Our group at the Great Wall
The next morning we had breakfast in the hotel and then boarded the bus for a trip to the great to see the great wall. At the great wall there was a photo opportunity where we all got to pose with the great wall behind us. On the way to the Great Wall we went to a jade factory where we got a tour of the factory and then the opportunity to purchase jade products if we wanted to.
And then we went see the Ming tombs. The Ming Tombs located at the foot of Tianshou Hill in Changping District are the group of tombs for 13 emperors in the Ming Dynasty. Apart from the emperors, also buried are 23 empresses, 30 concubines, two princes and an eunuch. At the Ming Tombs site you can see the Changling Mausoleum where the Yongle Emperor's tomb artifacts and replicas are displayed. Youngle was the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty and his tomb is the only one that has been excavated. His monument building has been converted into a museum with replicas of a lot of the emperors silk embroidered gowns. The gowns shown are replicas of those found in the tombs. Many of these gowns took up to two years to complete. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage, The Ming Tombs are considered one of the best-preserved imperial mausoleum groups in the world.
That evening we had a dinner where they served roast Peking duck. This was a featured meal of the trip.
The next day was a tour of Tiananmen Square which is billed as the largest square in the world. Since our visit coincided with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, we really did not see much of the size of this square because large structures that were part of the celebration were in place. Tiananmen Square leads directly to the former Forbidden City and the emperor’s palace where more than 27 emperors called home. The palace and the Forbidden City have now been turned into museums. Although a lot of the artifacts that once graced the rooms in the 9,999 room palace have been sold off. The Forbidden City covers nearly 5 square miles. Because I had fallen and suffered an injury to my shoulder several weeks before the trip, I was hesitant about falling again, so had taken a cane with me. I was a little concerned about walking through the city, so Brian suggested that I hire a wheelchair and driver. That was an absolutely wonderful idea because I got to see all Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City without having to be totally exhausted from trying to walk
After the tour of the emperors Palace we were taken to a local family’s home for lunch. This was in a Hutong area. Beijing has thousands of hutongs in its old town, but few are as famous as the Eight Hutongs, which used to be the famous red light district of Beijing during the Qing Dynasty and the Chinese Republic. The eight were between the Tieshu Xiejie and the Xizhushikou Street north-south, with the Baishun Hutong on the west and the Lishamao Hutong (now Xiaoli Hutong) on the east. Now of course, the area is no longer a red light district. Most of the people on the trip really enjoyed that lunch because it was a bit different than what we were being served in the restaurants.
Following lunch we were treated to rickshaw rides through parts of the Hutong area. The rickshaws are not pulled by coolies as in some movies, but are bicycle powered. I learned from guide books that rickshaw rides are now reserved just for visitors and that the routes are regulated by government. I had a bit of trouble getting into the rickshaw (it was very high off of the ground). The driver noticed this and at the end of the ride he pulled over to a sidewalk curb where it was easier for me to get out. This caused some consternation by the woman who was in charge of our group. Since I had exited the ride where I was not supposed to she insisted on escorting me back to the proper place.
As I mentioned, the weekend we arrived had been a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. During most of our trip there were floral arrangements everywhere with the letter 70 commemorating this anniversary. And one of our guides kept telling us that we were lucky because it was a holiday and the traffic was not that bad. The traffic seems pretty heavy to me. The infrastructure of the highways and the roads were amazing. Highways were everywhere and they were for the most part in very good condition. The other thing that amazed me was the high-rise apartment buildings which were just everywhere. For some reason I had thought about China as being sort of backward. Boy was I wrong on that one.
The next day we took up a flight from Beijing to Shanghai. Although Peter accompanying us on the flight, we met a new tour guide – Jack – at the Shanghai Airport. And he had a contingent of young ladies and a welcoming banner for us. We also received red roses. From the airport we boarded a bus to Xuzhou in Suzhou where we toured the temple garden and then a lingering garden which the Jack told his had been a very wealthy man’s private home. It had been constructed during the YUAN dynasty. The name Lingering Garden was meant to signify that the person was encouraged to relax and enjoy the scenery. The garden wrapped around and we were lead through areas representing all four seasons, finally ending up at the main house. It reminded me a lot of some of the hidden private gardens in London. Surrounded by high walls that completely blocked visibility from the street.
The next site was West Temple Garden. This is the only active Buddhist monastery outside of Tibet. It has been continuously occupied for over 400 years. It is the site of a pagoda which houses very large gold statues of five at 500 different monks.
One of the surprises, for me at least, was the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal in Suzhou traces its heritage back to 463 when it was hand dug to provide for commerce between Beijing and the rivers connecting with Shanghai harbor. I the Suzhou area, houses dating back to that area line the canal. The houses are protected by the government and the exteriors cannot be altered. However, when the Peoples Republic took over, they installed modern sewer and storm water systems. Prior to that time the canal was also the repository for household sewage. We took a boat ride through parts of the canal and then disembarked for a walk through of a local market. Jack was very proud of Suzhou because he told us it was his home town and also the hometown of one of China’s famous citizens Jack Ma co-founder of the Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate. At the market we had free time to explore the shops and then were treated by Jack to a local favorite - fried dumplings. I also found something interesting - a Bakery with Cakes very similar to the types of cake we make here in United States.
From Xuzhou we took the bus to Hangzhou. There we visited a silk factory. A number of our group bought silk sheets and other items. I bought four scarves. Next stop, by bus was to West Lake where we took a boat ride along the lake to look at Jewel-like pagodas. Walking to the docks where the boats were launched I passed by two groups of school children who were eager to show off their English language skills. Their conversation was limited to “what is your name and my name is,” but I have to admit they knew more English than I knew Chinese. We followed this up with a tour of a tea factory. There we saw fields of green tea. We were told that it is the fresh new leaves that are prized by the Chinese people for their tea. The other more mature leaves are those that are exported. After the trip to the tea factory we went to the pagoda of the six harmonies on Yuelun Hill in Hangzhou on the northern bank of Qiantang River. From there we had a two hour bus ride to Shanghai. During that ride I saw very little open space the fields were covered with apartment buildings and construction and I there was a lot of industry including huge car factories. I learned that Volvo is completely made in Japan these days.
That night we checked into the Marriott Hotel Kangqiou in Shanghai. Again it had been a long day and I collapsed into bed. The next day we visited the Bund. This is a famous waterpark that is part of Shanghai harbor. It is also Shanghai’s financial district. And features a “bull of wall street” sculpture. This was followed by a visit to the Shanghai Silk Rug Factory. A woman demonstrated them doing embroidery on silk which was very tedious work. We were told that each worker could only spend two hours a day on this. After lunch we visited we walked to the Old Town Bazaar. There was about 4 hour’s free time to explore the bazaar. That evening we had a nighttime boat ride on Shanghai harbor to look at the lights in the harbor. During a lot of the trip I got special treatment because I was using the cane. As we stood in line for the harbor boat ride I was directed to another line for "handicapped." One of our tour members Aaron accompanied me. We got on the boat and headed to the upper deck. Aaron came to where I was sitting and said viewing would not be a problem because we were both taller than any of the other customers. I stood behind a couple of women to watch the show. Aaron stood next to me. I looked at the woman in front of us and she was taking a selfie of Aaron, who towered over her.
The next morning we boarded a flight to from Shanghai to Beijing and that afternoon we caught our respective flights to Los Angeles or New York.
On the Air China flight from LAX to Beijing I watched several online movies. At the start of each were commercials for high end automobiles. I remember thinking why “are we seeing this the Chinese can’t afford these cars.” I couldn’t have been more misinformed. I was to learn that a large number of citizens own cars, and some own two. Anyone, it seems can buy a car. The issue is getting a license plate for your car. There is a lottery for this. And once you win a license the fee is $12,000. During our travels throughout all parts of China the traffic was horrible. It almost seemed like all 3.1 billion people that live in the country had cars although that was not quite the case. The infrastructure of the highways, trains and boat traffic amazed me. And, also the congestion with rush hour traffic.
We were met at the airport in Beijing at 5:30 by our tour guide Brian and Peter. Brian would be with us in Beijing. Peter worked for the tour company and would accompany us to Shanghai. On a couple of occasions we were also met by Leo who owned the company. I should mention that this was a FAM trip for Chamber of Commerce executives and officers, hence the extra special treatment.
Because of all the twelve hour time zone change and the ten and half hour flight time from Los Angeles, I thought it was 5:30 in the evening. I was wrong. The itinerary has said “transfer to hotel.” But it was 5:30 in the morning and just like hotels in the USA check-in would be later in the day. . Brian told us that our first stop on our tour would be the Temple of Heaven. This is where the Emperor’s prayed for a good harvest. Understandably I was tired and I had
expected that we would get to go to our hotel. I am not sure how the 11 other people in our group felt, but I would have enjoyed a shower after all that travel time. That didn’t happen. After the tour of the Temple of Heaven we had a drive-by of the Olympic stadium from 2008 where we had a chance to see the Birds Nest and the national aquatic stadium. These were really not tours because we just sat in the bus and took pictures of the outside of the building.
At about 11:30 we were taken to a restaurant where we had our first Chinese meal. I was to learn that all the meals were pretty much the same format. We sat at round tables with huge Lazy Susan‘s in the middle and the food was placed on the Lazy Susan and you spun the Lazy Susan around to pick out what you wanted. After lunch we had another tour – this time at a pearl factory, after another dinner we made it to our hotel 8 o’clock at night. Our hotel was the China World Hotel a very elaborate hotel in Beijing. There was a massive lobby, an indoor ice rink, an Olympic pool and many other features. Unfortunately I was just too tired to even go look at them. I went to my room, took a shower and fell into bed.