Can you say Xian?

I didn’t think so.  Neither can I … I think I learned how to say it when I was there, but it escapes me … as does a lot of things nowadays.

After driving to Chongqing, we went to the zoo to see the Pandas. Having lived in San Diego, CA for nine years, I had seen the pandas many times at the San Diego Zoo, so I wasn’t really interested. 0817162111b

We had lunch and then flew to Xian. This city dates back 3000 years. Here, in the U.S., we think  our 150 year old buildings are old. We’re very impressed with things dating from the 1800s, hence the popularity of Antiques Road Show. Xian was the capital of China for 12 imperial dynasties. It sits at the terminus of the old Silk Road. There was a wall with a moat around the city which I would have liked to have seen, but we didn’t have the energy to walk any segment of it, nor did we feel inclined to bicycle around it. Actually, I don’t bicycle anywhere.  Lord, I might break a hip or something.

We boarded our buses for the ride to our hotels.  We stayed at the Hilton.  Actually, all the hotels we stayed at were top-notch; more top-notch than we ever choose ourselves. We never thought about the fact that we were, in fact, paying for them. So we were just very impressed and felt very wealthy …  hobnobbing and all that. I had forgotten my hair gel when I packed and there was no shop on our boat, so I asked at the front desk if they had a gift shop where I could get some. There was not. After a little confusion as to what I was asking, one of the managers told one of the other managers, (an assistant, I assume, and he was really cute) to take me out to a salon where I could get some. Having seen the traffic on the big divided street as we came in, I was a little fearful. Scary, crazy drivers.0818160719a-640x480So Jim and I and this manager ventured out into traffic “hell”.  We crossed it without losing life or limb and entered a barber shop.  All the men turned and watched us.  Really.  All activity stopped. After gesturing and head shaking, I managed to get this one man to understand I wanted gel.  I got some in a really pretty pink bottle.  I don’t know what kind it is because I can’t read Chinese.  And I think it cost a lot of money.pink-mousseAnd I would have liked to have stayed around that shop longer because one man was getting pin curls in his hair. You older ladies will know what those are.  I wonder what he looked like in his “finished state”?  Then, you guessed it, we had to cross the street from “hell”, again. We made it!  Life was all good after that. I might have looked really dorky with those black braces on my feet and ankles, but my hair looked good. And it smelled really good, as well.  I had been using a hairspray that I found in my cupboard at home and once I had to use it, I remembered why I had it in the cupboard.  I hated the smell!  Well, now my hair smelled good, in case anyone wanted to smell it.

We ate dinner at the hotel that night and just did our own thing.  Some people went out and shopped;  others did the city wall thing.  We did the drinking in the cocktail lounge thing.

Xian is the sight of the Terracotta Warriors. For those of you who aren’t familiar with what they are, don’t feel bad.  I’ve found many people since we got back that never heard of them. The Tang Dynasty ruled over China from 618 to 907.  One of the greatest emperors, Qin, (pronounced Chin) wanted to be sure he was protected even after he died, so he had an army of warriors sculpted to protect his flanks in his afterlife.  These were all formed from terracotta and were life-size. Their faces were all different to resemble actual men in his army.  They’re dressed in the kind of uniform they would have worn based on their station on life. And their hats are different.

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In 1974, a farmer digging for a well unearthed part of these figures. A young archaeologist heard about it and the excavation began.  There are now 7000 figures that have been unearthed. There are many more, but they need to find a way to unearth those until they can find a way to do so without the painted surfaces getting destroyed.  There are even horses and chariots! And they haven’t opened Qin’s tomb because he was buried on a layer of mercury. They don’t know how to deal with that either.

As with every other “touristy” spot, about a million Chinese were vacationing and visiting here too.  This time, though, they didn’t have their umbrellas as this was indoors. I didn’t have to worry about getting stabbed in the eye.  We learned here as well, that Chinese have no “personal space”. To a Westerner, this was disconcerting to say the least. I still chuckle when I think about a very nice, quiet, proper, lady from Scotland elbowing people out-of-the-way while trying to move back from an exhibit. I guess you could say our tempers were being tested.  And we weren’t winning. My own confession?  I was near the front of one exhibit and was in the process of taking a picture when a lady squeezed in front of me, blocking my view. So what did I do?  Every time she raised her camera, I leaned into her so her camera jostled. She never even noticed or looked around. Kinda spoiled my fun. Okay, so now you know … I have a mean streak in a “get back atcha” kind of way.

Thankfully, this was all indoors so it wasn’t quite so hot. Not cold, mind you. They don’t seem to have cold air-conditioning over there. But, it wasn’t hot until we walked outside into the high 90s, once again.

Believe it or not, when we got back to the hotel, we decided to go out and find some of the shops people had told us they found the night before. We never found them, but we did manage to get lost.  After some mini arguments, we made it back to the hotel.  I was right, of course.  I have a great sense of direction.  Really great. Great sense of direction. Believe me. (mimicking Donald Trump, here).

That night we went to the Tang Dynasty dinner and show.  On the way, we saw a telephone lineman’s nightmare. 1471516747137-320x240I really enjoyed the  beautiful costumes and the dances, which were ballet-type dancing with a little acrobatic during some of the stories.  All in all, it was a good, but exhausting day. Again. Time to pack up to get ready to leave the next day for Beijing. This will our final city before we fly home.  Bring on the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  We are ready!

 

 

 

 

Three Gorges Dam … and then some

Goodbye Wuhan……Hello Three Gorges. As we were departing Wuhan and heading down the Yangtze, we happened to look out and see … what else?  A Walmart!0814162253 (640x623)

That’s some kind of cruise ship that we are passing.  We saw a number of them in different areas. Notice the high rises.  It’s quite common to see these all over the place.  The cities seem to build up, not out.

But, we did find little towns along the river that just appeared.  0815160137a (640x480)

We were told that a building boom occurred via corrupt officials and contractors that resulted in many buildings never being utilized.  Ghost towns.  I don’t know if this was one of them, but it sure looked ghostly to me.  And yes, the water color is accurate.  It was brown, for sure.

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I don’t have anything to say about this.  I just liked it.

Eventually, we arrived at the dam.  You couldn’t go on or into the dam.  You had to view it from above. To get up there, you had to climb a 1,000,000 stairs.  Well, there were landings after every 100,000. Okay, so I exaggerated — there were only 900,000. Here’s what it looked like from the top.0815160405 (640x480)

I know my civil engineer brother John will be very chagrined with me if he reads this, but it didn’t impress me much.  I know it’s an engineering marvel, but when’s lunch? I don’t know what I expected, but this wasn’t it. It was really big, though.0815160411 (640x480)

The worse part, our trusty guide, Jonathon told us it would be an easy 5 minute walk down to the buses.  A walk in the park he said. Well, we did walk through a park. It was a walk from hell. We all learned then that he lied.  We never believed him after that when he would tell us about short walks, etc. It was hot, we were sweaty and we all just plodded along, putting one foot in front of the other. Did I mention the Chinese all had these pretty little umbrellas to protect them from the sun?  You had to be really careful around them or you’d lose an eye. I wanted one, but never had an opportunity to get one. Not the pretty ones they walked around with. And they all had Chinese fans.  I brought one back for my granddaughter, but I don’t think it was much of a hit. Remember when we had those growing up?

The next day, we had an excursion to go on sampan boats into the Lesser Three Gorges below this dam. Some of the most beautiful scenery occurred here.  The Ba people used to hang their coffins on the hills a thousand years ago.   The villages and farms along here were abandoned and the people relocated when they built the dam.  I must confess at this point, I didn’t go on this excursion.  Boats aren’t my favorite thing.  AND — Jonathon said we would not have the ability to go to the bathroom for the hour and a half trip.  That did it for me.  Count me out! I didn’t want to get motion sick and have to pee all at the same time. No sirree, Bob. Jim went but he didn’t see any of the hanging coffins. And he said the boat would not have made me sick. I still would have had to pee.

The bus took us back to the ship and off we went on our way to Shibaozhai where we would see  and visit the Shibaozhai Temple.  It was built in 1819, without the use of nails, I was told.

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When we arrived those steps were filled with people washing their clothing in the river.  I’m not sure how clean they could get them in that brown water, but they were washing, nonetheless. We had to walk off the wharf, up 50 or so steps, up a hill, through a village and then cross a suspension bridge to get to the temple. Confession time again … I didn’t go. I stayed on the boat and talked to the other wimps, of which there were four. Jim walked up and through the village but didn’t go all the way to the bridge. It was really hot and his legs were bothering him. My feet yelled “uncle” days before. I looked at all those steps and that hill and it was all she wrote.  Not to mention suspension bridges.  Aren’t those the things that sway and you can see through them?  Yep, that was the case!

Jim got pretty done in by his day and ended up falling asleep kinda early.  I was sitting on the balcony reading in my pjs while we sailed along.  I could see something blue off in the distance. I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it looked like it might be interesting so I kept my eye on it.  As we got closer, I realized it might pass by on the other side of the boat and I might miss it.  So, I decided to head up to the observation deck where I could see better.  Most nights it was pretty quiet up in the lounge so I just kept my pjs on.  Who would see me, really?  Well, it was our last night onboard and I forgot its always a big deal.  I walked into the lounge to get out on the deck and the place was packed, what with people doing the Macarena and such.  I pretended like I was invisible and went out on the deck.  What a marvelous sight!

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It was a bridge!  And the suspension sections kept changing. I loved it! On the one bank was a city with skyscraper after skyscraper.  On the other, it appeared to be a hotel or resort complex.  As we passed under it, people on the bridge were yelling down, “Hello.”  We were yelling back.  By this time, everyone from inside the boat had come out.  I took that opportunity to slink back to my room. What the heck — I’ll never see these people again.

Tomorrow, we get off the ship at Chongqing (chongching is how it’s pronounced.)

 

On to Wuhan …

Right, I never heard of it either. It’s the gateway to the Yangtze River Gorges.  We flew out of Shanghai and were told that any flight within three hours of the scheduled flight time was considered on time.  I believe we waited an extra hour to board.  I guess pretty good by Chinese standards. Did I say, “I hate waiting?”  Well, I do.

We were given box lunches to eat while we were waiting to fly out.  We all started digging in when I discovered all my sandwich halves had mayo on them.  Did I mention I hate mayo?  I really didn’t know Chinese people ate mayo.  I thought it was an English thing. So I threw them away and made Jim promise if they gave us peanuts on the flight, he’d give me his.

It was a pleasant enough flight and they actually served lunch, so I arrived well fed. But, I was tired and cranky –mayo on sandwiches does that to me. We boarded our buses and were told it would be about 45 minutes into town.  Wow!  Such a lot of construction going on.  Since our boat wasn’t going to be ready, we were going to stop at a museum. I like museums. I really couldn’t tell you much about this museum because all-in-all, we saw so many museums they all ran together.

The one thing about this one was the entertainment.  They had a little ensemble of retired people who performed Chinese music for us.  Delightful!  There were three men who played something called a 2-string violin. This instrument sat between their legs like a cello and only had the 2 strings — hence the name. The man that sat in the very front — I guess he was the first chair — was very animated and clearly loved performing.  The man behind him and to his right never even smiled. I enjoyed the women who played things I can’t identify. They finished with Auld Lang Syne. We stood and cheered.  It was one of my favorite moments of the trip.  I wish I had taken a picture.

We boarded our ship and while dining, started our journey down the Yangtze River. The next day, we took an excursion to an elementary school in Yueyang. This was another of my favorite things. As we walked onto the school grounds, two lines of students were lined up saying, “Welcome to our school.”  They put on performances for us and then we went into individual classrooms for discussion with the teachers.  Since this was summer break, so only the students who lived nearby were the ones in attendance for us. Can you imagine this happening in the U.S?0813162137 (640x480)0813162143a

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This was a 6th grade math class.  There were 75 students in the class; 41 of them boys.

If you notice, some of the students had red ties.  These are the exemplary students.  They achieve high scores and are designated as good citizens.  There are four levels they need to achieve during their schooling years.  If they achieve the 4th level, they can become Party members, which affords them all the perks of being such. They get the best university opportunies, jobs, etc. Our guide was not a party member.  Most of China’s citizens aren’t.

Prior to making this trip, I knew we would be visiting a school, so I went to the dollar store and bought pencils and such to give out. All were made in China!  Of course. I gave them out anyway because so many of the students are poor at this school.  Viking River Crusies sponsors this school — actually they sponsor three of them in China.

Back on the ship and heading 150 miles to the Three Gorges Dam.  I’ll fill you in on the next post.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Good Morning, China!

Our first full day in China started by meeting our guide, Jonathan.  This is not his real name.  None of the guides used their real names.  They all had English names. This I noticed was true for the hotel staffs too. I guess they figured out we would never be able to pronounce or even figure out how to say their Chinese names. So –simplify!

We were all given name tags.  On the back, our guide had written his phone number in case we ever got separated from the group, we could call him or have some sympathetic bystander do so. We were instructed to always wear our name tag.  Remember this because it will come into play later in this blog.

Before I proceed any further, I must inform you that I hate hot weather. Many of you hibernate in the winter.  I hibernate in the summer. Sunshine, let’s get this show on the road!

First stop — Yuyuan Gardens. These five acres of gardens date back to the Ming Dynasty. These weren’t gardens in the sense of large rolling hills with patches of azaleas, various flowers and fish ponds like I’ve been used to in the U.S. These were a different kind of beautiful.  And old, really old.

And it was hot.  Really hot. Like 97 degrees hot. We learned that in stepping over a threshold, men stepped with their left foot first, women with their right.  Or maybe vice versa.  I guess I didn’t really learn it. I don’t remember why. I think it had something to do with fertility. I must have been talking when he was explaining.

We left the gardens and walked to a silk embroidery factory.  I think this was a 10K walk. Chinese people walk a lot and we soon learned when we were told it would be a short easy walk, we shouldn’t believe it. Between walking in the gardens and walking to the factory, someone who had a Fitbit on said we walked 5 miles.

The silk embroidery was beautiful.  There was lady doing a demo and it was a real art.  A dying art, actually, because young people don’t want to sit quietly to do something like this.  For those of us who do needlework, we found this to be sad. All of the pictures for sale were quite expensive — $$$$.  Since I already spent $$$$ on this trip, my budget didn’t allow the expenditure on any of them.  😦

We went upstairs for lunch, the first of our Chinese meals.  We got beer!!  Can we say, “Hooray?” Boy, it sure went down good.  (I’m not a beer drinker, but I really liked all of the Chinese beer we drank.)  We ate an array of things; most of which we didn’t know.  Some good, some not so good.

We left and got on the bus to head to Shanghai Museum. This museum displayed 5,000 years of their history.  Boy, the United States is such a baby! I think the population of Shanghai is 25 million and 24 million were in the museum that day. Jim and I did a quick perusal of some of the exhibits and then found some benches to sit on.  We really should have trained for a marathon before we took this trip.

After freshening up at the hotel (a really nice Westin, btw), we went for dinner and then on to see the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe. In China, when they start school. it’s determined what they are good at and that seems to be what they study.  So, this troupe was made up of those who studied at least 10 years.  What I saw was very good, but I have to confess, I fell asleep and woke up at the end when the motorcyclists were taking their bow. I understand they were the hit of the show.  But the long flight and busy day got the best of me.

Tomorrow we fly to Wuhan……………….