Catching Up

It seems that most of my apps for writing require an internet connection for writing. I have lost what I wrote since Shanghai to lousy internet connections. I will try to recapture my impressions here. This may be a longish post as I cover 4 days in and around Shanghai and a like amount in Beijing. I will start with some general thoughts about China and the Chinese. Much of our experience has been noted by many other travelers from the West. China is crowded. Shanghai has 23 million resident population and Beijing 33 million. Everything feels crowded and compressed. The people seem extremely rude as their sense of personal space is much closer than ours. They take jostling against each other as normal. For an example on our visit to the Forbidden City as we tried to get a view of the throne in the first pavillion rather than queuing and filing past they jammed the stairs and platform and the only way to get near was to be pushy. Carol felt threatened by the scrum and backed out. I got to the front and experience a full body massage, my pictures are useless as everytime I got something in the viewfinder I was shoved aside or someone pushed in front of me.

Traffic is beyond belief. LA Freeways at their worst are mild in comparison. Any trip could be from 1 to 3 hours and the mix of cars, busses and 2 and 3 wheelers of all sizes  going in all directions makes trying to make sense of the flow bizarre. Walking across a marked intersection with the light is dangerous as bicycles, peddled, gas powered, electric powered pay no attention to lights and cars turn right on red without even slowing down. John, the English name of our Beijing guide, advised that we cross like sticky rice, in a tight clump that would intimidate riders who are inclined to thread through a loose group rather than give ground to anyone. It worked mostly, no one got hit, but it was close several times.

In Shanghai we saw much of what is on the tourist menu starting with the Shanghai Museum.  We walked the Bund, the Whampoa River front, both with the group and on our own after dark. We walked  Nanjing Pedestrian Road which is a mile long shopping strip with every high end shop you can imagine, plus KFC, McDonald’s,  and Subway.  We ate at a couple of local restaurants that we selected on our own and successfully shopped in a drug store for masks against the smog. Haven’t opened the package yet, but the air has been dreadful most every morning. We visited two areas in the Shanghai area, Zhu Jia Jiao and Suzhou which was 40 minutes on the Bullet Train which reached 298 kph according to the onboard screen. In both towns we had boat rides, visited markets and toured gardens. These gardens are actually homes built around elaborate gardens featuring water, wood, stone and buildings. The higher the status of the owner the more elaborate the garden. On our last day in Shanghai we toured a very high status garden that was 18 years in development in 1557. After lunch in a private home we flew to Beijing.

We did what is required in Beijing. We toured Tiananmen  Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  The Forbidden City, being the Emperor’s home contains the second most fantastic garden we have seen, the Summer Palace takes credit for being the most fantastic with its 758 meter long  corridor and the Marble Boat. Except for the Great Wall these were all as expected from other traveler’s reports and photos. We were concerned that the attack in Tiananmen Square would prevent our visit, but everything was cleaned up as if nothing had happened 24 hours later. Our visit to the Great Wall was incredible. We went to a section that is seldom visited by tour groups as it is 15 kilometers further and in a much poorer state of repair not to mention that it is not the most famous photo op that everyone takes. We were the only group on the wall and there were only a dozen or so others we saw whole time we were there. Our entire group climbed onto the wall and then ascended 700 uneven steps to the high point in the area. Michael, our tour leader, has lead many groups and was surprised that everyone  made the entire climb, we range in age from 61 to 78, and the eldest does not seem to be in any kind of shape,  but he made it, just more slowly than the rest of us. We have toured enough factories, silk, carpet, and jade tomorrow to make me wish for a tour of an electronics factory. The working conditions we have observed leave a lot to be desired.  I did buy a silk shirt.

We have attended an acrobat show and a made for tourists Chinese opera.  The latter was after visiting the opera school where 10 year olds to 19 year olds learn the craft while also getting a academic education.  Travel in Beijing culminated with an overnight train ride to  Xi’An whwere the highlight will be the Terracotta Army. We saw some magnificent szmples of them at the Xi’an Museum this afternoon.  The train ride was an experience I do not need to repeat. We were in first class cabins with four bunks, OAT had bought all four for each couple. We had less room than in the motorhome bedroom, the tracks were not smooth and the car  rattled. There was one western style toilet for the car and three sinks in one separate cabin. I slept fairly well, Carol didn’t.

To get current, we had Mongolian hot pot dinner tonight and for of us took Michael up on his offer to see the sound, light and water show on the grounds of the Large Wild Goose Pagoda. We walked over from our hotel and saw a 30 minute show. The fountains were great the lights were okay and the music was strange to say the least.  Along with some Chinese numbers they played William Tell Overture,  selections from Carmen and other Western music.  Glad we went,  glad to be back on the hotel room with good wifi for two nights. I cannot begin to guess what future nights will bring.

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