China and the Yangtze
Beijing - Xian Chongquing - Yangtze River Cruise - Shanghai - Guilin - Hong Kong
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We met our local guide, Leo, at the airport and our travel Program director, Kathy Wang, a vibrant and informative, friendly guide from Xian, China at the hotel. Kathy bargained for us, did the ribbon dance, wrote our names in Chinese characters, and took care of us when we were ill. Our local Guide was “Leo”, his real name, Liu, who led the group during our Beijing stay. Leo made us laugh and showed us the real Chinese world. He shared stories about his wonderful wife and daughter and his life. This trip gave us hotel rooms everywhere that were large, airy, and comfortable. In Beijing our hotel quarters were in the highest hotel in the city.
Our surroundings showed the city to be under construction every where, as the town prepares for the 2008 Olympics….high rise hotels, and other major structure apparent all over. Heavy traffic, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, and cars and trucks clog the busy, bustling streets. As it is a city of commerce, on the edge of historical China, we were able to visit Tianamin Square, the Forbidden City, and Royal Palace, and the Great Wall which was minutes away. It is a city in flux, growing and living before our eyes, and yet cloaking history and secrets of a long and fascinating past. It is a clean, beautiful city with many beautiful flowers.
Our first four days were spent in Beijing, China. We toured Beijing and we walked around Tiananmen Square and viewed the proposed plans for the 2008 Olympics. We toured the Forbidden City. While there a Chinese country family visiting asked Walt to take a photo with them so he took a photo of them. It was strange for them seeing all the "Big Noses", a term they use to describe caucasians. All the Chinese people we talked with seemed to have conflicting feelings about Mao. The consenses was that before 1949 he did great things for the country but when he created the cultural revolution he created caos for the country and many intellectuals suffered and the country took a step back in time.
Beijing received its layout from the rule of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The Forbidden City contains 800 ceremonial buildings, containing 9,999 rooms, and a courtyard that can hold 100,000 people. China was a biking country previously and now there are many cars, but the bikes and motorbikes have also increased and fight for space on the roadways. Many bikes with hand made carriers still deliver goods.
During our trip we had many different wonderful Chinese dinners. Our dinner this first night was the traditional Peking duck dinner. Often we saw vendors on the streets baking yams and people would buy them on a stick and eat them as they walked.
The next day in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace, a retreat for the imperial family during the late Qing Dynasty and now China’s largest and best preserved royal garden. It has an 800-year history, beginning with the creation here of the Golden Hill Palace during the Jin dynasty. It has a beautiful lake and we took a boat ride.
Later we visited the hutongs, where half the population of Beijing lives in one-third of the city. Hutong means alley as they are narrow lanes created by the walled residential compounds built one on top of the other in these cramped districts. They are fast disappearing as high rises take over. They are surrounded by a beautiful river. We also saw wealthy homes which had beautiful yards and big red doors.
We took a rickshaw to the Drum Tower and saw the daily life of ordinary Beijing citizens. We visited with local families and had tea with them. The retired ladies of the neighborhood did a fan dance for us and some of our group joined them.
In the evening we saw the Chinese opera which is not like the Western opera, as it’s a beautiful and delicate blend of grand opera, ballet, song, drama, and comedy that spans the entire history of China, its folklore, mythology, literature, and culture. Before the performance, we watched them do the make-up and costuming process.
View the Opera Movie and also view the Ribbon Dancing Opera movie --
The next day we visited a cloisonne (enamelware) factory which is an ancient craft that uses metal and painted enamelware. Then we had a short workshop where we tried to make cloisonne. A prize of cloisonne chop sticks was presented to our best artist, Walt Krane.
Next we toured through the suburbs to the Badaling Hills, arriving at the fabled Great Wall of China built around (403-221 bc). It was wide and quite impressive as it covered many miles along the hills. We all attemped to climb the wall although most did not climb the whole thing - of course. The views were magnificent.
Then we went to the peaceful valley that the Ming emperors chose as their burial ground. We went through a great marble gateway more than four centuries old, and onto Sacred Way, the Avenue of the Animals lined with massive stone statues of kneeling and standing elephants, lions, camels, and fanciful beasts.
Late in the afternoon we went to the Kung Fu school and watched a wonderful performance by the students.
The next day we visited the Temple of Heaven, which was built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to heaven and for a successful harvest. The Temple of Heaven comprises a number of buildings, gardens, and pathways whose organization symbolizes the relationship between Earth and heaven. The design layout instituted here profoundly influenced Chinese architecture and planning for centuries. We were struck by the friendliness of the people playing chess and cards, doing ribbon dancing, tai chi, singing, and many other activies. They made us smile. It was truly a garden filled with retired happiness.
View the ribbon dance movie and the Bat and Ball movie ..
We took flight to Xian which was the capital of the Middle Kingdom and one of the world’s biggest and richest cities, the geographical beginning of China’s fabled Silk Road. Xian (then named Chang’an, meaning “Everlasting Peace”) reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty.
We visited China’s greatest archaeological attraction, the Qin Mausoleum. More than 2,000 years ago, the Emperor Qin Shi Huang was buried in an earth mound, along with 6,400 life-sized terra cotta warriors, archers, and infantrymen, together with their horses and chariots—individually sculpted from live models. Here they stand, in battle formation, set in the ground to guard and protect the great emperor’s tomb.
We stopped at a special restaurant and watched a noodle making demonstration and had a great lunch. Then we visited Huo Kou Primary School, a community founded school. The children were charming. Then we stopped by a market.
Wow .. such a cool noodle making movie ..
The next day we went to see the Small Wild Goose Pagoda. One of the oldest pagodas in China, it is housed in the Jianfu Temple. It was a cool place as we enjoyed the gardens, the people exercising, and the beautiful items in the museum stores. Take a look at my fish carved agate bowl and my old jade grandpa and child.
Everywhere in China we saw retired people and even some in their 30's doing Tai Chi in the morning for exercise. Here is a charming man doing the Sword Tai Chi Movie ...
One of the highlights in Xian was a visit to a furniture factory. There, artisans and craftsmen completed lacquer work, screens, and furniture and wood products supreme. The workshop and showroom were full of items that were of exceptional beauty and quality. The background of the Ming and other dynasties had a profound on the the designs. We had the good fortune to actually see much of the specialty art being done while we watched with breathless silence (for a change). We took with us a great appreciation for the artisan, beauty, and design of form the Chinese have held for centuries.
We walked along a market street where we saw merchants roasting nuts, cooking street food, and hawking merchandise. Here we saw people cleaning and sweeping as we did all over China. Then we went to the Ming Dynasty 14th-century City Wall and climbed 70 stairs and then walked around the city on the wall. Often we side individuals riding bicycles with three wheels hawling goods or garbage. As we left town and drove in the country we saw mourners in white walking to a burial site.
In the evening we went to the Tang Dynasty show and dinner. The beautiful costumes, enchanting dances, and ancient music of the Tang Dynasty comes from a period of peace and exceptional creativity from AD 618 to 907.
View the Dragon Dance Movie and the Emporers Dance Movie ...
We then took an air plane to Chongqing (previously called Chungking) - note the beautiful wall at the airport. We then tried to take a bus over to the zoo to see the pandas but the traffic was absolutely at a standstill, as the city has 33 million people and the zoo closed before we got there. So here are some photos from the Sichuan Wolong Panda Protection and Breed Center where they have 16 new Panda babies.
We did visit the Stilwell Museum dedicated to “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell, commander of American forces in China, Burma, and India during World War II. Also memorialized is the famous AVG (American Volunteer Group)....the "Flying Tigers". They were mercenary pilots who worked for Major Claire Chennault (Under Stilwell), and flew obsolete P-40 fighters aagainst the Japanese. The Chinese government under Chaing-Kai-shek paid the men $400 for every emeny plane bagged and confirmed down. We went to a museum next to the old Stillwell headquarters dedicated to these brave men and heard a lecture about China's place in World War II and the actions of these flying men.
YANGTZE RIVER CRUISE
We drove through the dark streets and saw some beautifully lit sites and boats lit along the river. Finally we arrived at our lodging on the Princess Elaine where we spent the next four nights cruising the Yantzee River where we had dinner and settled in for our cruise. During the next day of cruising, we observed the old and the new of China. Because of the rise and fall of the river over millennia, the terraced fields are among the most fertile in all of China. We disembarked at Fengdu for a shore excursion.
Wu Gorge/Lesser Three Gorges
We saw soviet jet boats going up the Sheelong Stream. The Sheelong Stream was extremely green and beautiful and we had a wonderful discovery session from Kevin as we sailed through it. We continued through the Qutang Gorge, the shortest and narrowest of the three, but quite spectacular. This narrow gorge is a one-way passage, so upstream ships must often wait for downstream ships to clear it before entering. We had some good entertainment by the ships crew and the vendors gave us workshops on items like embroderie and pearls. We went under many bridges along the way.
We took a ferry ride to the entrance of Shennong Stream. Then we took authentic small boats for an excursion on the Daning River or Shennong Stream to the Lesser Three Gorges. Narrower than the great Three Gorges, these remarkable canyons are considered just as impressive as their larger counterparts. In time-honored fashion, trackers from shore pulled our boat forward.
Watch our tracker trip guides sing ..
Three Gorges Dam and the Xiling Gorge
We entered Xiling Gorge, the longest of the gorges, noted for its narrow, precipitous cliffs. We sailed through some of the most dramatic scenery in the world—past tombs, shrines, and caves—through stretches of tranquil water and swirling rapids. As we cruised we looked for the Twelve Peaks (enshrouded in rain and mist), Five Sisters Peaks, Three Brothers Rocks, The Needle, and Goddess Peak. On our shore trip we visited a town that was being rebuilt and they looked at us with big eyes as these country people were seeing many white big noses for the first time. We visited their market and shops. On our last evening on the Princess Elaine the crew gave us a goodbye show. View the photo of the dance and song crew with Elsie, the Andersons, and the Kranes.
View Dam Movie
We ended the cruise with a five hour drive to the air port to fly to Shanghai. We saw military on the way as you can see by the photo. It was a reminder that we were in a country with a different political view and we should respect it. We saw quite a bit of country and small town life as we drove on the road to WuHan. Locals love eating outside and many places have outdoor dining just like in Italy and France. Our view included farms growing vegetables, beautiful rivers, water buffalo, countryside and as we approached town we saw a beautiful hotel. As we drove into Wuhan we saw Nissan's big fleet of cars. Wuhan was quite a bustling city and we saw a statue to their glorius leader. Their old town was typically the same as in other towns. We took flight and found it a delight to fly into the vibrant city of Shanghai.
The next day in Shanghai we took a walk on the oceanfront and it was marvelous. We toured the city and saw old and new apartments and sections of town. There where many fascinating people walking around. They seem to love sports and we often saw them playing basketball. We saw new sports arenas everywhere which looked quite modern such as this one. Later in the day we traveled along the famous Bund, a five-block long riverfront promenade containing many of Shanghai’s banks and trading houses.
Next we visited the Shanghai Museum of Art and History and saw some very beautiful items. We looked at ancient everday Chinese artifacts, minority dress, and their canoes.
Then we went to a silk carpet factory. The silk workers were quite skilled and worked deligently and all the work we saw was done by hand. We were shown many beautiful finished carpets.
We had a very good Mongolian barbecue lunch where you choose your own raw meats and vegetables and then they bbq it in front of you on a hot grill. Our next stop was at a very unique place where we saw the lavishly decorated Jade Buddha Temple, a relatively young but elegant structure that has stood for less than 100 years. The Buddha statue is older than the current temple, and is carved of solid white jade, encrusted with jewels.
In the evening we went to a city restaurant for dinner that featured an acrobatic show.
Movies of Swinging on a Rope and Jumping Girls ...
See women spinning plates while dancing movie and Six Motorbikers in a globe movie ..
The next day we took the tour to 500-year-old Suzhou in China’s fabled Silk Region. This was one of my favorite places in China and is called the Venice of China. It is the city of silk, gardens, and canals that inspired Marco Polo. We traveled by train arriving in mid morning. The waiting room at the train station was called soft because of the soft sofas and there was a grand piano available to play.
Suzhou means “Plentiful Water,” and its Grand Canal is crowded with strings of barges laden with fruits, vegetables, construction materials, and coal. The Grand Canal, second only to the Great Wall as a Chinese engineering feat, was begun 2,400 years ago. Graceful bridges cross over the water, and tile-roofed whitewashed houses sit close to shore. We cruised the canal to the Water Gate, which connects Suzhou to the southern end of the canal and was used as a “toll gate” for the canal’s commercial traffic. We saw a restaurant with a water garage for boats bringing people to dinner.
Next we visited a silk factory to see how silk is made from mulberry-munching silkworms to thread to fine cloth. My mom had told me stories of raising silk worms to earn money after her father had passed away in Lebanon and I found it fascinating to see the whole process. Marco Polo reported that so much silk was produced in Suzhou that every citizen was clothed in it. At one time, Suzhou guarded the secrets of silk making so closely that smuggling silkworms out of the city was punishable by death.
Shanghai and Home-Hosted Lunch
After breakfast, begin your Discovery Series events by getting a feel for everyday life in Shanghai with a visit to a local market. Then we visited a senior center and then we joined a Shanghai family for another, very special Discovery Series event—a Home-Hosted Lunch. Our group visited with Mr and Mrs Chow. Mrs. Chow served us delicious home made food.
We found Guilin to be one of the most beautiful of China's cities. The lovely town was the smallest we visited with only 660 thousand and 4 million total in the surrounding areas. There were tall pagodas in the lake.
The next day we boarded a local river craft and cruised the Li River, passing humped limestone peaks, fishermen astride bamboo rafts, washerwomen squatting on the shore, and water buffalo ambling down to the banks for a dip. We saw the captive cormorants with their leashed necks, perched on rafts waiting for orders to go fishing. These are the celebrated scenes often seen in Chinese watercolors and scroll paintings. We ended our river cruise in the market town of Yangshuo, producer of China’s most famous inventions—tea and silk.
The next day we toured the Yao Shan Tea Garden. At this Chinese tea farm, we learned from a tea master how the delicate leaves are picked from the tea tree and then dried, much of the harvesting process done by hand. We also heard about the history and traditions that surround the growing and brewing of tea. Toward the end of the visit to the garden, we tasted a flavorful cup of tea brewed from local leaves and experience its subtle charm.
After a well presented lunch, in a Discovery Series we visited the Jiguan Kindergarten for an endearing perspective on the children of Chinese society. We met youngsters eager to practice their English-and eager to help you practice your Chinese.
Later we went to the zoo to view the giant pandas. The panda we saw was eating and rolling over and was a charmer. About 110 giant pandas live in zoos and breeding facilities, with fewer than 20 outside China. These woolly bears have thrived at the Beijing Zoo, where they were first bred in captivity in 1963. Biologists at the zoo also recorded the first successful birth from artificial insemination in 1978.
We next took an air plane to Hong Kong and had a tour that introduced us you to the major sites of this vibrant city. First, make the journey between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island the way locals have for over 100 years—aboard the Star Ferry. We went to the Central District and the Western District, the older part of Hong Kong. We took a drive up Victoria Peak, where we had a spectacular view of the harbor, islands, and imposing skyscrapers. This famous hill, more than 1,800 feet high, is called Tai Ping Shan in Chinese—“Mountain of Great Peace.”
Then see where Hong Kong plays and prays as you visit the beach of shrine-dotted Repulse Bay. You’ll also see Deep Water Bay and visit the floating village of Aberdeen, which may soon become only a memory as the houseboats are moved to other harbors. Thousands of people spend their lives and make their livings on junks and sampans in the harbor. Toward the end of your tour, we have time for a stop at a jewelry factory for a demonstration and lecture.
Your afternoon and evening are at leisure. You may want to visit the district of Wan Chai. The district became notorious after World War II, known for its hostess clubs, tattoo parlors, bars, and sailors on leave looking for a good time. Richard Mason’s 1957 novel, The World of Suzie Wong, describes the district’s bygone era.
The next day we traveled through the eastern part of the New Territories, leased to Britain by China in 1898 for a period of 99 years. Known as “the land between,” the peninsula across Victoria Harbor consists of rocky coastline and lush, hilly farmland—a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of itself.
We took a stroll through the local flower market, followed by a visit to Bird’s Street where pet birds are sold and traded. Then we visited the Wong Tai Sin Temple, a colorful example of a traditional Chinese place of worship. We continued on to the Sai Kung Fishing Village where we saw how the people of Hong Kong buy and sell fresh seafood and we had a marvelous seafood meal.
We had a wonderful Goodbye dinner. Read the parting comments given by Keith.
On the 21st day we returned home.