The adventure continues
Orient has always been a continent of mystery; in some ways far advanced over
the rest of the world, and in others, held back by feudal customs and
traditions. I was always fascinated by
the history of
of my children counted in on the trip and my son, Jared, invited his
girlfriend, Katie Haynes, to go with us, so the entire tour group consisted of
five of us. My other daughter, Nikki,
had signed on to a different two week tour that included a boat trip down the
Yangtze river and a side trip to Xian to see the terracotta soldiers. Our trip was set for October 13th,
from Sunday to Sunday the 20th.
When the fated day arrived we enjoyed a leisurely morning and a short
trip to the Van Nuys Flyaway to catch the bus to LAX international
airport. We arrived three hours before
our flight was scheduled to leave thinking that we would have time to sit and
relax before our long flight to
Tuesday morning: .
sleeping for only three hours, my body clock put me back on LA time so here I
lay on a king size bed in a 4-star hotel wide awake somewhere in
We went downstairs to get into the van but had to walk through the rug merchants showroom again and I got sucked into buying a 3’X 5’ , 600 knot per square inch, drop-dead gorgeous silk rug of oriental design that I’m going to hang on the wall because it’s too pretty to let anyone walk on it. I ended up paying $720 for it on my newly paid off Visa card and I left before I could be talked into buying anything else.
The silk rug merchant – our first night
Hotel was well lit up and had a young Chinese doorman in full uniform take our
bags as we checked in. The rooms were
first class and would go for over $100 a night in the states. At that rate the tour is exceptionally
cheap. It’s 2:00 am so I’m going to try
to catch a few more hours of sleep before our tour of old
Tuesday, October 15th
The Hotel wake-up call came in at but I had been awake since watching the Discovery Channel in Chinese. The hot shower felt good and soon revived me from my jet lag lethargy. We met down in the restaurant for the buffet breakfast which was okay but not the MGM Grand. Alex met us and joined us for breakfast – it was only later that we found out that he had been up all night at a coffee house with some friends and only had one hour’s sleep.
we got into our mini-van and started off through the traffic to our first stop
Square is similar to Red Square in Moscow in that it is in the center of the
city and a gathering point for any large demonstration, parade, etc. It sits just outside the “
much interest in a dead man is foreign to Americans but Mao is revered in
passed on waiting in line and headed for the “
We walked down shaded pathways lined by junipers older
There were young, and I mean very young looking, soldiers marching here and there in small groups in perfect step, closing off walkways from public access as the VIP party progressed through the palace. We ended up at a place where we couldn’t go any farther until the Presidential party passed by so Alex go on his cell phone and had a young girl bring me one of the scarves, which are only sold at one gift shop in the Imperial Palace. We still hadn’t changed any of our money so we couldn’t even buy a coke, which went for about fifty cents. Alex was very nervous about changing money in public, since, as we later found out, he carried over a thousand dollars with him in his briefcase to change our US dollars into Yuan for us.
Just outside the north gate of the
As we left to find our van through a sea of parked tourist buses we were literally attacked by a swarm of people selling everything from statues to Rolex watches and they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Katie made the mistake of pulling out her wallet to buy a Chairman Mao musical lighter and immediately was surrounded by ten people shoving stuff in her face. She was lucky to escape with all of her body parts in that mob. Oddly enough we all seemed to buy something from them as they continued to sweeten the pot and lower the prices. I bought a little statue of a dragon, Wendy bought a calligraphy set, Jonette bought a dragon and some little Buddha’s, and Jared bought two watches with Chairman Mao waving the seconds off. It’s a frightening experience to meet people so unwilling to take no for an answer. So Alex, our guide, taught us a word to use, “Buyau” which means something like “get lost”.
We hooked up with the van and went looking for lunch. Since the travel business is controlled by the government, it puts its best show on for the tourists and we ate in very classy restaurants where the food was excellent and service very good for the most part. We were eating Chinese food every meal and surviving. I mean, how much can you stuff yourself and still function. After lunch we went to the silk carpet factory showroom. It was the same company that we visited that first night but Alex said we would get better deals at the factory. Actually they were more expensive for the rug I bought which they wanted over $1200 to start. The girls all bought small silk mats for $45 each and I went back and bought me one too. Jared couldn’t find what he wanted in his price range so he left disappointed. It was interesting to watch the weavers at the looms tying knots in the fine silk. It is terribly hard on the eyes and the weavers take regular breaks to rest their eyes and massage them.
This rug is over 600 knots per square inch and they go up to 2500
On leaving the rug factory we headed for the “
Anyway, we hooked up with our van driver who had a habit
of getting lost when we wanted to leave.
Alex, our guide, carried a cell phone and a palm pilot connected to the
internet where he could pull up information and words at will if we had questions
he couldn’t answer immediately. The cell
phone was used to contact the driver who was either sleeping in the van or off
somewhere smoking to tell him we were ready to leave. The driver was found and off we went to the
After our usual dinner at a very nice restaurant we attended an acrobatic show at a local theater. It was quite remarkable what people can do with objects balancing on their heads and other parts of their bodies. There was this one girl that was sooo limber and could put her body into positions I don’t think I could manage with two bodies. Alex kept falling asleep as we drove along towards the hotel after the show due to his all night coffee house experience the night before.
But wait! There’s
more! We got home about
and were dog tired but we had ordered massages for ,
all of us! So after a quick but very hot
shower I waited for the masseuse. At
9:50 pm I opened the door to this young lady in her twenties smiling at me so I
had no other choice than to lay there and let her beat me up for an hour. She was actually very good, at least she
didn’t break anything like Igor did in
The next morning at breakfast I asked the others how their massages went and all seemed to enjoy them except Jonette who claimed her masseuse had been too rough and beaten her up. Well duh! Massages are supposed to hurt so that they feel so good when they stop. The buffet was its usual self and we got to eat off of normal sized plates. The Chinese restaurants give you these tiny teacup sized plates so you can only put a few things on it at one time and then they load the lazy susan with tons of stuff. The Chinese take their time eating but the Americans are used to fast food and get on with it. Anyway, after breakfast we met up with Alex and headed for the Great Wall with an intermediate stop at the Jade factory show room.
There were the usual twenty tour buses in the parking lot
and lots of people inside the showroom speaking any number of languages. Most of the young women working the counters
spoke some English since it is required in school – another of Deng Xiaoping’s
reforms to bring
The Great Wall, 25 miles north of Beijing
There were closer to fifty tour buses at the big parking lot near the Wall and you could see a constant stream of people ascending the stairs up the side of the mountain. We off loaded and had our official picture taken and off we went up the stairs, or at least we started up after the Scottish Bagpipe Band from Canberra, Australia finished playing and blocking the way. My legs turned to jelly after the first 100 stairs because they were so steep and uneven. After going up only a couple of hundred feet I stopped and contemplated whether I really wanted to continue. Wendy was with me in case, as she thought, I would have a heart attack from climbing so as we rested and caught our respective breaths I talked her into going back down and sent her ahead while I rested a little. As I sat there dodging the people climbing the stairs, some with canes, others carrying children, I decided that I could make it just a little farther and so I started up again. I reached the next level, rested for ten minutes and then went for the next level until I had reached the top of the mountain, the first mountain. The Wall kept going but I decided to call that the place I was trying to reach and waited to see the young ones, Jared, Jonette, and Katie, coming down from farther up so I could take their picture.
We were supposed to meet back at the van at 12:15 pm so at noon I decided to start back down, thinking that I could make it easy in fifteen minutes since it had only taken me an hour to get up there. So I started down those #*&@+ stairs giving my already weak knees even more to think about as I would turn my gaze from the steps to the landscape momentarily and hit one of those severely short steps and almost trip. It was good that there was a handrail to hold on to as I carefully negotiated the remaining 1,000 steps and made it to the flat ground again. I picked up the photos that we had taken and bought a round of cold apple juice for all the thirsty climbers who had been to the Wall and conquered it. As it turns out, Wendy got to see more than any of us because she went to the other side where the gate was. The view from up on top was foggy and not too spectacular for picture taking. Our guide Alex gave up signed certificates testifying that we had indeed climbed the Great Wall.
Back on the toll road to
After lunch we had nothing scheduled so we spent some
time shopping at the Yulong Restaurant
department store attached to the Cloisonné factory. I met a cute little girl named Helen and she
helped me spend my money all over the store.
I bought some silk robes for the ladies and a Cloisonné vase for
me. The others purchased some things and
soon it was time to go. We talked Alex
into taking us to the bazaar in downtown
Xiushui Market in
dinner we opted for a Chinese Opera at a nearby 300 year old theater. It was fun but oh so noisy with all the gongs
and stuff. They served Jasmine tea to
sip during the show which lasted only about an hour at about $20 a ticket. There were three acts: the General at the
front getting bad news, the Princess throwing flowers to Buddha in the garden,
and the Monkey King making mischief at the wedding in heaven. When we got outside we had a different van
and driver to take us to the hotel as our other, grumpy driver had to go to the
airport to pick up another group coming in.
Alex had received bad news and asked to be dropped off at the nearest
subway station. Some family emergency
had come up and had him worried. It
turned out that he emailed me after we got home and told me that his
father-in-law had died in
our buffet breakfast, western style, we went off to see the “
leaving the temple we got stuck in traffic and Alex had to stop by his office
to drop off some stuff for the next group arriving that day. He had a family emergency and so wouldn’t be
taking the group around. Anyway, it got
to be late and we were still a long way from the airport so the driver put the
pedal down and we flew. I was afraid to
look at the speedometer but the little four cylinders were crying for
mercy. However, we did get to the
airport on time, checked a suitcase full of gifts for pickup on Sunday, got
cash from the ATM, and still had time to sit a while before our flight to
was a two hour flight to
checked into our hotel, the “Jiangau Hotel
dinner we went down to the harbor and took a cruise around for an hour at $25
each. Shanghai is a very impressive city
with all its new skyscrapers, but at night it is even more spectacular, even
with a gentle rain falling in the warm night.
The clouds were very low so the tops of the tall buildings disappeared
into the sky with an eerie glow coming from the lights on top. It was truly beautiful and unfortunately
isn’t as great on film. It looked like
the buildings were on fire as the clouds drifted over the top in waves. The architecture of the downtown area is
ultra-modern and neat to look at. There is
a “space needle” tower that rises up on three legs and is something out of
“2001, a space odyssey”. We had seats on
the side of the boat and just enjoyed the hour long boat ride on the warm,
balmy, rainy night. Back at the hotel it
was lights out in ten seconds. We leave
Shanghai at night
morning, after breakfast, we checked our suitcases at the hotel with the
concierge and took only overnight stuff with us for the overnight trip to
We finally stopped at the “Tiger Hill” gardens and met our guide for the day, “Gray”as she translated her name to a color, a young girl of 24 with a bubbly personality and terrible English, but as the day wore on we grew to love her for her sense of humor. The grounds of “Tiger Hill” were filled with beautiful bonsai plants that were older than we realized. There was even a floor show with young entertainers dancing and playing the drums. Lunch was at the #1 silk factory cafeteria, a western style buffet, but there were so many tour buses coming in at the same time that the lines were long and the food mediocre. Those damn foreigners were crowding and pushing like the Chinese. I was doing so good until Jonette offered me a piece of pizza off her plate and with the first bite it promptly rolled down the front of my white Utah Jazz sweater leaving a trail of tomato sauce as it went. Duh!
Once into the factory it was fascinating as we learned how they harvest the silk worms and unwind the tiny silk thread from the cocoons, up to 1600 yards in each one. They are pretty good at it because they have been doing it for thousands of years. The first showroom of the tour was where they were putting together silk comforters for beds, light and warm for about $65. Of course we all bought one but then we had to buy the silk cover for another $100 for the California King size. Still a bargain for having something so beautiful. The next showroom was clothing and different than the other places we shopped – the price on the tag was the price you paid – no bartering. That was actually more to my liking since I’m not very good at going low bid. I bought some silk nothings as gifts for those left behind and even bought myself a silk robe with golden dragons embroidered on it. They packaged up the five comforters we bought and bound them with nylon tape which compressed them to about half their size so they would be easier to take home. I had thought about having them shipped but airfreight doubled the price and the boat took three months and I didn’t want to wait that long.
Unwinding the silk cocoons
was still raining gently off and on as we made our next stop at a beautiful
garden with a giant pagoda where the city wall crossed the “
Next, we went to an embroidery factory so see how the beautiful silk on silk embroidery was done. Like the rug factory, it is very intense for the ladies doing the stitching and they must take frequent breaks to rest their eyes. The creation of beautiful pictures using tiny silk threads of all different colors is truly an art form. After seeing just how much work was involved we again bellied up to the payment window and brought home a treasure. I bought a see through silk picture of two fish swimming in a pond, mounted and framed, for about $87. My house will become a showroom for Chinese art when we get back. How strange!
cute Chinese guide, Huang Dong Qing, took us to a restaurant for dinner at
and they weren’t ready to open yet but they took us anyway. The tea again, wasn’t Jasmine, and tasted
like mud. The dinner was okay and we
hurried through it like always. The kids
are all getting good at eating with chopsticks.
I can do it but not quickly. Finally
we made it to our hotel, “Aster Hotel”, in
was Saturday morning and the buffet was excellent. We were to head back to
lunch Lin took us to the old part of
We kept telling Lin that we wanted to go to the discount store we had heard about but he ended up taking us to the government sponsored department store where, as usual, we bought some stuff. It was our last night and we had money to burn. Lin took us back to the hotel and dropped us off with the notice that dinner was on us. Well, since we had tasted McDonalds in six different countries we decided to try it in one more and started walking down the street in the rain. We found one a few blocks away and feasted on Big Macs and fries. Connected to McDonalds was a supermarket and we just couldn’t pass up another chance to shop. I had to stop off at the ATM to re-supply so I could tip our guide and driver and pay the airport taxes. The kids went back into the underground city that contains the subway and I went off to find a bank. We all made it back successfully and packed our bags before turning in for the night.
morning we had an early flight to Beijing where we would connect to LA so we
got up early and had the buffet breakfast and headed for the airport for the
two hour trip to Beijing, followed by the eleven hours over the Pacific to
home. We spent our last Chinese Yuan at
the airport duty free shops before taking our seats in the plane. It had been a wonderful experience and we had
been treated like royalty the entire time.
It was good to get home but we all agree that it was a great trip and we
look forward to visiting