airport. Not Barney’s day: It was his birthday and first of all he caught his wife’s cold today and then the luggage problems. But, he was a good sport and didn’t complain about all the problems. We were all ready to call it an evening when we finally arrived at the hotel; and what a hotel! Our scheduled hotel didn’t have enough rooms so they have switched us to the brand new Regent Hotel! Wow! We are really going to be spoiled with this one….definitely a five star plus! It has all the bells and whistles right down to plasma TV’s and free broadband internet in the rooms. I’m in seventh heaven. And, Jim is pleased with the location: right in the center of the city within walking distance of most of the sites we’re going to visit. But, for tonight we all went straight to our rooms and enjoyed the view from our rooms. The outside wall is all glass bringing the outside in when the drapes are open. We overlook the entrance to the hotel and on a clear day they say we can see the Forbidden City from our rooms. The question is will we have a clear day?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


March 15, 2007 SHANGHAI and SUZHOU

We both woke up about 3:30 am and spent about an hour working on personal tasks before turning out the light again; the alarm rang at 6:30 am and we managed to have breakfast downstairs before the scheduled leaving time of 7:30 am...we had a train to catch....

The weather has turned colder and it is still raining. We took taxi cabs to the train station for our tour by train to Suzhou today. Chris, our local guide for Suzhou helped us cross through the muddy construction site outside the train station after our arrival. Like Shanghai, Suzhou is under major rebuilding. Still raining after our forty minute train ride but getting lighter all the time.

Toured the town, small by China numbers this 2500 year old city only has two million residents and a world renowned architect was born in Suzhou: I. M. Pei, he designed his last building for his hometown. He designed the pyramid at the Louvre and also the library in my home town of Columbus, Indiana. We then continued to our destination of The Garden of the Master of the Nets, a thousand year old estate that was restored in the eighteenth century. During this time the rain finally stopped but we never saw the sun.

Leaving the gardens we walked to the nearby silk factory for a tour to see how silk is made and then had an opportunity to purchase some of the goods that was made available. We all enjoyed shopping but no one purchased anything.

A buffet lunch at the huge restaurant adjacent to the factory was followed by a canal boat ride down the Grand Canal and then into a narrow side canal to view some of the many bridges that Suzhou residents use to transgress the many canals that crisscross the old city. This city is considered China’s version of Venice…yes, I know we heard that story yesterday about the village that we visited outside of Shanghai.

Interesting sidelight: most of the sculptures found in this area are stone free forms that have been roughly carved and then put into the lake for the water to erode and create the final naturalistic artwork. Other than government leaders there are very few realistic statutes.

Back to the train station waiting room, we got to use the “Soft Waiting Room”…so called because the seats were padded…for a forty-five minute wait. Then another forty minute train ride back to Shanghai. Arrived at the hotel about 5 pm and had the evening to ourselves; everyone decided to stay in for the evening. Jim did take a walk and found a couple of silk ties to take home with him.

Another note of interest is that Suzhou has implemented a new rule regarding the government’s mandate on only one child. Because the population is aging so rapidly they have agreed that if both parents are only children they may have two children.

Tomorrow we have the Shanghai Museum and then fly to Beijing in the late afternoon for the official start of our tour when we meet with the other eight people for a total of sixteen in the tour group.

Monday, January 17, 2011



Slept fairly well; the jet lag has not been a problem for either of us. We met our new tour mates who arrived late last night this morning at breakfast. One has a very bad cold; a new challenge to stay healthy especially since we all eat so many meals together with the “family style” common bowls.

The weather is still cold and today we have rain. Out with the umbrellas and on the bus by 9 am. Today we spent about an hour driving out to a “River Town”; so named because the streets are canals similar to those found in Venice, Italy. Traffic was especially heavy with the rain; but then heavy traffic is an issue twenty-four hours a day according to Hanna. This is a very old village and although they do have electricity they still do not have plumbing in the homes. Even their clothes are washed in the canals. There are about ten thousand people who reside in Zhu Jia Jiao Village compared to the seventeen million that live in Shanghai.

After a short boat ride in the canal we toured the Ma Garden, built by Mr. Ma who was a salt merchant during the Ming Dynasty. Umbrellas made it a very different experience from yesterday but still informative and beautiful. Leaving the garden we walked along the canal until we reached the Setting-Free Bridge; crossed over and were immediately surrounded by women trying to sell us live gold fish in bags of water. Then Hanna explained that people purchase these fish to “set them free” in the water under the ah ha moment!

Lunch was at a local restaurant; another Chinese dinner. But we’re getting smarter and didn’t feel that we had to eat everything set before us! Walked back to the bus and the long journey back into the city arriving about 3 pm. During the trip Hanna entertained us by teaching us how the Chinese count to twenty-nine on one hand. The balance of the afternoon was free; most decided to dry out and get warm. Dinner is on our own, a good evening to work on journals and photos.