China

BEIJING

TIAN’ANMEN SQUARE is a very important historical and political location, but more about where Chairman Mao is buried, not for the stand against the tanks. That incident is not mentioned anywhere.

FORBIDDEN CITY
The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty—the years 1420 to 1912. It is located in the center of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum.

TEMPLE OF HEAVEN
The Temple of Heaven is a medieval complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. A huge blue pagoda sits prominently near the back of the site.

PEARLS
A fresh water oyster can have as many as 20+ pearls inside. You can tell a real pearl by rubbing it against another pearl. If it produces a sparkly dust, it’s real. That dust is also what is used to make shiny eye shadow makeup.

THE GREAT WALL
The Great Wall is like walking in a fun house; steep and slanted all at once. It is taller and wider than I though – and THE biggest attraction in China. We visited the Great Wall at the section at Badaling. We were told we could walk the North side, which was easier, but busier (more people), or the South side which was harder (steeper) and less busy. We chose the South side and made it past the Third Tower before having to quit because of a severe bout of vertigo on my part. It was incredible to be there though – something I have wanted to do most of my life.

JADE
Good quality jade is determined by being able to see sparkles when holding the jade up to a light; minute air bubbles in the stone create the sparkles.

HISTORY OF KUNG FU SHOW
This was a story told of a boy who grew up in a monastery, learning and mastering Kung Fu at the exclusion of all else. The demonstrations were well choreographed.

RICKSHAW RIDE
Rickshaw rides are now done with bikes. Our poor fellow looked back once and went “whew!” – probably hamming it up for a better tip. Our group was taken around Beijing’s Hutongs, the city’s ancient alleyways.

LOCAL FAMILY
We visited with a local family, the lady of the house was our host. She explained how they live in a multi-home complex with a courtyard. Her children live in the other homes connected by the courtyard. Their kitchen was tiny, it had a stove, toaster oven and a microwave, but no oven. The refrigerator was located in the living room. They had an air conditioner that was connected to only the living room. Haier brand appliances seem to be common throughout the area. She and her husband had some very old and priceless antique furniture.

TEA MUSEUM
We visited the Tea Museum and learned how to properly make tea. The instruction on preparing the tea that fascinated me was to set up the tea leaves in a strainer over the pot, pour boiling water over them, and then toss that first batch of water, which is considered disgusting.

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XI’AN

TUNG DYNASTY DINNER SHOW
This was the only dinner we were served that did not happen on a Lazy Suzan. The show was beautifully done, with amazing costumes and dancing.

CALLIGRAPHY
We tried our hands at Chinese Calligraphy at the Tangbo Art Museum. Calligraphy is NOT easy! Using brushes and ink we tried the eight lines and dots that comprise Chinese writing, and then we were given examples of our names, as interpreted by our teacher, to practice. We were allowed to bring these writings home.

TERRACOTTA WARRIORS
The digs of Terracotta Warriors were vast. There were more than you could imagine. Acres and acres of them – all life-size. Most are found in pieces and have to be carefully reassembled. There horses and chariots and wagons too. There are spear carriers, kneeling archers and standing archers, generals and other high ranking individuals. There are 3 digs with a 4th known location that can’t be dug because of its location. Over time local people have stolen the brass weaponry (spears, spearheads, arrows and more) that was originally with the warriors.

NOODLE MAKING
For lunch we had noodle dishes and then watched noodle making for the two most common types; shaved and string. For shaved the cook simply holds a large wad of dough and uses a special knife to shave off slices. This sort of noodle is thicker and is more dumpling-like in the soups. The string method is done by repeatedly pulling and whipping a strand of dough between the cooks hands. It looks like jump rope without jumpers. Eventually the cook winds up with multiple thin strands pulled from the one piece of dough. These are like thick spaghetti noodles.

DAYAN PAGODA
Also known as the Giant Wild Good Pagoda, it is China’s “leaning tower”. It was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and has been repaired and rebuilt over the centuries.

GUILIN

DREAM on the WATER CRUISE with CORMORANT FISHING
This was a boat ride on a river taken at night in Guilin. There were bridge reproductions from around the world up and down the river – all lit up like Christmas trees. There was also a glass bridge and several pagodas. The cormorant fishing demonstrations were all orchestrated and lit up with lights on the boats. We were also treated to a brief musical (mostly drums) show at the end of the tour.

CRUISE on the LI RIVER
This was a three-hour tour with one of the world’s largest and most beautiful Karst landscapes. Limestone mountains rise up on either side of the river. We were told to look for various shapes in the sides of the hills, especially counting the horses on the Nine-Horse Fresco Hill. Seen from a distance, it looks like a giant mural in several colors. So you can also call it Mural Hill. It is said that, in total, plants and rocks on the cliff profile the shapes of nine horses. An old saying spread among local people is that, ‘If you recognize seven horses on the cliff, you can attain the second level of the Imperial Examination (an ancient test to select talents for the royal court). If you count nine, you will be the winner of the entire Examination.’ Therefore, counting horses on this hill continues to be a traditional activity even today. I think I managed to count all nine, but I can’t be sure.

TEA FARM
We learned the right way to make tea, fermented vs. non-fermented teas, and how to prepare each. We also learned which tea leaves are used for white, high-quality green, green, black and American bag tea. Unfermented teas like white and green, should be kept in the refrigerator. All others can be stored in a dry dark place. The Osmanthas Tree makes for some wonderful smelling scents and a nice tasting tea.

SHANGHAI

SHANGHAI MUSEUM
Shanghai museum of history and art had a great assortment of coins, pottery, tapestries, jade, Calligraphy, and paintings. Paintings almost always have the artist’s mark, name and a poem they wrote.

SHOPPING
When out shopping you are constantly approached by people trying to talk you into Rolex watches and Gucci bags. When in stores the sales people are on you like flies trying to convince you of one product or another – customer support is not a problem. Also, there are no sales taxes. In lower-end and souvenirs shops everything is negotiable. Drones and anything western are popular. Every tshirt we saw on the racks or on people had English written on it – no Chinese characters.

RIVER CRUISE and THE BUND
30 years ago new Shanghai was farms and woodland, now it is completely built up.

SILK
We learned how silk is made. That there are single cocoons and double cocoons. The singles are used for the threads that are used for weaving materials and rugs. The doubles are used for things like comforters (the inside stuff). We also learned how to tell a good silk rug from a fake and how to identify higher quality rugs (which should only be used for wall art) from medium and lower quality.

YU YUAN GARDENS
Yu Gardens is an extensive Chinese garden located beside the City God Temple in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai, China. It uses limestone extensively near Koi ponds and other garden areas.

ACROBAT SHOW
The ERA Acrobat show was incredible, and the last act of the show had EIGHT motorcycles in a cage!

FRENCH QUARTER & WATERTOWN (SHANGHAI)
The French Quarter was an older historic area of Shanghai. Watertown was sort of like Venice, Italy with canals and boats and bridges.

OBSERVATIONS

PEOPLE
People are fascinated by us “round-eyes”. Blue eyes are particularly interesting, and if you are tall like Alan, you are a celebrity. At Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall I caught more than a few occasions of people sneaking selfies with Alan. Some would ask.

Very, very few fat/heavy Chinese. In Shanghai young ladies love to show their legs off. Short skirts and shorts were observed all over the place. Skinny jeans, pretty long shear skirts over leggings. Almost all of the people we encountered were very friendly and helpful. African Americans are extremely rare here, even as visitors. The definition of minorities is along the lines of what part of China you were born. There are different classes of laborers too.

In Shanghai I did some street photography and with only one exception everyone loved to have their picture taken. Every morning the older folks exercise at the squares and parks. Tai Chi, badminton, fan dancing, katas, sword dancing and even some American line dancing.

800 million citizens by 1980 when Mao enacted the 1 child law. Now they have 1.5 billion citizens.

The Chinese believe heavily in reincarnation and work to live a good life in order to have a good or better life in the next go-round.

SMOG and TRANSPORTATION
Beijing, while smoggy, was not as bad as we were led to believe, at least not while we were there. Shanghai was overcast with fog but no noticeable smog. In Guilin there are 600,000 mopeds and 800,000 people. If there are traffic laws for mopeds, we haven’t sorted them out. Bikes are being phased out in favor of mopeds. Traffic in all cities is a frightening experience. Crossing the street has never been more life threatening.

SPORTS
As for sports, basketball and soccer (football) are the most popular. Table tennis, badminton and martial arts are also popular. We saw badminton being played in the mornings in the square near our hotel in Shanghai.

EATING
Most restaurant dinners are served on a huge Lazy Susan. Waitresses bring dishes and place them on the Lazy Susan, diners spoon what they want onto their plates. We had Dim Sum, a sort of flour ball filled with meat, as a lunch meal. It is delicious but you need to be careful about how you eat the soup balls – breaking them with your chopsticks to let out the hot soup first. Our favorite was the fried Dim Sum. When we went out to eat on our own in Shanghai we decided to try Pizza Hut. In restaurants like this you have to flag a waitress down in order to place your order and also to pay the bill. Tips are considered good at 10%. Pizza in China is pretty popular, but they don’t use tomato sauce like we do. We had two different pizzas on two different occasions; bacon-wrapped prawns, and prawns with avocado and boiled eggs. It was different for sure, but good too.  Had Snake Wine! Yummy! It’s like moonshine with a hint of sweetness. Had octopus – chewwie, but good taste. “Chicken on a stick with soft bone” is chicken with gristle. No ovens commonly used in homes or restaurants unless it serves Western foods.

BATHROOMS
Common toilets are porcelain and flat to the ground. Used tissue must be placed in a bin inside the stall, not in the toilet. The stalls I saw were very private. “Happy rooms” for foreigners are Western-style sitting toilets. I had to avail myself of the Chinese variety on more than one occasion.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

  • You could easily fit 6 RDU airports into Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport.
  • China does not allow Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and pretty much any social media. They do allow Yahoo for searches, but even those are somewhat limited.
  • Our guide told us that the end of roof tiles are like GPS in China – they have different designs for North, East, South, and West sides of the buildings.