Monday, March 29, 2010

China Day 3, Leaving Beijing

Here is our little group as we are preparing to go to the airport to catch our flight out of Beijing to Shanghai. I think Suzette's picture turned out much better...but we haven't exchanged photos yet.
Here is the lobby of our hotel. It was a Crown Plaza, 5 star. We really enjoyed it.

Here is our room. See the glass window with blinds? That's our bathtub! There was also a shower (all glass) in the bathroom with a lot of reflective black marble on the wall, and mirrors, mirrors everywhere. I don't recall seeing myself quite so clearly before (kind of scary!). But it was very comfortable and they served delicious breakfasts in the morning. Tons of great food.
Our last night in Beijing (actually Day 2) we had our PEKING DUCK. This is a special treat and we'd postponed it to allow for one of our members to recover a little from her illness so she could join us. She did. They are pretty. And they tasted OK. But there's so much food! Always. They just stuffed us (to keep us fat, I think. So they could sell us more de-fatting herbs for our livers) ha. And it was really good. Again, I don't think to take picture of the pretty table before we have dug in and gobbled a lot of it up.
Oh, and this is a funny little story! [below] Judy (in green shirt on left) and Berenice ran into each other on the day before...the first day I think. They met, actually, in the men's restroom. I guess they both didn't look up to see which way the arrows were pointing and walked the WRONG way to find a couple of men washing their hands in the basins. So naturally, they left rapidly and laughed about together. But then, because Judy and her group was also on a Chamber of Commerce tour, they were going the same places we were and we ran into them EVERYWHERE! It just really tickled Berenice and she delighted in telling people how they had met. So watch for pictures of Judy. This is about the second time they've run into each other since the initial meeting. Judy's from Massachusetts. They exchanged addresses and MAY run into each other this summer, too!

China, Day 2, Part 4 (still in Beijing)

We next hiked around Tian An Men Square, the world's largest square. Our guide had helpful numbers to aid us in envisioning just how large the square is. It will hold 2 Million Chinese people. But only 1 million of Americans. Because we are big. He said it much funnier, however. Here is my artsy view of the gate to the city that is near / right on the square. There are light bulbs all over it, so I'm assuming the illuminate it at night. Or at least part of the night. The square also contains the tomb of Mau, who is on display there twice a day. His HUGE building was built in about 6 to 9 months. Workers labored around the clock to build it in such a speedy fashion. It's just really big. We were unable to go in because it happened to be under some renovation for a few days. I think Beijing Wally was quite disappointed. So we walked all the way around the square in the very cold wind! We saw monuments, lots of tourists, the flag, guards, Mau's portrait and the famous sayings on either side. You'll have to look those up on the internet. I didn't take good enough notes to remember what they said. And even then, we have to take his word for it because we surely wouldn't know what it said!

Mau's tomb is the large building behind the statue. There was a pair of statues in front. One of farmers/common people, one of soldiers. The rest of the square was surrounded by larger buildings, like a parliament-type one, a museum, a gate at either end. And the gates are large structures.
Strangely enough, surrounding the entire square by the streets (and no sidewalks next to the square), was a very short 3 1/2 foot tall metal fence. There were several security checkpoints around the square at entrances. We had to put our bags through an x-ray machine and walk through a gate (thank you, 9/11). But I did wonder what would prevent someone from just hopping the fence and coming on it? Not much--just a dinky little fence. I did ask Beijing Wally what they would do. He didn't have an answer. I didn't want to find out. Use the proper entrances, please.
Below are some Asian Tourists who thought we were funny-looking enough to have me hold their bare-bottomed baby (quite a story about those pants!) and have their pictures taken with us.
But right before (or maybe it was after--it's not quite clear in my notes) we hiked around the square, we stopped in at a Chinese Pharmacy. They specialize in herbal medicine, ying and yang, balance in all things. So, we had the opportunity to listen to their speil, meet with a Doctor, have our pulse listened to, our tongues looked at. Each Doctor had an English-speaking interpreter with them. But I had to interpret the interpreter for Berenice. Their accents are very thick. ha. They offered a brief massage after the sales pitch where they recommended what herbs we should be taking (and of course, BUYING from them for the rest of our lives!) for our ailments. For example I should have some ______ for my fatty liver. No thanks, I said. I think I'll eat less and exercise more to de-fat my liver. [Hey, I went for a one-mile walk with Mike this morning!]
So here is a picture of Berenice getting a massage from one of the younger assistants (not the doctor). We didn't hear that they were charging for them...but they did. But only $3.00. I thought it was worth it.
The bad part about this excursion to the square was that it was so BIG. It was way too far for Berenice to walk comfortably, but Wally didn't seem to think it would be difficult for her. It was. It was very cold and windy, too. AND, even though the square was flat enough, the crosswalks to GET to the square were under the street crossings with stairs down and back up. Then after our circuitous route around the square, we went out, under and up and out and UNDER ANOTHER street, besides! Berenice was about done in!!!

Day 2, Part 3, continued

More shots of the Forbidden City. Below is a very gnarley tree. It's still alive. It's in the garden part of the Forbidden City/Royal Palace. The OTHER part of the compound has absolutely NO shrubbery or growth at all. And it has very tall walls in order to discourage anyone who might want to try to assassinate the emperor. There's nothing to hide behind if they got over the walls.

So after seeing all these scenes in the Forbidden City, all of us wanted to go home and watch the movie, "The Last Emperor." Myself included. Gail has it now on her list of instant views on Netflix, so I'll be doing that sometime in the future while this is still fresh on my mind. I have a hard time believing that the Chinese government would allow film makers into their Royal Palace, so it'll be interesting to see the sets they must have had to make! Maybe. I'll have a film review later. ;-)
I belive this is an incense burner. Bronze. Big.
Here's the description of the "Large Stone Carving." What an original title, no? ! ha. But they also made ICE ROADS to slide the stone along to get it to it's home in the palace. That was during the winter. During the not-so-cold months, our guide said they rolled it over logs as a mode of transportation. It's one big stone. Really.

China, Day 2, Part 3 (Still in Beijing)

The Forbidden City, otherwise known as the Royal Palace, or Palace Museums. Berenice decided not to go on this one and stayed in the bus. I knew it was a long LONG walk, lots of stairs and she'd already done one big walk ( for her) that day.

Lots of big buildings covered in Yellow glazed roof tiles. I mean, really BIG buildings. I'm not really remembering exactly what they were, but there were many. I just kept going around and looking at them, was impressed, and when we went around that building, it was a "But WAIT! THERE'S MORE!!" moment. There was yet another building, just as big or bigger, a courtyard, carved marble, (more tourists, more stairs), more to see. It was very big.

Below is a large carving. I'm standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking UP. I took a picture of the plaque by it, explaining it. The best part to me was where it said that after it was all installed and carved, another different dynasty took over, and they REMOVED all the original carving and replaced it with their own! That's a lot of rock!

(above- that's the toe of my shoe, hopefully showing what detail there is in this pretty carving)
Below is a close-up of one of the dragons. These types of carvings usually have water, mountains, clouds, dragons...

Below, there's our photographer/videographer. We watched the whole video that she took last night. It's long and could use some serious editing. I wish it wasn't just music because she filmed lots of bits and pieces of "Beijing Wally" explaining things to us. But we cannot hear him in the video unfortunately. We just hear background music and the cute gal going, "Hello! Hello!" or "Here! Here!" She knew very little English. That makes us even. We knew very little Chinese.

There are large pots surrounding this square. They were everywhere, actually. And they used to be filled with water. Remember, these buildings are WOOD. Hard to believe, but they are. They have been very well-preserved. There's not water in them now, but it was impressive to see how forward-thinking they were. I believe it was constructed in the 1400's.

There is a major walkway or path that goes right through the center of the universe, according to the Chinese. And this is that path or sacred way. It is in this city, it continues through the Ming tombs, continues through Tiananmen Square, etc. Did YOU know that Beijing and China was the center of the universe? Neither did I.
The detail and colors were really spectacular. I mean, look at the size of that door! And the thresh holds over every entry were huge. They are built that way to keep evil spirits out of the dwelling. Evil spirits can only HOP with feet together, not walk or jump high. So a nice, thick, relatively tall thresh hold in the entry seemed to do the trick. It also served to trip up my mother-in-law. Not literally, but it was a struggle to always look down and make sure where she was walking. They were typically just under 12 inches tall and about 8 inches deep/wide. There is significance to the big brass knobs on the doors, too. Always odd numbers are very significant to the royal family and emperors. There are 81--9 x 9.
Check out the size of that door stop!

Standing in front of a lion statue. There were two. Male ones have a ball under their foot, the females have a baby lion under her paw.

Guards in front. Our guide said they didn't like having their pictures taken, or we were not supposed to take their pictures. So I snapped this, but after I looked back again (we were leaving), there were all sorts of other tourists posing between them, having their photos taken with the guards. Granted, they did not smile and just stood there. But that's what a guard does, right?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

China, Day 2, Part 2 (Still in Beijing)


I wish I would have taken better pictures of this particular adventure. After we were finished at the Summer Palace, it was time for us to take our rickshaw ride into the traditional housing area of a typical Chinese family in a walled-compound area called a hutong and eat lunch in their home. Getting into the rickshaw was no easy task for Berenice, and of course there were no step stools for her. We were hounded mercilessly by the street vendors. One had scarves. I was wanting to buy scarves, but I had something specific in mind (silk, actually). Kind of. But this one lady must have understood when I said, "Later," thinking we'd go away and not see her again. Well, was I ever wrong! She followed us on HER bike! Always yelling to us, "You buy! Good deal! " And coming down--way, way down on her price. It was almost too hard to pass up. However, I didn't like them particularly, so I didn't buy. I even tried the special words we were taught that means, "No thank you, I do not wish to buy." Politely. It didn't work with this lady for a long time.

Anyway, we stopped for some information about the significance and symbolism of the entry doors on our way to the house and everyone else got out to stand around to listen to our guide, but our rickshaw driver was so considerate. He said not to get out, knowing how difficult it was for Berenice, and pulled us up to where we could see and hear what was going on. They were all so polite and accommodating! (Except there were no step stools, ramps or elevators in some places).

This is just the backs of rickshaws. Two per bicycle driver. They even gave us lap blankets because it was so cold.
The guide for this little extra mini excursion (which was $35 each!) is in the gray jacket, our pesky sales lady is in the white cap. See her scarf around her neck? Not what I wanted to buy. She would have sold me her entire bag for $20. But I didn't LIKE them!
Gathering around the table and eating. I ate this whole meal with chopsticks and my hand was tired afterward. Everyone else used forks (wimps!)
Vegetables, peanuts, meat, tofu. We're not really sure what we're eating most of the time, but we passed her kitchen on the way in and the food was still raw, so she cooked it fresh for us. I liked it. Except the tofu. That wasn't our favorite.
We kept hearing LOUD crickets. They were grasshoppers in cages, actually. Very big and VERY loud. But they did quiet down after a bit. Linda Clark is the one sitting right by them. She was just mildly alarmed about having them right behind her back and was quite startled when she first saw them in their cages.

I never think to take pictures BEFORE meals are consumed.
And the lady of the house also had birds in cages outside in her mini-courtyard area.
Behind the glass windows on the right is her cooking area. The birds are outside by the door to the living area. It's very primitive in some ways, yet they had a computer in their home. And a TV, microwave, small refrigerator. There are just common bathrooms, however. They were smelly. Ick. I think they may have had a half-bath or something. We only saw the one room we were eating in. And everyone pretty much only has one child. Period.

We rode our rickshaws back out of the hutong area and got back on the bus to go to our next stop of the day. Berenice sat this next one out because of the amount of walking it would entail.

China, Day 2, Part 1 (Still in Beijing)

Day 2 in Beijing got started at 8 am with a drive to the Pearl Factory tour. I learned all about cultured pearls and have never seen so many pearls in one place in my entire life! They were lovely. Again, it was a shopping opportunity, I looked but did not buy.
Next, we were to walk through the Summer Palace of some Emperor or another. They are all jumbled in my head. It was a lovely lake area. There were no leaves on the trees and there was ice on the lake, but there were spots of beauty around. There is no fishing or swimming in this spring-fed lake, as they wish to keep it pure. Paddle boats are rented in the summer, however (we saw them moored).

I believe this below is the palace in the distance. That's Suzette on the side, snapping a photo. Notice we are still in our heavy winter gear. Cold wind, cold temps.

There are actually quite a few kites in the air in the photo below. About 6, I believe. It was fun to see those.
And here are a group of Chinese people just singing together in the morning for the joy and fun of it. Kind of like exercise for the soul, our guide said (Tai Chi being the exercise for the body).

Chinese sidewalk art. Painting with water and a brush on the sidewalk. Calligraphy--to show off one's skills in this ancient Chinese art.

We walked through some garden areas after this and saw myriads of paintings and statues and lots and lots of tourists. Berenice was plenty tuckered out after this walk. We probably meandered through here for close to an hour. She tried buying some post cards from a vendor outside the Summer Palace gates. We were told that we could bargain with them and that usually half what they offer is sufficient. It worked for me nicely at the beginning when I bought a nice tour-guide book for the Summer Palace. He asked ten, I paid 5. Not so good with Berenice when the lady asked for "One Dolla!" for one set of post cards, Berenice asked if she could get BOTH sets. Then she wanted to see what the photos were on the post cards. Then the lady insisted that ONE set was "One Dolla!" She would not give in and let her buy two for a dollar. So I said, "Just forget it. Our group is leaving us. We have to keep moving. Give her back the post cards and get your dollar back." But that lady had a very firm grip on that dollar bill and would not give it back when Berenice tried returning those cards. So she got one set for one dollar. And they are nice post cards, I'm sure. I don't like shopping and I ESPECIALLY don't like THAT kind of shopping! That was about my only successful experience in shopping in China (the guide book on the Summer Palace)

China, Day one, Part 3

Here are views from our hotel window. It was a Crown Plaza, very 5 star and quite nice.
The view to the left (above) and to the right (below).
Below is the big arena they nick-named "The Birds Nest" from Olympic games.

I'm a terrible blogger. I can't keep all these things in order. It's backwards, you know. So, recap of day one in Beijing (on two hours of rest in the hotel upon arrival on Sunday night/Monday morning):
First Stop, Temple of Heaven. My camera was too cold or something and not working. There's photos on the video we have, though. We walked through lots of grounds and trees and icy walkways. There were people doing Tai Chi in the park--all bundled up just like we were. There were also couples (mostly older ones) dancing a waltz-type dance in the park. It was a fairly long little walk through the grounds to get to the buildings. The Temple of Heaven was a round building, there was a court yard and other rectangular ones, too. I think the walk's length was kind of surprising to Berenice. She was tired out already! But she never complained. Crossing the street was tricky, too. Lots of traffic, very little regard for rules. Actually, I read in one guide book, "Traffic rules in China are Vague and generally ignored." True.

Second stop: Jade Factory tour. This was mostly a shopping stop. We looked, did not buy (but some did in our group). It was very expensive.

Third Stop: Ming Tombs.
Fourth Stop: Lunch. Chinese Food! Imagine that! It was good and we ate lots of it.
Fifth stop: Great Wall
Sixth stop: The Birds's nest for pictures.
Then a quick trip to the hotel for a bathroom break and to drop off our one member who had become quite ill at this point. She didn't come to dinner with us. We postponed our special Peking duck meal until she could join us.
Dinner somewhere, I don't recall.

Bedtime was early because we were beat!

The hardest thing about this whole trip was NOT USING THE WATER FOR TEETH-BRUSHING! Honestly, I had to go into camping mode whenever I did that little chore that is SO easy with running tap water. But it was a no-no. We could wash and shower in it, but not brush teeth, rinse or wet toothbrushes or mouth with it. So it was bottled water for that. In a cup. It was just hard to remember. We drank bottled water all the time, and I never quite had enough, quite frankly. And we always has Sprite at all our meals. The other options were beer or Coca Cola. So-- no water, no ice. It wasn't awful, but ice in the cups would have been nicer.

More Great Wall pictures

If you look closely at the one above, I think you can see two ridges of the wall. And on the one below, too. That's our photographer. I don't recall her name, but she was a videographer and they sold us a video of our two days in Beijing. Berenice bought one. I've viewed it. It's a nice document of where we were. Well, it's just a great document of the fact that we were THERE! It still seems rather like a dream. Notice all the bus parking and many buildings in the area below where we walked up from.

Every brick that was over a hole (drainage?) in the wall had this decoration in them.
And, yes. They were steep. And icy. I think that's the fellows on the roof having a grand ol' time.