Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thoughts and Reflections at the end of the trip!

The airport on Shanghai...
and back to Chicago!

It is overwhelming...what we have seen, heard and experienced over the past two weeks in China.  It was an amazing trip and I am so grateful for the opportunity to go.  Scattered thots come to mind.  These blogs are more for me than for people who look in on them for a few minutes.  I want to remember as much as possible so thinking through the trip, writing down things we did and observations about them, and now reflecting on the time will help me do that.
Over all the weather was great the entire time.  We got rained on a couple of mornings but it didn't stop us from enjoying our walks through 2 beautiful on the Yangtze River and one in Suzhou.  We did not get cold at all and we seemed to have the right clothes with us.  Temperatures were pleasant and we had lots of sun.  I had especially prayed for good weather and blue skies on the Great Wall and we did have some!
I had no idea that several of the parts of China we saw get to 120 degrees in the summer with high humidity...sounds like a sauna to me.  Wouldn't recommend a summer tour to China!

The food was really pretty good.  We didn't get sick at all or have issues with the colds or headaches, aches or pains.  My only issue with the food was that it was much the same lunch and supper each day.  They don't seem to have many ethnic restaurants nor do they seem to eat sandwiches, tacos, pizza, chips and other lighter things for lunch.  We did experience different flavors in the spices in the various parts of the country we traveled through.  The kinds of fruits we were offered were limited...I have eaten more watermelon and cantaloupe than I have in the rest of my life combined...or so it would seem.
It was fun to do the  Mongolian hot pot supper, the noodle bar, the Mongolian BBQ, and a couple of buffets.  All of the breakfasts were huge Chinese/Western buffets with a great variety of foods offered...omelets and fried eggs, pancakes, french toast, wonderful breads, muffins, and pastries, lots of Chinese dished, plus lots of cantaloupe and watermelon.

David, our tour director, was very good.  He was our local tour guide the entire time we were in Beijing.  He did a great job keeping us informed about what we were doing and where we were going.  He arranged all the local tour guides, the restaurants/menus, and some special tours that are not normally done.  He also dealt with individual needs and desires. 
In each city along the way we had local tour guides who lived in the cities we were visiting.  They were able to add so much to the tours and shared their own personal stories.  When we were on the coach in route to a sight, they would often talk about life in, weddings, burials, customs, words/characters, buying an apartment, university life, choosing a major/job, honoring parents, importance  of names.  Always very interesting and insightful.  I was actually a bit surprised about how open they seemed to be.
The drivers were very knowledgeable and we never once got lost or had to backtrack.  They knew where they we going and where to park.  Sometimes they made it through small spaces I would not attempt and parked or backed up in spaces that were very narrow.  The drivers did not speak much English at all...they were very quiet but smiled often.

Did you know that in China when you address an envelope to mail, you put CHINA on the very top line.  Then the city followed by the street address.  The bottom line has the family name first and then the persons first name.  The country/culture is of utmost importance, and family is always more important than individuals.  You are a part of the whole...not the rugged individualism we have here in the States.
Funny...I sent postcards to the Marx family and the Jacobson has been 2 weeks and they have not arrived yet.  Either they couldn't read it or it just takes a very long time.

I have been surprised by how few people, even young people, who speak English.  There are NO similarities in the two languages, so it is very hard to communicate.  The people seem to be friendly and they smile a lot.  When we passed a busy filled with locals, they would point at us and talk to one another.  They often wanted of pictures of us and with us.  One person put her newborn baby in the arms of one of the gals on our tour and took their picture like it was a once in a a lifetime experience.  They loved it and got very excited when we would say "knee how" ~ our English attempt at hello there or good day.  You could use it any time of the day or night and they would respond enthusiastically.

The one thing that I did find a little irritating was giving tips to drivers, tour guides, cruise ship employees, etc.  I wish they would just include it in the price of the tour and take care of it for us.   Often it was awkward and clumsy.  There is a huge problem with counterfeit money, especially in the Bazaars, so you would want to have exact money when your bought something from a vendor.  They check your money in regular stores to make sure it is okay.  In the bigger scheme of things, these things were minor and did not take away from the overall enjoyment of the trip.

The people were were with on the tour were fun and easy to be around for the most part.  It was a little hard at time at the shared meals ~ twice a day when you all served yourself from the lazy susan.  You were never quite sure what would be available by the time the dish got to you!  Quite a few enjoyed the beers and wines that were served but no one drank too much.  And no one used offensive language, whined or complained all the time.  It was really quite pleasant and with only 21 in the group it was manageable. 

The hotels were quite nice, especially the one in Shanghai.  They saved the best for last.  The bathroom was very fun...there was a glass wall between the huge shower and the bedroom.  A large electric screen could go up and down to separate the two rooms.  The fixtures were sleek and modern.  The toilet was a Kohler from WI...probably made in China.  A glass desk/computer corner with several plugs was very convenient.  For the first time we had two double beds.  Every other place, we had two twin beds.

The first hotel in Beijing did not have air conditioning and it was quite warm at night because we could not open the windows in our room.  The cruise ship was really nice and served excellent food.  The staff was helpful and kind.  Everything was clean and neat.   All of the beds had duvet/comforters on top sheet, just the one covered quilt.  They were  usually white or off white with a table runner style decoration placed across the mattress at the foot of the bed for a little splash of color.  All of the rooms had a small safe in them for your passports and valuables. 

It is getting late and I have been working on this for hours to finish it up.  I think I will be back to add more to this blog, but the pictures are finished!  Enjoy and let's talk more about our trip another time.  Thanks for coming! 

Last Hurrah in Shanghai

Suzhou had 10-15 different bridal shops!

The boat dropped us off at the Town Square where there was lots of action. 

Couldn't resist...another young boy with the split pants!

This was a long distance shot of the pagoda at Tiger Hill, a park teeming with historical legends.  Unfortunately we didn't get to go up there to walk around.

Had to throw in a shot of some of the phone/electrical wires...this one was pretty orderly...some of them were just a mass of mess!

Traffic was heavy coming back into Shanghai late in the afternoon.  At one point we noticed that police has the entrance ramps to the expressway blocked off.  Suddenly there were police cars, lots of them, headed down the road toward us...with 12 luxury buses following behind them...then a dozen or more police cars.  David said it had to be some VERY high ranking government officials.
We enjoyed a very nice last dinner together in an ornate private room a the old luxury hotel next to our modern new hotel.  Was very good food and lots of it!

Wednesday morning the group going on to Hong Kong left at 8 for the airport.  They got to go on the superfast magnetic train that gets them there in about 7 minutes going nearly 500 MPH.  We left at noon and it took us an hour in traffic.  I was a little disappointed that we didn't get to ride it...but I'm over it!

Anticipating the 13 hour flight, I took a long walk down to a park I had seen from the coach.  I think it must have been a gift from the people of France as all the artists were French.

A huge difference in styles and types of art...

with gardens and ponds for variety and interest...

On the walk back to the hotel I saw a guy getting a parking ticket...
and someone moving...

as well as a touch of home...

Suzhou Canal Tour

Suzhou is built around a series of rivers and canals with neat little bridges, parks, homes and stores.  We took a boat ride through the city...about 1 1/2 very interesting.  A section of the old part of town has been preserved much like the hutong area in Beijing.  Was fun to see "old China" along the canal.  Jackie could add so much detail...wish I could have absorbed more, but I'm afraid by this time in our stay I was on overload!

Just a couple of vendors touting their wares as we entered the city wall.


It was a grey overcast day, but that made the old part of town even more interesting and maybe a bit more depressing at times.

Wash day!

Suzhou ~ Lingering Gardens, Silk Factory

During our stay in Shanghai we were in a very nice 5 star hotel, but at one end of the 12th floor we could look down on this scene.  It is an old neighborhood that is being demolished for a new building...we saw these everywhere in all the cities we visited.

Yikes, this one is sideways, but you get the picture...

On our last full day in China, we went on an optional day of touring up north of Shanghai in the medium size city (only 8 million) of Suzhou.  It is a huge manufacturing city...1/4th of the world's computers are made here.  It is famous for it's silk and embroidery...empresses of old would have their clothes made in Suzhou.

In the morning we went to one of the top five gardens of China.  You would think you could get tired of going to gardens, but they are much more than gardens with beautiful rooms, ponds, flowers....and this one had a humongous collection of bonsai trees and bushes...probably 150 or more.  Just was over 300 years old.  It was called Lingering Gardens and you did just want to linger...

Our local guide, Jackie, who has been with us in Shanghai is from this city and grew up growing silkworms as a kid.  So, we went to a Silk Museum where Jackie walked us through the process.  It was an amazing experience.  After his demonstration of the life cycle of the silkworms we went into the factory to see the machines spinning the 8 strands of very fine silk together from 8 cocoons.  Each one has nearly a MILE of silk in one long strand.  We were in the room for several minutes and they had about 50 different machines spinning...and I didn't see one strand break.

Here the women are pulling the silk into big squares for quilts.

Of course, the museum turns into a store/showroom and this one was as big as a department store with a men's and women's department with shirts, pjs, robes, jackets, blouses, vests, pants ~ everything all silk and very soft.  Then they had pictures, bedding, linens, scarves, bags and just went on and on in a very modern well lit store.  The Chinese have really figured out this tourist/commercial business. 
We were at museums for pearls and jade as well earlier in the tour...all with nice sales rooms, too.
This museum also had a very nice cafeteria across the street.  We had lunch and then noticed they had Breyers ice cream bars, so we all bought one for dessert...tasted really good!